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Zimbabwe Under Siege 12/13

It is difficult to separate the effect of drought from that of land reform in determining the overall impact of the process on agricultural production, but it appears that the effect has been deliberately exaggerated and losses due to drought are routinely attributed to land reform by Western reporters. A report by the FAO concludes, "Yields on commercial farms are on average four times higher than on communal farms, in part due to inherent differences in land quality, but mainly because of facilities for supplementary irrigation, greater use of improved technology and management practices, as well as better access to working capital." None of these factors need necessarily be denied to resettled farmers. (89)

Although Western reports persist in viewing land reform primarily through the prism of its immediate effect on production, understanding the process can only be achieved through judging its long-term results. The widespread economic benefit for recipients of land must also be considered. One study determined that "land reform can generate a sustainable income flow for the beneficiaries, in year 15 reaching 570-690 percent of their incomes before the project." The same study also examined the effect of land reform on production and employment, and concluded that "production achieved by the resettled farmers after 15 years would be significant." Since small-scale farming is more labor intensive than on commercial farms, land reform should also result in a net increase in employment. (90) Increasing wealth throughout a broader spectrum of the population should act as a spur to what has been sluggish growth in Zimbabwe.

A report issued by four economists, including two employed by the World Bank, states, "Economic theory is very clear on the fact that a one-time redistribution of assets can, in an environment of imperfect markets, be associated with permanently higher levels of growth." Conversely, "inequality in the distribution of land ownership is associated with lower subsequent growth." A survey of resettlement households covering the years from 1983 determined that "the income of resettled households is more than five times as high as that of communal households in similar areas," and their "productivity has increased significantly." Given enough time, the increase in productivity means that crop yield should improve substantially, although it may never entirely match that of commercial farms, due to the greater possibilities for mechanization on large farms. It is important to note, however, that the percentage of underutilized land in large commercial farms averages about 40 to 50 percent in the regions with the best land, and 85 percent where the land is less suitable for farming. Every study finds that resettled farmers plant a far larger percentage of land than commercial farmers. Therefore, the difference in yield between commercial farms and small-scale farming is to a certain extent offset by the greater utilization of land by small-scale farmers. Consequently, the report by the four economists finds that previous land redistribution has had "no negative impact on large-scale commercial farm output." Those farmers who were resettled in the first phase of land reform in the 1980s "represent 5 percent of the population, but produce between 15 and 20 percent of the marketed output of maize and cotton, while also largely satisfying their own food consumption needs." The report concludes, "The best available data show that the performance of resettled farmers in Zimbabwe is better than is conventionally believed," and that a well-designed land reform program "can have a large impact on equity as well as productivity." (91)

A study examining the effect of global warming on agricultural production in Zimbabwe lends urgency to the land reform process. The study found that maize in Zimbabwe "is increasingly coming under stress due to high temperatures and low rainfall conditions. Projected climate change causes simulated maize yields to decrease dramatically under dryland conditions," that is, primarily in communal areas. Previous studies on the effect of global warming "indicate that smallholder farmers in the marginal semiarid regions of Zimbabwe are the most vulnerable to climate change." The study noted that Zimbabwe has experienced three droughts since 1982 (and now a fourth in 2002, after the study was performed), and that southern Africa is "one of the regions that appear most vulnerable to climate change." As the climate changes, more and more of the land in the arid communal areas will become nonviable for agriculture. Most of the communal areas "are marginal," the study adds, "and will become more vulnerable with climate change." (92) Consequently, without land reform, six million poor black farmers crowded into the communal areas are likely to be driven from their homes as their land becomes increasingly incapable of producing crops. As black small farm owners account for the majority of maize grown in Zimbabwe, climatic change could have a serious effect on agricultural production, and leave millions subject to starvation. Farmers migrating from their no longer viable farms would be left homeless and jobless, with devastating consequences for the economy of Zimbabwe. The lack of land reform, or even a delay in the implementation of land reform, could spell economic and human disaster of grand proportions. The fertile land occupied by the large commercial farms can withstand climate change much more readily than the communal areas. Because land reform is a long-term process, it will take years for resettled farmers to achieve full potential yields. Any delay in implementing land reform would run the risk of production in the resettled areas lagging dangerously behind the rate of loss of production in the communal areas as rising global temperature implacably eliminates farmland in arid communal regions.

Zimbabwe can no longer tolerate the grossly unjust distribution of land created by colonial expropriation. The average white farmer owns approximately 100 times more land than a black farmer, and the land he owns is far more suitable for agriculture. Farms belonging to the Oppenheimer family alone total an area exceeding the size of Belgium, while a great many large tracts of land belong to absentee owners. (93) Among the absentee landowners are members of the British House of Lords and other prominent British citizens, a fact not entirely unrelated to British efforts to derail land reform.

The success of land reform hinges on the extent of inputs into the process from the government of Zimbabwe. A major impediment is that the government finds itself in a dire financial situation due to international sanctions, and this is affecting its ability to implement the support structure necessary for the success of land reform. The government has in place plans to establish 36 irrigation schemes in dry land communal and resettlement areas. The irrigation project will rely on water in existing dams and allow irrigation in areas formally lacking access to water. Irrigation would result in increased yields in dry land areas, and allow nearly year round farming. It would also help to limit or delay the loss of farmland due to rising global temperatures. Unfortunately, progress on implementing the irrigation schemes is held up by the lack of funding. An official from the Department of Irrigation commented that some irrigation projects "have been around for more than five or six years, the feasibility studies are done, etcetera. But due to budgetary constraints we have been unable to implement those projects." (94) Once again, it is seen that international sanctions serve to hurt efforts to improve agricultural output.

The government of Zimbabwe proposes spending a total of $3 billion in support of the land reform process, much of which will be earmarked for building up the infrastructure in resettled areas, including roads, schools and clinics. The initial phase of the plan focuses on immediate support to allow resettled farmers to start farming. Funding the process will be difficult without access to foreign loans. Economist John Robertson warned, "This will place a severe strain on the government's coffers and increase pressure on money supply growth and inflation." (95) Despite these constraints, the government has spent $155 million in initial support for resettled farmers. (96) The intent of land reform in Zimbabwe is not only to redress the injustice of colonial theft, but also to reduce widespread poverty and raise the standard of living not only for the resettled farmers, but for society as a whole. It is also expected that land reform will eventually result in a net increase in agricultural production. Sylvestre Maunganidze, head of political affairs at the Zimbabwe Embassy in Georgia, says, "We realized that unless we maximized production we would not be able to survive the onslaught of the West. We are not a perfect people but we know that there is a group of people outside of Zimbabwe who would only be waiting to pounce on our mistakes but the only response we have for them is to ask them to come back in two years and they would see a transformed Zimbabwe. We thought we had good partners abroad and did not know that we were killing ourselves with this dependency. Now we are winning ourselves from dependency and we want to be independent both politically and economically." No longer would Zimbabwe be "an appendage of the industrial capitalist system," he affirmed. (97)

It is precisely this independence that has made Zimbabwe a target. The Western campaign against Zimbabwe will continue to escalate until it achieves its goal of reversing that independence, regardless of the cost to the people of Zimbabwe. Already New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark has advocated "tougher economic sanctions" against Zimbabwe and its "full expulsion" from the Commonwealth, while British Prime Minister Tony Blair is discussing possible further actions with leaders of African countries. (98) U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker implied that the U.S. is considering further punitive action against Zimbabwe when he warned that "it is time to tell President Mugabe that he needs to reexamine these policies in terms of land seizures and go back to the road of democratic norms that Zimbabwe should be on." (99)

Sanctions continue to take their toll, and Zimbabwe's economy continues to plummet. According to Ken Jerrard, Bulawayo regional president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, the foreign currency shortage has prevented most firms from importing essential capital goods and raw materials necessary to maintain production. He noted that over 100 companies closed down in his province in the previous few months, while others are making drastic cuts in staff to avoid closing. (100) In order to raise foreign currency to meet its budget commitments, the government has been forced to engage in limited and targeted privatization, a painful but unavoidable compromise under the circumstances. A ship carrying fuel intended for Zimbabwe was unable to offload its cargo at the port of Beira in Mozambique. British Petroleum, which owns the fuel storage facilities at the port, refused to accept the fuel because Zimbabwe owed the firm $3 million. Approximately 70 percent of Zimbabwe's fuel is shipped from Libya through the port of Beira, where it is transferred to pipelines. The lack of foreign currency has prevented Zimbabwe from meeting its payments to British Petroleum, and unless a resolution to the dispute can be reached, it could mean a near-total cutoff of fuel, bringing down production in virtually all sectors of Zimbabwe's economy. (101)

Despite Western hostility and belligerence, Zimbabwe remains resolute in its pursuit of land reform and rejection of the neoliberal economic model. "We have not sought to quarrel with any nation. We have no other ambition than to remain sovereign as we cooperate and respect the sovereignty of others," President Mugabe pointed out. "It cannot be the rule of law that is the matter, for here they massacred thousands as they colonized our country and pillaged our resources. We cannot be a nation worth its name if we succumb to and acquiesce in the sheer erosion of our sovereignty." (102)

References and Resources:

Due to the length of this essay and the large number of references, we have created a dedicated footnotes page(P.13).[...]

Gregory Elich has published dozens of articles on the Balkans and East Asia in the US, Canada and Europe, in such publications as Covert Action Quarterly, Politika, Der Junge Welt, Dagbladet Arbejderen, Science&Society, Swans, and other publications. His research findings on CIA intervention in Yugoslavia was the subject of articles in newspapers in Germany, Norway and Italy, including Il Manifesto. He has been involved in peace activities since the Vietnam War, and was coordinator of the Committee for Peace in Yugoslavia. He was a member of a US delegation visiting Yugoslavia after the NATO war, and a member of the Margarita Papendreou delegation, the first to fly on a Western national airline to Baghdad in challenge to the sanctions. He spoke at the International Action Center's opening session of their Commission of Inquiry into NATO War Crimes on July 31, 1999 and again as a witness at the final session of the Commission on June 10, 2000. He has a chapter in the International Action Center's anthology 'NATO in the Balkans.' His slide presentation on the NATO war has been shown in several cities throughout the Midwest [cf. Geoff Berne's War Against Women and Other Civilians in Yugoslavia: Terror Keyed Triumph of the New Colonialism (January 2001) as well as America in Yugoslavia: Peephole into a Hidden Empire (May 2001)]. Finally, Elich is a member of the collective that wrote the recently published book "Hidden Agenda, U.S./NATO Takeover Of Yugoslavia" which can be purchased on line at

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