Land seizure has cost Zimbabwe US$12 billion – farmer’s union

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The seizure of white-owned farms and their handover to black workers has cost Zimbabwe US$12 billion in lost production over the last ten years, according to the Commercial Farmers’ Union.

The Union said in Harare that president Robert Mugabe and his family own 39 farms which had been seized while hundreds more had been ‘stolen’ from white farmers and given to inexperienced black workers and war veterans. Before Mugabe’s land reform policy, whites controlled about 70 per cent of Zimbabwe’s arable land despite make up less than 1 per cent of the country’s population.

Union head Deon Theron said food production had fallen by 70% since Mugabe began seizing farms in 2000, the UK’s Daily Mail reports.

Mugabe maintains that land seizure is the only way to redistribute wealth and that he is only correcting colonial era practices.
“If the aim of the land reform was to evict whites and replace them with blacks, then it can be deemed a success,” Theron said. “However, if the aim was that it should benefit the majority and not only a chosen few, then it has been a failure.”

Theron said that while Zimbabwe produced a surplus of food before Mugabe’s land reforms, and was known as the bread basket of Africa, the country now faces food shortages and a wrecked economy as the land seizures had destroyed Zimbabwe’s tax base.

On Tuesday United Nations agencies said that Zimbabwe needs an extra US$73 million in humanitarian aid this year, mainly due to increased food needs for vulnerable groups despite improvements in the agriculture sector.

Nearly 1.7 million Zimbabweans need food assistance this year, UN humanitarian coordinator Alain Noudehou said during a review of the southern African country’s aid appeal.

As a result, UN agencies were now appealing for US$488 million in aid to Zimbabwe for 2011, up from an initial US$415 million, he said.
“Achievement of the desired food security levels was threatened by a protracted dry spell which affected six out of 10 provinces this year,” Noudehou said.

Last week, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said Zimbabwe’s production of maize grain would rise to 1.45 million tonnes in the 2010/11 season from 1.32 million tonnes in 2009/10.

This year’s tobacco crop was expected to increase by 40% this year due to a boost in funding to farmers from banks and firms, many of which are Chinese, and due to good weather.

However, Theron said that maize production is estimated to be half of 2000 levels while cotton production has fallen 45% and tobacco has declined by 50%. Before the collapse of commercial agriculture in 2000, tobacco was the country’s single largest foreign currency earner, generating US$400 million.

Meanwhile, late last month a Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal asked a regional summit of heads of state to consider a request by a white farmer to suspend the Zimbabwe government from the group over its seizure of his land.

In 2008 a Southern African Development Community tribunal ruled in favour of 78 white farmers fighting against the seizure of their land by Mugabe’s government, but Harare has ignored the verdict.

In the latest application to the tribunal, farmer Louis Karel Fick wants SADC leaders to suspend Zimbabwe until it upholds the tribunal’s order to return confiscated land or compensate farmers for lost property.

This is the third time the SADC tribunal has referred Zimbabwe to the highest regional body for non-compliance with court orders, continued human rights abuses and violation of the SADC Treaty, of which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

Although Zimbabwe has been suffering from economic turbulence, the southern African country’s economy grew for the first time in 2009 after Mugabe formed a unity government with his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, and abandoned the Zimbabwe dollar for the Rand and US dollar. Officials see growth of up to 15 percent this year due to growth in agriculture and mining.