By Mandivamba Rukuni
An important recommendation of the Commission of Inquiry into Land Tenure Systems in Zimbabwe (1994) that I chaired was that Zimbabwe should maintain a multi-form tenure regime. The commission recommended that each tenure instrument be made more secure by explicitly identifying the land rights and ensuring greater continuity of those rights by the holder. Moreover, legal and institutional provisions and capacities can enforce such rights for all land, including land held under customary tenure. In this article I will make recommendations on how to strengthen the multi-form tenure system and discuss how this can be applied to improving land investment and values again in Zimbabwe. Those interested in exploring the principles, theory and practice in securing land rights for sustainable development should read my other article.
Under what conditions is agricultural land bankable?
Banks and financing institutions look at two main things in financing a farming business: viability/profitability and collateral security. Viability or profitability is the first necessary condition for any financing. Farmers with a track record at a bank can continue to get financing without much separate or additional collateral security. If a farmer is making money and his/her business dealings are open to the bank, the bank will increase their trust of the farmer and their business over time. Just having a title does not necessarily lead to financing, particularly for new and inexperienced farmers with no track record of farming profitably. Banking is ultimately about trust. This point is crucial to remember in the debate on tenure in Zimbabwe (and Africa generally), as this debate has become quite ideological. In most of industrializing Asia, agricultural growth was maintained at a high level based on small farms with no collateral security because the business environment and economic policies were favourable.
Banks in Zimbabwe are also looking forward to the resolution of disputed land, as discussed in my last article. Government urgently needs to review and update the land administration systems, so that the government and local government systems, the judiciary and the finance sector all have access to one registry and administrative system that is sufficiently accurate, reliable and decentralized to provincial and districts centres, where transactions can be completed and disputes resolved amicably. Tenure security is ultimately about capacity to protect and enforce land rights.
The needs and challenges in reforming tenure
Following the Fast Track land reform program, Government is now seeking to improve tenure security for the farmers and allow farmers to use their land holdings as collateral security to raise finance for development and farming operations. The current 99-Year Lease is still inadequate for banking purposes. On the other hand, the Government is sceptical about giving freehold title for the fear that white farmers buying land again may reverse the gains of land reform. So the question is “How does policy arrive at a secure tenure that is bankable whilst at the same time maintaining the gains of land reform?” Bankability and sustainable development issues also apply to all other land tenure instruments in Zimbabwe besides the 99-Year Lease.