SA farmers to help lure Zim investment

South African farmers will help rebuild Zimbabwean agriculture if the new government can resuscitate the stagnant sector, a senior South African farming official said on Thursday.

Once a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe is now in the grip of an economic crisis marked by food and fuel shortages, and the world’s highest inflation rate of more than 11-million percent.

The country faces another poor growing season this year because seed and fertiliser has been in short supply.

Zimbabweans and relief agencies hope a power-sharing deal signed last month between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara will herald an economic recovery.

”What we will try to do, if the agriculture sector is stabilised again, is to definitely try to negotiate deals for them,” said Lourie Bosman, president of South Africa’s largest farmers’ grouping AgriSA.

”[That will mean] bringing expertise, bringing new supplies which they don’t have at the moment.”

South Africa has one of the strongest agricultural sectors in Africa, in contrast to Zimbabwe, where critics have long argued Mugabe’s seizure of white-owned commercial farms for landless black Zimbabweans suffocated farming.

Now most foreign aid and investment in Zimbabwean agriculture hinges on the new government enacting democratic and economic reforms.

The US Agency for International Development’s (USAid) Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet) said in an alert last week Zimbabwe could run out of basic food grains by early November as imports have been insufficient to make up for another disastrous harvest this year.

It said food imports had to triple between now and March 2009 from the current average of about 8 786 tonnes a week.

”Their agriculture sector has been ruined completely. There is just about no agriculture sector left,” Bosman said.

Tsvangirai, who will become prime minister in a new unity government, said its first action would be to ”stop the devastating food shortages” and to ”unlock the food already in our country and distribute it to our people”.

But the stalled allocation of Cabinet ministries has delayed the much-anticipated economic recovery programme.

South Africa’s government said last month it would ”do everything necessary” to help revive Zimbabwe’s agriculture before the start of the summer rains.

It said it would send a task team led by its treasury, agriculture and foreign ministries, working with other Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries, to develop an emergency intervention plan to lift the sector.

Thousands of white farmers have fled Zimbabwe since the land seizures began in 2000. Farmers’ groups said their members were attacked after elections held in March.

”We cannot persuade [farmers] to return but we can persuade people to invest,” said Bosman. – Thomson Reuters

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