Call farmers to account

ANY Zimbabweans must have watched in awe as government this week distributed thousands of farming implements to hundreds of farmers of different categories who hav

e been resettled since the start of the chaotic land reform exercise in 2000. We silently prayed for the best and hoped that the rainy season might be as predicted: above normal rainfall.

Then all things being equal, with all this equipment, we might at last kiss goodbye to the beggar stigma that has dogged Zimbabwe since the first white commercial farmer was kicked off his land seven years ago.

Unfortunately things have stubbornly refused to be equal.

The very mode of the land reform programme itself — the lawlessness which accompanied it — appears to have taught Zimbabweans that breaking the law and ignoring set rules is okay. While the climate has been less kind to our lot, it has not been the worst culprit in Zimbabwe’s failure to feed itself.

Speaking at the presentation of the equipment at Bak Storage in Harare on Monday, Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono made his usual passionate appeal for hard work and honesty among the beneficiaries of the mechanisation programme.

Billions of dollars have already been set aside for the programme in addition to trillions invested in the equipment handed out to farmers. Gono said there would be enough fuel, fertilisers, seed and other inputs to give effect to the “mother of all agricultural seasons”.

This is where we have our considered reservations: in the past seven years government has given out millions of dollars to newly-resettled farmers which have not been accounted for. Some of the farmers have found themselves displaced before they could repay the money because they didn’t have “offer letters”. Productivity has not been a factor.

Others have become, to quote Gono himself on a different occasion, “serial land occupiers” moving from one farm to the next after ruining or looting farming and irrigation equipment. In a collusive silence to pretend that everything was well were it not for the garrulous opposition, these farmer criminals have been let off with no more than a stricture.

Government has extended further largesse in the form of fuel, seed and fertiliser which in the past have quickly found ready buyers on the flourishing black market. Police now report that maize for mealie-meal is being converted into maputi for the export market while Zimbabweans starve.

Those involved have been treated with a leniency which implies that people who got land can squander national resources without accounting to anyone. Many have been accused and arrested for racketeering, but none has ever received more than token punishment. A one-time provincial chairman of Zanu PF put it quite poignantly when he boasted that “if you want to get rich, join Zanu PF”.

Lack of skill, irresponsible behaviour and delinquency have done more to turn Zimbabwe into an object of universal ridicule than have natural calamities such as drought and so-called Western sanctions.

Zimbabwe has enough agricultural colleges to deal with the issue of skills shortages, yet it appears that this has not been a priority of the authorities when talking about national food self-sufficiency.

We have more than dedicated law enforcement agencies to deal with irresponsible land-grabbers who can’t produce, yet there is simply no will to take decisive action on the part of the authorities. But the biggest deficiency we have observed is that the readiness to splurge resources on new farmers is never matched by a willingness to call them to account.

In the past most commercial banks had agro-business departments to deal with farmers. Although there were fewer luxury 4x4s, those assigned to these departments did not shy away from travelling to remote farms to ensure that resources lent to farmers were used in a sustainable way. The former Agricultural Finance Corporation did the same. This should not be beyond the capacity of the RBZ.

We are fully aware that it would not be in the best interests of black economic empowerment to set too stringent criteria such as training, financial stamina and skills to decide who should get land. But we believe there are requirements which can be a universal determinant for A2 farmers — interest and commitment. No amount of money or fuel or free seed and fertiliser can turn somebody not committed to farming into a commercial producer. Free resources only increase the temptation to make fast money on the black market.

We have many examples of Zimbabweans in all facets of the economy such as Nigel Chanakira (banking), Mutumwa Mawere (mining), Strive Masiyiwa (telecommunications), Ray Kaukonde (farming) who defied racial stereotyping to launch business empires without relying on government support. Apart from being exceptional, they had a commitment to what they invested in. But many new farmers have given fresh flavour to the cliché that you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Similarly, good intentions by government, on their own, don’t make committed farmers.

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