2019 Article IV Consultation-Press Release; Staff Report; and Statement by the Executive Director for Zimbabwe

Abstract

2019 Article IV Consultation-Press Release; Staff Report; and Statement by the Executive Director for Zimbabwe

Unlocking Zimbabwe’s Agricultural Potential1

The agricultural sector is a major component of total value added in Zimbabwe, the largest employer, and the country’s second largest source of exports earnings. This Selected Issues Paper (SIP) describes the evolution of agricultural production in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, focusing on the steady decline in agricultural productivity over the last two decades and the growing gap between Zimbabwe’s agricultural output and its potential. Using cross-country analysis, we identify the key drivers and bottlenecks of agricultural productivity in Zimbabwe, including structural, regulatory, and financial barriers to sustainable growth. We then examine the role of government support and subsidy programs for agriculture, including the large fiscal costs associated with these subsidies. Finally, we identify fiscally sustainable reforms to improve agricultural as a vehicle for inclusive growth in Zimbabwe.

A. The Evolution of Agricultural Production in Zimbabwe Since Independence

1. Agriculture plays a critical employment and production role in Zimbabwe. The agricultural sector represents about 10 percent of aggregate value added, and while this is down from 20 percent just a few decades ago, the sector remains of fundamental importance to the economy. About two-thirds of working Zimbabweans are employed in agriculture, and agricultural exports represent about 30 percent of the US dollar value of exports, second only to mining. Moreover, agriculture plays a critical role in food security and poverty reduction in the country. For example, the drought of 2018–2019, which continues into 2020, has led to a rapid rise in the number of Zimbabweans who are food insecure, which currently stands at 8 million people (about 60 percent of the population)

2. Adjusted for inflation, agricultural value-added remains below what it was in the 1990s, and roughly 50 percent below its peak. Agricultural value-added reached its peak in 2000, after nearly 20 years of sustained growth, but has fallen precipitously since then. This decline occurred despite a secular increase in inputs, as agricultural land in production has been stable and employment in the sector essentially doubled (Figure 1). While most agricultural products experienced a trend decline during this period, the reduction was most pronounced in non-irrigated crops such as cereals.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Zimbabwe: Determinants of Agriculture Productivity

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2020, 082; 10.5089/9781513537726.002.A005

Note: FAO, ILO and IMF staff calculations.
Text Figure 1.
Text Figure 1.

Zimbabwe: Agriculture Production and Inputs, 1990–17

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2020, 082; 10.5089/9781513537726.002.A005

Note: FAO, ILO and IMF staff calculations. Value added figures include agriculture, forestry and fishing, and are expressed in constant 2010 US dollars.

3. Independence gave voice to the preference of many Zimbabweans to redistribute land in a more egalitarian manner. At the time of independence, the ownership of land was heavily skewed, with a minority of white Zimbabweans (approximately 2 percent of the population) owning 40 percent of the country’s farmland, which produced 40 percent of the country’s GDP and was responsible for 60 percent of its export earnings. These inequalities created pressures for the Government to redistribute land to poorer black Zimbabweans, as well as to provide settlements for war veterans.

4. While land reform lasted several decades, and underwent several distinct stages (Table 1), it was only during the last phase that agricultural output and productivity were severely affected (Figure 1). The Fast-Track Land Reform Program (FTLRP), represented a marked departure from previous land reform phases, in particular by abandoning the process of ‘willing buyer-willing seller’ that had been followed until then. The FTLRP was also saddled with a more radical political environment, which resulted in a shift from technical to politically-driven land allocations and the drying up of donor support for land reform.

Table 1.

Phases of Zimbabwe’s Land Reform

article image

5. The trend-decline in value added for the agricultural sector is partially attributable to declining production volumes and a hollowing out of the value chain. As an example, cereal production fell from an annual production of 1.9 million tons in the 1990s, to 1.6 million in the 2000s, and closer to 1.1 million since 2010. While some grains experienced increases, such as sorghum and millet, this was mostly due to changing incentives for crop selection as farm size decreased, access to credit evaporated, and farmer skills declined. Cash crops, such as tobacco, experienced a similar sharp decline. Declining agricultural production and macroeconomic instability proceeded to affect agribusiness as well, leading to the closure and scaling back of many firms.

6. Fundamentally, the driving force for the collapse in agriculture was the steep decline in productivity since 2000. The decline in agricultural productivity affected the sector as a whole, but unevenly. Productivity, measured as output per hectare of land, declined for both staple crops (e.g. maize), but also essential export earning cash crops such as tobacco (Figure 2). In both maize and tobacco, Zimbabwe moved from being above the average of its peers to significantly underperforming (Table 2). A bright spot is the rebound in tobacco productivity since 2010, which is attributable specific developments in the sector, including the start of contract farming in the mid-2000s, and which provides insights on how to reform the agricultural sector as a whole to restore growth.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Impact of Government Spending in Agriculture

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2020, 082; 10.5089/9781513537726.002.A005

Sources: Zimbabwean authorities, USGS, USAID, FEWS.NET and IMF staff calculations.
Text Table 1.

Agriculture and Productivity – Zimbabwe versus Peers

(kgs per hectare)

article image
Source: FAO, Zimbabwe authorities, and IMF staff calculations. Peer countries are ranked by their production shares in the 1980s.
Text Figure 2.
Text Figure 2.

Zimbabwe: Agriculture Productivity, 1980–2017

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2020, 082; 10.5089/9781513537726.002.A005

Sources: Zimbabwean authorities, TIMB, FAO, and IMF staff estimates.Note: Maize yields are presented as a 3-year moving average

7. Starting in 2015, the Government of Zimbabwe started to place additional emphasis on the importance of agriculture, especially through its fiscal and quasi-fiscal activities under Command Agriculture. This commitment to agriculture is bolstered by the medium-term Transition and Stabilization Plan (TSP) and the Vision 2030 long-term development strategy, which aim to transform Zimbabwe into a middle-class economy. For these goals to be met, agriculture will have to improve its productivity and increase volumes in order to provide a reasonable income for Zimbabwe’s many farmers. However, recent interventions have focused primarily on income support and other subsidies rather than financing long-term productivity enhancing investments (Section C). At the same time policy uncertainty, FX shortages, land rights and transfer issues, environmental shocks, and macroeconomic instability have choked off (external and domestic) private investment in the sector.

B. Determinants of Low Agricultural Productivity in Zimbabwe

8. Zimbabwe has enormous untapped agricultural potential and agriculture (and agribusiness) are essential ingredients in any sustainable development model for the country. The abundance of fertile land, an educated labor force, good weather, and access to large export markets are highlighted as strengths of the sector that can be built upon to build a dynamic agriculture/agribusiness sector. Unfortunately, weak infrastructure, market distortions, structural barriers and policy mistakes have presented formidable headwinds to improving productivity in the sector.

9. Economies of scale are limited by unsecure property rights and difficulty in accessing financing.

  • i. Reforms to the land tenure system eventually led to the extinguishing of most private property rights through socially differentiated forms of land tenure provided to the A1 and A2 land beneficiaries. The latter get 99-year lease contracts providing land use rights to individual landholders. The A1 beneficiaries, on the other hand, receive statutory permits to occupy and use land in perpetuity as a family land right. Nevertheless, due to governance challenges, rent seeking, and political headwinds it is not uncommon for holders of A1 and A1 claims to not be able to access their land for several years (and sometimes never). Moreover, the security of these property claims in uncertain, as they can be revoked through ministerial authority, and owners are in general not able to transfer land titles, an essential aspect of using land as collateral for access to finance.

  • ii. The uncertainty surrounding the 99-year leases, the influx of new farmers without strong farming experience, and government interventions in the market have made it difficult for the sector to access credit. About 21 per cent of the beneficiaries reported encountering problems with access to credit because they did not have adequate land tenure documents and the majority of these were A2 landholders.

  • iii. While average farm size in the aggregate does not indicate a barrier to economies of scale, with A1 allocations around 5–10 hectares and A2 averaging 100 hectares, caution should be taken in using these figures. For example, there are challenges in estimating farm size, because of widespread use of land by those with unsecured property rights, as well as insufficient data on subdivided plots. More importantly, the dividing of seized farm land into plots under the FTLRP was conducted with a focus on social and political outcomes, rather than profitability, and consequently many of the plots were no longer economically viable as a standalone entity.

10. While notionally access to credit for Zimbabwe seems relatively robust for the agricultural sector, the reality is that most of the credit is short-term creditor for fertilizer and seed that is backed by a government guarantee. Private lenders, despite default rates in excess of 90 percent in recent years, have thus been able to receive a risk-free return on these ‘agricultural’ loans. However, through a combination of interest rate caps, risk perceptions, and unclear property rights, access to medium-term capital for investment (or land acquisition) is basically non-existent through private domestic channels. The Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) survey highlights some of the fundamental barriers to a dynamic agricultural sector (Figure 3). The 2017 report is a project by the World Bank to assess the regulatory framework in agriculture and agribusiness. Higher scores represent better laws and regulations in each EBA topic. The 2017 report covers 62 countries and 12 topics. The report focuses on the quality of laws and regulations, and not how they are implemented in practice. In the case of Zimbabwe, we see that Zimbabwe scores similar or better than the average SSA country and a close peer country (Zambia) across several topics, such as fertilizer, machinery, market access, transportation and seed. However, it scores poorly in water, ICT and especially finance. While it scores similar to its peers in terms of seed availability and better than average for fertilizer it is important that these two achievements were reached in 2017 by unsustainably high fiscal outlays under Command Agriculture to subsidize these two inputs. Consistent with other information, one dimension where Zimbabwe scores particularly low is that property rights, credit registry and availability of collateral for accessing finance.

11. The Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) survey highlights some of the fundamental barriers to a dynamic agricultural sector (Figure 3). The 2017 report is a project by the World Bank to assess the regulatory framework in agriculture and agribusiness. Higher scores represent better laws and regulations in each EBA topic. The 2017 report covers 62 countries and 12 topics. The report focuses on the quality of laws and regulations, and not how they are implemented in practice. In the case of Zimbabwe, we see that Zimbabwe scores similar or better than the average SSA country and a close peer country (Zambia) across several topics, such as fertilizer, machinery, market access, transportation and seed. However, it scores poorly in water, ICT and especially finance. While it scores similar to its peers in terms of seed availability and better than average for fertilizer it is important that these two achievements were reached in 2017 by unsustainably high fiscal outlays under Command Agriculture to subsidize these two inputs. Consistent with other information, one dimension where Zimbabwe scores particularly low is that property rights, credit registry and availability of collateral for accessing finance.

Text Figure 3.
Text Figure 3.

Zimbabwe: Agriculture Regulatory Framework, 2017

(scores from 0 to 100)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2020, 082; 10.5089/9781513537726.002.A005

Sources: World Bank Enabling the Business of Agriculture, 2017.

12. Infrastructure remains a weak point across the economy, affecting the productivity of all sectors. The combination of low public investment with a growing population has led Zimbabwe to fall below the regional average, with Zimbabwe’s per capita public capital stock now approximately half the average for sub-Saharan Africa (Text Figure 4.) For agriculture, the fundamental infrastructure barriers are a lack of irrigated land, with only 1 percent of agricultural land equipped for irrigation, and a deficient transportation network (roads, rail, airports) to get agricultural products to market. More recently, electricity shortages that decrease the effectiveness of irrigation equipment and the damage caused by Cyclone Idai to transport infrastructure have only exacerbated these challenges.

Text Figure 4.
Text Figure 4.

Zimbabwe: Public Capital Stock per Capita, 2017

(US dollars)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2020, 082; 10.5089/9781513537726.002.A005

Sources: IMF F AD Database;, and staff estimates.

13. The ineffectiveness of fertilizer to meaningfully increase output despite relatively high use is consistent with the literature on fertilizer input schemes. Generally, the literature shows lower maize response to fertilizer on smallholder-managed plots, for reasons that correlate strongly with Zimbabwe’s situation. First, crop yields response to fertilizer tend to be lower and less predictable when farmers rely on rainfed irrigation. The need to couple irrigation with fertilizer will become even more critical over the coming decades as rainfall becomes more erratic due to climate change. Second, there tend to be strong learning-by-doing effects in the use of fertilizer, with younger and less experienced farmers averaging lower yields for the same amount of fertilizer per hectare. For Zimbabwe, with a generation of new farmers, this could have a large aggregate decrease on the effectiveness of fertilizer. Finally, diversion and re-selling of fertilizer, while difficult to quantify, is undoubtedly also partly responsible for the low effectiveness of fertilizer. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the 100 percent government guarantee for agricultural input loans has led some unscrupulous recipients to take those loans, sell the inputs and default on the loans. Consequently, the real amount of fertilizer being used maybe less than estimated figures (Figure 5).

C. Impact of Government Support Programs on Agriculture

14. Recognizing the importance of agriculture as an engine of growth for Zimbabwe, the Government has devoted significant support to the sector under the umbrella program ‘Command Agriculture’. Starting during the 2016/2017 season, a set of initiatives were introduced, and subsequently scaled up, which entailed the significant mobilization of public (fiscal and quasi-fiscal) and private (with a government guarantee) financial flows into the agricultural sector. These initiatives had four components:

  • i. The Presidential Input Scheme (PIS). In place since 2011, the PIS is a social safety net where the government distributes agricultural inputs – seeds and fertilizer – to small-scale and impoverished rural farmers to support grain and soya bean production. The PIS was scaled up significantly, from US$42 million in 2016 to US$263 million in 2018. Data constraints limit the ability of a full evaluation of the effectiveness and targeting of the PIS, but anecdotal evidence indicates governance, cost, and distribution challenges.

  • ii. The Special Maize Program. This backbone of Command Agriculture has increased production, but at a significant cost. Under the scheme, the Government of Zimbabwe, via a full 100 percent guarantee of the loan, encourages private companies (banks, fertilizer importers, etc.) to extend inputs to farmers on credit. The contract stipulates that the farmer commits to producing a minimum of 5 tons per hectare and would pay back the credit via delivery of the grains to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB).

  • iii. The Tobacco and Cotton Input Funds. Next to gold, tobacco is the most import export for Zimbabwe and in 2017 a revolving fund for tobacco support was established via an RBZ quasi-fiscal activity; the fund has had to be recapitalized since its establishment. A similar input support scheme was put in place for cotton, with public support to the fund in 2016 and again in 2017.

  • iv. Price Subsidies for both inputs and outputs. To incentivize sale to the GMB, the purchase price offered to farmers is set well above import parity and production costs. At the same time, the GMB sells this grain at a steep discount compared to import parity prices in an attempt to avoid price increases for final consumers. The result were income gains for producers and consumers of grain, but at the cost of large losses at the GMB that needed to be covered by fiscal transfers.

15. Zimbabwe has a long history of central government subsidies, which are large relative to other sub-Saharan countries (Figure 6). While historically these subsidies have been to SOEs and to facilitate private sector bailouts, in recent years they have increasingly been directed towards increasing the incomes of farmers, and to a larger extent, agribusinesses.

Text Figure 5.
Text Figure 5.

Zimbabwe: Subsidies in Sub-Saharan Africa

(in percent of GDP, average of 2009–2018)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2020, 082; 10.5089/9781513537726.002.A005

Sources: Zimbabwean authorities., and IMF staff estimates.

16. The fiscal costs of Command Agriculture have been dramatic and a principal contributor to the unsustainable deficits in recent years (Figure 7). The cost of grain subsidies and input schemes escalated substantially in 2016 with the start of Command Agriculture. Overall, nearly 20 percent of GDP worth of fiscal and quasi-fiscal expenditures were spent on agriculture between 2015- 2018, and preliminary indications are for the 2019–2020 crop season to also incur significant fiscal costs. Although large, these fiscal costs understate the true costs to the economy as they omit: costly subsidies for fuel imports via RBZ quasi-fiscal activities and the full cost of repayment of defaulted farmer loans, and the destabilizing macroeconomic consequences of RBZ money creation to finance unexpected, off-budget, agricultural expenses.

Text Figure 6.
Text Figure 6.

Zimbabwe: Agriculture Spending and Central Government Deficit

(in percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2020, 082; 10.5089/9781513537726.002.A005

Sources: Zimbabwean authorities.

17. Despite their large fiscal cost, government programs have had limited impact on agricultural output and no discernable impact on productivity. Comparing three-year averages before and after the Command Agriculture program was started shows little to no change in maize output or yield per hectare. Fluctuations are almost entirely attributable to rain variance, highlighting the need for increased irrigation to improve agricultural output and climate resistance. Figure 8 provides an illustrative and compelling example of the negligible effect of government intervention in recent years by comparing 2014 with 2018. While in 2014 there was very little government intervention, 2018 saw public support reaching more than 4 percent of GDP. Despite reasonably similar weather conditions, government support translated into only a small increase in yields, with maize output increasing by just 15 percent (from approximately 1,500 tons to 1,700 tons). Under this scenario, the marginal cost of an extra ton of maize produced with the support of Command Agriculture was US$2900, nearly nine times the cost of importing the maize and selling it at prevailing subsidized rates.

D. Policy Recommendations to Improve Sustainable Growth in Agriculture

18. Improving public spending on agriculture can enhance productivity, improve volumes, catalyze growth, and strengthen the sector’s resilience to climate change. In the case of Zimbabwe, the fundamental policy prescription is to shift spending away from income support, input subsidies and price controls and towards skills development, R&D, and infrastructure spending; in essence, moving fiscal resources away from the provision of private goods to the provision of public goods. A new agricultural plan must also respect fiscal constraints and bring public support for agriculture to a sustainable level.

19. In this regard, consideration should be given to following policy reforms:

  • Reduce the guarantee on loans from 100 percent to avoid moral hazard and consistently high default rates. If the government wishes to continue to subsidize access to finance for farmers consideration should be given to providing only a partial guarantee that ensures fair risk sharing across stakeholders and is subject to a cap to avoid fiscal shocks. Alternatively, the government could commit to paying a portion of the interest bill so that farmers receive concessional financial support. Moreover, penalties and consequences for farmer loan defaults need to be established and enforced.

  • Remove the inefficient and untargeted price subsidy for maize and replace it with an expanded social safety net. While the Government has made much progress in reducing prices subsidies, the recently announced subsidy for maize millers goes in the wrong direction. This uncapped, untargeted subsidy is expected to cost at, prevailing prices, ZWL 1.2 billion in 2020, but could likely rise depending on the future inflation path.

  • Catalyze resources from the private sector and donors through joint partnerships for the funding of growth-enhancing investments. There remains strong interest among the official and private sector to invest in agriculture given its potential for lucrative exports. Carefully designed joint-partnerships with appropriate burden-sharing can help alleviate critical bottlenecks in electricity generation, storage and transportation, market access, and skills development that would permanently increase the productivity of the sector.

  • Reduce the distortionary effects of price controls. Not only are there fiscal consequences to fixed prices, but large deviations in the fixed price and import parity have at times led to the large-scale diversion of agricultural output. While consideration needs to be given to the security of livelihood of small farmers, it is less clear why medium-to-large scale commercial farmers should not be required to respond to market forces. Increased tailoring of income support to small farmers, potential through insurance-based instruments (e.g. crop insurance) and improved social safety nets (e.g. cash transfers), would result in improved outcomes and lower and more predictable fiscal outlays.

  • Improve and increase the use of contract farming. Contract farming has seen notable success in Zimbabwe with tobacco, where yields have increased as financial constraints were removed and a market for the sale of the agricultural product was created. To promote the use of contract farming in other crops, efforts should be made to improve and simplify the legal structure for contract farming and encourage small and communal farmers to form cooperatives that could facilitate contract farming at the appropriate scale.

20. It is also imperative to improve the regulatory environment and legal clarity of land titles. It is essential to improve the land tenure security of individuals, particularly A1 and A2 farmers. An immediate improvement would be to standardize and de-politicize the leasing of agricultural land. Moreover, to unlock foreign investment, and remove a significant perceived risk to the sector, a formal agreement for compensation of previous farmers who had their land expropriated is indispensable.

21. It is worth noting that many of the barriers to sustainable growth in agriculture are not unique to the sector, but affect the entire economy. Macroeconomic stability, reliable electricity supply, and a functional transportation network are as essential to agriculture as the rest of the economy. If Zimbabwe is going to reach its stated goals under the TSP, Vision 2030, and the Sustainable Development Goas (SDGs), it is going to require an increase and reprioritization of fiscal spending (Figure 9). While the additional spending needs for Zimbabwe are less than the average for sub-Saharan Africa, they remain substantial. Securing these resources will require concerted efforts to mobilize domestic revenues, a commitment to macroeconomic stability, and a normalization of its financial relationships with the external community.

Text Figure 7.
Text Figure 7.

Zimbabwe: Additional Spending to Meet the SDGs in 2030

(percentage points of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2020, 082; 10.5089/9781513537726.002.A005

Sources: Zimbabwean authorities, and IMF staff estimates.

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1

Prepared by Frederico Lima and Trevor Lessard (both AFR).

Zimbabwe: 2019 Article IV Consultation-Press Release; Staff Report; and Statement by the Executive Director for Zimbabwe
Author: International Monetary Fund. African Dept.
  • View in gallery

    Zimbabwe: Determinants of Agriculture Productivity

  • View in gallery

    Zimbabwe: Agriculture Production and Inputs, 1990–17

  • View in gallery

    Impact of Government Spending in Agriculture

  • View in gallery

    Zimbabwe: Agriculture Productivity, 1980–2017

  • View in gallery

    Zimbabwe: Agriculture Regulatory Framework, 2017

    (scores from 0 to 100)

  • View in gallery

    Zimbabwe: Public Capital Stock per Capita, 2017

    (US dollars)

  • View in gallery

    Zimbabwe: Subsidies in Sub-Saharan Africa

    (in percent of GDP, average of 2009–2018)

  • View in gallery

    Zimbabwe: Agriculture Spending and Central Government Deficit

    (in percent of GDP)

  • View in gallery

    Zimbabwe: Additional Spending to Meet the SDGs in 2030

    (percentage points of GDP)