Zimbabwe's white farmers warn of food shortages

Harare- Zimbabwe (PANA) -- Zimbabwean white farmers battling to save their farms from seizure under government's controversial land reforms, Thursday warned of critical food shortages in the future if the authorities pressed ahead with the programme without adjustments.
Meeting for a two-day annual congress, the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU), which represents white farmers, said agricultural production in Zimbabwe, once dubbed Africa's food basket, had already started to drop due to the government's land reforms, which involve taking over idle farms to resettle landless blacks.
The government, arguing its programme was needed to economically empower the black majority and ensure the country's political and social stability, started taking over thousands of white-owned farms last year to resettle landless peasants, who farm in overcrowded conditions in communal areas.
But CFU officials said the programme had destabilised agricultural production in the key commercial farming sector, and was mainly responsible for this year's projected 600 000-tonne maize deficit, which has forced Zimbabwe to import the staple food.
"We have all the ingredients for success and yet, after several seasons of good rains, when our larders should be full, because of the current political climate, we face food shortages and reduced production," said CFU president Tim Henwood.
"Farmers in all sectors face the toughest economic challenges they have ever faced, and confidence in the commercial sector is at an all-time low," he added.
He said because of the uncertainty of commercial farming in the country, crop production by CFU members, who number 3 500 and control more than 70 percent of the country's arable land, had tumbled since last year when the government launched its controversial land reform programme.
Henwood said maize production in the commercial farming sector had dropped by half to 384 000 tonnes this year, that of cotton to 282 000 tonnes from 400 000 tonnes last year and tobacco by 20 percent.
He said the fall in production was a result of uncertainty surrounding the government's land reforms, and disruption of farming activities on commercial farms by landless peasants who have forcibly occupied the properties to demand resettlement.
"Farmers have been prevented from planning and carrying out their business operations in the face of violence, threats and abuse on their farms, which has resulted in a great deal of uncertainty and loss of business confidence," he said.
But the government immediately dismissed the CFU's warnings of future food shortages, maintaining that its land reforms would, on the contrary, increase agricultural production phenomenally in coming years.
It said Thursday that maize production, for instance, would double in 2002 to 4.
8 million tones after government completes the resettlement programme later this year, in which nearly 500,000 peasants are expected to benefit.
Brushing aside local and international criticism, the government said it would instead speed up the reform programme to ensure that beneficiaries were resettled by October when the farming season starts.
"This [resettlement] would be completed with the provision of crop and livestock inputs to the tune of 15 billion Zimbabwean dollars (273 million US dollars) for the 2001/2002 agricultural season," said Ignatius Chombo, chairman of a government land acquisition task force.

02 august 2001 16:44:00




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