Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Zimbabwe: Resettled farmers in Zimbabwe have been hit by input and financial shortages - face eviction

Without the necessary inputs farmers struggle to produce enough

Resettled farmers in Zimbabwe have been hit by input and financial shortages, and have failed to deliver on production, prompting the government to repossess their plots, according to analysts.

Didymus Mutasa, the land reform and resettlement minister, recently told the official daily newspaper, the Herald, that the government had reclaimed at least 1,449 A2 farms - the category for commercial production - after a land audit completed in 2007 revealed that they were not being used productively.

In 2000 the government dispossessed more than 4,000 white commercial farmers of their land in a controversial land reform exercise and reallocated it, often after cutting it up into smaller plots, to thousands of land-hungry black Zimbabweans.

"Government is repossessing all vacant and unutilised A2 farms and we are not going back on this exercise. We will withdraw the offer letters and allocate them to deserving new applicants," Mutasa was quoted as saying.

He said the government was attempting to address some of the problems faced by the new farmers, and repossession of the plots should not be read as a reversal of the land reform programme.

The owners of most of the farms being taken back by the government had not even taken occupation, said Sam Moyo, a land affairs expert who advised the government on its land reform programme. "A number of plots have remained vacant, meaning that the beneficiaries were not able to go and establish themselves on their plots for a variety of reasons."

Zimbabwe's economy is in meltdown: the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the country's annual inflation rate has reached 100,000 percent and is still rising; shortages of foreign exchange have affected the supply of agricultural inputs and fuel. As a result, many farmers had been unable to make any of the hoped for short-term gains from farming and had abandoned their plots, Moyo said.

According to economic analyst John Robertson, "The bottom line is that most of these farmers have not produced enough to justify being retained on their farms. Those that have managed to do so were either lucky enough to have taken over sound infrastructure they found on the farms, or were the big fish that got favours from the government."

He pointed out that the beneficiaries did not have the "motivation" to farm effectively because they got the land for free, and that the government had hurried to parcel out land "for political populism" without ensuring that the beneficiaries were well supported with money, skills training and inputs.

"Some of these farmers applied for land for the kicks, and that is why they sold the inputs and fuel they obtained, while in some cases farms were turned into weekend barbeque resorts, a trend that was common among multiple-farm owners," Robertson claimed.

The financial squeeze the farmers found themselves in was worsened by reluctance on the part of the banks to issue loans to the new farmers because the 99-year leases offered by the government did not offer adequate collateral security.

No solution

Robertson argued that while repossession of the farms was justified, how would the A2 farmers repay any loans they might have taken? "One just hopes that the government is not using repossession as one of those election campaign tactics, to lure voters with pieces of land that would also be taken away once victory is attained."

The country will be holding joint parliamentary, council and presidential elections in late March and, as happened in 2000 on the eve of another major poll, there are fears that the land issue could be used to sway voters.

The land reform programme coincided with a series of droughts, which hit production and led to livestock deaths. Land was also underutilised by those who lacked the necessary skills to farm, particularly in the case of specialised crops like tobacco.

Most of the farms were carved up into small units, making it difficult for beneficiaries to produce on a large scale, with the new farmers sometimes having to share infrastructure left by the outgoing owners.

However, Moyo had maintained at the time that "Since most of the new farmers don't have adequate finance ... small plots would be the more viable option."

Unfair, say farmers

The new farmers whose land has been repossessed were taken by surprise and are angry. Some cited discrimination. "I don't understand what criteria they used to repossess my farm," said Stanley Banga, 56, who was given a 60ha plot in Goromonzi district, about 50km southeast of Harare, the capital.

"True, I have been struggling to produce adequately, but that cannot be blamed on me. While other managed to get inputs, I had to struggle because I am neither a war veteran nor an active member of the ruling [ZANU-PF] party," he said.

"My only hope is that the authorities will understand ... There was drought, I lost my income and could not access inputs easily. Now it's the heavy rains that have been falling non-stop."

If his plot - largely covered by overgrown grass, except for small patches of maize in the waterlogged fields, with a dilapidated farmhouse left by the previous owner - is taken back, Banga will have nowhere to go.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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