farmPresident Mugabe last Friday commissioned the first batch of agricultural equipment from Brazil valued at $38,6 million, part of a $98 million loan under the South American nation’s More Food for Africa programme.

The equipment comprised at least 470 tractors, fertiliser spreaders and irrigation kits.

The loan will be repaid over a 15-year period at an annual interest rate of 2 percent.

Agribank will administer the programme.

The President gave fulsome praise to Brazil for the loan, describing Brazil as a friend indeed. It is indeed a concrete example of South-South co-operation. This was in contrast to Western nations, he said, which instead of supporting the land reform programme launched by Government in 2000, chose to impose crippling sanctions to sabotage it. Those sanctions persist 15 years later.

It was in this vein that President Mugabe appealed to beneficiaries of the land reform programme and the latest agricultural equipment to shame detractors of the agrarian reforms by raising productivity.

He stressed the need for proper accountability for the equipment which he said should prioritise smallholder communal farmers who have been more productive than commercial farmers.

He underlined the importance of agriculture in the national economy by noting that it provided most of the materials required by industry.

“We hope there will be good management and proper utilisation of the equipment and no conflicts and fights,” the President said. “We must organise our people properly into groups as they are given adequate equipment.”

We need to applaud Government for the new communal approach to distribution. It seems to have learnt from the mistake of individual allocations adopted by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in earlier farm mechanisation efforts which resulted in massive abuse of agricultural equipment. There was no accountability and much of the equipment has gone to waste.

Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development minister Joseph Made said while the country had 15 091 tractors, a good 30 percent were not functional. Contrast this with a national requirement of between 40 000 and 50 000 units and it makes sense when Brazilian Ambassador to Zimbabwe Ms Marcia Maro da Silva describes the equipment as “a drop in the ocean”.

What this means is that Agribank must keep a close watch on how the equipment is maintained and serviced. Friends like Brazil don’t pass by often on their way to Jericho. There must be teams or committees to ensure the equipment is not vandalised by forces of ill will, even local ones. We must stress also that the equipment alone is not enough to ensure productivity. This must be complemented by capacity-building through skills training for smallholder farmers. We need food self-sufficiency as a guarantor of national security.

There is also urgent need for a massive dam construction programme. Irrigation means there must be adequate water reservoirs so farmers don’t depend solely on seasonal rainfall. Erratic rains in the past few seasons remind us that the phenomenon of climate change, once treated as fairy tales in geography textbooks, is in fact an unsettling immediate reality. We need better water harvesting and conservation strategies.

Finally, there is need for timely and adequate provision of seed of the right variety according to the country’s ecological regions. Our people are now so used to maize as a staple food that they don’t take a realistic look at their agricultural regions. This has resulted in a lot of grief. There is need for a change of mindset in response to the reality of climate change. It is only when our farmers adapt and adopt the right seed varieties that they can optimise use of the new agricultural equipment.

That in turn will ensure they are able to service this loan. There can be no better way to repay the benefactor.

Let’s also not forget that Kenya, Mozambique and Ghana are getting similar loans.

Brazil will make comparisons to see who has made maximum use of their talents. It would be a shame for Zimbabwe to land at the bottom after the land reform.