Indigenous Farmers Duped

For the past two months, peasant farmers, disgruntled with the slow pace of resettlement and empty promises over the past 18 years, have been invading commercial farms and settling themselves.

Some of the farms are known to be derelict or owned by absentee landlords and were among those designated by the government in November last year.

Although President Mugabe, during his meet the people tour of September and October last year, vowed that land, the raison d’être of the liberation struggle, would be acquired for the people in the Year of Our Lord 1997, with resettlement starting in June 1998, no one has yet been resettled.

While, indeed, more than 1 500 farms were designated in November, almost half were de-listed and now there is talk about resettling people on only a dozen farms.

But the peasant farmers are not alone. The whole issue of indigenisation of land has been plagued by unfulfilled promises. But unlike their peasant counterparts, indigenous small-scale and commercial farmers may be worse off.

Last September, they were promised 132 tractors under the Japanese government's grant aid for Increased Food Production Programme, also known as KR11 Programme.

Some of them sold their old tractors or cattle to raise the deposit for the new tractors only to discover that the tractors had been sold to "third parties", with at least 35 being sold to white commercial farmers.

Although everyone is now trying to put the blame on one of the distributors, who was apparently invited into the programme only last year, the hand of the Ministry of Lands officials seems to be everywhere, clearly indicating that they were party to the scheme.

In fact, when Lands and Agriculture Minister Kumbirai Kangai accepted the 132 tractors from the Japanese government, on September 25, to hand them over to small-holder farmers, he cracked what appeared to be a joke at the time.

"Pessimists," he said, "argue that small-holder farmers are resistant to modern farming." The pessimists, he might as well have added, were apparently his own officials.

According to information The Insider has so far managed to gather smallholder farmers ended up only getting 24 of the 132 tractors.

When leaders of the Indigenous Commercial Farmers Union (ICFU) insisted they should be given the tractors promised under the Japanese KR11 project, they were told that since the tractors had been sold they could only get replacements at a price $100 000 higher than for the KR11 tractors.

And the offer was only made after the indigenous farmers had stormed the offices of one of the distributors as well as those of the ministry threatening to take the law into their own hands.

Throughout the planning period, indigenous farmers had been led to believe the programme would benefit them. According to the minutes of a meeting held on July 8, 1997, chaired by a Ministry of Agriculture official named as M. Chikanda, a total of 132 tractors were going to be made available under KR11. Chikanda is quoted as saying the tractors were going to be priced at $189 633 for 80HP tractors and $200 145.66 for the smaller 60 HP tractors.

The bulk of the tractors, 70, were to be allocated to the Zimbabwe farmers Union (ZFU), 60 of them being 60HP. The ICFU, because of the larger size of their farms, were to be allocated 40, 80HP with the Farmers Development Trust (FDT) to get 11.

The tractors were to be held by the distributors for only three months from the date of arrival, according to the minutes which were only circulated in March 1998. The distributors said this would allow them to dispose of the tractors during the selling period which is September-October.

When the tractors were officially handed over on September 25, the figures had changed. Kangai said 65 were being allocated to the ZFU, 40 to the ICFU, nine to the FDT, eight to service contractors and 10 to resettlement farmers.

The grant, he said, was most welcome because most smallholder farmers did not have collateral to enable them to secure loans to buy tractors which would ensure timely land preparation and general transformation of the smallholder sector from subsistence to commercial farming.

"Small-holder productivity has tended to be low because farmers predominantly operate under dryland conditions which are characterised by the low use of fertilizers, herbicides, seed retained from previous seasons, use of animal draught power, and, in some instances, hoes for tillage," he said.

But for most indigenous farmers, the hand-over ceremony marked the beginning of their agony as this was the last time some of them saw the promised tractors. To make matters worse, some sold their old tractors or cattle to raise the required deposits.

And their efforts to get the matter rectified have not yielded any results. Their only salvation may, perhaps, come from ZANU-PF Lands Committee chairman Joseph Msika who was so "pissed" off when he learnt about the news that he instructed the Ministry of Lands to sue the distributor who "illegally" sold the tractors to third parties.

This was only in June when Msika called a meeting with Kangai and his officials to explain what was happening when peasants began to invade commercial farms because they had not been allocated the land they had been promised.

The tractor programme seems to have been doomed from the start. Soon after the official handover, indigenous farmers held two meetings with the government on September 30 and October 1 to discuss proposals for acquiring the tractors. It had now turned out that although there were still 132 tractors, there were now 109 Fiatagri 65HP units and 23 Massey Fergusson 80HP tractors. Farmec, which had been involved in the scheme all along, was handling the Massey Fergussons and Bain Farm Equipment, the new entrant, the Fiatagri.

The two distributors were to assemble the units, and carry out pre- delivery inspection, the delivery and post-delivery servicing. The two were to be paid agreed fees and were also to assist in arranging finance for the farmers who were allocated the tractors. But the indigenous farmers also noticed some anomalies.

The agreement between the Japanese and Zimbabwean governments allowed a two-year, interest-free grace period after the arrival of the tractors. But farmers were being given three-months in which to buy the tractors for cash or arrange finance which meant that if they obtained loans they would be required to pay interest immediately. They therefore argued that the good intention of the 24-month grace period was not benefitting them but the distributors.

The ICFU in its proposal to the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture therefore argued that they should be allowed to pay-off the dealers obligations and then enter into a legal contract with the ministry and thus enjoy the two-year grace period.

This proposal was submitted to the ministry on October 3, 1997. It contained a proposed programme of implementation under which the ICFU expected a response to its proposal by October 8. Legal documents were to be drafted by October 14 followed by a meeting two days later to discuss the draft contract. The contract was supposed to be signed on October 22 with payments to the distributors on October 31 and the tractors being handed over on November 6.

The ICFU did not get a response by October 8. Two fax messages were subsequently sent to the ministry but to no avail. The ICFU director, Nokwazi Moyo met a senior ministry official on October 30 and was assured that the reply had already been prepared and was on its way. But the ICFU only got the reply on December 8 in a letter dated December 1 and signed by a B. Sandamu.

According to the letter, the ICFU members were now to be allocated 40 Fiat tractors because the Massey Fergusson tractors had already been sold out. The letter says that the tractors which were being distributed by Bain Farm Equipment were priced at $147 764 but the distributors would sell them for $171 180.70 giving a minimum mark up of $23 416.70.

The ICFU, therefore had to pay Bain $936 668.80 as the mark up for the 40 tractors. The price was to increase to $184 378.80 with extras thus giving a mark-up of $36 614.77 which meant the ICFU would have to pay Bain $1 464 591 for the 40 tractors. In addition to the mark-up, the ICFU was to deposit $5 910 560 for the 40 tractors into the National Development Fund.

"In line with your proposal, ICFU will have to provide $936 668.80 or $1 464 591 to be paid to the distributors and draw up a contract guaranteeing the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture payments in the last quarter of each year starting in October 1998 till the amount owing is fully paid. If you are agreeable, could you please prepare payment for the mark-ups and draw up the contract for the NDF for consideration by this ministry. Your usual cooperation is highly appreciated," the letter reads.

Although the ICFU prepared the necessary documents and submitted them to the ministry on January 9, 1998 they were told the tractors had been sold and their allocation would be met in the next batch.

Angry members who had been waiting for the tractors and had already paid their deposits to the union, threatened to take the law into their hands when they learnt the tractors had been sold but they were advised to hold on until February 15. But nothing happened.

It was only in March that the farmers were offered 18 tractors "at a discounted price" of $271 694.69. Although the price was later brought down to $251 913.35 only one had been purchased by May.

Bitter at what had transpired the ICFU took up their case with Joseph Msika and explained to him that the distribution of tractors was being handled unfairly with some ministry officials behaving in a "suspicious way" citing "a certain Mr Chikanda who seemed bent on frustrating the programme".

Chikanda's name was also brought up before the permanent secretary Tobias Takavarasha who promised to investigate.

Msika, already incensed with the way the designated farms had been de-listed and inundated by complaints from provincial governors called for a joint meeting with Kangai on June 2 and it was at this meeting that it was agreed that the distributor, Bain Farming Equipment should be brought to book.

Takaravasha is quoted by the ICFU as having told the ICFU leadership that Bain "was wrong to offer the tractors at other than KR11 conditions..."

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