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Commercial Farmers Union Meets With Zimbabwe's Agriculture Minister - 2003-01-23

Zimbabwe's once powerful Commercial Farmers Union has had a meeting with the country's minister of agriculture for the first time in more than a year. The meeting with the white farmers was called as the government admits it has failed to increase food production.

The government-run press reports that the union has agreed to tell its members who have farm equipment in storage, to sell the equipment to the black farmers who have replaced them. The official press reports say the union is now cooperating with the land reform program, to create a better Zimbabwe for all its people.

But after the reports on the meeting appeared in the state controlled media, the president of the Commercial Farmers' Union, Colin Cloete, issued a statement to his members Thursday.

He said he did agree to inform the members they could, if they wanted, offer their equipment for sale to the government and to new farmers. He also said Agriculture Minister Joe Made admitted that Zimbabwe no longer produces enough food to feed its people. Minister Made was quoted as saying all farmers with crops in the ground should be allowed to continue, apparently including those white farmers who have not yet been evicted.

That would include at least a dozen top tobacco farmers, who last week received 90-day eviction notices, even though their land has never been designated for takeover. They would have had to leave before processing their crop, which is the country's largest foreign currency earner.

Mr. Cloete of the farmers union said he also informed the agriculture minister that many white farmers were stripped of their land and homes, including those who owned only one property.

One of the planks of the government's often violent land reform program, was the slogan, repeated by government officials and President Robert Mugabe, one man - one farm.

More than 1,000 white farmers who only owned one property have been forced off their land and out of their homes.

The government has admitted that the resettlement program to create new black commercial farmers has failed, as fewer than half of those who were given land have actually even moved onto the farms.

Sources in the former commercial farming areas say most of Zimbabwe's best farm land, which fed the country for generations, is now fallow.