Elita Chikwati Senior Agriculture Reporter
Government has urged farmers, who benefited from the land reform programme to pay rentals or make way for other Zimbabweans willing to be productive.
This was said by Lands and Rural Resettlement Minister Dr Douglas Mombeshora, while responding to queries from farmers attending the Zimbabwe Farmers Union’s 77th annual congress in Marondera yesterday.
Dr Mombeshora said it was not fair that farmers had received land for free from Government and were making profits from it, but were not willing to pay rentals.
“You were given land for free and you did not pay for it. We have a lot of developmental and administration work that we are doing including surveying and pegging the land. Currently we owe private surveyors $6 million for setting up beacons in the farming areas.
“We sat down and decided that Government should not be burdened to fund that development and at the same time ensure farmers have titles and leases, while they pocket their profits. Every farmer should pay rentals because you are renting the land from Government. The land belongs to Government.
“It is not fair that a certain Zimbabwean has no access to land and another Zimbabwean has got access for free. So for those who are lucky to have a piece of land pay for it,” he said.
He said farmers were also supposed to pay development levies to councils, but the system was standardised. This means farmers pay through the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement. For rentals, A1 farmers pay a flat fee of $15 per year of which $5 goes to the council and $10 to the ministry.
“We do the collection of rentals because we are the ones who give you the tenure document. If you do not pay we have the power to withdraw that document and chuck you out of that piece of land and give it to someone, who is prepared to pay $15 dollars, and earn hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Another farmer has said he is getting 10 tonnes of maize from his 1,5 plot. A tonne of maize is being sold for $390 and you tell me that farmer cannot pay $15 per year? How is that possible? You tell me you cannot sell your three hens and raise $15 per year? Let us appreciate what Government has done for us and let us not overburden the State,” he said.
A2 farmers pay $5 per hectare per year. Dr Mombeshora said the Ministry agreed to charge farmers low rentals for a certain period, but this will be increased in the next two to three years. On backdating, Dr Mombeshora said farmers should not pay rentals backdated to the time they came to the farms.
“This statutory instrument was established in 2015 and the ministry is collecting money starting 2015 onwards. “Treasury gives us conditions on payment of the money. We have written to Treasury that it writes off the debts before 2015,” he said. He also said lease fees should not be backdated.
“Farmers start to pay for the lease from the day they get a lease onwards and not being backdated to the date of issuance of the offer letter. The lease is paid over 25 years. We encourage farmers to apply for lease forms because they can now be used as security at banks,” he said.
The ZFU congress was running under the theme “Tenure Security for Sustainable Agricultural Transformation”. ZFU president, Mr Abdul Nyathi, said eradicating hunger meant increasing access to food by individuals or household.
“The extent to which individuals and families can be food-secure depends largely on the opportunities they have to increase their access to factors of production such as land, capital as well as access to markets and other economic opportunities,” he said. Mr Nyathi said the issue of land tenure was a sensitive one for the farmers as it still represented a serious challenge to their working and living conditions.
“A legal title to land can be used to improve access to credit for agricultural investment; it would increase the security of tenure for farmers, which may increase their capacity to make medium to long-term investments in land, such as irrigation systems or soil improvements; and other farm infrastructure development,” he added.