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Zimbabwe: Govt issues 99-year leases to boost food production
6 November 2006
IRIN

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges IRIN as the source of this article: http://www.irinnews.org/


HARARE, 6 November (IRIN) - In a bid to boost food production, the Zimbabwean government will give 99-year leases to the first batch of resettled black commercial farmers on Thursday.

Ngoni Masoka, permanent secretary in the ministry of lands, said in a statement that the leases would demonstrate the government's commitment to empowering black farmers who had benefited from the government's controversial fast-track land reform programme.

The leases will provide resettled commercial farmers with security of tenure, which could serve as collateral for loans to procure inputs. They have cited their inability to raise money and uncertainty about their future as reasons for the drop in production.

Since the launch of the land campaign in 2000 to resettle land-hungry black Zimbabweans, the country's economy has gone into freefall and cash crop production has dropped dramatically. An annual inflation rate of around 1,000 percent has taken unemployment levels to more than 70 percent, and shortages of foreign currency have caused rationing of food, fuel and electricity.

The leases will be issued to farmers who have been on their plots for at least three years, and have been vetted by the National Land Board for competence and commitment to farming, at a ceremony attended by President Robert Mugabe.

Land expert and former head of the technical unit of the presidential land review committee Sam Moyo said the 99-year leases would increase the confidence of farmers. "Generally, many farmers falling under the A2 [commercial] scheme perceive having leases as a reason for them to feel more secure and, hopefully, to increase production."

However, the group of beneficiaries could be small. "Given that there is a need to survey the farms, the numbers of farmers might not be large, since the capacity to survey the land seems limited. I doubt if the figure will go beyond 1,000." Moyo added that the vetting process by the land board, while desirable, "might tend to be cumbersome".

He said there was also concern that influential people could take advantage of their positions to get the leases ahead of the intended beneficiaries. At the height of the fast-track programme, many top politicians were accused of grabbing multiple farms in violation of the land policy, which stipulated that a person was entitled to only one farm.

Since the land would remain state property, there was a need for the government to clarify whether farmers could use their farms as collateral, said Moyo. "It is not yet clear how the government will deal with cases whereby a farmer goes to borrow from a bank and defaults: will the bank be able to repossess the farm and sell it? Because for as long as the plots remain state land, the government would still be involved."

Denford Chimbwanda, president of the Grain and Cereal Producers Association, told IRIN, "We welcome the move and most of us are waiting to be given our own [leases]. However, the process is taking too long and production on farms is suffering because they are not able to get money from the banks."

At present the 99-year leases are limited to A2 farmers. Moyo hoped that A1 farmers (small-scale and communal farmers) would also be given leases.

Permanent secretary Masoka recently told parliament that the ministry of lands was experiencing an acute shortage of surveyors because the law only permitted them to recruit from the University of Zimbabwe.

"It has taken long to [try to] amend such restrictive legislation ... [because] it poses serious problems for the capacity of the Surveyor General to survey land in Zimbabwe," Masoka said, estimating that only 1,500 A2 plots would be surveyed this year - around 15,000 A2 plots needed to be surveyed, and the process could take three years to complete.

Zimbabwe's annual cereal requirement is about 1.9 million mt. According to independent estimates, only 800,000mt of maize was harvested this year, or less than half the national demand. According to humanitarian aid agencies, 1.4 million people in a population of about 12 million were in urgent need of food aid.

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