The whites who stayed in agriculture

Following land reform some white farmers stayed on the land. The CFU says nationally this is only 200, but I suspect there are more. Often they do not have their full former farm (or multiple farms), but they do have a core operation. In Masvingo it has been impossible to date to get total numbers. There are not many within our study areas, but a few were ‘allowed’ to stay. How have they fared, and what are they doing?

There are at least four different categories of such farmers – those who have maintained strong political connections; those who have had good relationships with local communities; those who were producing strategically important things; and those who have just kept under the radar.

Those who fared best are clearly those in the first category. But given the whims of political factionalism in Masvingo especially, this is a tough job, and requires substantial transactions costs. Keeping friends with everyone in such a volatile situation can be costly.

Many former white farmers had good relations with local communities. Sometimes this was in an anachronistic, paternalistic way, but nevertheless with apparent genuine good will. Some such farmers have continued very actively to contribute to the neighbouring communities’ production and welfare, sometimes on parts of their former farms. But being friends with the locals does not necessarily mean being friends with the big wigs who have designs on your farms. Although local people have tried to protect such farmers from land grabs by elites, they have often not been successful.

In the bizarre world of politicised planning in Zimbabwe, committees apparently sit and decide on the fate of particular farms. At an early stage seed production, animal breeding, day-old chick production, high-value fruit orchards and dairy farms were highlighted by government as in need of protection. But many lost out as farm invasions and political imperatives took hold, and, as a result, important capacity – in knowledge, market connections and infrastructure – was lost. Some in this category have remained. For example, there is a thriving day-old chick business, plus a couple of dairies on ‘white-owned’ farms near Masvingo. Although others have been taken over, particularly around 2008 when the peak of elite grabbing took place during the election period. And it was those with infrastructure (e.g. a dairy) which made such farms visible and susceptible to elite grabbing.

Finally, those who have kept under the radar have perhaps fared the best. There is much of this going on. And probably more than we even know about. In the period after land reform well informed vets (who were being contracted to vaccinate, dose etc.) said there were probably around 6000 cattle being herded on farms across the province by former white farmers. Some managed to get formal leases for pieces of land, others made deals with the new farmers. This has proved tough to keep going as the costs of continuous negotiation, and the terms of the deals has proved troublesome, but the stories of the mass expropriation of stock or their export to Mozambique were overblown. Many of these lease grazing arrangements continue – on municipal and state farms, as well as privately held farms – and provide an important contribution to the booming abbatoirs in the province (see forthcoming blog on livestock marketing).

Of course there are many others who formerly had farms who are still engaged in the agricultural sector – through processing, marketing, transport, advice and other linkages. These are immensely important part of the agricultural economy, and such former farmers have been quick to learn where the markets are, and how to tap into them. This is generating growth and employment, as well as incomes for former farmers, but on the basis of a new land ownership.

And then there is the aid business. Of course the new resettlements are not supposed to be recipients of donor funding streams, but aid has the tendency of finding its way to supporting the most unlikely of beneficiaries. For example, the European Commission funded programme to support the farmers’ unions has been a significant money-earner for some former white farmers. Through some strange assumptions about ‘fairness’, the funds were split equally between the CFU, the ZFU and the ICFZ. The latter apparently misused funds and were cut out. Despite the disparities in membership – the CFU with supposedly 200 active members still farming and the ZFU many tens of thousands – equal funds were given for supporting agriculture, including especially purchasing and distributing inputs etc. This has allowed some former white farmers to get into trading inputs on a significant scale, as they did not have land on which to deploy them. They have also become heavily engaged in ‘consultancy’ support via an FAO ‘conservation agriculture’ scheme (see a forthcoming blog on the ‘CA scam’). And contract farming linked to aid investments has also blossomed. For example, nearby one of our sites, a newly rehabilitated irrigation schemes have become the focus for contract farming operations organised by former white farmers, supported by EC/UN funds. Other contract farming arrangements are evolving elsewhere – although frowned upon officially, those with the cash and the knowledge who can make a go of it are often welcomed by the new farmers, as collaborators in joint ventures, whether for cropping, hunting or livestock farming.

In the new and rapidly changing context of Zimbabwe, all sorts of weird and wonderful things are possible. Everyone agrees that white business acumen and agricultural expertise must be part of the future, but it will occur in new and as yet unimagined ways. The sooner there is acceptance of this the better, and then a more honest debate can emerge which does not hark on about going back to the past (as the CFU rhetoric so often implies) but is much more pragmatic about new alliances and ventures under a


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6 responses to “The whites who stayed in agriculture

  1. Pingback: The Unbearable Whiteness of Being. Reflections on white farming in Zimbabwe | zimbabweland

  2. Pingback: Documentaries on land reform in Zimbabwe | zimbabweland

  3. Pingback: Beef value chains in Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe | zimbabweland

  4. am

    Please point me in the direction of the blog mentioned in the above “ca scam’. Thanks.

  5. Pingback: Zimbabwe’s country clubs: the changing social life of Zimbabwe’s farming areas | zimbabweland

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