Newly introduced land permits for resettled smallholder farmers will bring little gain to the thousands of beneficiaries who are struggling to get loans from banks to finance their operations, say farmers' organizations and analysts.
The permit will replace the offer letters that the farmers received following the fast-track land redistribution programme that started in 2000, eventually forcing more than 4,500 white commercial farmers off their plots to make way for landless blacks.
The offer letters gave the resettled farmers 99-year leases, but banks refused to accept them as collateral when approached for loans to buy farming inputs, grow livestock numbers, diversify crops and pay labourers.
According to the
The permits can be inherited by family members and spouses while divorced spouses can still retain landholding rights. The old offer letters did not specify whether the resettled farms could be inherited, although surviving spouses and children often continued to live on and work the land, sometimes leading to ownership disputes.
However, even under the new permits, ultimate ownership of the land continues to rest with the state which can repossess farms not being fully utilized. Current permit-holders are expected to build decent homesteads on their plots, avoid sub-letting their properties and ensure that there are clean and safe water sources. According to the
"The land remains state land and government has the final say on the farms. This makes banks powerless in the event that a farmer defaults as they don't have authority to seize the property or auction it to recover their money," said Wonder Chabikwa, president of the
Resettled smallholders need financial assistance
"Most of the farmers are from low-income households so, in order to grow their farming business, they need to borrow. The money is essential for inputs, to pay farm labourers and ensure there is adequate water for irrigation by sinking boreholes or wells.
"Besides decongesting the land, one of the main purposes of resettling the people was to ensure that they boosted agricultural production. The farmers have to go beyond subsistence but must be enabled to farm at a commercial level," Bloch told IRIN.
Bloch said while some farmers had been enjoying good yields since resettlement, the majority were under-utilizing their land because of poor access to finance, while
After making some fragile gains under the previous coalition government made up of President
Farmers who relied on remittances from their children or relatives working in the towns and cities have seen those remittances dwindle, while a widespread shortage of inputs on the local market was pushing prices up and reducing the farmers' capacity to buy enough fertilizer and seed, said Bloch.
Sinodia Makwara, 51, received an eight acre plot in Mazowe, some 60km northwest of
"I need money to sink a well in order to irrigate my vegetables and other crops when the rains are poor and there is no water in the river. I also need to buy more cattle to increase my draught power and to pay those that provide tractors for tillage," she said.
Grain Marketing Board failed to pay farmers
"GMB has prejudiced farmers because of delayed payments for delivered grain or a complete failure to pay. As a result, the farmers have been struggling to mobilize inputs come the next farming season. They also need money for chemicals when crop or livestock diseases break out," he told IRIN.
Over the years, the government and NGOs have provided free inputs to smallholder farmers, but they were not sufficient, according to Musewe, and government recently announced that starting this year it would no longer be providing any free farming inputs.
An ongoing research study by
Musewe said this was mainly because the land they were cultivating was generally larger and more fertile. He added, however, that both groups of farmers needed financing to boost production.
No guaranteed access to bank loans
Land and Rural Resettlement Minister
Chabikwa of the
However, Musewe said improvements made to the farms would not have much value. "It will be difficult for banks to use structures such as houses and other immovable properties acquired by the resettled farmers as collateral. Banks are afraid that the properties might fail to attract buyers since they are based in rural areas."
He added, however, that resettled farmers would still lack security of tenure. "Government, or some individuals, can still evict the farmers on flimsy grounds if they feel that occupants of land are politically incorrect. They can use flimsy excuses like lack of productivity to victimize their enemies," he said.
Chabikwa said his organization was considering other ways of providing security for loans, among them developing cattle banks and insurance certificates based on farmers' possessions.
A local financial institution,
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of
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