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Zimbabwe Farmers Ask for Halt to Land Invasions


Zimbabwe's commercial farmers union has asked the government to issue orders to halt land seizures and work out a way to restore agricultural activity. The rare statement from the union is being considered by the government.

The Commercial Farmers Union is calling for the Zimbabwe government to freeze land seizures and agricultural policies. It says all those involved in agriculture should get together to rebuild the industry.

Union President Doug Taylor-Freeme says Zimbabwe's economy is so fragile that something has to be done. Official records show that until it was destroyed, agriculture used to earn up to 40 percent of the country's annual foreign exchange.

"We have observed that the economy is in trouble, particularly agriculture and we sense we can contribute something to fix that, and we need a complete review of policies that exist and some breathing space, hence we called for a moratorium on land acquisitions and a moratorium on present agricultural policies, and we are trying to create an atmosphere of reconciliation in the agricultural sector so we can all move forward," he said.

The Union says the commercial farmers have the energy and capacity to again make Zimbabwe the bread basket of the region and revitalize the country's reputation.

Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers Union included more than 4,000 white commercial farmers, until land redistribution to blacks began in 2000.

Now, less than 300 of those commercial farmers remain on their land, and say they are under pressure every day to move off. They say the pressure comes from district officials and does not appear to come from the central government.

Union President Taylor-Freeme says stability must be created as a first step.

"All land has been virtually acquired for one reason or another, the issue now is who uses that land," he said. "The point we come from is that we acknowledge, despite problems of government having nationalized land, that there has to be a debate on who can use it."

"We believe there has to be farmers who have capacity to use it," he continued. "We have a sector out there and some are still on land under pressure, and there are those who would love the opportunity to farm again. When you look at the state of agriculture and the state of the economy we need to find the right balance. That is what we are seeking."

The Zimbabwe government is expected to begin approving long leases to white farmers still on their land to provide them with protection from harassment from district officials.

The lands and agriculture ministers were not immediately available for comment. A government announcement is expected by the end of the week.

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