Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Posts Tagged ‘Agriculture’

What the experience of the less successful of Zimbabwean white farmers in Nigeria tells us about developing commercial agriculture

Posted by CM on October 15, 2009

Much has been written about the small group of white Zimbabwean farmers who have relocated to Nigeria to seek a new start after being dislocated from their home country. Among the elements that regularly feature in the stories done about them are their pioneering spirit, ready to carve out new farm land where there is mostly bush and where the support infrastructure is rudimentary.

Particularly in Shonga, Kwara state, where the governor actively sought out the Zimbabwean farmers to give a kick-start to commercial agriculture in the state, the farmers have enjoyed top-level political support. This has helped them considerably in their efforts to obtain bank finance, electricity set up and so forth.

Despite the difficulties of adjustment to a new environment, the articles that have been written about these farmers suggest they are making good progress in beginning new lives and in introducing a model of large-scale farming that has not previously taken strong hold in Nigeria, nor indeed in too many other countries in Africa. It is an interesting experiment…read full article

Posted in Agriculture | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Yet another lost Zimbabwean farming season

Posted by CM on November 26, 2008

This is wishful thinking on my part, but it would have been nice to imagine that even in the midst of the long-running political stalemate, someone in the Mugabe government would have been paying a lot of attention to agriculture. It’s neglect accounts for a lot of the reason where are where we are today. And a well-functioning agriculture still offers the best hope of reducing the country’s many economic and social ills, and laying the foundations for eventual recovery when the politics are finally sorted out.

But of course, political survival by the Mugabe regime now comes before everything, although I would have thought that repression aside, success in agriculture would have strengthened the government’s hand rather than leave it as embattled and friendless as it has become. Political attention and economic resources are now mainly taken up by fighting off the many real and imagined enemies of the regime.

And when one or another grand agricultural scheme has been announced over the years, it has floundered for one or more of the many reasons that the rest of the country is in such a mess. Even when an idea has been good on paper, there are now so many other things wrong in the economy for such interventions to work as they would in relatively normal times. Hyper-inflation, fuel shortages, the high cost of forex, lack of security of tenure on farms, lack of trust and confidence in the political leadership: all these and more  have conspired against all the best laid plans of Mugabe fixer Gideon Gono and the rest of Mugabe’s machinery to try to kick-start agriculture.

Perhaps partly as an inducement to ZANU-PF and the MDC to find a resolution to their embarrassing sparring over how to divide political positions, the South African government recently announced having budgeted a $30 million assistance package  for Zimbabwean agriculture. At the beginning of the rain season, this was one of the most friendly gestures any government could offer to Zimbabwe at this time of great hunger and suffering.

Weeks after the offer, our politicians seem no closer to resolving their differences than they were months ago and quite  reasonably, the South Africans are not willing to sink support into a situation of such un- certainty and dysfunction.

The withdrawal of loan, grants and other kinds of agricultural assistance that Zimbabwe would normally expect has been described as part of “illegal sanctions” by Western countries by the Mugabe government. But it is not quite so easy to make the same charges against a South African government that has often seemed to bend over backwards to support the Mugabe government when much of the world was urging it to instead take a ‘get tough’ stance.

Years after the political fat cats of all parties have satisfied themselves that their personal needs have been taken care of in any settlement they reach with each other, Zimbabwe will still be paying for the ruin and neglect it has brought on its agriculture.

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MDC agriculture and lands position paper avoids the tough issues

Posted by CM on August 10, 2008

What the MDC refers to as its policy document on lands and agrarian reform is remarkable for how little it says about one of the most crucial issues on which its performance would be judged if it gets into power.

The paper promises to tell the reader ‘how we will attend to the issue’ but really does nothing of the kind. The MDC’s positions on many of the day to day agricultural issues are hard to fault, and are not different from what any other government anywhere in the world would be expected to do. But this is precisely why the document is underwhelming. The centrality of the issue of land to the problems in Zimbabwe particularly require the MDC to boldly and clearly show how its stance is different from that of ZANU-PF.

The MDC says it would “rationalise” a land reform process that was “chaotic and outside the rule of law.” But “there will be no return to the pre-2000 status nor will the present regime of wastage, corruption, under utilization and multi-ownership be preserved.”

This is perhaps the only bold and clear-cut statement in the whole document. Over the years the MDC has been pilloried by ZANU-PF over its wishy-washiness in regards to what it would do about the controversial land takeovers that have taken place since 2000. Morgan Tsvangirai and his party have never been able to live down the image of them being partly representative of the hopes of white farmers to reclaim their farms. The image of white farmers excitedly surrounding Tsvangirai in the early days of the party’s formation to offer him financial support backfired very badly for him. It gave ZANU-PF plenty of propaganda ammunition against Tsvangirai and lost him credibility in much of the black world that to this day he struggling to regain.

The situation was not helped by confusing statements from party officials about their position on farms expropriated from white farms. “Outside the rule of law” seemed to reduce the issue to ‘lets see who has title deeds’ but the complexity of the land issue in Zimbabwe means it is far more than merely a legal matter. It is that in part, but it also involves un-avoidable issues of race, history, economics, politics, emotion and many others, which is why it is so intractable.

The fact of the matter is that no matter how ‘chaotic and outside the rule of law’ the ZANU-PF driven expropriations were, and regardless of the so far disastrous results, the idea of them retains much support amongst Zimbabweans across the many divides in the country. A wholesale reversal of them is not politically tenable, and the MDC statement is simply a reflection of how the party has come to accept this reality.

The MDC says it will seek to set up a commission to deal with land issues, and that this proposed statutory body would have the task of dealing with the nuts and bolts of what exactly to do about the many vexing issues. According to the position paper, this commission would, amongst other things, carry out a land audit to determine who has what land and what is being done with it. It would “ implement and coordinate a rational and participatory all inclusive and well planned resettlement programme,” whatever that means. It would also set out allowable sizes of land holdings and find ways to discourage multiple farm ownership.

All this is general enough that it cannot be said to constitute policy. These are all things that would need to be done in one form or another by any government, including eventually by ZANU-PF itself if it continues to rule. Apart from telling us they will not try to go back to the pre-2000 pattern of land holdings, the MDC position is to essentially say “the land commission will look at things after we get into power.”

It may be politically wise of the MDC to not allow itself to be pinned down to specifics on a complicated issue, but the lack of clear signs of fundamentally new thinking about land and agriculture is not an encouraging sign.

In typical MDC-speak, the party says it would ‘internationalise’ the issue of how to compensate farmers whose land has been expropriated since 2000. No doubt Britain, for one, would now be willing to be part of funding the pay-off of white farmers. This would be for ‘kith and kin’ reasons, as a reward to an MDC government for deposing a Robert Mugabe the British have come to hate with a passion, and to be seen as part of the solution to the resolution of this long-standing problems, rather than as part of the problem, as Mugabe has repeatedly, stridently argued. The EU and others may have their own reasons for wanting to contribute to a compensation fund under an MDC government.

But is expressing a commitment to compensation based on external funding not potentially problematic? The party reasonably argues that ‘the Zimbabwean economy does not have the capacity to offer just and equitable compensation while at the same time driving the economy forward.’ What happens if  ‘internationalising’ compensation does not yield the required funds? There could be many reasons for this: donor fatigue or unhappiness over one thing or another about the terms of the compensation, or the way forward politically or economically. These are after all parts of the reasons for why previous plans to raise money to buy the white farmers out did not materialise.

The ZANU-PF government’s stance has been that it would pay compensation whose value it determined, and based only on ‘improvements to the land, rather than including the value of the land as well, because of the history of colonial plunder. The white farmers who purchased their land rather than received or inherited it as part of the process of colonial subjugation of the Africans obviously take a dim view of this.

Yet even if the ZANU-PF position was one extreme that cannot meet the demand of ‘just and equitable compensation,’ what is the thinking that will go into meeting that requirement of justice and equity? The MDC could have used the opportunity presented by setting out its basic philosophy in regards to this, even if the details are to be worked out later.

That the white farmers lost money, assets, livelihoods is not in doubt. But if one looks at violent dispossession in its historical context in the country, it is hardly a new phenomenon. Previous violent dispossessions by colonial authorities against the Africans were done according to the ‘rule of law’ of the time, but it was stacked against the Africans and in favour of the white settlers. This happened within the lifetimes of people still living today, so it can hardly be considered as ancient history which can simply be written off. ‘Lawful’ and ‘just’ are not necessarily one and the same thing, which is why the innocent-sounding ‘rule of law’ can be a nebulous, loaded term.

Is the recent dispossession of the white farmers more horrific than previous one of the natives? If so, why and how? Is the fact that the white farmers had paper title deeds in a way that Africans did not when their land and cattle were grabbed from them the salient issue? If Africans have been expected to let colonial bygones be bygones, why would it be too much to ask the white farmers to accept the injustice of their loss in a similar light? Why is the native expected to live with his or her wounds of colonial dispossession as the price of moving forward and yet the white farmers of today are not?

The MDC is probably too beholden to western interests to be expected to broach this subject this way, but that is a shame. It should be an entirely legitimate part of the discussion over compensation. Of course there are many other things to consider than just the wounded feelings, lost property and investments of the white farmers. One of those would be the negative message that would be sent to potential investors in not compensating the farmers for their lost investments. But if the idea to scrap or to limit compensation were considered, it could be sold as part of a process of wiping a very messy, complicated slate clean in order to start another more just phase of the country’s development. Qualifying what ‘just and equitable’ compensation means in this case need not be taken to mean that in future expropriations would become routine, the way they have been for a good part of the nation’s recent history, although an ahistorical, jaundiced Western media often gives the impression that they were only began eight years ago by the ‘evil’ Mugabe against the innocent, hard working Christian white farmers.

Having discussions like this, even if they ended up with conventional ‘rule of law’-based compensation of the white farmers, rather than some resolution which looks at the issue in less conventional, more historically holistic terms, would show that the MDC was committed to dealing with the issue of agrarian reform from the roots, rather than from just the apparent surface.

The MDC document has its share of absolute twaddle. A prize gem is ‘the ultimate economic liberation of Zimbabwe will only occur after the destruction of the dual enclave economy and the transition of our country into a modern industrial State.’ Apparently what this means is a glorious, miraculous process of renewal ‘to free the country from direct reliance on land and agriculture but an (sic) industry and technology and software.’

The paper in some parts reads like a high school essay more than a serious work by a party hoping to run the affairs of a country. The sweeping, hopeful statement of how the MDC will lead Zimbabwe into being a technological powerhouse no longer dependent on agriculture directly is not backed up with any detail whatsoever about how this will be accomplished and it seemed un-necessary in a paper purportedly outlining the party’s agricultural policy. It is the kind of grand statement whose hopefulness one cannot disagree with but in the current context makes the MDC appear like a typical over-promising political party rather than one that has seriously engaged with how to address the pressing issues of today. Just reviving commercial agriculture would keep the MDC busy long enough that mentioning a hoped for future technology-based Zimbabwe in an agriculture position paper today does not make the MDC appear like a far-thinking party, but one throwing around platitudes in place of specifics about the great issues of the day, of which land and agriculture are two.

The MDC briefly lectures about the distinction between land reform and agrarian reform before promising us that under the latter, the party would ‘and industrialize the rural areas to make them productive and wealth generating.’ Assuming that it is a given that this would be a desirable thing to do, how would the party take us to this industrial promised land? No specifics are again, so I suppose this is another rabbit the land commission will be expected to pull out of its magic hat. These sweeping sorts of statements of the wonderful great things you would do as a ruling party when you clearly have not thought them through in any detail should be avoided.

The come a raft of promises to do the kinds of things that any government should do. The MDC mentions support for agricultural training and research institutions, provision of inputs and so on. They would all be good things to do, but probably beyond the capacity of any government to carry the full responsibility for. This has been the experience of most countries, and the MDC would have to make an above average commitment to agriculture to merely do most of what it promises in its paper.

In seemingly promising everything to everybody, the MDC comes off like any other political party. This is of course what it is, but even that is not good enough at a time when the depth and complexity of Zimbabwe’s problems requires unusual commitment and thinking power to solve. Getting Zimbabwe out of its current doldrums will require the kind of fresh, out-of-the-box thinking which the MDC’s policy paper on land and agriculture does not suggest the party has embarked on.

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Who is minding Zimbabwe’s agriculture?

Posted by CM on July 13, 2008

by Chido Makunike

One of the most alarming things about the total pre-occupation on maneuvering for power of Zimbabwe’s political parties is the continuing neglect of of the country’s agriculture.

This is dangerous not only because of the worsening hunger, but of the generally agreed on idea that a dramatic improvement in agricultural production is still the most realistic means of stemming the economic slide and eventually helping to reverse it. If serious enough attention were paid to agriculture to just get the country to feed itself, that would be an important achievement with wide-ranging benefits for the rest of the economy.

The question of what to do about land reform is a long-term issue. The question of who is “running” the country’s agriculture is posed here in the immediate term, the planting season that will begin this coming October/November. It is already getting late for that season to not have plans in place for seed, fertilizer, fuel, equipment and so forth. Yet it is hard to imagine that in the current uncertainty over everything anything is being seriously done in this regard.

The large scale commercial farming model has largely been destroyed and there is no prospect of that situating turning around tomorrow even if the political parties pulled a miraculous rabbit out of the hat of their negotiations. But it must be remembered that even at the height of commercial farming as practiced by large scale white farmers, it was small scale farmers who produced most of the nation’s maize, which is the main food security crop in Zimbabwe. The small grains like sorghum and barley have also been grown mostly by small scale farmers, as have most vegetables for local consumption.

So while reviving commercial agriculture is important for supplying industry many raw materials and for export, achieving food security does not necessarily depend on settling the difficult question of what to do about the large scale commercial agriculture model that has been mostly dismantled within the last 10 years. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that diligently enabling the small scale producers with the appropriate inputs, incentives and sense of security could in one season have a dramatic effect on the country’s food security situation.

Year after year there have been the announcement of plans to ensure all inputs were in place for the country’s main cropping season. And year after year those plans turned out to have been much less than announced, or to have floundered for one of many reasons to do with the economy’s many inter-linking crises.

One of the things that is so puzzling about the Mugabe government’s failure to seriously tackle this issue is that it would be the most effective way of justifying a land redistribution exercise that has been largely judged to be a colossal failure, and to be characterised by cynical cronyism.

Yet there is no sign that there is any re-doubled commitment to addressing the problems of agriculture.

Zim agriculture now a disgrace in the Financial Gazette makes sad reading:

When the (tobacco auction) floors opened for sales in May this year, farmers almost staged an ugly riot over poor prices and there was no activity for days. Since then, after the sales resumed and stopped only to restart again, just over 26 million kilogrammes have been delivered at the country’s three auction floors. Overall, a mere 75 million kg are expected from farmers by the close of sales later this year compared to a seasonal flow of well over 200 million kg before the year 2000.

“Right now it’s dark. You can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Jabulani Gwaringa, the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union director, trying to forecast the country’s grim agricultural future. But he believes that in terms of food security Zimbabwe can recover in a single season if the farmers, especially those in communal and A1 resettlement areas make preparations in time, with timely access to inputs, because they have since independence in 1980, supplied more than 90 percent of the staple maize to the Grain Marketing Board.

The factors required to make this happen again are not completely independent of the country’s present crisis. For instance, hyper-inflation, fuel shortages and the overall sense of fear and uncertainty would affect the best laid production plans in many ways. But it is also true that a more serious commitment to addressing the production constraints would likely result in dramatic gains in a single good rain season.

Besides agriculture being crucial to Zimbabwe’s food security, farming should bring good returns for all the hard work farmers put into it , be they communal or commercial. Many communal, small scale resettlement and commercial farmers have already sold this year’s produce and spent the cash on items that have no bearing on the coming season while hyperinflation is fast corroding the cash still in hand.

It is unfortunate that for the nation’s many eager farmers, agriculture is fast becoming a futile enterprise. At the tobacco auction floors farmers are paid in part by cheque plus $200 billion in cash. Cashing their multi-trillion-dollar cheques is a living nightmare.

“There are some retail shops that are very keen to accept our cheques, but they double the price of any item we buy. It’s a take it or leave it game. They say by the time our cheques mature they will have devalued due to inflation,” said a farmer from Guruve who chose to remain anonymous.

“We are buying useless items that don’t help us to continue farming just to convert our cheques into cash. I would not mind the retailers doubling the price if they were selling me fertiliser because it is a critical ingredient in tobacco farming. But if you go around, there is no fertiliser and our money is losing value every minute,” he lamented.

In February this year, the government distributed, among other things, hundreds of tractors, ploughs; thousands of animal-drawn scotch carts, harrows, grinding mills, generators, planters and cultivators; as well as combine harvesters and diesel.

While these efforts to revive the ailing sector are commendable, some farmers have accused the government of somewhat misplacing its priorities. “If the government imported and supplied the local fertiliser manufacturing industry with all the critical inputs such as potash required for fertiliser manufacturing, would it not be cheaper and make more economic sense than importing the fertiliser?” asked one industry expert who declined to be named.

As commendable as the move to promote greater efficiency and productivity through mechanization was,  there are several factors that mean that even those well-intentioned efforts could not on their own cause a dramatic turn around in the country’s agricultural fortunes, and they didn’t.

Tractors and other such equipment are mainly meant for the benefit of the very few present and aspiring medium to large scale farmers. The problem is that in the present climate, there are many other things working against the success of these farmers: fuel is hard to come by, hyperinflation makes operating difficult at every level, they need credit which is hard to get, labour is a problem because wages are not worth the effort in the hyper-inflationary environment, and so forth. Tractors and other such equipment are not the most important limiting factor to production. Therefore, it is possible to have them and still not see big productivity gains, because the real, most significant current constraints to production are still in place and largely unaffected by whether a farmer has a tractor or not.

For now, the tractors would be much more useful if they were used to till for large groups of small scale farmers than they are in the hands of individual medium to large scale farmers who cannot presently use them optimally even if they are very committed. The present mess in the country simply means that for many reasons, the best hope of production gains in agriculture rests with supporting the small scale farmers, who do not have the crippling costs and many other burdens of large scale farmers.

Small scale farmers often rely on family labour, they often use their own rather than commercial seed, they have small enough holdings that for some crops they could rely on manure and compost for fertility enhancement, rather than expensive and hard to get fertilizer. They use inefficient, back-breaking hand cultivation, but in the present climate where a farmer with a tractor can’t get fuel for it, obviously the small scale farmer can get on with business in a way the other farmer cannot.

Various ways of helping the small scale farmer on whom the nearest prospect of food security rests include favorable overall policies and market-driven prices (or the total lifting of crop price controls to spur production, although this is controversial because of the effects on the consumer. But in Zimbabwe, shortages caused by depressed production have shot prices sky-high anyway. So we have shortages and high prices, hardly an ideal situation for the consumer.)

There are many other things one would have on a wish list for aiding small scale farmers, such as affordable transport to market, better storage facilities, etc. But these and many others are not realistic in the current environment. Yet even with minimum assistance, or even just minimum interference in the things that make small scale farmers want to work hard to produce, yields of many crops would boom, with positive effects on food security, inflation and an overall revival of confidence in the country’s future by its own people.

Continues the FinGaz article, “Agriculture used to generate a lot of foreign currency, but other sectors such as mining and tourism propped it up too. So, is the government properly channelling the little available foreign currency to the key areas that need a little investment to make them tick again? There might be other impediments, but internal co-ordination is lacking. Proper organisation is lacking and mired in too much bureaucracy,” the agricultural expert said.

He cited the involvement of the military, under the Operation Maguta programme, as being absolutely unnecessary since there are structures in place such as the Agricultural Extension Services and farmer organisations that can perform better if empowered.

“A farmer will think twice before entering an army barracks to collect seed or fertiliser. Why doesn’t the government give these responsibilities to those who have agriculture at heart? “Some politicians take advantage of this disorganisation. They delay the distribution of inputs to farmers until the people are desperate, just to gain political mileage.”

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, extricating agricultural issues from politics at present is impossible, as the two have become wedded in unholy matrimony that has left millions on the verge of starvation.

It is ironic and tragic that the ‘politics’ that were said to guarantee wider ’empowerment’ and greater possibilities for food security and wealth creation have done the exact opposite.

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Positive development in Zimbabwean biofuels

Posted by CM on July 10, 2008

by Chido Makunike

Surely “positive” and “Zimbabwe” cannot belong in the same sentence, I can hear you say.

That Zimbabwe is in a mess in many ways is indisputable, but this blog will never tire of pointing out how very few aspects of The Zimbabwe Crisis can be viewed in quite the simplistic black and white terms painted by most of the media we are assaulted by every day.

From The Herald of July 4:

ZIMBABWE’S biggest sugar cane producer, Triangle Sugar Corporation, has resumed ethanol production at its plant in the Lowveld, in a milestone development that is expected to ease serious fuel woes that have been afflicting the country over the past decade.

The ethanol is blended with petrol and the biofuel allows Zimbabwe to “grow” up to 15 percent of its own petrol.

The resumption of ethanol production by Triangle was also expected to meet all the blending requirements by State’s sole fuel procurer Noczim and save Zimbabwe millions of dollars in foreign currency every year.

The ethanol plant at Triangle was decommissioned in the early 1990s following a severe countrywide drought but Government has of late been calling on Triangle to recommission the plant in the wake of prevailing fuel shortages in the country.

Triangle chief executive officer Mr Sydney Mtsambiwa yesterday confirmed that his company had resumed ethanol production, adding that commissioning of the plant to produce fuel-grade ethanol was scheduled for middle of this month.

Triangle produces over 35 million litres of ethanol a year but the figure was expected to rise with increased sugarcane hectarage in the Lowveld.

The completion of Tokwe-Murkosi Dam in Chivi could also further boost ethanol production in the Lowveld as sugarcane production was expected to increase by between 15 and 20 percent in Chiredzi.

The Herald having become a shameless propaganda sheet over the years, one must be cautious about treating anything in it as absolute gospel. The optimistic projections about the contribution the ethanol will make to the country’s fuel requirements must be taken with a grain of salt.

Providing a little more detail about the development, business newswire Bloomberg said well-known sugar cane growers Hippo Valley Estates and Triangle Limited would provide the feedstock, and that their South African parent company, Tongaat Hulett, was in the process of “converting a plant in Zimbabwe for ‘a small amount of capital’ to allow it to switch between producing potable ethanol and fuel-grade ethanol.”

I think large scale ethanol production and blending with petrol first took off in the country in the 1970s, during the sanctions against Rhodesia for declaring UDI in 1968. Biofuels are globally controversial now because of charges that the widespread switch of farm land and agro-resources from food to biofuel feedstock crops has significantly contributed to the current “global food crisis” of escalating agro-commodity prices.

But clearly, for a country like Zimbabwe that has largely been cut off from international credit and facing close to a decade of serious fuel shortages, biofuel production is an excellent idea that should be encouraged and expanded.

Hopefully the country’s politicians have enough economic sense to prevent the political disruptions of farming production we have seen over the years, including at the sugar estates that are now turning sugar cane into fuel grade ethanol.

Posted in Agriculture, Economy | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Are Peta Thornycroft’s Zimbabwe articles for the UK Daily Telegraph news or opinion?

Posted by CM on March 24, 2008

Peta Thornycroft, a political editorialist who somehow gets away with being considered a reporter, has written an article headlined, “Robert Mugabe turns the screw on Zimbabwe’s dwindling white farmers” for the UK Daily Telegraph.

Mr. Mugabe is a cold-hearted, violent despot who has shamefully brought Zimbabwe to ruin under the guise of a black empowerment that has gone horribly wrong. He is brilliant at turning people off and revels in his notoriety in the Western world. He is now stuck in the rut of justifying trying to stay on in power long after his usefulness expired by invoking racial bitterness at what he considers his spurning by a Britain whose approval he once so slavishly sought.

Mugabe’s Western notoriety is fed by the shrill racial emotionalism of people like Ms. Thornycroft and publications like the Daily Telegraph. The opposing shrillness of Mugabe and his supporters on one side and Thornycroft and papers such as The Telegraph on the other encapsulates the racial, political and historical bitterness of what Zimbabwe symbolically represents.

In her latest article, Thornycroft relates the experiences of white farmers battling government efforts to evict them from their farms. What struck me about the article is her almost palpable bitterness and outrage at what the subjects of her article are undergoing. And indeed, countless numbers of Zimbabweans have suffered all manner of hardships and indignities in the county’s extremely violent history, of which the last few years at the hands of its latest government is just the most recent episode.

Thornycroft’s writing is heart-felt and gripping to read, but it is not reporting. It belongs in the editorial/opinion section of The Telegraph, not its news pages. The outraged emotionalism of her main theme, the treatment of white farmers at the hands of Mugabe, has become as raw and knee-jerk as Mugabe’s uncontrolled, apoplectic rage at the mere mention of the word “Britain.”

Writing about a white farmer on trial for resisting eviction from his dairy farm outside Harare, she mentions that “the property has been targeted by Elias Musakwe, an executive of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.” She then goes on to mix giving us information and opinion with sentences like, “He has planted maize, which will never germinate (my italics), on the cattle pasture, and is intimidating the family by parking a tractor against the Therons’ daughter’s bedroom window.”

While Thornycroft does not help her non-agricultural readers by explaining why the maize “will never germinate,” there are indeed several reasons why this could be the case. But without stating what they are in this particular situation, the insertion of that phrase here not only is her opinion in what is ostensibly a news story, my suspicious mind detects a sneer behind it.

How is that important? As a way of bolstering my refrain about the subjectivity and emotionalism of a large section of the British media in writing about Zimbabwe.

Ms. Thornycroft, who has publicly talked about how she gave up her British citizenship in order to be able to retain her Zimbabwean one, is not only getting more emotional in her reporting, she is also getting sloppy. The man whose name she gives as “Musakwe” is not only an RBZ executive, he is also a public figure, well known as a music producer in Zimbabwe. Ms. Thornycroft has lived in Zimbabwe for many years and it is presumably the expectation of The Telegraph that she corresponds for about Zimbabwe that she will be knowledgeable, thorough and authoritative on her subject. Given all this, to me it is an example of the kind of blind, emotional sloppiness to which she has descended that she could not spell this well known man’s name correctly as “Musakwa.”

She mentions another besieged white farmer, Doug Taylor-Freeme, who “has a gang of men allied to the ruling Zanu-PF party camped outside his kitchen door, ordered there by Chief Wilson Memakonde, a Zanu-PF senator who has already taken possession of five white-owned farms.”

The chief has recently gained infamy as a “multiple farm owner” in mockery of the Mugabe regime’s stated one-person one-farm policy. Apart from his notoriety in this regard, he would obviously also be well-known as a politician and a traditional leader, being a senator as well as a chief. It is therefore astonishing to me that Thornycroft, with her long experience and deep, quite obvious emotional ties to  Zimbabwe would mis-spell a Shona name as well known as Nemakonde.

The Telegraph and British readers for whom Thornycroft writes are too far from ground zero to catch these errors that would be inexcusable in a cub reporter’s story, let alone a famous “foreign correspondent” such as Madame Thornycroft. I can also understand how even when pointed out, those readers would consider these errors as really minor issues that in no way change the import of Thornycroft’s main point: how Mugabe is persecuting the white farmers.

Besides, surely everyone understands that those awkward African names are so difficult to remember and spell! How big of an issue can it be that Thornycroft can’t tell the difference between Musakwe and Musakwa, or between Memakonde and Nemakonde?

“Geez, you Africans are so sensitive, such a chip on your shoulders!”

Perhaps, but imagine the derision an African reporter who has lived in Britain for decades would get for not being able to know what a faux pas it was to not understand the weight of an error like spelling the name “Brown” as “Crown.” The error is far more significant than the misplacement of one letter.

My point is not to dispute the substance of Thornycroft’s article. I am in no position to know the veracity of her accounts, but it is not in doubt that white farmers have had a torrid time at the hands of the Mugabe government in recent years.

I am using this example of Thornycroft’s writing to re-iterate my point about how professionalism, accuracy and objectivity about Zimbabwe have largely gone out the door in much of British media reporting.

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White Zimbabwean farmers highlight Nigeria’s agricultural failures

Posted by CM on March 24, 2008

Every few months there is some story about how white Zimbabweans whose farms were expropriated by the Mugabe government and moved to start over in Nigeria are faring.

The latest such article describes…(full article)

Posted in Agriculture | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

Joseph Made at his wild guessing games about agriculture again

Posted by CM on March 17, 2008

Mugabe minister Joseph Made is a man given to making sweeping statements. Several years ago, as then agriculture minister, he took a helicopter trip around the country and on that basis declared the country was about to enjoy a bumper maize harvest. The maize deficit that resulted and has continued every year since then earned Made much scorn and derision.

He now has the grand title of minister of Agricultural Engineering, Mechanisation and Irrigation. His portfolio may have changed, but not his penchant for wild, optimistic guessing games.

Every gambit by the Mugabe government to revive agriculture over the last eight years or so has been a disastrous failure. Now, two weeks before a crucial election, Made predicts the electioneering tactic of parceling out recently imported agricultural machinery will achieve what every other action of the Mugabe government has failed to do.

From The Herald of March 17:

Business Reporter

THE distribution of various farming implements last week under Phase 3 of the mechanisation programme, coupled with the machinery distributed under phase 1 and 2, will have the net effect of increasing production by no less than 50 percent in the short term.

Agricultural Engineering, Mechanisation and Irrigation Minister Dr Joseph Made said this would, however, depend on the effective use of the equipment, especially tractors.

A total of 500 tractors were distributed under Phase three while 1 200 tractors were distributed under phase 2 and 925 under phase one giving a cumulative figure of 2 625 tractors distributed so far.

Dr Made said if the tractors are used at the right time and in the right manner the yield capacity could go up to as much as 100 percent or 200 percent. The yield per unit for a small farmer receiving assistance from the District Development Fund, he said, should be around 200 percent.

Dr Made said if fertilizer availability improves, the yield capacity could go up by as much as 400 or 500 percent. “I am talking about sufficient quantities of proper base fertilizers, top dressing fertilizer, herbicides, pest control chemicals,” he said.

He added that the increase in production was also dependent on proper care and maintenance of the equipment. This, he said, could be achieved if farmers stick to periodic maintenance instructions prescribed by the manufacturers. “If all farmers are able to do this we will only start thinking about a major massive service after five years,” he said.

Given such a scenario, Dr Made said, production capacity in the next five years could surpass 1 000 percent.

I get the distinct impression the man is just throwing around whatever figures come to his mind! Without any context or details he predicts agricultural productivity will go up by huge, conveniently nice round numbers.

It is good for farmers to get farmers and other farm equipment. Unfortunately, there are so many factors working against their success that the equipment is unlikely to lead to anywhere near the kind of productivity increases Made daydreams about. Made actually gives hints of this by all the “ifs” he qualifies his predictions with.

“If” used at the right time, “if” fertiliser is made available, “if” the equipment is properly maintained, and so on.

Diesel is neither widely nor easily available so it is not a simple matter to use one’s tractor “at the right time.” Fertiliser and other inputs have not been affordably and widely available for close to ten years now, and as the forex crunch continues, there is no reason to believe that this situation will change any time soon. Maintenance of any equipment in Zimbabwe is hard because of the expense and difficulty of getting service items like oil and air filters, so it is a safe bet that many of these tractors will simply be run un-serviced until they quit.

The way Made expresses himself makes it quite clear that he is aware of all this.

The equipment being parceled out and all the other ad hoc agricultural measures are being tried when there is so much that is fundamentally wrong with the economy that they will largely go to waste. Once again we have evidence of how things have deteriorated to a stage where band-aid measures are no longer enough and a wholesale, surgical renewal operation is required.

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Are we seeing a wasted farming season of abundant rain?

Posted by CM on December 17, 2007

If the rain season continues until March or April 2008 like it has begun, there will no one who will be able to talk about drought as an excuse for any crop yield shortfalls. “Drought” has been one of Mr. Mugabe’s favourite refrains to explain why agricultural productions has plunged in the last several years. This season excessive moisture may actually develop into more of a problem if the current rainfall pattern continues.

Over the last few weeks I have been tracking and commenting on how the farming season has been progressing so far. Here are some excepts from a December 17 Zimonline story headlined Seed shortage cripples Zimbabwe farming season.

Zimbabwe’s defense department has told President Robert Mugabe that it can do little to revive food production in the face of a shortage of seeds that is hampering planting operations.

Mugabe has put the army in charge of agricultural production under a programme codenamed Operation Maguta aimed at boosting food production and end hunger stalking Zimbabwe for the past seven years. Under the programme soldiers have deployed at large farms across the country to produce strategic crops such as maize and wheat, the country’s main staples.

However, army commanders running the programme are said to have reported to Defence Minister Sydney Sekeremayi that Zimbabwe faced worse food shortages next year because a shortage of seed and resources for tillage had all but dashed hopes of a successful farming season.

According to our sources, Sekeramayi raised the following points with Mugabe:

•That since the onset of rains two weeks ago, less than a third of commercial and small scale farmers had started any planting because of a serious shortage of seed and tillage resources. The situation was worse among poor villagers.

•That the country had secured only 15 000 tons of seed maize instead of the required 50 000 tons. That seed shortages were more acute for soya beans, a key crop used for stock feeds and cooking oils among other products.

•That even those farmers that had secured seed and had planted grains faced low yields because of an acute shortage of compound fertilizers used for basal application when planting. Soldiers were only distributing Urea, a top dressing fertilizer only helpful after germination.

•Urged Mugabe’s intervention to ensure that seed manufacturers were paid market prices to entice them to supply seed to the local market instead of exporting the product to more lucrative regional markets.

•That the country was forced to import maize and soya bean seed from neighboring countries, yet local seed houses were exporting the same seed to the same neighboring countries. Raised a possibility that the country was importing at a higher cost seed exported by local firms.

•Urged Mugabe’s intervention in ensuring that the central bank released enough foreign currency to import seed to make up for shortfalls. Cited that only 3 000 tonnes of the anticipated 15 000 tonnes of imported seed had arrived in the country. Emphasized that even the 15 000 tonnes were not enough to meet demand.

The sources say Mugabe promised to look into the issues raised by Sekeramayi.

One could write a long commentary about this sad story, but it really isn’t necessary. It has been the same story each farming season for years.

But briefly:

The “shortage” of seed, fertilizer and other inputs is a symptom of the many others things that are wrong in the economy and the country in general. Because those things are so deep and widespread, it is possible that even with “enough” side and fertilizer, there would still be many other factors leading to a less than successful farming season. Fuel and labour availability are issues, the economy’s hyper-inflation affects everything, the general dispiritidness of the country.

The situation in Zimbabwe has reached a stage where it is no longer possible to isolate factors like agricultural inputs to explain or fix agriculture. The word “crisis” might now be over-used, but it aptly describes how so many systems have broken down that it is difficult to make any sector work as it should without addressing the holistic “state of the nation.”

With “shortages” of fertilizer every farming season having become utterly predictable now, it is astonishing that agricultural thinking has not broadened to think of encouraging alternative, non-fertilizer ways of building up soil fertility. They are particularly suited for small holder farming and are gaining increasing interest and respectability across the world.

Cuba was forced to do this when the Soviet Union collapsed, removing the supports it had received from there. They have built up a different type of agricultural system entirely, with a heavy reliance on ecological agriculture. This has drastically cut their dependence on expensive imported farming inputs while retaining admirable agricultural productivity.

The foreign currency “shortages” that are a big part of the reason we can not import so many things are going to be with us for some years to come. They should encourage Zimbabwe’s agricultural authorities to begin to think outside the box for solutions to many of agriculture’s problems. Instead they continue banging their heads against the wall every year with plans that are simply no longer workable in the prevailing economic environment.

A particularly sad and ridiculous development is re-purchasing our our own repackaged seed from neighbouring countries. Exporting it is the only way the seed companies can make a profit because of populist, well-meaning but unrealistic price controls at home.

The now deeply entrenched idea of the central bank “releasing” hard currency to purchase farming inputs or anything else is largely warped. This might apply to that component of essential imports, perhaps those being subsidised to make them affordable to the neediest.

But there would be no need for the RBZ to be the only source of forex for seed, fuel or anything else if private players who have or can get their own hard currency were allowed to do their own importing and to recoup the costs of doing so. In this case the seed, fertilizer and other companies would not be importing finished product, but the raw materials, as long as they could be assured their prices would cover the high costs of black market forex.

There would be many sharks who would take advantage of the situation of shortages and chaos to fleece the public. But trying to control that while ensuring essential goods are available, even if expensive, seems better than relying on a system of total dependence on the RBZ we now know cannot work.

All this is part of what I mean when I say the problems in agriculture or any other sector can no longer be isolated into shortage of one or another item. The country’s dysfunctionality has assumed much bigger dimensions.

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The changing story on farming season readiness

Posted by CM on December 12, 2007

A few weeks after it began, the rain season looks promising this year. In the last few months there has also been a lot of noise from various officials to suggest that this year the government was taking preparation for the farming season much more seriously than in the last several embarrassing years. We have been boastfully promised “the mother of all farming seasons.”

Below is a Herald report from early in the rain season. I reproduce it here in full for the record (the link to it, http://www.herald.co.zw/inside.aspx?sectid=26073&cat=1, now leads to a blank Herald page) and so that during and after the farming season, we can examine the situation and track what went right or wrong.

Government has secured enough seed, fertilizer, farming implements and fuel in anticipation of a successful 2007/08 farming season, says the Minister of Agriculture, Cde Rugare Gumbo.

Speaking at a Press briefing in Harare yesterday on Zimbabwe’s agricultural preparedness for the forthcoming season, dubbed “The Mother of All Farming Seasons,” Cde Gumbo said everything was in place.

“But we really want to stress that emphasis is on yields and not hectarage. As the situation stands at present, most of our people are ready for the summer season. There is much enthusiasm,” the minister said.

Cde Gumbo said the country has targeted to put at least 2 million hectares under maize, 400 000ha under small grains (sorghum and millet), 600 000ha under tobacco, 120 000ha under soyabeans, 200 000ha under groundnuts, 400 000ha under cotton and 56 000ha under sugarcane.

“These are the targets we want to achieve. The fact that we have indicated these figures does not mean we will stop,” he said.

Cde Gumbo said the targets along with the anticipated good rains projected by weather forecasts should contribute to the success of the farming season. “We are in a way comforted by the weather forecast that we may have normal to above normal rainfall this season and we want to ensure that we have a bumper harvest,” Cde Gumbo said.

Acknowledging the existence of other challenges such as erratic electricity supplies, his ministry had engaged the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to mitigate the problems.

“In terms of tobacco everything is okay, the only challenge is irrigation and power outages. We have enough seed for soyabeans, cotton, and sugar cane,” he said.

There was a small deficit of fertilizer particularly compound D, but the central bank was making frantic efforts to ensure that farmers received adequate supplies.

Cde Gumbo told journalists that Operation Maguta/Inala, spearheaded by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, had already started supplying communal and A1 farmers with fertilizers and seed. “We are pleased with the performance of the operation in terms of providing inputs to rural areas,” he said.

He commended Government for phase two of the Farm Mechanisation Programme, which he said would go a long way in enhancing production among communal farmers who contribute at least 85 percent of the national maize output.

Under phase two, Government distributed more than 50 000 animal-drawn implements including harrows, ploughs, cultivators and discs. In addition, Government distributed more than 1 200 tractors and combine harvesters to farmers as it intensifies its efforts to enhance agricultural production.

Massive production of all agricultural products, Cde Gumbo added, was the best weapon against food shortages and inflation. “The ministry’s thrust for the 2007-2008 farming season is massive production of all products, be it beef, chicken, pork as this is the only way we can stop food shortages.”

“If we go into farming in a massive way we are sure inflation will go down, prices will also go down and retain our status as Southern Africa’s breadbasket,” Cde Gumbo said.

RBZ Governor Dr Gideon Gono described the forthcoming agricultural season as the solution to all Zimbabwe’s challenges. “This farming season is going to be the mother of all farming seasons. A mother symbolises stability, care and everything good about life. So we are looking forward to the coming season we have termed ‘The Mother of All Farming Seasons’,” Dr Gono said.

He said at least 50 000 tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer was available while 1 440 tonnes was with the GMB. “I can report that of Compound D we have 30 000 tonnes of Amonium Nitrate and 1 440 tonnes is with the GMB while 396 000 tonnes is with our suppliers,” he said. He said 17 000 tonnes was expected to be delivered before November.

Dr Gono said 12 964 tonnes of LAN fertilizer was also with the GMB while another 2 000 tonnes was in transit from an unnamed supplier. “Twenty-five thousand tonnes of LAN fertilizer is expected to be delivered between October and January while 10 000 more will be delivered from February onwards,” he said.

Dr Gono said a further 50 000 tonnes of Compound C for tobacco was in stock at the GMB while 35 000 tonnes had already been released to farmers.

A further 7 000 tonnes was expected to be delivered in three weeks’ time.

Although the country had adequate land, adequate inputs and the technical know-how, he said the tools of the trade were equally important for the nation to achieve greater success.

Dr Gono said Government had launched the mechanisation programme to equip the farmers with the necessary implements. “On June 11 we unveiled the launch of the mechanisation programme with 925 state-of-the-art tractors being distributed. This is a programme that has never been done in the history of the country and we mostly paid cash for the tractors with money from our own resources,” Dr Gono said.

“. . . prophets of doom thought it was propaganda. Last week we saw 1 200 tractors and over 50 000 animal driven implements of all kinds being distributed,’’ he said.

He said even the so-called industrialised countries had never distributed such a significant number of implements in one year.

“The programme goes beyond 2007 and we want to see all farmers getting their set of all the farming implements,” he added.

Dr Gono also said timely availability of inputs to farmers was critical, adding that 50 000 tonnes of maize seed was already secured. He said the central bank was going to support the local industry with foreign currency to play its part in meeting the national requirements.

He said power outages were also preventing local industry from fully utilising installed capacity but Government had come up with measures to address the problem. He added that the mining industry has also been given the green light to import electricity directly to minimise interruptions to production.

On coal and fuel shortages, Dr Gono said Government was also doing its best to address the challenges. “We are making efforts and we are expected to launch a programme next week that guarantees only enough fuel supplies but not excess,” he said.

“You can see why we think the coming agricultural season is going to become a ‘Mother of All Farming Seasons’. Farmers should work hard to complement efforts by Government. Let’s put every inch of soil under crops or grazing. Let’s see Zimbabwe being all green and let’s see a hive of activity in the rearing of livestock as well,” he said.

On the pricing of agricultural produce, Dr Gono said the Government had now come up with an import parity-pricing framework. Under this framework farmers can now be paid half of their deliveries in foreign currency and the reminder in local currency.

Dr Gono said this move was also meant to encourage farmers to deliver their produce to the Grain Marketing Board and curb smuggling, side marketing and boost productivity on the farms. “This incentive has already been extended to wheat farmers. Those who have delivered their grain to the GMB will get 50 percent in foreign currency,” he said.

Dr Gono also urged the banks to expeditiously process farmer’s loans so that their farming activities did not suffer undue delays. He said farmers should be able to access loans within five working days, from the day of application at their nearest banks in their various locations throughout the country.

“Often farmers have applied (for loans) and wait for two months before they get a response. Time is critical in farming and it doesn’t wait for anyone, they (farmers) should get their loans timeously,” he said adding that the central bank has a complementary system that processes the applications in 48 hours.

The Press conference, organised by the Ministry of Information and Publicity, sought to inform the nation on the developments in the agricultural sector. “The Press conference was convened as result of Government’s quest to tell the nation and the world on the progress of Zimbabwe agricultural sector and success story on agricultural development told by us not from the imperialists’ view,” the Minister of Information and Publicity Cde Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said.

He said such Press briefings would be held on a weekly basis so that the nation was kept up to date on developments in the agricultural sector.

Sounds really good, doesn’t it? All those various departments of government seeming to work together, the unusual “transparency” and detail of the press conference; all encouragingly suggest very careful thought having been paid to this year’s farming season.

But less than half way into the season, the story begins to change. Here’s a report (http://www1.sundaymail.co.zw/inside.aspx?sectid=320&cat=1) from the December 8 edition of the Herald’s sister paper, The Sunday Mail :

Fertiliser in short supply

By Tafadzwa Chiremba

THE anticipated bumper harvest might be affected by the unavailability of fertiliser with seceral farmers expressing concern that the good rains being experienced might go to waste. Most shops that sell fertiliser have been empty, while suppliers are reportedly citing unavailability of raw materials as the major cause of the shortages.

Panic is particularly gripping tobacco farmers who use Compound C and Ammonium Nitrate as well as maize farmers who use Compound D and Ammonium Nitrate.

Major suppliers — the Zimbabwe Fertiliser Company (ZFC), Windmill, Zimphos and Sable Chemicals — have informed farmers of the shortages saying they are facing a number of challenges.

ZFC corporate communications manager Mrs Monica Mutuma last week cited the pricing regime as the major cause of the shortages. “The industry has been operating below capacity and this is a result of constraints that we are facing in the industry. However, price is but one of several challenges that we face,” she said.

Mrs Mutuma said although they had recently exported some fertiliser, it would take some time before revenue realised from this exercise had a significant impact on the company’s capacity to produce. “We have been out of the export market for some time and we will need time to make inroads.”

A survey last week, however, revealed that fertiliser was available on the black market at exorbitant prices.

At Mbare Musika, illegal dealers were mainly selling Windmill and ZFC products in bulk with a 50kg bag going for $25 million against the stipulated $10 million.

Mrs Mutuma said their company was distributing the fertiliser through formal channels.

“Our mandate is to produce and market fertilisers and agro-chemicals. For easy access to products for farmers, we have depots, stockists and agro-dealers located in different parts of the country. It is through these networks that we distribute our products. Any other activities outside of that are handled by law enforcement agencies,” said Mrs Mutuma.

An A1 farmer from Mazowe, Mr Isaac Ruturure, said he and a number of his colleagues had been failing to procure fertiliser for the past two months. “Some are resorting to the black market which is unbearable. Most of the manufacturers are short of supplies,” said Mr Ruturure.

Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union president Mr Edward Raradza last week conceded that fertiliser was now a pie in the sky for many and urged all farmers to remain resolute as the Government was making efforts to avert the shortages. “Most of the manufacturers are citing shortages of raw materials as the cause of the shortages. But the Government is importing some fertiliser from China.

“It is only the onset of the planting season and our farmers should not panic,” said Mr Raradza.

The Government is expecting an additional consignment from China this week, after about 800 000 tonnes of Compound D was recently imported from China and South Africa.

The story is no longer as optimistically positive as previously, is it? And the Sunday Mail did not see it fit to ask Gumbo, Gono and Ndhlovu for their comments on the evolving fertilizer shortage scenario. Hmm, strange…

We continue to track farming season readiness. From the Herald of today (http://www.herald.co.zw/inside.aspx?sectid=28193&cat=8) we have:

Fertilizer shortage won’t derail agric season: Gumbo

By Walter Muchinguri

AGRICULTURE Minister Mr Rugare Gumbo has allayed fears that the current fertilizer shortage will derail this year’s agricultural season.

Mr Gumbo said the Government was aware of the shortages and was working flat out to ensure that fertilizer is availed to all farmers. “Yes, we have had challenges but we are doing everything that is humanely (sic) possible to ensure that we source enough fertilizer for this season,” he said.

Government would continue importing fertilizer while ensuring that local fertilizer companies are capacitated to augment the imports.

The country is this week expecting a consignment of fertilizer from China. Zimbabwe recently took delivery of 800 000 tonnes of Compound D from China and South Africa.

The farming community had been gripped by fears of an uncertain farming season as shops ran out of fertilizer while the rains have begun to fall.

The shortage was affecting all farmers, with tobacco farmers requiring Compound C and Ammonium Nitrate while maize producers use Ammonium Nitrate and Compound D.

The country’s major fertilizer suppliers, the Zimbabwe Fertilizer Company, Windmill, Zimphos and Sable Chemicals have been facing serious challenges that have made it almost impossible for them to produce.

Central to the challenges has been the current pricing regime, which the fertilizer companies believe was transferring their income into the informal market where traders were making roaring business from selling fertilizer at black market prices.

This year’s farming season has been dubbed the mother of all agriculture seasons and the availability of fertilizer is key to attaining this goal.

It’s not hard to guess what the next sad installment is likely to be, is it? I’m sure that even as I write, all arms of the regime are practicing their excuses for why the “mother” of all farming seasons could very well turn out to be a dud. I hope that does not happen: an even average farming season would go a long way to preventing much continuing hunger, hardship and decline. But the gradual back-tracking that is already taking place is painfull obvious.

Just a few comments on the absurdities caused by confused, ad hoc, inconsistent economic policy making:

In the second article, the fertilizer company official obliquely complains about being forced to charge prices below the cost of production. We have many years now of evidence of how this creates shortages in the formal market for any product while “fuelling” the black market. So nothing about this aspect of the fertilizer shortage should surprise anybody in Zimbabwe.

And I find it so sadly fascinating that in this time of shortage caused partly by forced uneconomic prices at home, the company should feel compelled to try to recover its production costs and to earn forex for raw materials, etc by exporting! If this is not a sign of a messed up policy environment, I don’t know what is!

“Economic prices” that allowed the manufactures to recover their costs would mean expensive fertilizer, but that is better than absent fertilizer! Shortages would be reduced or eliminated, and much time would be saved by the companies being able to generate the foreign currency equivalent immediately at home, rather than needing to export first.

If there is half-decent rain right up to March or April, Zimbabweans’ natural farming hard work may yet save the season. But seven years after the land revolution, their government seems as confused about how to get farming back on track as ever.

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