The Land Reform Program, amongst other detrimental changes in the climate and political stability around the year 2000, precipitated the initial food shortages and crippled the country’s economy; tipping the scales from economic recession to full blown chaos. The proportions were colossal and were only made worse with several years of mismanagement, bad governance, poor policy formulation and implementation, systemic corruption, and blatant human rights violations which significantly contributed to turning the once so called bread basket of Africa, into an empty basket case, and a basket case of empty stomachs. The normal Zimbabwean, the typical small-scale farmer in rural areas, was not spared in the collapse of the country’s economy and agricultural downturn. The consequences of this recession was; millions left in perpetual need of food aid, millions more trapped in a ‘hunger on repeat’ horror sequel and even more Zimbabweans fleeing into neighbouring South Africa, Zambia and Botswana.
Ever since this downturn, Zimbabwe has relied on grain imports and aid from foreign donors to meet the country’s demand for grain. Drought, lack of financing and political instability hit commercial agriculture severely and those who had benefited from the Land Reform Program failed to produce adequate grain yields to sustain the ever increasing demand for food.
This obviously paints a sorry picture of incompetent authorities, but they did put effort into rectifying the situation. In 2005 and 2006 the government introduced the first Command Agriculture Scheme which was called “Operation Taguta / Sisuthi”. In that program, the army was given the task of tilling large tracts of land as it was peace time and their labour was available. The scheme unfortunately failed to yield the expected results. In 2007, the government introduced the Farm Mechanisation Scheme which was championed by the then Reserve Bank Governor. The scheme largely failed, potentially as a result of alleged corruption whereby mechanisation resources may have been distributed on a political basis to elites.
Government efforts proved to be fruitless and ineffective, and the situation only got worse last year when the maize shortages hit endemic lows due to a severe drought, caused by El Nino which crippled whatever production capacities were left in the country. According to the statistics collected at the time, 4 million people were left in desperate need of critical relief and food aid. This made the government realise the importance of a waterproof strategic plan of action which would be able to guarantee the peoples’ access to food in the event of another reoccurring drought. After the drought in the 2015-2016 farming season, the country experienced more than average rains which paved the way for another government scheme to be introduced. There was much scepticism aligned to the scheme because of the previously failed attempts by the government to ensure food security in the country, on top of issues such as corruption, farmer disloyalty, payment methods for the farmer’s grain and drastic changes of the weather. A lot of risk was involved in the scheme’s implementation process as there were a lot of critical areas which needed attention in order to make the scheme a success.
In 2016, the government re-introduced the Command Agriculture Programme, but this time the army was not involved in the implementation process. The programme was now designed to solve a fundamental problem the country faced in the aftermath of the land reform and severe drought, which was that of mobilising sustainable and affordable funding for agriculture so as to ensure food security, eliminate imports of food to increase exports from the sector and eventually reduce poverty. The 2016-17 farming season set the stage for achieving this goal. The scheme was introduced as Zimbabwe grappled with economic problems and its targeted beneficiaries were farmers near water bodies who could put a minimum of 200 hectares under maize per individual. 2000 farmers met this criteria in total, and each farmer was required to produce at least 1,000 tonnes of maize. Each participating farmer was required to commit 5 tonnes per hectare towards repayment of advanced loans in the form of irrigation equipment, inputs and chemicals, mechanised equipment, electricity and water charges. Farmers would retain a surplus product produced in excess of the 1,000 tonnes. The programme initially cost $500 million with each farmer earmarked to receive US$250,000 worth of loans. To ensure the success of the scheme, the government introduced regulated banned grain imports to protect the local farmers as well as ensuring food security and farmer prosperity.
The Ministry of Agriculture developed a database of all the beneficiaries of the Command Agriculture Programme, which expanded as more farmers sought to benefit from the scheme and more activities are added to the initiative. As of now, apart from maize the ministry has added specific loans for the production of wheat, soya beans and livestock production. Farmers do not benefit from the scheme unless they are registered in the ministerial database and the financing terms are currently at an all-inclusive interest rate of 5% with a tenure of one year, to allow farmers to sell their produce. Despite the margins of the schemes’ success being debatable – the scheme has been successful in some spheres and pointless in others – the truth of the matter is this: to the hungry old women from the down-trodden rural areas, having sufficient food stocks for the first time since the start of the millennium is a welcome development. The scheme has managed to strategically involve women in participating towards the re-establishment process of the nation’s food security state, revival of the economy and the country’s status as the “Bread basket of Africa”. The integration of Climate Smart Agricultural practices (CSA) could easily double the anticipated yields to be achieved by the farmers, thereby increasing their profitability which means the reduction of the loan repayment period by farmers. The anticipated results have been met in the first phase of the scheme, which was the 2016-2017 season and expectations are high that the 2017-2018 season will yield even better results. This is yet to be seen.
Written by Kudakwashe Kutesera, Foundations for Farming
Edited by Hannah O’Riordan, Zimbabwe Educational Trust