Friday, 11 January 2008

Zimbabwe farmers struggle in new life

Zimbabwe farmers struggle in new life
By Zoe Murphy
BBC News, Chimoio

Kevin Gifford left his farm in Zimbabwe six years ago, hoping to make his fortune by turning bush land in neighbouring Mozambique into a flourishing tobacco farm.

He was one of 4,000 farmers who lost their land under President Robert Mugabe's controversial reforms.

Despite Mr Mugabe's arguments that he was fighting for the rights of Africans against imperialists, Mozambique welcomed a small group of them, hoping their expertise and investment would provide crucial jobs and export earnings from its vast swathes of lush but undeveloped land.

"My family pioneered what was Rhodesia in 1894, I sort of see myself in those shoes, except that I have technology on my side. We were coming into nothing agriculture-wise," he says.

The house Mr Gifford moved into was a crumbling relic from Portuguese colonial days, without running water or electricity.

At the height of the boom, new banks and petrol stations opened in the central province of Manica.

Running water and electricity were brought to the area; people had bicycles and radios.

But now the dreams of both the farmers and Mozambique lie in tatters.


Of Mr Gifford's syndicate, he says three men moved to Australia, one died, one disappeared and another never left Zimbabwe.

The remaining Zimbabweans in Manica only employ about 300 people, down from an estimated workforce of 4,345 in 2004.

Our prices were not competitive... that's one of the reasons we were knocked out of the game
Brendon Evans, farmer
"It came to a crashing stop. There were high expectations and a lot of people feel betrayed because they have lost their jobs," Mr Gifford says.
Nevertheless, Mr Gifford refuses to give up.

"That is the good thing about Mozambique - it has taught us to get off our backsides and do some work," says Kevin Gifford as he wipes dirt from his face.

Like many of the Zimbabweans who came to Mozambique, Mr Gifford was on a scheme sponsored by an international tobacco firm.

"They saw logically that tobacco volumes [in Zimbabwe] would come crashing down and they needed to sustain their volumes to maintain their market share," he says.

In return for start-up capital and loans, the farmers were contracted to produce a set quota of tobacco over several years.

But yields were substantially less than projected and of poor quality.

"We were given the green light to start farming in August 2002 and were expected by November to have a crop of 100 hectares of tobacco in the ground. In hindsight it was ridiculous," says Mr Gifford.

Most of the inputs had to be sourced from South Africa, which led to huge transport bills, duties and taxes, sending production costs soaring.

Soon the farmers fell into debt until many stopped growing tobacco, and the firms pulled out of the country.

Brendon Evans, another who initially made a living with support from the tobacco companies, says Mozambique's government could have done more to help the farmers.

"Our prices were definitely not competitive... that's one of the reasons we were knocked out of the game. Unfortunately many people left because of that," he says.


Mozambique has made significant progress since 1992, when it emerged battered by decades of war - first for independence from Portuguese colonial rule and then a protracted civil war.

Its economy has grown by an average of 8% a year since 1996.

The Zimbabweans are trying to develop agriculture without [huge state support] - it has never been done
Analyst Joseph Hanlon
But analysts say that Mozambique still depends heavily on foreign aid and investment, while the domestic economy has failed to develop.
Nearly 70% of Mozambicans, many small-scale farmers in rural areas, live in poverty.

Analyst Joseph Hanlon describes the situation as "a waste".

He says many of Mozambique's commercial farmers could also flourish with government help, in turn creating jobs and helping to fight poverty.

"The real shock to the Zimbabweans was that the support structures they had enjoyed back home simply did not exist in Mozambique," says Mr Hanlon, a senior lecturer in international development at the UK's Open University.

There were no government loans for irrigation or electrification, nor any research available from the Ministry of Agriculture on, for example, the best maize to plant.

"Private commercial farmers only prosper when there is a huge level of state support. The Zimbabweans are trying to develop agriculture without that - it has never been done."
The newly-appointed minister for agriculture and former governor of Manica province, Soares Nhaca, declined to comment on the Zimbabweans' situation.

But in a statement, the Ministry for Agriculture said it was working to kick-start a "green revolution" to combat rural poverty by eliminating a lack of basic food stuffs and by generating employment in rural areas.

It said the commercialisation of the agriculture sector would play an important role in this but added that it was not the sole solution.

New plans

In order to survive, the remaining Zimbabweans have had to become "entrepreneurial capitalists".

"We want to stay in business so we diversify - we do a lot of little things and they make a little bit of money to help sustain the larger operations going forward," says Mr Gifford.
He has planted timber and papaya; and is improving the commercial value of local cattle by breeding them with quality bulls. He also farms sheep and a small tobacco crop.

They have waded through the sometimes crippling red tape, labour laws and land ownership issues - in Portuguese.

Some also allege extortion by corrupt local officials.

Malaria has also taken a physical toll, with the farmers suffering repeated bouts. Despite these hardships, this resilient group of farmers is intent on success.

By the end of 2008, the Evans' goal is to have a UHT or milk sterilisation plant, and to start supplying the domestic market with dairy products.

Meanwhile, Mr Gifford is investigating the commercial potential of rearing crocodiles.

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