In 2016, Government embarked on a Command Agriculture Programme whereby 400 000 hectares of land was specifically targeted for maize production.
The then Cabinet took a decision which saw farmers close to water bodies being given inputs and farming machinery to support them in growing maize, which is the country’s staple food.
The programme was expected to produce at least 2 million metric tonnes of maize grain on the 400 000 hectares, with farmers expected to deliver 5 tonnes per hectare.
There is a general feeling that the Command Agriculture Programme achieved some level of success hence its extension to other crops such as wheat, soya bean, as well as livestock and even wildlife.
Given these successes, the programme is now in season two although access to inputs is now biased towards those who honoured their obligations for last season while new applicants must get confirmation from Agritex officers in their various districts based on their competence.
All this is fair and fine, but there is risk that all effort will fail to address the many issues relating to our economy. While the import bill will certainly be reduced, we must not limit ourselves to only a few crops because the bulk of our food requirements are not limited to the few that are on command agriculture.
The country still has a huge food import bill despite the successes of command agriculture and this is an indication that our efforts are not complete. There is need to come up with other initiatives to support other agricultural activities/crops.
By simply looking at the food items that we are importing, we have a starting point on what needs to be produced locally.
For example, the country is still importing fruits and there is need to engage and come up with strategies that make sure that we are self-sufficient in the production of those fruits.
If it’s the issue of quality, then efforts and measures as well as the necessary support must be given to improve on that. Companies such as Ariston have the necessary skills, but production is being hampered by failure to access cheaper and longer term financing, while there is very little uptake of their products for further processing and value addition.
Further, primary production in the farms is also not enough as we do not consume all the produce in primary form. Most of the produce will have to be processed into the various delicacies that have seen us wasting the much needed foreign currency on. Considerable investment is needed to build the businesses that will produce the goods and services needed by the country.
But people with the ability to create and build business can only operate in a certain environment. We have to understand that these people, with the ability to create are rare species and are in demand across the globe. There is competition for investors and we can only attract them if we provide them with the right foundations where they can flourish.
These foundations consist of vitally important building blocks that are seen widely as essential features of the foundations of any successful modern economy.
Included among these features are issues to deal with the rule of law, respect for property rights, good governance, and the separation of powers to allow accountability.
Once these foundations are in place, investors would therefore be prepared to make the considerable investments needed to build the businesses that would produce the goods and services needed by the country.
While issues to do with sanctions have been blamed for the collapse of the country’s economy, it is important to note that the bulk of our industry collapsed because of the way we handled the land question.
While it cannot be debated that land distribution was long overdue, we can always question the way it was done. Did we go about the whole exercise in a manner that recognised the upstream and downstream impact of the land distribution exercise?
While we only focused on distributing land, our industry was also collapsing at the very same time.
After our land distribution exercise, a lot of farming activity was destroyed and we ended up importing most of our food requirements and in the process many of our factories that relied on farm produce shrunk while some closed down. Soon we started importing dairy products, textiles, paper, canned food among other products that we used to manufacture locally. It was not only food processors that saw their fortunes wane following the haphazard distribution of land. A market was also lost to manufacturers of producer goods such as plough disks, harrows and planters.
The closing of factories also resulted in our labour force leaving for the Diaspora to find work and in the process creating a skills gap that we are struggling to fill right now. This also meant our Government lost out on both corporate tax and employee tax.
It is thus no surprise that the productive few, both individuals and companies, are finding it hard to meet the country’s revenue requirements. We now talk of Government wages and salaries consuming more than 90 percent of our revenue but the fact is, it is the revenue that is too little as the country’s workforce has significantly reduced.
Given this background, it is imperative that we start looking at how we are utilizing our land of which the higher office in the land, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has already spoken about saying beneficiaries of the Land Reform Programme must show their deservedness by demonstrating commitment to the utilisation of the land now available to them for National Food Security and for the recovery of our economy. He also committed to deal with all outstanding issues related to land redistribution.
Whatever the mistakes of the past, when it comes to the utilisation of the land for economic development a change in mentality and approach is urgently needed.
The land now has to be fully utilised as it is not only a major economic resource that has been allowed to lie idle for far too long, but it also has the potential to truly transform lives and be a tool for real sustainable wealth creation. Whilst the A2 commercial farmers have no excuse whatsoever and should simply utilise the land as per the proposals the farmers submitted when they applied for the farms or risk losing the land, there is need to focus on the small scale A1 farmers.
There is now needs to develop and implement completely new financing and farming models to transform all A1 farms into viable economic businesses that will contribute meaningfully to the fortunes of the country’s economy. Government now needs to actively implement measures that will ensure that all farmers are adequately supported and monitored to ensure the profitable use of the land.
District and provincial farming strategies and plans now need to be more effectively cascaded down to the farmers in such a manner that farmers in a given agricultural zone coordinate efforts and schedules so as to enjoy economies of scale when ordering inputs such as seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and extension services.
This will also ensure easier quality control measures are implemented and greater efficiencies will be enjoyed when taking produce to markets. With greater coordination at district and provincial level, the bargaining power of the farmers will improve, especially if export markets are to be secured.
If for example a specific district is identified for the production of particular items that we are currently importing such as fruits, government should provide farmers in that district with the minimum infrastructure requirements and the production and quality guidelines, needed to be adhered to on each A1 farm.
The financing options also need to be detailed so that farmers are both empowered and protected from over-pricing which has been rampant in the market. Agritex can then start a program of encouraging and monitoring compliance until such a time as the farmers have developed the skills and financial capacity needed to sustainably and profitably operate the farms.
Similar efforts must also be made to create an enabling environment for industry. While efforts have been put in place to remove indigenisation demands, other issues such as property rights have to be restored to rebuild investors’ confidence.
It’s time we understood that no matter what we do with our land, if similar efforts are not extended to industry, factories that need to be restarted will remain derelict and we will continue to depend on imports.