Zimbabwe’s white farmers were very inefficient


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Zimbabwe’s land reform now in its twentieth year has generally been blamed for the current food shortages.

Half the population is reported to be in need of food aid.

The current drought, though affecting the whole of southern Africa, is largely said to be a scapegoat for failed new farmers and the much-heralded government command agriculture scheme.

Rampant corruption within the scheme has made things worse.

Throughout the reform programme, Zimbabweans have been repeatedly told that the government made a big mistake by taking land from white farmers because they were the backbone of the country’s agricultural sector.

Reports of how the former white farmers have turned around the agricultural sectors of neighbouring countries, including far-away countries like Nigeria, are often published to remind Zimbabwe of its big blunder.

The underlying message is that the former white farmers can rescue the country if they are given back their land.

What is totally ignored is that the success of the white farmers was heavily dependent on the government and the financial sector.

More importantly, what is rarely mentioned is that a few years just before independence half of the white farmers were very inefficient and non-productive despite huge subsidies from the government.

And this was some 86 years after the white settlers took over the country and pushed blacks out of the most productive land.

New farmers have only received credit in two books, one co-authored by Ian Scoones and the other by Joseph Hanlon, both British scholars.

Roger Riddell in his book The land problem in Rhodesia published by Mambo Press in 1978, soon after then Prime Minister Ian Smith entered into an internal settlement with black “moderates”, says in 1976, 9 million acres of white farming land was categorised as potential arable but only 15 percent was being cultivated.

He says that in the Mazowe Valley, one of the most productive cropping regions in the country and also considered one of the most efficient farming areas, average land under cultivation was 38 percent of total, rising to 79 percent in some areas.

Riddell argues that if profitability were used as a yardstick for efficiency on white farms, 60 percent of the farms would have been classified as inefficient in 1976.

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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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