By ISOH, Abel ESIMO, BAFOKAZANA, Masuku (July 2003)
Zimbabwe Farmers Union (Z.F.U) is an organisation for all farmers in Zimbabwe, especially those in the rural setting. According to the resource person, there are over one million farmers and embodies everybody who owns a farm irrespective of the status.
The following are the union’s objectives:
to discuss problems affecting farmers;
to represent farmers at meetings, workshops, etc at all levels (village, district, provincial, national and international);
to achieve the vision and mission of farmers - alleviating poverty;
to protect farmers’ interest;
to advocate for land reclamation from foreigners who reportedly owned 80% of the arable land;
to cater for irrigation schemes;
to have access to credit facilities;
to solve farmers’ problems through negotiations and advocacy among others.
The union was founded in Midland Province in 1939. According to the informant, before 1991 the union had changed names. The historical implications of the union, the interviewee suggested, was to fight the urgly effects of colonisation by the British.
In a bid to alleviating poverty, Z.F.N. has embarked on various measures. To begin with, the Union has formed farmers’ clubs at village level in which farmers come together to discuss common problems affecting them such as production strategies in order to increase their yield. As a result a result, they have had to share common experiences over the years.
Next, Z.F.U. has set up commodity associations . For instance, cattle farmers have their own association independent of other commodity producers within Z.F.U. The aim of this strategy is to share common ideas on production and management of resources. The associations also make common marketing or commercial strategies for their commodities such as price - fixing.
Another measure to ensure higher productivity with high quality is the installation of technocrats at village, district, and regional levels for technical training. The farmers are trained on the usage and application of chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides among others. Directors are also installed at the national level for higher administration- policy-making.
Z.F.U. has also embarked on carrying out research activities on how her members can increase their productivity by implementing new production strategies. In addition, Z.FU, has been educating her rural masses through the Study Group Concept. Education here is acquired during association meetings or other constituted groups. Knowledge about methods of production, social and cultural affairs is acquired during seminars and workshops organised at all levels. To help meet the financial need of the Union, finances are raised by the sale of membership cards and levies. In addition, appeals for financial aid are made to the Zimbabwean government that has sometimes granted 10% of Z.F.U’s funds.
The Union has also been lobbying government for land reclamation from white farmers. The land problem has been sensitive in Zimbabwe because it is a national issue. As already noted above, more than three-quarters of arable land was seized by the colonial administration during that era. The indigenous farmers were therefore, left with very limited land for farming. The most annoying has been the reluctance of the white settlers to relinquish part of the land even to the present generation. This unrepentant attitude has therefore inspired Z.F.U. to mount pressure on government for recuperation of the land. Thus, large portions of land have been seized from the settlers recently to be redistributed to Zimbabwean farmers. This has attracted the attention of Britain and the Commonwealth that have threatened with sanctions against Robert Mugabe’s government. Nevertheless, the latter has stood his ground.
The above strategies launched by Z.F.U. yielded remarkable results as highlighted underneath. Thus, through education Z.F.U. farmers have become conscious of the existing realities concerning poverty alleviation, and the youths are now actively involved in rural development. As a result, more food is produced and farmers’ returns have increased. Moreso, the Union has benefited government financial grants that have helped finance some of her projects such as irrigation schemes. Input supply schemes have also been established, cultivable land has increased, above all, Z F.U. has won the recognition of the government. According to the resource person, President Mugabe has the Union’s membership card, and on presentation, it exempts members from sales tax.
In spite of these achievements, there have been some shortcomings, such as lack of sufficient funds for reinvestment and inadequate supply of farm inputs. According to the resource person, funds from membership cards and levies are never enough for the envisaged projects; and state grants are not regular. Moreso, farming is not taken as a business but as a way of life, and as such, much effort and resources are not invested to ensure increase rewards. In addition, marketing of products is not done on group basis but individually. Therefore, economies of large scale are not enjoyed as individual farmers have no bargaining power for the prices of their products. Lack of adequate training facilities has caused many farmers to hold strongly on subsistence agriculture.
In an attempt to solving the problems noted above, Z.F,U, has intensified lobbying for financial assistance and further quest for land reclamation. Also, education and training has been paid more attention in order to increase efficiency. Thanks to the present president of the Union, Mr. Silas Hungwe, who has kept it going and upheld its dream.
In order to ameliorate the situation of farmers in Zimbabwe, the resource person called for more financial assistance from national and international sources, encouraged women and youths to participate actively in poverty alleviation activities. He also warned youths especially against the dangers of HIV/AIDS, and called on Z.F.U.to increase her interaction at all levels.