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August 12, 2008

EU ready to assist Zimbabwe agriculture recover in event of 'acceptable' political settlement

Excerpts of a recent speech to the 2008 Annual Congress of the Commerical Farmers Union by Xavier Marchal, E.U. Ambassador to Zimbabwe:

It is the third time that I am honoured by addressing your annual Congress. Indeed a tradition now, going with the deep commitment of the European Commission towards land and agriculture in Zimbabwe, ever since we opened a delegation in Harare back in 1981.

After all, agriculture is one of the three main vertebras of the economic spinal cord of Zimbabwe, together with natural resources and mining. It has significantly contributed to making Zimbabwe what it was. And it can again rapidly become the engine of its recovery.

More importantly perhaps, and unnecessarily in my belief, land as also always been at the core of the tensions that have prevented this country from gaining full benefit from its potentialities, instead bringing it to its knees. It is again the case today, while Zimbabweans are trying to work out a solution to the major political crisis affecting them.

This is why it is so important for me to be here today. And the timing for this Congress could not have been better. I call on Zimbabweans to reach an Agreement which is legitimate, which is respecting rather than violating again the will of the Zimbabwean people, and which can be endorsed by the European Union.

Agriculture has collapsed. This year's harvest of the key crops has been catastrophic. The "mother of all agricultural season" has miscarried. I will spare you the figures. In the past months, rural communities have faced extreme political violence, with their dignity violated, and their assets destroyed. Commercial farmers have been brutalised, their farms grabbed for the wrong reasons.

Zimbabwe is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, with extremely poor prospects for the next agricultural season. Yet as we speak, partners involved in key food aid and food security activities can still not operate properly, and I call again on Government to immediately and totally lift restrictions imposed on them.

I mentioned both small and commercial farmers. This is because the European Commission feels that the strength of agriculture in Zimbabwe relies precisely on their complementarities, even their symbiotic relationship. Small communal farmers need commercial farmers for technical and economic reasons; commercial farmers need small farmers for socio-political reasons. And Zimbabwe needs both.The Commission, as most here know, has remained ready to engage with Zimbabwe on land and agriculture, on a "give and take" basis. But without a "give", there cannot be a "take."

However, in the meantime we have continued to address food insecurity, and provided a staggering amount of 370 million euros since 2002. This is a shocking figure, mostly aimed at handouts. It is quantitative rather than qualitative money. We are also proceeding with supporting rural populations, through various projects aimed at building food security, through UN agencies and Non Government Organisations. This includes a programme to support small scale irrigation. Total amount here is around 45 million euros.

To that, we can add an amount of 15 million euros in emergency food aid earmarked for the coming months, to address the humanitarian crisis. Again, these are handouts, however necessary they are. If more is needed, we will try to respond.

When and if normality and legitimacy are re-established in Zimbabwe as a result of a fair political Agreement, endorsed by the European Union, then I believe that we could quickly move back to a businesslike relationship on land and agriculture. One of the first telephone calls of the new Minister of Agriculture could be to the European Commission, aimed at serious business.

We could then quickly move towards implementing the 10th European Development Fund, of which one of the two focal sectors is focused on land, agriculture, food security, and environment. The amount to be dedicated to this would be around 50 million euros.

Before that, we could finally implement my coffee initiative, aimed at turning around the coffee industry, which today is moribund with a disgraceful 500 tons yearly coming from 10 thousands tons in 2002. Little money needed here, and the plan is still in my drawer.

Zimbabwe could take full advantage of an EC funded Sugar Adaptation Strategy, aimed at bringing back her Sugar Industry from abyss to world class level again, with the best yields worldwide. The amount possible for this could reach 45 million euros over six years.

We could move swiftly to implement a vast EC funded Stabex programme, through the main Unions, the CFU, the ZFU, and the ZCFU. We have started this programme, but with snail pace, deliberately, in order to avoid having to send the funds back for other performing countries, as long as we can. The amount possible for this programme reaches 20 million euros. We could implement all recommendations of studies we are currently conducting, on land reform, on the compensation issue, on the best strategies for a commercial agriculture, to name but a few. Zimbabwe could take full advantage of significant and unused possibilities offered by trade relations.

Perhaps more importantly and timely, there is the potential prospect of Zimbabwe benefiting from a new initiative from the Commission, aimed at farmers in Africa, to help them tackle high food prices and boost output. This is a massive scheme, just launched, provided with one billion euros (1.6 billion USD), with 750 million euros earmarked for 2008 and the remainder for 2009.

These funds will be channelled to developing countries through international or regional organisations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme. Four areas of financial support are envisaged, the main two being to improve access to farming inputs such as fertilisers and seeds, as well as ways to improve agricultural capacity and production.

Zimbabwe has been classified by the European Union as a country in severe food crisis and could in principle benefit from this fund, significantly. What we need to make these significant resources available, is normalisation based on clear principles making reengagement possible, cleared by the European Union, and following a genuine and legitimate Political Agreement.

And then of course we need also a proper Business Plan from the Minister of Agriculture.A Business Plan providing for genuine agricultural policies, in which all farmers are desired stakeholders, in which private sector and property rights are respected, and in which all skills of this country are brought to work for the common cause.A Business Plan in which a very much needed land reform is conducted for its real purpose, not for political reasons or simply patronage.A Business Plan in which the true asset of Zimbabwe in term of land and agriculture is fully valued and highlighted: this is the symbiotic relationship between farmers of all size and race I have mentioned.A Business Plan in which problems are transformed into opportunities.A Business Plan which can receive full support of the EC and the international community, allowing Zimbabwe to return to a world class position.

Radio VOP 

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