NEARLY four years after President Mugabe’s government began to expropriate commercial farmland in the name of correcting a social injustice, confusion and policy contradic
tions have continued to haunt the programme.
Mugabe’s pet project, condemned by international donors as unworkable and a recipe for disaster, has turned out to be just that as production in all facets of agriculture has plummeted, dragging the economy down with it.
But the inherent policy contradictions and blunders have clearly demonstrated that amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, the appointment of a succession of committees of inquiry or taskforces, and even the purging of the judiciary have done nothing to improve production. Farming activity requires proper financing and planning which have been conspicuously absent over the past four years.
Last weekend, Special Affairs minister John Nkomo in an interview with the BBC, made a stunning admission that the land reform exercise had failed in some places.
“In some cases, the percentage of people who took up the farms that they were allocated has not been encouraging,” Nkomo said in the interview.
“In some cases, only 40% of people who were allocated land have taken it up,” he said.
Nkomo blamed this on lack of finance, saying farmers who wanted to take the land had difficulties obtaining bank loans.
Nkomo, who is leading the government’s Land Review taskforce, was this week quoted in the government media as saying there was confusion on the ground caused by the listing and delisting of farms.
Sources in the Lands and Agriculture ministry this week said at least 500 farms had been left fallow this season as wrangles over ownership raged.
Agricultural experts have said despite numerous promises that government would support new farmers with inputs and tillage, this has been a monumental failure in the past three farming seasons. The current season, despite promises of near normal rainfall, is set to be the worst ever due to a combination of chaos on the ground, poor planning and meager financing.
Government measures to redress the situation through amendments to the principal Act since 2000 have not managed to improve production.
From the inception of the fast-track land reform, white commercial farmers clinging on to the land were considered to be the primary obstacles to the success of the exercise.
In 2000, the government through a presidential decree began to compulsorily acquire farms. The decree was then confirmed by the passing of the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill in November 2000.
In September 2002, another amendment to facilitate the forcible eviction of defiant farmers was passed. Farmers had resisted eviction on the grounds that lending banks, which held their bonds, had not been informed of pending eviction, as required by law.
This meant the government had to notify the banks of farmers affected in this way, then reissue eviction notices. The amendment removed this impediment resulting in mass evictions towards the end of 2002 and beginning of last year.
Two months ago the government gazetted another amendment to the Land Act which seeks to give government powers to acquire at least 11 million hectares of land. The Bill, if enacted into law, will empower the government to compulsorily acquire plantations and farms engaged in large-scale production of tea, coffee, timber, citrus fruit and sugar cane. The amending legislation will also empower the government to acquire land which has Export Processing Zone (EPZ) status or agro-businesses with Zimbabwe Investment Centre certificates
Another presidential decree two weeks ago was promulgated to give government powers to compulsorily acquire farming equipment held in warehouses by dispossessed farmers.
This, the government believed, would solve the problems of the shortage of tillage implements and other on-farm infrastructure.
The amendments accelerated the acquisition of the land but this has corresponded with a sharp decline in grain and cereal production. The tinkering with the legislation has failed to address the fundamental issue of security of tenure, which is crucial to securing funding.
Last year, the government appointed the Utete Land Review Committee to sort out the mess that had been created by the re-organisation on the farms. Its report, whose recommendations President Mugabe said government would implement, was deemed to be the panacea to the problems on the land.
However, some of its seemingly sensible suggestions contrast sharply with the proposed amendment to the Land Act. The Utete report says land under exotic forests should not be resettled.
“The proposal to divide some of the plantation forests into small farms of about 250-hectares to be allocated to individuals will almost certainly prove unviable,” the Utete report said.
“Given the high level of vertical integration, the long gestation period and the contribution to the national economy of the exotic plantation forestry industry, it is recommended that land in this category be maintained in the current state without any fragmentation.”
The amendment, analysts say, will further scare away investors in the capital intensive agro-processing industry and the agro-forestry sectors.
Exotic forests in the Eastern Highlands and conservancies and national parks in the south-eastern Lowveld have been occupied by crop farmers. The government has not removed the illegal settlers who have caused fires in forests and decimated wildlife.
Last week, the Independent reported that the Agriculture and Rural Development Authority was acquiring a sophisticated horticultural farm with EPZ status in Odzi.
The Land Bill finally disposes of Mugabe’s diplomatic gambit that Zimbabwe was implementing the one-farm-one-farmer policy and that no farmer would be left without land.
The government seeks to amend the law so that it can acquire a farm even if it is the only piece of land belonging to the owner. In its findings, the Utete review committee said government was upholding the one-man-one-farm policy – a fallacy.
“In the case of a single-owned farm being acquired due to it being contiguous to a communal area, government undertook to provide the affected farmer with another elsewhere around the country,” the Utete committee said.
As Nkomo’s team continues with its tour around the country, revelations of more confusion and policy contradictions are likely to greet them.