Our new agriculture and land use policy must appreciate that as a country, we want to maximise job creation, broaden secure land ownership and achieve optimum land utilisation and productivity while ensuring food security.
To my utter surprise, Lands minister Douglas Mombeshora, announced recently that the government is not against contract farming or joint ventures (JVs) between black and white farmers.
Well, I do hope that this is from sincere realisation that agriculture will not work if we continue to be racists and exclude those that have the most experience from the sector.
In my opinion, Zimbabwe’s white farmers are a valuable skills base that must be utilised to contribute significantly in the reduction of food imports and assist in the revival of the agro-industrial sector to create employment and product value-addition.
Of course, we are still to get President Robert Mugabe’s reaction to this announcement by the Minister. I hope the President helps us all by keeping quiet so that we can begin to create some confidence in this sector.
I never really understood why any Zimbabwean would be prevented from pursuing their chosen career because of race. That is not only backward, but totally unfair and against the Constitution.
I remember last year Mugabe saying that white farmers cannot farm in Zimbabwe and can all go to England. My immediate reaction to that was that he should do us all a favour and go back to Zvimba where he came from and leave us to create a modern non-racial economy that does not discriminate against any Zimbabwean because of the colour of their skin. I am still waiting for that to happen.
Disturbing, though, are the alleged recent evictions of poor families by the First Lady and the take-over of a farm by Zanu PF MP Joseph Chinotimba from a black farmer who has title deeds. We cannot allow this to continue as it sends the wrong message to potential investors. Farm occupations must stop.
Besides the above, I want to say well done to Mombeshora and I want to further encourage him to seriously consider us putting value back into our land assets as the next move.
There is absolutely no argument with regard to the potential benefits to the country if our land assets are valued and utilised to their full potential. This is rather prosaic and would have an almost immediate exponential positive impact on the country’s whole economy and get the banks back into a sector that remains hugely unproductive and underfunded.
In order to do this, first, we must get rid of the unresolved land conflict and set up a fund to compensate those whose properties were repossessed. Second, we must see a land audit followed by a land use plan that ensures that we fully utilise all our land assets. Third, we must look at secure title so that individuals can feel secure to invest for the long term. The permits that were dished out last year with much fanfare are really a joke.
I, however, think that it is not correct that the Ministry of Lands approves farming contracts or JVs. Land use is the important thing and how a farmer wants to structure his or her JV should really have nothing to do with the Minister. I continue to say that the government has no role in business except as an arm’s length regulator otherwise it opens the doors for corruption and patronage.
We have so much idle expertise in the country with regard to reviving agriculture and I just wish the government would leave it to the experts. This will not only improve performance of the sector, but attract investment, especially when it comes to the rebuilding of agricultural infrastructure that will hugely benefit our rural population.
The Minister must also address the issue of ARDA properties that lie underutilised. These can be fully operational in a very short space of time and ensure that our food security improves. All we have to do is lease them out to those that have the expertise than just dishing them out to Zanu PF cronies. Huge ARDA farming estates lie idle or underutilised today because they were given to cronies who looted all the infrastructure and equipment. That is grand theft.
There also is absolutely no reason for us to be importing maize from South Africa in this day and age. The only reason is that the chefs get the licences and import at lower than the prescribed producer price of $390 per tonne. The chefs continue to make massive profits from this arrangement and there has been therefore no incentive to increase local production because someone in Zanu PF is making money. This is the case with lots of commodity imports. Local shortages are good for patronage business.
Structure-wise, I think that we really should have one Ministry of Land Use and Agricultural Development. Productive land use ought to be our real focus and in the case that this is not happening, the government can then intervene.
We also need to implement a mixed model in agriculture that appreciates that large-scale farming reduces unit production costs and prices, while small-scale farming creates jobs and broadens ownership and opportunities. We must therefore balance this and create a new economy based on an agro-industry that is inclusive, adds value, and is highly competitive. This is not difficult and I will certainly ensure that this happens when I am President.
I sincerely hope that my dear friend, Dr Douglas Mombeshora, will be given the political space to take a totally new and informed approach on land utilisation and ownership than what we have seen to date. We need to continue to encourage him because deep down I know that he knows what needs to be done.
Now let’s move on to the next critical issues, which are stopping farm invasions, compensation of former commercial farmers, an independent land use audit and bankable secure title deeds for all farmers.
Vince Musewe is an economist and author based in Harare. You may contact him on email@example.com