September 5, 2006

Fast-track land reform reconsidered

In a bid to win back the support of the international community, Zimbabwe's government has relented on its land policy and is to remove settlers from occupied farms owned by foreign companies. More than 100 farms covered by Bilateral Investment Protection Agreements (BIPAs), invaded as part of President Robert Mugabe's fast-track land redistribution programme, will either be returned or their previous owners compensated for their loss.
A committee led by foreign affairs minister Simbabrashe Mumbengegwi recently toured farms under the protection agreements and recommended that the people subsequently settled on these farms be relocated.
Flora Buka, the minister responsible for land and resettlement, confirmed the policy: "As a government, we have resolved that we are going to relocate the new farmers who are settled on land covered by BIPAs, or compensate the investors as a way of honouring the agreements," she said. "On the part of the Zimbabwean government, I feel this is an acceptable arrangement and will be acceptable to all parties." Compensating the previous landowners does not, however, appear a realistic option.
Dutch companies growing and exporting cut flowers to Europe own most of the farms falling under the protection agreements, but Zimbabwe also has bilateral protection agreements with Sweden, Switzerland, Indonesia, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy and Germany, among others. The first beneficiary of the initiative will be an Indonesian company breeding ostriches in Matabeleland North Province, according to the head of an Indonesian delegation touring the country, but Indonesia's minister for the empowerment of women, Prof Meuria Swasono, said the company would have certain obligations. The ostrich and leather exporting concern will meet the costs of moving the settlers to their new homes, and be responsible for building new accommodation and sinking boreholes.
Zimbabwe's state security minister, Didymus Mutasa, said although the government was making efforts to respect protection agreements, they would be wary of those who abused the system. "Naturally, we do not want to disturb investors on what they are doing at the farms, but we are aware of investors who are going into partnerships with former commercial farmers and then claim to be covered by BIPAs." Since the onset of the land invasions, only about 600 of the country's original complement of about 4.500 white commercial farmers remain on farmland.
A visiting Italian agricultural delegation led by the country's ambassador to the Ivory Coast, Paolo Sannella, have also held meetings with the ruling ZANU-PF government to come to an agreement on the future of farms seized from Italian business concerns. The delegation has hinted that it could provide assistance in mechanising the agricultural sector, and give Zimbabwean agricultural products exhibition space at the Italian International Food Festival next year. (IRIN)

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