Compensation: Zimbabwe to return farms protected by BIPPAs, but only if it’s ‘practical’

Zimbabwe will return land to dispossessed farmers who were under Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements (BIPPAs), while other white farmers on land repossessed under land reform can apply for 99-year leases, the Government says.

In a joint statement Monday, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube and Lands and Agriculture Minister Anxious Masuka also said government would spare productive farms from the current programme of “downsizing” farms.

Under a US$3.5 billion compensation deal reached between government and white formers farmers in July, the Zimbabwe government can only pay compensation for improvements on land, as is required by the Constitution.

[Click to read: Zimbabwe’s US$3.5bn land compensation deal – What you need to know]

However, the law requires that black farmers and farmers protected by BIPPAs – treaties between governments to protect the investments of their citizens – be compensated for both land and other assets. These farmers, the two ministers said, should apply for their land back.

“In this regard, in order to allow former farm owners in this category to regain possession of the pieces of land that were acquired from them, Government will, in the appropriate circumstances, revoke the offer letters of resettled farmers currently occupying those pieces of land and offer them alternative land elsewhere,” the Ministers said.

However, driving land reform beneficiaries off the land – some of which has been occupied for close to 20 years – may be a difficult task, both practically and politically. Realising this, government will only give land back to previous holders “where the circumstances presently obtaining on the ground permit”.

Instead, BIPPA farmers would get land elsewhere or compensation for their losses.

“Where the situation presently obtaining on the ground makes it impractical to restore land in this category to its former owners, Government will offer the former farm owners alternative land elsewhere as restitution where such land is available.”

Although the exact number of farms under this category could not be immediately established, figures from the former farmers’ compensation steering committee show that a total of 5,454 farms were taken over by the government since 2000, with 4,676 of these not being covered under any bilateral investment treaty.

In 2013, a ZANU-PF policy document showed that out of a total of 153 farms protected by the treaties, 116 farms had already been acquired for resettlement.

The government issued regulations in March seeking to offer land as compensation to some of the farmers under BIPPAs.

In 2015, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, which is part of the World Bank group, ordered Zimbabwe to pay US$196 million compensation to a Swiss-German family whose farm had been seized by the government. Zimbabwe lost a bid to have the compensation award annulled in 2018.

Earlier this year, the late former Agriculture Minister Perrance Shiri said 440 black-owned farms had been affected by land reform. Of these farms, 350 were still held by previous owners while 90 had been resettled. These black farmers, under the law, are entitled to compensation for both land and improvements.

Farm leases

Ex-farm owners occupying land taken over under land reform can apply for long-term leases.

“Former farm owners on compulsorily acquired land should urgently regularise their tenure through designated Government institutions in the first instance, before consideration can be made for the issuance of 99-Year Leases. Former farm owners who already hold Offer Letters may proceed to apply for 99- Year Leases,” the government says.

In February, government gazetted regulations to cut farm sizes. Under those rules, a farm in Region One, which receives the most rain, cannot be bigger than 250 hectares. The programme has drawn criticism after some productive farms were targeted. Productive farms would now be left out of the programme, Ncube and Masuka said.

“Consistent with the Second Republic’s thrust to increase production and productivity in the agricultural sector and in order to anchor the attainment of an upper middle income economy by 2030, Government has taken a deliberate policy position to initially exempt fully utilized productive farms from downsizing until agricultural land under multiple farm ownership, derelict and/or under-utilized has been brought into production,” they said.