The Bankers Association of Zimbabwe is right to demand that food crop farmers become responsible citizens and stop whining about not being able to access loans from the banks. While we appreciate the importance of the food production sector and the need to support it, we also feel obliged to point out that this sector has already benefited from many programmes and it is high time that farmers started showing us the fruits of those investments. The farmers' complaints that the old commercial farmer had support from the banks are valid but they need to take a long hard look in the mirror before they start drawing comparisons. All these farmers without deeds got land from the State and were empowered through several programmes notably, farm mechanisation and inputs support scheme. A lot of money, implements and inputs were made available for the farmers and even the support that was meant to be in the form of loans ended up never being returned to the State. But in spite of all that investment, the country still needs to import food and is nowhere near regaining its status as the bread basket of the Sadc region. At the same time, tobacco production is thriving with much foreign currency being generated and many jobs being created. It is also interesting to note that during the harvest seasons these same farmers vie for media attention to highlight what a splendid job they are doing. Then we see them in very big and very expensive cars enjoying flashy lifestyles as they spend the proceeds with very few re-investing and/or saving for the next season. Many of these farmers also have personal properties outside of State land which they could mortgage to finance their agricultural activities. That is how business works. But very few of them are willing to risk this, maybe because they know they will not work hard enough to repay the banks. So in essence, they would like to gamble with the money that the banks are holding in trust for depositors without putting their own necks on the line. The bankers are therefore right to treat the farmers as high-risk clients and demand proper surety before lending them money. The farmers have to prove that they put farming first and will use the funds for successful farming ventures. BAZ president Mr George Guvamatanga drew an interesting comparison between the colonial farmer and the new farmer: "The old commercial farmer would walk into the bank, get money for farming, school fees, holidays, tractors and goes to the farm. He would no longer return to Harare . But it is not happening now." And there he hit the crux of the matter. It is not that farmers are not entitled to a little luxury and the good things in life. It is that their hearts and focus should be fully on farming and not run it as a side show. A proper business model for the production of food crops would attract banks' interest. The fact that banks are funding the production of tobacco shows that they are not being malicious, but simply prudent in demanding the same commitment from all other farmers. Perhaps the focus should be more on how yields can be improved so that the production of wheat and maize becomes more profitable with higher returns from the same hectarage. Another way of enhancing profitability would be for the farmers to invest in value addition rather than delivering their raw materials into the hands of middlemen. It is time for innovation and determination to produce results. The nation is tired of hearing excuses and watching our tax dollars poured into dark holes that seem to only keep gaping for more without ever producing any development.
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