PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Thursday appointed a ministerial team to probe claims of farm disruptions across the country.
Tsvangiraiâ€™s spokesperson James Maridadi confirmed the setting up of the ministerial team that commences its work today. The team is led by deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.
The team is made up of co-Home Affairs ministers Giles Mutsekwa and Kembo Mohadi, Agriculture minister Joseph Made, Lands minister Herbert Murerwa and Minister of State in the office of the Prime Minister Gorden Moyo.
The team is today scheduled to visit selected farms to gain first hand experience on the reported cases of disturbances on the farms.
â€œThis probe has been necessitated by recent reports of fresh farm invasions just days before the start of the winter wheat season,â€ Maridadi said.
â€œThe team will tomorrow make unannounced appearances on three affected farms. Findings will be presented to the prime minister on Monday.â€
A month ago the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) approached Tsvangiraiâ€™s office claiming that Zanu PF hardliners and state security agencies had embarked on a campaign to remove remaining white commercial farmers from their farms.
Some of the white farmers have been arrested for refusing to vacate farms compulsorily acquired by government.
This, the CFU said, was against theÂ ruling of a Sadc Tribunal earlier this year that the farmers should remain on their properties.
The CFU appealed to Tsvangirai to put an end to the fresh occupations and the prime minister initially referred the matter to the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (Jomic) of the global political agreement to resolve the issue before appointing a ministerial probe team Thursday.
The appointment of the team came the same day as Commerce and Industry minister Welshman Ncube, who is the current chairperson of Jomic, said government would soon come up with a land tenure regime to restore stability in the farming sector.
In a telephone interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, Ncube said there was urgent need for security of tenure in agriculture to boost confidence and create an environment where farmers could borrow from financial institutions to increase production.
â€œUnder the global political agreement we committed ourselves to bring stability on farms and increase production,â€ Ncube said.
â€œThis was also emphasised in the Short Term Emergency Recovery Programme. We need a secure tenure regime as soon as possible.â€
He said with a stable agricultural sector, production in industry would be boosted.
â€œOur economy is agro-based hence we need stability in the farming sector as soon as possible. We have asked the Ministry of Lands to come up with a tenure regime,â€ Ncube said.
â€œI will be glad if we can come up with a regime before the summer cropping.â€
He described alleged fresh farm occupations as complicated and requiring urgent resolution. Â
Zimbabwe embarked on the land reform exercise in 2000 to give land to landless blacks. This has however severely hurt the commercial agricultural sector and led to massive food deficits.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture has requested two United Nations agencies to carry out crop and food supply assessments later this month ahead of the annual harvest.
According to ministry sources, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have been invited to carry out the exercise amid reports of hunger in some parts of the country.
â€œFAO and WFP officials will soon be in the country to carry out crop and food supply assessment exercises from April 27 to May 15,â€ said the source. â€œThe mission comprises of experts from Rome who will work with Agritex officials in carrying out the field assessments across the country.â€
Minister of Agriculture Made could not be reached for comment Thursday as his mobile phone went unanswered.
Last month, Made declined to predict yields for the 2008/9 cropping season before government carries out what he termed a secondary crop assessment.
The assessment comes at a time when the WFP last week said Zimbabweâ€™s humanitarian situation was likely to improve after the annual harvest.
The programmeâ€™s information officer Richard Lee however said the situation would continue to be dire for people with limited access to foreign currency, following the introduction of a multi-currency national payment system.
Following shortages of agricultural inputs last year and reported cases of farm disruptions targeting white commercial farmers, the CFU last month projected a drop in maize production from last yearâ€™s output.
It said maize production would drop to 397 000 tonnes this season from 417 000 tonnes last year.
This figure is a tiny fraction of the estimated two million metric tonnes required annually for national consumption and an estimated 70% decline in productivity since the countryâ€™s agrarian reform in 2000.
BY BERNARD MPOFU AND WONGAI ZHANGAZHA