Agrarian reform is cultivating the rise of an indigenous agrarian middle class, capable of serving not only as the drive-chain of an agriculture-led economic recovery, but also as a regional beacon for the attainability of agrarian economic independence.
The Land Democratisation Programme is proving to be a resounding success on three major fronts: firstly, ownership and indigenisation; secondly increased exports and tobacco production and finally, serving as encouragement for swifter agrarian reform across southern Africa.
Regarding ownership and indigenisation, land democratisation has been largely egalitarian and broad-based. Land previously owned by 4000 white commercial farmers is now shared between 300,000 families.
70 per cent of the redistributed land has benefited 220,000 poor rural families and their urban counterparts, who on average have acquired 20 hectares of land. The remaining land has benefited 80,000 new small to medium-scale commercial farmers with an average of 100 hectares.
A small number of large-scale commercial farmers remain, including both white and black farmers, but their land sizes have been greatly reduced to 700 hectares on average. This is much lower than the average of 2000 hectares held by the previous 4000 landowners .
Newly resettled farmers have faced several obstacles since land democratisation began, including recurrent droughts and dry spells, shortages of inputs, lack of capital and poor access to credit.
Despite these adverse conditions, land utilisation levels on newly resettled farms have already surpassed the 40 per cent mark that prevailed on white farms after an entire century of State subsidies and racial privilege.
In-fact, newly resettled farmers have caused tobacco production to double this year. The harvest exceeded market expectations by reaching 119 million kilogrammes, compared with 59 million kilogrammes last year. This year’s crop, the largest recorded since 2003, will be worth about $350m to Zimbabwe.
More than 53,000 farmers have so far registered to grow tobacco next season. These registrants form the nucleus of an indigenous agrarian middle class. A burgeoning class that will soon be demanding increasing banking, telecoms, retail and leisure services. This demand, even more than the nation’s raw material wealth, will become the real driver of foreign investor interest – the emergence of under-leveraged middle-class consumers.
Thus, the indigenisation of Zimbabwe’s agriculture will have the net effect of encouraging foreign investment.
The success of small-scale black farmers, who started with nothing but land, toiled through dry-spells, sanctions and hyperinflation, and are now the drive chain of an economic boom, will send shock-waves across southern Africa.
Nowhere will the repercussions of this success be felt more strongly than amongst the landless in South Africa. A nation in which eighty per cent of agricultural land is owned by white South Africans, who make up only 10% of the population – the legacy of racist apartheid laws.
As a result, landlessness blacks in the new South Africa face all forms of social injustices: rampant unemployment, poor sanitation, homelessness, and electricity and water cut-offs – the list is unending.
Consequently, repressed apartheid-era anger has yet to find a proper exit and the process of land redistribution is painstakingly beaurocratic. Infact many communities simply give up, as they have no capacity to interpret the law and have limited access to legal aid.
All the while, North of the Limpopo river previously landless black farmers are enjoying a bumper harvest. However, in stark contrast, South of the limpopo the pitfalls of delaying land reforms are tragically illustrated by the fact that an estimated 3000 white farmers have been murdered since 1994 at an alarmingly accelerating rate.
Clearly, South Africa’s Government has a lot to learn from its northern neighbour Zimbabwe and it ought to take bold steps to empower its people before simmering tensions boil over and threaten the very fabric of the Rainbow nation.
Thus, the rise of an indigenous agrarian middle class will not only serve to provide the Zimbabwean economy with the drive chain it so requires, but it will also send a positive signal across the region that equitable land ownership is both desirable and attainable.
By Garikai Chengu.
The author is a Researcher at Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.