9 August 2002

Swathes of farms lie fallow as new absentee landlords refuse to take up land

As the sun sets on the disruptive land reform programme it has emerged that thousands of resettled farmers are still to take possession of their allocated pieces of land, greatly compromising Zimbabwe's food security in the coming season. Top government officials, Zanu PF supporters and friends and relatives of the powerful allocated land under the A1 and A2 models are still sitting on the sidelines.

The model A2 scheme is the worst affected. Agricultural analysts said good rains alone would not guarantee food security due to the absence of farmers to till the available land. Most allotees of the chaotic land reform exercise have snubbed the offer citing lack of government support and incentives to undertake a sustainable farming business. In the A2 model only half of the 54 000 plots are understood to have been demarcated and just 20% of the pegged plots have been taken up.

The Zimbabwe Independent last weekend toured Mashonaland West province, which used to produce an estimated 40% of the country's major crops such as the staple maize, tobacco and wheat. The fields lie idle with no production or land preparation taking place despite the fact that planting is due to start next month. Not only is the land lying fallow but state-of-the-art irrigation equipment and multi-million dollar grain storage facilities are either redundant or have been pillaged. Officials at Lions Den silos said the facilities have not received any grain for storage since the beginning of the farm invasions two years ago. "Grain has instead been taken out of the silos and the facilities have become a white elephant," an official said.

Commercial farmers' representative body Justice for Agriculture (JAG) estimates that equipment worth $14,5 billion has been lost in the commercial farming sector to seizures, looting and vandalism. "About $14,5 billion worth of movable assets have been illegally impounded or looted since February 2000 and JAG will be suing the ruling party Zanu PF after it has completed working out the total losses sustained by both farmers and farm workers," JAG said.

Makonde Rural District Council assistant administrator Dan Zvobgo said land uptake, particularly in the model A2 scheme, has been very disappointing. "Model A2 in general has received a bad response from the new farmers because it did not take into cognisance distances farmers had to travel to their new properties," Zvobgo said. "Applicants were allocated land anywhere in the country and that means some farmers have to travel from one end of the country to the other but those expenses are not covered." Zvobgo said land preparation in his district and the country as a whole had been greatly hampered by the unavailability of draught power. "We only have eight tractors running in the whole district and that is not enough to service all farmers in time for the planting season. That alone should reduce the intended hectarage under crop," he said. "This is a common phenomenon throughout the country, no district has enough tractors to plough for the new farmers and the virgin land they are moving onto cannot be tilled with ox-drawn ploughs." He said the situation has been worsened by the lack of spares and fuel.

Commercial Farmers Union Mashonaland West/South regional executive Ben Freeth said there was hardly any land preparation by either commercial farmers still on the land or the new occupiers. "The new farmers do not have the requisite equipment for land preparation while commercial farmers are not preparing the land either because their future is not certain or they are being stopped by the occupiers," Freeth said. CFU vice-president (commodities) Doug Taylor-Freeme said most of the fast-track resettled farmers were reluctant to take up the land because of lack of incentives. "The whole of the agricultural sector has come to a standstill," Taylor-Freeme said. "Vast tracts of fields are lying idle with new farmers facing serious financial problems but failing to borrow from the banks because of lack of clarity and security." Taylor-Freeme said in the tobacco sector alone an estimated 60 million kilogrammes have been lost due to the delays in land preparation. "There is no activity on the ground," he said. "Seed beds should have been planted at the beginning of June but this could not be done because of the confusion in the sector." (ZWNews / Zimbabwe Independent)


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