Zimbabwe’s self-inflicted impending food crisis

Food shortages continue to create profiteering opportunities that oil the patronage machinery. For the umpteenth time, we will once more be unable to feed ourselves despite the vast idle land properties that we have and the skills to farm.

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By Vince Musewe

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Agriculture Minister Joseph Made
Agriculture Minister Joseph Made

Zimbabwe has once again manufactured its own food catastrophe which is just around the corner. This is solely our fault created through sheer incompetence and lack of foresight.

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I am also told that in Matabeleland and Manicaland, hunger has already struck and it will soon be in Harare. Now the World Food Program must help us and we all know the amount of corruption involved there.

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Zimbabwe will need to import about one million tonnes of maize at a cost of USD 300 per tonne. This will cost us around USD300 million.

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We certainly don’t have the cash for this, meaning that we will have to borrow. The question remains on who will fund a country that can’t even meet its day to day costs. Apparently Zambia has once more come to the rescue.

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Who could have imagined that a country which we used to look down on in 1980, would be feeding us in 2015?

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The ministry of agriculture has once again failed to plan or to be capacitated to meet our food security needs and in my books; the Minister and the President must both take the full responsibility for this mess. Both these gentlemen should resign.

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Out of curiosity, I recently inquired about getting a maize import permit. This is state of emergency and yet one must pay up to USD 3,000 just to get to apply for an import permit and it’s not even guaranteed.

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In addition to this, there are middle men who want to profit from all this and some even demand as much as USD2 per tonne to organise you a licence. This is for doing nothing, but making a few phone calls to their connections.

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I am utterly flabbergasted at what we have become.

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My contention that food shortages create profiteering opportunities that oil the patronage machinery is therefore correct. A few politically connected sharks continue to milk the system from a disaster they created in the first place.

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Of course lack of foresight and planning does not only affect agriculture but virtually every sector. This government has been clearly negligent in all respects and there is absolutely no way things can turn around if we continue to expect the same minds which have created our current problems to fashion better future for us.

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That is not the Zimbabwe we want.

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Agriculture productivity is key to food security and this requires that whoever is farming must not only have security of tenure, but must get access to funding and be left alone to farm. I don’t know how many times I must repeat this, but unless this government takes this seriously we will not see any progress at all.

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In 2008 we had a situation where too much worthless money was chasing very few goods on the shelves. Zimbabweans are still recovering from the trauma of hyperinflation and queues. Now we have an opposite scenario, where there are plenty of imported goods on the shelves, but no money. The potential risk we run is that of food riots where people end up breaking into shops to get food. That is how bad things could get.

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Our agricultural sector is not producing the results that we want and if it is ever going to do so, we must change our approach. Small scale farmers have proven each and every year that they cannot feed us. We must re-look at the commercial farming model for the large scale production of food. We must also retain all the farming skills we have in the country regardless of race, and apply these to our benefit.

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One area we must also look at is empowering our youth through agriculture. We therefore need to correct the agriculture small scale model. We must get our youths into agriculture and away from subsistence farming mentality. We have to change the paradigm that small scale farmers are poor and must continually get free inputs and only grow cash crops such as tobacco. That is a poverty cycle.

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We indeed can make farming an attractive career option for our youths, but they must learn the business principles of how to be successful farmers first, before they can access any funds or a piece of land. There are lots of empty and underutilised farms out there that we can subdivide and train youths in a controlled environment through mentorship programmes from experienced farmers to ensure success.

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There is also no point farming if we cannot fully utilise our water resources. Zimbabwe has the highest land to water ratio in Africa with about 4,000 dams of which less than half are still operating. That is the tragedy of negligence.

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We must also use new technologies and modern farming methods to increase productivity taking into account the impact of climate change. Farming can indeed create wealth for everyone including our unemployed youths while ensuring that we achieve food security as a country.

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Our new approach as a country must be that large and small scale agriculture must be equally promoted through the development of symbiotic relationships around export focused rural economic hubs, developing processing and value addition industries for the benefit and up-liftment of rural communities and youths.

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These ideas are not new at all, but it appears that nobody is listening because of too much politics and to little vision. Zimbabwe has all the skills, all the water and land it needs to not only feed itself, but to even export food once more. All we need is good leadership at State House, foresight and planning.

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Vince Musewe is an economist and author based in Harare. You may contact him on vtmusewe@gmail.com