Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

***The views expressed in the articles published on this website DO NOT necessarily express the views of the Commercial Farmers' Union.***

Food Production in Zimbabwe

Eddie Cross: Food Production in Zimbabwe

15th June 2012

Dear Jupiter

I read your note on the link between food production and the destruction of 
white owned farms and thought that it needed a response. As you might know I 
was Chief Economist at the Agricultural Marketing Authority up to 
Independence and have been involved in agriculture here all my life.

You concentrate on maize production, as this is the primary staple that is 
understandable. Communal farmers (70 per cent of the population until the 
recent collapse of the economy and the rural economy) always aimed to 
produce their own food. Generally over time this meant that 60 per cent of 
national maize production came from the Communal areas. Because of the 
nature of subsistence agriculture, low tech, low inputs, yields were always 
low and the areas cultivated huge – some 2 million hectares were cultivated 
annually. If we had good rains this produced a surplus and shortages when 
rains were poor.

Zimbabwe has a 40 per cent mean variation in rainfall (the US is 5 per 
cent). This means that we get huge variations in rainfall from year to year. 
1983, 1992 were exceptionally bad years and only massive imports saved the 
country from starvation. The other crops where communal farmers dominated 
were sorghum, millet, ground nuts and beans. Perhaps we could add sweet 
potatoes and air dried tobacco. Living standards were low =- perhaps a third 
of the standard of living on commercial farms – it is interesting to note 
that population density on commercial farms was nearly as great as on 
communal farms, commercial farmers supported a population of about 2 million 
people in 1997 on about 8 million hectares of land. Communal areas 
population was about 4 million on 16 million hectares, the difference being 
that the majority of the communal land were in regions 3, 4 and 5 – arid and 
semi arid areas. 70 per cent of region 1 land is communal but that is 
restricted to the Eastern Highlands.

What made the Commercial farmers (4800 white and 1200 black) so important 
(70 per cent of gross agricultural output) was the productivity and 
technologically advanced nature of their operations. They irrigated 270 000 
hectares of land – most of it as supplementary irrigation in dry years, they 
produced about 600 000 tonnes of maize a year (we need 1,8 million tonnes a 
year – 1,2 million tonnes for human consumption and 600 000 tonnes for 
industry and stockfeed. But in a dry year they could irrigate much of the 
crop and guarantee some output. Commercial farmers produced virtually all 
the wheat (400 000 tonnes), all the barley (40 000 tonnes) and 95 per cent 
of the tobacco (250 000 tonnes a year) and 90 per cent of all soybeans (120 
000 tonnes). Then they produced all the tea – 90 per cent of the coffee, all 
the milk (260 000 tonnes) and all the fruit (citrus and pome – about 75 000 
tonnes a year). In the meat industry they produced about 60 per cent of the 
poultry, 70 per cent of the beef and 85 per cent of the pig meat – 
altogether about 350 000 tonnes a year.

When you put this all together, Commercial farmers generated about 70 per 
cent of gross agricultural output, half of all exports and a third of 
employment and 60 per cent of the raw materials getting to local industry. 
They supported over 2 million people directly on farms at a standard that 
was significantly better than in the communal areas where absolute poverty 

Since the farm invasions, commercial agricultural output has declined 70 per 
cent and is still declining. In the communal sector, and this is 
fascinating, the decline has been slightly higher at 73 per cent. I estimate 
that out of the 10 000 title deeded farms that were forcibly taken from 
their owners, 7000 are today vacant, with no people living there, no farm 
activity of any kind. Hardest hit has been the cattle industry where 
commercial stocks of 2,7 million head have been reduced to about 700 000 
head. You cannot run cattle when there is no law, no security and no fences.

This year we will import just about everything – two thirds of our milk, a 
third of our sugar (we used to produce 600 000 tonnes a year with half for 
export), vegetables, 1,2 million tonnes of maize – maybe more than last year 
as the crop is smaller, all our wheat, half our barley and two thirds of our 
soybeans. Much of it from Zambia (where ex Zimbabwean farmers have made a 
huge impact) and Malawi where very successful peasant agricultural systems 
are delivering large surpluses – but funded by donors.

What should be of concern to all is that three years after the formation of 
the GNU, the only sector that shows no recovery, but is still in decline, is 



New Posts:

From the archives

Posts from our archive you may find interesting