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Land reform: root cause of economic collapse

By Bruce Gemmills

THE collapse of Zimbabwe demonstrates conclusively that the primary cause of the economic collapse was the land reform programme; drought played only a minor roll.

Virtually all Zimbabweans have had their lives or livelihoods adversely affected by this collapse, many grievously so.

This political cause has had an economic domino effect and the collapse continues, ever downward at an exponential rate.

Even if Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, Gideon Gono, brings to bear all the financial wizardry he is capable of, it will be to no avail. Metaphorically he is sticking his finger in the dam wall.

The requisite fundamentals for an economic recovery are not in place and the most fundamental of all the fundamentals is the comprehensive revival of commercial agriculture.

Today, commercial agriculture should not be regarded as a relic of colonialism or a construct of white privilege. It is a vital component of the economy, it always was and it always will be.

I don’t dispute it was developed during minority white rule, mainly for the benefit of whites, so too was Lake Kariba.

When the government decided to destroy commercial agriculture, it was a politically-inspired act of retribution. I have little doubt, but no proof, the 2000 referendum was rejected by the farmers and their employees. The government’s fury was white-hot and out of control. This fury is responsible for turning Zimbabwe into an economic and agricultural scrapyard.

The government cobbled together the A1 and A2 schemes based on the presumption that commercial farming was only a combination of instinct, commonsense, and government loans.

The imposition of this top down formula was in character with the government’s belief that it knows best. Remember when the government tried to impose Village Development Committees and Ward Development Committees into the communal lands – they failed.

The imposition of the A1 and A2 resettlement schemes is a continuation of the same philosophy and mind-set. The resettlement scheme is politically-driven, it ignores all business and agricultural essentials, it is already a proven failure.

The government will never admit it has made an egregious blunder, that is the nature of all dictatorships. The demise of commercial agriculture has had a debilitating effect on communal agriculture. Supply and service industries, agricultural research, marketing structures, banking and provincial towns depended to a large extent on the existence of large-scale commercial agriculture. Communal agriculture shared and benefited from these utilities.

Many post-colonial African governments also booted out their commercial farmers. Today many of those same governments are inviting commercial farmers to return. Why?

It is because small-scale and peasant farming has not measured up to feeding the ever-increasing urban populations. There is a lesson to be learnt here.

Modern commercial farming is a multi-faceted business, to survive it must observe and conform to the universal rules of business.

It must also work with nature, spreading risk through a range of enterprises and rotational cropping. Scale of operation is also vital in order to justify investment in complex, expensive plant and machinery.

Scale is also a factor when competing in northern hemisphere markets. Modern commercial farming is a synchronised blend of many factors, many of these factors being inter-dependent. It is pre-eminently business-based rather than resource-based.

To be a successful commercial farmer does not require academic brilliance. It does require technical and managerial competence, an empathy with things that live and grow, a feeling of responsibility towards the environment, a preparedness to return profits to the business, for an extended period until development and financial security have been achieved.

If you are looking for a fast buck or an easy life, don’t go farming. Everything to do with commercial agriculture involves a long-term commitment, so security of title is paramount.

The white minority government kept black people away from land ownership and large-scale commercial agriculture mainly for political reasons. It did not want to have to reason with, and recognise a visual and coherent body of black opinion it may not be able to control. The same grotesque logic prevails in the present government. Only those it can control by some means or another will it allow to occupy land.

We have become a nation of beggars, relying on other countries to grow the food we once provided for ourselves. Under the present A1 and A2 format, it is inevitable that agricultural output will continue to decline. It cannot develop the capacity or capability to meet the nation’s needs.

In some respects, the land reform programme is an attenuated copycat version of Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward.

President Mugabe has always been attracted to Marxist theory. He seems to regard Zimbabwe as his political toy box.

Today, China has transformed itself into an economic powerhouse.Maybe after Zimbabwe has recovered its political balance, it too can become the first tiger economy in Africa. Only by progressing to an industry-based economy can the needs and expectations of the Zimbabwe people be met.

* Bruce Gemmills is a farmer and civic activist.

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