Eric Bloch Column

Land reform an abysmal failure

By Eric Bloch

GOVERNMENT’S trumpet-blowers, its apologists, and virtually all who compose the hierarchy of government repeatedly contend that not only will the land reform programme eradicate the

poverty suffered by the majority of Zimbabwe’s population, but also that it will be the propellant of great economic growth and well being.

Whilst it is not difficult to ascribe extreme stupidity, naivety or deliberate intent to misrepresent, falsify and deceive to some of those in government who endlessly hold forth on the wonders of the land reform and its great promise for a very distressed population, it is difficult to believe that that can be the case in respect of all in government — they cannot possibly all be so stupid and naïve, or so unethical and so uncaring for the Zimbabweans they are supposed to care for and protect, as to lie blatantly on a continuous basis as to the progress of reform and as to the future that it holds for Zimbabwe! Charity can only suggest that even if the facts do not dupe the populace, they have certainly deceived most of the country’s leaders.

The hard facts are that not only has the accelerated implementation of land acquisition, redistribution and resettlement over the six years since the president directed that the programme be “fast-tracked” been a total failure and of absolute, tragic consequences for millions of Zimbabweans, but it continues to be a hindrance to the restoration of a viable economy and to the uplifting of Zimbabweans from the depths of poverty to which government’s actions have cast them.

Those facts speak for themselves. In a short three-year period, production of tobacco has fallen by approximately 65%, and in so doing there has been a massive shrinkage in critically-needed foreign exchange generation. In that same period the commercial production of maize has decreased by almost 90%, reducing most Zimbabweans to great poverty, malnutrition and starvation. The lifespan expectancy of many infected with HIV/Aids is being severely curtailed.

Nationally, the average life expectancy was 59 years in 1990, and is now a mere 36 years. And it is unarguably the direct and indirect consequences of a criminally mismanaged land programme that has been the primary cause of this disastrous state.

As government conceived that programme, was the midwife at its delivery, and was responsible for its weaning, government must be held responsible. Effectively, government is guilty of mass murder, of genocide, by its ill-considered acts, by its even more ill-considered methods of those acts, and by its cavalier dismissal of all advice which was seen to be counter to its predetermined path for the land programme, irrespective of whether that advice emanated from those who have successfully farmed for years, from political opponents, from the international community, or from others.

Government’s arrogance, its conviction of its own infallibility, its paranoiac conviction that anything in conflict with its actions is attributable to actions of its enemies, whether real or imaginary, has enabled it to blind itself to realities and, therefore, to its perpetual adherence to proven destructive policies and modalities. And, as a result, government has inevitably cast far and wide to attribute blame to others and to causes beyond its control. It has alleged that much of the failure of its land reform has been due to droughts. In doing so, it conceals from itself and others that Zimbabwe’s stored water resource is of sufficient magnitude as to counter very substantially the consequences of drought in Zimbabwe’s principal areas of food production.

Another target for blame that government continuously avails itself of is the former white commercial farmers. It castigates them for not assisting those newly settled on the lands formerly farmed by them, for not imparting to them the necessary skills and knowledge, and not releasing to them tractors, ploughs, other farm machinery and irrigation equipment. First government displaces them from their homes of many decades, deprives them of their livelihoods, and of most for which they have worked vigorously for most of their lives, enables others to have a contemptuous disregard for law and order and to drive the suddenly near-impoverished, homeless and abused farmers into the cities and towns, and to more welcoming countries, and then it seeks to blame them for the situation wrought by government.

The Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Land Resettlement, Joseph Made unhesitatingly casts aspersions against the former farmers for having had the brazen effrontery to have sold their used equipment in order to put the machinery beyond the reach of the poorly funded new farmers, sabotaging efforts to resuscitate the economy. He obviously considers it irrelevant that those former farmers had to settle debts with banks, finance houses and suppliers, and had been forced by hastily enacted legislation to pay considerable retrenchment packages to their former workers (whose retrenchment was solely occasioned by government). Equally irrelevant was that he had deprived them of their livelihoods.

He, and many of his cabinet colleagues, now also try to evade the realities of the lack of inputs that are desperately needed by those of the new farmers who do, in fact, wish to farm, instead of expecting others to do it for them. For more than two years government has strenuously endeavoured to suggest that the non-availability of inputs was solely due to the malevolent unwillingness of the financial sector to provide loan funding to the new farmers. In the perceptions of the minister, of his staff, and of almost all in government, banks should have hastened to make all necessary funding available without regard for good and sound banking practice, and in disregard for the inability of the new farmers to provide security for borrowings or assurances of any ability to service the loans. Similarly, all suppliers of inputs should have unhesitatingly provided the much-needed imports on credit, although they had nothing other than the farmers’ promises that payment would ultimately be forthcoming.

Then, when the belaboured recriminations of the former farmers, the bankers, the financial institutions, and the suppliers of inputs yielded almost no results, the minister assured the distressed new farmers that, in the next season, government would provide all necessary inputs. Tractors would be plentiful, as would be irrigation equipment, fuel, seeds, fertilisers, chemicals and whatsoever else would be required. The promises were plentiful, but the deliveries were not.

Some tractors were imported, and were mainly destined to those A2 farmers well connected in the corridors of government, and in any case they were insignificant in number as compared with requirements. Some ploughing was done for A1 and A2 farmers by the DDF, but that too was minimal in relation to the required ploughing of the new farmers.

But government unreservedly assured all that the 2003/2004 agricultural season would be different. Inputs would be plentiful. Behind-the-scenes pressures, combined with economic pressures and justifiable self-interest motivated many in the private sector to be forthcoming with pledges of funding support for inputs. Massive pledges were forthcoming from the cotton ginneries, from Innscor, National Foods, and others, aggregating to more than $50 billion. Various banking institutions close to government were also forthcoming with promises of special facilities to fund inputs. In all, more than $80 billion was pledged. Concurrently, government threatened — through its Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Development, Joseph Made — to steal the niggardly $8 billion held for grossly inadequate compensation for the theft of legitimately owned farms, also to be applied to the funding of inputs.

But most of these promises of funding for inputs are meaningless, for the inputs are not available, irrespective of whether or not funding is provided. Most of the inputs are dependent upon imports, be they of components of fertilisers, such as ammonia, or be they chemicals, or machinery and equipment. And such has been government’s diabolically dogmatic destruction of the economy, with complete disregard for well-intentioned, reasoned and soundly-based advice, that the economy has been wholly unable to generate the foreign exchange required to fund the essential imports to produce the required inputs.