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Editor’s Memo

Is anybody home?
Joram Nyathi 

FARMERS are preparing for the winter wheat cropping period. But already there is a tug-of-war between the farmers and government over the amount of land that can be put to produc

tive use.

Presenting oral evidence to the parliamentary portfolio committee on agriculture, lands and land resettlement this week, Agriculture secretary Simon Pazvakavambwa said government had set a target of 110 000ha of wheat under irrigation.

Arda chief executive, Joseph Matowanyika, told the committee they planned to put a mere 10 000ha of wheat under irrigation but this could not be achieved because they don’t have tillage equipment.

Farmers on the other hand told the same committee that they could manage only 45 000ha, not 110 000ha, due to a shortage of inputs such as seed, fuel and fertilisers.

The yawning gap between wishful-thinking and reality is evident in the difference in targets between government and farmers who are closer to the ground — 110 000 against 45 000ha. Representatives of the two major fertiliser companies — Windmill and Zimbabwe Fertiliser Company — confirm this. They told the committee they had no fertiliser in stock as they were closed for routine maintenance until next month.

But the real truth lay elsewhere.

The Reserve Bank has given the fertiliser industry a measly US$6,5 million to import raw materials against annual requirements of US$90 million. A simple calculation suggests that the industry would need to source more than US$80 million from the black market to bridge the gap. Should they succeed in raising this amount, that will put the price of fertiliser beyond the reach of a majority of farmers.

The reality is that there will be a serious shortage of fertiliser, not just for the winter wheat crop but going forward as well into the main farming season.

The tobacco crop that used to be a foreign currency cash-cow is no more. From a high of 236 million kg produced in 2000, farmers have forecast a pathetic 55 million kg this year. Maize production is estimated at a paltry 700 000 tonnes in one of the wettest farming seasons in a decade. That leaves an import deficit of nearly 900 000 tonnes. As if to complete the destruction, government has just thrown a spanner into the works in the mining sector by proposing de facto nationalisation. That was one of the few remaining sectors still attracting serious foreign investment and expanding.

Add to the fertiliser crisis lack of fuel and the effect of power outages on industry and mining and you have an economy that is in deep trouble.

Passing his verdict on the way forward, the chairperson of the committee, Walter Mzembi, said they had resolved that agriculture be declared a “strategic sector” in view of its pivotal role in the economy. This, he said, would allow government to prioritise the sector in the allocation of scarce resources.

Is this an epiphany? Does a government worth its salt need reminding about the strategic role of agriculture? What was the point of seizing land if not its strategic importance in the economy?

Commenting on the shortage of critical inputs (fuel and fertilisers), a member of the portfolio committee, Senator Vitalis Zvinavashe, wondered aloud whether “this is news”? Shortages have become such a way of life for Zimbabweans are expected to plod on quietly — see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil!

A deadpan observation really, but critical because it is emblematic of the wholesale dearth of ideas and the arrogant attitude of government since the 2000 election and the virtual collapse of the opposition MDC.

Above all, it means nothing is being done.

The shortages will persist and there won’t be an economic turnaround anytime soon so long as we keep importing food.

The trouble is that we believe an event, any event at all, will necessarily mean change, more myopically, we expect an improvement. We warned when Zanu PF won the March election last year that there wasn’t going to be any change, let alone positive change. It was the same faces, the same failed ministers and the same culture of doing things. Apart from the pernicious Constitutional Amendment No 17, nothing positive has come out of Zanu PF’s controversial majority.

The current hype about corruption is nothing new. How many times in the past have we had our hopes and expectations raised and brutally smashed to the ground? It is all part of a game to buy time and pray that problems will go away.

One of the questions I have not been able to answer of late is precisely what it is government is doing to get the economy out of the rut? A lot has been said about economic programmes that never take off the ground. Now we are literally leap-frogging from one subterfuge to another — spies, assassination plots, corruption, inflation and interest rates — like we were kindergarten kids who have to be distracted with toys while adults do adults things. But nobody has found the nub of our problems. Officially, everybody is quiet.

As a symbolic affirmation of this “quiet approach” to national crises, President Mugabe has been stoically silent over the past two weeks. He is telling us he has no answers.

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