Command Agriculture: Post Mugabe Authoritarian Consolidation – Zimbabwe’s Political Moral Hazard

This report presents research findings and discussions on the involvement of the military in agriculture through the Command Agriculture Programme (CAP). The study investigated the underlying political objectives of the securocrats pursued through the Command Agriculture Programme and the consequences of this militarization on human rights, good-governance and investment prospects in the sector. Two main objectives are addressed by the findings in the following order: (i) the performance audit of CAP and related challenges and (ii) conceptual analysis of the underlying politicking behind Command Agriculture and the attendant political moral hazard problem.

Key findings are summarised as follows:

1) The CAP performance audit revealed contradictory results. On one hand, maize production and deliveries to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) have increased in the CAP era compared to the 2015/2016 harvest season before CAP was introduced. On the other hand, household grain production has decreased, food insecurity has increased, and maize imports have increased.

2) Command Agriculture is run through a ZANU PF / securocrats patronage network that has made it very difficult to translate bumper harvests to food security and maize imports reduction. The proceeds from CAP have been a very powerful means through which regime loyalists are financed, incentivised and rewarded from national to village levels.

3) CAP is seen as more of a political project for the ruling elite and securocrats. Its main aim is to foster a post-Mugabe authoritarian consolidation and augment state capacities for the same through coercion of rivals, extraction of revenue, registration of citizens and cultivation of dependency. The study reveals that the end effect of Command Agriculture will be to render the incumbent government immune from transition pressures and possibilities presented by competitive elections.

4) CAP has lubricated, cascaded and consolidated a deep patronage and clientele infrastructure across key farming and rural constituencies and secured them for future use in ensuring electoral victory for the ruling ZANU-PF party. So far, findings indicate that the ruling elite seem to be succeeding in this regard.

5) The authoritarian consolidation approach chosen by the ruling elite has created a political moral hazard problem which has proven to be a reliable factor in the overthrow of the system itself.

6) Despite reported bumper harvests and high grain deliveries at GMB associated with the CAP in its first season in 2016/2017, household cereal production decreased by an average of 26%, average household maize production decreased by 30% from the gains realized in the 2015/2016 season;

7) There was a remarkable increase in government spending from 48.5% (2015/16) to 76.7% (2016/17) to support the food insecure population.

8) In 2019 Zimbabwe experienced a 60% decrease in average household cereal stocks compared to 2018. In 2018, 28% of the population was classified to be food insecure and this number increased to 39% in 2019;

9) Despite subsidies in form of the CAP inputs, maize deliveries to the GMB have shown a continuing declining trend from the quantity delivered in the 2016/2017 season. In the 2016/2017 season, maize deliveries to the GMB were reported at 1,2 million tonnes, in the 2017/2018 season 1.1 million tonnes while in the 2018/2019 season, maize deliveries plummeted by 78% to 247,242 metric tonnes as of October of all the farming seasons.

10) Although poor rainfall was cited as among causal factors leading to the decline in maize deliveries to the GMB, most respondents (70%) pointed to the declining purchasing power of the procuring price offered by GMB meaning CAP has failed to entice farmers to deliver grains to the GMB.

11) Beneficiaries have failed to pay back their debt obligations thereby accumulating debt for the state. As at 23 November 2017, about 10,053 contracted farmers had not made any maize deliveries to GMB, an indication that these were already defaulting on their 2017 debt obligations.

12) Over 45% of the 50 000 farmers contracted to produce maize under Command Agriculture in the 2016/2017 season had not paid back the loans. Only “repayment receipts of US$47.4 million in loan recoveries from farmers against an anticipated repayment target of US$72 million” was recorded.

13) Three major explanations emerged: (i) some inputs are given to powerful members of the ruling party and securocrats who have a history of defaulting from repayment of government loans in agriculture; (ii) easily accessible support from CAP does not match the fundamental needs of food insecure households and fail to address causes of food insecurity and need for maize imports (this was observed in 56% of the studied sample) and (iii) farmers have been affected by environmental factors such as poor rainfall, El Nino drought and the fall of army worm among others (this was mentioned by 54% of the studied sample).

14) CAP has failed to prevent use of tax-payers’ money to import maize in Zimbabwe. For instance, maize imports increased by an estimated 600% in the 2018/2019 season despite the purported irrigation-based CAP.

15) Since the inception of Command Agriculture, doing business in the sector has been negatively affected by two main factors: scary culture of the military elite and erosion of profitability.

16) The compulsion of beneficiaries to sell their produce to the GMB at a price dictated by government which is ridiculously low has made agriculture an unviable, unprofitable and unsustainable business. In the 2018/2019 season, one metric tonne of maize was bought by GMB at ZWL$2100 which translates to 131 US dollars using the official inter-bank exchange rate and 105 US$ on the parallel market compared to regional price of $198.93 USD in Zambia. The US$ 67 to US$ 93 difference is a serious loss to business.

17) CAP is perceived to be riddled by corruption by 64% of interviewed respondents, although some respondents considered corruption to be at limited levels. The 34% ‘no corruption’ response is in direct contradiction with reports in public data-sets that show corruption in CAP. Respondents were even intimidated to talk about these issues as some (2%) declined to respond to this question.

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Source: Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI)