Land reform and environmental sustainability




Economic Policy becomes blueprint if it is not well implemented by all stakeholders. Policy success requires adequate support and proper implementation. This paper acknowledges the benefits of land reform in many developing nations, and relates it to the sustainability of the environment. The paper discusses issues of land degradation and how best to protect land degradation so as to reap continuous production in the allocated land. The study encourages awareness programs by relevant authorities to the various stakeholders who were allocated land for various economic activities.


Redistribution of assets was long considered an ill-conceived policy on the grounds that it would hamper incentives and hence growth. Yet an increasing literature suggests that asset inequality itself can be economically costly. Hence to solve such inequality land reform is required. Land reform refers to the transfer of ownership from the more powerful to the less powerful, such as from a relatively small number of wealthy (or noble) owners with extensive land holdings (e.g., plantations, large ranches, or agribusiness plots) to individual ownership by those who work the land. Such transfers of ownership may be with or without compensation; compensation may vary from token amounts to the full value of the land.

Land distribution has been a cause of concern in Zimbabwe since independence until a Land reform programme was passed by government around 2000. Land reform in Zimbabwe officially began in 1979 with the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement, an effort to more equitably distribute land between the historically disenfranchised blacks and the minority-whites who ruled Southern Rhodesia from 1890 to 1979. The government’s land distribution is perhaps the most crucial and most bitterly contested political issue surrounding Zimbabwe. It can be divided into two periods: from 1979 to 2000, where a principle of willing buyer, willing seller was applied with economic help from Great Britain and secondly, beginning in 2000, the fast-track land reform program.

The land distribution policies were in place by independence, however there was a delay in implementing the policies. One probable reason being the nature or format to be used. During that time former British colonialist (commonly known as whites) were the major holders of property, land in this case. And the black majority have been allocated to infertile soils and rocky areas where farming could not take place in full capacity. Also such areas were characterised by overpopulation and there was control of number of livestock one has to keep at his homestead. On the other hand the colonialists were having huge farms and have been allocated at very fertile soils where their farming yields were higher. Surely there was need for land distribution.


The need for land reform in Zimbabwe is generally acknowledged, even by representatives of the commercial farming sector. Colonial policies of expropriation gave a few thousand white farmers ownership of huge tracts of arable land. About 4,500 large-scale commercial farmers still held 28 percent of the total land at the time the fast track program was instituted. Meanwhile, more than one million black families eke out an existence in overcrowded, arid “communal areas,” the land allocated to Africans by the colonial regime. Farm workers, many of whom are of foreign descent, have little or no access to land on their own account, and are also vulnerable to arbitrary eviction from their tied accommodation. Many poor and middle-income black people in urban areas squeezed by rocketing food and transport price hikes and growing unemployment since the mid-1990s, see land as an alternative source of income and food security. Many land restitution claims relating to forced removals during the era of the white government have also not been addressed. These factors create a significant land hunger in Zimbabwe.

As noticed, land was needed for the following reasons:

  • To relieve overpopulation in some areas. The rise of population in rural areas gave rise to the need to get new space for living.
  • For farming purposes. Many people live through farming, and there was need to get new areas for effective farming.
  • Grazing of livestock. In rural areas there were problems of overgrazing and for livestock production to increase there was need for new pastures.


After land has been redistributed (or reallocated), a lot of activities have been seen being performed. Firstly there was land clearing to build homes, later there was land clearing for farms. People began to prepare land for farming and other gardening activities. Roads were built to create a link to major roads and towns. In some cases dams and bridges were constructed. For the past decade we have seen a lot of trees being cut down to create land for farming. Farming activities have been carried out, though the decade has been characterised by poor rains. Productivity levels did not go to the required levels due to the reliance on rainfall. Many peasant farmers do not have the capacity to use irrigation facilities.


The benefits of land reform should not be biased towards productive or economic factors only, but to include environmental aspect. Taking from the point of inheritance from the white settlers, it is unreasonable to say the environment should maintain the status quo. Just because of the reasons why the land was taken, surely a change was expected. However a look at the environment status after land distribution is a matter of concern. Environmental management is encouraged in many parts of the continent; therefore there is need for environmental analysis as a going concern project.

Taking a look at many resettlement areas there is a lot of land degradation that has taken place, rivers have suffered from erosion and hence water storage capacity has declined, siltation has taken its path and mostly dense forests have turned into open areas. There is already overgrazing and roads have been damaged by movement of livestock. The question is, is it really what we wanted by distribution of land? Was it not a matter of raising productivity and life standards? Who is to blame? Answers to these questions are clear though unfavourable.


Land degradation is a broad term that can be applied differently across a wide range of scenarios. There are four main ways of looking at land degradation and its impact on the environment around it:

  • A temporary or permanent      decline in the productive capacity of the land. This can be seen through a      loss of biomass, a loss of actual productivity or in potential      productivity, or a loss or change in vegetative cover and soil nutrients.
  • A decline in the lands      “usefulness”: A loss or reduction in the lands capacity to provide resources      for human livelihoods. This can be measured from a base line of past land      use.
  • Loss of biodiversity: A      loss of range of species or ecosystem complexity as a decline in the      environmental quality.
  • Shifting ecological risk:      increased vulnerability of the environment or people to destruction or      crisis. This is measured through a base line in the form of pre-existing      risk of crisis or destruction.

A problem with measuring land degradation is that what one group of people call degradation, others might view as a benefit or opportunity. For example, heavy rainfall could make a scientific group be worried about high erosion of the soil while farmers could view it as a good opportunity to plant crops.

Land degradation is a global problem, largely related to agricultural use. For the resettled areas the major causes of environmental degradation  have been observed to include:

  • Land clearance, such as clearcutting and deforestation
  • Agricultural depletion of      soil nutrients through poor farming practices
  • Livestock including overgrazing and overdrafting
  • Inappropriate irrigation and overdrafting
  • Soil contamination
  • Increase in field size      due to economies of scale, reducing shelter for wildlife, as hedgerows and copses disappear
  • Exposure of naked soil      after harvesting by heavy equipment
  • Monoculture,      destabilizing the local ecosystem


Environmental resource management is the management of the interaction and impact of human societies on the environment. It is not, as the phrase might suggest, the management of the environment itself. Environmental resources management aims to ensure that ecosystem services are protected and maintained for future human generations, and also maintain ecosystem integrity through considering ethical, economic, and scientific (ecological) variables. Environmental resource management tries to identify factors affected by conflicts that rise between meeting needs and protecting resources.

The main goal should be the mitigation of soil erosion through a wise management of soil resources. Erosion is a severe threat to agricultural production and food resources availability, but also to slope stability and land conservation. Research in soil erosion should, in order to prevent, improve methodological approaches and their dissemination among general users. The main purpose is to optimize soil protection and increase people’s willingness to perform it with the aim of preserving a crucial resource of food supply.

Soil erosion currently affects the field productivity and this is worsened by climatic changes such as dry spells or floods. In order to prevent such effects, current cultivation should be correctly managed from an environmental point of view, avoiding over-exploitation and other non-natural way of farming.


Past research has shown that farmers tend to be unaware of the seriousness of the erosion problem on their own operations, Korsching and Nowak (2007). It is not economic to let and have the environment be continuously being damaged because the effects will pile up and lead to future problems. Hence solutions should be put forward to have and ensure environmental sustainability. The solutions need to be well implemented by all stakeholders and sometimes collaboration by all parties involved.

The solutions vary with the type and way which the environment is being affected. Some of the solutions to environmental sustainability includes;

  1. State intervention. Agriculture requires higher and higher energy inputs to cope with the erosion-related problems.
  2. To improve the ability of damaged forest and land so that they can function in concern of environmental production and preservation.
  3. To improve new means of living in critical areas.
  4. To reduce erosions and sedimentation, as well controlling floods and drought
  5. To improve critical land productivity and farmers’ income in critical lands
  6. To develop community institutions in preventing and solving critical lands
  7. 7.      Raising people’ awareness on the topic.


Land reform done by Zimbabwe was really necessary and the success of it has been hampered by various natural and economic factors in some parts of the nation. A look at how the environment is being affected by land reform has been done, of which some level have been accepted while there has been discovered a continuous series of activities that are not acceptable. Land degradation should not persist. The economic consequence is a reduction of cultivable surface leading to increase in yield prices; this fact leads to the need of new surfaces, mainly from forested or, more generally, natural areas, thus impoverishing biodiversity. The paper emphasizes that erosion control, especially in agriculture, should result from raising people’s awareness on the topic. Open Access publications are a great tool for the new generation research. The relevant authorities should start implementing such measures to protect the environment and this will ensure increased and long productivity of the land and hence success of the land reform programme.

According to Anna Nodilo (2011), Soil erosion and desertification might not be on everyone’s daily agenda nor it is on the agenda of governments’ urgent matters but be aware, drylands make up almost 40% of the earth’s land and its over-exploitation as well as degradation in consequence of a fragile ecosystem and renders the soil unproductive and destroys agriculture communities in many developing countries. Soil erosion is one of the most important of today’s environmental problems yet probably the least well-known.

Source by Bonga Wellington Garikai