THIS week I wish to discuss one important resource that somehow seems to have a puzzling paradox at the moment.
I am usually inundated with enquiries from across the country from potential farmers who are trying to get a piece of land for production purposes.
Just last week a budding goat farmer based in Beitbridge called me to find out how he could get a piece of land for his growing flock of goats now slightly above a hundred.
At the same time I travel a lot across communal lands including the resettlement areas where most farmers got land during the land reform programme.
What will not escape anyone’s notice is the amount of idle land in all these areas hence my remark above about the paradox regarding this resource in Zimbabwe.
The paradox is that those with land appear not to be utilising it to its full potential while those without land seem to be frantically searching for it.
Where is the mismatch coming from?
Land is by definition an economic resource and by extension a political resource therefore, I will try to tip-toe carefully around this subject lest I get my fingers roasted!
One important truism is that land is a finite resource while the population of human beings and other animals keep increasing exponentially.
Also Zimbabwe is an agro-driven economy among other economic drivers and this was ably demonstrated by the hugely successful Command Agriculture Programme that has ensured that the country records two successive bumper harvests.
This had not happened in a very long time and the country was taking a huge fiscal straining from continuous imports of staple cereals such as maize.
While it may not be accurate to singularly attribute the good harvests to Command Agriculture what cannot be disputable is that utilisation of land is important to keep the nation on a full stomach. This is the import of my instalment this week that there is something fundamentally wrong with our programming if we will have so much idle land which is almost derelict because of neglect yet there is a whole list of nationals who are hungry for land and are itching to produce. It is about time we rectify the mismatch so that we can again have a thriving agricultural producer base.
I am aware that the responsible ministry has conducted a series of land audits that are aimed at weeding out lazy occupants and put more serious ones. However, not much action is seen beyond the audits as the same idle pieces of land will still remain unoccupied.
Also I think we should disabuse ourselves of the notion that only those in resettlement areas should be audited for how they are utilising the land.
What about those in old communal lands, should they just be left scot free whether they are utilising the land or not? What is the justification of making those in resettlement areas account for their use of the land while those in communal lands are left untouched.
The guiding principle in utilisation of land should be the simple acknowledgement that land is a finite resource which is also the economic foundation of any nation and therefore, it has to be exploited to its maximum value.
Those that are for one reason or another not able to utilise the land should be made to cede it to those that are able to use it.
Sadly this under-utilisation of land cuts across social strata such that it is not only confined to resource strained people hence the reason of lack of resources alone as a justification for sub-optimal utilisation of land cannot fly.
Also important in land utilisation, especially under the livestock sector is a revisit of our production systems and models.
As an example how sustainable is the extensive system of cattle ranching against a shrinking land resource pressured by an ever increasing human population?
Is it not time we start thinking seriously on how we can modify our production systems and models to accommodate the fact that our land is running out? I know a cattle rancher reading this somewhere is saying this chap is going bonkers, how else does he think I can run my 100 beasts other than in an extensive system?
But the stubborn reality is that we need to start applying our minds now in preparation for an inevitable future or else we will find ourselves invading national parks and other such natural resources sanctuaries because we have run out of land to accommodate our population. In the meantime those that are not utilising the land should simply lose it, period! Uyabonga umntakaMakhumalo.
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