Zim needs agricultural recovery

ZIMBABWE needs to restore fiscal viability and probity, ensure substantive growth of the mining sector, rehabilitation of the manufacturing sector, and reinstate a comprehensive, and fully serviceable infrastructure among many issues. 

Report by Eric Bloch

However, among Zimbabwe’s foremost requirements is a substantive recovery and growth of the agricultural sector.  Such a development is key to reducing poverty afflicting the majority of Zimbabweans.  It is essential for a meaningful recovery of the economy and a prerequisite to national wellbeing.

 
Some will contend there has been substantive recovery in agriculture, although that recovery was severely constrained by adverse climatic conditions that prevailed during the 2011/2012 agricultural season.

 

Supporting that contention, they focus almost wholly on the attainment of a tobacco crop of approximately 140 million kgs, considerably greater than achieved during the preceeding 10 years, notwithstanding that the crop was still substantially less than the 237 million kg crop of the 2000/2001 season.

 

And, insofar as the relatively miniscule output of other crops, they state categorically that inadequate production was solely a consequence of the drought suffered by much of Zimbabwe during the last season.

 

This circumstance, they state, was the reason for the poor volumes of maize, sorghum, winter wheat, cotton, tea, coffee, and sugar crops, notwithstanding that before Zimbabwe’s agricultural decline, greater yields were consistently produced, even in years of drought (thanks to the then efficacy of irrigation).

 

They also ignore that Zimbabwe’s national herd is less than 36% of the herd a decade ago.

 
It cannot be gainsaid that negative climatic conditions can severely impact upon agricultural production, but equally it cannot be denied that before the transformation of government policies on the agricultural sector, much was effectively done to minimise the consequence of adverse climatic conditions.

 

That included constructive water resources management, including minimisation of siltation of rivers and dams, as well as consistent availability of energy to operate irrigation systems.

 
Equally, it is incontrovertible that Zimbabwe is greatly dependent on a highly productive agricultural sector.  Agriculture employed over 300 000 people and hence provided a livelihood for almost two million Zimbabweans.

 

Agriculture was a foremost generator of foreign exchange earnings, producing crops enabling it to export substantive volumes making Zimbabwe the bread-basket of the region. Not only did agriculture generate substantial inflows of foreign exchange, but in addition, foreign exchange was not required to fund importation of agricultural commodities.

 

In sharp contrast, Zimbabwe now has to expend substantial amounts of its extremely limited foreign exchange resources. Much of the inadequacy of those resources stems from the absence of inflows from agricultural exports.  Moreover, many industrial inputs previously produced in Zimbabwe now have to be imported, at high cost, in order to meet local needs, and to keep the relevant industries operational.

 
The greatest contributor to the immense decline of Zimbabwe’s agriculture was the foolhardy manner in which government pursued land reform.

 

It drove experienced, fully capitalised farmers from the lands, notwithstanding the very considerable amount of unutilised lands that could have been allocated to aspiring new farmers.

 

It concurrently applied its redistribution of lands in an ill-considered, haphazard fashion, to many inexperienced people devoid of adequate capital, and other resources, for viable operations and productivity.

 

All too often, the recipients of redistributed land were accorded such land solely because of their political linkages with total disregard to whether they had the knowledge, the resources and the will to utilise the land productively.

 
Moreover, the political regime had (and still has) an absolute, foolhardy, fixation that all rural lands must be owned by the state, in perpetuity and that, those accorded the rights of occupancy and usage of the lands should only be accorded such rights by way of so-called 99-year leases.

 

It is significant that, 12 years after the institution of the land policies, remarkably few of the said leases have been reduced to waiting, being only marginally in excess of 3% of the number of leases said to have been granted (to more than 4000 new farmers).

 

Moreover, although the tenants are bound by the leases for almost a century, government has the right to terminate the leases on three months’ notice.  Furthermore, the leases are non-transferable and, as a result, cannot be utilised as collateral in order to secure the borrowings needed to fund the farmer’s operations.

 

This circumstance continues to prevail, despite a statement by President Robert Mugabe to parliament, approximately 10 months ago, that the leases would be modified to accord them collateral value.

 
All these ills have been exacerbated by recurrent failure by government to ensure timeous availability of essential agricultural inputs, including seeds, fertilisers, and chemicals, and by repeated failures to ensure viability of producer prices for those agricultural commodities as mandatorily had to be sold to prescribed state enterprises, and prolonged delays in payments being effected by those enterprises.

 

In addition, agricultural production has also been severely constrained by recurrent non-availability of energy required to assure the operation of irrigation systems and other essentials of many agricultural infrastructures, and by failures on the part of the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) to maintain water availability by containing siltation in rivers and dams.

 
If the intense poverty that afflicts communities is to be reduced and the curtailment of the importation of agricultural products government must ensure the agriculture sector’s recovery.  In order to do so, it must restore property title, assure land ownership to those who will constructively utilise the lands, and ensure leases have collateral value by according reasonable ability of cession, transfers, and general negotiability.

 

Concurrently, it must substantially reduce the monopolistic status of its agriculture-related parastatals, and assure timeous and constant availability of electricity, and inputs.  Should this be vigorously pursued, agriculture can again become the foundation of the economy and become a major contributor to the restoration of national wellbeing.