If we are to understand the future of agriculture in Zimbabwe we need to understand the past.
Why was Zimbabwe such a successful country agriculturally in the past? So what has happened to make it so spectacularly unsuccessful in recent years? What can we do about the future?
Zimbabwe’s past success
By 1975, the UN Agricultural Year Book ranked Zimbabwe second in the world for yields of maize, wheat, soya and groundnuts, and third for cotton. In a combined ranking of these crops, we were first in the world. Our tobacco was rated the best in the world in both yield and quality. Our beef was second to none in the markets of Europe.
There is not a single natural lake in Zimbabwe, and yet when you fly over Zimbabwe you see bodies of water everywhere. There are over 10 000 of them. Excluding South Africa, 80% of the African continent’s dams were built in this country — including the biggest man-made dam in the world at the time, Lake Kariba, constructed between 1955 and 1959.
What was it that made agriculture develop so fast and so successfully in Zimbabwe? It is very simple: property rights through title deeds — protected by the rule of law. If a farmer was not successful, the bank sold his farm to a farmer who was successful, and that farm developed further and became more productive.
Zimbabwe’s current situation
But where are we now? We are in disaster.
Yes, tobacco is moving back up to levels where it was 15 years ago, but at a huge expense to the environment with 300 000 hectares of trees being cut down to cure the crop each year, and if we had expanded as our main competitors have, we would be producing three times our present output.
Milk is down by 80% on what it was at peak production; beef is down by 80%; coffee is down by 90%; paprika is down by 95%; wheat is down by 95%; employment levels are at what they were half a century ago — when we had less than half the population.
The manufacturing sector production has fallen nearly 70%. The maize crop is a failure almost every year. In fact, there is not a year since 2001 when we have not needed food aid to feed the poor — most of those poor being “farmers” — farmers without property rights!
Our GDP, which was bigger than the GDPs of Kenya, Lesotho, Tanzania and Zambia, has now halved and is smaller than all those countries. It is estimated to fall another 5% or so this year.
Reasons for agricultural decline
As a country we have fallen into poverty. Why? What has changed to collapse all that was so spectacularly successful in the past? We all know the answer: the rule of law and property rights have been systematically destroyed through racist and violent policies in the agricultural sector by our government.
We have been left behind. From being second in the world in maize yields, our national average maize yield is now less than half a tonne a hectare. In the United States, the average yield is over nine tonnes per hectare — and they grow 39 million hectares. So we need over 18 hectares to produce the same amount of grain that an American farmer needs only one hectare for.
It is a tragedy. With Zimbabwe’s current abysmal national yields, we would need a land area the size of the continent of Australia to grow as much maize as the US does. American farmers only need a land area the size of Zimbabwe to produce that amount.
Last year in the US, we saw a new world record set of 504 bushels per acre by a farmer called Randy Dowdy in Georgia. In our language that is 31,6 tonnes per hectare.
I get excited about that. But in Zimbabwe we need over 60 hectares to produce what Dowdy produces on one hectare. And yet our yields could be where America’s are today if property rights and the rule of law existed in Zimbabwe.
I am going to Singapore next month. This is a country that is a great success story. It gained independence from Britain the same year as Kenya did, 1963. Both Singapore and Kenya had a GDP per capita of US$500. Kenya over the last 50 years managed to grow their GDP per capita to US$3 000 USD.
Singapore had no natural resources — but they put in a policy of zero tolerance for corruption — and are ranked as the least corrupt Asian country and the seventh least corrupt country in the world; they put in an exemplary justice system; they established secure property rights and they established a small government with very low taxation. They created what is ranked the second freest economy in the world after Hong Kong.
Singapore is now one of the five biggest financial centres in the world and has a GDP per capita of about US$83 000 — 28 times that of Kenya — less than 4%. It won’t surprise you that Kenya is considered to be in the bottom 20% of the world in corruption.
Another country hugely admired is our neighbour Botswana. Their economy at independence was 25 times smaller than the Zimbabwean economy. Their GDP in 1966 was a mere US$51 million and ours was US$1,282 billion.
Their economy was 4% the size of ours. Their government made a strong stand against corruption and is currently ranked in the top 20% in the world of least corrupt countries, the least corrupt country in Africa by far while Zimbabwe is ranked in the bottom 10% by Transparency International.
Botswana established the rule of law, protected individual property rights and developed the freest economy in Africa after Mauritius. Now their economy is significantly larger than Zimbabwe’s with eight times the GDP per capita.
It is not rocket science: Property rights and the rule of law — with a proper justice system, a small government and a free economy (Zimbabwe is ranked in the bottom 2% in the world in terms of economic freedom).
That is it. It is very simple. If that happens in Zimbabwe, our economic future will be great. If it does not, we will continue to fail as a country.
Agriculture can bring Zimbabwe out of poverty, but so long as the toxic Section 72 of our constitution remains in place; so long as court orders are allowed to continue to be ignored; so long as the law and international court judgments are allowed to continue to be spurned; so long as our government continues to justify racism and practice it in defiance of every human rights charter ever written, agriculture will continue to fail. Racist and corrupt kleptocracies will always fail their people.
What we need to do
Increasingly, there is a realisation of what needs to be done to get agriculture going again. It really would not take too long. The land is out there. The former farm workers are out there. The dams are out there. Much of the infrastructure is still in place.
The title deeds and the survey beacons are still out there. The institutional memory within the financial systems is there. The back-up industry is still in place — and where it isn’t, South Africa is across the Limpopo with its back-up industry. With title deeds being respected, much of the skills base would return in one form or another.
But at the moment, the state owns approximately 90% of the land in Zimbabwe and the state (through the ruling Zanu PF party) is very much in control of the people on that land. No civilisation in history has ever been built successfully on such a basis and the past 15 years have shown we are not going to change that trend.
The vast land area that is now vested in the President and the state needs to be put into private hands.
The communal people need title deeds. The 20% of Zimbabwe’s land that has been lawlessly and violently grabbed and dished out to cronies who are not farmers, needs to be returned to the title deed holders or bought by people who are going to farm it.
In Eastern Europe, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique, and other countries where predatory Marxist dictators had grabbed private property from individuals and nationalised them, private properties have been returned to those private individuals.
We all know people who have gone back with their title deeds and claimed back their property in those places. In Zimbabwe, many of those title deed holders who have had their properties nationalised, will say they don’t want to farm any more. They will then have the option to sell to farmers who do.
Whatever happens, property rights need to be re-established. That is the future. It seems impossible at the current time — just as it seemed impossible in the past to people living in similar totalitarian dictatorships where private sector assets were nationalised, but it is not impossible. It has happened in those other countries and it can happen here.
If Zimbabwe’s leaders in the future want Zimbabwe to go forward, they will have to take the bull by the horns and establish property rights, obey court judgments such as one taken to the Sadc Tribunal, and follow the rule of law.
It is our duty, for the future of our country, to employ every means at our disposal to educate, take court cases, build public opinion, present evidence, write literature, lobby and make secure property rights something that is non-negotiable.
If we abandon that duty and property rights continue to be denied to the people of Zimbabwe, the countries which have property rights will have to continue to feed the people on the land in Zimbabwe.
It is as simple as that.
Freeth is the executive director for Mike Campbell Foundation.