HARARE: “Mugabe’s White Farmers Reap 3.3 Million Tonnes of Maize In Zambia While Zim Starves”, says a report that has been shared widely over recent weeks.
The article was run by a website, Southerndaily, drawing commentary from many influential figures who suggested this showed the folly of Zimbabwe’s violent eviction of white farmers. While the website gave the article a May 16, 2016, dateline, the article is actually taken from a 2014 report carried in the Zambian media. The article quotes then Zambian Agriculture minister Wilbur Simuusa, who has long been replaced by Given Lubinda.
We have put this claim through a fact check.
In 2000, Zimbabwe began its “fast track” land reformprogramme, ostensibly to correct colonial imbalances in which a small minority of 4,000 white farmers held the bulk of arable land. Under the programme, white commercial farmers were evicted to make way for thousands of new, black, subsistence farmers.
Many of the displaced farmers left for neighbouring countries. Up to 300 white farmers landed in Zambia. In 2002, the Zambian immigration department was quoted as saying “at least 150 farmers fled into Zambia and were given pieces of land on which to settle”. The department also said apart from Zimbabwean white farmers, a number of South African farmers had also settled in Zambia’s Mkushi district.
According to a 2015 BBC report quoting Ndambo Ndambo of the Zambia National Farmers Union, the arrival of white farmers, mostly from Zimbabwe, has boosted the number of commercial farmers in Zambia from 400 before the Zimbabwe exodus to 750.
The claim that white ex-Zimbabwean farmers are responsible for Zambia’s maize surplus, and that they are now feeding Zimbabwe, is made frequently. Even President Mugabe has repeated that claim, telling a Bindura rally in March that Zambia had a maize surplus after taking on white Zimbabwean farmers.
That put him in agreement with the likes of Jan Lamprecht, a controversial journalist on white supremacist website: AfricanCrisis, who in 2004 said of the fortunes of white farmers in Zambia: “Finally, a success story in Africa – one that boggles the mind, and as usual, for Africa, it comes from whites. This story demonstrates the tremendous knowledge and skills which white commercial farmers have over the black peasant farmers. Take note in this story that 100 white farmers, starting from scratch, in Zambia, produced 70 percent of Zambia’s maize crop in one year. They outperformed, 150,000 black peasants.”
Zambia maize production
In 2014, then Zambia agriculture minister Wilbur Simuusa announced Zambia would harvest a record 3,3 million tonnes of maize. It is the reportage from his press statement that is now being recycled as current and shared widely on Zimbabwean social media. In the 2014/2015 season, Zambia maize output fell 22 percent due to drought. After improved rains eased El Nino fears this year, however, Lubinda told Parliament early May that Zambia would produce 2,8 million tonnes this year, some 635,000 tonnes more than the country needs.
Are Zimbabwean white farmers behind this?
According to a 2015 World Food Programme’s purchase for progress (P4P) bulletin, smallholder farmers account for 90 percent of national maize production in Zambia.
Official statistics also show that while commercial farmers are growing their maize output – they increased hactarage by 80 percent in the last season – smallholder farmers continue to produce more. In 2002/3, small to medium scale farmers produced more than twice the maize produced by commercial farms. By 2010, small scale producers were producing eight times more. In the 2009/10, season, smallscale farmers produced 2,5million tonnes of maize in Zambia, compared to 306,540 tonnes by the commercial sector.
The claim that “white former Zimbabwean farmers are feeding Zimbabwe” is therefore not true.
Zambia has, however, gained from white farmers as they are more responsible for the country’s growing tobacco output.
How is Zambia doing it?
In 2002, the Zambian government introduced a Fertilizer Support Program (FSP), under which smallholder farmers got fertilizer subsidies. In the 2009/10 season, FSP was succeeded by the Farmer Input Support Program (FISP), whose purpose was to raise maize production through the provision of fertilizer and maize seed.
It is this subsidy programme that has driven Zambia’s maize success.
FISP grew fertilizer distribution from 48,000 metric tons in 2002/03 to nearly 183,000 MT in the 2012/2013 farming season.
So large was the programme that, at its peak, Zambia was spending 90 percentof its agriculture budget on FISP. This is according to a report by Chance Kabaghe, director of Zambia’s Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute, and Thom Jayne, professor of international development in the department of agricultural economics at Michigan State University.
The program started with 120,000 beneficiaries. This number has grown to one million farmers, according to a May 14, 2016, speech by Zambian president Edgar Lungu.
The programme has its critics. Kabaghe and Jayne say the 90 percent allocation of agriculture spending to subsidies starves other key areas, such as crop research, agronomic management extension programmes including minimum soil tilling, irrigation and road infrastructure
How does Zimbabwe compare?
Zimbabwe has run several farm inputs programmes over the past decade. Under the central bank, several input schemes were run, which handed free or subsidized seed and farm implements to smallholder farmers. However, there were multiple programmes running concurrently. They were poorly monitored, which made them ineffective and prone to abuse.
Currently, Zimbabwe has a presidential agricultural support input scheme for the 2015/16 summer cropping season. According to the 2016 budget statement, inputs are benefiting 300,000 vulnerable households, mainly in maize and small grains production. According to finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, $28 million (about 0.7 percent of national budget) was set aside for the programme, which has been blighted by accusations of partisan allocation of inputs.
Over the past two years, Zambia has allocated an average K1 billion to (FISP), which is about $100 million and equivalent to 2 percent of its total budget.
However, over the same decade that Zambia was ramping up its maize output due to farm subsidies, Zimbabwe was not paying its own farmers for maize delivered to the state grain buyer, GMB. According to statistics from the Ministry of Finance, government paid out nearly $68 million to pay farmers for grain delivered. The $67,8 million was made up of 2013/14 arrears of $44,9 million, and $22,9 million to pay for 2015 deliveries
Official data shows that in the 2014/15 season, the Zimbabwe government owed input suppliers – seed houses and fertliser manufacturers – a total of $6,6 million, which it says it is now clearing.
With the GMB not paying them for grain, many maize farmers have over the years deserted maize and switched to cash crops, especially tobacco. While this helped boost tobacco output, maize production has suffered.
The claim that white ex-Zimbabwean farmers are now feeding their former homeland makes for good campaign slogans against the Zimbabwean government. However, it is not true, and does nothing to help Zimbabwe learn from how its northern neighbor has actually succeeded. While subsidies alone may not work in the long term, it is evident that Zimbabwe needs to find a better way to support farmers who have left food cropping for better rewarding cash crops.