Land invasions kill economic recovery

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The Sadc Director for Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Margaret Nyirenda recently told a media briefing that a land reform exercise like the one implemented in Zimbabwe is crucial to deal with the economic imbalances in the region.

Eric Bloch

She said all Sadc countries should pursue similar land policies. In justifying why the region should implement such policies, Nyirenda claimed that Zimbabwe was one of the five countries in Sadc that had a surplus in cereal production in the last season (the others achieving surplus being South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi).

The five countries allegedly achieved a collective surplus exceeding 600 000 metric tonnes of cereal.

Nyirenda was both right and wrong. She was correct in that Sadc countries should vigorously pursue land reform because of the immense potential in agricultural production.

Most of Africa is very fertile, with many Sadc countries leading in that. The wealth that can be generated and exploited from maximising on the region’s agricultural production, and also by value-addition industrial operations founded upon that production, can guarantee employment and income for an overwhelming majority of the population of Sadc, and meaningful wealth. Almost all will have food and sustenance that many presently lack, the countries can generate substantial export revenues, and their fiscuses would benefit considerably.

But, although it is undeniable that Zimbabwe’s 2013/2014 Agricultural season was markedly better than in any of the preceding 14 years, nevertheless one must ponder how the Sadc Director for Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources could claim that Zimbabwe produced a surplus in cereal crops.

If that were so, why is it necessary for Zimbabwe to import an estimated 600 000 tonnes of cereals to assure a sufficiency of supplies to meet the nation’s needs?

Although the import requirement is considerably less than in preceding years, it is still high as it puts immense pressure on the country’s limited resources.

Although last season’s increased productivity was partially attributed to some improvement in agricultural policies and their implementation by government, to a large extent it was because of a markedly better climatic season and not enhanced government policies!

On the other hand, government must be commended for ensuring that for the first time in many years, agricultural inputs were timeously available. Although government made efforts to ensure that energy resources were available more timeously, they were not sufficient.

However, many of government’s agricultural policies continue to be counterproductive and negative. Amongst the negatives is government’s failure to restore title-ownership of the land to new farmers or alternatively the much-talked about 99 year leases.

In the absence of land title, or of possession of negotiable long-term leases, almost all farmers are devoid of the collateral security which is a prerequisite to borrowing funds. Access to loan funding and credit facilities are essential for the majority of Zimbabwe’s farmers, for very few of them have sufficient financial resources to fully exploit the agricultural potential of their lands.

Another negative is the highly bigoted and racially-founded policy that has prevailed since 2000, which has been government’s determination to oust all non-indigenous farmers from the lands.

In doing so, the state eliminated productivity on many farms and the desecration and decline of those farms. By doing the state removed experienced farmers, who were willing and ready to convey their skills to new indigenous farmers in their areas.

At the same time, the farms were acquired by people in political high office or with political connections, who were driven by the desire to amass wealth and not to pursue agriculture production. They were using these farms only, at best, as “weekend get-aways” from the cities.

In addition to this was the enforced saleability of diverse agricultural outputs to state-controlled (often mismanaged), enterprises, at prices wholly unrelated to assurance of viability of the farming operations, and pronouncedly at variance with those which would be economically driven by producer needs and by the fundamental principle of “supply and demand”.

Instead, the prices realised by producers were far below their continuing operational and viability needs and (in order to maximise population support for the controlling politicians) unrealistic onward sale prices, resulting in immense losses for the state enterprises marketing the production which had been forcibly sold to them.

The state has been solely concerned with assuring maximised voter support, concurrently with increased job-creation in the state enterprises, in total disregard for the economic negatives and fiscal prejudices.

The downstream negative effects of these adverse, highly-damaging, policies and actions, upon the other sectors of the economy were also very considerable. Despite the partial recovery in production levels of agriculture, the resultant revenue flows into the economy as a whole were very minimal.
Moreover because of the state’s endless expropriation of the lands, the economy suffered as potential investors (domestic and foreign) were fearful that with the effluxion of time, like expropriations would be targeted at the industrial, tourism, financial, and other economic sectors. The inflows of much-needed investments progressively and massively declined with consequential attendant negative constraints upon economic recovery and growth, job creation, export-generation, import-substitution, improved foreign exchange reserves, enhanced fiscal inflows, and the like.

The intensified fearfulness of absence of substantive investment security became an ever-increasing deterrent to the otherwise willing investors to inject capital into the development and growth of existing economic enterprises, the creation of new ones, and thereby the enhancement of job-creation, expansion of the economy and attendant consequential benefits.

Thus, Sadc’s Director for Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources has rightly recognised the improved Zimbabwean agricultural performance in 2013/14, partially attributable to some governmental policy and action improvements, but partially due to climate conditions being favourably improved, but she wrongly ascribed the gains almost wholly to the land reform policies, some of which have been very negative and counterproductive.

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