Zimbabwe has spent over US$3 billion in direct imports of maize and wheat since dollarisation was introduced in 2009, a top banker has revealed.
The country has been importing food due to shortfalls in domestic production blamed on droughts.Speaking at a national dialogue on agro-business, food and nutrition, Bankers Association of Zimbabwe president, Mr Sam Malaba, said direct food imports averaged US$550 million a year. "Direct food imports in terms of maize and wheat average US$550 million per year implying a cumulative total amount of US$3,3 billion since 2009.
"This has contributed to the widening current account deficit which has worsened from US$3,6 billion in 2012 to just over US$4 billion in 2013," he said.
Mr Malaba said over 70 percent of the population derived their livelihood from agriculture.
"Therefore measures to address poverty alleviation must in some way target the agricultural sector. Zimbabwe is an agriculture-based economy and hence support to the sector is critical for the overall performance of the economy," he said.
Farmers have been complaining that food imports were destroying agricultural production.
They argued that instead of importing food, the money could be used to fund local farmers to produce food. Zimbabwe Indigenous Women Farmers Association Trust president, Mrs Depinah Nkomo said US$550 million was a lot of money which was supporting farmers in other countries.
"Farmers are failing to meet the national food requirement due to lack of funding. Small-holder farmers, who are the chief food producers, do not require a lot of money so there can be difference if local farmers are supported," she said.
Mrs Nkomo said if the money could be given to the Grain Marketing Board to pay farmers there could be an increase in maize and wheat production.
"Most farmers are diversifying to tobacco not because they like growing it, but they are being attracted by the instant cash. The same could be done to maize and wheat and we will not have to import," she said.
Agriculture economist Mr Midway Bhunu said the money should have been channelled towards subsidising inputs.
"The challenge we are having is that our inputs, especially fertilisers, are expensive. This makes the cost of production high. Many farmers are failing to increase production because they cannot afford adequate fertilisers," he said.
Mr Bhunu said if inputs were subsidised at manufacturers level, farmers could easily access them and increase production.
"Our maize and wheat could become competitive even on the regional market because we would have reduced production costs. Our economy is already bleeding and we should reduce the money going out to support other economies," he said.
Farmers produced about 1,4 million tonnes of maize this season and this has been attributed to the Presidential Well Wishers Input Scheme which saw 1,6 million households getting seed, fertilisers and lime.