Official ineptitude the main problem

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AGRICULTURE minister Joseph Made and his government colleagues seem to be in a state of confusion or disarray over what to do about the country’s recurring maize shortages that reflect the impact of government’s disastrous land reform programme, poor planning and seemingly incorrigible official ineptitude.

Only recently, on May 6, Made said government would not declare the prevailing drought that has ravaged mainly the southern parts of the country a national disaster but will instead import grain to avert hunger. Yet on Wednesday in cabinet he reportedly said imports from Zambia will now be difficult to secure as the country is unable or unwilling to sell maize to Zimbabwe due to a drop in production.

Government recently said it would import 700 000 tonnes of maize, which will cost the cash-strapped Treasury in excess of US$200 million to avert a food crisis. The country is only holding 150 000 tonnes in reserves against a national requirement of 1,8 million metric tonnes. The United Nations Food and Agriculture says Zimbabwe’s maize production for the 2014/15 season is likely to be 950 000 tonnes, which is well below national requirements.

Last year, Zimbabwe’s maize output was 1,456 million tonnes, 82% more than the 798 600 tonnes in the 2012/13 season. It also achieved its highest total cereal production in five years at 1,7 million metric tonnes. However, in a maize production report for Southern Africa released recently, FAO said nearly 300 000 hectares in Zimbabwe were a write-off due to the prolonged dry spell and the resultant estimated 35% decline in output was the worst in the region. Earlier this year government lifted a ban on imports it had imposed last year.

Agriculture contributes 17% to Zimbabwe’s GDP and the decline in maize production is expected to impact on growth forecast at 3,2% for 2015. While drought is a natural hazard, its impact can be reduced through preparedness and mitigation. This is where government comes in. But it is disorganised and can’t think ahead because of poor planning and gross official ineptitude.

However, there is a bigger problem. Government’s land reform since 2 000 has ruined agriculture and downstream industries, shattering the economic base. In non-drought years more than half of maize was traditionally produced by small-scale farmers, but even then up to 40% came from commercial farmers. When droughts were experienced, commercial farmers chipped in because a large proportion of their crop was irrigated, while very little irrigation occurred in communal areas. Their contribution in such times was thus critical.

So besides drought, government’s land reforms, poor planning and incompetence are largely responsible the current maize shortages and food insecurity. The tragedy is land seizures are continuing unabated, while those with farms have no bankable collateral and lines of credit to produce enough. Some are simply under-utilising or unable to use the land. So much land lies fallow or derelict, while the nation faces starvation. Donors now always have to feed the poor.

Zimbabwe is dependent on mainly South Africa and other neighbours for staple grain imports despite that it is capable of self-sufficiency if agriculture is revived and the country is managed well.

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