Echoes from France suggest poor work ethic in Zim’s agric sector

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Chris Chenga

A poor work ethic does not necessarily mean that one is lazy. Work ethic starts off at one’s conception of what work actually is. A misguidance in understanding work itself, and how it applies in a sector, can induce a poor work ethic. A few weeks ago French president Macron was quoted as suggesting that many French citizens think that it is appropriate to expect something, without putting in proper effort – read as work.

His own conception of proper effort and the conditions in which work is applied has clearly proven unpopular, causing a sustained eleven weeks of protests by the “yellow vest” movement. Many French labourers feel left behind, even marginalised, from the gains and a fair share of economic growth. Whether it is Macron or protesting labourers that are correct remains subjective at this point, but what is intriguing is that within developed economies there is evidently a growing disparity between the understandings of work ethic and its proportionate dividends. Macron, for now, has suggested the nation of France engages in “a great debate” opening dialogue of inquisition on work, and what labour can rightfully feel deserved.

What of the conception of work ethic between developed and developing economies? Often overlooked in analysing Zimbabwe’s land reform are the traditional attitudes of work towards agriculture, particularly ways of subsistence versus ways of commercial farming. Indigenous people have occupied commercially viable land but have not reconfigured their understanding of work from the subsistent ways carried out on the communal reserves on which they worked not more than a generation ago. Consequently, today, the nation can boast of widespread commercial land occupation, yet be humbled by just as high commercially excluded farmers on that land. The slow transition of work ethic reflects in governmental policy, particularly its expectation and patience of farmers on land. On Saturday 19 January, a date traditionally perceived as deep into the summer farming season, President Mnangagwa addressed citizens that, “Our agriculture performance is likely to be impacted negatively by El Nino. Gvt has initiated appeal for assistance from international community” Before suggesting motion towards seeking aid, it would have been prudent for Mnangagwa’s administration to inquire on why the agriculture sector has struggled to attract commercial investment for it to industrialise. Furthermore, the administration should consider why European donors may be losing enthusiasm for aid handouts to a proving commercially incompetent Zimbabwe.

Industrialisation means that a sector has identified value adding professions that aligned towards national output. This creates a clear path for investment into such a sector. Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector, decades after land reform, has yet to align itself as such. This is because of subsistent perceptions of agriculture. Consider that climate change has been a prominent agenda on global forums. Climate research and data gathering have gained value as downstream sub-sectors find this work valuable. The study of climate itself has become a crucial pillar of agriculture industries, assuming forefront to all other sub-sectors as it informs the strategy and decision making of financiers, chemical manufacturers, fertilizer manufacturers, seed houses, and many other stakeholders. Perhaps then President Mnangagwa’s haste to seek aid may not corroborate with a declaration of a drought year. Indeed days after his pronouncement to seek aid many regions in the country received ample rainfall.

Even in local papers articles of optimistic harvests suddenly emerged. Over the last decade, research and data on Zimbabwe has shown trends of shifting rainfall patterns. Much if it has shown that traditional months of October, November, and December are no longer when the nation receives its most rainfall, with over 60% rainfall now occurring after Christmas. Despite this data Zimbabwean farmers and government, seem stuck on traditional conventions that measure seasons by calendar and not climatology.

This is a misguidance in work ethic; to exclude a high value adding profession that could mean the difference between hunger and bumper harvest. Many foreign private entities have tried to enter the Zimbabwean market to offer climatology research and data, even at subsidized costs for satellite tracking of their computation. They have mostly partnered up with local insurers. Yet, their product offerings remain ignored by slow adapting traditional conventions of farming.

Of course one cannot be too critical, as in his utterance the President could have been taking a responsibly conservative outlook. Hence, he uses the term likely. However, assume how goes the dialogue of seeking out drought relief from nations that have invested record sums, either to their own private companies seeking to offer climate products to rainfall dependent economies, or through multilateral institutions such as World Bank which in 2018 exceeded its 28% target of all lending to be climate related? Is it not conceivable then for donors to suggest that donor dependent nations like Zimbabwe think that it is appropriate to expect something, without putting in proper effort – read as work? The very best case scenario for aid would be if donor dependents approached such dialogue with data maybe showing the anomaly of a harsh drought year. But, El Nino is expectedly cyclical and the pronouncement of a drought year remains data barren.

Climate work is just one aspect of the growing divergence between commercially cultured donors and subsistent cultured dependents. The subsistence perception has distanced many other high value professions in Zimbabwe’s agriculture. One can contrast with the recent shutdown of the US government. There was no January Crop Report due for publication on January 11. This meant that affected professions in the agriculture sector included fertilizer producers, seed houses, equipment manufacturers, insurers, and capital markets that finance the sector. All these are professions that have an aligned interest that is determinant of national output. That is evidence of an industrialized agriculture sector. Connecting all these professions to make a viably commercial industry is priced-in knowledge and priced-in job execution. In contrast, the subsistent culture in Zimbabwe neither fosters priced-in knowledge nor priced-in work execution. Hence, the nation deprives itself of employment opportunities. Jobs occurred when knowledge and work execution are priced-in a sector.

As government and farmers retain subsistent perceptions of farming, all other actors in the agriculture sector are forced to approach it with traditional rudiment too. That is why in an increasingly integrated global economy, Zimbabwe’s low output makes it food insecure, a huge importer, and when governmental funds are low, a donor dependent. It would not be unkind for one to suggest that Zimbabwe has a poor work ethic in agriculture. Work ethic starts off at one’s conception of what work actually is. A misguidance in understanding work itself, and how it applies in a sector, can induce a poor work ethic.