The Political Economy of Command Agriculture: The Case of Chisumbanje and Checheche

Command Agriculture has been received with mixed feelings by different sectors of Zimbabwean community. Some say the scheme is good for food security and uplifting smallholder farmer’s livelihoods since most of them do not have start-up capital. However, some quarters contend that the scheme is unnecessary since it’s contributing to the agricultural sector budget deficit, thereby leading to an increase in the country’s domestic debt through government’s issuance of Treasury Bills to secure funding from the private sector. The 2018 budget allocation for the agricultural sector was $401 million; however by September 2018 a deficit of $1.1 billion had been accumulated. Some argue that the scheme is a conduit for the elitist primitive accumulation in the pretext of a people driven policy. The government, in pursuit of Vision 2030, aims to open the agricultural sector for private players to enhance investment in the sector and ensure increased food production. Despite the Minister of Agriculture confirming in February 2019 that Command Agriculture will continue, the programme will be discontinued once sufficient private players have invested in the sector.

Smallholder farmers in Checheche, Chipinge District expressed ignorance over what contract farming, contract produce is and the legal implications of not meeting the 5 tonnes per hectare threshold are in the Command Agricultural scheme as well as the fine and three-month jail sentence that comes as along the misappropriation of scheme inputs and implements. It is against this backdrop that the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) conducted an awareness raising meeting in Checheche, on the 7th of March 2019, to sensitise women smallholder farmers on the future of Command Agriculture, while gathering views of Checheche smallholder farmers thereby creating a platform for them to deliberate on the scheme. The audience was diverse, including lead farmers, Agritex officers, traditional leaders and women smallholder farmers from wards 24 and 26 of Musikavanhu constituency in Chipinge District.

ZIMCODD unpacked the Command Agriculture scheme and highlighted that the contract does not have provisions to protect farmers in case of natural hazards such as drought and that defaulters will face prosecution and be charged a fine of up to three months in jail. All the participants expressed concern over lack of information regarding the scheme as well as prerequisite resources especially land for farming.

On the neo-liberalisation of the agricultural sector, the smallholder farmers pondered on what the privatisation of a government programme mean for them, their families and their livelihoods. Checheche smallholder farmers are still grappling with the unanswered question as to whether the private sector will finance smallholder farmers when they do not have collateral security .The smallholder farmers are thus sceptical of any private players replacing the role of government in terms of financing the scheme. The scepticism from their horrible experiences with Green Fuel. Green Fuel is a private company that established an ethanol plant in Chisumbanje in 2009 after displacing a sizeable number of smallholder farmers from their agricultural land. This political economy of command agriculture has left wards 24 and 26 community members landless and therefore unable to participate in the scheme.

Checheche smallholder farmers also bemoaned the unavailability of information with regards to most government programmes. Most farmers reiterated the fact that government agencies within the Ministry of Agriculture must inform farmers prior to the introduction of schemes like command agriculture so that farmers sign the contracts from a well informed position. Most farmers were shocked by the dictates and contents of Statutory Instrument 79 of 2017 that governs Command Agriculture. Therefore there is still a lot of work to be done with regards to information dissemination. ZIMCODD therefore, managed to bridge this information gap by deconstructing and explaining the legal framework that makes up the command agriculture scheme, a move that left most farmers well informed and eager to participate in the scheme.

The question of climate change was also discussed as most farmers expressed interest in understanding the implications of erratic rainfall patterns experienced throughout the country on command agriculture. In addition, they also raised the issue of dam construction as a mechanism that government should invest in for the purposes of harvesting the little rainfall the country receives. Furthermore, they also argued that adopting a climate change adaptability strategy will go a long way in averting drought induced losses

In conclusion, the future of command agriculture does not lie in privatising the scheme since that will have serious effects on smallholder farmers especially when it comes to accessing capital in form of loans at banks and other private lending institutions. Therefore as the government seeks to privatise the economy it must bear in mind that poor households who rely on agriculture must be cushioned, supported and financed by the state. Development should be an endogenous process supported and owned by local Zimbabweans.

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