HomeBusiness DigestHigh success of small-scale farmers

High success of small-scale farmers

By Fay Chung 

Zimbabwe, after 20 years of painful sanctions, has started to experience some success.  One of these highly successful programmes is that of small-scale A1 farmers.

Prof Ian Scoones, of Southampton University,  has encouraged research of some 400 such farms, and has found them highly successful.  The small size of the farms, experience of centuries old family farming enterprises, the utilisation of  family members as workers,  together with  personal investments and  friends’ support, contributed to this success.

In particular the participation of women and children as co-workers established a different experience from the Rhodesian commercial farming experience, where male workers were separated from their families. The Rhodesian experience was based on the breakup of the family.

An interesting finding of Scoones’s research is that small-scale farmers have invested in buying and breeding cattle.  First of all this was essential as cattle brought them useful  and essential ploughing power.

But it was also important as an aspect of the traditional belief in cattle as a store of wealth and value, particularly so at a time of heavy devaluation of the national currency.  In view of the cattle wealth of many small scale farmers, it will be possible for them to sell one or two cattle to fund investment on their farms.

Some of them have as many as nine cattle.  Cattle now sell for US$400 to US$500 each.  It will be politically difficult to charge farmers for the purchase of their farms without some careful preparation, because late former president Robert Mugabe stated that nobody would pay anything for land, and there is a politically strong belief that land should be free.  A political programme to begin charging attractive sale prices may be essential.    Housing  and urban land is bought and sold.

But it would be possible to charge for registering the land under the leasehold system agreed to in 1992 for all farm land.  It will also be possible to charge for water and road development, very much needed on these farms.  Water development could be as simple as building a borehole (US$1000 – US$2000) or a dam (US$10 000 – US$20 000).

These can be done by DDF or some other State institutions instead of giving to expensive contractors, the source of most corruption.  By selling two or three of their cattle, a small-scale farmer can invest in both water and road development as well as in upgrading the land lease from an offer letter.

If 10% of the 20 000 A1 Fast Track Land resettlement settlers agreed, this would bring an initial 2 000 farmers into the group, a very suitable experimental size.  If it was successfully implemented it would have a huge impact not only on small-scale farmers, but also on medium and large-scale farmers.

For example if these 2 000 were immediately provided with bank loans which could be subsidised by the State at a low interest rate, this would be a huge progress for farmers who have been unable to obtain suitable bank loans.

It would attract all sizes of farmers to register and obtain a leasehold for part of their farms in order to obtain the loan.  Whilst it is reported that small-scale resettlement areas are doing well, medium and large-sized resettlement areas are struggling, despite valiant efforts by their owners to move forward.  Positive policies to assist both A1 and A2 settlers would do much to stabilise the agricultural situation.

Small-scale farmers apparently only need stabilised ownership systems which could easily be done by replicating the ownership system utilised in the 1980s resettlement scheme, or by providing short-term land leases, say five to 15 years as is the case in most countries, but more recently in China where small-scale farmers have been given 16-year leaseholds, so stabilising the whole sector.

The present proposed 99-year leases outlive most farmers, and are expensive and impractical.  Leaseholds should at best last a lifetime, and be renewable for offspring.   Medium and large-scale A2 farmers could also be given immediate leasehold for the land they are utilising:  most are utilising a significant part of their land.    Settling the land issue, starting immediately, but taking into consideration the need for the next two decades to resolve it, is essential.

The yet to be regulated Fast Track Land Resettlement Programme (FTLRP) can nevertheless bring about some early relief.  The small-scale farmers, known as the A1 farmers, allocated small plots of about 5ha each, appear to have been reasonably successful, and it would be suitable if the successful were to receive properly recognised land ownership.

The present situation where they only have an “offer letter” which has no legal foundation has to be removed. This would be a speedy resolution.  If it were done over a period of years, say notionally five initial years, it would enable the State to learn from its successes and its weaknesses.  The degree of success, and how it will be measured, will be critical.  There needs to be widespread agreement among A1 farmers that the system and structure are workable and fair.

These farmers have so far managed to succeed without State or donor funding, which means that it will be possible to rely, to some extent, on A1 farmers to utilise their own personal and family resources  to improve their farms.  This was done for the expansion of “A” level schools in the 1980s and 1990s successfully.  The school authorities wanted “A” level schools and they paid for it.  This may be possible already for the more successful farmers.  Assuming 10% of them have been successful this will be an important key group for the present and for the future as it can help set up a financially viable system.

The  farmers who have received  land should be expected to pay something.  US$200 per hectare was the average price paid in 1980 for land, total US$2 600 billion. Some such viable solution which combines State and recipient funding together with some donor funding may be possible.  Payment can be justified for infrastructure such as roads and water development, particularly boreholes and small dams which can make the farms more viable the whole year round, rather than being entirely dependent on Zimbabwe’s unreliable water supply.  Thus payment would generate development funds separate from donor funds which have so far been seen as the main source of funding for the land.  For example since the A1 farmers have invested in cattle, selling one beast could be enough to pay for some of these costs.

Beginning with the small farmers may also be politically astute, not only because some of them have been very successful, but also because they are many and their success will spur on their colleagues as well as the more advantaged land owners who may enjoy several hundred or several thousand hectares of land which they obtained free of charge.  Obtaining short and medium term bankable lease holds may be enough incentive for all landowners who presently cannot obtain any bank loans to pay for leasehold registration and obtain loans.   Small-scale farming remains an important aspect of almost all farming systems, including Germany, France, Italy and China.  It will always remain a part of Zimbabwean farming.

Medium and large-scale landowners are naturally more reluctant to give up any of the land they already own, and they have the political muscle to fight for their properties so far obtained free of charge.  This is particularly true of political and military leaders who dominate the larger-scale land holdings.

The private business sector has had little political or financial support.  Most of them struggle to find loans from banks, which are reluctant to lend out in a stagnant economy.  The State could provide banks with funds which could boost private sector businesses.  These are mainly small and medium sized African owned businesses.  The growth of the private sector would certainly boost both African empowerment and job creation.  It will increase and strengthen the economy.  Affordable loans through banks will be highly attractive to all.  Such loans could boost both the economy and work creation.  The present 816 000 employed in the formal economy could be doubled quite quickly, lowering State employment cost from the present 65% to closer to the desired 38%.  Beginning with small scale farmers and the private sector loans will certainly change the cost benefits substantially.

Chung was a secondary school teacher in the townships; lecturer in polytechnics and university; teacher trainer in the liberation struggle, minister of primary and secondary education, civil servant and UN civil servant. These weekly New Horizon articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society  and past president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators in Zimbabwe. — kadenge.zes@gmail.com/ cell: +263 772 382 852


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