Land audit an opportunity to build confidence in Zim’s agric sector

Land audit an opportunity to build confidence in Zim’s agric sector
June 15 09:41 2019

By Chakanyuka Bosha
Foreign Editor

Once the breadbasket of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe is an agricultural economy whose sustainability depends on full utilisation of farming land.

Agriculture remains a key driver of the country’s economic recovery as it generates the much-needed foreign currency and provides raw materials required by industry. However, without sanitisation of the challenges and imbalances around land redistribution, regaining the breadbasket status will remain a pipe dream.

The ongoing land audit in Zimbabwe being conducted by the Land commission is a laudable milestone in addressing some of these challenges but not an end in itself.

In this instalment, I will focus on the need for the present administration to break with the past and implement the recommendations of these findings in full, to help bring finality to the land question.

The government should use the audit report as an opportunity to rebuild confidence in the agricultural sector by refocussing on issues of productivity to achieve food security. The UN food Agencies and other donors supporting this land audit should continue to offer technical expertise to ensure the process succeeds.

Although the first phase of this audit is reported to have dealt with only six percent (18 000 farms) of the total farms targeted, the problems raised are replicated throughout the country. We already know this from the previous audits.

Some of the unresolved challenges include multiple farm ownership, poor financing, bankability, illegal land sales, double allocations, insecurity of tenure, multiple issuing of lease agreements among a plethora of others. For as long as these issues remain unresolved, optimal utilisation of our farming land will not be realised.
This audit is not the first attempt at resolving these issues.Other land commissions have been instituted before, such as the Utete and Buka commissions in 2003 and the 2006 Ministry of lands and Rural Resettlement (MLRR) in conjunction with Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC). Recommendations from these commissions have largely remained ignored by the previous administration.
As the government ponders, what to do with these audit findings, they must know that time is not on their side. Some of the problems raised by previous audits and this present one can no longer wait. A good example is the issue of multiple farm ownership. As we now know from previous audits, the politically connected black elite own multiple farms, creating the same imbalance of the colonial past. This issue needs to be dealt with urgently. It is raising emotions of injustice.
These powerful elite and their network of friends and families control the best farms. A number of them are not productive others are being leased out illegally and they collect the proceeds.
If the current administration does not use the land audit to put an end to multiple farm ownership, another land conflict will be inevitable. This time black on black.

If wars were fought in the past over land, what will prevent another one if the situation remains unresolved? The ruling elite merely replaced the white faces and have shown that they do not care about fair ownership of land. They preach one man one farm at rallies, which they do not practise.

The ongoing land audit presents the current administration an opportunity to clean up.

Clearly, the land greed that characterised the previous administration has not gone away. The recent case of Remembrance Mbudzana versus white farmer Richard Le Vieux warns us not to underestimate the level of greed and corruption among our ruling elite. If there was no huge outcry driven by the media, Li Vieux would have lost the land. Government must however be commended for acting to save a productive farm from the caprices of the politically connected.

In this story, two things stand out, both pointing to the need for government to act. Mr Mbudzana was allocated this strategic farm because he is the son of a Minister. It was not on merit. There are numerous such cases today, which must be addressed. The other disturbing dimension is that, part of the same farm was originally allocated to Chief Mapungwana,itself not a bad thing, but as we now know, he never took occupation of the land but sold it to Li Vieux.

This Mbudzana case is not isolated,many go unreported where influential figures unfairly push out villagers or fellow black farmers, using political muscle. Zimbabweans are increasingly aware of this unfairness.

There is another worrying development reported to be affecting this ongoing audit, again meant to protect the elite from full accountability. A number of farms have been declared untouchable. These belong to the influential and powerful.

If this lack of accountability is not addressed, it is a source of future conflict. One-man one farm must apply to everyone.

Reports on the ground also show that if the audit team happens to visit any of the farms declared no go areas, they are scared away. Sadly, most of these farms are either derelict, or being leased illegally.

Where the land audit team is allowed to go, the corruption network is using the audit to identify good farms and alert friends and relatives hence perpetuating the unfair allocations.

Many Zimbabweans with both knowledge and capacity have no access because they are not politically connected. There is now a widespread quest for land. People know that the farms are out there in the hands of a small clique. Worse, a sizeable number have been declared untouchable. Citizens see this as unfair.

This feeling of unfairness is what galvanised sons and daughters of the soil to fight the wars of independence. History teaches us that, such calls, if unaddressed grow louder into a crescendo.

Our farms need to be quickly rehabilitated for them to return to full productivity. This ongoing audit presents an excellent opportunity for our leaders to address this. It is also a chance to take the country forward and in the process creating a good legacy for this administration.

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