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Put farms to good use

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The good cereals harvest this year is being touted in government corridors as a sign of the turnaround of the agricultural sector, but this is disingenuous.

NewsDay Editorial

Opening the Harare Agricultural Show at the Exhibition Park on Friday, President Robert Mugabe said government was happy that maize and grain production was set to surpass 1,4 million metric tonnes, enough to ensure national food self-sufficiency.

“For the first time after many years of drought, Zimbabwe has now attained this level of production. Tobacco production also continued on an upward trend, now being valued at over $676 million, from 167 million kg realised during the 2012 and 2013 season,” he said.

He said he hoped the trend would continue.

But a look at the reasons for the good harvest shows this is very unlikely. The good cereals harvest can be attributed the good rains received in the usually arid southern regions.

The southern regions fall under Natural Regions 3, 4 and 5. These receive very little rainfall most of the time and are not suitable for cropping. They are characterised by long dry spells and are liable to seasonal droughts. It is said they get a good rainy season only once in four or five years.

This year these regions received very good rains and the harvests were good. But trends indicate the next few seasons will be drought years.

Experts on the Commercial Farmers’ Union and the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union have said the country should not be fooled by the figures that are being thrown around.

They warn that in fact the country will have to import maize before the end of the year to feed its population. Other cereals such as wheat are already in short supply, for example only 12 000 metric tonnes of wheat were produced, far short of the 400 000 metric tonnes required annually.

Any country that depends on seasonal rainfall for agricultural productivity is food insecure. The only way to ensure security is to irrigate the crops. This has not been happening in the past 15 years due to the vandalism that accompanied the land reform programme. Irrigation infrastructure was destroyed almost completely. To restore it needs huge investment. But this cannot happen if the farmers have no security of tenure. Violent farm invasions are still continuing so many years after the start of land reform. This is such a shame.

The economic crisis the country is going through has also hit hard this sector since there simply is no money to invest. Those who may have the money do not have the land.

Many analysts argue that it is no longer important who owns the land; land cannot be of sentimental value. It should be farmed by those with the capacity to do so. But this argument has no takers in the ruling Zanu PF party.

But land is our greatest resource. It is only through the good use of this resource that the fortunes of the country can be turned round. The earlier everybody accepts this basic truth the better.

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