Food crisis set to worsen as farmers remain under threat
By Alex Bell
30 October 2009
The food crisis that is threatening to leave millions of Zimbabweans once again facing severe hunger in the coming months is set to worsen, as the country’s remaining commercial farmers continue to come under both physical and legal attack.
According to the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) the ongoing offensive against the farming community is having a ‘disastrous’ effect on the current summer cropping programme. Already, the US based Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) has said more than two million people are facing hunger, detailing in a report that only a maximum of 1.4 million metric tonnes of cereals will be available in the coming months, compared with the more than 2 million tonnes needed to meet Zimbabwe’s basic food needs.
Commercials farmers themselves have warned that a failed farming season is on the cards, as a direct result of the state sponsored, ongoing efforts, to drive farmers from their land. Since the formation of the unity government in February there has been an intensified wave of attacks on commercial land owners, by thugs working for top ZANU PF loyalists, all in the name of land ‘reform’. Farmers and their workers have been physically and brutally attacked, valuable produce and equipment has been stolen, and the fast-track prosecution of farmers in the country’s courts has been encouraged. This year alone, at least 80 farms have been seized, more than 150 farmers have faced prosecution and over sixty thousand farm workers have lost their jobs.
CFU President Deon Theron explained this week that the culprits behind the illegal land seizures are from all walks of state-connected life, including government ministers or related families, army, police and CIO officers and senior businessmen. He continued that the prevailing ‘unjust legal position’ means farmers are left without a legal leg to stand on, because the police refuse to act on matters classed as ‘political’. The police’s inaction has been widespread, and has led to even more lawlessness on seized farms. This week, the wife of a beleaguered Chegutu farmer, Laura Freeth, explained that police have physically helped the thugs living on her family’s Mount Carmel farm. She described the situation has ‘total anarchy’.
At the same time court prosecution of farmers is intensifying, with Theron explaining that more than 12 farmers and their workers have all been convicted by the courts, merely for farming. He explained that in the last week, the number of farmers evicted by the courts has doubled, ‘heightening insecurity in the agricultural sector countrywide’.
“Until there is sufficient stability in the agricultural sector to encourage substantial investment, Zimbabwe will be unable to produce sufficient food to satisfy the requirements of the country and the population will continue to depend on high volumes of food aid,” Theron said.
The state meanwhile is trying to get parliamentary approval to fast-track the prosecution of the country’s remaining farmers, arguing it is the farmers’ refusal to leave their land that is affecting food productivity. Acting Secretary for Lands and Rural Resettlement Marius Dzinoreva told a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Water, Lands and Resettlement this week that the courts should fast-track land cases and expeditiously resolve so-called ‘disputes’ on farms.
“We feel that the court process is taking too long to be concluded,” Dzinoreva was quoted as saying in the state run Herald newspaper.
“It is inhibiting productivity because the new farmer will not be able to occupy (the allocated plot). We want the cases to be quickly disposed. Only eight cases have so far been dealt with and we are prepared to comply with court judgments,” Dzinoreva said.