The country should have by now cemented its erstwhile status as the region’s breadbasket given the high levels of investment in agriculture and related industries the Zanu PF government inherited at Independence in 1980.
The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) says Zimbabwe’s agricultural decline was triggered by the controversial land reform programme from 2000 when the government expropriated land from the country’s mainly white commercial farmers.
“Whilst few have argued about the necessity for land reform in Zimbabwe, the implementation which saw the dismantling of property rights and land tenure has damaged confidence for investors,” said CFU president Charles Taffs.
“The attrition of these rights has impacted, not only on citizens, but also foreign investors. Compensation for expropriated investments is a pre-requisite to the restoration of the country’s image as a good place to do business.”
The CFU accuses the government of failing to give secure tenure to the new black farmers, a situation which has turned land into “dead capital” which cannot be traded or advanced as collateral by farmers seeking loans in order to invest in its productivity.
In contrast, land values and land-based investment in the region has increased markedly with Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique having welcomed Zimbabwe’s displaced commercial farmers, and in the process boosting their agricultural output.
Zambia’s maize production has peaked three million metric tonnes in 2011 before dipping slightly to 2,9 million metric tonnes this year.
The Zambia National Farmers Union’s head of outreach and member services Coillard Hamusimbi said last week his country would have a maize surplus of 1,035 million metric tonnes this year.
Hamusimbi said that displaced white Zimbabwean commercial farmers were helping Zambia’s phenomenal agricultural growth.
Malawi also recorded a surplus in maize production after 2005 largely due to the Agricultural Productivity Investment Programme introduced in 1998, which included provision of credit to procure seeds for hybrid maize, legumes as well as fertiliser. Subsidies for fertiliser introduced in 2006 brought the prices down from US$22 to US$7 a bag.
On the other hand, Zimbabwe, now a basket case, has been moving from one policy failure to the next with the most recent flop being last month’s announcement of a US$20 million loan facility for wheat farmers which farmers still have not received despite the onset of the planting season.
Most farmers this week said they would abandon wheat farming, which can only serve to worsen food security and increase Zimbabwe’s reliance on imports.
Even the decision to move the budget year from June to January is also indicative of the government’s failure to align its policies with the agricultural sector as it is now held in the middle of the farming season, making it difficult to plan or offer the ideal assistance required by farmers.
The Ian Smith regime held its budget in June after the agricultural season, which gave it the perfect opportunity to factor in the needs of agriculture for the following season.
Various schemes aimed at assisting new farmers have been launched but, as with other government programmes, they have failed to reach deserving beneficiaries with reports of abuse by ministers, high-ranking government officials and those connected to them.
Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono launched the Farm Mechanisation Programme in 2007 where beneficiaries were given farming implements.
However, the programme failed to stimulate agriculture after it was reportedly abused by politicians and Zanu PF supporters.
Lately there have been reports about ministers being given priority access to fertiliser at the Grain Marketing Board while ordinary farmers fail to access as little as a 25kg bag.
The failure of the country’s agriculture has had far-reachingnegative ripple effects on the economy leading to the collapse of downstream industries reliant on the sector for survival.
According to the CFU,“traditionally, for every dollar directly invested in agriculture, three were invested in downstream industry and services”.
This partly explains why the economy collapsed before 2009.