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May 04, 2008

Zambian banks suspicious of relocated Zimbabwean commercial farmers

Zambian banks are shunning lending to white commercial farmers, who resettled in the country after being displaced under Zimbabwe's chaotic land reform programme, a top Zambian banker has revealed.

About 4 000 white commercial farmers were displaced under Zimbabwe's controversial agrarian reforms under which they were moved out of their farmlands to make way for peasant black farmers. However, the programme eventually benefited mostly ruling party elites and their associates.

Most of the displaced farmers fled to other African countries. More than 20 other African countries invited the displaced Zimbabwean commercial farmers to begin operations on their lands to beef up depleted agricultural output. The countries included Ghana, Cameroon, Sudan, Guinea Bissau, Benin, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Namibia. Zambia, however, was the recipient of the bulk of the farmers.

Stanbic Bank Zambia managing director, Larry Kalala, told the April edition of the African Banker that his bank was among those that had taken a stance against the former Zimbabwean farmers, arguing they "have external funds."

He said the bank had adopted a cautious approach. "They just say we have been chased from Zimbabwe, you have to trust our abilities...we do not have money," Kalala said.

Stanbic Bank Zambia managing director, Larry Kalala, told the April edition of the African Banker, his bank was among those that had taken a stance against the former Zimbabwean farmers arguing they "have external funds".

He said the bank had adopted a cautious approach.

"They just say we have been chased from Zimbabwe, you have to trust our abilities...we do not have money," Kalala told the African Banker. "But I suspect that many of them, in reality, have external funds. They have this attitude that when they have money, its theirs, when they have the bank's money, its theirs, and when they are asked to repay their loans from their cash they say 'how can we give you this? It's our pension.'

"Unlike other Zambian banks, I declined to lend them," Kalala told the business quarterly.

Reports have indicated that many of the white commercial farmers had found the going tough and had started trooping back into Zimbabwe. By July last year, a Zimbabwean pressure group -- Justice for Agriculture (JAG) -- reported that more than 100 of these farmers had returned after encountering problems settling in other African countries.

"It never rains but pours for the commercial farmers. Following numerous constraints that almost turned them into paupers in countries like Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi, the farmers have decided to come back and more could be returning," John Worswick, a JAG spokesman, said last year.

The African Institute for Agrarian Studies (AIAS) said the short-term impact of Zimbabwe's land reforms had been mixed. While access to land had created a wider potential economic basis for the majority, failure of policy to rapidly promote the productive use of land by the new small farmers had contributed, alongside drought, to the persistence of rural food insecurity and poverty, according to a recent paper by AIAS.

Financial Gazette

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