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Zimbabwe urgently needs a new land administration system

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REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

This is the second in a short series of articles produced for The Conversation on the land and agricultural development challenges for the post-Mugabe era. See the first one on compensation in last week’s post.

Zimbabwe urgently needs a new system of land administration to harness development in the agricultural sector. The country’s land use and ownership have been significantly reconfigured by the fast-track land reform programme undertaken during Robert Mugabe’s rule.

Today, following the land reform of the 2000s, Zimbabwe has an agrarian structure that’s made up of small, medium and large farms, all under different forms of land ownership. A landscape that used to be dominated by 4,500 large-scale commercial farmers is now populated by about 145,000 smallholder households, occupying 4.1 million hectares, and around 23,000 medium-scale farmers on 3.5 million hectares.

Knowing exactly who has land and where is difficult. Illegal multiple allocations combine with unclear boundary demarcations and an incomplete recording system. Many new land owners don’t have formal documentation and lack leases or permits confirming ownership. There is a great deal of uncertainty given the often haphazard, sometimes corrupt, approach to land reallocation that took place under the land reform programme.

Given that the landscape is very different to what went before, a new system of land administration is urgently needed.

Promise of change

In his inaugural speech, Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, declared that land reform was both necessary and irreversible, and acknowledged some big, outstanding challenges.

A new land administration system for the post-land reform era is long overdue. Paying compensation to former owners is a vital first step. This has to be combined with a comprehensive land audit to weed out those failing to produce, or those illegally holding more than one plot, alongside allocating leases and permits to those in land reform areas, and attracting investment into agriculture as the mainstay of an ailing economy.

Both compensation and audit processes will inevitably throw up disputes. A fair and transparent system for rapid resolution is required, including the establishment of an independent Land Tribunal. Alternative dispute resolution processes at a local level will hopefully avoid the dangers of the courts getting clogged with numerous cases.

An audit also has to be linked to land registration, and an effective, but low-cost, land information management system. Following registration, legal recognition and formal documentation of land ownership is essential, as land tenure security is vital for future investment.

Many forms of tenure

Some believe that the only solution is individual freehold titling, as land is otherwise seen as “dead capital”. But this is mistaken, as other forms of land tenure can offer security, spurring investment, if the institutional, legal and political context is right.

As argued in 1994 by the Rukuni Commission, a major review of tenure policy in Zimbabwe, a multi-form tenure arrangement makes most sense. In some settings, communal tenure regimes are best, allowing flexibility and broad access. In others, a simple permit system can allow registration. In others, a leasehold arrangement can offer security and collateral, while regulations can offset land concentration and assure access for certain people.

Occasionally freehold title may be appropriate if a completely free market in land is required. However, titling schemes are notoriously expensive to deliver, open up multiple disputes and are difficult to regulate to ensure more equitable ownership structures, including land ownership by women.

Financing is essential

To pay land taxes, mortgages or compensation payments, the land must be productive, and this requires finance. Finance for agriculture has been missing in recent years.

Great efforts have been made to ensure that the 99-year lease for medium-scale commercial farm land (known as A2) is bankable, and cannot be withdrawn arbitrarily. It seems that, at last, the Zimbabwe Banking Association is in agreement. This will allow the release of private bank finance, as land can be used as collateral.

For those without land leases, other types of collateral can also be used, including assets such as livestock, vehicles or buildings. Alternative sources of farm finance include commercial crop contracting, partnerships and joint ventures or government backed loans.

All these financing models have shown some promise in Zimbabwe in recent years, with crop contracting at the core of the smallholder tobacco production success story. Contracting arrangements are also extending to other crops. Joint ventures, including partnerships with Chinese investors and former commercial farmers, have also been emerging in a number of under-capitalised medium-scale farms.

“Command agriculture” – a public-private input supply scheme – has been a flagship project led by the new president and the military. It has helped to revitalise maize and wheat production, especially on larger farms with irrigation infrastructure. Questions are however raised about longer-term sustainability of such subsidised financing.​

Sustainability is key

Getting a new land administration system working is a huge task. All the elements have to work together – from audit to valuation to compensation to dispute resolution to issuing land tenure documentation to financing – and back again.

And this is not just a one-off task to resolve the current mess. Land disputes will continue, audits will need to be repeated, and new leases and permits and sources of finance secured. For this reason any new system must be sustainable, both administratively and financially, and not reliant on external donor finance. Taxes, rents and compensation repayments need to be paid back into a land fund, which in turn supports the system for the long-term.

Testing this all out at a district level before rapidly rolling it out across the country is an urgent task for Zimbabwe’s new Land Commission. Elaborating a new land administration system is long overdue. Such a system will help the country get over the post-land reform impasse, resolving outstanding land issues and getting much-needed investment flowing into the agriculture sector.

The ConversationOnly with this working well – as countries in East Asia recognised when they undertook land reforms decades ago – will the full benefits of Zimbabwe’s land reform be realised.

Ian Scoones, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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After the land reform: what next?

This was the title of a talk I gave at the SAPES Trust in Harare on 13 November, as part of the SAPES Policy Dialogue series organised by Ibbo Mandaza.

It was a well attended event, and it generated some interesting debate. The session was chaired by Mandivamba Rukuni and the discussant was Charles Mangongera, Director of Policy and Research of the Movement for Democratic Change. The dialogue was attended by the Minister of Lands, Herbert Murerwa, as well as the President of the Commerical Farmers Union, Charles Taffs. In addition, there were many researchers, activists, donors, diplomats and others present.

I mentioned this event in a recent blog responding to Dale Dore, and a number of people have asked if it was recorded. It fortunately was, and the audio recording can be listened to here. This starts with my 45 minute presentation (after a few seconds of noise!). The discussant’s comments follow and then there is an open discussion, which concludes with some comments from the minister.

My powerpoint slides can be viewed also (zimbabwe land reform Harare SAPES Trust Nov 12), and if you listen to the audio, you can probably guess when the next slide is due.

The presentation aims to lay out a vision for ‘what next?’ after land reform, and provides the outline of an agenda for investment and support by government and donors alike.

Let me know what you think.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

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Compensation for land

In an important piece in the on-going Sokwanele debate on land entitled “The significance of land compensation for rehabilitation of Zimbabwe’s land sector”, Professor Mandi Rukuni, former chair of the Zimbabwe Land Tenure Commission and professor of agricultural economics at UZ, offers his thoughts on the compensation issue. As ever it is a measured, pragmatic stance and one with much merit. He makes a number of key points and maps out a way forward. It is worth summarizing the highlights.

He points out that existing legislation (from 2000) allows for compensation for ‘improvements’ only. This has been confirmed in the still-disputed draft Constitution, suggesting at least that the MDC agrees with this formula, although the Constitution allows for full compensation including for land for those farms governed by investment treaties. Around 125 farmers settled on this basis in the early 2000s before hyperinflation kicked in. Now others are contemplating this, among the former owners of the 1250 farms that have been surveyed and valued. Thus since the Fast Track programme, 210 farmers have been compensated for improvements. Compensation values which have been paid out vary from about $200,000 to $1.2 million, according to Rukuni.

But what would the total cost? In order for the agricultural economy to move forward and for investment to flow, with confidence once again being restored, dealing with the compensation issue is a priority. Under the existing law, compensation and so ‘quittance’ must precede the issuing of any new lease. Without compensation then, especially for the larger A2 farms, lease arrangements are impossible, resulting in continued insecurity for existing farmers.

According to government, the total settlement bill on this current basis would be US$1.5-2 billion. However, the Commercial Farmers’ Union disputes the legislation, arguing that compensation values should include land, improvements, interest and consequential damage. They estimate the total would come to between $6 and $10 billion. Clearly there is a big gap between the estimates. What then is a pragmatic solution? The fact that the government is serious about compensation is clear from the budget allocations up to 2014, over which period some $30 million has been earmarked for compensation. This is clearly not enough, and other support, including from the international community will be required, to resolve this. So, what else needs to be done?

Rukuni identifies two things for immediate action. First, valuations must be speeded up. Currently over 5000 properties still need to be properly valued, and if valuations are disputed, they must be dealt with in the Administrative Court. Second, a Land Acquisition Compensation Fund needs to be set up to allow swift and complete payment of all compensation. The fund would be made up of contributions from the national budget, contributions from international donors and development banks, and from transfer fees and ground rents from A2 farmers once leases were issued.

Above all, Rukuni argues for a pragmatic and flexible process. While there are some who will stick out for a full settlement and will continue to pursue this in any court that will hear them, there are many others – perhaps the majority – who want an end to the uncertainty. For many the economic collapse, as well as the loss of their farm assets, has resulted in severe hardships, very often in a vulnerable period of retirement, given the age profile of most former white farmers.

Rukuni comments, showing his frustration with all sides: “…frankly the country needs a more proactive leadership from both government and organized farmers on this matter. It is better for government and farmers to face donors with a negotiated position than the current huge gulf in positions”. In other words, he suggests, until there is a sense of joint movement on this donors, whose budgets are being squeezed in any case are unlikely to touch the politically charged prospect of compensating a few thousand white former farmers, prioritizing them above other perhaps more pressing humanitarian and development needs in the country.

Yet for the country to move forward some compensation deal, at least for the majority, is essential. This must emerge from a national consensus, driven jointly by former farmers and the inclusive government. This must represent a reasonable, not a maximum, claim, more likely in the ballpark of the government’s estimate. My personal view, expressed in an earlier blog, is that, rather than expecting the constrained national budget and aid budgets to bankroll this, any compensation settlement must be wrapped up in a deal around national debt. Yet sadly on this too, there remains little consensus. So, while the administrative and legal mechanisms for resolution exist, the political commitment from key players must be there too. Sadly, this may still be something that has to wait until a new political settlement is reached, hopefully in the next year, with a new agreed Constitution being the basis for moving forward on this thorny consequence of the land reform.

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