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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Recognising farmer innovation: the launch of the Phiri award

On October 24th at Barraza Pavilion in Tynwald in Harare, the Phiri award for farm and food innovators will be launched.

phiri

The award is named for Zephaniah Phiri, the renowned water harvester and ecological farmer from Zvishavane district, who is a long-time friend and inspiration to me. His innovations in wetland (vlei) farming over a fifty year period earned him first arrest and then national and international recognition. It’s hoped that the Phiri Award for Farm and Food Innovators will open a new chapter in advancing indigenous innovation in Zimbabwe.

Just as Mr. Phiri discovered new ways to produce food abundantly and sustainably through detailed study and active management of the soils and hydrology of his land, so too are other dedicated Zimbabwean farmers making quiet breakthroughs that advance food sovereignty in their communities.

Just as Mr. Phiri shared his innovations with thousands of visitors from across the country, Africa and the world, so too can other local innovators be recognised and assisted to disseminate their innovations, technologies and sustainable farming practices.   Just as Mr. Phiri’s innovations – such as water infiltration pits in contour ridges and clay-lined ponds in vleis – are now adopted by tens of thousands of dryland farmers, so too can other innovations not yet recognised contribute nationally and beyond to the advancement of agro-ecological approaches to sustainable food systems.

Increasing recognition for local innovation and the creative capacity of food producers to solve deep problems and find new opportunities can help advance a partnership approach to agricultural development in which all knowledge is valued. This has a huge potential to sustain with dignity the central place of women and men who meet the food needs of their communities and the country.

The Phiri Award is a new programme, whose trustees are drawn from leading Zimbabwean institutions. The Trust is chaired by Professor Mandivamba Rukuni. Working with national networks, local government and grassroots groups, the Trust gathers nominations from across the country; coordinates visits to selected farmers and others during their growing and harvesting season; documents their innovations; and organises the annual Award ceremony.

As with Mr Phiri, the award winning innovators will have relied on their own resources and energies to develop their practices, and will often have struggled for many years to gain recognition for their work. They will come from small-scale farming communities or marginalised backgrounds in urban settings. From creativity in the face of hardship, they will have developed proven new approaches that others have now begun to adopt and adapt.

So if you are anywhere near Harare (the venue is 15 mins from town by car) on October 24th, come and meet the 2014 award winners, and of course Mr Phiri himself, along with the Trustees and many others. Just let the organisers know (email below).

Thanks to John Wilson (secretary and acting coordinator of the Trust) and Ken Wilson (trustee) for this information (and most of text for the blog!). To contact the Phiri Award and register your attendance at the launch, please email: phiriaward@gmail.com

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

 

 

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Zimbabwe is food secure this season, but more questions raised

The annual ZimVac assessment based on a national sample survey of over 10,000 households and carried out in May came out a month or two back. Unlike last year, when alarm bells were rung over a potential food security catastrophe, this year the prognosis was good. Excellent rains, including in some of the drier and usually more food insecure parts of the country, resulted in a bumper harvest.

Last year I critiqued the use of the headline figure from the assessment as potentially misleading. The same limitations of the survey apply, but the media reporting is more balanced this year (with some extreme exceptions – see comment string in an earlier blog). The survey is based on the 2012 Zimstat sampling frame and covers a large number of enumeration areas across the country, sampled proportional to population densities. Annoyingly the report still doesn’t separate out communal areas and resettlement areas, and my guess is that there remains some sampling bias. More on this below. Last year fortunately the dire predictions were not borne out. In part this was because the rains came, and a green crop filled the hunger period, but also I hypothesised in an earlier blog that the production from new resettlement areas was being undercounted. I suspect this remains the case.

Anyway, I thought blog readers would like a quick summary of the report, as without an impending disaster the media has largely ignored it. You can read the powerpoint report in full, which covers all sorts ranging from nutrition to sanitation. I will concentrate on agricultural production and food security, and draw text directly from the report.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development estimates that the country will have a cereal harvest surplus of 253,174 MT in the 2014/15 consumption year from a total cereal harvest of 1,680,293MT.

Maize remained the major crop grown by most households (88%) compared to 80% for 2012/13, while groundnuts were the second most grown crop. Generally, the proportion of households growing crops increased except for cotton which showed a decline (due to the collapse in prices) and soya beans which remained unchanged.

Nationally, average household cereal (maize and small grains) production was 529.5kg. This was higher than last season (346kg). In Masvingo maize production averaged 339.7 kg and small grains 126 kg, given a total of 525.7 kg per household. Overall, average household cereal production was highest in Mashonaland West and lowest in Manicaland, and the contribution of small grains to total household cereal production was significant in Masvingo, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South.

While improvements, these average figures are still low. And compared to the production levels from new resettlement households minute. Our studies in Masvingo, even in the poor rainfall years of between 2010 and 2012, show much higher averages (although with variations). Gareth James’ studies from Mashonaland shower higher outputs still. Again in the poorer rainfall years, he recorded average outputs of maize some 12 times these average national figures for all cereals for the good rainfall year of the past season. Of course the new resettlements have proportionately fewer people and so appropriately in a national representative sample this should be reflected. But, without data broken down and without indications of variation, the ZimVac study still fails to capture this story. As I have argued before (many times!), this is important for policy, and for thinking about national food security.

The ZimVac survey showed that for the 2013/2014 agricultural season approximately 45.2% of the households benefited from the Government Input Support Scheme, which was the main source of inputs. The proportion of households accessing maize inputs through purchase remained unchanged (39%) from 2013. About 2.3% of the households accessed their maize inputs from NGOs which was a decrease from 4.0% in the 2012/13 season.

Given the higher levels of production, the national average maize price was $0.37/kg down from $0.53/ kg during the same period last year. This pattern was also reflecting at the provincial level. Matabeleland South recorded the highest maize price ($0.65/kg). This was the same pattern during the same period last year.

Livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) were in a fair to good condition when the survey took place. Grazing and water for livestock were generally adequate in most parts of the country save for the communal areas, where it was, as is normal, generally inadequate. However, the report notes, there are marginal parts of Matabeleland North and South, Midlands, Manicaland and Masvingo provinces which had inadequate grazing which may not last into the next season.

According to the report, around 60% of the households reported not owning any cattle. Mashonaland East had the highest proportion of households not owning any cattle and Matabeleland South had the least. Nationally, only 14% of the households owned more than 5 cattle with Matabeleland South and Matabeleland Matabeleland North having a higher proportion of households owning more than 5 cattle.

Like the cereal production data, these national and provincial figures are very different to what we have found (and Gareth and others) in the new resettlements. Here cattle ownership is far higher, reflecting the richer, more capitalised form of farming found. Of course the ZimVac study may suffer from under-reporting, as in many large-scale surveys with huge samples, but the contrasts are interesting – and again potentially important.

In terms of food consumption, Masvingo had the highest proportion of households consuming an acceptable diet (75%) and Matabeleland North had the lowest (54%). This showed increased local availability of foodstuffs, and improved off-farm opportunities. However, nutritional indicators remained low, including a high prevalence of stunting. As commented on before, this mismatch between food intake and nutritional indicators remains puzzling.

So, following the food balance methodology the assessment adopts (see discussion of the methodology and its limitations in an earlier blog), the report estimates that for the 2014/15 consumption year at peak (January to March next year) is projected to have 6% of rural households food insecure. This is a 76% decrease compared to the (disputed) estimate the previous consumption year.

This proportion represents about 564,599 people at peak (which may of course be people suffering deficits for only a few days), not being able to meet their annual food requirements. Their total energy deficit is estimated at an equivalent of 20,890MT of maize; actually a very small amount, and not suggesting any urgent need for food aid, given the margins of error in the estimates. Matabeleland North (9.0%), Matabeleland South (8.3%) and Mashonaland West (7.7%) were projected to have the highest proportions of food insecure households. By contrast, Manicaland (2.7%) and unusually Masvingo (3.4%) provinces were projected to have the least proportions of food insecure households.

So in sum, a good harvest results in a good food security situation. This is of course good news, and no surprise. But the report and the analysis still raise many questions. I hope that those working on food and farming in Zimbabwe can join forces and think harder about questions of sampling, the contributions of the new land reform areas to production, and the complex dynamics at the heart of the food economy that underpins food insecurity prevalence and distribution. The ZimVac annual survey is a major contribution, but with some thought and adaptation it could be contributing much more to our understanding of changing livelihoods and food economies in the post-land reform era.

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

 

 

 

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Beyond the ‘politics of disorder’: how bureaucratic professionalism persists in Zimbabwe’s public services

One paper on Zimbabwe at the recent ASA-UK conference that I found really interesting was the examination of the micro-politics of the Attorney General’s Office by Susanne Verheul. The paper is available from the Journal of Southern African Studies. And because it won a prize, it’s free to access.

The paper argues that the ‘politics of disorder’ frame so often used to describe Zimbabwe is inappropriate, even in that most political of offices, that of the AG. Simplistic, generalised assessments of politics, painting things in broad-brush terms as corrupt, neo-patrimonial, patronage driven or disorderly and chaotic, are too simplistic. A more fine-grained account instead shows that politics and practice operate on multiple registers. For sure many of the practices described in terms of corruption and patronage occur, but there is also a register embedded in commitments to rigour, professionalism and justice. These work in parallel, often in tension, in the day-to-day practices of the office, she argues.

In particular these tensions between registers occur within individuals. The paper offers two cases of lawyers working in the AG’s office, based on interviews carried out in 2010 and 2012. Both had started work at the peak of the economic crisis in 2008. Salaries were not feasible to live on, and everyone had to seek other sources of livelihoods. Some sought these outside the office, abandoning their work; others made money from the job: through bribes and corrupt practices. These were legitimised in terms of survival, and then routinized as part of normalised behaviours. The new recruits, fresh out of law school, were horrified. This did not match their ideals of delivering professional legal support and justice for all. Yet they were torn, and accepted that for some compromises had to be made.

Of course such behaviours are not the large-scale corrupt practices that have been widely commented upon. But as small acts accrete, they create a new way of working, undermining old norms of professionalism, and in the end challenging the effectiveness of the system as a whole. Across public services, perhaps most notably with the police, this has been a consequence of those years when professional conduct was superseded by the need to survive: to feed one’s family, pay school fees, treat the sick, bury the dead. Over years this has become a new normal, one that is very difficult to shift, as too many people benefit, even if the immediate need has gone.

Yet despite this, there are many who resist. And those who indulge are often torn, expressing feelings of shame and embarrassment. The two registers operate in tandem. Simply writing off public services – the courts, the police, local government, the technical line ministries – as corrupt and incompetent does not do justice to the internal, often quite personal, struggles that exist. What struck me through the period of crisis in the 2000s was how committed many of those we were working with in the Ministries of Agriculture, Lands, Environment and so on remained. They were not being paid anything near a living wage, yet came to the office. They remained committed, yet necessarily had to have outside jobs. The vets sold drugs, extension officers took payments, the lands people offered a range of services for payment. And all had other jobs, many gaining farms as a result of land reform that kept them engaged in the sector, although took them away from their formal posts.

After the stabilisation of the economy, viable salaries returned, but many of the practices persisted. But for some, like Susanne’s informants in the AG’s office, professional conduct, and shunning other practices was possible. This was certainly the case in the land and agriculture related technical services. Despite everything – the decimation of staff by HIV/AIDS, the flood of people out of government jobs to the private sector (including farming) or abroad, poor and often confused political leadership from the centre, and continued lack of funding, due to the fiscal challenges of government and the lack of donor support – it remains remarkable to me that Zimbabwe has such a committed group of public servants still in post. Highly trained, deeply committed, these are top professionals who continue against the odds. Compared to many others you meet in similar jobs elsewhere in the region, many (for sure not all) Zimbabwean public servants stand out, despite the poor conditions. Susanne’s paper offers a nuanced and sympathetic profile of two such individuals in the AG’s office, where the political spotlights shines especially brightly. But there are thousands of others elsewhere. Perhaps more in the technical ministries and in the districts further away from the political meddling who continue to uphold standards, and provide a professional service with commitment and passion. It’s far from ideal, but it’s not without hope.

Rebuilding the bureaucratic state, and its capacity to deliver, as part of the ongoing negotiation of a stable political settlement, must rely on such individuals. It must appeal to their commitment and professionalism, and reward this. Meeting these people in offices in far-flung parts of the country, without resources, but with ideas, understandings and a real zeal to make a difference, definitely gives me hope.

Writing off the state, and its government services, as simply a tool of a corrupt party elite is too simple, and the result of sloppy analysis. The state and its bureaucratic machinery is too complex and varied, made up of too many individuals with diverse motivations to be wholly captured in this way. A more nuanced and sophisticated analysis of politics in Zimbabwe is needed, and the sort of micro-study of a particular office offered by Susanne’s paper is one way of opening up this complexity, and finding ways forward.

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

 

 

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New research on land reform in Zimbabwe

As mentioned last week, the University of Sussex hosted the major biennial UK African Studies Association conference. Around 600 delegates were registered, and there was a real buzz, with panels on every conceivable topic from every corner of the continent. Quite a few papers reported on new work from Zimbabwe, and land and politics was a recurrent theme. In the end we had a single panel of three papers (as several panellists had to drop out at the last minute). It was a fascinating session to a standing-room-only audience.

The three panellists all reported on new research in the now not-so-new resettlements, representing different geographic areas, and diverse methodologies. All looked at how new livelihoods are being carved out following land reform in A1 sites. This included in-depth reflections on the relationships between farmers and farmworkers, a quantitative assessment of production outcomes across sites compared to communal and old resettlement areas, and an analysis of how farm and off-farm livelihood opportunities are combined in a mining area.

The session kicked off with an excellent paper by Leila Sinclair-Bright who discussed the changing social relations between ‘new farmers’ on an A1 resettlement area in Mazowe and farmworkers. Through a deep, focused ethnographic approach she looked at changing notions of ‘belonging’, and the way livelihoods are negotiated. A case of a chief’s court dispute over land highlighted many of the dynamics. For, while the farmworkers were accepted as part of the farm community, and even incorporated into the cultural fabric of life through their as ‘sahwira’ at burials, when a group tried to claim formally the land that they had been cultivating this was rejected by the A1 farmers. ‘Belonging’ had its limits, and the new farmers tried to circumscribe this, arguing that as ‘foreigners’ (many had Malawian origins several generations back), their role was not as land owners but labourers. That the farmworkers had been bargaining hard on wages and opting for alternate livelihoods had played into this tension. Certainly the emerging forms of ‘belonging’ differ dramatically from that described by Blair Rutherford in the pre-land reform era, but the cultural politics of farmworker-farmer relations are as live as ever, often flaring up into disputes of this sort. Leila’s paper highlighted the value of really in-depth analysis of cases to uncover the textured dynamics of change on the farms. We have been subjected to far too much simplistic analysis, often based on spurious statistics, on farmworkers, but this sort of work really provides a much-needed qualitative insight that is immensely revealing. As the new social, political and economic relations are negotiated on the new farms, new bargains and accommodations will be struck, and this will require innovations in institutional and cultural practices; sometimes drawing on traditional norms, but in other cases requiring new deals to be struck.

Taking a very different approach, Gareth James offered an overview of some of his impressive survey work across three districts in Mashonaland/Manicaland, involving a sample of over 600 (here’s the powerpoint). This involved a large sample extending the classic work by Bill Kinsey and colleagues that tracked the fortunes of ‘old resettlement’ area farmers, comparing these to their neighbours in the communal areas (see our Masvingo work on this, in a recent blog series). Gareth has developed a sample in A1 farming areas, and looked at a range of factors. This presentation focused on ‘outcomes’ and in a series of graphs he showed how the A1 farmers on average outperformed both the old resettlement area and communal area farmers across a range of criteria. As younger, more educated, more capitalised farmers, they had higher outputs and yields of major crops (maize, cotton, tobacco), applied more inputs and achieved higher incomes. He offered a listing of the constraints faced too, which included a familiar array focused on the challenges of accessing farming inputs and labour. For those of us who primarily work in the drier south of the country, the production statistics were impressive. Across the two seasons studied (both of which were not good seasons), the A1 farmers achieved an average output of around 6 tonnes of maize. Taking the standard figure of annual consumption requirements of 1 tonne per family, this means around 5 tonnes could be sold, and contribute to a dynamic of investment and accumulation that Gareth described. This was of course added to by the often impressive outputs of tobacco. Averages of course only tell one part of the story, and as he pointed out there is much variation. As we have seen in Masvingo, these dynamics create new patterns of differentiation and associated class formation in the new resettlements, with major consequences for agrarian social relations and longer term change. There was insufficient time in the presentation to explore these issues, but the results are tantalising, and the overall output statistics impressive. Of course there are qualifications, and some of these were discussed. Is this a temporary boom, based on the ‘mining’ of the soil? Will the success attract more and more people to area, and so undermine per capita success as land and outputs are shared among more and more? Did the new settlers manage to outcompete their neighbours through preferential access to inputs, offered through political patronage? All of these factors are important, but do not undermine the overall story of a production boom, with major opportunities for accumulation in the new resettlements.

The final paper by Grasian Mkodzongi reflected on his work in Mhondoro Ngezi in Mashonaland West Province. Here A1 and A2 resettlement areas are in close proximity to the major Zimplats mining complex. Grasian’s paper concentrated on the relationships between farming and mining, as mediated through labour contracts, business opportunities and political connections. In addition to the large-scale mine there are many other smaller mining operations, for gold and other minerals that provide opportunities for others. The paper focused on the social and political negotiation of the farming-mining relationship, based on a number of cases. New farmers are able to insert themselves into the economic activity associated with Zimplats, supplying inputs (such as silica found on their farms) as well as profiting from upstream aspects of the value chain. Farmers have used the politically-charged debate around ‘indigenisation’ to their advantage, manipulating the rhetoric and demanding economic benefits. This sets up new political and economic relationships between the farms and the mine that are played out through local political dramas. The story is immensely complex and fast evolving, but it offers an insight into how, at the local level, new economic relations with capital are being negotiated, and how a very particular political dynamics and discourses influence this. Contrary to analyses that offer only a simplistic and generalised view of politics concluding that all is guided by top-down patronage, looking at local relations through in-depth research reveals a room for manoeuvre for those who have the resources and ingenuity to play the system.

These brief and rather partial summaries cannot do justice to the richness of the papers. If you want to hear more, there is a recording of the presentations and the discussions here. As noted, each in different ways contribute to our evolving understandings of livelihoods after land reform, and demonstrate the importance of diverse methodological approaches in capturing the nuance and diversity. These three papers, all emerging from PhD studies at the University of Edinburgh, are examples of a growing array of research on different themes in different places. They add together to an impressive dataset that has yet to be fully grasped by policymakers, donors and other commentators, including many academic ‘authorities’ on Zimbabwe.

A couple of years ago, I compiled a list of research projects on ‘fast-track’ land reform of different sorts, many deriving from PhD and MA degrees, and mapped them. The coverage then was impressive, and I am sure has extended much further since. Yet, despite this growing body of work, we hear again and again misleading commentary and inappropriate conclusions being drawn on land reform in Zimbabwe. But building on the earlier work, including ours in Masvingo, we now have an impressive set of insights, offering nuance and perspective on our overall assessment of Zimbabwe’s land reform. I hope this blog will continue to be a space for sharing these results with a wider audience. So if you are doing a study, and have some results to share, even if preliminary, do let me know!

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

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