Agriculture as a trigger for industrialization

By Vince Musewe

“The sacrosanct cornerstone and golden thread upon which any successful productive economy can be built is the legal protection of private property. “

We all know that Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector has long been historically vital to its economic growth. Not only does it form the basis of the direct and indirect livelihoods of almost 70% of the population, but it also contributes significantly to overall economic growth, including providing the majority of inputs to the food processing sector.

Agriculture must therefore remain a priority sector given its potential exponential impact on the rest of the economy. Increasing agricultural productivity is therefore a national priority.

Having said that, it is important to state here that although agriculture is the key, we must stop as a country being too dependent on its performance and transform our economy to increase our manufacturing capacity so that the economy becomes less vulnerable to both weather conditions and international commodity prices.

We need to industrialize to create higher income and better value jobs than those created by primary agricultural products such as tobacco and corn. The latter is of course essential for food security and the reduction of unnecessary maize imports.

Zimbabwe has around 15 million hectares of arable farmland, of which around four million were purchased by black farmers on the basis of a willing buyer and a willing seller before the disastrous fast-track land reform program of 2000.

Zimbabwe also has the highest land-to-water ratio in Africa with around 20,000 private dams whose maintenance and development has been severely neglected since 2000.

About 11 million hectares of arable land are currently under government control. In addition, neglect of the maintenance of agricultural infrastructure since 2000 has resulted in the underutilization of large plots of productive land and the dilapidation or theft of their infrastructure.

Despite spending billions of dollars on custom farming and 40 years later, Zimbabwe still has to import maize, soybeans and wheat to meet domestic demand. It is a travesty that indicates that we are doing something wrong and expensive.

To move forward, we must face the following issues:

The issue of long-term security of tenure is a very simple one, but it has not attracted the correct thought and attention. You can’t expect farmers and banks to invest for the long term, when they don’t have the confidence of security of tenure. The idea that the government can repossess farms must now stop because it discourages investment in this sector.

We must monetize the value of land as a productive asset if we are to increase its productivity. This can only be achieved through title deeds. There is no point in owning unproductive land. A proposed new approach is to reclassify land that can be held by title and land that can be leased.

This will allow us to attract capital again to the sector and therefore increase productivity. Now is also the time to move away from contract farming and make sure the coaches are well funded. Contract farming has resulted in the exploitation of farmers and the outsourcing of income, with the country earning very little.

In addition, it is essential to diversify agricultural production at the expense of corn and tobacco. For too many years we have depended on a few cash crops and yet we have the potential to grow all types of foods and products that can boost local added value and health.

The export of raw agricultural products should be minimized over time by ensuring that we add value to at least 50% of our agricultural production.

It is also essential for us to diversify agricultural products. For example, Zimbabwe could grow industrial hemp which can be refined into products such as paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation materials, biofuels, food and feed, research and the development of new agricultural products are essential.

No parcel of arable land should be left unused and unused, and all types of crops should be experimented with, whether for their own use or for export.

In accordance with true decentralization, each province must have its own agricultural development plan based on the types of soil and climate. Provincial agricultural production must prioritize national food security and localized added value through agro-industrial poles.

This requires leadership and capacity building at the local level. Economic decentralization must therefore be more aggressive with more direct provincial investment as the provinces begin to play a central role in development, job creation and poverty reduction.

Tax incentives for the modernization or development of infrastructure must be put in place to allow the development of agricultural holdings. To this must be added a long-term, interest-free agricultural infrastructure development fund that prioritizes the development of roads, energy and irrigation. The Agriculture Finance Corporation (AFC) must play a leading role as a funder of agricultural development, as it did in the past.

We must establish an agricultural commodity exchange to increase the production of goods and demand at market prices while minimizing waste. These should have satellite exchanges in each province to allow farmers to be close to markets, thus minimizing transport and storage costs.

Our new agricultural model must therefore be based on “industrialization through agriculture” and this can be done by creating poles of industrial transformation and added value and achieving inclusive growth.

It requires an organized agricultural sector, with farmers playing a key role in policy and leadership. We had a very successful AFC, whose funding and skills development model was unique, informed and effective. We can reinvent the same model.

Young people in agriculture must also be our new impetus to train young future farmers. This requires that we rebuild training capacities through colleges, incubators and model farms where young people can acquire the necessary skills before they are granted land. We have many former farmers who are ready to mentor and train our young people.

Finally, we must depoliticize the land issue and focus more on productivity and diversification. The productive management of our land assets cannot be carried out on a partisan basis as has been the case until now.

We must mobilize all talents and skills to work our land and ensure that it is not abused for political reasons while ensuring its fair distribution. Land is an essential endowment that must be fully utilized for the benefit of all citizens.

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