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Food production should be Zimbabwe’s top priority, expert says

(9 February 2010)

Dr Vimbai Kwashirai

Dr Vimbai Kwashirai

Zimbabwe’s government needs to face the issue of land ownership head on to pull the country out of poverty, a Zimbabwe history expert says.

Dr Vimbai Kwashirai, a lecturer in modern African studies at Durham University in the UK, says a complete overhaul of the agricultural sector should come above all else to ensure food security and revive industries and jobs. He makes the comments as Zimbabwe marks the first anniversary of Morgan Tsvangirai as its Prime Minister on 11 February.

He said: "Mugabe and Tsvangirai need to step it up a gear. Since they entered the coalition government last year, there have been some changes but rather than nibbling at the edges of this major issue, they need to grab it by the horns and develop a long-term sustainable agricultural policy.

"The only way Zimbabwe can revitalise itself is by making food production the top priority. That means it needs to identify which land is not being utilised through a transparent land audit and make sure idle land does indeed get used for food and cash crop production. Both government and the private sector also have a role to play in training and financing unskilled farmers.

"Since the land reforms in 2000, Zimbabwe has gone from being an exporter of goods to being a net importer, relying on the World Food Programme and other agencies to feed the population, and with mortality at an all-time high. The consequences of the land reform programme have undoubtedly been disastrous and Zimbabwe is now, ten years on, still reeling from the effects."

Dr Kwashirai has published extensively on Zimbabwe’s recent history and lives in Zimbabwe for half of the year. Among others, he is author of the recent book "Zimbabwe, poverty, poverty and poverty".

He added: "The programme of land redistribution and ownership should have been through a fairer and transparent system, much in the way the Government tried to do with the Land Acquisition Act of 1992, whereby some of the land of large-scale farms was bought by the Government for those without any land. This was a very slow process, and with its numerous court cases and disagreements, but would in the long term have ensured a peaceful and fruitful way of redistribution.

"There is no way to reverse the immediate past but it is now essential that Government moves forward and gives the black farmers legal ownership of their land as collateral so they can secure bank loans to develop their land and buy the right farm resources."

Elections are meant to take place at the end of this year. Kwashirai says it is essential these go ahead and are conducted fairly. He says: "If the elections are conducted fairly with involvement from the United Nations, Tsvangirai’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), could gain the majority of votes and become the leading party in government.

"Already, since the MDC entered the coalition government last year, there have been some noticeable changes. Attitudes of people are more positive and some industries have re-opened and recruiting.

"A shift in the political balance could see further positive changes and slowly but surely pull the country out of poverty."



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