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Eric Bloch Column

Chissano is right but Zimbabwe is deaf

By Eric Bloch

WHEN Mozambican president Joachim Chissano opened the 93rd Harare Agricultural Show last week the greater portion of his address centred upon the critical importance of agriculture

to the continent of Africa, in general, and to Zimbabwe in particular. He said that agriculture constitutes the backbone of most African economies and was their largest contributor to gross domestic product as well as the biggest source of foreign currency, whilst it was also the biggest generator of savings and of tax revenues.

Expanding upon his theme, he stated that at least 70% of Africa’s population derives its livelihood from agriculture with around 200 million people suffering from malnutrition. He said that “around 40 million people are currently facing food emergency caused by natural and man-made disasters” and that “agriculture in Zimbabwe is of strategic importance to food security” not only for itself “but also throughout the region”. He placed very considerable stress on this, emphasising the importance of Zimbabwean agriculture for the food security of not only itself, but for that of all of Sadc.

To assure such food security, President Chissano identified an array of needs, including:

* As land is a fundamental resource for agricultural production, people ready to work on it should be enabled to access it;

* That access to land must be for all citizens, with no discrimination of race, politics, colour or region;

* Peace and stability must be maintained through continued dialogue, for peace and stability is more important than rain and fertiliser;

* There be investment in water control and land management so that agriculture not be dependent upon unreliable rains;

* Rural infrastructure be expanded with such resources as roads, storage facilities, processing and conditioning, thereby enhancing national, regional and international trade;

* Deficient water systems, inap-propriate techniques and limited budgets for agriculture be addressed.

Few can differ with these contentions of Chissano, for not only does all logic recognise the substance of his views, but they are supported by the very impressive advances that Mozambique has achieved under his governance.

Notwithstanding that Mozambique is still an impoverished country with many of its population still struggling to survive and to improve their poor lot in life, it has progressed remarkably in a relatively short period despite being afflicted by adverse climatic conditions, including devastating cyclones which destroyed much of its agricultural infrastructure. Determination and adherence to the principles enunciated by him and to fulfilling the needs which he identified, is aiding Mozambique’s transition from extreme poverty to eventual wellbeing.

In marked contradistinction, Zimbabwe is sinking to ever deeper lows of poverty and suffering. Although there are many contributory factors unrelated to agriculture that are bringing Zimbabwe to the brink of destruction, the greatest single factor is in all probability the disastrous agricultural policies pursued with disregard for all evidence of the adverse consequences of those policies. And that abuse of agriculture is characterised by disregard for each and every one of the needs upon which President Chissano focused his attention.

A correlation of each of those needs with Zimbabwe’s actions demonstrates that:

* Instead of enabling “people ready to work on” the land to have access to the land, government has displaced thousands of farmers who have evidenced their willingness, desire and ability to work on the land, together with almost half-a-million farm workers who have derived a livelihood for years from their labours, and have assured Zimbabwe of food security for many decades. So determined has government been in its pursuit of policies of displacement that it has reneged on its own stated policy that all, irrespective of race, willing and able to work the land would be enabled to do so.

Instead, it has not only displaced farmers and workers from some of the lands which they had been based, but from virtually all of them, and has allowed others to emulate the acts of government in total disregard for law. Those others have included war veterans, actual or pseudo, wives of generals, the politically well-connected, public servants, and the self-appointed, unauthorised, administrators or im-plementers of government policies. It has allowed aspirants of great wealth to annex farms, or be allocated farms expropriated by government, dubbed as A2 farmers, who at best visit their farms on weekends, and even then do little to achieve any agricultural production;

* It does not accept the precept that access to land be for all, without discrimination. Instead, discrimination is the order of the day. Foremost is the racial discrimination which has totally negated the alleged desires for racial harmony and unity expressed by then incoming Prime Minister Robert Mugabe upon Zimbabwe attaining Independence. Instead, “white” is automatically evil, “black” good, and if the black person is a member of the ruling party and/or is a member of tribal groupings more favoured than others, then he is even more preferred. In practice, there are good whites and bad whites, and good blacks and bad blacks.

* No real desire has been evinced by government to maintain peace and stability. The rule of law and order has become theory instead of practice, with corruption allowed to operate unhindered, farmers murdered or viciously assaulted without any state attempt to bring the perpetrators to justice, and the farmers’ property looted and vandalised without any endeavour by the authorities to contain such crime. Exacerbating the lack of peace and the instability are constant outpourings of vitriol against political opponents, racial minorities, and proponent of human rights;

* Not only is investment in water control and land management minimal due to a very major extent to government’s inability to fund such investment, resulting from its very limited revenue flows as a result of its destruction of the economy, but government has allowed much of the past investment to become worthless with its unwillingness to control the vandalisation and destruction of boreholes, dams and weirs, irrigation systems, windbreaks and the like. In addition, government has alienated most international monetary bodies and donors, resulting in massive shrinkage of their funding of water control resources and land management;

* The same holds good for the need to expand rural infrastructure. Instead, government has allowed dams to silt up, roads to become unusable, and facilities such as tobacco barns, greenhouses, milking sheds, produce processing plants and much else to be vandalised and destroyed. So, not only is required investment not forthcoming, but the extent of necessary investment has been rendered much greater by destroying past investment, and productivity is gravely reduced;

* Despite many grandiose promises emanating from the ministries of Land, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement, and of Fiction, Fable and Myth, of provision of necessary inputs for newly-settled farmers to work the lands, the actual quantity of inputs made available is a mere fraction of that required, and most of such inputs are made available when it is almost too late for them to be of use.

It is little wonder, therefore, that the production of tobacco has fallen by an estimated 70% in the last three years, whilst in the same period commercial maize production has declined by about 90%. Most other food crops are also a fraction of prior year production, and the national herd is now 40% of that of 2000. However, government is conveniently unconcerned, for it is able to conjure up new excuses which suggest that the fault lies with any, other than government, that it may decide to blame, and upon climatic conditions (which would have had limited effect if water infrastructures had not been damaged and skilled farmers displaced from the land).

It is said that “actions speak louder than words”. President Chissano has proven, and continues to prove, that that is so. He has demonstrated that he is right when he details the importance of, and needs for, successful agriculture. Regrettably, despite the applause accorded him at the Harare Agricultural Show, Zimbabwe (as represented by its government) is studiously deaf and will not heed even the irrefutable.

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