Good rains are always good news for farmers as shown by this week’s reports that the Grain Marketing Board is gearing up for what could be the largest maize crop ever harvested in Zimbabwe, 3,1 million tonnes.
The good rains are only part of the story. Government launched a sustained and serious effort this year to ensure that all farmers, smallholders right up to commercial A2 farmers, had adequate inputs on time.
There was also the switch to conservation farming, which does not just ensure a reasonable crop in a drought, but also means that when good rains fall, the extra water is of benefit, with erosion and other rain damage limited. So we were set up for a good crop in an ordinary year and an adequate crop in a bad year, but that meant we were ready to grow a record crop in a very good year.
All of this goes to show that Zimbabwe’s problem had never been lazy or indifferent farmers, but a lack of organisation right across the board to ensure genuine and hard-working farmers, the overwhelming majority, could produce a harvest.
The excellent rains were an exceptionally welcome bonus, turning what would have been national self-sufficiency with a bit over into something that looks like an eight months reserve to carry over into the next season, or even to earn a bit of extra money on some exports if there is a suitable market nearby, although our immediate neighbours have also had good rains.
Far more importantly, this harvest is spread. The reports of minor flood damage in Matabeleland South and Masvingo provinces suggest that even our traditionally drier districts were winning with the weather this year.
Some city dwellers detached from the countryside might have read too much into the reports of this minor flooding. The odd farmer who took a chance and planted next to a river, or who had skimped maintenance on farm huts, might have had a bit of damage.
But the overwhelming majority would infinitely prefer above normal rains to normal rains, and definitely prefer too much water to too little. In fact there has been probably more flooding of homes in urban areas, on those wetlands where criminal land barons illegally allocated land, than in rural Zimbabwe where almost everyone can remember at least one heavy-rainfall season and take precautions.
That spread of good crops, along with the actual totals, has a huge impact socially, as well as economically, on Zimbabwe. Yes, at the national level we will grow our own food this year and the filling of dams and recharging of aquifers will mean, when combined with an expansion of last year’s wheat inputs programme, that we should expect the 2021 wheat harvest to give self-sufficiency.
Since Pfumvudza, the Presidential inputs scheme, also included oil seeds, the imports of this vital raw material will also be right down. For many farmers this was a new crop, but a decent rainy season means that they can recover from any mistakes and so know more exactly what to do if the next season is not so good.
But the real revolution has been at the household level. Not only will almost all rural families have grown enough food to last the next year, but most will have something left over to sell. And that means not just being self-reliant, it means the family will have cash in the bank, or at least the mobile wallet.
Even selling just 10 bags of maize and a few bags of oil seeds will do a lot for the average smallholder’s life. It is not only moving away from handouts, but moving into the commercial farming world.
There has always been the top level of smallholders who think and act commercially. Now most of their neighbours will be doing the same.
When we talk about Zimbabwe moving towards self-sufficiency and becoming a middle income economy by 2030, we have to move far beyond the national, or even provincial and district gross domestic product.
We have to look at families and households. If Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product divided by its population produces a per capita figure that puts us into the middle income bracket in 2030, it will be an achievement, but not one that means a lot if this leaves a few hundred thousand rich people taking the lion’s share and leaving millions in poverty.
If we have most families somewhere in the middle income range, whether because they are good farmers, have a decent job, run a profitable business as a skilled person, even if it is a one-person business, then there will still be inequalities, sometimes large ones, but little dire poverty.
Development and economic growth means more than just increasing the national wealth, although that is a necessary condition.
It also means we move forward together, perhaps at different paces, but all on the same road to individual prosperity as well as meeting the national total.
Almost certainly the middle income status requires this approach, since it is only achievable if there are a lot of people putting in their personal input. This is easy to see when we look at the expected harvests this year, and a substantial majority of rural families having some money. Having an extra million consumers, even if their wallets are on the thin side, should be very good news for those manufacturers who can produce exactly what those consumers want and need, produce it at the right quality and produce it at the right price.
Few families are going to rush from a GMB collection point and squander their profit. But those who have prepared for the emerging market can benefit, as can their employees, and it is even at this point that Government starts getting taxes, even if it is only VAT and the odd duty payment.
At the same time sustained rural growth starts building more businesses, service industries and even processing centres in the rural areas. In a developed country where farms are still small, like vast swathes of Europe, you will find three quarters of rural communities are not farmers, or at least farming is not their major activity.
But the entire local economy is built on what the farmers produce, with the rest adding value, maintaining equipment and the like.
That is why those countries are upper middle income or upper income nations. The other major gain from this year’s excellent rains is that farmers now understand the new Pfumvudza farming systems, the upgrade in livestock management, and the need for conservation works where there has been some slackness.
So even if the next season is less wonderful, and Zimbabwe rarely has two good rainy seasons in a row, and has only seen three in a row once since independence, we will have good carry-over stocks of food and more than a million farming families who now know how to produce even in bad years, and they have water in dams and wells and the soil.