Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Food Security in Zimbabwe



President – Commercial Farmers Union (Zimbabwe)


This paper covers the thorny subject of how land acquisition has been applied in Zimbabwe and its downstream effects on food security and food production self-sufficiency. There has been a direct linkage between land acquisition and food production in Zimbabwe. Much of the commercial farm land that has been taken now lies fallow or underutilized. There are many reasons for this state of affairs and the various aspects will be discussed in the sections that follow.


* The Fast Track Land Resettlement Programme in Zimbabwe began in March of the year 2000 when war veterans began the occupation of commercial farms. This was done mainly at the instigation of the ruling party of that time which had lost a referendum on changing the constitution

* About 7000 farm title deeds comprising 11,0 million hectares have been gazetted for resettlement.

* Of the 4500 commercial farmers operating in 2000 around 500 are still on their farms, with some farming at much reduced levels.

* By September 2005 only 186 farmers had been paid compensation. Very few additional payments have been made since then.

* The problems created by a badly planned and implemented programme are enormous.


Like in most other countries, the Government of Zimbabwe has legislative powers to acquire private land without the consent of owners in order to benefit society. The constitution of Zimbabwe also provides for the protection of private property rights.

However, major problem have arisen because compulsory acquisition has not been done properly

The problems applying to the Zimbabwean situation are:-

The Government of Zimbabwe has done very little to address long term tenure and its methods of acquiring land did not follow the legislative requirements pertaining to this, including paying compensation. The confidence required for investment and growth in commercial agriculture is almost non-existent.

Evictions and the arbitrary loss of farms in Zimbabwe has been, and still are major factors in discouraging both local and foreign investment. The breakdown of the rule of law and the obvious lack of property rights keeps investors away. Donor aid is also not forthcoming in the amounts needed to revive the economy.

At present, the market for commercial farm land in Zimbabwe is dead. As such farms have no collateral value and farmers are forced to use other means to raise working capital to run their businesses. This is a major obstacle to recovery of the sector.

Corruption has thrived because of non-transparency and accountability in the fast track resettlement programme. Government is well aware of this but has swept the results of land audits under the carpet and this in itself is indicative that corruption has been rife.

For several years there has been a very serious under-utilization of resources in the commercial farm areas, and low productivity. This negative development has been the primary cause of economic decline in Zimbabwe. In summary the following factors still apply:-


  • Commercial farmers are still being evicted from their properties.
  • Disruptions to production programmes on farms still continues.
  • There is very little security of tenure. Therefore many farmers restrict their operations.
  • Only a small fraction of all categories of farmers have received long term leases. This restricts their ability to obtain credit.
  • The general lack of farming skills continues to hold back production growth

There has been no significant recovery from the highly disruptive effects on land reform on commercial farm output in Zimbabwe. Production of food and other farm produced commodities has declined drastically. Up to the year 2000 the value of commercial farm production comprised on average around 75% of the total national agricultural output with communal farm output making up the balance.


Table 1 which is appended depicts total national output for the main commodities up to last year (2009) with production estimates being made for 2010. Data shown are based on assessments gathered from various sources.

For some commodities like tobacco and soyabeans record production levels were achieved around the year 2000. After peaking around that time output plummeted for the commodities that were largely produced by large scale commercial farmers. The effect of land reform is well illustrated by the steep decline in output since 2001 for commodities produced primarily by commercial farmers. The table illustrates that output for these commodities has remained at around a third of pre-2001 levels since 2004.

The most important commodity contributing to food security in Zimbabwe is maize which is the staple food for the overwhelming majority of the people. This commodity is followed in a distant second place by wheat which is consumed mostly by urban dwellers. It can be said that the annual output of both of them have a very direct impact on the food security status each year.

Regarding maize, in non-drought years more than half the crop has traditionally been grown by small scale farmers both pre- and post the onset of the fast track land reform. However even in these good years up to 40%, or going on for a million tonnes, originated from commercial farmers. When droughts were experienced much of the reduced output came from commercial farmers because a large proportion of their crop was irrigated while very little irrigation occurred in the communal areas. Their contribution in drought years was usually more than half of the total.

Another feature about maize production is that much of the output from small scale farmers is used for subsistence and one must bear in mind that about 70% of Zimbabwe’s population lives in the small scale farming areas so crop failures have a very serious impact on food security. On the other hand much of the commercial farm maize output goes to feed the urban population who in the past had much better access to food than their rurally based counterparts. After the effects of land reform became apparent one of the most noticeable features of food shortages in the towns was the long queues for items like maize meal and bread.

Estimates of Zimbabwe’s population are unreliable because out of an estimated total of around 13 million it is believed that at least 3 million persons have emigrated leaving about 10 million still remaining in the country. A population of that size consumes roughly 1.7 million tonnes of maize per annum and when maize for stock feeds is added in the total annual domestic requirement is about 2.1 million tonnes.

The table shows a total maize output of over 2 million tonnes in the year 2000. Since then production fell rapidly to less than half of Zimbabwe’s requirements indicating a high degree of food insecurity and an obvious lack of production self-sufficiency. In some years the situation was worsened by rainfall deficits. However, contrary to government claims it can safely be said that the main cause of the now consistent and large annual production deficits is the impact of the substantially reduced commercial output which has fluctuated at less than 100,000 tonnes for several years. This year (2010) the estimate for total national maize output is expected at around 400,000 tonnes. Current output is about 20% of that required to meet national demand for this commodity.

In Zimbabwe wheat is grown under irrigation in winter. Except for one year in the 1970’s Zimbabwe has never been self-sufficient in wheat production. The current national annual requirement is roughly 400,000 tonnes. Every year shortfalls are met by imports of this commodity. Prior to land reform about 95% of the crop was produced by commercial farmers. For this reason the production trends for this commodity are a reasonably good gauge of the impact of land reform on food security. In 2001 a large crop of 314,000 tonnes was produced. In 2009 a total of about 18,000 tonnes was produced and this year the projected output is around 25,000 tonnes. This is roughly 8% of the 2001 figure

A similar situation is shown in the table for other food commodities produced mainly by commercial farmers. 175,000 tonnes of soyabeans was grown in 2001 and by 2010 output has dropped by over 75% to around 40,000 tonnes. Another example is annual milk production which fell from around 187 million litres in 2000 to 50 million litres expected by the end of this year.

Farmers and their families comprise the larger part of the population and therefore it is pertinent to look at food security in a broader sense. One must examine not only food commodities themselves but also the ability to generate incomes from other sources that can be used to purchase food. In Zimbabwe the two main cash crops are tobacco and cotton.

A record output of flue cured tobacco of 236,000 tonnes was achieved in 2000. At the time about 96% of production originated from commercial farmers. The current situation is that about 55,000 tonnes is expected to be marketed this year, of which about half will be sold by small scale farmers and the rest by the few remaining commercial growers. Much of this development can be attributed to land reform. A large part of the commercial farm labour force was employed by tobacco growers. The substantial loss of jobs has resulted in increased food insecurity.

Cotton output has fluctuated widely over the last ten years. Nearly all cotton is currently grown by small scale farmers although at one time commercial farmers produced about 20% of the total national crop. Land reform has had some effect and output levels have been lower in recent years but it is fair to say that poor access to inputs and disincentive pricing had a greater impact when examining reasons for this outcome.


The dramatic fall in farm output cannot be attributed to land reform policies and their implementation alone. The marketing of the two main food commodities, maize and wheat, were re-controlled early on in this decade with the Grain Marketing Board being given monopoly controls over them. The pricing mechanisms put in place for the two commodities were largely inelastic in an inflationary environment with farmers being often expected to produce at a loss. Border pricing was often not adhered to in setting prices for imports of both commodities. Needless to say both developments had a major impact as disincentives to increasing output. Market liberalization was only reinstated last year.


There are very strong linkages between agriculture and some other sectors. About 60% of manufacturing firms rely on agriculture as a source for raw materials or as a market for agricultural inputs. Raw material supplies have dried up or demand for inputs has fallen drastically. Many firms have shut down while others are now operating at less than a third of maximum capacity. The loss of jobs has had a detrimental impact on food security.


Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product (GDP) has shrunk to less than half the size it was in 1998. Land reform has played a very substantial part in inducing the contraction because of reductions in commercial farm output. The non-servicing of debts and the erosion of property rights have kept investors away. International support in most areas other than food security has been minimal.

The traditional balance of payments support by institutions like the IMF has not been forthcoming. Whereas previously agricultural export earnings easily covered any need to import maize in drought years this position has not applied since 2002. The situation now is that the balance of payments situation has deteriorated and Zimbabwe has had to forego imports of other vital goods needed for development in order to ensure that a reasonable degree of food security is maintained. Luckily international donors have often come to the rescue by directly supporting food aid programmes.


Zimbabwe has become dependent on mainly South Africa, but also other regional countries, for supplies of staple grains to make up production shortfalls. This outcome has occurred and continues to this day despite the fact that Zimbabwe is quite capable of being self-sufficient in basic food production.

Without the right political solutions to food production problems in Zimbabwe and a change in direction progress in rectifying this position cannot take place. A policy framework should be put in place that actively promotes the production of food surpluses in Zimbabwe on a sustainable basis. The main policy areas that must be addressed are:

1. LAND – The fast track land reform programme must be concluded without delay. All the problems referred to above that have emanated from this programme must be rectified if Zimbabwe is to regain its position as a net surplus producer of food in normal rainfall years.

2. MARKETING STRATEGIES – there must be no re-imposition of controls and free market pricing must prevail. Strategies must cover the internal distribution of food between surplus and deficit production regions within Zimbabwe. The manner in which food processing is handled also requires policy formulation.

3. EXTERNAL TRADE – liberal trade policies are required for imports and exports of food commodities, and border prices and comparative advantages should guide trade flows. Phyto-sanitary issues must also be catered for.

4. INSTITUTIONAL – the policy making framework must be fully inclusive and consultative for all stakeholders including all categories of producers. Producers must have access to all types of production information. Research and training are very important aspects to be considered and for programmes to be put in place.

5. INPUTS & CREDIT – policies that ensure availability at affordable levels are vital if Zimbabwe is to become a net surplus producer of food.

6. DONOR FOOD AID – in recent years donor agencies have cultivated a food dependency syndrome and Zimbabwe has relied heavily on the aid that has been forthcoming. Free food discourages production. Food aid must be commercialised and must be only allowed in extreme circumstances.



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