What ‘Zim is open for business’ means for smallholder farmer

HARARE – Former president Robert Mugabe is history and now finds voice only in the private media, sulking about this or that.

Elsewhere the new President Emmerson Mnangagwa has taken hold and has promptly pronounced that “Zimbabwe is now open for business”.

What does this mean for the over 1,4 million families who subsist on farming in Zimbabwe’s countryside?

At an average household size of six, that translates to half of Zimbabwe’s population.

The discourse of “open for business” is a serious departure from Zanu PF’s entrenched “redistribution agenda”, “indigenisation” and its narrower “Look East” global engagement thrust that defined Mugabe for over one and half decades.

Whilst everybody is guessing what this could mean for the land reform programme and its benefactors, from artisan miners to vendors, we have a very concrete proposal involving block chain technology.

Beneficiaries of the land reform have been assured of continued occupation of legally settled land.

However, illegal settlers have been warned and are likely to be removed.

Some white farmers are back on the land.

The Notarial Deed for the 99-year lease has been revised to make it bankable. Banks no longer have to seek the minister’s consent before lending against a lease.

Whilst this falls squarely within the “open for business” mantra, time will tell whether it will create the necessary impetus for agricultural investment, both large scale (commercial) and small-scale. Of the 8 500 smallholder farmers in the Purchase Areas who hold freehold titles, not much credit has been extended over the years.

Banks are hesitant to deal with smallholders. Moreover, the farmers have not been approaching the banks for credit extension.

The new regime has placed priority on land compensation for large scale commercial farmers. This policy is tied to the legitimation and stabilisation agenda adopted after the military coup.

The signal to the world, as could be seen at Davos, is that Zimbabwe can once again be trusted by investors.

Though the white former commercial farmers have genuine hope for compensation, the question is how, which mechanisms will ensure this?

We can expect major disputes over value, which will constraint progress.

This is a serious departure from the radical rhetoric hinged on repossession, redistribution and therefore no compensation.

Will compensation result in increased agricultural investments and will it open closed markets and propel economic growth for Zimbabwe?

It seems that, beyond the “Zimbabwe is open for business” spectacle, nothing has been thought through.

Zimbabwe can design its modern-day policy using block chain technology.

The block chain is an open, distributed ledger recording data permanently and in an incorruptible way.

It is a continuously growing list of records where transactions are recorded chronologically and publicly.

This decentralised technology can be utilised to shape policy that is both protective of the vulnerable and open to neoliberal trade.

The block chain guarantees the integrity of data without going through a third party.

Where there is no trusted third party, because the third party has, as is the case in Zimbabwe, been characterised by corruption and violation of property rights, block chain technology can be immensely valuable in protecting and guaranteeing rights to land.

By decentralising the mechanisms that regulate land rights, political favouritism cannot influence how land is distributed or redistributed.

All of this has been done before.

The authors met with the founders of Chromaway in Sweden. They successfully registered land in one of the least corrupt nations in the world, Sweden, on the block chain. Even in Sweden the benefits of using block chain technology are clear. Land transactions are made significantly easier.

If this technology is deployed in Zimbabwe, one of the most corrupt countries in the world, the possibilities are endless. The block chain can, irrevocably, secure the right to land for the most vulnerable, whilst providing farmers, across scale with a trustworthy and incorruptible framework to invest.

The biggest beneficiaries will be the small-scale farmers who constitute the majority under the reconfigured agrarian sector.

This can include the communal farmers, whose title can be evolved and be incorporated into the market through block chain. – Jesika Nilson and Toendepi Shone (Daily News)