Eric Bloch Column

Horticulture a growing opportunity


By Eric Bloch

IN his very wide-ranging 2005 Monetary Policy Statement, the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Dr Gideon Gono, made reference to the opportunities that present themselves to Zimbabwe in the field of horticul

tural activity. He waxed eloquently on the extent to which horticulture can be a major factor in Zimbabwe’s economic development.
 
And he is very correct, for horticulture is evidencing itself more and more as a growing opportunity (Yes, the pun is intended!) Subject only to governmentally created constraints which can be rapidly overcome if the will to do so is to be found in the corridors of power, horticulture can become a very significant element of the Zimbabwean economy. Blessed with great fertility of land, and a generally accommodating climate, Zimbabwe is able to produce a very diverse range of fruits, vegetables and flowers, in demand within the region, and very much further afield.
 
Being in the southern hemisphere, it is able to produce and supply that which, in the northern hemisphere, is out-of-season. Supplementing open-field production, Zimbabwe has also developed access to state-of-the-art technological expertise in greenhouse-based horticulture.


Reinforcing the land, climatic and technological attributes which suggest that Zimbabwe could become the foremost horticultural producer on the continent of Africa, Zimbabwe is possessed of a large, able and willing labour force. Whilst “cheap labour” should be frowned upon, for it smacks of exploitation, nevertheless the cost of labour in Zimbabwe as represented by a percentage of horticultural selling prices, is highly-competitive with labour costs in other horticultural producing countries.


The benefits of a vastly expanded horticultural sector in Zimbabwe would be many. Probably of greatest import is that horticulture is a labour intensive industry and, therefore, expansion of horticulture in Zimbabwe would address one of Zimbabwe’s greatest problems, being mass unemployment.

It is estimated that more than three million potential workers are unemployed, being in excess of 75% of the employment population. By embarking upon a determined and constructive programme of horticultural development, Zimbabwe could be creating tens of thousands of jobs. At the same time, as many forms of horticulture are not capital intensive, opportunities can readily be created for indigenous economic empowerment.

Also of very great consequence is that with quality horticultural produce being in high demand internationally, the development of a greatly enlarged horticultural sector could result in very substantial foreign currency generation.
 
Admittedly, some foreign currency is required for the establishment of the required horticultural infrastructure, and on an ongoing basis for certain operational inputs, but the overall foreign exchange balance relating to horticulture is skewed greatly in favour of Zimbabwe.

Although employment creation and foreign exchange generation are key benefits flowing from an enlarged horticultural sector, many other benefits will also accrue.


These will include substantial downstream spending into the economy on the part of the horticultural enterprises and their employees. They will also include some significant inflows to the fiscus, by way of direct and indirect taxation on the profits of horticultural ventures and on the earnings and expenditures of their employees.

Increased volumes of horticultural exports will also facilitate the development of viable airfreight services between Zimbabwe and Europe, and between Zimbabwe and the Middle and Far East, together with enhanced airport freight handling facilities at Harare International and Bulawayo airports.


And, not to be discounted, a potential major outcome of a concerted effort to achieve a meaningful expansion of the horticultural industry could be that the wealth of expertise, accumulated by the thousands of white farmers who were maliciously deprived of legitimately acquired land, of the improvements they had effected to that land, and of their crops, and are still in Zimbabwe, can be brought into constructive beneficial use for themselves and for Zimbabwe. That vast wealth of skills, however, can only be brought into play if government goes into a pronounced and lasting policy transformation.


First of all, it must cease its recurrent, racialistic, spurious attacks on, and denigration of, the white farmer community. Never-ending abusive vitriol is not conducive to motivating ex-farmers to becoming engaged in activities from which they were so unjustly displaced, or to extend their expertise to others.


However, if an environment of reconciliation would be established, with commitment and conviction, some of the evictees from their lawfully held properties, would be very willing to resume operations, even if in some instances in lesser sized farms than previously. And they would willingly share their expertise and collaborate with newly-settled neighbours.


Secondly, for that to become a reality, those farmers need to be compensated for that land as is not returned to them, for the improvements thereon, for the vandalism, destruction and theft of their property, for their relocation, and for their loss of income. Concurrently, they must be vested incontrovertible and an irrevocable title in their land, for after that which they have experienced, they will not engage in any activity as could once again subject them to such oppression.


The need for assured tenure over land is not only that of any displaced former farmers as return and engage in horticultural activity, but will be of equal importance to indigenous and non-indigenous domestic investors, and to foreign investors. None will invest if they must fear dispossession, and recent history gives pronounced grounds for such fear.


Yet further policy reversal necessary to stimulate investment in the horticultural sector is that government reconsider its declared intent that horticultural marketing be centred solely upon a horticultural marketing authority. That intended body is clearly a clone upon the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe.
 
Government has yet to learn that successful economies are those as are substantively decontrolled. Investors wish to be masters of their destiny, and not have their successes or failures determined by centralised bodies over which they have no authority or control. Arguments that such bodies constrain private sector enterprises from restoring to transfer pricing are specious.
 
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Reserve Authority have more than adequate, highly skilled monitoring and surveillance personnel and infrastructures to contain and prevent breaches of Exchange Controls and taxation laws. But the forced marketing through a parastatal imposes additional costs upon the horticulturists, eroding earnings, and to a substantial degree deprives them from exploiting international connections and marketing opportunities.

The essential ingredients for massive growth in the horticultural sector are in place or are available, and Zimbabwe must not forfeit the opportunity of the array of socio-economic benefits that will flow from that growth.
 
But Zimbabwe has to make it happen.