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Eric Bloch Column

Zimbabwe’s great agriculture lie

By Eric Bloch

THE government in general, and its ministry of propaganda, misrepresentation and deceit in particular, continues to herald and trumpet the fantastic success of the land reform programme, the magnitude of

economic turnaround and that that turnaround is founded upon the restoration of agriculture to the role of foundation and mainstay of the economy.

If only there was a grain of truth in these recurrent, proudly proclaimed contentions of the government. The widespread scarcity of all grains, including maize and wheat, unfortunately extends also to grains of truth.

Months ago, the ministers of Agriculture and Rural Development and Social Welfare grandiosely informed the international donor community that in 2004 Zimbabwe did not need food aid — other than for Aids orphans and other deprived people. They claimed that the 2004 maize harvest would be at least 1,8 million tonnes, together with 600 000 tonnes of wheat and other grains.

This crop would exceed the total of the nation’s needs, and therefore no support was required from the United Nations Development Programme, the World Food Programme and the many donors that those bodies interact with. What was not explained, if Zimbabwe were to have such a bountiful crop, was why food aid was still required from the international community for the ailing and the under-privileged. Surely, if Zimbabwe had a surfeit of food, the Ministry of Social Welfare could use those food resources to care for the needy?

Very soon thereafter, the minister of propaganda — who doubles up as the minister of fiction, fable and myth — succeeded in claiming that the maize crop alone would be 2,4 million tonnes. He managed to combine the prior prophecies of output of all grains into maize only, thereby implying a total grains crop of three million tonnes — more than ever previously attained.

Since then, the government as a whole has steadfastly and ad nauseum contended Zimbabwean self-sufficiency in food in 2004 and 2005, and has recently been foreshadowing even greater production in the forthcoming season. Although previously queried in this column, and by many others, is how Zimbabwe could miraculously produce such vast quantities of maize when, for the 2004 season, there had only been sufficient seed, fertilisers and chemicals for a crop of about 600 000 tonnes and when prepared lands could, if fully utilised, only have produced such a crop.

Similarly wild and hallucinatory projections emanated from the authorities as to the 2004 tobacco crop, with the quantities that could allegedly be produced ranging from 100 million to 120 million kg. In the end result, total tobacco sales approximated 65 million kg only!

Having destroyed their already shady credibility with such spurious forecasts, which had been immediately and authoritatively countered by those on the ground, including representative farmer organisations, seed suppliers and fertiliser manufacturers, Agriculture minister Joseph Made is now making equally far-fetched prognostications as to crop production in 2005. He studiously ignores the evidence that he had either misjudged or been misinformed as to the realities.

That evidence includes that Zimbabwe is currently importing maize from Zambia and wheat from South Africa. Why is it doing so if Zimbabwe has enjoyed production in excess of needs? Were that so, Zimbabwe would either be exporting or creating strategic reserves. That evidence includes substantiated data as to the actual quantities of agricultural inputs as were used in the 2003/4 season and, therefore, the maximum possibly attainable outputs.

But no, facts will not be recognised when they do not accord with governmental perceptions and its political needs. Instead, the refined propaganda techniques of Goebbels and Lord Haw-Haw of the 20th century become role models for attempted delusion of the populace. But those techniques do not succeed when the realities become evident from rumbling stomachs filled only with hunger pangs.

However, that is not deterring ministers from misinforming the president and others in the political hierarchy as to the actual circumstances. In endeavours of self-preservation and of politicking ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary election, the facts are obliterated and wishful thinking takes over.

Thus, they repeatedly claim that not only is the land acquisition programme complete — which doesn’t reconcile with the pages of acquisition notices appearing in the state-controlled newspapers and the Government Gazette every Friday — but that in addition the newly settled farmers are now established and on the threshold of all-time record crops.

That the extent of land preparation does not accord with yield projections, that promised inputs have either not been forthcoming, or have been provided belatedly, and that commercial farmers with crops in the ground continue to be evicted and none thereafter tend to the crops, are all irrelevant.

All of these factors apparently have no bearing upon the size of crops that the government has decreed will be produced. After all, who would dare act in conflict with a government decree?

Recently, many ministers and other governmental spokesmen have stated categorically that the 2004/5 tobacco crop will be at least 160 million kg, which is well in excess of double of that for last season. They claim that 100 000 hectares of land were prepared for the tobacco crop and, with a minimum yield of 2 000kg per hectare, the crop should be 200 million kg but, allowing for contingencies, it will be at least 160 million kg.

But if one drove through Zimbabwe’s traditional tobacco-growing districts during the period of May to September, when seed planting should have been taking place, not only was it evident that the prepared areas were far less than the stated 100 000 hectares, but also much of the prepared land was not, thereafter, planted. The most optimistic forecasts from any, other than the government and its associated spokesmen, are that the forthcoming season will at best yield 80 million to 120 million kgs.

Tragically, food crops are being subjected to the same politically driven exaggerations. Foreign currency constrains, belated importations of seed and other inputs, delays in providingintending farmers with promised financial assistance and other factors are such that there is no realistic prospect of Zimbabwe producing sufficient food to sustain itself next year.

Once again Zimbabwe will be dependent upon food aid or self-financial imports. Admittedly, the government will ensure that there is a sufficiency of maize meal until after next year’s parliamentary election, irrespective of the foreign currency costs and the prejudices to the economy, but thereafter it will be faced with massive scarcities.

It will either have to swallow its pride and contain its ego by going once again, cap in hand and on it knees, to beg for food assistance, or it will have to direct massive amounts of Zimbabwe’s very limited foreign exchange resources from funding other essential imports to funding food imports.

Because year-on-year inflation, based upon the consumer price index, has declined very considerably over the last eight months, the government is claiming a Zimbabwean economic turnaround, and it claims that that turnaround is attributable to the success of its agricultural policies. That is the great agriculture lie!

The impressive fall in inflation is not to be belittled, for it is a significant achievement, but it has been achieved by the monetary policies of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono — albeit very greatly to the prejudice of exporters and foreign exchange generation — and by somewhat more effective fiscal policies than previously.

But that fall does not signify that economic turnaround has been achieved. Businesses continue to downsize or close, unemployment numbers are still increasing, shortages of essential imports are pronounced and the economy is still sustaining negative growth.

So Zimbabwe has yet to achieve economic turnaround. Agriculture could be the catalyst of the turnaround, but not for so long as the government continues with its destructive and inept agricultural policies, and not until the government is prepared to recognise agricultural fact.

Currently Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa and Nigeria are welcoming displaced Zimbabwean commercial farmers with open arms — the very farmers that have been the victims of the Zimbabwean government’s bigoted, misguided, politically and racially motivated policies.

Clearly, these countries know something Zimbabwe does not! They do not believe the Zimbabwean great agriculture lie. They recognise fact and seek to benefit there from.

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