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Editorial Comment: Let’s get our agriculture right

Editorial Comment

SOME five months ago the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said risks to Zimbabwe’s IMF Staff-Monitored Programme (SMP) “are high, including due to the materialisation of two external shocks — the El Niño-related drought impacting agricultural production and electricity supply as well as the extensive damage caused by Cyclone Idai in March.

“The impact of these two shocks complicate an already difficult near-term economic outlook as the economy adjusts to the new policy regime. To mitigate the potential risks from capacity constraints, the IMF will support the authorities’ efforts in all policy areas covered by the SMP through tailored technical assistance.”

An IMF team arrived in the country this week to review the SMP progress amid indications that come 2020 the issue of drought will most likely continue haunting the southern African nation.

If, according to the IMF, drought is a critical factor in Zimbabwe’s hope of smoothly returning to sound macro-economic stability, it is high time Zimbabwe seriously revisited its drought mitigation agenda which has, for years been characterised by half-hearted efforts to shore up the southern African country’s food security.

For the umpteenth season the government has promised billions of dollars to fund agricultural production after announcing that it has set aside $3,6 billion for, specifically Command Agriculture ($2,8 billion for maize and soyabeans), Presidential Input Support Scheme ($780 million) and Agriculture Input Guarantee Scheme ($120 million). The input schemes will gobble $1,9 billion.

However, most worrying is the fact that government has allocated a measly $178 million to irrigation development at a time weather experts have already indicated that while the country will receive normal rains between October and December, it will get normal to below normal rains in the period January to March 2020, exactly the same scenario which pertained during the last rainfall season and bore the prevailing drought conditions.

What this means, in our view, is that the bulk of all the $3,6 billion that will be poured into agriculture will most likely go down the drain given the dilapidated state of the country’s irrigation infrastructure which is meant to help the planted crops reach maturity in the event erratic rains revisit the country once more.

An unpredictable rainfall pattern has for many decades past been Zimbabwe’s Achilles heel that has seen the country perennially beg for food.

The tragedy facing Zimbabwe is that those in power appear oblivious to the fact that macroeconomic fundamentals are intricately intertwined to all key sectors of the country’s economy, especially agriculture, which has been the mainstay for decades past.

Even if farmers plant early, as government is urging, the erratic rains can even occur during October and December. It is, therefore, our considered view that the $2,8 billion that has been earmarked for Command Agriculture programme be redirected towards irrigation development for Zimbabwe to entertain any hopes of a meaningful harvest as well as hopes for the success of its SMP.

As it stands, the SMP and all other efforts to shore up the wobbly economy are doomed to fail as long as government does not get it right in agriculture.

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