Zimbabwe offers land as compensation for seized farms

Zimbabwean commercial farmer Rob Smart inspects irrigation pipes for a potato crop at Lesbury Estates farm in Headlands east of the capital Harare on February 1, 2018 days after Smart was allowed to return to his land. When the riot police arrived, Zimbabwean farmworker Mary Mhuriyengwe saw her life fall apart as her job and home disappeared in the ruthless land seizures that defined Robert Mugabe's rule. Mhuriyengwe, 35, watched as police carrying AK47 rifles released teargas to force white farmer Robert Smart off his land in June 2017 -- perhaps the last of 18 years of evictions that helped to trigger the country's economic collapse. / AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANA (Photo credit should read JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images)

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s government will offer land as compensation for nearly 800 farms it seized under its land acquisition policy since 2000, according to regulations published on Thursday.

Under former President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe took over some 5,000 farms, mostly from white farmers, saying the policy was meant to address colonial imbalances. But the land seizures triggered economic collapse.

The southern African country’s new Constitution, agreed with the opposition in 2013, provides for compensation of all farmers whose land was seized by the state. However, Zimbabwe’s economic woes mean it has struggled to pay the former farmers.

It set aside US$17.5 million in its 2019 budget and a further 380 million Zimbabwe dollars (US$21 million) for the same purpose this year. The former farmers are demanding nearly US$7 billion in compensation, according to a committee representing them in negotiations with government.

In a change of approach, the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe after a coup in 2017, is offering some of the dispossessed farmers land as compensation, according to the regulations.

The dispossessed farmers covered in the land compensation scheme are citizens of countries that have bilateral investment agreements with Zimbabwe, as well as some black Zimbabwean commercial farmers who lost their farms.

These countries include former colonial ruler Britain, South Africa, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland, all of which had significant numbers of farmers in Zimbabwe.

It was not yet known whether the farmers would accept the offer.

In 2015, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, which is part of the World Bank group, ordered Zimbabwe to pay US$196 million compensation to a Swiss-German family whose farm had been seized by the government.

Zimbabwe lost a bid to have the compensation award annulled in 2018.

Zimbabwe’s government is still in talks with white Zimbabwean farmers on compensation for the loss of their farms.

The government is set to introduce an Agriculture Recovery Plan that will see 5 000 highly productive irrigation farms receiving full support while 1, 6 million vulnerable households will be put under climate proofed Presidential Input Support Scheme, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said.

In a speach read on his behalf by Defence and War Veterans Affairs Minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, at the National Field Day celebrations held at First family’s Pricabe Farm on the outskirts of Kwekwe, VP Chiwenga said the new Government identified agriculture and food security as the top priority.

He said under the recovery plan, targeted farms will also receive uninterrupted power supplies and constant fuel supplies.

“Allow me to highlight that Cabinet has approved a Recovery Plan for boosting agricultural productivity. The recovery plan is premised on key components that include the Financial services sector led commercial contract farming programme targeting 5 000 highly productive farmers in irrigated areas. We will also introduce the climate proofed Presidential Input Support Scheme to 1, 6 million vulnerable households,” said VP Chiwenga.

The Vice President said the programme, which will be introduced in the 2020/21 farming season will also introduce the preplanting producer price announcement and create a Lowveld Maize Belt.

“Creation of Lowveld Maize Belt covering Masvingo, Bulawayo and Kanyemba areas will afford the country both summer and winter maize production,” he said.

He also urged Zimbabweans to emulate the First family which he said was fully utilising land. The First citizens have 400 hectares of maize, 200 hectares of soya beans, 5 hectares of sugar beans and 12, 5 hectares under potatoes.

They are expecting between 12 and 15 tonnes of maize per hectare.