Soils for life: Some cautionary tales for the International Year of Soils

You may not know, but 2015 is the International Year of Soils. Soils are of course vitally important for agriculture and livelihoods, but they often go unsung and are routinely uncared for. The Year of Soils, promoted by the FAO, is aimed to put soils into the spotlight. The Director General of the FAO, Jose Graziano Da Silva, puts it nicely: “”The multiple roles of soils often go unnoticed. Soils don’t have a voice, and few people speak out for them. They are our silent ally in food production”.

The recent high-profile Montpellier Panel report pulls together much of the science, and makes a strong case for taking an integrated and holistic approach to soil management to promote soil health. If we lose soils, then we lose the basis for life, it argues. While climate change, correctly, has gained the international spotlight, making sure the basic substrate for human survival is in a good condition may be equally important.

If you want to learn more about soils you can attend an event virtually every week somewhere in the world this year. A highlight is the ‘Global Soil Week’ in Berlin next month, when soil science and policy will be discussed in a number of sessions. The organisers have produced a ‘Soil Atlas’, a compilation of infographics, which projects the data and the importance of soils.

Yet we must be careful when making the case for soils that we do not simplify and overstate. This is always a temptation when trying to raise the profile of an issue. To generate attention, headline grabbing statistics are always helpful. But they may not actually be useful, as they can distort responses and obscure understandings. Thus, while I agree with virtually everything in the new Montpellier report, I was disappointed to find that the old and much disputed figures of global soil degradation and nutrient loss are trotted out yet again.

There is no doubt that changes in soil structure, losses through erosion and soil fertility decline are important issues. But these global figures are derived from some dubious calculations that are often rather meaningless. Aggregated up from multiple small studies, they say nothing about how soil and nutrients move around landscapes; they say nothing about how soil nutrients are made available in different settings; and they say nothing about the net effects on livelihoods given people’s adaptive capacities.

These endless presentation of these dubious figures irk me especially because we spent a long time in the late 1990s and early 2000s trying to generate a more sophisticated debate about soil fertility in African agriculture. In 1999, Camilla Toulmin and I asked whether nutrient budgeting has any use for policy. In the same year, we did a report for DFID on the subject. In 2001, a major book, Dynamics and Diversity: Soil Fertility and Farming Livelihoods in Africa, (pdf here) followed. This offers an overall summary of the extensive field research from Ethiopia, Mali and Zimbabwe. The follow-up 2003 book, Understanding Environmental Policy Processes: Cases from Africa, (pdf here) offered reflections on the politics of policy around soils and land degradation, with cases again from the same countries. These issues were further debated in 2008 as part of a Future Agricultures Consortium convened e-debate.

In a series of four forthcoming blogs, I will highlight some of the issues raised and draw on the discussions in the e-debate. These remain as pertinent today as they did then. The bottom-line message is that we should base our understandings and response on what is happening on the ground, not on simplistic, aggregated assessments based on problematic nutrient accounting techniques or soil erosion and degradation measures calculated at inappropriate scales, often based on remote sensing and mapping that cannot get to grips with the variegated patterns of soils.

Instead a social and technical analysis is more appropriate a farm and landscape level, where we can gauge how people use and manage soils, and find ways to improve soil quality – including soil organic composition, structure, biodiversity, and nutrients (macro and micro). Soils are immensely complex ecosystems, and so are management responses by farmers, who have deep and intimate knowledge of these vital resources.

Rejecting the headline numbers and questioning the rhetoric about soil degradation (and desertification and the rest) does not mean to say that I do not think that these are pressing and important problems, as some have tried to argue in the past. Quite the opposite. I just think that an appropriate diagnosis of the problem leads to better solutions, and that the alarmist, generalised, disaster oriented statistics can lead to the wrong, and often highly damaging, responses.

There is a long history of this in Africa and in Zimbabwe in particular. The 1930s dustbowl in the US provided a clarion call for colonial scientists to intervene in what they saw as fast-degrading peasant agricultural systems. The soil engineers designed ridging systems and so on to protect the soil from erosion, and these were often highly inappropriate and widely resented. Indeed in Zimbabwe, the top-down enforcement of soil erosion measures was the basis for mobilisation by freedom fighters in the liberation, so resented were they. To this day, the grumbling we hear around the ‘dig and die’ conservation farming impositions result in similar resentments. It’s not as if farmers reject the idea of soil management, but they argue that these are not always the right responses. And indeed there are many scientists who agree.

Alternative innovations for managing soil, nutrients and water in farm systems are plentiful, but not part of large-scale programmes, as Mr Phiri’s experiments in Zvishavane graphically show. The diagram below was drawn with farmers in Chivi as part of our earlier work (and appears in the book). It shows how soil nutrients flow around the farm, and are managed. This response is not simply responding to an aggregate soil nutrient deficit, but takes into account income, labour, asset ownership (livestock, carts and so on), topography, agroecology and farm management priorities, and so on, to come up with a system of soil management that is highly sophisticated, and site specific. It involves both organic and inorganic sources of nutrients; it uses application techniques that maximise plant uptake (fertilisers can be applied in microdoses with teaspoons, for example); it differentiates between different soil types (often variable within a single field); it matches soil improvement with farm and household priorities; and it combines an outfield arable production system with intensive gardening.

soilsa
Above all, most smallholder farms in Africa use an integrated approach to soil management. Farmers are not concerned with the ideological positions of ‘agroecology’ versus ‘chemical agriculture’, organic versus inorganic, and so on. In most farms, fertilisers are combined with manure, with waste and compost, and directed in ways that maximise their value. Farmers are not concerned with the labels adopted by NGOs and policy advocates. Too much of the debate about soils and farming does not connect to the field realities and livelihood challenges of real farmers. Too often the debate is played out with misleading statistics, aimed more at raising money and profile than revealing complex realities, and in ideological ghettos that create unhelpful fundamentalisms around what should be done (in an unrealistic ideal world), rather than what makes sense.

In the next few weeks – marking the International Year of Soils – this blog will explore some of these issues in more depth, with the hope that we can get beyond the unhelpful divides and inappropriate responses that have characterised thinking about soil management in Africa over too many years.

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

 


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A hot commercial success: growing chilli in the eastern highlands

Our film series Making Markets: Land Reform, Agriculture and New Local Economies in Zimbabwe that we launched last year focused on beef, horticulture and tobacco. These are well known crops in Zimbabwe. But commercial success generated by smallholder agriculture is happening in other less traditional crops too.

Recently I came across a video of a project in Nyanga focused on the growing of chillies on contract (watch it below). It tells a very similar story to our cases: vibrant commerical agriculture linked to markets, and supported through contracting arrangements. Group arrangements in production and marketing help, alongside a guaranteed buyer offering decent prices, as well as that critical ingredient, finance. In the case of chillies local businesses add value to produce a range of products including chili sources and pastes. The crop is also sold internationally, reaching distant markets as far as the USA. As the film shows, a 0.2ha plot can result in a $1000 income stream. The bank teller in the local town, the film claims, is kept busy banking farmers’ receipts.

This example has been facilitated by an external project. There are always risks with this, as we have seen in countless failed NGO and donor projects in the past. Let’s hope that they thought through the implications for long-term business sustainability, and that farmers do not become over-reliant on a production system that will inevitably have ups and downs. The commitment of only a small land area means that the farmers will no doubt have other crops being grown, and the chilli farming is only one part of a wider set of enterprises on and off farm. This is important for longer term livelihood resilience, something that perhaps can be questioned in the over-reliance on tobacco (one of the crops focused on in our films) across large swathes of the tobacco. A decline in global demand, a drop in price, a collapse in credit finance, a withdrawal of competitive contractors could all have devastating consequences.

Patterns of commercialisation in agriculture are diverse, but some key ingredients are necessary. These include a strong and reliable market, access to cheap finance, good quality control, market intelligence and the ability to lower costs through good location, cooperative organisation and so on. The Nyanga chilli project has all the elements. Check out the video here:

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

 

 

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Regalvanising the state from below: how a road got regraded

Recently we were driving to one of our study sites in Mvurwi area in Mazowe district for a showing of one of our videos on land and markets. We were surprised by the quality of the road. It was recently graded and in good condition; a far cry from when we last struggled to get to the same A1 resettlement area. We arrived at the homestead of Mr and Mrs Nyamarova where a group were gathered for the video showing, and we commented on the quality of the road. Had the government come and improved the road?, we asked.

Mr Nyamarova explained. The road had got progressively worse in the past year or so, and it had become increasingly impassable especially in the rains. This had caused major problems. Minibus taxis (combis) had stopped coming, and people had had to walk several kilometres to the nearest junction in order to get to town. This was not only costly in time and energy, but also meant that cases that those who had to get to hospital fast were at increasing risk. This is a vibrant tobacco growing area, but the contractors for the tobacco complained about the road and charged higher fees. Other traders who once came to buy crops and other products failed to show up, and those who had bought ‘town’ cars from the proceeds of their tobacco were unable to use them. The lack of a road was hitting the community hard, increasing costs and imposing inconvenience and risk.

The roads in the resettlements were all farm roads originally. They were used infrequently and often with heavy vehicles or tractors. They were not constructed for large populations with diverse transport needs. Their locations connected sections of large properties, but were not necessarily geared for the plying of goods and people between homes, farms and town. The resettlement areas across the country have suffered badly from a lack of infrastructure support, the consequence of the lack of post-settlement planning and investment over the past 15 years. This is hitting agricultural potential, as well as people’s livelihoods and well-being, hard.

So why was this road in such good condition? Had the state come to the rescue, and finally prioritised resettlement infrastructure development? Had the old ‘district development fund’ been revived and a new fleet of graders deployed? Now ‘sanctions’ had been relaxed, had a donor provided the funds? Well, no. The state remains as broke and incapacitated as it has been for years, and no magical external donor had arrived on the scene. In this case, an innovative local solution was forged.

Frustrated by the lack of action by the local government services in Mvurwi (the community had petitioned them for months, requesting that the road be repaired and regraded), a group of farmers got together and proposed a solution. Everyone in the A1 scheme would pay US$10 into a fund, and they would approach the council and pay for the job to be done. And indeed this is what happened. A deal was struck that the grader, languishing for years in the CMED compound in Mvurwi would be serviced, and filled with fuel through the community contribution, and the council would deploy the driver and technicians who were equally languishing in their offices – paid a salary with little to do. The $10 a head fund was not enough to cover the costs, so they decided that a surcharge would apply for those with transport businesses and large tobacco crops, and so three such farmers, including Mr Nyamarova, added a further $200 each.

The basic infrastructure, expertise and capacity of the state still exists in Zimbabwe. Unlike in some countries it has not been completely lost. Against all the odds, civil servants – from senior officials to lowly technicians or drivers – still turn up to their jobs. Offices are full of people, but action on the ground is limited because the state financing of recurrent costs has dropped effectively to zero. This means extension workers don’t travel to the farms, schools have teachers but not books, health centres have nurses but no medicines, and roads departments have graders and drivers with no fuel or maintenance budget. Small amounts of funding therefore can go a long way. NGOs often make use of this rather remarkable latent capacity of this languishing state infrastructure and pay government workers to do a range of jobs.

Regalvanising state capacity for investing in public goods is an essential task in the post-land reform era. In the absence of an effective centralised taxation system that can generate significant revenues, and in the context of rampant corruption that removes funds from the state, particularly at higher levels, local solutions must be brokered. This case of local, informal, community-organised taxation from Mvurwi, that meant our Toyota Corolla town car could reach our destination and without the walk we expected, certainly offers some hope for the future.

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

 

 

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Booming agricultural markets and the politics of control in Zimbabwe

One consequence of land reform has been the growth of informal produce markets. This has occurred in every town. Vegetables, grains, oil seeds, fruits and more are piled high, sourced from diverse locations in the rural hinterlands. Although divided across multiple traders and involving a complex array of actors in the value chain, this is big money.

eMakombo, an agricultural information service, monitors the value of cash exchanges in Mbare market in Harare, the largest in the country. Across a huge range of agricultural products, they calculate that these market exchanges amounted to US$30m in 2014, with tomatoes accounting for an astonishing US$12m. A recent eMkambo Vibes briefing observes:

The true performance of agro-based economies like Zimbabwe can be seen through people’s markets (the so-called informal agriculture market) where the volume, variety and velocity of commodities and hard cash are more than formal markets.

Speaking of Mbare, the briefing notes:

The market serves all income levels and all sectors of the economy including mining, manufacturing as well as processors, input suppliers, food chain stores, transporters and government institutions. It also creates post-harvest employment around activities like harvesting, grading, transportation, off-loading, marketing and repackaging for end-users. From harvesting up to when the commodity is in the hands of consumers, employment creation is tenfold. We start with two employees loading the truck and at the end of the chain 20 people will have been employed. Although this form of employment may not be formal or monthly, it is hourly everyday employment which ensures household income and sustenance. To that end, the market distributes wealth.

 In our work on local economic development, and as demonstrated in the films we have produced on three commodities – tobacco, beef and horticulture – such informal markets are essential, with new value chains thriving, generating employment and wealth among a wide group of people.

eMakambo’s market information service which includes a call centre, SMS price updates and a website with a range of market information is an incredibly useful addition to Zimbabwe’s growing agricultural economy. Tapping into the informal dynamics of market development is essential, and making use of mobile phone technology and other means of transferring and sharing information is vital.

Of course with such flows of revenue, the growth of agricultural markets brings attention. Councils want to regulate them and extract fees. Politicians want to control them. Regulators feel the need to insist on all sorts of requirements. And criminal gangs see the opportunities for rent seeking and extortion. Markets are inevitably intensely political sites.

For example, Mbare market in Harare has become a battleground in the past years, and a focal point for the struggle between ZANU-PF factions and between ZANU-PF and the opposition. The notorious criminal youth gang, Chipangano, has been involved in racketeering on a massive scale, and was linked to a purge of the political opposition in such areas. Insistence on ZANU-PF cards from vendors, and protection payments and extortion were common-place. In the rampant rush to accumulation that characterises Zimbabwe’s corrupt politics, rumours of senior politicians being involved in controlling urban markets, attempting to wrest control from MDC controlled councils were common, especially prior to the 2013 elections.

While the intensity of this struggle for control of market revenues is more subdued in other towns and cities, politics and money are always close neighbours, and patronage networks never far away. The success of agriculture, and so informal markets involving large numbers of people and huge revenues, inevitably attracts a new political economy, one that too often has unsavoury elements, involving violence, intimidation and crime. Yet despite the harassment, violence and the political manoeuvring, Mbare market’s $30m cash revenue flows remain seriously impressive; a bright spot in an otherwise depressed economy.

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

 

 

 

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Greece and Africa: learning the lessons of structural adjustment

For nearly two decades, from the World Bank’s Berg report of 1981 onwards, Africa suffered the consequences of structural adjustment – or more kindly economic reform – at the behest of the international finance institutions. The consequences were devastating for employment, livelihoods and state capacity. But the neoliberal medicine did not work. There was a period in the 1990s when there were all sorts of arcane debates on why. Was it the imbalance of economic measures, was it the timing and sequencing, was it the lack of political will to implement properly? But in the end most agree that it was a disastrous period, the consequences of which are still being felt.

These consequences include the massive undermining of state capacity, including health services, agricultural research and extension and more, along with the loss of a generation of potential. The recent shocking impacts of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa can be in part related to these long-term effects of systematic underdevelopment – what some call ‘structural violence’.

In Zimbabwe, the Mugabe government abandoned its post-Independence ‘growth with equity’ strategy for one modelled on the designs of the World Bank and the IMF in 1991. The Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP – also known as ‘economic suffering for African peoples’, and many other plays on the same) was rolled out through the 1990s. It presaged the unrest that provoked the labour movement and war veteran mobilisations in the latter part of the decade, and was of course the backdrop for the land reform from 2000.

Of course some benefit from such neoliberal economic reforms. Despite the high-flown rhetoric, the Mugabe government did not push for land reform or other redistributions in the 1990s. Instead elites accumulated, corruption extended and a new politics emerged. In this period large-scale, mostly white-owned (but also now incorporating some of the new black elite) farming and other businesses profited. In agriculture, high value farming operations boomed, seeking profits in export markets as part of the new, competitive neoliberal order. In some ways, it was a great success. But in many ways a troublesome anomaly, as the benefits were not widely shared, and the festering discontents around land distribution, unresolved from the colonial period, continued unaddressed.

So what has this all to do with Greece? A week ago a new party, Syriza, dramatically came to power in Greece committed to ending the structural reforms imposed by the European Union, and Germany in particular, but also committing to tackle the deep corruption and oligarchic elitism that had come to characterise Greek political economy. The rise of Syriza has sent shockwaves through Europe with its rejection of the status quo, and the deep inequities of the ‘austerity packages’ imposed, what have been described by the new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, as “fiscal waterboarding” that had turned Greece into a “debt colony” (see excerpts from his book via this link).

A former colleague of mine, Diana Conyers, who lived in Zimbabwe during the ESAP period, and now lives in Greece wrote a thought-provoking blog for the IDS website recently. It drew the parallels between Greece and Africa in interesting ways. On the day of the Greek election, the UK Sunday broadsheet, The Observer, had an extended editorial on the Greek situation. If you replaced ‘Greece’ with ‘Africa’ (or any particular African country) in the piece – as I do below – the parallels that Diana drew attention to are striking:

Africans have been subjected to what many feel is a sustained, brutal and unnecessarily destructive attack on their basic living standards, way of life and national independence. If a country is invaded and occupied by hostile forces, it might expect to lose its freedom and its voice. But the subjugation of Africa, in the name of fiscal responsibility, debt reduction and structural reform, was undertaken by so-called friendly powers, principally, [western donors, the World Bank and the IMF[…[A]usterity is not working, either, as a group of leading economists noted… “The historical evidence demonstrates the futility and dangers of imposing unsustainable debt and repayment conditions on debtor countries [and] the negative impact of austerity policies on weakening economies… Debt should be cancelled”.

In the 1990s the global policy elite and the international commentariat, let alone ‘leading economists’, did not offer such a perspective on Africa. Partly Africa was far away and had less influence on the West than even Greece, but also the ‘historical evidence’ – mostly resulting from the failed experiments in Africa, post-Soviet Russia and elsewhere – had not been learned. And of course in Africa, where emergent democracies were being controlled through the same route as their economies via programmes of ‘good governance’, the prospects for an insurgent, popular, progressive, alternative politics, as has emerged in Greece (and maybe Spain too), was not feasible.

Through the 1990s, in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, political and business elites were quite happy to build their wealth and power on the back of austerity and ‘reform’, with inequality and deepening structural poverty growing with this. The Greek Syrzia moment perhaps has some parallels with Zimbabwe in 2000. The challenges will be similar: the prospects of diplomatic isolation, capital withdrawal, external pressure to conform and political tensions regionally, but equally the need to compromise, manage change and seek an alternative, while offsetting corruption, political division and social conflict that threaten a more humane, redistributive growth path.

In the past 15 years, Zimbabwe has sought an alternative political-economic trajectory, breaking some of the shackles of the past; but it has also failed dramatically to address other challenges, with the consequence that the economy continues to languish, corruption has extended even further, growth has failed to take off and the benefits of redistributive policy remain to be realised. Let’s hope the Syriza coalition fares better. Perhaps in the future Athens, rather than Washington, will be able to send economic advisers to Africa.

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

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The crop bias in resettlement: why pastoralists in Matabeleland are losing out

Discussion of livelihoods after land reform in Zimbabwe has been dominated by studies from Mashonaland, focusing particularly on crop production. Few studies have explored land reform in Matabeland, particularly in the pastoral livestock-keeping areas of Matabeland South. This is why the work of Clifford Mabhena is really important. His 2010 Fort Hare thesis, ‘Visible Hectares, Vanishing Livelihoods’ was based on extended fieldwork in Gwanda and Umzingwane districts. He argues that by focusing on settlement and crop production – the Mashonaland model – resettlement has availed more land, but not improved livelihoods, especially of pastoral livestock owners. A paper in the Journal of Contemporary African Studies came out last year which summarises the story.

Since the 1980s, resettlement has not seen huge success in the dry zones of Matabeleland (see Joss Alexander’s 1991 paper, The unsettled land). The sign-up for 1980s ‘Model A’ schemes was limited, and the attempt to design a livestock-oriented approach through the Model D scheme was largely a failure. Planners simply did not understand the nature of local livestock systems – the importance of seasonal transhumance (lagisa), loaning systems, and how livestock were managed across households, for example. The imposition of the ‘rectangular grid’ of standard settlement schemes – with the echoes of colonial planning – were widely resented and resisted, as Steve Robins described in the 1990s. Fences were cut and paddock grazing abandoned in favour of more flexible systems.

In the pastoral settings of southern Matabeleland there is perhaps an even greater, but rather different, pattern of livelihood differentiation, with (male) livestock keepers sometimes with huge herds, being the really ‘big men’ of local society, while others – younger men, women and poorer non-livestock owners – sought out other livelihoods, involving migration, mining and collection of wild products, as well as crop farming when the rains were good. In the past, the narrow ownership of livestock had benefits more broadly through kin and village connections, as well as offering employment through herding. But these benefits were mediated through complex social relations, involving sharing and loaning, that have declined and were never seen as being embedded in resettlement models. These were based instead on the notion of the individual plot holder and mixed farmer, settled permanently in villages, and without the need to move and access grazing in distant places.

As pastoral studies across the world have shown, in dry areas with variable rainfall, flexible movement is essential, as are ‘key resources’ that allow dry season grazing to sustain herds in times of dearth (see the book I edited in 1994 – Living with Uncertainty – for example) . Just as in the classic examples of transhumant and nomadic pastoralism of East and West Africa, in Matabeleland there had always been a locally adapted version based on the same principles of flexibility and mobility. Over time, as so many other places, this had been undermined, as land was removed and barriers to movement imposed. But nevertheless Matabeleland pastoralists made use of key resource grazing along the Shashe and Thuli rivers, and moved to gain relief grazing in ranches and wildlife areas. With the violence of the 1980s in the region, many large scale ranches were abandoned releasing grazing for those with large herds in the communal areas. As many pointed out, the problem in the communal areas was not too many people, but too many livestock, so the demand was for more grazing, that many were able to gain through various forms of leasing and poaching – all allowing some form of grazing flexibility to be maintained.

The post 2000 resettlements changed this. The ranches were carved up into A1 and A2 plots and handed out to beneficiaries. In the A2 plots, well connected people often benefited but the areas were too small for really effective livestock farming in such a harsh climate. In A1 areas, land was handed to often poorer people from the communal areas, with the intention that they become crop farmers. The farms however have often not flourished due to drought, and compared to the increasingly crowded communal areas, there are few livestock.

As Mabhena argues, there has been a mismatch between local needs and the design of resettlement models. The one-size-fits-all model from Mashonaland has not worked. He argues “the obsession of the Mugabe government with the redistribution of land as an end in itself rather than with the creation of viable rural livelihood options for rural people has led to a collapse of policymaking in the rural sector, especially in relation to the pastoral economy”. As Mr Nkomo, one of Mabhena’s informants from the communal areas explained:

“We used to lease graze or even grazed our livestock freely during the dissidentsera in some of these farms… but the state has settled people there. Where do they expect us to graze our livestock? Furthermore most of those resettled are strangers and own very few livestock”.

 The JCAS paper concludes:

 “Land redistribution is a programme capable of enhancing rural livelihoods if the state identifies the interests of beneficiaries before deciding on the peoplesinterests brings a danger of embarking on programmes and projects that do not address the needs of the local people and are not sustainable. People of southern Matabeleland are pastoralists and therefore could enhance their livelihoods if more land is made available for grazing than for village settlement distribution model. Misreading the landscape and misrepresenting peoplesinterests brings a danger of embarking on programmes and projects that do not address the needs of the local people and are not sustainable….There is a real desire at the local level to make agrarian livelihoods work better but the states one size fits allland reform programme focusing on agrarian reform through crop production has impacted negatively on livestock production and other livestock related livelihoods”.

 The crop bias in agricultural extension and land use planning in Zimbabwe has existed for decades. It has marginalised a vitally important element of the production system, and resulted in the imposition of measures that rarely work in the context of complex livestock production systems – whether attempts at ‘improved breeding’ or ‘paddocked grazing schemes’. This huge blindspot has major consequences in the drier parts of the country, and particularly Matabeleland where livelihoods are based on pastoral production. There clearly is a need for a major rethink of resettlement models for Matabeleland: a lesson that really should have been learned years ago through past failures resulting from inappropriate impositions.

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

 

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A new politics of the countryside following land reform?

How has land reform in Zimbabwe reshaped rural politics? This is a question addressed in a new article  that has recently been published in the Review of African Political Economy. You can download it here (or send me a request for a pdf via the comments section below).

The article is based on our research in Masvingo and looks at both the ‘core’ land reform areas in the province, as well as other areas in the lowveld. The tussle between land reform beneficiaries in the post 2000 resettlements and politically-connected elites is explored. The article argues that, in alliance with others, the ‘new farmers’ present a potentially important political force who can push the state to respond to their needs. This will of course depend on many factors, not least the political composition and leadership of the state. With things fast-moving on that front as the succession struggle comes to a head, there are many unknowns. However, unless the new configurations of interests in the countryside are taken note of, any political grouping, from whatever party, will not be able to mobilise support for the long-term.

Here is the abstract:

The reconfiguration of land and economic opportunity following Zimbabwe’s land reform from 2000 has resulted in a new politics of the countryside. This emerges from the processes of accumulation and differentiation set in train by the land reform. Yet this politics is contested: between the interests of new ‘middle farmers’ who are ‘accumulating from below’ and politically-connected elites and large-scale capital who see different opportunities for land-based accumulation. These dynamics are being played out in different ways in different parts of the country, depending on the agroecological potential of the area, the way the land reform unfolded and local political actors and processes. Based on research over the past 14 years, this paper examines two areas in Masvingo province and develops a contrasting analysis of emerging political dynamics. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications for the longer-term politics of agrarian change in Zimbabwe.

The conclusion ends:

It is a volatile and dynamic context. The state – and the ruling party – do not have full control. The agency of particular coalitions of actors is substantial. And the processes of socio-economic differentiation is such that new political forces are fast emerging.

In the past decade or more, all political formations have misjudged these changes in rural economy and politics, and have failed to analyse their implications. Most liberal academic commentary and political and civic opposition focused on exposing cronyism, but did not engage with understanding rural social differentiation, and the building of new alliances and constituencies. This in part contributed to failure in electoral terms. By contrast the nationalist populists in ZANU-PF failed to engage with the new emergent entrepreneurial class of ‘middle farmers’, and continued to back a narrow elite who remain widely resented.

There is a struggle at the heart of countryside: between a small group of well-connected elites and domestic and international capital on one side, often in an uneasy alliance, and a variegated grouping of poorer smallholder farmers, farm labourers, and a new class of ‘middle farmer’ petty commodity producers on the other. Electorally, if representative democracy is upheld, any party must rely on the latter to supply the votes, while the rich pickings of land and resources as patronage are to be gained by alliances with the former. As the Masvingo cases show, it is currently a fine balance.

What of the future? Will there be a capitulation to the elites and the alliance with fractions of (inter)national capital, and so a pushing aside of the emergent middle farmer class? This can only be achieved by the continuation of a non-democratic solution of obstructive, violent politics, especially given the electoral forces weighed against such an elite position. Given the track-record of ZANU-PF and the embedded reliance on crony capitalism and of a growing dependent network, this is a firm possibility (Raftopoulos 2013a). Or can a more democratic and accountable state be rebuilt from below, forged by the new alliances of farmers and workers, including women, youth and others, who are prepared to vote for a party that delivers on the demands of a new resurgent agrarian class, and its allies?

This latter option, given recent history, may be naively optimistic; but any political formation, no matter what its ideology or democratic traditions, cannot ignore the new politics of the countryside, and must garner support from a radically reconfigured set of interests and alliances. Inability to do so will result in electoral failure, as well as the sort of persistent and disruptive resistance we have seen in the Masvingo cases. As the 2018 election approaches, a deeper understanding of the changed dynamics of rural economy and politics will certainly be required.

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

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