23 August 2002

ZIMBABWES FARMERS REACH

THE END OF THE LINE

August 8 marked the last straw

for 2900 of Zimbabwes mainly

white commercial farmers. On that

day they were told they were no

longer allowed to farm. A further

collapse in agricultural production and

widespread starvation is the expected

result, explains Rachel Palmer

RICHARD (not his real name) has lost everything – his farm, his home, his work, his future. He bought his farm after Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980 and received a certificate of no interest from the government. This didnt stop him from receiving a Section 8 notice ordering him to halt production and to move out of his property by Aug 8 2002 or face imprisonment.

He was allowed to sell off his farm machinery and the contents of his house, but the land itself is worthless. And even if he could sell it, its all but impossible to get the money out of the country.

He has been reluctantly sharing his acres with a war veteran, who has been forcibly occupying part of his land, for over two years now, planting maize for him and trying to co-operate wherever possible to continue farming. He employs over 150 workers and supports them and their families by providing primary schooling and a medical centre. Since Aug 8 these families have had no homes, jobs, schooling or medical care.

Richards story is far from unique. On Aug 8 this year, President Robert Mugabe ordered the remaining 2900 commercial farmers off their land. Though 60% of farmers are said to be defying the order, the result has still seen the displacement of 45,000 to 49,000 workers families.

These huge farms were the most productive source of the countrys food. Their confiscation, carried out in many cases by violent mobs, has brought farming to a near halt. Many commercial farmers have already left Zimbabwe because they see no hope in a future there.

A number are moving to New Zealand, Australia and Canada, even though many have never visited their chosen new country before. Often the move has resulted in considerable loss of status. Many are now driving tractors or mucking out pigs, whereas before they were running multi-million $ businesses and employing hundreds of people. The political pressure might be off, but starting again with virtually nothing is not easy.

Nowhere to go

The farmers who have remained on their farms in Zimbabwe, on the other hand, do not know what to do. Many of them, like their farm workers, have nowhere to go and their only expertise is in farming.

The reality is that the new settlers on the acquired land are ill-equipped in terms of know-how, finance and farm tools to make good the big drop in agricultural output caused by the occupation of the commercial farms. Most of the settlers are barely scratching a living from their new land.

According to the government, the plots given to the landless peasants are supposed to support the individual and their family, as well as providing produce to sell for cash to buy essentials such as oil and sugar. The government announced it would supply fertiliser to the settlers and recommended that people come to claim their plots.

In reality, many of the plots that have been staked out, are unclaimed or were claimed and since abandoned. This has meant that large areas of once highly productive farm land now only grow one or two plots of maize that will hardly help feed the nation. In the past, the same plot of land in commercial production supported many more families. And if the population is so land-hungry, point out critics of the land acquisitions, surely every plot would have been taken?

Life is not so easy for many of the settlers, either. "I used to live in Marondera but moved here in August 2001," says Sarah, a settler on a previously commercial farm. "I live here with my 18-month-old daughter and am trying to grow maize, potatoes and beans, but its hard. Theyre not growing quickly and its difficult to get fertiliser. Its not as easy as we were told it would be."

Graham Douse, a commercial farmer in the Marondera District, usually plants 120ha (300 acres) of summer crops. This year he has only been able to plant 7ha (17 acres) of paprika. "Ninety two plots have been allocated for landless peasants on my farm," he says. "At best 10 have been cultivated to any degree. The majority dont exercise their rights to the plots theyve been given.

"The big problem is that they will never own the title deeds to the land. Because of this they cant raise the capital in order to farm it efficiently. The president holds the title deeds even though its against the Bill of Rights and the Constitution."

This suggests the government doesnt want to address land redistribution in a manner that will benefit the people. In fact, more than 200 farms have allegedly been handed over to the elite of Zanu (PF), the ruling party.

While the government heralds the programme as a success, the people are starving. Not because of the drought that is currently affecting southern Africa, but because the commercial farm sector is being prevented from producing food in the quantities it used to. In fact, the country can only produce three-quarters of what it needs to provide minimum nutrition to its population and 4m Zimbabweans are expected to die of starvation as a result.

The Zimbabwe Community Development Trust is one organisation trying to help some of the dispossessed farm workers. Its camp for displaced farm workers on the outskirts of Harare (Zimbabwes capital) supports 139 people. All are from a single farm and have been physically attacked and forced to run for their lives.

45,000 families to support

Tim Neill, the head of the trust, says: "At the moment we can pay for the education of the farm workers children in our camp and feed, clothe and house them all. But we dont have the funding to do this when there will be more than 45,000 families to support after the remaining farmers move off their land.

"Part of the problem we face is access to the displaced people, a vast number of whom will just disappear into the bush. We are currently trying to compile a comprehensive list of the number of employees on each of the remaining 2900 commercial farms and where they are planning to go."

Where food is being distributed, many of the farm workers are being turned away because they are suspected to be opposition supporters. Zanu (PF) is controlling the food distribution and many of those who are in desperate need are not receiving the help that they require. Even those who can pay for maize meal are being prevented from buying it if they are suspected of supporting the opposition.

The sad thing about the situation in Zimbabwe is that it is a man-made disaster that was largely preventable. President Mugabe, on the one hand, is appealing to the world for food and on the other is declaring that 2900 farmers are criminals if they continue to farm. Although Zimbabwe has experienced a drought, the dams and reservoirs are not empty.

If the commercial farmers were given the green light to go back to their farms and were assured that they could farm without disruption, a large percentage of them would return and plant enough maize to at least begin to reverse the current situation.

Two years ago the grain silos in Mapungo were processing 50,000t of maize; today they are processing none at all. The story is similar with wheat; processing has plummeted from 65,000t in 2000 to just 16,000t today. Total production is reckoned to have plunged 90% from what was once normal. This is directly attributable to the systematic destruction of private farming and the placement of so-called war veterans on commercial farms that have mostly now been laid to waste.

Anyone wanting to donate to the Zimbabwe Community Development Trust can email to enquries@zcdt.zw

Left: Zimbabwes commercial farm sector used to earn a lot of export income for the country.

Above: Rockhaven refugee camp.

Below: Graham Douse ponders his gloomy future. Many farmers plan to emigrate but, with most of their assets gone, will have

to take up lowlier positions.

Above: Wrecked MDC HQ. Right: Farm equipment can, in theory, be sold off.

Above: Large numbers of refugees are certain to lose their jobs as a result of the land seizures. Left: Old tobacco land.