All our gods are weeping

ACCORDING to the latest Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Zimvac) livelihoods report, close to six million people, especially in rural areas are in dire need of food aid. While revealing that at least two-thirds of the country’s rural population will be food insecure at the peak of the consumption season, the report said:

“During the peak hunger period (January to March 2019) it is estimated that approximately 59% of the rural households will be cereal insecure. The 59% of rural households translates into approximately 5 529 209 individuals requiring 818 323 metric tonnes of cereal (maize grain) costing about US$217 659 752 at peak.

“As we move into the second quarter of the 2020/19 consumption year, approximately 38% of rural households, translating to 3 550 851 persons, will require emergency cereal assistance amounting to about 525 000 metric tonnes,” the report added.

According to the report, cereal production took a knock at household level with maize production declining by 30%. “Nationally, there was a 26% decrease in average household cereal production, a 30% decrease in average household maize production. Average household maize production was highest in Mashonaland West (433,3kg) and least in Matabeleland South (46,5kg). Maize production has been on the decline from 2016/17 season in all provinces except Mashonaland West province which saw an increase between 2016/17 and 2017/18.”

The World Food Programme also revealed that 2,6 million Zimbabweans in rural areas and 1,5 million urbanites will be food insecure by the end on the year. A closer look at developments in the agriculture sector over the past few years, shows that Zimbabwe’s food insecurity can be attributed to the colonial legacy that present day government is perpetuating – by promoting the growing of cash crops. The increased growing of cash crops has undermined Zimbabwe’s agriculture and food security situation. But it is not too late for the country to return to indigenous food crops such as millet, sorghum, sweet potatoes, rapoko, cow peas and nuts.

Since the colonial government wanted to supply industries in their home country with as much raw materials as possible, local farmers were lured with the dollar and they went into overdrive to produce cash crops such as tobacco, cotton, potatoes, tea, coffee and macadamia nuts. It is the exploitative colonial system that the present government is pursuing and is haunting the country through malnutrition and hunger.

Imagine Zimbabwe’s tobacco sales clocked 227,4 million kg as of day 80 of trade this year, surpassing last year’s record of 252 million kg of flue-cured tobacco, generating at least $1 billion in foreign currency earnings with the raw produce being shipped to China, Britain and United Arab Emirates.

Cash crops are now taking more and more of the best land from local food production, forcing peasants to bring additional marginal land under cultivation. It is unfortunate that Western governments are conniving with local leaders in convincing local farmers to “commercialise” their farming.

The growing of indegiounous cereals was frowned upon. That is why many indigenous grains, roots, fruits and other edibles were relegated from the daily diet of most Zimbabweans.

Fortunately, these foods still exist in Zimbabwe and they are the solution to food insecurity of millions of people across the country and elsewhere in the developing world. These indigenous crops present a local legacy of genetic wealth upon which a sound food future may be built.

Through command agriculture, the government should encourage the growing of these indigenous crops. These crops, especially cereals, are also tolerant of heat, cold, drought and water-logging. Most of these crops do well in poor soils which are found in the country’s region 4 and 5. They are also nutritious and tasty. Thus, these small grains are exactly what genetic engineers are burning the midnight oil trying to achieve on wheat, rice and corn in developing countries. The growing of indigenous crops and small grains is the panacea for helping Zimbabwe out of food insufficiency and malnutrition.

In the novel, Things Fall Apart, renowned Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe aptly captured the anguish that Zimbabwe is finding itself in when he said: “All our gods are weeping.” Just like our erstwhile colonisers, the current government is disrupting Zimbabwe’s sacred farming with incentives to grow cash crops, forcing people to abandon their culture and gods (indigenous crops). Now the gods are angry, the country has been cursed – it is plagued with hunger, malnutrition and diseases caused by poor diets.

While it won’t be easy for Zimbabwe to return to her pre-colonial culture, one step at a time approach would rescue the country from this hopeless state it finds itself in. Refreshing the command agriculture would be a masterstroke. Since the country adopted the Look East Policy, there is need for Zimbabwe to take a leaf from China, which instituted wide-ranging reforms over the past two decade, which are yielding miracles on its agriculture sector.

At the beginning of 1978, as part of the Four Modernisations campaign, the family production responsibility system was adopted, dismantling communes and giving agricultural production responsibility back to individual households. Households were given crop quotas that they were required to provide to their collective unit in return for tools, draft animals, seeds and other essentials.

This was aimed at giving power to individual families to meet their individual needs first and this should cascade to communes, province and national level. Then and up to now, about 75% of China’s cultivated area is used for food crops (rice, wheat, potatoes, corn, oat, barley and millet). Rice is China’s most important crop, raised on about 25% of all cultivated area. Just like Zimbabwe, a few years ago, China’s most pressing problem was how to feed its 1,4 billion mouths, but because of right agricultural prescriptions, the country is now fending 22% of the world’s population with just 7% of its arable land. Producer prices should incentives farmers into growing food crops.

The country’s food situation is an indicator of leadership and governance failure. Imagine, in the 2018/19 season, the government splashed US$3 billion into the command agriculture programme, but after such an investment, food insufficiency is the outcome.

Food security starts at household level, where each family should be “commandeered” to produce food, especially cereals, enough to take them to the next cropping season. Such command farming practices should cascade up to district, province and national level.

It is only then that the gods will stop weeping and the journey to being the bread basket of Southern Africa commences.

As long as cash cropping is at the centre stage in agriculture policy planning, then the country is unlikely to achieve United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2, which seeks sustainable solutions to end hunger in all its forms and to achieve food security by 2030. Food for thought!

Cliff Chiduku is a journalist based in Harare. Feedback:

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1 Comment

  1. I agree Cliff, but differ on continuation of the scam that is Command Agriculture – if anything the gods are also angry because farming a civil exercise is being militarised.

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