Anna Brazler writing for Africa Is A Country partially dismissed the notion that land reform is the reason behind the food crisis which has become so dire and left half the Zimbabwean population in need of food aid in 2019. Anna opined that successive policies have failed to support food production in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe has become extremely vulnerable to food insecurity largely as a result of almost a century of policies (pre- and post-independence) that have failed to support sustainable food production by smallholder farmers or develop local markets for nutritious food.
The current food crisis came to a head after an extremely severe drought from 2018 through 2019, occurring after a decade of successive droughts. This, on top of a deeply eroded system of food production stemming from policies that primarily support commercial cash crop agriculture.
Researchers have shown that from the 1920s until independence in 1980, the Rhodesian government deliberately sought to destroy smallholder subsistence agriculture to push peasants into the workforce and clear the most productive land in the country for white commercial farmers intent on cash cropping and cattle ranching. In his 1998 study Land Degradation in Zimbabwe: a Geographical Study, Richard Whitlow noted:
… the history of soil conservation and land degradation in the peasant farming areas is associated very closely with land alienation policies during the colonial period (1890–1980). A persistent theme in this history is the gradual deterioration of man-land relationships as population pressures, both human and livestock, increased.
Whitlow goes on to explain that the Rhodesian government saw black farmers as competition and sought to pressurize them to leave their land and become laborers. He cited important factors contributing to widespread land degradation in the communal areas, including “the widespread adoption of maize growing and the use of ploughs.” By the late 1920s, maize had become a staple and cash crop and maize-growing areas were extended “partly to supply an expanding market in the towns and mines and partly to counter the lower, less reliable yields of maize” when compared with small grains.
Pre-independence land tenure and natural resource management policies destroyed the existing production systems of diverse traditional crops and livestock and displaced most of the population into “tribal trust lands.” The soils and climate in these areas were not conducive to agriculture and population densities became too high for these farmers to obtain sufficient land to make a living and grow food.
Then in the 1940s and 1950s, an American missionary employed by the Rhodesian government as the “Agriculturalist for the Instruction of Natives,” led a team that forced communities to abandon their traditional land-use patterns and to cultivate centralized fields that were separated from grazing areas. These tribal trust lands are now known as the communal farming areas—where some of the worst food insecurity exists due to severe land degradation, the drought-prone climate and a serious lack of investment.
The UN Special Rapporteur’s report mentions poor agricultural productivity as a major contributing factor to the current food security crisis; however, there is no direct correlation between agricultural productivity and food security when the focus of productivity is on cash crops rather than nutritious food production. In Zimbabwe, as in many countries, the worst chronic malnutrition (stunting) rates are consistently found in the areas where agricultural (and maize) productivity are highest—Manicaland and Mashonaland. If the argument is that cash cropping raises incomes in rural areas and therefore improves access to nutritious food, this is relevant only where there are local markets for nutrient-dense foods. This is usually not the case in Zimbabwe.
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