Saturday, January 26, 2013

Western Academics, Researchers and Journalists Hail Zimbabwe Land Reform

West hails Zim land reform

Friday, 25 January 2013 00:00
Herald Reporter

MORE Western academics, researchers and journalists, for long fierce critics of Zimbabwe’s land reform programme, now acknowledge that agricultural production has massively increased as more land is now under cultivation than when white farmers occupied it.

According to a research by foreign analysts and published under the title “Zimbabwe takes back its land”, the land reforms have increased production on the land.

Local agriculturalists and economic analysts welcomed the research saying it reflected the situation on the ground.

Only 4 000 white farmers occupied vast tracts of fertile land while the majority Zimbabweans were settled on marginal infertile land.

However, an article in the British Guardian newspaper by Jonathan Steele, quoting the report, says Zimbabwe’s land reforms empowered the majority.

Steele, who covered Zimbabwe’s elections in 2000 for the paper, quoted the report indicating the land redistribution had been successful contrary to foreign media claims.

“Good news has just emerged from the country showing that the land occupations and evictions of white farmers by angry veterans of the liberation struggle that was the big Zimbabwe story a decade ago did not destroy the country’s agriculture, as so often claimed.

“Far from it, production is now back to the levels of the late 1990s and more land is under cultivation than was worked by white farmers.

“They say the introduction of the US dollar by the unity Government four years ago brought a quicker economic recovery and hence greater benefits for farm producers than anyone expected.”

The researchers criticised Amnesty International for exaggerating the plight of farm workers.

The researchers said the number of farm workers had increased more than five-fold, from 167 000 to over a million in 2011.

“White farmers never used all the land they had taken. In the years just before minority rule collapsed, in spite of generous Government subsidies, 30 percent of white farmers were insolvent and another 30 percent only broke even. Some 66 percent of arable land was lying fallow,” said Steele, quoting the report.

He said after the redistribution in 2000, although some new African farmers reverted to subsistence agriculture, a growing number had moved into commercial farming.

Zimbabwe National Farmers Union vice president Mr Garikai Msika hailed the report saying it exhibited the situation on the ground.

“It can’t be disputed because if you look at the number of farmers since the land reform it has increased because we only had 4 000 before the reform but now we have more than 300 000,” said Mr Msika.

He said despite financial challenges faced by farmers due to the illegal sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by Britain, the European Union and the US, new farmers had managed to produce.

“Tobacco and cotton output has increased significantly because the number of farmers has increased as well.

“This has effects on the downstream line to other service providers. We could have done better if it wasn’t for the illegal sanctions considering that agriculture is the backbone of our economy,” said Mr Msika.

Agri-business development expert Mr Midway Bhunu said the land reform had resulted in the majority of landless Zimbabweans getting land.

“What we can confirm in that report is that the land reform, besides addressing landholding imbalances, actually resulted in better utilisation of land.

“There are, however, a number of issues that still need to be addressed for the reforms to be a major success.

“There is need to support production by availing financial resources to the new farmers. They also need training and development.”

Mr Bhunu said farmers needed agriculture value chair support through market creation and development.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti, whose MDC-T party has been colluding with former white commercial farmers in discrediting the land reform, has on several occasions acknowledged that production has been increasing over the years.

He cited tobacco and maize as some of the crops whose yield has been growing.

The Guardian newspaper on Wednesday published a report indicating that President Mugabe was likely to win the next elections.

It set its predictions on Zanu-PF policies on the land reforms and the indigenisation and economic empowerment drive.

Last year, a report in the New York times also acknowledged that land reforms have transformed the lives of previously disadvantaged Zimbabweans, particularly in the tobacco sector.

The report said before land redistribution in 2000, fewer than 2 000 farmers were growing tobacco, the country’s most lucrative crop, and most were white.

Last year, 60 000 farmers grew tobacco, the vast majority of them black and many of them working small plots that were allotted to them during the distribution.

“Most had no tobacco farming experience yet managed to produce a hefty crop, rebounding from a low of 105 million pounds in 2008 to more than 330 million pounds last year,” the report said.

“The success of these small-scale farmers has led some experts to re-assess the legacy of Zimbabwe’s forced land redistribution, even as they condemn its violence and destruction.”

Mr Ian Scoones, of Britain’s Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University, who has been intensively studying land reform in Zimbabwe for the past decade, was quoted as saying: “We cannot make excuses for the way it (land reform) was carried out.

“But there are many myths that have taken hold — that land reform has been an unmitigated disaster, that all the land has been taken over by cronies in the ruling party, that the whole thing has been a huge mess. It has not.”

Another British think tank, ENK Management Consultancy, last year said the Zimbabwean agriculture sector had huge potential to grow on the back of agrarian reforms implemented by Government over the last decade.

ENK Management Consultancy Chief executive Emily Walker told New Ziana, on the sidelines of a Comesa farming workshop, that Zimbabwe had good agricultural policies and programmes in place, that would combine to sustain the current growth trajectory.

Ms Walker said the relatively sound infrastructure and skills base would underpin long-term agricultural growth.

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