Monday, May 27, 2013

Zimbabwe: New Farmers Catching Up

New farmers catching up

Monday, 27 May 2013 00:00
Zimbabwe Herald

Book title : Zimbabwe Takes Its Land.
Authors : Joseph Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa and Teresa Smart.

ISBN : 9781431405404
PUBLISHER: Kumarian Press

The images of farm buildings being set alight and former white farmers fleeing their farm houses are burnt into our consciousness.

These scenes were shown in major television stations across the world and the land reform programme was condemned as an unmitigated disaster, driven by the political ideology of Zanu-PF.

Food production fell off a cliff. Little regard was paid to the fact that this radical redistribution of the land coincided with one of the worst droughts in living memory. As the years went by, a different narrative has begun to emerge.

In Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land, Joseph Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa and Teresa Smart shed a very different light. The book based on field visits, numerous conversations with farmers, and mining the available data, it paints a much more nuanced picture that is broadly positive about the impact of Zimbabwe’s land reform programme.

The authors conclude in the book that “in the biggest land reform in Africa, 6000 white farmers have been replaced by 245 000 Zimbabwean farmers”.

“These are primarily ordinary poor people who have become productive farmers. The change was inevitably disruptive at first but production is increasing rapidly.

“Agricultural production is now returning to the 1990s levels, and resettled farmers already grow 40 percent of the country’s tobacco and 49 percent of its maize.” There is much that is useful and informative in this book which help to correct the distinctly one sided picture of Zimbabwe’s agricultural revolution.

The book makes some telling points on the media story about the efficient white commercial farmers which is half the truth at best. At independence in 1980, 700 000 black farmers were forced onto 53 percent of the farmland, while 6 000 white farmers had 46 percent (and often the best land at that).

Yet when Zimbabwe achieved majority rule, one third of white farmers were insolvent and a third were just breaking even. Only five percent (300 farmers!) could be described as very profitable.

It often takes a generation for a land reform to produce results, but the new black farmers have already caught up with the previous white dominated system in production (although of course, there are always better and worse farmers in any category).

With stories and pictures, real farmers tell of their own experience of setting up the farms and building up production in the book.

Fanuel Madiro tells how he built his farm and the 70 trips to Mbare Musika with a tractor and a trailer full of tomatoes before he could afford a truck.

Esther Makwara shows off her maize field with eight tonnes per hectare- better than nearly all white farmers.

And all these stories are backed up by data- from the authors’ own fieldwork and extensive other research.

The country has undergone a profound agricultural revolution. Some of the new farmers have made an extraordinary success of their newly acquired land, despite next to no help from the state or international aid. There have also been real losers in the process of land reform.

Tens of thousands of farm workers were displaced and were without a viable means of income, production and employment prospects. Zimbabwe’s agriculture is not back up to the levels it was prior to 2000.

Incomes per capita (in real terms) have still not recovered. All aspects of this reality need to be incorporated into the analysis of the land question if it is to be truly grasped.

Professor Tony Hawkins, of the University Of Zimbabwe, has attacked this perspective in no uncertain terms, for failing to come to terms with the realities of the country’s agricultural decline.

“Despite these harsh truths there is no shortage of apologists determined to gainsay them. These, range from the itinerant United Kingdom academics seeking to establish a reputation for themselves using specious, carefully sanitised case-study data to the political scientists, journalists, and politicians determined to prove that Sub-Saharan Africa would be a better place without commercial agriculture”.

This critique is too harsh and biased.

There was much that was wrong with the land distribution matrix in Zimbabwe and the anomaly needed to be addressed.

The book states that the land reform comes in two types: A1 farms handed out about 150 000 plots of six hectares to smallholders by dividing up the large white farms, while the A2 model sought to create large black commercial farms by handing over larger areas of land to about 23 000 farmers.

One side effect of Zimbabwe’s educational record is plentiful research and survey data, which the authors make the most of in exploring the impact of the land reform.

Has most land gone to government cronies? No. Large scale black farmers have received just five percent of the land handed out since Independence.

The first half of the book covers this history, the second survey today’s agriculture, with evocative reportage from the fields supporting the statistics in the book. The book draws lessons about which farmers succeed and which fail, and why.

Overall, a lot of the smaller A1 farmers (including a significant number of women beneficiaries of the land reform) have become successful small commercial producers, breaking into markets for tobacco, maize, and barley often as contract farmers.

This despite the lack of support for new farmers (a contrast to the lavish support of white newbies in earlier times).

The largely unreported story here, though, is that the dollarisation of 2009 and subsequent economic stabilisation has led to a resurgence of agriculture. Paid agricultural workers now number more than a million, and often face low wages and poor working conditions.

Water and irrigation remain a big challenge.

The book, however acknowledges the corruption and cronyism that surrounded the land reform process, but argues that the land programme was driven from below, initially in the face of Zanu-PF opposition. The book also points out that Zimbabwe’s agriculture is not yet back to the levels it was prior to 2000 and tens of thousands of farm workers continue to live in abject poverty.

Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land finds out that the new farmers are doing relatively well, improving their lives and becoming increasingly productive, especially since the beginning of the multi-currency regime.

The book succeeds in countering the dominant media narrative of economic stagnation in Zimbabwe. Hanlon, Manjengwa and Smart show how, despite political violence and mind boggling hyper-inflation, ordinary Zimbabweans took charge of their destinies in creative and unacknowledged ways.

The case that this book seeks to make is that the 170 000 ordinary farmers are now using more of the land than the white farmers they displaced and are producing nearly as much as those white farmers.

Ngonidzashe Muzondo is a passionate reader, writer and a blogger. He is also a marketing executive with one of Zimbabwe’s leading booksellers and stationers.

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