The politics of food

BY RENSON GASELA HARARE - Rain is life. Look at the transformation around the country since end of November. Rain makes grain. Because the rainy season was delayed this year, the crops are generally young. January is normally a very dry month. However, this year, it has been extremely wet.

It does appear now that we are going to have an extremely good year as far as rainfall and its distribution is concerned.

With such a promising season, what prospects are there for sufficient food? The young crop is already suffering from fertilizer deficiency. If ammonium nitrate was to become available now, a lot of the crop could be saved.

But even if fertilizer was to be found now, there would not be enough food produced this year. For a start, seed availability this season was only 30% of national requirement. Another factor is tillage. I witnessed a very embarrassing scene in Gweru on December 20, 2005 at the Arex offices. For one of the few times since the start of the season, there was farmers’ diesel available.

Hundreds of farmers went to queue for allocations. As Arex staff was serving farmers on a first-come-first-served basis – senior army, police and Zanu (PF) officials were jumping the queue, resulting in a riotous situation where police had to send dogs to restore order. The point here is that government is selling fuel to these farmers at the end of the ploughing season.

I believe the ruling party has a deliberate policy to keep Zimbabwe in a semi-permanent food deficit situation and my reasons are as follows:

a) Land Reform: While the need for land reform in acceptable as a means of resolving the land question, the manner in which it was done was clearly never intended to solve the land question. One only needs to look at the beneficiaries to see what its intentions ultimately became. There is land audit after land audit. Those who own multiple farms are not touched. There are millions of hectares lying fallow.

b) Inputs: The parliamentary portfolio committee on Lands and Agriculture in 2003, made specific recommendations on how to deal with the inputs, having had evidence from stakeholders. When the report and recommendations were presented to parliament, Minister Made specifically rejected both report and recommendations. See Hansard of 17th December 2003 Columns 2140-2142. Last year 2005, the same portfolio committee came up with the same findings and made nearly similar recommendations. Again, these have not been accepted.

Can we really believe that President Mugabe does not know why there is no fertilizer! Can we really believe that he has over the past five years actually failed to ensure that his Ministers perform?

c) Operation Taguta: – Having recognized the failure of the land reform programme, the government decided late last year to mount Operation Taguta. This is the army going into the underutilized farms and literally taking them over by tilling the land and putting in some crops.

Operation Taguta is trying to plant maize even as late as now. When did the regime discover that land was underutilized? Is the army the right vehicle for food production? Are not some of the military people also failing in their individual capacities to produce food? Is this not an admission of the failure of land reform?

We understand that the army has thousands of tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer for Operation Taguta. Since it is so late now to begin ploughing and planting any crops why not release the fertilizer and save the crop on the ground?

To complete their goal, the government now wants to spend $1.5 trillion buying the shares of fertilizer companies.

All the fertilizer companies are operating at below capacity due to shortage of foreign currency, which the government should provide if they were serious about agriculture. It would appear that the government is deliberately sabotaging the fertilizer companies by failing or refusing to provide them with foreign currency. If this is not so, where are they going to get the foreign currency after nationalization? One can only conclude that the whole idea is the perfection of the patronage system when they are in full control.

d) Food Aid: The government was fully aware that their pipe dream of 2.4 million tonnes of maize in 2004 was not there. Last year the rains were poor. Even as they claimed they had too much maize, they never stopped imports, during that big surplus year! Zimbabwe has been eating secretly imported maize over the past 24 months. However, when it was obvious to everybody that people were starving the government refused food aid.

e) Operation Murambatsvina: The government found a formula of controlling people in the rural areas. This is done through the system of Wadco and Vidco. Each Wadco or Ward has a ZANU PF employee who is paid by government through Ministry of Youth. This official works with village heads and ward councillor. With perennial induced food shortage, this structure ensures compliance of rural people. The patronage system has been perfected. In the urban areas, the people are much freer and make their own decisions. The hundreds of thousands of informal traders were self-sufficient and therefore did not look upon the state to do anything for them. Their lack of dependence meant that government could not control them as those in rural areas.

The time has come for the people to say enough is enough.

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