Recovery, food security need urgent attention

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Zimbabwe still confronts many problems and issues that impact negatively on most of the population and the country as a whole, albeit that slowly (and not always adequately) some of those problems and issues are being addressed.

Erich Bloch

Among the many national ailments that critically need positive and constructive actions by government, and the private sector are the magnitude of the national debt, the enormity of the state’s fiscal deficits, the appallingly great imbalance between the country’s imports and its exports, the widespread poverty (and consequential hardships and suffering of a vast majority of the population), the immense deterioration of essential infrastructure and negative service delivery by utility and other service providers, inadequacies of health care services, the young who are unable to access education and the very considerable loss to the diaspora of much-needed technically skilled.

These are but some of Zimbabwe’s many ills that must be addressed and remedied.

As has often been said, two of the foremost of the innumerable major national concerns are the need for an upturn in the economy, which upturn would bring about the foundation and the means to address and resolve the numerous other key issues which need to be transformed, and the vital assurance of continuing nationwide food security.

In the last two weeks this column partially addressed how a substantive revival and development of the Zimbabwean manufacturing sector and maximisation of the country’s immense mining potential would markedly impact favourably on achieving the much-needed economic recovery and growth, concurrently influencing possible resolution of the many other ailments that have been afflicting Zimbabweans for too long.

As significant as the maximisation of Zimbabwe’s mining and manufacturing are to an accelerated economic recovery, they are far from being the only resources that can maximise that recovery and progressively assure the wellbeing of almost all the country’s people where lives are presently worsened and endangered by lack of access to essentials and other important needs. Zimbabwe is endowed with resources and opportunities which, if creatively and constructively pursued, would rapidly enhance a positive transformation of the country from its many ills, into a country of great wellbeing.

Important among the opportunities for a national metamorphosis is agriculture, which until the millennium was the key foundation of the economy, over and above being a long-continuing assured source of national food security.

Although focus upon agricultural recovery must in no manner divert governmental attention from the development and exploitation of the innumerable other great economic development opportunities available to Zimbabwe, it is of utmost necessity that the state must intensively address all that is necessary to restore agriculture to its former glory.

It is incontestable that after the appalling decline in agricultural production experienced since the turn of the century, prior to which Zimbabwe was known as the breadbasket of Southern Africa, there has since 2008 been some progressive recovery and increase in agricultural output.

Nevertheless, the present levels of production still fall far short of that previously achieved and, more critically, do not suffice to meet the national needs.

In contrast to the pre-2000 generation where there was not only plenty maize, wheat, barley and other grains; vegetables and fruit; livestock and poultry; as well as many other agricultural commodities to meet not only the totality of the national needs, but also the production of considerable surpluses for export, Zimbabwe is now critically dependant on extensive essential food imports to meet the basic survival needs of its population despite some improved productivity in the last five years.

Not only should this not be necessary if agriculture were promoted positively by effective national policies and support, but the overall national economic wellbeing would be substantially enhanced.

Government has endlessly striven to deny culpability for the enormous decline of the agriculture sector but all its explanations and excuses are almost wholly devoid of credibility and substance.

The reality is that it grossly mishandled land reform and compounded the ills thus created by innumerable destructive policies which precluded farmers from accessing essential funding, agricultural inputs, essential utilities and viable prices for much of such produce as they were able to generate. It is not in doubt that Zimbabwe did need land reform.

It was an absolute national prerequisite, for it was totally unjust, inhuman, and untenable that the majority of the population had, for all too many decades, been barred from possession and utilisation of rural lands.

Equally, however, it was unjust, foolhardy, and destructive in the extreme, that government unilaterally evicted thousands of non-indigenous Zimbabweans from the lands, disregarding the lawful rights that most of the displaced were possessed of (inclusive of innumerable previously issued certificates of “no interest” given by government to those farmers when they acquired their lawful title to the lands).

Compounding the foolhardiness of the manner of pursuit of Land Reform, and of the attendant alienation of much-needed foreign investment (by virtue of blatant disregard for existing Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements), government demonstrated very little, if any selectivity of “new farmers”.

The lands were occupied primarily by politicians, those politically connected, and by invaders who used force and disregard for law to acquire the farms, in all too many instances just ravaging the farm resources but not pursuing any agricultural production thereon. Almost without exception, government turned a blind eye to such unlawful farm expropriation and to the consequential negative impacts.

Exacerbating these agriculturally-disastrous actions, the wellbeing of the sector and achieving the substantial enhancement of production that is so greatly needed, 13 years have elapsed since land reform began, without any significant consideration as to how the new farmers could access essential funding.

Right and title in the lands has, since 2000, vested wholly and exclusively in the state, and not in farmers. In consequence, the new farmers were, with very rare exception, devoid of any collateral security to enable access to loan funding.

In Zimbabwe’s new Constitution, adopted early in 2013, provision is made that farm leases can be negotiable and transferrable, which would constitute collateral to support borrowings.

However, despite the subsequent effluxion of time, heretofore almost all the new farmers have not received leases, being at most possessed of “Offer Letters” (over and above those who acquired the farms by invasion, and not by governmental authority, and therefore do not have any such letters). As a result, almost all farmers still cannot borrow the funding needed for maximised productivity.

Concurrently, the State has recurrently failed to assure the timeous availability of essential agricultural inputs, including seed, fertilisers, chemicals, and the like, and of essential operating utilities.

Moreover, it has recurrently prescribed unrealistically low prices for commodities which mandatorily had to be sold by the farmers to state marketing enterprises. And, tragically, all those factors are but some whereby government continuously precludes maximisation of that which agriculture can contribute to Zimbabwe’s positive future.

In rebutting those who voice the above criticism of governmental mismanagement and policy-ills, the state often cites the rapid recovery of the tobacco sector, disregarding that that recovery has been very considerably enabled by major tobacco companies providing contract finance to the growers, as well as access to inputs.

It would be well-advised for government to recognise that reality and, therefore, to encourage, incentivise, and facilitate wideranging contract agricultural production for many other crops and products.

Doing so, will escalate the sector’s recovery and growth, and especially so if concurrently the State would now urgently issue farm leases, diminish its market controls, enhance utility delivery, and like measures.

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