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new take on land reform in Zimbabwe
More than 10
years after the chaotic and often violent farm invasions that accompanied
Zimbabwe's fast-track land reform programme, a new book argues
that the redistribution programme has dramatically improved the
lives of thousands of smallholder farmers and their families.
2000, the government implemented an initiative to acquire 11 million
hectares of white-owned farmland and redistribute it on a massive
scale; the programme was often carried out in the form of farm invasions
led by frustrated war veterans and supporters of President Robert
Mugabe. By its conclusion, only 0.4 percent of farmland remained
in the hands of white commercial farmers, and smallholder farmers
dominated the agricultural sector.
The land reform
programme was followed by years of drought, hyperinflation and an
later and more than 8,000km away, it still raises strong emotions.
At a recent event hosted by London's Chatham House at which
authors of the new book, Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land, defended
their work, the hall was packed, and a polite but persistent group
of anti-Mugabe protesters occupied the pavement outside.
The book avoids
passing judgement on the often violent manner in which the programme
was executed. "This is not a book about what might have been,
could have been, or should have been," write authors Joseph
Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa and Teresa Smart. Instead, it focuses
on the results of a study they carried out in Mashonaland, a region
of northern Zimbabwe covering three provinces, which found that
many of the 'fast-track' farmers are faring much better
than has been widely assumed.
very little government assistance, "we saw that these farmers
had a real passion for farming. We found that farmers are making
investments, building houses and barns . . . and buying farm implements,"
said Manjengwa. "They are making the land their own, and they
are becoming serious commercial farmers."
Pfumo, a 52-year-old teacher from Harare, applied for and received
a 60-hectare plot in Marondera District through the land redistribution
programme, his expectations were low.
a war veteran, encouraged me to apply to the government for a piece
of land, but I was pessimistic because of the controversy that surrounded
the land reform programme," Pfumo told IRIN. "When I
got an offer letter for the plot [in 2005], I only set up a small
mud-and-dagga [hut] and hardly visited the farm."
When the economy
started improving in 2009, after the formation of a coalition
government, Pfumo developed a keener interest in farming and
started raising pigs. A year later, he had 60 pigs, some of which
he sold to buy farming implements and to start growing maize for
Today, he has
five large pig pens housing more than 300 pigs, which he periodically
slaughters for sale, with each pig fetching an average of US$150.
He is also rearing about 500 chicks for sale and is considering
venturing into tobacco farming after noting that many resettled
farmers have been making good profits from the crop.
to buy a truck to ferry meat to my clients and a luxury car. My
two sons are now studying at reputable universities in South Africa
because I can afford it, thanks to the piggery project," said
Pfumo, who has left teaching and now lives on the farm with his
wife and mother.
her colleagues found that even the less ambitious among the new
farmers surveyed, who mainly received smaller plots of five or six
hectares, had greatly improved their standard of living. After being
mostly poor, landless and unemployed prior to resettlement, virtually
all of them were able to grow enough food for their families, and
to sell the surplus to pay for their children's school fees.
But many were doing much better than that, producing significant
quantities of maize, tobacco and other crops for sale, and building
up capital in the form of livestock, farm buildings and equipment.
They were also starting to employ labour.
The issue of
labour is contentious because so many farm workers lost their jobs
and their homes when the old white-owned farms were broken up; some
are still homeless and unemployed. However, Hanlon, Manjengwa and
Smart estimate that around 550,000 family members and 350,000 paid
labourers now work full-time on land that previously employed 170,000
president of Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers' Union, reminded
those at the meeting at Chatham House that the workers now being
hired are not the same ones who were driven off the commercial farms.
He also asserted that the figures presented in the study did not
agricultural production experienced a dramatic drop following the
upheavals of 2000, but according to the authors, it is now returning
to the levels of the 1990s. This is despite the fact that many rely
on a much more labour-intensive form of farming than that used by
the earlier white commercial farmers.
also point out that, although many of the white-owned commercial
farms were efficient and productive, many others were struggling
and had far more land than they could use; some of the most fertile
land in the country had gone uncultivated. The new smallholders
have brought much of that unused land into cultivation.
her colleagues are not the first to suggest that Zimbabwe's
controversial land reform programme has achieved a number of positive
results. A 10-year study of land reform in Masvingo Province, led
by Ian Scoones from the Institute of Development Studies at the
University of Sussex and published in 2010, challenged a number
of the "myths" surrounding fast-track land reform, finding
that many of the 400 households sampled were employing labour and
expanding their farming operations.
that the fast-track land reform programme was not an unmitigated
disaster presents dilemmas about whether to accept this growing
body of evidence and risk endorsing the methods used to achieve
the asset transfer," commented Admos Chimhowu of Manchester
University's Institute for Development Policy and Management,
who pointed out that neighbouring South Africa has yet to find a
solution to its land reform challenges.
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