How can we feed our nation again?

All sorts of plans have been hatched during the chaotic period of farm invasions that have characterized the last 12 years of food insecurity in Zimbabwe and forced the country to become reliant on food aid from the much-maligned international community.

Ben Freeth examines fire damage in the mango orchards of the late Mike Campbell’s Mount Carmel farm in September 2013. Prior to August 2009 when the family was forced off the farm, the 40,000 trees generated valuable foreign currency for the country.
Ben Freeth examines fire damage in the mango orchards of the late Mike Campbell’s Mount Carmel farm in September 2013. Prior to August 2009 when the family was forced off the farm, the 40,000 trees generated valuable foreign currency for the country.

There were the Agricultural Sector Productivity Enhancement Fund (ASPEF) loans, where farmers could borrow large amounts of money at substantially negative interest rates so that the loans amounted to free hand-outs of cash.

There was the Reserve Bank-led free hand-out of tractors, combine harvesters and all sorts of agricultural equipment – unashamedly to the Zanu (PF) chefs. There was the free diesel scheme. There was Operation Taguta/Sisuthi, where the army attempted to farm the nation into food security. Each plan, at huge cost to the economy, has failed, and the people have got thinner.

The latest plan is a novel one. It involves government asking former commercial farmers – whom they threw off their land, in many cases violently – to come back to their farms! All over the country I hear of white farmers being phoned up and called to meetings where they are being asked to resurrect their devastated farming operations.

For many years before and after independence, these farmers fed the nation and the region. Their productivity was responsible for the relatively vibrant economy the nation enjoyed had before the invasions began, and they were the largest employer– by a significant margin. The manufacturing and industrial sectors were largely reliant on their world-class enterprises.

The new farmers have been unable to feed the nation. The manufacturing and industrial sector has fallen into ruin and the economy is a shadow of its former self. If it had been allowed to grow at the rate it was expanding prior to the farm invasions, it would now be an extremely vibrant sector.

So why should this latest scheme – which involves persuading dispossessed farmers to return to the land – also fail?

The reason is simple. It is not because their farms have been run down and asset-stripped by the new farmers [although this is a factor]; it is not because of any impending droughts; it is not because of the travel and financial restrictions on the few remaining government officials [which their propaganda describes as sanctions]; it is not because of input problems or any other reason.

Except one.

The missing ingredient that would allow us once again to become a nation able to feed its people, supply its industry with raw materials, employ its workers, pay its civil servants and make Zimbabwe great, is the rule of law.

To expect a bunch of bruised and battered farmers to go back to their farms and feed the nation on the whim of a Zanu (PF) government without the rule of law is absurd, especially as various strongmen are continuing to invade some of the few remaining commercial farms.

For example, on Lambourne farm, just outside Chegutu, the Lamb family, who had managed to continue farming operations despite extremely difficult and often dangerous conditions, were evicted recently. The reason? They had to make way for Zanu (PF)’s newly appointed Information and Communication Technology Minister, Webster Shamu, and his family.

Under the new Constitution, and with the current laws and lawlessness in Zimbabwe, the Lambs knew that any resistance to the whim of the minister would be futile. They left their home and a lifetime’s work with no compensation, as was the case with the rest of the dispossessed farmers.

Without committing to the rule of law, how could government be serious about wanting farmers to go back onto the land when they could again risk losing everything once they have re-established productive farming enterprises? The government claims that offer letters will be given – and in some cases we hear of offer letters that have been issued already to white farmers, but why should these offer letters offer any security? Virtually simultaneously, we hear that offer letters provided previously to A1i farmers are being cancelled!

Armed only with an offer letter – and not with the legal title deeds to the farm – will any bank manager in his right mind give money to a farmer to rebuild his farm? Clearly the risk is far too great. If he was somehow persuaded to do so, it would have to be at interest rates that are many times higher than in countries where the rule of law exists, and this would be uneconomic.

The bottom line is this: Unless the Zimbabwe government starts to make decisive steps to revert to and respect the rule of law, any plan to feed the nation and resurrect agriculture is doomed to fail.

Under the rule of law, perpetrators of lawlessness and extortion need to be arrested and prosecuted. Human rights conventions need to be adhered to. International law needs to be respected. International court judgments need to be upheld. The new Constitution needs to be changed to fall into line with the rule of law and the protection of human rights – with property rights firmly established. Unless Zimbabwean farmers, whether black or white, enjoy fully bankable and transferable property rights, as is the case today, all plans to feed the nation and develop agriculture will fail.

The overriding question is this: Is the government genuinely serious about feeding the nation? If so, it will have to demonstrate its commitment by including the most important ingredient – the rule of law – into its strategy. Until it does so, the people of Zimbabwe will remain in the wilderness, being fed by other countries locally and abroad where the rule of law is established and respected.

Post published in: News
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