White farmers now unrepentant and irrelevant

The government on Friday described Zimbabwe 's remaining white farmers as unrepentant and irrelevant, and rejected their pleas for a halt to land seizures. Agriculture Minister Joseph Made defended land reform policies under which thousands of white-owned farms have been distributed to black Zimbabweans since 2000 to correct colonial-era imbalances in ownership of land.

"The country's land policies are very sound and will not be frozen or set aside," Made said in a statement to the state media. Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, also responsible for overseeing land reform, denied reports the government planned to make concessions to white farmers to get them back onto the land to boost food production, state television reported.

The government's responses came after the white-run Commercial Farmers Union, representing a few hundred whites still on their land, called for a halt to farming disruptions and promised to work with the government to restore the nation's status as a regional breadbasket.

"We urge the authorities to declare a moratorium on land and current agriculture policies and ... bring together all stakeholders and the entire industry to return it to its former status as the principle employer of labor and generator of food and foreign currency," said union president Douglas Taylor-Freeme. "It is not time for recrimination or going back, it is the time to draw the line and go forward, learning from the past," Taylor-Freeme said.

Made described the union members as "unrepentant dreamers." "The white farmers have suddenly realized their irrelevance. The train is moving without these white farmers and it has slowly dawned on them they are being left behind," the agriculture minister said.

The government insists it has completed its land redistribution program though some targeted pockets of white-owned land are still being mopped up. Last year the government said white farmers could apply to lease state land if they relinquished their own title deeds on land.

According to Justice for Agriculture, a displaced farmers' support group in Harare , about 50 properties or plots have been taken over in the last three months, leaving just 300 white farmers working on the land.

About 5,000 farms have been seized since 2000. The seizures, along with erratic rains, have been blamed for an economic meltdown that has led to acute shortages of food, hard currency, gasoline, medicines and essential imports.

The United Nations food agency provided emergency food aid to 3 million hungry Zimbabweans last month. Charities say at least 5 million people will likely need food aid before the next harvests begin in April.

But those harvests are expected to be poor. The government has acknowledged up to a third of redistributed land lies idle and resettled farmers have been affected by acute shortages of fertilizer, seed, gasoline and mechanized plowing and other equipment.

Above average seasonal rains that began in November have also swamped crops in some areas, washing out scarce fertilizer and herbicides and insecticides. In addition, state-ordered wage increases have led to sharp cuts in agricultural labor needed for weeding and eventual harvesting, the state Herald newspaper reported last week, reports the AP.


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