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Wednesday, 21 January 2009

A mid-week rant.....on the state we are in..

Figure 1 : Composition of Zambian Exports (US$ million and %)

Figure 2 : Share of Exports across African countries
I have been deeply frustrated by the failure of Zambian politicians and academics to recognise that although all nations are facing difficult times, thanks to the global slowdown, our problems are both unique and more severe than others. The charts above demonstrates why. Zambia has one of the highest shares of mineral exports on the African continent, making us extremely vulnerable to base metals shocks. But more importantly, a closer inspection of figure 2, shows that nearly all the countries to our right are oil producers, with significant riches to tap into. For example, Angola may be suffering from low oil prices, but it is still aiming for $40bn plus budget for 2009. When you have oil, diversification is less important. Zambia on the other has really blundered over its many decades. It has failed to sufficiently diversify and while there are some signs of hope, the global slowdown has come too early for us.

Incidentally, I find the discussion among Zambian policy makers mind boggling. Its almost like diversification has become a buzz word that they do not grasp. Surely before you call for accelerated diversification you should first ask the basic question : why has Zambia not diversified sufficiently in recent decades ? You cannot create solutions without a full understanding of your previous mistakes. The answer to that question provides significant clues on how to develop policies that would enable rapid and sustainable export diversification.

Other countries have sufficiently diversified their economies from resource dependence to low value manufacturing products coupled with service expansions. Chile successfully transformed itself from a low-income copper dependent economy into a stable middle income structurally diversified economy. So its not exactly impossible, but to achieve the same feat requires us not just to ask what Chile has been able to do well (and stands far better than we do in face of growing crisis), but why have we failed to sufficiently diversify? I would be interested to hear what others think, but two immediate mistakes come to mind.

First, foreign ownership of key resources diverted significant mineral wealth from the state of Zambia. Diversification requires significant access to sizeable pot of funds. Most emerging countries pursuing diversification use "resource wealth" to fund infrastructure and other industries. Chile is the case in point. They have used the mineral wealth prudently, not only in terms of keeping the exchange rate in check through a stabilisation fund, but have also used windfall revenues to enhance productivity in other sectors. Indonesia in the 1970s and 80s also stands out as another example. It used its oil revenues to pursue an agriculture-led growth strategy with investment in rural infrastructure, such as irrigation and roads, as well as in input subsidies for fertilisers and pesticides. Unfortunately, Zambia was unable to do any of these things because of our poor approach to issues. I am afraid to say, we have only ourselves to blame for missing the windfall and finding ourselves in this mess.

Secondly, the investment framework adopted by Zambia did not directly deliver infrastructure investment. In other words, not only did money from minerals flee the country at the height of the boom, leaving little to spend on other areas, we also were refused to compel investors to invest in significant infrastructure, as a second best solution. The GRZ was hoodwinked in the useless concept called "social responsibility". The people of Zambia developed irrational expectations that mining companies would behave in the nation's interests when it comes to the delivery of new infrastructure. There's no such as thing as "social responsibility" because mining companies were motivated purely by profit and always acted in the interest of their shareholders. If using an existing road proved cheaper than building a new one, they proceeded to using the existing one. The same went for local schools and hospitals. When they occasionally provided a new school or funded the local football team, they "appeared" to be socially responsible. Their true motivations was always those of the company. It follows that even now we should not expect these companies to invest in local infrastructure unless it was legally mandated. Had the government moved quickly to put in place a coherent framework that leveraged private sector investment into delivering local infrastructure, as I had previously proposed, Zambia would today be better positioned to withstand the storm. The pace of diversification would have been faster and other sectors such as agriculture and tourism would have been better positioned to expand, while copper goes through the downturn. My point is not that I was right, but that the GRZ approach to these issues continue to be characterised by incompetence. We are now paying the price for the failure to think ahead, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

14 comments:

  1. Cho,

    Thanks for that blunt and timely assessment. You are quite correct that realistic review of past errors, unlike actual crimes, is best done dispassionately and without seeking to cast blame at individuals. While I am completely committed to the non-partisan approach you have established for the blog, I am pleased that we do not let that stop us from exposing the harsh reality of what has been wrought by the collective incompetence of the nation's leaders and servants, as designated and supported by the constitution and the population of course. To err is human. To repeat the same error and truly expect a different result is one definition of insanity.

    Perception is becoming increasingly recognized as important in the information age. We are coming to treat it almost like an industrial material, as more and more people are employed in tasks oriented on refining it, shaping it, integrating it, packaging it, and ultimately selling perception. We engage in perception-based exploration (e.g. Thinking outside the box.), exploitation (Work smarter, not harder.), and marketing activities (Green is the new Black.). I am among those who believe that perception trumps the invisible hand once the market is viewed through a fine enough fractal metric to measure the effects of emotional response on interpretation of imperfect or incomplete information.

    Almost every living creature can be tricked in some way by exploiting aspects of its perception where it has consistent responses. Even if individuals of a species are intelligent enough to avoid being fooled the same way twice, every individual is likely to be fooled the first time. Sometimes these things are inbred and often incredibly specific (e.g. Pass the silhouette of a hawk moving beak-first over a group of laboratory hatched chicks and they all scatter for cover. Perform the same action moving the shadow tail-first and the chicks fail to react.). Sometimes they are learned or conditioned correlations of stimuli and response (e.g. Pavlov's dogs). Humans are certainly not immune to built-in or learned errors of perception. The collective tendency of all individuals to repeat the same initial errors of perception could therefore be viewed as a sort of collective cultural or species level of insanity.

    A modern example of how individual perception is embedded in and reinforces a larger social context can be seen in the marketing research and advertising strategy employed by Axe Body Spray. They isolated a group of young men for two days, allowing one group access to their personal deodorant products and a second group access to none. They then exposed all of the men to each other in a social circumstance, while being secretly observed by a group of women. They subsequently asked the women to rate the attractiveness of the individual men based on what they had seen (not smelled*). They placed all of the men with access to deodorant at the top of the scale, citing "confidence" as a factor in their assessment especially. The company is now expanding into hair care products using a campaign designed to undermine men's self-confidence (e.g. "If these gorgeous professional male models can't get girls without our hair care products, what chance do you have?"). Of course there is nothing truly original about this as the fashion industry has been undermining women's self esteem in order to peddle otherwise useless or even harmful cosmetics for generations. [* Incidentally, evidence also suggests that when selecting potential mates by smell alone, humans of both sexes are more attracted to others with complementary basic immune system factors (i.e. fewer common factors) as communicated via pheromones.]

    The DA provisions for "social responsibility" are likewise cosmetic in nature, designed to make the politicians more confident when campaigning for re-election. Designed to make the shareholders more confident that they will realize their expected return without risk of losses through nationalization or unrest. Designed to make consumers in developed countries feel not only justified in enabling the expropriation of natural resources from other countries, but serenely self-congratulatory in their progressive application of personal gratification to the benefit of that poor (but resource rich) country. You are quite correct that all of these designs are subordinate to the primary goal of financial investment, which is maximizing shareholder return (or more finely viewed, maximizing shareholder willingness to increase management compensation).

    The perception of even something as objective as mathematics is subject to manipulation (e.g. "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics."), especially when emotionally loaded topics like health and children are involved. I recall being invited to attend an Anishnabai (Ontario, CA) tribal meeting where I could listen in while helping watch over the children in the back of the hall. It quickly became apparent that the structure of the meeting was very traditional, with fairly clear adversarial roles for debate along generational lines. The generation of active parents argued passionately and unabashedly for maximum distribution of collective resources to their own children, often raising highly specific and personal goals which their children hoped to achieve. The elder generation of grandparents argued equally passionately for collective investment which would serve unborn generations into the future, even if it meant some worthy dreams of their own beloved grandchildren were deferred. The logic is that as much as the child of today needs their parents' help to thrive, the children seven generations hence will require parents equipped with resources equal to or better than the parents of today.

    We all know that copper mining cannot last forever (though the elemental copper which is removed is more or less eternal), therefore the first thing which must be accomplished by exploiting the resource is replacing it with something at least as useful to Zambians who are raising future generations. Much as I love hospitals, they are not a good first use of limited capital. Primary schools are woefully underfunded, however if parents have sufficient income, the vast majority of them do not hesitate to spend it on schooling. The best use, as indicated by much of the underlying consensus expressed throughout the blog, appears to be in development of long term sustainable resource bases and infrastructure. The process of identifying and improving sustainable resource management procedures and constructing infrastructure to service future development in itself provides as much if not more local employment and economic multiplier as direct investment in social services does.

    Where such an approach really shows dividends is in reform of existing subsistence activity into entrepreneurial activity. For example, implementation of local watershed management programmes which include access to loans or grants for integrating simple irrigation practices (e.g. treadle pumps), soil testing and nutrient runoff/topsoil erosion prevention measures, and localized composting and organic fertilizer production to supplement external inputs, would enable existing farms to place more land under cultivation without degrading (likely improving) yields per hectare. Sustainable practices such as cover cropping and rotation require greater biodiversity than traditional farming, thus automatically encourage diversification on the supply side which mitigates the effects commodity price fluctuation has on the amount of land being cultivated under monocrop practices.

    Sustainable forestry is a lot like painting a major bridge, if you don't cut faster than things grow, a forest can provide employment and raw materials in perpetuity. Investment in equipment for biomass pyrolysis into biogas and/or biodiesel can redirect persons currently engaged in destructive charcoal burning practices into far more lucrative and sustainable means of making a living by gathering forest material for conversion to energy. Then not only can they afford to send their kids to school, but the whole community can avoid the health problems caused by cooking with charcoal instead of gas or electricity. Slightly less preferable to providing power generation facilities to local communities directly, mining companies entering into future DA's could at least be required to sustainably co-generate a certain percentage of their own power consumption.

    The past policy of treating perpetually cheap macro-hydro power as a carrot to attract FDI has been a disaster for balance of trade. It is still unclear how much load-shedding cost the economy over the last year, and will likely remain so given how widespread such effects can be. Loss of mineral production while prices were still at peak alone adds up to significant amounts quite quickly. Medical clinics operating by lamplight is hard to put a monetary figure on. This wouldn't be happening if mineral DA's had included a 50% co-generation requirement in exchange for access to the price controlled grid power resources. In fact I would not be surprised if more money could have been made by cutting income taxes to zero and selling them power at retail prices instead of the much lower bulk delivery tariffs (<50%) for which they are the only ones with high enough consumption volumes to qualify.

    Likewise the recent statements by the President to the effect that a few million dollars in tax revenue was not worth the loss of a few thousand jobs requires the assumption that the wages earned at those jobs are indeed high enough to offset the proposed tax break in full. If the workers each only make a "few" thousand dollars a year, then it only takes that same "few" millions to employ exactly one thousand of them. So just how many millions of dollars and how many jobs are being weighed in the balance here? How many SME's engaged in "non-traditional" exports could be provided with startup or expansion capital grants and loans with those same millions?

    There is a saying, "Why buy the cow if the milk is free?" This is what the nation's leaders appear to be perceive as the situation with regard to taxing the mines. But what if the milk isn't free? Considering that the cow was sold to the current owners by the government, isn't the milk really just a part of that sale price? If the cow gets sick, should one buy the cow back in hopes of nursing it to health? Perhaps one should pay more for milk in hopes that the owner will spend the extra on vets and better diet? Maybe one should just buy a pair of goats instead, considering that the cow will die eventually anyhow?

    Cho, you are absolutely spot on when you point out that to be successful, "diversification requires significant access to pot of funds." Presumably if the government is willing to surrender sources of income already established, then their intent is to raise a pot of funds for domestic diversification through borrowing? Or is this just prelude to even more incentives for FDI to take over the most profitable prospects for development in tourism, agriculture, and manufacturing in exchange for nominal taxes and cosmetic contributions to "social responsibility"? Will the planned diversification actually improve the balance of trade, or simply inflate the apparent size of GDP without actually improving the national outlook?

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  2. Cho,

    First, foreign ownership of key resources diverted significant mineral wealth from the state of Zambia. Diversification requires significant access to sizeable pot of funds. Most emerging countries pursuing diversification use "resource wealth" to fund infrastructure and other industries. Chile is the case in point. They have used the mineral wealth prudently, not only in terms of keeping the exchange rate in check through a stabilisation fund, but have also used windfall revenues to enhance productivity in other sectors. Indonesia in the 1970s and 80s also stands out as another example. It used its oil revenues to pursue an agriculture-led growth strategy with investment in rural infrastructure, such as irrigation and roads, as well as in input subsidies for fertilisers and pesticides. Unfortunately, Zambia was unable to do any of these things because of our poor approach to issues. I am afraid to say, we have only ourselves to blame for missing the windfall and finding ourselves in this mess.

    I take it you have come on board of the anti-neoliberal agenda? :)

    And not unable, unwilling. Zambia was 'unable to do any of these things', because of this relentless emphasis on foreign companies as being somehow more perfect or worthy. Or, maybe politicians believe that foreign businesses are saver, because they don't empower Zambian nationals, who could end up funding the opposition. Foreign businesses can be 'controlled' more easily, and their CEO's can't run for office because they don't have Zambian nationality.

    Also, I think it is clear that the mining companies receive 'protection' from within parliament, and probably from within the Cabinet itself, which is why they didn't need to pay taxes, and why they were shielded from paying the windfall tax to the very end. I think this constitutes a blatant robbery of the Zambian taxpayer, who is now supposed to pay for everything through debt.


    Yakima,

    Or is this just prelude to even more incentives for FDI to take over the most profitable prospects for development in tourism, agriculture, and manufacturing in exchange for nominal taxes and cosmetic contributions to "social responsibility"?

    Where are the nationalists, who want to develop the country instead of lining their own pockets. Or give the country away to foreigners?

    I like the CDP, I like UNIP's attitude. However, among the MMD, PF and UPND, there are mainly neoliberals, even though this theory has just become obsolete with the collapse of the world economy.

    I mean, how hard is it to revitalize agriculture, especially as many of the institutions are still in place - cooperatives, old parastatals like the NCZ, etc.

    Where are all the commercial farms the market was supposed to provide under neoliberalism?

    Will the planned diversification actually improve the balance of trade, or simply inflate the apparent size of GDP without actually improving the national outlook?

    I like that phrase, inflate GDP, because that is exactly what happened with the privatisation of the mines. On the surface, there was economic growth, in reality, most of the profits from the mines went straight to London, New York and Sidney.

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  3. Cho,

    Their true motivations was always those of the company. It follows that even now we should not expect these companies to invest in local infrastructure unless it was legally mandated.

    It always was. Companies are always legally required to maximize profits. Plus, foreign companies have no particular allegance to the country or the local community in which they operate.

    Had the government

    That is, the MMD government...

    moved quickly to put in place a coherent framework that leveraged private sector investment into delivering local infrastructure, as I had previously proposed, Zambia would today be better positioned to withstand the storm.

    They didn't. And the extent to which they have gone (and are still going, considering the response any time mine profits are at risk, as we can all attest to on this blog) to protect the foreign mining companies, proves or at least strongly hints, at how compromised the government is when it comes to representing the interests of the Zambian people, instead of the mining companies.

    My guess, considering their lack of morality and adherence to the law, is that they have bribed individuals in parliament, even ministers, to do their bidding.

    The pace of diversification would have been faster and other sectors such as agriculture and tourism would have been better positioned to expand, while copper goes through the downturn. My point is not that I was right, but that the GRZ approach to these issues continue to be characterised by incompetence. We are now paying the price for the failure to think ahead, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

    Only if 'ourselves' means the MMD governments past and present.

    Because they are the only ones who were in a position to meaningfully change (for instance) the Development Agreements, before they were signed into law. Or change the Zambia Development Act.

    Not the people of Zambia, but the government. And for the last 17 years, that has been the MMD.

    Maybe the Task Force on corruption should investigate everyone involved with the Development Agreements.

    And we should sue the IMF for loss of revenues, which I would estimate to be around $10 billion since 2004.

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  4. Cho,

    "First, foreign ownership of key resources diverted significant mineral wealth from the state of Zambia."

    This is a crucial point, and I draw parallels with what is happening in the UK economy. As such, some analysts have singled out the UK to come out the worst in Europe in this recession.

    Jim Rogers, a renowned and shrewd US investor has put it rather bluntly in this interview.

    He's basically saying that the UK will suffer most because it it has nothing to sell to the rest of the world, as North Sea oil and gas reserves have dwindled and made the UK a net energy importer. Also, the banking system in which the country took so much pride, essentially putting all their eggs in that one basket, has now collapsed! The auto industry is all foreign owned now, I will add. Hence Jim Rogers predicts the GBP will fall even further, and actually urges people to sell their pounds!

    Now substitute UK and the various commodities above with Zambia and its metals. That's the similarity I draw.

    My conclusion is that governments, including Zambia, ought to be viewing their own economies as businesses in a competitive global market. As such, each government ought to identify its place and assess its competitiveness in that global market. In order to survive, each country will need to find something to sell and sell it good.

    The Chinese have found their place very quickly. Their asset is manpower, and loads of it. Their producing a few million graduates a year (according to media reports) and are now about 7th in intellectual property (IP) rights applications, from last years figures. As a company, China's Huawei Technologies, a telecoms vendor, was the 4th largest IP applicant in the world! Who would have thought?

    Well, that's just to underscore the point that China has indetified it's spot in the global economy and is now consolidating it.

    Zambia needs to do the same, beginning with the regional level. We need to find what we have that others around us don't, and sell it to them.

    Just my thoughts.

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  5. Cho,

    Chile is the case in point. They have used the mineral wealth prudently, not only in terms of keeping the exchange rate in check through a stabilisation fund, but have also used windfall revenues to enhance productivity in other sectors.

    They have not simply used mineral wealth prudently - they made sure they were paid for it in the first place.

    This is what is so damaging about the Development Agreements, and the way they were arrived at.

    The Zambian people or their representatives never even had the opportunity for a vote on them.

    I would guess that the IMF's 'advice' cost the Zambian taxpayer around $10 billion in untaxed profits.

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  6. Yakima,

    Indeed, the only way to change the status quo is to have a degree of honesty when we evaluate ourselves. For example, we should be open and honesty by acknowledging that we have regressed terribly since independence. At the time of independence GDP per capita was twice what it is now. Our position on debt was much better than the position we reached prior to the HIPC position. Even now we appear to be marching towards more and more debt. We have clearly forgotten the past so easily.

    We venerate KK and his socialism but we forget that its those very policies that led to significant poverty and extreme suppression of freedoms.

    In many ways much of our many failures are simply due to poor educational standards at all levels. How else does one explain the lack of attention to historical details? Western civilisations pride themselves in learning from the past. For us to be able to learn from our mistakes we have to have a profound understanding of where we are coming from. We need to make critically reassessment of the past a constant mode of our thinking.

    Unfortunately many of our people hardly study the past due to poor education standards. Our academics often seem to feed on foreign education without deep appreciation of history or culture. Even when they do both to study our past mistakes their often confront with documented history written by corrupt leaders of old. Those unhelpful biographies written by KK, Mwaanga et al that attempted to re-write history when their star started to fade.

    So you totally correct that perhaps the answer lies in investing heavily in schooling. For I see a dual role with education. Not only is it an investment in the long term but also it profoundly revisionist. With more education i hope we can develop a critical eye of the past.

    But even education itself needs to be reformed...but that is another topic altogether!

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  7. MrK,

    Corruption always thrives where there's no transparency.

    That is why I have always been skeptical on the seriousness of the fight against corruption.

    We can't on one hand say we are serious about fighting corruption when the operations of government are not transparent. On the serious issues of the day (ZAMTEL, tax adjustments, etc) there's no consultation...

    To make it worse the government retains significant hold over the press....you read one story in the Post and when you turn to the Daily and Times its like we live in paradise....where no sin exists!

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  8. Part of the problem is that the older generation grew up during a time when the world was polarized between East and West (capitalist vs. socialist/communist nations). So they read a lot of the socialist theories in school and followed them leading to economic practices that did not work. Over time this will fade away due to better knowledge and experiences.

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  9. Kafue001,

    Let's not talk about socialist theories that do not work, when the results of laissez faire/supply side/thatcherist/reaganomic/voodoo/neoliberal economics are blowing up economies worldwide as we speak.

    The older generation however, grew up in a time when the country was in an undeclared state of war, and war is never beneficial to freedom of information.

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  10. Mr K,

    It would be quite presumptuous to say that a couple of years of turmoil in the capitalist system indicates that the system has failed. Their per capita incomes are still many multiples of those that have not followed such a system. And they are remedying their system shortcomings at present.

    Tanzania is an example of a country that was not in an undeclared state of war, is not landlocked and was following socialism which did not work:

    "The Tanzanian intelligentsia was always in favor of socialism even in the early 80’s. But with the arriving of new generation of professionals who have being schooled in the western countries, new ideas influence the political sphere of Dar es Salaam."

    http://www.empereur.com/tanzania.html

    With the new generation of western educated professionals, life has improved substantially for Tanzanians.

    http://ippmedia.com/ipp/guardian/2009/02/10/131350.html

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  11. Potpher C. C. Mbulo17 February 2009 at 12:38

    How do we fight corruption?

    Corruption knows no color nor creed nor gender nor ethnicity and nor race. It creeps in because we as electorates allow it. In other words we deserve the leaders we have because out of the rotten population a rotten few are chosen to lead us. The disgusting leaders are the congruent of the putrid society at large. We need to look at ourselves first and make changes we desire to see in our leaders.

    How do we create jobs?

    Mealie meal can be used to create enormous amount of jobs. I find it very amusing that people are complaining that the price of mille meal is too high. According to some intellectuals I conversed with, they said the normal price is K47,000 sighting official FRA speculated price. I did not hesitate to tell them that the correct price is somewhere between K75,000 to K100,000. If the price of maize meal goes to K87,000, subsistence farming will be profitable. People will rush back to the villages to cultivate maize. We have so many people in urban centers doing literally nothing of economic value because of subsidized mealie meal. Farming inputs such as seeds and fertilizer are what ought to be subsidized coupled with good feeder roads, ready sustainable markets and early delivery of farming inputs. Our maize meal is too cheap and that’s why it ends up at across Zim and Congo boarders through smuggling. We are essentially feeding foreign bellies at the cost of a few overworked non-profitable subsistent farmers.

    Well you might say even my idealized subsidized fertilizer and seed will exit the country through the same vice. But I’m of the opinion that it is easy to manage illegal exportation of farming inputs than it is to manage the outputs because they are few inputs than outputs and few people handling inputs than outputs and moreover farmers can be amalgamated into cooperatives which in turn can be targeted direct for subside. My view is that a simple price shift – a simple adjustment in mealie meal price can go a long way in addressing the issue of urbanization and unemployment. Of course in a short run, there is expected resistance but the policy should be explained for people to buy into the idea. We all stand to benefit from it in a long run. Well again you might argue that their exist people in formal employment who can’t manage high mealie meal price. My suggestion is to gradually adjust mealie meal price and salaries to avoid inflation so much so that even maids and garden boys can afford.

    So what is stupidity? I say stupidity is trying to subsidize consumption instead of production. We never learn!!! Do we???

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  12. Potpher C. C. Mbulo,

    I think you are quite correct about the negative effects of trying to control mealie meal prices. I also agree that it does not appear to be an accident that almost all areas that report shortages are near international borders. I would go a bit further though. Allowing all of the prices for all of the inputs and outputs of the maize cycle to float is the way to encourage production of foods in general rather than just maize, while subsidies should go to individual consumers based on need (such as the US food stamp programme which reimburses retail grocers for accepting government coupons for basic foodstuffs at market prices). With higher crop prices, the need for artificially cheap fertilizer is alleviated, and removal of fertilizer subsidies would free up funds to accelerate development of domestic alternatives to scarce imported inputs (which would also be more viable than at present due to higher average fertilizer prices).

    Unfortunately, the economics of smuggling favour the less bulky, concentrated value of commercial farming inputs over raw or even processed farm produce in general. Thus while I agree that it would be better to subsidize fertilizer and seed than mealie meal, I think it would be better still to concentrate subsidies at the origin of input supply and the demand of end users after maximum value is added. Increase the supply of seed and fertilizer (and/or reduce the demand via conservation farming practices) and the purchasing power of vulnerable food consumers, and the food security issue will become manageable. There would also be a cosmetic increase in GDP over and above real increases, which would make the national debt situation look better on paper, if not necessarily in reality (except to the extent that the impressions of lenders and investors translate into real interest rates, forex rates and bond ratings).

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  13. Yakima, you have educated me on a number of issues

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  14. Yakima,

    Please come back, we miss you.

    ReplyDelete

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