VICE-PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presentation on command agriculture in cabinet last week, in which he lobbied for the renewal of the programme and an intensified deployment of the military to support it, was rejected during the meeting, the Zimbabwe Independent has established.
By Bernard Mpofu
This comes as President Robert Mugabe and Mnangagwa’s fallout deepens with the veteran leader launching more incendiary attacks on his deputy this week. Attacks on the vice-president are expected to escalate at the Zanu PF youth interface rally in Bulawayo tomorrow.
Command agriculture is a government scheme initially aimed at producing two million tonnes of maize on 400 000 hectares of land, using farmers identified and given inputs, irrigation and mechanised equipment for the purpose.
Sources told the Independent that Mnangagwa last Tuesday in cabinet said the programme had gone very well and must be renewed. He argued Zimbabwe is set to yield 2,1 million metric tonnes of maize, a figure above the 1,8 million tonnes national consumption, hence the need to continue to financially and logistically support the programme.
It is also understood security services chiefs, who include Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga, army boss Lieutenant-General Phillip Valerio Sibanda, Zimbabwe Republic Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, Prisons and Correctional Services chief retired Major-General Paradzai Zimondi and acting Central Intelligence Organisation director-general Aaron Nhepera, attended the meeting.
“In that meeting, security services chiefs were given a special dispensation to attend the cabinet meeting. After the presentation, some ministers in Mnangagwa’s camp supported him, saying the programme would boost grain output and enhance food security. However, his G40 rivals expressed reservations on the proposals and programme, saying it was costly and has been hijacked for political purposes,” a source said.
Chiwenga, sources said, supported Mnangagwa and called for the deployment of additional soldiers to boost capacity and logistical support for the programme, while his colleagues, particularly Chihuri, were uncomfortable about it.
“This was rejected by G40 ministers such as Saviour Kasukuwere who questioned the involvement of the military.
Other security chiefs such as Chihuri were also uncomfortable. Ministers asked why the military needs to spearhead the programme instead of letting the Ministry of Agriculture and other relevant ministries. After the debate, Mnangagwa’s presentation was rejected,” the source added.
In July, the International Monetary Fund warned the government on the command agriculture programme, saying excessive public spending on the project could balloon the country’s domestic debt. This was contrary to official claims that the private sector had financed the programme.
IMF deputy director of strategy, policy and review, Alfred Kammer, told a media briefing in July that the funding structure of agriculture could widen the budget overrun.
“In terms of the funding model that you asked about and the breadbasket concept, we focus on the fiscal implications of the agriculture programme in Zimbabwe,” he said while responding to a question. “Our analysis suggests that the current design of the programme creates significant fiscal risks and overall effectiveness could be improved by ensuring that the beneficiaries are those most in need.”
Kammer said Zimbabwe would record economic growth this year due to improved rain, but warned this was not sustainable.
“The main finding regarding Zimbabwe is that growth in 2017 will be boosted by the bumper harvest due to exceptional rainfall,” he said.
“The challenge really is to sustain growth in Zimbabwe. This will require timely action to reduce the deficit to a sustainable level and reforms to attract investment.
“Excessive government spending, if continued, could exacerbate a cash scarcity, further jeopardise the external and financial sectors, and ultimately, fuel inflation in Zimbabwe.”
In May this year, Mnangagwa and Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko — the two remaining liberation struggle stalwarts in government besides Mugabe and a few others — fiercely clashed in cabinet over the command agriculture project and the official economic blueprint, ZimAsset. Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo, who together with Mphoko are in the G40 faction, has said command agriculture has largely been a failure as it has used US$500 million to contract 247 035 hectares of which 191 124ha (77%) were tilled, while only 153 102,6% (61%) were actually planted.
Zimbabwe has since 2001 relied on imports and foreign donors to meet demand for maize. Drought, lack of financing and the after-effects of the chaotic land reform programme which resulted in white commercial farmers losing large swathes of land have led to a decline in agricultural output over the years.