13 February 2003

Displaced farm workers urgently need aid

The plight of farm workers affected by Zimbabwe's fast-track land reform programme amid a serious food security crisis is being largely ignored, NGOs warn. Two recent reports have noted the need to assess in greater detail the needs and vulnerability of farm workers, while NGOs have called for them to be included in national feeding schemes.

The latest Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) monthly report said the number of commercial farm workers affected by the fast-track resettlement programme had "increased from about 488,000 in August to about 1 million in December 2002, as more farms have been affected by the government's fast-track resettlement programme". The report said between 600 and 1,000 commercial farms were currently operational, a sharp decrease from about 3,000 farms last year and about 4,400 when the land reform programme started in 2000. "Currently, organisations such as Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe (FCTZ) have started feeding programmes in the Mashonaland provinces, but the level of assistance so far has not kept pace with the needs," the FEWS NET report noted.

A recent Humanitarian Situation Report by the UN Relief and Recovery Unit (RRU) said "some NGOs noted that despite the vulnerability assessments, farm workers have not been included in the main assistance programming".- "Indications are that farm workers are more vulnerable than the communal population, which is now receiving WFP [World Food Programme] assistance. There was a suggestion that vulnerability assessments need to cover the commercial farming areas (for both the ex-farm workers and the newly resettled) and identify the most affected [and] in need of humanitarian food assistance," the RRU noted. The FCTZ indicated that it was providing general feeding to 100,000 beneficiaries in four provinces, the RRU added.

An FCTZ official, who asked not to be named, told IRIN that many former commercial farm workers have been forcefully removed from their homes and have migrated to informal settlements outside towns. "The situation on the farms is kind of fluid at the moment, there are different scenarios farm workers are finding themselves in. Some have been displaced and have had to migrate to informal settlements, some are still on the farms, depending on the model of the farm under A1 (divided into smaller communal plots) or A2 model (which allows for allocation of bigger plots of up to 400 hectares for commercial use). Some former commercial farm workers have managed to retain their [residence on] farms, but it is only a handful of those who have not been affected," the trust official said.

In some cases the newly installed farmers have absorbed the former commercial farm workers into the new set-up, "so they work for the new farmers but there's always the problem of payment". Another scenario farm workers found themselves in was "one of co-existence, where new settlers have moved onto the land but the old farm workers have remained, so they have to co-exist".

Despite the various scenarios one thing was common to all affected former commercial farm workers - their livelihoods have suffered. "The general livelihoods of the farm workers have been compromised quite significantly. [They were consequently more vulnerable] especially when it comes to issues of food security. Most have lost their jobs and they relied on that income, so they are finding it very difficult to sustain themselves. "You also find that most of the former farm workers are from a foreign ethnic background, and in most cases security of tenure is inextricably linked to employment on the farm. Once operations cease, it means there's no more security in terms of residence on the farm and they have to find alternative places to live," the trust official noted. Most displaced former farm workers "don't have links in their communal areas, no family there, and most cannot go back to their countries of origin, given the expense involved. Others are second generation here [in Zimbabwe] and have lost the links they had in their countries of origin", the official added. FCTZ believes there is an urgent need for affected former commercial farm workers to be added to national food aid assistance programming.

"We have moved in as an organisation to respond because they have become generally very vulnerable, we've had to move in with a general feeding as well as a supplementary feeding programme," the FCTZ official said. "The general feeding programme is targeting at the moment 100,000 farm workers with rations of mealie [maize] meal, cooking oil and dry beans. With the children aged between six months to 12 years we are running a supplementary programme at pre-schools and primary schools as a way to mitigate the impact of the crisis on the farm worker households."

But with an estimated one million affected farm workers, FCTZ believes this is far from enough. "They need all the assistance that can be made available to them because they are in such a difficult situation," the trust official added. (IRIN)

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