Let’s downsize farms, support small-scale farmers

10 Sep, 2019 - 00:09 0 Views
Let’s downsize farms, support small-scale farmers

The Herald

Arthur Kaseke Correspondent
Our land reform programme can be viewed as a clear resolve and determination by a battle-hardened people, not only to correct the obnoxious colonial land tenure system, but to blow the myth of white monopoly capital’s invincibility.

The land reform programme was an epoch-making undertaking that in turn produced a backlash of unprecedented proportions as evidenced by a sanctions regime against the country, described by the Venezuelan Deputy Minister of Foreign Relations for Africa during his recent visit as illegal and criminal.

The United States of America, in pursuit of its bullyboy tactics and hegemonic appetite at the instigation of Britain, the former colonial power, came up with a raft of punitive measures, embodied in the draconian ZIDERA which, according to the then Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Chester Crocker, was meant to “make the economy scream” as a strategy to remove the revolutionary party, ZANU-PF, from power and indeed as a warning shot to all liberation movements that would seek to empower their people through land reform, especially in Southern Africa.

Perhaps the harsh and inhuman response to our land reform by the West would offer a plausible explanation and argument as to why Zimbabwe finds itself in the kind of economic situation it has been for nearly two decades, though some would argue that our economy has been mostly affected by bad politics while progressive elements at both continental and international level point mainly to the impact of sanctions, which according to studies have cost the economy in excess of US$50 billion in lost revenue.

Part of bad politics often cited by our detractors and some opportunistic elements in our midst is the land reform which saw us expropriating white-owned farms, whose continued existence would have been an affront and betrayal of our fallen heroes, which exercise now requires fresh interrogation in terms of equity, transparency, accountability and sustainability, all anchored on a yet to be announced long over-due agricultural policy that would serve to sustain the recently promulgated industrialisation and local content policies.

One can therefore argue that Zimbabwe’s formulae to restart its economy, though daunting a task, lies in land reform, an exercise requiring time, effort and with hygienic efficiency.

Indeed, well-meaning people across the divide would argue that Zimbabwe’s land reform thus far can be described as a success as measured by the number of people who are now making a living from the land, with improved lifestyles now being a feature of most farming communities.

For example, tobacco farming communities have registered considerable success, where 85 percent  of tobacco is now coming from the small-scale farmers according to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board.

This then translating to income that was going straight into the pockets of a handful of white commercial farmers.

Another bonus of the land reform is the coming on board of Command Agriculture to which the Government is so passionate about and which can be a vehicle through which our breadbasket status can be restored, barring of course the aspect of the fickle weather conditions, itself a consequence of climate change and global warming.

There is also the Presidential Input Scheme, a social protection and safety net which seeks to cushion and empower, marginalised communities and to ensure adequate food provision at household levels.

However, a lot still needs to be done if our land reform can be a complete and successful story. In this instance, issues to do with equity and eligibility are still sticking out as thus requiring urgent Government intervention.  Corruption and lack of transparency is another scourge that has bedevilled the land reform programme since its inception.

In this respect, stories abound where the ordinary citizen has harrowing tales to tell and bitter experiences at the hands of land officers in their quest to register for land allocation. Hefty sums of money it is alleged are being demanded in some cases for one to be considered after queuing for months if not years at lands offices.

Such allegations tends to sully, in great measure, Government’s image as the responsible authority and to put the whole noble land reform exercise in disrepute, given the spirited onslaught emanating from the dispossessed classes and their local lackeys.

It has also the effect of reinforcing the often touted argument by our detractors that Zimbabwe’s economic challenges has its genesis in land reform.

One hopes that the land audit exercise which was commissioned by Government will in the near future bring about equity, transparency, accountability, sustainable land use and above all bring to finality the notorious issue of multiple form ownerships.

The land audit should also bring to the fore land usage amongst the beneficiaries, an issue which was raised by the President in his address at the rebranded Zimbabwe Agricultural Show where he touched on farm ownerships and being productive on the farm, stating that land reform was not about owning a farm, but was all about being a farmer.

Perhaps we might as well need at this juncture to interrogate the issue of how to make the chap who was allocated a farm under the land reform programme, a farmer.

In the yesteryear, the Agricultural Finance Corporation used to be a vehicle for white farmers to have unlimited access to financing their farming requirements, hence the success story of white farmers that is often touted by a legion of prophets of doom who in their naivety argue that Zimbabwe’s breadbasket status is credited to white commercial farmers. Yet it has been scientifically proven that white farmers specialty was in respect of such cash crops as tobacco, horticulture and other exotic cereals, leaving the bulk of maize production to small-scale and communal farmers, an assertion that can be confirmed by the number of GMB depots and grain silos that are dotted around the country.

It is therefore in this context that a way forward ought to be found to transform this chap who owns a farm, into a fully-fledged farmer.

Firstly we can safely argue in favour of this hapless chap who owns the farm that it was not just enough or adequate to just allocate this fellow a farm without a comprehensive support service at his disposal.

For we all know that farming like any business venture requires capital injection as was the case with white farmers through the AFC and other financial service providers.

Technical assistance and know-how, scientific agricultural services, value chain synergies and an efficient market system are a pre-requisite for any successful farming as a business venture. So, it can therefore be argued with certainty that simply thrusting this hapless fellow on the land without a comprehensive back-up service could be the major factor behind large tracks of land lying idle throughout our national landscape, a factor that gives ammunition to the detractors of our land reform and prophets of doom who would glibly argue that land reform was a disaster. Yet we all know that it is just cheap politicking particularly from those amongst our ranks who are desperately trying to make themselves politically relevant.

Again, this hapless chap who is on the farm would require to be capacitated through a variety of intervention strategies in respect of addressing his requirements as in the Government initiated Command Agricultural Support Scheme, Agriculture Input Guarantee Scheme, skills training, a comprehensive technical support service and funding for him to graduate from just being on the farm to becoming a farmer.

Another scenario is to look at the farm size as a factor in land utilisation in respect of the beneficiaries’ means, capacity, technical expertise and the resources at his disposal, since agriculture is the backbone of our economy and prime driver towards restoration of our bread basket status. However, to achieve this goal, thorough aggregate efforts are required starting with an interrogation on farm sizes and usage/utilisation thereof.

For, as one drives along the country’s high ways, the scenario is that of large tracks of land lying idle, particularly in the A2 category mostly owned by absent land lords or where just a fraction of the vast farm land is in use due mostly to the factors above mentioned. It is my fervent hope and prayer that the current land audit will come up with measures that recommends not only a drastic downsizing of most A2 farms, but also that ensures sustainable use of the acquired land.

For downsizing large farms say into 10 hectare plots will address the issues of equity, transparency, accountability and conservation measures such that such small plots can be easily managed and maximally utilised.

Furthermore reduced farm sizes has the effect of accommodating many prospective farmers and enhance productivity as such small holder farmers have proved to be the engine of economic growth in other countries’ economies through intensive farming with the potential of increased yield per hectare.

A good example is in the tobacco sector where the A1 farmers and the communal small-scale holders have amazingly proved their mettle in being the mainstay of the tobacco industry who, barring the usurious tendencies of contracting companies, have over the years consistently surpassed previous records of tobacco farming in both Rhodesia and modern day Zimbabwe.

Small-scale farmers particularly cash crop producers can forge synergies with well-meaning manufacturers and service providers as strategic partners in the value chain of production with the potential not only to have a huge savings on our import bill, but also to bring the much needed foreign currency through agricultural exports and in the process paving way for our economic recovery.

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