Impunity sinking Zimbabwe into poverty, hunger

via Impunity sinking Zimbabwe into poverty, hunger – The Zimbabwe Independent July 31, 2015

If we are to understand the future of agriculture in Zimbabwe we need to understand the past.

Ben Freeth

Why was Zimbabwe such a successful country agriculturally in the past? So what has happened to make it so spectacularly unsuccessful in recent years? What can we do about the future?

Zimbabwe’s past success
By 1975, the UN Agricultural Year Book ranked Zimbabwe second in the world for yields of maize, wheat, soya and groundnuts, and third for cotton. In a combined ranking of these crops, we were first in the world. Our tobacco was rated the best in the world in both yield and quality. Our beef was second to none in the markets of Europe.

There is not a single natural lake in Zimbabwe, and yet when you fly over Zimbabwe you see bodies of water everywhere. There are over 10 000 of them. Excluding South Africa, 80% of the African continent’s dams were built in this country — including the biggest man-made dam in the world at the time, Lake Kariba, constructed between 1955 and 1959.

What was it that made agriculture develop so fast and so successfully in Zimbabwe? It is very simple: property rights through title deeds — protected by the rule of law. If a farmer was not successful, the bank sold his farm to a farmer who was successful, and that farm developed further and became more productive.

Zimbabwe’s current situation

But where are we now? We are in disaster.
Yes, tobacco is moving back up to levels where it was 15 years ago, but at a huge expense to the environment with 300 000 hectares of trees being cut down to cure the crop each year, and if we had expanded as our main competitors have, we would be producing three times our present output.

Milk is down by 80% on what it was at peak production; beef is down by 80%; coffee is down by 90%; paprika is down by 95%; wheat is down by 95%; employment levels are at what they were half a century ago — when we had less than half the population.

The manufacturing sector production has fallen nearly 70%. The maize crop is a failure almost every year. In fact, there is not a year since 2001 when we have not needed food aid to feed the poor — most of those poor being “farmers” — farmers without property rights!

Our GDP, which was bigger than the GDPs of Kenya, Lesotho, Tanzania and Zambia, has now halved and is smaller than all those countries. It is estimated to fall another 5% or so this year.

Reasons for agricultural decline
As a country we have fallen into poverty. Why? What has changed to collapse all that was so spectacularly successful in the past? We all know the answer: the rule of law and property rights have been systematically destroyed through racist and violent policies in the agricultural sector by our government.

We have been left behind. From being second in the world in maize yields, our national average maize yield is now less than half a tonne a hectare. In the United States, the average yield is over nine tonnes per hectare — and they grow 39 million hectares. So we need over 18 hectares to produce the same amount of grain that an American farmer needs only one hectare for.

It is a tragedy. With Zimbabwe’s current abysmal national yields, we would need a land area the size of the continent of Australia to grow as much maize as the US does. American farmers only need a land area the size of Zimbabwe to produce that amount.

Last year in the US, we saw a new world record set of 504 bushels per acre by a farmer called Randy Dowdy in Georgia. In our language that is 31,6 tonnes per hectare.

I get excited about that. But in Zimbabwe we need over 60 hectares to produce what Dowdy produces on one hectare. And yet our yields could be where America’s are today if property rights and the rule of law existed in Zimbabwe.

The future
I am going to Singapore next month. This is a country that is a great success story. It gained independence from Britain the same year as Kenya did, 1963. Both Singapore and Kenya had a GDP per capita of US$500. Kenya over the last 50 years managed to grow their GDP per capita to US$3 000 USD.

Singapore had no natural resources — but they put in a policy of zero tolerance for corruption — and are ranked as the least corrupt Asian country and the seventh least corrupt country in the world; they put in an exemplary justice system; they established secure property rights and they established a small government with very low taxation. They created what is ranked the second freest economy in the world after Hong Kong.

Singapore is now one of the five biggest financial centres in the world and has a GDP per capita of about US$83 000 — 28 times that of Kenya — less than 4%. It won’t surprise you that Kenya is considered to be in the bottom 20% of the world in corruption.
Another country hugely admired is our neighbour Botswana. Their economy at independence was 25 times smaller than the Zimbabwean economy. Their GDP in 1966 was a mere US$51 million and ours was US$1,282 billion.

Their economy was 4% the size of ours. Their government made a strong stand against corruption and is currently ranked in the top 20% in the world of least corrupt countries, the least corrupt country in Africa by far while Zimbabwe is ranked in the bottom 10% by Transparency International.

Botswana established the rule of law, protected individual property rights and developed the freest economy in Africa after Mauritius. Now their economy is significantly larger than Zimbabwe’s with eight times the GDP per capita.

It is not rocket science: Property rights and the rule of law — with a proper justice system, a small government and a free economy (Zimbabwe is ranked in the bottom 2% in the world in terms of economic freedom).

That is it. It is very simple. If that happens in Zimbabwe, our economic future will be great. If it does not, we will continue to fail as a country.

Agriculture can bring Zimbabwe out of poverty, but so long as the toxic Section 72 of our constitution remains in place; so long as court orders are allowed to continue to be ignored; so long as the law and international court judgments are allowed to continue to be spurned; so long as our government continues to justify racism and practice it in defiance of every human rights charter ever written, agriculture will continue to fail. Racist and corrupt kleptocracies will always fail their people.

What we need to do
Increasingly, there is a realisation of what needs to be done to get agriculture going again. It really would not take too long. The land is out there. The former farm workers are out there. The dams are out there. Much of the infrastructure is still in place.

The title deeds and the survey beacons are still out there. The institutional memory within the financial systems is there. The back-up industry is still in place — and where it isn’t, South Africa is across the Limpopo with its back-up industry. With title deeds being respected, much of the skills base would return in one form or another.

But at the moment, the state owns approximately 90% of the land in Zimbabwe and the state (through the ruling Zanu PF party) is very much in control of the people on that land. No civilisation in history has ever been built successfully on such a basis and the past 15 years have shown we are not going to change that trend.
The vast land area that is now vested in the President and the state needs to be put into private hands.

The communal people need title deeds. The 20% of Zimbabwe’s land that has been lawlessly and violently grabbed and dished out to cronies who are not farmers, needs to be returned to the title deed holders or bought by people who are going to farm it.

In Eastern Europe, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique, and other countries where predatory Marxist dictators had grabbed private property from individuals and nationalised them, private properties have been returned to those private individuals.

We all know people who have gone back with their title deeds and claimed back their property in those places. In Zimbabwe, many of those title deed holders who have had their properties nationalised, will say they don’t want to farm any more. They will then have the option to sell to farmers who do.

Whatever happens, property rights need to be re-established. That is the future. It seems impossible at the current time — just as it seemed impossible in the past to people living in similar totalitarian dictatorships where private sector assets were nationalised, but it is not impossible. It has happened in those other countries and it can happen here.

If Zimbabwe’s leaders in the future want Zimbabwe to go forward, they will have to take the bull by the horns and establish property rights, obey court judgments such as one taken to the Sadc Tribunal, and follow the rule of law.

It is our duty, for the future of our country, to employ every means at our disposal to educate, take court cases, build public opinion, present evidence, write literature, lobby and make secure property rights something that is non-negotiable.

If we abandon that duty and property rights continue to be denied to the people of Zimbabwe, the countries which have property rights will have to continue to feed the people on the land in Zimbabwe.
It is as simple as that.

Freeth is the executive director for Mike Campbell Foundation.


  • comment-avatar
    P Svosve 8 years ago

    Freeth’s article exposes part of the reality on the ground. I’d further submit that employment guidelines/standards used to strongly discourage employees from engaging in business activities. This was meant to fend the problem of half-commitment. It worked. We all see it today that those chefs who were allocated land have other activities and so share their time and resources between their jobs and farming. They fail in all activities.

    It is difficult to expect President Mugabe to be tolerant with whites: he was part of the struggle to dislodge them from power! And Uncle Bob is still sunken in the strong belief that the STRUGGLE is still alive! NO the struggle has changed! We now want economic development and NOT fighting the British & Americans.

  • comment-avatar

    What an excellent article… Well done…As another wise man said”not in a thousand years”

  • comment-avatar

    Good for Ben Freeth. He has put is finger on the problem, no rule of law and extreme racism.

    Mugabe was born in 1923 I think? Nearly 100 years ago. The world has changed, but he hasn’t. Blacks were treated badly then and his ancient mind has fossilised into “revenge mode” – forgetting that the whites who stayed on after 1980 were committed to the country. His ancient mind has also conveniently forgotten that he begged them to stay!

    He had NO active role in “the struggle”, he is a total charlatan like so many other loud-mouthed idiots and mock “war vets”

  • comment-avatar
    Michael 8 years ago

    This report is an outline of what is meant by the difference between –

    * economic and financially viable farming producing excess produce for feeding of non-farming citizens of any country and even the export of farming produce and dealt with the basic requirements for such farming; and

    * subsistence farming – where food production is aimed at provision for at most the farmer and his immediate family with very little spare capacity for excess production.

    The difference is in fact between professional farming and non-professional farming. Subsistence farming entails a short term objective to provide for the immediate needs of the farmer and depends on out-dated methods of farming – the economic farming depends on usage of the most modern equipment and technology in farming methodology.

    This is where the Zimbabwe government went off the rails completely. They used land as a political tool and failed badly. Politics do not produce food – modern farming technology does. The idea was to give land to the landless – but what happened in fact was the system was used to cover looting of farms by the politically well-connected. Once a farm was taken over it was asset-stripped and the next farm was gone for by the same people to asset-strip with no real farming in evidence. Where local Black farmers were successful, they were subjected to the same looting mechanism.

    Mugabe never bothered about food production – what he and his cronies embarked on was self-enrichment. That in itself meant that the agricultural production capacity of the country was destroyed and the recovery under the present system is gone. It will take many years to correct what has been destroyed by Mugabe and his looting companions – sad to say.

  • comment-avatar

    You are dreaming Freeth.

    I don’t like what Robert Mugabe is doing but with attitudes like yours, I would side with him. You are simply writing to an audience who’s ears are itching to hear exactly what you are saying.
    People like you have caused Robert Mugabe not to give up Power because, he knows that all ‘achievements’ would be reversed so he has to stay on as long as it can take to cement them.

    Your points are drawn from wrong facts and your statistics are disputable. For example, the ‘Arusha declaration’ in Tanzania which took away private properties in Tanzania in 1975 has hardly been reversed and unlike Zimbabwe which you mention that 90% of land is owned by the Government, in Tanzania, 100% of the land is owned by the Government.

    You don’t suppose that the status state of land distribution in Zimbabwe before the whites lost it beginning 2001 was OK. Your solution that all land simply has to be restored to the original owners not only selfish but is not practical because it is counter to the view of the majority of Zimbabwe and doing so would bring no peace to the country. Perhaps a solution whereby the distribution of the land has to be revised and done in an orderly manner without racial segregation might be reasonable.

    You took for granted Mugabe’s reconciliation Policy adopted at Independence in 1980, which he ditched just before the Millenium having noticed that you are arrogant and unrepentant much as you were backed your British counterparts who renegade on promises to compensate white farmers. Mugabe was not geared to take all land from Whites but had a certain target which would have seen whites parting with just 30% of land. But because you and others in the same selfish attitude as revealed by this article, put so much resistance to release any part of the land (even what was not under use leading) to friction and confrontations which is Mugabe’s personal weakness towards whites (because they tortured him in Jail), and instead of whites keeping all the land , they ended up loosing all the land.

    One of the fighting tool that whites used was that of campaigning to isolate Zimbabwe and they succeed in doing so believing that this would cause a chain reaction leading to a regime change and this almost happened in 2008 when people voted with their stomachs had Mugabe not taken the barbaric root of biting People into submission, the Regime would have been changed.

    But when bulls fight , the grass suffers. People like you have caused untold suffering to Zimbabwe and now you seem to be enjoying those sorry of not sick economic fundamental figures about Zimbabwe that you are bringing out and as you mentioned that you will soon be travelling to Australia, you will be preaching to them of cause and telling your Australian audience what a hell Zimbabwe is and in so doing sealing of potential investors to Zimbabwe. It’s not surprising anyway because in the same manner you and others of like mind, wooed sanctions to Zimbabwe and made the place , the most difficult place ever to live.

    Zimbabwe will never be a colony again!!!