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Last Updated: Friday, 28 February, 2003, 08:01 GMT
Zimbabwe's changed land
By Carolyn Dempster
in Harare

In the third of a series of articles on Zimbabwe, BBC News Online reports on the impact of the chaotic land reform programme.

Co-existence is the name of the game on Zimbabwe's commercial farms these days.

Farm worker
Farm workers face an uncertain future
Black farm workers who stayed on after the invasions and violent eviction of their former white employers are now co-operating with the new settlers to eke out a living, using the seeds and implements abandoned by the white farmers.

Close to two million farm workers and their families were profoundly affected by the land resettlement programme.

The Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe says up to 70% of farm workers lost their jobs and a means of income as a direct result.

Many are now increasingly reliant on food aid from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).


Bernard Muyara, an assistant farm manager in Mashonaland West and one farm worker who survived the land invasions, said there was no option but co existence.

Food aid
Many farm workers are now reliant on food aid
"We negotiated (with the settlers) so that the farm labourers could have something to feed their children, so that work could go ahead, so that everyone can survive."

Mr Muyara says the drought is having an effect on food security, but that the impact of the land invasions and political upheaval on the farms has been far worse.

He says uncertainty about every "next step" plagues his future.

Out of a population of some 4,500 white commercial farmers, only 600 are still actively farming their land, says the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU).

Of those farmers who have been hounded off their land, only 120 have been paid any compensation.

These are the ones who did not appeal to the courts against the loss of their farms.

Weekend farmers

The chaotic land resettlement process has meant that more than 10 million hectares of fertile land has been effectively seized by the state and turned over to settlers who range from peasant farmers to urban bureaucrats and members of Zanu-PF's political elite.

2000: 4,000 whites owned 11m ha of prime land
2000: 1m blacks owned 16m ha, often in drought-prone areas
2000: Land invasions began
2003: 600 white farmers remain

This last clique, who travel down in luxury 4-wheel drive vehicles to inspect their newly acquired farms over weekends are known as the "weekend" farmers.

Many of the government's critics say this was the primary purpose of the land reform programme, that land hunger was merely used by President Mugabe as a political ploy to buy patronage and cling to power.

In just one province, Mashonaland East, only half of the vacated farms had been occupied by new settlers by October last year.

In the vast majority of cases, the new settlers do not have the seeds, inputs or expertise to farm the land productively.

And because they do not have tenure or title deeds, they cannot get bank loans or any capital to buy what they need.

Poverty trap

Economist John Robertson argues that, as a result of this, hundreds of thousands of small scale farmers have effectively been plunged into a poverty trap by the government.

Even Joseph Made, Zimbabwe's Minister for Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement was forced to admit recently that the land reform programme has been "haphazard".

In recent weeks Mr Made has been making unsuccessful overtures to the Commercial Farmers' Union in a bid to persuade the union's members to give some material help to the new settlers.

Equipment was abandoned by white owners

The outlook for Zimbabwe's once-buoyant agricultural sector is bleak.

The disrupted planting last season, ongoing drought and late rains this year, mean the maize fields could yield at best 700,000 tonnes of maize this season.

National demand stands at about 1.8 million tonnes.

Four years ago, Zimbabwe was a net exporter of maize and a key supplier to the World Food Programme.

Last month the WFP distributed 42,000 tonnes of food aid to 49 districts in a bid to stop Zimbabwe from slipping closer to a famine.

In terms of tobacco, the country has lost its prized place as the world's third largest exporter of prime quality tobacco and this year's crop is expected to be 70 million kg at most, down from 240 million kg in 2000.

The loss to the treasury is close to $280m.

Soya bean production is also down by about two-thirds and the national cattle herd has dropped from 1.2 million to 200,000.

The CFU claims that the minimum time it would take to revive commercial farming is five years, but sceptics believe it is now virtually impossible to turn agriculture around.

Click here to read Carolyn Dempster's earlier reports from Zimbabwe

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