Agriculture minister Joseph Made’s deafening silence amid mounting evidence that the El Niño-induced drought is taking its toll on Zimbabwe’s poor farmers vindicates those that have always maintained that he is not suitable for the job.
Last week, there were alarming reports that 7 000 cattle had died in Matabeleland and Masvingo provinces due to the drought that has seen pastures deteriorate in most parts of the country.
The majority of Zimbabwe’s subsistence farmers are too poor to afford supplementary stock feed for their starving cattle, hence their livestock is succumbing to hunger and thirst.
According to the reports, Masvingo is the hardest hit, with 5 000 cattle reported to have died since October.
Most parts of the country have received very little rain since the season started late last year and the water sources have dried up.
The government was warned early enough about the extreme weather conditions being experienced and it was the duty of Made’s ministry to mitigate the effects of the drought.
Farmers should have been given early warnings about the grim situation the country is facing so that they could make decisions about destocking before it was too late.
The government should also have mobilised resources to ensure farmers had access to affordable supplementary stock feed before it became too late to save the livestock.
However, as has become the norm, Made’s ministry behaved as if all was normal and Zimbabwe is now counting the costs once again.
Zimbabwe is not the only country affected by the drought as El Nino affects different parts of the world in different ways.
In southern Africa, the weather phenomenon has resulted in higher temperatures and lower rainfall.
One of Zimbabwe’s most affected neighbours South Africa has reacted by declaring some of the worst-hit provinces disaster areas.
Five provinces were declared as disaster drought areas as early as November last year.
Declaration of drought disaster areas enables the government to marshal resources to help farmers that would have been left in serious financial trouble.
The South African government said it was making available R2,6 million to alleviate the situation.
Farmers affected by the drought would receive assistance from the State.
In Zimbabwe, the only pronouncements that the government makes is that no-one would die of hunger, yet the reality is that people are already surviving on wild fruits in some areas.
The little food aid that is available is distributed along partisan lines as the ruling Zanu PF party officials are put in charge of what should be State programmes.
However, what is unpardonable is the repeated failure by Made’s ministry to deal with effects of drought and its shoddy preparations for several farming seasons, which makes his continued presence in President Robert Mugabe’s Cabinet questionable.
The president must not be seen to be condoning failure, especially at a ministry as important as the one that superintends over agriculture, the backbone of the country’s economy.
Mugabe should also be held responsible for the unmitigated disaster that has become Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector.
As usual, the massive cattle deaths and starvation in rural areas would be conveniently blamed on the drought, but it is common knowledge that it is within the government’s capacity to mitigate such disasters, provided there is planning.
The government might start scrambling for solutions to the drought when Mugabe returns from his annual leave later this month, but it would be too late to salvage farmers’ losses.
Made should be held responsible for this dereliction of duty that would haunt farmers for many seasons to come.