Open letter to the President (III)

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YOUR Excellency, allow me, through the mind of a farmer, address two hugely sensitive issues: Special Programme on Grains and Livestock (Command Agriculture) and our humongous sovereign debt.

On Command Agriculture, Your Excellency, we have been committing a national sin by violating The Law of School Fees. The Law of School Fees is apparent in the Garden of Eden creation account.

Adam was asked to name the animals God had created. To a casual reader of the Bible, this might appear like Adam was engaged in some routine labelling exercise. The animal-naming exercise called for Adam’s highest intellectual faculties — Adam was engaged in what today’s top scientists call taxonomy.

Adam had to study and dissect the behaviours of these animals in depth and then find a suitable name for the animal and animal groups. Adam was conversant with the scientific intricacies of the behaviours of plants and animals. Adam applied this scientific knowledge in his farming enterprises. Jacob spent 14 years learning about animal husbandry.

Your Excellency, The Law of School Fees states that when anyone enters into a project to produce with scant knowledge, they will be just paying school fees (heavy losses). Book knowledge (even a PhD) in farming is just Early Childhood Development (ECD) — practical experience is no substitute. The scantier the practical know-how, the higher the school fees will be paid.

The heavy losses in comparison to the money put into the project is the school fees paid. Your Excellency, this is what has been happening with Command Agriculture — the majority of farmers have been paying school fees. They paid Harvard fees (funded by the taxpayer) when they were supposed to be in ECD — our mistake was to think that since farming is a humble pursuit, it could be done without much knowledge and skill. The reason our A1 farmers are now the backbone of tobacco output, which has reached record levels of 252 million kg last year, is that they have been paying their school fees for tobacco for over 15 years.

As a farmer myself, I know from experience that for each new crop or animal production embarked on, I pay school fees — being a good butternut farmer does not make me a good cabbage farmer.

Your Excellency, if as a nation we continue violating the Law of School Fees, the yearly investments in Command Agriculture will be just eternal school fees payments. This is why I am proposing that we reduce the school fees we are paying by restricting all unskilled farmers in the A1 category to just one-sixteenth of hectare or, at most, four-sixteenths of a hectare for maize and one–sixteenth of a hectare for soya and winter wheat. We then help them reduce their school fees and that of the nation by showing them how to be highly productive on these little Gardens of Eden.

Your Excellency, on four-sixteenths of a hectare we can produce at least 4 tonnes of maize as compared to the current national average of about 0,9 tonnes a hectare. When our A1 farmers achieve this, we can then gradually allow them to double the Gardens of Eden and continue this pattern until our A1 farmers can produce on reasonably large areas.

From these, we select those we can give A2 farms. For the current A2 farmers, we need to give them a test—we must ask them to set aside 1 hectare where they should produce at least 16 tonnes of maize or at least 4 tonnes of soya beans. Only when they achieve this should they be allowed to till more hectares. If they continuously fail to pass the 1 hectare productivity field test, they should be exited from the A2 farms.

Your Excellency, the issue of our sovereign debt (domestic and external) is worrisome. The Bible, in Proverbs 13:22, states that: “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children …” (NKJV). With our sovereign debt officially stated at circa US$18 billion (but heavily understated), we are leaving a huge liability for our children’s children.

In Proverbs 22:7, the Bible states: “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”(KJV).

Your Excellency, you indicated at the recently-ended Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce annual congress that cattle-rearing and crop farming are productive pursuits that are right up your alley. Allow me to explain our national debt situation using cattle farming. God commanded cattle to “be fruitful and multiply”. Cattle grow in the pattern 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 … This is geometric or compounded growth. Your Excellency, debt grows the very same way a cattle herd does. Lenders farm paper money.

Lenders use paper or electronic money as cattle and when they say to us as a nation “we are giving you a loan at 5% and pay us back in 20 years”, they are saying we want you to keep these cows (paper money) for us and we expect that for every “cow” we give you to return us three cows (a multiple of three — the multiply part of “be fruitful and multiply”). These lenders are thinking like shrewd farmers — if we do not surrender the cows birthed in a year (interest), they will simple ask that when we pay back, we also surrender the “children of the children” of the birthed cows we delayed giving back (debt default).

It is our own children’s children at whose hands the “cows” (and their generations) we took (loans) will be required. Your Excellency, we should be preparing to leave “cows” (assets — the things that multiply) that belong to us to our children’s children, not a burden to return “cows” to external lenders.

Your Excellency, we may boast that we took the land and it now belongs to us, but when we have un-serviced external debts we are just raising “cows” for foreigners in our own land. Our land may belong to us, but may not be our asset because more resources are going out of the country than are coming in. An asset is not what one possesses, but an asset is that which is fruitful and multiplies, bringing us a surplus.

Your Excellency, there is a hard truth we need to digest: at the moment, our hard-won land is not our asset — it is the asset of foreigners because our entire national production is flowing to foreigners, hence our huge trade deficit. Worse still, we are withholding inkomo zabantu/mombe dzevanhu (foreign debt).

Your Excellency, the advice we are getting as a nation is that we should get more foreign cows with which to pay back part of the cows we already owe them (external lenders). You have been advised that when we do that, our foreign lenders will “favour” us through letting go of some (not all) of the cows due to them (debt forgiveness) or allowing us more time to surrender “their cows” at “reasonable” multiplication rates (debt restructuring). After that, they do us another “favour” by giving us more cows to multiply for them. Your Excellency, as a productive cattle farmer yourself, I leave you to make your own judgment on the soundness of this debt treatment scheme.

I could have shared more. Wisdom turns on rightly applying one or two right things one knows well.

Thank you very much for affording this letter attention. I hope to invite you soon to witness the harvesting of one tonne of maize from one-sixteenth of a hectare.

For now, I rest my pen as I pick up my hoe to work on my A0 plot (I am neither A1 nor A2).

Yours sincerely,

Brett Chulu is a management consultant and a classic grounded theory researcher who has published research in an academic peer-reviewed international journal. — brettchuluconsultant@gmail.com.

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