Unproductive land haunts Zim economy

HARARE - Eighteen years later, the testament of the land reform still haunts the nation, as it - land reform - continues to negatively affect the economy.

The decades of instability, that followed after the land reform, have eroded the soil that once fed millions in the former breadbasket of Africa.

Land reform, which saw thousands of black Zimbabweans acquiring land, displacing several white farmers, while dampening commercial agriculture, is a dark past that still haunts the nation today.

But analysts argue that the problem was not the land reform itself, but how it was executed.

Reports have shown that large amounts of land appropriated around the 2000s lie idle, while the rest is either under-utilised or not being used at all.

Finance ministry  permanent secretary George Guvamatanga, speaking before the thematic Portfolio Committee on Finance and Economic Development recently, said some of the economic problems that Zimbabwe is facing are due to lack of land productivity.

“Some of the problems that we have today are due to unproductivity and as long as we don’t turn the land into a productive resource, we will continue to have economic problems.

“In my personal view, we should just not be giving land to people so that they use the land for family rituals.

“When someone is issued a farm, it should be a contract with the government and minimum productivity that we expect should be relayed and if you can’t, you move away,” Guvamatanga said.

According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), with 70 percent of Zimbabweans relying on agriculture for livelihoods, the strength of this sector is key to economic recovery.

Land reform removed a successful tenure model that drove development.

It short-changed the economy as the State’s management of land removed the land market, thus chasing away investors.

Guvamatanga highlighted that Zimbabwe previously could get cooking oil from peanuts, soya and sunflower but now the nation needs $20 million for cooking oil and $16 million to import wheat every month.

Unproductive farms loom throughout Zimbabwe, and their decadent state is a picture of a decaying economy.

Economist Carren Pindiri told the Daily News that there is need to boost agriculture to increase exports that will in turn improve the economy.

“Value addition or agro-processing is key to economic development, so revamping it will increase exports of finished agriculture goods in the region.

“In this case, we need a land market where farmers are free to buy and sell or lease their farm lands. Having done this, we improve efficiency, both productive and allocative,” Pindiriri said.

Zimbabwe currently leases land to farmers; hence a majority of farmers struggle to get finances or investments for large scale farming without collateral.

Currently, Zimbabwe’s imports are less than its exports.

In 2016, Zimbabwe exported goods worth $2,78 billion and imported goods worth $5,1 billion, resulting in a negative trade balance of $2,32 billion.

Command Agriculture, on the other hand, has largely catered for internal consumption, primarily undermining large-scale import farming which is important for the growth of the economy.

Zimbabwe is currently rated third worst economy in the world due to hyperinflation triggered by debts and irrational economic policies.

Guvamatanga told the Finance Portfolio Committee that his ministry was able to do more for the people of Zimbabwe but lack of production impeded progress.

“Honourables, imagine without paying $36 million for oil and wheat imports, I would buy all the drugs, machines in the hospitals and recruit all the teachers needed; I would do quite a lot,” Guvamatanga said.

The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) said there is need for policy change and finance investment to revive agriculture which will breed the restoration of Zimbabwe’s former glory.

“Farmers need access to affordable finances, an end to isolation from international financial and commodity markets, access to collateral value, new technology, skills and other resources and Government policies which support viability,” CFU said.

 

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