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Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union’s deathwish
October 26, 2012 in Opinion
SINCE Zimbabwe embarked on its ill-conceived land reform programme in 2000,
its agricultural activity has been semi-moribund.
Report by Eric Bloch
Farmers endowed with great expertise and necessary capital resources to fund
their operations generated immense productivity, making Zimbabwe the
“breadbasket of the region”.
So great was the crop output that Zimbabwe was able to satisfy national
needs for maize, wheat, sorghum and many other agricultural outputs, as well
as export surplus to neighbouring countries.
The bountiful production provided employment for more than 300 000
agricultural workers, and created downstream employment in those
manufacturing operations that value-added the crops produced.
However, with the pursuit of the land reform programme, the majority of the
experienced and financially-secure farmers were evicted from the land.
The land was then allocated to so-called “new farmers”, most of whom lacked
the necessary in-depth expertise, and financial resources. Consequently they
could not timeously fund the purchase of essential inputs ranging from seeds
to fertilisers and chemicals; neither could they afford energy supplies nor
maintain irrigation systems.
As a result, agricultural productivity declined and Zimbabwe became
dependent on importation of essential foodstuffs.
At the same time most of the much-experienced farm workers lost their
employment, becoming poverty-stricken. Admittedly, in the last few years
there has been an increase in agricultural output, but it still falls far
short of the levels of production that prevailed prior to the disastrous
land reform programme.
Key to productivity decline is the inadequacy of funding available to new
farmers. Whilst their predecessors could supplement such funding in addition
to borrowing from banks and other financial institutions, the new farmers
cannot do so.
That inability to access funds for productive, farming operations is due to
lack of collateral security, a world-wide prerequisite to support
borrowings. The previous farmers were able to encumber their farms in favour
of lenders, thereby giving the lenders the security necessary to assure
recovery of monies lent. The ability of the pre-2000 farmers to provide
security was founded upon title to the ownership of their farms.
In contrast, with effect from 2000 all right and title in and to the land
was vested in the state. New farmers who settled on the land were not
accorded any ownership rights, only being entitled to occupy and work the
farms by virtue of 99-year leases (although government reserved the right,
in many of the leases, to terminate them on three months’ notice!).
Belatedly, and with great reluctance, government eventually recognised that
monumental constraint upon agricultural productivity. When opening
parliament in late 2011, President Robert Mugabe stated legislation would
shortly be tabled before parliamentarians to restructure the farm leases in
a manner as would accord new farmers leases with collateral security to
extend to lenders.
However, nearly a year later, no such legislation has been enacted. Only a
few weeks ago, Mugabe said reversion to the issuance of title deeds, or
modification of leases would under no circumstances be considered, hence new
farmers are facing the 2012/2013 agricultural season with the same appalling
illiquidity constraint that has impaired agricultural production for many
Last week the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union (ZFU), whose membership comprises new
farmers, issued a statement urging that under no circumstances should
government change its policy on the 99-year leases. The ZFU emphatically
stated that doing so would be prejudicial to new farmers, for they would
then use the lands, or the leases, as collateral to access funds from the
financial sector, whereupon the lenders would undoubtedly dispossess the
borrowing farmers of their occupancy and operational rights.
The ZFU was in fact implying new farmers would not productively use their
borrowings, and therefore fail to service their repayment obligations and
lose the land they occupy. One inevitably draws the conclusion that by so
doing, ZFU believes that even if accorded necessary funding, members would
not use the funds procured in any productive manner, and would fail to meet
Such scepticism of the fiscal morality and probity of its members is
shocking, and seeks to discourage government from pursuing a key initiative
necessary to ensure the recovery of agriculture.
If agriculture is to be restored to its former glory, it is essential Mugabe
and government disregard ZFU’s death wish, and take swift action to enable
new farmers to source funding essential for their operations.
Ideally, Zimbabwe should reinstate title deeds for rural land, albeit
possibly with a constraint that transfers can only be effected in favour of
those who are alluded to as “new farmers”, and barring transfer to anyone
already possessing title deed vested rights of land usage ( One Man, One
Farm.) Nevertheless, many politicians and their associates already have
usage rights on several farms.
In the alternative, if reversion to title deeds is unpalatable to
government, the leases should be modified to assure their continuity for 99
years, and to accord them ready transferability to alternative lessees,
whilst again entrenching the “One Man, One Farm” restriction.