An image of the country's flag.

In September 2008, Zimbabwe’s political parties, ZANU–PF and the two formations of MDC, signed a power-sharing agreement. The Agreement identifies land as a critical issue and commits to: (1) conduct a land audit to ensure accountability and to eliminate multiple farms; (2) ensure that land is allocated to eligible people on a non-discriminatory basis; (3) ensure land tenure security; (4) call for the U.K. government to accept primary responsibility to pay compensation to landowners for land acquired for settlement; (5) work to secure international support for the land reform program (including compensation for landowners and support for new farmers); and (6) work for the productivity of agricultural land.

Land tenure insecurity is extremely high in Zimbabwe, and agricultural production has suffered. Commercial farmers, as well as farmers who have been resettled on taken land, remain uncertain about the strength of their property rights. Although the formal legal system continues to function in Zimbabwe, its legitimacy has been seriously undermined through political interference. The government operates under a series of laws, orders, and emergency presidential decrees of often dubious legal authority.

In marked contrast to the 1990’s, by 2004, 80% of Zimbabweans were living below the national poverty line. By January 2009, only 6% of the population held jobs in the formal sector. Takings of agricultural land and mismanagement of other natural resources have affected both the economy and the environment. The country’s rural population is dependent on forest resources and is losing forest land at a rate of 1.7% per year.

Zimbabwe has an important percentage of the world’s known reserves of metallurgical-grade chromite; coal deposits, platinum, asbestos, copper, nickel, gold and iron ore are also significant. Military takeover of some mining operations, along with other economic factors, have caused upheaval in the mining industry since 2000. In September 2009, both Mugabe and Tsvangarai announced intentions to prepare a policy environment conducive to mining, although questions regarding the level of black empowerment and the role of local investors were not resolved in the following months, and continued opening of the sector is not certain. Early 2010 news articles, however, indicate that the Government of Zimbabwe is counting on ramped-up mining efforts to generate the resources needed to clear IMF debt and thus make the country eligible for HIPC debt forgiveness and additional resources for growth.

The implementation of the power-sharing agreement’s commitments regarding land and attention to the management of the country’s other natural resources will be critical to Zimbabwe’s recovery. USAID’s FY 2010 programming responds to the challenges and opportunities facing the new inclusive government and includes significant programming to support strengthening the judiciary and government institutions, and reviving the agricultural sector. Programs developed by USAID and other donors can be tailored and expanded to address the following critical areas:


Donors can help Zambia develop a more dynamic, productive agriculture sector by providing assistance in the following areas:

  • Design and Execution of a Non-Partisan Land Audit. As the power-sharing agreement recognizes, an initial priority for the inclusive government will be determining the status of landholdings throughout the country. The audit must be conducted in an impartial and objective fashion—possibly with the participation of parties from neighboring African nations—in order for the information to be deemed accurate and fair by all parties. The method applied to assess land quality will be especially critical because the assessment will impact the price paid in the event of compensation payments. Development of an impartial and effective audit will be a step toward establishment of accountable, transparent institutions to oversee continuing land reform. Donors can assist the government with the design of a fair and impartial audit that collects all necessary information in a transparent and verifiable fashion. The power-sharing agreement acknowledges the inclusive government’s commitment to women’s land rights, and donors can help ensure that the audit and any strategies or plans developed from the audit process and collected information will identify women’s rights and take proactive steps to improve and protect those rights.
  • Extension and Farm Development Programs. Beneficiaries of government land-allocation programs require extension and farm-development programs tailored to Zimbabwe’s different agro-ecological zones, infrastructure development, and inputs in order to improve productivity of their land. USAID’s expanded agricultural program, which includes projects to increase household food security, mobilize financing for rural households, rebuild extension services, support contract farming and outgrower schemes, and strengthen farmer associations, will provide a broad foundation of assistance to the rural population. As USAID and other donor programs are implemented, donors should coordinate efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of programs, fill regional and programmatic gaps, and collect and extend best practices to help ensure that the immediate food needs of the population are met while also building local capacity for long-term sustainable agricultural growth.
  • Formalization of Informal Land Rights in Urban and Peri-Urban Areas. Thirty-seven percent of Zimbabwe’s population lives in urban areas, and the vast majority reside in informal settlements without adequate services and no tenure security. Zimbabwe has no legislation providing for the regularization of informal land rights, leaving millions of people vulnerable. Donors can assist the government in developing appropriate strategies for urban planning and settlement upgrading, and provide technical assistance to help draft and implement legislation and programs to regularize informal rights, paying particular attention to vulnerable groups such as households affected by HIV/AIDS and households headed by women and children.
  • Decentralized Governance of Water Resources. The country has a framework for the management of water resources that includes local resource-governance institutions, but their authority is unclear and they lack capacity. The pressure on these institutions will increase as new farmers seek access to water in order to make their land productive. Donor investments in the agricultural sector and irrigation should include support for strengthening the formal and informal institutions governing water resources.
  • Natural Resource Degradation and Ineffective Management. Zimbabwe was once a leader in community-based natural resource governance and management with relation to wildlife. The programs were not extended to forest resources, and community experience with sustainable management of natural resources has suffered as a result of the governance crisis. Interventions are needed to support the government’s efforts to update its knowledge and assist in designing programs to extend community participation to management of forest resources.


Zimbabwe has been in a state of political, economic, and social crisis for the past 15 years. In 2004, 80% of Zimbabweans were living below the national poverty line. By January 2009, only 6% of the population held jobs in the formal sector. The Zimbabwean currency has been abandoned in favor of the South African rand and U.S. dollar. The country’s agricultural sector has been crippled by uncompensated and unpredictable land takings. Over half the population received food aid in 2009. Fifteen percent of the population between the ages of 15 and 49 is infected with HIV/AIDS and there are over one million AIDS orphans. Life expectancy in Zimbabwe is 43 years.

Progress has been made toward a measure of political stability. Following disputed elections in 2008, Zimbabwe’s political parties, ZANU–PF (Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front) and both formations of the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) signed a power-sharing agreement committing to an inclusive government. In February 2009, the fragile system of joint rule began. Addressing continuing inequities in land distribution and low agricultural productivity are central terms of the power-sharing agreement. The parties agreed that land takings conducted under the country’s Fast Track Program would not be reversed, that compensation for land taken should primarily come from the United Kingdom (Zimbabwe’s prior colonial ruler), and that further redistributive land reforms are necessary.

Zimbabwe’s Constitution provides a right to property and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. The power- sharing agreement specifically notes the need for women’s land rights to be strengthened. The country’s land resettlement program provides that single women should receive 20% of distributed land. However, the Constitution also permits customary law and traditional practice to trump principles of equality between the sexes in matters of personal law. In the face of discriminatory customary laws, Zimbabwean women have no legal basis to assert equal rights to inherit and hold land.

An estimated 70,000 hectares of forest land is lost every year to agriculture as populations in communal areas clear forest land to grow food and use wood for fuel. Drought occurs every 2 to 3 years, reducing the country’s agricultural productivity, undermining food security, and putting pressure on water resources. In 2007–2008, collapse of water and sanitation infrastructure led to serious cholera outbreaks. The water sector benefited from revision to the legal framework but has been unable to implement the desired decentralization of sector governance effectively.

Zimbabwe is rich in mineral resources, but the government’s articulated plan to take control of mining enterprises caused a withdrawal of investment and reduction in sector growth in 2007–2008. The government has withdrawn the plan in favor of a call for revisions to the legal framework to encourage increased investment in the sector.

Published / Updated: July 2010