15 August 2002

Farmers set to abandon $33 billion crops

Zimbabwe’s white commercial farmers might be forced to abandon more than 65 000 hectares of crops valued at over $33.4 billion after President Robert Mugabe this week scuttled hopes that he may give the farmers a reprieve from the mass land evictions ordered by his government under its controversial land reforms. Under the programme, which could cost Zimbabwe's economy $62 billion or 12.7 percent of gross domestic product, the government is set to take over more than 90 percent or over 2 900 of the country's 4 500 commercial farms. Mugabe on Monday indicated that the government would forge ahead with its plans to evict white farm owners, who have been served with Section 8 notices requiring them to cease farming and start leaving their farms from August 10 or face arrest. "Whilst this ban on planting, producing and marketing of food occurs, Mr Mugabe, his Cabinet ministers and aid organisations are lobbying the international community for food aid to feed over six million Zimbabweans who are already starving," said Jenni Williams, spokeswoman for the militant Zimbabwe Justice for Agriculture (JAG). JAG represents the interests of commercial farmers, farm workers and industries dependent on agriculture and wants to fight the evictions in court.

According to figures from the commercial farming sector, the ban on agricultural work will affect more than 65 758 hectares of land that is presently under crop, 24 692 hectares of it comprising wheat that is supposed to be harvested in September to October. Zimbabwe is facing a serious wheat crisis that has already triggered bread shortages in urban areas at a time the country has been forced to import maize, used to manufacture the nation's staple mealie meal. "

Commercial farmers also have about 41 067 hectares of maize in the ground, which translates into 226 000 tonnes or three months' supply of the national staple grain and is worth $9.4 billion. Tobacco farmers, who have also received Section 8 notices, could lose a crop valued at US$330 million ($18.2 billion), which is awaiting grading. This is part of the 170 million kilogrammes of tobacco, the country's main hard currency earner, that is supposed to be marketed this year to bring in foreign exchange to alleviate massive hard cash shortages.

Farmers would also have to abandon the country's remaining 800 000 commercial head of cattle. Figures from the Commercial Farmers' Union show that the commercial herd has already fallen by 400 000 from 1.2 million. Destocking has mainly been a result of poaching by ruling Zanu PF supporters occupying white-owned farms and drought. "Unlike crops where production can be doubled or even trebled in one year, it takes years to rebuild cattle numbers," according to Tim Reynolds, the chairman of the Cattle Producers' Association. "The saddest fact is that the cattle being destocked come from the sector that produces 90 percent of the cattle for the export market," he said this week. It was not possible to ascertain this week the value of movable and immovable assets which commercial farmers will be forced to leave behind when they vacate their properties, although an estimated $14.5 billion worth of moveable assets has already been seized by invaders since farm invasions began in February 2000.

Williams said farmers were carrying out inventories to determine the value of their assets. "We have a major campaign that we are putting together on behalf of farmers. We're asking them to do an inventory of their assets and of their workers' assets. All these assets have to be quantified and we are using that information for a class action," she told the Financial Gazette. "Obviously this is a major undertaking and we have to give it another week. The next step will be to brief legal counsel so that they can give us advice." She said her organisation was advising farmers to continue pursuing legal action against the seizure of their farms by the government, despite Mugabe's insistence this week that the farms have to be turned over to black peasants. She said over 60 percent of farmers issued with eviction orders remained on their farms after August 10 deadline and were defying not the government, but the acquisition orders, which they believe to be illegal. "Farmers are not defying government but rather the orders, which they believe to be illegal and therefore continue to fight the acquisition of their farms and titles through the courts," Williams said. "This is not confrontational. It is regrettable that the opportunity to restore the rule of law and establish proper planning and sustainability to the inevitable process of land reform has not yet been addressed and this is endangering the lives and livelihood of millions of Zimbabweans."

The land reforms, partially blamed for Zimbabwe's food shortages, are expected to displace close to two million people and force the closure of at least 3 000 companies directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. According to analysts, if 90 percent of commercial farms cease to function, the economy will lose $62 billion or 12.7 percent of gross domestic product and $689 million of the $765 million that agriculture contributes towards export earnings. Opposition Movement for Democratic Change shadow minister for agriculture Renson Gasela said: "Agricultural production will decline drastically and the country's economy, which is highly dependent on this sector, will take the last step towards total collapse, thus worsening the hunger and famine that is affecting the people of Zimbabwe." (ZWNews / Financial Gazette)


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