Creating space for agric graduates post land reform


One of the urgent emerging issues in Zimbabwe is the need for strategic renewal of Zimbabwean agriculture post-land reform.

There is no doubt in my mind that land reform is the single most significant broad-based empowerment programme post-independence; and there's no doubt in my mind that the fate of our nation is intricately tied to how we manage land issues post-land reform.

Those who follow my writing will encounter numerous references to "post-land reform". In this essay, I'll define the concept and highlight one critical  issue that needs addressing post-land reform.

First off, post-land reform refers to the land ownership and tenure patterns that exist after the fast-track land reform (also known as jambanja) of 2002, the outcome of which was the overthrow of the historical racially-based land ownership which heavily favoured whites at the expense of the indiginous black people.

Among the actors in Zimbabwe's agricultural system today, there's a general understanding that post-land reform Zimbabwe is work in progress in many respects. It is what I will characterise as a developmental situation. This is a situation where people sharing a common environment are engaged in ongoing interactions to influence specific aspects of their developmental futures.

This definition is extremely important in my analysis, because it forms the basis of my argument as well as its underlying justification.

Development, the art and practice, is mostly about moulding a desired future. Unsurprisingly,  one key conversation among agricultural actors revolves around the need to find or create space for agricultural graduates post-land reform, in the quest to rebuild the commercial agriculture sector.

There's no doubt in my mind that Agriculture graduates could be useful cogs in Zimbabwean agriculture. They could represent the next generation of commercial farmers. They already have a head start: three or more years of agricultural drilling. They have the necessary key skills already, most of which will get refined in practice on their journey to becoming true farming experts.

We need to face the reality that at the moment, our ability to feed ourselves in the future is uncertain. Many farms are currently productive because of joint-venture (JV) arrangements, which is fine for the time being. But strictly speaking, JVs are temporary business arrangements, where the renter creates value through farming, and the landlord gets a percentage of that value as rent.

While some landlords take an active, hands-on interest in the farming operations, a lot more prefer the renter to get on with the farming as long as they get their rent. There's not much skills exchange happening there. There's no guarantee that when the JVs lose their lustre in 20 or 50 years (which they will), there's much useful learning exchange that would have taken place. Are we not sowing the seeds of future food insecurity today, in the name of instant gratification?

On the other hand, if we start a deliberate process to create or find space for our agricultural graduates now, we are ensuring the consolidation of the land reform in many ways. First we are creating a corps of young indigenous commercial farmers. Secondly we are securing our own ability to feed ourselves, using our own people that we have trained in our own environment. Third, we ensure the responsible use of the land resource: an owner is different from a renter in the way they look after their land. The positive spin-offs along the value chain are numerous too: demand stimulation for agribusiness goods and services; employment creation; export opportunities etc.

Farming expertise, like all expertise, takes time to attain. Authorities cite 10 years of substantive practice as needed to achieve expert status. Some problems can't be solved by simply throwing money at them. You don't create commercial farmers by throwing money or inputs at people. You create commercial farmers from people with pre-existing farming orientation. But you need to give them opportunities to practise their art.

Agriculture graduates do not have the capital required to get into joint ventures, so if they are to get into farming,  the government has to create space for Agriculture graduates post-land reform. The land is there if the political will is there. It's a no brainer.

Mangwiroto is a Lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, Department of Community and Social Development, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences.

Related Topics