Muddled policies undermine agricultural recovery

Augustine Mukaro


LACK of a clearly defined agricultural policy framework has eroded investor confidence and chances of a quick economic recovery. Analysts this week said lack of planning and muddled policies undermined prospects of agricultural recovery.



Vice-President Joseph Msika told a Seed Co field day in Kadoma last week that government was prepared to work with white farmers as long as they respected the country’s laws and fully utilised the land.
 
“We cannot remove every white man in this country,” Msika was reported as saying. “We will only respect those white people who respect our laws and want to live with us.”

Msika’s statement appears in sync with President Robert Mugabe and Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono’s calls for an immediate halt to fresh farm invasions to avert jeopardising efforts to revive the country’s food security and self-sufficiency.
                                     
But Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement minister Didymus Mutasa, the man in charge of the daily proceedings, appears to be reading from a different script.

Evidence on the ground shows that Mutasa is determined to grab all land after he recently threatened that: “We are still hungry and we want all our land back and all our land to be used by our own people.”
 
He proceeded to dispatch a team into Mashonaland West province to establish the exact number of white farmers still on the land and serve them with eviction notices.

More than 40 of the remaining white farmers are understood to have been issued with fresh 90-day notices to wind up their operations, throwing into disarray any planning for the future.
 
The notices are due to expire in May.

Agricultural experts say the uncertainty in agriculture has not only adversely affected the foreign investment environment, but thrown virtually all farmers into a state of anxiety.
 
Government’s failure to come up with a consistent policy framework has been further exposed by the continued failure of state projects touted as lasting panaceas to the food insecurity.

In 2002 government launched the Masvingo food initiative, putting about 1 500 hectares of land under winter maize to alleviate food shortages. The project failed dismally, producing a mere 6 000 tonnes, only enough to feed the nation for a single day.

 As if that fiasco was not a lesson enough, in 2004 government embarked on the Nuanetsi irrigation project.
 
At least 100 000 hectares of virgin land was set to be cleared for irrigation. The project was sold as the answer to the country’s perennial food woes as it was projected to produce 700 000 tonnes thrice a year.
 
Government has just abandoned the project with less than 5 000 hectares cleared and has now roped in the army in yet another ambitious venture, Operation Maguta.

The army mobilised hundreds of soldiers unaccustomed to commercial agriculture and deployed units to till the land as a pre-emptive strategy to forestall potential food riots.

As government groped about from one projected to another, Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono was doling out over $6 trillion for the agricultural sector. The cash largesse appears to have failed, as evidenced by a food import bill of US$135 million which Gono revealed last week.
   
An official at the Commercial Farmers Union who declined to be named said the uncertainty of tenure in the agricultural sector was a major constraint on committing investment and productivity.

“Land is stock in capital and can only be used to access funds upon provision of proof of formal documents that one is indeed the holder of title,” the official said. 

Those who have been allocated land find it hard to embark on long-term developments either due to fears that they might be moved out or lack of resources, as they cannot borrow on the holdings.
 
Agriculture experts said investment in the agriculture sector was hog-tied by the enactment of the Constitutional Amendment No 17 that nationalised all land in Zimbabwe.

“All land in Zimbabwe is now state land, which undermines property rights and discourages meaningful investment in agriculture,” one expert said.
 
The expert said Zimbabwe was regressing by adopting discredited price controls in an era of free markets and open economies.

Last year Gono proposed a “stick and carrot” command agricultural framework whereby only highly experienced farmers would benefit from government support so as to revive the country’s flagging agricultural sector.

Under the arrangement, new investors, or skilled former operators would be given special dispensation and guarantees of uninterrupted productive tenure of 5-10 years backed by relevant arms of government.

Farmers said failure to come up with a workable policy framework to attract investment had forced government to stick its fingers in every pie in the face of a worsening food crisis.

“Introduction of Operation Maguta was an admission of the fact that there is no procedure being followed to resolve the land question and food insecurity,” farmers said.
 
“The army in charge of the operation has nothing to do with farming. Zimbabwe can only establish itself as the breadbasket of Southern Africa by creating an enabling environment.”

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