‘Zim can turn agriculture sector around’

Dr. Theo de Jager, newly elected president of the World Farmers’ Organisation said Zimbabwe still has the potential to fix its agricultural sector.

“This can be done if the policy environment is restored. The country still has very good infrastructure and the greatest advantage is that recently there has been unity in the Zimbabwean agricultural sector.

“All four agriculture unions met two weeks ago to discuss strategy. They want to speak to government with one voice, stabilise the agricultural sector, turn around the industry and create jobs,” said De Jager, who helped facilitate the process.

“Agriculture is the only industry in Zimbabwe with the potential to get the country back on its feet,” De Jager said.

“Zimbabwe’s agriculture needs a capital boost. Farmers there will tell you there has to be compensation for those who lost their farms, and for those who were given land without financial aid.”

Before President Robert Mugabe began chasing farmers from their land 17 years ago, Zimbabwe was known as the “breadbasket of Africa.”

De Jager said Zimbabwe’s tobacco and cotton industries are well on track, but these sectors are controlled by big, multi-national companies.

These companies not only lend money to farmers to plant, they also determine what farmers are paid for produce.

“It is thus a closed value chain,” said De Jager.

Zimbabwe only has around 125 white commercial farmers left and most of them farm on significantly smaller pieces of land than before. When the Mugabe regime started with its policy of land reform in 2000, there were about 4 500 white, commercial farmers in Zimbabwe.

A new trend which started in Zimbabwe in the last few years, is that of so-called caravan farmers. They lease land from those who were beneficiaries of Mugabe’s land grabs, while living in caravans on the farms.

Two weeks ago, the 93-year-old Mugabe spit fire and said every white farmer still left in the country, should be expelled.

Meanwhile, sporadic land grabs still happen.

In November 2008, a tribunal from the South African Development Community (SADC) in Windhoek ruled that Zimbabwe’s land reform process is racist and illegal.

De Jager, who visited Zimbabwe recently, recalled a trip he took with a farmer whose farm was expropriated. On the way, they stopped to pick up a policeman asking for a lift.

“When the policeman heard that his benefactor is a former farmer who had lost his farm, he said “I’m so sorry. Your pain is my hunger.”

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