30 June 2014

Zimbabwe: Rent On Farms: Progressive, Long Overdue


Farming has transformed the lives of many people, thanks to the progressive land reform programme, which saw thousands of Zimbabweans being empowered with land.

Many farmers have largely been successful in their ventures, with those into tobacco, soya beans and potatoes reaping huge rewards.

Indeed farming has, without doubt, positively impacted on the livelihoods of many people, who only yesterday were struggling to make ends meet.

That farmers have made money and continue to make money from farming is indisputable.

Productive farmers have managed to buy property and send their children to expensive private schools, a feat that some never dreamt of before the land reform programme.

The land, from which the farmers are making money, was allocated to them for free by Government as it sought to empower the people, de-congest the communal areas and resettle them on fertile land, previously a preserve of the white elite.

For the bold decision Government took to empower its people with land, the farmers in turn should reciprocate the favour by undertaking to pay rent for using the land as has been suggested by the Secretary of Lands and Rural Resettlement, Mrs Sophia Tsvakwi.

Indeed, those who coined the adage; "one good turn, deserves another", may have had Zimbabwean farmers in mind. As we report elsewhere in this issue, the Government wants A2 farmers to pay between $1 and $3 per hectare annually in rent, a development we find very progressive and long over due.

We do not think Government would be asking too much for farmers who got the land without paying a cent, to pay $3 per hectare annually, money to be used to speed up the processing of 99 year leases to benefit the farmers.

It is in the interest of the farmers to come out in full support of paying rent as most of them still have not been given the 99 year farm leases, which will also help them access funding from financial institutions.

We know funding has been tight from banks as they demand collateral security which most farmers do not have. The banks have not been accepting offer letters that many farmers have because they are not considered bankable and so we are optimistic that the 99 year lease agreement can resolve farmers' problems of accessing loans from financial institutions.

This is why it is important for farmers to support Government on the issue of rent as they are the ones who stand to benefit both in the short and long term.

Sadly, the problem with some of our farmers is that they have become too used to getting things for free, from land to inputs, to the extent that it pains them a lot to part with a cent.

The rent issue will separate real farmers from cellphone farmers. The total amount to be paid by individual A2 farmers would depend on the hectarage, with those on small hectarages paying less while those sitting on huge tracts of land, paying more. What the rent does is also to motivate farmers into being highly productive so that they are able to pay the annual rent and in the process positively impact on production. We strongly believe the adoption of the rent as policy will make farmers start taking farming as a serious business.

In any business there are fixed and non-fixed costs that must always be taken into account when calculating the profit or loss position. We see the rent as a fixed cost that farmers will have to pay whether they produce or not and given that scenario, it will be in their best interest to be productive.

Lazy farmers would be forced to pay rent when they are producing nothing and certainly that would hurt their pockets. In a way Government is actually encouraging farmers to be productive and make money for themselves.

The policy will also result in those with vast tracts of land and multiple farm owners surrendering some hectarage to Government as the cost of sitting on idle land affects their cash-flow. It will also force farmers, who have for a long time been unproductive, off the farms.

The rent amounts that have been suggested by Mrs Tsvakwi would not make a huge drain to productive farmers as the amount would just be a drop in the ocean.

Let the Government implement the policy without further delay as it is in the best interest of the farmers and the nation.

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