ONCE again, Zimbabwe is faced with starvation.
Reports indicate that more than 2,2 million people require food aid between now and the next harvest, around March/April next year. For a country with a population of plus or minus 13 million, it means one in every six people needs food aid.
The 2012/2013 agricultural season went horribly wrong, contrary to expectations. While projections were pointing to an above average rain season, this was not to be.
The southern parts of the country were the worst hit by erratic rains while it was a tale of mixed fortunes for others. Famers had to write-off their crop in most parts of the country, resulting in the current situation whereby Zimbabwe faces its worst food shortages since 2009.
Those affected by the drought are looking up to government to intervene. The logical thing to do for the government has been to take its begging bowl into the region, cap in hand, hoping to mobilise enough maize to avert hunger and starvation.
Those tasked with the responsibility must move fast in order to beat the queues. Procrastination would result in countries in similar situations mopping up whatever would have been available for export, forcing the government to source imports from far away markets, which is both costly and cumbersome in term of the logistics involved.
That’s beside the point, no one should die or suffer as a result of starvation. It is the duty of the government to ensure that food aid reaches to all those who are in need regardless of the colour of their skin, gender, tribe, creed, religion or their political affiliation.
Admittedly, government will not be able to pull it off alone. Already, Treasury is grappling with an acute cash crisis that has diminished its ability to intervene to the extent it would have wanted to.
The food imports will certainly add to these liquidity pressures by sucking out the little cash in circulation.
Government must get its priorities right and avoid the temptation of using scarce resources in its coffers to feather the nests of an elite few by getting its priorities right.
It must put its people first by immediately revising the national budget with a view to channelling more resources towards the procurement of grains to bridge the deficit. Where resources cannot allow it to pick the entire tab alone, the powers-that-be should send an SOS to the international community.
The country has an active civil society that, despite lingering suspicions from government, has done commendably well in providing food aid to those in need. Government should therefore create an enabling environment that allows for more participation of civil society organisations (CSOs) to ease the burden and not to act as an impediment to their efforts.
Likewise, CSOs should also demonstrate goodwill by working within their defined roles and not to muddy the waters for others by crossing the red line.
It is, however, embarrassing that a country once referred to as the breadbasket for the region is now looking up to countries such as Zambia to feed its people when the reverse was true before the turn of the millennium.
Since 2000, Zimbabwe has struggled to meet its national consumption of two million tonnes of the staple maize let alone have some in its strategic grain reserves.
Granted, this was bound to happen considering the scale of the disruptive land reforms that saw more than 3 500 commercial white farmers being displaced from their farms with the resource being redistributed to more than 300 000 landless blacks.
Thirteen years after the haphazard land reforms in 2000, Zimbabwe should have restored its past glory by now or at least made considerable progress towards self-sufficiency.
Had government rehabilitated irrigation infrastructure, destroyed during the chaotic land reforms, Zimbabwe would not have been in this situation. The situation could also have been much better had government taken note of the findings and recommendations from previous land audits which, to this day, remain unimplemented and a closely guarded secret.
While not many people agree with the manner in which the land reforms were done in order to correct past historical imbalances, there is consensus that there is no going back on this programme.
With the land reforms now behind us, focus should shift to getting the “new” farmers to produce enough to feed the entire population; fill up the strategic grain reserves at the Grain Marketing Board and leave some for export.
Beneficiaries of the land reform programme should not be allowed to do as they please with this important factor of production while the proverbial Rome is burning.
This starts by ensuring that those on the farms are capable of extracting value from the soils. Where there are skills deficiencies, these should have been acquired by now from the many training institutions dotted around the country.
It is also the duty of the farmers themselves to see how they can fund their operations and not to expect government to do everything for them; government can only do so much. After all, it was actually a requirement for the beneficiaries of the land redistribution exercise to first demonstrate the availability of funding before they could qualify for the land.
Our fear is that government could be going round in circles, lacking the courage and political will to do what is required to lift agriculture.
It is not enough for government to write-off part of the debts owed by farmers to power utility, ZESA, without dealing with the root cause of the problem. It is also not enough for government to think that each and everyone who benefitted from the land reform is capable of farming.
There is a lot of excess baggage on the farms which needs to be offloaded if Zimbabwe is to regain its breadbasket status.
Land must be given to those who can turn their swords into ploughshares otherwise Zimbabwe will continue to be a basket case for a long time to come.
Also, government should not hesitate to make agricultural land bankable by way of ensuring that land can be used as collateral for those who want to access credit from the banks. And once the farmer has played his or her part, they deserve to be rewarded by way of viable prices for their produce, paid on time.
Because this has not been happening, farmers, including the so-called “cellular phone farmers”, are finding convenient excuses to hide their incompetence.
This should not be allowed to go on and on.
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