Zimbabwe farmers face bleak future

Despite putting on a brave face at the annual Zimbabwe Agricultural Show, farmers in Africa’s one-time breadbasket face a bleak future as they battle power cuts, fertiliser shortages and drought.

Hundreds of farmers from across the country have been gathering in the capital, Harare, since Monday for the showpiece agricultural event, which will be formally opened by Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema on Friday.

In previous years, the event has served as a showcase to highlight the vibrancy of the agricultural sector, which formed the backbone of the economy.

But since veteran President Robert Mugabe embarked on a controversial land-reform programme in 2000, which has so far seen about 4 000 white-owned farms expropriated, the farming sector has become a shadow of its former self.

Thomas Millar, a white cattle farmer based to the south of Harare, was among the visitors to the capital on Tuesday with a healthy-looking herd that he is hoping to sell.

It was the first time that Millar had attended the show since 2000. The intervening years have seen a dramatic change in his circumstances as he fell victim to the farm expropriations.

“We used to have to 220 holsteins cows, but we are now down to 80,” said Millar, who began farming before independence in 1980 and is now in his 60s.

“We used to have about 620ha of land, but we are now just left with about 20,” he added. Parts of the were given to 34 new farmers.

The Mugabe regime has refused to compensate the white farmers for their land, which was earmarked for landless black Zimbabweans but often fell into the hands of ruling party cronies.

Much of the land has since been neglected by its new owners. Those who have toughed it out have had to cope with shortages of machine parts, of electricity, seeds and fertiliser.

Reports in the state media earlier this week detailed how three semi-governmental fertiliser firms had been unable to operate since last month. Management cited persistent power cuts and a lack of foreign exchange as the government grapples with an inflation rate of more than 7 500%.

Mildred Chitada, who grows sugar beans and maize, had come to the show in search of fertiliser. She was likely to return home empty-handed, she said.

“There is nothing for us here. No fertiliser, no seeds ... It’s been a letdown,” Chitada said.

“The organisers should have at least tried to organise just the fertiliser for us. The government should be supporting us, the newly established farmers, because we have nothing.”

Zimbabwe’s power utility company Zesa Holdings dispatched representatives to the show to brief customers on the problems it had generating electricity—vital for irrigation farming.

Zesa spokesperson Fulland Gwasira said Zimbabwe was only generating hydro power: its two coal-fired plants were not functioning due to coal shortages.

“Power touches every aspect of the economy and it is in our interest that power issues are addressed with our stakeholders,” Gwasira said.

Before 2000, Zimbabwe was a net exporter of maize to countries such as neighbouring Zambia and Malawi but the state-run Grain Marketing Board said this month that it was to import 300 000 tonnes to avert widespread shortages.

The government has said a drought following four years of poor rainfalls is to blame, rather than its policies.

Chris Looker, the show’s chief organiser, said the event should boost confidence and demonstrate that Zimbabwe was not “on the brink of collapse”.

“The show will help the economy as people will see things that they can buy,” he said.—AFP

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