AFTER independence, agricultural performance in Zimbabwe was mainly directed by four central policy frameworks, namely: The ‘growth with equity programme’ pursued by the Government between 1980 and 1990 which sought to redress the inherited colonial legacy in favour of communal farmers; the ‘market-oriented reforms’ of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), adopted in 1991; the ‘Land Reform Programme’ in 2000, and the on-going ‘Command Agriculture’ programmes.
In 1980, after independence, agricultural policy was mainly directed towards reducing inequality and to supporting smallholder farmers.
This was seen as an essential means towards achieving food self-sufficiency and food security among communal farmers. As a result, the smallholder farmers became the largest suppliers of maize and cotton to the formal markets within the first five years of independence – (1980-1985).
By the early 1990s, the ‘growth with equity programme’ policies had reached their limit and could not be sustained further.
This forced Government to embark on the ‘market-oriented reforms’ adopted in 1991, that were aimed at market deregulation, liberalisation and export promotion.
This resulted in the deregulation of agricultural marketing and the removal of controls on domestic prices except for a few essential commodities.
The main thrust was export-oriented agricultural production.
However, the problem of generating substantially greater farm output from smallholder farming – i.e.: communal, resettlement and small-scale farming, to meet direct household consumption needs and to generate greater cash incomes still remained.
In 1995, Government adopted a comprehensive agricultural policy for the period 1995 – 2000, to consolidate the reforms and export incentives which were phased out.
Although some diversification took place, for example in ostrich production and specialised horticulture, which are capital-intensive and beyond the means of most communal farmers, the anticipated diversification resulting from market reforms has not fully arisen.
This was due in part, to the lack of appropriate technologies in the various farming areas; as well as lack of access to capital, lack of markets and the absence of agricultural advisory services for the largely rural population.
While trade was liberalised, a licence was required for the importation and exportation of some goods.
For example, importation of fertilisers was regulated as well as the exportation of maize and other foodstuffs.
Market liberalisation reforms led however, to high increase in agricultural production costs, particularly for stockfeeds, fertiliser, transport costs and agricultural equipment compared with prices of agricultural produce.
Although export incentives were phased out, the devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar throughout the 1990s, continued to stimulate exports.
Because of this, agricultural producers received higher prices in Zimbabwean dollars for their exports.
In view of the negative outcome of the externally dictated ESAPs, economic reforms on prices and consumer welfare as well as the strategic role of agriculture on the economy, Government reversed some agricultural policies.
In 2000, it introduced price controls over a number of agricultural and food products.
The marketing of grain was placed under the control of the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), and private operators were required to declare their holding of grain, or faced its confiscation by Government.
The GMB was tasked with maintaining strategic grain reserves and had the sole right to import and export maize.
Since 1998, the land issue had become the most important factor in the performance of agricultural production in Zimbabwe.
In August 2002, the Land Reform Programme was declared complete by the Government after the implementation of its transfer of landownership policy.
In terms of trade policy, Zimbabwe was a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the ACP-EU Cotonou Agreement, regional trade arrangements (SADC, COMESA and CBI) as well as bilateral trade agreements with neighbouring countries; i.e. the Trade Agreement Group, which includes Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Zambia and South Africa.
All the arrangements provided frameworks for further liberalisation of trade, and Zimbabwe made commitments within each of these arrangements towards that objective.
Prior to the 1991 reforms, Zimbabwe imposed stringent controls on trade, foreign currency flows and the exchange rate.
The main objective of economic reforms in the area of trade was the abolition of quantitative controls, reduction and harmonisation of tariffs and duties, removal of export incentives, phasing out of the import licensing regime, elimination of foreign currency controls, reduction of tariffs and removal of surtax.
The trade policy component of the programme was carried out in full.
All imports were placed on the Open General Import Licence except those that were regarded as strategic such as fuels.
An Export Processing Zone programme that included several export incentives was introduced to promote export-oriented production and development.
The policy also focused on regional integration and liberalisation of trade within the WTO, with a view to implementing a uniform tariff structure.
In an effort to restore stability in the foreign exchange market and to curtail import pressure on the exchange rate, as well as to generate revenue, protect local manufacturing and improve income distribution, Government reversed its policy and increased tariffs in October 1998 on finished goods with local substitutes or those considered as luxuries.
Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant, lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. For views and comments, email: firstname.lastname@example.org