Agrarian reform: waiting for a miracle

THE chickens are coming home to roost for the Zanu PF mandarins who have raped the economy through the so-called agrarian reform programme. If there is anything threatening the well-being of our economy at the mome

nt it has to be failures which have been registered in the land reform process.

Five years after the violent seizure of commercial farmland, the government is still keen to advertise this as a success despite widespread evidence to the contrary. Yields from the fields are not a cause for celebration. In fact the agricultural sector, where the government has pumped so much money, is performing badly. The sector is going down and is taking the whole economy with it.

The government solution to this has been to pump in more money and wait for a miracle to happen — that is production figures commensurate with capital invested in the sector. This is the folly which characterises all government’s implementation of agricultural policies. No one seems to be focused on how the decline in production is impacting on the economy.

Two stories carried by the state media this week are instructive in as far as they point out the catastrophic impact of the agrarian reform on the economy. The Sunday Mail reported that power utility Zesa was threatening to cut supplies to farmers who are failing to pay their bills. Then on Wednesday, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, a state agency that sells water to farmers, also said that it had had enough of farmers failing to pay for water.
Zinwa says it is owed $30 billion by farmers while individual farmers owe Zesa as much as $10 million each.
We wonder what they were using the power for if they can’t pay!

We heard the usual threats from indigenous farmers’ organisations that the intended moves by Zinwa and Zesa would impact negatively on the agrarian reform programme. We were told that this would affect the winter wheat programme. They fell short of branding Zesa a saboteur.

“New farmers need nurturing since expensive water bills make their farming business prohibitive if authorities like Zinwa do not assist them with the development of their irrigation facilities,” said Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Davison Mugabe.

But that is not the issue. The new farmers are simply seeking state protection to maximise profits without contributing anything to the national economy. They want the state to provide them with inputs, tillage, free electricity and water while many of them have run down the infrastructure on the farms. A large number of them are neither paying land nor corporate tax and continue to make demands on government for more freebies.

It is not their fault alone. They were brought up on government largesse and they believe the fiscus is a bottomless source of cheap funds which they don’t have to account for. On Wednesday this week lawyer Johannes Tomana and two fellow senior attorneys occupying a farm in Trelawney joined the chorus of beggers for free inputs on land they seized without paying a cent. The farmers have to realise that the land they occupy has to be run on a commercial basis with them contributing meaningfully to productivity.

The state-inspired chaos in agriculture has been a boon for many who have access to state loans but never put a seed in the ground. There are many who were given free seed and fertiliser but diverted them onto the black market. The legion of felons also includes those who invaded conservancies to satisfy their lust for game meat and to chop down the nearest tree on sight. We also witnessed criminals — some of them well-placed officials — stripping farms of key irrigation equipment like pumps, motors and pipes.

Amid this morass, Finance minister Herbert Murerwa last year told us the economy would grow by between 3,5% and 5% on the back of a massive 28% rebound in the agricultural sector.

He was dreaming and he will not be repeating that figure soon. There will not be growth in agriculture just because government and the Reserve Bank have poured in some $2 trillion.
There is need for a proper audit on who is doing what on the land. This does not need to be an expensive scientific assessment. The evidence is there for anyone travelling on the country’s trunk roads to see. We are waiting for Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono to follow through on his threat to deal ruthlessly with those
who abuse farming loans.

Someone in government — in particular Agriculture minister Joseph Made — must wake up and try to reconcile what has been invested in agriculture against output.