Sound agriculture requires secure tenure

AGRICULTURAL research in southern Africa together with hundreds of years of commercial farming experience have revealed that the correct land use for sustainable economic production is most closely achieved when large-scale ownership of l

and is practised. This applies in all the ecological regions of the subcontinent.

The components which have proved to be essential for sustainable and profitable land use are listed as follows:

* secure tenure of properly surveyed holdings;

* the correct-sized economic units for each ecological region;

* adequate infrastructure;

* a ready supply of low interest short and long-term finance;

* adequate expertise;

* summer supplementary irrigation where crops are grown; and

* orderly marketing.

If the first component is ignored the application of the other six is unlikely to produce prosperity no matter how much money is poured into commodity enterprises. If all seven are ignored the prognosis for the farmers and their homeland can only be terminal illness.

Prior to 2001, the commercial sector of Zimbabwean agriculture was based on the seven precepts and exceptional care was taken to preserve and enhance the environment while at the same time producing the prosperity that drove the economy.

With the advent of the politically-inspired agrarian reform the seven components were abandoned and were deemed by politicians to be irrelevant to Africa and Africans. After four disastrous years the claims of success for the reform programme are becoming more and more muted and the cries for secure land tenure (the most important component) become louder.

The Reserve Bank governor has many times listed secure tenure as a prime requirement for his “turnaround” economic policy. The Finance minister in his mini-budget called for the issuance of 99-year leases.

The minister and the governor are in the best positions to observe the economic disaster which ill-advised policies have wrought on Zimbabwean agriculture and both have called for 99-year leases to be issued to new farmers to rectify matters. A lease, however, is not worth the paper it is written on if the leaseholder has no permanent boundaries to refer to.

As suggested above, secure tenure is only the first step towards sound agriculture. Another aspect of a legally correct lease is that it confers freedom of action and independence to the holder, both anathema to a command-oriented and sycophant-dependent administration.

Ninety-nine-year leases will bring back value to the land, buying and selling of farms would again be possible and, in the long-term, prosperity would have a chance of returning to Zimbabwe.

The totally unsustainable A1 holdings will have to be enlarged and surveyed before any economic production can be expected from them. In the meantime, they are becoming unproductive rural slums.

If the pleas of the minister and the governor are ignored or delayed, further deterioration of agriculture will be assured, regardless of whether the rains are good, bad or indifferent.

The excess production that often sustains southern Africa comes from commercial agriculture in South Africa and when, in the past, commercial agriculture thrived in Zimbabwe, the two countries provided a large measure of food security for the subcontinent. If land policies in South Africa lead to fragmentation of economic units, food security in the region will be in permanent jeopardy.

D Wiggill,