Zimbabwe Breaks From Past, Urges Joint Ventures on Idle Farmland

Anxious Masuka
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HARARE (Bloomberg) –In a break with the past, Zimbabwe is urging farm owners with unproductive land to form partnerships to bolster agricultural output and slash the country’s import bill.

The joint ventures will need government approval and a database to match landowners with potential investors will be developed, Agriculture Minister Anxious Masuka said Friday in an e-mailed statement. “Abandoned, derelict and under-utilized” farms will be liable for repossession and redistribution to those on a waiting list for land, he added.

The directive represents a major policy shift by the southern African nation. In 2000, Zimbabwe’s government, led by the late Robert Mugabe, who was under increasing pressure to improve the lives of citizens, seized farms belonging to mostly White commercial farmers and gave them to Black people, saying the move was meant to redress colonial imbalances.

The land grabs resulted in a country that used to produce an agricultural surplus becoming a net-food importer. Farm output for products such as corn, Zimbabwe’s staple food, and the main cash crop, tobacco, plummeted. After the farms were expropriated, some Western nations imposed sanctions and international isolation followed, with food and foreign currency shortages becoming commonplace.

Having battled two consecutive droughts, good rains and a better harvest last year formed the basis of Treasury’s upwardly revised economic growth forecast. The country harvested 2.7 million tons of corn, triple the prior season’s figure, according to data from the Agriculture Ministry.

Read more: Next Africa: Zimbabwe’s Farming Boom Masks 20 Wasted Years