Land reform: The work that lies ahead

Edmore Ndudzo
Notwithstanding some of its shortcomings, which can definitely be corrected, the land reform has resolved a sensitive socio-political question in Zimbabwe, which the liberation struggle sought to remedy.

On July 24 this year, The Herald reported that “the 2018 flue-cured tobacco deliveries have reached a record 238 million kg”, the highest ever figure recorded in the country’s history.

The previous record stood at 237 million kg achieved in 2000.

Experts now expect overall tobacco deliveries to exceed 245 million kg after mop-up sales.

This development undoubtedly marks a noteworthy milestone in the production of the golden leaf after the land reform programme.

Relatedly, on July 9, 2015, The Herald reported new land rentals prescribed by Cabinet as follows: A1 farmers $15 per annum; A2 farmers $5 per hectare per annum; and Estates and plantations $10/ha per annum. A figure for wildlife conservancies was still to be agreed at the time of publishing.

Usually, companies that own estates and plantations are issued with leases/permits that give them security of tenure allowing them to commit to long-term investments.

It was envisaged that funds raised through these rentals – which were estimated at $22 million in the first year – would help finance periodic land audits, land surveys and other related operational costs.

Unfortunately, collections by the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement have been disappointingly low, hovering around 25 percent, according to the Auditor-General.

And this has been attributed to non-billing of farmers, laxity by officials and poor credit controls, among others.

Even collections from A1 farmers, who are charged relatively less, have been disappointing.

Government has since enacted the Finance Amendment Act of 2018, which effectively transfers the mandate to collect development levies from the Lands, Ministry to the Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Ministry.

It is estimated that 300 000 households benefited from the land reform programme, and the waiting list stands at 500 000 households according to some claims.

What is not deniable, however, is the fact that most pieces of land remain underutilised, derelict and fallow.

Multi-farm ownership, double allocations and land disputes are also a real challenge.

Notwithstanding some of its shortcomings, which can definitely be corrected, the land reform has resolved a sensitive socio-political question in Zimbabwe, which the liberation struggle sought to remedy.

Success

There is no doubt there has been a considerable measure of success for the land reform programme, particularly in tobacco production.

In the 2014/2015 marketing season, production was at 190 million kg, which was a drop from 216 million kg in the preceding season. In 2000 — its worst ever season after land reforms — production dropped to 50 million kg.

Of late, output has been rising.

I believe Zimbabwe has potential to produce 400 million kg per year, comparable to the more than 700 million kg produced by world leader Brazil.

China, as a consumer and key financier in the sector, remains a big factor in local tobacco production.

Clearly, China, which also produces tobacco of its own, prefers locally produced tobacco for blending purposes since it has a unique flavour, texture and quality.

It is notable that China has over 300 million smokers — roughly the population of the US.

Prices offered at tobacco auction floors have also been rising commendably, from $2,50 per kg before the land reform programme to the current $5 per kg.

Most importantly, small-scale farmers, whose ranks continue to grow, now account for the bulk of deliveries.

This ultimately demystifies the age-old view that tobacco production is a preserve of so-called “sophisticated” white farmers.

It is quite evident that small-scale farmers are now eclipsing the previous producers.

Should we be able to value-add locally produced tobacco, the benefits to the economy will be immense.

Maize

A lot still needs to be done to increase maize production.

In the 1980s, the country used to be internationally reputed for producing the crop.

The country, therefore, has to ensure that it reserves enough irrigable land to produce two million tonnes, at the very minimal, that will suffice for domestic consumption.

Essentially, we need to ensure we produce enough for the strategic grain reserve — at 500 000 tonnes per season — and progressively build output to two million tonnes.

In the 2016/2017 summer cropping season, things started looking up because of Command Agriculture.

Already, we have over a million tonnes of grain in our silos and we are likely to end the marketing season with 1,5 million tonnes.

The maize producer price of $390 per tonne — the highest in the region — is a worthy incentive for farmers.

Cotton

Cotton production is also rising after years of decline. Government’s input support scheme, subsidies and upwardly adjusted producer prices are also helping in this regard.

This has brought hope to an industry that was nearing collapse.

So far, deliveries have reached 120 000 tonnes, exceeding this year’s target by 20 percent, according to stats from Cottco.

Encouragingly, cotton deliveries increased by 122 percent from last year and 1100 percent from 2015.

At its peak, in 2013, Zimbabwe produced 352 000 tonnes.

Over the past three years, Government has been giving free inputs to farmers through the Presidential Free Cotton Inputs Scheme, which was launched in 2015.

At the time the programme was launched, production had plummeted to 28 000 tonnes, the lowest in two decades.

As part of the inputs package, Government is issuing basal- and top-dressing fertiliser, seed and chemicals that are sufficient to cover one hectare.

It is estimated that 400 000 hectare will therefore be put under production.

Cotton production feeds into other key sectors of the economy.

For example, apart from lint exports, the seed can also be used to manufacture edible oil, while by-products can be used to manufacture stockfeeds.

Livestock

Command Livestock, which is envisaged to rebuild the country’s herd, is now in full swing.

It encompasses piggery, poultry, goat and sheep rearing, wildlife, fisheries, bee-keeping, et cetera.

Production of small grains in also trekking northwards.

Naturally, the land redistribution exercise has given communal farmers — most of who were historically confined to unproductive land — an asset that can be leveraged to increase production.

Zimbabwe now needs to strategically reposition itself through increasing both production and productivity.

First, there is need to cut farm sizes for both A1 and A2 farmers to create room for more farmers.

And this can be done through Statutory Instrument 419 of 1999 and Statutory Instrument 288 of 2000.

For A2 farms, the maximum farm size should not exceed 400 hectares in Mashonaland East, while Mashonaland Central the maximum size is 350 hectares.

A1 farms should also not exceed 6 hectares.

There however remains scope for further reduction in farm sizes.

Sometime in the future, new demand for land is expected to be matched by land that will naturally be made available through the death of beneficiaries, repossessions for non-payment of debt and rentals, among other factors.

Mechanisation

There is no doubt that mechanisation of agriculture will help improve production.

Overall, the average national yield per hectare stands at one tonne per hectare, while in others it has been more than 10 tonnes per hectare.

The already prescribed land rentals are likely to help increase production through discouraging ownership that does not translate to production.

It is a smart way of realigning land distribution.

This is markedly different to the system that obtained before land reforms, where whites intractably refused to democratise land ownership in the 100 years before 1999.

In the circumstances, the people of Zimbabwe had no option but to forcibly reclaim the land.

Neighbouring South Africa is now grappling with the same delicate problem.

Rationalising

Happily, the land audit currently ongoing will assist in rationalising farm ownership and sizes in Zimbabwe.

Where additional land becomes available, new beneficiaries of land allocations from the waiting list should, in my view, be selected in the following order of priority and preference:

(a) Youths, especially those with degrees/diplomas from agricultural institutions;

(b) Women and war veterans, war collaborators, ex-detainees and restrictees with passion for agriculture;

(c) Anyone with resources and the capacity to farm; and

(d) Other interested applicants.

Authorities should also give due regard to the amount of time a beneficiary has been on the waiting list.

The SAP software system that is currently being used by Government can be modified and customised to ensure a foolproof and rational distribution of land.

A manual system ultimately opens up the exercise to corruption.

Legacy

To ensure that the Land Reform Programme has a lasting legacy, Government needs to:

(a) Put Government guarantees on all 99-year leases or special permits and offer letters. The same dispensation should also be extended to communal areas in order to unlock funding from financial institutions. Such an architecture also means that Government can foreclose the property in the event of failure by beneficiaries to service their debts;

(b) Ensure the cost of finance is limited to 1 percent for working capital and below 1 percent for capital expenditure, which can only be recovered during harvesting and marketing. Current interest rates are untenable;

(c) Continue subsidising inputs;

(d) Create a far-reaching farm mechanisation, modernisation and irrigation programme;

(e) Fund research and development in agriculture and ensuring the findings of the same are implemented timeously; and

(f) Capacitate institutions like Agribank, Arda, AMA, GMB, and the Land Commission.

There is need to continuously adjust and advance Command Agriculture. Also, there is need to mobilise funds from institutions like the Asia Investment Bank, the Brics New Development Bank, China Eximbank and Chinese Development Bank.

Mr Edmore AM Ndudzo is a beneficiary of the Land Reform Programme. He was the first black treasurer of the City of Harare and a Land Commissioner of Zimbabwe; and was lead consultant in crafting of the Public Finance Management Act of 2009

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