Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Improved seed supply as a sign of capacity building

Posted by CM on August 1, 2007

There is a fascinating little story in The Herald of August 1st whose significance might easily escape notice :

Seed Co Seeks Govt Nod to Export Surplus

Zimbabwe’s biggest seed producer, Seed Co, said it might soon start exporting maize seed as it had a surplus.

MD Dennis Zaranyika said that the company had been getting maize seed import enquiries from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin and some countries in North Africa. But he said Seed Co would only export seed if it got the green light from the government, which would first want to be assured of adequate supplies for the local market. “It’s starting to happen,” Zaranyika said. “We have started to have excess maize seed in some varieties and we want to export for foreign currency generation.”

Maize seed production in the country took a nose dive when government embarked on the land reform programme in 2000, which resulted in many white seed farmers ceasing operations. For the past five years, Zimbabwe has been facing maize seed shortages which, however, have now been eradicated as many new farmers have mastered the skills to produce quality seed.

Of course one must keep in mind that this is coming from former newspaper and now official rag sheet The Herald. But assuming this is a “straight” story, it is one of momentous importance!

Why do I feel quite sure that it will not feature on the BBC, the Daily Telegraph or even on any of our numerous and growing number of Zimbabwe-dedicated websites? Partly because many of us have lost sight of why we complain about how bad things are in Zimbabwe, which is (presumably for most of us) for them to get better.

Of course not everybody wants things to get better in Zimbabwe! Some want and can afford to demand that things only get better under certain conditions. For them it is not about complaining to improve things, but to make them worse for a variety of reasons.

But coming back specifically to the story about SeedCo’s maize seed surplus, it shows that while so many things have gone wrong in agriculture, it is far from correct to say things have been standing still or going backwards in every single respect. Moving maize seed production from the former white farming sector to black Zimbabweans is a major agricultural and strategic accomplishment that needs to be lauded. It is actually a pity that it took a crisis for this change to happen-this is how things should have been for the country’s major staple crop, and that of much of Africa.

It is also interesting that the seed companies only saw the value of nurturing the capacity to grow quality hybrid maize seed amongst small holder farmers after the white farming community had been pretty much decimated by Mugabe, rather than having seen this as a desirable shift to have made decades ago.

It is alternative thinking and strategies like this that we will increasingly need to engage in and adopt to build a fundamentally new Zimbabwe on the ruins of the crumbling old one that was in many ways dysfunctional and unsustainable under the surface gloss.

So strait-jacketed is our thinking by “the immediate crisis” that not even The Herald saw the significance of this story enough to put it on its front page! A development like this has positive long term implications for the country’s agricultural, economic and food security future. And it shows what all of us Zimbabweans know, but which you are never going to read about in the distant international media that colours all our perspectives of our own immediate reality : that life is hard in Zimbabwe but people are not just standing still waiting for a saviour from the UK or the US, as the Daily Telegraph or the New York Times would have us believe.

In addition to coping with the hardships, there are many who are quietly figuring out new ways of doing things. If we focused on that and learned from those lessons, then we have the real potential of eventually building a unique, strong and independent Zimbabwe that will be genuinely ours, rather than a weak, tame, dependent and compliant client state.

Chido Makunike

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