Agriculture has lost its lustre

Rukudzo Mangoma

guest column:Rukudzo M Mangoma

AGRICULTURE has lost the viability which at some point made it the prime export earner. As government accedes to a US$3,5 billion compensation deal for the displaced white former commercial farmers, the sector seems to have lost the comparative advantage that made the country the breadbasket of the region. Although government still regards agriculture as the mainstay of the economy, I believe it is time to refocus.

My developmental studies background prompted me to burn the midnight candle pondering over what could have caused agriculture to lost its export generation capacity. After a lengthy period of serious mental exertion, I deemed it fit to go public with my considered view regarding a paradigm shift.

Any objective person can attest to the fact that agriculture is no longer the dominant market player it used to be. Its viability was eroded by political expediency. Politics has meddled in agricultural affairs, dealing a heavy blow to Zimbabwe’s spine, leaving her crippled. Politics has crept into agriculture through land reform, costing the country a whopping US$3,5 billion.

The occupation of land by natives, completely ignorant of farm life, treated agriculture not as a business, but more like a reward for fighting the liberation war. Many of them view owning a farm as a status symbol.

They go around driving their fancy cars bragging about how possessing a farm is the epitome of success, yet owning a farm is a serious responsibility to uphold the right to life, both in Zimbabwe and the rest of the world.

Failure by a farmer to maximise land use, is not any other misdemeanour in my view, but a serious wrongdoing of the same gravity as that of engaging in terrorism, it deprives the nation of food security and may result in political instability.

One thing most occupants of land have in common is lack of wealth creation know-how through agriculture. Most of these farms are under the management of people who are farm managers by name but have no necessary competencies.

Surprisingly, the owners who frequently visit the farms dressed in trendy attire do not realise the disservice they are doing to the country.

Presently, the impact is being felt throughout the country, with shortages of wheat, maize, meat and milk, all now being imported. President Emmerson Mnangagwa once said importing food was an embarrassment to the country given the abundance of agricultural land and labour.

South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu hit the nail on the head when he said: “Zimbabwe has turned from being the breadbasket of Africa to being a basket case herself”.

Moreso, government is using agriculture as a political tool to woo voters. It has neglected commercial farming and is now focusing on subsistence farming.

By providing more inputs to subsistence farmers, most of whom are in rural areas, it has led them into thinking that they are the right men for the job – the god complex – an inflated narcissistic belief that everyone needs you for their survival. Hence, every election we see a majority of predominantly rural-based votes swinging in their favour.

However, now the government has realised it can no longer bear the cost of playing hero, lack of support for commercial farming has led to reduced exports and foreign currency.

Foreign currency which was funding the purchase of inputs for subsistence farmers is scarce and government instead of being proactive, it has imposed unfair monopolistic laws that only promote their institutions.

One such law that springs to mind is Statutory Instrument 145 of 2019 that bans the sale of maize to private companies. This means, since the Grain Marketing Board hoards all the country’s grain, first preference is given to its subsidiaries like Silo and Country Feeds, making private companies battle it out for leftovers.

Zimbabweans have been impacted negatively by the mess in the agricultural sector to a point where all hope now seems lost.

Consequences of poor governance manifest in shortages of food, particularly mealie-meal as evidenced by long queues at supermarkets in recent months, which is unfortunate given that the country is battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moreover, a dependency syndrome seems to have gripped subsistence farmers, who every season await handouts from the State.

Prime land agricultural is dwindling by the day. Fertile soils which once supported horticultural production have been turned into residential or industrial sites.

The effects of poor policies on hotspots for agricultural development are detrimental to the economy. An example is the building of a ceramic tile factory on land that once contributed immensely to wheat production along the Harare-Bulawayo Highway.

Frankly speaking, even if we get agriculture going again, chances that we will regain the status of being the breadbasket of the region are slim because the country lost the market share it used to enjoy during its hayday.

When Zimbabwe was in slumber, neighbouring countries such as Botswana, South Africa and Zambia capitalised on her absence on the food production chain. They increased their foothold on the market, thereby securing goodwill at the expense of Zimbabwe. They have now become trusted suppliers which makes it difficult for a re-entry.

Natural factors have also negatively affected agricultural productivity. We are now experiencing unpredictable weather patterns which are not favourable to agricultural production.

These range from erratic rainfall, high temperatures and in recent farming seasons an increase in pest infestations such as the fall armyworm. I have argued before that climate change was a result of past unresolved problems and that if those problems are resolved, so shall the climate change issue.

My considered view is that Zimbabwe should turn her attention to other sectors of development. Investment in technology and software development is a good option. As the world becomes one global village due to globalisation, technology and software are now playing an integral role in the day-to-day lives of people. Some have built careers on technological ingenuity such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Elon Musk, to name but three. Among the 14 million people in this country, I firmly believe there are many whose mental dynamics can make the country a regional technological powerhouse.

Given the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, business is relying heavily on smartphones, internet and social media, making technology an attractive investment option. Zimbabwe should capitalise on this opportunity to bolster its economy. Countries that invested in technology have witnessed exponential growth. These countries include Japan, Singapore, China, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

Another option would be tourism. Zimbabwe is replete with tourist attractions that can certainly be a top revenue earner if more attention is accorded to that sector. Resort centres such as Victoria Falls and Great Zimbabwe Monuments have great potential to revive the economy. Countries such as Brazil, Thailand, France and Sweden have awesome tourist attractions that are contributing significantly to their economies. Zimbabwe has equally attractive tourist destinations which the country can package and market. I am of the strong view that government should abandon its pursuit to regain breadbasket status and focus on sectors mentioned above for the good of our country. With such an act of bravery and necessity, Zimbabwe’s economy will regain her strength and be on her feet again in no time.