Joseph Made should re-introduce pre-planting prices to boost agriculture


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Agriculture Minister Joseph Made should wake up from his slumber and re-introduce pre-planting prices, especially for the staple maize, to boost the country’s agriculture which is the backbone of the country’s economic growth.

Analysts say pre-planting prices which helped boost agricultural production in the 1980s enable the government to dictate which crops farmers should focus on and at the same time offer farmers a chance to decide what to grow and what returns to expect.

Pre-planting prices are usually adjusted towards the harvest period to reflect the true market prices of the crops on the local and international market with farmers usually being paid more.

Zimbabwe was self-sufficient in the staple maize crop throughout the 1980s except when there were national droughts. The country even had a strategic reserve that was able to feed the nation for an entire season if there were a drought.

It was advised to get rid of this reserve by the International Monetary Fund when it adopted the economic structural adjustment programme in 1991. Instead the country was advised to keep cash as its strategic reserve, which sounded wise at the time because the physical grain reserve was costing the country money to maintain.

But the country was hit by a severe drought a year after the introduction of the economic reforms and the cash reserve was abused by corrupt politicians and grain officials involved in the importation of grain. The country imported some 350 000 tonnes of grain that it did not need. Some of the maize that was imported was not even suitable for animal consumption.

The fact that pre-planting prices work has amply been demonstrated by the resurgence in production of crops where contract farming was introduced after the formation of the inclusive government.

Tobacco, whose production had slumped to 45 million kgs in 2008 rose slightly to 58 million in 2009 and then to 123 million last year. It is expected to top 200 million kgs this year, slightly less than the peak production just before the country’s controversial land reform programme.

Cotton production has also risen from 211 000 tonnes in 2009 to 260 000 tonnes last year and is expected to exceed 300 000 tonnes this year.

There has, however, been no significant increase in maize production except for the area under cultivation.

But even the British government which was against the country’s land programme believes Zimbabwe can revive its agricultural sector and become a bread basket again.

Britain’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations) at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Henry Bellingham told the House of Commons last week that Zimbabwe and Sudan could help alleviate world poverty if they started producing food again at least for their own people. He said increasing food prices had pushed 44 million more people into poverty across the world.

Agricultural expert Mandivamba Rukuni also said last week that Zimbabwe seriously needed politicians who were committed to agriculture because it was the backbone of the country’s economy.

“This economy catches a huge cold when agriculture coughs. Look at the last 50 years. If agriculture ticks, you sell more bread, people buy more suits and women more dresses and the economy ticks. It can all work if you have the right practice and both private as well as public sector support,” he was quoted as saying.

(30 VIEWS)

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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