How can we feed our nation again? – Ben Freeth

via How can we feed our nation again? | The Zimbabwean 27 November 2013 by Ben Freeth

All sorts of plans have been hatched during the chaotic period of farm invasions that have characterized the last 12 years of food insecurity in Zimbabwe and forced the country to become reliant on food aid from the much-maligned international community.

There were the Agricultural Sector Productivity Enhancement Fund (ASPEF) loans, where farmers could borrow large amounts of money at substantially negative interest rates so that the loans amounted to free hand-outs of cash.

There was the Reserve Bank-led free hand-out of tractors, combine harvesters and all sorts of agricultural equipment – unashamedly to the Zanu (PF) chefs. There was the free diesel scheme. There was Operation Taguta/Sisuthi, where the army attempted to farm the nation into food security. Each plan, at huge cost to the economy, has failed, and the people have got thinner.

The latest plan is a novel one. It involves government asking former commercial farmers – whom they threw off their land, in many cases violently – to come back to their farms! All over the country I hear of white farmers being phoned up and called to meetings where they are being asked to resurrect their devastated farming operations.

For many years before and after independence, these farmers fed the nation and the region. Their productivity was responsible for the relatively vibrant economy the nation enjoyed had before the invasions began, and they were the largest employer– by a significant margin. The manufacturing and industrial sectors were largely reliant on their world-class enterprises.

The new farmers have been unable to feed the nation. The manufacturing and industrial sector has fallen into ruin and the economy is a shadow of its former self. If it had been allowed to grow at the rate it was expanding prior to the farm invasions, it would now be an extremely vibrant sector.

So why should this latest scheme – which involves persuading dispossessed farmers to return to the land – also fail?

The reason is simple. It is not because their farms have been run down and asset-stripped by the new farmers [although this is a factor]; it is not because of any impending droughts; it is not because of the travel and financial restrictions on the few remaining government officials [which their propaganda describes as sanctions]; it is not because of input problems or any other reason.

Except one.

The missing ingredient that would allow us once again to become a nation able to feed its people, supply its industry with raw materials, employ its workers, pay its civil servants and make Zimbabwe great, is the rule of law.

To expect a bunch of bruised and battered farmers to go back to their farms and feed the nation on the whim of a Zanu (PF) government without the rule of law is absurd, especially as various strongmen are continuing to invade some of the few remaining commercial farms.

For example, on Lambourne farm, just outside Chegutu, the Lamb family, who had managed to continue farming operations despite extremely difficult and often dangerous conditions, were evicted recently. The reason? They had to make way for Zanu (PF)’s newly appointed Information and Communication Technology Minister, Webster Shamu, and his family.

Under the new Constitution, and with the current laws and lawlessness in Zimbabwe, the Lambs knew that any resistance to the whim of the minister would be futile. They left their home and a lifetime’s work with no compensation, as was the case with the rest of the dispossessed farmers.

Without committing to the rule of law, how could government be serious about wanting farmers to go back onto the land when they could again risk losing everything once they have re-established productive farming enterprises? The government claims that offer letters will be given – and in some cases we hear of offer letters that have been issued already to white farmers, but why should these offer letters offer any security? Virtually simultaneously, we hear that offer letters provided previously to A1i farmers are being cancelled!

Armed only with an offer letter – and not with the legal title deeds to the farm – will any bank manager in his right mind give money to a farmer to rebuild his farm? Clearly the risk is far too great. If he was somehow persuaded to do so, it would have to be at interest rates that are many times higher than in countries where the rule of law exists, and this would be uneconomic.

The bottom line is this: Unless the Zimbabwe government starts to make decisive steps to revert to and respect the rule of law, any plan to feed the nation and resurrect agriculture is doomed to fail.

Under the rule of law, perpetrators of lawlessness and extortion need to be arrested and prosecuted. Human rights conventions need to be adhered to. International law needs to be respected. International court judgments need to be upheld. The new Constitution needs to be changed to fall into line with the rule of law and the protection of human rights – with property rights firmly established. Unless Zimbabwean farmers, whether black or white, enjoy fully bankable and transferable property rights, as is the case today, all plans to feed the nation and develop agriculture will fail.

The overriding question is this: Is the government genuinely serious about feeding the nation? If so, it will have to demonstrate its commitment by including the most important ingredient – the rule of law – into its strategy. Until it does so, the people of Zimbabwe will remain in the wilderness, being fed by other countries locally and abroad where the rule of law is established and respected.


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    The rule of law to protect whites people from loosing their farms , ok thats fine , it is raising some trepidations that you are one sided , you haven’t mentioned on how the entire Zimbabweans have to be part of the solution to the feeding of the nation , are you only trying to present your own group of people or calling on the solution which involves all races . Your views are fine but the disagreement is that it looks like you have turned to be tribally on this issue . Do you think if the government can provide the neccessary resources to the blacks , can’t they be productive to feed the nation .

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      masvukupete 9 years ago

      @Khabo. Just take the simple moral things in life and try and interpret them in writing. That is the is the basis of the rule of law. Pay your debt. Do not steal. Respect that which belongs to someone else. Do unto others as would like be done to yourself (empathy). Respect fair and moral authority. Help those in need. Think about the consequences of your actions. It is really based on human morality. Keep to societal rules of existence. However if you do not have a moral mind the idea of the rule of law will be lost on you. Most people without a moral mind are often defined as psychopaths.

      People in politics should have the mind to live not by rules as in football but through human morality. The people in politics should have the morality to go to the referee and say to the ref “the ball did really cross the line” instead of playing on as long as the referee did not see it. They should understand that they really do have power beyond life and death of their people.

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      Yes, it’s true to say even if the government provides its farmers with support nothing productive will ensue. For as long as there is no rule of law or put simply legitimate government, then farmers like any other sector, will not be productive to their fullest potential. Ben Freeth’s remarks are partially correct. What is not correct is to imagine that the former colonial farmers will be given back land to farm and feed the nation. I can’t emphasise enough why this notion is rabid given the land’s political history. What I can tell you is that Zimbabwe’s settled farmers are very capable farmers [majority] what they lack is government support and rule of law. Imagine you grow your crops and when truck them to market you face four police roadblocks and a VID check point. In all cases you give away a total $100 ‘bribe’ or extortion as there would be nothing wrong with your truck or your business [lets accepts that minor blemishes exist on third world country vehicles which do not warrant any ticketing against in the eyes of a sensible police force], how far does your business go. Does such a frustrated mind become good for business? The VID detains your truck cruelly without or with minor faults and cannot release it unless you pay them extortion money on top of default fines. You send your tobacco crop to the floors and there you are asked to pay $100 so by the buying system so that your commodity fetches correct prices other than that you trade at a big loss. This way how much do you go as a farmer. You want title deeds for your house so that you mortgage it to secure a loan. The council officials take their time to attend to your request unless you can push he process by paying bribes. How much can you achieve? So, this is food for thought. What I have said is correct and I have experienced it and failed to move forward. The so-called diesel, tractor and other machinery support largely benefited the cronies and the rest of the farming community didn’t benefit. Yes, there won’t be any success without rule of law, forget. But please, don’t contemplate bringing back the former colonial farmers unless you can resettle them in more or less similar way as has happened to the landless; no problem. I don’t hate them, Love them sincerely, I love Ben Freeth and all others. I even advocate compensation for those who lost their land, albeit on historical prices, unless the donor community pumps up money for that. Ultimately we need a one united Zimbabwean community but this is a function of the willing power of a legitimate government. God bless Zimbabwe!

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    Dayford 9 years ago

    ID Smith once called Zanu PF a gang of thugs, thats what they are Ben and they do not have a clue on how to run the country.

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    Dayford 9 years ago

    Khabo has lost the plot.

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    Johann 9 years ago

    Yes Khabo, the rule of law must apply to all irrespective of the colour of skin and tribe.

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    Tjingababili 9 years ago


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    Michael 9 years ago

    Rule of Law is the last thing Zanu/Mugabe wants. How would one steal without prosecution if there was Rule of Law. If the very concept of Rule of Law was applied to Zimbabwe tomorrow then the prisons would be bursting with Zanu thugs and thieves.

    Without legal land tenure and property rights being upheld before a court of law no farmer white/black/brown/pink will be successful, more importantly no financial institution will lend money for production inputs.

    I believe a black/white cooperative farming scheme would be very effective in restoring Zim back to the bread basket it once was. But this will never happen under Zanu and their apartheid policies of indigenisation.

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    Doris 9 years ago

    Khabo, no one has stood up more for the plight of the black farmer and farm worker, than Ben Freeth. He is not a racist, but a realist. There are many black Zimbabwean farmers who bought their farms on a willing seller, willing buyer process. These farmers have also lost their land to greedy big wigs who have a bunch of thieving thugs behind them. However, a Zimbabwean farmer is just that – a Zimbabwean farmer – regardless of race, tribe or religious beliefs.

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    Its all about real freedom, freedom not to live under intimidation, freedom to do the profession of your choice, freedom to have un-politicised law enforcement, freedom from stereotypical labelling, freedom from rascist abuse, freedom from constant blame. No-one needs to be controlled like they still at school forever, let people be. You cannot take the whiteness out of a white farmer, as you cannot take the blackness out of a black farmer. Farmers are experts at self-sustainability, and that should be you main concern. Governments should start shifting the focus from dividing existing wealth to creating new and more wealth.

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