Anyone who has followed official crop assessments given by Agriculture minister Joseph Made over the past decade, and the consequences that obtained after the minister’s assessments and advice, must have read with trepidation Tuesday’s declaration by the same minister that government would this year go it alone on crop assessment.
Made said government would this year carry out crop and livestock assessment programme single-handedly, shutting out all independent assessment teams, because “other organisations may have hidden agendas. We cannot have those imposing sanctions on us being part of the crop assessment team”.
While the motive behind Made or the inclusive government’s secretiveness over the food situation in the country is clearly curious, (Made says it is a national security issue), what is frightful is the minister’s record of inaccuracies when it comes to assessing the national crop and the advice he consequently delivers to his colleagues in government.
Made has on several occasions been embarrassed by poor planning and superintending over the demise of Arda but he has surprisingly survived President Mugabe’s axe in numerous Cabinet reshuffles.
He is the same man who took that forgettable helicopter trip in 2002 to make a crop assessment around the country.
He landed only to tell the nation that expert advice about a looming drought was nonsense and that the country was about to enjoy a bumper maize harvest.
That year Zimbabwe plunged into one of its worst grain deficits in history because of Made’s weird crop assessment methods and since then, the minister has been the subject of derision and scorn.
Minister Made has churned out catastrophic forecasts about the state of the country’s crop over many years, and upon being exposed by ensuing droughts and critical food shortages, the minister has always managed to wriggle out with pathetic excuses.
Government has in the past banned certain organisations from participating in the crop assessment programme, but allowed selected groups, including some international organisations like the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the US-funded Famine Early Warning Network, to be part of the team lead by the Central Statistics Office.
It appears this year the government has decided to shut them all out because, Made says: “We also want to make sure the estimates are near-perfect.”
Independent assessment teams have often forecast deficits which government officials have rubbished.
Government has over the years been accused of trying to hide the extent of the country’s food crisis, often blamed on the authorities’ failure to plan diligently for the wet season.
What everybody knows, despite Made’s apparent suspicions, is that independent assessments will not produce cook-ups.
That is why the government wants them out. The simple fact that there will not be a bumper harvest in Zimbabwe because of factors other than rain is not a secret anymore.
Zimbabwe needs about 2,5 million tonnes of maize per year for domestic consumption.
But in view of the chaos that still characterise the country’s agriculture since the haphazard land reforms started in 2000, and the erratic rains experienced in recent years, Zimbabwe cannot restore its breadbasket status overnight.
Minister Made’s decision to bar independent assessment of the country’s food situation is therefore very worrisome.
Our government has in the past tried to paint a glowing picture of bumper harvests but it has always been difficult to hide the hunger which has stalked many parts of the country for over a decade now.