Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s $500 million command agriculture scheme raises eyebrows

Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s much trumpeted $500 million command agriculture scheme is a monumental failure and could leave the government saddled with debts running into millions, data made available to this paper has revealed.

The government has stepped up propaganda to sell the command agriculture scheme as a huge success but those in the loop about its implementation say it is part of a well-calculated cover-up.

According to information availed to The Standard, less than 200 000 ha of land has been put under maize production against a target of 400 000 ha, with a budget of $500 million sourced from banks, fuel companies and other business entities as a loan.

Less than 50% of the targeted maize hectarage was achieved but this has not stopped the government through the state-controlled media from claiming that this year’s bumper harvest should be attributed to command agriculture.

“So, whereas the $500 milion for command agriculture was supposed to be used to plant maize on 400 000 ha, it has in fact been used to plant maize only on 168 666 hacters,” said an official with inside information on the programme.

There are already fears that the command agriculture scheme was used as a conduit to loot state resources.

There are indications that 10,1 million litres of fuel, 6 319 metric tonnes of seed maize, 50 150 metric tonnes of compound D fertilisers, 31 465 metric tonnes of top dressing fertilisers and as yet to be quantified agro chemicals were used in the programme.

“Already, a huge cover up through propaganda is underway, with Mnangagwa touring farms around the country to declare and proclaim command agriculture ‘to be a huge success that has surpassed expectations’ without providing any evidence to support the claim,” an official said.

Agriculture minister Joseph Made yesterday insisted that the scheme was a success but refused to attribute the expected bumper harvest to command agriculture alone.

“One million eight hundred hectares planted altogether. Who said this is for command agriculture alone? Did I say that? I made it clear even in Parliament and even in the politburo. In terms of the crop both under command and the Presidential Input Scheme, they have done very well,” he said.

“You can try to put those programmes down but they have done exceptionally well.

“What we have done is pleasing to the nation. The sub region is asking, the world itself is asking how we managed to do this. There is staff that came from the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and World Bank to ask how we managed to do this.”

But information from officials within the ministry of Agriculture suggests that from the latest crop assessment, it is impossible for farmers, many contracted under the command agriculture programme, to harvest more than three tonnes per hactare due to a number of challenges.

Some of the challenges included the late distribution of inputs or failure to deliver all the inputs (some farmers got maize seed but not fertilisers and chemicals).

“Also, there was no technical coordination of the programme. Seeds, fuel, fertilisers and chemicals were looted and sold on the black market,” an official said.

“Zimbabwe is indeed poised for a bumper maize crop this season but the expected high harvest will not come from the heavily-funded command agriculture whose tab was $500 million, which was borrowed and thus needs to be repaid,” the source said.

“Where will the money to repay the looted $500 million come from?

“Zimbabweans should brace up for the dire consequences of this question.”

Besides command agriculture, government also has the Presidential Input Support Scheme which supported 820 000 vulnerable households with 10kg maize seed, 50kg basal fertiliser and a 50kg top dressing fertiliser for each household.

Statistics at hand show that 8 839 metric tonnes of maize seed was used, 7 665 metric tonnes of basal fertiliser, 15 374 metric tonnes ammonium nitrate fertiliser and 9 457 metric tonnes of Urea fertiliser sourced from China.

This year communal farmers planted maize on 1 008 181 ha, A1 farmers (364 528 ha), old resettlement areas (148 635 ha), small scale commercial farmers (59 216 ha), A2 farmers (174 214 ha) and peri-urban farmers (15 615).

“The total area under maize is: communal areas (57%), A1 (21%), A2 (10%), old resettlement area (8%), small scale commercial farming areas (3%) and peri urban farmers (1%),” another source said.

“The total hactarage under maize is 1 770 389 ha, out of which command agriculture with a $500 million budget accounts for only 168 666 ha.

“So, 1 601 723 ha are largely under maize supported by the Presidential Input Support Scheme”.

“This means that command agriculture has been a huge $500 million looting scheme,” the source addred
Former Finance minister Tendai Biti said Zimbabweans would be forced to take over the $500 million debt which was not even approved by Parliament as should have been the case on government borrowing.

He said government would still turn to tax payers like it did with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s $1,4 billion debt which was assumed by the state through the Reserve Bank Debt Assumption Act promulgated last year.

The debt was accrued during the former central bank governor Gideon Gono’s quasi fiscal policies that were introduced to fund agriculture mechanisation but was looted by top Zanu PF officials.

Zanu PF blocked a demand by MDC-T MPs to have the list of those who benefitted from the programme released and subjected to an audit.

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