The Cost of the Farm Invasions
In the late 90’s the Government of Zimbabwe held a conference on land reform
in Zimbabwe. Broad agreement was reached between the State, the stakeholders
and international aid agencies but the agreement was never implemented. Two
years later, in an attempt to destroy the opposition base on commercial
farms, the State began what it eventually called the 'Fast Track Land
They justified this programme to the rest of the world by arguing that they
were redressing historical injustices and racial imbalances in the ownership
of the land. The reform programme ignored the legal situation prevailing in
respect to farm ownership and it also ignored the issue of fair and
reasonable compensation for assets taken over by the State.
The legal position was quite straight forward - commercial farmers held full
freehold title and in over 80 per cent of cases, also held a 'certificate of
no interest' issued by the Zimbabwe government allowing them to buy the
farms on the open market after 1980. Such a requirement was mandatory - in
order to enable the State to acquire the farms if they so wished, on a
willing seller, willing buyer basis. Some 3,8 million hectares of farmland
was in fact acquired in this way since 1980.
Farmers holding both the title and the certificates held an unassailable
legal right to the land and all improvements. By so doing they held the
right to receive in full, the market value of such assets when they were
sold, less any bond obligations to banks.
In the following 8 years, thousands of farms were 'acquired' with the regime
changing the law every time a farmer or group of farmers secured legal
judgements in their favour. Eventually a group of farmers took their case to
the SADC Legal Tribunal in Windhoek, Namibia where they initially obtained a
decision saying that they had the right to go to the Tribunal on the issue
(the State had apposed the action) and subsequently secured a ruling in
favour of the farmers - instructing the Government of Zimbabwe to protect
the farmers legal rights.
One small group of affected farmers also enjoyed the protection of a
'Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement' signed between the Government of
Zimbabwe and the farmers home Government. A group of farmers of Dutch origin
who had invested after Independence and were protected by the BIPA took
their case to the international Courts in the Hague. Last week the highest
legal tribunal in the world ruled in favour of the Dutch investors and
granted them nearly 22 million dollars in compensation, payable in 90 days.
The attitude of the regime towards the farm acquisitions was quite straight
forward. They were 'taking the farms' from their owners. They simply went to
a nominated agency or individual and obtained an 'offer letter' which then
allowed the 'beneficiary' the right to take occupation. No protection was
afforded to the owner or his staff and no interference was permitted, as the
operation was considered 'political'. In the majority of cases force was
used - mainly in the form of groups of young, politically motivated thugs
who acted on behalf of the 'beneficiary'. Once the owners and their senior
staff had been evicted, the new farmers took occupation and took advantage
of the assets and even standing crops and livestock on the farms.
Many elderly and outstanding farmers were evicted in this way - leaving some
of them so traumatised that they never recovered. One such farmer, Keith
Harvey, was evicted from his cattle ranch in the midlands and subsequently
went into a cationic coma for two years before he eventually died. He was a
former chairman of the Natural Resources Board and a life long
conservationist. A fine cattleman and a person of great integrity and
commitment to the country of his birth.
But no estimate has yet been made of just what the disruption of commercial
farms has cost us and I asked economists in the farming industry to let me
have the numbers. Even I was shocked by the statistics. In 2000 the total
output of the agricultural industry in Zimbabwe was 4,3 million tonnes of
agricultural products worth at today’s prices US$3,347 billion. This has
declined to just over 1,348 million tonnes of products in 2009 worth US$1
billion - a decline of 69 per cent in volume and a decline of 70 per cent in
What is often not appreciated is that smallholder farmers have been just as
badly affected by the collapse of the industry as the large scale commercial
farmers. Their production in the past season is estimated to have decline by
73 per cent over that achieved in the year 2000. This is on top of the
forced displacement and loss of employment for 250 000 people and their 1,3
million dependents on commercial farms.
Despite these stunning figures the farm invasions have continued with 480
incidents on remaining farms recorded since the GPA was signed in September
last year. Even those farms that were granted legal protection by the SADC
Tribunal have been specifically targeted on a punitive basis by the elements
that are carrying on with this illegal activity and in fact are openly
defying the SADC decisions. The international decision is enforceable and
creates very significant challenges for the new Transitional Government.
Estimates put the total value of potential legal claims at US$5 billion
dollars, some 30 per cent more than current GDP.
It is quite clear that the reform programme pursued by the Zanu PF led
regime since 1998 has been a costly failure. This is demonstrated when it is
appreciated that over 90 per cent of all production from commercial farms in
the past season has emanated from the remaining large scale farmers who are
now being disrupted. There are reports that over half of all the farms taken
over are in fact now derelict and abandoned. Many of the individuals now
'taking' farms are doing so for the third or fourth time. The fact that
sugar production in the lowveld, on highly developed irrigation estates, has
declined by 35 per cent - almost all of the decline outside of the control
of the core Estates of Triangle and Hippo is due to illegal land
It is time to accept that the past policies on land have been a failure and
that it is time to rethink and to put policies in place that will give all
farmers security and enable then to finance their operations properly. Such
policies cannot be implemented until the issue of the rights of farm owners
is resolved and the issue of compensation addressed. The combined costs of
the folly of the land invasions are staggering - they include US$2,8 billion
in international food aid on an emergency basis, nearly US$12 billion in
lost agricultural production over 10 years and now a potential bill for US$5
billion in compensation - a total of US$20 billion dollars.
And now we are asking for billions of dollars to fix this self-inflicted
damage - its bizarre.
Bulawayo, 28th April 2009