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After Robert Mugabe land reform, Zimbabwe black farmers produce bumper harvest of 2.2 million tonnes of maize

  After Robert Mugabe land reform, Zimbabwe black farmers produce bumper harvest of
2.2 million tonnes of maize

State support and good rains have led to a huge jump in maize production in Zimbabwe; 2.2 million tonnes of maize is expected to be marketed this year. This is a huge surplus, compared to demand of 1.5 mn t; in March all grain imports were banned. Of this production, more than half, 1.3 mn t, comes from land reform farmers.

This is a huge increase in production, even compared to previous good rainfall years, and the difference appears to be government support. The two previous years suffered very severe El Nino droughts, so it is not reasonable to compare to them. In the table (in the attached pdf version of this newsletter) we compare to 2011, a normal rainfall year which we used in our book Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land. In 2011, maize production was 1.4 mn t, just meeting local demand.

Communal land farmers had maize yields of 680 kg/ha, so are similar to Mozambique’s peasant farmers, and their 2017 production is expected to be 23% up on 2011. But the big gains have been from the family commercial farmers. The “A1” farmers, typically with 6 ha, increased production 46% on 2011, while the larger “A2” farmers, typically with 10-30 ha, increased production 126% – more than double 2011.

A key reason for the big jump was the “Command Agriculture” programme, aimed at supporting more productive family commercial farmers. Any farmer could sign up for the programme, organised through Agritex, the agricultural extension service. Government would provide on credit a package of inputs, including seed, fertilizer, and, if farmers needed, ploughing. For each hectare prepared, the farmer had to agree to sell 5 tonnes of maize to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) at the agreed price of $390 per tonne, which would more than cover the cost of the inputs (which are deducted from the sales). Other production could be sold to the GMB or private traders.

Figures are all preliminary as the marketing period is not yet over. Estimates are that government spent more than $300 mn, of which at least $90 mn was for imported fertiliser, and more than 20,000 farmers were assisted. In the 2000 land reform, former white farms were split up, either into about 40 smaller farms with 6 arable hectares (A1 farmers), or into 5 larger farms with 50 ha or more of arable land (A2 farmers). The small A1 farmers have had some support from the Presidential Input scheme and the guaranteed market provided by the GMB, and have been able to slowly pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and become commercial. But the A2 farmers have lacked cash and credit and have been unable to invest in their larger areas, and they benefitted most from the new Command Agriculture scheme. The threshold of 5t/ha was important, because many farmers do not reach that level. But with correct use of fertiliser and seeds and proper weeding, many farmers reach 8-11 t/ha and thus felt confident to sign up to expand their area.

Command Agriculture is voluntary, but those who do sign up are monitored by the army, and there have already been convictions and jailings of people who improperly took inputs and then simply sold them.

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