THE Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) which used to be the cauldron of Zimbabwe’s agriculture with more than 4 500 members now only has 1 100, according to CFU vice president Stoff Hawgood.
In an interview after the presentation of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono’s monetary policy statement review Hawgood said the membership continued decreasing.
Some CFU members have joined the rival Justice for Agriculture (JAG) organisation which broke away, accusing the CFU of being insufficiently robust in dealing with government.
Hawgood confirmed that some of his members had been offered lucrative farming opportunities in various neighbouring countries including Zambia, Malawi and South Africa and some of them had taken up the offers.
Recent reports have also linked Zimbabwean farmers to Nigeria where President Olesugun Obasanjo welcomed them.
“There isn’t much activity on the farms right now because farmers are not sure whether they will be on that land tomorrow or not,” Hawgood said. “The serving of Section 5 and Section 8s has resulted in many commercial farmers sitting on the fence and wondering what is the next move.”
He said the serving of notices had brought commercial agriculture to a virtual standstill.
Government began taking over commercial farms in 2000 after having concluded that the land apportionment programme agreed upon at Lancaster House was taking too long.
Political pressure also resulted in government speeding up the process and compulsorily taking land away from commercial farmers unwilling to offer their farms for resettlement.
The land programme has become the major bone of contention between President Robert Mugabe’s government and Western nations as well as some African countries that describe it as being “skewed”.
“Just go around the country and see what is actually happening on the farms,” Hawgood said. “I can tell you that there is nothing happening on them. Look at greenhouses, crops planted, and the actual herd whether it be beef or dairy cattle. The situation is pathetic.”
He said commercial farming was a very expensive venture and one needed to be a hands-on person to be successful in it.
Gono in his monetary policy statement review said agriculture remained the backbone of the Zimbabwean economy as it pulls strong downstream linkages with manufacturing and other key productive sectors, both as supplier and consumer of raw materials.
He said between 2001 and 2003 production in agriculture, hunting and fishing declined by a cumulative 26%, undermining the country’s resolve to be self-sufficient on food security.
“Underperformance in agriculture exerts pressure on the country’s foreign exchange resources through grain imports to meet internal deficits,” Gono said. “As indeed a proud nation, we need to rebuild our food reserves and consolidate on the historic land reform programme, one of whose principal objectives was to spread land ownership to the majority of Zimbabweans and in the process help to alleviate poverty through growth and development.”