Command Agriculture set to silence sceptics

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DESCRIBING how whites invaded the country, former ZANU Chairman, the late great Herbert Chitepo said: “Each one was given large tracts of land.
Those who wanted more were allowed to buy it for as little as a shilling an acre.
With it of course went the people who were living on the land.
So that, a man who had lived on a piece of land, cultivated, built his home and reared his cattle and goats and sheep on the same piece of land suddenly woke up to be told by a European who had come from afar:
No, you are a tenant now.”
And as of September 12 1890, whites declared themselves rightful owners of the land.
To justify their illegal occupation of our land, the settlers put in place repressive laws such as the Land Apportionment Act of 1930.
This law explicitly created a distinction between European and what they called native lands.
Prime land was parcelled out to Europeans.
Blacks no longer had a say.
Their way of life was affected.
With fortune tilted in favour of whites, black farmers were labelled ‘failures’.
All they could do was provide cheap labour on white-owned commercial farms.
Agricultural economist Mandivamba Rukuni says the Shangwe people of Gokwe were renowned tobacco growers during the pre-colonial era.
By the mid 1930s, tobacco production by blacks was banned, with the golden leaf labelled a ‘white’ crop.
Maize Control Acts of 1931 and 1934 ensured white farmers were paid substantially more for maize than black farmers.
White farmers’ success between 1940 and 1960 was hinged on the use of hybrid seed and fertilisers.
These were not made available to black farmers.
Whites, during the early days, received massive support from their Government which poured very soft loans into their operations.
Since then, The Land Bank, now Agribank, increased loans and there was a three-year suspension on all repayments.
White farmers got loans worth $12 000 per farm per year which is equivalent to US$40 000 today.
With the law and funding on their side, they quickly became wealthy and an illusion of prosperity was created.
It is this illusion those against land reform use to shoot down the programme.
Detractors tend to compare resettled farmers who have been on farms for only 16 years to white farmers who only began to make profits after more than 40 years on the land.
In an interview with The Telegraph recently, disgruntled former white commercial farmer Ben Freeth gives the impression the programme was an ‘underserved form of punishment’ on whites by President Robert Mugabe.
He really missed the point.
What the Land Reform and Resettlement Programme simply did was to redress colonial imbalances.
Blacks took their land back and the right to engage in agricultural activities freely.
As opposed to the 4 000 land owners, who were whites, land is now in the hands of over 400 000 indigenous households.
Freeth pins hopes on one day returning to his old farm.
Is this not tantamount to reversing gains of our independence?
“The time may come when we have a Government that says, ‘We want people to be employed, producing food, and economic activity to start coming into the country’,” says Freeth.
“The time may come when they come to us and say, ‘We need to get this farm up and running again’.
“We will sit tight and wait and do what we can in our own little way.”
As much as whites want to create the impression they are the answer to the country’s agriculture sector, it should be noted that they were no better.
Despite having fortunes in their favour, white growers also failed to deliver.
So, before Freeth thinks whites have keys to unlock the sector, he must consider facts.
The Agriculture Parliamentary Committee in 1957 realised that only 12 percent of arable ‘European land’ was actually being utilised out of the 75 percent that accounted for Zimbabwe’s prime land.
The Rhodesian Farmer of April 9 1965 published an article titled ‘Idle Land a National Disgrace’.
“On practically every farm you will see acres of land lying idle,” read part of the article.
“It is a national disgrace that so much land is lying idle and not being used.”
Statistics showed that 30 percent of white farmers were bankrupt, 30 percent broke even and did not make profits.
The other 30 percent made a small profit and only five percent of farms were profitable.
Statistics, however, prove that despite being disadvantaged, local small-holder farmers played a significant role in agriculture even after independence.
According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, small-holder farmers were the largest suppliers of maize and cotton to formal markets within five years of independence.
As far back as 1980, communal farmers were major contributors to grain reserves, producing 66 565 tonnes that year and in 1983 when the country experienced a drought, recorded a tonnage of 137 234.
After the drought, communal farmers contributed 335 130 tonnes of maize, double the previous years.
In 1996 when the country recorded its highest maize yield of 2, 6 million tonnes, 1,6 million tonnes were produced by communal farmers.
Following the Land Reform and Resettlement Programme, blacks have continued to make strides despite facing numerous challenges.
Through programmes such as Farm Mechanisation, Presidential Inputs Scheme, Operation Maguta and the recent Command Agriculture, Government has not stopped supporting resettled farmers.
The tobacco production sub-sector, a former preserve of white farmers, has grown over the years with production levels rising from an all-time low of 48,8 million kilogrammes in 2008 to 198 million kilogrammes last season.
In an article last year, Freeth took a swipe on the Command Agriculture Programme.
Again, he insinuates the programme is meant to benefit a select few.
“This time they wish to fund a select politically supportive set of 2 000 farmers who will each apparently grow 1 000 tonnes of maize for the State,” he writes.
Command Agriculture, which has become a major highlight for this season is a Government-led programme aimed at boosting food security.
Under the programme, Government is targeting producing two million tonnes of maize under 400 000 ha.

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