Fact Check

I know I keep going on about the importance of getting the facts right, but in the febrile context that is Zimbabwe it is important. A report from CFU caught press attention recently – including the BBC. It claimed that “Robert Mugabe’s land seizures ‘cost $12bn’”. But let’s drill down into the details of these claims a bit. In his presentation to the CFU congress Deon Theron, out-going CFU president, claimed that the value of agricultural production from the ‘agricultural industry’ had declined by 70% from 2000 to 2008- from $3.5bn to $1bn. Of course there have been declines – in some commodities more than others, as shown in our book, as well as other reports. But it is important to dissect these figures. He is referring to formal marketing from the large-scale agricultural sector (referred to as the agricultural industry). This takes no account of the value of production from the smallholder sector, and in particular that marketed informally, or used for own consumption. The problem is that much of this is not measured, and so never finds its way into the headline statistics. But there is a substantial value being generated through these routes – through new value chains, new markets, and with new producers and market intermediaries. This has not replaced the value formerly produced through the large-scale sector, but it is significant. Indeed even production of commodities through formal markets has been growing, with cotton and tobacco booming. From an admittedly low base, the agricultural sector is estimated to grow at 19.3% per annum, according to Finance Minister, Tenda Biti. And the CFU statistics of course conveniently ignore this rebound since the stabilisation of the economy from 2009. Of course the loss of tax revenue, and the knock-on effects on the input supply and marketing industries have been significant due to the ‘informalisation’ of the agricultural economy. But quite where the headline figure of $12bn loss of agricultural production, mentioned at the end of his speech and picked up in the BBC piece (with judicious inverted commas) comes from is anyone’s guess. Theron’s actual estimate of the costs of land reform is in fact $33bn – adding in $2.8bn in international food aid and $10bn (rather hopefully) in compensation claims! I guess inevitably statistics are presented to make a political point. And in Theron’s presentation the point is very clear. But journalists who pick up these figures really do need to be a bit more circumspect. Fact checking is important.

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3 responses to “Fact Check

  1. Pingback: When is research ‘really authoritative’? Challenges of evidence, authorship and positionality in research on Zimbabwe’s land reform | zimbabweland

  2. Pingback: Why good numbers matter in Zimbabwe (part II) | zimbabweland

  3. Pingback: Transforming Zimbabwe’s agrarian economy: why smallholder farming is important | zimbabweland

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