Finally a bright spot for Zimbabwe. After years of drought, the country is waiting for a good corn harvest; the largest land reform programme disputed since the start of Zimbabwes.
The 29-year-old farmer Terrence Maphosa runs through his corn field in Mondoro, about 140 kilometres southwest of Zimbabwe‘s capital Harare. The corn towers above him. On its twelve hectares of land, it will harvest three times as much as the previous year. He laughs: “More than enough to feed my own family and go to market to sell. This is a good year.”
Correspondent Elles van Gelder spoke to Maphosa between the corn and his chickens:
And so he’s not alone. After a good rainy season, Zimbabwe expects a record harvest. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries thinks they‘re going to harvest almost 3.1 million tons of grain this season, most since the 1984/85 season, enough to feed Zimbabwe, that’s why they even stop importing corn.
And that in a country where new World Bank figures show that 7.9 million Zimbabweans live in extreme poverty and need food aid. 1.3 million Zimbabweans received that status during the corona pandemic. The good harvests don‘t mean that these figures will plummet immediately, because there is also a lot of poverty in cities. But lighting does bring it.
New generation farmers
It also makes the agricultural industry more attractive. The 29-year-old Maphosa, who is also chicken farmer, is part of a new generation of young farmers in Zimbabwe. Many are well trained and even have a university degree in their pocket, but can’t find a job. This is how Maphosa studied political science. He departed from capital Harare to the countryside just before the corona crisis began.
The pandemic has even contributed to the increase in the number of young, mostly small-scale farmers, says Philip Sewera, director of a Zimbabwean organization for young farmers with 6,000 members. “There are more and more young people who are successful in agriculture, so they light each other.”
Because in the countryside it is now better than in the city, even for the younger generation, Maphosa conforms. “My friends complain about the many lockdowns, but I‘ve been able to expand my business over the past year.”
This is partly due to the good corn prices in Zimbabwe. Because the big harvest is not only a result of better weather, but also because the government is heavily subsidizing both seeds and corn this season, says Zimbabwean economist John Robertson. “The price is so good that farmers have cleared more room for corn.”
That sounds nice, but he doesn’t think it‘s really sustainable. “There are big deficits so it’s unclear where the government is going to get the money for those grants from.”
The current government, led by President Mnangagwa, has long been calling for him to make Zimbabwes agricultural sector productive again. Under his predecessor, President Mugabe, white farmers were forcibly driven from their country more than twenty years ago. The country was distributed among black owners.
Although successes have been achieved, there are also large areas of land that are fallow and overgrown because it went to Zimbabwean people who couldn‘t or wanted to farmer. Much went to the political elite.
Maphosa is renting land now. “Many black farmers failed. Grab the land of those who don’t use it and give it to the youngsters. We can help to turn Zimbabwe back into a granary.”
Sewera from the young farmers club also believes in better times. “The profits now made can be invested in farms. Hopefully we can plan better for years to avoid rain.”
Economist Roberston is less optimistic. He doubts the experience of young farmers, but also wonders how to invest really well. “Zimbabwe doesn‘t address the real problem. If the youngsters get land, it’s like a lease, the government holds the property. That means the banks don‘t want to give loans to farmers because they have no collateral. So the farmer cannot invest in his business. I’m afraid the euphoria of this big crop is temporary. This year we had good rains and luck.”