Army launches Operation Taguta

AS starvation stalks the country, the government has turned to the army in a bid to revive an agricultural sector ruined by the chaotic and often violent land reform programme.



a, sans-serif”>This comes as a parliamentary portfolio committee slammed government for poor planning in the agricultural sector.


High-level official sources said government would soon launch Operation Taguta/Sisuthi to avert looming starvation. The operation – to be run by the army, police, prisons, and intelligence service – was expected to kick off on November 7 but is running behind schedule.


The initiative, a clear admission of failure by the government, will be headed by Agriculture minister Joseph Made, widely blamed for misleading the country on food stocks, while Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi will be his deputy. Made said yesterday he was not aware of the programme, while Sekeramayi was not reachable for comment.


Sources said the project was conceived at the Joint Operations Command (JOC), which brings together the army, police, prisons and the intelligence service, and has now been finalised.


Meetings have been held between the project promoters and officials from the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (Arda) and the Agricultural Research and Extension Services (Arex).


The army, Arda and Arex are currently identifying farms to spearhead the project. Farms which are under-utilised are the main targets. Sources said the JOC would supervise the operation, which effectively militarises agriculture and bears the hallmarks of Stalinist agricultural planning.


Central bank governor Gideon Gono said in May command agriculture was coming.


“Command agriculture seeks to optimise output by requiring a minimum output of food or export crops, and is central to agriculture as well as general economic recovery,” Gono said then.


This was in the face of evidence of spreading starvation which is no longer just affecting vulnerable social groups, but also the army itself. Soldiers have reportedly been sent on leave to save on food supplies, and some barracks have been partially closed.


A report compiled by the parliamentary portfolio committee on lands, land reform and resettlement, which recently assessed the level of preparedness for the 2005/6 agriculture season, said government had failed to raise the needed $15 trillion to fund the command agriculture project.


It said the Agriculture ministry and Treasury lacked the capacity to “bankroll the programme to the tune of $14,9 trillion due to other pressing priorities”.


“Hence as late as September, Treasury had still not committed itself to funding the programme.”


Government had targeted farmers to produce 2,3 million tonnes of maize, 90 000 tonnes of tobacco, 49 500 tonnes of maize seed, 210 000 tonnes of cotton, 750 000 tonnes of horticultural crops, and 8 250 tonnes of tea.


The report said these targets were not going to be met due to lack of money and poor planning.


“This ambitious programme by government, though it looks noble on paper, seems to be a still-birth,” the parliamentary report said. “Agriculture stakeholders including farmers unions expressed ignorance on the command agriculture model.


“Your committee failed to understand how government could formulate and implement a programme of such magnitude without consulting key stakeholders in the agricultural sector. The gap between government-set targets and the available stocks of inputs points to a serious lack of proper planning by government bureaucrats.” – Staff Writers.