Agrarian reform has disempowered today’s farmer

By John Robertson


AS Zimbabwe’s remarkably good 2005/6 rainy season moves into its final phases, evidence is growing that food production will yet again fall well below the volumes needed.
  
Bruce Gemmill’s (“Waiting to reclaim

my land”, Zimbabwe Independent, February 24), description of the lands he used to farm as silent, empty and resembling a graveyard can be applied to almost all the land that used to produce Zimbabwe’s food surpluses.

The various efforts that have been made to persuade Zimbabweans in particular, and the world in general, that our land reform has been a resounding success have sounded more absurd with each passing year.
 
Of course, the definition of the word “success” can be carefully altered to fit in with the ruling party’s claim that ownership of the land has been restored to indigenous Zimbabweans and that is the “success” that was wanted, but even that claim is stretching credulity. What value is such ownership when even the farmers who have been resettled on the land can be evicted on the whim of a party heavyweight?

As Gemmill points out in his excellent article, what matters most is production, and apart from modest crops for the growers’ own consumption, that is not happening. Much higher levels of commitment and experience are needed to produce large-scale crops for competitive markets, but these will never be forthcoming from people who have no security of tenure and therefore no confidence that only they will reap what they have sown.

Apart from property rights, other components of the system that used to work for commercial farmers, and therefore for the country, were the market for land, which permitted a market price and collateral value to be established, and the transferability of ownership rights through the market. These attributes permitted the land to be used as security for bank loans, while the security of tenure the owners believed they had permitted long-term planning.

These, in turn, supported the investment process that allowed the farmers to turn land into productive and sustainable farms.
 
By comparison, today’s farmers are seriously disabled. Far from empowering them by giving them free land, the policy-makers have disempowered them by taking away every one of the components of a well-proven system that delivered excellent results.

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