US ambassador says very few resettled farmers are actually farming


Although the government claimed that it had resettled 350 000 farmers, fewer than 100 000 had taken up residence and less than 40 000 were actually farming.

This was said by the United States embassy in a cable in which it reviewed how many white farmers were left in the country because of the land reform exercise.

The embassy said there were about 600 commercial white farmers left. Those growing tobacco had dropped from 1 580 to 330.

Between 300 000 and 500 000 farm workers had lost their jobs but Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said there were no displaced workers in Zimbabwe.


Full cable:



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Reference ID






2002-11-26 05:34

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.










E.O. 12958: N/A






1. Summary. Given the chaotic nature of President Mugabe’s

fast-track land reform, it is no easy task to quantify this

program. Of 4,500 white-owned commercial farms, our best

guess is that 3,900 have closed down and 4,275 have been

slated for resettlement. Despite GOZ claims that the land

resettlement process is complete, farmers continue to receive

new Section 8 acquisition notices, and others continue to

come under eviction pressure from “third party” forces (e.g.,

war veteran, youth militia, or settler groups). Observers

estimate that between 300,000 and 500,000 farm workers have

lost their homes and jobs, despite press statements from

Minister of Information Jonathan Moyo that “there are no

displaced farm workers in Zimbabwe” — which statement

contradicts GOZ letters to the UN. The GOZ claims it has

resettled 350,000 black farmers on the subdivided commercial

farms, but based on anecdotal evidence and ad-hoc

observation, we estimate that fewer than 100,000 have taken

up residence and fewer than 40,000 are actually farming. As

noted reftel, we believe it is difficult to view fast-track

land reform as anything but a failure at this juncture. The

controversial program will devastate tobacco production,

formerly Zimbabwe’s largest foreign exchange earner and top

private sector employer. End summary.


2. Despite the GOZ’s claims that land resettlement is a fait

accompli, there is little indication that the process has

reached equilibrium. Some commercial farmers have been

granted temporary relief through the courts based on

procedural defects in their acquisition orders, although most

of these expect to receive new acquisition orders at any

moment. Other commercial farmers — 111 total, and at least

twenty in the Karoi area according to one contact — have

received new Section 8 acquisition orders since November 1.


Actual Occupancy Difficult to Substantiate



3. Due to the fluid situation regarding validity of

acquisition notices, geographical intensity of settler / war

veteran activity, and individual resistance on the part of

evicted farmers, there is no consensus as to how many

commercial farmers remain on their property. There is

similar lack of consensus on how many “new farmers” have been

settled. Most observers concur that at least 95% of

commercial farms (approximately 4,275 of 4,500) have received

acquisition notices, although some farmers remain on their

land and continue to resist acquisition through the courts

with varying degrees of success. The closest estimate at

this point is that approximately 600 commercial farmers are

still attempting to produce something on their land, although

more than half of those continue to struggle against actual

seizure of their property. The GOZ continues to claim that

300,000 indigenous farmers have been resettled under the A1

small-holder model, and that 50,000 indigenous farmer have

been resettled under the A2, or “new” commercial farmer,

model. The true levels of resettlement lie far below these

optimistic claims.


4. Occupation of resettled plots cannot be estimated with

any certainty, but visits by Post personnel to affected areas

indicate that productive cultivation of acquired farms is the

exception rather than the rule. Even ZANU-PF supported news

reports concede that convincing A2 “new farmers” to take up

their plots has been difficult. It is less clear what

proportions of A1 farmers are on the land, but the GOZ figure

of 300,000 is almost certainly an exaggeration. Moreover,

based on our personal observations, we believe that a

substantial portion of these small-scale farmers have not

planted a significant crop on resettled land. The pattern

has been that plots containing buildings such as a homestead

or barns are occupied quickly, while the majority of plots

without such amenities remain abandoned. The impact that

resettlement is having on individual agricultural sectors is

slightly easier to quantify.



Commercial Farmers’ Union Statistics



5. The Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU), battered by GOZ

disdain and rocked by internal conflict, is desperately

attempting to maintain some degree of relevance in the

current chaotic situation. Many CFU farmers, once they have

been evicted from their property, no longer maintain ties

with or forward information regarding their situations to the

CFU leadership. However, the CFU remains one of the few

organizations attempting to quantify the situation of

commercial farmers as a whole. The CFU claims that 90% of

white commercial farmers have been formally dispossessed of

their properties since the beginning of the land reforms in

2000. At this point, the organization estimates that 600

commercial farmers retain some physical control of their

property, although many remain under threat of acquisition.


Commercial Tobacco Farmers Drop from 1,580 to 330

——————————————— —-


6. Tobacco, long an integral part of Zimbabwe’s economy

which accounted for up to a third of foreign exchange,

deserves special mention. Zimbabwe produced its maximum

output of 220 million kilograms of tobacco in 2000. During

this last growing season, approximately 1,580 commercial

farmers produced 148 million kgs of high-grade tobacco, while

approximately 12,000 small-scale indigenous farmers produced

12 million kgs — a reduction of 60 million kgs. Owing to

experience and economies of scale, commercial growers can

produce between 2,500 and 3,000 kgs per hectare, while

small-scale growers generally produce around 1,000 kgs per



7. The Zimbabwe Tobacco Association (ZTA), an apolitical

industry group whose survival depends on the success of

small-scale growers, keeps fairly close estimates of tobacco

grower activity. ZTA states that approximately 330

large-scale commercial growers are attempting to produce a

crop during the next season. Of those commercial growers,

the ZTA believes that at least half are facing continued GOZ

attempts to acquire their land. The ZTA estimates that next

year’s tobacco crop could result in 70 million kgs, if

commercial growers can maintain control of their land through

the harvest and curing process. Other observers are

predicting a maximum crop size of 20 to 30 million kgs.

Although seed sales indicate that next season’s crop could

theoretically equal last year’s yield, many factors suggest

that this — along with the GOZ’s euphoric predictions of a

2003 crop in excess of 300 million kgs — is merely wishful






8. According to the ZTA, tobacco is a chemical-intensive

crop, requiring expensive insecticides and fertilizers

throughout the growing period, and the “new” small-scale

farmers (who, without title to their land, have little

collateral for bank loans) have been given scant GOZ

assistance. Additionally, many existing small-scale farmers

previously received significant assistance from their

commercial farmer neighbors in the form of tobacco seedlings,

chemicals, and assistance with tillage. With the

dispossession of the vast majority of the commercial farmers,

much of this assistance has disappeared. Finally, production

of the most valuable product — flue-cured tobacco — is a

labor-intensive skill acquired through years of experience.

Zimbabwean commercial farmers have been developing their

skills over generations, and assuming that any farmer with a

plot of land and a hoe can equal their quality or quantity of

production is naive at best. While some tobacco will be

produced, Zimbabwe’s days as the biggest producer of

flue-cured tobacco — as well as the days when tobacco

earned 30% of Zimbabwe’s forex — are finished.


9. Commercial farming has become a ghost industry, with

operators few and far between, while hundreds of thousands of

hectares of formerly productive fields lie barren and wasted

under the husbandry of the “new farmers.” Some small-scale,

indigenous and new commercial farmers will succeed, and some

may even be profitable. However, when weighed against the

phenomenally productive and lucrative commercial farming

sector of several years ago, even the GOZ will be

hard-pressed to present these isolated successes as a victory.



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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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