Resettled farmers fail to utilise land

0
415

Nicodemus Muchemwa (not his real name) owns vast tracts of land, but for almost a decade he had managed to utilise just but a little section of the land.

“I was among the beneficiaries of land reform and my farm is so big that I have spent more than five years without reaching the periphery of the farm. I only cultivate a small portion the land. I do not have the resources to fully utilise it,” said Muchemwa, who remained a peasant farmer though he owns an A2 Farm.

A survey by NewsDay showed at some farms, the beneficiaries have since relocated to other places sub-letting the land to other people.

“The owner of this farm is not around. He lives in Harare and we pay rentals to him. He is not into farming and he comes here occasionally to collect his rentals. We don’t use the whole farm,” said another peasant farmer in Mapinga.

Bushy land which used to be green belts can be seen along Harare-Chinhoyi highway with silos at Banket in a sorry state.

The government haphazardly distributed land to incapacitated peasant farmers without providing the necessary resources to kick-start them into farming.

Most farmers said though they were proud land owners their “fortunes” do not translate into tangible benefits as the land lies idle every year.

“We have a dam here, but we can not utilise it because we do not have the irrigation pipes; the MP for this area promised us irrigation pipes when he was campaigning, but nothing tangible has since materialised,” said a farmer in Chegutu.

The situation has been worsened by corrupt officials, who are taking agricultural inputs meant for farmers. The Grain Marketing Board has been fingered in shady deals. Farmers say the parastatal’s incompetence is threatening to frustrate the government’s land reform programme.

Since the government embarked on the land reform programme in 2000, farmers who have been “soldiers” of this revolution, have faced a number of challenges that have frustrated their efforts over the years.

Addressing delegates at an Agri-business Forum in South Africa last year, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said while he genuinely believed in supporting the empowerment of indigenous people in the area of agriculture, his belief was to go further than simply doling out a farm without title, training, markets or downstream processing industries to enable beneficiation and value-addition to their products.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot have a progressive society by creating more peasants without security of tenure on their land and without the relevant infrastructure to engage in meaningful agriculture that averts food insecurity,” he told the delegates.

A government official and an economist, who declined to be named, however, acknowledged farmers were failing to fully utilise the land, but was adamant land reform alleviated poverty.

“Prior to the fast-track land reform process, large commercial farms received strong credit line support from both State and private financial institutions, while nearly all smallholders lacked such support. After the fast-track land reform, most private financial companies withdrew altogether from offering credit to farmers.

“Only 2% of resettled farmers benefited from private sector crop input schemes and none were beneficiaries for livestock programmes.”

Financial support for the burgeoning number of farmers fell to the State, which was ill-equipped to meet the need, with its financial resources stretched to breaking point by economic sanctions.

As a result, only a small percentage of resettled farmers were able to benefit from adequate credit support, compelling most of them to rely on their own savings to manage.

“Contrary to the rosy picture painted of the apartheid-era-inherited land ownership pattern, most commercial farms focused on export crops. International non-governmental oganisations (NGOs) for the most part refused to provide any services to resettled farmers, and focused their efforts elsewhere.

Relying for their funding on Western governments hostile to the land reform process, NGOs were loath to support beneficiaries of a process they preferred to see fail. Less than three percent of resettled farmers received extension support from NGOs. Input assistance from NGOs was even lower with 1,7% of beneficiaries having received such support.

“And yet, despite all obstacles, many resettled farmers have managed to prosper. According to the IDS study, ‘impressive investments have been made in clearing the land, in livestock, in equipment, in transport and in housing, the scale of investment carried out by people themselves, and without significant support from the government or aid agencies, is substantial and provides firm foundations for the future’.”

Cattle holdings have a direct impact on crop production and the value of draft power, transport and manure is substantial.

A recent study showed herd sizes in the resettled areas have grown, while households without cattle have declined.