Commission inundated with farm disputes

Tendai Bare
What we have also been able to establish on the ground is that the command agriculture programme has been a welcome intervention because most farmers have been able to increase their yield as a result of access to inputs.

The Zimbabwe Land Commission is a Constitutional body appointed in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Section 296 and we derive our mandate from Section 297. The core functions are that the commission must ensure accountability, fairness and transparency in the administration of agricultural land that is vested in the State.

It must also conduct periodical audits of agricultural land. The commission must investigate and determine complaints or disputes regarding the supervision, administration and allocation of agricultural land. The Constitution also mandates the commission to make recommendations to the Government regarding the acquisition of private land for public purposes.

Operations
We have been on the ground since August this year, inspecting farms eligible for the 99-year leases. We have in our books about 162 farms that were referred to us by the Ministry for consideration to offer 99-year leases. To date, we have covered five provinces and hope to conclude the other three by the end of October then submit our recommendations to the Minister for approval to issue 99-year leases to these farmers.

The commission is also currently doing outreach programmes on the dispute resolution programme. Some of the disputes centre on issues of sharing infrastructure such as water and farm houses, farm boundaries, double allocations and withdrawal of offer letters. Related to the concerns by farmers is the issue of security of tenure. Where these problems remain unsolved, farmers become reluctant to invest, fearing that maybe boundaries will be changed or the offer letter will be withdrawn.

These are the areas the commission needs to do a lot of research and analysis on to make recommendations to Government on the tenure systems that will provide sufficient rights and security to farmers. What we have also been able to establish on the ground is that the command agriculture programme has been a welcome intervention because most farmers have been able to increase their yield as a result of access to inputs. Previously, farmers have been unable to access loans from financial institutions to finance their farm activities and purchase requisite machinery to increase production.

Dispute resolution
Some disputes are administrative and those that we are unable to mediate are referred to the parent Minister. However, most farmers are saying they want the disputes to be resolved at ward level because it is expensive to come to Harare. We are going to be decentralising our operations and there will be four officials located in each province so that they can attend to issues on the ground. We already have staff on the ground, they are being inducted to handle various issues that may arise amongst farmers. So far we have resolved about 60 cases and we are hoping that by the end of October the disputes that we should have dealt with will be around 200. At the moment we have about 280 disputes that have been referred to us.

Land audit
One of the functions we have is to conduct land audits. A land audit will provide the Government with a Land Information Management System (LIMS), it informs Government on who owns what piece of land and what are they doing in terms of land use and lay outs. This will promote good land governance and minimize disputes by having data that is interactive and complete. We hope that the Ministry of Finance will allocate resources, we needed about US$16 million for the process which will use technology such as remote sensing and GPS. We have not yet started the audit but through the inspections we are gleaning information that can easily be captured to develop LIMS.

Farm sizes
Farmers are saying Government should revisit this issue of farm sizes, taking into account ecological region and the type of farming being undertaken. There is also need to consider modern farming practices and use of technology which may need one to invest in a small piece of land and get huge rewards. In other words, farmers are saying Government should undertake a scientific study that will inform the minimum farm size and maximum farm size based on ecological reason impact of climate and use of modern farming practices and technology. We believe the one size fits all approach does not work. If this exercise is undertaken scientifically, I think there is scope to downsize and therefore release more land for other land use purposes. The farmers are saying they don’t know how Government arrived at that one size fits all.

Inheritance
Some of the issues we have come across are the issues of inheritance, particularly pertaining to widows and children. On the demise of a spouse, the widow and children literally find themselves homeless because there might not be a Will of Execution or that document might be under contest. While the law protects widows and children, people do not know that or simply ignore the law. But more importantly, there could be a harmonisation of laws.

Outlook
There has been general improvement on the standard of living on the farms that we have visited, that is in terms of infrastructure and production. We are witnessing improvement of accommodation structures, livestock, boreholes, some have solar energy, vehicles and tractors. In some cases, there is rural enterprise as we are seeing young people welding, plumbing, building and repairing farm equipment. Employment is being generated. We believe it is only a matter of time before there is visible value addition and enterprise development as a result of sustainable agricultural production. This can only happen when farmers get funding, agricultural extension services and markets.

Mrs Tendai Bare is chairperson of the Zimbabwe Land Commission. She was speaking to The Sunday Mail’s Senior Reporter Lincoln Towindo.

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