By Lovemore Ranga Mataire
ZIMBABWE has embarked on an ambitious “command agriculture” initiative, which, when successfully executed, will see the country produce two million metric tons of the staple maize on identified 400,000 hectares of land.
President Robert Mugabe sees the new scheme as Zimbabwe’s best chance to avert hunger and reduce the huge food import bill, which peaked at US$3.3 billion in 2015.
Zimbabwe has faced a food deficit for over a decade, following the collapse of commercial agriculture in 2000 when the country took back its land from white settler farmers for redistribution to landless blacks.
Lack of skills and supressed investment in agriculture in the subsequent years reduced yields – although recent government figures show a surge in production on the farms, especially in tobacco. Maize production over the last two years remained low owing to drought.
Emerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s Vice President, who chairs the food and nutrition committee of Cabinet, told The Southern Times that the response from farmers was overwhelming, with more than 305,000 qualifying to participate in the programme.
He expects Zimbabwe to be food-sufficient starting in mid-2017 going forward.
Unlike other similar past initiatives, Mnangagwa said the programme was different in that it was premised on cost recovery and it was a voluntary initiative in which a farmer is required to put aside at least 200 hectares of land for maize production.
“The country consumes between 1.4 to 1.5 metric tons of grain per year,” he explained. “As policy, we always need to have 500,000 metric tons of grain in strategic reserves per year. So this programme is targeting two million metric tons of grain. We looked at how much land can produce that 2 million metric tons of grain.
“We also looked at ecological regions, so the yields differ according to the ecological regions. However, we were able to average such yields from highly managed farms and we arrived at 5 tonnes per hectare. We discovered that we need about 400,000 hectares of land.”
Mnangagwa said 309,000 hectares have so far been identified and accepted as suitable for the programme and he was buoyant that the 400,000 hectares would be reached before the expected commencement of the rain season mid-October.
The Vice President said the programme was being termed “command” on the basis of the government providing inputs in terms of machinery, seed and fertilizers. Only farmers next to water bodies with irrigation equipment are eligible.
“We call it ‘command’ because we’re giving a farmer seed, fertiliser, chemicals and also providing management, supervision and monitoring. We’ve no doubt that each hectare must be able to provide, should be able to yield 5 tonnes of grain.
“So each farmer is required to sign an individual contract so that you deliver the 5 tonnes as per the agreement. Anything above 5 tonnes, it’s the farmer’s surplus. In essence, it’s a cost-recovery programme because the 5 tonnes we get will be used to pay for the inputs we have given the farmer.”
Mnangagwa said the target was to raise about US$500,000 and already a number of investors have come on board with one investor pledging US$305,000. He said the government had grouped together millers, chemical and fertiliser companies, and financial services representatives, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to spearhead the programme.
He said the government would utilise the services of Agriculture Extension Workers to supervise and monitor progress on the farms
“We’re also going to ensure that we stick to the structure we’ve put in place. Each structure has implementers and monitors and we’re going to ensure that there’ll be weekly monitoring and monthly monitoring and all stakeholders need to review how we’re implementing,” he said.
“We’re very much alert to the possibility of corruption and we have instances in the past when Presidential inputs were abused. We have jotted them down, all those challenges, and we’ll devise ways to counter them.”
Deals have also been signed with Brazil and Belarus to supply machinery for the construction of more dams and the rehabilitation of silted rivers. Each province with at least more than 1,000 hectares identified for the programme would have an agro-business centre.
Construction for an agro-business centre has already started in Matabeleland South at Ingwizi and Antelope Estates with silos and grain driers in place. Private companies have also expressed interest in building milling plants to process maize, soya and flour in the countryside.