Editor’s memo: Govt Continues To Pursue Failed Methods

GOVERNMENT bureaucrats have penned another “economic recovery plan” for Zimbabwe whose success will be underpinned by revival in agriculture, prudent fiscal policy measures and a revised monetary policy regime.

The document is a collection of the usual fiction and optimism which the authors know pretty well that they have no capacity to implement.

To their credit though, the drafters of the document are frank about the country’s food requirements.

In the document, government admits that there are 8,2 million people requiring food assistance. This is a new high which is an apt illustration of the failure of the land reform programme and all interventions that the government has tried to implement since the collapse of commercial agriculture eight years ago.

But still stuck in their dishonest mode, government in the document says the decline in agriculture “is largely due to the adverse weather conditions”.

This brazen lie has become the biggest threat to any economic recovery. It is a convenient excuse that has been used to justify failure by state institutions to adequately plan agricultural recovery. The evidence of this failure is apparent in the proposed economic plan.

Last year the state spent more than US$500 million importing farming implements and irrigation equipment to revive agriculture. More than a billion US dollars were doled out to farms in direct concessionary loans, seed, fertilisers and chemicals.

We wait for the day a value-for-money audit is carried out on farms which received tractors and inputs. Even in the absence of such an audit, most of these farms have failed to produce any meaningful crop. I have spotted a number of tractors given to farmers parked at auction floors waiting to go under the hammer!

In the recovery plan, the government reveals to us that all this investment produced 848 000 tonnes of grain against a projection of 2,08 million tonnes. The government therefore requires almost US$500 million to import 900 000 tonnes of food. The balance of the deficit is expected to be filled by aid agencies.

The tragedy about this whole issue is that the resources to import food have to be mobilised at the same time government is also looking for huge amounts of foreign currency to import fertiliser, seed, chemicals and fuel for a new crop. The state is caught in this vicious cycle every year in which it is required to import inputs and food at the same time.

The bigger tragedy though is that this failed Zanu PF regime still believes in employing the same strategy to stave off starvation. The new recovery plan is still the same old project of handouts and arbitrage-inviting subsidies which have not improved output.

This season the government has compartmentalised farming into three groups of champion farmers, disadvantaged farmers and self-financing producers who collectively require about US$1,5 billion.

The government has already committed huge resources to the champion farmer group and to disadvantaged farmers. But most of the beneficiaries are the same failed farmers who blame the weather despite getting irrigation equipment from the central bank.

These are the same farmers who are selling the free fertiliser and seed they got from government. Everyday in the classified section of daily papers, they advertise their nefarious activities knowing that they will not be made account.

They are selling fertiliser for US$30 a 50kg bag and seed for US$70 a 25kg bag. These are the champions!
At the time of harvesting, the same champions do not send their grain to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) as per agreement. They sell the crop at a huge profit on their farms and from their garages in the city.

The champions are currently selling maize at over US$30 a 50kg bag. They want market prices for crops produced using subsidised inputs. These are the farmers responsible for our misery.

The proposed recovery plan says government intends to review the producer price of grain delivered to the GMB in line with import parity prices. No farmer believes this. That is why they do not send grain to government silos.

Put simply, the major reason farmers sell inputs and side-market the little output they get is the damaging monopoly given to the GMB to buy grain.

It is not surprising if this time next year we will be running cap in hand to international donors for food handouts. We are taking too long to sort out the mess in agriculture. The recovery plan, like many official documents on agriculture makes a feeble mention of the need to “reorganise our agricultural sector to inject vibrancy …” 

An efficient domestic agricultural commodity marketing system is key to stimulating and sustaining growth and development.

The prospects for economic recovery rest with the successful transformational  development of the domestic commodity marketing system to provide greater market incentives for farmers to participate effectively and consistently in the domestic food and agriculture markets as commercially oriented and profit driven producers.

In the face of worsening food insecurity, government has been preoccupied with dishing out freebies to resettled farmers to start agricultural production activities.

These short-term policy innovations and market interventions, such as the price controls and state monopolies in the marketing of food crops, have to go. We should start envisioning how the sector will look in the future. Government must follow up land reform by designing strategies aimed at growing independence and economic viability of the new farmers. These are the champions we want.

Editor’s Memo By Vincent Kahiya