More farm seizures announced in Zimbabwe as uncertainty over agriculture grows

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The Independent Online

The government named another 509 white-owned farms Friday it plans to confiscate for redistribution to landless blacks, bringing to 1,542 the number of farms it has targeted under a hastened land seizure program.

The government named another 509 white-owned farms Friday it plans to confiscate for redistribution to landless blacks, bringing to 1,542 the number of farms it has targeted under a hastened land seizure program.

Farm leaders say the announcement casts more doubt over the viability of commercial farming in Zimbabwe's already ailing agriculture-based economy.

The government has said it will seize 3,000 white farms totaling about 5 million hectares (12 million acres), but has failed to detail all the land to be seized. Many of the targeted farms will be taken before seasonal rains begin around November, the government said.

Agriculture Minister Joseph Made, in an announcement published Friday in the state-controlled Herald newspaper, gave the owners of the designated farms until Sept. 17 to lodge objections to the order.

David Hasluck, director of the Commercial Farmers Union, said the new seizure notices did not comply with land reform laws that say farms being redistributed must be carved up by surveyors and provided with roads and materials to keep them productive.

"There is no carefully thought out resettlement program that lawful process requires," he said. "They are just listing farms to destroy them."

The government has admitted its land redistribution program is broke. The state District Development Fund, whose trucks were to be used to transport landless blacks to nationalized farms, said Aug. 10 most of its vehicles were out of commission because of shortages of spare parts and tires and misuse and corruption by officials.

The state Agricultural Rural Development Authority, intended to provide seeds and tools, said it too was critically short of supplies.

"You can't just give people pieces of land and nothing else. There are no resources to kick start them," Hasluck said.

Armed ruling party militants began occupying the first of 1,600 white-owned farms in February, demanding they be divided up among landless blacks. President Robert Mugabe has supported the occupations as a justified protest against inequities in land distribution in a country where 4,000 whites own one-third of the fertile farmland.

Banks announced earlier this month they had frozen loans to farmers who defaulted on their repayments during production disruptions caused by the squatters and to farmers whose properties had been listed for seizure. Farmers require the annual loans to buy the seeds, fertilizer and equipment necessary to plant and harvest their crops.

Hasluck said the owners of only about one third of the listed farms had enough money to carry on with even reduced production without loans.

"Others will simply not be able to farm," he said.

Zimbabwe is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980. Inflation has soared to a record 70 percent, unemployment reached 50 percent this year and health and education services have declined sharply.

Declining hard currency earnings has triggered acute shortages of fuel, electric power imported from neighboring countries and imported goods including essential machinery, spare parts, electronics technology and medicine.

The farm occupations has cut commercial production of wheat and tobacco, the largest hard currency earner, by more than 25 percent.

Tobacco earned dlrs 220 million last year and the farmers union has predicted next year's crops of tobacco and corn, the main staple food, could be reduced by as much a 40 percent because of the occupations and uncertainty over the seizures.

Mining production has slumped through shortages of imported spare parts, chemicals and explosives.

Violence on farms and in townships that left 31 people dead ahead of June parliamentary elections has continued, slashing bookings in the crucial tourism industry by 80 percent this year, according to the state Zimbabwe Tourism Association.

Fuel shortages have forced tour buses to join long lines of vehicles outside gas stations awaiting deliveries. Foreign airlines bound for Harare have had to make refueling stops outside the country.