HomeNewsletterThe farm crisis in Zimbabwe

The farm crisis in Zimbabwe


ZIMBABWE is not an easy country in which to farm. We have a very high mean variation in annual rainfall, two-thirds of the country is arid or semi-arid and our wet season is short — from about November 15 to March, just four-and-a-half months.

We have to store water for the long dry season and to make things more difficult, we are one of the countries that are listed to be most impacted by the predicted changes in the weather. Certainly, in recent years our weather seems to have changed and is characterised by more extremes.

When my forefathers settled in this country after 1893, they started farming and soon found that it was a tough game. But over the next 100 years they learned how to handle the difficulties and were able to establish an industry here with about 5 000 large-scale commercial farms on 12 million hectares of land, perhaps 25 000 small-scale commercial farms on another 3,5 million hectares and about 700 000 peasant farmers on another 18 million hectares.

In 1993, the farmers here fed the country at prices below regional levels, we were nearly completely self-sufficient in all basic foods except perhaps wheat. At the same time the industry provided subsistence to half the population and employed 350 000 workers on a full-time basis and perhaps the same number in temporary seasonal employment.

Our farmers generated half our exports and in some sectors were globally important. The industry had been the largest contributor to our national economic growth in the years since independence in 1980.

The following collapse started in 1997 when a number of major events put the national economy into a downward trajectory that ran until 2008.

It started with the unbudgeted payment of $3,5 billion to war veterans and then the commitment in the Democratic Republic of Congo to remove Mabuto Sese Seko and replace him with Joseph Kabila — an exercise that was to involve thousands of troops and our air force and heavy weapons.

It cost us US$1,5 billion and as a result we lost the support of the multilateral financial agencies.

Then came the land reform programme, launched by the late former President Robert Mugabe to control the commercial farming districts politically. Nearly all remaining commercial farmers had their land and other assets nationalised and were replaced with politically-connected settlers — 18 000 A2 and 140 000 A1 farmers, the former on subdivisions of the original farms and the latter on small farms of 10 hectares or less. It was a disaster.

By 2005 we were importing three-quarters of our needs for farm products. We had at least half our population on food aid and the rest of the economy, majority, dependent on the farmers for raw materials and sales, collapsed like a row of dominos. The economy went into a tailspin and the local currency collapsed.

Our banks were technically bankrupt and when the regional leaders forced us into a Government of National Unity (GNU) in 2009, the international community, led by the United States, fed three quarters of our population for a year to stabilise the country while we tried to sort ourselves out.

During the GNU our formal economy recovered rapidly, we dollarised and became a supermarket for the region. After the devastation of the collapse 2005 to 2008, we felt relieved that we could again buy bread in a store or fuel at a filling station. Our incomes recovered to a reasonable level where we could just live (my salary in 2009 as a Member of Parliament started at US$50 a month and was US$2 000 a month by 2013).

But our productive economy did not recover. By 2013, 95% of what you saw in our supermarkets was imported, our farm economy remained in a complete shambles, only the tobacco sector recovered, funded and organised by the big international tobacco companies who wanted our style of tobacco for their blends.

Then in 2013 Mugabe took back full control, macro-economic malpractices resumed and, if anything, matters once again began to unravel with no changes either in agriculture or industry.

Then came 2017, Mugabe was forced into retirement and was replaced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a loyal associate of Mugabe for the past 40 years. He quickly laid out a programme of political and economic reform designed to revive the economy and restore economic stability.

This had a slow start with many elements in the country opposed to reform less it disrupted the systems that had given them new wealth and power.

But after a rocky beginning, the reform programme is starting to show real results. Our economy is growing rapidly fuelled by high international commodity prices and increased domestic investment and activity. Over 60% of what you see in our supermarkets is now locally-produced and there are signs of recovery in agriculture. But problems persist.

We have been unable to get our monetary policies on track, this is in sharp contrast to the fiscal policies which are now in line with global norms.

Money supply still spins out of control and rapid depreciation of our local dollar, despite the existence of a technical balance of payments surplus, is again driving our economy towards hyperinflation, something I thought was impossible a few months ago.

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