Command Agriculture: Parliament should keep eyes on the ball

By Joel Mandaza

One of the biggest victories for Parliament last year was how it exposed the government`s Command Agriculture as an opaque resource looting scheme thinly veiled as a food security strategy.

The fact that as much as US$3billion was looted through the scheme came
to public knowledge when the Tendai Biti led Public Accounts Committee
conducted its spirited probes into the project.[link]

Although the government could not account and appeared to be arrogant about it,
Parliament played its part exposing the executive for being dishonourable with public funds.

They did their role if Zimbabwe was a normal country heads should have
Government has since changed the Command Agriculture format, removing it
from a militaristic element and putting it into the hands of financial institutions.

Again, in a normal country, this should have been a good move because it
would mean financial decision making is taking precedent in the scheme opposed to the expedient input roll out which characterised the early the rollout of the scheme.

However, the reconfigured Command Agriculture is said to be equally problematic if not worse.

Farmers are struggling to get inputs despite the fact that the season is erratic and needs swift action.

Financial institutions trusted to handle the program are releasing money late and in some instances are not releasing the money at all.

As a result, fertiliser companies are not giving farmers fertilisers
leaving them stranded with crops in need.

By now, farmers who were fortunate enough to have their crops coincide with
rains now need ammonium nitrate known as top dressing fertiliser to further endow their yield but it appears the stalemate between fertiliser companies and banks is prevailing.

Crops are at risk and as a result, the country`s already worrying food security situation may worsen.

Parliament should come in and probe the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development which took the management of the subsidy project over from the
Ministry of Agriculture.

They should explain to the country why there has been a lethargic approach in providing farmers with inputs at a time when it is reported that almost
a third of the country`s population is food insecure.

According to the World Food Program, about 7 million people are in need of food aid because of the drought currently gripping the country.

Now that some parts of the country have been receiving rains, common sense
would dictate that banks and fertiliser companies be concerned with the
the expeditious rollout of inputs but that has not been the case so far.

Some farmers have since given up on the project altogether as it is
difficult to get one`s hands on the inputs.

Parliament should save the people and ensure that the program serves its
purpose which is funding the purposive production of food to ensure food

Failure to do so may be disastrous.

People are already queuing for maize meal and it is the beginning of the
year, one wonders where the country will be, come August?

The food crisis in Zimbabwe is a result of nature choosing not to be generous to the country but the leadership also has a degree of blame it
has to shoulder.

Ever since it started, Command Agriculture has been running in a dubious manner.

No one takes time to brief the country on its key performance indicators and whether or not set targets are met.

Parliament should produce a report on how the scheme has been run so far.
If the findings appear to be in contrary with the greater good of the country it has to be discontinued.

Parliament should simply refuse to release the money to it in the next budget.
Zimbabwe cannot be importing grain when it has a program meant to ensure
there is enough food in the country.

Perhaps it needs to be restructured.

Instead of giving everyone a piece of land inputs, there should be 100
or so select farmers who are entrusted with inputs and responsibility to
fill the national silos.

If the 100 are farmers with a high yield per hectare they may do better than the current chaos within the program.

Parliament is our only hope to ensure Zimbabwe does not keep flogging a
dead horse with this Command Agriculture concept which even with the new approach is failing the country.

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is a male journalist in Zimbabwe and has been practising since September 2009. He used to the editor for The Business Connect (newspaper) in Harare, has his own news website Tourism Focus which is biased towards the tourism sector. Daniel is also working with Magamba Network on their project called Open Parliament where they do live coverage of Parliamentary activities on Twitter and Facebook. He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum, is a member of Zimbabwe Small Broadcasters Association and a board member of Digital Communication Network. He holds a Diploma in Communication and Journalism from the Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA), a certificate in Youth leadership training from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), a certificate in Citizen Journalism from Magamba Network and is currently a first-year student at Zimbabwe Open University studying for a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Ethics and Organisational Leadership.

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