Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest Author Posting by Teresa Smart

Zimbabwe Takes Back iIs Land

By Joseph Hanlon, Jeannette Manjengwa, and Teresa Smart

Esther and Teresa are both land reform farmers in Mazowe, Zimbabwe. We first met Esther and her friend Teresa at a field day at Kia Ora Farm. They each have 15 acre plots of top quality land. The former white farms had been subdivided into 50 or 60 fifteen acre plots. These two women had impressed us with their tales of how much and what they produced on their farms. Esther talked about harvests of 100 tonnes of maize from 35 acres (her own 15 plus a borrowed 20 acres). Esther says that during 10 years of farming, she had invested her money in farming equipment.

My namesake, Teresa, has invested her profits in buying cattle and sending her two children to university in South Africa. She borrows a tractor and irrigation pipes from her friend Esther. When we asked how they had managed to produce so much, Teresa leant down and picked up some earth and showed me the earth and her work roughened hands; good soil and hard work was her answer.

We were researching our book, Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land, looking at what has happened to the 170,000 black farmers who controversially occupied 4,000 white farms in 2000 and 2001. Although the local agriculture extension officer independently verified their stories of production and equipment, we wanted to see it with our own eyes. On our visit we saw the tractors, irrigation equipment, planter, and pumps. All are in good working order and Esther already knows how she will spend the profit from the coming harvest – this tractor needs new tires and she wants to buy a harvester. Every penny from her production is invested in the farm. But her pride and joy is her maize – strong, clean, well-weeded fields of maize. She is expecting three tonnes per acre, which the extension officer confirms. She has hedged her bets by planting three different seed types: one high yielding, one lower yield but drought resistant, and one for late planting in case of late rains. So whatever the weather her yield will always give an average of three tonnes per acre.

While we are admiring her maize, she tells us her story. She was a teacher, but she had grown up on a farm and always wanted to be a farmer; so when the land reform started she applied for land. When she was granted her 15 acres, she gave up her job, but her husband stayed in his job in the police and paid the household bills while she ploughed all of her savings into the land. The first year she produced 100 tonnes and spent the money on buying a second hand tractor. The second year she bought irrigation pipes and pumps so that she could grow winter wheat giving her two crops a year. The third year she bought another tractor and so on. Her husband has since died so she has full financial responsibility for the family. The problem with farming is that you have to pay bills for fuel, workers, electricity, school fees and food every week but you only receive money once or twice a year when you sell your crops. Esther resolves this in two ways: When she sells her crops she immediately buys fertilizer, seeds and new equipment for the next year; and, then she has diversified running a small shop for local farmers and making peanut butter to sell so she has a small fund coming in every day.

Esther and Teresa are some of the best of the new farmers, but overall the new farmers are using more of the land than their white predecessors and now producing nearly as much. Research shows that it takes two decades to reach the maximum potential of a farm, so the new farmers are only halfway through that process, and seem set to produce more than the former white farmers.

At independence in 1980, only one-third of what farmers were doing well, and one-third were bankrupt. Our surveys and other studies show a similar spread for the new farmers, with a third becoming serious commercial farmers like Ester and Teresa. But what is equally impressive is standing with Joe, whose father was thrown off his land by white settlers 55 years ago, or Agnes who lost her leg as a guerrilla in the liberation war, in the middle of their resettlement farms, and of their pride not just in regaining their land, but in what they have built on their own farms in the past decade.

Many problems remain in Zimbabwe. But United States sanctions are not just against an evil elite, but against Esther, Teresa, Joe, Agnes and the other 170,000 land reform farmers. As President Barak Obama goes into his second term and looks again at foreign policy, perhaps it is time to rethink how the U.S. approaches Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land releases later this month. The book is available to pre-order through Kumarian Press and retails for $26.95. To request review and/or exam copies, contact Marketing Associate Jennifer Kern:

No comments:

Post a Comment