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AGRICULTURE-ZIMBABWE: "The Rule of Law Just Isn’t There"

Stanley Kwenda

HARARE, Oct 16 2009 (IPS) - Agriculture used to be Zimbabwe’s economic mainstay but it has been on the decline since 2000 when the ZANU-PF government embarked on a so-called land reform programme that resulted in about 4,000 productive white farmers losing their farms, many to members of the politically connected elite.

The programme is largely to blame for the huge food deficit that Zimbabweans face. Farmers are regrouping to take stock of the present situation. Recently a two-day conference was held to review the status of the agricultural sector and come up with a recovery strategy. Issues of compensation and respect for property rights came under the spotlight.

Several farmers hammered home the point that government and the private sector need to fund agriculture if the sector was to recover.

"We need to start from scratch. Confidence among traditional funders, such as banks and other private sector players, is at its lowest as a result of the continuing lawlessness on the farms," Trevor Gifford, a commercial farmer and president of the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU), told IPS.

"Previously we used to just walk into any bank and get loans to fund our farming operations but now we can’t offer the collateral security needed by the banks because of the lack of security of tenure." The Zimbabwean government has issued 99 year leases on land to the newly resettled farmers that banks refuse to accept as collateral because the leases cannot be sold or transferred.

Unlike the previous owners, the newly resettled farmers have no title deeds, making it difficult to borrow from banks. In the past, international banks such as Barclays and Standard Chartered Bank funded farmers who put up their land as collateral. "We need to address the ownership issue of land so that we go back to the situation where farmers have security of tenure," farmer Charles Taffs said. "Without that we are not going anywhere and we may just as well stop thinking of the recovery of agriculture."

"Although everything seems to be fine on the outside, the rule of law just isn't there. It's applied very selectively as we continue to see with the continuing farm invasions that the government has chosen to ignore," Gifford told IPS. "There has been progress, but the reality is that the government of national unity has no unity."

But Ngoni Masoka, permanent secretary in the ministry of agriculture, mechanisation and irrigation development, told IPS that the World Bank-funded conference was an indication of better things to come. "We got the necessary stakeholder participation and input into formulating an agricultural strategy," Masoka said.

The World Bank has provided farming with a timely shot in the arm by donating 74 million dollars to help poor farmers in Zimbabwe. David Rohrbach, a senior agricultural economist for the Bank, said the money will benefit 700,000 families through the procurement of seeds, fertilizers and other agricultural equipment for the coming harvest.

The money will be channelled through non-governmental organisations involved in the agricultural and humanitarian sectors.

But despite this intervention, farmers say the country could still face another grain deficit in the next season due to poor preparations and lack of funding. This is despite government projecting a maize output of up to 2.5 million tons next season, which would mark a return to food self-sufficiency. Zimbabwe needs about 1.8 million tons of the staple maize per year, according to official figures.

"What we're seeing on the ground paints a different picture," Berean Mukwende, vice president of the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union (ZFU), a predominantly black farmers’ association, said. "Many farmers are having difficulties in terms of accessing inputs and time is running out."

But Masoka insisted that government support and funding will result in a good harvest. "Last year, we were assisted by the Southern African Development Community, through South Africa, to get 300 million rand (41 million dollars). Now we are talking of more money, so we should produce more," Masoka said.

Another effort is that of the United States Agency for International Development (USAid), which signed an agreement with Standard Chartered Bank of Zimbabwe three weeks ago.

The agreement will enable the bank to expand its lending to farmers by 20 million dollars over five years. It will allow the bank to increase the number of loans directly to farmers and enterprises that can provide inputs and technical assistance to small holder farmers with the ultimate objective of increasing productivity and production.

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