Stop obsession with primary production


HARARE – Those who believe that agriculture is the backbone of the Zimbabwean economy need to revise this fascination very quickly.

Any country in the developing world that celebrates and accepts the notion that its prosperity will be anchored in primary and extractive industries will forever be condemned into the vicious cycle of poverty.

Such a country has no reason to think or imagine that it will transform into a global giant because it has accepted and fits well into the ascribed international division of labour which at its best guarantees that the horse-and-rider relationship will forever be maintained.

Iran has been under sanctions for quite some time but it has managed to bust all such punishments by making significant strides in technological development which has not only ensured its survival but has also seen it becoming a  formidable giant in many areas.

If our economy remains agro-based and the vast majority of the workforce is trapped in this sector and other primary activities there are bound to be permanent serious economic challenges.

Every person should own a piece of residential land if it is necessary to do so but in terms of productive land, the basis of ownership should be related to full utilisation for the common good.

Another economic factor is that farming should not be everyone’s business.

Those who can farm should do so in a less labour intensive way which demands that it should be highly mechanised so that output for a unit of land is maximised.

The excess labour trapped in this sector should be employed in other value addition manufacturing sectors.

It is this sector that will determine the profitability of the agricultural sector as demand will rise from all these workers.

The future of Zimbabwe is not in agriculture which has failed for over two centuries.

Those white farmers who were making a breakthrough were beneficiaries of accidents of history who then ventured into tertiary sectors to guarantee the productivity of the agricultural sector.

White farmers failed dismally from 1911 up to the 1930’s depression and were only able to make profit when the British introduced the “Imperial preference” for Rhodesian farmers as a token for fighting for the queen in the Second World War.

They had a guaranteed market and quotas to supply which they however failed to fully satisfy.

During the period of sanctions 1965-1979 when Ian Smith declared independence from Britain, agriculture was only sustained by being tied to the needs of industry through deliberate import substitution programme.

All this provides good lessons for today’s planners that the productivity of agriculture is only guaranteed by how the manufacturing sector fares.

Farming should be highly subsidised by the State as profits may not be realised. All the so-called big states are after all subsidising their farmers to ensure that they stay on the farms thereby ensuring food security.

Unless bold measures are made to cast off this agro-based mentality we will remain trapped in the international division of labour.

The sad part of this obsession is that all the equipment we need to use in the agricultural sectors is now being imported rather than being manufactured locally.

Some media reports indicate that Zimbabwean imports from South Africa have galloped by a record 320 percent over the past decade.

This has been offered as sure evidence that the manufacturing sector has all but collapsed.

The import bill has reached an unprecedented US$1,89 billion as the country has become the new colony for South Africa in terms of trade deficit.

A country that has been turned into some commercial warehouse must take drastic measures to reverse this tide as a matter of urgency.

Although finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said it jokingly that Zimbabwe is importing almost every including Okra, the revival of the manufacturing sector is the only way out the present challenges.

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