The Slow Decline of Zimbabwean Farming

I’ve just had the following exchange with journalist Tsidi Bishop on twitter. The bit I want to deal with is the claim that Zimbabwean farming “didn’t gradually decline, that it went overnight.”

This is not true. As Jayson Coomer and Dr. Thomas Gstraunthaler explained in a paper published in the Journal of Austrian Economics in fall 2011, titled “The Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe” (download here), the decline of farming in Zimbabwe started soon after independence in 1980. Quoting Coomer and Gstraunthaler:

In the first five years of independence, land resettlement was conducted under government’s “first option to buy” at market prices: resulting in resettlement on some 3 million hectares. Subsequently, the 1992 land Acquisition Act provided for compulsory purchase of farms, as long as the property was derelict, located on underutilized land, owned by absentee landlords, or surrounded by communal areas, and the owner had multiple farms. The act required fair compensation and provided a right of appeal (IMF Staff Report, 2000)…

Following the new pension package, the war veterans expressed discontent with the success of the previous land reform program, and began to press for its acceleration. In November 1997, President Mugabe responded to these pressures, announcing plans for the compulsory acquisition of white-owned commercial farms, again without elaboration on the financing side of the transaction (Kairiza, 2009). Thus, 1,471 commercial farms, representing a
significant portion of Zimbabwe’s commercial farming land, were gazetted for compulsory purchase (IMF Staff Report, 2000)…

At the same time, the government continued its land reform process, issuing acquisition orders in November 1998 to 841 farmers who had contested the 1997 compulsory purchases. The state also reacted to the growing influence of the trade and labor unions by imposing the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) labor Regulations of 1998 which imposed heavy penalties on trade unions and employers that incited or facilitated strikes, stay-aways, and other forms of unlawful collective action (Raftopoulos, 2009).

The farm invasions and expropriations continued, creating greater flight of foreign capital and declining foreign exchange earnings, prompting the government to monetise its government deficits at an accelerating rate, causing the ultimate collapse of the Zim dollar. It wasn’t until the mid-2000’s when war veterans were actually seen running around from farm to farm evicting and torching farms and farmers, which I suspect Tsidi refers to as the sudden decline of Zimbabwean farming.

Of course there’s still more to it, the rest can be read here. But to say that Zimbabwean farming declined overnight is not true.