ZIMBABWE has been ravaged by two years of its worst drought in memory, and millions are tormented by hunger. The weather is is to blame, but the scale of human suffering is attributed to the disastrous economic policies of its long-ruling leader Robert Mugabe.
Not all countries in southern Africa that have been hit by drought are reeling as much from it as Zimbabwe is.
Mugabe’s land seizures, and repression, are usually cited as the worst elements of his policies.
However, IRIN’s Editor-at-Large and Africa Editor OBI ANYADIKE, writes that that is an oversimplification of Zimbabwe’s current crisis. This is an excerpt of his article:
President Robert Mugabe’s land reform, the forced redistribution of commercial farms to landless black Zimbabweans, is often portrayed as the genesis of the country’s downturn in food production.
But that’s false. Zimbabwe’s black farmers grew the nation’s food, its white farmers the high-value cash crops like tobacco. Land reform was chaotic, and impacted the broader economy, but Zimbabwe’s resettled small-scale farmers in general benefitted.
The deeper structural problem is the cash-strapped government’s inability to craft and sustain farmer-friendly policies to spur production.
Livestock prices are falling as a result of the drought
“Small-holder farmers can’t compete because of the weight of levies and taxes,” said Maggie Makanza, a programme manager at Oxfam. “You can’t even sell your goat or cow without paying taxes to the authorities”, which pushes up the cost of production along the entire value chain.
Farmers lack access to credit. The government has favoured the newly resettled lands (the communal areas are regarded as fit only for subsistence agriculture), but more than a decade on, many of these resettled farms are under-utilised – especially those that went to the political elite, who became weekend farmers.
The “letters of offer” issued to the new farmers are still not recognised as collateral by the banks, in an economy where money is already in extremely short supply.
AGRICULTURE IS POLITICAL
The lack of markets and activity in the rural areas is in marked contrast to what you see in much of the rest of the continent, despite Zimbabwe having the infrastructural trappings of a middle-income country.
“Resilience” is the buzzword for the Zimbabwean government, as well as donors and the rest of the region under the challenge of climate change.
But there appears little real preparation is under way. Farming assistance services remain weak, early warning systems are creaky, and those most at risk – including rural women who shoulder much of the burden – are not being prioritised.
Instead, agricultural policy is highly politicised. Moreover, it is being pushed to the back of the queue of priorities by a government that is so broke it can’t pay all its workers, and whose focus is now on survival.
But the broader question remains: “what is the right type of investment for small-scale farmers in the marginal [dry] areas?” said Makanza.
The development NGO, Action Aid, is piloting programmes around water management – rebuilding neglected dams, introducing drip irrigation, rehabilitating boreholes.
“We have to solve the problem of accessing water, because that’s critical,” said Action Aid’s programme manager, Selina Pasarayi.
Tabitha Moyo, a farmer, agrees, and believes climate change is the real threat to her community.
“Even if we get inputs that are appropriate and on time, because we lack irrigation, our crops will end up wilting,” she sighed.