AGRICULTURE, once the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy and Africa’s bread-basket is now a pale shadow of its former self, forcing the country to extend its begging bowl to its neighbours.
The ironic reality is hard to comprehend.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, headed by Joseph Made for the past 13 years was once responsible for Zimbabwe being described as the “jewel” of Africa, with rich productive farmland, producing enough to feed everyone and export the rest not only in Africa but as far as Europe.
The agricultural sector supplied about 60 percent of the inputs to the manufacturing industry, contributing to high Gross Domestic Product growth rates and employing millions of people.
The recent report by the United Nations World Food Programme indicating that over 2,2 million people in Zimbabwe needed food assistance over the next six months because the food situation has deteriorated and can be described as the worst since 2009, is probably the worst indicator as to what lies ahead for the new government.
If this reality cannot persuade the new government to adopt extraordinary measures to revive food production, then nothing else will.
Maize production has declined from over two million tonnes in 2000 to about 800 000 tonnes, while wheat production has deteriorated to a non-existent state. Cotton production, the backbone of rural development, declined to 145 000 this year. However, the tobacco sector has been recording growth since 2009 with an expected output of about 167 million kilogrammes.
With this recovery in tobacco, there have been calls from stakeholders to revive the whole industry from food production, horticulture and livestock, with the most recent call from the President Robert Mugabe to ensure food security and bring to an end the perennial food imports.
In his inauguration speech, President Mugabe promised to revive the farming sector. To spearhead that revival, Made was on Tuesday appointed once again as Agriculture Minister, despite being part of the 2005 “War Cabinet” described by President Mugabe in 2009 as the worst Cabinet in his reign.
Made will be assisted by two deputies Paddy Zhanda responsible for the livestock sector and Davis Marapira, cropping, mechanisation and irrigation development.
Made faces the mammoth task of reviving the same sector he has been accused of practically destroying when he was part of the team that spearheaded the chaotic land reform programme which also played a major role in bringing agriculture to its knees.
Analyst, Rashweat Mukundu, expressed no confidence in the appointment of Made as the Minister responsible for agriculture.
“Joseph Made presided over the collapse of Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector with his well documented blunders that included, among many, failure to rein in corruption at the Grain Marketing Board, which resulted in the corrupt selling of inputs meant for farmers as well as outright failure to ensure food security since 2000.
“I do not see what else the Minister will bring to this sector other than the same lack of efficiency and lethargy. Zimbabwe’s agricultural Ministries need action oriented, strategic thinkers who deliver not clueless individuals,” Mukundu said.
Despite driving the Agricultural Rural Development Authority into bankruptcy, Made has survived as Agriculture Minister and under his watch the sector has failed to ensure food security. Infrastructure has collapsed, irrigation, greenhouses, dams are all non-existent and Made and his team are required to move the sector to the next level.
According to political analyst, Ricky Mukonza, the re-appointment of Made does not inspire confidence in the recovery of the agriculture sector because the sector has not been performing well under his stewardship in previous years.
“This will go down as a lost opportunity for the ZANU-PF government to inject new leadership and new ideas into the Ministry. It can, however, be argued that what has been happening with the agriculture sector is not entirely a consequence of the actions or inactions of the minister of that portfolio but rather a reflection of the general policy direction chosen by the government of the day.
“In that case, it will be unfair to judge Made on the basis of the Ministry’s past performance, while the appointment of two deputies is perhaps meant to demonstrate the seriousness with which the government is likely to treat this sector,” Mukonza said.
He added that the revival of the agricultural sector would require all stakeholders such as farmers, seed and fertiliser manufacturers and equipment manufacturers to pull in the same direction.
Economic analyst, Eric Bloch, urged Made to re-look at the agricultural policies that have contributed heavily to the collapse of production.
The major task ahead for Made, according to Bloch, is ensuring that farmers are able to access funding from local banks to finance their agricultural enterprises.
“The Minister should look at issues such as speeding up the processes of the 99-year lease to allow farmers to use these leases to access funding from banks in line with the new Constitution which has provided for the leases to be accorded negotiability and transferability,” Bloch said.
The majority of new farmers have only received offer letters and not comprehensive leases, negatively affecting their performance.