We can turn around agriculture in six months: CFU president

AS the agricultural sector continues to be rocked by lawlessness,  evictions and uncertainty, the Zimbabwe Independent’s political reporter Augustine Mukaro (AM) spoke to Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) president Doug Taylor-Freeme (DTF) about the prospects of normalising the se

ctor and improving productivity.

AM: What is the current membership of the CFU?

DTF: We have a broad base of membership, both black and white farmers. Amongst the white farmers, we have a non-farming group interested in getting compensation and others seeking an opportunity to go back to the farms and start afresh once the fundamentals are addressed. We also have large, medium and small-scale farmers as
well as those farming out of the country. 

AM: Does government and farmers, especially the dispossessed, have confidence in the CFU as the body necessary in resolving the land issue and leading the recovery of agriculture?

DTF: It’s very unfortunate that Zimbabwean authorities don’t want to recognise the vast potential and capacity we have to turn around the fortunes of this country. But confidence in our skills and potential is tremendous in Sadc and the international community. I have been elected as the vice-president of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions which represents several Sadc countries. I was also seconded to sit on the board of International Federation of Agriculture Producers as the African representative.

The organisation represents over six million farmers throughout the world. These appointments show that the world is confident that Zimbabwean farmers have the capacity to add value to agriculture. We have the capacity to turn around agriculture in this country within six months.

AM: How many farmers have been compensated and are they happy with the amounts offered?

DTF: Compensation is ongoing and to date around 300 farmers have been compensated. The money being offered ranges between 3 to 10% of the value of the improvements on a farm resulting in farmers turning the offers down. Elderly and frail farmers are accepting the compensation since it is their only source of income and government appears to be targeting those soft spots.

AM: Have you tabled any proposals before government on how to resolve the land issue?

DTF: There have been many proposals including the Zimbabwe Joint Resettlement Initiative of 2001, but for any proposal to work, government has to put in place sound policies that create a balance between large-scale commercial agriculture and small-scale (including) fundamentals such as rule of law, security of tenure that guarantees protection of property and a climate friendly to investment.

For example, equipment in the country no longer has the capacity to till the expected hectarage because it is old and dilapidated, but there is no one prepared to invest in new equipment because of the prohibitive equipment law which bars farmers from moving their equipment once the farm is acquired.

AM. You have been advising your members to apply for land to government. Are they going to accept any farm or do they target specific farms? How many have been given offer letters?

DTF: In our many meetings with (Lands) minister (Didymus) Mutasa, we were advised that if we wanted to farm, we had to apply for land. As such, we recommended to our farmers to apply. Our farmers are applying to have their farms back. This strategy would reduce compensation on the part of government, take away conflict with the former owners and even quicken the recovery processes since the farmer would have an understanding of his farm, soils and environment he previously worked in.

Our problem as a sector is access to land, so by applying for land we are trying to legitimise and promote agriculture within the frameworks of the land reform programme which CFU has always supported.

AM: Some of your members and the top CFU leadership have been accused of getting into deals with powerful politicians to retain their farms. What’s your comment?

DTF: There may be 1% of such deals happening but the majority of the farmers still on the land have offered one farm to keep another. In most cases these arrangements were done through courts but government is often reneging on the matter and farmers are being evicted every day. CFU leadership are no exception to the harassment, threats of eviction or even losing land. I have already lost 70% of my land holding and for the past four years have been going through courts to get the right to continue farming. My other vice-president Trevor Gifford has been reduced to a mere seven hectares. What we are doing is to try and manage the situation and keep skills on the farms, giving people hope for better times.

AM: Does government listen to your proposals and do you foresee a resolution anytime soon?

DTF: There are two groups of people in the government: the economically minded group wants the land issue resolved yesterday but they are drawn back by the political radicals. For as long as we are not pulling in one direction, disruptions and uncertainty will prevail, eroding investor confidence and undermining potential to produce. Banks continue to be twitchy because of lack of security and disruptions. In fact agriculture is not legitimate anymore.