Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Signs of progress in Zimbabwe

Praveen Kumar over at the Africa Can…End Poverty blog writes:

In the two years since the Government of National Unity (GNU) was formed and Zimbabwe dollarized fully, there have been encouraging developments on the economic front.

The economy grew at nine percent in 2010, following on six percent in 2009. Government revenues climbed to 29 percent GDP in 2010; they were just three percent of GDP in 2008. And the banking sector which had dis intermediated almost fully during the hyperinflation grew its dollar deposits briskly to around 30 percent of GDP at the end of 2010. But election talk has suddenly mushroomed in 2011, setting off political competition that could slow down Zimbabwe’s return to normalcy.

This good performance starts from a low base; the economy had contracted by more than 45 percent from 1999-2008. Furthermore, world prices of commodities, such as platinum, tobacco and gold, which are Zimbabwe’s main exports, have been on the rise. Weather has been good in the past two years. But the point is that Zimbabwe was able to make good use of these conditions. There was a supply response to high prices in agriculture and mining, and manufacturing showed signs of life. And importantly, some key economic institutions such as the revenue agency performed. These are the good economic genes.

The revival of agriculture goes against commonly held wisdom. Redistribution of erstwhile large commercial farms to indigenous Zimbabweans has been largely achieved. There is a widespread concern about disputed titles and insecure tenure. Yet smallholder agriculture appears to be moving.

The number of smallholder farmers in tobacco has increased sharply. Output of tobacco, maize, and cotton is recovering. The yields are nowhere near their previous levels. But then Zimbabwean agriculture has undergone a huge structural change and some yield losses, particularly those due to the reduction in average farm size, could be permanent. The ability of farmers to respond to price incentives is a strong signal that policy distortions in the sector are minimal and markets are functioning well. In the long run structural constraints could bind however.