Zimbabwe's controversial land reform programme took a significant turn this week when the government announced its intention to nationalise all productive farmland in the country.
"In the end all land shall be state land and there will be no such thing called private land," the official Herald newspaper quoted Lands Minister, John Nkomo, as saying on Tuesday.
Nkomo said plans were already underway to abolish title deeds and replace them with 99-year-long leases. "We don't believe that land should be used for speculative reasons. Title deeds are no longer issues we can waste our time on because the 99-year leases will act as good enough collateral."
He advised all land owners to come forward for vetting in order to qualify for the 99-year lease agreement, citing the "odious and unnecessary" process of giving notice of intent to acquire agricultural land under the government's fast-track land redistribution programme.
Before land reform began four years ago, a small group of white commercial farmers owned almost 70 percent of Zimbabwe's arable land. Today fewer than 500 remain, owning just three percent of the country's land, according to a government land audit report.
Political observers told IRIN that Nkomo's announcement was "inevitable" given the determination of the government to see its version of land reform through, despite widespread criticism of the violence and lawlessness that often accompanied the land seizures.
"The announcement is not as dramatic as it sounds, especially since the government had already begun a comprehensive programme of expropriating almost all privately-held land. It was inevitable that the state would pursue widespread nationalisation as it underpins the current land reform policy," Harare-based land expert, Sam Moyo, told IRIN.
He highlighted the recent passing of the controversial Land Acquisition Bill which empowered the minister of lands to seize some 11 million hectares of agricultural land.
"That figure covers almost all privately-owned farmland in the country. Nkomo has merely clarified any uncertainty among white farmers and the newly-resettled farmers they may have had over land tenure. It also put to bed any hope white farmers may have had about compensation for the land taken from them," Moyo added.
The impact of the implementation of the lease agreement on small-scale farmers, for whom land reform was ostensibly aimed at supporting, remains unclear.
"Unless the state-owned banks such as the Land Bank and AgriBank accept the lease agreement as collateral, it will be impossible for farmers to receive loans. None of the private banks will provide loans to the farmers, given the insecurity of a lease agreement. It would be too risky," Dennis Nikisi, director of the Graduate School of Management at the University of Zimbabwe, told IRIN.
He pointed out that farmers who were issued with the lease agreements would be less inclined to make improvements to the land.
"Land ownership has been a volatile issue and landlords are all too familiar with how quickly land, which originally belonged to them, can be taken away. Without the security that title deeds provide, it is unlikely that we will see high levels of agricultural productivity," he said.
But Moyo disagreed, arguing that in some Southern African countries, for example Zambia, land owners had farmed successfully under similar lease agreements.
"The nationalisation of agricultural land does not inherently mean that productivity will fall. However, for it to work in Zimbabwe, the government should make a serious commitment to assisting newly-resettled farmers," Moyo said.
Black farmers, who received land under the reform programme, have complained that not enough was being done to support them once they received their new plots, the Herald has reported.
The government has blamed the lack of foreign currency for its inability to meet the demands for additional assistance from the newly-resettled farmers.
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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