Government’s intention to implement a command agriculture scheme has been met with mixed feelings. While government is seeing it as the panacea to the food security problems in the country opposition forces have dismissed it as a hair brained scheme which will fail and only benefit a few politically connected individuals.
The decision to embark on a command agriculture programme was arrived at after it was realised that food insecurity had risen from 12% in 2011 to 42% in 2016. Government has blamed droughts for the situation.
Farmers will be identified on a voluntary basis and they will be made to sign performance contracts. They will receive expertise assistance and inputs from government stakeholders. The scheme is expected to guarantee food security in the next three seasons. Farmers will be expected to produce 5 tonnes or more.
According to the Office of the President the programme which is being worked on a $500 million command agricultural programme aims to produce two million tonnes of maize on 400 000 hectares of land.
Critics have already slammed the scheme saying it’s an outdated approach which has been tried in several countries and failed. The PDP led by Tendai Biti questioned whether there will be funding to carry out such an ambitious programme. The party also questioned how this programme would work considering that the Grain Marketing Board has failed to pay maize farmers in the past.
The argument is that if the resettled farmers had title, lending institutions would give them money to carry out their farming activities as there will be security. Secondly if the market price for maize is good and the GMB is paying for the maize, farming entrepreneurs will produce maize for profit without the need to organise them.
Another sore point is that the command agriculture scheme is a wholly ZANU PF programme with most of the beneficiaries being the ruling party members who mostly got farms. These have benefitted from many policies such as the mechanisation scheme and other loans but they have failed to deliver. The state has been forced to take over the debts of these farmers.
These are valid points but the critics do not offer viable alternatives. They point out the obstacles but fail to offer a better model. The reality is that competent farmers were driven off the land and they are not coming back. The national question to be answered is how the current resettled farmers should be made productivity.
The late historian Professor Sam Moyo once argued that a significant portion of the maize in the country was being produced by peasant farmers. However lack of seed, fertilisers and droughts has undermined peasant farming in the communal areas. This has been made worse by the fact that those on commercial farm land have not been productive.
Government is on record warning unproductive farmers that they risk losing the farms if they continue to be unproductive. Most of the beneficiaries of the land reform exercise are therefore unlikely to deliver unless if their activities are heavily micromanaged. Some of the farmers lack basic skills to carry out farming.
Maize is critical in order to guarantee food security in the country. Millions of Zimbabweans faced starvation after the country experienced another drought forcing the country to rely on huge maize importations. Maize importations have been partly blamed for the cash crisis the country is experiencing.
The crop is essential in the production of many goods such as stock feed, cereals, and even beer. It is critical in resuscitating food processing industries that are currently operating below capacity or closed all together. If the scheme succeeds it will go a long way in reducing the import bill of many goods.
Most farmers have shied away from producing crops such as maize and opted for cash crops such as tobacco. Tobacco has been well supported via schemes such as contract farming and the results have been evident. Maize farmers could also benefit from a well organised scheme that maximises their farming potential.
The command agriculture scheme will most likely succeed as it is one of the few policies that this country has crafted that has a long term outlook. It seems many stakeholders have been taken on board so things like water payments to ZINWA, electricity, and technical advice will be taken care of.
It must be remembered though that many policies have failed in Zimbabwe because of corruption. If nothing is done to contain corruption the command agriculture scheme will just be another opportunity for the ruling elite who have benefitted from the land reform to loot national resources.