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New diaspora: Zimbabwe's farmhands

Land invasions are forcing workers off commercial farms, as agricultural woes grow.

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In Zimbabwe's ongoing anarchic, frequently violent redistribution of land, the winners are often people with no farming experience. Meanwhile, up to 2 million farmhands and their dependents - 15 percent of the population - may soon be left homeless and jobless.

Experts and United Nations staff are worried the land-reform program will unleash a flood of internal refugees that will only worsen the country's political and economic turmoil.

The displacement comes amid an increasingly critical situation in agriculture. Although harvests have been abundant, there is little fuel to transport grain to mills. Intimidated by armed land invasions, many of Zimbabwe's commercial growers are not planting for the next season, raising fears of food shortages next year.

Land redistribution in Zimbabwe is aimed at diminishing white farmers' dominance of the most fertile tracts. The farmhands live and labor on these large commercial farms.

Farmworkers might reasonably be expected to benefit first from redistribution of commercial farmland. Instead, "The figures we're getting ... indicate that a lot of farmworkers are now being displaced," says Godfrey Magaramomba, director of Farm Community Trust, a farmworkers' rights organization. "These people have nowhere to go but the streets."

"It's not fair that people from outside the farm property are getting the land and we are being forced out," says Maybe Joe, a mother of three who lives in a farmworkers' settlement on Brink Burn Farm near Bindura, northeast of the capital, Harare.

"I've got nowhere to go," says Rosemary Tapureta, another Brink Burn farm resident. "I don't even have money for transport anywhere."

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