Conrad Mwanawashe Business Reporter
Since independence, Zimbabwe has gone through several economic cycles some punctuated by droughts, investment challenges and isolation from international capital but the nation has every reason to smile this year.
The crop on farms across the country that has been boosted by the rains that have fallen this season points to a new chapter that gives credence to the independence cheer.
The fact that most of the production is expected to come from the not-so-commercial but indigenous farmers’ gives hope that Zimbabwe may have turned the corner in terms of food security.
But all other discussions arise from the developments that characterised agricultural sector since April 18, 1980.
These developments include attempts by Government to redistribute land through a “Willing Seller Willing Buyer” principle which yielded very little, leading to the compulsory land acquisition process for resettling landless indigenous people.
The largest farmer organisation representing over a million farming households, the Zimbabwe Farmers Union sees the developments in the agricultural sector since 1980 as necessary for the country to ensure self-sustenance.
“With the passage of time we can see that the issue of the land has been addressed. Yes there are some who say there is a problem here, and a problem there. The manner in which the land reform programme was handled, others do question that but the fact that is undeniable which is on the ground is that the previously landless people are now on the land. If there were any issues or problems that were created during that process these are problems that certainly are not issues that we cannot resolve,” said ZFU executive director Paul Zakariya.
ZFU draws its membership from sub sectors such as communal, resettlement, small-scale commercial, peri-urban plot holders, emergent and large-scale commercial farmers.
“What was the best way to go was to decongest the communal areas and open up areas and open up land in the productive areas for our indigenous people. That was a good thing to do. The issues of whether our people went on to produce and adding value to the Gross Domestic Product, that is a totally different issue because it does not translate that once you have land then you are productive. There are skills that are required for one to produce at commercial level.
“There is a lot of investment that is required for one to procure the necessary equipment, inputs and to be able to move and drive a contingent of labour and to be in touch with research and development so that we are not left behind technology wise, in terms of varieties and methods of production together with communication infrastructure.
“So it’s a number of variables that go into production and productivity. The rains are also are significant factor,” he said.
According to the Meteorological Services Department, by end of January 2017, the whole country had received normal to above normal rains. Cumulative rainfall for more than half of the country was 125-200 percent above normal levels by the third week of February.
Reminiscing on the evolution of the sector over the last 37 years, Mr Zakariya said the present day farmer still faces challenges compared to their white counterparts who enjoy reasonable support from Government and particularly the financial services sector.
“White farmers were very productive of course with a lot of support from Government and financial institutions. They would access loans, short term, medium term and long term facilities.
“When you talk of long term you are talking about facilities up to 30 years. The medium term loans would be for movable assets, such as tractors, that would stretch to about 15 years. The short term facilities were working capital nature of financing which would go up to about two to three years.
“As the present day farmers we do not have such facilities at all because the nature of funding that the banks have is short term. So they can finance very short cycles of agricultural production. We do not have some of the luxuries that the white farmers enjoyed,” said Mr Zakariya.
To correct the imbalance in the distribution of resources, Government has, in the last decade gone through a policy shift to support the disadvantaged farmer.
Also, having noted the persistent droughts of the last three decades, Government adopted policies in support of irrigation development, dam construction and methods that are appropriate that are more advanced in terms of irrigation.
For instance, drip irrigation being promoted under the current policy framework is not driven by electricity but is gravity driven and can be implemented even in the communal areas.
But farmers feel that there is still some ground to be covered.
“There is a lot of space that we need to cover that has not been covered as much and at the speed we expected. We see that for as long as we are still importing food then we have not addressed the issue of food production in Zimbabwe.
“With those few farmers back then that were on the land and with the very hardworking communal indigenous farmers in the not so productive areas, Zimbabwe was not importing food. Instead we were exporting our excess grain and we had other agricultural commodities, such as cut flowers, to export and generate foreign currency. But we cannot talk of any flower production in this country at the moment. We need to regain that level of production.
The rains seem to have anointed the country’s newly adopted Special Maize programme, popularised as Command Agriculture.
“A gesture has been shown through command agriculture. The good thing about command agriculture is with the land that we have many of our farmers could not access loans from the banks and inputs were an issue never mind the knowhow, merely to lay their hands on inputs was an issue.
“So now that we have this programme, it is availing inputs and those inputs if they are put to good use, we catch up in terms of time, the distribution is done on time, given to the correct people who have enough good land and irrigation to supplement the rainfall, you will see that we are on the right path.
“What our people require are inputs. When we get the inputs you will see that there is going to be production. This year there is a much bigger crop than any other year. We cannot put statistics to it as yet but what we know is that those who had inputs managed to grow something.
“Agriculture is not an industry that one can go into using their own funds from their pockets. You need to find some patient money somewhere which you can put into the ground.”