Tobacco: driving growth in local economies

The rebound of tobacco production in Zimbabwe is striking. From a low in the mid-2000s of only around 48 million kgs, the last season produced 216 million kgs, almost hitting the levels of historical peak production 236 million kgs. Last season recorded exports of some US$450m, with Belgium and China being the major buyers. For the coming season over 75,000 farmers have registered to sell, mostly from the communal areas, but some around 27,000 from A1 resettlement farms. This is dramatically different to the pre-land reform era when tobacco production was dominated by a about 2000 large scale farms.

How does tobacco production, spread across so many farmers, affect local economies? Our studies under the Space, Markets and Employment in Agricultural Development (SMEAD) project took us to the Mvurwi area in Mazowe district. Here you cannot escape the impacts of tobacco. Those growing, mostly through contracting arrangements (nationally this was about three-quarters of all production) are linked to a number of companies who provide inputs, transport and other support. This has allowed farmers with limited capital to get going. The new farmers are employing labour, including many from the former farm compounds, and are sinking their profits into a variety of businesses, including transport and real estate. They are improving their farms and homes, and buying farm equipment. It is an intensely vibrant local economy, with spin off benefits for those running shops, beer halls, transport busineesses and offering services from hairdressing to tailoring. There are downsides too, as the growing of tobacco, and particularly its curing has negative health and environmental impacts. The destruction of local forests for curing wood has been dramatic.

Our film on tobacco in the ‘Making Markets’ series tried to capture some of this dynamic, with interviews from farmers involved at different scales, both on A1 and A2 farms. Watch it here:

There are clear challenges in the tobacco sector, but the last few years has shown that small-scale farmers, supported by contracting arrangements, can contribute high quality products, and reap the benefits of of a high value export crop. And most significantly the benefits are more widely shared than was the case before, suggesting opportunities for a much more inclusive growth pathway.

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Making markets: local economic development following land reform

Today we are releasing a series of films on the relationships between land reform and economic activity in Zimbabwe, focusing on three commodities: tobacco, beef and horticulture. The films emerge from on-going work coordinated by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies based at UWC in Cape Town under the ‘Space, Markets and Employment in Agricultural Development’ (SMEAD) project supported by the UK ESRC and DFID growth research programme. They were made by Pamela Ngwenya, supported by the field team. This week, I am posting the overview film which gives you a taste of the series. In subsequent weeks, I will post ones on the each of the three commodities we looked at.

Over the last couple of years the work has been carried out in Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe looking at the linkages between agricultural production, employment and other economic activity and the spatial patterns of these interactions. Through some detailed case study research, the project has been attempting to look at the different growth pathways linked to agriculture, and investigate how inclusive these are, asking who gains and who loses from agricultural commercialisation.

The study of course links to old debates about scale and agriculture, and the linkage and multiplier effects of different types of farming. Do big or small farms create more employment and economic growth, for whom and where? What spatial mix of farm sizes and markets make sense? Can local economic development flourish in an era of globalisation? These are not easy questions to answer, and that’s why the debate has continued and continued. It depends what commodity, which markets, what spatial arrangement of farms and markets, levels of infrastructure and much more.

But across our studies in southern Africa, some interesting patterns emerge. The cases from Malawi show very localised economic activities, with spillovers and connections occurring within a few kilometers. Few farmers are able to scale up, and although commericalised, the prospects for growth without wider shifts in the economy look bleak. In South Africa by contrast, the linkages were extensive, with very few steps to large companies operating in highly developed value chains, and linking to markets in distant urban conurbations. Here, for differnt reasons, the prospects for local economic development looked limited. The value was captured and exported, and employment was not being generated in the local area. Zimbabwe showed an intriguing middle ground. Here lots of local economic activity was evident, particularly linked to entrepreneurial farmers in the A1 resettlement areas. These farmers were selling into new value chains, created since land reform. These were more local, supplying markets in nearby towns and business centres for beef or horticulture, but also export markets for tobacco. Employment was being generated along the value chains, and benefits were far more widely shared.

The results of the study are still being processed, synthesised and written up and I will share more when the reports are out. But the early indications suggest an interesting story, especially for Zimbabwe. This suggests a focus on local economic development, capitalising on and amplifying the linkages already created by entrepreneurial farmers who have benefited from land reform. This will mean a major rethink of rural development policy and planning, but the benefits could be significant if the cases highlighted in these films are anything to go by.

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Reviving indigenous crops: the return of millet in Gutu

A new report is just out making the case for the revival of indigenous crops – notably finger millet – as a way of tackling food security. The author, Chidara Muchineripi, is a management consultant in Harare, but also the son of a chief in Gutu. Since 2005, he has encouraged the revival in millet growing across Gutu as a response to drought and economic crisis.

This has all been done without external support and finance, and demonstrates what’s possible when the motivation is right. According to the report the growing of a core crop of millet has resulted in the accumulation of some 20,000 tonnes of stored grain, across 40,000 households. This provides a source of resilience against future shocks, improving the sustainability of livelihoods in the district.

It all sounds too good to be true. Unfortunately I missed the launch of the report in London, and I have not been able to visit the areas in Gutu (clearly the effort is focused outside the new resettlement areas, as the farmers in our sample in Gutu are sticking solidly to maize), but the data is impressive, and the testimony passionate.

But there are questions about the indigenous grain strategy being advocated. I speak from experience, as in the 1980s, together with an NGO ENDA Zimbabwe, I was involved in a project that promoted small grains – finger and pearl millet, and sorghum – in Zvishavane district. The project supplied seeds, and supported the processing of the grains with the provision of ‘dehullers’. While it did make some in-roads, by and large the project failed. The dehullers are now archaeological relics and most farmers in the area plant maize.

Why was this? There are a number of complex intersecting reasons. First, growing millet is hard work. Finger millet is a difficult crop and pearl millet is subject to massive bird damage, from flocks of Quelea who descend in large numbers on any field. This is a big turn-off, as bird scaring is labour consuming and troublesome. Older farmers used to tell us that the problem is worse because millet fileds are now few. Being a first mover growing millet is brave. Second, millets take a lot of processing. The hard outer layer has to be removed to get the flour – hence the dehullers. Without these, it’s tough pounding, and much more difficult to prepare than women. In discussions around the ENDA project, women always used to object. They didn’t want the hassle of going to the fields early and staying late – they had other caring work to do too – to scare the birds, and pounding for hours to get a few kilogrammes of millet flour was not worth the effort in their view. Finger millet in particular was not liked by women, as it encouraged beer drinking. While men would get quite motivated about millets in the discussions, it was women who often dominated the planting decisions, and it was striking that there was always much less millet planted than was discussed. In intrahousehold decision-making, women’s agency can be quite powerful. Third, is taste. Finger millet is good for beer, but many find the ‘sadza’ porridge of pearl or finger millet less a delicacy as is suggested in the new Harare ‘African’ restaurants. With the colour and consistency of concrete, pearl millet sadza is not my favourite food either! Several generations of people accustomed to easting white maize means that sadza from millet is difficult to sell (although it’s quite nice with soured milk I must admit!).

So there are reasons why adoption of millet is constrained. But the advantages of secure storage, as documented in Gutu, are potentially substantial. Millet stores well – for years. Unlike maize that needs to be consumed within a year, you can keep a granary full of millet over a full drought cycle. In the past, rainfall was patterned by cycles of a few years, with droughts coming more or less predictably. Having millet stores for the times when rain was less was essential for food security, and the store could be replenished when the rains returned. It was a perfect system for local level resilience. But with the move to maize, and the advent of food aid and relief programmes, these cycles have been disrupted. Climate change too has had an impact, as droughts are much more unpredictable these days, even if average rainfall has not shifted much.

In the areas I have worked in Masvingo and Midlands provinces, a key moment in this transition in the food crop mix and local food security system, was the devastating drought of 1991-92. This had a catastrophic impact on many fronts, and many were reliant on food aid through imports. Perhaps the most dramatic impact for the long-term was the disappearance of local varieties and land races, particularly of small grains. People had to plant their last seed stores, and when they didn’t grow, that meant the local extinction of a huge array of genetic variety, and with it the knowledge of what grows well where. A number of research and NGO projects – most notably the Community Technology Development Trust, whose head Andrew Mushita is a veteran of the ENDA experience – have tried to document and revive this genetic biodiversity, but with it lost from the farming and livelihood system, it is difficult to reincorporate.

Around that time, as part of a wider project on risk and farming systems, we did some modelling of risk responses under different conditions. Like all models it was only an interpretation of reality, but the approach used tried to simulate the type of stochastic variability seen in an increasingly volatile climate. The results were surprising. Despite the greater vulnerability to low rainfall episodes, a maize dominated strategy came out better than one focused on small grains in the model. This was because of the costs of production, and the value of maize. As long as this value (in the form of grain or cash) could be carried over to the following year, opting for risky maize made sense especially for the poor.

Farmers didn’t need a model to show them this – and especially women, for the reasons described – but it highlighted how complex decision-making under conditions of high variability is. As the model showed, mixed strategies made the most sense, with a smaller amount of millet as part of a mix. As the maize economy came under stress in the 2000s with the failure of markets, and government support through the Grain Marketing Board, new incentives to secure food locally emerged. In this period, for the first time in decades, the political and economic support for maize had disappeared. And without state support and the absence of a cash market because of hyperinflation, the maize reliance strategy became much riskier, and a local production system became preferable.

I suspect it’s a combination of these factors have pushed farmers in Gutu to take up millet again at the peak of the economic crisis. These were very different conditions to those in the late 1980s, when the earlier millet focused strategies foundered. Context matters a lot, and it is a combination of factors – markets, taste preferences, labour requirements and the wider political economy of crop support – that combine to make one technology more or less favourable. Maybe the experiences from Gutu suggest that the age of millets are returning, and we will have to get used to a different type of sadza.

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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The big thaw: Zimbabwe comes in from the cold

The last few weeks have seen a flurry of diplomatic activity, culminating in the announcement that the European Union is to remove restrictions on financial aid to the government, and a new $300m programme would start in the new year focused on governance, health and agriculture.

This is long overdue. The sanctions imposed by western countries have done far more harm than good, and have provided an unnecessary political block to progress. The announcement was made by the new EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Phillipe van Damme, and he was flanked by ambassadors from ten other EU countries, including Britain.

The thaw with Britain continues too. The new UK ambassador to Zimbabwe, Catriona Laing, presented her credentials to the President recently (there’s even a youtube video of the event!), and she tweeted enthusiastically about the opportunity to discuss UK-Zimbabwe relations, describing her new posting as her ‘dream job’. An interesting interview in the Herald exposed a very different stance to the frosty relationships in recent years. Her background is in development, and she previously worked for DFID, so it bodes well for UK engagement in the development field.

Zimbabwean officials too seem to be on the charm offensive with the west. Patrick Chinamasa argued that the policy is no longer just ‘look east’, but ‘look everywhere’. VP Joice Mujuru hosted a British trade delegation and the trade minister from Denmark was also warmly received. The UK government proclaimed the trade mission a great success.

All this is of course about trade and business, and the interests of capital, and its influence on foreign policy. The sanctions from the early 2000s sent signals to many western investors and there was a massive flight of funds. Indeed the decline in investment had a far greater impact than the sanctions per se. European business has therefore lost out from the isolation of Zimbabwe. And it’s widely recognised that much has been conceded to the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, South Africans and others. In some sectors – mining and tobacco for example – traditional commercial relationships with the west have been pushed aside in favour of new partners. This has cost Britain and others market share and economic influence. The trade delegation from the UK was keen on a range of investments, from infrastructure to agriculture; all areas where British business can make money in Zimbabwe.

The new focus on investment is certainly good news. Zimbabwe has been starved of finance, causing a serious crisis of liquidity, and declining investment in key assets. A return of the aid programme is helpful too, but it’s the investment that really counts. The ambitious ZimAsset economic recovery programme is premised on the arrival of such investment; nothing can happen without it as the government is bankrupt and has a massive debt.

Of course there are constraints. ‘Trust’ has been the watchword in the discussions of the past weeks. Is Zimbabwe a reliable investment destination? Do the ‘indigenisation’ policies limit possibilities? Interestingly the UK Ambassador emphasised that it was less the policy on indigenisation, something she noted was the sovereign right of Zimbabwe to pursue, but the clarity of the laws and regulations, and the importance of assuring security of investment. Lack of clarity, often promoted by the media and other commentators, causes uncertainty, rumour and misunderstanding. The Minister of Finance, Patrick Chinamasa, once again assured the trade delegations, but for good reasons doubts remain.

Does this mean that everything is back to ‘normal’? The answer of course in no. EU travel restrictions still remain on the President and Grace Mugabe, despite the cordiality of the discussions at State House. And there are a number of outstanding issues, notably relating to land. Compensation for land acquired during land reform is still due for most properties, and an agreed formula has yet to be negotiated and financed. The particular case of land acquired that was under Bilateral Investment Protection treaties still has pending court cases, and remain unresolved.

But the thawing of relations and the reinstatement of financial aid by the EU is an important signal. More day to day interaction with government will build the necessary trust, and hopefully ways forward on the most tricky issues will be found.

Meanwhile, let’s hope the new aid for agriculture in particular is well directed. With the new agrarian structure, the key is to provide support for the growth of local economies based on agriculture, and that includes a focus on the new resettlements and particularly the A1 areas, that have the potential for driving economic growth and employment through agriculture, and processing.

Investments in basic infrastructure, including roads, markets, veterinary and agricultural extension systems, as well as water management, storage and irrigation systems are long overdue. The failure to invest in the new resettlements has held them back for over a decade, but now is the opportunity to put that right. Hopefully the EU support will not shy away from this challenge.

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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And the winners are… The Phiri Award Innovators of 2014

Last week, the first ever five winners of the Phiri Award were announced. All five illustrate the persistence and determination so typical of innovators. As Phiri Award Trustee, John Wilson, explains:

“The Phiri Award Trust believes that it’s crucial that we learn from farmer innovators and other innovators in the food chain as we strive to find sustainable and healthy ways of producing and processing food. During this first year’s process to find and select innovative farmers there was some muddle between who is a good farmer and who is an innovative farmer. An innovative farmer is someone who has tried out and developed new ways of doing things. (S)he has not simply adopted practices from others”.

All those nominated this year are men who came from only three of the country’s provinces. The Trust is committed to changing this next year. Nominations from around the country, and particularly of women and younger farmers or those involved in the food chain are welcomed. Get in touch by email: phiriaward@gmail.com.

Anyway, I thought Zimbabweland readers would like to hear about the winners. The short profiles below have been provided by John Wilson, based on research by Mutizwa Mukute.

Faiseni Pedzi:

61 year Faiseni Pedzi has been a smallholder farmer most of his life. For a brief period in his 20s he worked at a sugar estate in the Lowveld. This stint gave him ideas, which he has used to develop a sophisticated water-harvesting set-up on his 3-hectare farm.

VaPedzi farms in Chivi district in natural region 5. Water is obviously critical in such a dry part of Zimbabwe. Early in his farming years he dug four one-metre deep contours on his gently sloping land as the basis of his water-harvesting system. These turned out to be not enough to catch all the water and so he has added trenches at either end of the contour ditches.

Over the years VaPedzi has developed an intricate system to use and spread water through his farm. There are also times he has to release excess water into the nearby river. He needs this versatile system because of the variability in rainy seasons. His system is based on ‘valves’ that he has especially designed to manage his water, depending on whether they are tight, loose or removed.

VaPedzi intercrops his annual rainy season crops and is able to supplement them with water during dry spells in the rainy season, which are common in region 5. He then under sows his summer crops with winter crops that also benefit from the harvested water. He grows reeds and Vetiver grass on the banks of the ditches and other fodder grasses for fattening cattle for sale. Fishponds are an important part of the system, originally introduced because ‘my wife loves eating fish’. His farm is a fine example of agricultural biodiversity and integrated farming based on a sophisticated water harvesting system.

Paguel Takura

Paguel Takura is a farmer who likes to experiment and try things out. He lives in Chikukwa on the border with Mozambique, a higher rainfall part of Zimbabwe. He started his small farm of less than a hectare in 2008 and had a disastrous first year because moles ate the bulk of his sweet potatoes and banana suckers.

Undaunted and using his traditional knowledge for trapping field mice, he began the process of designing an effective mole trap. He tried different containers in which to trap the moles – first bark, then bamboo, then 750ml cooking oil bottles – before hitting on a 250ml Vaseline bottle which doesn’t allow the mole to turn around. He has also tried various baits and now favours an indigenous plant that he had observed moles liking. He puts the bottle and bait into a mole tunnel with a sprung stick and in 2011 alone he captured 39 moles.

He now works with others in his community to share and spread his mole trap and has plans to sell the traps.

Wilson Sithole

In 1977 Wilson Sithole’s father gave him 2 hectares of land. At that stage he was working in town. During this time he built a house and experimented with water-harvesting ditches, having noticed lots of run-off from his land in the high rainfall area of Rusitu in eastern Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, most of his 2 hectares was unfarmable because it was covered with rocks. This, however, didn’t daunt VaSithole.

He knew that with heat and water you can crack and break rocks up. He brought in 7 truckloads of firewood from a nearby timber estate and gradually broke up all the rocks on his farm and turned them into contour bunds, combined with ditches. After 20 years he had 20 bunds and ditches. In between the bunds he has planted bananas, pineapples and citrus trees. For bananas, his harvest averages out at 480kg per month.

Now he is working with other farmers in his area as part of the TSIME programme to find innovative ways to improve farming.

William Gezana

In 2000 Cyclone Eline wreaked havoc on William Gezana’s 3-hectare farm in Bumba, Chimanimani. Five of his neighbours died and the cyclone swept away vegetation, houses and animal kraals. The cyclone also caused serious erosion, which undermined the recharging of the stream that William and his neighbors had used for irrigation.

VaGezana, as seems to be the case with many innovator farmers, did not let the enormity of what he had to do to rehabilitate his land dispirit him. Above all, Cyclone Eline taught him the critical importance of water harvesting and so he began laying small rock ridges across his land to catch run off water. He also noticed that during Cyclone Eline, it was the bare areas that suffered most. This led him to plant a range of different species in order to ensure ground cover. The Mukute (Waterberry) has played a significant part in his plans, as has the use of compost.

In a decade VaGezana turned his devastated watershed farm into a productive haven with a diversity of crops. In the process he has recharged the water table and the stream runs again. He taps water from the stream via individually designed and dug irrigation canals. Over 40 farmers have learnt from the integrated farming creativity of William Gezana, using his approach to watershed management in particular.

Bouwas Mawara

Apart from working in town from 1970 to 76, 68-year old Bouwas Mawara has been a small-scale farmer all his life. However, it was only in 1980 that he began innovating, inspired by the liberation struggle, which had given people the ‘courage to try things out and confront and challenge the way things are done’.

Living in Mazvihwa, a very dry part of Zimbabwe in Zvishavane District, he knew the importance of water. His first challenge to the normal way of doing things was to dig dead-level contours 1 to 3 metres deep and 2 metres wide; as opposed to the 1 in 200 diversion drains that are normally called contour ditches. These deep ditches have enabled him to harvest huge amounts of water. Furthermore, within the contours he has made small dams in which he farms fish. Occasionally in Mazvihwa there is excess water and he has designed a complex interconnected system using clay pipes that allows him to remove excess water into pits.

As a result of all this water harvesting, VaMawara is able to grow winter crops every dry season, despite living in such a dry part of the country. He even had excess water in the droughts of 1992 and 2008.

On his own initiative, Bouwas Mawara set up Hupenyu Ivhu (Soil is Life) Farmer Innovators’ group in 1989. Through this group he has shared his innovative water-harvesting system and farming practices with many farmers in Mazvihwa.

*****

 For more information on farmer innovation from around the world, check out the Prolinnova site at http://www.prolinnova.net/. Beyond these five, lots more inspiration there! While formal science and technology is undoubtedly essential for successful agriculture, local innovation from the grassroots is vital too, and is especially powerful when combined with more conventional approaches (as is the case in all domains – see http://steps-centre.org/project/grassroots/). I hope that the Phiri Award will encourage scientists in government, the universities and the CGIAR to go and visit the winners, and discover new innovations. If you look, they are everywhere: innovation is what farming is about.

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Food sovereignty: a contested concept

Emerging out of two major conferences and with a background reading list of more than 90 papers, a special issue of the Journal of Peasant Studies has just emerged on ‘critical perspectives on food sovereignty’. This is free to view for a limited period (here:  http://www.tandfonline.com/r/fjps-41-6 – click to articles via this link if you don’t have a subscription), and contains a number of important papers and commentaries by both academics and activists, and many hybrids. It is an important moment, both for the food sovereignty movement and for the debate around it. For far too long there has been an absence of sustained critical and engaged debate about the meanings and implications of food sovereignty. These papers discuss, among other things, the origins of the concept, its connection to other food justice movements, its relation to rights discourses, the roles of markets and states and the challenges of implementation. It demonstrates a maturing of the movement, and a growing willingness to debate from a position of confidence and strength.

The most visible representation of the food sovereignty movement is the peasant movement, La Via Campesina. This has grown through combining diverse campaigns for changes in the global agri-food system. Some claim that it is the world’s largest social movement. ‘Food sovereignty’, is a term, as Marc Edelman notes in his paper that has a longer genealogy but has become very effectively popularised. This is an argument for peasant autonomy, local food systems, fairer more environmentally-sound, agroecological production and trade and much more besides. As a vision and political programme it is one to which many would subscribe.

For a while I have been intrigued to find out where the food sovereignty debate had got to, what political strategies were emerging and whether, in different and diverse contexts, the ideals were in fact realisable. I attended one of the conferences early this year in the Hague. Elizabeth Mpofu, a Zimbabwean farmer from Shashe resettlement area near Mashava and now the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina and a leader of the movement, opened the proceedings with a passionate rallying call.

What are my reflections on the debate? In many ways I remain rather confused as to what food sovereignty is, and how it is to be translated into a political struggle. The concept has evolved, and the movement has adopted many different angles as more and more elements have been incorporated. These included the move from a focus on small-scale production and markets to concerns with gender, indigenous peoples, environment, workers, consumers, migrants, trade relations and more.

Through accreting issues and agendas, the movement thus offers an all-encompassing vision where nothing is left out it seems. This helps build linkages between different areas of activism, but it also makes it very difficult to get a handle on what the core issues are, and where to focus intellectual and political energies. This is made more challenging by the lack of clarity over the focus of the key concept – sovereignty. There is much focus on ‘the local’, but this may not be sovereign without addressing the role of the state, or indeed the relationships between states in international trade and global politics. A populist appeal to locality may miss the importance of defining the arenas for political action that necessarily impinge on what happens in local settings.

It is clearly intensely political issue, part of an assertive political project, but it often lacks a solid political analysis. As many argue in the Journal of Peasant Studies issue, a more thorough-going engagement with critical agrarian studies might help address this gap. Three areas of politics, I felt, are missing.

The first is the politics of peasants. La Via Campesina – the peasant’s way – asserts the rights of peasants. But who is the peasantry in the context of a globalising world, with dynamic patterns of differentiation across sites? Classic issues of class formation and differentiation are raised, ones that Henry Bernstein so effectively elaborates in his ‘sceptical view’ paper for the issue. What is the relationship between the peasantry and workers, or indeed worker-peasants, with one foot in town and another in the countryside? Are petty commodity producers or even emergent commercial farmers part of the peasantry, or separate? What differences of gender, age, race for example cut across these class differences, and what conflicts and tensions arise? These are old questions, but highly pertinent to the formation of the emergent solidarities that must define a movement. Creating an idealised vision of a peasant, seemingly independent of context, makes the political project problematic, as the contradictions and conflicts that arise between and within groups may act to undermine the alliances required for a movement to gain traction.

The second area of missing politics is around the politics of technology and ecology. An important strand of the food sovereignty movement is the advocacy for an agroecological approach to farming. Low external inputs, organic production, rejection of biotechnology and so on are all hallmarks. Yet in the advocacy of agroecology too often there is a resort to an essentialist, technical argument, thus falling into the same trap as the advocates of the technologies that are opposed. As Jack Kloppenberg puts it in his paper in respect of agricultural biotechnology, the argument should be less about the particular technology but instead around the terms of access. An open access approach to research and development may generate a range of productivity-enhancing technologies that improve efficiency and reduce production costs, without being at the behest of large-scale corporations. New technologies are of course essential for improving agriculture. Improving the yield of crops through high-tech genetics or the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides may be essential, yet seem to be rejected by agroecology fundamentalisms.

The bottom line is that farmers want good prices, and consumers want cheap food. This structural relation between producers is crucial. The current agri-food system involves much distortion of prices, and a distribution of value in corporate-controlled value chains that often benefits agribusinesses and retailers, and neither producers nor consumers. Yet too often local food systems can only produce expensive food for elite markets. Clearly internalising the costs to the environment and to labour of the current agri-food system is essential, and this will doubtless produce shorter commodity chains, more localised production and marketing, better conditions for workers and a more equitable distribution of value, as well as more ecologically-sensitive forms of production. Yet, even with such measures, a diversity of innovative, technological responses will be necessary that should not be limited by a technically narrow definition of agroecology.

The third area is the politics of capital, and in particular the relationships between capital and the peasantry. Again, a very old debate. Peasants, however they are defined, are never disengaged from the historical processes of capitalist development. Indeed they are mutually constituted by such processes. The debate is not therefore how to disengage, but how to negotiate the terms of incorporation. There are many examples of adverse incorporation, where poor, marginalised farmers are disadvantaged. But the solution is not to go back to earlier forms of production and market relationship, but to organise for a better deal. Re-embedding markets in social contexts, following Karl Polanyi, is essential if a more democratic control of the food system is to be realised, and this means a political struggle around the terms of trade, the rejection of monopolistic market behaviours, and the opening up of markets to a wider range of players. In many ways, this is an advocacy for a better functioning capitalism without the distortions of corporate concentration, not its rejection outright. This means developing a more strategic engagement with capital around the terms of incorporation and the relationships between markets and societal values, much as the fair trade, organic certification and other movements have done.

The progressive ambitions and utopian ideals of food sovereignty are clearly evident, and ones that many can easily subscribe to. You only have to visit Elizabeth Mpofu and her colleagues on Shashe farm to get a sense of the vision. But how to translate this into a political programme and strategic advocacy around which clear solidarities and alliances can build is less evident. Perhaps with a tighter political economic analysis of the nature of the problem, always necessarily contextualised by history and place, then a more targeted, more effective approach might emerge. I am inspired by the passion and vision of the movement participants and their academic allies, but I am perhaps more sceptical about the practicalities of how, in any setting that I know of, such a vision might be realised in practice, including in Shashe (a question asked by Tania Li). This is of course not a reason to reject trying, but it also suggests the need to think harder about both political possibilities and strategies, and be less dogmatic about approaches, technologies and economic arrangements for more sustainable, people-centred agriculture than sometimes the agroecology and food sovereignty advocates allow.

This blog draws from an earlier reflection on the ISS conference published by Future Agricultures

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Gender relations and land reform in Zimbabwe

What have been the consequences of Zimbabwe’s land reform for agrarian gender relations? This is a crucial question. If land reform was aimed at addressing historical racial imbalances in land ownership, has it also challenged gender inequalities?

Surveys have shown how many women gained land in their own right (and were granted ‘offer letters’). Between 15 and 20 percent of new A1 plots are recorded as controlled by women. With inheritance of land, this may have increased marginally over time. The pattern in A2 areas was even more skewed to male control, with only around 10 percent being controlled by women; although transfers have been higher through inheritance in these farms.

Based simply on these figures, the record of land reform in addressing gender inequalities is poor. However, such assessments say nothing about the effects of land reform on gender relations, and the power, influence and control of assets of men and women in rural society. New work suggests contrasting interpretations, and interesting dynamics.

Some researchers have argued that land reform has opened up spaces of opportunity for women, whereby new livelihoods can be pursued, and a greater economic independence realised. This view has been emphasised by Patience Mutopo in her excellent study of women in a new resettlement area in Mwenezi district, in the dry south of the country. Access to land – often portions of husbands’ fields – provided the route to building new trading enterprises. Mutopo traced the economic and social linkages that resettlement women created. It is a fascinating story, now written up in a book. It shows that economic and social empowerment does not have to come through the formal allocation of land to women, but many women are able to negotiate access to resources within existing marriage and other institutions, and make very good use of these opportunities. She argues that women ‘can have remarkable bargaining power in certain domains’. She shows how new livelihood activities, notably trading involving travel away from the rural home, have meant changed gender relations. When women travel, husbands must take on domestic caring roles, including cooking and childcare. And with increased incomes, women may be the ones offering cash to their home-bound husbands when they return.

In a paper in Agrarian South by Mutopo, together with Jeanette Manjengwa and Manase Chiweshe, a series of cases are offered that show women accumulating in their own right. In the higher potential zones, agricultural production on the new resettlements was providing income that was being invested in school fees, home development as well as farming inputs. In the drier parts of the country, the cases showed women adopting more diversified livelihoods, including the use of natural resources for craft making and trading. Such patterns of accumulation are assisted through forms of collective organisation by women, facilitating trading, gaining access to markets or providing mutual aid to help out with domestic activities. Such new relations among women provide a basis for solidarity, assistance and economic organisation maximising the opportunities of the land reform, they argue.

In our work in Masvingo province we found a diversity of patterns across sites. New gender relations were being negotiated within households, as women gained economic independence and control over resources, separate from men. Simply having larger farms, and a greater level of production and income means that divisions of labour have shifted, with separate enterprises created, with different responsibilities. While in communal area homes, women have often managed to create some form of independence – growing their own vegetables, buying their own goats – the room for manoeuvre is limited, and with less income to hire labour from outside, women are often restricted to social reproductive activities, and providing labour for efforts controlled by men.

Those women who highlighted the benefits of land reform most enthusiastically in our study areas were those who had been marginalised and ostracised in their previous homes. These included single women, divorcees, and those who – for a range of reasons – had become outcasts in their communities, often targeted as ‘witches’. The land reform areas offered a space outside restrictive, discriminatory, sometimes dangerous settings from where they came. For such women, these were genuinely liberated spaces.

However, others have highlighted that there are severe limits to such liberation. In a recent paper Manase Chiweshe, Loveness Chanoka and Kirk Helliker ask, based on data from Mazowe and Goromonzi, whether radical socio-spatial reorganisations such as fast-track land reform can destabilise forms of domination such as patriarchy. They conclude that patriarchy is so entrenched and the fast-track programme is ‘highly masculinized’, very often limiting opportunities. Bargaining with patriarchy, they argue, has limits. They quote one woman in Goromonzi who comments:

“The household setup is not fair, as men have full control of cash crops and as we women … are responsible for crops that are mainly for family consumption for example round nuts. The unfair part of it is, even if as women we sell surplus ‘women crops’, men’s hands will be seen when monies get on the table. That is the reason why we also engage ourselves in other non-agricultural income-generating activities in a bid to widen our income base”.

When so-called ‘customary law’ becomes extended into new resettlement areas women can become especially disadvantaged. In the early days of land occupation and the beginning of the fast-track programme, the new resettlements – as the old resettlements – were outside customary control, organised through Committees of Seven, linked to political and administrative structures. However over time, as Chiefs and headmen have exerted authority over the new resettlements, hybrid institutional arrangements have emerged.

In areas of land and inheritance in particular an increasing influence of patriarchal customary systems are observed. As Prosper Matondi comments in his 2012 book, the land reform ‘has perpetuated the customary property rights in favour of men’. The implementation of new A1 permits may have helped to reverse some of this trend, as the more detailed permits now replacing ‘offer letters’ require both men and women to be named, and thus specify inheritance rights for women. This provides some protection of the imposition of ‘customary’ rules that frequently result of land and assets being taken by male relatives on the death of a husband.

As Chiweshe and colleagues point out, the burdens of social reproduction continue to fall substantially on women in the new resettlements. But in these new settings, the challenges may well have increased, with the lack of basic infrastructure. The distance to clinics for example can be substantial, and similarly water collection distances may be longer than in their former homes. While investments have occurred, these have been slow and limited, and most resettlement areas have few facilities.

There are thus highly contradictory effects resulting from land reform on gender relations. As Chiweshe and colleagues conclude “[al]though in large part insensitive to the land needs and rights of women, in some ways fast track nevertheless improved – albeit inadvertently – the lives of A1 women… Despite the prevalence of patriarchy as an intertwined system of structures and practices, women have sought to identify and open up gaps and pursue new activities as they manoeuvre their way..”.

It is this active agency, involving negotiation, bargaining and generating creative solutions, that comes across strongly in these studies. While the power imbalances are clear, and gender discrimination widespread, this does not mean that women always lose out.

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

 

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