When baboons raid the maize field in broad daylight, monkeys find a merry time in the orchard. The centre stops holding and things fall apart.
This is what is exactly happening with Zimbabwe’s command agriculture. Here is that season when every hobo in town fancies him- or herself a farmer, so people are trooping out to register to ‘farm’ under the scheme. Herd boys, maids, civil servants who can’t tell white chalk from loam soil, red-carpet politicians and plumbers. They are all going there and it’s a free-for-all circus.
You don’t get a medal for telling why things are like that! Command agriculture has become a cash cow. What you just need to do is know where to go and what to say when you get there. As we speak, there is so much madness out there. The monkeys are swinging in the fruit trees.
If your father, mother, uncle or small house does as much as know how to chant Zanu PF slogans, your chances are good. All you have to do is to fill out a simple form and produce your national identity card to the bored agritex officer in your area. If you are too busy too travel, never mind. Someone will do it for you and even do your signature for you.
You just need to lie that you are a smallholder commercial farmer with so many hectares of land that you want to put under maize or some such crop that you can pronounce without much difficulty. Not too many questions asked. Who you know or claim to know is your qualification. After that, you must just find a small truck, claim your ‘loaned’ seed, fertilizer and other agrochemicals and find the next roadside to vend your loot. That’s how it is, as easy as ABC.
This is how things have been happening in the last three or so years when the command agriculture scheme was revived. There are no worries about explaining how you used the inputs and equipment next season when the scratched record is played over again. No-one is caring about keeping records and that’s how things must be.
You see, last year and before, thousands of people went and claimed the inputs and equipment under the scheme. But because there were no records, people who are auditioning as looters and getting into the cast are being asked to declare what they looted previously. Some have been stupid enough to be honest, but they belong to the tiny majority. The majority simply went and said they were doing it for the first time.
The extension officers know them, so they turn away with a knowing wink. That’s not surprising because these officers are part of the looting cast. Let’s use a trending term. We are talking of a cartel in the farming sector here. It has often been said that the officers receive orders from high above to shred the records.
Why? Because it’s those in high office who are looting the most. The politically connected and the politically superior, and you know who they are, don’t you? Like, there is this lady who commands lots of respect in the Senate, if you want to say it with a forked tongue. She comes from Mashonaland West. Now, this not-so-honourable lady has a busy schedule in this farming season. She is moving from one extension office to the other, from one grain depot to the other, filling the forms for herself and her proxies and collecting her loot just the same way a female baboon would forage your field in broad daylight.
She doesn’t mind that people know what she is doing—because some angry small looters have confronted her on more than occasion. All she minds is her loot. Word also says she is among the people who are ordering the officers to shred the records. Why? Because she doesn’t want hard evidence of her serialised looting frenzy flying all over the place.
Do you know why she is proceeding with such crass impunity? It’s because almost everyone in there is doing it, right from the top. You can’t be second guessing this serial multi-billion command agriculture scandal. The reason why it was revived the couple of years ago is not that there is anyone out there worried about the food hunger that Zimbabwe faces perennially. Command agriculture is a feeding trough for the elite, just as it now a crumbs corner for grassroots looters.
It’s never going to be flattering that the scheme is being supervised straight from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office. Because it is being run from the OPC, it means that the president, his deputies and, of course, just about the whole executive know what’s happening. Since they are in the know, they must also be party to the eating club.
That must be the only reason why they are insisting on the scheme every season despite the truth that command agriculture is yielding very small—if any—results for Zimbabwe’s economy and food security. That’s the reason why Kuda Tagwirei, a chap you may call an elite crony, Sakunda Holdings and connected cartelists have not been touched despite evidently cheating billions out of the scheme in recent times.
That’s the reason why the Auditor General’s office, a statutory department, can’t access information and documents relating to the scheme. That’s the reason why government is made to fund and manage this mega-billion project outside the national budget. And that’s the reason why no audit is being done around this stubborn ogre.
The Zimbabwean parliament must, for a change, find teeth to bite and get to the bottom of this scam called command agriculture. But that sounds like asking for too much. Parliament is dominated by Zanu PF. You have also just heard that a very important senator is out in the maize field without fretting about anything. And who doesn’t know that just about every lawmaker from Zanu PF is a command agriculture beneficiary?
So, when the president’s office and parliament are largely captured in this regard, who will guard the maize fields and the orchards? Where is the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and civil society in this? What’s the media doing?
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org