Agricultural Economics in Zambia
As we moved towards independence in 1964, it was clear
that I should move into a more clearly defined profession, and I transferred as an
Agricultural Economist into the Ministry of Agriculture.
The Agricultural Marketing Committee.
Initially, the Secretaryship of this committee was my
main task, since law and order could not be maintained in large mining communities if the
basic food supply (white dent maize) could not be guaranteed. On occasions when stocks ran
out, and American yellow maize was supplied in the rations, there were riots. In any case,
locally produced maize from commercial farmers undercut imported maize due to the latter's
transport costs. Nor could we at that stage rely on private marketing to guarantee
supplies, so marketing was placed under the control of a statutory board; a practice which
in recent years has enabled Zimbabwe not only to supply its own needs, but also to feed
much of Southern Africa, until the present government wrecked the system.
Self-sufficiency was therefore the prime object, and
this was achieved by the guaranteed market and a guaranteed price, adjusted from year to
year on a formula devised by a very experienced agricultural economist, who had emigrated
to Rhodesia from Britain. Assessing the optimal price was the key factor, and this
involved me in field micro-economics, to establish the technology and costs of producing
maize and the other major crops, groundnuts, sorghum, cotton and wheat. Staff were nor
permitted to sit in the office and write letters to farmers!
The committee, which was chaired by the Australian
Professor of Psychology and composed of local business members, had the confidence of the
government, and its recommendations had the desired result, until the government itself
arbitrarily interfered with the farming system and destroyed confidence.
Policy Planning Committee
The purpose of this committee was to bring together the
heads of department and other interested parties, to create a team atmosphere, and iron
out differences of opinion. Since at that time, most of those concerned were still
expatriates, sometimes with strong views, the committee was effective at preparing policy
Tobacco Industry Board
I was the first Secretary of this Board, which we had
to establish when Rhodesia became independent, and we could no longer use their Board's
services. For the same reason, I arranged the finance and organised the building of the
Lusaka Tobacco Auction Floor.
In 1968, the Ministry of Agriculture became the
Ministry of Rural Development, and I found myself in charge of the new Agricultural
Planning Unit, policy papers and cabinet memoranda on agricultural economic matters, and
foreign aid in the agricultural sector. I served on the Cold Storage Board and the Dairy
In 1970, I was seconded to the new Rural Development
Corporation as Chief Projects Officer. I immediately found myself arranging the funding
and organising the establishment of Rural Air Services Ltd., which required three
specialised aircraft to spray systematically much of the forest area of Southern Province,
against an otherwise uncontrollable population explosion of tsetse fly, threatening the
entire cattle population. The job done, the company became very useful for other aerial
requirements for the Ministry.
The Corporation was also establishing beef cattle
enterprises. I accompanied the Zambian Chairman on an official visit to East Africa and
Political and Social Collapse
Since our Faculty is concerned with Politics as well as
Economics, I will need henceforth to comment on this aspect.
Until the late 1960's, there had been little
identifiable corruption in Zambia, and activities proceeded with a fair degree of western
competence. But collapse then occurred fairly rapidly. A substantial proportion of the
population could be drunk before breakfast. When on tour, I found that visiting
politicians whose rest house I might be sharing, normally expected the local headmaster to
provide schoolgirls for their bed.
Law and order was breaking down rapidly. Police morale
was low, and they were short of working vehicles. An expatriate lecturer was shot dead on
his front verandah, allegedly by a roving South African freedom fighter. The reduction of
interest in the law worked in both directions. two neighbours who kept a pair of
Rottweilers for protection, came back late one evening to find a dead burglar in the
kitchen. When the police arrived, they laughed, congratulated our neighbours, threw the
body in the Landrover and drove away.
A neighbour and I had a splendid incident, when our
wives were away, and a very large burglar broke into his house, stealing a bagful of
whiskey and gin bottles. My neighbour woke, phoned me, and pursued him. We caught him in
the garden and had a pitched battle. He broke my neighbour's nose and tried to stab him.
He escaped and was brought down in a rugby tackle. We managed then to tie him up in
electric flex and call the police. This was followed by the scene of my neighbour, who was
a red-headed Scotsman who slept in the nude, standing naked, covered in his own blood,
with his foot on our prisoner, like some Middle Ages Viking. In court, many months later,
the burglar explained that he had been walking peacefully down the road, and had been
attacked by two ferocious bwanas. Why, asked the prosecutor, had he been carrying a three
foot crowbar? No-one in our road was ever burgled again.
Corruption by now was creeping right through the
system. A Party Secretary in Northern Province took over the administration of the
Cooperative and reassigned the funds to himself. Our Zambian Minister had to take action,
but he could not send Zambian civil servants to deal with it. I was sent with three of
them as the hatchet man. There was no problem with the case, and he was dismissed from the
Cooperative post; the organisation then being bankrupt, and unable thereafter to pay many
of the farmers for the crops which it purchased.
In 1971, my agreed seven years extension in the
Administrative Service ended. I was offered a new contract by the Zambian government and
accepted with doubts. Shortly after, the Minister called me in, thanked me for what I had
done, and told me that the Party had cancelled my contract.