Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmer's Union (CFU) has condemned a new bill that relaxes the legal processs for the government to seize land from its remaining members.
Zimbabwe's parliament passed the amendment to the Land Acquisition Act on Wednesday. But farmers have warned that it would seriously erode confidence in the viability of agriculture, and negatively affect crop production.
The state news agency, Ziana, reported that the new amendment allows the government to compulsorily acquire white-owned farms after publishing a notice of intention to do so in the government gazette, scrapping the old requirement that a preliminary notice of acquisition by the government should be personally served on the landowner.
CFU president Doug Taylor-Freeme told IRIN that the new amendment "brings more conflict, as farmers have no choice but to take things head-on now".
He said the bill would further erode confidence in the agriculture sector, and financial institutions would be less willing to lend to farmers in need of capital for their activities.
"There's no confidence, because there's no predictability. A farmer may be growing crops and farming today, and then he's gone tomorrow - so there's no confidence in agriculture as a long-term business. It will reduce production ... and farmers are unlikely to be able to access funds for farming activities. The minister [of agriculture] has focussed on acquisition, and not production," Taylor-Freeme said.
Zimbabwe is currently in the grip of food shortages as a result of adverse weather, the impact of HIV/AIDS and the effects of the fast-track land reform programme. Aid agencies forecast that some 7.5 million people will require food aid in the coming months.
The government's fast-track programme was launched in 2000, with the stated objective of correcting the historical imbalance in land ownership. So far, 11 million hectares have been acquired from white landowners - an estimated 90 percent of the commercial farmers - for redistribution to small-scale subsistence farmers and black commercial farmers.
The Land Acquisition Act amendment bill now needs to be signed into law by President Robert Mugabe. Once this happens, organised agriculture intends to take legal steps, said Taylor-Freeme.
"One of the steps [being considered] is litigation, as many farmers believe that the introduction of this type of statutory instrument is violating a lot of constitutional [rights]. If you look at what the parliamentary legal committee said [regarding the bill], it was all adverse. When the thing is gazetted and signed, we will analyse the way it has been written up," he explained.
The official Herald newspaper reported that "the bill generated a lot of debate in the House, with [ruling party] ZANU-PF MPs supporting it, while [opposition Movement for Democratic Change] MDC legislators opposed it".
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions