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"Fast track" land reform unsustainable - UNDP

Zimbabwe's controversial "fast track" land reform programme is the cause of much of the economic, political and social instability in the country, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said in a new report released on Wednesday.

"In the medium term, however, as greater equality takes root, there could be less political grievances over past injustices and less reason for conflict over land and economic control," the report said.

The report, based on a UNDP mission to Zimbabwe from 13 November to 5 December, was called for in the Abuja Agreement on land reform signed by the Zimbabwe government in September last year. Under the agreement, brokered by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Zimbabwe agreed to uphold the rule of law, end violence on farms, and end government-backed farm occupations.

The overall assessment

The report noted that the "overall assessment" of the UNDP team was that the "political philosophy" and "socio-economic rationale" of the fast track land reform and resettlement programme remained "sound". But the current scope was not "sustainable" and represented an "over-reach" of the original objectives that was not the consequence of debated and clear government policy "but rather the aggregation of a series of one-off executive actions".

Under the original land reform programme, 5 million hectares of land were ear-marked for resettlement. This, however, increased to about 9.2 million under the government's accelerated reform programme. The report noted that since the inception of the fast track programme in June 2000, up to 6,481 farms were listed for acquisition. Of these, 918 were deleted because they were counted twice and 689 were de-listed. This reduced the total number of farms to 4,874.

The UNDP mission found that the scale of the land acquisition programme was "staggering, as were the difficulties that it has had to confront in the past year". It added that UNDP shared the "wide-spread concern" that the policy-making process could have been more participatory, with the involvement of rural communities, and more transparent.

The selection of beneficiaries could also have been improved, with priority given to those in greatest need and those already with some experience in agricultural production, the report noted.

The team said that the acquisition process "lacked compassion" but was "generally within the law". It added that the process was affected by "cumbersome" consultations, "weak capacity" and poor coordination which led to "numerous" errors in processing the acquisition of properties.

According to the report the "overall trend" was a "substantial" decline in the number of farm occupations after Abuja, but there were still a few post Abuja occupations. "Even if the trend is a steady decline, full compliance with the Abuja agreement is required," said the report.

The report noted that most resettled farmers were not well-prepared for farming because the infrastructure development in most cases were "totally inadequate". Since social and agricultural support services were weak, it was extremely difficult for new farmers to address "fundamental" problems of successfully settling into a new environment.

The economic effects

The report said that the gross domestic product (GDP) was expected to achieve a negative growth of 5.3 percent this year, with tobacco exports falling by an estimated 10 percent. Tobacco is the country's largest source of foreign exchange.

"The inevitable conclusion is that the land-reform programme has not contributed to increasing GDP from agriculture or to an increase in the export of agricultural commodities," it added.

The social and humanitarian dimension

The team noted that the fast-track programme has created disadvantaged communities that "humanitarian" interventions may be required to support those "adversely" affected.

It said that an estimated 30,000 families have been displaced. The report said that many farm workers were suffering from "heightened levels of depression" because of the high levels of violence that they have been exposed to since early 2000.

"This is manifesting itself in increased family violence among farm workers and their families. The incidence of wife and child abuse has risen dramatically in the past two years as has the consumption of alcohol among male workers at the expense of household incomes," said the report.


The report said that the team could not make detailed proposals because of the "rapidly evolving nature of developments in Zimbabwe", but recommended that a follow-up technical mission be dispatched to Zimbabwe immediately after the March presidential election "for a more extended visit at a time when there will be more clarity on ... Zimbabwe's own policies and objectives on land reform".

However, it did recommend the creation of an independent land commission and the development of a trust fund to help resettled farmers. It also recommended that relevant laws pertaining to the land reform process be made more consistent.

For the full report please go to:

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

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