THE government has finally accepted its shortcomings by
admitting that it needs donor support for its land reform programme to succeed. This is a major departure from populist posturing over the past three years that Zimbabwe would go it alone without external support from the international community and claims by President Mugabe’s courtiers that the reform exercise has been a success.
Evidence of failure is manifest in empty shop shelves and weed-covered former commercial farms.
Last month the government issued a desperate SOS appeal to donors to finance agricultural recovery although this was disguised as an appeal for humanitarian aid to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The government requires $758 billion for cereal production and $120 billion to revive the livestock sector, which has been decimated by destocking, drought and rustling.
Zimbabwe, which only a few short years ago was a net food exporter in the region before the advent of fast-track land reform, wants donors to dole out 600 000 tonnes of maize and finance the purchase of drugs.
Zimbabwe admitted in the document it does not have the foreign currency to import the food and drugs. The government attributed this to drought and economic decline but not to its own mismanagement of the economy and bungling of the agrarian reform.
The government, in its appeal to the UNDP, said it was committed to funding part of the agricultural recovery initiative from the 2003/2004 supplementary budget allocation and wants donors to fill in the yawning $878 billion gap. But history points to the government’s incompetence in mobilising local financial and material resources to finance agriculture.
In the past three years its highly politicised input support scheme has resulted in a waste of national resources. For example last year farmers on the maize-growing belt received fertilisers before they received seeds. The seed was only delivered when it was too late to plant. A scheme for A2 farmers to restore looted and vandalised irrigation systems has not brought tangible results as evidenced by the record low hectarage of winter wheat this year. Bankers have not been keen to finance agriculture in the smallholder sector due to lack of security.
The crop-pricing regime has not spurred agricultural production either. The hardest-hit crop has been tobacco, a key foreign currency earner whose output has continued to plummet due to high costs of production and a miscued exchange rate policy.
The once sophisticated horticultural sector has also seen a dip in productivity after farms were stripped and portions of land parcelled out.
Analysts said the new appeal to donors to fund agricultural recovery was an indictment of a government whose policies have entombed the nation in poverty. The analysts said it was ironic that the appeal was targeted at traditional humanitarian aid sponsors — mainly Britain, the European Union and United States — who openly condemned government’s chaotic and partisan land reform exercise from inception. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s new friends in the Far East don’t seem to be interested.
UNDP resident representative to Zimbabwe Victor Angelo in a recent interview with Irin news agency clearly set out conditions for donor support when he said:
“I trust that donors would be very supportive of a well-designed and properly implemented survey of the agricultural situation. Before this has been achieved, we can’t even talk about the next step. First, you understand the present. Then you prepare for the future. But the question is not just about donors — above all, it is about Zimbabweans taking the lead,” he said.
Angelo said the situation prevailing at the moment was different from the circumstances of the 1998 donors’ conference held in Harare.
“Challenges are greater than ever and the call from the rural areas is for better planning, more transparency, more resources and full implementation of the law.
“The critical issues — sustainable resettlement, food security, institutional strengthening, and renewed partnerships — have to be faced head on,” he said.
The donors are likely to remind government that it lost the opportunity to garner support for the land reform exercise when it abandoned commitments made at the 1998 conference.
Donor countries then favoured a phased approach to land reform in which the initial phase was expected to resettle 150 000 families. A concept paper produced with the assistance of the World Bank before the conference estimated that it would cost US$12 230 to resettle each one of the 150 000 farmers which translated to US$1,9 billion. The paper proposed a funding structure where donors would provide 60% of the money, the government 36% and the beneficiaries 4%.
The paper said the resettlement programme should focus on poverty reduction. This meant that beneficiaries would be selected from among the poor — those living in congested communal areas, those with farming aptitude, and vulnerable groups such as farm workers.
It said the programme would also integrate into its activities the equitable development of communal areas and existing resettlement areas. The paper said the reform programme would have an inception phase of two years, followed by an expansion phase of three to five years.
“The inception phase of the land reform and resettlement programme will be used to implement the current government resettlement models and test out a variety of approaches to land redistribution,” the paper said.
“During the inception phase, the key objective is ‘learning by doing’,” it said. “Already, government is in the process of further improving the current models, and will continue to do so during the inception phase. This implies putting in place a strong monitoring and evaluation system, which aims to continuously and rapidly improve upon the various approaches as they are being implemented, and lays the basis for the expansion phase.”
This seemingly sensible route was abandoned as political expediency dictated the ‘fast track’ model of land acquisition without due regard to resources and budget availability. This has not only compromised productivity but has wrecked all facets of the economy. The scenario obtaining in the country where inflation has reached stratospheric levels of 365% and shortages of basics reign supreme has its roots in that deeply flawed approach which ignored specialist advice.
The policy which the government said was designed to reduce poverty and empower the populace has to date achieved the opposite. It has enriched the few apparatchiks and condemned the would-be beneficiaries to abject poverty. Unemployment, which has continued to rise due to de-industrialisation, is currently estimated at a conservative 70%.
But this is contrary to the assertions and promises made by President Mugabe at the 1998 donors conference.
“Government is committed to orderly resettlement and will not allow this situation (lawlessness) to prevail as it will lead to destruction of the environment,” said Mugabe
He said that under the second phase of the programme, government would acquire five million hectares from the large-scale commercial farming sector over a period of five years on which to resettle 150 000 households…
“There is ample evidence based on various studies (that it can) be transferred from that sector without compromising national agricultural production.”
But the cost to the nation of abandoning that approach has been enormous and the economy is sinking deeper into the abyss.
Mugabe recently set up a land audit team to gauge the efficacy of the land reform programme after reports that his closest followers were taking advantage of the resettlement scheme. He said senior government officials with multiple farms should surrender their surplus acquisitions. Mugabe has also said parliament would amend the Land Acquisition Act to allow for smoother expropriation of land, a clear threat to the functioning of the Administrative Court.
The latest land audit and new legislation will see another wave of damaging land battles at a time when the country should be focused on enhancing productivity.
Donor nations, tasked with rescuing Zimbabwe by the very government that has sabotaged it, will continue to wait on the sidelines until sanity is restored in the political process.