HARARE – Independent Member of Parliament for Norton, Temba Mliswa, has defended the involvement of the military in government’s special maize import substitution programme, the Command Agriculture, saying politicians had “distorted the initiative” to gain personal political mileage.
Mliswa, who before his dismissal from Zanu PF, where he was the party’s provincial chairperson for Mashonaland West, made the remarks last week Friday at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe (ICAZ) business indaba held in the capital.
“Government wasn’t doing what it should have been doing. The minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Joseph Made has been talking about bumper harvests almost every year, but there was nothing on the ground.
“This command initiative also got distorted by politicians for their political mileage. So, the military had to intervene to save the situation.”
Last year, President Robert Mugabe’s administration introduced Command Agriculture, which was funded to the tune of $192 million by energy firm Sakunda, in a bid to stop imports of the staple grain at a time when foreign currency shortages had intensified.
It targeted to produce at least two million tonnes of maize but the programme, however, fell short of its ambitious target, producing about 30 percent of the country’s maize output in the 2016/17 season, according to official figures.
It is understood that government spent about $400 million on grain imports in 2016 after a poor harvest in 2015/16 season, when the country produced 511 000 tonnes against requirements of 1,8 million tonnes.
Government deployed soldiers to boost capacity and logistical support for the programme.
But, Nelson Chamisa, who is a Member of Parliament for Kuwadzana East, had a different view from Mliswa.
“I have a very strong opinion, which is very different. The military will do better to control our barracks than getting involved in agriculture,” said Chamisa, who also spoke at the ICAZ indaba.
Two weeks ago, Cabinet reportedly rejected a proposal by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was spearheading the programme, to renew the Command Agriculture programme and intensify deployment of the military to support the programme.
Mliswa urged business to get involved in the command initiative so that it is run in a professional manner.
“We are in this situation because business chooses when to come in or not. Business must be involved in the command initiative so that it’s done in a professional manner.
“As business you should not be intimidated by the ruling party (Zanu PF),” he said. – Daily News