Source: Command agriculture: Will Zimbabwe succeed? | The Financial Gazette September 29, 2016
ACROSS the Odzi river along the Harare-Mutare highway going east, there is agricultural land that lies fallow to the right.
Those familiar with this piece of land would be disheartened.
The 250-hectare Kondozi farm was once a thriving agricultural hub, producing horticultural products for global retail giants such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose of Europe.
It is easy for one seeing this farm for the first time to dismiss any suggestion that it was once a wonderland of farming and part of Zimbabwe’s once-flourishing export sector.
But that is the sad truth.
The farm is now derelict, and 5 000 workers lost their jobs after the farm was in 2004 taken over by government, through the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority, at the height of Zimbabwe’s land redistribution exercise that started in 2000.
The Kondozi story best highlights how the southern African nation so spectacularly managed to ruin its bread basket status to become a textbook example of a basket case.
Kondozi and hundreds of other run-down farms make even the most optimistic Zimbabweans doubt whether current efforts to boost agricultural production, through a US$500 million command agriculture programme, will succeed.
Zimbabwe recently launched the command agriculture programme, under which government is targeting to produce two million tonnes of maize on 400 000 hectares of land.
Under the programme, 2 000 farmers will be given inputs, irrigation and mechanised equipment.
They will, however, be required to give five tonnes per hectare to government as repayment.
According to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, government will, under this programme, borrow from private banks to finance the importation of farming equipment from Brazil, Belarus, Russia and India.
Mnangagwa said the programme would not be funded by Treasury and government was therefore seeking support from the private sector and had “quite advanced at securing these funds”.
“We are well advanced in negotiating such facilities and many private companies are coming forward to make offers because it is guaranteed that they will have a return from the loans that they may advance,” he said.
Reports last week indicated that the command agricultural programme, meant to revitalise the country’s agricultural sector, had been over-subscribed.
That is hardly surprising.
But many doubt that the interest on the programme is driven by the desire to change the country’s precarious food security situation.
There are fears the scheme could have been over-subscribed by opportunists bent of making a quick buck.
Previously, political bigwigs and their cronies, who constitute the majority of those that have been allocated farms expropriated from former white owners, have benefitted from multi-million dollar schemes bankrolled by government.
Nothing, however, has emerged out of government’s previous efforts.
Perhaps the country’s most ambitious and grandest attempt to regain its bread basket status was the 2007 mechanisation programme, a proposition meant to prove to the world that the country’s land redistribution exercise had not been in vain.
The programme was meant to prove that indigenous black farmers were equally capable of producing as much as, if not more, than the former commercial white farmers.
The programme included a well-funded mechanisation exercise, supported by the country’s central bank.
In July 2007, the then Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor, Gideon Gono, who dutifully tried to ensure the success of the new farmers in his bid to turnaround the economy, said: “With this mechanisation our agriculture is never going to be the same again.”
In October of the same year, he maintained: “For a long time there has been a void of practical and sensible interventions, and instead, what we have seen are eloquent problem descriptions, excellent excuses for doing nothing, and very limited proffering of workable solutions. Where solutions have been proffered, no implementation took place.”
The mechanisation drive was a reality that offered many possibilities as 3 000 tractors, 105 combine harvesters, 1 800 tractor-drawn ploughs, 500 planters, 746 chemical sprayers, 600 fertiliser sprayers, 210 hay bailers, 100 000 ox-drawn ploughs, 130 harrows, 2 000 planters, 46 200 cultivators, 78 000 farm carts, 92 000 knapsack sprayers and 200 000 chains were distributed in three phases.
The then RBZ chief declared: “We once again make the clarion call that as Zimbabweans we stop killing the economy through the vices of corruption and indiscipline. For as long as we join hands in fighting those monsters in our midst, for as long as every sector, ministry, province and company plays their part, our current set-backs can be reversed and turned into the engine of economic growth and prosperity within a remarkable short space of time.”
But the monster called corruption, like some gothic serpent, continues to rear its ugly head.
President Robert Mugabe said back then that the implements and machinery were “not for free” and exhorted beneficiaries to “work hard and plan properly”.
Still, this initiative bore no fruits, and in fact, the farming sector deteriorated, and Zimbabwe faced widespread shortages and had to import the bulk of its food requirements.
But the massive mechanisation drive was not the only commendable effort that Zimbabweans allowed to go to waste.
Several other initiatives have taken place to try and salvage the agricultural sector.
These include the following:
June 2011: The European Union unveiled a US$100 million input support scheme for 800 000 communal farmers (1,5 million people) for 2011/12 season.
October 2011: Government unveils a US$75 million input support scheme for commercial and communal farmers. The scheme was for vulnerable groups and those who could not pay for the maize delivered to GMB for the 2010/11 season.
2008/09: Government sets a target of 500 000 hectares for intensive production in maize and mobilised 12 500 tonnes of seed.
2009/10: A US$210 million input scheme is unveiled. Government also extended heavily subsidised inputs to farmers who had failed to access the US$210 million scheme. President Mugabe also unveils a US$10 million Well-Wishers Emergency Inputs Intervention Scheme to benefit 190 000 households.
November 2002: Out of the ZW$76 billion required to finance the 2002/3 cropping season, government contributes ZW$8,5 billion and the private sector pledges ZW$35 billion.
2001/2: Government unveils ZW$15 billion input credit scheme.
October 2001: Agribank offers new farmers a US$2,1 billion loan facility, which, by the time it was exhausted, had reportedly been looted with very little production having been recorded on the ground.
November 2002: Government offers a ZW$60 billion loan facility raised through the sale of agricultural bonds by the country’s financial institutions.
Zimbabwe also benefitted from support from other country.
These were as follows:
Japan: Supplied 200 tractors under the KR2 Scheme during the first two years of the land reform programme, but suspended the scheme in February 2002 after politicians and influential business people hijacked the tractors.
Belarus: In December 2001, Belarus pledged to supply 2 000 tractors, several combine harvesters and 700 tonnes of fertiliser.
Iran: January 2004, Iran supplies 400 tractors under a US$15 million facility.
Malaysia: January 2004, Malaysia gives Zimbabwe 25 tractors, 50 seed drills, 15 combine harvesters and 500 tonnes of fertiliser and other agricultural chemicals under a US$10 million facility.
United States of America: The USA says it has contributed more than US$1 billion to humanitarian operations in Zimbabwe that include funding of agricultural projects involving the United States Development Agency since 2002.
Meanwhile the donor community has supported projects running into billions of dollars mainly in rural areas.
If figures do not lie, can anyone really give the US$500 million command agriculture initiative much of a chance given this compelling evidence of a nation that has squandered every opportunity at its disposal?