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Land reform can transform livelihoods

THAT the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) has reduced Zimbabwe from the breadbasket to the basket-case of Africa is the crude economic caricature synonymous with most media headlines worldwide since the inception of this large scale agrarian restructuring revolution in Zimbabwe. The same critics have argued that the partitioning of large scale estates into small holdings has had a negative impact on the ability of the country to feed its population which has resulted in food insecurity and an over-reliance on imports from neighboring countries. That is the gloomy economic picture that is painted and it is attributed to the country’s land reform programme.

The only way of correcting this economic distortion is through a thorough understanding of the realities on the ground without emotive and self-indulgent tendencies. The existence of an inverse relationship between farm size and farm productivity has been observed by agricultural and development economists for a long time. Small-holder farmers face lower opportunity costs of labour than large, commercial farms. Spread nationally, smallholder agricultural economic activity creates more employment and improves livelihoods than the large-scale commercial farms because the activity is strategically and economically integrated within the highly populated rural areas which means the multiplier effects would be substantial. Hence it is important to analyse the FTLRP on the balance of its intended long-term outcomes.

Feder(The relation between farm size and farm productivity : The role of family labour, supervision and credit constraints) clearly explores this relationship between farm size and productivity and the argument is that if labour market imperfections inevitably render smallholder farmers more productive, then it might follow that land redistribution can stimulate agricultural productivity and economic growth. There is no argument that subsistence peasantry should be viewed for its short-term foundational base, however there is sufficient literature to indicate that smallholder agriculture that is labour intensive, given the right amount of support is equally efficient to the economic transformation of small and middle income countries.

The Zimbabwean agrarian sector was dominated by large scale farms prior to and soon after independence and in as much as it produced significant growth its impact on livelihoods and employment creation was not as effective as post land reform. In earnest it only fostered a culture of dependence, ingrained inequalities and only allowed the extension of a class that was perpetually deprived economically. With the FTLRP there has been a paradigm shift in the traditional role of smallholder agriculture as a platform for the country’s economic transformation. A case in point is the resettled poultry farmers at the Central Estate Farm near Mvuma. Their projects have generated substantial income and contributed to the development of the community through creation of employment for the residents of Mvuma and multiplier effects in the surrounding areas.

The Zimbabwe government is playing its role in enabling smallholder farmers to increase their access to the various areas of market engagement. The FTLRP has seen the emergence of a smallholder agriculture sector that contributes to the national economy through employment creation, production of surplus and improving earnings of the farmers and the farm workers. The process has also engendered more employment along the value chain and providers like traders, transporters, retailers, processors and others have directly and indirectly benefitted. There is an emerging flourishing new middle-class which is evenly spread throughout the country with indicators showing a positive coefficient in the gross domestic product, employment and improved livelihoods. This has had a positive impact on some newly resettled farmers in Zimbabwe in terms of better nutrition and enhanced household earnings. The downside is that there has been a temporary dislocation in terms of food security as a significant number of the newly resettled smallholder farmers have concentrated on cash crops, in particular the lucrative tobacco farming which has seen food crop production decline considerably. Equally significant in this regard are the persistent droughts that continue to affect the agriculture sector in Zimbabwe.

Researchers have pointed to the successful Green Revolution in Asia where an agriculture-led growth model has played a crucial role in the economic transformation and in poverty reduction. Similarly in Zimbabwe it is important to note that agriculture and agriculture-related activities provide most of the employment in the country and that the sector accounts for 20% of the gross domestic product. Although Zimbabwe has an enhanced mining sector, the industrial and manufacturing base is currently severely curtailed and with two-fold competition from the developed world and the emerging large economies, agriculture offers a solid foundation for economic transformation.

A World Bank Report (‘World Development Indicators’, 2006) highlighted that between 1990-2004 African industry including mining and mineral-based manufacturing grew at 1.9% per year compared to 2.5% for agriculture and agriculture alone accounts for two thirds of the gross domestic product. The only way smallholder farmers can play a significant part in the growth of their economies is by overcoming the high costs and prohibitive transaction costs, thus enabling them increased access to assets, information, services and markets necessary to grow.

The FTLRP represented a radical and necessary restructuring of agricultural production which has created a new home-grown economy. The government is therefore tasked with ensuring massive investment into the sector to spearhead the transformation. There are general concerns about the poor rural infrastructure, lack of inputs, poor soils and adverse weather conditions minimising the potential for growth in agriculture and economic development. The government has been understandably limited by unavailability of capital due to the crippling effect of sanctions and unfortunately the effects of drought. There is need for a concerted effort to expedite smallholder-driven agricultural development through increased and sustained investment in inputs, rural infrastructure revamp and agricultural funding to speed up economic growth.

The process takes time, is continually changing, success cannot be gauged for its short-term upshot and it is dishonest to judge the success or failure of the land reform programme based on short-term outcomes. This new agrarian structure has seen the emergence of much greater opportunities for interaction as opposed to the old model that clearly distinguished peasant and commercial agrarian activities. These interactions have seen new farmers being more innovative, having more access to the wider markets and their contribution having a real impact on the national income. The land reform in Zimbabwe must be viewed for its long term vision of economic restructuring and restoration.

Source Bernard Bwoni (New Zimbabwe)

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