It is a lie that Zimbabwe’s land reform has been a disaster. But its critics are right. Zimbabwe’s agricultural revolution can never be a success when the country cannot feed itself.
Zimbabwe’s resettled farmers both, A1 and A2, have uplifted their standards of living, as individuals. They are, on paper, a success but they are growing the wrong crops- tobacco and sugar. People don’t eat tobacco. They don’t survive on sugar.
Zimbabwe must focus on producing food grains such as maize, millet, sorghum and even wheat since most people are now turning to bread. This is not to say they must abandon cash crops. No. But people must be able to feed themselves first and then they can grow to sell.
Right now tobacco farmers have produced a bumper crop but they are complaining about poor prices. And there is nothing they can do about it because they do no determine the price. Someone else does.
If they had a bumper harvest of maize, they can keep it if they are not happy with the price. Someone will buy at the price they want when they need food.
Development economists argue that before a nation can think of development, it must be able to feed itself first.
Abdulrahman Babu, an academic and former Tanzanian Foreign Minister, cites the United States, the world’s biggest economy, as an example.
“In spite of its brutal history of slave labour which accelerated capital accumulation, the American experience has some useful lessons in the logic of its economic foundation which has eventually turned it into the strongest economy in the world,” he writes.
“The American economy was founded on the production of food grains and cotton. In promoting food grains production, it made the country self-sufficient in food which is the most important basic need.”
Having delivered the land, the government must now monitor who is growing what. This will not only expose those who are not using the land but also those who are under-utilising it.
It might even be necessary to issue a directive to force farmers to reserve portions of the land for maize instead of abandoning the crop totally because the Grain Marketing Board does not pay.
The aim of distributing land was to empower the people. The first step of empowering someone is to enable that person to feed him or herself. The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front must be painfully aware of this because the first time people had money but no food, the party was clobbered.
Food production does not take too much land. In fact, state farms on their own could produce enough maize to feed the nation if the government is serious about it, but they are busy producing sugar for ethanol as if cars are more important for the survival of the nation than food.
So even if the agricultural revolution has been a success, it is very difficult to defend it when you have to go begging for food. And that is what the country is doing at the moment.
It is a disgrace that the country can only produce a third of the maize that it needs while boasting that its land reform has been a success. To make matters worse, it goes on to import maize from a country which says it will never go the way Zimbabwe went because the land reform was such a disaster that the country cannot feed itself.