historic power-sharing pact recognizes that the revival of the agriculture
sector is essential to the recovery of the country’s devastated economy.
Analysts blame President Robert Mugabe’s confiscation of white-owned farms largely for
the rapid decline of agriculture in the southern African nation. Since the
ruling ZANU-PF party began the farm seizures in 2000, the country is no longer
a regional breadbasket but an importer of food. Aid organizations say many
Zimbabweans are now facing serious food shortages. Mr. Mugabe, though, blames
drought and sanctions from some in the international community.
Zimbabwe’s new prime minister and the head of the
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai, calls the situation in
his country “one of the worst man-made humanitarian disasters,” and says more than five
million of his compatriots are endangered by “starvation and famine” – largely
because of ruling party policies that have eroded his country’s once-thriving
“Large-scale commercial farm output…is a complete
disaster,” says Deon Theron, vice president of Zimbabwe’s Commercial Farmers
Production of staple food crops, such as maize (corn), is
down, and in recent years Zimbabwe has consistently failed to meet its export
quotas of beef, for example, to the European Union. So valuable foreign
currency has been lost, deepening the suffering of the country’s people.
in this context that a new-look government made up of former enemies will be
expected to unite to resurrect Zimbabwean agriculture.
a “frightening responsibility,” says Geoff Hill, the Zimbabwean author of
several books about his homeland, which include analysis about its agricultural
Infrastructure and expertise lacking
United Nations rates southern Africa one of the world’s fastest urbanizing
therefore a real need to grow crops on a big scale to feed people in the
cities,” says Hill.
UN estimates that up to 70 per cent of Zimbabweans live in towns and cities,
far away from farmlands.
a scenario such as this, argues Hill, and with a small economy, very large
commercial agriculture is the only successful response to hunger in Zimbabwe.
are cheap only if grown by the ton. Ditto most other foods,” he states.
points out that it usually takes only a season to turn seeds into crops, and
crops into food.
the problem isn’t in planting food. Zimbabwe’s huge problem at the moment is
that there really isn’t the infrastructure and the expertise necessary for
commercial farming. We need train lines along
which you can cart the fertilizer, the roads to take crops to market, the
tractor parts getting to remote areas to maintain equipment, the dealerships
where farmers can buy essential products. All of this has broken down in the
turmoil of the past decade or so.”
Hill says Zimbabwe’s entire
agricultural sector “basically needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, and
that’s going to take time and money.”
shortages of fertilizer and seed and bad weather have also hurt Zimbabwean
agriculture in recent years, according to Ben Gilpin, of the country’s Justice
For Agriculture group. He says Zimbabwe is set to face the most serious cereal
shortages since 2000.
Land reform mustn’t be ‘emotional’
Mugabe has consistently maintained that his land reform program, under which
farms owned mostly by the descendants of British settlers were sometimes
brutally seized by ZANU-PF militants, the police and army, has worked. It’s
been successful, he says, because it’s given land to impoverished black people.
responds, “It wasn’t a land reform program, it was a land redistribution
program. What happened was the land was simply given to Mugabe
cronies, like war veterans and army generals, who didn’t know anything about
farming. They use the land to entertain themselves and their friends.”
agrees that “responsible” land reform is necessary in Zimbabwe to address the
inequalities of the past, and adds that the “hopelessly irresponsible” land
seizures are largely responsible for the country’s meltdown.
is not just about using land for food,” he explains. “Zimbabwe used to be the
world’s number one tobacco producer, and a top producer of cotton. It was
near the top in producing high-end foods and flowers, coffee and tea, for the
world market – things
that you can sell overseas in order to get foreign currency, with which you can
buy petrol and car tires and all the things that Zimbabwe simply cannot
The power-sharing agreement commits
the signatories to land reform in Zimbabwe, saying they’ll “ensure that all Zimbabweans
who are eligible [shall] be allocated land and who apply for it shall be
considered for allocation of land irrespective of race, gender, religion,
ethnicity or political affiliation.”
Geoff Hill counsels against a “mass allocation” of land to Zimbabweans.
should be looked at as a means of feeding the people, not as a means whereby
people are settled on land. People need education to get better work, not
parcels of land.”
Besides, he says, as the UN
statistics show, Zimbabweans are continuing to move away from the rural areas
and into urban areas.
“Worldwide – in Brazil,
Philippines, Thailand, Zimbabwe – if you give young people an education, the
first thing they do is go to town…. Now the challenge is to feed them once
they’re in town.”
Hill says this challenge will only
be met by “putting lots and lots of fairly low cost food” into the country’s stores.
He’s adamant that agriculture should be the responsibility of a relative few
skilled farmers who produce food and cash crops and not a “whole bunch” of
small-scale landowners who won’t be productive.
is important get agriculture up to a commercial status as quickly as possible.
That means you don’t want somebody growing a patch of tomatoes outside his or
her hut; you want someone who’s going to grow ten hectares of tomatoes, do it
properly, and get them into the shops at a rate that is competitive with what
you’d pay in Johannesburg or anywhere in a country of similar economy to
says agriculture mustn’t be seen as a “place to hide unemployment by taking
educated kids and dumping them on small plots of land to become peasants.”
questions attitudes among some in the international community regarding land
ownership and agriculture in Africa.
I give talks around the world on the books that I’ve written, always – in Sydney, or New York, or
London – someone
will ask me whether giving people plots of land is not a good way to stem
unemployment. I’m never actually asked that question when I address people
a good reason for this, Hill says: most Africans want jobs to ensure their
livelihoods, not land.
is this notion – it is racist but it’s not meant to be – that when white
children get their (education), they should get a job in the bank, but when
black children get the same education, they should be satisfied with a hectare
of land and growing pumpkins; (like they’re) going to walk with a copy of
Shakespeare in the one hand and a donkey in the other. And of course it’s just
not going to happen.”
won’t easily return
The agreement accepts that land ownership has been “at
the core” of Zimbabwe’s political fight, but recognizes that the parties differ as to the way land reform must, and should have, happened in the
country. The pact, however, makes it clear that land taken from white farmers
will not be returned to them, but that former colonial power Britain – under
whose rule prime land was given to the whites – should compensate them for
Hill says even if the agreement had said the land should be returned to the white farmers, this would not have been practical.
Many of them are now successful farmers in other parts of Africa, especially in
Nigeria and Mozambique, where white Zimbabweans are credited with spurring
not so easy for these people to just literally pull up their new roots and
return to Zimbabwe. It’s taken them years to establish themselves in other
countries, you can’t just expect them to return to Zimbabwe at the drop of a
hat,” Hill explains.
he says, Zimbabweans who left the country in droves in recent years are mainly
waiting to see if the agreement results in meaningful reform in their homeland
before deciding whether or not to return.
In the light of this, says Hill, says land reform in
Zimbabwe must be practical, not “too emotional.”
Ultimately, he states, Zimbabwean agriculture will revive
if the authorities realize that it’s not the farmer’s race that matters, but
his or her ability to work the land productively.
“(The government must say) we’re not giving you land for
a weekend retreat where you can take your friends for a (barbecue), like many
of the ministers are doing; we’re not giving you land just to sit there and
stare out at the open spaces, we’re giving you land to grow food economically,
viably – either for export or to feed the nation. If you don’t do that, the
government must have the right to throw people off (the land).”
Moyo, the executive director of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies in
Harare, agrees that a reversal of Mr. Mugabe’s controversial land redistribution
process isn’t feasible, and won’t necessarily result in better agriculture in
Zimbabwe. What’s needed, he believes, is training to ensure that the country’s
farmers use the land in a sustainable, productive manner, and better economic
says land redistribution should continue in Zimbabwe and should include white
farmers. But he says the policy should be “one person, one farm.”
power-sharing agreement does indeed make provision for a land audit, to
eliminate “multiple farm ownerships.” If completed successfully, such an audit
would remove farms from a number of the ZANU-PF elite, who now own more than
bottom line,” though, according to Hill, is “to get the land back into
commercial production to feed the subcontinent and to generate foreign exchange
to get Zimbabwe moving forward again.”