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Lessons from Zimbabwe's land reform: A reply to Tony Hawkins

04 Jun 2013 at 03:52hrs | Views
Zimbabwe's land reform suggests that small commercial farmers are more productive than giant mechanised farms, and thus can do more to reduce poverty. This represents a challenge to many preconceived ideas, in South Africa as well as Zimbabwe, which is why there has been such an outraged response to recent research publications.

Six thousand white farm families have been replaced by 245,000 resettlement families. These are primarily small commercial farmers, and not mere subsistence growers. They hire labour, and the number of people working full time on this land has jumped from 250,000 to 1 million. The volume of production is returning to the levels of the 1990s, before the land reform.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti reports that 40% of tobacco production and 49% of marketed maize comes from land reform farmers.

At the very least, land reform is not the disaster sometimes portrayed. New farmers are now doing almost as well as the large-scale farmers, and are still expanding and increasing production.

To put the land reform farmers in context, it is useful to look at the farmers they replaced. Most of the white farmers arrived in the 1940s and 1950s, after the Second World War. To obtain land, they violently displaced 100,000 Zimbabwean families who had farmed that land for generations. The land transfer was at gun point and without compensation. The new farmers then received two years of training and huge levels of support - research, extension, marketing (racial pricing meant white farmers were paid higher prices for the same crops than black farmers). In the mid-1970s the subsidy to large farms was equivalent, in today's money, to Rand 400,000 per farm per year.

Taking over a new farm is a long and slow process. By the late 1970s, more than two decades after they first took the farms, 30% of white farmers were insolvent and only 40% of farms were profitable enough to pay tax. Of course, some large farms were spectacularly successful - but not many. For the 1975/76 season, half of all tax was paid by just 271 farms.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the government complained repeatedly about how little land was being farmed. By the end of the 1970s, only between 15% and 35% of arable white land was being used. So that provides the benchmark.

The farmers in 2000 who followed the 1940s model and simply took the land received little of the support of their predecessors - no subsidy, little credit, and a guaranteed market only for maize. But the land reform famers did have the support of the Agritex agricultural extension service, which remains one of the best in the region.

Without subsidy, the new farmers had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, with limited investment capital mainly from wages elsewhere in the family or cattle from the communal areas. Then they were they hit by the hyperinflation - largely caused by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe simply printing money. Dollarization in 2009 brought a dramatic and rapid change to the Zimbabwean economy and to the new farmers. They could sell their crops and buy inputs, there was an increase in contract farming, and new markets for export crops.

So 12 years after the occupations, and four years after dollarization, how are the new farmers doing? My recent book Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land (with Jeanette Manjengwa and Teresa Smart) drew not only on our own fieldwork, but on a surprisingly extensive pool of recent research, reports and theses in Zimbabwe. Our conclusions are similar to other recent studies by Prosper Matondi and by Ian Scoones and a team.

We find that new farmers exhibit a spectrum similar to those they replaced. One-third are now serious commercial farmers, mainly with 6 ha and often earning more than a school teacher or a civil servant. One third are in the middle, as small commercial farmers who are severely capital constrained. And one-third are not doing well.

We estimate that the new farmers are using significantly more of the land; many had to clear trees from land which had never been used by their predecessors. One only needs to look at Google Earth to see that much of the land is now farmed.

Some new farmers are producing 6-8 tonnes per hectare of maize, more than the previous farmers, but most are producing less per hectare.

Finally, new farmers are using family labour and are hiring both permanent and seasonal workers. We estimate that there are now 1 million people working full time on this land, compared to 250,000 prior to land reform.

As the 1940s farmers showed, it takes a generation - 20 years - to dominate a new farm and be productive. The new farmers are only half way through this two-decade development period. So part of the judgement on the success of the 2000 land reform must be about predicting how these farmers will do in the coming decade. Post-dollarisation, they have expanded rapidly, and have become the most dynamic sector of the economy.

Our capsule assessment is: using more land and labour, using less machinery and inputs, producing similarly to the large farmers they replaced, and with a decade still to grow. We consider that a success. Tony Hawkins and Sholto Cross ("Zimbabwe's inconvenient truth", Cape Times, 24 May 2013) do not. They say "the success or otherwise of land resettlement in Zimbabwe cannot be judged by how many people are on the land now." Since the purpose of a land reform is to put more people on the land, Hawkins and Cross start with a bias against land reform.

Volume of production has not yet returned to 1990s average levels, but the World Bank report issued last November showed that it is getting close.

Land and labour productivity are lower for the new farmers, who are using more workers, more land, and less machinery. Hawkins and Cross consider this a bad thing, but we argue that in a continent desperate to create jobs, this is the best way to reduce poverty.

Finally, proper consideration of the land reform requires dealing with three emotional issues. First, the land reform was done against a Zanu elite and Robert Mugabe, not by him. Two decades after a liberation war in which they fought for land, frustrated veterans organised the occupation - against the wishes of the government which tried to block it. Only later did the Zanu leadership realise that occupants would not move, and that they represented a big voting block, and thus belated regularised the occupations as the Fast Track Land Reform.

Second, it is true that the Zanu elite and cronies grabbed land; careful estimates suggest they took about 10 per cent of the land. For us, the success or failure must be judged on the other 90 per cent.

Third, the occupiers wanted to farm. Most were not looking for house plots or Sunday retreats, but rather to produce. Thus they were a self-selected group of people who were more dynamic - because of the need to physically occupy the land and hold it under unsure circumstances for more than a year.

Thus this is an agrarian reform. It is not simply a transfer of land, but also a radical change in farming size and methods. Most of the new occupants are becoming small commercial farmers using tractors or animal traction, hybrid seeds, and fertilizer, and who are producing primarily for the market. And they are moving quickly to adopt new crops like soya when the market appears.

Their biggest constraint is lack of capital. Their growth has been bootstrap through reinvestment of profits and not based on grants and subsidies. If they received support at the level of the white farmers five decades ago, there would be a production spurt, which would show that small commercial farmers can be more productive than huge mechanised farms.

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Joseph Hanlon is the author (with Jeanette Manjengwa and Teresa Smart) of "Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land", Jacana, Johannesburg, 2013. Joseph Hanlon is a visiting senior fellow at the Department of International Development of the London School of Economics.

This article first appeared in the . Cape Times


Source - Cape Times
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