Zimbabwe is a country blessed with unique soils, rocks, climate, vegetation and biodiversity which gives our agricultural produce a unique, distinctive flavor and quality.
Many agricultural experts across the globe have punted that Zimbabwe has the perfect combination of soil, climate, location, water resources and agricultural genetics to feed the entire world with organic food into perpetuity. Hence powerful nations are fighting to control the land.
So renowned is Zimbabwean food that it was historically traded with the Arabs, Chinese, the British royalty and used to victual Portuguese ships on their way to and from the east.
Growing Food From The Essence Of The Soil
Eating is an intimate and at times spiritual affair in Zimbabwean culture. Which means the cultivation, harvesting and preparation of food is a spiritual undertaking in its own respect, that is dependent on the Gods, soil, water, minerals and caliber of the hands that grow the food to give the perfect harvest.
It is this combination of spirituality, nature, nurture and skill that made our grains, dairy, meats, sugar, fruits, fish, tea, coffee, horticultural produce, cotton, tobacco, timber, and wildlife wholesome.
Even when exotic crops like wheat and South American grains were first brought and cultivated in Zimbabwean soils. They developed a unique and distinct flavor that was distinctly Zimbabwean and people could not get enough of.
The Guinean President, the British Royal family and a number of leading hotels were renowned for their preference for Zimbabwean beef, vegetables and tea.
Our cotton made some of the best fabrics on the continent, while our gold leaf tobacco continues to be treasured by leading cigarette manufacturers for flavoring their top line brands.
Chemical Farming Changed The Game
However, with the advent of commercial farming, the country began to lose its reputation as a producer of a distinct, sought after palette of agricultural produce.
A decline exacerbated by the adoption of industrial, chemical farming practices that rely heavily on the use of hybrid seeds, monoculture [the opposite of intercropping and crop rotation], synthetic fertilisers and pesticides that quickly commodified what used to be a unique brand of produce.
With that our once superior produce that came from rich soils and traditional farming practices, became commodified.
Now our produce is substitutable with nondescript, toxic, low quality, industrially produced agricultural commodities from China, America, South Africa, EU and Brazil.
Zimbabwe has lost its brand status, competitive advantage and monopoly to exclusive markets that bought our organic produce at a premium.
When people say Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of the world. It doesn't speak to volume because South Africa always produced more, but Zimbabwe was a basket of quality (compared to South Africa’s low quality truck loads) which only a few were privileged enough to afford.
Globalisation Sanctions Nexus
With rising industrial farming, competition fuelled by western subsidies, falling prices and lower returns for small scale farmers. Our maize, cotton, wheat and soybean production suffered as our farmers became uncompetitive and unprofitable in these cash crops alongside leading, low cost, industrial farming nations.
Coupled with land reform, the resultant ZDERA sanctions in 2001 and the accompanying 2003 executive order sanctions that targeted our seed, fertiliser, chemical companies and agri-industry’s financial sector.
Our fertiliser factories and agriculture finance houses were forced to close or import costly inputs that made our produce the most expensive in the region.
Seed companies like Seedco were taken over by subsidiaries of foreign western biotech monopolies like Monsanto. Leading to an insidious campaign through our extension workers, to destroy traditional open variety seeds to substitute them with hybrids aimed at fostering seed dependency for cash crops like cotton, maize, wheat and soybean.
Many Zimbabweans have always assumed that the collapse in agricultural output in the country was solely because of white commercial farmers leaving the land after land reform.
Not realizing that the rising cost of farming due to the decimation of heirloom seeds and the proliferation of high input hybrids that must be purchased every season with fertilisers and pesticides. Diminished our rural & small scale farmers’ capacity to farm without capital, yet these farmers had always been the biggest producers of most of our cash crops without capital and inputs.
Fertiliser, Chemical And Falling Yield Cycle
Over time, our rural & small scale farmers [particularly maize and cotton farmers] who had traditionally grown the bulk of our crops without capital for generations. Were now deceived to invest in buying hybrid seeds, fertilisers and pesticides each season to compete as generic, low cost industrial farmers on the global market.
As a result losing their traditional farming practices and unique organic differentiation, distinction and positioning. And once they lost that status by cooption into this capital and fertilizer intensive chemical farming cycle.
It gave rise to other complications such as weeds, which then required herbicides that destroy soil microbes, fertility, insects and the small creatures that feed on parasites that attack crops in the absence of these microbes that control them.
The result: entry into single entry, no exit perpetual, costly, destructive cycle of chemical farming that destroys soil, environment, yield and ultimately competitiveness alongside industrial farming nations that are not under sanctions.
Death Of Zimbabwean Farming.
18yrs later under sanctions, and global agriculture has changed, as it has become more favourable to nations with scale, capital, chemicals and a knack for shortcuts.
It’s a global market in which a small country like Zimbabwe has no capacity to compete on volume against low cost industrial producers like India, Brazil, China and the US. Who have at their disposal numerous [and sometimes unfair] advantages ranging from government subsidies, the sanctions themselves, hybrids, growth hormones, technology and chemicals to grow large volumes, cheaper and faster.
Go Organic Or Die
The question now is how does Zimbabwe reclaim its position as a net exporter of quality agricultural produce in light of this unlevel playing field?
The answer lies in us revolutionizing our agricultural sector to differentiate and reposition Zimbabwe away from being a low cost, industrial chemical producer of quantity. To a premium niche producer of high quality organic produce infused with natural goodness, free of chemicals and endowed with the unique taste of Zimbabwe.
We Can’t Compete With Junk Industry
The reason is simple. As explained above, Zimbabwe will never have the capacity to compete for quantity or price with industrial low cost producers like India, China, US, South Africa and Europe.
However, what these low cost leaders have in efficiency and quantity, they lack in quality, flavor, nutrition, sustainability and wholesomeness.
A niche that Zimbabwe has the capabilities of filling with its brilliant climate, human talent, unique soils and passion to take up the position of being a breadbasket of goodness that can be sold at premium prices to exclusive markets.
Organic Farming Zimbabwe’s Comparative Advantage
The decline in Zimbabwean commercial farming has been a blessing in disguise for Zimbabwe as it has given our land time to recover, restoring the biosphere, cleaning out the chemicals from the soils and allowing the world to miss our food for us to rejuvenate our industry through organic farming.
Sanctions have also made chemical, industrial farming very costly, pushing us to seek new modes of farming that are affordable, cleaner, healthier, more sustainable and profitable.
It’s like we have been forced by circumstances into the organic revolution as Cuba was and that presents a great opportunity in an under serviced market.
Zimbabwean farmers have the recuperated, clean, living, healthy soils, that can qualify for organic certification to grow the once renowned unique Zimbabwean organic produce.
This will not only revive Zimbabwean farming but it will leverage the country out of competing on volume and low prices, which leave very little capital for reinvestment into sustainable farming.
It also alleviates the nation from unsustainable farming practices that degrade and exhaust soils, reducing yields with the inevitable impact on the health of citizens. Causing an escalation of healthcare costs, demand for medicines and environmental damage in this sanction environment thus threatening the long term prospects of the nation.
Yet wholesome food can become the nourishment and medication of our bodies that earns us great returns on the international market while reducing our health bill at home.
How Exactly Does The Nation Go Organic?
To Be Continued........
By Rutendo Bereza Matinyarare