Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Posts Tagged ‘land reform’

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 »

Eric Bloch’s revisionist version of the origins of Zimbabwe’s land problem

Posted by CM on December 10, 2008

Zimbabwe Independent columnist Eric Bloch recently wrote an article on what he considers to be the changes necessary to get Zimbabwe’s land reform back on track to revive agriculture.

Bloch was responding to the ruling of the SADC Tribunal based in Namibia in favour of a number of evicted white Zimbabwean farmers who petitioned it for relief.  The farmers went to the recently established regional court for redress after unfavorable rulings in Zimbabwe’s own court system.

The SADC court ruled that the farm seizures were racially discriminatory and violated international law. It ordered the Zimbabwean government to stop further farm takeovers, as well as to pay compensation for those already taken. Predictably, the Mugabe government scoffed at the court’s ruling and has made it clear it has no intention to abide by it.

Bloch’s overall conclusion is hard to fault. He ends his article with, “It (the government) should work vigorously towards the creation of harmonious inter-racial relationships and support to bring about the revival of the agricultural sector. If it would constructively reform its land reform, Zimbabwe would again become the region’s breadbasket, and its economy would be positively set upon the path to real recovery and growth.

It is how Bloch leads up to his conclusion that is preposterous. He goes out of his way to admit that Zimbabwe has had a long pre-independence history of aggressive laws to make the African majority population occupiers of only the most marginal lands. And he is careful to say that he accepts that the legacy of racially-based wealth and land-holding patterns had to be corrected.

He writes: At the time of government initiating its programme of land reform, resettlement and redistribution, it justified doing so upon the fact that for a prolonged period of time the black population had been legislatively barred from ownership of agricultural lands, and upon a specious contention that such lands had been “stolen” from the black population by the British colonialists of more than a century ago.

Bloch then embarks on an ingenious but utterly dishonest argument, one he has made many times before in his Zimbabwe Independent column, about how the widely-held view that the land was indeed stolen from the natives by British settlers is actually wrong.

No, you see, says Bloch, the natives’ population density was extremely low at the time of the arrival of the British visitors who then invited themselves to stay and dominate the natives. Citing population statistics of that late 19th century period, Bloch says, “Based upon the 1880s/1890s population of 250 000, if the entirety of the lands were stolen from that population, each member of the population, be they adult or child, male or female, elderly or young would, on average, have been  possessed of 156 28 acres! That could not possibly have been the case.”

There you have it, the masterful exoneration of the early British settlers’ reputation as usurpers of African land by Eric Bloch! They could not have stolen the land because at the time (1890s) there were just a handful of natives roaming around mostly vastly empty space that belonged to nobody. Oh sure, admits Bloch, the settlers may have then gone on to mistreat the Africans in all sorts of ways, but at the beginning they just helped themselves to all the vast open spaces that had just been sitting there waiting for somebody clever to come along and stake Western-legal claim to it. It was not the settlers’ fault that the natives couldn’t produce title deeds, effectively says the intrepid columnist Bloch.

If I sound sarcastic and contemptuous of Bloch’s argument, it’s because I am. It is not only a historically and intellectually dishonest argument, it borders on meeting the standards of that oft-abused,over-used concept; racist.

As Bloch damn well knows, the concepts of ownership of the two clashing cultures were completely different. In the African setting land was communally held. There was no personal ‘title’ to land, but there was a consensual understanding of territories belonging to different levels of groups. This is why when what was understood to be an ‘outgroup’ invaded an area, the result was war. It was not, “Fine, help yourself to that vast open space over there, we don’t have title deeds to it so we can’t prove it is ours.”

Bloch is valiantly fighting an ideas war with an argument that is not just culturally, historically and intellectually dishonest. On a purely practical level he is continuing to fight a battle that in Zimbabwe has clearly been lost. The almost universal feeling amongst black Zimbabweans about the “stealing” of their land is one major why they pretty much unanimously agreed with the idea of waging a long and brutal war against the colonial system. It is also why the idea of radical land reform was quite popular even as some warned about the consequences of doing it the way it was done. It is also why even as many Zimbabweans today would like to see the back of Robert Mugabe for being a repressive despot and for the overall mess he has presided over, the idea of land reform remains widely popular, even if many would agree with Bloch’s broad idea that the reform itself now needs to be reformed.

Each time Bloch has argued the way he has done again in this article, after getting over my initial astonishment, I have often wondered if e could be really naive enough to believe it could have any currency beyond perhaps a handful of people in his circles. Bloch has every right to repeat this argument, but he stands approximately zero chance of convincing either any Zimbabwean government or a significant proportion of the Zimbabwean public of his fantastically revisionist view of the country’s colonial history.

In different contexts, I have heard people fighting the fight that Bloch does so poorly here argue the following: The Africans (Indians, Aborigines, Native Americans, whatever) were indeed dispossessed of what was rightfully theirs by subterfuge and force of arms, but hey, every people has gone through such unhappy experiences. Get over it and move on.

Many would find even this argument a provocative and controversial white-washing of history and of peoples’ legitimate grievances and rights to the same kind of redress today’s white farmers are seeking. Yet I believe this argument  has more validity than Bloch’s crude attempt to re-write history to absolve the early white settlers of their many pretexts for dispossessing Africans. Bloch’s one century-later public relations effort on their behalf is a lost cause in modern day Zimbabwe.

To frankly admit the messy and painful events that have helped bring the society to its present pass is to respect the full historical record and its effects on people in the past and the present, rather than attempt a reductionist resort to misuse of statistics. Zimbabwe has continued under its present post-independence dispensation to be in denial about the ugliest parts of its violent present, the same way people like Bloch are in denial about the reality of its ugly, violent past. Part of our moving forward as a society is to learn to look at ourselves, past and present, with brutal honesty so that the many aggrieved can feel the validity of their grievances have at least been recognised in a way that allows forgiviness and moving on. Blochs’s crude article reminds us how far we have to still go in this regard by its virtual mocking of a central cause of African pain and anger about the colonial past.

It is not just a waste of time of an argument, it also illustrates the huge gap in how blacks and whites in southern Africa in general explain how they arrived at the tense multi-layered adjustments their societies are undergoing to get over a past that was certainly painful for the natives, if not for the likes of Eric Bloch.

Bloch’s ‘clever’ attempts at historical revision also work against his expressed noble desire for the society to work “vigorously towards the creation of harmonious inter-racial relationships.” His regular recycling of this crooked attempt at colonial absolution does not help to achieve his expressed aim.


This article was also published in the Zimbabwe  Independent, on December 11 2008.

Bloch responded to it on December 18 with:

Many  have urged me to respond to Chido Makunike’s attack in last week’s issue of the Zimbabwe Independent,  upon me and my prior week’s  article  on land reform.

Makunike is entitled to his opinion (even if a wrong one), but is neither entitled to misrepresent, distort or misconstrue that which I have written, nor to libelously accuse me of dishonesty and racism.

If Makunike would remove the chip from his shoulder, he would have a more balanced perception. Accordingly, I dismiss his attack upon me with the contempt it deserves, and will not belittle myself to replying to his spurious contentions.

Posted in Economy | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

After deal-signing, forwards or backwards for Zimbabwe?

Posted by CM on September 20, 2008

Normality and stability in their broad sense are obvious outcomes all Zimbabweans hope for after the recently signed political deal between the country’s political parties brokered by South African president Thabo Mbeki.

But there seems to be no unanimity about the details of the nation Zimbabwe seeks to now become, beyond obvious things like goods in the shops at reasonable prices, low inflation, more employment opportunities and so forth. None of these are minor goals to aim for, and a government that is able to deliver any of these in  the next few years would have done very well.

Prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangrai began his term of office by pleading for international aid. No doubt a lot of assistance from the world will be needed for years to come. But by making this his first serious indication of what his orientation is to problem-solving, he suggests that he has no vision of Zimbabwe as anything other than a donor-dependent banana republic, on a continent already full of such weak, under-achieving states.

There are many examples in Africa of countries that are darlings of ‘the donors’ for one reason or another, but that are not substanitally ‘developing.’ That requires hard and smart work by the public and private sectors working together, as we have seen from the many examples of real ‘development’ in Asia.

Africa has become so donor-dependent structurally and psychologically that aid has become one of the most insidious ways of preventing African progress, rather than of promoting it. The continent’s best and brightest and its most powerful, people like Tsvangirai, spend more time and energy trying to figure out how to get ‘aid’ from Europe and the U.S. than they do on how to make their economies more productive.

Robert Mugabe’s many sins and errors are well known and do not need repeating here. But one of his legacies will be daring to try to effect the idea that Africans must be masters of their economic destiny, and that they need to contemplate possibly enduring hardship to overcome the interests who would rather keep them dependent and weak. That ideal was soon over-run by cronyism, cynicism and the sheer failure to achieve the noble goals that stirred the hearts of many Africans (and enraged many Westerners for all sorts of reasons.)

But if Mugabe the man is now fading into political oblivion, rejected as a despot, a failure and an anachronism, his original focus on genuine African economic empowerment still rings as true as ever. Due in large part to his own excesses, it will take a long time for the positive parts of his legacy to be separated from the negatives and the failures, but it will happen eventually.

Tsvangirai’s conventional, dull vision of aid-dependent recovery may bring relatively quick relief from the deep economic pain being suffered by Zimbabweans. If so, he will receive the accolades of grateful Zimbabweans who have been reeling from a rapidly imploding economy for a decade. And he will be a hero to Westerners uncomfortable with Mugabe’s sharp, continuous recantations of the need to address the many lingering aspects of the unfinished business of colonial exploitation and oppression, which is ‘ancient history’ to Westerners but very much a part of their present-day reality for Africans.

A West relieved at the exit or (hoped for) sidelining of Mugabe will certainly back up its gratitude to Tsvangirai with all sorts of aid. It will be partly humanitarian, partly ‘thank you Tsvangirai for getting rid of or weakening Mugabe,’ and also a way of making sure the new government is malleable.

But this route to ‘normality’ will not and cannot address the underlying structural economic and developmental issues of countries like Zimbabwe. Who really owns the wealth of the land? From what date in the past do we effect ‘the rule of law’ (such as who owns what land?). What is an ‘equitable’ sharing of riskand profit between citizens and foreign investors? And so on and so forth.

Mugabe made his answers to these sorts of questions very clear. His answers and the way he tried to effect them delighted many Zimbabweans and Africans, as much as they frightened and enraged many Britons and other Westerners. For a whole host of reasons, Mugabe’s populist answers to the deep questions of the post-colonial era have not in the short term translated to the hoped-for results.

This makes it easy for Tsvangirai to come in with ‘I hold the keys to Western aid’ as his main trump card. Even among those who recognise the dangers of this approach, disgust with Mugabe and despair at the hardships of recent years has meant many Zimbabweans look to Tsvangirai’s implied promise of aid-funded relief and ‘recovery’ with anticipation.

This is quite understandable, but it does not in any way solve or remove the underlying difficult issues that contributed to Zimbabwe finding itself where it is now. After the euphoria of achieving a kind of ‘normality’ has abated, these questions will arise again, along with the ghost of Mugabe.

We have the strange situation where in the short recent term Zimbabwe has been very rapidly sliding backwards. Yet in forcing the society to ask difficult questions that go far back into the past with a view to finding answers for the future, the society was setting a stronger foundation for that future. A strong economic foundation partly rests on more risk-taking and wealth-creation by Zimbabweans; more ‘ownership’ of the process of ‘development’ by the locals than we have generally seen in a weak, donor-dependent Africa.

Mugabe largely failed to back up his empowerment rhetoric with practical, successful examples of it. But it is to take the wrong lesson to abandon the dream, rather than to pick it apart for where it went wrong and try to fix it. Tsvangirai would be relieving the immediate problems by attracting a lot of ‘donor aid,’ but not addressing the long-term issues of how to overcome the complex legacies of colonialism (land ownership patterns being just the most obvious one), and how to spur true ‘development’ and empowerment based on production-led economic growth.

Posted in Economy, General | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

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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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 »

Christina Lamb “explains” Africa to her British readers

Posted by CM on March 23, 2008

by Chido Makunike

Christina Lamb, a British journalist, has carved out a niche for herself as some sort of “Zimbabwe expert,”  supposedly brilliantly able to explain the intricacies of “the Zimbabwe crisis” to her fellow Britons and Westerners.

It has not been hard for her to do, as Western readers seem to like to have puzzling-to-them Africa “explained” to them by one of their own, rather than actually listen to what the Africans have to say about their own reality.

Lamb cemented her image as Africa-expert/explainer-to-the-British with her book ‘Zimbabwe, House of Stone.’ The publisher’s online blurb describes it as a “powerful narrative (which ) traces the brutal Rhodesian civil war and the hope then despair of the Mugabe years, through the lives of two people she met who find themselves on opposing sides.” It chronicles the perspectives of a white farmer besieged by war veterans at the height of the farm takeovers in 2002, as well as that of one of his African employees.

I may come back to the book another time, but for now, Ms. Lamb has written an article for the Sunday Times (UK) about Mike Campbell, a white farmer who has been fighting attempts by the Mugabe regime to take over and evict him from his Zimbabwean farm at the SADC Tribunal, based in Namibia. The tribunal was set up in April 2007 as part of  a peer review mechanism within SADC. It aims to ensure that the objectives of the SADC Treaty to which Zimbabwe is a signatory, such as human rights and property rights, are upheld.

I have a lot of trouble with Ms. Lamb’s writings on Zimbabwe, as I do with those of many other British writers. She tries, particularly in her book, to be careful to treat the racial and historical aspects of what has brought Zimbabwe’s to its present pass with objectivity. But to me, her understandable sympathies for the white farmers and revulsion for Robert Mugabe stick out like a sore thumb that makes much of her work, including the present article, an expose of white feeling about Zimbabwe/Africa as much as it claims to be just attempting to tell us about the genesis of “the problem.”

There is no sin in this. Similarly, much of black/African sentiment to “the Zimbabwe issue” is also informed by racial/political feelings that go deep into the past.

Coming back to Lamb, the kinship that she so clearly displays with the white farmers makes her, for me, an opinionist more than a journalist just relating what is going on. For many blacks all over the world the symbolism that “Zimbabwe” represents is far more complicated than just the issues of economic decline or political repression. Likewise for some white people, especially of British extraction, “Zimbabwe” has another set of racial, political and historical symbolisms. The contrasting symbolisms are not monolithic for either group, and obviously there are some white and black people who see and interpret the wide array of symbolisms “Zimbabwe” represents in similar ways.

I have long maintained that writers like Lamb and much of the British media have become so emotional about “Zimbabwe” that much of their reportage is more post-colonial catharsis than it is just reporting about a country in deep distress. This is not only because of the colonial link between Britain and Zimbabwe, but because of the presence of a continuing, though now very small, white “community” there, and also because of how Mugabe has so consistently, mercilessly hurled British “sins” in their faces.

Mugabe has long sunk into an ugly despot, but a lot of what he says about Britain and its colonial role resonates with Africans everywhere. It just as strongly discomforts the British. All this influences the many disparate and inflamed emotions over the symbolic “Zimbabwe.”

For supporters of Zimbabwe, particularly for many Africans/blacks outside Zimbabwe, this means a “Mugabe is right” posture that transcends the mess he has caused to become of the country he rules. To others, and I would argue that people like Lamb fall into this group, the sting of Mugabe’s utterances, coupled with his repression and the economic ruin he has visited on Zimbabwe, gives them a way to subtly make statements about deeply held negative feelings about Africa and the Africans under the guise of “we are so concerned for their oppression and penury.”

In the short Sunday Times article  in question (Zimbabwe: white farmer Mike Campbell mounts last stand over land grab), Lamb paints Campbell in heroic terms while the Africans, not just Mugabe, are the traditional bad guys in a quite classic way that has become typical of much of the British press.

This is not at all to say that Campbell has not been subjected to shabby, unjust treatment by a Mugabe regime that selectively, cynically interprets and applies its own laws to ride roughshod over anyone standing in its way.

In going so over the top in portraying Campbell as a “white knight” and the natives as evil, shifty characters of low moral worth (obviously Lamb does not say so; this is my own interpretation based on reading her book, whose style is very much reflected in this latest Sunday Times article by her), she simplifies and distorts the complicated reality of the long black-white conflict of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe. She does so in a way I suspect is appealing to much of her readership. But what this pleasingly skewed reportage does is also to leave them with a distorted, limited understanding of the complicated, still evolving African reaction to the whole experience of British colonialism.

Lamb tells us of the trauma of the farm invasions of the early 2000s by the experiences of the Campbell’s horse, Ginger, who was so frightened that “she has followed Campbell’s wife Angela everywhere since she was attacked by Mugabe’s war veterans. ”

I am not in a position to doubt the trauma that Lamb says Ginger suffered at the hands of the purpoted war veterans, nor is it my point to want to do so. My point is that we are being set up by Lamb to understand just what nasty, nefarious characters these war veterans must have been. Imagine ow evil must be a group of people who would so scare the wits out of a nice, sensitive horse sweetly named “Ginger!” It is quite clear that what we are being told at some level is a group of cruel, vicious natives with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. “No wonder the country is such a mess,” is just one of the messages behind the words, unintentionally or otherwise.

This possibly subliminal, un-nuanced but not at all uncommon portrayal of the African is a far more powerful message than the mere recitation of facts. Just as Africans like me recoil at this historical Western stereotyping of our humanity by the likes of Lamb and The Times, The Telegraph and publications of that ilk, I am sure there are many Westerners to whom this stereotypical “reporting” appeals because that is how they see Africa and the Africans. On a certain level Lamb is merely providing modern-day fodder for what the West believes it “knows” about Africa and the African.

But if it is a comforting re-assertion of Western stereotypes, it leaves the really inquisitive non-African reader non the wiser about the complicated, sometimes contradictory reality of African feeling towards the continent’s experiences with the West. It leaves the target audience perhaps somewhat smug about their prejudices towards “those puzzling natives” but with their understanding of them no deeper, and perhaps more twisted and confused than before.

We are told about the skull of a young giraffe that caught its head in a snare. Campbell’s “British son in law Ben Freeth” explains how the skull grew around the wire, eventually cutting into the brain and killing the giraffe. “To me, this symbolises what has happened over the last eight years here – the slow strangulation of everything,” Lamb quotes Freeth as saying. The mention of Freeth’s being a Briton automatically makes the British/Western reader sympathise with whatever the writer is going to relate about his experiences in deep, dark Africa at the hands of the natives. And hearing the “reasoned” voice of a Briton lends an extra authenticity to whatever he says, and to Lamb’s account to her British readers, unlike the utterances of those unreliable, irrational , possibly even pro-Mugabe natives!

I do not disagree with Freeth’s poetically presented description of what Mugabe has wrought in Zimbabwe. What causes me discomfort and suspicion is how that is consistently used to cast pre-land upheavals Zimbabwe as an idyllic country of blameless, hard working white heroes like the Campbells. Again, this is not to question that they are hard working or perhaps even heroic in one way or another. I don’t know them. It is, instead, to say that British writers like Lamb ever so subtly juxtapose positive and negative racial stereotypes in such a way that the whole weight of a long complicated history of inter-racial mistrust and violence that explains the group feelings of whites and blacks about themselves and each other is dispensed with.

To the non-Zimbabwean, non-African reader of narratives like Lamb’s, the stage has been set for them to see the symbolic “Zimbabwe” in its complexity reduced to good, hard working and peaceful white versus shifty, lazy, violent native, a massive distortion of the historical record. Once this mental, psychological stage has been set, the native just can’t win, and all the subsequent details of whatever the particular article is about merely confirms what a loser that native is. And Mugabe serves as the perfect villain to confirm this because of his excesses, not just against the whites, but even against the very people he claims to love so much that he wants to “empower.”

Particularly for observers like Lamb, it becomes very difficult to separate antipathy towards Mugabe from the appeal of much of his message to many Africans. That appeal is only strengthened by the slant of the writings of people like Lamb. Instead of explaining “Mugabe may be a cruel despot but this is why parts of his message have such appeal to many Africans,” Lamb and much of the British press have conveniently simplified things to “Mugabe is a cruel despot so everything associated with official Zimbabwe is bad/negative/wrong/invalid.” They go further to then paint his opponents, and particularly the white farmers, as the therefore all-good opposite of Mugabe.

Certainly neat and simple, but also wrong and misleading. Lamb’s Western readers do not know enough about the history, the present it has wrought or the resulting African sentiment to see and question her on the simplicity of her accounts. And as said before, they are not inclined to doubt the depth and veracity of her accounts when they serve to entrench long-held Western stereotypes about the African.

African protests at reportage like Lamb’s can easily be dismissed as the normal complaining of the natives, who are to be studied but cannot be relied on to express their own narratives or explanations. That is best done by Western “Africa experts” like Lamb.

Lamb tells us how Campbell “admits he would not be able to carry on without the support of his family and their strong Christian faith.” No doubt true, and very touching. Call me overly cynical, but here is invoked the Western imagery of the decent, brave and “civilising” missionary out to do good amongst the unruly natives. The subliminal message here goes far deeper than that of a journalist who is merely telling her readers about a farmer attempting to legally defend his interests against a repressive regime.

What these consistent subliminal messages from much of the British media about “the Zimbabwe crisis” serve to do is make me immediately suspicious of their accounts, fairly or unfairly.

The most absurd example of “white-good, African-bad” subliminal messaging in Lamb’s article? The almost comical, “The war vets who took over  Bruce’s (Campbell’s son) farm brought cerebral malaria into the valley, killing 11 workers.”

How on earth could Lamb epidemiologically back up such a claim? And if she can, such an assertion would surely demand that she cite some sort of proof of it. But no, it is not necessary: having already been conditioned to understand what nasty characters the war veterans are, we are not expected to be surprised by or question how these bad guys could be proven to be the source of the malaria that killed the workers of the hero of the piece! Besides, being agents of the hated Mugabe, obviously the war veterans would have been quite up to “bringing” the cerebral malaria that not only wiped out a chunk of Campbell’s work force, but that also “killed Bruce’s wife Heidi (who) was four months pregnant with twins, leaving him a single parent to their five-year-old daughter. ”

Now of course the deaths were tragic, whatever the source of the cerebral malaria. My point here is that Lamb has long gone beyond merely telling the story of Campbell’s court challenge of the attempts to expropriate his farm. Ms. Lamb is in completely different territory now, where she is subliminally (consciously or otherwise on her part) telling the reader other racial narratives.

None of this necessarily suggests that Lamb is a cynical writer with some purposefully diabolical anti-African agenda. It is merely to suggest that in staring into the pool of “the Zimbabwe story,” she is no longer an objective observer/explainer. She has been sucked into the pool and reports from a jaundiced viewpoint, based perhaps  on her own background, just as many defenders of Mugabe view and report the story from other non-objective viewpoints.

Lamb’s work represents tragically horrible stereotypes that distort all the characters of “the Zimbabwe crisis,” both the natives as well as the white farmers whose understandable sympathy for informs so much of her work. Rather than making Zimbabwe any clearer to her readers, she instead caricatures its people and their tortured history and present.

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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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Zimbabwe requires new thinking on agriculture*

Posted by CM on December 12, 2007

By Chido Makunike

Several years after the start of Zimbabwe’s effort at land reform, it has so far been a colossal failure. The country is no longer self-sufficient in its staple foods, exports have plunged, and industry that depends heavily on agriculture has been decimated.

The effect of all this on ordinary Zimbabweans needs no repeating here. There has been a loss not only of economic performance and well-being of the country and of individuals; it has also dramatically diminished our sense of pride, confidence and nationhood.

For the ruling political establishment that staked desperately needed legitimacy on the outcome of what many considered a cynically-motivated process of change in the patterns of land tenure, that legitimacy has been further shattered by the embarrassing failure of this version of land reform.

After the initial disagreement among various sectors of the Zimbabwean public on the nature of the land reform effort, we needed the process to be repaired to simply work for the benefit of the country. The old white dominance of the farming sector and the nature of that dominance in the light of Zimbabwe’s pre-independence history and the post-independence social and political reality that resulted was simply not sustainable. That there was need for change to a more politically and socially-realistic system is not a point of contention.

There has had to be a wholesale change of a system that was unpalatable but deeply entrenched and functional. The challenge was how to bring about the desired change while retaining the functionality. In the case of Zimbabwe the long-term process implied by trying to satisfy these often conflicting needs was something an increasingly unpopular and embattled ruling authority did not have the time or the resource to implement. So they blundered into a programme of “revolutionary” change in the hope that the dust of world opprobrium would finally settle and that the final outcome would vindicate the whole controversial process.

Not only has that not happened, but the policy and implementation blunders seem to worsen from year to year instead of agriculture recovering. We are now accustomed to pre-rain season laments from all sectors of the economy about how ill-prepared the nation is for the impending planting season. We can pretty reliably predict that there will be cries of,”There is not enough seed, fertilizer, fuel or other inputs,” or that some other critical or predictable aspect of planning has not been attended to. It has become a predictable, costly and nation-destroying circus.

The situation has deteriorated to a level where agriculture is just one more area of national life that is hostage to the country’s diplomatic isolation, poor image and its overall economic crisis. As such it is not possible to fix agriculture’s problems outside the context of the issues that are facing the whole nation. There is therefore no pronouncement that the president, any minister or other official can make or action they can take to quickly fix agriculture’s problems, any more than anybody can magic-wand away any other of the nation’s deep ills.

Yet we also cannot just sit back hoping that if and when the country’s dog-house reputation ends, all the many problems we have caused ourselves will miraculously disappear. Both to try to reduce the effects of the problems of the present and prepare ourselves for a hopeful future in which we will have an enlightened political leadership than a destructive one, we must begin to interrogate whether our whole approach to agriculture dovetails with the situation on the ground.

Part of the reason why agricultural production, despite all efforts in recent years, continues to deteriorate is that we are still applying to it the thinking and the rules of an era when conditions were dramatically different from the current situation. For better or for worse, the agricultural conditions are completely different from those of ten years ago, but all of us seem to insist on hitting our heads against the wall by trying to do things in the same old way.

Even if we didn’t have our current punishing hard currency problems, it is no longer realistic in today’s changed agricultural environment to hope that manufacturing or importing greater amounts of fertilizer can by itself make a dramatic difference to yields. This might have worked in a system where a relatively small number of well-heeled farmers could incorporate borrowing large amounts of money from banks for fertilizer and other inputs into their annual budgets.

But the reality on the ground now is of a far larger number of smaller, inexperienced, under-resourced, tenure-insecure farmers just trying to scrape a subsistence living. Even when available, by the nature of its production process fertilizer is going to be expensive and, therefore, out of reach of most small-scale farmers. Many countries have tried to get around this by subsidizing it, but in Zimbabwe we are now painfully aware of the hidden costs and un-sustainability of large-scale subsidies.

So with the situation obtaining in Zimbabwe today, even if import and trade in fertilizer were opened up and subjected completely to market forces, the cost of the black market hard currency required to manufacture or import it and then sell it at a profit would be such that very few farmers would afford to buy it in quantities meaningful enough to make any appreciable difference to yields. Apart from that, even for those who would, the price of their produce would be so high that none of us could afford to buy it!

So we have ruined things to such a level that the old cry of “there is not enough fertilizer” that we now utter every October is obsolete. We need to think along a different track that takes into account the holistic reality of our present situation.

Both because of its economic crisis as well as for reasons of long-term soil health and fertility, Zimbabwe needs to pay more serious attention to sustainable farming techniques that do not enslave farmers to high inputs they cannot afford to purchase anyway. Yet we have failed to adjust to the new situation which we have created for ourselves, and keep on using a frame of agricultural reference that is no longer available to us.

It is a bit like running very hard and fast, but in the wrong direction. No matter how much faster you run, you will never reach your destination. You would be better off turning to the right direction, even if by then you are too exhausted from your previous error to maintain your previous wrong-headed speed.

While the large-scale commercial farming model that obtained and dominated until about 2000 may be difficult to practise with sustainable, chemical input-free methods, the model of small-scale, less intensive farms that has resulted by default is ideally suited to them. A central part of agricultural policy should be to wean these farmers off the idea that without fertilizer they cannot farm meaningfully or profitably. The fertilizer mindset that made at least temporary sense (“temporary” partly because it did not address the long-term, unsustainable rape of the soil as a result of heavy use of synthetic fertilizer) for the successful model of the heyday of the large-scale white farmer is doing tremendous harm to our chances of devising another successful model to replace it.

Another example of how our thinking is stuck in the past despite new imperatives that require fresh insights is the issue of farm workers. The previously dominant model of large-scale farming estates required large numbers of lowly-paid workers. When the farms have all been divided up into smaller units and the former farm workers have been both encouraged to be farmers in their own right (disregarding for the moment how impractical this is in the prevailing environment) the approach needed has changed faster than our thinking.

For new farmers who aspire to be big in the mould of the white farmers, labour is a bigger problem than it was in the olden days of the white farmers’ dominance. The farm-workers have been scattered. They are anxious and unmotivated in light of the country’s many tensions. They are resentful of a new farmer who they know did nothing to be the “owner” of the farm.

Having the latitude to pay low wages is definitely a benefit to a farmer trying to get established. Payment of low wages is, however, now more politically-incorrect than it was during the era of the large-scale white commercial farmer. So while the new farmers may pay even less now than the low wages paid by the white farmer and provide fewer or no other non-cash “benefits,” the cost for that in reduced loyalty, low productivity, high absenteeism and so forth is far higher.

Apart from a farming scenario suddenly and dramatically changed by political vicissitudes, there are many other urgent imperatives that should have us seriously re-examine everything we have previously taken for granted about farming. Climate change is making rain-fed cropping seasons far less predictable, yet Zimbabwe is too broke and dysfunctional to seriously increase irrigation and water-storage capacity. We should be paying more attention to traditional grains better adapted to dry conditions than the hybrid maize varieties that require large quantities of water and chemical inputs to realize their high-yielding potential.

Many of our agricultural and other problems may have political, self-inflicted causes, but for any hope of finding solutions to the mess we have created, we need fresh thinking far beyond the political.

*first published in The Zimbabwe Times in 2006

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