She shows that farmers are experiencing uncertainty regarding their right to use the land following the latest land reform program, instead of a sense of secure future prospects. This insecurity causes farmers to make fewer investments to prevent soil erosion.
"Zimbabwe's government needs to restore confidence and credibility in the agricultural property rights systems," says Precious Zikhali.
In her dissertation she first addresses the consequences of Zimbabwe's land reform. Secondly, she demonstrates how a tax on the edible mopane worm can prevent the overuse and annihilation of this natural resource, which is a vital source of protein for people in countries in southern Africa. A third area that Zikhali points to is how crucial it is for social institutions to combat nepotism based on ethnicity. She shows in one study that ethnic nepotism undermines trust between people in a society, which is in turn hampers the society's institutional and economic development.
The most recent part of Zimbabwe's land reform, which aims to redistribute land rights, is called the Fast Track Land Reform Program, launched in 2000. Zikhali has studied how secure the farmers involved in the reform perceive their right of possession to be, and how this in turn affects what investments they make in managing the land. The research findings show that the program has created insecurity among farmers, and reduced their investments.
"The most recently implemented land reform has failed to offer the security of tenure necessary for long term planning among farmers," says Precious Zikhali.
The management of the land involved here comprises the construction of contour ridges, a method to prevent soil erosion that is widely used in southern Africa. Since this sort of investment requires work from the farming family rather than access to money, it is not Zimbabwe's current economic crisis and hyperinflation that are limiting the will to invest but rather the sense of insecurity about the future.
In another study Zikhali compares agricultural productivity among farmers who have received land in the land reform program with the productivity of communal farmers. The findings show that the farmers involved in the reform have higher productivity and that they moreover get a higher yield per hectare when they use fertilizer than communal farmers do. But compared with the productivity realised by commercial farmers in 1999, before the reform program was launched, these reform farmers lag far behind.
"If this is acknowledged, it would facilitate necessary reforms. It's also important to develop markets with affordable prices for commercial fertilizer. This however requires an awareness and ability to deal with the environmental threats that the use of fertilizer entails," says Precious Zikhali.
The dissertation was carried out with support from the capacity building program in environmental economics funded by Sida, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)Disertation title: Land Reform, Trust and Natural Resource Management in Africa
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