Guest post by Mikko Kapanen
Land reform and Zimbabwe; say those words in any order and you get a reaction. It obviously was a failed and atrocious attempt of a corrupt leader who bribes people to vote for him and then still lies about the result just to be popular amongst his people. Obviously. Well, obviously at least if you have been following the story through almost any media with the exception of New African magazine – I honestly cannot think of another exception that I’d know of. According to this news narrative that unsurprisingly enjoys unquestioned consensus in the western press, the agricultural sector of Zimbabwe collapsed and violence coloured the previously white farms first red and then black as the ownership landed neatly in the hands of Mugabe’s political cronies. Right?
Wrong. A group of researchers mainly from Zimbabwe has conducted a fascinating study* which focuses on the Masvingo Province in the southern part of the country, but reflects the circumstances on a much broader national level. Based on their on-the-ground research they found out – and I am not going to get too much into details since the findings are available in the booklet that I have (and in the book, which I haven’t read) – that many of these myths are just that. Myths.
Admittedly, agricultural production has struggled in many ways and since the land reform certain crops such as wheat, coffee, tea and tobacco have not reached the same production standard as before. That is the kind of stuff we know because the media – even if not so much recently – went on and on about how terribly things have been going. What was forgotten was that the production of certain other crops such as small grains, edible dry beans and cotton have been increasing. The production of dry beans is actually up 282% since reform.
Production is also much more diverse than what it was with new ideas and new products introduced. And while political corruption did exist, and still does, in the form of inside golden handshakes and the so-called cronies owning the land, the truth isn’t quite as simple with regards to that either. Out of the people who own any of the redistributed land only less than five per cent fall into that category. Mostly the new owners are a diverse group of people of all ages, some former farm workers and others from the cities. They invest in the land and farms so much so that the research team had calculated the full amount of investment for the country being US$91 million since 2000, which is quite a bit for a financially struggling country.