In the last two years, the country has managed a combined maize output of 3.8 million tonnes against a demand of 3.6 million tonnes. The area under soya beans has increased from 35 996 hectares to 41 925 hectares. This has been largely attributed to the successes recorded under the Command Agriculture scheme. Riding on the successes of the scheme, the government has already extended it to cover fisheries and livestock. However, recent sentiments are that the funding model is flawed.
Government has now announced that banks and the private sector will now take on leading roles while the government will provide guarantees to banks. Credit will now be offered based on banks’ risk assessment. According to Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube, the 99 year lease needs to be perfected to make it more bankable. As a result, banks (especially state owned banks) will then provide the funding. In addition, private companies which benefit from these commodities are being roped in to facilitate out grower schemes.
Challenges for Command Agriculture
In its current state, the Command Agriculture scheme has been criticised for various reasons. The International Monetary Fund is not happy with its design and financing model. They argue that the commitment by government to buy large quantities of grain at above market prices is not cost effective. Arbitrage opportunities have also been lamented with a number of cases of diversion or abuse of inputs having been reported along the way. There has also been a lack of effective control and distribution mechanism with some bogus farmers having benefitted from the scheme.
Another challenge has also been the absence of nostro funds which has affected the procurement of irrigation equipment, heifers, machinery and chemicals. In terms of production targets, productivity has not yet reached the required levels. In some cases, lack of insurance has meant that if the crop is destroyed by fire, theft and drought, there is not recourse. In a nutshell, there are many farmers who have defaulted and government has had to take over the debt. This could be the reason why a new model is in the offing. The government has realised that it cannot continue to subsidise errand farmers. This is not sustainable.
The future can be brighter
There is no arguing that if implemented efficiently with proper monitoring mechanisms in place, Command Agriculture can continue to contribute positively to the agriculture industry. Below are a number of areas of focus to complement current efforts in the agriculture industry:
1. Access to viable markets
The access to meaningful and profitable markets must be improved for all farmers. Mbare Musika is too informalised and inadequate to drive real growth. There are many cases of theft reported there. A deliberate drive to ensure local purchase by supermarkets will go a long way in unlocking such markets. There is also need to reduce red tape and unnecessary transaction costs. The removal of police road blocks has had a massive impact on reducing such unnecessary transaction costs like bribes. In terms of Command Agriculture, apart from selling their maize to the Grain Marketing Board, farmers need to have other markets where they can viably sell their excess commodity, including export markets.
2. Value addition
Instead of selling only fresh commodities, creation of local processing and packaging plants will create employment along the value chain. With this in mind, agriculture can become a leading employer in the country. If government cannot invest in such value addition, the private sector should. It is commendable that companies like Delta Corporation are investing a lot in out grower schemes but this is not enough to drive local value addition.
Irrigation is essential in boosting production especially in dry lands. Climate change has resulted in erratic weather patterns characterised by variable rainfall. The March 2018 Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Economic Review reported that prolonged dry spells resulted in the writing off of 179 986 hectares. With proper irrigation infrastructure, this can be avoided and agriculture, whether Command or not, will positively contribute to the country’s GDP.
All over the world, mechanisation has taken centre stage as an efficient farming method. As such appropriate mechanisation is required. Small scale mechanisation such a two wheeled tractors is affordable and appropriate. Command Agriculture has not done enough in this regard and more investment is needed. Efforts by private companies like Pure Oil Industries, National Foods and others need to be complemented by others in terms of contract farming. These can unlock the much needed equipment, new farming methods and markets.
If implemented correctly, the new model will enhance productivity in the agriculture industry. The culture of politicising national schemes needs to be curbed if we are to attract more investment in the industry. The whole agriculture industry needs to be supported in one way or another, not just Command Agriculture.