Zim’s land policy bears fruit

2012-09-15 13:48

Researcher explains it was only a matter of time before black farmers realised growth in agriculture sector

Zimbabwe’s large-scale invasion of white-owned commercial farms in 2000 was a success that is only starting to bear fruit, said Zimbabwe agriculture researcher Professor Sam Moyo.

Moyo, who is director of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies (AIAS), dismissed as a “long-held myth” that the invasions were the cause of the failure of the agricultural sector in the country.

Instead, he said the three droughts that hit Zimbabwe in 2002, 2006 and 2008, coincided with the Zanu-PF-led seizure of white-owned commercial farms and slowed down the success of the land reform programme.

“The media and even other scholars have been quick to link this fall in maize production to the land seizures,” Moyo said.

“But the agricultural sector has been affected by a plethora of issues. Between 2000 and 2002, the agricultural sector was undergoing a period of transition and during that time it was normal for a decline in production to occur, as farm ownership changed hands.”

In 2000, President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and the militant-styled war veterans invaded vast tracts of commercial farms then owned by the country’s 4 500 white farmers; sparking a wave of international condemnation from Western countries over the violation of property rights, murder and the violence that characterised the land seizures.

The institute estimates that less than 400 white commercial farmers remain in Zimbabwe today.

Political opponents claimed Mugabe was using land – an emotive issue in rural Zimbabwe – to garner votes in the face
of falling popular support for

his party, amid growing support for the newly-formed opposition, Movement for Democratic Change.

Moyo added: “Even after the peak of the transitional period, the agricultural sector continued to be hugely affected by the shortage of farming inputs such as fertiliser and seed, the shortage of forex and the closure and decline of the companies producing farming inputs.

“The economic meltdown in the country was also taking its toll on the sector and remember that this was before the onset of the second drought.”
At peak production, Zimbabwe produced nearly 1.8 million tons of maize, but current production levels are at one-third of the peak, with the deficit supplemented by imports and aid relief.

Moyo explained that the dollarisation of the economy in February 2009 brought relief to the agricultural sector as different crop producers began to experience growth for the first time after a decade-long decline.

“It has only been in the past three years (that) we have begun to see the potential of the newly resettled black farmers have in cotton and soya beans. For instance, the 2011-2012 output of tobacco reached nearly 60% of the peak produced by the white commercial farmers in the late 1990s.

“The partial improvement of the economy has resulted in improvement in farming and although liquidity challenges remain, the improvement suggests that under the right conditions more growth can be experienced,” said Moyo.

“The number of tobacco growers has also grown astronomically from about 3 000 white farmers that produced the national crop to 60 000 black peasant farmers.

“That is a very promising sign and a better quality crop is being seen on the tobacco floors each year, and this is bound to also improve the earnings that people will get.”

Figures released by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board last week showed tobacco sales raked in $525 million (about R4.4 billion) from the sale of 144 million kilograms of tobacco sold this season – the largest crop sold since the farm seizures of 2000.
Last year’s tobacco season closed with 131 million kilograms of the crop sold.

Moyo also dismissed as “insignificant” the number of Zanu-PF bigwigs who benefited from the land seizures of 2000, parcelling out multiple farms for themselves.

“While there was the uneven distribution of farmland, this has been exaggerated,” he said.

“Less than 10% of the so-called Zanu-PF bigwigs got the land. Out of the 180 000 beneficiaries, only about 3 000 make up the elites and got large farms.”

But the Commercial Farmers’ Union – Zimbabwe’s largest white-backed farmers union – disagreed with Moyo’s claims.

Charles Taffs, the union president, blamed the Zanu-PF-led government for its “populist approach” to farming.

“There was no need for the bloodshed, violence and intimidation that we saw unleashed on the commercial farmers,” said Taffs.

“The association was never opposed to land re-distribution. Our insistence has always been that it be done in a fair and peaceful way.”

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