April 5, 2018 | land issues

Since independence,  land ownership has been an emotive issue and a constant source of political conflicts between the indigenous people and white settlers in Zimbabwe. Land ownership was at the center stage of the conflict because over  50%  of the fertile prime land was owned by the white settlers leaving  Zimbabweans, who are the majority, with little or no access to land in their communal homes. The absentee landlords, white commercial farmers or multi-national corporation owned big chunks of land which or lay idle or were not put into economical use.

The white minority, consisting of 3% of the population, owned 75% of the fertile land while 97% black Africans only had 23% of the overcrowded less productive rural homes. It is this imbalance that triggered the need for land reforms in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean government made an agreement with the white settlers with the aim of buying land to resettle more than  160,000  indigenous farmers. 

The first phase of resettlement plan popularly regarded as “willing buyer, willing seller” was considered unsuccessful due to lack of funding to facilitating the programme. Nevertheless, a total of $630 million was pledged with Britain giving out $47 million an amount which only catered for 44%  of the land acquired. In the meantime, the  IMF and World Bank stopped their funding aid due to mismanagement.

Zimbabwe is one of the countries in  Africa that relies on agriculture as the main source of income with an estimated 80% of the population living in rural areas. In order to realize land reform and resettlement programme, the government came up with a  new and ambitious land reform policy and passed a land acquisition Act in 1992. This act supported the process of land acquisition through Land Designation and Compulsory Acquisition.

Land designated for compulsory acquisition include targeted lands lying fallow (underutilized) owned by absentee or foreign landlords mainly British, owned by farmers with more than one farm and land in contiguous on communal areas.

By the end of the year 2000, the Zimbabwe government under the leadership of former President Robert Mugabe had forcibly driven out 4,500 white farmers and settled around a million black indigenous farmers.

The journey of land reforms in  Zimbabwe has taken more 15  years, more than 7 million hectares of land has been distributed to the locals. A larger number of the resettled farmers lack the necessary skills and capital to invest in cash crop farming which requires a lot of capital for chemicals, fertilizers, implements, and machinery.

Poor management by black farmers has led to unsustainable land management which largely contributes to poor agricultural output. A story published by the BBC noted that “Zimbabwe’s former President Robert Mugabe had admitted failures in the country’s controversial land reform programme. The article quotes the then 91-year old leader as having said “I think the farms we gave to people are too large. They can’t manage them.”

The negative effects of land reforms policy trickled down to sustainable land management practices where much of the land practices hamper land productivity. To address the policy gaps, several proposals have been drafted in order to increase the agricultural production levels and make the whole land reform and resettlement program successful. It has also been proposed that the government needs to offer training to farmers on large-scale commercial farming and farm machinery – tractors, irrigation, seeds, and other inputs.

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