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September 09, 2009

Zimbabwe farm troubles affect coffee plantations

by Nelson Banya

Zimbabwe's once promising coffee industry faces total collapse due to upheavals linked to President Robert Mugabe's controversial land redistribution policy, a farmers union said in mid-August.

The coffee industry was growing steadily until 2000, when Mugabe embarked on a drive to resettle landless but inexperienced black farmers on white-owned commercial farms. A report presented by the Coffee Growers' Association (CGA) at an annual congress of the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU) representing Zimbabwe's 500-odd remaining white farmers, said the industry had virtually collapsed due to farm invasions.

Coffee output would be around 500 tons this year, down 93 percent on the 2001 figure of 7,260 tons, and 300 tons is forecast for 2010, the report said. "This national crop is what one large scale producer was able to produce in the nineties, which is an indication of just how far we have fallen," the CGA said. "It is astounding to note that no meaningful coffee has ever been produced on a coffee farm taken, beyond the year of the takeover."

Before the farm disturbances, the industry had projected expanding production to 20,000 tons by 2004, which would have put the country within sight of east African producers Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda by the end of the decade. Zimbabwe used to export its arabica brand of coffee to the European market.

"The future of this sector is very bleak. In order for the coffee industry to restart, the return of tradable title deeds needs to happen to allow for both the farmer and the banker to be secure with their respective investments," the CGA said.

CFU president Trevor Gifford said commercial farmers were frustrated that the new unity government formed by Mugabe and former rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, had not moved to stop farm invasions. "Farmers were hopeful of a moratorium on all prosecutions and evictions and that dispossessed farmers would be engaged to resolve their needs. Regrettably, nothing has changed," Gifford told the congress. "Government continues to acquire more land and prosecute more farmers. Farm disruptions and evictions continue."

Once a regional supplier of grain, Zimbabwe has failed to feed itself since 2001, relying on imports and donor handouts. Industry experts say production of all major crops -- including maize, wheat and tobacco -- has declined by more than 50 percent since then. Mugabe, who denies accusations that his land seizures helped decimate Zimbabwe's economy, says the policy was meant to address historical land ownership imbalances.


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