IN what appears to be an admission of his botched land reform, President Robert Mugabe says he has learnt “a host of lessons” from the land seizures which have ruined the country’s agricultural
base with output continuing to plummet.
Mugabe said the best lesson he has learnt was the need to use scientific methods to enhance agricultural productivity and economic development.
“Having restored land to the people,” said Mugabe. “We have learnt a host of lessons, all pointing to the challenge of ensuring food security for the people.”
Mugabe was speaking at the just-ended food security conference attended by African ministers, including representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday.
He added: “Chief among these is that of engaging more scientific methods to ensure greater productivity of all the resettled land. The droughts I have made reference to earlier have raised the need for us to plan and embark on a systematic national irrigation development programme.”
His remarks, which came against a background of food shortages, are widely seen as a tacit admission of the mistakes made during the disastrous land redistribution exercise that has precipitated an economic and agricultural recession.
Irrigation systems have been vandalised or stolen. Due to haphazard land reforms, the country has been transformed from being a net producer of maize and other grains to a net importer of grains.
At least two million people have been surviving on donor food aid which Mugabe derided at the conference. He said food aid programmes caused food-borne diseases. Food agencies came to the rescue in the aftermath of Operation Murambatsvina.
The country is facing another poor agricultural season after below-capacity seed production and planting, thus throwing out prospects of a meaningful harvest. According to a document on “Financing and Pricing of Maize and Wheat” prepared by the central bank last month, the country requires about 1,8 million tonnes of maize a year to meet national requirements. The central bank projects a gloomy output for this season set at a paltry 750 000 tonnes, giving a massive deficit of 1 050 000 tonnes.
While claiming to have learnt lessons from his land reform programme, Mugabe also defended the exercise, saying it was designed to “enhance food security and empower our people”. He added that land reform was not intended to dispossess “those who through colonialism were in possession”.
However, the punitive Constitutional Amendment Bill (No 17) which Mugabe recently promulgated into law, is set to derail government’s so-called efforts to revive agriculture since land has been turned into a state asset and is likely to be appropriated on the basis of political patronage.