Comparing communal areas and new resettlements in Zimbabwe IV: accumulating assets and investing in the land

One of the striking findings of our earlier work on the new resettlements was the level of investment that was going on in the resettlements – in houses, wells, toilets, farm equipment, transport and, above all, cattle. This investment has continued, and indeed expanded.

But the question has been raised, what is the baseline against which this success is measured? How do we know what is a lot or a little? One way is to compare with what has happened in the communal areas: the areas where many in the new resettlements came from. Is the ownership of assets higher, and the rate of accumulation greater in the resettlements? And if so, what does this say about the ‘success’ of land reform?

Let’s start with housing and shelter, a very basic human need. Many other studies have shown that housing is often the first thing people invest in when acquiring new land. It is so fundamental, and the basis for further accumulation. Housing per se does not reduce income poverty, but by improving the quality of life, and the level of comfort, it is an important route to accumulating and investing. Certainly in the mid-2000s we found people building like fury. Many structures were permanent brick ones, with thatched or tin/asbestos roofs. There was considerable expenditure, and much labour invested. People had camped for months in the bush during the invasions and in those days the communal area amenities looked very enticing. The new settlers were therefore insistent that getting homes established was a priority. This was about marking out the territory, asserting the right to remain in the absence of often even an ‘offer letter’, let alone something more secure. But it was also about making life reasonable: having somewhere dry or warm for the family to live in.

By 2011-12, 83% of houses (excluding kitchens/granaries) in the A1 sites were brick built, with 1.9 such structures per household on average. This compared to 86% in the communal areas, with 2.3 house structures per household compound. Thus by 2011-12, the resettlements had almost reached the level of housing investment that existed in the communal areas that they had left. While there were plenty of fancy homes, with tin/asbestos roofing, glass windows and the rest, in the resettlement areas, there were still fewer than in the communal lands, reflecting the length of residence time, and demands on investment. In the building realm, there is clearly more to aspire to.

In terms of water and sanitation, 63% of households in the resettlements had built toilets by 2011-12, a substantial leap from five years earlier. But this was still less than in the communal areas, where the figure was 78%. In terms of water sources too, the resettlements are catching up. An average of 0.3 wells were built per household in the five years before the survey in the resettlements, compared to 0.06 in the communal lands. In the communal area sites 74% of households had access to household water through such communal wells, while in the resettlements it was 49%. Private well ownership was again higher in the communal lands at 24% compared to 14% in the resettlements. 14% of homes in the resettlements still collected water from an unprotected dam or river source, while none did so in the communal areas.

These different patterns reflect the longer period for investment in the communal lands, and the fact that in the 1980s and 90s, government and donors invested considerable amounts in water and sanitation, particularly communal boreholes. By contrast, resettlement investments have been largely independent of state or donor support, and focused on private and community initiatives. Investment is continuing, as witnessed by the rate of well digging, and it will not be long before the resettlements have water and sanitation coverage at a level of the communal areas, but without 30 years of external investment.

The rate of investment in farm equipment has also been significant in the resettlements. 80% of households have an ox plough, many several, with an average of 0.5 ploughs per household being bought in the past five years. This contrasts with 73% ownership in the communal areas, with only 0.15 having been bought per household over five years. Ox cart ownership is also higher in the resettlements (at 52% of households compared to 49%). Only cultivators have a lower ownership level at 25% of households in the resettlements compared to 32% in the communal areas; although 0.1 cultivators per household was purchased over the previous five years on average, showing a pattern of continued accumulation in the new land reform sites.

A similar pattern is shown with transport. In the new resettlements 48% of households own a bicycle, while this is only 38% in the communal areas. 0.45 bikes per household were bought over the previous five years in the new resettlements, compared to 0.2 in the communal areas. The contrasts are more dramatic for cars (21% ownership compared to 5%) and tractors (6% compared to 1.6%). Transport is seen as vital to livelihoods in the new resettlements, given the larger distances, poor transport infrastructure, and lack of public transport.

We also looked at two other items, once deemed ‘luxuries’ now seen as essential: cell phones and solar panels. These have been bought in large numbers in all areas, although the rate of purchase in the previous five years has been a bit higher in the resettlements (1.7 per household versus 1.2 per household for cell phones, and 0.6 per household versus 0.5 per household for solar panels). Everyone needs to be connected now, and this helps on multiple fronts, from agricultural marketing to family relations. And having electricity for lighting at night improves rural living no end, improving health, enhancing education for kids, and making sure that you are up on the latest news, football scores and soap opera dramas.

But the big story in the resettlements is livestock, and especially cattle. Comparing the A1 villagised sites in Gutu, Masvingo, Chiredzi and Mwenezi clusters with their counterparts in nearby communal areas, the average cattle ownership per household is 6.6 v 5.0, 5.7 v 3.5, 4.9 v 6.3, and 9.5 v 12.3. Thus in the drier areas, it is the communal areas that have the larger herds on average, but this is reversed in the other sites. Again focusing on the A1 villagised sites, 98% of those in the top ‘success group’ (those doing the best, according to local criteria), while 80% of those in the middle group and 73% of those in the bottom group had cattle. This compared to a pattern of 80%, 93% and 50%, over all sites. Cattle ownership is thus better distributed in the resettlements, with more people, across all groups, having access to animals for draft, milk and meat. Donkey ownership shows a comparable pattern, with 24% of the top success group owning donkeys in the resettlements, 9% in the middle and 5% in the bottom. This contrasts with 19%, 10% and 3% in the communal areas. The pattern though is however reversed for goats, as across success groups (top to bottom), 57%, 44% and 37% of households own goats in the A1 villagised schemes, while 71%, 68% and 45% own goats in the communal areas. This reflects the high herding costs of goats, and the difficulties of managing them in the resettlement areas.

Since the terrible droughts of the early 1990s, livestock populations across the country have recovered. In the economic chaos of the 2000s, investing in livestock made even better sense, as the formal currency lost its value. As sources of draft power, access to draft animals – whether cattle or donkeys, or some combination – is vital, and boosts production potentials. This is why the new farmers have invested so heavily in this key asset. It is not that communal farmers have not been accumulating too, but the new resettlement farmers have been doing so faster and across a wider group of people than in the communal areas, particularly in Gutu and Masvingo areas.

Investment by new resettlement farmers remains impressive. It is clearly differentiated by site and by households within sites, but the continued investment in housing, equipment, transport, livestock and so on is impressive. And is especially so when compared to the communal area patterns, where investments are less extensive and less well distributed. In the resettlement areas, the data reflects a broader based accumulation from below, with investments focused on improving the effectiveness of farming, as well as the living conditions on the new farms.

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

The on-going Masvingo study research is conducted by Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge,

Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene.





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Comparing communal areas and new resettlements in Zimbabwe III: land and agriculture

Last week we saw that there are definitely ‘new people’ (with a different demographic, educational and gender profile) on the land, but how have they fared?

First we should ask: have people got more land than they had before? This is an easy one to answer: yes. In the A1 villagised sites land allocations are about double what is found in the nearby communal areas, with the exception of Chikombedzi where the communal area land holdings are marginal higher. The communal area land holdings range from 1.5ha in Gutu to 8.8ha in Chikobmedzi, while the resettlement land holdings range from 3.7ha in Gutu to 7.4ha in the Chikombedzi area.

But more crucially than the land holding, it’s important to ask if a greater land area is being cultivated. The answer is again, yes. Heading north to south, wetter to drier, the A1 villagised sites had the following hectareages cultivated in 2011-12 per household: 2.5ha (Gutu), 3.6ha (Masvingo), 4.3ha (Chiredzi) and 6.2ha (Mwenezi). The comparable hectareages in the communal areas were 1.0, 2.1, 3.2, and 7.4ha, with only the Mwenezi site showing a different pattern, reflecting their pattern of residence (see last week’s blog).

However crop output levels in 2010 and 2011 (the two seasons for which we have the comparator data) were not impressive anywhere, except for a few cases. Average maize production across all the resettlements was barely over a tonne, and in the communal areas it was 555kg in 2010 and 935kg in 2011. And these figures were affected dramatically by a couple of farmers producing a lot. Of course it was a drought year, and there was production from other crops – notably small grains (sorghum and millets) in the drier areas, but production was nothing to shout about (although fortunately things have improved in more recent years).

In terms of overall patterns of food security, we found that in 2010 and 2011, 35% and 24% of households across all resettlement households produced more than a tonne of maize, while in the communal areas the figures were only 16% and 10%. The communal area figures were in turn boosted by the relative success of the Ngundu farmers, where 36% and 20% of households produced more than a tonne of maize. Again, in these years the figures show that up to 90% of households require other sources of food during the year, beyond home produced maize. This is lower in the resettlement areas, but this still means two-thirds to three-quarters of households had food deficits. Compared to the situation in latter part of the 2000s, when there were a string of good harvests, the situation was worse, across all areas in these two seasons.

However, by comparison to the communal areas, the resettlement farmers were better off. In 2010, for example, across the A1 sites, one third of all farmers sold some maize. In the A1 self-contained sites, 28% of farmers sold over a tonne, and 45% something; even in this poor season. It is this group of farmers who produce surpluses and sell regularly that we highlighted in our book in class terms as ‘middle farmers’ who were ‘accumulating from below’. By contrast, in the communal areas, the maize sales levels were paltry, averaging 125kg and 277kg in 2010 and 2011. Across all sites only 14% sold any maize in 2010, and 6% in 2011 – and these figures were boosted by the group of Ngundu farmers who sell regularly (although many no longer as they have been displaced by the flooding of the Tokwe Mukorsi dam). In 2010 there were five individuals who sold more than a tonne (4% of communal area farmers in the sample), three of whom were from Ngundu, while in 2011, there was only one farmer from Ngundu (less than one percent of all communal area farmers)

The crop mixes in all sites are similar, and much the same across the A1/informal resettlement areas and communal areas, with the exception of specialisation in cotton in Uswaushava in the Chiredzi area. In addition to maize, sorghum, pearl and finger millet, cotton, groundnuts and sunflowers are grown. In lowveld areas it is the growing of sorghum that dominates food production, so in both cases maize outputs as an indicator of food security is of course insufficient.

Also, in addition to the main fields people also have gardens. Over the last couple of decades, outside the lowveld where land remains abundant, farming in the densely populated areas means there has been a shift to home fields and gardens away from the outfield production of the past. This allows some level of intensification (including the use of conservation agriculture techniques on these small patches), and a concentration of farming activity around homesteads in home fields, where fertility inputs and labour are concentrated. This is reflected in the comparative data we collected.

In the communal area sites 57% of households have a garden at the homestead, and 40% have a garden elsewhere. In the A1 resettlement sites, the figures are 25% and 40%. Gardens have become popular in the resettlements, but usually are located by the rivers away from the homes, focused on vegetables. By contrast, in the communal areas, the home field may have become the main source of production of core crops, while gardens by rivers are left for vegetable production.

In terms of indicators of intensification, nearly half communal area households have invested in soil conservation measures, while less than a quarter have in the resettlement areas. This reflects the level of extension effort in the past decade, as many communal area structures were built earlier. But according to our data, resettlement farmers have been planting trees (usually fruit trees) in their new homesteads at a greater rate than their communal area counterparts, reflecting a process of home establishment in the new farms.

Across all sites inorganic fertiliser application remains relatively low. In the 2010-11 season around two-thirds of households in both communal and resettlement sites applied fertiliser in the Gutu areas, but this declined to nearly zero in the very dry sites of Mwenezi. This is to be expected, and makes good agronomic sense. In other areas between 50% and 75% of households applied fertilisers, but often with very low application rates. Overall a greater percentage of households in the resettlement sites applied fertiliser, but the difference was not pronounced.

So overall, the settlers have larger areas, apply (marginally) more fertiliser, produce more output and sell more. They have a similar crop mix to their counterparts in the communal areas, but have overall better food security from own farm production. Their improved output though is generated by extensification rather than any major intensification, and conservation measures to protect the land are often lacking. Gardening is important in both sites, but in the communal lands it is often a response to land shortage, with a more intensified production in a home field, while in the both areas vegetable gardens are important away from the home.

In the communal lands there are only a vanishingly few individuals who are producing regular surpluses and selling these. By contrast in the resettlement areas, despite the poor seasons, there are relatively more. A core group of around 30% of households is producing and selling, with the same group having sufficient grain to feed a family for a full year. The relative proportions in each of these categories changes between the seasons, but it is this group of middle farmer ‘accumulators’ in the resettlement areas who we identified in our book from data from the 2000s that is central to the contrast.

This group continues to drive a wider set of economic relations – including employment, input supply, marketing, transport and so on – which the odd individual cannot. While this group was clearly finding the going tough in 2010 and 2011 because of poor rainfall and depressed crop yields, they were still there, associated with the same ‘success groups’ we identified in the mid 2000s. They are still not getting support – whether extension, credit, or wider infrastructural development – but they are still continuing to capitalise on the opportunities created by land reform.

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

The on-going Masvingo study research is conducted by Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge,

Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene.




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Comparing communal areas and new resettlements in Zimbabwe II: People and places

The communal areas are crowded places. The population density in Chivi district was for example 46 people per km squared in 2012. In a dryland environment (average rainfall in Chivi is about 550mm), land areas are not sufficient for extensive cropping and grazing areas are limited. Given their histories as ‘labour reserves’ – sources of labour for the mines and farms of the Rhodesian settler economy and dumping grounds for the retired, unemployed or inform – it is not surprising that their productive potential is limited. This is why before and since Independence the argument for land reform has been strong.

Some argue that the communal areas can be transformed, by investing in new technologies (conservation agriculture is the latest donor driven craze) or reforming property rights giving people private title (a solution which is of course much disputed) or creating alternative income opportunities in ‘growth points’ or nearby towns (again a set of interventions that has been tried many times). It is not that transformations of the communal areas should not be attempted; they should, as over 1.1 million households, most of the rural population, live there. But if a wider dynamic of rural economic growth is to occur, people need the land on which to do it.

The resettlement process in the 2000s was of course not the same as that which occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, people moved to resettlement areas often far from their homes, either through the government programme or spontaneously. This meant the links between old and new homes were severed, and on the formal schemes strict rules were applied as part of the permit conditions. In the 2000s, the A1 sites were invaded, occupied by villagers, people from towns and supported by war veterans. They came very often from nearby communal areas; sometimes people invaded the neighbouring farm, as in the case of our Serima CA site and Lonely A resettlement site.

In all cases connections could be maintained. In the years after land invasions, new settlers frequently maintained homes and fields in nearby communal areas, particularly in those sites where uncertainty over tenure prevailed, as offer letters had not been issued. In most cases, they were just keeping a home or field as insurance, and not making much use of it themselves. In 2011 around a quarter of A1 households maintained another home, and 4% and 9% kept a field. Only in Masvingo district resettlements were practically no homes and fields being held on to. For communal area households, there were no households having a home or a field elsewhere in the Masvingo and Chiredzi sites and only 3% in Gutu had a field elsewhere. By contrast in our Chikombedzi site in Mwenezi, 27% of the communal area sample had a satellite home in the nearby resettlement farms.

Even if homes and fields were not being kept, there were still plenty of other connections being maintained: through churches, social events, burials, transfers of food, sharing of equipment and animals, and movement of relatives as workers, for example. These are often tightly linked communities, as new resettlements often have substantial numbers of people from single villages, who joined invasions together. Of course over the decade since settlement some of the links have been formed. New churches have been formed, people are being buried in their new homes, and so on, but social and economic lives remain connected.

What about movements from our communal area sites to the new resettlements? Did ‘decongestion’ occur? From our comparator sites linked to our Gutu, Masvingo, Chiredzi and Mwenezi sites, there were 20%, 13%, 17% and 18% of households who had some household member move to a new resettlement site. These were usually younger men, looking to establish a new home. By definition, of course, the surveyed household remained.

There was a considerable movement of people. Indeed, government stats shows that across four districts in Masvingo province, a total of 32,500 households were established in A1 sites as part of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme, and many estimate that there was an additional 6000 involved in ‘informal’ settlement (some now regularised). Assuming that 60% came from communal areas, this represents about 12% of the communal area households in these districts as counted in the 2012 census.

Those who went to the resettlements tended to be younger and better educated than their counterparts in the communal areas. According to our surveys, the communal area household heads were on average 5-7 years older; in their mid 50s, rather than in their 40s (compared to being in their 30s a decade earlier during land occupation). While there is of course a distribution in both sites, the overall demographic pattern is different. This means that those in the communal areas have older children, have more likely worked off the farm, and have therefore access to other income sources. The educational level of the ‘household heads’ reflects the period of their youth. Those in the resettlements who are now in their 40s benefited from the post Independence education provision, and the biggest group is Form 4 (O level) graduates, while the biggest group for those older individuals in the communal areas is Grade 7 (basic primary).

However, while formal school education levels are higher in the resettlements, agricultural qualifications are not. In the A1 villagised sites, only 9% of household heads have the Master Farmer qualifications, while it is 27% in the communal areas. This reflects experiences of the past decade, when extension services collapsed. When people arrived in the new resettlements, they did not get the support, while those in the communal areas who were older probably got trained in the 1990s.

These age demographic differences are reflected in household sizes and composition. The average size of households in the A1 resettlements is larger, around 6.5 people, compared to 4.85 in the communal areas. This reflects the ageing of households in the communal areas, with fewer children at the parental homes, and greater deaths of older adults. Thus there are only 16% of households whose household head was more than 61 in the A1 villagised resettlement areas, while across the communal area sites it ranged from 37% (Chiredzi) to 56% (Chikombedzi). The generation of adults living in the communal areas was also more vulnerable to the impacts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with many mortalities occurring in that age cohort. With the decline of transmission we can speculate that this affected those who moved to resettlements less (although certainly the epidemic has not spared them either).

Another factor that explains the larger household sizes in the resettlement areas, is what Bill Kinsey and colleagues termed the ‘magnet effect’. Successful households in resettlement areas attract others, particularly relatives from poorer settings in the communal areas. They can gain food, some work and housing with relatives in the resettlements. Alongside these movements are of course workers who come and stay permanently and temporarily to work on the new farms. In our 2007-08 surveys, we found that household sizes had increased by on average 2.8 people, up from 4.2 on settlement in 2000-01. This pattern continues as family size increases through births, and other relatives come and stay.

What about the gender composition of households? The proportion of female headed households averaged 14% across the A1 sites in 2012, the same as when we surveyed in 2007. By contrast 37% of household heads in the communal area sites were identified as women. Of course the definition of household head is notoriously difficult, but we have tried to be consistent, including absent males if they are still regarded as ‘heads’. In such situations – and indeed when the husband is present – women take on many management and organising roles in the household, and so the term ‘head’ is often a misnomer. Be that as it may, we therefore only defined female household heads when the male was completely absent (through death, divorce etc.), and when a woman was the sole manager of the farm and home. The high proportion of such ‘female headed households’ in the communal areas is well known, but this figure is surprisingly high, reflecting an ageing, disease-susceptible population, which has suffered the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

So are resettlement households different? Well, there is much variation of course, but some generalisations hold. A1 resettlement households are (on average) younger, with more children at home, with adults better educated in school, but less in professional farming qualifications, and with more male resident household heads. These are not the classic ‘reserves’ – retirement places, or places where people grow up to get out for work. Instead, these are places where people have chosen to go at the prime of their working life, when they are younger, healthy and where they want their children to grow up. Partly this is of course because there are few other choices. There is no land in the communal areas to grow food and no jobs elsewhere, but it is partly out of choice.

Next week, I will look at how they are faring in terms of crop production on their new land compared to their communal area counterparts.

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

The on-going Masvingo study research is conducted by Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge,

Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene.





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Comparing communal areas and new resettlements in Zimbabwe I: An introduction to a short blog series

One of the things people have asked us about our research on land reform in Zimbabwe is: are people better off in the new resettlements, compared to the communal areas? We made the case in the book by comparing our results with published data from nearby communal and resettlement areas, and argued that indeed the new settlers were better off: producing more, accumulating more assets, and investing.

But to probe this question in more depth, in 2012 Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene and I decided to undertake a survey in some nearby communal areas in parallel with the resurvey of the land reform sites. Exactly the same questions were asked of 120 households evenly spread over four sites, each of which were near the A1 sites we had been studying since 2000-01. With one exception, these were sites we had done surveys in during 2006, as part of a study of livestock production in the province, and we used the same sample. This was drawn to represent a range of households, with cattle ownership used as the main indicator. A ‘success group’ ranking confirmed an even spread of households in each of the 3 ‘success groups’. Although necessarily a small sample (due to budget and logistics), we believe it is broadly representative of the communal area settings.

The sites were in Serima (near our Gutu sites, in fact adjacent to Lonely A farm), Gutu South (close to our Masvingo district sites in Wondedzo), in Ngundu south (along the road from our Chiredzi sites at Uswaushava) and in Chikombedzi area (near our Mwenezi sites in Edenvale). The Ngundu site in southern Chivi is probably the least comparable to its paired resettlement site, as it benefits from a particular micro-environment, and regularly has better crops than the more dryland site along the Chiredzi road. But overall, the sites have many similarities in terms of basic agroecology, proximity to markets and so on.

The question was whether, a decade after people had moved – often from these very places – to the new resettlements whether they were doing better, worse or much the same. This is an important question for a number of reasons. Clearly critics of land reform argue that new, backward, hopeless communal area settings are being recreated in the new resettlements and that things are no better, perhaps worse. Some instead argue that the communal areas are not so bad after all, and investments should have been focused there, leaving the new land for more commercial, larger-scale endeavours – or indeed keeping the status quo. Others argue that there is a new dynamic emerging in the new resettlements, especially the A1 areas where access to land has provided the opportunity for people to move beyond ‘subsistence’ and move towards ‘market-oriented’ growth. Some thought that land reform offered the chance to ‘decongest’ the communal areas, and allowing those left behind further opportunities, moving the communal areas from ‘reserves’ to productive areas as land became available. Still others argue that we need to understand the relationships between communal areas and old and new resettlements, both A1 and A2 in an area if the real economic benefits of land reform are to be realised.

All of these debates are relevant as discussions unfold about how to support agriculture and rural development after land reform. For example, major investments by donors – including for example the UK’s Department for International Development in partnership with FAO and others – have premised their programme’s design on assumptions about agrarian structure, patterns of accumulation, and the opportunities for investment and growth between different types of farmers and different areas. So solid data on what is going on where and what the potentials are really does matter.

In the 1990s, Bill Kinsey and colleagues did systematic studies between the now ‘old resettlements’ and communal areas, and found that those given resettlement lands fared significantly better on most criteria, although there were some interesting contrasts too.

So, what is the story for the 2000s resettlements in Masvingo province? As ever, the story is complex.

There are clear limitations with our survey (sample size, comparability, lack of counterfactual of no exits to resettlements and so on), but we believe there is some interesting evidence that emerges. In our analysis we concentrated on the comparison between the communal area sites and the A1 villagised/’informal’ sites in our larger sample. These seemed to be the most relevant groups to compare, as 62% of new settlers in our sample in these sites came from nearby communal areas. This was less in the A2 and A1 self-contained sites which had 12% and 39% respectively.

In the next few weeks on this blog, I will present some of the headline results under some different headings: people and places, focusing on demography, household composition and movements; land and cropping, focusing on land sizes and crop production; asset accumulation, focusing on asset ownership and investment, including of livestock; and off-farm income and diversification, focusing on the range of other income activities people are engaged in, including reliance on remittances.

We are writing this up more formally as a journal article, but in the meantime we thought blog readers would like a taste of the results. So please do check in each Monday for the next month for an update.

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

The on-going Masvingo study research is conducted by Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge,

Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene.




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Land administration challenges after land reform: evidence from Masvingo

After a few weeks of commentary on wider issues relating to land and agriculture, this week I return to a focus on our field data, and the lessons this tells us for pressing policy issues in Zimbabwe. In this blog, the focus is on the implications of the complex outcomes of land reform for land administration.

As readers of this blog will know, we have been tracking 400 farms since the early 2000s across Masvingo province. One of the things we have been looking at is how plots change hands over time. This is important for a number of reasons. From this data we can examine the institutional mechanisms that have evolved for land transfer; we can look at patterns of land inheritance and the gender dynamics involved; we can identify emerging informal markets in land; we can identify the role of different authority structures in land allocation; and we can assess the level of turnover and the reasons for plot ownership transfer in the new resettlements.

All of these issues are important in thinking about new land administration and management systems in the new resettlements. With the land reform, such issues were not high on the policy agenda; the imperative was to distribute land and not think too hard about its longer term administration. But 14 years on, these issues are now significant, and ones that need to be addressed, as land administration systems are established. Understanding the existing situation and building on it makes much sense, but also future policies may wish to address anomalies and inequities that have arisen.

So in 2012, we looked at all households across the 16 sites (N=389), including in A2, A1 self-contained and A1 villagised (the former ‘informal’ sites have since been formalised as villagised A1 schemes), and compared the household listing made in advance of our mid-2000s surveys and the list pertaining in 2012. The period then relates to the time from establishment and ‘formalisation’ of ‘fast-track’ areas, including the issuing of ‘offer letters’, and 2012. This does not include the initial year or two of turmoil following land invasions when there was quite a bit of movement into and out of sites, as we described in our book (pp. 72-6). In this most recent survey, we asked about the reasons for the change in plot holder, what happened to the original holder, what relationships the new holders had to the previous one, the gender of the new plot holder, whether the new ownership arrangement had been confirmed in an ‘offer letter’, and the mechanism through which the new holder had got the land.

Overall, 19% of plots had changed hands over this period, with A2 sites seeing the highest change (29% of plots), followed by A1 self-contained (22%) and A1 villagised (15%). Across all sites, 57% of these changes were due to the death of the original owner. Exits for other reasons were 30% of transfer cases in the A1 sites and 75% in the A2 sites. In one A2 farm there was a particularly dramatic level of turnover, with a series of politically-motivated evictions occurring around the time of the 2008 elections. Overall though only 8% of all plots in the sample had changed hands during this period for reasons other than death (5% in A1 sites and 22% in A2 sites).

In nearly a decade this level of turnover is quite small, including when compared to previous resettlement experience. In 1983, for example, Bill Kinsey commented on the implementation problems of early post-independence resettlement, with many new settlers abandoning their plots due to inadequate planning and support. By the mid-1980s resettlement area populations had settled down and began attracting people, both kin and labourers, and there was a significant growth in household sizes. But after a long period of relative stability, old resettlement areas studied by Kinsey and colleagues have seen a significant out-migration in the period of economic collapse in the 2000s. In this period, people sought alternative options when agriculture became increasingly challenging, with shortages of inputs and absence of cash markets during hyperinflation, and household sizes shrank. This has included movement to new resettlement areas under the fast-track programme, often together with assets such as cattle which showed significant declines in the old resettlement areas.

In our ‘fast track’ land reform sites in Masvingo, death of the original plot holder (in all cases men) was the primary reason for change in ownership in 57% of all cases. In the A1 self-contained sites, death was the reason for 78% of changes, while in A1 villagised sites it was 68% and A2 it was 25%. Of the others, 28% left for other rural areas, mostly to original rural homes, although a few got new, better land in the resettlements. The remainder left for town (8%) or were evicted (7% – the A2 cases noted above).

Overall 31% of plots were taken over by women, very often the wife of a deceased husband. This varied between 44% (A1 villagised) and 17% (A2). There has therefore been an increase in women plot holders in the A1 sites. Yet few of these have been recognised in changes in ‘offer letters’, with only 23% of new holders being named in a new land occupancy registration document. Overall, 63% of all new plot holders were relatives, with 41% being immediate relatives (wife, son or daughter of the former plot holder). The remaining 37% of transfers were to people with no kin relation to the former owner.

49% of transfers were described as through inheritance, mostly to close kin (wife or children). A further 12% were passed to other relatives as ‘gifts’. 2% of transfers to relatives were mediated through a church or via the chief. There were a couple of cases in an A2 site where ‘purchase’ was identified, although no others admitted to money changing hands. However for some of those identified as ‘gifts’ of land, there were exchanges made for the infrastructure developed, with between one and four cattle being paid for such improvements. The remaining 34% of transfers were through other routes – 19% via the District Land Committee and 15% through Committees of Seven. However these patterns varied across sites with ‘inheritance’ dominating in the A1 sites (59%), while it was only the mechanism in 25% of cases in the A2 sites. Here the formal District Land Committee process was the most important at 58% of all cases. The local site based Committee of Seven was important in 29% of A1 villagised cases, but much less so in other sites.

So what are the implications of these data?

  • Turnover in plot holding arrangements has been surprisingly low in the A1 areas in particular. This indicates a strong commitment to the new land, with only about 15% of all transfers involving people leaving for their former rural homes, and even fewer back to jobs in town. When a plot holder’s death occurs, transfers are usually to close relatives.
  • The A2 sites show a different pattern, with higher turnover. There was a pattern of evictions (in one site, due to politically-motivated grabs), and in others death followed by kin-based inheritance was not the dominant pattern. Instead there were reallocations by the District Land Committee on vacation of the plot.
  • The possibilities of effective transfer of underutilised land to new settlers seems more possible in A2 areas, where some indications of incipient ‘vernacular’ land markets are evident (probably underreporting of this due to illegality). By contrast in A1 areas transfers tend to be within families, and the opportunities for government to reallocate are relatively smaller.
  • Despite the fact that District Land Committees are supposed to have control over land and oversee transfers, this is less important in A1 areas, where ‘traditional’ inheritance (or ‘gifting’) arrangements generally apply on the death of plot holder.
  • The ‘offer letter’ system of land registration is not keeping up with land transfers, partly because so many are outside the formal system. Women are gaining land through inheritance on the death of male plot holders, and through transfers to daughters and aunts (relatively few). However women’s new ownership arrangements are largely not recognised in changes in ‘offer letters’, raising questions about the security of such tenure.
  • The Committees of Seven, established soon after land invasions for local management of new resettlements, seem to be on the wane, particularly outside the A1 villagised areas where they seem to hold some land administration function for transfers outside kin-based arrangements.
  • Chiefs, churches and other institutions for land administration seem to have a limited role, although ‘traditional’ leadership (sabhukus etc.) are often part of Committees of Seven in many sites, so there is an overlap in both people and roles.
  • Outside the one A2 case where evictions occurred, conflicts over land transfer were very rare, and in most sites none were reported. This is surprising given the intensity of competition over land. We can expect such conflicts to increase over time, however.
  • Across all land transfers identified no subdivisions of plots were recorded, and all were recorded as being handed over in full. This again is surprising given growing land competition and the need to inherit land by the next generation. However subdivisions are occurring in land still held by the original holder who is still present. Sons are allocated portions of a field and have their new homes within or nearby the original home compound. As described for the earlier phase of resettlement, such ‘vertically extended’ household arrangements are becoming increasingly common as a form of de facto subdivision.

Overall, as the Government of Zimbabwe attempts to define a new land administration system in line with the Constitution, these findings are clearly pertinent. There is a need for more effective registration of land and ownership, and also a need for a mechanism to keep this up to date. Ensuring registration of women as plot holders is essential. To encourage turnover and the making use of underutilised land is key, especially in A2 areas, transfers can potentially be facilitated through introducing some form of land market, assisted by land taxation; although again close monitoring and transparent registration (perhaps through leases) will be vital, especially to avoid the sort of evictions seen in one site.

Subdivision is always a controversial issue, as the thorny question of what is a ‘viable’ farm is raised. However this varies considerably and as demand for land continues to increase, there are potential subdivision options within sites, and indeed between them, including moving A2 farms to smaller A1 self-contained arrangements. In our sites, as witnessed by the lack of subdivision on transfer, and the limited amount of conflict (outside the particular site that was subjected to external grabbing), this may be a next-generation challenge, but clearly something that must be responded to.

As Marleen Dekker and Bill Kinsey argue in relation to the first round of resettlement, the direct benefits of land reform are significant in the first generation, but as things unfold, there are new challenges requiring different forms of responsive innovation. They note patterns we are already seeing in our sites, including the growth of household size through attracting labour, for example, as well as the de facto subdivision through ‘vertical extension’. These result in new land uses associated with new demographic patterns and changing social relations.

Trying to plan everything and imposing a narrow ‘straitjacket’ of rules and regulations only undermines potentials, they argue. There are, as Thomas Sikor and Daniel Muller note, serious limits to top-down state driven land reform. While new systems for land administration in Zimbabwe are clearly needed, they must be flexible, responsive and adaptable to new circumstances.

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

This work has been carried out together with the Masvingo field team: BZ Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene





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Millions at risk of food insecurity in Zimbabwe? Or not? How the dire predictions were confounded by a good harvest

Last September I critiqued the assumptions behind the prediction that 2.2 million people would be needing food aid. In order to raise funds and galvanise attention, international agencies, local lobby groups and the media were using an extreme worst case scenario figure, based on a variety of assumptions, many of them highly questionable.

As it turned out, the rains arrived and a good season has followed (with some exceptions of course). In the section below, I offer some extracts from the most recent USAID-funded FEWSNET update on the food security situation in Zimbabwe. Good rains have boosted production and the current food security projections to September are largely very positive.

It is amazing what a change in the weather can do. But it also adds to my earlier plea to be cautious about headline figures and assumptions in forward projections. There is no harm in being cautious – this must be the sensible stance – but overblown figures and dramatic proclamations that serve particular interests should be guarded against.

Unlike the portrayals of imminent doom, the relatively good news about a reasonable harvest does not hit the headlines, or raise aid money, and the bad news stories from Zimbabwe persist. So for a change, and in case you are not regular readers of FEWSNET bulletins, I thought you would like an update on a good harvest and a reasonably positive food security situation

Here is a summary edited from from the May update:

The majority of very poor households across the country including the traditionally food insecure southwestern districts, will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes between May and June owing to the projected above average 2013/14 harvest. Similar outcomes will continue from July through September as most households will still be consuming cereals from own production.

Markets will continue functioning but most of the cereal supplies are likely to be locally procured with a few imports by private traders. As households begin to access cereal from their own production there have been significant reductions in monthly maize grain price trends. Since March, national maize grain prices have dropped by 11 percent, but in comparison to national averages during the same period last year the prices are still 16 percent higher. For maize meal the national average stands at $0.66 and has decreased by 2 percent in comparison to the same time the previous month, but remains 4 percent higher than the national average for same time last year. Month-on-month maize grain prices fell by 26 and 16 percent in Manicaland and Masvingo Provinces, respectively.

Casual labor opportunities are projected to increase by up to 20 percent throughout the outlook period as a result of ongoing harvesting activities. Additional incomes, particularly in the northern areas, will be earned through tobacco preparation, sales and casual labor for poor households. However given cash constraints, most casual labor will likely be paid by in-kind.

The first round results of the Ministry’s crop and livestock assessment indicate that there are increased chances of an above average harvest, especially for maize, millet, and sorghum. This assumption is based on an estimated 16 percent increase in cropped area for cereals this season in comparison to the 2012/13 season. Maize alone this season accounts for approximately 1.6 million hectares, which is an 18 percent increase from the previous season. This increase in area planted for cereals is due to fairly well distributed rainfall patterns this season.

Ongoing tobacco curing and sales are boosting household income, particularly in the northern areas, where production levels are projected to have significantly increased. Based on the first round assessment, this year’s production levels has surpassed the 2012-13 season by about 21 percent. At the household level, higher than average tobacco production will increase farmer income levels and opportunities for casual labor opportunities (i.e. curing, processing, transportation) for poor households. Households benefiting from this labor will therefore receive additional income for food purchases and other livelihood needs.

Cotton production this season is 16 percent below last year’s levels. The processing of cotton is ongoing in cotton growing areas but incomes are likely to remain low. The reduction in the area under cotton is due to marketing price uncertainty given the low marketing prices offered during the previous season.

The increase in the availability of water due to the good rainfall this season will increase gardening activities from May through September. Vegetable production will provide both food and cash to very poor households.

Livestock body conditions in areas including Matebeleland South and Masvingo Provinces have significantly improved and are in good shape. Despite the improved pasture and water access for cattle, the calving rate included in the recent first round crop and livestock assessment report remains low at 49 percent, and only 2 percent higher than last season.


The FEWSNET report provides the assumptions it uses in this analysis, along with some useful graphics. The second assessment report is due shortly and this will update the situation. Certainly the tobacco harvest looks promising, and reports from many parts of the country shows grain production is good.

So, thankfully 2.2 million people in Zimbabwe didn’t need food relief assistance, and the agricultural production has prospered in a good season. This however should be no reason for complacency. Droughts strike hard in a system where irrigation is not widespread, and improving resilience to such shocks must be a key part of future investments.

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

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Sustainable intensification: a new buzzword to feed the world?

The term ‘sustainable intensification(SI) has entered academic and policy discourse in recent years, including in debates about what to do about agriculture in Zimbabwe. I have been intrigued for some while to find out what it actually means. Is this yet another contradictory hyphenation of two words for political ends, or does it have some substance? Who is driving this debate, and what does it mean for Africa?

A flurry of publications have been produced in the past year or two that use the term, and they provide a good route to finding out a bit more. A high profile article in Science from 2013 offered a definition of SI: “to increase food production from existing farmland in ways that place far less pressure on the environment and that do not undermine our capacity to continue producing food in the future”. The major Montpellier Panel report offer a similar one, defining SI as “producing more outputs with more efficient use of all inputs on a durable basis, while reducing environmental damage and building resilience, natural capital and the flow of environmental services”. Other similar formulations appear in a recent Royal Society collection of papers. No one could disagree with these it seems. Is SI then just what we used to call sustainable agriculture, or is there something more to it?

To answer this, we have to probe a bit further and ask what analytical frameworks underpin the concept and its definition, and what policy narratives flow from it? The Science article, and the Oxford Martin School report which preceded it, situate the challenge in terms of the familiar argument about resource scarcity – of land, water, and resources – in relation to a growing population of 9 billion needing to be fed. This justifies a ‘crisis narrative’ argument that pushes towards a productivist response: more food is needed on less land with less water, requiring new technologies to deliver it.

The challenge is often couched in the well-used metaphor of the ‘perfect storm’, memorably used by the former Chief Scientist in the UK to argue for a global response to impending food shortages, in the build up to the oft-cited 2011 UK Foresight report. In recent years a new version of this narrative, with a new word, has emerged. This is now portrayed as the challenge of ‘the nexus’, where multiple resource constraints come together requiring a particular style of (usually) technical, top-down response.

While no one would argue against improving resource use efficiency and boosting production in sustainable ways, it is the link between this technical challenge and the wider framing of the problem and solution where issues arise. These have been outlined in a recent paper on land issues that I co-authored, but the same arguments could be applied to other resources, and the challenges of agriculture in Africa more generally.

  •  First, we must be careful when proclaiming generic resource scarcity as the driving force for action. My scarcity may be someone else’s surplus: scarcities are always relative, and resource access and distribution is a crucial issue that is not addressed by this narrative.
  •  Second, because scarcities are constructed in policy arenas, there is a political dimension that must be acknowledged. So-called ‘global’ scarcities are very often the consequence of high unequal power relations, skewed consumption patterns and poor resource governance.
  •  Third, a solely technical response through increasing production or efficiency in ways that conserve the environment – often laden with yet more jargon such as ‘climate-smart agriculture’ or ‘conservation agriculture’ – ignores the social and political choices around technology and its direction. A crisis narrative that forces a particular trajectory may restrict debate about alternative choices, and debates about pros, cons, risks and rewards. A good case in point is the promotion of GM crops by certain large corporations in terms of ‘sustainable intensification’ (see last week’s blog).

The advocates of SI are quick to point out that their approach does not promote any particular technology over another. Various declarations reiterate this, and a recent Royal Society publication offers a huge array of different technological solutions under the SI banner. The Montpellier Panel, a group of well-known agriculture experts, are even more explicit. They point out the potential for capture of the term and its politicisation:

“the term “Sustainable Intensification” –– has come to take on a highly charged and politicised meaning, becoming synonymous with big, industrial agriculture. As we strive to feed a population expected to reach nine billion by 2050 sustainably, the risk is that we may lose sight of the term’s scientific value and its potential relevance to all types of agricultural systems, including for smallholder farmers in Africa”

Equally, the Oxford report argues for the need to “deepen and extend understanding of systems interactions”, to “consider and define what specific goals societies wish agricultural production to achieve” and to “develop metrics that will enable societies to measure progress in achieving them”. All good stuff, resonant with long running debates about sustainable agriculture, and discussions on the politics and direction of innovation outlined in the STEPS New Manifesto on innovation, sustainability and development.

Yet in all this warm-sounding rhetoric there is an absence of social and political analysis that undermines the approach. In the late 1980s I joined the recently formed ‘Sustainable Agriculture Group’ at the International Institute of Environment and Development, together with Gordon Conway and Jules Pretty. Our approach to agricultural sustainability was in many ways strikingly similar to the current debate about SI. But with one important difference: people and their livelihoods were central. Our work evolved in concert with debates about ‘sustainable livelihoods’ and participatory approaches to development, and had as a result a very different flavour.

Looking at the long lists of authors of papers and reports on SI there are, beyond a scattering of economists, vanishingly few social scientists involved. This is telling, and reflective of the sometimes naïve perspectives portrayed, about the political and social contexts of these debates. Frequently, a techno-economic determinism dominates, driven of course by a passion and commitment to addressing major challenges, but without the necessary social and policy analysis to make it happen, and avoid it being captured.

Take the diagrammatic representations of the approach by the Montpellier Panel. Here ‘farmers’ and ‘communities’ are put at the centre, but all the action happens around them, seemingly disconnected. Agrodealers represent the market, but the process of sustainable intensification seems to be driven by a technical process. It is all well and good arguing that societal goals are defined, as the Oxford report does, but how can this happen, through what political process? In the terms of the New Manifesto, how are innovation directions set, how are the diversity of options defined, and how are the costs and benefits distributed? These are issues that seem not to be on the table, or at least not in ways that are central.

If SI is to have any meaning beyond a seemingly uncontroversial, hyphenated buzzword, then these are the questions that must be put centre stage. For SI to be anything more than a rather odd collection of technical solutions, then questions of socio-technical choice and direction must be put at the forefront. This means having a political debate, and bringing in people more centrally, something that may jar with the rather bland techno-economic prescriptions offered to date.

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



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