Zimbabwe: Agricultural Revival Lessons From Zambia

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By Brett Chulu

Last week, the Commercial Farmers’ Union sounded said the supposedly revamped 99-year lease for Zimbabwe may not be attractive enough to lure back commercial farmers who were hounded out of Zimbabwe at the dawn of the new millennium. This is very concerning, given that agriculture provides the lever for resuscitating our agro-based manufacturing exports.

Zambia versus Zimbabwe

Our northern neighbour, Zambia, hosts the largest number of our former commercial farmers who found refuge in that country.
Available information points to at least 200 former Zimbabwean commercial farmers successfully contributing to farming output and exports, especially the “golden leaf”, tobacco. When these farmers entered Zambia, they were welcomed as investors. They responded in kind, out-producing the incumbent farmers by as much as 250%, contributing 70% to total output.

What is intriguing is that the land tenure systems of Zimbabwe and Zambia are practically similar. The irony is that though the land tenure systems are analogous, the Zambian system is more attractive to farming investors. Cases in point: a Saudi Arabian investor is pouring close to US$200 million to start a pineapple growing venture in Zambia.

One of South Africa’s largest sugarcane farming consortiums is all but certain to start a sugar cane growing venture in Zambia. You have to ask hard questions as to why Zambia seems to a darling of the international farming investor and Zimbabwe is ignored, given that we have comparable land tenure systems.

Zambia nationalised land at the dawn of its political independence; abolishing freehold tenure in favour of leasehold contracts. This was an outgrowth of the socialism ideology on which the first government of Zambia rested upon. Zambia’s law on land states that all land belongs to the state with the head of state having the power to distribute land to anyone as is deemed fit on leasehold basis, with 99-year leases being standard, though there is a conversation in Zambia beginning to swell around the notion of reducing the lease period to 25 years. This is no different to our current law on land; the state holds a monopoly on land distribution. So why do our former commercial farmers?

The policy of the Zambian government allows leases to be transferrable. Let me hasten to say the relevant law on land in Zambia does not expressly allow transferability and tradability of leases.

However, in practice, the Zambian government tacitly permits transferability of leases. One of the biggest former commercial Zimbabwean farmers acquired close to 1 600 hectares of land in Zambia for lease from the local chiefs. The Zambian government did not object.

Contrast this with the gloomy ballad narrated by the former Zimbabwean president at the zenith of the controversial youth interface rallies last year. He excoriated indigenous Zimbabwean farmers for leasing farms to former white commercial farmers.

In his typical satirical oratory, he narrated a tale from a book he had read in his formative years — the saga of a camel that tricked its master out of a tent and occupied it. It would appear that the new government still has a dalliance with the “camel must not occupy” philosophy on land. Zambia allows the master to lease the tent to the camel. Period. So be it here.

The untold story

What many may not be alive to is that the transferability of 99-year leases in Zambia was not the most decisive factor in transforming agriculture there. Our former commercial farmers started from scratch, scouring for funding from Zambia and abroad.

An interesting case in point is that of one the most successful erstwhile commercial farmers in Zimbabwe before the forced exodus from Zimbabwe to Zambia. He sourced US$900 000; partly coming from a tobacco company in the US and from the European Investment Bank.

Ironically, our government owes tonnes of money to this bank. It was the farmer’s impressive track record at growing tobacco in Zimbabwe that convinced international funders to give him the money. Farming business is a complex enterprise. Some international farming investors also get insurance from a World Bank-related entity to underwrite the risk of farm disturbances. Here is my point: largely, the former Zimbabwean commercial farmer used their own good credit history and convincing business plans to get money from international financiers; local Zambian capital credit markets did not help much.

What may also be unfamiliar is that many of the former commercial farmers who left for Zambia did not start their own farming operations, opting to be employed as managers on the farms of their counterparts who had managed to source capital to restart. It must be remembered that these farmers were not allowed by our past regime to take their machinery; they had to start from scratch. It was a case of the survival of the fittest; not all former commercial farmers had personal international connections to help them recapitalise. The notion of racial priviledge is misplaced. It is largely an excuse for mediocrity and cheap political point-scoring. Business is business. Funders fund success, not dreams.

Way forward

First, government must dump the “camel must not occupy” thinking immediately. It needs to ink it on paper that leases of land are transferable. That will be a masterstroke. It costs zero dollars. Though this is not a sufficient condition, it is a necessary condition to help reduce the credit risk of farmers.

Second, government must never forget that the former commercial farmers who left Zimbabwe were not allowed to take some of their major equipment. In all honesty, government is complicit in vaporising the capital commercial farmers had. In that vein, government must speed up compensation for farm improvements and moveable equipment that the former commercial farmers lost to invasions. The farmers need this as part of their start-up capital.

The former commercial farmers will not find it easy to borrow from local commercial markets because they will have no title to land. The best they will get will be short-term loans based on their farming output. This is exactly what has been obtaining in Zambia when it comes to indigenous farmers who have no title to land; credit facilities based on output have been the best banks can offer, very token in nature.

It is imperative that government compensates in full as per our law. The message that Zimbabwe is open for business is likely to be a hard sell to former commercial farmers whose capital was destroyed at the height of farm invasions. Government must say “Here is your compensation. Please come and invest it here again, Zimbabwe is open for business.”

Third, our government must know that as long as we have not cleared our debts to the Paris Club and the multilateral institutions, our current and former commercial farmers will not get funding from abroad. These commercial farmers may have the required track record to get medium-term and long-term funding, but our high country risk will always make them unattractive to lenders.

Government must reform the whole political and economic system; it is a systemic problem we are dealing with. Political and economic reforms are Siamese twins. These reforms are what will deliver favourable country risk. Country risk is always a leadership metric; it is the stock price of national political leadership.
Former commercial farmers have the skill, but no longer have the capital. Government has the land, but has no skill and capital. Government and the one-time commercial farmers must find each other. Government must take the first credible step.

Chulu is a management consultant and a classic grounded theory researcher who has published research in an academic peer reviewed international journal.

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24 COMMENTS

  1. And here we are in Zambia with some of us always thinking about negatives. Always count your blessings first before you raise your finger to complain & condemn. All outsiders can see the many blessings that we have. God is blessing Zambia & like Bible says in Eph2:4-7, He will continue showing us exceeding grace like we’ve never seen before. When we pray for rain He opens up the heavens for us, when we pray for our economy He sustains us even when the doom mongers are telling us we’re in trouble. This is because we don’t need anybody in Zambia but God Almighty! Pray for God to show you where He is working so that you don’t end up fighting Him because you’ll surely be defeated & disappointed. God Bless Zambia!

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    • “Like the Bibles says” – anyone who states this does not deserve to have a brain behind his eyes

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  2. Mugabe messed up big time…..some poor souls will call Mugabe a hero for redistributing by force zims land and in so doing destroying agriculture…..zimbabwe had an infrastructure and economy with manufacturing artisans second only to South Africa.

    Mugabe ran out of ideas on how to move the country forward economically and his last card was land invasions and evictions…that is typical of dictators who fail to provide jobs for the masses. Rousing and inciting cader thugs against imaginary imperialists.

    Zimbabwe did not even need money from UK for land compensation, all the tools were there to make 10000 times the money Mugabe claims UK promised.

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    • Stop wearing shoes then that cicil rhodes and his type he represented and wore and go back wearing skins

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    • There is a photo of about five black Zimbabweans hanging dead from a tree and being look on proudly by British White settlers from 1890 Bulawayo. This photo was so prized by a British officer in Rhodesia Robert Baden-Powell founder of the “Boys Scouts” and “Girl Guides” that he kept it in a scrapbook entitling it “The Christmas Tree”
      Just google – “Rhodesia Robert Baden-Powell – Christmas tree” select images and the first black and white photo will be the one am talking about. That is how they acquired land in Zimbabwe, you refuse the hang you as an example to all blacks.

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  3. Good article. Finally I can read something positive coming out of Zambia. God bless Zambia.

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    • @BETTER ZAMBIA, As you can recall, the process of handling former Zimbabwean farmers was done quietly and efficiently by Levy and Rupiah. They never sounded any trumpets, because it was not necessary. It was intended to accommodate skilled fellow human beings. Zambia has twice the agricultural land as Zimbabwe, for the same population size. It was therefore easier to accommodate them here. The resulting agriculture production is a bonus from their experience in farming. I hope that they are mentoring Zambian farmers.
      The secret of agricultural policy is stability and predictability. The abrupt change in the FISP policy is a disaster. Lungu and PF should revisit this disaster before the county starts spending huge amounts of money on food relief. This would be a major irony for a so…

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    • @Ichifulo, FISP is not for commercial farmers like Zim farmers. That’s where we get it all wrong with the negativity. Commercial farmers get funding from commercial sources. It’s the small farmers who are assisted by GRZ through FISP which is not meant to be permanent source of funding. Levy & Ruphia made their contributions. But this gov’t is not only increasing incentives for farmers but building dams with capacity to service @ least 8,000 farmers in all major farming blocks to further scale up farming. In fact farming productivity has been best under this govt. I’m sure future govts will make their own contributions. But let’s stop with this negativity about our blessed country & work together to achieve more. God Bless Zambia!

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    • @chosen one I don’t see anything good in Levy and Rupiah giving land to foreigners quietly as you put it. That’s tantamount to corruption. One of these two presidents even gave the Kalengwa ore dumps in Northern Western province to a Lebanese who was previously involved in fraud. And to you that’s good.

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    • @Ndanji, I’m in no way saying everything that Levy or Rupiah did was right. I think they made their mistakes but I also think they made some profound decisions still positively impacting Zambia like winter maize by Levy & initial roads project which plan was actually put together by Rupiah but initialised by Michael & now implemented by Edgar as part of infrastructure development. It’s important to learn from mistakes but it’s malice to fail to see life changing positives. Worse still it’s sadistic to want things to fail because of political affiliation. Anything that ultimately benefits Zambians must be supported regardless of one’s political affiliation. God Bless Zambia

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  4. I am impressed by the passion these White farmers have, imagine some were employed as managers on their friends farms to start from scratch meanwhile we are there giving away rich fertile land so we can drive a Jeep and way the keys around at parties and bars. We have a govt talking about empowerment not even knowing what the word means.

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    • interesting questions?
      how come the zimbabwe farmer could access international funds when they went to zambia using their CVs but cannot do the same when returning to zimbabwe?
      if the farmers have been successful in zambia, why do they still need compensation and initial capital when returning to zimbabwe can they not use their capital and CVs from zambia?
      interesting rea!!y

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    • Zim farmer

      It is because zim at the moment is an unknown quantity….anything can happen

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  5. We are lost as an agricultural economy. Reliance on the white commercial farmers will never be sustainable. When India was partitioned 70 years ago Pakistan followed the route of relying on foreign capital…India concentrated on indigenization of its economy. Today India is a second world economy while Pakistan is still wallowing in the LDC.
    The message is…Zambia must look to developing its agriculture by promoting small and medium scale production and NOT the Zimbabwean farmer!!!

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    • Zim farmer is only interested in tobacco or cash crops so to rely on them would be suicide… this is why I laugh when people say Zimbabwe was the bread basket of southern Africa…its those small scale farmers that we need to treat with like kings but sadly this is not the case with this govt.

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    • There is absolutely nothing wrong with relying on zim farmers to show us the way forward….the nutters condemning the reliance on white farmers to shine the light to follow are confused chaps….you work with them on a all win situation.

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    • “There is absolutely nothing wrong with relying on zim farmers to show us the way forward”

      They don’t know the way forward. All they know or are interested in is reproducing their 1950s colonial economy. They have no special knowledge, and they have no special skills. Anything you want to know about farming you can find out yourself. In fact they have no knowledge of how to create an agricultural sector that works for ordinary people, in Zambia or Zimbabwe. Which is why they were thrown out. And then Zimbabwe was put under economic sanctions to make landreform fail.

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  6. This racist and white supremacist re-writing of history has only on purpose: to steal the wealth of the people of Africa.

    These rhodesians are racist to the core. Whon in their right mind would choose to work for them.

    What the writer does not talk about is the great success of the land redistribution program in Zimbabwe. When in 2000 there were 1,500 white farmers producing 200mn kg of tobacco, today there are over 100,000 registered farmers producing 200mn kg of tobacco.

    That is why they wanted a change of government so urgently, so they can return the colonial situation with a few whites owning the land and the mines and everyone else working for them.

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  7. ” Cases in point: a Saudi Arabian investor is pouring close to US$200 million to start a pineapple growing venture in Zambia. ”

    And that is a good thing in the mind of the neoliberal sellout.

    Then, there is the fact that Zambia is not under economic sanctions, including ZDERA 2001. Zambia howeve is under the economic tyranny of the IMF/WB, which has inflated the currency and impoverished the people. By the way, it was ZDERA 2001 which caused inflation to turn into hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, from 2002 onwards. The IMF has nothing to bring except poverty and misery.

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