Farming calls for dedication and planning

GOVERNMENT this week announced what Agriculture minister Joseph Made described as a “very good” producer price for maize, from $750 000 per tonne to a whopping $2 248 024 (about 300%) with effect from April 1. The ob

jective is to increase the hectarage planted to maize and, hopefully, deliveries to the GMB.

While it is commendable that government has decided to give these early incentives to farmers to raise production, there is still evidence of poor planning. The difference between a purchase price of over $2 million and a selling price by the GMB to millers of $600 000 is likely to impact negatively on government’s books.

There is also something curious about a producer price increase of nearly 300% at a time when inflation is reportedly on the decline and close to 120%. What is the market supposed to make of a government urging restraint in wage negotiations and then itself splurging out on farmers whose level of return has been suspect at the best of times? Are workers expected to ask for less than their worth simply to meet Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono’s inflation targets?

But that is only by the way. The real problem is on land itself. Since the redistribution process began in 2000, government has poured in billions of dollars without a commensurate return in both loan repayments and productivity. President Mugabe said as much when he recently complained that productive land was being reduced to “weekend braai resorts”.

Newly-appointed Mashonaland East governor and resident minister Ray Kaukonde last week pledged to tour his province to see what had become of once productive farms that now could no longer meet the nation’s requirements. He said some resettled farmers used government loans to buy themselves luxury vehicles and build mansions.

Herein lies the biggest problem with our new farmers, and government is playing right into the hands of greedy sharks out to make a quick buck. Some of the people who got huge tracts of land not only lack the skills and interest in farming, they also have no culture of long-term investment and sacrifice. While the white farmers who were removed from the land had spent painstaking years borrowing and investing in infrastructure, from dams to irrigation equipment, the new guys want everything on a silver platter so they can become instant millionaires.

Government appears to have fallen into the trap that “if you don’t give us huge producer prices we are not going to produce and the nation will starve and the people turn against you”. The blackmail is working well every year.

On the other hand government itself is keen to prove critics of its land redistribution wrong by showing that there might yet be a silver lining to this particularly dark cloud. It is forced to feed all the farmers’ whims in the hope that somehow production may magically rise if it gives them more money.

Tragically, what we now have is a government that has become a victim of its own populist policies and the nation is held to ransom by a breed of men and women using a freely acquired national resource to extort wealth from hungry citizens. Made should learn to leave his office and investigate what is happening on the land and call the bluff of these lazy land usurpers. At the moment he doesn’t appear to be up to the task and doesn’t care.

The solution doesn’t lie with a wholesale return of displaced white farmers, but getting on the land people with skills and an interest in working for long-term gains. Food self-sufficiency will not come from resettling huge numbers of people, but having on the land people who are dedicated and prepared to invest their own resources.
The culture of free handouts is dangerous. The more government gives, the more the vultures on the land demand for doing virtually nothing while the nation is turned into an international basket case.

There is no doubting that with sufficient inputs — fuel, fertiliser, maize seed, draught power and irrigation infrastructure — mobilised on time and the right calibre of people on the land of whatever hue, Zimbabwe can regain its place as the bread basket of the region in a shorter period than we are likely to take moving in this haphazard, greed-driven fashion.

So what are we saying? The solution to our food security problem doesn’t lie in Made announcing “good” prices.

There is need for timeous resource-provision, but also hands-on supervision and monitoring of what is going on on the farms and how the resources allocated to increase production are used. What is the state of land preparation as we speak and what are the output projections for the money being doled out to farmers?

This week farmers were still complaining that they could not get seed and fuel for their winter wheat. Is Made really up to the task? Pledging high prices cannot of itself produce maize. We need skills, resources and, above all, dedication and diligent planning. Government simply has to accept this painful reality and get the nation moving forward.

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