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‘Command ugly-culture’ adds $120m to debt

08/07/2017 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter
 
Command agriculture driver ... Vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa
 
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PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s government continues to plunge the country into deeper economic turmoil following revelations that the much-hyped Command Agriculture scheme will increase the budget deficit by almost $120 million.

The revelation by Reuters confirms reservations by elements in Mugabe’s cabinet that the claimed $500 million scheme was not as “beautiful” as its sponsors - among them Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa - made it look.

Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, who unapologetically nicknamed it “Ugly-culture”, said “Command is a tried and tested military concept. It is also great in projects but in civil matters command is an oxymoron and a non-starter.”

Opposition MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai said most of the money was going to Zanu PF elites.

"Who is benefiting? The same Zanu PF elites who took the land," Tsvangirai told Reuters news agency. "The Treasury has to fork that out and it's not sustainable. It's a fiscal nightmare."

Figures published Reuters derived from its own calculations indicate Zimbabwe is set to lose millions owing to government’s uneconomic pricing model for this year’s maize crop.

The Grain Marketing Board (GMB), to which the beneficiary farmers are mandated to a portion of their harvest, is maize buying at $390 per tonne and selling to millers at $242, 50 per tonne.

“Mugabe's government announced the scheme last year as part of a 'Command Agriculture' drive, saying it would pay farmers $390 a tonne for maize this harvest to encourage farmers to plant. Nearly 70 percent of Zimbabwe's population is rural-based and survives on agriculture,” said the report published on Friday.

“The government has not said what it will do with the maize it has bought - essentially who it will sell to and for how much. That information is needed to work out how much the scheme will cost the government.

“However, the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe, a grouping of the 100 biggest private millers, has agreed to buy 800 000 tonnes of maize from the state for $194 million this season, or $242, 50 a tonne, its chairman, Tafadzwa Musarara, said.

“At this price, the government would lose $147, 50 for every tonne it buys from farmers and sells to these private millers, totalling $118 million.”



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With imports from Zambia having been landing at $240 per tonne, exporting appears a non-option for government.

Zimbabwe is already sitting on a $4 billion domestic debt plus a $7 billion in external obligations. Apart from a poor pricing model, the command scheme also suffered a blow after thousands of tonnes of maize were sold on the parallel market, having been rejected by GMB for high moisture content.

The country is headed for harmonised elections in about 12 months where the 93-year-old Mugabe’s Zanu PF party, with the veteran leader as presidential candidate, will seek anoter term in government in an environment characterised by abject poverty and unemployment rates of over 80 percent.

The move to subsidise farmers has therefore been perceived by opposition has one of the populist but economically unsound ways Zanu PF employs to buy votes.

People’s Democratic Party spokesperson Jacob Mafume said early this week, “We argued then as we do now that command agriculture is an illegal parallel program of the state specifically designed to pursue a narrow electoral agenda specifically the 2018 harmonised elections.”

The harvest forecast is 2, 1 million tonnes this year, enough to meet local demand for the first time in 16 years. Drought, poor irrigation infrastructure and lack of resources have constantly left the population food insecure since the chaotic land reform. At least 4 million people were on food aid last year after a serious drought.

Although the president praised the scheme for giving Zimbabwe a begging break, critics feel the bumper harvest is a result of a good rain season experienced by the region this season and is unsustainable in a country without proper irrigation infrastructure and prone to droughts.


 
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