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Zimbabwe command agriculture and the politics of subsidies

Command agriculture – a major, private-sector-backed subsidy programme implemented by the Government of Zimbabwe – has been hailed as a massive success, especially following the huge maize harvest reaped this year.

President Mugabe recently described command agriculture as ‘beautiful’. 

The programme, led by the Vice President, Emerson Mnangagwa, with the ministry of agriculture and support from the armed services, involved the delivery of fertiliser (along with seed and fuel) to farmers in higher potential areas, and especially with larger land areas (targeting 2000 farmers with 200 ha or more of arable land) and irrigation facilities.

Sakunda Holdings (and others) backed the scheme reputedly to the tune of $160m, and government implemented it on the ground, requiring those receiving the package to repay by delivering an ambitious five tonnes of maize per hectare funded to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB).

The command agriculture programme is being repeated again this coming season; this time with even more ambitious targets, and again with backing of Sakunda.

Apparently 45 000 have registered and high crop outputs are expected.

While much of the hype is wildly unrealistic, the programme has become core to an increasingly centralised approach to agricultural planning and development in Zimbabwe, as advocated by the VP.

There are now ‘command’ approaches mooted for livestock, fisheries, wildlife and more.

Given the VP’s background, these all follow the model of Chinese central planning, executed with military logistics and support.

Hailed by the Chinese ambassador, it has been an enormous operation, taking up the energies and time of extension workers and apparently up to 1000 members of the army across the country.

The programme has not surprisingly come under intense scrutiny, and has become embroiled in the on-going soap opera of internal ZANU-PF political machinations, with a lively media spat between Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo (of the G40 faction – and apparently a direct beneficiary), who denounced command agriculture, and the Lacoste faction who vigorously back the programme.

The commander of the defence forces gave a robust defence too.

Given the scale and ambition of the programme, there have been ‘leakages’ – and some high-profile cases of those abusing the system – and the delivery was not always smooth, with many not receiving the full package on time.

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