The politics of food in Zimbabwe: Part One


THERE is a mbira song by Maungira eNharira where the female voice says, “Muzukuru woye, sadza raunoona iri, taidya rezviyo…nyama tichifusha wo.”
In translation, this is a grandmother telling her grandchild that there was a time when the people could eat so much sadza made from red millet or rapoko.
There was also a time when the people could store a lot of grain in the granaries.
In those days, there were majakwara, the gathering of the communities to thresh the red millet.
Although the people remember the year of hunger or gore renzara, such a year was not common.
The people would refer to that one particular year because the hunger that had occurred was unusual.
Most times, there was plenty of land and plenty of food in this country.
But such times of plenty happened in Zimbabwe before the colonial settlers appropriated the richest parts of the country to themselves.
Today, in places around the country where the rain has been abundant and where people could afford fertilisers and seeds, the food will be adequate.
However, at this time of the year, before the harvest, the maize crop in many parts of the country has not received enough rainfall.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are saying that there is going to be widespread food shortages in Zimbabwe and in the whole of Southern Africa.
On the World Food Programme (WFP) website it is noted that food insecurity levels will affect many Zimbabweans who are not able to access sufficient food during the peak hunger period of January to March.
The increasing food insecurity levels are due to weather conditions, the high cost or lack of availability of fertilisers and seeds, and also the rising food prices.
Other NGO websites also highlight the food shortages and how food relief programmes are being planned to feed the people especially in the dry and low rainfall areas of Zimbabwe.
One NGO even goes further to say the people are hungry because of the land reform programmes.
How can people go hungry if they have fertile land, expertise, equipment, inputs and water?
The NGO food shortage reports are based on research.
This research is in many ways factual, though exaggerated in some parts.
It is true that there is food insecurity in many parts of Zimbabwe.
However, the NGO reports do not tell readers why some of the people in Zimbabwe are hungry.
At the same time, the reports ignore the history of the country and how that has affected our current food production.
The problem of food shortages have roots in the way land was unequally distributed by the colonial authorities.
Basically, NGO reporters avoid focusing on the political history of land and hunger in Zimbabwe since the colonial times.
The people of Zimbabwe never used to wait in line for food from donors.
Over the years, you find common pictures of hungry Zimbabweans on NGO websites.
Such pictures serve to promote negative perceptions of Africans as being poor and powerless.
The politics of food in Zimbabwe must begin to look at the history of land dispossession and inequality and poverty.
Cecil John Rhodes’s British South Africa Company (BSACo) seized land and cattle in 1890.
They then demarcated African land forcing Africans into reserves or areas they called Tribal Trust Lands.
These areas were dry, drought prone and very rocky.
In the north, like in Muzarabani and Siyakobvu the land was infested with tsetse flies.
In most areas people became overcrowded living on poor unproductive soil.
The company then took African cattle forcing Africans to work on the farms that had been pegged out by settlers, demanding tax in cash for hut tax, cattle, dog and even bicycle tax thus forcing the people to work under a slave like system called chibharo.
In 1930, the Southern Rhodesia government passed the Land Apportionment Act which legalised apartheid like system whereby the black people were separated from the whites.
Historical statistics from the department of Agriculture note that 50 000 white farmers received 49 million acres while the 1,1 million Africans were settled on 29 million acres of Native Reserve Areas.
As a result of losing their land, the Africans began to suffer from food shortages. Those who worked as labourers for almost nothing received food rations.
The white population comprising of three percent controlled 75 percent of the economically viable land.
Meanwhile, the 97 percent black Africans controlled only 23 percent of poor overcrowded and drought-prone land.
By 1923, the colonialists had taken control of one sixth of the land in Rhodesia. This land was prime fertile land where rainfall was abundant.
Today the good rainfall areas that were occupied by the European settlers are referred to as Zone One and Zone Two.
The term Native Reserve was changed to the Tribal Trust Lands in 1965.
After 1965, the land issue and food insecurity was the main reason behind the liberation war.
According to Tapiwa Mabaye of the Ethics of Development in Global Environment, “At independence in 1980, there were 33 million hectares of arable farming land in Zimbabwe.
“Of this land, 6 000 white commercial farmers owned 45 percent of it…. 8 500 mainly small black commercial farmers controlled five percent of the land in the drier regions.
“700 000 black families occupied the remaining 50 percent of the poorest unfertile land in the communal areas.”
To overcome the land and food shortage, the government of Zimbabwe introduced the Land Reform Programme.
In 2002 the government passed the Land Acquisition Amendment Act and the fast track Land Reform Programme began.
As such, Zimbabwe moved many milestones in helping the people to feed themselves though the Land Reform Programme.
Zimbabwe therefore supported small-scale farmers by giving them the land that had been stolen from them.
The question of food remains a major problem facing Zimbabwe and the rest of the African continent.
In this day and age, it is unacceptable that Africans, who own 60 percent of the world’s arable lands, are going hungry.
As a whole the African continent has so much potential for agricultural production to the extent that it can be world’s largest producer of food.
There are new changes in the politics of food and the role of donor agencies.
In 2015, several donor agencies are moving away from food handouts and promoting the small rural farmer.
How are they doing this?
The changing role of donor agencies in food production will be the subject of this column next week.


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