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Redistribution of Commercial Farms in Zimbabwe

In Field Exchange 1 we reported on the nutritional problems of workers on Zimbabwe's large commercial farms. After 17 years of independence many Zimbabwean workers still find themselves landless and working on these large white owned farms. The article written by Leslie Adams, who works as a nutritionist with the MOH, reported that children living in large scale commercial farms are twice as likely to suffer from undernutrition than children living in communal areas.

Recent events in Zimbabwe suggest the situation will soon change. President Robert Mugabe's government announced late last year that there will be a compulsory purchase from the county's commercial farmers of some 5.5 million hectares. This adds up to some 20% of Zimbabwe's arable land. The government move will close 1,700 of the 4,500 commercial farms in the country. The owners of the land, mainly white farmers, will be compensated for infrastructure built on the land but will not receive payment for the land itself. President Mugabe has ruled out compensation and suggested that if any farmers want to be paid for their land the money would have to come from Britain as former colonial rulers. Not surprisingly Britain has rejected this deal. What is actually going to happen to the current labourers and families living and working on the soon to be seized farms is unclear. The Zimbabwean Ministry of Agriculture has indicated that these people, totalling some 1 million, would either be resettled as peasant farmers on the same properties, or be re-hired by those black commercial farmers who are to be allocated some of the farms on a lease-hold basis.

Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980 and when he took over President Mugabe promised to redistribute land to millions of black farmers and war veterans. Due to rising food prices and taxes Mugabe is coming under increasing political pressure and the land grab is being seen as a way for him to shore up his domestic support. The size, speed and ad-hoc nature of the land seizures has led to worrying predictions of economic chaos. The commercial farms are the mainstay of the Zimbabwean agricultural industry which is the country's biggest foreign currency earner and is a mainstay of its domestic economy.

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Redistribution of Commercial Farms in Zimbabwe. Field Exchange 3, January 1998. p15. www.ennonline.net/fex/3/redistribution

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