16 September 2002

Zimbabwe: Masvingo Makes History

Harare — It is an undisputable fact that agricultural history has been made in drought-prone Masvingo province where a firebrant agrarian experiment has produced quality winter maize.

Affectionately known for perennial hunger and abject poverty, Masvingo province has turned the tables by demonstrating its potential to become Zimbabwe's breadbasket.

The 1 800 hectares of maiden winter maize crop is now ripe and ready for harvesting, sending detractors of the project scampering for cover with shame and disbelief.

For a province once known for nothing other than hunger, deep-rooted factionalism, political bickering and mudslinging in the past decade, the winter maize project has ushered a new era of hope and agricultural development.

Masvingo provincial Governor Cde Josaya Hungwe has every reason to smile. When he started the winter maize project, his detractors thought that he was chasing after the wind.

When the crop was planted on April 19, prophets of doom launched a barrage of criticism against the move. Anti-development newspapers, on the other hand, screamed against the project in their headlines.

A plethora of discouraging theories were pedalled by the detractors as they opposed the idea left, right and centre.

Some said the maize would transmit diseases to sugar cane.

Others said there would be frost in Chiredzi and that the project was rather not genuine because, in their view, the Government wanted to use the maize project to elbow out the Hippo Valley, Mkwasine and Triangle Sugar Estates.

But the gods smiled at Masvingo's tall governor and his project is now talk of the country and indeed the Sadc region, where others have copied it.

So timely has been the project that it coincided with the country's vibrant agrarian revolution. Newly resettled farmers will certainly take notes from the Masvingo initiative.

Now that everyone knows that winter maize is a reality, the project will certainly be expanded to other parts of the country where it is frost-free.

"We have shown everybody that it can be done.

"There should be no reason at the moment why we cannot embark on similar projects on a bigger scale," brags Cde Hungwe.

The maiden winter crop has invited a lot of attention and senior politicians from President Robert Mugabe, President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia and Sadc high commissioners have visited the maize crop.

"The whole country had not thought of it over the years. It all started in Masvingo.

"Hunger taught us the lesson," said Cde Mugabe.

Year-after-year, erratic rainfall patterns and intermittent droughts plunged Masvingo province into a critical food crisis yet God graced the province with huge rivers that snake down to the Indian Ocean, via almost all the communal lands in the province.

At least 11 huge dams use either the river systems or canals to transport water to the sugar estates in Chiredzi via the communal lands where thousands of villagers were dumped by the settler regime.

It should be lamented that the political leadership in Masvingo failed, over the past 22 years, to exploit the vast water resources and feed the people at the expense of political mudslinging, factionalism and bickering.

With political heavyweights such as Vice-President Simon Muzenda, Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge, Trade and Industry Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi giving maximum support, the project proceeded.

President Mugabe, who toured the winter maize crop and was impressed by its progress, said the whole country should emulate the example set by Masvingo.

"We had not thought about it over the years but hunger taught us.

"The idea came from Masvingo and now we know it can be done," Cde Mugabe told Zanu-PF supporters at Gibo Stadium in Triangle.

If the Masvingo experiment is adopted on a national level this could possibly boost the national grain reserves.

If done at a larger scale, the Masvingo food initiative can serve the country's meagre foreign currency earnings, which is currently being used in grain procurement.

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