Former Zim farmers buying out Zambians

The ex-Zimbabwean farmers, capitalising on the harsh economic dictates afflicting most Zambians, farmers included, are cashing in and buying large tracts of land from Zambian farmers, who they later engage as labourers. According to local media reports, Lands Minister Gladys Nyirongo said several local farmers have succumbed to the high poverty levels and high kwacha gain over other convertible currencies, and have given up their birthright ‘ land ‘ to Zimbabwean white farmers. Nyirongo explained that some Zimbabwean farmers, with work permits, had managed to convince some local farmers to sell them large pieces of land at as low as US$5 000, instead of applying for land for ownership or lease through the ministry. Describing the development as unfortunate, Nyirongo wondered at the incessant desire for money by Zambian farmers selling their land, which she said could be used as shelter and a source of livelihood by their children if preserved. “Most Zambian farmers have succumbed to the high poverty levels and are selling part or all of their pieces of land to Zimbabwean farmers at give-away prices,” she said. She regretted the action by some Zambian farmers to give up land and later work as labourers at “slavery wages” at the expense of their integrity. “It does not make sense for our farmers to sell land and later seek employment as farm labours for peanuts. “One wonders what they will use in future to justify that they also own Zambia.” One of the peasant farmers from Choma district, in southern Zambia, about 200km from the Zambian capital, Lusaka, said he had sold his four hectares of land to a Zimbabwean white farmer because of unfavourable conditions in the agricultural sector, which forced him out of business. The farmer, opting for anonymity, said the unabated kswacha gain against other currencies since last year affected his exports, forcing him out of business and subsequently giving up land. The new landowner has since employed him. “It does not make business sense to remain a farmer in Zambia if the kwacha value outweighs the value of exports,” he said. “The zero rating of agricultural products, although being phased out later in the year, is increasingly wiping our profits and it’s no longer prudent to remain in business.” Despite selling the land to his Zimbabwean counterpart, he said he did not regret being employed as a farm supervisor earning US$150 a month and that he would resettle in his village located within the district should the new employer decide to resell the farm and leave the country. “I have not lost anything. I have the money and if the new owner decides to leave, I can resettle in my village within here (Choma),” he said. Moses Mwanza, a cotton farmer in eastern Zambia, said he decided to give up his 10 hectares of land citing the lack of support from the government in mitigating the impact of the kwacha and other factors affecting the sector. He said zero rating of agricultural products in the 2006 budget made business uncompetitive for imports. The appreciation of the local currency has compounded the problem. “The government is not sincere in its pledge to support the agricultural sector. Now they say we are committed to the cause, the next moment they allow the kwacha to appreciate beyond acceptable levels and we are losing,” said Mwanza, who has since diversified into other businesses and laid off 100 workers and casuals. Sources within the Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU) said the sector has been affected by inconsistent policy formulation by the government. The sources said most farmers had been forced to reconsider their benefits in the sector. One of the sources said: “Government has ignored cries from exporters to intervene in the market and maintain the exchange rates at least at ZMK4 000/US$1 or it should have at the least sustained it at ZMK3 500/US$1.” The farmers’ group argued that the prevailing ZMK3 200/US$1 exchange rate had forced most of its members, mainly those in horticulture and floriculture, out of the export business. Recently, ZNFU members had warned of massive job losses for people dependent on agriculture and reduced business for outgrower farmers. Dunavant, Zambia’s leading cotton producer, has offered to buy at US$0.45 cents per kg of the product from outgrower farmers instead of US$1.20 per kg. The Zambian kwacha has surged by more than 45 percent since last year consequently reducing exports of horticultural and floricultural products by more than 50 percent.

April 2006
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