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Extreme poverty on the rise

The Brett Chulu

THE World Bank Overview report on Zimbabwe released last week on Sunday paints a sombre state of our economy and its attendant socio-economic maladies. The report states that “extreme poverty is estimated to have risen from 29% in 2018 to 34% in 2019, an increase from 4,7 to 5,7 million people”.

Extreme poverty is defined by the World Bank as living below US$1,90 per day. The World Bank attributes the root cause of this sharp rise in Zimbabwean extreme poverty to being “…driven by economic contraction and the sharp rise in prices of food and basic commodities”.

The World Bank has identified drought and the Cyclone Idai as having contributed significantly to contraction in agricultural output, citing that 3 provinces accounting for 30% of agricultural output were constrained by Cyclone Idai. The World Bank shies away from directly apportioning blame on the rise in extreme poverty on policy inefficiencies. This article intends to explore the extent of the contribution of man-made blunders on the rise in extreme poverty.

The World Bank report comes on the heels of a report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) statement released on September 26, following the conclusion of the first performance review of the current Staff-Monitored Programme entered into by the Zimbabwe government and the IMF. The statement indicated that 8,5 million Zimbabweans (about 50% of the population) are food-insecure.

The World Bank report provides a nuance to the food insecurity measure, indicating that one in 10 rural households reporting going the whole day without food.
The question that begs an answer is how this country, for all its investment in Command Agriculture and the Presidential Inputs Scheme, we are faced with rising extreme poverty and food insecurity.

Last week, this column concluded by giving statistics of maize production since the launch of Command Agriculture in the 2016/17 season. The Agriculture ministry is the one who released the production figures in August 2018. He revealed that 1,211 million tonnes of maize were delivered to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) in the debut season of Command Agriculture.

Of that delivery, 461 114 tonnes came from Command Agriculture, representing a 32% contribution. In 2017/18 season, between April 1 2018 and August 22 2018, 722 149 tonnes had been delivered to the GMB, with Command Agriculture, at 150 452 tonnes, contributing 22%.

Command Agriculture gets close to three times as much funding as the Presidential Inputs Scheme, yet non-Command Agriculture farmers produce three to five times as much as Command Agriculture farmers in terms of maize. This seemingly skewed resource allocation process cannot be ignored in the food insecurity and extreme poverty discussion. This forces us to trace the food and other key non-food production trends in Zimbabwe in order to assess the effectiveness of Command Agriculture.

In 1960, we produced 1,04 million tonnes of maize. This more than doubled in 11 years; in 1971, maize output was 2,338 million tonnes. In the year of Independence, 1980, maize output had soared to 2,767 million tonnes.

In 1984, we almost touched 2,952 million tonnes. This was our all-time peak.We plummeted to 360 000 tonnes in 1991, owing to a debilitating drought. By 1995, we had recovered, producing 2,600 million tonnes.

In 2000, the year land seizures began, we produced 2,148 million tonnes. The effects of land seizures then kicked in.

In 2002, we produced 500 000 tonnes. Given that 70% of our maize came from small-scale farmers and rural households, land seizures had more negative impact on non-commercial maize production. We struggled through the hyperinflation period; 2008 saw just 525 000 tonnes of maize.

The situation did not improve much during the Government of National Unity (GNU) period; in 2012, we had recovered to 999 000 tonnes, but still below the 1960 level. The recovery continued in the post-GNU period.

In 2014, we hit 1,456 million tonnes. It was a fluke; the following year, 2016, we plummeted to 512 000 tonnes. Then 2017 happened; we hit the sweet pot—the rains were plenty. The Presidential Input Scheme and Command Agriculture helped to push us beyond 2 million tonnes, for the first time since land seizures began. In 2017, we garnered in 2,156 million tonnes. The figures do not add up. Only 1,211 million tonnes was said to have been delivered to the GMB.
There is a “missing” one million tonnes. That is for another day.

In light of the evidence, we cannot escape the fact that government assistance played a big role in ramping up maize production. There is a nuance here. Water availability (good rains), combined with the availability of inputs, re-established what had been the norm.

The Command Agriculture farmers (mainly A2) who replaced the large-scale commercial farmers were outdone by the ordinary farmers. This is a lesson government needs to understand: more investment should be directed towards the ordinary farmers, by way availing irrigation infrastructure. Grain security is in the hands of the ordinary Zimbabwean farmer.


The Zimbabwean wheat production historiography is as follows: 1960, 1 000 tonnes; 1978, 212 000 tonnes; 1980, 162 000 tonnes; 1984, 99 000 tonnes; 1990, 325 000 tonnes; 1992, 57 000 tonnes; 2001, 325 000 tonnes; 2003, 90 000 tonnes; 2010, 18 000 tonnes; 2013, 25 000 tonnes; 2016, 20 000 tonnes; 2017, 158 000 tonnes and 2018, 200 000 tonnes. Our peak wheat production was in the 1990s, at about 325 000 tonnes.

The hyperinflationary era was a disaster; we were doing an average of 20 000 tonnes a year, levels last seen in the early 1960s when wheat production was in its infancy.

Command Agriculture lifted wheat production from 20 000 tonnes in 2016 to 158 000 tonnes and 200 000 in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Command Agriculture took us back to the early 1980s levels where our population was about 2,5 times the current level.

Soyabean oilseed

The soyabean oilseed production footprints are as follows: 1967, 2 000 tonnes, 1979, 89 000 tonnes. 1989, 120 000 tonnes, 1991, 42 000 tonnes; 1995, 120 000 tonnes; 1997, 101 000 tonnes; 2000, 141 000 tonnes; 2002, 41 000 tonnes (1976 levels); 2008, 115 000 tonnes; 2009, 70 000 tonnes; 2011, 54 000 tonnes; 2012, 77 000 tonnes; 2013, 67 000 tonnes; 2014, 71 000 tonnes; 2015, 42 000 tonnes; 2016, 48 000 tonnes; 2017, 36 000 tonnes and 2018, 50 000 tonnes. For soyabean, Command Agriculture has failed to lift production — we are still producing at 1990s levels.

What is the sum of the matter? Government must prioritise giving secure tenure to A2 and A1 farmers so that they feel secure enough to make long-term investments through non-state financial sources.

A2 farmers should be incentivised away from maize production, while boosting the ordinary farmer’s capacity to be more productive in maize production to cover the 20-30% void that will be left by A2 farmers. With A2 farmers incentivised away from maize, they concentrate on ramping up wheat and soyabean production.

Ordinary farmers, who have always done wonders when there are good rains, should be brought into soyabean and wheat production, courtesy of irrigation, tailor-made for the small-scale farmer. These are no-brainer policy choices — it is the politics that derail us from making such rational economic choices. In the end, the extreme poverty and food insecurity lie at the door of extractive politics, not the El-Niño and Cyclone Idai.

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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