Accurate land figures do matter

Based on a report by ZimOnline last week, The Zimbabwean, together with the UKs Guardian and a number of other news outlets, ran the story claiming that a new elite controls nearly five million hectares of land, close to half of all land taken through land reform since 2000.

It is of course critical that those holding multiple farms comply with the rules of the land reform programme and it is essential that a thorough and transparent land audit ensures that this happens. Identifying and listing in the public domain such contraventions is certainly a useful contribution. But to make the case that such capture by political-security elites is the dominant pattern of land reform in Zimbabwe is misleading.

Figures matter, but these simply do not add up. For instance, the list of Zimbabwes top farm owners in the article covers around 150,000 ha, only three per cent of the five million hectares of land claimed to be captured by elites.

Even accepting that this list is only partial, how the huge headline-grabbing totals were arrived at is anyones guess. Equally, the report contains important inaccuracies and inconsistencies in estimates of land areas transferred under the land reform programme, as well as the number of farms involved.

I hope that the ZimOnline investigations team who carried out this study will reveal themselves, and submit their detailed data to more thorough scrutiny. Around such a sensitive issue as land reform it is vital that media reporting is based on solid, verifiable facts.

Our detailed research into land reform in Masvingo province, reported in the recently published book ****Zimbabwes Land Reform: Myths and Realities***, and featured in a series of articles in this paper over the past weeks, shows that those who might be dubbed cronies make up about five per cent of all beneficiaries.

By contrast, the vast majority were ordinary people, with half of all new farmers being asset- and income-poor families coming from nearby communal areas. In-depth studies from other parts of the country support this broad pattern.

Our research does not deny that corruption, abuse and patronage have occurred, nor that land reform rules have been flouted. But our work offers a more balanced, rounded picture than offered by this report.

I hope in future that The Zimbabwean, together with other media outlets, will interrogate their sources more thoroughly to encourage an informed debate about the future, which is based on solid evidence rather than spurious extrapolation.

Ian Scoones is a professor in the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.

Post published in: Opinions

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