Tough times ahead for Zimbabwe's farmers

Published: 09/10/2011


Commercial farmers in Zimbabwe this week issued a damning outlook of the
coming agricultural season, saying the future of the sector was gloomy, with
dismal statistics on productivity on farms and an uptick in violence a

Zimbabwe's former white commercial farmers under the Commercial Farmers'
Union (CFU) umbrella body are, however, engaging in dialogue with powerful
political players "behind the scenes", as one strategy to hang onto the
remainder of the land still in their hands.

"Security on the farms is a challenge," president of the CFU Charles Taffs
told I-Net Bridge/BusinessLIVE in an exclusive interview this week,
describing how one of their members had been attacked and robbed at his farm
in Mashonaland West and was on life-support during the interview.

He also slammed authorities for moving slowly in dealing with the cases.

"It has been difficult to find any support for our member. We have written
to the police but got nothing - not even an acknowledgement. We got nothing,
nothing, nothing," he said.

However, the CFU believes the new initiatives going forward will help.

"We're trying to bring all stakeholders, civil society, industry and even
the diplomatic community together for them to understand and appreciate our
situation and our profile as we seek a solution to the land issue as well as
property rights and compensation," said Taffs.

"The political drive - local and regional - is ongoing," he said, adding:
"We can't ignore these power players."

Taffs noted that most of these "powerful players" had also gone into
farming -albeit with disastrous results so far.

"They have failed," he said bluntly, adding: "But now since they no longer
have cheap, easy access to printed money, they are now realising how tough
farming is. They are stressed financially."

Looking at the future, Taffs said the outlook was gloomy, with latest
figures showing that less than 10% of the productive land during the land
reform programme was being productively used.

Add to these problems is the lack of finance from banks.

"It's a vicious circle with the new farmers trying to survive in a paradigm
of won't pay, can't borrow," he said, explaining that the result is a huge
default rate.

A source in the banking sector and privy to the agro-business units, says
debt-servicing has seen defaulting by commercial farmers exponentially
shooting up to an unprecedented rate of about 80%.

"Prior to the fast-track land reform, the default rate was around 5%," he
revealed, adding that there was zero money for agriculture and "we are going
to witness plenty of casualties".

"Without a change in the way we are going about our agriculture, it is like
going against a strong headwind, and the future looks bleak," the farmer
come banker said.

And the CFU president concurred.

"If you want the farmer to produce, give the value of land into the farmer's
hands so he can borrow against that," Taffs insisted, elaborating: "The
farmer will definitely not only use that land productively but he will also
promote good land use sustainably."

Taffs said compounding the challenges ahead was the growing issue of
unannounced and prolonged power outages by the power and energy utility, the
Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority.

However, he believes there is a silver lining to every cloud and he urged
those still on the land to remain resolute, telling them: "Despite all the
seemingly unending challenges, on the positive side we know everyone wants a
solution and the solution is surely behind the turn."

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