Thursday, January 24, 2013

Maize production in Zimbabwe

As is often the case, I think I've found the answer to the question posed in the post below immediately after pressing publish.

Here's a nice table showing maize production in Zimbabwe since 1960:

Market YearProductionUnit of MeasureGrowth Rate
19601014(1000 MT)NA
1961894(1000 MT)-11.83 %
1962720(1000 MT)-19.46 %
1963716(1000 MT)-0.56 %
1964822(1000 MT)14.80 %
1965952(1000 MT)15.82 %
19661517(1000 MT)59.35 %
1967797(1000 MT)-47.46 %
19681571(1000 MT)97.11 %
19691048(1000 MT)-33.29 %
19701802(1000 MT)71.95 %
19712338(1000 MT)29.74 %
1972946(1000 MT)-59.54 %
19732090(1000 MT)120.93 %
19741743(1000 MT)-16.60 %
19751709(1000 MT)-1.95 %
19761658(1000 MT)-2.98 %
19771616(1000 MT)-2.53 %
19781205(1000 MT)-25.43 %
19791760(1000 MT)46.06 %
19802767(1000 MT)57.22 %
19811786(1000 MT)-35.45 %
1982884(1000 MT)-50.50 %
19831400(1000 MT)58.37 %
19842952(1000 MT)110.86 %
19852545(1000 MT)-13.79 %
19861100(1000 MT)-56.78 %
19872229(1000 MT)102.64 %
19881928(1000 MT)-13.50 %
19892171(1000 MT)12.60 %
19901586(1000 MT)-26.95 %
1991360(1000 MT)-77.30 %
19922000(1000 MT)455.56 %
19932160(1000 MT)8.00 %
1994889(1000 MT)-58.84 %
19952600(1000 MT)192.46 %
19961922(1000 MT)-26.08 %
19971466(1000 MT)-23.73 %
19981520(1000 MT)3.68 %
19992148(1000 MT)41.32 %
20002148(1000 MT)0.00 %
20011467(1000 MT)-31.70 %
2002500(1000 MT)-65.92 %
2003800(1000 MT)60.00 %
2004900(1000 MT)12.50 %
2005750(1000 MT)-16.67 %
2006900(1000 MT)20.00 %
2007700(1000 MT)-22.22 %
2008525(1000 MT)-25.00 %
2009650(1000 MT)23.81 %
20101000(1000 MT)53.85 %
20111450(1000 MT)45.00 %
2012965(1000 MT)-33.45 %

The keen eyes among you will spot that production in 2011 was roughly equivalent to that in 1997 and 1998. QED? Not really. I was in Zimbabwe in 1997-8 as it happens, and it was a period of unusually low rainfall - not the sort of drought seen in the early nineties, but definitely a poor harvest thanks to the weather. Apparently this was part of the El Nino phenomenon that absolutely everyone was talking about then and no-one really mentions now.

Farther to the north, in Zimbabwe, there were areas with virtually no rainfall from early February through the nominal end of the rainy season, in April.

So, cherrypicking the best year of the 2000s against a below average year in the 90s, ignoring the fact that production fell sharply in 2012, and is predicted to fall again in 2013. Nice work if you can get it.

Hurrah for Mugabe?

The Guardian really have never met a dictator they didn't like. The latest to receive an enconium is Mugabe, although, to be fair, the Guardian reasonably regularly runs articles, usually by Jonathan Steele, on why Mugabe is misunderstood, and Britain is the real enemy etc etc. There was a classic in 2000, shortly after the brutal stealing of the Presidential election, and while farm invasions and economic mismanagement were despoiling the country. It started:

Now that the furore over Zimbabwe's election has abated, let's draw a deep breath and admit it. Zimbabwe is an African good-news story.

Armed with such infallible news sense, Mr Steele has returned to the fray reminding us that all is sunshine and roses in Zimbabwe. The thing is though, as Tim Worstall points out, Steele has a slightly funny idea of success.

They have the courage to criticise Amnesty International for exaggerating the plight of farm workers who were forced off formerly "white" land taken over by Africans, and say that by 2011 the number of people working on resettlement land had increased more than fivefold, from 167,000 to over a million.

As Tim points out, an increase in peasant farming isn't often seen as a huge success. There's rather more to this as well. One of the pieces of evidence given as a reason why Zimbabwe land reform was actually a success (if you ignore all those murders of course) is that it hasn't affected production:

Far from it, production is now back to the levels of the late 1990s and more land is under cultivation than was worked by white farmers.

I'd love to see a critical analysis of the figures behind this. Everything I've seen suggests that maize production for example (the traditional staple food crop) has crashed catastrophically since 2000. In 2000 production was roughly 2 million tons. According to the Commercial Farmers Union, production this year is expected to be roughly 850,000 tons - a decrease on last year. A very authoritative report by the DBSA shows Zimbabwe's GDP declining by 70% between 2000 and 2008 and total agricultural production falling by 30% over the same period:

Once known as the breadbasket of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, Zimbabwe is now characterised by chronic food insecurity and is entirely dependent on international aid, particularly food aid.
Zimbabwe became a net food importer for the first time in 2002, as a direct result of the farm invasions. It remains a substantial importer, especially of maize. If production were genuinely returning to late nineties levels (a time when Zimbabwe was the second largest exporter of maize in Africa) you'd expect to see those imports coming down wouldn't you?

Even if these figures are true, however, all that they mean is that the workforce has increased nearly tenfold, the land used has increased (although he doesn't say by how much) and the result has been that production is only slightly less than it was when the land reform programme started. If this what the Guardian classifies as success, I think I can understand why they're going bust.

There's also a fabulous point made in support of the notion that the white farmers weren't all they were cracked up to be really:

White farmers never used all the land they had taken. In the years just before minority rule collapsed, in spite of generous government subsidies, 30% of white farmers were insolvent and another 30% only broke even. Some 66% of arable land was lying fallow.

Gee, do you reckon a 14 year period of global economic sanctions, coupled with a bush war that specifically targeted farmers might possibly have been responsible for this? How about judging the productivity of white-owned farms in the 1990s as a more appropriate comparitor?

There's just one final point in this article that I noticed. Steele talks about how "white" farms were invaded by "Africans". Zimbabwe didn't permit dual nationality, meaning that the overwhelming majority of white farmers were Zimbabwean citizens. Many have family roots in Africa going back hundreds of years. At what point do they become African? And is Steele happy for the same test to be applied to African immigrants to Europe?

It is, in short, an astonishingly bad article. But then, you'd sort of expect that wouldn't you?

Friday, January 11, 2013

MPs salaries

When asked in private, MPs want substantial pay rises. This must rank as some of the least surprising news out there.  Equally unsurprisingly, pretty much everyone who isn't an MP is furious at the very idea, believing that MPs should work for the glory and honour of the thing, and that an appropriate comparitor is the national average salary. The increasingly ubiquitous Owen Jones argued that being an MP wasn't a career, let alone a professional one, and an appropriate salary would be about half of what they are on now.

This is coupled with disbelief at the notion that £65,738 can be seen as anything other than extremely good money indeed. As Mark Ferguson puts it:

Even in the most wealthy parts of the country that is a comfortable salary. In many of the poorer parts of the country, it makes the local MP one of his/her most wealthy constituents. MPs are well paid – wealthy, even.

There are two things I'd say about this. The first is that the comparison that MPs themselves will use is not what the average national wage is, but what they themselves could be earning in an alternative career. Becoming an MP is difficult - people who get there are often distinguished in other fields before getting elected. This is as it should be, and the decline of this trend (with the PPE, SpAd, MP route becoming ever more common) is a pity. But that does mean that if you leave a successful career to become an MP you will be sustaining a very substantial pay cut. How substantial? Well, a newly qualified solicitor in a big London firm will earn roughly as much as an MP, at the age of about 25. By 35 (the time when he/she might be thinking of changing career and entering politics) that salary should be well into six figures, and if this ambitious young thruster has made partner, could be over a quarter of a million pounds. Whichever way you cut it, that's a hell of a downshift.

Traditionally, of course, there are ways around this. Principally, as an MP you simply kept your previous job, while scaling back the hours a touch, and worked during the day in the office, and in the evening and at night in the House. That was the main reason for the desperately anti-social hours - you could work two shifts. Now, with family-friendly hours and with a much greater constituency role for MPs, that has become much more difficult. Barristers can just about keep it up (much barrister work involves drafting opinions and advices, rather than set piece court work) and there's always journalism, but any job with fixed office hours has become much harder to manage.

The second point that occurred to me was that raising MPs salaries up towards the upper tier  used to be a cause of the left. It was argued that the low salaries paid to MPs before the war (£400pa up to 1937) made it necessary for MPs to have either a private income or a second job. This was no problem for wealthy Tories from the shires or the City, but made it very hard for a working class Labour MP to make ends meet. One poor chap (Mardy Jones) was forced to resign his seat after he gave his wife rail tickets designated for MPs only. It is, perhaps, slightly ironic that it's the left shouting loudest about this, when higher MP salaries were really designed to assist working class MPs.