Mugabe's land reform costs Zimbabwe $17 billion: economists

Zimbabwe has lost close to $17 billion in potential earnings in the wake of ex-president Robert Mugabe's land reform programme launched 18 years ago, economists claim.

Independent Harare-based economist John Robertson says the country lost out on earnings from timber, cotton, tobacco, wheat and other commercially-produced crops.

Factories closed

"The $16.9 billion-worth of production lost would only be the start (and) Zimbabwe became a net importer… from 1998 as most of the food-processing companies reduced output, then closed down when commercial farming suppliers went down," he said.

"Non-food agricultural declines such as cotton and timber production also caused the failure of most textile, clothing and paper-making companies," Robertson said, in a research paper quoted by the private Financial Gazette.

Local economist Reuben Muzvagwandonga also said that losses could have totalled around $17 billion, with $1 billion lost per year, the paper said.

In 2000 supporters of Mugabe launched a campaign of sometimes violent land evictions that saw most of the country's 4 000 or so white farmers forced off the land.

Tobacco, maize on the up

In recent years, tobacco production, including by new small scale black growers, has climbed. It is expected to reach 200 million kilogrammes this year, and a state-sponsored command agriculture programme launched in 2016 has boosted maize production.

The new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa has ordered an end to illegal land takeovers and has said the few white farmers left on the land can be given 99-year-long leases like their black counterparts.