MUTARE, Zimbabwe Thomson Reuters Foundation – Charles Samuriwo, a farmer in the Odzi region northwest of the town of Mutare, cannot hide his frustration.
As a beneficiary of Zimbabwe’s controversial scheme to redistribute land taken from white farmers, Samuriwo has operated his tobacco plantation since 2001.
Today, he is in difficulty because 15 years after taking over the farm, he still has neither land security nor title deed.
Without this guarantee, he cannot borrow from a bank to buy machinery or pay for seasonal expenses such as seeds or fertilizer.
“As farmers, we have nothing but land,” Samuriwo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Financial institutions need some form of security to be able to lend us money. We want to invest in irrigation, but without financial support we cannot do it.
His fears for the future have grown amid the severe and prolonged drought induced by the El Nino weather phenomenon that has hit southern Africa hard.
The worst drought to hit Zimbabwe in two decades has left many rural areas in the grip of hunger.
The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that around 4 million people in the country are struggling to meet their basic food needs.
To combat food insecurity, the government is importing maize from countries like Zambia, Ukraine, South Africa and Brazil, after drought hit production of the staple crop.
Earlier this year, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe needed almost $1.6 billion to pay for grain and other food to feed millions in need.
Critics say the country’s once strong agricultural base has been damaged by the chaotic land redistribution programme.
In 2001, President Robert Mugabe introduced land reforms aimed at redressing colonial imbalances whereby a few white farmers own most of Zimbabwe’s best farmland.
More than 4,000 farmers have been forcibly evicted from their land in often violent struggles. The violence – and allegations of rigged elections and rights abuses – has led Western donors to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe.
The sanctions deepened an economic crisis that had deepened since the World Bank, IMF and African Development Bank suspended aid in 1999 after Zimbabwe defaulted on its debts.
The source of insecurity for farmers and banks in Zimbabwe is Article 72 of the 2013 constitution, which defines the rights and powers of the state over farmland.
It says: “Land, right or interest may be compulsorily acquired by the State by notice published in the Government Gazette identifying the land, right or interest, after which the land, right or interest is vested in the State with full title from the date of publication of the notice.
Even though the government decided in 2006 to offer 99-year land leases and permits to some farmers, banks still refused to recognize them as secure collateral for loans.
To date, less than 200 leases have been issued.
In March, however, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, John Mangudya, said he was confident the situation for farmers would improve once the “bankability” of the leases was finalized.
In a telephone interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said there were still “some issues” the banks wanted to iron out before accepting the 99-year leases as collateral.
He was not free to discuss these matters, he said, but a document would soon be presented to the cabinet for approval.
According to Charles Tawazadza, who grows wheat and soybeans on his farm in Middle Sabi, in the southeast district of Chipinge, tenure is not the only missing link for farmers.
Inconsistent government policies were part of the problem, Tawazadza said.
“We need security to invest in farms,” Tawazadza said. “The problem is not with the banks but with our policies as a country. Our policies change overnight.
According to Paul Zakaria, executive director of the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, commercial farming will always require some form of financial support.
“This support will take the form of capital expenditure as well as working capital,” Zakaria told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Security of tenure would be on the “national radar for a long time”, he said.
“Beyond the bankability of 99-year leases or the stability of title deeds, certainty on farms is badly needed. This will give farmers the confidence to invest,” he said.
Eddie Cross, an economist and MP for Bulawayo South, said Mugabe’s land reforms aimed to remove security of tenure and replace it with political control – much like the old traditional systems when local chiefs controlled access To the earth.
“He (the government) has been almost 100% successful in this regard,” Cross said.
He said that while some newly settled farmers have taken over working commercial farms, they have not been able to maintain production. This was partly because they stripped properties of assets such as irrigation equipment and tractors for short-term monetary gain, he said.
The “new farmers” were unable to run their farms as businesses because they lacked the capital or collateral to borrow funds for new investments, Cross said.
Before the land reforms introduced by Mugabe, farmers had borrowed about $2 billion a year to cover seasonal expenses such as seeds and fertilizers, he said.
Farm leases would only be useful if they could be traded, he said. “Without a market for farmland, borrowing is impossible.”