In a small farming community in central Zimbabwe recently, a decade of President Robert Mugabe’s land reforms was celebrated by giving away bags of seed to a group of hungry farmers.
The irony appeared lost on Walter Gore, marking his eighth year as a “new farmer”, as he danced over a donation from a local Zanu-PF official of a bag of maize seed and some fertiliser.
He has no doubts about who his saviour is. “If only everyone in the government was like President [Robert] Mugabe,” he said.
Gore’s piece of land lies in Sherwood, once one of the country’s richest wheat belts. But on this scorching Saturday afternoon, the only wheat around was the loaves of bread passed by officials to the dozen or so farmers gathered to receive aid.
A long dry spell is once again raising the threat of starvation — and raising new tensions on the farms.
Even when the rain was poor, Sherwood would have been lush with produce at this time of the year. But the irrigation equipment was stripped out and “someone carried away the pump from the nearby dam”, a bitter Gore said.
Close by, a farm owned by a senior Zanu-PF minister stands like an island amid the deprivation of his neighbours, his well-irrigated crops glistening in the sun.
With little coming from government, donors have stepped in with an estimated $74-million in seed packs and fertiliser. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says aid could yield Zimbabwe about 450 000 tons of grain, a quarter of the nation’s annual grain requirements.
Meanwhile, the UN has raised a $378-million aid appeal to feed an estimated two million people who will need food aid this year because of the poor harvests. The government says 400 000 families have been resettled since 2 000. Many of them have made a success of their new circumstances, but most, like Gore, cannot fend for themselves. With no title deed to the land, he cannot access a bank loan, leaving him and others dependent on donors — and at the mercy of wealthy politicians looking to buy loyalty.
As the threat of hunger grows, food aid is emerging as the next major source of conflict in a coalition that has been fraught with endless bickering since its formation a year ago.
Zanu-PF remains suspicious of foreign aid groups, accusing them of using aid to buy support for the Movement for Democratic Change ahead of future elections. Zanu-PF has also begun exploiting the suspicion that resettled farmers have of the MDC, which draws much of its support from former landowners.
A decade into the land grab, nobody really knows who owns what land. The MDC is pressing for a land audit, but Zanu-PF is blocking the exercise.
A new wave of farm invasions has “come at the worst possible time as warnings are mounting about imminent food shortages”, said Deon Theron of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), which represents mainly white farmers.
Even Joseph Made, the country’s agriculture minister who in the past refused to acknowledge poor harvests, has admitted that this year’s harvest is not sufficient. “It’s not looking rosy,” he said.