Finance and Economic Development Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, says government will not immediately issue title deeds to thousands of farmers resettled under the country's agrarian reforms until it is satisfied that State land will not be abused to enrich only a few connected individuals.
Zimbabwe has resettled over 300 000 new black farmers on land previously owned by just about 3 000 white commercial farmers from the period of colonisation by Britain in 1890 up to 2000, when the country embarked on land redistribution. However, even after the reforms, those that have benefitted from the transition are yet to receive full rights to the land they occupy.
This has triggered disquiet among farmers who cannot use their land to access funding from financial institutions. Commercial banks have been demanding title deeds from farmers as collateral for funding. Lack of title deeds has seen many of the country's new crop of farmers going for years without funding, leading to a massive decline in agricultural production.
Zimbabwe has, as a result, grappled with food shortages. The country was once seen as the region's bread basket. While government has promised to look into this problem, Chinamasa said, the administration feared that giving farmers title deeds could lead to abuse of the system, which could result in farms being concentrated in the hands of the few just as was the case prior to 2000.
During an international business conference that ran concurrently with the 55th edition of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair here last week, business challenged government to restore property rights to farmers in order to attract meaningful investment in the agricultural sector. But Chinamasa said although they had a point, government would not rush to roll out title deeds. He said government still had reservations on the issue.
"What of course is the concern of government basically is that we do not trust you (farmers) yet that if you use that land it will not again be abused and we have to fight another battle," said Chinamasa.
"What we went through is very expensive; the land reform has been very expensive. It has come at a heavy cost, including the sanctions. So the fear basically is that we do not want again an accumulation of that asset in fewer hands."
"It doesn't matter whether they are blacks, it would give us more problems even in the future." He said government needed to take the issue step by step. The first step was to demarcate and carry out surveys of the pieces of land that were given to new farmers.
"Thereafter, we have already indicated, we are going to give you a 99 year-lease," said Chinamasa.
"What we are now discussing is to build into that lease tradable features and then to address our concern, say you have failed to pay having taken that lease, what would be done? That is where the issue lies. These are our fears; I want you to understand that."
He said it was regrettable that some farmers with offer letters were already selling the land to others. "What more after having issued you with title deeds? That is where our fears are. You need to understand," he stressed. Chinamasa said property rights alone should not be used as the basis of lending.
"Banking is not all about taking property. It is also about the viability of a project and also the integrity of the promoter and invariably, your property right is being put on the table merely to demonstrate your commitment because invariably you will be borrowing more than the value of your property," he said.
He said government was having discussions about property rights. "I would want to see it (land) being used, it being a tradable asset," said Chinamasa.