Embattled Zimbabwe Farmers Find New Africa Fields
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa White Zimbabwean farmers driven from their land are setting up again elsewhere in Africa, saying they are revolutionizing farming where they settle -- but some locals are already beginning to resent the new arrivals.
Between 1,500 and 2,000 farmers have left Zimbabwe since violent farm seizures by landless blacks began in 2000. Most have left farming to settle in Australia and New Zealand, but others have gone to Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Nigeria.
"We are regarded as some of the best farmers in the world," farmer Alan Jack, who lost his farm in 2000 and is now moving to Nigeria, told Reuters from Zimbabwe.
"We understand the environment and we understand the Africans in our dealings with them."
Many of the farmers hoped to return one day to their homes in the former British colony, but for the time being President Robert Mugabe's government -- facing parliamentary elections at the end of March -- had made that impossible for them, he said.
The largest group of resettled Zimbabwean farmers have settled in neighboring Zambia, where many give them credit for a massive turnaround in agriculture that has seen the country go from a serious famine case to regional producer in two years.
"The farmers from Zimbabwe have contributed a lot to the growth of the agriculture sector because they are growing high value crops such as tobacco," Zambia's deputy agriculture minister James Katoka said. "They have helped to increase the hectares under cultivation and this has resulted in the creation of many more jobs."
Zimbabwean farmers say other African governments want them to boost their fledgling commercial farming sectors, and say they should take much of the credit for Zambia's turnaround in food production.
Zambia sold maize across the border to Zimbabwe as the country suffered serious shortages in the aftermath of drought and the sometimes violent farm seizures.
But the head of Zambia's National Farmer's Union, Guy Robinson, said most of the new arrivals had concentrated tobacco -- increasing Zambia's production by 100 percent in the last couple of years.
"Very few of them have been growing maize," he said, attributing Zambia's turnaround on food production -- now threatened by a late season drought -- to local reform and distribution of seed and fertilizer to small-scale farmers.
In October, Zambia said it was aiming to double maize production to 2.4 million tons in 2004/2005 from the previous year, although a lack of rain in February is now seen as making this unlikely.
Farmers from Britain and Australia had also moved to Zambia, he said, taking advantage of government incentives to rent land little used by locals. Many Zambians say they welcome the new jobs and increased food production, but some tensions remain.
"If the land is taken by ... foreigners then the same thing that happened in Zimbabwe might happen here," local teacher Gilbert Chona told Reuters in Livingstone, southern Zambia, where some Zimbabwean tobacco farmers have set up on the border with their former home.
The white farmers would alienate locals if they set up electric fences and denied subsistence farmers and villagers access to the nearby Zambezi river, he said.
"They have started doing that already," he said. "There have been some small riots."
Zimbabwean Jack said in Nigeria, where an advance guard of farmers are opening five dairy farms and 10 producing maize, soya, rice and other foods, efforts were being made to cement good relations with ordinary Nigerians, setting up a training farm for local farmers.
But complaints in countries where Zimbabwean farmers had settled were mainly motivated by resentment from locals who had failed to take advantage of fertile land in the past, he said.
"It's pure jealousy," he said. "These people have been on the land for 30 or 40 years since independence and they haven't managed to achieve anything."
(Additional reporting by Shapi Shacinda in Lusaka)