Home » General » Agricultural Productivity Close to Umdala’s Heart [opinion]

THE land issue was one of the key national questions that Father Zimbabwe, the late Vice President Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo confronted. Yesterday we featured an excerpt of his book The Story of My Life in which he highlighted the centrality of the issue land during the Lancaster House Constitutional Conference in 1979 and how the Patriotic Front, led by Cde Robert Mugabe and Dr Nkomo, united to force concessions to fund land reform by Britain and the United States of America. Today, we reproduce another excerpt in which Father Zimbabwe laid his philosophy and vision on land tenure and use in post-independent Zimbabwe…

THERE is no reason why our country, properly cultivated and organised, should not provide food and clothing for several times the present population.

Ironically enough, the areas formerly set aside for white farmers represent our most precious asset.

There were never enough white people to farm the vast tracts of land set aside for their exclusive use.

Over much of our best soil, the trees and the grass and the wildlife have been left untouched.

The commercial farms are so huge that they have hitherto been profitable with low yields per hectare: more intensive production, with more labour on the same area, would make possible far greater production.

But the wasteful farm practices that have been encouraged to grow up in the communal areas would soon destroy that precious asset: and it would be disastrous to encourage new settlements on hitherto underused land without at the same time ensuring that the communal lands do not continue to be laid waste.

The full use of unexploited commercial land, the development of planned communities there, and the reallocation of badly farmed land in the communal areas must go hand in hand…

The strange racial policies of our past governments have grossly distorted the way we use our most precious resource.

We have rich mines and prosperous factories, but our main wealth comes from the land.

We feed our own growing population, and we normally export large quantities of tobacco, grain and meat.

But about half of our usable land produces our entire surplus of food.

It is owned by only about 6 000 commercial farmers all of whom were, until very recently, white.

The other half of our productive land is communally farmed, exclusively by Africans, and is home to about 6 million of our total population of 7.5 million.

The success of the white farmers had several causes.

The colonial governments made sure that the best land was allocated to the whites.

Public investment, especially in irrigation, roads and power supplies, was for whites, not blacks.

The whites received free technical aice on how to work their land most profitably.

Since they owned their land, they were able to borrow on security from the banks for investment in their farms.

They worked hard, and had almost absolute authority over their black employees, who therefore worked even harder.

All this made Zimbabwe’s white-owned commercial farms highly productive. Our communal — that is to say, African — farms are by contrast among the most wretched on the continent.

While the best land was being grabbed for the whites, the black farmers were herded into the poorest and driest areas, denied public investment and the education that would have enabled them to do better.

Since their land was in communal rather than private ownership, they could not borrow from the banks for investment.

Any successful African farmer found his stocks limited by the order of government officials, as the growth of population forced more and more people into the communal lands.

New settlements in the commercial areas must be real, productive farm communities not scattered huts, uncontrolled grazing and loose dogs on the run, but planned villages, fields and paddocks carefully laid out to get the most from the land.

These new communities must include three important groups: land-hungry people from the existing communal areas, workers on existing commercial farms and ex-combatants disbanded from the former guerilla armies.

Above all, they must be offered the technical aice they will need if they are to use the land well.

Such rational settlements, whether on unused land or on farms bought from their white owners, would be positively welcomed by commercial farmers.

Their confidence will be won not by speeches, but by seeing that new settlers make good neighbours.

Source : The Herald