By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
CURRENT debate on economic reform and the new dispensation is worsening discrimination against the African resettled farmer. There is both conscious and unconscious bias in most discussions of economic reform against this critical economic sector because, unlike the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC), the Retailers Association of Zimbabwe (RAZ) and the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ), recently resettled African farmers are hardly visible in the media except when the Zimbabwe War Veterans Association speaks on their behalf.
Only a few months ago, the CZI and RAZ were able to get a special statutory instrument passed by Parliament on their behalf, supposedly to protect them from unfair and cheap imports and supposedly to allow local manufacturers to retool and engage in effective and efficient import-substitution.
It is common knowledge now that local manufacturers dismally failed in this endeavour.
They simply resorted to over-pricing their goods and fleecing their customers.
Despite this glaring failure by local manufacturers, the Minister of Industry and Commerce, Mangaliso Ndlovu, told The Chronicle as recently as April 6 2019 that:
“As Zimbabwe we have battled under sanctions for far too long which has negatively affected our industry.
Some (in fact most) of our companies have failed to retool to keep up with technological changes.
We had to request (on behalf of local industry) that we are given a (15-year) reprieve in complying with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCTA).”
This reprieve was requested for local industry in recognition of the special difficulties caused by Western sanctions against that industry.
But if we go to the same paper, The Chronicle, for two days later, April 8 2019, we find that resettled African farmers who are a very recent group compared to so-called industry are simply told to ‘embrace new farming technology to boost food security’, the very same food security which industry failed to provide despite being granted special protection under a special statutory instrument!
In fact, media reportage on the on-going land audit goes further to attack and blame the resettled farmers for shortages of wheat for bread, for failure to utilise resettled land and for a million other deficiencies, as if these farmers live and operate in an economy quite separate from that in which industry has performed so poorly. This industry never reached the 60 percent capacity utilisation which it once promised to surpass by 2011-2012!
In fact, this industry, according to the same reports, is still operating between 30 and 40 percent capacity!
Now, why would this low performance and low capacity not be tolerated among resettled farmers who are the most recent production sector and the prime target of the Western sanctions imposed at the very same time their resettlement took effect?
The truth is, the illegal and racist sanctions were imposed to stop the African land revolution and, if the revolution did not stop, at least to make the majority of the resettled farmers fail to take-off. In other words, the direct purpose of racist sanctions was to turn the asset in resettled land into a liability for the resettled Africans!
Policymakers risk playing into the hands of the sanctions mongers if they continue to link the land audit to downsizing the resettled farms!
Downsizing is supposed to follow years of a continuous and consistent agrarian investment programme intended to defeat or reverse the adverse effects of sanctions on the resettled farmer.
The truth is that, worldwide, most proud nations make farming a special public investment area supported directly through taxes. Apart from the one year of the Command Agriculture Programme, 2016, this has not yet been done in Zimbabwe.
What this means is the rationale for downsizing farm sizes remains unclear because we have not yet reached a stage where we can honestly and objectively separate failed resettled farmers from successful ones.
We are busy excusing manufacturers through special statutory instruments and through the granting of a 15-year reprieve from AFCFTA requirements on account of sanctions but offering no equivalent to resettled farmers who were the real direct target of the same sanctions!
The irony of the anti-resettled farmer propaganda is, Zimbabwe would have been in an untenable situation now if Cyclone Idai had hit the country without the staple food reserves from the 2016 Command Agriculture harvests!
That harvest started to demonstrate the wisdom of investing substantially in resettled farmers.
At any rate, it is not clear how a genuine downsizing exercise can be carried out against resettled farmers recently hit by drought, Cyclone Idai and sanctions!
It would make better sense to design an investment programme to enable resettled farmers first to recover from these calamities and emergencies first before downsizing their farms.
Our focus therefore should continue to be on meaningful public investment in the resettled farmer and fine-tuning the Command Agriculture initiative.
It is wrong to focus on Command Agriculture for one year and then suddenly shift to downsizing the resettled farms!
Getting rid of multiple farm ownerships is a different issue and should be separated from downsizing.
Downsizing, if needed at all, must follow massive and sustained investment support.
At this juncture, it may be necessary to remind our readers of the noble principles behind the 2016 Command Agriculture project.
For me, the best way to understand the importance of the Command Agriculture Programme is to contrast it with what I have called ‘fugitive economics’.
Fugitive economics is an urban-centric economic doctrine which ignores and seeks to escape from the livelihoods of the majority.
- Where fugitive economics dwells on myths of rural-urban escape from poverty and the investment into cities of surplus resources extracted from rural areas, Command Agriculture seeks, in a small way, to direct resources from cities and from urban consumption back into the farming sector.
- Whereas fugitive economics dwells on stories based on urban-generated statistics from the banks, the retailers, trade unions and journalists concentrated in the city, Command Agriculture has deliberately created an on-going economic story based on a rural activity, on value-creation and mobilisation, on agriculture.
urban-centredfugitive economics and politics were used to orchestrate the demonisationof the African land reclamation and resettlement revolution, Command Agriculture makes a bold statement about central government’s recognition of the key role of the agricultural sector in food security, in nutrition, in economic reconstruction and recovery.
- Whereas the entire campaign of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) on Bond notes focused primarily on incentives for exporters, Command Agriculture recognises that in previous seasons the precious foreign exchange earned from exporting gold, platinum
andtobacco ended up being spent on importation of wheat and maize which could have been grown on resettled farms which have been starved of investment ever since the fast-track land resettlement programme began in 2000.
In other words, Command Agriculture is providing a small, token incentive to farmers which will be far less in value than the five percent export incentive offered to exporters.
Moreover, in terms of accounting and controlling what happens to the incentive, it is potentially much easier to direct and control what happens to the Command Agriculture resources than it
is to control what happens to exports and what will be defined as genuine exports deserving incentives.
The Business Herald of December 14 2016, in fact, confirmed that the export incentive was difficult to define and control and the RBZ was still struggling to curb cases of abuse.
- It is also important to point out the inherent bias against agriculture which results from fugitive economics. The RBZ’s export incentive is a free bonus. But Command Agriculture inputs extended to farmers constitute loans to be paid back in the form of maize.
- In terms of what the Constitution of Zimbabwe defines in Section 13(1) (d) as ‘balanced development’, the RBZ’s export incentive was threatening to worsen the effects of incentivising the cultivation of export tobacco at the expense of food production. Command Agriculture, in a small way, tries to offset that massive imbalance between tobacco and staple foods and to counter the impact of tobacco on the rural environment.
Neo-liberal economics, as an academic discipline and as a practice for the past forty years or more, has distorted the meaning of economics, the purpose of national economic organisation and the role of agriculture. Command Agriculture has the potential to offset that neo-liberal bias against land reform and small scale agriculture. The bias we are referring to was openly expressed through a Financial Gazette story of September 10 2015, ‘RBZ targets Agric Support’:
“Mangudya said over the past few years, Government has tried to support a huge number of framers with no positive results.”
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe was quoted saying:
“We have realised that it does not work to have a big number of farmers producing nothing.
We will be wasting resources.
The economy is about making choices.
We need to make sure that we make a choice to give that money to people who are productive.
Yes, we can start with 2 000 farmers only.
It’s not big numbers if you compare with the 500 million we poured into agriculture last year.
But take note that despite the huge funds we injected last year, the sector did not perform to expectations.”
The RBZ Governor, in fact, distorted the story about land resettlement and investment.
The most critical investment needed is in infrastructure that forms the foundation for farming.
The funds the RBZ boss was referring to went into inputs without infrastructure!
The performance of South African agriculture is a direct result of white governments there investing in infrastructure to support white farmers.
One of the basic requirements was that every farm should have a minimum of one tractor, a dam and a borehole!
But the fact is that a lot more money has gone to support so-called manufacturers in Zimbabwe without success.
Apart from the statutory instrument to cushion industry against imports, there was the Depressed Manufacturers Fund (DMAF) which produced no results.
Now there is the 15-year moratorium on opening up to the African Free Trade Agreement.
When will resettled farmers enjoy similar support?