Unsustainable Use: The Unintended Consequences
October 2014, Volume 12-5-II

In the year 2000 the Zimbabwe government embarked on their “Fast Track Land Reform Program” (FTLRP). This radical land redistribution exercise was to enrich and empower the masses by presenting them with land previously used by commercial agriculture. In so doing government said the entire nation would prosper, but it did not. Commercial agricultural production plummeted as expected but so too did that of the Communal Lands. As agriculture failed so too did tourism, industry, commerce, banking, mining and all spheres of financial endeavor. Foreign currency receipts declined as did tax revenues.

The solution adopted was to print money to make it work. Funding was given to FTLRP beneficiaries but still they failed to produce. Eventually the Zimbabwe dollar disappeared taking with it our then worthless 100 Trillion Dollar Note.

What on earth has all this got to do with sustainable utilization? Our continued existence on this planet demands sustainable utilization of our natural resources. The human species often flouts this principle but possibly nowhere as flagrantly as on Zimbabwe’s seized farmland. Having paid no compensation to former owners the government holds no ownership rights in FTLRP land and can only offer beneficiaries an insecure temporary occupation. The “tragedy of the commons” comes in to play. Communal land belongs to all and thus no one person owns it or is responsible to care for it. All use it and irrationally rush to deplete its resources. Thus we engineer our own demise.

Beneficiaries under the FTLRP do not behave as land owners whose continued wellbeing would dictate policies which require their land, together with its fauna and flora, be maintained in good heart. Instead their attitude is that speedy plunder is the logical course to follow during what they know can only be a stay of limited duration.

Creating wealth through cropping, cattle or game ranching is a long term exercise. This falls outside the uncertain tenure granted. Farming of whatever discipline requires capital to succeed. Without title beneficiaries have no security to offer banks. Unfunded and insecure, commercial cropping has failed along with cattle and game ranching. Respect of property rights is at the core of sustainable utilization; the FTLRP its antithesis. Very little food is produced under peasant subsistence systems.

Tobacco production funded by international tobacco companies has shown what is likely to be unsustainable growth. Some 90,000 small-scale growers in an endeavor to maximize returns do not use coal for curing and massive destruction of timber takes place. This production cannot last – the trees in these growing areas are gone. Livestock only graze where there is access to permanent water. Grazing systems requiring pumping of water, maintenance of pipelines, pumps and fencing are no longer used. Domesticated cattle can be driven back to one’s homestead but wildlife cannot. To own game you must utilize it quickly; eat it before anyone else does – the “tragedy of the commons” once more.

This irrational FTLRP has destroyed huge numbers of game animals. Wild animals being a “free good” were butchered under any pretext. Rare Sable antelope conserved on the Khami River Valley farms and in adjoining Forestry areas became meat stew at ruling party gatherings. The diverse herds in the Gwayi River Conservancy adjoining the famed Hwange National Park were wiped out. Thanks to better management the privately owned Gwayi River Conservancy carried higher densities of wild life than the National Park itself. FTLRP beneficiaries immediately linked up with unscrupulous professional hunters and between them they wiped out or drove these animals back into the Park to die of thirst. The Save Conservancy fared no better. Part of it was resettled. The properties covered by Bilateral Investment Treaties have not been seized but all the rest have and are now being run by the same Department of National Parks that was unable to water the game under their care in Hwange National Park. Save’s real owners over the past four years have not been allowed to conduct their normal safari operations so have consequently run out of funds. Rhinos had to be moved and consolidated. Poaching has escalated with few staff left on anti-poaching duties. Recently the Minister of Tourism complained that declining American and European tourist arrivals were linked to Save Valley Conservancy invasions and seizures.

The few Conservancies that remained in operation also suffered. No privately owned properties remained which could absorb surplus stock from Conservancies so these wild life producers were reduced to culling surplus animals to sell at discounted meat value. In dry years many animals starved to death there being no secure properties left to which to relocate them.

The FTLRP has nearly ruined the banking system. Money supply consists of notes and coins together with deposits now mainly all short term. The value that was inherent in Zimbabwe’s titled land which was used by the banking system as security is no more. Our rural land is now worthless and several banks are unable to repay customers their deposits.

What hope is there in this situation? First the man in the street is now very interested in and skilled in the subject of economics. He understands that the denial of property rights of commercial farmers brought about the “cascade failure” of every other sector in the economy. The second lesson is that farming is one of the slowest, most difficult and expensive ways of making money. Zimbabwe’s former productivity and wealth will return with restoration of existing property rights and will flourish should title also be granted in the Communal Lands. Only then will our resources again be used sustainably!

Author: Chris Jarrett

He is Past Chairman of the Southern African Commercial Farmers Alliance – Zimbabwe: luchabisafaris@gatorzw.co.uk – This article was first published on SULi News and is republished here with the author’s permission.