HARARE – Revelations of an alarming number of people facing starvation by the Public Service and Social Welfare ministry officials are an indictment on the government that professes to be pro-poor.
Apart from cyclic droughts, recurrent food deficits could, in part, be attributed to government’s skewed policies that place greater emphasis on proving how competent the so called “new farmers” are at growing commercial crops grown by former white commercial farmers at the expense of bolstering and guaranteeing food security.
Touting the success of decade-old entrants in commercial farming might be good to spite erstwhile critics of the agrarian reform but does pretty little in putting food in the mouths of almost half a million people that are facing starvation while 2,2 million out of a total population of 13 million are in dire need of food largesse.
Government has been quick to retail impressive production figures in tobacco by new entrants into the agricultural sector.
But this actually counts for little when compared to the huge amount of money government has to scrounge around for, to import and deliver grain and other essential food crops to feed the nation, including those farmers who have exclusively resorted to growing tobacco.
All too often, government has pronounced intention to boost agricultural production among smallholder and peasant farmers by reviving dilapidated irrigation infrastructure.
These have been half-hearted measures judging by how much has been achieved so far and considering that most rural peasants can no longer depend on rain-fed agriculture even at subsistence level.
It is time government lived up to this promise in light of evident climatic changes.
The recurrent food deficits discount the professed gains and success of the agrarian reform particularly when government is compelled to beg for cash and food bail outs from countries that used to depend on Zimbabwe to feed their citizens.
Instead of more than 2 million people that are mostly rural folk on barren soils marshalling their energies towards development to uplift their areas, they are forced to invest large chunks of their time in search of food.
Records show that in the 80s, smallholder and peasant farmers contributed the bulk of the maize grain delivered to the national food bank buoyed by government support despite serious impediments and hurdles they faced.
More frightening in government’s attempts to mitigate the food shortages is the grim fact that Grain Marketing Board silos are empty or do not exist in needy areas.
Whether through conservative radicalism or unhelpful expediency, politicians need to introspect on the disastrous consequences of banning humanitarian food agencies from distributing food to the rural poor.
Cheap political points scored from that order have obviously boomeranged in government’s face.