President Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe addresses supporters in Harare Reuters

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's controversial land reforms have cost the country $12 billion in lost agricultural production.

In the early 2000s, Mugabe began seizing white-owned farms and land in an attempt to reverse colonial-era inequalities. The plan was to re-settle the land with black farmers, and to ensure that no one owns more than one property.

However, according to the Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe (CFU), Mugabe and his extended family now own 39 farms themselves.

"Land that has been allocated to the people is lent under a system of political patronage. The continued use and occupation of the land is dependent on their political affiliation and loyalty," said CFU head Deon Theron in his report on the program.

"There is no genuine empowerment or farmer autonomy, there is no security of tenure and there is no collateral value attached to the land. It is a dead asset, which cannot drive its own development."

What's more, Theron says that the farm reforms have dropped agricultural production by 70 percent. Prior to the "land invasions," Zimbabwe's farming industry produced 4.3 million metric tons per year, worth about $3.5 billion. But in 2009, the country only produced 1.4 million metric tons, worth around $1 billion.

"If the aim of the land reform was to evict whites and replace them with blacks, then it can be deemed a success," Theron told BBC.

"However, if the aim was that it should benefit the majority and not only a chosen few, then it has been a failure."

Additionally, Theron claims that the land reform program has resulted in series of grave abuses to the country's agricultural workers. Between 2000 and 2003, about a quarter million people were displaced after being forcibly removed from commercial farms, while more than 60 percent of farm workers being tortured or forced to leave farms after government seizures.

More than 3,000 of Zimbabwe's 4,500 white-owned farms have been reclaimed by Mugabe and his supporters since 2000.

Zimbabwe once exported food, but it now relies on imports and international aid to feed its hungry population. The country has been sent $415 million this year in aid this year, but needs about $73 million more, according to the United Nations.

The necessity of aid has been exacerbated by an ongoing drought in parts of the country, which would also account for some of the most recent farm production figures. The U.N. said on Tuesday that 1.4 million people in Zimbabwe needed food aim because of crop failures.

Theron's report counters a 2010 report from England's Institute of Development Studies (IDS), which said that while the production of cash crops like wheat, maize, tobacco and coffee have declined, small farmers - who aren't just cronies of Mugabe - have either increased or kept the production of small grains, edible beans and cotton steady.

The IDS study calls the situation a "very mixed picture."

Around eight million hectares of land (20 percent of the total land mass of Zimbabwe) have changed hands since the program's inception. The land reform initiative has corresponded with a drop in GDP, gold production and tourism in Zimbabwe.