13 October 2017

Zimbabwe: Food Security, Poverty Alleviation Achievable

opinion

Any country which fails to feed its citizens and minimise poverty through social security nets is a failure.

Zimbabwe, despite having all the necessary resources and ideas, is failing to do just that. We need a new paradigm.

Our belief must first be that hunger in our country and in Africa as a whole is not inevitable and malnutrition is not a consequence of food scarcity, but a result of the way our economies are organised and of the political choices we have made to address - or ignore - the causes of hunger and poverty.

Amartya Sen (1999) in his book Development as Freedom defines hunger by saying: "Hunger relates not only to food production and agricultural expansion, but also to the functioning of the entire economy. It includes the operation of the political and social arrangements that can, directly or indirectly, influence people's ability to acquire food and to achieve health and nourishment."

This is very important because we continue to define hunger as lack of food only and yet the idea of poverty alleviation should be an all-encompassing approach which seeks to address everything that demeans the quality of our lives. In the Zimbabwe we want to create, no person should face hunger. For indeed it is not inevitable as most believe.

We must create a new narrative which says that: "In Zimbabwe, we can grow enough food and even export it, we have done it before, we have the skills and the necessary land and water resources, we know enough about agricultural economics, and we can afford to provide the basic needs that protect every person's entitlement to an adequate, nutritious diet."

An estimated 75% of Zimbabweans rely directly or indirectly on agriculture. It is therefore fact that the majority of the poor are rural and survive mostly on smallholder agriculture. An increase in agricultural income is the most direct way out of poverty for most Zimbabweans, but added to that, it must be the creation of safety nets and access to all the basic needs that make life worthwhile to live.

A successful agricultural recovery can also drive recovery of industry where 60% of industrial input comes from the agricultural sector. This can help to create jobs, thus improve disposable incomes and have a positive impact to also reduce urban poverty. However, we must also industrialise around agro-industry to create higher sustainable incomes. We must create a symbiotic relationship between small scale farmers and agro-industry to achieve the necessary scale and consistent incomes.

Prior to the fast-track land reform programme, an estimated 300 000 farmworkers, representing about 25% of Zimbabwe's total workforce (in formal employment), were employed on commercial farms. These workers and their dependants numbered nearly 1,8 million people.

The absence of social safety nets after the land reform remains a serious problem in most of the resettlement areas. The government offered nothing to solve the wholesale destruction of the livelihoods of these workers.

In his speech in South Africa in 1994, the late Harry Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore, pleaded with African leadership to "resolve contradictions between the aspirations of their people and the realities of the economy. They have to settle on a formula which gives enough relief to many who feel they have been dispossessed - but will not cause serious damage to the competitiveness of the economy". This, in my opinion, remains priceless advice.

I am therefore advocating for a "Marshall Plan for Zimbabwe" where we can give a new impetus to reconstruction to Zimbabwe and make "a decisive contribution to the revival of the whole economy, renewal of urban and rural infrastructure, the modernisation of our industrial base, the resumption of normal production, the raising of productivity, creating employment, and the facilitating of intra-regional trade". As stated by Belgian economic historian Herman Van der Wee:

This was the impact of the Marshall Plan in Europe in 1948 where the United States of America availed US$13 billion (US$120 billion in current dollar value) to the reconstruction of Europe. The Marshall Plan was in operation for four years beginning in April 1948 through to 1951 and recorded a 35% economic growth in Europe in that period.

We must therefore look at the key components of the plan which made it successful and tailor make it for our situation here in Zimbabwe. The Development Bank of Southern Africa has produced a comprehensive report on reconstructing Zimbabwe and it advises the following:

First, we need political stability and a democratic government and governance system, backed up by political will. The most important precondition for any economic recovery programme is the political will of government to create a conducive operational environment for both state and non-state actors.

Second, we require human and institutional capacity, implying effective implementation of efficient, sustainable and recovery programmes. Zimbabwe has experienced a significant brain drain of skilled manpower over the last decade thus weakening our capacity. We need to attract those skills back.

Third, we must establish country-owned macro and sectorial policies which are consistent, well thought out and inclusive. This requires foresight, efficient planning and good project management skills.

Fourth, we must adopt a broad approach to poverty alleviation that highlights the integration of agricultural and industrial policies. The Look East policy in an effort to diversify Zimbabwe's exports to non-traditional markets, such as South Asia and the Far East has not worked. Our trade and industrial policies must integrate agriculture especially rural development if we are to effectively tackle the poverty issues.

Fifth, is that yes we need aid, but that aid must be well-organised, long-term and matched by and aligned with our developmental strategies. Any humanitarian aid has to be combined with a developmental approach, requiring technical assistance, budget support and an unconstrained private sector.

There is also the term of food sovereignty, where countries must be free to choose how and to what extent they engage in trade to meet their domestic food needs, and how and in what ways to support domestic food production.

This will be critical in the Zimbabwe we want but it assumes a responsible and ethical government.

In my opinion, it is not that difficult to achieve food security in its broadest sense; all we need is visionary and ethical leadership.

Musewe is an independent economist.

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