By Ndafadza Madanha
Over a decade and half ago the Zimbabwean government undertook a “controversial” land reform exercise that was intended to address the skewed land patterns that existed in the country.
Ownership of the country’s most arable land was in the hands of 4 000 predominantly white commercial farmers who had title to the land while the black majority resided in communal areas with no title.
The white commercial farmers had acquired their land holdings through successive enactments during the minority white settler regime governments and no compensation were given to the displaced Africans.
Among the enactments was the Land Commission of 1925, the Land Apportionment Act 30 of 1930 and the Land Tenure Act 55 of 1969 ensured that the Africans in Zimbabwe, who formed the vast majority of the population, were overcrowded in semi¬-arable land, referred to sometimes as native reserves, whilst the minority Europeans retained the better half.
In terms of the above statutes, the land in this country was divided into European and African areas. In terms of the Second Schedule to the 1969 Land Tenure Act, the total extent of the African area was 44 949 100 acres and the total extent of the European area was 44 949 300 acres.
This state of affairs ultimately led to the war for independence which gave birth to Zimbabwe in April 1980.
Attempts to resolve the imbalances after independence through the willing buyer willing selling concept agreed at Lancaster Conference failed to bring about the desired objectives as between 1980 and 1990 Government managed to acquire only 3.5 million hectares and resettled 71,000 households.
The skewed patterns of land distribution remained throughout the nineties and reached a crescendo at the turn of the millennium when government undertook the Fast Track Land reform exercise.
Under the programme government initially designated over 3 000 farms in the first year covering over 5 million hectares.
The Fast track exercise while seemingly addressing the historical imbalances in land ownership created a number of opportunities and challenges for the economy.
Agriculture production had formed the bedrock of both the Rhodesian and pre2000 Zimbabwean economy providing 30 percent of export earnings and contributing 19 percent to GDP, while 70 percent of the population survives on farming.
However following the programme a substantial decline in agriculture production was experienced with catastrophic consequences for the economy and the ordinary folk.
The economic fallout was further aggravated by the imposition of sanctions by the United States of America (USA) and the Europe Union (EU).
Though agriculture production has improved in the past five years productivity remains low compared to regional peers and pre 2000 levels.
The impact of low agriculture production is reflected in the manufacturing sector which is operating below capacity owing to absence of raw materials.
Absence of raw materials has led to the country importing crops it used to grow such as soya bean, wheat, and potatoes which has widened the current account position.
Use it or lose it and Compensation
It is important for all Zimbabweans to appreciate the irreversibility of the land reform while recognizing the challenges and opportunities it created.
The pre 2000 land status was untenable and a ticking time bomb. The much willing buyer willing seller failed to achieve equitable distribution of land in the first two decades of Zimbabwean independence.
Equally the land reform exercise has its own set of challenges which require that government bites the bullet and make bold decisions to ensure that agriculture once again becomes the engine for economic growth.
Chief among the decisions will be getting rid of non- performing farmers and ensure beneficiaries of land recognize that farming is a business and lifeline of the economy.
Government should now embrace the use it or lose it principle that applies to mining claims and immediately move to remove all non performing farmers regardless of political affiliation and status in the community.
The command program provided the government with the opportunity to identify the productive farmers and these should be ring-fenced and be expeditiously issued with title to their pieces of land.
Underperforming farmers in particular those who sold inputs under the command programme should simply lose their land without exception particularly those who benefited under the A2 scheme. The former white commercial farmers who are still keen should be considered for allocation land repossessed from non-performing farmers and can come in as anchor farmers.
Equally the one man one farm principle should be implemented without fear or favor and one way of doing this is releasing the Charles Utete report and ensuring that the Land Commission is adequately resourced to carry its functions and bring the land reform to finality.
The issue of compensation will always be contentious when one looks at the historical perspective however; government commitment to pay for improvements should be commended. The various estimates bandied around of between US$9-30 billion as compensation to the former farmers will require that government engage with our erstwhile colonizer and other international partners to fund the bill.
Provision of title-
What made the agriculture model tick prior the land reform exercise was the value attached to the land through title that enabled the commercial farmers to access loans from financial institutions. The government should believe in its farmers and further empower them by giving them title.
Current debate on the bankability of the 99 year leases should now be put to rest and allow farmers to get title. Once the farmer gets title he should also be required to pay a reasonable levy towards compensating for the improvements made by the former white commercial farmers. The levy or tax can be based on the on the size of the land one occupies.
As indicated earlier the command program enabled government to identify capable farmers and these should be given title as they have already proven their abilities.
Further the small holder farmers who have resuscitated the tobacco sector and turned it into a billion dollar industry in the last decade have proven themselves and due for recognition.
Title will give farmers the opportunity to seek financing from banking institutions and unshackle them from the predatory contract schemes many have found themselves in. Provision of bankable permits to A1 and A2 farmers will be the greatest empowerment to the new farmers.
The provision of title should also be extended to those in the communal areas and old resettlement schemes.
Irrigation, Extension services and Mechanization
With the recurrence of drought and effects of climate becoming more pronounced there is need for government to reduce dependence on rain fed farming by investing in developing irrigation schemes and rehabilitating old schemes. The 2019 budget has set aside $36.5m towards development of 7 000 hectares on 115 irrigation schemes nationwide but more resources need to be mobilized to ensure agriculture production and productivity increase.
Provision of Extension will also be critical and more resources and manpower are needed for AGRITEX, the advent of ICTs makes it much easier for extension officers to interact with farmers. A well resourced extension services department will help curb the spread of animal and crop diseases that have devastated the sector in recent seasons.
Mechanization is required to ensure production and productivity increases at the farm equally post harvest losses need to be minimized through adequate storage facilities. Without investing in mechanization capacity challenges will remain in the areas of land tilling, harvesting etc.
Government mechanization support programs such as the Brazilian More food program must not be an avenue for chefs and senior government officials to loot but must be accessed by competent and deserving farmers on a cost recovery basis.
Crowd in Youths, Women and Value Chain Actors
Youths and Women make up the bulk of the population yet it seems the Land reform exercise did not fully embrace these groups in the allocation of pieces of land. A recent study revealed that only 16 percent of beneficiaries under the command programme are women yet they make up between 52-54 percent of the population. Also the agricultural sector is yet to fully exploit the potential of the youth as the average age of a farmer in Zimbabwe is 55 years and life expectancy averages between 55-60 years.
Among Zimbabwean youths farming is largely unattractive owing to perception of agriculture as a last carrier of last resort, one of drudgery and low monetary benefits.
Also information on access to markets, factors of production including land and financing remain extremely limited hindering adequate engagement of youth in agriculture.