By Luis Clemens
THE truth is a tricky affair in Zimbabwe. There are no reliable statistics but plenty of damn lies. Sorting fact from fiction and distinguishing partisan criticism from independent comment is
The competing claims of the ruling party and the opposition seem to originate from different planets – Zanu PF is from Mars and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is from Venus.
To many readers in and outside the country, anything that appears in the Zimbabwean state-controlled media is automatically suspect. Likewise, any article in the foreign media about Zimbabwe is considered by other readers to be steeped in falsehood to demonise Zanu PF.
When I was working for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Zimbabwe I helped organise a media junket to coincide with the visit of the agency’s executive director, Jim Morris. At one point the journalists found themselves standing alongside President Robert Mugabe at State House waiting for the arrival of Morris’s car.
Meanwhile, the president was told which reporters were present. Upon hearing there was someone from the Associated Press, the president smiled and asked: “Are you associated with us or against us?”
Few stories have inspired more diametrically opposed coverage than the government’s announcement of a bumper harvest and its decision to forego international food aid this year. The opposition claims the government is trying to starve its supporters into submission; a claim echoed in numerous articles in the international media. The ruling party claims the bumper harvest is proof of the success of the land reform programme; a claim echoed by the state-run media.
Against this backdrop of mistrust it is worth reviewing the historical record to see who said what and when. I propose taking the Agriculture minister Joseph Made quite literally at his word. Ditto with the government’s claims, through the state-run media, regarding its food security initiatives.
I have included both direct quotations and statements attributed to the minister by the Herald. Where relevant I cite statements from other ruling party officials as well.
The government of Zimbabwe has struggled since 2001 to source sufficient fertiliser and seed for the planting of maize and wheat. Made and other officials have repeatedly noted that land reform has increased the demand for these agricultural inputs yet their overall domestic production has dropped.
The government blames this drop on “sabotage” by white commercial farmers who used to grow the seed as well as “hoarding” by seed companies. In turn, the seed companies have chafed under price controls and fertiliser producers have been hampered by forex shortages and transportation problems that have reduced their supply of imported chemical inputs.
The minister has repeatedly stressed the importance of getting seeds and fertiliser into the hands of smallholder farmers early in the planting season. The failure to do so in recent seasons has been repeatedly cited by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as the proximate cause of the food shortages.
July 17 2002: This time the government has decided to release the initial package early because of the experience of last season where many people ended up getting input packages in the middle of the season.
December 24 2002: In its latest fortnightly crop and livestock report released over the weekend, Arex (the department of agricultural research and extension, part of the ministry of agriculture) said in many instances farmers were being forced to carry on with their agricultural activities with the necessary inputs such as fertiliser. “The problems associated with seed, fertiliser and draught power shortages persist in all provinces.”
May 13 2003: “We are working around the clock on the matter. Last season we did better than the previous season in making inputs available to the farmers,” said Made.
July 8 2003: Made said the government was doing everything possible to ensure that all farmers are provided with the necessary inputs before the beginning of the season.
July 9 2003: Chief Fortune Charumbira – also the deputy minister of Local Government – told the president: “We are finding it difficult to get inputs and when they come late, it will be difficult to make any meaningful contribution to our farming activities.”
September 2 2003: Government was working flat-out to ensure agricultural inputs were made available to the farmers before the onset of the rainy season.
Aside from seed and fertiliser the minister has also made much of the need to provide access to tractors for smallholder farmers. He has aggressively tried to acquire tractors for the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority, which he used to head.
August 21 2003: The Malaysian deal will supply the country with 50 000 two-wheel drive tractors, 2 000 four-wheel drive tractors, 100 bulldozers, 300 combine harvesters, 1 000 planters, 10 000 boom sprayers, water pumps, centre pivots, electricity generators, trucks, livestock vaccines, chemicals and 150 million litres of fuel for the coming agricultural season.
January 27 2004: The government expects to receive tractors, seed drills and combine harvesters worth at least US$3,5 million from Malaysia within the next few weeks. The equipment – which includes 25 high-powered tractors, 50 seed drills and 15 combine harvesters – is part of a US$10 million facility extended to the country by the Asian nation.
The exact amount of maize and wheat imported through the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) is a closely held secret. The government has denied the United Nations and others access to its granaries, which might allow for independent evaluation of GMB food stockpiles.
March 22 2002: “Government will import 1,5 million tonnes of maize to cover about 18 months under a long-term plan aimed at averting starvation in the country.”
April 11 2002: “You may be aware of the government’s move to import more than 2,5 million tonnes of maize until the next harvest,” said Made. May 20 2002: The government is to import 1,5 million tonnes of maize to cover about 18 months to avert starvation, Made has said.
After the low production of the main 2001/2002 maize season, the government was preoccupied with maximising the winter maize crop.
April 25 2002: Made said the government would irrigate 100 000 hectares of winter maize from which 400 000 tonnes could be expected by August or September.
July 4 2002: “While the winter programme seems to be going well, maize production was only taking place in Chiredzi where nearly 600 000 tonnes of maize were expected.”
July 6 2002: 60 000 tonnes of maize are expected.
Each of the following initiatives had yet to be launched at the time of publication despite ministerial deadlines that had come and gone.
April 2 2004: The Horticultural Authority, a parastatal set up to represent the interests of indigenous horticultural farmers, is expected to be operational within the next three months, the Minster of agriculture and rural development, Dr Joseph Made, said yesterday.
January 23 2004: “We expect to come up wit a 25-year strategy for production that should be out in the next few months,” said Made. Perhaps the delays in implementation explain why the minister is often quoted for castigating his officials.
April 23 2004: “I will be there to monitor (the) performance of personnel in my ministry, for being a non-performer is as good as sabotage,” said Made. May 4 2004: He said he had summoned officials from the parastatal to his office to read the riot act to them. “If that continues, their days are numbered,” he said.
May 21 2004: “I will not brook any nonsense on this mater. It will be investigated and all those involved will answer for the crime,” he said.
Unfortunately, Made is not likely to answer for his almost criminal incompetence. As his statements and those of the Zanu PF officials quoted above make clear, Made has dismally failed for three consecutive years to ensure the timely distribution of sufficient seed and fertiliser to the newly resettled farmers.
This despite the fact that the existing number of newly resettled farmers is far smaller than repeatedly touted by him. For years Made said there were 300 000 smallholder farmers and 56 000 large-scale farmers. The presidential land resettlement committee report, however, cites figures of 112 000 and 12 500 respectively.
It must be conceded that land reform was desperately needed in Zimbabwe, though certainly not in the violent, haphazard and kleptocratic manner that it was implemented.
Unlike most people outside of Zanu PF, I am convinced government has the financial wherewithal to import sufficient food this year.
Outsiders have consistently underestimated the government’s capacity to purchase food as well as its ability to collect favours from unexpected corporations and countries. Zimbabwe Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono and the entire Zimbabwean banking sector have proved adept at raising funds and sourcing foreign currency by any means necessary.
The most serious problem in Zimbabwe is not the mythical bumper harvest. The most worrisome issue is that the important distribution is mostly in the hands of the egregiously incompetent Made. He has the reverse Midas touch; everything he touches turns to dross.
Luis Clemens was spokesman for the WFP in Zimbabwe from September 2002 to August 2003. – Focus magazine.