Joram Nyathi – Spectrum
ZIMBABWE is projected to have a bumper maize crop this season. That is due to a fortuitous combination of a good rainy season and a decision by Government to launch what is now famously called Command Agriculture, which entailed providing selected farmers with inputs such as seed, fertiliser and draught power.
The farmers will pay back through a portion of their produce, depending on how much assistance they received. They did not require title deeds to produce, and all things being equal, they should be able to pay back what is due. Fuel company Sakunda Petroleum took the risk to partner Government in this national endeavour.
There are any number of excuses, not reasons, why local banks have refused to lend money to newly-resettled farmers. The primary one is that the farmers do not have title to the land.
They argue plausibly that they hold depositors’ money in trust. They have a duty to safeguard it. It is therefore careless negligence to lend such money to farmers, either because they don’t own the land or they have no collateral security.
Valid excuses indeed, but ones which expose local financial institutions as very conservative and too rigid in their outlook. They have not moved an inch from their Rhodesia tradition despite the extraordinary circumstances facing a country weighed down by criminal sanctions imposed without a United Nations resolution.
It is not surprising that many have lost a lot of their formerly captive market to innovators in the mobile telecommunications sector. They have to rely on usurious charges on customers to make extraordinary profits in a troubled market.
In March this year Government tried to allay their anxieties by issuing resettled farmers with 99-year leases on the land they occupy. Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the leases were bankable, implying that farmers could surrender these to a financial institution to get a loan.
This did not work. Banks were not persuaded. They argued, as they have always done since the launch of the land reform programme in 2000, that without title deeds land remains “dead capital”.
They argue, correctly, that land belongs to the State, and not the individual holding the 99-year lease. The logic is informed by a negative disposition that the customer will fail and the bank won’t be able to recover depositors’ money.
That’s where the element of rigidity comes in. It would be wrong to assert that all local financial institutions were opposed to the land reform, hence their negative attitude towards funding the resettled farmers.
A few indigenous banks reportedly dished out money without doing necessary due diligence, and the loans were never recovered. That became the case of a burnt child who dreads fire.
But I still want to argue that local banks have a duty to fund local farmers. It is a duty they cannot reasonably escape on the flimsy excuse that resettled farmers neither have title deeds nor collateral security.
Hunger is a greater security issue even to their own prosperity. Government cannot at this moment issue title deeds to resettled farmers for a number of reasons and banks should not deny farmers loans simply because they can’t sell a farm in the event of a borrower defaulting.
It is a bad policy position to adopt, one exposing lack of innovation. Government is in the process of carrying out a land audit to ascertain who occupies what land and the level of productivity and constraints.
Land is a finite commodity. Part of the plan is to reallocate some of the land from farmers who can’t use it productively. There are even proposals to reduce some of the farm sizes.
This should remind us that so far, the land reform is work in progress. What this process means is that giving all farmers title deeds without first assessing their competence will create even greater chaos and confusion.
You can’t give farmers title deeds today and seek to cancel them tomorrow either because the farmer is incompetent or the farm is too big.
The same financial institutions would be the first to complain about policy inconsistency as a reason why they are not investing in the land. The negative attitude adopted by financial institutions towards agriculture makes it even more difficult for foreigners to support local farmers.
What is required, urgently too, is a paradigm shift by the banks. A more fruitful approach would be to evaluate the viability of the individual project proposal on the farm and fund it on its own merit.
The banks may be feeling uneasy about the 99-year leases but that is because they are focusing on the wrong end: the ability to dispose of the land to recover their money, instead of a bankable project on the farm which they fund proportionately.
The current leases are long enough to allow banks to recoup their investment. Moreover, while it is true that there were farmers who abused resources which they were given by the Government at the start of the land reform, 17 years is a fairly long time for committed individuals to emerge.
The excitement and euphoria of simply acquiring land for what was on it is gone. The farmers know now they have to produce a viable business plan to obtain funding. They are not thinking of having their piece of land taken over by a financial institution for failure to service a loan.
Those are the people who need support. It makes for intelligent corporate social responsibility in the long term than donating a food hamper to an old people’s home or a kit to a football club.
Perhaps the problem, like all things in Zimbabwe now, is that the land reform was over-politicised, and then turned into a Zanu-PF project, almost like the whole nation suffered universal amnesia with the attainment of majority rule in 1980 that we forgot what inspired the different stages of Chimurenga.
Was it not the land?
So why are banks sceptical about investing in the land now that we have it back, solidly set in black and white in the national Constitution, yet Rhodesian aliens had so much faith in their future here that they fully funded their farmers?
Which brings us to the opposition circus and opportunism around the hero status of musician
Cde Chinx Chingaira
Even before Zanu-PF made a decision about Cde Chinx’ liberation war hero status, there was a lot of posturing by opposition political parties and non-governmental organisations that he be declared a national hero.
Overnight, they had appropriated him the same way the Western world appropriated Nelson Mandela as their hero as soon as he was released from apartheid custody.
Suddenly the charlatans who have always opposed land reform and still refer to it as “land grabs” or an “invasion of white-owned farms” and hate war veterans to death for their decisive role in it were falling over each other in shameless pretences of how much they adored Cde Chinx and how his signature song “Hondo Yeminda” in support of land reform was a family anthem.
By his death they have sought to turn Cde Chinx into a national hero they hated and despised in life. The same way they sought to appropriate the late national hero General Solomon Mujuru upon his untimely death. It’s staggering paradox.
How do you oppose the land reform programme and in the same breath support Cde Chinx for his inspirational lyrics to war veterans, including Gen Mujuru, pursuant to the same goal?
Zanu-PF might make questionable decisions yes, but when did these charlatans become enamoured of Cde Chinx and Hondo Yeminda which they use as valid justification for the imposition of sanctions on their motherland?