ON May 22, a wake took place to mark the death of the Mazowe Valley.
Ostensibly the gathering was organised to record t
he hundredth annual general meeting of the Glendale Farmers’ Association which was inaugurated at the Mazowe Hotel in 1903.
All the trimmings for a wake however were evident – scores of mourners comprising evicted valley farmers were present with their families, amusing and historical stories were told about incidents which took place during the long life of the dearly departed and there was a bountiful supply of good food and drink.
After three years of agrarian reform the following conditions now prevail in the valley: a few sparks of profitable production still shine where the original holders of horticultural and dairy enterprises hold on tenuously against the rapacity of the ruling hierarchy.
It must also be recorded that a small number of A2 “new farmers” with the necessary skills and capital are showing signs of success and some have even made payments for part of the seized assets.
In general however the valley is becoming unproductive and derelict. The unfortunate A1 “new farmers” are the worst off. They were allocated, very approximately, six hectares of arable land plus communal grazing rights.
Many of these settlers have other full-time jobs, commute from their holdings in communal lands, attempt to operate multiple plots located on different farms, or live and work in towns leaving relatives to hold the fort.
In many cases these plots are regarded as a place to make a quick buck while owners carry on their old activities. Most A1s cannot afford to pay the trade union wages for labour nor can they afford to buy the extremely expensive herbicides with the result that weed growth on their holdings is uncontrolled and spectacular and many hectares lie fallow.
Without annual subsidies these holdings are totally unsustainable and are being subjected to dreary degradation caused by axes, dogs, snares, uncontrolled fires and grazing. This situation signals the end of bio-diversity and the end of profitable production from A1 settlements.
The A2 “new farmers” are the elite of the land-hungry. Many of them are in full-time employment in parastatals or are ministers and politicians or people in big business.
There are no six-hectare plots here for they have been allocated what are considered to be the plums of agricultural enterprises.
Since agricultural expertise and training was not a requirement for qualification, these would-be farmers need large unsecured state loans while poor management and low yields drag them into insolvency. They are also subsidised by virtue of all the farm improvements which have been acquired free of charge including equipment and inputs such as fertilisers, chemicals and full fuel tanks left by evictees.
Many A2s have discovered that their allocations are beyond their financial and agricultural capabilities to manage and have contracted big businesses to run their estates for them. Such arrangements may achieve reasonable production but constitute the most capitalistic system of land-use and the contractors have only a cursory regard for the long-term care of the natural resources.
Between the years 1960 and 2000 every commercial farmer in the valley, with the help of the donor-funded and revolving Farm Irrigation Fund, had contrived to develop a viable scheme for summer supplementary irrigation, winter cropping and horticultural projects as an insurance against the fickle rainfall.
Water supplies from rivers and dams were carefully metered and responsibly allocated to urban and agricultural users at minimum cost. Due to lack of finance and expertise together with the theft and vandalisation of equipment most of the schemes, particularly on A1 settlements, are no longer operational. In addition, most of this valuable equipment has been commandeered and not paid for.
Farm workers, many of whom were evicted, returned to their rural homes but others have clung on and been excluded from the land reform programme. They now rely on the World Food Programme for their food supplies. They have little chance of employment and have no cash for school fees and other necessities.
While they were in employment with commercial farmers their national security contributions were paid half and half by them and their employers.
When their employment ceased their contributions were no longer paid.
NSSA holds billions of their dollars but so far has made no effort to help its unemployed members.
The health worker scheme and farm clinics paid for by commercial farmers no longer operate, which means that both settlers and the remaining farm workers have long distances to travel to gain any sort of health care.
Many of the boreholes which supplied clean water to the workers no longer function so both settlers and farm workers are forced to resort to open water for domestic supplies. In addition, settlers on A1 allocations are not showing much enthusiasm for building proper toilets.
All the improvements comprising dams, irrigation equipment, dwelling houses, worker housing, storage sheds, tobacco processing facilities, green houses, orchards, fencing, woodlots, telephone lines etc, essential for modern farming are becoming derelict and they have not been paid for.
All the stud animal breeding enterprises have ceased and the animals have perforce ended up in abattoirs. The lack of security of land tenure is surely the weakest aspect of the reform exercise. Neither the A1s nor the A2s have secure land tenure but hold land on a lease basis and therefore have no collateral for borrowing purposes.
Can the valley and Zimbabwean agriculture be resurrected? Yes, in the following way:
All seized farms to revert back to the title holders or fair compensation paid to those who no longer wish to farm in Zimbabwe;
Land-use should be left to trained and dedicated individuals regardless of race, colour or creed on holdings which are economic and appropriate in size to each ecological region;
Sustainable land-use is only feasible if it is kept free of the fleeting interests of politicians. It should be based on sound, long-term, scientific experimentation and low-interest short and long-term loan finance;
The narrow, embittered, racist xenophobic outbursts in the state media should cease; and
The state should be obligated to provide its exiled citizens with postal votes for the 2005 general election as is the practice of democratic countries.