At a time when the country is battling to contain the devastating drought, under-utilised land in some of the farms confiscated by the government during the land reform programme in 2000 continues to threaten Zimbabwe’s food security.
Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of Southern Africa, has been reduced to a net importer of grain to feed starving citizens.
On Monday the government suspended with immediate effect customs duty and scrapped import permits and licences for grain, maize meal, and wheat flour.
The development means both individuals and corporates can now import grain products duty-free without the need for permits.
Finance and Economic Development Minister, Mthuli Ncube, who underscored the need for the completion of the land audit, said underutilised land undermined the country’s efforts on food security.
“Prevailing land under-utilisation, especially by beneficiaries of the Land Reform Programme, undermines efforts on food security,” said Ncube while presenting his 2020 national budget.
“In this regard, the 2020 National Budget will avail resources to complete the Land Audit process to enable rectification of the anomalies under this issue. Speculative farmers will ultimately be weeded out of farms, paving way for genuine farmers.”
During the chaotic land redistribution exercise, a number of white commercial farmers lost farms to indigenous farmers, some of whom are not utilising them for productive purposes.
There is also now a problem of multiple farm ownership involving the elite and those linked to the ruling ZANU-PF party.
Bowing to international pressure, Treasury recently released ZWL$22 million to over 400 white former commercial farmers as part compensation for infrastructure developments on farms compulsorily acquired by the government during the land reform exercise which attracted the country sanctions.
”Government is concluding the evaluation exercise to facilitate the compensation of former commercial farmers,” explained the Finance Minister.
“To date, approximately 769 former farm owners consented to the interim payment scheme, with over 500 farmers having been paid. In 2019, a total of ZWL$68 million was availed towards former farm owners and the 2020 Budget is also setting aside ZWL$380 million for interim land compensation in line with the Constitution and BIPPAs, targeting vulnerable groups and the elderly.”
He added: “In addition, consultations with the International Financial Institutions and other stakeholders on sustainable options for mobilising the requisite compensation resources are being expeditiously explored.”