HomeBusiness DigestWe need to start punishing errant farmers

We need to start punishing errant farmers

Kudakwashe Gwabanayi Journalist
This year marks 22 years since the fast-track land reform took place in Zimbabwe.

Whether the act was right or wrong purely depends where one stands politically and of course how one benefitted.

However, 20 years on, the farming community is still in doldrums.

The challenges are multifaceted.

Just to mention a few:

Funding
The blame on lack of funding for locals has been constantly shifting over the past years.

Initially, it was generally argued that the new farmers on resettled land did not have title deeds to the land so it was difficult to fund them as there was no collateral on the loans.

However the government came up with various programmes over the years that have not been able to solve the problem.

First the government introduced the 99-year leases and claimed they were bankable.

Unfortunately banks did not accept the idea; even those banks that the government has 100% shareholding in.

The argument was that while the offer letter had become bankable, the land was not sellable.

The value of offer -letter farms is very low.

This could be so because the land is not supposed to be sold in the first place.

Noticing that there were no takers for these, the government went into overdrive giving farmers inputs for free expecting them to sell the produce to the government.

Unfortunately 15 years on, with Operation Maguta, the Farm Mechanisation Programme, Pfumbvunza, Command Agriculture, Presidential Inputs scheme and many others, the situation has not changed.

Some farmers got dairy farms that were flowing with milk but if you go back to any of those farms there is not a single cow left.

This is despite the fact that dairy cattle are heavy breeders.

So much livestock that was on the farms has just gone off the national register.

The farmers are still taking baby steps and still require the assistance of the government. This time around the blame has shifted to the farmers because they are being accused of sharing the inputs on partisan lines, selling the inputs before planting and side marketing them by failing to pay their dues to the government.

The financial sector has been watching the farmer-behaviour and has chosen to keep a distance because it is clear that the farmers are not business minded and would not repay their debts

Various companies in the tobacco processing sector have folded operations after farmers failed to pay back grants offered to them.

It is against this background that farmers must organise themselves to be acceptable business people in the money community.

There has to be a way of punishing those that have been receiving government handouts over the years and have not produced anything.

No funding for infra development
One of the greatest misgivings of Zimbabwe’s political leaders is policy inconsistency.

While the government announced the one-man-one-farm policy, its leaders were having five or six farms to themselves.

Former president Robert Mugabe actually had 16 farms for himself and his family. Some people who had been resettled have been reallocated to make way for senior politicians.

Some have lost the farms after double allocation while the government has discouraged people from putting up structures.

It is against this background that you find that there are very few farmers with infrastructure to support real and meaningful production.

Infrastructure is a key component in farming.

One cannot do a large hectrage of tobacco farming without barns.

Neither can you have a large herd of cattle without a dip, and proper rotatable kraals.

For you to do horticultural export you need a pack shade. However most new farmers have no proper infrastructure and so are unable to have meaningful production.

Mechanisation equipment expensive
Having the land is not enough, one needs tractors, combine harvesters, trucks and many other machines to till the land.

Once you have land that is above 6ha it becomes very difficult to use manual labour to tend to those fields.

Unfortunately, while the government has made efforts in giving farm machinery and allowing farmers to import farm equipment duty free, the facilities have been abused and left farmers still hiring machinery.

When it rains, there is always a stampede for tractors and this has caused many farmers to plant late, affecting the national yield.

Those that abused the mechanisation programme are still in government and nothing has been done to them.

What it means is that plant machinery manufacturers are afraid to advance tractors to the farmers because they fear that they will not be repaid and nothing will be done to the defaulters.

Price of inputs
The price of seed, chemicals and fertilisers has become exorbitant.

High input costs make it very difficult for the farmers to make any profit.

There is no clear explanation why the price of farm inputs keeps increasing despite the fact that nothing is being imported.

We plant our own seed here and mine the fertiliser in Zimbabwe.

But somehow, it is cheaper to import the fertiliser from Zambia and South Africa because they are a bit more stable economically.

There is a school of thought that the white commercial farmers who were chased away during the land reform were the owners of the seed manufacturing companies as well as fertiliser and chemical manufacturing companies.

It is quite obvious that they would not have the new farmers have it easy and punish them through prices of inputs.

This causes  farmers to go to the field without enough inputs and the results are known.

 Bottleneck markets
Even if the farmers are to pull through with the crops and livestock they are very much limited when it comes to the marketplace.

The Cold Storage Company (CSC) was one of the most thriving companies in the pre-land reform programme.

The biggest export destination for their beef, sheep, goats and ostrich was England.

With the freezing of relations between the two, the British looked for alternative suppliers leaving Zimbabwe with no one to sell to.

The very few that are able to export do so under strict conditions.

The same applies to horticultural farmers who in most cases have been forced to export their produce through a third party, who in most cases is a white commercial farmer.

Despite the government being aware of the market challenges the farmers are working against, little has been done to assist them

Conclusion
The fact that there are very few black people in the value chain of food production cannot be ignored for long.

New farmers must start asking themselves real questions like why is it that it is mostly white businesses which produce livestock feeds yet the millet, rapoko, sorghum and soyabeans are being produced by black farmers.

There is a need for a paradigm shift among the new farmers so that they become accountable even to themselves and they become bankable so that they start treating agriculture as a business and not a retirement leisure spot.

Those that continue to view farming as a robbing spot must be punished and be taught a lesson that freebies come at a certain price.

  • Gwabanayi is a practising journalist and a farmer in his own right. — 0772 865 703 or gwabanayi@gmail.com

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