Over the past decade, farmers in the Middle Sabi Valley, in Chipinge, have been battling to have affordable water for irrigating their fields. The valley is home to one of the wheat growing regions in the Zimbabwe. The new farmers in the Middle Sabi Valley have been caught between local politics, foreign agricultural interests with racial grudges against black farmers and uncoordinated government intervention. I have tried to highlight the main threats to progress and development in the Valley in this short article.
THE WATER AND ELECTRICITY COST THREAT
I have met with individual farmers in who are worried about the situation they are in. They hope for a solution that would draw on both basic business sense and economics: The water supply in the valley depends on electricity which makes it very expensive. Farmers have observed that 300ml of Coke is cheaper than the 300ml 0f water from ZINWA, which follows that it would be cheaper to irrigate their fields with bottled mineral water!
Farmers are negotiating for affordable rates for both electricity and water with the relevant authorities. The farmers are now seeking government intervention to curb the extortive rates charged by the two utilities who as everyone knows are saddled with excess staff which are overpaid. The cost of labor of the two utilities is not only a threat to the farmers in Middle Sabi but to all in industry and commerce. This threat has also been identified in the Zimasset policy document and the government has yet to intervene.
The idea is simple: Reduce the labor costs of these utilities. Make a relatively painfully decision now to obtain cheaper and affordable water and electricity in the future, and ensure the future of agriculture, industry and commerce in Valley. Once electricity and water cost less the move will produce a host of other benefits, including improved water supplies for local communal farmers and business centers in the Valley.
THE MULTINANATIONAL CORPORATION THREATS
Farmers in the valley have been approached by MNCs to lease out land or to be outgrowers and politicians sometimes see large foreign agricultural interests as the enemy. This is a result of our historic experiences with the same corporations before our land reform program. We still have the memory of institutionalized exploitation that happened before and after our independence. These threats are still real and it is the government which must safeguard the individual farmers, by coming up with a policy framework to counter it.
Government through the Ministries of Agriculture, Finance, Industry, and Commerce has not in any way assisted the new farmers in Middle Sabi. The farmers are missing out on opportunities that could have far-reaching effects. The farmers want the government to negotiate and come out with effective agricultural programs which will increase bottom-line growth for the new farmers, small businesses downstream and the large multinational corporations in the Valley.
It is a fact that over the year’s business has flourished with the assistance of multinationals and foreign investment. The investment by Greenfuel in the Valley, for example, has seen the population of the Valley rising above poverty. This investment has benefitted the rural folk in the Valley.
The government can actual approach the multinationals and sell the investment opportunities that the Middle Sabi Valley can offer. The government must champion long-term investments in the Valley and should listen closely to what the multinationals and the new farmers want.
THE THREAT FROM CHANGE
Change is the threat to any status quo. The new farmers have to change and government policy has to change. It is this threat- the change in policy- that has been difficult to put into practice. Historically, politicians and bureaucrats in government have done a better job of speaking to one another than to businesspeople (here I mean the new farmers and the multinationals). The three parties need to get better at communicating their positions and to prioritize development of the Valley.
LAST PLEA TO THE POLITICIANS AND THE BUREACRATS
Local politicians should consider the business opportunities of making investments in the Valley. I know they do not. I do not think the politicians should tell the Valley community how to run their farms or businesses. Politicians and bureaucrats should listen to what the new farmers’ want- and promote policies that will benefit the Valley.
© Edmore Mbuzana Mlambo All rights reserved