Thousands of white commercial farmers have lost their arable land since Zimbabwe started seizing their farms in 2000, in what the ruling Zanu PF party claimed was an attempt to address a so-called lop-sided agricultural system controlled by one ethnic group.
There were also claims that Zimbabwe was retaliating against Britain’s failure to provide promised funds to address colonial land imbalances. Most indigenous black farmers, who took over the land, were mainly untrained former freedom fighters, who are now struggling to till the farms, which in some cases have been reduced to dust bowls.
The new farm owners say they have received little state assistance in tilling the land.
President Robert Mugabe has over the years attacked former British prime minister Tony Blair’s Labor government for reneging on promises of funding land redistribution in Zimbabwe made under the 1979 Lancaster House agreement, which resulted in black majority rule in the country.
Critics, however, say such attacks are an attempt to shift blame from his Zanu PF supporters that forcibly took over white commercial farmers’ land, leading to what they claim is an unprecedented decline of production in the agriculture sector. Estimates are that commercial agricultural production declined by almost 70 percent after the land reforms.
‘IT’S OUR LAND, WE WILL TAKE IT’
Mr. Mugabe, who was recently on an official visit to South Africa, once again criticized the British for failing to provide money for land reforms, saying this is what forced his nation to seize white commercial farms.
“We took away land in accordance with what the British and ourselves had agreed upon, Margaret Thatcher’s government. That commercial land reform programme, land shall be taken from the farmers and be given to the Zimbabweans. So, it was all constitutional.
“If Blair’s England was no longer willing to pay for the land, should we have just folded our hands and said, ‘Oh, Lord almighty, I pray in the name of the father, the son and the holy ghost’? Goodness me, no! Blair, Blair, who was he? Just the prime minister of Britain. I’m president of Zimbabwe. So that’s why we say ‘OK, it’s your money, keep it. It’s our land, we will take it.’ Balance.”
But some farmers, who grabbed land under the country’s violent agrarian reforms that claimed the lives of several white commercial farmers, say although the president was right in tackling the land issue, his government is failing to come up with clear-cut policies promoting new farmers.
They say farming inputs are expensive and the government is failing to introduce subsidized extensive irrigation schemes on farms grabbed from white farmers. Indications are that some farmers, who also grabbed white commercial farmers’ agricultural equipment, allegedly sold most of it to scrap metal dealers in South Africa.
Mhangura farmer, Christopher Mamina, is one of the local people who grabbed a farm 14 years ago. He is struggling to till his land. He says Agriculture and Mechanization Minister, Joseph Made, should play a key role in drafting and implementing an agricultural policy that promotes irrigation in order to boost crop production and animal husbandry on seized farms.
His suggestions are backed by Makonde farmer, McDonald Mbirimi, who says it is difficult for farmers to depend on erratic rains. He says if everything else fails in the farming sector, the government should seriously think about allowing indigenous farmers to use Genetically Modified maize seed to boost production of the country’s staple food. Currently the country is facing a serious food deficit owing to some challenges in the agriculture sector and erratic rains.
Mbirimi claims that some countries in the Southern African Development Community or SADC region are boosting crop production through planting such GMOs.
Zimbabwe says Genetically Modified Organisms may have a devastating effect on local people and the environment.
LAND LEASE AGREEMENTS
Mbirimi says the other setback in crop production on seized white commercial farms, is lack of capital as banks are not accepting state-issued 99-year-lease agreements, which can be used as some form of collateral for getting loans.
He says at the same time government should ensure that farmers are able to access state-subsidized agricultural inputs.
Fertilizer produced in Zimbabwe is the most expensive in the SADC region. A bag of Compound D, which costs $35 in the country, is pegged at almost $7 in Zambia, a nation which is now home to a large number of white commercial farmers, who lost their land in Zimbabwe. Zambia is now exporting maize to Zimbabwe.
Banket farmer, Tagarisa Chimusasa, says it is unlikely that subsidized farming inputs alone will boost crop production on these farms. He says bank interests are too high and as a result it is hard for farmers to make any reasonable profit.
Farming expert Paul Zacharia of the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, concurs, adding that the government should introduce policies that are in harmony with current farming technology.
POLITICIZATION OF LAND
Zacharia says there is urgent need to subsidize farming inputs if Zimbabwe has to benefit from the controversial land reforms.
Apart from that, some farmers say the whole agriculture sector is highly politicized, a situation which is driving away investors. They say land appears to have been handed out to Zimbabweans by the ruling Zanu PF party as a form of political patronage.
According to Mbirimi, politicization of land is counter-productive.
Government is convinced that it made the right move to grab white commercial farms though some top state officials, including President Mugabe, have acknowledged that most new farmers are facing serious challenges in tilling the land.