Govt must retrace its steps on agriculture – Kanyenze

Zimbabwe must return to the farming models of the early 1980s if the newly resettled farmers are to succeed, according to leading economist Godfrey Kanyenze.

“The system has been replaced by chaos. We have seen tobacco farmers staging boycotts due to poor prices, farmers have abandoned cotton for the same reasons and wheat farmers have said it is better to leave the crop in the field,” he said in an interview.

Kanyenze, an author, consultant and director of several private and government agencies, told The Zimbabwean that the present farming environment lacked policy clarity and support guidelines.

“They (the government) must learn from the past. During that time, there were special finance houses such as the Agricultural Finance Corporation, which had a clear mandate,” he said. “There were proper pre-planting and post-planting prices. The producer price was set before planting.

“Farming is a risky business, and in such an environment farmers can make proper calculations before planting.” Kanyenze said there was an urgent need for a radical policy shift to improve the situation in agriculture.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa recently said that the government was looking to resuscitate cotton production following its poor yields in recent years.

“They must talk to the farmers first and find out the challenges they are facing. Don’t risk people’s lives through haphazard policies; talk to the farmers,” Kanyenze said.

He said private and public sector dialogue forums could lead to policies that were responsive to the needs of the people, and pointed out that some African countries, such as Liberia, had managed to make progress in agriculture through this kind of discussion.

He said cotton production faced a number of hurdles, including dwindling local demand because the textile industry had failed to cope with cheap imports. The industry was on the verge of collapse.

“Zimbabwe is a high-cost producer with rampant electricity shortages, lack of access to credit and high cost of credit,” he said.

On the issue of side marketing by farmers, which the government wants to combat through legislation, Kanyenze felt that the law was not the right way to fix the problem.

Producers of crops such as maize and cotton have shunned the formal market, even when under contract, in favour of more attractive prices offered by private dealers.

“It is not about having a law. Side-marketing shows that something is wrong. That is why you need dialogue. Seek to understand why it is happening,” he said. “Don’t just rush to introduce a law. Find out first if the issue is to do with better prices found elsewhere.”

He said farmers should not be blamed for looking for better prices for their products.

“In the same vein, a government that is hamstrung in terms of resources and is facing serious liquidity problems cannot force people to do things. They must create incentives,” he said. “The government must create the right market signals and the farmers will respond.”

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