JOHANNESBURG, 3 October (IRIN) - Zimbabwe's fast-track land reform programme has ignored the critical role played by the commercial farming sector in the economy, analysts and farmers have warned.
"President Robert Mugabe's ... land reform policies are having profound consequences not only for commercial farming but for the agricultural sector as a whole. However, land reform is only one strand in a set of policies undermining the economy and feeding political instability," warned the political think-tank Oxford Analytica in a new report.
In previous years mining, manufacturing, services and agriculture - both large and small-scale - all contributed significantly to employment and to gross domestic product (GDP).
"Commercial agriculture alone contributed some 17 percent. The economy was well-integrated with particularly strong linkages between commercial agriculture and services and manufacturing. It was axiomatic that much of the rest of the economy would benefit from reinvested earnings following a good agricultural season. Commercial farmers were also playing an important role in the rapid expansion of Zimbabwe's tourism industry through the conversion of marginal farmland into wildlife habitat," Oxford Analytica said.
But by the second half of 2002, the economy was "rapidly unravelling" as the government struggled to deal with a major food crisis, blamed largely on its own land reform programme.
The government's programme was aimed at addressing the imbalance in land ownership in Zimbabwe, and landless blacks are supposed to be the main beneficiaries. However, it has been criticised for disrupting commercial agriculture and being undertaken in a disorderly manner.
Given the central role of commercial farming to agriculture and the economy, it was important that the foundations of agricultural recovery not be weakened further, Oxfam Analytica said.
Both existing and new commercial farmers required timely access to farm machinery and equipment, seed, fertiliser and water for irrigation and livestock.
"Few newly resettled farmers have the resources to purchase farm equipment, and half of the government-owned tractor fleet is out of service because of the lack of foreign currency to purchase spare parts. [Also] the extent to which seed-breeders' farms have been expropriated is unknown as is the impact on the supply of hybrid seed," Oxford Analytica said.
Rampant triple-digit inflation had led the government to impose price controls on fertiliser - "a policy that has only exacerbated shortages". This was because "the trend in fertiliser use in older resettlement areas has declined since adjustment policies were introduced in the early 1990s," the think-tank argued.
The 2002 drought was cutting food supplies at a time when many dams were full, "because no irrigation is taking place on the farms acquired for land reform".
Many of the people who received land reallocated from large-scale farms had "little or no commercial farming experience, so technology and inputs - if available - may be poorly or under-utilised if practical training is not provided".
But newly resettled farmers were unlikely to receive adequate training as "almost all of the country's 1,200 agricultural specialists applied for land under the [redistribution] programme and are among the best-qualified to receive it".
While it was not known how many had actually received land and would then leave government service, the government was "rapidly recruiting more than 5,000 new specialists and is assuming zero attrition among existing staff to bring total numbers to more than 6,000", Oxford Analytica added.
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) reported on Thursday that the government would soon embark on a land audit to assess land uptake on designated farms. "The minister for land reform, Flora Bhuka, said the exercise will be done to ensure that all land is occupied and put to good use," ZBC reported.
"The fast-track land reform programme has seen government allocating land to more than 310,000 families. Government is still in the process of handing over land to more than 54,000 families," ZBC said.
The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), meanwhile, said the government's land reform programme and "illegal" evictions of farmers by ruling party supporters had brought the commercial farming sector "to its knees".
Ben Kaschula, regional executive officer for the CFU Mashonaland Central region, told IRIN that "commercial farming as we've known it before has come to an end ... very few, perhaps 20 percent, of commercial farmers that were previously on land will possibly farm to a reduced extent in the next season. We had 3,200 licensed commercial farmers for the year that just ended, it's likely to be about 1,400 now and that's being optimistic," he said.
No less than 1,200 farmers had been forced off the land, irrespective of whether or not they had received government eviction notices, Kaschula said.
In January 2000, the commercial farming sector employed more than 350,000 workers, roughly one-third of all wage employment.
"By mid-2002, most of these workers had been displaced, and a former finance minister reported that a third of all formal sector jobs in the economy had been lost. Other sources put the unemployment rate at above 70 percent. Many of those who have lost jobs are now living in destitution, but the government is avoiding addressing the welfare implications of massive unemployment," the Oxfam Analytica report alleged.
Funding for agricultural activities was a major obstacle to agrarian recovery. International donors have ceased all funding, save for drought relief and HIV/AIDS programmes, and financial institutions were reluctant to grant loans to land reform beneficiaries as they lack title deeds to their new land.
"In the face of debt, crop production and exports are generally down. Of major crops, only coffee and tea production was above 2000 levels in 2001. Last year, commercial farming contributed some 38 percent of Zimbabwe's total foreign exchange earnings, but it is estimated that at least 90 percent of such earnings will be lost under the current land reform programme," the think-tank warned.
Production of staple maize declined 31 percent in 2001 and even more in 2002, creating a need for expenditure to import an estimated 1.7 million mt of maize.
Tourism earnings have also nose-dived - "not only because of international anxiety surrounding civil unrest but because of the widely publicised poaching of endangered wildlife in game conservation parks, where some 60 percent of wildlife has been lost," the report said.
The domino effect of the present land reform policy has resulted in Zimbabwe's GDP shrinking by 4.5 percent in 2000, 7.5 percent in 2001. A decline of between 12-15 percent was forecast for 2002, "largely a consequence of farm invasions and the withdrawal of investors and foreign donors", the report noted.
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