Eric Bloch: Discriminatory, unfair land ownership

YET again the hierarchy of Zanu PF has expounded  on that party’s entrenched belief that Zimbabwean land is wholly and exclusively for the country’s indigenous population.  That racialistic, discriminatory contention is not limited only to land ownership, but also to land usage. 

This racially hostile policy has been enunciated recurrently for more than three decades, but most recently at the opening of the 2010 Zanu PF congress. 
At the congress, the president castigated the “new farmers” who are leasing their lands, or portions of those lands, to white farmers.  In the main, those white farmers were previously  evicted from the farms which they had developed, from formerly arid, unutilised lands, and had worked not only to their own benefit, but benefiting the nation as a whole.  Moreover, not only were many ousted from the properties and rendered homeless, but in innumerable instances such eviction was effected violently and cruelly.  They were also not compensated for all that was expropriated.
In recurrently pursuing their pronounced racialist bias, the bigotted politicians intentionally disregard the magnitude of the prejudice and suffering that their policies have  for the very indigenous population that they claim to protect.  Before the prevailing land policies were introduced, Zimbabwe not only produced enough food to feed its entire people, but it also was able to export substantial quantities. 
It was known as the “bread basket” of the region.  Now it has to import maize, wheat, poultry, beef, sugar, and much else.  Agriculture was the foundation of the economy, directly generating in excess of a third of total economic output.  It provided employment for over 300 000 agricultural workers, and thereby a livelihood for approximately two million Zimbabweans.  Now less than 40 000 are employed in agriculture, providing a minimal livelihood for less than a quarter of a million people.
To a very major extent, it is not the fault of “new farmers” that the productivity of the past has not been maintained. The harsh fact is that viable agricultural production is a virtual impossibility without requisite funding, and the manner whereby government has implemented its disastrous land policies is a near total barrier to funding availability.  Very few of the new farmers have capital resources of the substance required for effective farming operations. 
Save for some distribution of farm equipment by the Reserve Bank between 2005 and 2008, the new farmers have been unable to access their equipment needs, their inputs of seeds, fertilisers, chemicals, and the like, or to fund operating costs.  In normal, rational economics, the farmers would be able to counter their funding constraints by resorting to borrowings.  With very rare exception that is impossible in Zimbabwe. 
To a significant degree, that impossibility is because of the minimal liquidity within the country’s money market.  Almost without exception, banks and other financial institutions do not have sufficient resources to fund the substantial loan funding required by the agricultural sector.
However, that funding constraint is exacerbated by government having unilaterally accorded the state exclusive ownership of all rural lands.  Occupancy by newly-settled farmers is at the government’s will and favour, accorded by the grant of leases of supposedly 99-year duration — (although the government gives itself the power summarily to terminate leases on three months’ notice).  As a result, the land cannot be used as collateral security for loan funding needed to fund the farming operations. Not only do the farmers not have title to the farm lands, but the leases are non-transferable, and therefore those leases also do not constitute meaningful collateral.
As if these actions did not suffice to suffocate agriculture, and thereby to intensify grievously Zimbabwean poverty, government has also been recurrently derelict in ensuring timeous availability and distribution of farm inputs, thereby compounding the intense insufficiency of agricultural productivity.  Concurrently, government bodies such as the Grain Marketing Board have been horrendously tardy in effecting payment for such maize deliveries as have been forthcoming (over and above the prescribed prices frequently being grossly inadequate to compensate for costs of production).  In addition, erratic and irregular energy supplies are an ongoing impediment to viable agricultural production.
With millions of Zimbabweans starving or, at the least, being severely under-nourished, more than eight million people struggling to survive on incomes well below the poverty datum line, and the economy continuing to be gravely emaciated, government with even minimal concern for the nation’s wellbeing should welcome a return of white farmers onto some of the potentially very fertile, but currently arid, lands.  Instead of recrimination targeted at those indigenous who are sub-leasing to whites, government should be facilitative of their doing so.  At the same time, government needs to take very positive actions to enable the indigenous new farmers to operate the farms effectively and viably. Achieving this requires, amongst many other constructive actions:

  • Restoration of title to rural lands or, at the very least, to render the 99-year leases absolute, and readily negotiable and transferable, and valid as collateral security for borrowings;
  • Establishment of substantive loan funding for new farmers;
  • Market-realistic pricing policies for agricultural outputs, or extensive deregulation enabling prices to be market determined;
  • Enhancement of service delivery by Zesa and Zimbabwe National Water Authority.

If government in general, and Zanu PF in particular, would dismount from its racial high-horse, and instead would place the interests of Zimbabwe and its people first (above the politicians’ own interests and extreme racial bias), then agriculture will again become a mainstay of the economy, contributing greatly to the wellbeing of the populace.  Until this happens, the potentially very fertile land will continue to lie fallow!

 

Eric Bloch

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