“WE like what you do for agriculture Dr Monda, keep it up …,” it was a compliment from Air Chief Marshal (Retired) Perrance Shiri, Hon Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement as he drove past while I was on my way to another livestock trip to the rural areas.
On my intermittent, albeit too few, treasured meetings with the national hero, mainly on cattle and the development of agriculture in Zimbabwe, Cde Shiri, who was primarily concerned with implementation and not theories, would jokingly repeat: “Crops are not grown in the office or on paper – agriculture is practical and has to be practiced on the land.”
This often kept him away from the office as he went about the country; looking, listening and learning about agricultural progress in Zimbabwe.
Cde Shiri showed interest in my various agricultural proposals and believed children would be the ones to inherit the land.
He never hid his joy on seeing crops thrive or healthy cattle grazing — his face would light up with pride on the occasions I visited his farm.
A stalwart guardian of the land, he genuinely wanted to see indigenous farmers thrive on equal footing with global standards.
One of Cde Shiri’s major achievements, in his short but productive tenure in the Ministry of Agriculture, has been to evolve new ways of thinking and production in the sphere of agriculture, by meeting the requisite agro-production targets that facilitated local food security and boosted export-oriented farming.
Similarly, Cde Shiri’s views on increased crop diversification and new-age horticultural production were moulded around delivering modern technical agro-support systems and providing assistance to new indigenous farmers, to achieve food security in the country.
Cde Shiri was keenly aware of thee various kinds of agro-production programmes to which economic and mechanical technical aid should be directed; such as the John Deere Agro-Mechanisation Programme that would reduce the socio-economic gap between rich and poor farmers, ensure profitable crop harvests and reduce the agricultural imports of finished products that Zimbabwe has become reliant on, but can rightly be produced locally.
The late minister often reiterated that agriculture was not only the key to reducing the national import bill, but that a fully-capacitated agricultural sector (that he strived for) would stimulate agro-product price stabilisation and provide the fulcrum to a fully modernised farming system in which agriculture would synchronously capacitate industry, thus stimulating economic production, trade and investment on a national basis.
As an agricultural administrator, Cde
Shiri was open minded, receptive to new agricultural methods, new technologies, new resources and new ideas that would be desirable to supplement that much-needed flow of capital and foreign exchange to Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector and ultimately to the populous at large.
He believed the agricultural system and its policies should work to the perpetual advantage of the most vulnerable members of society – the povo and the local agro-economic market of Zimbabwe.
Cde Shiri viewed agricultural production as a safety net to reduce poverty, harness land and water resources to achieve sustainable development and thus safeguard the health of the nation.
His great ideas such as the Field-To-Industry concept adopted in 2018 and presented at the re-branded Zimbabwe Agricultural Show (2018), resulted in his ministry receiving the Public Services Excellence Trophy for the best display on show and demonstration of national patriotic progress.
He instituted the Presidential Free Inputs Programme for previously marginalised areas that restyled an intensified pest management, crop protection and veterinary animal health management system under this State-sponsored scheme.
He further encouraged the development of adaptive and resilient food production systems in the face of climate change to ensure food security for the people of Zimbabwe.
Cde Shiri worked tirelessly to endorse the agriculture ministry’s mission statement: “Promote and sustain a viable agricultural sector through the provision of appropriate agricultural infrastructure, mechanisation, technical, administrative and advisory services in order to optimise agricultural productivity to ensure food security.”
A keen, avid reader, mainly on issues dealing with his ministerial portfolio, we found common sources of interest in the various discourses that I penned on cattle, diseases of cattle, their prevention and veterinary epidemiology in Zimbabwe.
As one of the heroic figures of the war of liberation, Cde Shiri unflinchingly spearheaded the land reform programme and has left a legacy of indigenous land ownership and sustainable agricultural land use.
When last we met, he impressed on me his wish for good rains and a bountiful 2020-1021 agro-production season. But death knows no season. May his soul rest in peace and his family find condolence in his memory.
Dr. Tony M. Monda is currently researching Veterinary epidemiology, Agronomy and Farming in Zimbabwe. He is a writer, lecturer and a specialist Post-Colonial Scholar, Zimbabwean Socio-Economic analyst and researcher. He holds a PhD. and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. E-mail tonym.MONDA@gmail.com