Zim land tax: Panacea to boost agric sector

In a move seen as set to maximize the use of land by beneficiaries of the country’s 2000 land reform programme, the Government of Zimbabwe last Wednesday approved collection of land rentals from the resettled farmers.

With an unfortunate combination of drought and maize shortages threatening the region’s food security, analysts have commended the move as a stepping stone for Zimbabwe to retain its foothold as the region’s “bread-basket” and also a tonic to the successful implementation of the country’s economic blueprint, Zim-Asset.

Over 300 000 black farmers benefitted from the land redistribution programme in which land was reclaimed from 4 000 former white commercial farmers who owned 85 percent of the country’s prime soils.

Speaking to The Herald, Lands and Rural Resettlement Minister Douglas Mombeshora stressed that rents would be charged with effect from January this year saying his ministry is targeting an annual collection of over US$22 million.

Part of the money will be used to compensate white former commercial farmers, some will finance land audits to ensure full land use and carrying out regular assessments of farms.

According to Minister Mombeshora, land rentals exclude communal farmers but target those who benefited under the A1 and A2 schemes, including big firms and transnational corporations that own estates and plantations.

On average A1 farmers were allocated 10-15 hectares while those into commercial farming got farms ranging from 15 hectares upwards.

“We have introduced the land rentals because all agricultural land belongs to the State. All land that has been acquired for agriculture by the State can only be utilised or owned through an offer letter, lease or permit. A permit is issued to A1 farmers.

“Offer letters and leases are issued to A2 farmers. Those who hold title deeds are not affected by this new policy. 

We are saying it is not fair that I use land that belongs to the State for free yet somebody who requires that land does not have access to that land,” Minister Mombeshora told The Herald.

Economic analyst Gabriel Chaibva commended the move highlighting that the policy had been delayed as there is a backlog in the development of infrastructure in areas where new farmers were resettled.

Chaibva further dismissed talk that the collection of land tax will impact negatively on the growth of the agricultural sector and threaten food security.

“This is a start and initially government had delayed implementing this programme because there are a lot of technical matters that need to be addressed. Some think negatively of the agrarian reform programme. There is need to build schools, develop proper infrastructure in areas occupied by resettled farmers. This policy is actually going to spur economic activity.

Commercial farming should kick start the country’s economic blueprint (Zim-Asset). Farms should drive the economy and we must produce like what we used to produce just after independence.

Farmers should not be disheartened. This is a ‘token charge’ and if farmers who benefitted from the agrarian reform fail to remit some money to the government, then they are not farmers at all since agriculture is an industry that should be prioritised just like any other. If some farmers fail to comply with the policy they should be kept off that land or the government should give land to those who comply.

“The treasury is choked financially hence the initiative by the ministry will relieve the treasury because there is need to have land audits. It is also the obligation of other ministries to come up with mechanisms that will see them generate income in their capacity,” said Chaibva.

Zimbabwe has faced chronic weather-related food shortages in the past decade and this year crop yields were suffocated resulting in a significant proportion of the country’s rural population needing food assistance.

Cognisant of the critical role that agriculture plays in winning the fight against poverty, the government of Zimbabwe has already embraced the policies that are meant to emphasise the need to restore the country’s bread basket status such as the Industrial Development Policy.

Agriculture-economist Godfrey Sigauke said the agricultural sector is a fundamental pillar that should be wisely managed for the country to achieve self-sustaining development.

Sigauke further highlighted that the tax to be paid is little, urging government to plug all loopholes in the collection of land rentals in order to deter some unproductive farmers from sub-leasing land.

“The economy currently is subdued and there is need for farmers to produce so that they complement the efforts by the government in order to provide capital and raw materials for the manufacturing sector.

The land tax system should plug loopholes in the administration of land issues because we have people who are sub-leasing land. Instead of people producing for the nation, they are doing that for greediness and their benefit.

If we are not able to provide mechanisms that boost our production sector, we will remain a ‘Dead Sea’. The farmers should have a positive business mentality in their approach to farming.

One of the main purposes of resettling the people was to ensure they boost agricultural production. The farmers have to go beyond subsistence and government has always put conditions that enable them to farm at a commercial level such as the input scheme by President Robert Mugabe.

In future, the government must have a policy that enables the beneficiaries to pay even for the underground and surface water so as to boost the national treasury and from there we can reopen industry,” said Sigauke.

July 2015
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