29 June 2002

ZIMBABWE: Land reform could exacerbate poverty, says UN agency

President Robert Mugabe’s latest land reform venture may cripple the economy even further and mire Zimbabwe in deepening poverty for the foreseeable future. After failing to enact land reform for the first 20 years of his rule, Mugabe resorted to more expedient measures, the latest, the Land Acquisition Act passed May 10. Starting on June 25, farmers receiving a "Section 8" - a notice to cease farming - must suspend all farming operations and leave their land. The farms become government property. According to United Nations sources, because of the current drought and farm closures, 6 million Zimbabweans will require food aid by the harvest in March of 2003. Since large-scale commercial farms produce nearly all of the wheat, there is already a fear of a bread shortage. The Commercial Farmers Union has estimated that about 300.000 farm workers will lose their jobs as a result of the land reform, which will affect up to 1.5 million family members and dependents.

Land reform has been a top priority since independence in 1980 in a country where 4.000 white farmers own one-third of the best farmland.

But opposition politicians say the government has bungled reform. The government purchased about 8,65 million acres of farmland from white farmers, but 740.000 acres of that land has yet to be distributed and 1,2 million more acres went to government cronies and Mugabe’s political allies. Mugabe’s critics also say that the fast-track program is not working because the new small-scale black farmers lack the experience and capital to maintain previous standards of production.

The government disagrees, "There is ample capacity to continue farming in all commodities except where there is a need for high capital, like greenhouses. We acknowledge we will have problems in say flower production, but not in general commodities like tobacco, paprika, maize, groundnuts, sunflower, fish, livestock and dairy," said Lovegot Tendengu, executive director of the Farmers Development Trust which trains new small-scale farmers. Tendengu said the government has trebled their training and only needs support from the banks.

In the meantime, important cash crops may be in jeopardy. Eight percent of tobacco farmers face eviction orders according to the association of tobacco farmers. "The danger is that if we have a sudden transition, it may all go wrong. I don’t see these resettled farmers producing the flavored tobacco in a year. It takes time. A long time," said Kobus Joubert, president of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association. Joubert said purchases of chemicals and seeds are down by two-thirds this year indicating that production will be down. Tobacco produces over 30 percent of Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product and this year brought in about 54 percent of foreign currency earnings. (IRIN)

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