Home » Industry » Farming – Vital to Put Money Where Mouth Is [opinion]

ZIMBABWE’S annual maize requirement is estimated at 1,8 million tonnes. Last year the country produced a decent 1,3 million tonnes, up 30 percent compared to previous years. This year’s production figure is predictably far much lower. Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Minister Joseph Made recently told the media that his officials were on the ground to assess the drought situation. He conceded that the country definitely faced a bad agricultural season. There are no figures yet.

It is plain though: last year was better, this year is worse.

Once again, as a country, we have been caught napping.

Strange as it may sound, smallholder farmers (A1) reportedly contributed 80 percent to the total maize output of 1,3 million tonnes last year. That captures what is wrong with our agricultural set-up. Government is simply not doing enough to support Zim-Asset’s very strategic nutrition and food security cluster. And this why:

First is the issue of the GMB. Many farmers have not been paid for maize deliveries for the previous year. That means they were unable, so they claim, to purchase seed, fertiliser and other inputs for the current agricultural season, a season which has turned out to be as short as it is erratic.

Meanwhile, Government has been making a show of allocating money to the GMB to pay the farmers their dues. There doesn’t appear to be much being done and the farmers are despondent.

This is a fine way to sabotage the land reform programme from within. What incentive is there for the farmer to make a sacrifice to invest in maize production when heshe is not paid and is driven into penury? Government cannot plausibly plead inability to pay for the maize when every year “emergency” funds become available to import maize to cover a local production deficit.

The verdict is simply that Government is not according local maize producers the respect and priority they deserve. How can they continue to produce if they cannot survive on the fruit of their labour? How can they make a success of Government’s mould-breaking land reclamation project in Africa?

Zimbabwe’s land reform programme can’t be deemed a success without food self-sufficiency. Not to mention that tobacco prospects are not looking fantastic either this year.

Food self-sufficiency is not only a strategic matter but also an issue of national security. Let’s not fool ourselves: it wasn’t out of greed that Esau surrendered his birthright. An empty stomach easily leads to acts of treachery.

Yet there is a patently unforgivable national absurdity. President Mugabe’s Presidential Inputs Scheme last year alone reportedly supported 1,6 million households mainly in communal lands with inputs such as fertiliser and seed to stimulate production of food and nutrition security crops.

That effort yielded a production increase of 82 percent in maize, 97 percent in sorghum, 123 percent in pale millet, 43 percent in finger millet as well as production of adequate food crops to meet the national requirements, according to media reports. This was also thanks to the good rains although they caused flooding and leaching in parts of Mashonaland Central and Matabeleland provinces.

All this was achieved against President Mugabe’s complaints that some of the inputs were being stolen by politicians along the distribution chain. The point though is if an individual’s effort can yield so much in one agricultural season, why are we failing as a nation to produce a bumper harvest every year?

We can’t conveniently blame it all on drought, unless we have a peculiar grudge to settle with God. Recurrent droughts have become a given in Zimbabwe and the region. They are part of the global phenomenon we call climate change, challenging Government planners to find new ways to tame nature.

In light of this, it would be interesting to find out how much of Dr Joseph Made’s budgetary allocation has been invested in the construction of dams and installation of irrigation infrastructure over the years rather than wait for so-called cloud seeding. That should be the primary indicator that Government treats agriculture as the mainstay of the economy and a guarantor of national security.

To me, investing in food self-sufficiency is more urgent than trying to revive non-strategic companies, some of which collapsed due to mismanagement or outright corruption. There are many farmers who can’t afford farming inputs. We are talking here of people who are committed. Those who lack the passion for farming should be kicked out. At this critical stage there is need for a utilitarian approach, not a sentimental attachment to land.

Government should offer subsidies for fertiliser and seed to increase maize, wheat and small grain production. These are the nation’s staple foods but inputs are proving too expensive for the key small holder farmers.

Imagine a situation in which a local farmer buys a bag of fertiliser for $35 while a Zambian or Malawian farmer buys the same 50kg commodity for less than $10! Government has a duty to weigh the opportunity costs of either protecting local fertiliser manufacturing companies or seed producers through subsidies or allowing local farmers to import cheaper fertiliser from neighbouring states.

But Government doesn’t appear to be weighing either of these options. Instead drought exigencies have forced Government to import maize to cover local production shortfalls. That effectively undermines both the local farmer and fertiliser manufacturing companies. It is time to put our money where our mouth is we can’t jeopardise food security and still boast of a successful land reform and black economic empowerment policies. It amounts to a contradiction in terms.

Yet the biggest let-down have been A2 farmers and those in the commercial sector. These are the people who produced impressive projections when they initially applied for land, indicating that they had the means and the desire to perform better former white commercial farmers. All we hear now is a sorrowful tale of banks refusing to fund unbankable 99-year freehold leases.

Those who have made a success of their entrepreneurial endeavours have been mainly in the tobacco sector, some of them even entering partnerships with cigarette manufacturers. In fact, some of them have become no more than fronts for white former commercial farmers.

But that aside, there appears to have little show of the same resourcefulness among those involved in the food sector. Profit margins are small in this sector. That is why Government should be at the centre in terms of funding inputs and mechanisation. Small-scale farmers have demonstrated since independence that they are the food granary of the nation. It is time Government matched its political rhetoric on the land reform with financial commitments.

Source : The Herald