COUNTDOWN TO 23 AUGUST
Zimbabwe plans export of ‘surplus’ maize as many locals struggle to put food on table
Ahead of national polls on 23 August, the Zanu-PF government is crowing about a bumper grain harvest and the first grain exports in two decades. Yet some parts of the country are facing famine.
Zimbabwe’s food security situation has improved, but many citizens might still face hunger if authorities go ahead with plans to export grain after the country’s agricultural sector posted two successive record harvests before proper stock assessments to feed citizens are made.
This comes as the governing Zanu-PF party and its opponents are using all tactics to win the hearts and minds of voters ahead of general elections expected on 23 August.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration is set to begin maize exports – after a surplus – for the first time in more than two decades. But humanitarian organisations warn that millions of Zimbabwean citizens could need food aid.
The maize harvest boom comes against the backdrop of Zimbabwe also reporting record tobacco sales of nearly 300 million kilograms since the tobacco selling season opened in March. The previous record was 259 million kilograms in 2019.
The country’s economy nosedived when the late president Robert Mugabe, who was forced to resign in November 2017 after a military coup, embarked on chaotic land grabs in the early 2000s, displacing close to 4,500 white commercial farmers and leaving thousands of farm workers destitute.
Driven into poverty
Mismanagement and rampant corruption have also been blamed for the country’s poor economic performance, which has driven many Zimbabweans into poverty and led to the country importing food from neighbouring Malawi, South Africa and Zambia.
Violent agrarian reforms and misgovernance pushed the agro-based economy into an abyss, according to economists, resulting in rising food prices and other problems such as power cuts and poor access to health services.
New farmers, such as Morton Dzimbanhete of Chikomba district in Mashonaland East Province, say inadequate resources affected productivity on the seized farms.
“When we settled on these farms we were not given access to proper financing models as banks are not accepting our 99-year leases issued by government, and this has resulted in us failing to use the land productively. But some who have enough resources are doing very well,” Dzimbanhete said.
Agriculture Minister Anxious Masuka said the country could start to export maize because of the bumper harvests of the past two seasons. In 2020–21, Zimbabwe recorded a maize harvest of 2.8 million tonnes, and the 2021–22 figure was 2.2 million tonnes.
“We have received a request from the Democratic Republic of Congo for exports of maize and, cumulatively, we have received requests for 350,000 metric tonnes,” said Masuka.
But communal farmers like Mcedisi Ndlovu of Hwange district in Matabeleland North Province told Daily Maverick that, despite national grain silos being full, most families did not harvest enough maize to feed their families.
“We are perennially a dry region and for the government to suggest that it wants to export maize without providing us with enough grain is very mischievous,” said Ndlovu. “We do not have enough maize stocks to feed our children until the next harvesting season in April next year.”
Zimbabwe last exported maize to countries such as Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia more than two decades ago. Since then, it has had to import the grain.
The maize exports come at a time when estimates show that about 1.5 million people living in urban areas are food insecure.
Aid agencies such as the UN World Food Programme (WFP) say urban population growth in Zimbabwe’s cities is affecting food supply chains. Some agencies say millions might need food aid before the next harvest.
The WFP says it has distributed several tonnes of food to vulnerable communities countrywide. The agency reached a peak of more than 700,000 beneficiaries between February and March, across vulnerable rural districts such as Buhera, Hwedza, Bikita, Mudzi, Chivi, Mangwe, Mount Darwin and Nkayi, providing food, in-kind goods and cash transfers.
Since independence from Britain in 1980, Zimbabwe has received aid from the West to improve food provision and other services. The US has invested $4.5-billion in the country through initiatives to enhance food security, improve health outcomes, support economic resilience and promote democratic governance.
A former chief economist in Zimbabwe’s finance ministry, Masimba John Manyanya, says careful planning is necessary if Zimbabwe is to avoid food deficits.
“Production has to be improved across all productive sectors of the economy and that has to be coupled with value addition. Farmers should get adequate inputs.”
While Mnangagwa celebrates agricultural success this year, his party accuses rivals, particularly the main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), of planning to return the country’s land to whites.
Mnangagwa told supporters at a campaign rally in Magunje in Mashonaland West Province that sanctions imposed on him and others by the West would not force his government to reverse land reforms.
“Let’s use the land we took from oppressors… Nyika inovakwa nevene vayo [a country is built by its own people].”
‘Land for everyone’
Mnangagwa’s main rival, Nelson Chamisa of the CCC, told a rally in Matabeleland South that land ownership should not be partisan and the country’s economy should be inclusive. He asserts that land reform has benefitted mostly Zanu-PF members, and top party officials allegedly own multiple farms.
“We want an economy that accommodates everyone; jobs for everyone, health for everyone, food for everyone and land for everyone. People should have title deeds so that they have proof of ownership of their land. It is a lie that we intend to return land to the whites; we do not want a situation where if one political party is removed from power and another one gets into power you then lose your land,” Chamisa said.
Mnangagwa has promised to issue title deeds to people illegally settled on peri-urban farms.
Political analyst Urayayi Zembe said the land question was central to the country’s governance problems. “Former white commercial farmers are still to be paid $3.5-billion compensation triggered by the land resettlement programme.”
Zembe said new land disputes in Chilonga, Chipinge and Mutoko communal settlements, where the government has displaced people, had emerged.
The land question will be a big electoral campaign issue in Zimbabwe’s politics for a long time. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.