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Commercial farmers in Zimbabwe are moving to shift the focus of the land compensation debate to become a national issue, with individual property rights at the centre of the argument.

This is one of the issues being debated during a series of meetings on farm restitution and compensation in Zimbabwe this week. Featuring South African land valuer Mills Fitchet, discussion has zeroed in on the danger of Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector being undervalued because of the nation’s land policies.

The land grab campaign that has defined the current farm ownership system effectively destroyed property rights in Zimbabwe, with vast tracts of land being claimed as ‘state land’ and parceled out along partisan lines. This situation still persists, despite warnings that without a return to a productive agricultural sector, enshrined by rights to property ownership, Zimbabwe’s economy will fail to recover.

John Worsley-Worswick, who heads the Justice for Agriculture (JAG) group, said Wednesday that “there is a necessity to bring the land issue to closure.” He told SW Radio Africa that protection of property rights and individual access to title deed was key for Zimbabwe to move away from being a ‘begging nation’, reliant on highly expensive food imports and aid.

“In Zimbabwe the agricultural land is the biggest national asset, and if this land is not valued properly, to an international standard, then we become a beggar nation and we will have to accept the reconstruction of Zimbabwe on someone else’s terms,” Worsley-Worswick said.

He said that Zimbabwe, which has the potential to be a g player in international food production, “can’t afford to have this asset undervalued in any way.” He added that the local land tenure system, which “hamstrings” agricultural endeavours, means the country’s agricultural value is not what it could be.

“Property rights issues and compensation issues are going to be at the forefront of concerns before we can go forward. These rights have been grossly infringed and trampled on for years. Individual rights to property is a basic human right and these issues have to be dealt with before going forward,” Worsley-Worswick said.

The property rights issue has previously been argued as the key for Zimbabwe’s agricultural restoration, along with a transparent, independent land audit to decipher exactly who owns what in the country.

Such an audit has recently been recommended in a new report about the prospects for Zimbabwe’s economic recovery. The report, Zimbabwe’s International Re-engagement: The Long Haul to Recovery argues that if the country is to salvage its crippled economy and attract investment, the government must demonstrate that Zimbabwe is a worthwhile business destination and credible partner.

The report says the government must move to reduce uncertainty about the multi-currency system, indigenisation, and complete a full, impartial land audit.

Source : SW Radio Africa