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Green revolution needs patience, focus

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The economic growth for 2012 is turning out to be an anemic 4% against earlier projections of 9,6%.

Report by Tapiwa Nyandoro

Agriculture, which had been projected to grow at 11,6% has actually contracted by 5,8%. Once upon a time, in the not so distant past, the country’s fiscal year followed the agriculture season.

Finance minister Tendai Biti is right, however, in calling for a scientific and commercial approach to agriculture.

He is right too, in noting that we cannot continue to do things the usual way, when a cursory glance shows that average yields per hectare on the farms are around 10% to 15% of what other countries like Brazil, the USA, Canada, and to a lesser extent China and India are doing.

Our productivity in communal areas, and now in the former commercial areas, has been falling steadily over the years, and clearly now there is need for a comprehensive study into the reasons thereof, and a proffering of sound strategies to recover literally lost ground going forward.

On the ground, critical organisations such as Agritex and other research stations are there, but they are underfunded and underresourced intellect wise as well. As a result, amidst plenty of land, hunger stalks.

The International Food Policy Research Institute publishes a Global Hunger Index. The index combines three equally weighted indicators: the proportion of undernourished people; the prevalence of underweight children of five years or below and the mortality rate of children under five.

The index runs from zero to a hundred with zero the best score and 100 the worst. It then groups countries into the following categories:
l O to 4, 9 or low hunger;
l 5 to 9, 9 tagged as moderate hunger;
l 10 to 19,9 is labeled serious;
l 20 to 29,9 is noted as “alarming” with l30 or more called “extremely alarming”.

In 1990, at 18,6 on the index, Zimbabwe was in the “serious” hunger category. By 2010 it had managed to jump to 20,9 on the index; the “alarming” category. It could now be worse.

But the solution is not elusive.

All it needs is patience and a focused task-oriented Cabinet and legislature that applies the right amount of resources, be it land or capital, and technology into the agriculture industry, the way Brazil did it.

Brazil, which has the most impressive record of agricultural innovation set up EMBRAPA, an agricultural research institution in 1973. At the time, Brazil was still a net food importer, and under a military junta.

Within 6 months of setting up the research institution, the junta had sent one thousand two hundred young Brazilian graduates abroad to obtain further qualifications.

Armed with post graduate qualifications the young Brazilians, when they went back, adapted plant and animal varieties so that they could thrive in the tropics, and especially in the acid soil of the then supposedly unproductive (due to the acidity) vast, largely flat savanna in the interior of Brazil.

This green revolution hugely increased productivity by over 150% over the past 30 or so years. The country is now the world’s biggest exporter of coffee, sugar, orange juice, tobacco, ethanol, beef and chicken and the second biggest source of Soya products after the US.

The Brazilian success story provides Zimbabwe and Sadc with a cost effective example to follow. And as Biti alluded to in Victoria Falls recently, the application of technology via research and development is the way to go.

Blind donations of inputs is not. It is a waste of resources.
When the green revolution started in Brazil, instead of protecting its unproductive barriers behind high tariff barriers — as much of the world still does — the generals opened up to trade and allowed inefficient farms to go to the wall.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) State support in Brazil accounts for fewer than 6% of total farm income during 2005 and 2007.

This compares with 12% from America and 29% in Europe. No wonder the Europeans have a deepening financial crisis. The advanced Nan and welfare state model is no longer sustainable.

Africa has the capacity to join Brazil, and rise to the profitable challenge by embracing research and development in agriculture and grow yields per hectare from around one to two tonnes of maize to 10 or more tonnes, a gain of 500% to 1000%.

The choice is ours. Biti has to be congratulated for hinting at the opportunity to Parliament.

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