A SENIOR Zimbabwean minister has admitted that the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms has failed to benefit large numbers of poor black farmers, many of whom have failed to take up t
he land that was grabbed.
Special Affairs minister John Nkomo, chairman of the ruling Zanu PF, said in some areas fewer than half of the black farmers who were allotted land had started farming it. Commercial agriculture has collapsed following President Robert Mugabe’s land redistribution policy, leaving about five million people needing food aid because of shortages.
“In some cases, the percentage of people who took up the farms that they were allocated has not been encouraging,” Nkomo said in a BBC interview at the weekend.
“In some cases, only 40% of people who were allocated land have taken it up,” he said.
Nkomo blamed lack of finance, saying farmers who wanted to take the land had difficulties obtaining bank loans, but the Mugabe regime’s critics had foreseen such difficulties.The poor peasant farmers who were meant to benefit from land seizures did not have the money to buy seed, fertilisers or farming implements, let alone redevelop the farmland to make it productive. And without the title deeds, which are still held by their white owners, black farmers cannot obtain bank loans.
Renson Gasela, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s Agriculture spokesman, said his party had always said the programme was chaotic.
“They gave land to people who are not farmers, who are soldiers and police and civil servants. These people are working in towns. They are not interested in the land. They got the land for speculation purposes, so that they can sell it later.”
Gasela said Mugabe has admitted that there were problems, but they have always glossed over them or indicated that they were teething troubles.
“If John Nkomo has said this, then this is the first time there has been such a frank admission,” he said.
A spokesman for Justice for Agriculture, a commercial farmers’ pressure group, said the failure to make use of Zimbabwe’s farmland could well worsen food shortages, the spokesman said.
“We’ve flown around the country and seen there’s nothing being grown,” he said. “The maize crop is down, the wheat is down. A lot of people have started to prepare their land, but it’s too late to get any reasonable crop. What we saw last season is going to be nothing compared to what we’re going to see. The food shortages will be horrendous.
“They keep blaming what’s happening on drought, but the drought in the past couple of years has been in specific areas, and the main grain-growing areas haven’t had any drought.”
Nkomo’s embarrassing admission comes after Mugabe’s government announced on New Year’s Eve that it had recovered half a million acres of farmland from Zanu PF loyalists who had seized two or more white-owned farms.
However, the Justice for Agriculture spokesman said it had seen no sign that those involved in multiple land grabs had abandoned any of the land.
“One minister is now on his third farm,” the spokesman said. “They go on to the farm when it is ready to produce, kick the owner off and take the crops.”