FINANCE minister Mthuli Ncube says the process of modifying 99-year leases to be bankable instruments needs to be brought to finality so as to unlock funding to the agriculture sector and make it more productive.

In Zimbabwe, all farming land is owned by the State, which issues farmers with 99-year leases, but banks in the southern African country have refused to recognise the instruments as security, mainly because they are not tradable.

The situation has resulted in vast tracts of arable land becoming idle as farmers cannot access funding on the basis of the leases from the banks.

Ncube told a business meeting that the current structure of the leases was inhibiting productivity on the farms.

“In agriculture, we have created a dead asset in terms of the land. One of the issues that has to be dealt with is the 99-year leases. There is still some work to be done to close that hole. That needs to be sorted out because we have to create enough comfort in terms of property rights for the banks to extend credit to the farmers on the back of those 99-year leases,” he said.

“Last time I checked, the ball was in the court of the bankers rather than government. They were still looking at one of the clauses and needed to come back to us.”

Ncube added that government was also working on completing an audit to determine the amount due for compensation to farmers who were displaced during the land reform programme.

“There is another bigger issue, which is farmer compensation. We, as government, have made a lot of progress. First of all, the farmers themselves have also made progress. They have a figure of what they want to be compensated, I know the figure, but I cannot tell you,” he said.

“On our side as government, we have done valuations for nine provinces. We know the values of the provinces, we are using the same methodology as the farmers. What is left is Mashonaland East. I think in that province, we are at about 70% and we are left with 30% of the work. So we should be able to conclude by March, then government will have a figure which we can start negotiating with the farmers and come to some agreement”

Fewer than 400 white commercial farmers are still operating in the investment-hungry nation after former President Robert Mugabe’s government evicted more than 4 000 under an often violent and chaotic land reform programme in 2000.Newsday