Soldiers fight hunger

HARARE - The Zimbabwe government has begun deploying hundreds of soldiers on state farms as part of a new Stalinist-style command agriculture drive that President Robert Mugabe says is necessary to boost farm output and end food shortages in the country. Addressing Parliament last week, Mugabe said

the new farm exercise, codenamed Operation Food Security, would see selected privately-owned farms required to produce specific quantities of strategic crops such as maize, wheat and tobacco. Zimbabwe army soldiers would also be deployed on farms owned by the state Agricultural and Rural Development Agency (ARDA) to produce food under the plan. Investigations by ZimOnline revealed that the government has since last week been moving soldiers from various army camps to more than 50 ARDA farms around the country. Hundreds of soldiers were seen being transported from the army’s 3 Brigade headquarters near Mutare city in Manicaland province to various ARDA farms in the province, which is one of the country’s prime agricultural regions. Senior army officers, who spoke on condition that they were not named, said that the movement of soldiers to farms was being carried out countrywide. “Our men will cover farms in Manicaland but the operation is countrywide and each brigade will focus on farms in its zone,” said one colonel. At most of the farms where soldiers have moved in, thousands of workers, except managers and those with special skills, have been dismissed to allow the army men to take control of operations. It was not possible to get comment from Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi or from Agriculture Minister Joseph Made on the initiative, which agricultural experts have said is certain to fail because soldiers are trained to fight and not to grow crops or milk cows. The experts also say that shortages of fuel and farm inputs that have hampered civilian farmers would also hinder the soldiers, But State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, who is also in charge of land reform and food aid distribution, defended the use of soldiers to try and revive Zimbabwe’s collapsed agricultural sector. “They (the army) have been helping in other government operations. The army has agricultural experts and the manpower and we are sure they will come in handy,” Mutasa said. On a visit to ARDA Odzi farm, formerly known as Kondozi farm and one of Zimbabwe’s biggest agro-export projects before it was seized by the state last year, our reporters could see soldiers already running operations. Some workers at the farm, that had become near-derelict since being taken over by the state, said they had been told to leave because the soldiers would now be doing all the farm work. “They (soldiers) just sent us home without giving us our pay. They said they were taking over everything at the farm,” said Mavis Matongwe, a former worker at ARDA Odzi. She said many of her colleagues had already left the farm for their rural homes or to look for alternative jobs at neighbouring farms. – ZimOnline

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