Of good rains and bumper harvests!

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AS we go for our independence celebrations on April 18 2017, we find ourselves in a rare situation.
For once in a long time, we look forward to a good bumper harvest, thanks to the good rains which blessed the 2016/17 cropping season.
Unlike in the past when the rains have come and gone and come again, this time the rains were more or less persistent throughout the summer season, in the process reducing considerably the anxieties which normally afflict farmers during mid-season dry-spells.
Apart from the good rains, there is also the introduction of Command Agriculture which we witnessed during the same season.
This new and timely development enabled many farmers to utilise more of their pieces of land in a manner which has not been witnessed before since the completion of the Land Reform Programme.
In the end, it is the combination of good rains, the Presidential Input Scheme and the introduction of Command Agriculture which largely explain the bumper harvest that is about to visit us.
The question is: What does this imminent success story in agriculture mean to us as Zimbabweans?
Is this good story destined to be a once-off success, something that comes and goes, leaving us desperate as ever to feed ourselves with the assistance of outsiders?
A number of observations are in order here.
First: When we go about proclaiming to all and sundry that we are an independent sovereign nation, we do so rightly and necessarily in order to be treated with respect and dignity by other nations; we do so in order to be afforded space wide enough for us to formulate our own policies and priorities without interference from outsiders, especially from those who colonised us in the past.
But this demand that others respect us as an independent people, legitimate and necessary as it is, only begins to sound credible when we can feed ourselves adequately without recourse to begging or borrowing from outsiders.
One can go as far as to argue that the capacity to feed ourselves adequately, from our own home-grown resources, constitutes 50 percent of the content which goes on to define us as a sovereign nation.
Put differently, being able to guarantee the provision of adequate food for all of our people amounts to being able to guarantee our survival as a people.
As such, provision of adequate food to all of us becomes a strategic national objective for any self-respecting nation and should be treated accordingly as a strategic national priority.
One of the reasons our African countries remain vulnerable to manipulation by Western countries at policy level, be they policies on foreign affairs or on the domestic economy is that most of our countries have been compelled from time-to-time by circumstances to depend on the very countries which have always exploited us in the past.
And these countries have never stopped wanting to exploit us at our expense.
We often forego huge chunks of our independence and of our dignity and self-respect when we go to Western countries, cap in hand, begging for assistance on national disasters such as those caused by drought and famine.
This kind of begging explains why our sense of nationhood is often regarded with disdain bordering on contempt by our erstwhile colonisers.
The challenge before us therefore is how to make the bumper harvest of 2017 a permanent feature of our national development, something that goes beyond being part of a three-year agricultural programme. We need an agricultural programme which becomes an integral part of a self-sustaining development tradition in good times when the rains are plentiful and in bad times when the rains fail us and drought re-visits.
If only we could manage to grow crops throughout the year and provide adequate staple foods for everyone, the disturbingly huge numbers of Western non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who have infested Africa on an industrial scale would inevitably go down drastically.
Why?
Because the rationale for their being in Africa, often acting like extensions and amplifications of the role and voices of Western foreign affairs departments and their embassies, would cease to exist.
Second: Apart from the psychological boost which our farmers are likely to derive from the imminent bumper harvest of 2017, there is also the practical challenge of handling the proceeds of the impending harvest itself.
Already some are talking in terms of selling the prospective surplus grain to those who have been visited by drought in East Africa and beyond.
This kind of thinking is fine, but not enough.
We all need to derive more value from our sweat and efforts.
Then there are those asking questions about our capacity to hold on to huge reserves of our grain, much more than the proposed levels, in case drought pays us a visit again as it has been wont to do in recent years.
These are questions relating to our storage capacity and to the duration and quality of grain preservation that is possible both at home and at our national grain depots.
Surely these are issues which our college and university researchers should have been grappling with all along.
If not, then we are entitled to repeat the question which Thandekile Moyo asked recently:
“Whose problems are we solving? If one of the most important requirements of becoming a graduate is to solve a problem and we have had hundreds of thousands of graduates across generations, since we attained independence in 1980; I am forced to ask: Whose problems were they addressing in their 100-paged dissertations lining the walls of libraries right round the country?”
This question is timely in so far as we have invested heavily in our education system since 1980, but we are yet to see the benefits of this investment.
Right now we expect our news bulletins, newspapers and magazines and our websites to be bursting to the seams with ideas and concepts about how to handle and store strategic grain reserves both at domestic and national levels.
We should be inundated with designs for big and small granaries all meant to preserve the value of the bumper crop.
Although we know that ‘one swallow does not constitute a summer season’ and that we need far more of bumper harvests to succeed as a nation, we expect our graduates to complement efforts by our farmers by coming up with as many value-chains as possible relating to maize as a grain.
For example, we know that three-in-four items on the American supermarket shelves contain corn or maize.
Here are some of the items which rely on corn; hamburger pates, ketch-up, fruit-juice, yogurt, soup-mixes, gravy, vegetable oil, mayonnaise.
The list goes on and on!
The question is: Can our researchers come up with a whole range of by-products from maize which would suit our social and cultural environment, something which would constitute comparable value chains for our commercial sector?
We need to think both outside and away from the proverbial box so that we add more value to our maize products.
The challenge is obvious, but for now, our independence celebrations for 2017 will mean much more.
The question is: Is the bumper harvest going to be a turning point for our economy, something at last to vindicate the relevance of our Land Reform Programme.

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