Zimbabawe's Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga cites pandemic in allocating 7,000 hectares of irrigated crop land in Beitbridge district to private companies, including Schweppes.
Chiwenga courts private sector, commercial farmers
Faced by a huge food import bill, government is retracing its steps by inviting the private sector and white commercial farmers to grow the staple food.
This was revealed by Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga last week when he toured TopPick Investments Farm in Beitbridge.
Immediately, a massive 7,000 of the 10,000 hectares to be opened up for irrigation cropping in Beitbridge district will be allocated to commercial farmers and private companies.
White farmers have, for the first time, been openly included on the net cast to save foreign currency through intensive cropping.
Chiwenga said the COVID-19 outbreak had shown the need for self-sufficiency through intensive land use.
"We cannot delay anymore. The pandemic has been a wake-up call and we are inviting the private sector to take up land for agriculture," he said.
Chiwenga said short-term strategies included nutrition gardens and use of existing irrigation schemes, but maximum use of water bodies and capture of more rainfall to create green belts was the ultimate goal.
The VP said 10 000 hectares of irrigable land would be opened downstream of the Zhovhe Dam.
Communal farmers are expected to benefit from 30% of that hectarage and the other will be allocated to commercial farmers and private companies.
In Beitbridge, it was likely that Schweppes will be among the beneficiaries after being turned down by villagers on a 4 000-hectare citrus fruit project.
Villagers, who were consulted, said they were keen to reserve their land for pastures.
Since the construction of Zhovhe Dam more than two decades ago, government postponed the construction of the irrigation scheme and a canal to feed it despite the dam having capacity for a project that can feed Matabeleland South province in its entirety.
"We will need serious and committed farmers. We have good land that is lying idle and now it is the time to utilise all resources we have," Chiwenga told about 100 provincial heads of government departments, white commercial farmers and senior government officials from Harare gathered at the farm, some 80km west of Beitbridge.
Representatives of commercial banks and seed houses were among the crowd that toured the heavily diversified farm with multi-million-dollar allyear round activities.
Chiwenga, who also took the occasion to launch the winter wheat planting season, said national strategic crops to provide food and nutrition were encouraged particularly small grains.
He encouraged farmers to go into contract farming and hoped Zimbabwe would come out of the current pandemic with the capacity to regain its lost breadbasket status.
Prior to the land reform programme, Zimbabwe had the capacity to export, but currently spends billions of dollars on food imports.
Chiwenga said farmers should aim at producing 5,3 tonnes of wheat per hectare.
TopPick Farm is into irrigation farming and has a milling plant, fisheries and different breeds of cattle, goats and sheep.