September 16, 2002

Zambia Welcomes Evicted Zimbabwean Farmers

Hundreds of white commercial farmers fleeing Zimbabwe's chaotic land reform programme are receiving preferential treatment in Zambia. Zimbabwean President Mugabe's government this year gave a 10 August deadline to 2 900 white commercial farmers to vacate their farms to ostensibly make way for the resettlement of landless blacks.

While about 60 percent of the farmers faced with evictions have vowed to stay put, 30 percent have left the country to explore opportunities in neighbouring countries including Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana, and further afield in West Africa, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Britain has said it would assist its nationals facing eviction from farms they own in Zimbabwe.

Zambian and Zimbabwean officials at Chirundu border post last week said white farmers were having their entry into Zambia fast-tracked with some of the them sailing through without queuing or hassles. "They are being treated like kings. Zambian immigration office are coming to ask people queuing whether or not they are farmers. Once one is discovered to be a farmer, one is told to jump the queue and is served immediately. The Zambian officials are even sending vehicles to ferry the farmers to Lusaka where they can register with the Zambia investment centre."

But director of information in Zambia's Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives Peter Musunu in a telephone interview said: "It is not true that white farmers from Zimbabwe are being treated as a special group. We are also not accepting all of them. While we sympathise with the situation in Zimbabwe, we do not want our own locals to be sidelined in land redistribution." Musunu admitted the farmers were welcome in Zambia and that as soon as they arrived they were being asked to go through the Zambia Investment Centre where they applied to invest in the country. "The Investment Centre will interview them and see whether or not they have the capacity to be investors. Those who qualify would be granted an investment certificate."

Musunu said not all the 125 farmers had been issued with investment certificates. Some applications were still being studied. "Those farmers who are coming to till the land also qualify to apply for loans just like any other farmer in Zambia. But we will make sure that our people get first priority," Musunu said.

Zambian Vice-President Enock Kavindele was quoted in the state-run Times of Zambia as saying: "I can confirm that we have received about 125 white farmers who have indicated to government that they want to invest in agriculture. We believe that their input will add value to the development of the land."

The farmers were last week expected to visit Mbala, an agricultural town situated in northern Zambia, where they would conduct soil tests to determine which crops would be suitable to grow, the paper said.

Soon after being sworn in as head of state, Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa last year launched a drive to diversify the country's one-commodity economy from the troubled copper industry, placing agriculture as the focus of future economic growth. Mwanawasa has consequently set aside huge funds to support farmers and this includes both the locals and any investor who wants to farm in Zambia. Zambia has suffered severe food shortages over the years. (THE DAILY NEWS)

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