Command Agriculture initiative a success, but Zimbabwe not out of woods yet

By Maynard Manyowa

 For 16 chastening years, Zimbabwe has been failing to meet its local demand for grain. Specifically, maize, its staple food.

The consequences of that have been devastating in their simplicity; millions in perpetual need of food aid, more millions trapped in a ‘hunger on repeat’ horror sequel, even more millions fleeing into neighboring South Africa and Botswana.

Mugabe’s decision to illegally seize white owned farms in ‘violent’ land grabs around the year 2000 precipitated the initial food shortages and worsened the country’s economic situation, tipping the scales from economic recession to full blown chaos. The proportions were colossal.

Several years of mismanagement, bad governance, poor policy formulation and implementation, systemic corruption, and blatant human rights violations turned the once bread basket of southern Africa, the jewel of Africa, into an empty basket case, and a basket case of empty stomachs.

Time and time again, Robert Mugabe’s government has ignored every opportunity to turn around the country’s economy, let alone the lives and fate of its beleaguered people.

Efforts to remove Mugabe and his disastrous decision making cadres from power have been resisted, through rigged elections, violence, and strategic relations with corrupt regional partners.

Efforts to intervene by South Africa, and have Zimbabwe join the Rand Union were resisted by Mugabe, who was uncomfortable with losing some control on policy to Pretoria, insisting instead on starving his people for power’s sake.

In the ‘meanwhile of the efforts’, last year, the maize shortages hit endemic lows. A severe drought, caused by El Nino, crippled whatever production capacities were left in the country. 4 million people were left in desperate need of critical relief and food aid. This in a country where millions of others have been sad actors in the ‘hunger games’.

Enter Emmerson Mnangagwa, the country’s current Vice President in name, but who operates as a Prime Minister, as his principal Mugabe is ever absent, clocking several thousands of miles, gallivanting from one place to another.

As the situation worsened, he formulated Targeted Command Agriculture 2016, an agricultural scheme aimed at ensuring food self-sufficiency.

It has been successful, in some manners. The government forecasts that it will produce 2.1 million tonnes this year, up from 511,000 tonnes in 2016, and 300,000 tonnes more than the local consumption of 1.8 million tonnes.

For the first time, Zimbabwe will have some form of food security. Something which has always been possible, where it not for Mugabe’s conspiracy to keep his people malnourished, through both errors of commission and omission.

But, it is no cause for outright celebration yet. The Vice President deserves some special mention for his role in avoiding Zimbabwe’s achieving some feat of ‘residence in hunger’, starvation, and even possibly famine, yet more remains to be done. Zimbabwe is not out of the woods yet.

The country still uses a pseudo-currency, the bond note, or the ‘bollars’. Production in all other sectors is still at an all-time low, and industry is dead. Unemployment is into the lower 90’s.

Consequently, the trade deficit remains high, while its sister, the budget deficit is not outdone either.

There are murmurs that other ‘targeted command schemes’ will be unleashed in all non-performing sectors of the economy. A welcome plan, but one which demands more thinking.

For instance, the government will buy maize from its farmers at $390 USD a tonne. South Africa, from whom Zimbabwe imported its maize, buys its maize at $143 USD a tonne. Nearly three times less. It means the government, already strapped for cash, is going to pay more for its local maize. It also renders the excess 300,000 tonnes useless.

At $390 per tonne, Zimbabwe’s maize is more than double the price of all of its neighbours, in the region, and the continent. There is no hope of translating this excess into meaningful exports which may benefit the country, so desperate for foreign currency and desperate to ease its trade deficit.

A similar approach with any other command initiative would plug local gaps, but not necessarily take the country forward.

It does not take away from the impact of the initiative however. Despite the margins of success being debatable, successful in some spheres, and pointless in others, the truth of the matter is, to the hungry old woman from the down trodden rural areas, having sufficient food stocks for the first time since the start of the millennium is a welcome development.

In some ways, it demonstrates that Zimbabwe’s problems are a ‘governance issue’, no other. If they can pull this off, then they can pull off anything.

It shows that with effort, planning, appropriate use of funds, nomatter how minimal, Zimbabwe can solve some of its problems internally.

But as stated from the start, meeting its local demand is not a miracle, it is what the government ought to have been doing all this time. It is a great start, but just that. More needs to be done.

  • Maynard Manyowa is a contributing editor for Khuluma Afrika – a center for political analysis and investigative journalism.