Land – Where did we go wrong?

BY MUSANDE MTAUSI The commercial farming sector died with Mugabe's ill-advised, corrupt and chaotic land

reform. Can we revive it? Part 2 or our 3-part series. Since the inception of the land reform, government has poured input support to all farmers, including those who never deserved it. Seed, fertilizers, chemicals were handed out and are still being handed out in the pretext of land and agrarian reform. Money is handed to farmers, as they like. The question of security is applied on certain clients while the rules dont apply to others. New rules come with each new season. The Grain Marketing Board is tasked with input distribution. This is only one organization, inadequately funded and staffed and basic planting inputs reach farmers as late as January when they are already supposed to be managing crops for weeds and moisture. Non Governmental Organizations are given modus operandi unsuitable for their programmes, designed to delay their efforts to supply farmers with inputs. The impact of this attitude on agriculture is unimaginable. Recently the fertilizer producers were given access to US$5 million to import inputs for manufacture. That is obviously too little too late. They should have been given this money in March to begin production of fertilizer for the next the current season. As a result, the farming community is critically short of the essential fertilizers for timely planting to achieve bumper harvests. While seed is short, government could have used other strategies to save the foreign currency spent on seeds for fertilizer. Political expediency rules on price control. Over the last five years, the government has exercised price control on seed and fertilizer with no regard of the impact this would have on manufacturers and suppliers of those inputs. Price control has bled the countrys potential to be the regional hub for seed business. Seed and fertilizer have become black market commodities. The Land/Agrarian Reform brought about new forms of supporting agricultural production. The government on one side introduced input support credit through the Grain Marketing Board and The Agricultural Development Bank (Agribank). The government, with a desire to increase production in the sub-sector, also funded livestock support schemes. Tobacco marketing authorities financed production through direct funding or Agribank. This initially created optimism for the agricultural sector. However, the funding failed to yield results as cereal and tobacco production decreased over the years. Confidence in the sector has collapsed and the government is now turning to the very dependable rural farmers for food security. There have several discussions on the land reform but focusing on mitigation measures rather than exploring the causes of failure. An analysis of the causes of failure will give us potential solutions to the country’s food predicament. While the land reform was essential and long overdue, given the way the demographic ratios of the races, the following reasons caused its failures to achieve the desired results, notably equitable land distribution and increased productivity for national food security. It is common knowledge that land was seized from the Africans by colonial invaders. The purpose of those seizures was firstly to produce food for the mother countries. The colonies produced fruit and other food products cheaply for the mother countries at the expense of indigenous people. Secondly, the colonies produced cash crops such as cocoa in Ghana and tea and beef in Sub Saharan Africa. Thirdly, the colonies were mineral-rich and therefore produced essential elements for industries in the mother countries. Wealth was siphoned off to develop the colonial masters while Africa remained under-developed. However, what happened in Zimbabwe 20 years after independence was more destructive than the horrors of colonialism, which eventually developed the land into an economically productive unit. Equitable land distribution was designed to have every Zimbabwean owning a piece of land. In developed countries, where production technology is more advanced, a piece of land is a significant economic unit. In Zimbabwe, where systems of production are still underdeveloped and the climate has its way, a piece of land can be a serious source of misery. It is therefore important to note that equitable land distribution could not have guaranteed food security because the technology was limited, resources and climate are constraints and not everyone can be farmer. During the land reform exercise, government forgot to address the question of ability and commitment, resource capacity and the essentials of honesty in finance. While the idea of increased productivity was sincerely optimistic, there was total disregard of realities. Operating on assumptions and little knowledge has produced disastrous results for Zimbabwe. Many reasons have been mentioned as sources and causes of failure of the land reform in Zimbabwe. They include: f The Politics. The nature of the land reform exercise was defined by violent reaction to the rejection of a proposed constitution through a referendum in 2000. Then a new democratic dispensation had come through the formation of a formidable opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). This created fear and loss to government especially with looming parliamentary elections. White farmers were also perceived to be the drivers and sources of funding for the new party. The imagination and fear that whites were taking control through the back door caused the government to institute rapid land reform, taking land from the whites and creating a massive flow of support to the ruling party. That was very clever, but it caused pain and suffering to whites and loss of production and stability of agriculture to the country. Politics became the driving force for onward activities reacting to both local and international criticism on the nature of land reform. The Process. Prior to the land reform exercise, the government had commissioned a study of land tenure systems. The report, by prominent Zimbabwean agricultural experts, noted the disparities in land ownership under the tenure system. It came up with clear recommendations on how to conduct the issues of land. The recommendations guaranteed security of sustainability and productivity of the agricultural sector. It was a tool of equitable land reform. Unfortunately, when the desire to conduct land reform was driven by fear and loss, hell broke loose on the sector. Farms were invaded and taken over by people who had no idea of what can be called correct farming, ie. farming that ensures production. There was no proper settlement programme, no schools, clinics and other essential services to support the new farmers. No accountability on land utilization. Chaos rained over the sector. Production estimates were based on the minister flying in a Boeing 737 jet between Harare and Bulawayo. Estimates were announced to justify the success of the reform. Good figures were music to the presidents ears – he was obviously not given correct information. – Next week  some more reasons for failure, and suggestions for the future.

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