HARARE – While President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has been making corrections on most disastrous policies former president Robert Mugabe was pursuing, his next call should be to bring order on the farms where most resettled farmers have been unable to fully utilise the land for economic prosperity.
Zimbabwe is predominantly an agro-based economy and as such Mnangagwa’s government should see to it that land is in the hands of people able to produce.
Farming requires serious commitment and not the situation we have where many work as professionals in other fields who only visit their farms at weekends and have attracted the nickname “cell-phone farmers”.
Government must carry out an audit because several people hold on to productive land and under-utilise it while trained farmers have no land.
Zimbabwe’s agricultural colleges produce graduates every year and they must be absorbed on the farms, either as managers or even owners.
While the land reform benefitted mostly war veterans, top government officials, the army and Zanu PF officials who thought farming was easy, it has now dawned on them that it needs proper financing and planning.
Land reform in the country officially began at independence in 1980 with the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement to achieve equitable distribution of land and intensified in 2000.
However, as soon as the new farmers moved onto the vacated land, productivity fell significantly largely because either the new farmers were non-resident, lacked the technical know-how or both.
Therefore government must facilitate professional training for the farmers.
Also, “cell-phone farmers” must hire competent managers.
Government agricultural extension officers must monitor operations on all farms so that they can offer professional advice and report on idle land.
Some of the new farmers are genuine and want to farm but have found the going tough as banks have been reluctant to give loans to people who have no collateral. And it is the area of financing the agricultural sector that the new government has to look at urgently.
Save for the tobacco sector, which has seen massive gains in terms of export value and a sharp increase of the number of growers in recent times, there is little cheer in maize, cotton and wheat production.
While land reform was meant to transform peasant farmers into commercial and semi-commercial farmers, the way it was executed left them exposed as they failed to produce as tracts of land are lying fallow.