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Zimbabwe's Remaining Commercial Farmers Under Seige

Nearly a quarter of Zimbabwe's remaining few hundred commercial farmers are being expelled from their land and others are having their equipment seized by security forces. The seizures appear to be contrary to official policy, as most of the affected farmers are operating with the assistance of government loans.

Scores of white commercial farmers, who had previously survived the wave of farm seizures are being evicted from their land in all parts of Zimbabwe.

Others complain of being harassed ahead of eviction. Tens of millions of dollars of farming equipment is being seized off productive farms by members of the police and the army, who are also raiding warehouses and confiscating stored equipment.

Many farmers being evicted or harassed are recipients of loans to grow crops from Zimbabwe's central bank. Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono has encouraged white commercial farmers to remain on the land and has expressed alarm at the latest round of evictions. However Lands Minister Dydimus Mutasa said he didn't know about the latest evictions and equipment seizures. The crops grown on commercial farms have been vital sources of foreign exchange earnings for the cash-strapped country. Most economists say that Zimbabwe can only recover its economy if agricultural production is revived.

The new farm seizures come just as the new summer growing season is beginning. Hendrik Olivier, director of the Commercial Farmers Union, says he is baffled and worried about the situation.

"We are in the start of our agricultural season, and this is possibly the worst start to any agricultural season since 1980.... lack of inputs, lack of fuel, chemicals, fertilizer, and of course, the rain, and on top of all this, there are continuous disruptions and evictions taking place," he noted. "We have farmers who have secured finance through the Reserve Bank and in 53 percent of all the disruptions taking place country wide are farmers who had access to RBZ finance, and we currently see approximately 80 disruptions countrywide."

There were about 4,000 white commercial farmers whose lands produced 40 percent of Zimbabwe's foreign currency before President Robert Mugabe ordered his supporters to evict white farmers in early 2000.

Approximately 300 survived the purge, although operating on greatly reduced land and circumstances. This small group still produces about 80 percent of export crops, although volumes have dropped to a quarter of previous levels.

Commenting on contradictory government attitude toward the white farmers, veteran political analyst Brian Raftopoulos says there is a dislocation of government policy. He says the continued seizures of white farms, most of which are being taken by senior civil servants including top policemen, a judge and ruling ZANU-PF politicians, shows that the state has run out of other resources to maintain political patronage. Mr. Raftopoulos says the farming disruptions are further evidence that Zimbabwe is becoming ungovernable.

Meanwhile, many small-scale farmers who used to produce half of Zimbabwe's annual production of the staple food corn, say they are unable to afford to buy seeds and fertilizer. They say they are also limited by the lack of fuel.

Zimbabwe does not have enough foreign currency to import fuel and many other basic items at a time when inflation has topped 400 percent a year.

Less than 10 percent of land confiscated from white farmers since 2000 is being used, according to official statistics.