Government has engaged private millers to import grain to compliment its effort in ensuring food security in the country, Finance minister Tendai Biti said early this week.
Presenting his March state of the economy report, Biti said millers made a commitment to import 150 000 tonnes of maize, with some already importing it from South Africa at US$320 per tonne.
Following erratic rainfall, farmers are this year expected to produce 800 000 metric tonnes of maize against 2,2 million metric tonnes needed to feed the nation annually.
"Given the constrained fiscal space, the involvement of the private sector in importation of grain is unavoidable. Hence, it is paramount that government continues to encourage the current ongoing private sector initiatives in the importation of grain," Biti said
The grain importation programme would be funded by both government and private sector players.
Biti said government was committed to mobilising and ring-fencing US$5 million towards importation of maize, but at the expense of displacing some budgeted expenditure programmes.
He added Treasury would also avail US$1 million to the concerned ministries for the operationalisation of the commodity exchange, given the parlous state of the finances. An attempt to use the Grain Marketing Board as the buyer of first resort will create problems for farmers, the Finance minister noted.
According to Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) the country has to date imported 432 400 tonnes of maize to meet the cereal gap.
Commercial Farmers Union President Charles Taffs said the country was facing a grain deficit because lots of maize land has been converted to tobacco farming, thereby threatening food security in the country.
Planted maize hectarage in 2012 declined 19% to 1 689 786 hectares, from 2 096 035 hectares in 2011.