Biti urges finality to land reform

New By Brian Paradza

31 January 2013

FINANCE Minister Tendai Biti has urged an end to the country’s land reform disputes such as compensation white former farmers, warning that, unless a solution is found, agriculture will continue to underperform and hamper economic turnaround efforts.

Speaking at a one day Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) conference in Harare Thursday, Biti said the failure to bring closure to the land issue was frustrating efforts to maximise agricultural output.

Biti said growth projects from the sector will continue to tumble unless a solution is found to the land issue starting with the establishment of a land market.

“Up until 1999 over 74% of the bank lending was going towards the agriculture but since the 2000 when the country embarked on the land reform exercise, only 7% of the bank lending is going to agriculture whilst over 20% going to consumptive lending. It’s just not on," Biti said.

“We just need to bring about closure on this issue, have security of tenure and establish a land market. On the issue of compensation the government is in agreement but we just need to agree on the framework of calculating the real value.

“We just have to be realistic on this. I hear figures of a billion dollars. We just need to agree on the methodology to work with.”

Biti’s call chimes with a recent proposal by the white-dominated Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) which also warned that agricultural productivity would not return to the pre-land reform levels unless the compensation issue was resolved and the government came up with a workable land tenure system.

“Government’s inability and failure to pay compensation and bring closure to the acquisition process has crippled the institutional capacity to lend into this sector,” CFU head Charles Taffs said recently.

“We (however) do not wish to turn the clock back. What we want is to go forward in a pragmatic way.”

Meanwhile, regarding productivity, Biti said the government should look to liberalise the buying of produce, particularly of maize, in order to boost the crop’s production.

He said the continued intervention by the government in the procurement of maize has made the maize production unviable resulting in most farmers opting to grow tobacco instead of maize thereby affecting the country’s food self-sufficiency.

“The percentage hectarage of land under maize is now between 40-43% because of our policies. Tobacco production is on the rise because the government has no role to play in its production; it’s all contract farming,” he said.

“We need to have the same arrangement with maize production. If you go to Guruve people are farming tobacco everywhere because of the prices. Tobacco is the only crop responsible for the positive growth being recorded in the agriculture sector.

“We just have to bring an end to new invasions. No revolution lasts forever, it has to end, but you now hear of new invasions.”