Less than 100 miles separates Warwick Hale's modern 3,000-acre farm here from Ephraim Chifetete's 4 1/2-acre cornfield. But in technology, culture and money, the two farms exist in different universes.

Hale plows his land with American-made tractors. Chifetete relies on a cattle-drawn plow. Hale has combine harvesters for reaping. Chifetete has his two hands and those of his wife and three children. Hale needs a computer to calculate profits and losses on his $400,000-a-year operation. Chifetete calculates on his fingers.

In this nation that was long dominated by a white minority, prosperity and the political success of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe now demand that the white man's scientific farm and the black man's corn patch both must thrive.

The Hales have thrived for two generations on their farm 30 miles northwest of Harare. Along with cattle, raised on a 12,000-acre cattle ranch farther north, their main sources of income are soybeans and wheat. The wheat is grown with irrigation supplied by two reservoirs on the property. The Hales also grow coffee, oats, corn and a sophisticated variety of hybrid seed corn that is sold commercially.

Like many large commercial farmers, Hale gradually is abandoning corn production, growing only enough to feed his herd of 2,700 cattle and his African employes. The crop is too vulnerable to drought, he says, and the government's price to farmers is too low.

In some ways the farm resembles a small feudal community. Besides the three owning families, Hale, his father and his younger brother, 55 full-time workers live on this land with their families -- about 350 persons in all. The farm has its own primary school, built and maintained by the Hales and staffed by the government. It also has a slaughterhouse and granary.

A large-scale, modern American farmer could feel at home here. There are three Belgian-made combine harvesters, seven tractors, two Japanese-built, 15-ton trucks. Next year there will be a computer to handle financial records.

The fields were laid out in sweeping 120-acre parallelograms with the advice of an American-trained agricultural planner. A rigid crop rotation regimen is followed each year. Hale takes about 100 soil samples to a government research lab for a chemical analysis that tells him exactly the right mix of nitrogen, phosphates and potash he needs to maintain maximumn crop yields.

Like many modern farmers, Hale's problems can be summed up in two words -- weather and costs. After three years of drought, his reservoir contains 80 percent less water than normal. A fourth year, he says, could be disastrous.

His labor costs have tripled in the four years since Zimbabwe's independence, he says. This is largely because of government-stipulated increases in the minimum wage paid farm workers. New labor laws severely restrict an employer's power to fire workers, Hale says. He has added no new staff since 1980, relying instead on temporary help to harvest his crops.

His workers make far more money under the new regime. But the old system providing free food and other amenities has disappeared. Hale, like many white farm owners, believes his workers are actually worse off as a result.

"It was paternalistic, no question about it," he says of the old system. "But my workers lived and lived well. Now, they're struggling."

Under the old system of white rule, Ephraim Chifetete easily might have become one of those workers, forced to work on a white-owned farm because he could not coax a subsistence from his own sliver of land. But black-majority rule and the Mugabe government's emphasis on African peasant farmers have given him an opportunity he says did not exist before.

Chifetete grows corn, peanuts, sunflower seeds and millet. This year he grew 80 bags of corn each weighing 200 pounds. He kept 10 for his family and sold the rest to the Grain Marketing Board.

The simple economics of Chifetete's farm show the narrow margin on which his family's future depends. He made about $640 from his corn crop, $152 from peanuts and $96 from millet, for a gross income of $888.

Out of that sum, he had to pay $56 to the agent who transported his grain to the depot, $304 to the Agricultural Finance Corporation to repay a government-backed loan he used to buy seeds, fertilizer and pesticides, and another $80 in incidental expenses. Another $72 will go toward school fees for his children. That leaves about $376.

It may not sound like much, but by African standards it is an impressive achievement. Minister of Agriculture Denis Norman believes it is enough to keep peasants like Chifetete farming their land instead of flooding Zimbabwe's already overcrowded cities in search of work.

"Now that he's got himself in a surplus situation, I think the peasant farmer rather enjoys it," says Norman. "He can educate his children and still have enough to buy a bicycle or a radio. I think he'll continue to want to grow food."

Despite such optimism, Chifetete's future remains precarious. A bad drought like the one he suffered two years ago could destroy his corn crop and make him an instant debtor. There's also a danger that his sandy, nutrient-poor soil will go bad if he doesn't practice crop rotation and get sound advice on husbandry. He also will be in trouble if Zimbabwe runs short of the expensive fertilizers his soil needs.

In some ways, Chifetete is in competition with Hale and the white farming community for scarce resources such as credit.

Nonetheless, both men say that while they have many reservations, they are committed to working their land and coexisting. Chifetete, who recently completed a farming training course at the government training center in Mrewa and who is chairman of a farmers' group there, insists he is better off under the Mugabe government than he was under white rule.

"There was no training then and people are now getting loans and fertilizer," he said.

Hale, once an ardent supporter of the white-minority government, says "the white farmer has committed himself to staying here. As long as he gets a little bit of tolerance from the government, he'll come up trumps. Agriculture can still carry this country on its shoulders." CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, H.I. Hale and his son Warwick at their 3,000-acre farm near Harare. They have prospered there for two generations; Ephraim Chifetete, who this year made $888 on his 4 1/2-acre farm, in front of a farmer training center in Mrewa. PHOTOS BY GLENN FRANKEL -- The Washington Post