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Land tenure dilemmas in Zimbabwe

A key question for policymakers today is what tenure system makes sense for the new configuration of land, livelihoods and production after land reform? What tenure and land administration arrangements will assure tenure security, encourage investment and boost production?

Unfortunately, much of the debate on this issue starts from ideological assumptions about what is claimed to be the ideal tenure type, rather than the basic principles which should guide the choice of administrative and legal arrangement for ensuring tenure security. Instead it’s better to start from defining key principles and move towards a pragmatic assessment of options and trade-offs.

This blog lays out the argument for a multiform tenure approach for Zimbabwe. This is not a new argument at all. Professor Mandi Rukuni and the Presidential Land Tenure Commission of 1994 presented a similar case. Five years ago I prepared a briefing note on land tenure dilemmas in response to the on-going confusion on this topic, drawing on discussions with Sam Moyo, Prosper Matondi and others. I have linked to this in previous blogs. This blog presents a version of it again, as the debate on land tenure continues today with a similar lack of clarity.

Seven key principles

What should be the key features of a new tenure regime? Here are seven principles, drawn from the wider international discussion on the topic:

Democratic accountability to allow for state intervention to shift the configuration of tenure in line with national economic and development goals, in the face of dynamic change in technology or economic conditions and when market mechanisms are insufficient (for example, to facilitate a shift to a large-scale freehold system under conditions of full industrialisation and urbanisation in order to assure national food security)

A flexible market in land – including sales, rentals and leases – to allow trading up and down in land size in line with investment and production capacity and skill (although with regulation by the state – see 4 and 5, below).

Facilitation of credit and investment through the provision of land as mortgaged collateral and the provision of bank credit guaranteed against land, combined with other credit guarantee mechanisms (for example, linked to farm equipment, livestock, buildings, urban assets etc.)

Regulation against capture by elites or speculative investors to avoid inefficient and inequitable consolidation of land holdings and land disenfranchisement, especially of the poor and women (for example, the danger of mass sales and rapid speculative land accumulation by local or foreign elites/companies in times of economic hardship, and the reversal of redistributive gains).

Guarantees of women’s access to land, as independent, legally-recognised land holders, with the ability to bequeath, inherit, sell, rent and lease land (for example through requirements for joint recognition of land holdings in leases, permits and titles, as well as administrative mechanisms to ensure equitable treatment of land issues).

A low administrative burden – both in terms of technical complexity and overall cost – of cadastral surveys, land registration and land administration more broadly.

Revenues through survey, title, lease and permit fees and setting incentives to discourage underutilisation through land taxation is an important condition for an effective land tenure regime.

There is broad agreement on the desirability of each of these seven principles, and a wider recognition from international experience of their importance. However, there are more questions about their practicality and feasibility, and the pragmatic trade-offs between each given administrative and technical capacities in land administration.

In Zimbabwe existing legislation allows for a wide range of potential tenure types, ranging from freehold title to regulated leases to permits to communal tenure under ‘traditional’ systems. All have their pros and cons. Any one or combination can offer a guarantee of secure property rights under particular conditions. There is thus no ‘gold standard’ or assumed ‘evolution’ towards an ideal, as is sometimes suggested. Instead, the debate about the appropriate tenure regime must start from principles in context, and draw conclusions about the best way forward from an analysis of the trade-offs between options under the particular circumstances currently pertaining.

For example, policymakers must ask, given the available resources and capacity for land administration, can the appropriate level of tenure security be achieved through lower cost means? Or, given the dangers of rapid land appropriation, what minimal safeguards need to be deployed which do not undermine the capacity of credit and land markets to function? Or, what other legal or financial assurances and coordination mechanisms must be added to ensure that private credit markets function effectively? These are very real dilemmas and are encountered the world over, especially in relatively resource poor settings where capacity is underdeveloped. A debate that is constructed around the false promise of an ideal may actually act to undermine opportunities and stall agricultural growth.

Tenure trade-offs

How do different tenure arrangements perform against these key principles? Table 1 offers a preliminary assessment, based on both Zimbabwean and international experience.

Table 1: Trade-offs in tenure design principles

  Freehold title Regulated leasehold Permit system Communal/traditional tenure
Democratic accountability to state None Yes Yes Limited
Flexible land markets Yes Yes Yes Informal only
Credit and collateral Yes Yes Requires additional instruments for collateral guarantee Requires alternative credit/micro-finance support mechanisms
Regulation against capture No, although potentials for statutory restrictions on sales Yes Yes Limited regulatory reach
Preferential women’s access None Potential lease condition Potential permit condition None: traditional patriarchal biases
Administrative cost Very high High Low None
Revenues and incentives Survey, land registration, title fees/Land tax Lease fees/land tax Permit fee/land tax Limited potentials

 

Depending on the legal and administrative regime or the interpretation and practice of ‘customary’ or ‘traditional’ tenure, for example, there are of course large variations in the reality of different tenure types in practice. But despite such variation there are some common features. Freehold tenure for example is always administratively cumbersome, expensive to implement and reliant on market forces with limited opportunities (assuming the rule of law is adhered to) for state intervention to limit consolidation or shape market incentives. On the other hand, communal, customary or traditional systems have advantages of decentralised operation and low cost, but there are limits on the ability to assure security of tenure through legislative means and a limited regulatory reach of the state.

Of course any tenure regime is only a legal/administrative procedure, and must function in a wider political-social-economic context. The lessons of the past decade show vividly that tenure insecurity does not necessarily derive from the nature of the regime, but from the wider political setting, the capacity to administrate land and the ability to assure a rule of law. When these very basic governance conditions are not in place, then no tenure regime can assure security. Indeed, in 2000 was those with freehold tenure that have been the least secure, and those with communal tenure that have been the most secure.

Ways forward

The new Constitution commits to a reestablishment of transparent administrative procedures, the stamping out of corrupt practices and mechanisms for compensation, all in a secure legal framework. With this essential precondition in place, the discussion on land tenure options can take place more effectively – and in relation to a set of clear principles of the sort outlined earlier.

The big question now, is what makes sense given the current situation, and given available administrative resources and capacity constraints? What tenure regime will help get agriculture moving and investment flowing, and support the new agrarian structure?

With the appropriate regulatory conditions attached as part of revisions of legislation and with a land administration streamlined system developed (neither of which exist to date), the above table suggests that the leasehold and permit systems offer considerable promise for the Zimbabwe situation for the A2 and A1 areas respectively. This would allow for the issuing of leases on surveyed A2 farms (perhaps with varying lengths and conditions to incentivise investment and production) and upgrading ‘offer letters’ in the A1 areas as part of a comprehensive, area-based land registration exercise.

Indeed such solutions reflect international thinking on this issue, where low cost land registration and administration approaches based on leases and permits have been shown to be highly effective in relation to the range of principles identified above. This does not mean that freehold tenure is not an option in some instances, particularly in urban/peri-urban settings. But full freehold does not seem to offer the right combination of features for the present situation for most rural agricultural settings. Such a solution to current tenure dilemmas also does not preclude a reform of communal tenure, perhaps extending versions of the approach developed for the A1 areas to the communal lands over time. As the 1994 Land Tenure Commission argued, hybrid approaches that offer the best of customary, communal tenure arrangements, but with new forms of tenure security offered through legally binding arrangements may be of great importance in such areas.

For now, though, the priority must be the A1 and A2 areas. This represents a substantial area of land, and a considerable number of people/land units, and a core national land asset in need of regularisation. Assuring tenure security in these areas must be the first priority (although the prior step remains addressing the compensation issue of course). This must be driven by a discussion based on clear principles, rather an ideological positioning, and an eye to rapid, effective implementation, rather than inappropriate ‘gold standard’ ideals.

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

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Al Jazeera on Zimbabwe’s land reform

Al Jazeera recently aired a discussion on Zimbabwe’s land reform in their South2North slot. The video is below.

The panel included Professor Sam Moyo, the leading land scholar in Zimbabwe who has worked on these issues extensively over 30 years, and recently edited an important new book; Teresa Smart, one of the co-authors of the now well known book Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land, a popular review of research on the post 2000 land reform period; and Charlene Matonsi, a female ‘commercial farmer’ whose parents had acquired a farm in the 1980s.

Compared to most media coverage of the issue, it was a good discussion, where a range of issues were aired. The questioning was sensible, but probing, and the responses all clear and illuminating. Professor Moyo in particular pointed to some of the political processes and contradictions of the land reform, highlighting the importance of the alliance between what he termed the middle classes and land poor peasants, while equally highlighting that the land reform’s impacts have to be viewed in a larger context, as the end of monopoly settler capitalism, but clearly not a transition to socialism. It was not completely clear why Ms Mathonsi was on the programme, as her farm was not part of the new ‘middle class’ accommodation in A2 farms post 2000, but part of an earlier era of incorporation of black players into capitalist farming. She did however offer an enthusiastic endorsement of farming as a business, and certainly challenged the stereotypes of Zimbabwean ‘commerical farming’.

As I commented before, maybe there is a change in styles and foci of reporting on Zimbabwe at last. Al Jazeera are usually ahead of the curve, with their finger more firmly on the pulse than most.

Do watch the programme here:

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

 

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Transforming Zimbabwe’s agrarian economy: why smallholder farming is important

In a recent article in the Cape Times , prompted by Max du Preez’s review of Joe Hanlon and colleague’s book, Tony Hawkins (professor of economics at UZ) and Sholto Cross (research fellow at UEA) make the case that Zimbabwe’s land reform has been a disaster, and that a smallholder, ‘peasant’ farming is not a route to economic growth.

Beyond the wholly inappropriate ad hominem attack on Hanlon (respectable newspapers should not publish such insults I believe – although they have printed a response), what is their actual argument? The views of a neoliberal economist and a one-time communist should be interesting I thought.

The full-page article starts with a slightly bizarre critique of what has become to be known as ‘peasant studies’, a strand of academic work that has built over the years (it’s the 40th anniversary of the Journal of Peasant Studies this year – and you can read 40 of the ‘classics’ in a free virtual issue – just sign in, it’s quick and easy!) that examines the dynamics of change in agrarian societies. They pinpoint the work of Frank Ellis at UEA and those at Sussex, including myself – but probably more appropriately Michael Lipton – who have advocated a smallholder path to economic development.

But it is a very odd caricature of these positions. There are very few who argue for a permanent condition of subsistence peasantry, somehow preserved in aspic. The point is that as a labour intensive, efficient form of production, small-scale agriculture, given the right support, can be an important driver of economic growth and poverty reduction (inclusive, pro-poor growth to use the current jargon). Diversification out of agriculture is an important dynamic too, as Frank Ellis’ work has shown from across Africa. As Michael Lipton argues in his magisterial book (now thankfully available in paperback), based on a mass evidence and experience, land reform can be an important spur to such a transformation. This is the foundation for the so-called East Asian economic miracles – in Korea, Taiwan, Japan and elsewhere.

This process of change is always dynamic, and takes time. Resettlement success, just as wider economic change resulting from large-scale redistribution, is never immediate, as Bill Kinsey and Hans Binswanger have shown. Restructuring of agricultural production has to be combined with the reconfiguration of supply industries and wider value chains. And following any redistributive land reform, there are inevitable processes of differentiation among agrarian classes. Some end up with larger plots, some smaller, others as labourers. It is the well-known multiplier effects of small-scale agriculture that can create economic opportunities elsewhere, and provide other non-farm livelihood opportunities, and so broader based growth. Migration to urban areas is also important, but maintaining a rural base as part of a wider social security mechanism is also crucial. And, yes, as the economy grows, there is a greater pull towards higher paid, industrial jobs and people leave the countryside over time. In their article, Hawkins and Cross forget this historical experience, and misinterpret the experience of China. Ha-Joon Chang has written a brilliant piece in JPS that is well worth a read if you want to get to grips with the comparative historical lessons – from Europe, Asia, Latin America and beyond.

Such transformations are therefore long-term processes, and always highly context specific. In the developmental states of East Asia (and elsewhere, and earlier in Europe), the state has an important role to play: protecting people and new businesses, and so guiding and nurturing the transition through targeted incentives and subsidies. You cannot expect the existing arrangement to be appropriate to a new scenario, so it’s important to facilitate the change of the wider agro-industrial base. What we are seeing in Zimbabwe is not so much “deindustrialisation” but a fundamental restructuring. Supporting such a transformation is essential, and this requires investment – something starkly absent in Zimbabwe due to a bankrupt government, a lack of private finance and donors refusing engagement due to sanctions.

Hawkins and Cross appear to reject such an agrarian vision for Zimbabwe. A welter of statistics are presented that fail to engage with the now substantial evidence base on Zimbabwe’s rural economy, presenting once again dubious production, employment, displacement and GDP figures to support their argument. Without reviewing the data (in Hanlon et al’s book, as well as ours, Matondi’s, Moyo and Chambati’s and many others), they proclaim that Zimbabwe’s land reform has been a failure, and that only option for economic growth in Zimbabwe is the old model of a large-scale commercial agricultural sector, combined with industrial manufacturing, reclaiming the assumed halcyon days of the 1990s (which of course they were not).

This view is deeply problematic. A focus on the large-scale agricultural sector may produce some growth, although in the globally competitive markets of today it is unlikely to produce much, but will it produce jobs and livelihoods? Jobless growth creates social divisions, inequality and pressure on the state to provide social protection to the economically disenfranchised. Look at the ‘third world’ in Europe and you can see the challenges. Zimbabwe’s own history, from the liberation war to the events of 2000, should show anyone that a return to an economic structure dominated by a few, but excluding the majority is not a politically viable option, even if it made any economic sense (which is very doubtful).

Hawkins and Cross seem blind to the opportunities of the new agrarian structure, rejecting these out of hand. Have they done any field research I wonder (I could not find any – only multiple ‘opinion’ articles from Hawkins)? Research from diverse sources has shown how across the new resettlements there are large numbers of new farmers ‘accumulating from below’ – generating surpluses, investing and accumulating. Not everyone, but enough to generate an economic dynamic that creates investment and employment. This has been done with vanishingly little external support. What more could be done if such support was larger and more effectively directed? Hawkins and Cross begrudgingly acknowledge the successes of some communal farmers in the 1980s, but this time the impact could be much wider, as there are more people involved, and they are geographically spread. In our book we argue for a form of local economic development that capitalises on this new agrarian dynamic, rooted in smallholder farming, but spinning out to new businesses and value chains. The new farmers are creating new local economies – currently small-scale, but with clear opportunities for generating further economic linkages.

Take the tomato farmers in Wondedzo resettlement areas near Masvingo – one of the case studies being documented by the PLAAS project on non-farm economies. Recognising the importance of the local market, they have invested in small-scale irrigation pumps, cleared land near the river areas, and have started to produce vegetables on a large scale. As their businesses have grown, they have employed more people, mostly women from nearby areas, and have worked with suppliers to get their crops to market. This has generated more employment along the value chain, with traders, transporters, retailers, supermarket chains and others becoming involved. Several have bought new one tonne trucks in the last year, to ensure prompt delivery to market. Again, this has brought new economic activity, with drivers, mechanics and others finding work. Input suppliers are attracted to the area, offering seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, piping, pump spare parts and more. And all of this is happening in the new land reform areas – without external support; yes on a small scale, but with significant cumulative impacts.

By area this sort of economic activity generates far more jobs and livelihoods than the large-scale commercial farms ever did. Being economically and socially integrated within rural settings, not set apart as was the case before, the multiplier effects are greater. Sales occur to supermarkets but also to small-scale traders – women who travel by bus to other towns and business centres to sell vegetables, sometimes processing them too to add value and to avoid losses.

But of course an agricultural economy cannot be just small-scale. The new agrarian structure of Zimbabwe is ‘tri-modal’, with a majority being small-scale (in the communal, A1 and old resettlement areas), but there are also medium scale commercial farms (A2) and the large-scale estates. Each can seek out their comparative advantages, and specialise production and marketing appropriately. But the important point is that there are now much greater opportunities for interaction – through contract farming, sharecropping, labour and market exchanges, and so on. This sort of integrated approach across farm scales to agricultural and rural development can have many spin-offs, and appropriately banishes the old dualism – a separation between ‘peasant’ agriculture and ‘modern’ commercial agriculture with its stark racial and economic divides – firmly to the past.

Hawkins and Cross seem to wish that this returns. They argue – on quite what basis it is not clear – that this is the only route to economic recovery for Zimbabwe. Yet they seem to reject the potentials of the dynamic entrepreneurialism and economic multipliers of the new agrarian system. With the potential of substantial state revenues from mining (as yet not fully captured of course), this is a moment when Zimbabwe could and should become southern Africa’s new developmental state, rebalancing the economy, and directing and supporting development in ways that allows for long-term, inclusive, poverty-reducing growth, initially rooted in smallholder production, but always transforming, as the economy rebuilds and restructures. Looking east, may well be the right thing to do, and the lessons from East Asia, as well as now SE Asia, may well provide important lessons.

At this critical moment, in advance of elections, political parties, media commentators, and academics alike need to engage with the realities on the ground, and avoid the posturing, the ideological grandstanding and the bitter, personal attacks and get to grips with the new realities. Harking on about the past, and failing to accept that there have been important successes of Zimbabwe’s land reform means that new thinking does not emerge. Hawkins and Cross need to engage with the facts of the present, not some idealised notion of the past.

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

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Beyond White Settler Capitalism: Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Reform

An important new book – Land and Agrarian Reform in Zimbabwe: Beyond White Settler Capitalism - has just been published by CODESRIA. It is the product of the CODESRIA National Working Group on Zimbabwe, and is edited by Sam Moyo and Walter Chambati of the African Institute of Agrarian Studies. All 372 pages are free to download on the CODESRIA site.

The book is important in a number of respects. First, it sets the story of Zimbabwe’s recent land reform in a wider context, examining capitalist relations in historical and regional perspective. Second, it offers an alternative political narrative to the standard analysis focused on neopatrimonial capture by political elites. Third, it offers empirical material and analysis from researchers who have undertaken detailed fieldwork on a range of themes including labour (Chambati), community organisation (Murisa), the media (Chari) and mobilisation (Sadomba, Masuko). Finally, as perhaps the leading scholar on Zimbabwean land issues, having worked on the issue over several decades, Sam Moyo is certainly well-placed to provide an informed, and typically provocative, overarching commentary.

The book argues that most critics of Zimbabwe’s land reform programme “continue to underplay the significance of the settler-colonial roots of Zimbabwe’s land question and its exacerbation under neoliberal rule after independence, in fomenting the social and political crisis which provoked the popular reclamation of land”.

The final chapter by Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros identifies six aspects that they argue make the Zimbabwean experience distinct:

(i) the character of the land movement, which has been multi-class, decentralised and anti-bureaucratic, but also united by radical nationalism;

(ii) its capacity to articulate grievances across the rural-urban divide;

(iii) the radicalisation of its petty bourgeois components;

(iv) the resulting creation of a tri-modal agrarian structure as a matter of state policy;

(v) experimentation with state dirigisme, developmentalism and an emerging popular cooperativism; and

(vi) a new nonalignment policy termed ‘Look East’.

Not everyone will agree with this summary. Indeed in our own work we have critiqued the singular notion of a ‘land movement’, as well as the role and form of state ‘dirigisme’ in the 2000s and the forms of violent nationalism that became associated with state intervention. However, by offering a frame for debate, some of the lazy assumptions and analyses in other commentaries can be engaged with, with new empirical and theoretical vigour.

The book’s conclusion argues that much of such current commentary is “essentially the reincarnation of a liberal form of settler-colonial political compromise”. In the opening chapter, Moyo criticises the “dubious intellectual positions” reinforced by a “revisionist historiography” peddled by “structurally-adjusted” intellectuals that have misinformed the debate. His wrath is focused on :

“….a peculiar mix of liberalism and Weberianism peddled by American political science, especially via the notion of ‘neopatrimonialism’; a rudderless culturalist theory of ‘identity politics’, whose post-structuralism has managed to replicate with great success the settler-colonial obsession with fragmented cultures; and, not least, an escapist ‘left’ critique, which has often sought refuge in pseudo-Gramscian theories of ‘hegemony’, whereby patrimonialism and culturalism substitute for class analysis. Indeed, some ‘Marxists’ succumbed to similar imperialistic and antinationalist impulses, to the effect of silencing class analyses which demonstrate the progressive nature of the land reform”.

Nor is he happy about what he dubs our liberal perspective on ‘livelihoods’. This approach, he argues:

“ …eschews the interrogation of class formation processes and exploitative relations of production (especially in the emerging labour relations) and the continued extraction of surplus value (particularly from peasants) through exchange relations driven by monopoly-finance capital. The critical role of state intervention in the overall outcome is also visibly downplayed by its liberal-populist orientation”.

While elements of this critique may be appropriate, I would argue that we have offered, on the basis of our Masvingo work, a detailed analysis of social differentiation and class positions, informed by a livelihoods analysis. We argue that the current rural struggle is between ‘middle farmers’ in alliance with the rural poor and a new rural elite, supported by the party and state. Indeed in Moyo’s chapter on the changing structures of rural production he concurs with our analysis from Masvingo, showing how the growth of small-scale capitalist producers through a process of ‘repeasantisation’ has widened the prospects for accumulation from below, despite the new class struggles observed.

Thus I wholeheartedly agree with the book’s central argument that a perspective informed by historically-informed class analysis can be especially revealing. This class analysis, although unevenly applied, is certainly the strong feature of the book, making it an important contribution to the debate.

In particular, Moyo argues that the petty bourgeoisie broke ranks with monopoly capital and became radicalised, and so part of a decentralised, organised land movement, led by the peasantry and mobilised by war veterans. The ‘tri-modal’ land pattern that emerged from land reform, including large capitalist enterprises, small-medium scale farms and smallholder farms, reflects the accommodations of different class interests, the book argues.

Moyo however is not without his critique of the current regime, noting that: “the nationalist leadership in recent years has come to represent mainly un-accommodated bourgeois interests… which are under the illusion that they can reform monopoly capitalism so as to sustain a ‘patriotic bourgeoisie’ into the future”.

The alignment of the state with capital is examined at various points in the book, including reflections on the ‘indigenisation’ programme (bolstering the ‘patriotic bourgeoisie’), the Look East policy (non-alignment to realign, strategically seeking capital and investment) and focused ‘developmental’ state intervention post 2000, discussed by Moyo and Nyoni, in the context of a highly polarised political landscape, and the flight of international capital. Thus, Moyo argues “the reconfiguration of domestic agrarian markets and struggles over these, in relation to changing forms of state intervention, in the context of a gradual reorientation of critical commodity and financial markets to the East, have been overlooked”.

Overall, Moyo argues that in recent scholarship on Zimbabwe, there has been “a systematic neglect of the continent’s subordinate relations to monopoly-finance capital, as well as empirical analyses of class formation, political alliances, emergent social movements under the current crisis and the implications for state intervention and development”.

This book attempts to redress this neglect, and fills an important gap in the literature. Not everyone will agree with some of the detail, and some of the political arguments will no doubt be countered. However, the analysis of the class-based nature of Zimbabwe’s transformation is most definitely welcome, and the book further enriches our understanding of Zimbabwe’s complex agrarian transformation.

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

 

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When is research ‘really authoritative’? Challenges of evidence, authorship and positionality in research on Zimbabwe’s land reform

Reviews of our book keep piling in; this time prompted by the recent publication of Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land, a more popular summary of the main studies of Zimbabwe’s land reform.

The latest is by Martin Plaut in African Arguments. He broadly agrees with our findings, but says he is still awaiting a ‘really authoritative’ account. His main complaint about both books, it seems, is that authors on both are not only researchers but also resettlement farmers, and beneficiaries of the land reform. This he says has resulted in biases in our accounts. Authorship, bias and evidence are themes I have written about before on this blog. But since they keep coming up, perhaps they are worth returning to.

In Martin Plaut’s piece he argues “if the backgrounds and politics of the authors intrude into the study it lessens its objectivity”. Yes, I agree. But we equally cannot ignore our backgrounds and politics, and that’s why I make the case for reflexivity as essential for enhancing rigour. Just because some authors of our book, just as the new one, come from diverse backgrounds, with different experiences and contrasting political positions, this doesn’t mean that the data we collect and the evidence we present is necessarily ‘biased’. In fact, I would argue, quite the opposite.

In the case of our book, the core team has worked together for 25 years, and knows the study area intimately. That some of the team were beneficiaries of the land reform programme allowed us particular insights. But others of course were not farmers and not from the area, and, crucially, all of us have a passion for detailed fieldwork, systematic data collection and careful analysis. This is why we presented so much detail in the book (against the objections of our editors!), so it could be scrutinized, evaluated and critiqued.

In his commentary, Martin highlights BZ Mavendzenge in particular, the field team leader, whose farm he visited (which was incidentally purposely not in our study area) in 2011 as part of a BBC team. When it came out, I sent the review to BZ by email – direct to the farm, where if you go to a small hill above the house, behind the new chicken runs, and beyond the well you can get good service and download emails these days. He wrote straight back. He asks, “Does authoritative mean an aerial view from outsiders? Surely, as Chambers says, farmer first is the way forward…”. He goes on, appreciating the rest of the piece, “Martin I think agrees there was much to see to be proud of about accumulation from below”.

So how should BZ, as an author, be represented? As farmer, researcher, land reform beneficiary, former government civil servant, born and bred in Masvingo province, or what? He is of course all of these; and each identity helps shape his insights and perspectives. In particular as a researcher, trained at agricultural college and then working at Matopos research station, before taking over the lead of the Department of Research and Specialist Services’ Farming Systems Research Unit in Masvingo, BZ has unparalleled insights into the dynamics of farming systems in the area. This is why I have so enjoyed – and benefitted from – working with him all these years.

What about Martin Plaut? How should we read his review? As someone who was born and bred in apartheid South Africa, educated at universities with largely white students, or as someone who was centrally involved in the anti-apartheid struggle and the 1976 Soweto uprising, or as formerly Head of the Africa section of the BBC World Service, and a brilliant reporter on the Horn and Southern Africa, or, now retired, and a Fellow of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies? Again, he is all of these; and these experiences and positions allow him to carry out really authoritative, top-notch investigative journalism and writing (just check out his recent book on the history of the ANC to get a flavour).

All authorship is so conditioned, but this should not imply bias. And we should avoid jumping to conclusions just because of the author’s status or experience. Any evaluation must come through more rigorous assessment of data and analysis. This is the reason I have objected before to statements from the Commercial Farmers’ Union, for example (see here and here) – not because they are from the CFU, but because they are wrong! I have previously commented both on Martin’s otherwise excellent BBC radio pieces he did in 2011 on Zimbabwe, and also when certain information was presented on the costs of land reform, and replicated in articles on the BBC and elsewhere as fact.

BBC balance is an article of faith but sometimes does not serve the search for truth well. A journalistic piece that presents all sides as equivalent sometimes ends up being unbalanced. If equal airtime is offered to detailed, rigorous research undertaken over years and commentaries based on figures that seem to have been plucked from the air to suit the argument, this is not exactly balance in my view.

This is not to argue that both our book and Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land don’t have silences, gaps and contestable arguments. Of course. That’s why we publish, encourage debate and urge others to do more research. What we don’t expect is our work – or indeed anyone else’s – to be dismissed on the basis of who they are, rather than what they say.

As I keep pointing out in this blog, it’s not as if we don’t have plenty of empirical evidence to go on these days. This accumulation of insights is getting seriously ‘authoritative’ and pointing, broadly but with important nuances, in the same direction. It’s irritating sometimes that our book is the only one that gets mentioned (and now of course the new one), just because we hit the limelight (not least I suspect because the lead authors of both books are based in the UK, and are white and professors).

But actually there are piles of other research, research and written by Zimbabweans, not least the impressive district studies led by Sam Moyo and team at the African Institute of Agrarian Studies, and the new book by Prosper Matondi, based on the work by the Ruzivo trust team. The map below shows all the studies I know about (likely a partial sample), and it’s an impressive array, both geographically and in terms of breadth of authorship.

Across these studies, we can triangulate, compare, synthesise and generate, yes, really authoritative insights. So, why the reluctance to accept the findings? Why the questioning of authors’ credibility? Why the lack of counter-data coming forward? I think some of the answers do indeed lie in the positionality and politics of the commentators. It is difficult accepting a new situation, and rejecting positions long held. It is unsettling, discomfiting and challenging. But that is what good research – and indeed good journalism – sometimes has to do if we are to seek ways forward.

Just as Thomas Khun argued now over 50 years ago, settled paradigms are difficult to shift for all sorts of political, social and institutional reasons, but when they do, then ‘normal science’ can proceed, and the new paradigm can be unpacked, contested, unravelled, adapted and elaborated. For most serious scholars in Zimbabwe, it is this normal science that is unfolding now, as we do follow up surveys, new rounds of case studies, and examine our older data in the light of new findings.

I will be sharing some of these new field findings in the coming weeks and months on this blog. Just as all good ‘normal science’, the new data both confirms, but also nuances and sometimes contrasts with, the early findings. I hope that Martin and others find our new contributions ‘authoritative’ enough!

national research studies map

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

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Small farms, big farms

There is a classic debate in agricultural economics and development policy about the relative efficiencies of small and big farms. It is centred on what is known as the ‘inverse relationships’ which posits that as farms become smaller they become more productive per unit area, as costs – such as the supervision of labour – get reduced (or at least passed on to cheaper family labour arrangements). The argument is that small farms are the ideal, efficient solution to agricultural production.

Of course there are qualifications – and these are important, perhaps increasingly so in a globalised world. Very small farms, fragmented in different ways, are clearly not ideal, and suffer from many inefficiencies. Yet, what is ‘small’ and ‘very small’ is often not clear in the literature. Equally, there may be economies of scale in certain production-marketing systems, making larger farms more efficient. For example, getting high value products into international markets may mean complying with quality standards which small farmers would find difficult to adhere to.

This discussion remains at the centre of the debate about agricultural development in Africa. The African Union’s Comprehensive Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) makes a strong case for smallholders being at the centre of agricultural growth, as does the Gates-funded  Alliance for  a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). In a new book, Gordon Conway, of Imperial College in the UK, argues that smallholders must be at the centre of strategies to feed 9 billion people.

For decades, then, smallholder agricultural production has barely been questioned as the central pillar for agricultural development in Africa. But now there are some dissenting voices; and influential ones too. In a provocative paper for an FAO meeting on African agriculture in 50 years, Paul Collier - author of the best-seller, ‘The Bottom Billion’, and professor at Oxford University – and Stefan Dercon – now Chief Economist at the UK’s Department for International Development, and a well-respected research economist who has worked extensively in Africa – make the case that the advocacy of smallholder farming was sometimes wildly overblown, often inappropriately romanticised. They argue that the inverse relationship debate was misleading, and did not provide the definitive evidence sometimes supposed for smallholder farming, and that large farms are increasingly the way forward, for some commodities and in some places.

The arguments presented certainly have merit and deserve scrutiny, but they are also potentially flawed in important ways. The arguments for large farms are that economies of scale in today’s globalised world are such that smallholder farming can never really be expected to generate sufficient growth to facilitate the necessary transition out of agriculture into industrial-led growth trajectories. In Africa in particular access to global markets, and so positioning of agriculture near road infrastructure and ports is seen as crucial, if comparative advantages in a highly competitive market setting are to be realised.

Yet the argument ignores some key facts. First, smallholders have been very successful at producing a range of key commodities. In a review for a World Bank study on competitive commercial agriculture in Africa, Colin Poulton and colleagues found that “Large-scale agriculture has proven more competitive in export horticulture, sugar and flue-cured tobacco, whilst smallholders dominate in cotton, cashew and food staples. For tea and burley tobacco there are mixed stories. Second, markets are not all global, governed by highly stringent standards. Niche selling into such markets may offer good returns, but the costs of entry are high. Perhaps better is to produce for growing domestic and regional markets, and here the flexible strategies of smallholders in feeding urban Africa have long been seen to be effective. Third, the negative effects of large scale farming on local economies, food security patterns, environmental conditions and labour and employment conditions are not factored into these arguments. Large scale commercial farming does not have a universally good track-record, frequently resulting in enclave economic operations, with poor labour conditions and high externalities, focusing on single export-oriented crops, leading to negative impacts on the local food economy.

What are the implications of this debate for Zimbabwe? Following land reform, Zimbabwe has a radically reconfigured agrarian structure. Gone is the dualism of the past – with tracts of very large scale farming, separated off from the small-scale farming areas in the communal lands and resettlement. The limited ‘Purchase Area’ land was anomalous, fitting neither model, but not integrated either. Today, we have a huge mix of farm sizes, as Sam Moyo has described. Large-scale farms and estates remain, but the majority is now a mix of small and medium scale farms.

Crucially these are much more integrated, both spatially in terms of their proximity and economically in terms of their connections, of labour, marketing, skill and knowledge transfer and so on. The economic apartheid of the past, divided by racialised social and economic barriers, has given way to a more complex, integrated patchwork. While smallholder farming dominates, it is not the only farm type. It is the mix that is important, which is different in different parts of the country, depending on agroecology, market access, infrastructure and, of course, politics.

Getting to grips with this new farm size configuration, and the implications for economic development is an important challenge. Yet it is one that policymakers have yet to get their heads around. So fixated are people on the small vs large dichotomy, often with an implicit assumption that small is backward and big is better, that the potentials of the new agrarian structure are not being grasped. The small farm populists argue for peasant efficiencies, while the big farm advocates claim business and growth opportunities.

In my view neither is correct. But where the gains are to be had is in the mix: in the economic multiplier linkages between farm sizes, in the capturing of the comparative advantages of different farm configurations, in the growth of district level economies, in the sharing between groups of equipment, skills and knowledge, and in the flexible movement of labour in a certain area. None of these opportunities could be realised in the old dualistic agrarian structure, but today there are many potentials.

But it requires a different mindset: rather than thinking about the ‘ideal type’ farm (small or large), and fixed and outdated notions of what is ‘viable’, we should shift to thinking about processes of economic development based on agriculture in an area. A territorial approach to local economic development, as we argued in our book, is the way forward, and will help us shed the often unproductive and diversionary obsession with farm size.

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

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Missing politics?

In a highly perceptive review of our book, Blair Rutherford from Carleton University in Canada, argues that our work has been “pivotal” in the “shifting of the debate on land reform” in Zimbabwe. But in so doing, he argues, we have created a new narrative which, while capturing the local and the specific, misses some of the bigger picture. This is an important challenge, and one that is worth exploring. It chimes, in a rather more sophisticated way than others, with the assertions that we have missed out on politics in our account, and that the wider processes of violent nationalism associated with ZANU-PF’s desperate holding on to power have been ignored (see some other book reviews).

Rutherford argues that our “immersion in the material details .. limits the book”. At the same time, he states “This book provides an incredible wealth of detail of the diverse economic practices emerging from and intersecting with the social relations and environmental conditions shaping the agrarian dynamics in Masvingo, while attending to the uncertain and disputed authority relations seeking to govern diverse farming areas”. The “exemplary strength” of the book, he says is that the book shows a “refined analysis of the particular socio-political and class positioning of individuals and households and some of the shifts over the last 10 years”.

Yet, despite this, he argues that the book ‘occludes’ and ‘limits’ analysis. What does he have in mind? He notes that we were reluctant to draw wider generalisations on the land invasions from the specific cases – each site was different, with a different dynamic, political history. We kept instead to the “empirical particularities”. However, when we looked at the ‘outcomes’ – the focus of the study – we did find some emerging patterns, embedded in huge diversity of course. And this was the focus on class-specific patterns of agrarian change that Rutherford commented on favourably.

This highlighted a group of ‘middle farmers’ accumulating from below on the basis of petty commodity production, employing labour, selling surpluses and investing in the land. This was not everyone in all places (and therefore highly qualified), but a broader pattern we noted, especially across the A1 schemes. We contrasted this with the patterns in the 1980s, and noted favourably the potentials of this dynamic both for production, and development more broadly. Rutherford argues that this in turn emerges as a emergent narrative – a new myth – based on a valiant picture of “yeoman effort”, around which the book positions itself. This is certainly one strand of our argument, but this is based on analysis, rooted in highly detailed empirical data, and certainly does not have the status of the ‘myths’ we were debunking. These were based more on ideology than fact, and although some have claimed that these were “overstated” in the book, any cursory look at the media, and much of the wider ‘academic’ commentary will show that they were not (just take a look at the sections on land in Daniel Compagnon’s otherwise useful book, Zimbabwe: A predictable tragedy, for a typical example).

Ours is therefore an emergent, interpretive narrative – but it is not simply “a position”, “a stand”, but a narrative based on findings and analysis. In many respects it was unexpected and emerged from our detailed studies through rigorous empirical study, and in this sense diverse, complex, nuanced and situated ‘realities’ did contrast with mainstream ‘myths’. Our new narrative around land and livelihoods is, we argue, of a very different status to the ‘myths’ being peddled elsewhere. Of course all narratives are partial, positioned and in need of unpacking. Rutherford does a good service in this regard. But, as discussed in this blog before, I don’t believe our method or our team was unreasonably biased. Our politics were and remain incredibly diverse, and were not, I would argue, “masked” by the book.

So what then is occluded and limited by the book’s focus? I think there are certainly some things which deserve further empirical investigation, analysis and scrutiny. Rutherford identifies a few.

For example, we did not include many of the experiences of those excluded from land reform post 2000 – the farm workers who were evicted, the white farmers who lost their land or the communal area people who were excluded, for example. This is a fair point. In respect of farm workers and former white farmers we certainly tried to locate them, but they were relatively few (unlike say in the Highveld) and difficult to trace, and even if found unlikely to talk – although we did devote a full chapter to issues around labour. Those white farmers who stayed in the district we have re-engaged with, and they appear in the book, although anonymised. In terms of the impacts in nearby communal areas, we made the choice (partly through issues of logistics and resources) not to do a comparative analysis of outcomes in the resettlements and the communal areas (along the lines of Bill Kinsey’s classic earlier studies). We are now filling this gap with a more focused study of what happened in nearby areas, including issues of inclusion/exclusion.

Even in retrospect, I do not regret our focus on a detailed site-by-site analysis of what happened to livelihoods after land reform, focusing on the specifics of each case within the ‘fast-track’ areas. When we started this work in 2000 – and even when we finished a decade later – there was a shocking absence of this sort of detailed work. It was not easy work to do, and there were many risks and challenges. But directing a forensic spotlight on these empirical particularities through a case study focus was (and remains) essential. We were, as Rutherford notes, interested in outcomes (what happened to who, where), but we were also interested in the processes which account for these outcomes. We do not, I think, present an “explicit disavowal of the debates and processes of land reform”. Far from it. In fact, Rutherford concurs: “this attention to the history, to the process, is another strength of the monograph, as they are able to analyse the differential consequences of land distribution on class, gender and productivity axes”.

However, Rutherford argues that “this analytical positioning prevents them from addressing the wider-scale politics and power relations which have been so crucial for these micro-dynamics…. This, I would suggest, leads them to make some questionable analyses and prognoses”. This is an argument made by others, and one that is important to address (and in fact – partially – agree with). I definitely agree that the wider national political context is important. We addressed this as part of Chapter 1, but perhaps this was not brought back sufficiently as context for the later analysis. However, the importance of a case study approach – one province, 16 sites, 400 households etc. – is that we must relate what happened in particular places to the broader setting. Sometimes wider processes impinge, sometimes not.

Rutherford, for example, critiques our treatment of Operation Murambatsvina and the 2008 election violence. In our book, we always insisted on locating our discussion in the evidence from our study areas. So, when discussing Operation Murambatsvina we did not include a long discussion of the wider politics and implications, especially in some parts of Harare (although we offered the appropriate references), but focused on the impacts in our areas, which were very different. Equally, when discussing election violence we focused on experiences in our sites (where violence was actually rather limited), and located these in the wider picture.

Both these instances of high-profile, politicised events show how diverse their impacts were, and how geographically located experiences have been. This does not undermine, deny or ignore the wider political significance of such events both nationally and in other places; indeed both shaped very fundamentally the political context in this period. However, by focusing on particular localities and experiences, our aim was to contextualise them, and so provide a sense of proportion in a wider, often highly generalised discussion of the Zimbabwe situation.

Following others, and most eloquently Brian Raftoupolos who spoke at the Cape Town launch of the book, Rutherford argues that the broader implications of land reform for national level politics are not brought out. How this period has reshaped the politics of the state and its relationship with people has been fundamental. He argues that our focus on the micro-details of what happened in particular places runs the danger of ignoring these wider political processes, a point made equally forcefully by Amanda Hammar in her review of the book. This is true, and certainly such a broader analysis should be part of a much larger project of understanding reconfigured state-society relations and the politicisation of state practices in the post-land reform period, alongside the political, economic and social consequences of a massively reshaped agrarian structure.

This is work that some scholars have now commenced, with Sam Moyo’s recent contributions particularly important in relation to agrarian politics. Forthcoming articles by us in the Journal of Agrarian Change and African Affairs (due out in September/October – keep an eye on the blogs for some summaries) reflect on patterns of differentiation and political dynamics both in the core ‘fast-track’ areas and the marginal lowveld areas outside formal land reform areas of Masvingo province. This work allows us to explore alternative interpretations and future scenarios. We argue that in our case study sites we are seeing the emergence of a ‘middle farmer’ class who, while benefiting from the land reform, are not allied to the political-military elite and mostly reject what Hammar calls the “political project of hegemony and sovereignty of the (previous yet persistent) Zanu-PF party-state”, even if they don’t all vote for the opposition (although many do, if secretly). Indeed, we argue, this group may represent a progressive alternative to the elite ‘land grabbers’, one that opposition formations ought to mobilise and create a ‘narrative around land, agriculture and rural development’ around. By contrast, Rutherford forwards an alternative interpretation: that the successful ‘accumulation from below’ we observed is the direct result of the suppression of political opposition and the violence of state practice, making resettlement farmers dependent subjects of a violent, nationalist state. This is an important discussion, one again that needs contextualising in site-specific analysis. Indeed both interpretations may be appropriate, but in different places and at different times.

So, in sum, I agree this is a gap and one that requires more debate, a debate that Rutherford has usefully sparked. But this does not undermine or fundamentally challenge the findings of the book, as some seek to do. We had one main aim – investigating and telling the story of land reform from the ground. This required presenting lots of detail (which most, including Rutherford, seem to appreciate), and it already ran to 288 pages in horribly small type. What is surely needed for this wider assessment of current and future national political dynamics is a located understanding of diverse experiences in different places, as Rutherford correctly argues in his conclusion. A synthetic, analytical perspective must reflect such diversity – and the complex, contingent and specific “entanglements” that exist. As the recent Journal of Peasant Studies special issue showed, Masvingo is different to Goromonzi (Marongwe’s paper) and to Chipinge (Zamchiya’s paper), but there are some important convergences too, as Cliffe et al note, and as highlighted by the AIAS district studies. With this accumulation of empirical evidence, it is this wider analysis that becomes so crucial.

Any wider assessment must therefore root its analysis in these diverse local contexts or contingencies or risk the kind of simplistic over-generalisation that has characterised much writing on Zimbabwe in recent years. Unfortunately, the gap between broader national-level political analysis and field-level specifics has been massive in recent debates, and has exacerbated misunderstanding and prevented productive debate. This gap urgently needs to be narrowed, and the communities of researchers engaged at these different scales, often debating in different languages and frames, need to start working together more concretely. We look forward to participating in such a collective project, as it is most definitely needed as Zimbabwe looks forward.

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Masvingo exceptionalism? The challenge of case studies

One of the main complaints about our book is that it’s mostly about Masvingo, and that it does not tell the whole story of land reform in Zimbabwe over the past decade or so. On all counts we are guilty. As we are clear in the book we are not making wider claims. This is a case study – of 16 sites in one province over 10 years. As Professor Terry Ranger remarks in his recent review of our book: “Patterns emerge but the book pays admirable attention to variation and variety”. Such a province-wide case study is still important, we maintain, as a basis for more in-depth comparison where contrasts and convergences can be teased out.

The Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe and their supporters often make the point that Masvingo is ‘exceptional’, and that somehow are results should not be taken too seriously. They argue that this was not a ‘real farming’ area, and that something different happened there. Well, if this was not an important part of the commercial farming sector, why on earth did they not give up the land for resettlement many years before? Of course other areas in the Highveld are different, as we clearly state in the book. But, as we equally argue, there are some important broader patterns. And indeed, wider work that has emerged since has challenged in similar ways the five myths we lay out in the book.

A number of points are made about Masvingo ‘exceptionalism’. First, of course, Masvingo is in the drier part of the country, where certain cropping and livestock rearing patterns prevail. This agroecological difference is of course important, but let’s also remember that geographically the largest portion of the country is dry, with poor infrastructure and reliant on rainfed production, even in the former commercial sector. Second, the proximity to Harare is seen as a key factor in affecting the degree to which land was grabbed by elites through processes of violence and patronage. This again is true, and many of the high-profile cases where whole farms were taken by those well connected to the political-military elite are in these areas. But, as argued before in this blog, the pattern of ‘cronyism’ remains much under dispute. Third, as Terry Ranger argues in his review, the longer-term histories of particular places are important both in the processes and outcomes of land reform. This is absolutely correct. As we point out in the book it is these micro-political contexts, influenced by histories – of the liberation war, chieftaincy and political party allegiances – that have had really important influences on what happened, where. He admonishes us for not referring more to a set of important historical district studies (by for example Alexander, Kriger, Maxwell, Moore, Ranger, Schmidt), but all of these fall outside Masvingo (all are from Manicaland). In Masvingo there is a perhaps surprising absence of such studies, beyond the important study of Great Zimbabwe by Fontein, although we have some fantastically rich pre-colonial accounts from Gerald Mazarire and others.

These three factors will have a big influence on land reform processes and outcomes. But to what degree do these specificities (all variable indeed within Masvingo as we point out) affect the broad challenge of the 5 ‘myths’? We now have a growing body of work available to assess this, including the AIAS 6 district study led by Sam Moyo, the 3 district study by Ruziwo Trust led by Prosper Matondi, and the growing array of more focused, farm-based studies by research students and others, supported for example as part of the ‘Livelihoods after Land Reform’ small grants call, and some collected together in the important synthesis volume of the Journal of Peasant Studies by Lionel Cliffe and colleagues. These studies cover an increasing number of locations across Zimbabwe, with perhaps Matabeleland North and Midlands provinces being the least covered to date.

While the results from this now large body of work show wide variation, there are also some important common patterns. Overall, our analysis of the 5 myths is supported by other studies: all are rejected. A more detailed and systematic cross-study assessment would certainly be valuable, but the deployment of the ‘Masvingo is exceptional’ narrative in order in some way to reject the validity and applicability of our findings is clearly inappropriate. And so is the argument that ‘we need much more data from other places in order to take the wider significance of the Masvingo study seriously’. We have this data, and the body of work is growing: to date no one has dealt a killer blow to our study!

But what these other studies have done is nuance, extend and challenge some of the implications of our analysis. This is important. This is good research and how understanding progresses. Avoid the point-scoring, the summary rejections, and the attempts to side-line, but engage. This is certainly my attitude. The contrasts between studies certainly highlight all three of the factors highlighted above – agroecology, location and history – in interesting ways.

Clearly agroecology has a huge influence on what is possible in agronomic terms, but also the returns to investment, and so the incentives to invest in infrastructure, including greenhouses, irrigation and so on. This in turn influences the style of farming – higher potential areas offer opportunities for more intensive farming, where farm labour is important, and is more linked to the (still struggling) A2 sector. Paradoxically, until investment gets going (and this requires market confidence and stability as well as credit and financial services), it is the lower potential low-input areas based on smallholder family farm labour that are the more successful. Of course the tobacco story offers a different angle on this, and there are important lessons to be learned for the A2 farms more generally from this experience.

Proximity to urban centres, and particularly Harare, is again important. The attraction of big chefs is one dimension to this. It is certainly the case that the Mashonaland provinces had substantially more A2 plots allocated during fast-track land reform. These were particularly prone to capture by elites as we have discussed elsewhere. But we also have to differentiate between this sort of patronage – through manipulation of bureaucratic allocation procedures, for example – to the large scale ‘grabs’ of whole farms. The high profile cases of these are almost exclusively in the high potential Mashonaland provinces, and although small in number they are large areas and the ‘grabbers’ are very high profile people, from the president down. These are now euphemistically called ‘large-scale A2’ farms, and have been accepted as part of the new agrarian structure. The big question is whether these players gain the upper hand politically and assert a new dualism in farming, just with new owners. This would be a regressive move, undermining the aims of the agrarian reform. As a result an effective land audit and a close social, political and economic analysis of these new farms (and their new owners) will be essential. Here there certainly are important contrasts between provinces, and this must be an essential part of the wider political analysis (see next week’s blog on ‘missing politics’).

Finally, longer term histories of people and places are, as Terry Ranger, argues essential. This may not have a big impact on overall production patterns, for example, but the underlying authority structures, the role of different local elites, chiefs and others, as well as the political dynamic will all be influenced by such histories. This will have had an impact for sure – as it did across our sites in Masvingo – on land invasion and acquisition processes, as well as patterns of violence. But it will also influence future governance arrangements, and the possibilities (or not) of ‘rebuilding public authority from below’.

As Ranger correctly argues there will not be a ‘Masvingo solution’, and our book “is not the end but very much the beginning of a discussion”. This discussion is now well under way, and supported by a range of scholarship mostly from Zimbabweans studying what happened where to build the bigger story of Zimbabwe’s land reform.

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Who took the land? More on the ‘crony’ debate

The debate continues to rage as to who were the beneficiaries of land reform in Zimbabwe. The standard international and Zimbabwe opposition media line is that the land reform is discredited as it was captured by ‘cronies’ – well connected party members linked to ZANU-PF, including politicians, senior security forces personnel, judges and others connected to them.

The main source of evidence is the report produced by a ‘ZimOnline Investigations Team’ in November 2010, coinciding with the launch of our book. The headline figure in this report – that half of the land was taken by top-level cronies – is repeated again and again, in all sorts of reputable places, from the Guardian to the Mail and Guardian to the Zimbabwean. Recently, Professor Roger Southall from the University of Witswatersrand, quoted it at great length (p. 93) in a largely favourable review of Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities for Africa Spectrum. He concludes: “It would seem to offer a very different picture than that provided by Scoones et al”. Arguing that the book may have missed an important political context for land reform, he goes on to ask rhetorically, “If… the major portion of land has gone to the political elite, is it not likely to shape their political behaviour?”

But what is the basis and source of the ZimOnline claims? When the ZimOnline report came out I tried to contact the authors via the website. I got nowhere. No documents were forthcoming. I wrote to the various newspapers who published this data to enquire about their sources, but got no further, and only one published my letter. Someone more cynical than myself commented that I was wasting my time, that this was propaganda and the data made up, and that no report or ‘investigation team’ existed.

Despite making it central to his critique, Southall does concede that “The accuracy of this study needs to be confirmed”. But in practice, as I found out, the data is difficult to cross-check and verify. One set of data based on a decade of research (with all its readily admitted limitations) is thus set against another ‘investigation’ with no report on an online blog. Such data though is really important, as who got what and where is central to any discussion about land reform and the future of the agrarian economy and wider political behaviour and context, as Southall correctly argues.

Certainly some of the information is true, and there has definitely been a capture of land by high ranking officials through a combination of violence and patronage. The ‘large-scale A2’ category of farms that Sam Moyo describes in his detailed analysis of the emerging agrarian structure in Zimbabwe is an important indicator of elite capture. But these are far fewer than claimed by the ZimOnline data, and the overall picture of a land reform dominated by small-scale and medium-scale acquisitions in the A1 and A2 schemes, most of whom are ‘ordinary’ farmers (a problematic category admittedly), still stands.

With the political wrangles over the constitution, the election dates and the ZANU-PF succession, the likelihood of a full-scale land audit happening now is receding. As Professor Mandi Rukuni explained in his recent contribution to the Sokwanele land debate, the technical capacity is in place to carry it out, but the political moment must be right. Earlier land audits by Utete, Buka and the 2006 A2 audit by the Ministry of Lands have shown a complex picture, with much variation between different parts of the country. But the overall picture is not hugely different to what we found, despite the on-going discussion about ‘Masvingo exceptionalism’.

Currently our work in Masvingo is looking at the A2 sector in more detail than we were able to do in our work to 2010, and we want to update the information in the book. It is clear that, unlike the majority in A1 schemes, some A2 farmers gained access through patronage linkages. Application processes were manipulated and so certain people gained land when their qualifications were inadequate or their business plans were poor. These farms often still remain underutilised and undercapitalised, and some are effectively abandoned. But this is not the majority, the rest are building up their farms, slowly but surely, and it is interesting how these are linking into value chains in new ways. We cannot announce a success of the A2 farms yet, but there are more positive signs than a few years ago when the incentives and capacities to invest were so minimal due to the chaos in the economy.

But in addition to the standard A2 farms we also have the ‘large-scale A2’ farms, where whole farms were handed over. These are where the ‘big chefs’ reside, and where political patronage and cronyism of the sort described by ZimOnline is most prevalent. But again, these cases are limited and scattered, and in fact some are thriving – because funds from elsewhere (not always above board I am sure) are being invested. And then there are the conservancies, formally outside the Fast Track Land Reform programme, where an elite take-over has been attempted. However, much of this has stalled, as many such ‘investment partners’ have not been forthcoming.

Our preliminary findings from Masvingo show that our earlier conclusions remain robust: that the vast majority of land reform beneficiaries and land areas are being used by people who could not be classified as ‘cronies’. There are however ‘land grabs’ on the margins which, while still small in overall numerical and area terms, are important politically. These peaked around the contested elections in 2008, and continue. A few remaining ‘white farms’ and wildlife areas have been targeted and taken over by politically and militarily connected elites. This is a pattern that is repeated elsewhere in the country and particularly dramatically in the high value land areas of the Highveld.

These whole farm and conservancy takeovers was a phenomenon, we agree, that was not well covered in the book (as it didn’t exist to such an extent when we set our sample, and only emerged in the most recent period, especially around 2008), but is covered in more detail in our current work, where we are hoping to get the really detailed and accurate numbers on land ownership and distribution across the province, and in some forthcoming articles – on patterns of differentiation and politics, in the Journal of Agrarian Change, and on the land grab in the lowveld, under review with African Affairs. I will alert blog readers when these are out, as these are important complements to our original research. However new work does not reject our core findings, nor support the conclusions of the ZimOnline ‘investigation’.

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