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Pfumbvudza: What Pfumbvudza?

Stir The Pot :Paidamoyo Muzulu THE smell of the first rains is sweet. It hits your nostrils hard and for those who grew up in communal areas, it signalled the commencement of a season where we laboured for hours on end to grow crops and fill the family granaries for the following season. However, each passing summer the harvest has dwindled despite the amount of energy invested. Over the past two decades, yields per hectare have been plummeting and now stand at just below a tonne compared to all-time highs of about 2,5. However, this tells a bad story when compared to the Sadc region average yield of about four tonnes per hectare. Zimbabweans are working harder than most of their peers in the region, but this is not reflected in the yields. Something is wrong. The major worry is not simply the declining yields, but the effect on the country’s agro-based economy. Agriculture has been the cornerstone of the economy since the 1930s. At its peak just before 2000, it was contributing just above 30% of the gross domestic product and directly employing over half a million people. Zimbabwe was a net exporter of grain, tobacco, beef, sugar, vegetables and flowers, among other products. In fact, agriculture export receipts were second only to mining. This all changed after the historic land reform programme. Historic because it changed the skewed land ownership structure that had been entrenched by colonialism. A few white commercial farmers — 4 500 — controlled 75% of all commercial agricultural land. However, the land reform programme was chaotic and violent and the beneficiaries were mainly selected on patronage than competence in farming. Commercial farming was starved of funding as banks became reluctant to advance loans to new farmers who had not title on land. Unsecured loans are a recipe for disaster in the financial services sector. The Zanu PF administration came up with a number of State-backed financial solutions. However, these were a disaster and the blue-book tells a sad story. The government pumped large sums of money into agriculture under various programmes including, but not limited to Farm Mechanisation Programme, Presidential Inputs Scheme and Command Agriculture. Many of the recipients did not repay and the State carried the can — a mammoth US$10,2 billion — and still counting if we consider the grain import bill. This is the sad but real story of the land reform programme. It is, however, not beyond redemption if the Zanu PF administration is willing to bite the bullet and do the correct thing. The government has to release and implement the Charles Utete land audit report. It has to adhere to the noble policy of one man, one farm even for the political honchos. Downsizing of farms needs to be implemented as a matter of urgency and all excess land redistributed to deserving and competent new farmers. This will obviously be met with resistance by the political elites who have been rent-seeking, but it has to be done for the good of the economy. All new farmers who benefited from government financial loans