Land reform: Time to bite the bullet

Nick Mangwana View From the Diaspora
THE land distribution programme was such a noble cause deserving to be canonised. In fact, it was so brilliant that it resettled about 300 000 families. Recently the Government of Zimbabwe made a few policy pronouncements around land, some which were very welcome and some of which received mixed reactions. In the whole this column views these policies as very positive and long overdue.

Firstly, it was Lands and Rural Resettlement Minister Cde Douglas Mombeshora, who announced that Cabinet had approved a plan to start collecting rent from new black farmers. Commercial farmers and those that own conservancies are going to be made to pay $5 per hectare per year. This will be divided into $3 land rental and $2 unit tax. The unit tax is not a new thing as farmers were already paying $1 per hectare per year to the Rural District Councils anyway. This has just been increased to $2 and now collected by the Ministry of Lands. Small-scale (communal) farmers will pay $15 per year. This will start this year. This is a policy that has received mixed reactions.

Second, was the announcement by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa that large farms exceeding 1 000 hectares will be sub-divided while those multiple farm owners will lose some of them and the one-person-one farm policy will be enforced once the land audit is complete. These policies will be carried out as a way of fine-tuning the results of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTRLP).

Let us start with the first policy pronounced by Minster Mombeshora. The first point to note is that everyone was resettled on State land. They lease the land from the owner who is the State. In normal lease agreements there is a contractual arrangement where the lessee pays the lessor for the use of their asset (land).

Looking at it simplistically there is nothing amiss with charging the $3 per hectare per year in lease. Those that claimed bigger pieces of land they are hardly using will suffer from this because they will pay for land they are hoarding and not using. Those that have created a correlation between size and productivity should have no problem.

So those that have 1 000-hectare farms have to pay rent of $3 000 per year. To be fair, this figure is not really high if one considers that commercial farming is a business and it should be treated as such. The next figure is the increase of unit tax from $1 to $2 per unit per year with the “unit” in this case being the hectare.

Everyone who has a house in urban areas knows they still pay unit tax even though they bought the ground and built the house themselves and have title deeds in their vault or drawer. This is just how it is. The question of the arbitrary figure of $2 can be debated but not the concept.

It is an international standard. Australia does the same. The UK has a complicated system of taxing estates called the Hidage as well as stamp duty which we will not dwell on too much. The point is that there is nothing peculiar about the move by the GoZ to tax its tenants.

The FTRLR was meant to alleviate land pressure in the communal areas as well as correct the skewed land ownership problem which was in favour of the minority. The reason for it being fast tracked are clear to everyone who has been involved or followed the issue. There was Section 16 of the Lancaster House Constitution that made it difficult to fully reform the land issue in Zimbabwe.

An example is that between 1980-1989, there was a target to resettle 162 000 families but only 53 200 were resettled. Then from 1990 a new target was set of resettling 75 000 families in 10 years. Only about 2 000 households were resettled every year until Tony Blair binned the spirit of the Lancaster House Agreement and the rest is history.

Since the year 2000 when this FTLRP ensued 276 660 have been resettled by 2013, showing a very big success story. Granted a lot of the new farmers lacked both experience and lacked resources. Some lacked the type of support and infrastructure the resettled farmers had between 1980-1997. These included dip tanks, experienced extension workers and more importantly, those AFC (Agricultural Finance Corporation) facilities.

However, 15 years later can one still say the new farmers are still inexperienced? This is half a generation we are talking about? They are getting agricultural inputs from the Presidential Well Wishers Inputs Scheme and the First Lady. This is a laudable thing indeed but isn’t it time our new farmers become self reliant?

Surely, they wouldn’t expect to get these inputs year in, year out unless there is a natural disaster such as a drought or floods. Someone asked a question whether one should continue giving pocket money or bus fare to an empowered child that’s working.

There is nothing completely wrong with altruistic support to the resettled farmers but it is against the spirit of empowerment for the empowered people to foster a spirit of entitlement. There is something wrong with someone who harvested last year to expect to be given inputs this year. Dependence is contra-indicated in empowerment. These are home truths that have to be said.

Most governments take hard political decisions when they have an unassailable parliamentary majority. These are the times to bring in austerity measurements. This is not saying the people should not be helped but they should recognise that it’s not entitled help. One truth the nation has to confront is that entitlement is crippling and promotes mediocrity as well as stifling innovation and creativity.

There are long-term economic benefits of having a culture of saving. Economic consequences of certain actions cannot be ignored for fear of political consequences. It is what successful governments do. They are voted not only to make popular decisions. They are also voted in to make hard decisions. Land reform was not about expanding the peasantry base. It was about economic empowerment.

The next policy announced by VP Mnangagwa was the reinforcement of the one-person-one-farm policy. As alluded to earlier, during the liberation struggle, land was a key issue in the people’s grievances. It might have changed shape but besides employment, it is remains a key issue in the people’s grievance. It has to be addressed in an equitable manner.

Despite its very clear success in taking people off marginal lands, there has been glaring cases of abuse. There are times when the whole approach to our economics be done in a very pragmatic way. We cannot attribute all poverty in Zimbabwe historical imbalances. There is a time when we also have to take responsibility. After all, that is what responsible people do.

During the FTLRP some people took a lot of land and hoarded it for speculative purposes.

These are the multiple farm owners and those that utilise as little as 40ha out of 3 000ha farm. In some cases completely no farming activity is happening there. Initially, there were manicured gardens and well tendered homesteads. The hunger for land is still very much unsatisfied. When those that are selfishly holding on to land on behalf of unborn children let go then hopefully that land will go to the people that are desperate for same. Land should not be owned for either prestigious or speculative reasons.

Of those that are crying for land, some surprisingly have not bothered to go to and register. We also have to remember that farming is tenuous existence. Not all the people can be farmers as the President himself acknowledged. The writer is not sure how many of the current vendors have registered for access to land and how many would. Whilst dependent on agriculture, Zimbabwe’s economy remains diversified and jobs are still what the youths want. The President acknowledged this in his interview with Dali Tambo that urbanised population are disinclined to go into farming if they did not have either a farming or rural upbringing.

These policies are a cleaning exercise of what has been a very successful policy in the whole. One only needs to look at Namibia which has been independent for 25 years and the agitation for land is becoming more and more uncomfortable with former prime minister Nahas Angula advocating that they go the Zimbabwean route if they would ever achieve equitable land redistribution.

Maybe, in spite of economic challenges Zimbabweans are privileged after all. One now hopes policies should set us on a path of agrarian reform. But agrarian reform is not only about giving people the land but also revolutionise farming methods.

The ox-drawn plough has been used for well over 100 years and remains the primary tilling method. Innovation is called for in this regard. More creative mechanisation suiting Zimbabwe’s circumstances should be looked at. Agrarian revolutions are meant to increase yields and reduce poverty. The issue of cartels as reported when it comes to selling tobacco and disempowering people should also be looked at but in a separate piece.

Some say the land reform was highly politicised. Well, land had always been a very political issue.