Sunday, August 29, 2010

Zimbabwe Enjoying Success in Tobacco, Cotton

Zim enjoying success in tobacco, cotton

Away from the glittering diamonds of Chiadzwa, another economic revolution is transforming Zimbabwe’s socio-economic landscape in ways that are both remarkable and inspiring.

Agriculture is back — and in a big way. You will not hear about this success story on CNN or BBC.

To those stubbornly opposed to the land reform programme, Zimbabwe’s superb performance in tobacco and cotton has become an inconvenient truth and a great source of discomfort. What will the world attribute this success to?

Tobacco and cotton growers have disproved many myths and fallacies. It has become difficult for anyone to continue peddling the lie that all black people are bad farmers or that the fast-track land reform programme is a disaster.

In a world that imposes a wretched life of servitude on most of the inhabitants of Africa, Asia and Latin America, the audacity of Zimbabwean people is nothing short of astonishing. There are not many countries in Africa where you find the indigenous population boldly taking control of the natural resources and refusing to be cowed into kowtowing to the whims of self-important outsiders.

But the success we are enjoying in tobacco and cotton should not lull us into complacency. Instead, we could learn many lessons from this.

One obvious lesson is that it is vital for all the stakeholders to pull in one direction. When policymakers, farmers’ organisation and producers of seed, fertiliser and pesticides work together, the synergies are unbeatable.

Another lesson is that Government support is crucial. Food security is one of the foremost responsibilities of the State. With matters of food, there is no passing the buck.

Zimbabwe needs a food security doctrine that guarantees Government support for grain producers. After all, food self-sufficiency is the foundation upon which nation-states are built.

It appears there was a slight improvement in grain output in the 2009-2010 season. Even the United Nations acknowledges this. However, Zimbabwe still faces a massive food deficit and more than a million citizens will need food aid.

Outside the Aids challenge, perennial food deficits pose the single biggest emergency to this country. Grain production has to be taken seriously. Maize imports are a drain on the already constrained public purse.

Planning for the maize season is not rocket science. Zimbabweans have recorded bumper harvests in the past. All it takes is thorough preparation.

The good news is that indications are pointing to a better summer cropping season on the maize front.

There is another vital lesson from the tobacco-cotton success story: when farmers are incentivised, they will do well. If there is no financial gain to be made from growing maize, why should a farmer bother at all?

The perennial deficits suggest that the country needs an integrated food security strategy. Food production has to be part of a comprehensive plan that addresses the challenges of poverty.

Experts often talk of “strategic grain reserves”, but we all know that food security really begins at household level, more so in Zimbabwe’s case.

Communal and small-scale farmers have in the past served the nation well, growing the bulk of the staple. These farmers deserve support.

They have to be empowered and the best way to do so is to ensure that inputs are readily available at reasonable prices and that a viable producer price is put on the table.

The perennial food deficit also suggests that there could be other factors at play. One of these is the nation’s failure to make strides in agricultural technology and innovation.

Everyone has spoken about irrigation. Sadly, not much has been done to harness Zimbabwe’s irrigation potential.

Our irrigation sector is crying out for technical partnerships with foreign investors who have the know-how and the capital.

In the last five or so years, we have seen the emergence of many locally owned companies that provide irrigation solutions.

This is commendable. However, it seems the local players lack the cutting-edge innovation and sheer capacity to play a significant role in ongoing efforts to thwart hunger and poverty.

Our failure to harness Zimbabwe’s irrigation potential has become a huge source of national embarrassment. There are no excuses. In Matabeleland South, for instance, communities live under the menacing shadow of hunger while the huge Mtshabezi Dam goes untapped.

As the countdown to the summer cropping season starts in earnest, Zimbabwe has a glorious opportunity to re-establish itself as a net exporter of food and shake off the tag of perennial beggar.

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