Bread basket status beckons for Zim
By Lovemore Ranga Mataire
Harare – Zimbabwe is set to reclaim its breadbasket status following the runaway success of the Command Agriculture programme initiated by government to cushion farmers close to water bodies.
Economic downturn precipitated by structural adjustment programmes, persistent droughts and Western induced sanctions had rendered Zimbabwe a net importer of food, draining the already strained national purse.
However, the good rains experienced this season and a systematic provision of inputs by government through the Command Agriculture programme have yielded more than the required national annual strategic grain of 1.8 million tonnes.
So successful has been the Command Agriculture scheme that in his recent address to party youths in Masvingo, President Mugabe described the initiative as beautiful and a trump card for the revolutionary party in next year’s harmonised elections.
Even analysts who were initially skeptical of the programme’s grand targets are now singing a different song, predicting a rebound of the economy owing to a reduced import bill for maize. Maize is Zimbabwe’s staple grain, which for the past decade or so has been acutely insufficient to meet the strategic national reserve.
In his recent address to party youths, President Mugabe described Command Agriculture as key in ensuring food security in the country.
“Command Agriculture is our programme which falls directly under the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development. This is the reason why Minister Made is the one leading it….it is a beautiful programme and we must not kill it because it has yielded a bumper harvest this year,” said President Mugabe.
This was not the first time that the President has lauded the agriculture scheme. Earlier this year, President Mugabe told delegates attending the party’s Central Committee meeting that the programme was set to have Zimbabwe reclaim its status as the bread basket of Southern Africa, ensure food security and play a crucial role in renewing Zanu PF’s governing mandate in next year’s harmonised elections.
“The Command Agriculture programme and what has become the Presidential input scheme, together demonstrate the correctness of our programme and policies in finding a quick recovery in the economic sector,” he said.
“Whatever we plan as government must be people oriented. We reap happy rewards of fending for all our people in the year of drought which we are slowly getting behind, thanks to the good rains.
“Prospects are bright. There is hope everywhere. They called us a bread basket of Southern Africa, I hope we remain that. The promises of a good agricultural programme translate quite naturally into support for our party as we move forward towards the 2018 harmonized elections,” he said.
President Mugabe said government was mobilising resources to bankroll the same programme for livestock sector and in farming crops like tobacco and cotton. He said the opposition was in panic mode, a situation that assures the governing party of a clear victory in next year’s elections.
“Riled by successive shows, the opposition is in a quagmire and clutching on straws in the hope of some modicum of electoral victory that eludes them. Apparently they have tried this and that, split again, talk of coalition but we shall make them talk all kinds of languages. That’s what Zanu-PF is capable of doing when it is united.”
Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa, who heads the Food and Nutrition cluster and is the face of Command Agriculture, recently said the programme had exceeded the targeted two million tonnes of maize.
The programme is being implemented over a three-year period after which analysts believe Zimbabwe would be able to reclaim its status as the bread basket of the region.
Zimbabwe currently boasts of the largest water bodies in the region which need to be harnessed in order to produce food through irrigation.
“All those people around water bodies are being organised to use water and equipment and inputs but it’s not for free. Those who do not want to use water should stay away from water. Wherever there is irrigation we are resuscitating the irrigation scheme and creating new ones where there is a river or a dam.
“Arda had gone derelict and so far, I have covered six provinces reviving Arda and giving them partners. For instance in Matabeleland South, we have two schemes Ingwizi and Maphisa. At Ingwizi last summer they cultivated 600 hectares and this year, now that we got in, they have doubled to 1 200 hectares. We have supported them with irrigation and relevant equipment. In Antelope they had 400 to 500 hectares and this winter they have put 600 hectares but in summer we said they should go up to 1 000 hectares,” said Vice President Mnangagwa.
Not so long ago some ministers from five African countries commended Zimbabwe’s land reform programme saying the country had the potential to reclaim its breadbasket status.
The ministers were from Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi. Speaking after touring A2 farms in Mashonaland West, Kenya’s Assistant Minister of Agriculture Gedion Ndambuku said what Zimbabwe farmers were doing bestowed pride not just to the nation but the continent as well.
The government of Zimbabwe has already mobilised $600 million to fund Command Agriculture and the Presidential Inputs Support Scheme in the next summer cropping season.
Vice President Mnangagwa on Monday this week told farmers in Mashonaland West that funds for Command Agriculture programme had been doubled for the next season.
“We used $162 million in the previous season, but we have $487 million for the Command Agriculture programme. We have the land, we have the resources. What we are now looking for are the farmers to take in the programmes,” said Vice President Mnangagwa.
Zimbabwe’s quest for food sufficient has become a real regional case study given the fact that for more than a decade the country has suffered under Western induced economic sanctions.