By Chido Makunike
THIS year I have been privileged to be closely associated with the Harare Agricultural Show as its spokesman. After initially agreeing to do it I then had misgivings about my suitability to
play this role and whether it would not unduly interfere with the rest of my life.
I am not the best person to comment about my suitability, but certainly in the weeks leading up to the show I have become more enthused about helping prepare for it than I may have been initially. It has certainly been a major disruption to many aspects of my life, but the satisfactions of the role have far outweighed the inconveniences.
A lot of the change in my attitude had to do with the tremendous respect I have developed for the highly motivated staff of the Zimbabwe Agricultural Society (ZAS) who quietly keep plugging away every year under increasingly difficult conditions. Putting the show together is a logistical nightmare that one would never guess from looking at the show from afar as I have always done in previous years as a show-goer or an exhibitor.
I wish to comment on some of the ways in which the Harare Show is a unique pointer to how Zimbabwe as a whole is doing. There is no other forum like it for so many players from agriculture, industry and commerce to be represented in one place.
I am writing this on Tuesday of the show week so any conclusions will have to wait until the show is over, but there are trends that are already evident this early. One is the tremendous resilience of Zimbabweans in general. Everyone grumbles about how tough times are, but there are few people in the sectors I have mentioned who are resting on their laurels.
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going” definitely applies to Zimbabweans. This made me feel very proud and hopeful that once we have dealt with the many political causes of our troubles, Zimbabwe can still be a beacon of success in an Africa which continues to fall behind much of the rest of the world in so many areas. It gave me renewed impetus for marketing the show to the public and I am sure I will retain that spirit of encouragement in all my activities long after the show is just a memory in my mind.
You see this in the great efforts made by a record number of communal farmers to attend the show as exhibitors this year. After the good rains this past season, their mood is upbeat and they are willing to endure great discomforts to show off their produce to their peers, potential customers and to network and learn new things. You also see this in the large numbers who thronged the ZAS offices in the vain hope of securing last-minute stands.
But the absence of large-scale farmers, whether the old white farmers or recently resettled black farmers, is very noticeable. This is very worrying because despite the large number of communal farmers, the overwhelming majority are subsistence farmers whose collective economic impact is not proportional to their numbers.
It is probably politically incorrect to say this in today’s Zimbabwe, but it would be sad if we lie to ourselves in this regard like we have done in so many others in recent years, all to our collective detriment. If we are pinning our hopes of economic recovery on commercial farming, then from an admittedly unscientific, cursory examination of the types of agricultural exhibitors, I am afraid we continue to be in deep trouble as a nation and an economy.
There is livestock at this year’s show for the first time in a number of years. The official media has gone out of its way to always mention this in association with the claimed triumph over foot-and-mouth disease.
I also find it a pity that whatever one’s feelings about land reform and the way it has been conducted, we can’t be honest enough to admit to ourselves that there has been massive disruption of commercial agriculture over the last several years. That is the main reason there has been no livestock at the show for some years and why this year’s entries are few and generally a shadow of what they were at shows of years gone by.
It is also the reason why tobacco almost didn’t feature at all at this year’s show. I suppose there could be some “revolutionary” journalist out there who might want to try suggesting that this is because there is now a strain of “foot-and-mouth” disease, perhaps sent by the ubiquitous Tony Blair, that has decimated the revolutionary tobacco crop! It ain’t foot-and-mouth, it’s politics!
The Harare Show is a unique opportunity for national introspection by politicians, bureaucrats, businesspeople and members of the general public to assess how we are doing as a nation. From my close vantage point at this year’s show, my perspective on this is that we are generally working very hard to overcome our many self-inflicted problems, but the results are far from as rosy as some of our politicians and media would try to portray.
Speaking of the media in general, I regret to say I have generally been very disappointed with their failure to utilise this unique opportunity to really gauge the economic state of the country in concrete ways. There has been very little analysis of any type; most of the media, public or private, seeming to be mainly interested in half-hearted advertising supplements.
There are many interesting and tough questions about the show and the economy that went completely unasked. I think it is a great pity that so much of our media simply treats the show as a great carnival or opportunity for slightly increased advertising revenue.
Predictably, the dramatically increased number of small-scale exhibitors has been billed by some of the media in a political context as “support for the government’s land reform”. I am sure there are many exhibitors both large and small who do support land reform but there are very few who exhibit or even farm with any overtly political motive at all. Farming and exhibiting at the show are purely economic and business decisions that have nothing to do with politicians’ agenda. The politicians and their support structures are simply the freeloaders who come to sloganeer on the backs of the farmer toiling away in the very difficult environment that is Zimbabwe at the moment.
Let us enjoy the show and use it to stare at ourselves honestly in the mirror. If we don’t we will continue to sink the way we have been doing for years while “satisfying” ourselves with cheap propaganda and lies at our own expense.
* Chido Makunike is a regular Zimbabwe Independent columnist.