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Zimbabwe Govt warned against farm leases

by Staff reporter
07 Jul 2019 at 21:23hrs | Views
The government should not allow newly-resettled farmers to sub-let their farms as this will promote corruption and inefficient use of land, analysts have said.

Government recently granted farmers permission to lease their farms in a bid to boost agriculture production as most of the land remains under-utilised and output from the farms remains negligible.

"Land was at the centre of our liberation and ought to be given the leadership and clarity it deserves.

"After the land reform programme we now need to ensure its productivity is increased to ensure we return to our breadbasket status.

"Right now, our focus should be food security and further to exploit exports and agro-processing," businessman and member of the Presidential Advisory Council Shingi Munyeza said.

"If beneficiaries are then allowed to sub-let farms, it will have a double blow to land reform.

"Firstly, it means we will never resolve the multiple farm ownership issue since the owners will now proceed to sublet and benefit from the land whilst other deserving beneficiaries have no access to land.

"Secondly, we will be making it difficult to attract capital to the sub-lease agreement, hence maiming productivity potential.

"Those who can't farm must surrender to the government who must ensure land is given to capable farmers who were previously disadvantaged during colonialism."

Zimbabwe undertook the land reform programme at the turn of the millennium, kicking out white farmers who held title to multiple farms.

The process, which was often violent and chaotic, mainly benefited a few politically connected elite and top-ranking security officials, making it the centrepiece of former president Robert Mugabe's campaign in the disputed 2002 elections.

The government is working on a comprehensive land audit that will guide the redistribution of land and establish the extent of utilisation as well as address the imbalances of the land reform programme, with a view to come up with ways of improving agricultural production.

A renowned economic analyst, John Robertson, said the discouraging feature of the new arrangement was that the people who did nothing useful with their land would now receive rental payments without doing anything to earn the money.

"Government should dispossess all unproductive farms and offer all the land to people expressing a willingness to pay for it. And to increase the amount they will be able to borrow from banks, the sales should be for free-hold, tradable plots not lease-hold plots that forever remain the property of the state," he said.

He, however, said surrendering farms back to government for reallocation would not likely to put the land back under the control of productive people.

Robertson said it was the failings of the allocation process that resulted in the wrong people being chosen in the first place and government's inclination to select beneficiaries for political reasons was likely to put resources into unproductive hands once again.

"Anyone willing to pay for land is more likely to have the knowledge and drive to be more productive. However, they would still be working under a handicap — without ownership rights, they would have difficulty borrowing money," he said.

"As all modern farming methods are expensive, farmers taking up other people's land will work best if they have access to finance and if they have security of tenure for many years to come. By offering to pay for land, the farmers are identifying themselves as better candidates."

Robertson said the whole system should be redesigned around people who have the confidence to make payment commitments.

"Anyone who received offers of land because of their loyalty to party members will not feel any special obligation to make it productive," he said.

Reginald Shoko, an analyst, said the idea was sustainable in the short term, not in the long run.

"The country has been facing serious cereal shortages over the past few years due to the subdued production levels at the farms, it's a great idea to lease land to those with capacity in the short term as the farm owners build capacity, but in the long term it's not an ideal policy," he said.

"It is better for government to re-size farms to manageable sizes for the new farmers. We must appreciate that our land reform was more of a political programme rather than economic, hence the need to balance the policy intervention with economic interests," Shoko said.

Federation of Farmers' Union chairman Wonder Chabikwa said farmers were having difficulties in accessing cheap funding to finance their farming activities, hence the need for them to have joint ventures.

"I'm an ardent campaigner of joint ventures where the one with finance and the one with land come together and agree to farm together. Joint ventures are very healthy. Where we have seen joint ventures operating, we have seen improved usage of land. There is nothing like reversing the land reform. No," he said.

Source - the standard