HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsOwning land doesn’t make one a farmer

Owning land doesn’t make one a farmer

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Since Zimbabwe embarked on land reform, our agriculture sector slumped due to a myriad of reasons, exposing people to a decade of food insecurity.

This also had a serious knock-on effect on the manufacturing industry and other commercial sectors as productivity plummeted to an all-time low earning Zimbabwe the highest inflation rate in recent global history.

But according to both local and Diaspora-based agriculture and investment experts who participated at the Development Foundation conference in Victoria Falls last week, out of the six key sectors of the economy, which include information and communication technologies, manufacturing, infrastructure, mining and tourism, the agriculture sector still remains the mainstay of the economy.

At 15,5%, it is still the leading contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

Productive land utilisation discourse is stuck in the debate between nationalised land and land tenure to allow land owners to use title deeds as collateral when accessing loans.

This, plus political risk, are some of the main reasons there is low investment in agriculture which begs for a progressive and business-minded attitude to overcome these sticky points. Let’s get our country producing again.

Our current land philosophy is based on the old classical Marxist approach which assumes that when the majority owns the wherewithal, it transforms to economic empowerment.

This explains why our agricultural growth planning is based on area expansion and land size. The hypothesis is that the more land one has, the more the yield.

Research shows that since 1961 agriculture land in sub-Saharan Africa has expanded almost twice and yet yield has remained static or even plummeted leading to both increased food insecurity and deforestation.

Conversely, in Asia yield has trebled since 1961 without expanding their agriculture area.

Realising that they had limited agriculture land against increasing consumption needs plus an economy to sustain, Asian countries intensified land use through technology, innovation and mechanisation.

Perhaps it might be time to unshackle ourselves from the traditional and old-fashioned farming methods which make our agriculture cumbersome, expensive and labour intensive making our agriculture products less competitive and expensive against imports.

Zimbabwe’s maize production currently stands at 0,6 to one ton per hectare, while in South Africa they produce 6 tons of maize per hectare because they use the latest technology and to some extent genetically modified seed.

Simply put, a Zimbabwean farmer needs more resources on one hectare to harvest six times less yield than his/her South African counterpart.

This explains why a South Africa chicken costs $5 while a local one costs $7.

In these tough economic times it makes economic and business sense to pay for a competitively priced product than for an expensive and locally produced product. This spells doom for our local farmer.

Intensification, mechanisation and investment cannot happen unless we depoliticise land and guarantee a certain level of business security.

The land reform programme did nothing more than political appeasement void of any semblance of empowering anyone in the absence of land tenure, title deeds and capacity to utilise land.

While it is argued that the 99-year leases are bankable, it remains that the land can be taken from the lessee at the whims of the government; hence some banks are reluctant to fund small-scale farmers.

We also need to debunk the belief that owning land makes one a farmer, the same way that being a farmer doesn’t automatically mean one should own land. If every farmer should own land then every soccer player should own a team.

Let’s allow skilled and capable farmers to resuscitate farms and the economy, and the unskilled and incapable land owners can also benefit through rentals from the skilled farmer.

Perhaps fertile land lying idle, starving the country of food consumption and stifling raw materials supply to the manufacturing industry, can once again propel the resurgence.

There is need to massively communicate to Zimbabweans both in country and in the Diaspora to take advantage of the available incentives such as special tax deductions on agriculture, and 0% Vat exemption on farming inputs and equipment.

Maybe with jingles telling our people that most farm inputs such as animal feed, animal remedy, fertiliser, plants, seeds and pesticides and equipment or machinery used for agricultural purposes are zero-rated, perhaps one day we will be the breadbasket of Southern Africa again.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa

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