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New absentee landlords slammed

Munyaradzi Wasosa

ABSENTEE landowners, especially government officials, have been criticised for failing to fully utilise the land they acquired under the land reform exercise.

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Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) Vice President, Wilfanos Mashingaidze, made the criticism at a tobacco field day organised by the Zimbabwe Fertiliser Company (ZFC) in Chiweshe last Friday.

The comments follow countrywide reports that many government officials and politicians are underutilising vast tracts of land they grabbed from white commercial farmers since 2000.

“The land reform programme is being pulled back by absentee landlords,” Mashingaidze said.

“Those people like government ministers in the party, who have offices in town and live there, should employ managers to ensure full land usage,” he said.

Some small-scale tobacco farmers said they were not benefiting from government loans to finance their farming activities.

A small-scale burley tobacco farmer in Chiweshe, Kahma Mukawu, who won the 2003 burley tobacco grower of the year award, said government was not providing funding to small-scale farmers.

“The government is preferring to help large-scale farmers instead of uplifting us, yet we are doing well,” he said. “The land reform programme in my area was carried out by corrupt officials, as a result we did not get (much) land.”

Agribank loans to farmers fall under three categories. For communal farmers, a loan of up to $5 million is granted subject to a letter from the district administrator as proof that the farmer is indeed the owner of a piece of land and that the farming venture is viable.

Farmers who fall under the A1 model can get loans of up to $10 million, while A2 “key” farmers can access loans of up to $30 million. Government loans attract 30% annual interest, while an Agribank commercial loan attracts a prohibitive 92% annual interest.

Despite the introduction of government-supported agrobills, the agricultural finance system continues to marginalise small-scale farmers. Large-scale farmers use their implements and machinery as collateral security for loans, and banks can repossess them if farmers default in debt servicing.

Communal farmers, most of whom do not own essential implements like tractors, are thus unable to access these loans.

One small-scale farmer at the field day criticised the local MP for Mazowe East, Chen Chimutengwende, for neglecting his constituency.

“We last saw him in 2000 during the elections. If election was all he was after, next time we will not vote for him,” said the farmer.

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