QUESTION: At the beginning of this month you travelled to rural areas in Masvingo province, in the south of the country, on an assessment mission. What caught your attention during the visit and what were some of the conclusions you came to?
ANSWER: People are struggling. In some areas, rains have been totally insufficient. In other areas, people have been able to plant and there have been some rains. But because inputs have been insufficient - or unavailable, altogether - no one can possibly expect yields to be adequate. Livestock has become the lifeline for so many and yet it, too, is rapidly deteriorating. So, overall, it seems that the country's southern region is in particular need of attention in terms of support and assistance. UNDP, WFP [World Food Programme] and the other UN agencies have major challenges ahead of them.
Q: It seems also there were issues over the condition of farm workers and also newly resettled farmers. It seems some of the resettled farmers have fallen into vulnerability, was that a surprise to you?
A: It comes as no surprise at all. We should have expected serious vulnerability in the resettled areas. Some time back, the government asked us to have a look at the situation of former farm workers and newly-resettled farmers. The reason they asked was because it was already obvious that a number of households were in urgent need of humanitarian support and also because in most of the resettled areas, the basic social and physical infrastructure was lacking.
My visit only confirmed that we need to have a better understanding of the vulnerability and the number of families in the former commercial areas - and I don't just mean the families of farm workers, but also some of the resettled people. Many of them face very difficult circumstances and that is why we have been insisting on the launch of a vulnerability survey, which we hope we will be able to start very, very soon. The survey is an absolute necessity, if we are to plan appropriately for future assistance. The survey will also be a test of our ability to access these areas. If we cannot reach the very persons who are in need of our help, this will create a major impasse.
Q: Some of the former commercial farm workers seem to have been left out of the land reform programme, they seem to be asking for greater assistance in terms of food aid and recognition of their needs within land reform?
A: There certainly is a need to consider the impact of the changes in land ownership, over the last three years, and to see how the transformation has affected many of those working on commercial farms. Families have found themselves in a new situation and there are unconfirmed reports that most of them have not benefited from land reform. Some of them need urgent attention, simply so they are able to cope and adjust to their new circumstances and we have to find out how many fall into this category.
Q: Masvingo, for example, is a ranching area and yet resettlements are taking place in these sorts of areas that are very dry and not suitable for cropping. What sort of assistance should be put in place to help the new farmers, and is that something you would like to do in conjunction with the government?
A: The challenge is not any particular province. The challenge is to find out just what the situation is across the provinces. Whereas the vulnerability assessment would reveal the best ways to assist people in the immediate and short term, we have also suggested that an agricultural survey be conducted to address Zimbabwe's needs in the long term. You see, we don't want to create a situation where people survive only because they are being assisted.
We want to support projects, which allow people to plan for themselves, to understand their circumstances and to use that knowledge to find ways to provide for their families and contribute to the wealth of their country. So we must have a very, very good understanding of the situation and this demands accuracy and objectivity. And on this, we would be willing to work together with appropriate sectors and/or ministries [on the land issue], as soon as we can agree on the way forward. Really, it is only then that we can address the fundamental issues - food security and agricultural growth - in a way that is genuine and socially just.
Q: Does that mean a new land conference?
A: Once a proper survey has been carried out, Zimbabwe will have a better understanding of the situation and will be better equipped to formulate a modern approach to agricultural production and rural life. The findings of the agricultural survey would inform any stakeholder meeting that might take place subsequently. While it is still too early to speak of a land conference, one should not exclude that possibility.
Q: What does that actually mean?
A: There has been a real deficit in dialogue - dialogue that is based on facts and not just guessing, estimates or hearsay - and yet, this is the very thing that is needed. A conference would offer a number of opportunities for consultations among different [role] players. It could also be used as a forum for fence-mending.
Q: The issue of land reform has been heavily politicised. We had the last land conference in 1998 in which Western donors called for transparency, which was followed by the fast-track programme. How would this land conference address the problems differently from the last land conference?
A: We now have a new situation in the rural areas. Circumstances are different than those that existed in 1998. Challenges are greater than ever and the call from the rural areas is for better planning, more transparency, more resources and full implementation of the law. The critical issues - sustainable resettlement, food security, institutional strengthening, renewed partnerships - have to be faced, head on.
The problems extend beyond the rural areas, too. Agriculture had been a pillar of the national economy and that has also suffered serious damage. So this type of initiative would affect positive change throughout all of Zimbabwe and the UNDP and the other specialized UN agencies would take any meaningful dialogue very seriously.
Q: Has there been a positive response from international stakeholders, including western donors, to the idea of a land conference?
A: First things first: I trust that donors would be very supportive of a well-designed and properly implemented survey of the agricultural situation, and before this has been achieved, we can't even talk about the next step. First, you understand the present. Then, you prepare for the future. But the question is not just about donors - above all, it is about Zimbabweans taking the lead.
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