Hamond Motsi explains the progress made in Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector since the controversial land redistribution programme. Collaborations between farmers, government subsidies, and a rise in young people interested in farming are some of the contributing factors. However, challenges remain, and further investment is needed to maximise the sector’s potential.
Among the things Zimbabwe is known for, the controversial fast-track land reform programme executed in the early 2000s altered not only the agricultural sector but also the country’s socio-economic and political architecture.
Those who have evaluated this programme with a short-term mindset have labeled it a blunder and failure, given the consequential events that followed. However, looking at it from a long-term standpoint, rays of hope at the end of the tunnel are beginning to shine.
Historically, Zimbabwe, like Africa in general, was under colonial rule by European countries, but in Zimbabwe, interests were primarily embedded in agriculture. This is evident from the pernicious reallocation of black natives during the early 20th century from their ancestral fertile land to unfertile lands, familiarly known as “reserves.”
During the dawn of the Green Revolution in the 1950s, when advanced agricultural technologies were introduced globally, agriculture production was mainly controlled by white farmers. They successfully adopted these technologies, which were backed by crude policies to ensure their implementation. From that period onward until 20 years post-independence, agriculture thrived, becoming the economic backbone of the country. By then, Zimbabwe was named the “breadbasket of Africa.”
However, the breadbasket status was merely an involvement of a few privileged commercial farmers (about 4 500) who occupied gigantic land areas without a variety of native blacks. Such racial inequalities led to the fast-track land reform programme 20 years post-independence, which involved the violent removal of white farmers and disorderly redistribution to black natives. Several white farmers left their farms with nothing except their farming technical know-how.
The reallocation was executed defectively, which subsequently resulted in numerous inexperienced individuals in farming allocated land. Since many of these newcomers lacked farming background and knowledge, the country failed to maintain and sustain the breadbasket of Africa status.
20 years later
From the beginning of the redistribution, the agricultural output began to diminish rapidly, which was further exacerbated by other amputating economic sectors. Additionally, other known global challenges such as high input prices, the financial crisis in 2008, market volatilities, climate change, and pest and disease prevalence piled up.
Currently, it has been about 20 years since the land reform programme was established, and a gradual improvement in productivity is being witnessed, with key shareholders in the sector being black small-scale farmers, as well as black and white commercial farmers.
Considerable evidence of such an upsurge in productivity is currently being witnessed in tobacco farming, where Zimbabwe continues to maintain the 1st position in production output on the continent and 5th globally, contributing almost $1 billion to the country’s export earnings. Before the land reform, tobacco output ranged below 150 million kilograms, but in recent years, an average of nearly 200 million kilograms is being achieved, with an anticipation of reaching 230 million kilograms this ongoing season.
Other crops such as maize are currently improving steadily compared to the period soon after land reform, although highly dependent on seasonal rainfalls. Wheat, barley, sorghum, soybean, and groundnuts are also improving. In fact, last year, wheat surpassed the annual required target of 350 000 tonnes to sustain the country without imports, something that had been difficult to achieve. Even in horticultural crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and cabbage, output has been expanding, with small-scale farmers as major producers.
These successes refer to several commitments that involve efforts from the government, farmers, and the private sector.
Firstly, there has been an increase in contract farming focusing on smallholder farming from international companies, local companies, and banks, which has been the leading factor in the success of tobacco production.
The government has been implementing various subsidy programmes such as Operation Maguta/Inala in 2005, Presidential Input Schemes in 2009, and Command Agriculture in 2014 to support farmers with inputs. However, not all these programmes have been successful, but where they have worked, they have left scars of success.
Farmers have become experienced in carrying out their production practices. It has been more than 20 years since land redistribution took place, and these years have given farmers time to learn from mistakes and failures, try different methods, and evaluate what works best in their production niches.
Youth lead farming revival
Meanwhile, there is a rising interest in farming among young people, who are the driving force behind the improvement of agriculture with new, refined ideas and technologies. These young people are coming from agricultural colleges or universities, as well as others without an agricultural academic background, full of passion for agriculture and awakened instincts of agricultural potential in uplifting their livelihoods.
Additionally, some white farmers are collaborating with local black farmers. In these partnerships, the fundamental element is land, which is now owned by blacks. So either a white farmer works together with the landowner, injecting investment into the farm and having a proportion of shares, or the white farmers rent the farm for a certain period (probably 5-10 years) and then leave the farm owner with all the investment.
Thus, these arrangements involve skills learning, technology transfer, infrastructure investment, and capital injection. However, despite such interesting progress and steps being undertaken, the optimum potential of agriculture in Zimbabwe has not yet been reached as it still faces several challenges. An extra mile of the current output produced can be reached, which requires extra efforts for maximisation from all associated stakeholders.
Reviving the whole sector requires heavy investment, which normally stems from policymaking and its implementation and evaluation. Some critical areas that require bold attention are infrastructure and mechanisation development, skills development programmes, technology and capital investments, effective extension services, and insurance.
History has taught us that there is no revolution without its trials and tribulations. The Zimbabwe land redistribution programme remains contentious for its modification of the country’s socioeconomic and political dynamics. Despite the approach used to conduct it, it was essential to redistribute land to reverse previous inequalities for the disadvantaged, and years later, the fruits of success are starting to appear.
- Hamond Motsi is a scholar interested in sustainable agricultural management practices. He holds an MSc in agronomy (cum laude) from Stellenbosch University and BSc Hons in crop science and BSc in Crop and Soil Science (cum laude) degrees, both from the University of Fort Hare. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.