Kundai Marunya interrogates the merits of President Mugabe's latest farming assistance scheme - command agriculture.
A couple of months back I went about looking for Ammonium Nitrate (AN) to fertilize my maize crop. Unfortunately most retailers had run out, as the fertilizer was on demand from both commercial farmers and subsistence farmers, including those that are involved in urban agriculture.
As I was inquiring with various retailers, one of them pointed me in the direction of a resettled farmer, Takesure Mbano, one of the beneficiaries of the Command Agriculture program. Mbano is a well-known ZANU PF activist who some accuse of torturing opposition party supporter in the run up to the 2008 Presidential election runoff. He owns a farm along the Harare-Mutare road, seized during the land reform program in the early 2000s.
When I approached him, he readily sold me the fertilizer at a bargain price of $25 per 50kgs; $7 less than the average retail price. I then conducted my research on recipients of inputs under the scheme; most of them are ZANU PF loyalists, some of which are in the same practice as Mbano.
They claim to have received more fertilizer per hectare of land than they can use. But then, issued farming inputs including fuel, herbicides, maize seed, fertilizer and pesticides are received after government Agritex officers have evaluated the land and calculated what will be sufficient to produce a good yield.
Command agriculture - a political anticlimax
Last year, when government announced the Command Agriculture scheme, many people were elated with a program that could finally put to good use the land that was being underutilized, and end a prolonged period of under production after land resettlement.
Though sceptical, I hoped the scheme would help draw the country out of economic hardships, maybe create employment while boosting the national harvest. I hoped for the first time we will not have to rely on donor food aid and maize imports. After all, the $500 million scheme is aimed at putting to use 400 000 hectares of land to produce two million tonnes of maize.
How farmers are selling agricultural inputs has wondering if this will not yield failure; same as a similar programme, dubbed the "presidential input scheme" that sees every year resettled farmers receiving seed, fertilizer and even farming implements but still fail to produce enough to feed their families let alone for sale. They sell their farming inputs, abuse farm implements and the next season queue for more while coming up with different excuses for their appalling harvest.
Why command agriculture will flop
I think this system of giving handouts is one of the reasons why farmers have failed to produce nearly two decades after the land reform programme began. They abuse their inputs and farm implements knowing handouts will come again; if not the very next season then in the years running up to elections; as is the case this farming season.
Fortunately - or perhaps unfortunately - the wasteful farmers are not forced to account for what they receive, and no collateral security is ever demanded from them. Thus the nation has lost out so much money to politicised farming schemes. This year - as if the misappropriated $15 billion is not enough - we will be crying out for the lost $500 million after yet another failure in the farming sector.
The simple solution
Only when we start issue farming inputs on the basis of merit and capacity to repay the money spent on their projects will we see improvement in production. Only when we start looking beyond political affiliation will we begin harvesting enough to renew our pride of being the bread basket of Southern Africa. Otherwise Command Agriculture is another failed farming scheme, maybe only successful in motivating Zanu (PF) activists to rally behind their failed party, but not a success for Zimbabwe.