Editorial Comment: Critics of farm programmes do not want Govt to do its job Minister Masuka

It seems incredible that people accuse work done by the Government to improve people’s lives and benefit the nation economically as being done for party political purposes since this job of uplifting a country is exactly what Governments are supposed to do.

Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Dr Anxious Masuka has had to reply to critics who accuse the whole support for agriculture, from extension services and crop production all the way to mechanisation and orderly marketing as being political grandstanding.

However, he should also take the criticism as a complement, that he is doing a good job, so good that some who want a change of Government are jealous.

As the Minister pointed out, this whole series of farming programmes are not just starting or announced for next year before the elections, but have been in operation for several years, and during that time have been expanded, improved and fine-tuned so that they work the way everyone should want them to, regardless of their political affiliations.

The whole reorganisation and upgrade of the farming programmes started soon after the Second Republic took office as part of a deliberate policy of the new Government to fix the start-stop cyclic progress and put development into a sustainable and viable path of growth, continuously improving and building on what works, and adjusting or replacing what did not turn out so well.

There were many reasons for the stress on agriculture. For a start more than 60 percent of the population lived on farms, some of them in serious poverty and far too many requiring basic food aid so they did not starve. So first they had to be able to grow their own food, and then grow enough to sell to the rest of us.

Secondly economic growth, to be viable and sustainable, needs to be spread and that means opportunities, practical not theoretical, must exist so that those who do live on farms can start making money and can not only uplift themselves and their families, but through that extra production and wealth creation contribute to the economic growth of the whole nation. 

The economics are fairly simple, although the practical application of the theory requires a lot of work by a lot of people, some good functional policies, and proper and honest organisation. That is what the Second Republic decided to invest in.

To start with the basics. All farmers, from the smallest-scale growers to the largest commercial farmers need inputs, and many of them require financing, directly or indirectly, to obtain these inputs. There were schemes in place, such as Command Agriculture and Presidential Inputs, but they were not working as well as intended and cheating was rife.

The idea was good, but the application was erratic. So the Second Republic went on a serious drive to do this properly, ensuring that Government guarantees and Government assistance produced the desired results efficiently and that the undesirable side effects, such as corruption, were eliminated. This does involve Government investment, but our present results-orientated Government wants value for money, a lot of value in the case of agricultural support, and negligible waste.

So in the small-scale sector, better models were sought, ones that maintained inclusiveness but ensured that those entering the programmes grew the crops. In 2019-2020 the pilot scheme for conservation farming, the Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme, was launched taking a block of farmers out of what many thought was an imperfect inputs programme. Pfumvudza produced the goods, so it was rolled out in the next season for everyone, replacing the older programme, and is now in its third full season.

One of the most interesting points about this programme is that it requires commitment from farmers as well as from the Government. Farmers have to show they have access to land, have to successfully undergo some basic training in basic business practices and in the land preparation required. And then they have to prepare the plots. Once the three boxes are ticked for access, training and digging they are entitled to inputs. Party politics simply do not come into this. All that a farmer has to show is that they accept advice and work hard. No one wants to know who they support politically or how they voted last election and how they will vote next election.

It is the same in the rest of the programmes. Livestock farming requires disease control, and basically all cattle from all farmers need to be dipped regularly along with vaccinations where these have been discovered and other disease control methods. At the same time the breeds need to be improved, and that is a continuous programme. Again no one wants to know the farmer’s political beliefs, only if they are good farmers, or at least want to be good farmers.

And so it goes right across the spectrum of the farming programmes.

Some critics say the Government is encouraging people to support it by launching these programmes. That admittedly may be a by-product, since people do tend to think well of those doing their job properly, but is not the reason. To say people should not vote for Governments who do their job properly, continuously improve services, and build up the nation and the economy, seems daft. 

The same argument would suggest we should not vote for a Government that improves health facilities or builds more schools, or opens more universities, or makes it easy for miners and industrialists to expand and open new factories and create new jobs, or fixes the roads and does all the rest. Surely these are things Governments are supposed to do.

Admittedly some critics of Government programmes might support parties who run some of our local authorities, and run them rather badly, and would rather tear down successful Government programmes to equalise the political ground rather than see all local authorities doing their job properly. Government critics could easily be competing on competency in local authorities where they have majorities, so when you look at results it is perhaps understandable they now need to try and reduce Government achievements since the competition has been so one-sided.

We would agree that when President Mnangagwa and his Government and party go to the polls next year they will be campaigning on what they did over five years, not a few months but the whole time, and seeking re-election on those achievements so that they can be continued, built on and reinforced. But that is the same in all walks of life, and achievers, especially those who are inclusive and fair, do tend to win.

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