24 May 2013

Zimbabwe: Zim Faces Food Crisis

THIRTEEN years after its fast track land reform programme, Zimbabwe is still importing most of its food and is far from regaining its breadbasket status.

Analysts have said the discordant land tenure system ushered in after the reforms remains an albatross around the economy's neck.

However, President Robert Mugabe appears to ignore that the country needs a deep relook at land resettlement and the resultant unclear land tenure system before any attempts to revive farming sustainably can bear fruit.

At the official launch of the country's Food and Nutrition Security Policy last week, Mugabe said implementation of the land reform programme has become the cornerstone of ensuring food and nutrition security as the majority of people now have access to agricultural land.

However, analysts, critics and most in the agriculture industry feel otherwise, with Commercial Farmers Union president Charles Taffs saying a comprehensive approach that tackles pertinent issues in respect of land reform and a way forward is the solution to Zimbabwe's agricultural crisis.

"The fundamentals to enable sustainable crop production are just not there," Taffs said.

"Why do we keep skirting the issues, we need to sit down and say what has happened has happened and what can be corrected will be corrected, and once we do that, all the things like manufacturing will naturally fall into place," he added.

According to CFU statistics, the fast track land reform programme, that displaced most of the 4 500 white commercial farmers, had contributed to the low agricultural output on the farms today.

CFU immediate past president Deon Theron is on record as saying the land grabbing and subsequent displacement of productive farmers had heavily weighed the economy down, costing the country an estimated US$12 billion as at the end of 2011.

Theron said the figure was reached after considering farm production before and after the land grab as well as projected foregone production.

He said the economic loss was worsened because resettled farmers had to re-equip the farms by buying new machinery and other capital equipment to replace vandalised assets.

Theron said Zimbabwe's total agricultural output in 2000 was 4,3 million tonnes valued at about US$3,5 billion, but this had plunged by 73% in 2011.

Economist John Robertson argues Zimbabwe will only have a real shot at resuscitating its agricultural sector if it relooks at the land reform and land tenure system. Robertson said new farmers were struggling to expand their business as they had no access to lending facilities from banks, which required collateral.

Financial institutions have long said they cannot use the 100-year land leases given to farmers by government as collateral.

"We need a system that actually assists farmers get lines of credit and the best system which has been used all over the world is to use the land which you own and are working on as collateral," he said. "Unfortunately, government is saying, 'we won't go back to the issue of land tenure', but that's the model that actually works and anything else doesn't," Robertson said.

He added: " There is no need to put water in your petrol tank because you know that doesn't work."

The economist argued a food and nutrition policy alone was not enough to turn the country's agriculture around.

He said a host of policies that promote employment creation and industry growth should accompany the policy.

"That one policy cannot solve all our problems, and food security and poverty problems need policies that create employment. Policies like the Indigenisation Act are not supportive of this, because more than anything, indigenisation actually kills jobs," added Robertson.

He said Zimbabwe should also adopt genetically modified organisms (GMO) to compete on an equal footing with the global market.

Robertson's argument is in line with the World Banks' submission that the country should allow farmers to grow GMO food and cash crops to greatly enhance its yields and international competitiveness. In its Zimbabwe Growth Recovery Notes on Agriculture, the World Bank said the move would reduce pesticide costs and the rate of pesticide poisoning.

Bulawayo based economic analyst Eric Bloch said while the policy was silent on land tenure, it could be mitigated by provisions in the new constitution which will allow the 99-year land leases to act as security.

"It is a positive development that the 99-year leases can be negotiable and used as security," Bloch said, adding other critical enablers needed to be addressed.

"Even if the leases will be used to access loans, financial institutions do need money to lend so we need a general economic turn-around," he added.

"Government should also ensure agricultural production is driven by market forces so that farers get fair prices."

Bloch's call for an economic turnaround to enable banks to give funding to farmers follows Bankers' Association of Zimbabwe vice-president Sam Malaba's pronouncements last week that the banking sector is unable to provide adequate funds to support agricultural production due to lack of long-term lines of credit.

At the official launch of the Food and Nutrition Security Policy, Malaba said the total deposits in the banking sector last week were about $3,8 billion, with as much as 87% being short-term transitory deposits.

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