Inequality with regards to natural resources in Zimbabwe has always been an issue as the select few were previously owners of vast of the natural resources. One such resource is land, which has always been a source of political conflict since colonisation, both within indigenous black communities and, especially, between white settlers and the black rural communities. Colonial policies gave a minority of white farmers’ ownership of large areas of arable commercial land, while a majority of black families lived in overcrowded, arid communal areas.
It is therefore not surprising that when Zimbabwe gained independence, redistribution of the land to the black majority was one of the top priorities of the government. In this paper, the writer will endeavor to look at how the land reform programme has impacted on economic development of the country. Both the negative and positive effects will be looked at and recommendations given.
Boyce et al (2005) define land reform as the reallocation of rights to establish a more equitable
distribution of farmland, which is a powerful strategy for promoting both economic development and environmental quality.
In addition, Banerjee (1999) opts for a simple definition, stating that it is the distribution of land to the rural poor like was the case in Zimbabwe. For purposes of this paper land reform will be defined as the reallocation of land from the minority to the majority of the people who had been previously allocated poor infertile or no land at all.
Thomas (2015) postulated that economic development are those activities that lead to greater resource productivity, a wider range of real choice for consumers and producers, and broader clientele participation in policy formulation.
Economic development is work to align human and natural resources of their community to match both global and regional markets, and they can strive to create new jobs that fit both the people and the place.” (Blakely and Bradshaw 2002). In this paper, economic development is understood to mean the process by which a nation improves the economic well-being of its people.
Conflict Theory, developed by Karl Marx, contends that due to society’s never-ending competition for resources it will always be in a state of conflict. The implication of this theory is that those in possession of wealth and resources will protect and hoard those resources, while those without will do whatever they can to obtain them. This is a true reflection of why the Chimurenga was fought in Zimbabwe. Fertile land belonged to the minority of the whites while the black majority were allocated little non fertile land. This resulted in the blacks doing what they could in a bid to try and have the land. This dynamic means there is a constant struggle between the rich and the poor. It is this struggle that led to the fast track land reform programme by the Zimbabwean government, so as to try and remedy the imbalance. The process was a noble one, however, it has had certain implications towards economic development.
According to (Mazingi and Kamidza 2011), land has been a source of political conflict in Zimbabwe since 1890 to date due to distribution inequity. For example, the white minority who comprised 3% of the population controlled 75% of the economically viable land, whilst the black majority only had the remaining overcrowded, scattered and unfertile land at their disposal (Mabaye 2005). Hill and Katarere (2002) points out that the white minority occupied the best agro-ecological regions in Zimbabwe. In 1980, The Lancaster House Agreement marked the first effort to distribute land more equitably, and contained provisions on land acquisition which protected farm owners. It established that the government would not engage in compulsory land acquisition, as land distribution was intended to take place under a principle of “willing buyer, willing seller”, whereby the government would pay promptly adequate compensation for property.
It is therefore not surprising that progress under this first phase of reform was slow, and the number of families resettled by the end of 2000 still fell short of the 1980 targets. This was due to the fact that no one was willing to just give up their fertile land as the land could only be bought by the government from those who wanted to dispose of it. It is clear that those who owned the land were not willing to dispose of it as they were benefiting a lot. During the 1990s, less than 1 million hectares of land (2.47 million acres) was acquired and fewer than 20,000 families were resettled. Similarly, much of the land acquired during this time was of poor quality, according to Human Rights Watch, only 19 percent of the almost 3.5 million hectares (8.65 million acres) of resettled land was considered prime, or farmable. The very few farmers who decided to sell disposed of infertile land and the fertile land continued to be under the ownership of the minority. This situation fuelled discontent amongst the majority and resulted in the initiation of the second phase of the Land Redistribution and Resettlement programme in the form of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP), which started in 2000.
The Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) resulted in the creation of a number of small, medium and large scale farms. Furthermore, ownership was transferred from the minority white farmers to new indigenous farmers ( Chamunogwa 2012). This paper seeks to look at how the fast track land reform programme impacted on economic development in Zimbabwe.
Sachikonye (2003) contends that most of the resettled farmers were former employees of the commercial white farmers. This implies that the redistributive agrarian reform helped free peasant part-time labour and farm compound labour from the economic compulsion to provide cheap labour to the Commercial farmers ensure that the land residency and land use rights of farm labour are detached from the provision of labour, effectively abolishing the exploitation of farm workers. This effectively empowered the beneficiaries of the land reform as they no longer relied of meager salaries but were their own bosses as they were now in a position to till the land for their own betterment. Since the majority of the populace had been resettled and were earning more than what they earned from the white farmers, this meant that they had been economically empowered and no longer lived on the mercy of the select few.
Many beneficiaries say land reform helped achieve what the liberation war was meant to bring (Sadomba 2008). The scope of sovereignty and self-determination in such areas is considered to have been enlarged for some, who refer to the reforms in terms of regaining territorial autonomy. The resettled farmers now had land to their names, which is what many had fought for in the liberation struggle but continued to suffer under the white minority even after independence. This sense of autonomy and self determination meant the increase in productivity of the resettled farmers, thus the improvement in their standard of life. This also meant economic liberation for the farmers whose standard of living improved drastically.
Richardson (2004) contends that in 1999 -2000 commercial farmers planted 200,000 hectares of farmland, in 2000 -2001 it was 90,000 hectares, and by 2001 -2002 it was only 50,000 hectares, bringing about a 50%-90% contraction. A significant drop in agricultural production and food availability have been the order of the day after the fast track land programme. This has negatively affected the economic stability of the country. As a result of this decline, Zimbabwe lost its status as the bread basket of Africa
Zikhali (2008) acknowledges that the fast track land reform programme replaced mostly experienced farmers with inexperienced farmers who were subsistence oriented, and in Richardson (2004)’s view lacked the knowledge of running a commercial farm as many farms were simply left fallow or the wrong types of inputs were used. Sharing the same view, Dabale et al (2014) also claims that the necessary extension services required were limited due to capacity challenges faced by the country. The end result was that vast land was left unused and therefore impacting negatively on productivity. The very little that was cultivated yielded little due to the fact that wrong inputs had been used, thus the decrease in productivity. This impacted negatively on the economic development of the country as agriculture which was the backbone of the country was no longer in a position to produce enough for the people, let alone for exports..
Furthermore, the immediate consequence of the fast track land reform programme was an exodus of white farmers from their properties and the loss of jobs and livelihoods for thousands of farm workers (Sachikonye, 2003). Prior to land reform, an estimated 320,000 to 350,000 farm workers were employed on commercial farms owned by about 4,500 white farmers with dependents numbering between 1.8 and 2 million, constituting nearly 20 per cent of the country’s population (Sachikonye, 2003).
The exact figures on the numbers of ex-farm-workers displaced remains contentious, although Commercial Farmers Union (2003) estimated them to be around 200 000 permanent workers, with an additional number of seasonal workers having lost their working opportunities. In addition to the loss of jobs and incomes, farm workers, who even before the advent of the fast track land reform programme were mostly vulnerable as a result of their meager salaries also lost access to basic social services, subsidized food and shelter in some of the cases (Sachikonye 2003). Consequently, thousands of them had their source of livelihoods withdrawn (Richardson, 2004), and constituted only about 5% of the total land beneficiaries from the fast track land reform programme, whilst the rest were completely marginalized from land access (Moyo, 2004). Most of these resettled former farm workers who had lost their jobs were not in a position to realize an income that was even above the meager one that they were accustomed to when they were workers. This resulted in the deterioration of their standard of living and an increased level of poverty within the people. This put a further strain on the economy which was already strained, thus an adverse impact on the economy.
Sachikonye (2003) points out that it had been commercial farmers who were recognized as being among the most productive farmers in the world, holding world records in yields and advanced conservation techniques. The reduction in yields from farming also meant that the country could no longer export much as it couldn’t sustain its people. This resulted in a decline In the realization of foreign currency hence the negative impact on economic development.
From the above, it is clear that the land reform programme’s impact was more negative than positive. Therefore, to address the negatives, the writer recommends that the government must invest in infrastructural development for farmers in Zimbabwe. Most of the farms are hard to reach due to dilapidated roads hence the farmers find it difficult to easily reach markets. Bad roads also lead to quicker depreciation of their assets like delivery trucks, thus inhibiting their progress in development. Most of the farm produce are perishables that should reach markets expediently, however, the bad roads results in the failure to do so.
Furthermore, the government must invest in the economically active population who will be able to put the investments into good use. Most of the land is lying idle due to the fact that most of the elderly beneficiaries are overwhelmed by the work that needs to be done. It is also recommended that the government financing and input programs should ensure that the economically active are the first to benefit because this group of farmers is eager to start its own farm businesses and have the energy to manage. Further to that, the government should ensure that one is allocated what they can manage not allocate land on the basis of who one is.
Lastly, the government should invest in educating farmers to ensure that they establish and grow successful farm operations that will positively contribute to agricultural development in Zimbabwe sustainably. This is so because, as discussed above, most of the poor yields being experienced are due to the improper use of inputs by farmers.
The fast track land reform programme has negatively impacted on economic development more than it has positively done so. It is thus clear that if positive impacts are to be realized, certain issues have to be addressed. The government is to take stock and look at how productivity can be increased by the current landowners and also ensure full and not partial economic empowerment of same.