By Morgan Tsvangirai
ZIMBABWE approaches another farming season with uncertainty over our food security needs.
The rains are already with
us, but corruption and inept planning shall see another failed season following a systematic destruction of the agriculture sector that has led to a sustained economic meltdown.
Despite promises of a good rainy season, what we are witnessing is a classic case of bungling: inadequate or fake seed, sub-standard fertiliser, heavily subsidised fuel which is being diverted to the black market and shoddy preparations for the industry’s revival. A false start always leads to another disaster.
The same lacklustre approach was evident last year and as a result an estimated three million people are short of food today. A disastrous beginning always ends in a national failure. Our wheat crop could easily be reduced to waste due to shortages of working combine harvesters, spares and proper planning.
Food shall remain scarce and prices beyond reach out of our failure as a country to meet our traditional production targets. The sad story rests on the chaotic land reform programme, which saw land use decline by significant margins and output reduced by more than half of the previous records.
As long as Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF skirt around an obvious political problem, our prospects for a meaningful turnaround remain poor. The collapse of agriculture has affected all sectors of our economy leading to losses of jobs, reduced export earnings, power and fuel rationing, weak investor confidence, poor tax revenues and a sharp fall in social services.
Once a net exporter of food, our nation’s plight has been worsened by expensive food imports and serious shrinkages in the basket of basic commodities. Every family is at risk because of seven years of continuous disruptions in commercial agriculture and a determined onslaught on property rights.
As inflation gallops to levels never seen in Africa before, even in countries at war, attention seems to be directed at the symptoms of the deeper political malaise resulting in serious economic distortions and a sustained flight of local and international confidence.
Farming is a business and is better performed when land is seen as an economic asset rather than a status symbol. The state lacks the capacity to engage in productive commercial farming.
What happened to the huge estates run by the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority in Middle Save, Muzarabani, Sanyati, Kondozi and other productive areas shows that commercial farming is better left to serious investors and farmers capable of making sense out of an economic mixture of science, capital and expertise to produce food for the nation.
The meddling influence of the Mugabe regime in input procurement and disbursement, farm management and crop and livestock production dynamics is a perfect route towards a perennial state of food insecurity in Zimbabwe.
History is replete with examples of failed experiments with agriculture when partisan interest groups, especially the military and a political party militia, are pushed — out of political expediency -— into a sector they know nothing about and are expected to produce food for the nation. Their reluctance to stay on the ground and their lack of farming expertise lead to corruption, crop failures and a drain on the little currency available, through food imports.
The state can print as much money to dole out to these groups in the form of support but that process will never deliver a basket of grain. Many are already crying out for food hand-outs!
Our communal farmers, for many years a shining example of maize producers, have been abandoned.
There seems to be an excessive political focus on the so-called new farmer — a Zanu PF-created new community with no known interest or knowledge of agriculture. This group perpetually looks to the state for their loot, rewards and accolades, unlike the communal farmers whose track record — even under arid conditions — is beyond debate.
Many of our rural areas are impassable due to poor roads; the communal farmers lack essential support and inputs; the state of our communal lands resemble a nation at war, their service centres are now empty shells totally unable to support any meaningful economic activity in the rural areas.
The former commercial farms are slowly being turned into zones of inappropriate activities — the so-called new farmers resorting to poaching, deforestation and gold panning in order to survive.
Given our experience during the last seven years, may I commend the people for their resilience during the most trying times.
The humanitarian emergencies before the nation are daunting. We must do everything in our power to save Zimbabwe. With the lowest life expectancy rate in the world, the number of orphans in our homes is a major source of worry.
Without access to food and drugs, the situation in most of our homes — compounded by a devastating HIV and Aids pandemic — has reached unacceptable and dangerous levels.
We owe it to our children to resolve the national crisis speedily and to cast away our current pariah status in the eyes of the international community. We need food, jobs, medical drugs and a good education system for our children.
The people of Zimbabwe want to live well, with an affordable way of life. We maintain our position that we can only reclaim our respect, at home and abroad, if we deal with the nagging political questions and disputes in our midst. We must move as one people towards a way out of the political crisis in order to set a base for recovery, reconciliation and national healing.
We believe a new constitution and an environment that shape the future and allow for free and fair elections shall provide the key to a lasting resolution of the crisis and open doors to the creation of a respectable and accountable government.
We remain convinced that we must organise ourselves and put pressure on the regime to respect the power of the people. We have to fight for our rights and improve our food sources and food security.
I look forward to working with all Zimbabweans to build a better life for them and their families: to make Zimbabwe once again one of the richest countries in Africa where every young person has a job, where every child has plenty to eat, where every family can look to having their own home, where every old person can have quality health care — working together we can and will save Zimbabwe.
To those in Zanu PF and in the military who still believe in a free and prosperous Zimbabwe, it is important to realise that political insurance and progress depends on an environment that enjoys national acceptance and national support.
We fought against colonialism to stop a few with privileges from exploiting the national cake at the expense of the majority. The continued segregation of the people through political patronage and a selective allocation of scarce resources cannot be sustained.
The liberation struggle sought to bring about a new Zimbabwe. That national project was anchored on a need for a foundation of equality — in which our country provides shelter and care for all women, men and children who live there, with equal access to justice, to public goods and services, and to economic opportunity and resources, and where no unlawful discrimination shall be accepted.
We believe in the unity of our people. We understand the folly of separate development and are conscious of the consequences of inequality.
Given the current damage and its implications on family relations, we believe it is important for our nation to heal its wounds and re-build for the future, recognising that what binds us is far greater than what divides us, celebrating our diversity and differences as individuals and as communities, and with a common resolve to institute safeguards to ensure that never again will our dignity be undermined by any one person or political party.
May I re-state our desire for a Zimbabwe that cherishes good governance, compassion, solidarity, peace, security and respect for women, men and children. I wish to reaffirm our subscription to the principle of sustainable development grounded in prosperity, quality of life and community stability. As soon as we deal with our political problems, the revival of sustainable agriculture must be the starting point in our efforts to kick-start the economy.
* Morgan Tsvangirai is leader of one wing of the Movement for Democratic Change.