WHILE it is an accepted fundamental that successful agricultural production depends on access to agricultural land, markets, affordable finance, appropriate technologies and adequate transport network, measures must be taken to protect society, especially the indigenous smallholder farmer.
With an estimated 70 percent of Zimbabweans living in rural areas and dependent on rain-fed smallholder agriculture for their livelihoods, it follows that improvements in this area can elevate a significant proportion of the country’s population out of poverty.
The Fast Track Land Reform and Resettlement Programme embarked on in 2000, potentially provided an important means with which to address the above issues.
Some 12 million hectares of land were acquired for resettlement.
By August 2003, slightly over 130 000 farming households were resettled, adding to the existing one million households in the communal areas and 60 000 in the old resettlement area.
However, access to land, without extending it to water, especially in semi-arid environments, did not augur well for the rural agrarian. Ideally both land and water accessibility should be addressed as these two resources complement each other in agricultural production.
Thus, sustainable, productive water use in the smallholder agricultural sector in Zimbabwe, in both the short and long-term, must be assured.
Both irrigated and rain-fed farming are critical to improving the country’s agricultural fortunes — not irrigation alone as is often supposed. It is worth noting that, at best, only half-a-million of the 30 million hectares classified as agricultural land can be irrigated due to water unavailability.
In the early colonial settlement years (1890-1927), the settlers had concentrated on finding the ‘Second Rand’ with a view to expanding gold mining activities they began in South Africa.
Their preoccupation with mining resulted in water being committed to mining.
The situation changed to agriculture when the anticipated gold failed to materialise.
Varying water laws were instituted for the allocation of water rights with claims such as: “… being a new country, Southern Rhodesia is unhampered by the pernicious common law relating to riparian ownership.”
This way, indigenous water rights, which predated the settlers’ claims were disregarded. Land appropriation during this time was for mining and not for agricultural interests and settlers had to depend on agricultural produce grown by the indigenous people.
Conflicts over water did not take long to develop among the settlers. The frequent and often costly litigations between rival claimants to the use of water culminated in the Union Irrigation Act of 1912. It made provisions for the control, apportionment and use of water. The Act was based on the common law as evolved and expounded by the Courts. In 1913, the Water Ordinance was passed as a way of comprehensively dealing with problems of rights to water.
The fact that no gold was found, as well as the subsequent depreciation of the British South African Company’s (BSAC)shares on the London Stock Exchange, forced the Company to revise its economic policy.
A new policy based on export agriculture was inaugurated in 1907, which resulted in land appropriation at the expense of the indigenous majority who were resettled in ‘Native Reserves’.
The British Government was ‘caught between catering for the interests of the white settlers and that of the indigenous population’.
There were limited rights set aside in the native reserves for the indigenous population.
For example, a limit was imposed to the size of land on which an individual was allowed to cultivate, and they could not own the land — it was held in trust for them, termed the Tribal Trust Lands (TTLs). This was so to facilitate food production for household consumption only and not surplus crops for sale. This way, people were compelled to work for the settlers.
Between 1930 and 1944, with the rise of an elite class of Africans in the country that was agitating for land ownership, some cosmetic concessions were made.
‘Native Areas’ were created where indigenes could purchase and privately own land.
There was, however, a prohibition on them owning land in ‘white’ areas following the Land Apportionment Act.
Over-population and the consequent lack of economic opportunities in the Reserves for peasant farmers and falling agricultural productivity turned the TTLs into excellent labour reserves for the white settler-economy.
In addition, the settlers trained the local people so they could be a more effective labour force.
The settlers instituted a programme of ‘industrialising’ the Native Reserves through the Department of Native Development that focused on home crafts.
This was achieved through the auspices of the Southern Rhodesia Native Affairs Committee whose objective was to ‘reduce competition between the natives and the settlers’ in agricultural production. The fear was that settlers, lacking a background in agriculture, could not compete with the natives.
The need for ensuring food security in the Native Reserves necessitated a move towards the development of the reserves.
Thus, the colonial government would not have to invest in providing food for the native population. The Chinamora Industrial Farm was established to train indigenous people in better agricultural practices.
At the same time, a research support programme for smallholder farmers was also established.
Indigenous smallholder agriculture, however, only underwent fundamental changes with the appointment, in 1926, of Emery Alvord as an agriculturalist for the instruction of natives.
His mandate was to develop the Native Reserves and thus enable such to carry a larger population following the removal of more people from the ‘white’ areas.
The long-standing agricultural practices of the Zimbabwean people, such as shifting cultivation (chitemene type of farming), which was considered a wasteful, destructive practice that caused soil erosion, were abolished.
Alvord initiated the concept of ‘training in better methods of farming’.
However, the training did not change the agricultural fortunes of the indigenes because of limited access to land, water and other fundamental resources.
Dr Tony M. Monda BSc, DVM, is currently conducting veterinary epidemiology, agronomy and food security and agro-economic research in Zimbabwe. E-mail: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com.