The Zimbabwe government is making it possible for some white farmers to legally remain on their land, and for others to return home, after they were evicted during the last six years. The government and the farmers' unions want agricultural productivity revived.
Lands Minister Didymus Mutasa says white farmers who remained on their land need a lease, or an official letter, to make their tenure legal. He said the government is interviewing farmers carefully to be sure that large-scale commercial farms are leased to people with skills and resources to allow them to farm properly.
He said all land taken from white farmers since 2000 is state land, under the terms of a constitutional amendment last year.
The Commercial Farmers Union says more than 200 white farmers have applied for leases for land. Many of them are on land already, but have no legal status. Other farmers who were evicted, but are living in urban areas, are also hoping to return to their farms.
Prior to a land reform program announced by President Robert Mugabe in 2000, there were about four-thousand white commercial farmers. Many of them were forced off their land in sometimes violent invasions, and many subsequently left Zimbabwe. But some remained, either on small pieces of their original land, or in their homesteads, without access to land to grow crops. Many moved to urban areas, and say they wish they could return to their farms.
Agriculture was the bedrock of the economy. Since agriculture collapsed, the economy contracted dramatically. Inflation stands at nearly one-thousand percent, the highest in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Zimbabwe also has almost no foreign currency for key imports, like fuel and electricity. Some government officials began making statements last year that agricultural production had to be revived to fix the economy.