Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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President Taffs’ Speech at CFU Congress 2014

Congress 2014 speech

Honourable Ministers, your Worship the Mayor of Harare, your Excellency’s our Ambassadorial guests, business leaders, community leaders, heads of our visiting agricultural unions, delegates, members, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our annual 71st congress. It is a great pleasure and indeed an honour to address you here as the outgoing President of the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe.

Before I start, I would just like to acknowledge the presence of the immediate past president of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, who has recently retired at their Annual Congress. Silas Hungwe, has represented the small scale sector for many years with strength and wisdom and during my tenure as President of the Commercial Farmers Union, has been a great source of inspiration and sound solid advice during a very difficult period in our country’s history and I would like to take this opportunity in personally thanking him and wishing him all the best in his retirement.

During the year this organisation has continued to try and create a positive platform from which a vibrant commercial agricultural base can be re-established. The focus of this has been in two parts. Firstly to try and deal with finality, all issues surrounding land tenure and security in a comprehensive manner that would promote an enabling environment within which our sector could rebound, allowing for the re-establishment of the entire agricultural value chain together with all its associated industries and partners. It has always been my belief that once this is achieved our risk perception as a country would greatly decrease, always remembering that the perception of risk is often the biggest risk of all. It must be remembered that no industry can operate in isolation of others and that by thoroughly dealing with the land issue in a fair and pragmatic manner the people of Zimbabwe would very quickly see a rapid recovery of Zimbabwe as a whole.

Our second focus has been the re-establishment of strong robust agricultural representation through the bringing together of all agricultural unions within our borders through the Joint Presidents Council and the Zimbabwe Farmers Alliance Trust.

Great strides have been made in the formation of an Agricultural Federation under which the unions can jointly operate at association and regional level, whilst creating the road map for the ultimate unification into one single union. In my view this process is long overdue and indeed should have been done many years ago. Agriculture in Zimbabwe does not need fragmented representation but rather strong focused representation on all agricultural issues, upon which Government can be assisted with beneficial policy development. To this end I would like to thank in particular Abdul Nyati, the new Zimbabwe Farmer’s Union President and Peter Steyl, our very own incoming President for the work done to date, and as the two new presidents, together with their own personal and professional relationship I see this process accelerating in the short term and I complement them both.

I would also like to take this opportunity in thanking the EU for their continued support in this process and I hope that this will continue going forward and furthermore would encourage other countries and interested parties to engage and support this essential process.

However, ladies and gentleman sadly many of our efforts have been frustrated by unclear policy, lack of implementation and political interference, all of which have seen the continued negative impact on our sector specifically, and on the greater economy in general. We have continued to see our farmers over the last year being intimidated, extorted, evicted, beaten and in the most shocking and unacceptable case two of our members having been brutally murdered, in all honesty how can our sector have any chance of growth in such conditions. I appeal to our leaders and authorities to immediately stabilise the land situation for the sake of our country and its citizens I would also like to thank the police for their recent success in the apprehension of perpetrators for some of the afore mentioned cases and offer our assistance in your continued endeavours.

We have seen our sector slide from a large diversified producer base to a sector now focused around the crops that can be funded through corporates such as Tobacco and Cotton in the absence of traditional funders.

Corporate Funding in its current form in Zimbabwe in the main, leaves our grower base greatly exposed.  Many growers now find themselves in real financial difficulties with little room to manoeuvre as the whole value system is not in their favour, leaving them as price takers both in terms of input costs and product values alike. Furthermore much of the money coming into the corporate finance money schemes is offshore based and as such these debts are serviced outside of our borders leaving very little residual wealth. Much of the funding available to the farmers now is short term in nature, expensive and needs alternative collateral outside of the farming business to be offered as security.  A wholly unacceptable and unsustainable state of affairs.

Whilst we welcome the recent expansion in tobacco volumes we are alarmed at the massive devastation that this is be caused through deforestation and siltation as a result of the corresponding increase in demand for firewood as a tobacco curing heat source. This is a national disaster of such magnitude that it is estimated by some professionals that we are losing as much as ten percent tree cover per annum in these tobacco areas. This is not acceptable by any standards and I would strongly urge those corporate funders in the absence of legislation to work with us and others in finding alternative technologies which will enable growers of all sizes to use coal instead of wood as a heat source. It is a total travesty to me to see our national forests be decimated to satisfy shareholder returns in faraway countries.  The children of this country deserve better.

The Cotton Industry continues to shrink, as cotton growers again are being trapped in the cycle of diminishing returns.  In years past our cotton industry was vertically integrated where the bulk of cotton exports were in the form of finished linen products enabling grower protection against fluctuating prices in global raw cotton prices, enabling pre-planting prices to be announced giving comfort to both farmers and funders alike. Now however this is not the case, and the cotton growers of today are now offered spot prices at point of sale, leaving them vulnerable to price shocks and manipulation and for this reason, together with outdated technologies and agro-practices, we have seen and continue to see a reduction in both hectareage and volumes.

Our porous borders continue to undermine local production, and for as long as our internal producer value chain is uncompetitive this thrust will continue to be a reality, putting immense pressure on producers and processors alike.  A current example of this is the unregulated importation of cheap chicken which is being dumped on our local market in large volumes. Poultry producers are now struggling to offload their product, the uptake of day old chicks is greatly suppressed, resulting in large numbers now having to be destroyed. The egg market is currently flooded with cheap fertilized eggs placing our local egg producers in a similar position, all this is being done with no consultation and at the end of the day the people that will pay will ultimately be the consumer. The entire agricultural policy in Zimbabwe needs to be re-looked at.  We are completely on the wrong track and are rapidly being left behind, by both the region and the world at large. We need to very quickly create an investor friendly environment, starting with an active land market, the anchor upon which the entire productive chain can depend upon, we need to decentralize, diversify, industrialise, and very quickly move away from donor dependant agriculture. Over the last 15 years primary production in staple crops has in the main, relied on donor and government support which has created a cycle of dependency, which in turn has suppressed initiative and excellence with a resulting drop in average yields and performance. Our current national average yield for maize is below 1 tonne a hectare. How can we compete when our neighbours in the region are posting country averages in excess of 6 tonnes per hectare? I must stress that it is not the job of government to fund farming ventures on a donation basis, but rather it is their job to provide a conclusive environment through strong, sound, consistent policy, within which serious farmers can excel.  Farming cannot be viewed as a weekend past time it is a serious all year round business and if we want to compete with the wider world we need to move away from policies that have had the net effect of undermining the entire agricultural process.

We must as a matter of urgency, create efficient cost effective farm units which will be able to compete with the wider world, which will attract long term investors, will allow for long term development such as irrigation and other infrastructure to take place, all with the knowledge that such investments are safe. In the modern world, to allocate small, unviable, uneconomic farming units to farmers with no ability to access funding, technology, or markets is to condemn these farmers to eternal poverty and ultimately to create a country dependant on imports for its basic needs.

To those countries that continue to push the small scale agenda in Zimbabwe, whilst at home in their own countries their farms are getting bigger, more efficient, more cost effective, more competitive, smacks of double standards.  I ask these countries to desist from the assumption that Africa and its people will forever be junior partners, who are forced to play by different rules. In all major global economies less than two percent of the population are involved in direct agricultural production, and all these countries post massive export surpluses. In Africa however, the level employed in direct agricultural production is in the region of 70 percent, and yet Africa continues to experience hunger, continues to experience famine. 25 percent of people in sub Saharan Africa are under nourished, every third child is stunted and shockingly those countries which are agro based are the worst affected by food insecurity. The question remains to be asked, Why?

The reason is simple. Ninety percent of the continents food supply is produced by very small holders and they produce so little on a unit basis that fifty percent of them are insecure themselves. The bottom line is that the cost of food production for small holder farmers is too high.  They are not a viable business.  We must move away and develop systems which encourage commercial agriculture for profit.

As a country we can learn much from our neighbours who after many years of being net food importers, have now become net food exporters and on the back of this their economies are growing at staggering rates. At this juncture, I must also thank all those countries in the region and further afield who have welcomed our farmers with open arms allowing them to practice their trade in your countries having been denied that opportunity in their own. I am sure that this has been of immense value to your own economies.

As a country we must deal with the single biggest inhibiter of global financial re-engagement, that being the land issue and the fall out of the fast track land reform program. I must stress that seventy five percent of all expropriated farms were bought after independence. Within the rules and regulations of this government, after, by law, having first being offered to government, many of these farm purchases were funded by government institutions such as the Agricultural Finance Corporation at the time the biggest funder of land in our country. Many of these farms developed irrigation systems funded by fantastic government schemes, such as the Irrigation Development Fund.   Many of these farms developed cattle herds, some famous throughout the world, funded by the government cattle parastatal, namely the Cold Storage Commission, and yet 20 years later those same farms were taken back on the basis that the title deed holders had no legitimate right to the land, despite government itself sanctioning, approving, encouraging, and funding the purchase and development of these properties. How can this be viewed in any way other than a gross violation of human rights?

It is very sad to note that after 15 years very little compensation has been paid to our members and what has been paid, grossly inadequate and unfair. Our Government continues to gazette and acquire land with no national budget allocation being made for compensation. There is quite clearly no intent being displayed by our authorities to deal with this issue in a fair and transparent manner. Until this issue is fully dealt with in accordance with international process and norms we will continue to be viewed as a country where property rights are disregarded perpetuating our economic isolation, to the detriment of every Zimbabwean, man, women and child.

We have to now move on, let us work in unison on a comprehensive program and strategy which deals with the past reinstates lost values to within our boarders, removes remaining conflict, releases new land value through whatever dispensation may be embarked upon. We at the CFU have and continue to work tirelessly towards such a just pragmatic, affordable solution and furthermore we feel that The Way Forward proposal that we and our partners have developed is now a very strong document, which if placed upon the negotiating table could, through mutual consent be moulded into the win-win solution we all so greatly deserve. I apologise unreservedly for not completing this task during my tenure and if needed will continue to drive compensation under the CFU umbrella.

Ladies and gentleman it is no secret we are a country in crisis, it is equally no secret that we are a country, blessed with huge natural wealth an enabling climate, good people all with the capacity to initiate a strong turn around recovery. Let us kindle anew a fire of hope, faith, courage and tolerance so that we may once again be a nation of substance on this magnificent continent.

I thank you.

C Taffs


28th October 2014



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