Zimbabwe program would give farmland to Chinese investors


A large commercial farm sits fallow in the countryside west of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, on March 20, 2008.


John Moore

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — While white farmers in Zimbabwe have had their land violently seized, the government will be giving away farmland to Chinese investors under a proposed program aimed at helping new black farmers.

The “twinning” program, reported by Zimbabwe state media on Wednesday, would pair new black farmers in Mashonaland East province, one of the country’s most fertile areas, with investors from China’s Hubei province. The farmers will give part of their land to the Chinese, and in return will get funding and the Chinese will buy their produce.

President Robert Mugabe’s government began brutal seizures of white-owned farms in 2000, giving them out to friends of the regime, many of whom had little interest or experience in farming. Zimbabwe’s agriculture-based economy, once the envy of Africa, has since collapsed and the country now regularly faces acute food shortages.

Zimbabwe's government mouthpiece, The Herald, reports that the program will see new farmers giving the Chinese investors part of their land, while the investors will in turn fund farming operations, including developing new infrastructure on the farms.

Mashonaland East Governor Aeneas Chigwedere said that the province has drafted a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese, yet to be signed, that would see farmers enter into a 25-year renewable contract with the Chinese, with a six-month notice required for cancellation.

"Our thrust at the moment is to increase agricultural productivity and we are starting next season with tobacco then we will proceed to horticulture, poultry, pig and cattle production,” Chigwedere told The Herald.

A controversial new law in Zimbabwe requires businesses to be majority-owned by "indigenous" Zimbabwean citizens. However, some Chinese businesses have been exempted from complying with the new regulation, which requires foreign-owned companies to be 51 percent owned by indigenous Zimbabweans.

Last week, a delegation from Hubei province in China reportedly toured farms in Zimbabwe owned by individuals and government institutions including Grasslands Research Station, Mashonaland East Police Farm and the Prison Farm, the paper reports.

These farms will reportedly “identify excess land and give it to their Hubei counterparts.”

A representative from Hubei said that the Chinese became interested in the “twinning” program after realizing that new farmers in Zimbabwe lacked the capability to make full use of their land.

"The program can even bring more business to Mashonaland East other than agricultural. We will in due course organize exchange visits in which farmers from either country will visit each other to exchange notes," Li Song, chairwoman of the Hubei Business Council, told The Herald.

Erin Conway-Smith