THE 58th edition of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) which is the biggest trading expo in the country has come and gone.
According the ZITF chairperson Mrs Ruth Ncube in her speech during the official opening it had 367 exhibitors while 13 different countries participated.
Unlike in previous years, there was a marked improvement in the agriculture related exhibitions. This was more so because of the successful agricultural season that the country experienced that was backed by the Government-initiated import substitution-led industrialisation programme under the food security and nutrition cluster of the country’s economic blueprint Zim Asset that has assumed the common moniker Command Agriculture.
The Government-initiated programme has been a tremendous success and is going to see the country moving away from the region’s basket case to regaining its bread basket status in the Sadc. It had lost its position to successive years of drought mostly due to climate change whose effects became more apparent and coincided with the land revolution in Zimbabwe.
Climate change created a suffocating conflux of heat and hot windy weather that was devoid of humid conditions not only in the country but globally leading to a marked decline in agricultural productivity as a share of GDP especially in so many African economies that remains reliant on it as a major source of income and employment for many.
In Zimbabwe large tracts of arable land that used to feed the nation and the Southern Africa grouping became so barren and wide grass plains stretched empty. And because of recurrent hot spells, the farms looked void of life while the country’s food security glory became just a whisper in the wind that ruffled through the emptiness.
That the country used to produce enough to feed the Sadc and beyond looked somewhat poetic and the talk of the country reverting to that status existed as a figment of very rich imagination.
The country’s silos too had not known grain for quite too long. They were forgotten, they suffered neglect and abandonment.
They only existed as a constant reminder of the history of plenty that a whole generation had not yet experienced.
All that has been quickly forgotten as the programme by the Government proved to be a real page turner in the country’s agricultural sector.
The successful agrarian revolution that came with the Land Reform Programme that the Government championed at the turn of the millennium is not just going to provide the essential food security and achieve the import substitution goal. It is going to revitalise, revamp and resuscitate the country’s major industries most of which are agro-based.
That Zimbabwe, like so many of its regional counterparts, is basically an agrarian economy cannot be disputed and when the agricultural sector catches a cough, the whole industry that it feeds sneezes.
Therefore the idea of reviving the agriculture sector first was long overdue but cannot be blamed on anyone although the pessimists were quick to point a finger at the Government for the successful Land Reform Programme saying it had sold the country’s food security by giving land to the indigenous population.
They were not alone in demonising the Government but they were supported by the West that imposed sanctions on the country while some regional counterparts took it as a case study on how not to repossess land.
Officially opening the ZITF on Friday, Namibian President Dr Hage Gottfried Geingob applauded the country, President Mugabe in particular for his firmness and resilience against demonisation saying the country remains a good example to the continent on how to empower its indigenous population.
He said the emotive land question was still problematic in Namibia adding that his two predecessors were more concerned about building peace and reconciliation and now his was to address the sticking land issue which he admitted was a bit tricky.
Alluding to the period that the country went through that was devoid of agricultural bountifulness after the land reform, President Geingob equated what Zimbabwe went through to a Caesarean birth which he said was painful for a moment although the pain was not permanent.
He said the pain would eventually subside giving birth to a new dawn punctuated by joy, excitement and plenty.
“I have said in Zimbabwe you used a Caesarean section to deliver your baby. It is very painful but the pain is not permanent.
When the pain stops you will be happy and we are already seeing signs of that. I am told this year the country is expecting a bumper harvest that is going to catapult the country back on its position of food security in the Sadc,” said Namibian President Dr Geingob.
He added that it was now imperative for the region to create a conducive environment for commerce to thrive emphasising that no country in Africa could survive and develop without the assistance of others.
President Geingob said now was the time to remove all the barriers to free movement of goods, services and people among Sadc member states adding that creating prosperity through equitable distribution of resources was the way to go.
He said total trade between Zimbabwe and Namibia was at a low of $24 million but said that was not unique as trade patterns between African countries have generally been low owing to the same agriculture base and no beneficiation.
The other countries that were also present such as Zambia and China came out in support of the country’s command agriculture with delegates saying they were going to ensure continued support for the country in its quest to revitalise its industry.
“Most developing countries South of the Sahara have their economies pinned on agriculture, a successful agriculture season therefore means all the industries that are directly or indirectly supported by the sector will be up and running. The rains were received across Southern Africa and we are saying with part of our industry breathing the onus is now on us to promote trade within member states without creating red tape,” said an exhibitor from Zambia.
Command Agriculture is expected to surpass its two million tonnes target for the staple crop that the country has been importing over the years.
Information obtained from the Command Agriculture stand at ZITF states that Zimbabwe needs an annual minimum of 1,5 to 1,6 million tonnes of grain to feed the nation and 500 000 tonnes of grain as strategic reserve for the country giving a total of 2 million tonnes each year.
The programme is a voluntary one and farmers that are willing to participate are provided with inputs including lime, seed, fertilisers, chemicals, fuel and equipment or tillage services.
For maize and other crops it targets farmers who are close to water bodies and who can irrigate their crops. However, during the current farming season farmers never fully used their irrigation equipment as the country received above normal rainfall which also aided communal farmers who are also expected to make deliveries to the Grain Marketing Board as they got more than enough for subsistence.
The programme therefore achieved the goal of substituting food imports and the money can be used for other pressing national programmes as infrastructure development and drug procurement.
Its echoes have therefore reached far and wide and it seems inevitable that some regional counterparts will want to exchange notes with the Government on both the Land Reform Programme and its subsequent agrarian reforms