Food security lost

2008-06-13 00:00

YOU may say “Zimbabwe, agriculture? What agriculture?” Not too much, but worth thinking about.

Forty-eight hours in Harare recently gave me a bit of perspective. On our arrival at the airport the officials were polite and efficient. The airport is modern and almost spotless with adequate parking under shade cloth which is a far cry from the airports of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. The fact that ours was probably the only flight of the day coming into Harare could have made the difference.

Driving through Harare is quite an experience with bright clean buildings and tarred roads with a few potholes but nothing like my Wear Avenue in Howick.

The locals do complain about the dirt and the deterioration of the roads but maybe that little whinge is merely to take their minds off the major catastrophe that is happening around them. Our roads have deteriorated more in 14 years than theirs have in 28 years. But they do not have much traffic. No petrol, no traffic.

After lunch I was whipped off to the local gun club — 400 members in Harare alone. There were some loud explosions from what must have been some big guns. What about restrictions on these arsenals? Everyone was relaxed and chatting away like they are not in the middle of a conflict.

A fantastic Saturday evening spent with enthusiastic agriculturalists gave me some insights into the situation in Zimbabwe. After good rains the maize yield this year is predicted to be 200 000 tons which is down from the two million tons previously produced by commercial farmers. The population of 10 million needs two million tons to survive.

Luckily South Africa has an excellent maize crop this year of at least 10 million tons and with the local demand being seven million tons there will be some available for export.

Walking around the outskirts of Harare is depressing. The vast areas of fertile cropping soils are overrun with weeds. Record crops of wheat, maize and soya beans were once grown on these soils.

From this depressing sight I went to Sunday morning tennis at a house in the upmarket suburb of Avondale. Once again it is very hard to believe the reality that is Zimbabwe. All the farmers on the court had lost their farms and were making survival plans among all the pleasantries. It was a most unusual situation but no doubt those who have been faced with years of persecution and insecurity eventually build up a character that protects them from whatever may happen.

At the local supermarket fillet was going for Z$1 200 million per kilogram, T-bones for $1 000 million, mince for $800 million while beer was cheap at $58 million per beer, Graca wine at $632 million and Shiraz at $1,2 billion. With the exchange rate that day at Z$110 million to the US$ these prices are not so bad as long as you have U.S. dollars.

After tennis, I attended a wake held for Rob Paterson who had once farmed the massive Coburn Estates outside Chigutu and developed the sophisticated fish farming operations on the Zambezi River at Chirundu. The huge irrigated farming operation is now returned to bush and the fishing operation has been washed away due to the inefficiency of some fool controlling the gates of the great Kariba dam.

The enthusiasm of the many past students of Gwebi Agricultural College attending the wake is still there but underlying this is the sad reality that life will never be the same again.

There is a glimmer of hope that there will somehow be some compensation for the farms lost. How long can the few remaining farmers wait? Life has to go on and most have moved on, spreading all over the world.

Some have still held on to Africa and may be found in Zambia or Nigeria but the majority are not coming back no matter what happens. Africa has dealt them too hard a blow which they cannot forget. What a loss to those who need the food more than any other part of the world. This must not be repeated in South Africa.

Back to the airport and through immigration with the official casually lying back with his feet on the counter stamping passports with great gusto. It is hard to believe that a tragedy is being played out in a once bounteous country.

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