How have the ‘new farmers’ fared? An update on the Masvingo study III

In last week’s blog, I looked at farm production, and the difficulties faced in recent drought years, and this was contrasted with patterns across the previous decade. But crop production is only one part of a wider, diversified livelihood portfolio. What other contrasts have we observed in the more recent period compared to the 2000s, the focus of our book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities?

Comparing the survey data between 2007-8 and 2011-12, what is significant is the accumulation of on-farm assets. And this in only a few years. This is most striking in cattle numbers. 281 cattle were purchased across the sample of 400 in the 5 years prior to 2011. This amounts to an outlay of perhaps US$100,000 in total. Interestingly, these purchases were concentrated in ‘success groups’ 2 and 3, the poorer end of our sample, who have shown the capacity, despite the challenges, to accumulate. Goat numbers have remained more stable, but sheep numbers have increased, although totals are not huge. It is cattle where the investment has been concentrated, and this represents a significant commitment to rural production.

In addition, people have bought ox carts, ploughs, cultivators, and a variety of forms of transport in large numbers, all indicating that people are keen to invest in land-based activities, despite disappointments in crop production in certain years. Cell phones and solar panels have featured prominently in assets purchased in recent years too, and house building has continued apace (see next week’s blog). This shows an on-going commitment to staying in the resettlements for most, but with ‘modern’ houses, solar electricity and phone connections assured. I will discuss this pattern of investment and its value in next week’s blog, but the total numbers and values are striking.

Another interesting change is the decline in remittances being sent to households in our sample, especially from the major sources abroad (notably South Africa, but also the UK, Botswana etc.), except in the site close to the South African border in Mwenezi. This reflects perhaps decreases in incomes in diaspora communities due to the post-2008 global financial crisis, but also a sense that in the post 2009 period, new settlers need less support given the ‘recovery’ of the Zimbabwean economy.

However, to counterbalance this, in 2010-11 there were greater percentages of households engaged in local off-farm income earning activities, across all categories (building and carpentry, brickmaking and thatching, fishing, wood carving, tailoring, transport businesses, grinding mills, trading and piecework employment), except pottery and basket-making. This suggests that, with the return of a viable cash economy, off-farm diversification is more feasible. But it also indicates the importance of such diversification, especially for poorer households, when crops fail, as they did in this period.

While there has been turnover in households – through death and inheritance as well as exits – there has also been a continued process of attraction of new household members, and a growth in household size, from 4.0 to 6.5 overall between 2007 and 2011-12. In part this is due to a predictable pattern of cyclical demographic change as younger families become older, and produce more children. But it is also the consequence of attracting relatives and others to work on the farms.

There has however been a slight decline in farm employment on A1/informal farms between 2007 and 2011-12, while on A2 farms permanent farm employment has increased a little, with temporary labourers declining slightly in this season. Across the full sample there were 244 permanent jobs and 384 temporary ones. This is an important source of livelihood for these people, with the permanent employees each with families linked to the farm, in addition to the core household members gaining livelihoods from the new resettlements.

With disappointing crop production overall (although with some doing relatively well nevertheless even in these drought years), but increased on-farm investment and off-farm diversification yet broadly static employment levels, what is going on? Have livelihoods changed since 2009 when we completed fieldwork for the book? The answer is: yes and no.

The broad pattern that we recounted in the book remains similar: a particular pattern of differentiation, with some successfully ‘accumulating ‘from below’. Clearly people remain committed to the land and to an agricultural future, and livestock in particular seem to be a major focus of investment. But people also realise that surviving only on crop production given the vagaries of the weather, is not enough, and other sources of income, especially if remittances decline, are important.

Data from more recent harvest seasons have been collected from the same group of households, along with some more detail on household turnover and exits, but the data has yet to be fully analysed. I will keep blog readers updated on the changing fortunes of our sample farms, as the longitudinal perspective really does give a sense of the peaks and troughs, trials and tribulations, opportunities and disasters of farming as a core livelihood in the land reform areas of Masvingo.

 This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland.

The on-going Masvingo study research is conducted by Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene.





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How have the ‘new farmers’ fared? An update on the Masvingo study II

What have been the patterns of crop production in the Masvingo study areas in the past few years? The Masvingo data reflects the broader pattern nationally, with poor maize harvests over the past few years. National aggregate statistics (with all the health warnings that need to be attached) show maize production at 0.7m tonnes (2009), 1.2m t (2010), 1.5m t (2011), 1m t (2012) and 0.8m t (2013). This was consistently below the 1990s average of nearly 1.7m t; and mostly below the target of 1.6m t of maize or 2m t of cereals. Other crops have fared better, including sugar, cotton, and small grains.

However the overall picture has been mixed, and highly variable between farms and sites. While the aggregate picture has been dire, there are large variations, and some important anomalies that are significant when considering overall policy. In the resettlement areas of Masvingo for example, the level of production is significantly higher than assumed in national food security assessments for example. And for some groups – notably those in some of the A1 sites, significantly higher, with farmers producing several tonnes of maize and selling it.

In Masvingo, the 2009-10 to 2011-12 seasons were not good ones, with rainfall in Masvingo town 20-25% below the ten-year average of 675 mm. It was not just rainfall totals but also the pattern of rainfall that caused problems, with sudden downpours and extended droughts. This highly variable pattern has been a recurrent feature in recent years, and seems to be a pattern that is well established (and indeed recognised by the expert meteorologists, as well as farmers). This last two seasons have bucked the trend with 2012-13 rainfall 19% above the average (although poorly distributed) and this year has seen very high rainfall and the prospect of good harvests, although in some areas there was too much.

Across our A1/informal sites, then, maize production per household was on average just 779kg in the four seasons 2010-13. It was of course highly differentiated, with higher levels in the wetter areas of Gutu and Masvingo (with a very stark contrast between areas in 2012 and 2013), and overall output was highest in the higher ‘success groups’ (those generally with more assets). The A1 ‘self-contained’ farms had the highest production where 2.7, 2.0, 2.1 and 1.1 tonnes of maize per household were produced across these years. On the A2 farms there was huge variation in all years, with some producing practically nothing while a few have been regularly producing significant quantities across all years.

One indicator of ‘success’ we used before was the proportion of farms producing over a tonne of maize each year (the amount required to feed an ‘average’ family). While this was high in the good rainfall years of 2006 and 2008, the proportion of households in this category declined, with 32% producing more than a tonne of maize in 2010 and only 23% in the subsequent three harvest seasons. Again, the A1 self-contained farmers performed the best, with 56%, 53%, 56% and 39% of households producing over a tonne across the four years. However these figures are considerably higher than that seen more generally according to food security assessments. The Zimvac study for 2013-14 predicted that only 2% of households would have enough food from own production to provide needs. In this respect, the resettlement farms, even in dryland Masvingo, are faring much better and some are producing surpluses which will be important in supplying others in deficit.

Across the 2010-13 period 34%, 17%, 44% and 9% of A1/informal households sold some maize, although amounts were highly variable. For example, in 2010 in the self-contained A1 sites 45% of households sold maize, and 28% sold over a tonne, even in this poor season. In subsequent seasons 27%, 34% and 10% of A1 self-contained farmers sold over a tonne, showing a real commitment to commercial agriculture.

Yet across these years, there were still half to two-thirds of the sample who were struggling to produce enough and not selling any surplus, particularly in the drier areas of Chiredzi and Mwenezi. Although they also produced considerable quantities of sorghum and millet, it was not enough for many. This is of course disappointing, given the ambitions of the resettlement areas driving improved food security more broadly, and underlines the importance of access to water and irrigation.

Can it all be blamed on variable rainfall? Probably not. The level of production in the years following land clearance was boosted by the inherent soil fertility of the land. This has declined, and it has not been replaced by significant additions of manure and fertiliser. Total amounts of inorganic fertiliser applied have been low, with between 25% and 50% not applying any, and many applying very little. In the drier areas virtually none is applied. While cattle numbers are up, manure amounts are insufficient to cover the larger areas in resettlement farms.

In next week’s blog, I will look at the wider livelihood setting, putting relatively poor crop production in low rainfall years in the context of changes in on-farm assets, as well as off-farm income generating activities.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland.

The on-going Masvingo study research is conducted by Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene.




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How have the ‘new farmers’ fared? An update on the Masvingo study I

It is now nearly over four years since we finished our book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities. Since then we have not been idle. We have continued research in all our study sites and extended our work to new areas, including in the Highveld, as well as in nearby communal areas. We have also continued to publish our results and debate the findings, and this blog has become an important focus for some of this.

Many people have asked how have Zimbabwe’s ‘new’ (not that new anymore) farmers fared in the last few years? In the next four weeks I will offer some updates from our on-going data collection. We now have nearly 14 years of data from our sample of 16 sites and 4oo households in ‘new resettlements’ across Masvingo province. Longitudinal data offers important insights on dynamics and trends not available from snapshot surveys or roadside assessments. We have not fully analysed all the data (there is a lot of it!) and there are some journal articles in the works, but we thought we should share preliminary results now, as the formal publication process can take ages.

So what has happened since 2009-10? In some important respects the conditions have improved since the stabilisation of the economy since 2009, and the ending of hyperinflation. But equally there have been few major investments in agriculture in this period, as the government remains broke, the donors have shied away from supporting the land reform areas, and beyond individual farmers’ investments, wider private investment has been limited. Also the weather has been bad, with rainfall below the average in every season from 2008-09 to 2011-13, although of course it has picked up in this last season.

In our 2010 book, we reported a picture of expansion and growth, and significant investment, concentrated in the A1 sites, and particularly the self-contained resettlements. At the same time, A2 farms were struggling with limited investments, and those with sugar plots had suffered badly from low prices, and poor payment systems. It was a mixed picture, but one that showed a significant group of ‘accumulators from below’, particularly in the A1 schemes who were producing surpluses regularly, selling some of these, and reinvesting in their farms.

Has this pattern persisted in years since? In 2011-12, we conducted a follow up survey to find out. This was carried out across all the sites, and involved the 400 households from our original sample (although with turnover in households, there were both new entrants and replacements in our new sample – more on this in a future blog). In addition, we collected crop production and sales data for the same group in all seasons (up to the 2013 harvest).

What did we find? Overall, we found remarkably similar overall patterns to before. The A1 self-contained farmers were doing by far the best, while those in the A2 sites were still struggling, although by 2012, the sugar farmers were back on track. Meanwhile those in ‘informal’ sites were doing better than before, partly we suspect because the uncertainties over their land had been reduced, with one group in Uswaushava having been granted ‘offer letters’ after a long struggle. Tenure it seems does make a difference, but it doesn’t have to be the gold-plated freehold version.

Cropped area had not increased in the way it had during the 2000s; indeed in some sites it seemed to have declined a bit, although it’s not clear why. The process of land clearance and expansion occurred mostly in the 3-4 years after settlement and the rate of expansion then declined. There is it seems not enough labour or draft power to plough more, hence stability or decline in arable areas (again with some exceptions). This even includes the A2 areas, where capital shortages, and lack of equipment, have constrained agricultural expansion for most.

Why is all this painstakingly collected longitudinal data important, and what does it tell us?

First, it shows that the Masvingo study sites are far from the situation sometimes portrayed in the media. There is a wide array of activities. Not everyone is doing well, but a significant proportion continue to ‘accumulate from below’ and invest in farms and farming. This is most prominent in the A1 sites, especially the self-contained versions.

Second, despite repeated droughts, a considerable amount of food is being produced, and sold. The mismatch between dire predictions of impending shortage and the reality as it turns out has been commented on before. This is in part due to the production occurring in the new resettlement areas that often goes unaccounted for in general food security assessments.

Third, there is a pattern of differentiation emerging that means only some are doing well while a significant proportion are failing to meet livelihood needs. These differences within and across sites is quite stark and suggests the need for targeted policy responses.

Fourth, the lack of investment and support in the new resettlements continues, and this means that basic improvements are not occurring. Yields for example remain stubbornly low, and this is less to do with seeds and fertilisers (although supplies of both have been a challenge), but more to do with water control in the dry area of Masvingo. Without irrigation there are high variations in crop output between years that has to be compensated for by non-farm activities of various sorts.

The data suggests ways forward for government, donors, NGOs, farmer organisations and others wishing to support the ‘new farmers’. It suggests a focus for intervention (irrigation, flexible credit and basic rural infrastructure to reduce costs would be the top three in my view); it highlights a need to rethink food security and livelihood assessment; and it suggests the need to take a differentiated response to policy and support, contrasting for example the ‘accumulators’ and those who are struggling. None of these are new suggestions; indeed they all appeared in our 2010 book. However, the updated data simply reinforces their importance, and the urgency of doing something on the ground.

 This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland.

The on-going Masvingo study research is conducted by Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene.




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Spurious statistics: why figures on Zimbabwe’s ‘lost growth’ mislead

There is a lot that is written about Zimbabwe that is misleading. But sometimes a piece appears that really beats the field. This week a blog from the Centre for Global Development in Washington joins that category. This claims that ‘misrule’ has cost Zimbabwe US$96 billion.

I would normally ignore such articles, but the CGD regularly produces some quite good material, if a bit close to the Washington view of the world on occasions. I also have been sent this article several times by my regular ‘correspondents’ to show (again) how wrong I am about Zimbabwe. So I thought it deserved a bit more attention, and now a blog, as I think it illustrates rather well a wider problem of the use of statistics in misleading ways.

This is not exclusive to this piece. Far from it. For example, a few weeks back when I was in South Africa I was reading the Cape Times over breakfast and was confronted by a whole page on Zimbabwe (the hook was Mugabe’s birthday) written by Professor Robert Rotberg from the Harvard Kennedy School.  This purported to show how disastrous things were through ten points. I was so flabbergasted by the content that I totted up the ‘facts’ that were presented that could be challenged with real field data that I and others had collected. There were 12 – one for each of the ten points made and two more besides. It was quite extraordinary how an author (nay illustrious ‘expert’) and an editor (of a perfectly respectable paper) could get away with it. But sadly it happens nearly every day, and most such interventions go completely unchallenged.

Anyway, the point is that in writing this blog each week I have plenty of material to reflect on, but most is not worth the time of day. However, I thought I should offer some response to the CGD piece, given its provenance and the way it illustrates a wider problem. The blog is written by Todd Moss who is COO and Senior Fellow at CGD, and was formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and previously advisor to the Chief Economist in the Africa Region at the World Bank. He certainly has impressive credentials, and has written other material on Zimbabwe, but I cannot see from the website whether he has actually done field research in the country.

So where does the $96 billion figure come from? The blog presents the sorry story of Zimbabwe’s collapse in the formal economy from the early 2000s to 2009 and its slow and weak recovery since. The indicator used is the standard GDP measure. This is compared with a ‘what if?’ argument. What if Zimbabwe instead of declining grew at the rate seen in Zambia? The difference between the two scenarios is presented as the ‘loss’ that Zimbabwe has suffered.

The main argument is encapsulated in a graph, with the large deficit highlighted. The blog urges readers to tweet the graph to the world. Here is a very explicit and in some ways quite effective attempt at creating a ‘killer fact’, one that will become a focus for media articles, and a hook in the wider discourse (a phenomenon that Duncan Green from Oxfam has written on).

So why is this ‘fact’, and its wider narrative problematic? There is no denying the catastrophic collapse of the formal economy in the 2000s, and also the weakness of the recovery since, now faltering once again. Equally, the scale of graft and unaccountability was recently illustrated in the media exposes of highly paid parastatal officials, although these have now been capped. But what else needs to be taken into account when making an assessment? Here are four points.

  • First is the problematic statistic of GDP, particularly in African contexts. Morten Jerven has written lucidly about this issue in his fantastic book Poor Numbers; a book I highly recommend to Dr Moss, and anyone else thinking about African economies. GDP numbers are usually fabrications with little basis in reality, and they shift dramatically depending on the assumptions made and the data collection techniques used. They show something about the formal economy, at least in terms of trends (no denying that for Zimbabwe), but they need to be viewed with very large pinches of salt.
  •  Second the official statistics only pick up a fraction of the range of economic activity, especially in economies that have large informal sectors. With the restructuring of the economy since 2000, the informal sector in Zimbabwe has grown massively. Tendai Biti, the former MDC Finance Minister, argued recently that it represented most of the economy, perhaps over 80%. If so then the recent figures in the CGD graph represent only represent a small proportion of total economic activity and should be multiplied many times – in which case the disparity with Zambia would shrink dramatically. Of course this would be equally spurious, as Mr Biti’s guess is just that, and in fact we have no idea what the scale of economic activity is, as the standard statistics do not tell us, as statistical services measure only a fraction of the ‘informal sector’; a point made forcefully by Professor Jerven.
  •  Third, Zambia’s economy has certainly grown but from a low base. In the 1980s and 90s in particular the economy was in dire straits. So the growth rate that has been used in the projection is to some degree a bounce back, driven in large part by the growth of commodity prices internationally. As a resource dependent economy, the dramatic growth is highly dependent on the price of copper, for example. And this has accelerated, in turn driving growth. There are of course other vibrant sectors, including tourism, but Zambia’s economic growth, and its projection into middle income status, is based on quite fragile and narrow foundations, with question marks being raised about job creation.
  • Fourth, we have to ask how economic activity is distributed to make any useful assessment in relation to development. The benefits of growth in Zambia is massively concentrated. The bigger winners are international mining capital and South African retail and services. Of course this generates some jobs and tax revenues, but the distributive effects of such forms of growth have to be questioned. A broader based growth grounded in redistributive policies is perhaps more sustainable, and certainly more equitable in the longer term. Zimbabwe has certainly not got there yet, but the land reform for example has laid the foundations for this in the agricultural sector.

I could go on. If we probe a bit we can see that the ‘killer fact’ loses its shine quite dramatically. Its construction and deployment in an essentially political argument is clearly problematic. It would be just as problematic for example if Professor Jonathan Moyo – Zimbabwe’s Minister of Information and spin doctor extraordinaire – used the same figure to argue that this was the cost of international ‘sanctions’ on the country in the same period. Both Moss and Moyo would be using a spurious statistic to bolster a political narrative that is far too simple an explanation for a complex and evolving process.

So if you hear this figure again, or any other presented in this sort of way, think twice. More likely than not the statistics will have been conjured up to a suit a predefined narrative. Ask about its source, and whether real field research underpins it. More questioning and critique of such statistics and the narratives that they give rise to is essential to pick apart complex realities from dubious myth making.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland


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Dams, flooding and displacement: the Tokwe Mukorsi dam

Zimbabwe’s heavy rainfall this season has had its costs. The most dramatic has been the major flooding in Masvingo as the long awaited Tokwe Mukorsi dam filled more rapidly than expected. Rather than filling gradually over four years, with a phased process of relocation of people, it did so over a matter of weeks. There were threats to the dam wall, and a fear a major catastrophe might result.

Dramatic satellite images of the extent of flooding have been shared, and SABC broadcast a short news item on the unfolding drama, showing images of the floods, and the damage caused. The flooding has resulted in over 4500 people having to be evacuated at short notice, and shifted to a number of holding camps in the lowveld. It has been declared a national emergency, and considerable resources have been deployed in response. Funds from the US as well as China have been offered, and whole fleets of CMED vehicles have been commandeered to move people. Emergency camps have been established, and feeding programmes instituted.

In December, while visiting our research study site along the Ngundu-Chiredzi road, the first phase of relocation was on-going, and we witnessed a string of trucks, tractors and trailors carrying people and their possessions heading to Nuanetsi ranch. They had left their ancestral lands, their homes, fields and grave sites, with the promise of compensation, new homes and access irrigated land and the water that was to cover where they once lived. But in February, as the scale of the massive rainfall and rapid filling of the dam became apparent, this turned from an orderly, planned move, to an emergency.

The Tokwe Mukorsi dam has been long in the planning. From the 1980s it was part of a strategic development of lowveld water resources, essentially to guarantee supply of water to the sugar and citrus estates. It was always political, wrapped up in national and local lowveld wrangles. Funding though has always been a challenge. The project has been on and off for decades. But in recent years, it has moved ahead, and Italian engineers and local companies have been involved. However, the engineers’ plans had discounted a once in 30 year rainfall event and had projected the gradual filling of the dam on the basis of more common rainfall patterns. This risk assessment of course proved incorrect, prompting the current disaster.

To the credit of the authorities, the response has been swift and losses have been minimised. No-one, as far as I can tell, has lost their life directly as a result. Dislocation and misery has resulted, and the make-shift arrangements at the holding camps have been reportedly appalling. But, everyone agrees, it could have been much, much worse.

This event has raised some bigger issues. We must ask, what is the role of such big infrastructure projects in development? Who gains and who loses? And how should displacement, compensation and relocation be managed when wider development priorities trump local concerns or resistance?

These are dilemmas being faced the world over. There is a wide obsession with the big, prestige project. Nehru proclaimed that ‘dams are the temples of modern India’. The Three Gorges dam in China has become a symbol of Chinese modernity. And in Ethiopia, the controversial Ghibe dam was a pet project of the late prime minister, Meles Zenawi. In the Rhodesian era, of course Kariba represented such a vision. And in recent decades, Tokwe Mukorsi has been associated with a similar rhetoric.

In the late 1990s, the World Commission on Dams made the case building on mountains of evidence that very often large scale is not best. A more diverse approach to water management, involving a variety of approaches to capturing, storing and distributing water is more appropriate. This advice however has been rarely heeded. The big project brings money, patronage, backhanders and more. And big projects can be seen as prestige legacies of particular people and politicians. Engineering development has its appeal: one solution, rather than many; and a technical one that needs a particular type of expertise. Yet the argument about big dams continues to rage. A paper out this month by Antif Ansar, Bent Flyvbjerg and colleagues suggests they are mostly economically unviable, bring massive costs of displacement and again a more diverse set of options is preferable. Not a new argument at all, but stated forcefully with recent numbers.

The Oxford study focuses on mega-large hydropower dams which Tokwe Mukorsi is not, but many of the same issues apply. There was repeated and systematic underestimation of costs, and as the flooding has shown the risk assessments have been found wanting. Tokwe Mukorsi was intended to benefit the large-scale sugar estates in the lowveld, not the local community. Resettlement was of course part of the plan, with a view that those displaced would become outgrowers in new sugar plantations. But will these offers be upheld, and what are the other more intangible losses suffered through displacement? Will those in Chivi who remain behind benefit from the new water? Or will it be ‘protected’ as part of ‘watershed management’, so upstream users lose out to the more powerful downstream? A game park has been mooted for the area, but who will benefit from this, as this takes up the banks of the new lake area?

When the immediate challenges of dealing with the flooding and its consequences pass, these are the bigger questions that will have to be dealt with. The minister of state for Masvingo, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, has asked for new ideas on how to make use of the development potential of this new water. This is a welcome move, as past projects – whether Kyle/Mtirikwi or Kariba – have excluded local people from this conversation. Maybe the new Tokwe Mukorsi water can be used to benefit local development through small-scale irrigation, as well as profiting the estates in the lowveld.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland


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Farm workers: reconstructing lives and livelihoods

There is little doubt that farm workers lost out with the land reform, but what has happened to them since, particularly those who remained on the farms?

Too often commentary on farm workers has portrayed them as passive victims. But new work demonstrates their agency in a variety of ways. They were of course active agents, both before and after the land reform. Based on in-depth ethnographic exploration, this work tries to explore how different farm workers (not after all a uniform category) have reconfigured their lives in response to the new agrarian structure. There is, as ever, a complexity to the story not offered in standard accounts. In particular I can recommend an often overlooked 2009 paper by Andrew Hartnack that offers a particularly nuanced account. He shows how “through local responses to displacement, displaced workers are able to counter the discourses of the powerful by subverting global, national and local representations, using local agency to create their own practical discourse of displacement”.

Farm workers have always been represented in particular ways by public, media and political commentary. In the past, as Blair Rutherford has described, white farmers often related to labour in hierarchical and paternalistic ways, constructing citizenship and identify outside the influence of the state within the confines of the farm. Hartnack argues that the limited earlier research on farm workers often projected a simplistic image of workers as victims of racial discrimination and capitalist agriculture or, in direct contrast, they were characterised by commentators such as R.W. Johnson as having lived under a ‘cosy arrangement’ or ‘protective umbrella’, now disrupted by land reform. In the 2009 paper Hartnack comments: “While undoubtedly well meaning, much of it [the literature] essentially denied farm workers agency or cultural competence, portraying them largely as poverty stricken, illiterate and powerless, giving the impression that they were passive victims of their circumstances”. In the post 2000 discourse, farm workers are again seen as victims, this time of ZANU-PF expulsions, while the nationalistic discourse presents farm workers as ‘foreign’ and stooges of white farmers and the opposition.

Yet in all of these discourses, agency, capacity, innovation and practice is denied. This is why a deeper, ethnographic understanding of farm worker lives and livelihoods is required. Hartnack’s emerging studies offer one among a number of important contributions to this. He highlights for example how:

“…workers used their ingenuity, skills and resourcefulness to manipulate the farm system to their own advantage. Farm workers may have been subordinated within capitalist relations of power, dependent on paternalism for survival, marginalized and stigmatized within society in general and made to feel insecure, but this did not stop them from learning how to benefit from and adapt to their situation”.

And this experience helped farm workers and their families to cope with and respond to displacement when farm invasions took place. The experience of displacement is of course not uniform. Workers living on a farm came from diverse locations, often from outside Zimbabwe, they had formed communities on farms, but with linkages between and outside that differed between families, men and women. In a number of papers Hartnack describes the process of displacement and the living conditions of former farm workers living in a ‘holding camp’ on the outskirts of Harare. The insecurities, the poor health conditions, the oppressive patronage relations and political impositions, not least Operation Murambatsvina, are documented.

Yet the situation was not hopeless. It could not be: people had to survive. And the new farmers needed labour, and particularly skilled labour. Indeed some former farm workers then quite quickly (indeed within the same season) acquired jobs, but again this was not uniform. It was differentiated by levels of skills/education, gender and age. Hartnack explains that the first jobs available were:

“….piecework jobs that required either some measure of skill or experience, such as spraying for the flower-growing companies, or the capacity for heavy manual labour. Some men with experience in the Brylee flower nursery thus got jobs with the three different flower companies in the area. Others became builder’s assistants at the local housing cooperative and on private building sites. Some loaded bricks at the nearby brickfields, while other young men sought jobs as security guards. However, even those who found alternative employment soon after displacement found their wages inadequate to meet their increased need for cash, while their job security was poor in comparison to what they had enjoyed at the farm. Many of the available jobs were not easily accessible to women, being in the traditional realm of men. This meant that women, along with the elderly, struggled to maintain access to an income after displacement. Casual workers (traditionally women) had not had much work in 2002, as the disruption of the farm’s operations in the first three months of the year had reduced the need for their labour. Having had no wages, many casual labourers found themselves with very little cash at the time of displacement, as did retired workers. Female-headed households, which had relied on casual labour for an income, thus suffered badly as they did not have savings, and their members were often not able to find alternative jobs easily”.

Four years later follow up research found a small number of senior, skilled workers had gained employment on their former farm, while others had used skills and connections to get jobs or land elsewhere, and had moved on. Others remained vulnerable, and were reliant on piecework, small-scale gardening, trading and other activities. In the context of new settlements new forms of patronage emerged, with displaced farm workers finding protection by church leaders, war veterans and others. Responses included a range of strategies of the ‘weapons of the weak’ – trickery, foot-dragging, feigning ignorance and more – and farm workers developed representations of themselves as compliant, pious, weak or ignorant in order to get by. All this allowed some room for manoeuvre in nevertheless highly constrained circumstances, allowing them to ‘blend in’ yet ‘remain apart’. Conflicts and jealousies existed between the new arrivals and those residents of the informal settlement to where the farm workers were displaced. This involved a tricky negotiation, especially at the beginning, although as time progressed greater integration took place.

As readers of this blog will know, I have mostly worked in Masvingo province where large numbers of farm workers were not displaced, and there were few compounds of the sort found on the large-scale tobacco or horticulture farms in the Highveld. So it was fascinating for me to learn what had happened on such farms as part of an ongoing study in Mvurwi, Mazowe district. Here large compounds still exist, often housing hundreds of families; these are the ‘in situ’ displaced described by Godfrey Magaramombe, contrasting with those who were forced to move.

But unlike in the early 2000s, a decade on these former workers are carving out new relationships with the farms that surround them, as Walter Chambati and others have shown. This has not been straightforward, and stories of conflict abound, but these farm workers are now finding work in a more flexible way than before. Today they move around between farms looking for work, often able to strike deals to their advantage. Given the skills many possess, they have become valuable resources in the new farm economy, providing useful agronomic and marketing skills. Women and men engage in this new labour economy in different ways. Employment is usually poorly paid and insecure, and the lack of an organised voice is a constraint. Most households based at the compounds also farm. Negotiating small plots of land from the neighbouring farm owners has been a key part of their strategy, and many will survive off such gardens, even marketing surpluses to supplement wages. Some have been lucky to get larger areas, as part of official allocations within the resettlements. We met several former farm workers who were now farming tobacco with great success.

For new farmers with compounds within their farm boundaries, there are challenges too. With residents now incorporated into schools in surrounding areas, there is less of an obligation to provide services, but there are issues of welfare and security. A new farmer must deal with his neighbours well to avoid an escalation of theft or trespass. Thus many have started up relationships with committees within the compounds to negotiate access to land, water, electricity and to discuss issues such as the upkeep of farm buildings. These compounds are of course anomalous inheritances from an earlier agrarian structure, but have to be accommodated, as people, often second or third generation migrants, have nowhere to go.

While not denying hardship and vulnerability, the experience of former farm workers was not simple victimhood, characterised by passivity and lack of agency, but a much more active struggle. However despite this variety of strategies, access to new livelihood opportunities was again highly differentiated. Just as there is no single or simple story for land reform and the successes or otherwise of the ‘new farmers’, there is no standard story for farm workers, as is sometimes suggested. Detailed study of particular places and people, always contextualised, is essential for revealing the highly variegated experiences and outcomes.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland


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Southern African sugar: new trends and opportunities?

Sugar is becoming an increasingly important commodity across the region. New areas are being planted and mills are being commissioned in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Swaziland, Zambia and elsewhere. The implications of the changing sugar (and ethanol) economy were the subject of discussions at the inaugural meeting of the Southern African Sugar Research Network that was held at the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at UWC in Cape Town last week, and we heard fascinating presentations from each of these countries, as well as from South Africa itself.

Most of the regional growth is being driven by the expansion of two South African companies – Illovo and Tongaat Hulett. A review of their turnover and profits shows that significant proportions are being made outside South Africa. For Illovo, a substantial proportion of their profits are generated in their still fairly limited operations in Malawi, while over 40% of Tongaat’s operating profit is derived from Zimbabwe, where revenue increased by 19% and profits by 11% last year. The influence of Southern Africa’s powerful BRICS country, South Africa, is through its corporate sector, and not the grand-sounding government statements full of regional cooperation and integration rhetoric offered at summits.

The region indeed is increasingly important for South African capital. In the agri-food sector, we have seen the expansion of retail, with Pick n Pay or Shoprite nearly ubiquitous, now it’s the turn of the big production players. The availability of land, cheap labour and benefits from state investments in infrastructure (often water supply and irrigation on now defunct state farms) has been important. The EU sugar regime also provides support to sugar industries outside South Africa under the sugar adaptation protocols that exists to support the switch of strategic national sugar industries to new market conditions in Europe. This comes in very handy for South African companies, and helps subsidise operations, and position marketing from a ‘low income country’ base.

Where does this leave the Zimbabwean sugar industry that has since the 1960s been the mainstay of the lowveld’s economy? Since then the industry has produced significant foreign exchange for the national exchequer not to mention employment, ethanol, various industrial products, and of course raw cane sugar which is consumed in large amounts in Zimbabwe. Tongaat Hulett dominates Zimbabwe’s sugar industry owning Triangle and being the majority holder of Hippo Valley. It produces sugar across over 40,000ha of irrigated land, has milling capacity of around 600,000 tonnes and employs around 25,000 people.

In addition, the company deals with the sugar produced by over 800 new outgrowers who were allocated land as part of Zimbabwe’s land reform after 2000. They farm around 15,000 ha, formerly estate and white owned outgrower land, with farm sizes averaging about 25ha. After a disastrous period during the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy, sugar production has increased again, with around 460,000 mt being produced last year. The rehabilitation of sugar land has been assisted by support from the European Union as well as significant investments by Tongaat Hulett and of course by farmers themselves.

Since 2002, we have tracked 38 outgrower sugar farmers in Hippo Valley in the southeast lowveld looking across the years at production levels, input applications, farm investment, labour hiring and so on. Plot sizes now average 24.3 ha, and all are irrigated. In our sample, the average output last year was 1690 mt, produced on 20.5 ha, representing a yield of 83.6 t/ha. This is a very respectable output and yield, and indeed better yielding than much nearby estate land.

As with the other sugar areas, these ‘new’ A2 farmers are relatively elite, mostly men, and come from a variety of backgrounds. In our sample around half were civil servants (47%), while about a third were former estate employees (34%). The rest included NGO workers (3%); politicians (3%), and business persons (8%). 10% were ‘war veterans’, all civil servants at the time of land allocation. Over half were qualified with ‘Master Farmer’ certificates, and their average age is now 53. Today 39% stay at the plot, while the rest commute. 29% remain employed elsewhere, but this has declined over time as more have committed to sugar farming. Many challenges have been faced over the past 12 years, but the farmers are optimistic about the future.

With outgrowers producing a significant proportion of the total output, is this model the likely future for the sugar areas of Zimbabwe? Outgrowing approaches are much touted across the region, but the arrangements differ widely, as we heard in the presentations at the Cape Town meeting. In some areas, local people are offered dividends on land that is farmed by the estate, with their involvement simply receiving a cheque. This approach, exported from some ‘land reform’ schemes in South Africa, is used by Illovo for example in Zambia. In other areas, farmers have very small plots and often receive less than they put in. This massively discourages outgrowers who are forced to grow food to survive in plots elsewhere, as we heard from Tanzania. There are huge variations in the terms of the contract between farmers and the mill. In Zimbabwe, the mill retains 26% of outgrowers’ output to cover costs of milling, transport and so on, while in other countries this proportion is much higher.

The expansion of South African capital through the region is having, it seems, diverse effects. While the ‘logic of capital’ is to seek profit and accumulate wherever it can, it results in different arrangements and different deals – with states, with labour and with outgrower farmers. In some countries this deal seems highly detrimental to local livelihoods and employment conditions, simply resulting in extraction and exploitation. While in others, and this includes Zimbabwe, the deal is more balanced. Tongaat Hulett knows they are on notice in Zimbabwe, given the political pressure for land reform and now ‘indigenisation’. But equally the Zimbabwean state cannot afford to let the sugar estates fail. There are too many people employed, too much valuable infrastructure and too much tax revenue to lose.

Since the estates were first established by Murray MacDougall in the late 1930s, there has been a close interaction between private capital and the state. Sometimes coming in to bail out, sometimes letting the private sector have free reign, the relationship has always been carefully managed, and has always been intensely political. This is true today as it was before. The unspoken deal to spare most of the estates from mass land redistribution has been maintained, and while the estates were initially sceptical at the expansion of the outgrower model with smaller plots that they said were ‘unviable’, they have changed their tune of late. As the success of the outgrowers has grown, the rhetoric has shifted to one of ‘empowerment’ and ‘partnership’, and indeed the company has backed its words with substantial funds for cane rehabilitation.

For the longer term, my guess is that there will be shifts towards more land being released from the estates to new outgrower areas as part of deals with the Zimbabwean state, who will be in need of more high value land for redistribution in the future. Indeed the pressure is already on, with Shangaan leaders from the area demanding that they get a share of the sugar bonanza, while political elites and others have inserted themselves in the outgrower areas; shifting aside others particular around the 2008 election period, including most of the white outgrowers who were originally allocated smaller subdivisions of their farms. Today, the political rhetoric around the sugar estates, as ever, remains high.

For the estate owners, if outgrowers can deliver when given the right support, why not release more land? While outgrowing is often presented as a ‘win-win’ ‘inclusive’ business model for large scale farming, from another perspective it is a perfect solution for the estate and big capital. Trapped in a monopoly controlled supply arrangement, outgrowers take on all the production risks, and have to manage always troublesome labour; and anyway the profits in sugar, many observe, are to be made in milling and processing, not in farming. This is no doubt the logic for the diverse outgrower arrangements being pushed across the region by South African capital. And in Zimbabwe the same, if under rather different political terms, likely applies. Currently, it suits everyone: the company, the state and elite land reform farmers who make reasonable returns. For now at least, it looks like this carefully balanced political-economic deal is the only option for Zimbabwe’s sugar sector.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

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