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Zimbabwe to Tax Resettled Black Farmers

FILE - Indigenous tobacco farmers, with their children, wait to sell their tobacco, at Boka Tobacco auction floors, in Harare, Zimbabwe, May 14, 2013.

Zimbabwe is introducing a new land tax for resettled black farmers, many of whom are already struggling. Some have been teaming up with white commercial farmers displaced more than a decade ago by the controversial land reform program.

The government says it will start charging black farmers who have benefited from Zimbabwe’s land reform program between $3 and $10 a hectare per year in January 2016.

The government is looking for revenue amid a seemingly sinking economy. The move is noteworthy because the land tax was one of the reasons that nationalists like President Robert Mugabe started the war of liberation in the 1960s.

Land reform program

Under Zimbabwe's land reform program, which began in 2000, the government confiscated thousands of white-owned commercial farms and redistributed the land to black farmers. Mugabe said it was aimed at correcting colonial imbalances.

But because they lacked financial capital and equipment, the newly resettled farmers have struggled with the demands of commercial farming. To help themselves, many have started partnering with displaced white commercial farmers, employing them as land managers or consultants.

Douglas Mombeshora, Zimbabwe’s lands and resettlement minister, says this is illegal.

“To this we say no. While we understand that as government we have not been able to fully support our farmers, and financial institutions are not keen to lend money to them, we don’t see subleasing [to white farmers] as a solution," he said. "Government has agreed to partnerships, joint ventures and contract farming provided the farmers bring their applications to the minister for approval.”

Illegal partnerships

He says those applications will not be approved if one of the partners is a former white commercial farmer. Still, the arrangements have continued to spread since about 2009.

One farmer who grows soybeans and tobacco outside Harare, and who asked that his name not be used because of the sensitive nature of the issue, says he got his ten hectares in 2000 as part of the land reform program.

He says he and other black farmers have no collateral to get loans, but the former commercial farmers had established relationships with banks. So they team up and they get shares in the farming businesses. That way, he added, I know at the end of the season that he has something and I have something as well.

FILE - An unidentified farmer walks among his cattle on land near Harare, Apr. 23, 2013 .
FILE - An unidentified farmer walks among his cattle on land near Harare, Apr. 23, 2013 .

The Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe, which represents 6,000 farmers displaced from their land, told VOA the government is not responding to their requests for authorization to farm.

Critics of the land reform program say the policy was meant to punish the farmers who were supporting the political opposition. Detractors blame the land reform program for perennial food shortages. The United Nations says 1.5 million people in Zimbabwe may need food aid this year.