Editorial Comment: Penalise those who underutilise land

To many Zimbabweans, land reform — so much maligned by Western governments — was inevitable and necessary. Lately, even opposition politicians have come to the conclusion that there was no way we could forever leave the country’s means of production in the hands of a settler minority.

People were galled white settlers pillaged, murdered and ran off the Africans before they turned around and generated paperwork to legitimise their theft of the land.

But many Zimbabweans now feel cheated because most beneficiaries of land reform have not paid back the nation through effective utilisation of the acquired farms.

The principle was right, but the implementation is off. Each year we face problems of food insecurity attributed to various factors, from man-made ones such as lack of seed and fertiliser to natural phenomena like drought.

It is because of this background that people welcome the move by the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement to rationalise land occupation by standardising farm sizes, removal of multiple ownership, resolving of boundary disputes and weeding out those clandestinely leasing out land.

During the fast-track land reform programme, many people rushed to seize properties for speculative purposes rather than out of an inner yearning or a business decision to become true farmers.

It is a fact that many productive fields lie fallow year-in year-out as the occupants do not have the wherewithal, technical skills or even the commitment to work them.

What such people did not realise was that Government would only give out long-term leases and not transfer ownership.

Therefore those sitting on huge tracts of land they are not fully utilising should realise that they are not leaving any inheritance for their descendants, but are simply being selfish and costing the nation greatly in unrealised productivity.

Their grandchildren will not benefit from the land they are holding on to unless the present occupants use this chance to create wealth through maximum productivity.

History should tell them that the majority will not suffer indefinitely at the mercy of the few who don’t want to farm, whatever the skin of their colour.

It is high time Zimbabwean farmers realised that effective agriculture now is about intensive rather than extensive farming. They should be looking at learning and implementing world best practices to ensure maximum yield per hectare against increasing hectarage to get higher yields.

We should have long moved from battling to meet production quotas of the staple maize and tobacco to specialised agriculture where farmers establish well-paying niche areas like organic farming, flower and fruit production.

With climate change and new farming technologies, a farmer should be able to produce all year round and realise a better income from a smaller piece of land than they get from planting only one crop once a year that can easily be ruined by unreliable rains.

Every year farmers moan about inadequate capital, resulting in reduced production.

Those in such circumstances should consider consolidating their operations on smaller pieces of land and let other interested compatriots work the rest of the farm.

We hope corruption will not sap the political willpower to tackle core problems besetting agriculture head-on once and for all.

Guidelines for the rationalisation of farm sizes should applied uniformly to all beneficiaries in a particular ecological region.

The bigwigs should not be allowed to continue to hold the nation to ransom.

Agriculture is the mainstay of our economy and until productivity in this sector is boosted our whole economy shall remain in the doldrums. That should be viewed as sabotage.

We therefore suggest that the relevant authorities get to work drafting legal and enforceable penalties for those who flout set down guidelines to stop further chicanery in the land sector.

For example, anyone found guilty of multiple farm ownership should automatically lose claim to all the land in their hands.

With increased transparency, accountability and a show of Government commitment to rationalise and regularise farm occupations, we are confident the financial sector should be more forthcoming with support to revitalise the agriculture sector.