Is Zimbabwe inviting white farmers back?

Q: Your Excellency, welcome to One on One. Has Zimbabwe invited any former white commercial farmers back and if so, why? A: Thank you very much. The government of Zimbabwe has not invited any white commercial farmers back. The government is being consistent with its policy as enunciated during the land reform programme which says that all Zimbabweans, regardless of colour, who wanted land, were entitled to land. Therefore whites who require land and have applied for it are also entitled to it like any other black person is doing. There are a number of former white farmers who have applied to government now for land and their applications are being considered. No white farmer is in possession of a letter from government, in which the government implored or invited them to come back. As you know, the policy of the government now is that all land belongs to the state. All land is held on lease but it belongs to the state. So anybody who is interested in having land, regardless of their colour, is required by law to apply to the government for it. There has been no change of policy by government, which remains committed to its one person one farm policy. Q: Government recently set up a committee which is going around the country to establish the extent to which people who got land are utilizing it with a view to dispossessing those who are not making use of it. Why has it taken the government so many years – almost six years – to do this? A: This is not the first time this has been done. This is probably the third or fourth time that committees have been set up. If you remember there was the Utete Commission which also looked at the issue. It is a continuation of government’s policy to ensuring that the land which was given out to people is maximally utilized. Q: Some people have accused government of being too patient with people who have not been using the land they got notwithstanding the impact of such a development on national food production and the fact that the Zimbabwean economy is agro-based. Are there any political benefits in letting people idly sit on the land? A: No there are no such benefits. But government is also aware that because of the many constraints that are there, some people who had applied and got land are not able to use the land maximally but as I said it is not the first time that we are doing so. It is important that the government does that so that where we observe deficiencies and shortcomings on the part of our farmers, we take corrective measures. There are some people who might have been enthusiastic about getting farms but have now found out that they do not have the resources or the equipment to utilize those farms adequately and therefore government cannot leave that land lying idle. Q: Some observers have said that the Zimbabwe land reform programme was to a certain extent sabotaged; first by the former commercial white farmers themselves and secondly by some black people who got the farms. To what extent you agree with this view? A: To a certain extent, yes, such reports are true. As government we were aware that some white commercial farmers would not welcome the move by government to repossess land. We were also conscious of the fact that not all applicants for farmland would be able to use the land in the best possible manner. To that extent government was all the time looking at how the new farmers were utilizing the farms. Some white farmers destroyed or removed irrigation infrastructure out of malice just before they left to make it difficult for the new farmers to do anything meaningful and thereby give the impression that the black farmers are less capable. We also had some people who lied to the government that they had resources to use in farming. Some were allocated land and were unable to do anything because they did mot have the resources. They were then too ashamed to call out for help from government. In the end they started selling whatever they could on the farms. However, some of the farmers have not been able to use the farms not because they don’t want to use the farms but because the resources are inadequate. Farming has become very expensive in Zimbabwe. At a time when the economic environment in Zimbabwe is harsh, there are many challenges that affect farming. The inputs are very expensive, the implements that are required for farming are very expensive so the new farmer is inadequately equipped financially and resource wise to maximally use the land that has been given. The government is cognizant of all that and is trying to take corrective measures. We think that despite all these shortcomings and challenges, the average new farmer is proving his worth. We envisage that the crop this week will be much better than the last two that we had. We will obviously still be short of our annual consumption rate of 1,8 million tones because of droughts and movement of people during the programme but there is evidence that we are making progress. Q: The government is seriously considering the idea of giving leases to the new farmers, something they have hitherto operated without. How important, in your view, is that and what good will it bring to the land reform programme? A: It is critical for the new farmer to get leasehold because when that happens, the financial institutions in Zimbabwe who hitherto have not been very forthcoming with help to farmers to operate on the farms will be in a position to actually be guaranteed that they can give more money to the new farmer because of title to the land that he has. Without leases the financial institutions are very hesitant to give money. This will actually give a major benefit and a sense of security to the new farmers. This is one reason why the government wants to establish the seriousness of people who got the land before it can issue leases. Q: We have heard lots of threats from government to repossess and re-distribute land that is not being made use of for the good of the nation and critics have accused the government of feet-dragging when it comes to implementing the threats. How quickly do you think the government will move this time? A: Well, in my area, where I am farming, I am already aware of pieces of land that had initially been given out to some black farmers who failed to utilize that land and the land has been repossessed and given out to other farmers. So it is already taking place and government is serious. This is where the lease arrangement is good. The government still owns the land and if you don’t use it you lose it. Q: To what extent have diasporans benefited from Zimbabwe’s land reform programme? A: I am not able to give accurate figures on that but I definitely know that the programme was made known to them through our embassies and some people came to get forms to apply. I know of some people living in South Africa who have got land and are farming. However, one must be aware of the fact that farming will not succeed if done by remote control. People may have money but try to farm from their offices. It will not be the best way. Q: Since some of them have money, can they not be trusted to employ farm managers and employees to work on their farms? A: Indeed that is true. That is a valid point and there are some diasporans who have actually acquired land and have employed extremely skilled managers to run the farms and that does work. Q: How important is Zimbabwe’s land reform programme to the entire southern African region? A: It is very important in that it has emboldened others to consider such programmes and this is why we are taking steps to ensure that it succeeds and becomes a model. We embarked on a mammoth task, unprecedented in the world and there was serious land hunger in Zimbabwe. Given that situation, some people may have taken advantage to take land not necessarily to use it but to scuttle government’s policy of land reform. Ours is to ensure that that is not perpetuated and the country benefits from serious farmers. Q: Zimbabwe has, like so many other countries in this region, experienced devastating droughts. What lessons has the country learned? A: The government has done well in the primary harnessing of water by constructing a lot of big dams. The biggest lesson we have learnt is that it is not enough to end there and that unless we go further to ensure that the water gets to the fields, we will continue to experience wet droughts. We have not gone far enough to ensure that that water is used by the farmers. The new thrust now is that the government has put aside lots of money for the new farmers to acquire irrigation equipment to ensure that agriculture does not remain a wet season undertaking. It should be a year round activity. Right now the government is busy with the wheat crop and lots of farmers have been given money to ensure that equipment is in place or expanded. Q: Zimbabwe used to be the bread basket of Africa, now it is not. Do you see the land reform programme as implemented by the government, putting the country back on course towards regaining that prestigious status? A: Oh yes, definitely! I am very confident that given two or three good seasons like we had this year and the commitment that government has, we will regain our status. Q: How would you want the success of Zimbabwe’s land reform programme measured? A: Certainly not just by the number of people who have been given land as reflected in government’s books. The success ultimately and all things being equal, should be measured by the level of productivity. Are the new black farmers able to produce enough to feed the nation and generate foreign currency through exports? When our answer to these critical questions is in the affirmative, then we would have succeeded. Critics and detractors have been quick to measure the success of the Zimbabwe land reform programme and say it is not succeeding. They fail to remember that the white farmers who were succeeding in Zimbabwe had taken more that 10 years as farmers before they could make profit and they expect the new black farmer to succeed and make profit after one or two seasons. Given the droughts that were there it was not possible. The expectations have been too high. People were expecting miracles overnight. It cannot happen. This is serious business. People have got to acquire skills and resources and that takes a bit of time.

May 2006
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