Jury still out on Zim's land reform

Without sufficient funding new farmers are using manual farming methods. (Photo: Aaron Ufumeli)

Without sufficient funding new farmers are using manual farming methods. (Photo: Aaron Ufumeli)

More than a decade after Zimbabwe's controversial and chaotic land reform exercise, the subject remains emotive. Whether the programme has been a success depends on whom you talk to. Those who favour it say it is Africa's largest resettlement programme.
It has seen more than 245 000 black families replace 6 000 white commercial farmers. But if it has been so successful, critics ask, why does the country continue to import maize, its staple crop, from once poorer counterparts in the region?

These critics refer to a deal to purchase 150 000 tonnes of maize that was sealed with Zambia's vice-president Guy Scott's visit to Harare in May. The government says that the need arose because of poor rains last season, not the failure of resettled farmers. Land reform has not been free of the politics of the day. Zanu-PF says there was no other way to carry it out. It had to happen.

Land resettlement in whatever form was inevitable, says Lands Minister Herbert Murerwa. And there is no reversing it, he added. The Movement for Democratic Change also says it had to happen, but it could have been handled better; in a way that could be less disturbing to the economy. The opposition party, which was initially against reform, is changing tack – perhaps a realisation that any attempt to reverse it could result in a backlash at the ballot.

At its May policy conference, it said that it supported reform but insisted on an audit of the land. Murerwa says his government is willing to carry out that audit but lacks the funds for it. One of the MDC's complaints is that there are too many people who own multiple farms, most of them well-connected to Zanu-PF. The MDC also says vast tracts of land belong to President Robert Mugabe’s cronies, some who expropriated land from newly resettled farmers. University of Sussex professor Ian Scoones, who has conducted research on Zimbabwe’s land reform, says much of the MDC’s policy is excellent, with a solid set of principles at its core, but there is also confusion in its current policy thinking about the role of private tenure, the type of compensation to be offered to former commercial farmers and the role of state support.

"The policy has not got to grips with the implications of the new agrarian structure, and so has not captured the potentials of the land reform, but mostly focuses on redressing the shortcomings of the fast-track policy." The MDC says if it comes to power it will stop the provision of farming inputs to farmers but provide title deeds for the new land owners. Currently, land owners are issued with "offer letters" from the lands ministry; a document that they often find useless when they try to apply for loans from banks. This is also the gripe of the once-white dominated Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU). The body, once seen as being vehemently against reform, recently flighted advertisements that show otherwise. Using images of black and white farmers, one advert reads: "We can both be winners. Let's fight for each other, not against each other."

Another says: "Just like agriculture every year brings a new season for growth, we the CFU are ready, willing and very able to plant together the seeds that will grow Zimbabwe … We are ready to say goodbye to our past and hello to building a strong and viable future."

The CFU's president Charles Taffs says his union has not changed. "The CFU is not racial." It has always represented black and white commercial farmers and still represents about "10% of those who were actively farming prior to 2000", he says.

Opinions on research
Taffs takes strong exception with Scoones's Masvingo research, as well as with Joseph Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa and Teresa Smart – the authors of a recently published book, Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land, accusing them of "spreading propaganda through generalised statistics found in one small area" for the whole country. "These [research findings] are academic and are doing the country and region a disfavour as aid is being moved away from people who need it based on this research."

But Scoones says his research is detailed, rigorous and can assist the country. "If this is ‘academic’ then so be it. I am trained as a researcher, and aim to dig into the complexities of the situation. I do not see how knowing this sort of detailed, empirical research can damage any regional efforts. Far from it, our work shows a way forward that regional bodies, donors and other investors can support."

Agriculture has collapsed and suggesting otherwise in research or any other form is misleading, says Taffs. He says the reform has not been successful because the country has gone back 100 years in the farming methods it is using. It has returned to hoe-farming because there are no loans available to fund mechanised methods. Taffs says that while the country may be seeing increases in production, the benefits to farmers are meagre. The sector needs to return to the basics of agribusiness, he says.

He spoke strongly against contract farming – where farmers get inputs from businesses, mostly Chinese, and have to sell the crop to the same businesses at their prices. "It's unsustainable and a poor business model. Because of it, farmers get stuck in single crops and Chinese funders export all the produce and do not produce for local markets," he says.

Taffs says it isn't true that new farmers were let down by a bad rainy season, because the past 10 years of rainfall were better than the previous 10, yet output is dwindling. This, he says, is because the agricultural system before land reform was built on an irrigation system that does not exist anymore, so there is reliance on rainfall alone.

On compensation of farm land expropriated by the state, Taffs says: "What all these academics forget is that we are white but are Zimbabwean too. We also bought these farms with no government funding. Where is the respect for property rights? Or us as citizens?" Farming can recover if the land is secured by giving farmers the titles to land, Taffs says. "Under the 'offer letters' land can be taken away from you with a 30-day notice. Where is the security in that? We must get back to the basics. Respect property rights; offer titles for new farms and encourage sustainable agribusiness practices."

Success on the ground
The little research that is available on the new farmers and what they are producing is an area that is also contested. Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land paints a picture of new farmers who it says "are doing well". The book is widely quoted by government officials, especially the section that says it takes a decade for new farmers to master their trade and that it also takes a decade to see the success of land reform anywhere in the world so Zimbabwe is no exception.

Figures on tobacco coming out of Zimbabwe also lend credence to that view that there is success on the ground. According to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board, production is improving. In its 2012 annual report it says volume and value of sales were both up on 2011 figures; 2012 realised an output of 144.5-million kilograms of flue-­cured tobacco valued at $527.6-million. The 2011 season had realised 132.4-million kilograms worth $361.4-million. The profile of the farmer now seen on the auction floors has changed.

Gone are the few farmers who dominated the sector. They have been replaced by smaller players who also look down on growing maize and cotton due to low market prices. Taffs says the figures in tobacco cannot tell the whole picture alone. He says that 12 years ago, Zimbabwe produced 237-million kilograms of tobacco and its biggest competitor was Brazil at 350-million. Now, he says, Brazil is at 550-million kilograms and Zimbabwe lags at 150-million. "If Zimbabwe had continued at the same trajectory," he says, "we would be at 450-million. So it’s not a success story."

Taffs also says the methods being used by the new farmers to cure tobacco are methods from 60 years ago. Most farmers, he says, cure tobacco by burning indigenous timber whereas former commercial farmers used coal and "other modern methods" so the increase in tobacco must also factor in the cost of burning down forests. Scoones disagrees with criticism that Zimbabwe has divided its farms into smaller pieces that have resulted in subsistence farming at best, which cannot contribute meaningfully to economic growth. "Our studies have shown that a significant proportion of the A1 farmers [small farmers] are regularly producing and marketing surpluses and investing in farming. Such small-scale farm production is an effective route to long-term, broad-based growth."

Infrastructure, better financing needed
Asked why, if Zimbabwe is doing well as is suggested by his 2010 research, there is a need to import food, Scoones says that the last season saw a combination of drought and a decline in maize planting across the country as a whole and this has required food imports, which are not a new phenomenon. "However other crops are being grown and exported, generating cash, including cotton and tobacco." Scoones’s 2010 Masvingo research is one of the most comprehensive on new farmers covering 400 households in that region. The research found a clear pattern of "accumulation from below", where new farmers use their own investments – profits from previous seasons – to invest in their activities.

On his blog, Scoones says his research dispelled a number of myths about Zimbabwe's land reform especially that it has been a total failure, has largely benefited political cronies and has created chronic food insecurity. So there are no problems on the ground? Scoones says there needs to be more infrastructure built to support new farmers and better financing can be made available with the backing of government. The authors of Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land agree; they say new farmers are poorly resourced, often relying on traditional labour-intensive methods.

Poor financing also means new farmers stretch small quantities of fertiliser over vast tracts of land, leading to poor yields. Government seed and fertiliser are often allocated along political party lines. Can Zimbabwe return to its "breadbasket" status? "All past studies of resettlement show a transitional period as new production and marketing systems become established," says Scoones. "This is happening in Zimbabwe, particularly after the stabilisation of the economy from 2009."

Tobacco is lighting up farmers' lives 

The first thing I want my old school friend, Farai Mangwiro, to show us at his farm is that shiny new Honda quad bike, but he has other news. "Look at this," he waves a newspaper, pointing to an article. "And you still doubt me?"

I have always quizzed him about why he gave up a comfortable job in finance to take up farming. Now he is raving about an article in the paper showing that tobacco farmers have reaped over $500-million in sales this year. It is a story many in his business are eager to tell: How the new black farmers who took over farms with no capital and, in many cases, no skills, are now reaping the benefits after years of struggling on formerly white-owned farms.

So far, over 153-million kilograms has been sold, raising more than $565-million in revenue for the tens of thousands of tobacco growers. Mangwiro's cut of that is still small. This year will only be his second as a tobacco grower and he is hoping to "open new income streams" to add to the barley crop he grows on contract for Delta, the country's largest brewer. "It was blind territory for me," he explains. "I knew nothing about the crop, save for the fact that it grows well around here. But I knew nothing about farming as a whole either, and yet here I am."

Mangwiro says this year he sold 40-bales of tobacco – about $25 000 worth. In 2000, the year the "fast track" land reform began, about 250-­million kilograms of tobacco was produced. Eight years later, the industry had collapsed, producingless than 50-million kilograms. That record crop was produced by fewer than 3 000 mostly white commercial farmers.

Many of the early black tobacco growers had to operate on a trial-and-error basis, with no bank loans, little government support and scant training from the state-owned farm support agency. But tobacco companies and merchants are increasing training and support for the farmers, and local research bodies are recruiting more farmers for training. At the local Kutsaga training centre, farmers receive training three days a week. In the early years, as the new farmers learnt the ropes, the quality of the crop deteriorated and prices suffered. But Andrew Matibiri of the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board says quality has improved in the past few seasons, and prices offered to farmers are rising. Prices that averaged below $2 for a kilogram before 2006 now average $3.71 per kilogram, he said.

"Our records show that the quality of our tobacco has improved tremendously over the last 10 years or so. This can be attributed to the diligent research into production being done at the Tobacco Research Board and the adoption of new techniques by the farmers themselves, with assistance from extension departments and tobacco contracting companies." Banks still refuse to lend to new farmers because many do not have a real title to put up as security. "This means we are not growing as fast as we should," he said. "You need a bit of financial expertise to go with the [skills], because we are all on our own, really."

Despite all the rhetoric, there is very little direct government support for farmers. This has left many at the mercy of merchants, mostly large Chinese buyers. "An overview of most contracted farmers in the tobacco growing areas will show that most are in arrears and can hardly break even," says Temba Mliswa, a black empowerment activist who is a tobacco farmer. "The [Chinese] firms have put substantial markups on inputs supplied, an administration fee and an extra top-up charge on fertilisers." But while the business is tough, more farmers are going in for tobacco, leaving behind other crops such as maize, which sells for less. Mangwiro says he has no regrets about leaving his former job. His farm sits on more than 150 hectares, much of it under barley, grain and tobacco. “"I am going to run out of space soon, the way things are going." – Jason Moyo

Teldah Mawarire

Client Media Releases

Don't judge a stock by share price alone
UKZN School of Engineering celebrates accreditation from ECSA
MTN celebrates 25 years of enhancing lives through superior network connectivity