Zim's 50 shades of reform: The country's unfaithful land reform beneficiaries

2013-08-04 14:00

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One of the oft-repeated claims about Zimbabwe’s land reform programme holds that land taken from white farmers was predominantly parcelled out to Zanu-PF supporters.

So it was strange to hear the small-scale farmers on Kinforth and Chester farms near Beatrice in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland East province complaining about the government.

Between 2001 and 2004, 71 men and women from diverse backgrounds were each given access to 6?hectare portions of these farms, at no expense.

But 12 years after land reform, these “beneficiaries” want more than the government is prepared to give them.

They want title deeds, a demand Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party has repeatedly blocked, fearing this would result in a tsunami of land sales and the re-establishment of pre-2001 patterns of land ownership.

But this is a line the Beatrice farmers simply don’t buy.

“We are not interested in selling back to the whites, because what would we have then?” said Godfrey Mpenenzi, a former security guard who was allocated a plot on Kinforth in 2004.

“No, we want to be given ownership. That is the only way for us to progress. Without ownership, we cannot access loans for seed and fertiliser. We are tied to the tobacco-buying companies for these things, and they are often late in delivering,” he insisted.

Zimbabwe’s tobacco merchants began extending input and technical advice to resettled farmers in 2004, in response to the land reform-induced collapse of agricultural credit. This year, 65% of the country’s impressive 160?million kilogram tobacco crop was grown under contract.

On the one hand, contract farming has enabled Zimbabwe’s tobacco sector to recover while other sectors remain in the doldrums; but on the other, it ties “beneficiaries” to an expensive form of farming because the mark-up contractors put on inputs ranges from 20% to 30%, according to industry sources.

The small-scale farmers on Chester and Kinforth have grown tired of this exacting dependency.

“It is like working for whites all over again, because the contractors control the way we do things,” said Merlvern Marowa, who spent more time unemployed than employed in his pre-land reform life.

Prosper Matondi, the author of a recently published study called Zimbabwe’s Fast-Track Land Reform, writes that the government’s failure to satisfactorily address issues of tenure security has resulted in a situation where the new farmers “plot against the state in a very calculating manner?.?.?.?evading Zanu-PF meetings or voting for the opposition in secret ballots”.

That Zanu-PF worries about the political changeability of the land reform beneficiaries is implicit in a letter Saviour Kasukuwere – Zimbabwe’s minister of youth development, indigenisation and empowerment – recently sent to the country’s tobacco merchants.

The director of a prominent tobacco buying company, who did not want to be named for fear of political reprisal, said: “We were warned in writing not to pressurise new farmers who have been unable to pay back their loans or inputs.

“What this represents, in effect, is an implicit subsidy to the new tobacco farmers of around $10?million to $15?million (R100?million to R150?million),” the source said, adding that this “kid-gloves handling” of Zimbabwe’s new farmers would only end up hurting them.

The tobacco companies would ignore defaulters in the future, “forcing them to sell leaf probably grown with insufficient inputs on the auction floor, where they will receive lower prices”, he said.

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