Integrated water resource management: panacea or problem?


Integrated water resource management (IWRM) became the buzzword for water resources policy gurus in the 1990s. The donors poured millions into projects, plans, programmes and many, many workshops and consultancy exercises. The idea was seemingly neat and simple. Water resources had to be managed locally at catchment level through an inclusive process involving all water users. Water as a scarce commodity should in turn be priced and paid for through tariffs charged on level of use. This would pay for the management systems, and also for improvements, as well as investments in environmental sustainability. The ‘Dublin principles’ – a worthy list developed at a big conference in 1992 – guided the approach, and included all the buzzwords of the time: participation, gender, decentralisation, good governance market efficiency, and more.

Zimbabwe became one of the test cases. In the 1990s it too had its share of consultancies and workshops, and eventually an Act of Parliament – the 1992 Water Act. This overturned the old colonial legislation that was based on ‘riparian rights’, or the ability to draw water depending on the location of your land. Water and land were thus separated – different ministries, legislation, administrative units and governance arrangements. The aim was to rid the country of the inequitable distribution of the past, now with all water users potentially having access if they could pay. For those who could not pay or access a permit, such as communal area farmers and small-scale irrigators, allocations of water in government dams were made. A new independent, quasi private authority – the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) was established to oversee all water issues, including the market basis of the new regime. The authority was supposed to be funded from the revenues. Catchment councils, as the new forum for managing water, were planned for seven catchments. Different donors became involved, each supporting a different area. It seemed like a dream solution, perfectly suited to the neoliberal age, but with participation, decentralisation and women’s empowerment thrown into the mix.

And then land reform happened. The rapid, largely unplanned unfolding of the land reform from 2000 quickly unravelled the carefully laid plans for the IWRM revolution in Zimbabwe. The donors who were funding the whole operation all withdrew, and the catchment councils mostly ceased to operate. The mismatch between the original design and the new agrarian reality was stark, requiring some major rethinking. Three new papers in the open access journal Water Alternatives document this story, and examine the consequences for IWRM after land reform. These come from a major Norwegian-funded project on IWRM in Southern Africa. The papers by long-term observers of the water scene in Zimbabwe, including Emmanuel Manzungu and Bill Derman, offer some fascinating insights into the history and some of the contemporary challenges of IWRM in Zimbabwe, echoing earlier findings by Sobona Mtisi, Alan Nicol and others.

Changing land use, changing water use

Only one of the papers offers data for the post-land reform period, and this focuses on some A2 farms in the Middle Manyame sub-catchment area near Harare. This is an area where there were previously massive large-scale commercial tobacco and wheat farms (including irrigated winter wheat). They had impressive infrastructure, with large scale water abstraction and irrigation systems, including massive centre pivots that irrigated the huge fields throughout the year. This was really water-intensive farming, despite efforts at improving irrigation efficiencies in the last few decades.

Following land reform, these farms, with a few exceptions, no longer operate, and nearly all have been subdivided into both A1 and A2 plots of varying sizes. All these are much, much smaller than the original properties. The consequence is that the previous irrigation infrastructure is largely redundant; it is mostly inappropriate for the current land sizes or too expensive to run. Much irrigation equipment was removed or vandalised during the tumultuous land reform period too.

Most ‘new farmers’ on the resettlements have also switched their cropping mix. Summer white maize and soy beans are now common, and tobacco is also grown in increasingly large quantities, through contract farming arrangements. Most of this is not irrigated and the only intensive irrigation tends to be on relatively small horticulture plots, reflecting a growth in small-scale market gardening.   In their study of 18 A2 farms near Mazvikadei dam, Hove and colleagues found that although about 60% were irrigating, the new farmers were reluctant to pay the fees for water use to ZINWA. Many claimed that they were not doing irrigation, or if they were did their own abstraction through boreholes or small-scale river pumps. The result has been a massive decline in officially-recorded water use, especially from ZINWA controlled dams, making the market-based response to water scarcity that IWRM offered largely meaningless.

Ignoring politics: IWRM as a technical-market fix

IWRM was a technical-market fix and (especially in Zimbabwe) explicitly ‘apolitical’. It therefore failed to address the underlying political economy of water use and control. While the Water Act abandoned the riparian rights approach in favour of an open market approach, this made little difference in practice. For access to markets for irrigated agricultural water was directly correlated with ownership of land, and the capital invested in it, especially irrigation equipment. And guess who had the land and the capital before 2000? Just the people who had benefited from the colonial legislation – the (mostly) white large-scale farmers and the commercial estates. The result was that catchment councils were dominated by this group as they had a vested interest in maintaining their access to water, and preventing reallocations elsewhere. Through the assessments that they commissioned, they could also influence water pricing, crucial to the overall commercial viability of their farming operations. Derman and Manzungu document in detail the membership of the Mupfure, Mazowe and Manyame catchment councils and the participation in the meetings in the period 1993-2001. The councils were not inclusive, participatory, decentralised and democratic, but were captured by elite interests, making use of their existing assets to leverage further resources at relatively low cost under a new mechanism, backed substantially by (international) public money. Earlier studies have shown this pattern elsewhere, for example in the Save Catchment. Rather than a model of good development, in many ways it was a scandal. Inequalities of power and control over water, reproduced by a neoliberal technical-market fix, were however overturned by land reform, creating a new rural politics of water.

Reviving the catchment councils or a more radical rethink of water resource governance?

So what is happening today? With some funds trickling back through various routes there are attempts to revive the catchment council system and institute payment systems for the new farmers, as suggested by the World Bank backed 2013 Water Policy. But, as already mentioned, there is resistance. The rhetoric of the land reform that ‘land is for the people’ (and so free) is replicated for water. Why should we pay for water? This is the government’s, or indeed God’s, resource, and part of the heritage that has been reclaimed through the land reform.

With a shift in crop mix, a change in irrigation systems towards small-scale gardening operations, and lack of capital to rehabilitate defunct water supply and irrigation systems on larger farms, the demand for water has dropped, or at least shifted to different sources (see last week’s blog). The consequence is that the incentives to invest in water management are just not there. It is not appropriate to berate the land reform for this outcome. A return to water intensive large-scale agriculture, and with this the IWRM catchment approaches, is not appropriate. With a restructured agricultural sector in terms of farm size, cropping pattern and level of capital investment, a radical rethink of water resource issues is required. This cannot take its cue from the past. The challenges are many, but they are different to the past, and so require new institutional and governance solutions.

Certainly, water resource issues have been largely ignored during land reform – in part due to the organisational, legislative and administrative separation that the 1990s IWRM system instituted. But this is not to say that they are not very significant. In fact, water provisioning for agriculture is one of the most important priorities for investment in the new resettlements, as I have argued many times on this blog. New investments should not be large-scale dams nor centre-pivot irrigation installations, but more of a focus on water harvesting, small dams/tanks, and micro-irrigation and pumping – the farmer-led irrigation systems described last week. This is revolutionising how irrigation is practised on the ground. Unfortunately, this thinking by farmers has yet to permeate through to the planners, consultants and donors.

In our work in Masvingo on new horticulture supply chains, we have observed some new water management challenges emerging. These are of two sorts. The first is the competition for pumped irrigation water from perennial and seasonal rivers and streams. There has been a massive growth in market gardening especially near Masvingo, but also other growth points and towns. This has been spurred by investment in small-scale pumps, as well as market demand. This has resulted in some severe competition between water users in particular areas. There have been the beginnings of some local initiatives to regulate use, but this has not be institutionalised. Indeed, this has been made more difficult by the existence of ZINWA and the fear of control and water charging. The result has been that the new irrigators have continued under-the-radar, but without the ability and encouragement to develop new institutions to manage the resource sustainability. Rather than an elaborate top-down, market-driven catchment council system, some more local water user associations for such areas are clearly needed, and should be allowed to flourish and assisted in doing so.

Where a larger-scale response is required is across the catchments (both Save and Runde) in the region, and in relation to water destined for the sugar and citrus estates in the lowveld. The use of water from Mtirikwe dam as well as Bangala, and now Tokwe Mukorsi, has long been controversial. The financial and political backing of the estate companies has always been important for the politics of water. This was not a resource that was going to be open to inclusive management of any sort. This remains the case. Yet the demands for water in and around these dams is growing, especially as farms expand and demands to improve productivity increase. Why should it all go to the lowveld when demands are local too? Why should we rely on an old colonial division of water that backs (white, in this case South African) capital against small-scale black farming? Why can’t water reform follow form land reform and we take back ‘our water’?

Here again an IWRM solution will not deal with these high water politics. Indeed such a solution, as before, will likely simply reinforce existing inequalities, but with a market gloss. Instead, a wider political solution is required to the politics of resource access across areas, relating to land for agriculture of different sorts, urban areas, wildlife zones and so on. This requires more than a technical land-use planning exercise based on notionally ideas of land suitability, or simplistic community management solutions, but a political negotiation about equitable access and sustainable productivity.

Water resource challenges are going to increase with growing agricultural intensification combined with climate change in the coming years. New institutions and mechanisms, and likely new legislation, will be required. Outdated and inappropriate technical-market fixes such as IWRM that simply replicate inequality and fail to deal with emerging challenges in the new agrarian system need to be rejected.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Farmer-led irrigation in Africa: driving a new Green Revolution?


A new open access review paper is just out in the Journal of Peasant Studies on farmer-led irrigation in Africa. The authors, led by Phil Woodhouse, define farmer-led irrigation development as “a process where farmers assume a driving role in improving their water use for agriculture by bringing about changes in knowledge production, technology use, investment patterns and market linkages, and the governance of land and water”. Covering a huge array of literature and many cases (although surprisingly very little from Zimbabwe), the paper offers a fantastically useful overview of the debate about what form of irrigation is most likely to support increases in smallholder production and livelihoods in Africa.

The paper in particular identifies furrow systems in mountainous areas, valley bottom/vlei systems, small-scale pumping from wells/open water, and peri-urban agriculture, as areas where farmer-led irrigation is important. All of these are important in Zimbabwe, whether the famous furrow systems of Inyanga, the ‘wetland in dryland’ vlei or dambo cultivation in the miombo zones, small-scale pump systems everywhere, and the massive growth of cultivation in and around towns and cities. Yet such forms of irrigation are often not acknowledged, nor counted in the statistics or supported by donor investments and government policy. This is of course not a new argument, but it’s one that has become more pertinent given the rise of small-scale, informal irrigation systems, with the decline of state support for formal schemes and the decline in costs of pumps in particular allowing informal systems to expand.

There was one statistic that really struck me in the paper, based on work by Beekman and colleagues in Mozambique. They estimate that over 115,000 ha are irrigated by farmers on a small scale. Accounting for this area, this would nearly double the national total irrigated area. Perhaps not to such an extent, but the total area irrigated in Zimbabwe is surely a gross underestimate too. This is a pattern increasingly seen by more detailed satellite-based estimates of irrigated areas globally. Estimates vary but there are approximately 150,000 hectares of irrigation land in Zimbabwe, mostly in large-scale schemes, including the sugar estates. The irrigation infrastructure in Zimbabwe, however, is in a sorry state, but people are compensating by digging boreholes or pumping from open water bodies directly. Earlier blogs and some of our films profiled ‘irrigation entrepreneurs’ operating small-scale farmer designed and managed irrigation systems, mostly for market-oriented horticultural production.

Our data from Mvurwi area in Mazowe district in 2014-15 showed that 34% of A1 households in our sample of 220 had pumps, with 0.44 on average being bought per household in the five years from 2010. Around 12% of households have irrigated plots on their main fields, while all households have gardens, either at the home or by a nearby river/stream. Even former farm workers living in compounds are buying pumps, as they branch out into farming (see earlier blogs), with 0.2 pumps on average bought per household in the same period. Pumps now cost only around $200 for a cheap Chinese make, and these can irrigate small gardens. Some are upgrading to larger engines, while others are expanding production areas through storage systems, and having a series of pumps. The extent of such irrigated areas is not known, but just taking our study areas in Mazowe, Masvingo and Matobo districts, my estimate is that it’s considerable.

The JPS paper highlights five characteristics of farmers’ investment in irrigation. They all apply in Zimbabwe, and each has important policy implications.

  1. Farmers invest substantially. Whether this is in new pumps or pipes or furrow systems in mountain areas or in vleis, irrigation requires investments of cash and labour. This is significant, and as we saw in our survey data from land reform areas in Zimbabwe, pumps in particular have become a priority investment, across social groups and geographical areas.
  2. Interactions among farmers, external agencies and the rural economy are crucial. Too often studies of irrigation focus just on the technology, but not on the interactions required and generated. In Zimbabwe, most new irrigation is spontaneous, independent of the state, NGOs and projects. But connections with the rural economy are important. There is a whole new set of businesses emerging for selling, maintaining and repairing pumps. And the production generated from new irrigation is transforming markets, as we showed in our earlier work, highlighted in our SMEAD films.
  3. Innovation occurs in broad socio-technical networks and complex agricultural systems. The classic engineering approach to irrigation focuses on flat areas, large water supplies and fixed technology. This is the form of standard irrigation schemes. But farmer-led irrigation manages water in different ways, making use of water within a landscape. Slopes, pits, valley bottoms and so on all become significant in maximising irrigation potential. The late Zephaniah Phiri was perhaps the most famous of Zimbabwe’s farmer irrigators, and was a master of harvesting water in landscapes. Technologies – in Mr Phiri’s case, a combination of pits, check dams, pumps and contour ridges – are constructed in a social context, and must always be seen as ‘socio-technologies’, part of ‘networks’, as the paper suggests.
  4. Formal land tenure is not a prerequisite for irrigation development. As discussed many times on this blog, ‘formal land tenure’ (such as freehold or leasehold) is not a prerequisite for investment in farming, including irrigation. This is especially so with mobile, flexible irrigation. Communal tenure or the permit/offer letter system found in A1 areas is not a constraint, as we have seen. This seems to be the case across Africa too, as the paper shows.
  5. Many benefit, but others are adversely affected. Highlighting the benefits of farmer-led irrigation must be tempered by an assessment of who wins and who loses. As discussed in respect of the new pump based irrigation systems in Masvingo, downstream impacts can be severe, and second-generation challenges of water management are emerging. The investors in these new irrigation systems are usually men (able to buy the pumps) and the losers may be women and other family members, who often have to supply the labour (a theme largely ignored in the review). Gluts of production are common in such systems too, so those surviving along market chains may be affected. As the paper argues, an overall assessment is necessary, but the benefits are significant – and underestimated.

There is a much-repeated narrative about Africa’s agriculture – that it missed out on the ‘Green Revolution’ due to the lack of irrigation. The comparison with Asia is always made, where approximately 20 per cent of land is irrigated, while in Africa it is supposed to be less than 4 per cent. As discussed above, this contrast is probably not accurate, and far more land is already being irrigated in Africa, but through different systems. Because of rainfall, topography, markets and a host of other factors, Africa and Asia are never going to be the same, and such comparisons are often rather futile. But nevertheless, we should learn more about what is happening with water and agriculture on the ground in Africa. This paper identifies farmer-led irrigation as an important trend, and one that may well be driving an unnoticed Green Revolution in Africa.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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From ‘ordered estates’ to ‘crooked times’: farmworker welfare in Zimbabwe

farm mvurwi

A new book is just out – Ordered Estates: Welfare, Power and Maternalism on Zimbabwe’s (Once White) Highveld – by Andrew Hartnack, and published by Weaver and UKZN Press. It addresses many of the themes highlighted in the blogs of the past two weeks, and is based on research carried out over the last decade on a number of Highveld farms, as well as with farm worker welfare NGOs. Once you peel away the layering of sometimes unnecessary theory (it was originally an anthropology PhD so that’s the excuse!), the empirical stories shared in the book’s pages have much to offer our emerging understandings of post-land reform Zimbabwe (see also earlier blogs on his work).

The book fills an important gap in the literature, as it offers a nuanced account of the history of farm workers’ rights, as well as a reflection on changing fortunes since 2000. The ‘ordered estates’ of the colonial era have been much described. Blair Rutherford’s classic work from Karoi/Hurungwe told this story well, describing the constrained ‘domestic government’ that disciplined and controlled in the narrow, paternalistic world of white farms. Post-independence this reformed somewhat, and the limited sovereignties of the farms were extended as the state insisted on labour laws and other regulations, and NGOs took up the plight of farmworkers, creating new, more technical-bureaucratic, ‘practices of rule’.

This book deepens this analysis, particularly with a focus on ‘farmers’ wives’ and their role in welfare organisations – hence the reference to ‘maternalism’ in the title. It also shows of course that there was not one single approach to labour in white farming areas; not surprisingly all farms were different, depending on characters and contexts. The post-independence developmental attempts to modernise, civilise and improve resulted in a range of initiatives on the farms from schooling programmes to orphanages, often with heavy involvement of ‘farmers’ wives’. But by ‘rendering technical’ the inequalities of land and labour regimes, such welfare efforts did not address the underlying challenges, and welfare was more sticking plaster rather than fundamental reform. Following land reform in 2000, such NGOs have not found a new role, focusing on displacement, but not on the new lives and livelihoods of their former ‘beneficiaries’.

However, it is in the examination of the post-land reform period that this book cuts new ground. Building on, but also critiquing (as with some other recent literature somewhat gratuitously and inaccurately in my view), the important work of Walter Chambati, Sam Moyo and others, the book paints a detailed ethnographic picture of how farm workers carve out new opportunities in an highly challenging economic, social and political environment. This is the period of ‘crooked times’, where a ‘zig-zag’ approach to the kukiya-kiya economy is vital to survive. This is the world where there are no standard jobs – in the form of regular wage work – and where entrepreneurial informality emerges, with new forms of distribution, dependence and personhood, as James Ferguson describes for South Africa.  Whether in the case of the Harare peri-urban settlement described in Chapter 5 (discussed previously in this blog) or the biographies of former farm workers profiled in Chapter 7, mixing new farm work with urban living, the new precarities of life in the post land reform age are well described. New ‘modes of belonging’ must be generated, very different to the ordered safety, if extreme exploitation, of what went before.

What was missing from the book I felt was more detailed information who moved to what new occupations and where they ended up to provide the bigger-picture context to make sense of the fascinating detail. The book acknowledges the problems with the existing statistics, quoting both the CFU and other sources, and (somewhat bizarrely) just takes an average number, as a ‘middle way’. Getting a national picture may be impossible, but it would have been good to know what happened on those on the farms studied, and get a sense of how outcomes for farm workers were differentiated and why, in order to locate the few, if fascinating, individual cases.

There are hints though at wider patterns. Those few white farms that have persisted have often maintained a network of loyal farm workers, some who provide protection and support through their links, and the book offered an interesting case of this dynamic in Chapter 7. At various points, the book suggests (I think very accurately) that turnover on A2 farms was particularly damaging to farmworkers, as production collapsed and some A2 farmers did not maintain their operations. But it also suggests that ‘successful’ A2 farms nearby took on workers, and so there is often a regional labour economy that is important to understand on the new farms. The book did not however get into any detail on what happened post land reform to groups of farmworkers in farm labour compounds, and especially on the A1 farms (after all the largest areas), as we have been trying to do in Mvurwi. It therefore missed out on the dynamic described in the blogs over the last two weeks, of farmworkers becoming farmers – along with much else – in the new ‘crooked times’ of the last 16 years.

Despite shortcomings (this was after all a single researcher doing a research degree, so no blame there), this is a most valuable contribution, and coming from a white Zimbabwean (as he admits not from a farming background) perhaps especially powerful. When you next hear misinformed statements about Zimbabwe’s former farmworkers, please turn to this book for an informed, nuanced account that sets an important agenda for future research and policy debate.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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The changing fortunes of former farm workers in Zimbabwe


Last week, I offered an overview of our findings on changing livelihoods among former farm workers from three former large-scale farms near Mvurwi in Mazowe district, and focused on broad survey findings, but what about individual’s life stories and perspectives? This week, I share four case examples of around 25 we have collected to date. They offer important glimpses into the life of farmworkers, before and after land reform (see also blogs from last year on this theme).

The first two are women (both single) who have gardens, but must rely on piecework and remittances to survive. The first case fits into the group highlighted last week of households with between zero and 1 ha of land, while the second has no land beyond a very small home garden. The second two are profiles of men and their households, both with 1 ha plots. From these interviews we can see clearly how things have changed, in different ways from different people.

A recurrent theme is the sense of new freedoms, but also extreme challenges and precarity. Reflections on the past focus on control, ordering and disciplining, but also stability and the certainty of a wage. As the testimonies show, farmers were very different in their approach. Different people weigh up the pros and cons of change in different ways. Gaining access to land, as highlighted last week, even if a very small plot is seen as crucial, but this is only available to some, and security of tenure is uncertain, dependant on local patronage relations.

The life histories highlight the multi-generational experience of farm work, and the endless mobility of moving farm to farm in search of work. Several of these cases have family connections with Mozambique or Malawi, but several generations removed. Home has become the farms, although some have communal area links. A fragile existence persists, as we see much mobility in populations living in the compounds in our study areas. Evictions are frequent, and conflicts with settlers common, although, as noted in some of the cases new accommodations, as land is rented, skills hired and former farm workers become incorporated.

Above all, the cases highlight the complex livelihoods of former farm workers, and how, as discussed last week, the single category is insufficient. A process of differentiation is occurring among former farm worker communities, with links to the new settlers and radically changed agrarian landscape influencing what is possible.

Do read four of the interview transcripts collected earlier this year:

“There’s no-one to plan for you”

I was born in Forrester Estate in 1967. My father worked there on irrigation, opening water to the canal. Mango and apple is what they grew mostly. Also wheat and soy bean. My mother worked as a general worker. I came to this farm with my parents. I went to school up to Grade III (Lucknow farm school). My mother became sick so I left school. I looked after the other children, as I was the first born. I was married in 1980. I went with my husband to Mozambique in 1992, and returned here in 2009. My husband married another wife – it didn’t work out. My father is still here, and my mother is late. I have had five children. My first born girl is late, and I also have four boys. Two did Form 4, and other two up to Grade V/VI.

We have a garden for growing tomatoes and vegetables. We go and sell by the road side to raise cash for school fees. It’s about one acre. We dug ponds in the garden. I work with one of my sons in the garden, and do not hire labour. We do maricho (piecework labour) ourselves. One son is here, but the others are in Mozambique, but I don’t get any income from them. In past when working for whites, we had very small gardens near the house only. Now we have extended gardens, and can grow more. My livelihood is better now, as I have the freedom to do gardening, and sell without asking anyone for permission. You can plan to do what you want. There’s no-one to plan for you. Before you were told what to do. Now time is your own. You have to plan. If you work the land you will be OK; if you are lazy and don’t bother, you will starve.

“There is more freedom but it’s a tough life”

I was born in 1977 and went to school up to Grade 7, but I didn’t proceed to secondary, as I had no birth certificate. I was the first born of a family of four. We lived on different farms on Forrester Estate. My father was a cook who moved from place to place, working for the same white man who was a cattle manager. My mother was both a general labourer and a house girl. My father started out as a worker, then became foreman, then house boy then cook. My grandparents were farm workers too, working near Concession, and were originally from Mozambique where they were both born.

We moved to this farm in 1992 when my father’s boss moved. I have never married, but I gave birth to a son in 1992, who is now training to be a lawyer at university. I have two boys and a girl, and live with my parents. We have never had any money. The pay was always poor. The white farm owner here was harsh. If you bought a bicycle or TV he wanted to know where it came from. There was a mindset that workers would always steal. Even if we had extra money, we would not buy things, as the farmer would be suspicious. Here you were not allowed to farm anything. No gardens even. In one year only he gave 3 lines for all the workers, but that was it. As a cook, foreman, driver or clerk you got given second-hand chairs or a TV from the whites.

We have been helped by my brothers. Two were kombi drivers in Banket. My parents helped then get licenses. They helped with the education of my kids, and fund my son at UZ. Today it’s difficult to raise money – it’s only maricho (piecework). Despite being old, my father and mother even go. We have a very small garden, where we grow vegetables and a bit of maize. We do have one cow which gives us milk. We don’t have any other land. Those with connections got 1 hectares, and farmworkers were prevented from getting resettlement land. This is home now. We have nowhere to go. The farm workers have a cemetery. This is where we live, however difficult.

In the past you had a salary. You knew it would come. If the boss had relatives visiting, my father would get extra. Now you don’t know where money will come from. But at least we will not be asked where we got the money to buy things. We now have a TV, sofa and kitchen unit. Each child has a bed. We also have solar. There is more freedom but it’s a tough life.

“Relations are better now”

I was born in 1969 in Muzarabani, was married in 1993 and I have four kids: two girls are now married and did up to Form 4, I have one boy doing Form 3, and one girl in Grade 6. My parents worked on the farms, creating the steam for the boilers for curing. I started working after Form 1, as an assistant spanner boy at Concession, and went to work on tobacco farms in Centenary. In 1995, I was promoted to be a foreman, and later went on a course on curing, planting, reaping at Blackfordby.

I came here in 1997, as my boss was friends with the former owner here. He was a tough guy. You couldn’t buy personal property. I had a small radio only. I would buy goats and sell for school fees, and other money was sent to my parents now retired back in Muzarabani communal. I tried to keep broilers, but was taken to the farmer’s own court, and wasn’t allowed to keep them. He needed people to be dependent. You had to buy at his shop, and couldn’t go to Mvurwi. He would give chikwerete (loans), but would be deducted from the salary. There was a football ground, and we were the ‘Sharp Shooters’, competing between between farms.

I got a 1 ha plot in 2002. Because farmworkers were prevented by the white farmer from the card sorting exercise for allocation of land, 27 of us came together and argued that we needed allocation. We went to the village heads, party officials and the Ministry of Lands. In the end, we were given land set aside for ‘growth’. We don’t have ‘offer letters’, but we went to the District Administrator and our names are there. But without ‘offer letters’, we can’t get any support. We don’t have any help at all. There is still suspicion of us compound workers. During the elections of 2008 it got really bad, and we were thrown out. We camped on the roadside for three days, until the MP and other officials intervened. We came back and relations are better now.

I also have been renting land. One of my relatives has a big field in the A1 settlement. She is a war vet and was married to my late brother, and I rent a plot to grow maize from her. In exchange, I help them out and do the grading and curing of their tobacco. But this year I didn’t get any land, as she used the full six hectares. My son, my wife and I all do piece work. We’ve got a garden (about 30 x 40 m), and grow potatoes for sale in Mvurwi, and at the homestead we grow bananas and sweet potatoes.

I first planted tobacco in 2006, with 7000 plants and got 12 bales. Then in subsequent years, I got 15, 12 (I was disturbed in 2008 by the evictions), 16, 18 and 20 bales. Since 2011 I have got 20 each year, with 25 bales in 2016, the highest ever. I employ workers on piece work from the compounds myself. After harvest I buy inputs in Harare, bulk buying. After land reform, I have bought other goods. We now have a 21” TV, a sofa, two bicycles, a kitchen unit, a wardrobe and a big radio. I built the barn myself, making the bricks. I also have two cows and three goats, and I hire a government tractor (from the Brazilian More Food International programme) for ploughing.

“Life is better now if you have land”

I was born in 1963 on a farm in Concession. Our family originated from Mozambique; my parents came as labourers. My parents separated, and the six kids went with my mother to another farm. We moved to many farms over the years, and came here in 1981. Of my siblings, one of my brothers is also here, and another works on a farm near Harare doing brick moulding. My two sisters live in Epworth.

At first I was a general labourer. I got married in 1984, and it was around that time that I got promoted to deputy foreman on the ranching operation. My now stepfather came here in 1986. He is now late and was a specialised grader. I have five kids: 4 boys and 1 girl. My first born is working and assisting me. My second born is assisting teaching here on the farm paid by the Salvation Army, the others are still at school.

I have a one hectare plot and a garden. The Committee of Seven and sabhuku (headman) allocated plots to 30 people (out of 89 households in the compound). At land reform, we were prevented from getting land. We concentrated on our jobs. We didn’t know if the land reform would happen for long. Now we know it’s a reality, but we missed out. Before the farmer would parcel out lines in different fields for farm workers. This was an alternative to rations, and only maize only allowed. You could get a tonne out of your allocation.

The farmer here wanted everyone to go to school (Lucknow Primary). Four white farmers built the school for farm workers, and school fees were deducted from wages. We did not rely on extra work apart from farm labour. We were busy. We had a revolving savings club to allow us to buy things, but couldn’t buy much. It was a struggle. We didn’t buy livestock as we had nowhere to keep them. We were allowed to buy TVs, radios, bicycles. But the farmer didn’t want noise, so radios had to be quiet! We had enough to survive; hand to mouth.

On my one hectare plot, I generally plant tobacco and maize 50/50. I managed to buy a truck in 2014 from 16 bales of tobacco from ¾ ha. I have five cattle, an ox cart and an ox drawn plough. I also managed to by a bed. I have to pay school fees too. I use the truck to transport tobacco to the floors, and others pay. From 2013, I am no longer going for maricho (piecework). Those with 1 ha plots end up being the employers here. Otherwise if you don’t have land it’s all maricho. Sourcing inputs and tillage is a major challenge. In the past selling was not a problem, you could get a letter from the Councillor. But today they want an offer letter. About eight compound members have TIMB grower numbers. I help others to sell under my number. They say thanks with $20.

One son does it locally on the A1 farms. Family members help in my field, and they get a share. I hire labourers from the compound. About five when doing picking, also planting, weeding, grading. $3-4 per day. My son also now has a one hectare plot, given out by the A2 farmer next door, who lives in the old farm house. There is no payment for the land, but if he asks for some help, we go and help out. It’s all about good relations.

Life is better now if you have land, even though it is small. For those without land, they view the past as better.

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


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What are former farm workers doing 16 years after land reform?

farm worker Mvurwi

There has been much debate about the fate of ‘farm workers’ following land reform, with discussion focused on displacement and dispossession (and many dodgy numbers touted around),  but relatively little about what has happened to this group since (although this blog has tried). Today we must ask,  is the term ‘farm worker’ now irrelevant, and do we need a more nuanced characterisation? Our research in Mvurwi area in Mazowe district suggests the answer is yes.

Those who were once workers on white commercial farms are now carving out new livelihoods on the margins of the resettlement programme, often under very harsh conditions. Their challenges are barely represented in wider debates on future rural policy, with the focus being on the new settlers. How they are surviving, and how they are integrating within new farming communities following land reform, remains poorly understood, and under-researched.

Fortunately there is new research emerging which paints a complex picture across the Highveld farming communities. In a couple of weeks I will review Andrew Hartnack’s excellent new book, Ordered Estates, for example. Our own research shows some similar patterns. On the three former large scale commercial farms where we are working near Mvurwi, now each subdivided into multiple A1 resettlement farms (a total of 220), there are three farm worker compounds, housing 370 families. Before land reform these families worked on farms across the district and beyond. Around half formerly worked on one of the three farms where we are working, the others came from 23 other farms, displaced by the land reform as compounds were closed and new farmers, particularly A2 farmers taking over larger farms, dismissed workers, and replaced or downsized their workforce.

In the last 15 years, these families – and now their descendants – have had to carve out a living on the margins. The old system of employment, under the paternalistic ‘domestic government’, so well described by Blair Rutherford, has gone. In its place is a much more precarious existence, based on a range of unstable sources of income. Many work for the new settlers, others farm their own land, others do a range of off-farm activities, from brickmaking to mining to fishing. We interviewed 100 household heads, sampled randomly across the compounds, and asked whether they thought their life had improved, stayed the same or got worse since land reform. Contrary to the standard narrative about former farmer workers, we were surprised to find 56% of informants saying that things had improved. IM commented: “Life in the past was very hard. It’s definitely an improvement today. I didn’t even have bicycle then, no cattle. Now I farm a bit, and have both”.

Three farms near Mvurwi

How are people improving their livelihoods, and what is happening to those who see a deterioration in their livelihoods? Our studies have aimed to find out. What is clear is that a single designation of former farm worker is insufficient. Today, this is a much more differentiated group. In the past there were grades of different jobs, with drivers, cooks, foremen and others with managerial posts getting better conditions and pay than field workers. But today, the differentiation is not based on jobs, but on a range of livelihood options being followed. Access to land in particular is crucial. In many ways, the people living in the compounds are not so much workers in the classic sense, but more represent the ‘fractured classes of labour’ that Henry Bernstein has described, mixed in with aspiring peasants and petty commodity producers.

Across our three farms there is a clear difference between those with plots of land, and those without – or with only small gardens. Some former farm workers gained land during the land reform. Across our sample 19 A1 households are headed by former farm workers or their sons, representing 8.6 per cent of plots. For those who remained in the compounds in two of the farms, access to 1 ha plots was negotiated following land reform, with the approval of local politicians, the District Administrator and the Department of Lands. This arose out of major disputes, particularly around the 2008 election, between the A1 settler farmers and those living in the compounds. For others small garden plots are available, and these can be vital for household survival. In addition, there is a growing rental market in land, as A1 farmers unable to use their full allocation of land, rent out small plots (usually 0.1-0.2 hectares) to compound residents. This helps hook them into labour relations, and means that often highly skilled workers are on hand.

Before land reform farming was not possible for those living in the compounds. The white farmers on these 3 farms sometimes offered ‘lines’ within their fields as an alternative to rations, but farm workers were not allowed independent incomes. This was a highly controlled setting, with paternalistic, sometimes violent and brutal, control creating a system of dependence and fear. Of course former farm owners were very different, and some were better than others, as the testimonies of farm workers clearly show (see next week’s blog for some extended case studies), but the expectation was that those living in the compounds were under the control of the farmer, and expected to work in return for pay, housing and some amenities. Today the housing has to be maintained by the residents, there is no regular pay (except for a few who have been employed permanently by the new settlers) and school or clinic fees must be paid for.

Differentiated livelihoods

The table below offers some basic data, contrasting four different groups: those who got land under land reform and are now A1 settlers but were formerly farm workers (or their sons); those living in the compounds with plots of more than 1 ha; those with plots/gardens of up to 1 ha; and those without land (or just small gardens by their houses).

A1 farmers, who were former farm workers Compound dwellers with more 1 ha or more of land Compound dwellers with land areas less than 1 ha Compound dwellers with only small home gardens
Land owned (ha) 3.5 1.5, plus 0.3 rental 0.4, plus 0.3 rental A few sq metres, plus 0.2 ha rental
Cattle (nos) 2.1 0.7 0.5 0.1
Maize (kg in 2014) 1569 735 418 66
Tobacco (kg in 2014) 1045 470 232 27
Cattle purchased in last 5 years 0.9 0.3 0.2 0.0


The contrasts are stark. Those who managed to get land during the land reform are doing relatively well (21 households of the 220 settlers across the farms). Their skills learned on the commercial farms are paying off. Even though they have much lower land areas than others in the A1 settlements, they have reasonable production and on average cultivated 2.5 ha in 2014. This resulted in a surplus of maize being sold, and tobacco being marketed. As a result, they are accumulating cattle and other goods, building homes and employing people themselves from the compounds.

But those living in the compounds are not all the same. There are some (26 per cent of our compound sample) who are more akin to the poorer settlers, or those in the communal areas, who have on average 1.5 ha, renting in a further 0.3 ha. They produce about three-quarters of annual family food requirements from maize, while also selling tobacco and engaging in other work. Their reliance on selling labour is limited, although at the peak of the farming, curing or grading season they may be hired. Many had higher grade jobs before, and may be sought out for advice. They have started accumulating and are investing in cattle in particular (but also a whole range of other goods, including solar panels, water pumps, bicycles, and a few have bought cars).

Then there are those with some land but under a hectare, although also renting in land (52 per cent). This group is more reliant on labouring and other off-farm activities. Many are engaged in trades, including building, carpentry and so on, servicing the A1 areas, but on their own terms.

And finally there are those who have only home gardens, although some are renting in land (average 0.2 ha, hence some maize/tobacco production), and are highly reliant on selling labour to land reform farmers (22 per cent). Labour organisation may involve farmers turning up with a pick-up and recruiting on the day, or may be mediated by a local broker (often a compound member) who is in mobile phone connection with a number of farmers, both A1 and A2, and directs people to work openings, again by mobile phone.

The proportions in these categories of compound dwellers is not fixed, however. Proportions change season by season and over time. What we see is an emerging class differentiation among former farmer workers, driven in particular by access to land. In discussions around whether lives have improved or deteriorated, everyone mentions land, as well as employment conditions. Land access is however limited, and political gatekeeping means that not everyone can benefit. Allocations of land since the land reform within the three farms we have studied have depended on complex negotiations between those in the compounds and local political leaders. New settlers are suspicious of those in the compounds. Cheats, thieves, foreigners, MDC supporters and worse are the descriptors often used.

This antagonism is not universal however, as settlers are well aware they need the labour and skills of those living there for their tobacco production. Good relations in the end are necessary, and accommodations have to be found. Brokering by local politicians and traditional leaders resulted in the concessions of the 1 ha plots; and land deals with nearby A2 farms to avoid antagonism have also occurred. Compound leaders, usually with connections in ZANU PF, have been able to create opportunities, but only for some. Usually it is the older, male, better educated, previously higher grade employees have benefitted, while the youth, single women and others with fewer connections have not, as profiles in next week’s blog will show.

New questions for research and policy

While the policy discourse continues to focus on displacement and farm worker rights amongst the NGOs and human rights community, those who used to be farm workers themselves have had by necessity to get on with life. They know the situation has changed and have to negotiate the new reality. As discussed, some have benefited, others not. But right now, there is an urgent need for a more informed policy discussion about what next, and move the policy debate on. Tobacco production, now the mainstay of Zimbabwe’s fragile agricultural economy, is being grown by a large number of new land reform settlers (amongst others). This production is reliant on labour, yet its organisation is very different to what went before. This suggests new challenges and priorities for policy and advocacy.

Some important new questions arise. What labour rights do those living in the compounds have? What land is required as part of a national redistribution to sustain their livelihoods? What is the future of the compounds, sitting as an anomaly in the new resettlements, a reminder of a now long-gone past? These questions are barely being discussed, and much more research and informed debate is urgently needed. The next couple of blogs will offer some more on this theme, with the aim of raising the debate.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Can joint ventures revive large-scale commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe?

Ndodana Sibanda shows how the center pivot works to water the wheat in Arda Jotsholo recently. (picture by Nkosizile Ndlovu)

The Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) has a substantial land holding across the country, including 21 estates of varying sizes, with a total of 98,000 ha of arable land, 19,000 ha of which is irrigable. In the last decade most of these fell into disrepair, with production plummeting. Financing of parastatal operations became increasingly challenging, as government issued bonds via the Agricultural Marketing Authority were no longer available. In the last few years, as part of a reform programme focused on parastatals, the government has encouraged ARDA to go into public-private partnerships with private companies in an attempt to revive their fortunes, seeking new finance and investment from the private sector. 40 companies bid for such partnerships in 2014, involving a mix of local and foreign capital.

Currently there are 12 estates with such joint ventures: Chisumbanje, Middle Sabi, Katiyo, Mkwasine, Sisi, Nandi, Faire Acres, Jotsholo, Antelope, Ngwezi, Sedgewik and Doreen’s Pride (see a profile of each here, including details on the production focus and contract length). Those that remain wholly managed by Government include; Balu, Sanyati, Muzarabani, Mushumbi Pools, Nijo, Katiyo Main Estate, Rusitu, Magudu and Kairezi.

The most (in)famous is the Chisumbanje estate, where tycoon Billy Rautenbach took over operations, and built a mill for processing sugar cane. Land disputes and controversies over ethanol pricing and markets have plagued the operation for some years. Others have established operations in the last few years, and have been widely hailed as seeing a dramatic turn-around in ARDA’s fortunes.

A variety of private enterprises have seen the availability of high quality land and good infrastucture (although much of it in urgent need of renewal) as a good business opportunity. Both local and international investment has flooded in.

We must ask though, whether this sort of large-scale, capitalised farming is the most appropriate use of this land, and whether these operations genuinely contribute to employment, food security and local economic development, as well as boosting government revenues.

The Trek Petroleum-ARDA partnership in Matobo

Trek Petroleum has invested in several estates, including the Antelope estate near Maphisa mentioned last week and Doreen’s Pride near Kadoma, where beef ranching with imported Namibian animals is underway. It also has contracts with the Cold Storage Company, and with ARDA Ngwezi, and works with Northern Farming on a contract with ARDA Mashonaland. For foreign investors, particularly from South Africa, the US dollar environment in Zimbabwe is very attractive.

Trek has imported state-of-the-art equipment, including several 350 HP Casey tractors which can pull 24 disc harrows each. Huge seed and fertiliser planters are drawn by these tractors, which are fitted with sensors that analyse soil fertility status and automatically adjust application rates. 12 centre pivots are in place and irrigate 520 hectares of winter wheat and summer maize. Hi-tech driers are in place to ensure timely harvesting of grain and drying to 12.5 % moisture. It has been a substantial investment that has resulted in massive boosts in production from the estate.

The level of mechanization has a downside too, as discussed with the estate manger during a visit earlier this year. For example, only 12 workers are employed to run the centre pivots. In the past, 250 workers were needed to irrigate the 230 hectares that were then cultivated. Equally, there is only one section manager compared to three in the past. There are now just 48 permanent workers in place of around 90 in the past, while now 162 temporary workers are required to detassle maize for a 7 day contract, compared to hundreds in the past for a season (although these figures are disputed by ARDA, who claim over 200 jobs have been created, although mostly in the land clearance and establishment phase).

With the revived irrigated area, ARDA Antelope has entered into seed multiplication contracts with Seed Co, Pannar and ICRISAT.   ARDA provides land, labour and electricity, as well as agronomists. Pannar’s contract is for 60 hectares with Pan 473 and G90 varieties bulk produced, while Seed Co has a 40 hectare stake producing SC 513 and SC 621. The balance of the 520 ha is planted with commercial maize in summer and wheat in winter sold to National Foods Company. Trek also has a joint venture with the Cold Storage Company, and currently feeds 700 cattle brought from Namibia, with a further 1300 to come. There has been a massive expansion of both area and intensity of production. There are plans for another 800 ha of irrigation, harnessing water from the Shashane dam, as well as expansion of grazing land. An investment in processing plants, including for livestock feed, is planned.

Land disputes

Despite investments in ‘social responsibility’ programmes, involving support for local educational institutions, the new arrangement has run into trouble, as the land area has been expanded, apparently without consultation and ‘free prior informed consent’.

For years the ARDA estate only operated on a small extent of its area, and villagers regarded the land as theirs. With many parallels with the disputes that arose in Chisumbanje, wrangles over land have emerged around the estate. In September, villagers organised protests in Maphisa, stopping traffic. Graffiti linking the estate investment to the notorious Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland were seen. A visit by VP Mnangagwa was abandoned, and villagers were arrested, although later freed. Villagers claimed their land was being taken and that they were not benefiting from the new scheme.

Protesting villagers’ views are in sharp contrast to the narratives of government officials. A queue of high-profile visitors have come to praise the operations, from the First Lady onwards. Recently, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Paddy Zhanda, has congratulated ARDA for its operations in Maphisa. The resurrection of large-scale farming on state land, is central to the envisaged approach of ‘command agriculture’, where production priorities are set by the state. Joint ventures with ARDA supporting (mostly) A2 farmers with irrigation infrastructure, but under-production, have also been hailed as key to the future success of agriculture.

What role should parastatals play?

But we have to ask what roles should parastatals play in the revival of Zimbabwean agriculture? The PPP model is certainly attractive. New infrastructure and finance allows for the revival of moribund operations. With a ‘command agriculture’ perspective these revitalized farms could, ministers hope, provide just the sort of backbone to the agricultural economy needed. But as we have seen conflicts can arise, as people are removed from land that they thought was theirs. Highly capitalized operations may not provide the employment once offered. As the land reform has shown, with the right support small scale farmers can produce often produce significant quantities of maize and other crops, but at far lower costs, and generating more employment. Maybe it would make more sense to redistribute the land instead?

The parastatal assets of ARDA however should not be seen just as a cheap, underutilized source of land and water, either to be redistributed to the masses or to be handed over to well-connected corporates as part of partnerships benefiting elites. We should recall the role ARDA used to play in providing an important development coordination function. In the ‘roll back the state’ zeal of the 1990s, combined with the obvious corruption and poor management of many parastatals, we sometimes forget the importance of such organisations, notably ARDA, but also the CSC, in offering credit, markets and a brokering facility for smaller operators.

Unlike the new enclaves being created in a desperate attempt to raise revenues, the effective parastatal operations of the past were more integrated into the wider agricultural economy landscape. In thinking about the future, the alternatives need to be carefully balanced. Further land reform – particularly to A1 farmers – is certainly an option in some areas, as small farmers may be best able to make use of existing irrigation facilities. But in other cases new investment is clearly needed, but the obsession with large, command-oriented agriculture or divesting state assets to the private sector through PPPs must be tempered.

Lots of big, shiny centre pivots look impressive, but they may not be economic or generate employment. This was often the lesson of large-scale commercial agriculture before. Having large farms as part of a wider landscape of agriculture may be important for some crops and in some places, but making sure these operations are integrated not isolated enclaves, are employment generating not just mechanized, and have a coordination function to support wider development is essential.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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How land reform is transforming a small town in southern Zimbabwe


Maphisa in Matobo district in Matabeleland has transformed from its early days as a TILCOR (Tribal Trust Land Development Corporation) growth point linked to the nearby Antelope farm estate. Like Mvurwi and Chatsworth that I profiled in the earlier series on small towns and economic development, Maphisa is booming in the post land reform era.

An African town in an African area

Maphisa was established in the 1970s as part of the TILCOR attempt to create ‘African’ towns in ‘African areas’, aimed at maintaining the dual economy, and racial separation, while encouraging economic growth in ‘African’ areas. Mrs N, who was born nearby, explained:

“Maphisa was a forest. It was a grazing area for communal livestock. The place where Omadu Motel was located, was an aerodrome for the white farmers and those on the estate. In the 1970s, a white man called Fish was sent to address the local community about justification for building Maphisa township. He explained that Antelope dam and irrigation were going to create jobs and benefit communities who would in turn invest at the township and grow rich. The chiefs and local leadership present at the meeting agreed and Maphisa was established”.

One of the early black shopowners, Mr T, recalled the beginnings of the growth point:

“In 1973 I cut down trees and built my shop. It started operating in July 1975, as the authorities made it difficult for a black person to possess a liquor licence. In 1975 TILCOR drew a masterplan for Maphisa, started clearing land and built three shops and rented these out. Four other private shops including mine were operated by teachers”.

Post-independence these early growth points were incorporated into the wider spatial planning approach for mixed development. The TILCOR estate was taken over by ARDA, and for several decades Maphisa became intimately linked to the success of the nearby estate. ARDA created opportunities for outgrowers on 150 ha of the irrigation scheme, with plots averaging 1-2 hectares. ARDA also began to build infrastructure in Maphisa in the mid-1980s , including housing for workers and some general dealer shops. The government also established administrative offices for various government departments at the time, and built the Hlalanikuhle location with high density housing. The ARDA irrigation scheme was central to the economy of the town, as it employed up to 8000 people at the height of the 1990s cotton boom.

But through this period Maphisa remained an enclave, reliant on the ARDA estate, and surrounding by large-scale commercial farms, owned by whites (although with one black-owned farm belonging to Chief Ndiweni). These were huge ranches, supplying beef to CSC abbatoir in Bulawayo, and many with commercial gold mines on them. The impact of this largely white-owned farming-mining economy on Maphisa was limited. This all changed with land reform, with most farms taken over, and allocated to resettlement land. In this period too the fortunes of ARDA declined, with many laid off, and the estate production collapsing. The outgrowers (now numbering 132 families) have carried on making use of canal irrigation, but got little support from the estate.

With new people on the land, Maphisa changed from an estate-linked enclave town to one serving the wider area, with a whole range of new businesses established. The decline of ARDA though had a negative effect, as revenues from labourers working on the estate vanished. In 2015 a new investment partnership was agreed, with Trek Petroleum, a local company, taking over the estate operations, and investing substantially in 12 new mobile centre pivot irrigation systems and 350 HP tractors, growing maize over 520 ha (including seed maize contracts with various companies). As I will discuss next week, this highly mechanized operation has not created the level of employment of before, but it has nevertheless meant that new life has been injected into the economy.

New people, new enterprises

Our enterprise survey in Maphisa showed that the local economy has grown since 2000, despite challenges. There are now 6 supermarkets (when before 2000 there were none), 8 butcheries (from 4), 5 hardware stores (from 1), 10 bottle stories, some including ‘nightclubs’ (from 6), and more than 30 kombi operators. Plus today there are more welding shops, tailors, hair salons, service stations, car washes, internet cafes, photocopy/typing shops, and ecocash outlets.

There are now more people living in the town, and investing in property. The occupied high density stands have increased from 223 to 1118, while the medium density stands have increased from 121 to 498. Low density stands have not had such a take-up but overall the size of the town has increased significantly, and with this business activity.

Mr T, a local businessman and long-term resident in Maphisa, as well as A2 land reform beneficiary with 350 ha, explained the impacts of land reform on business:

“Land reform opened up more grazing land and opportunities for livestock marketing. I have 80 cattle, mostly Simenthal crosses. I hire private transporters who charge USD 40 per animal to Bulawayo, where I get around USD 800 per beast. I have just too many goats at the farm! Prices are good. I can get USD 50 per goat. The new cattle business is helping Maphisa to grow. For example, hides and skins are available for establishing a tannery industry. Also, there are plenty of mopane worms. Value addition and packaging could be done here”.

Mr N was also born in the area, and has owned shops in Maphisa over many years. He established a large supermarket in 2012 to complement his four other shops, his transport business (he owns ten 30 tonne trucks), his mining claims, and Mopane worm collection and sale business. He comments:

“The supermarket business is good – we are the leaders here at Maphisa. I employ 34 people. Yes liquidity is a challenge that forces prices down. ZESA high tariffs are a concern too but plans are on to change over to solar power. We sell products to civil servants, ARDA employees, irrigation outgrowers, miners, communal and resettlement farmers and in transit customers. Up to 200 customers cross our doors per day”.

Others have invested in shops more recently. Mr S for example comes from Gwanda, and worked in the civil service and then the diaspora for 20 years. His father had shops and he has invested in a bottle store/night club in Maphisa, which opened in 2014. Mr S commented:

“Proceeds from working in South Africa, the UK and the US helped me to build the business premises over a 5 year period. Some of the money was also raised from horticulture at the family’s 6 acre plot near Bulawayo city. I also did buying and selling cattle as an additional sideline to raise funds. We employ 4 workers in the restaurant and 2 in the bottle store. Business is up and down at the restaurants. We managed to keep ZESA bills down in the restaurant by using gas and firewood for cooking. Electricity is only for lighting and fridges. Beer sales go up when ARDA pays its workers but it is the miners contribute a lot towards beer sales”.

Others rent shops from the council or richer property owners. Comrade M explains:

“From 2009 I have been renting this shop where I operate a butchery and food outlet. I pay USD 350 per month rent. I buy cattle for USD 400 – USD 500 on the hoof after bargaining with the seller. I take the beasts to Maphisa Council slaughter facilities. I buy 2 – 3 beasts per week and sell meat to customers at USD 5 per kg. I prefer buying live cattle because after slaughter I gain from offal, heads and hooves. I used to sell hides to several buyers, who have since gone bust. The food outlet business is a strategy to increase turn-over of meat sales from the butchery. My wife supervises the business while I run around looking for slaughter stock. I also have a A1 villagised land reform farm, with 30 cattle. These support my business”.

Mrs N is a divorcee who stayed before in Gutu, but was born in the area. She has been building a house in the location, and renting a shop in Maphisa. She sells hardware now, having shifted from a grocery store, which was outcompeted by the new supermarket. She explains:

“I operate the shop on my own. We recently added an agro-vet section to the hardware. Our customers are local but we also sell hardware and livestock medicines to resettled farmers. To promote sales, we extend credit to those we know – based on trust. I used proceeds from the hardware to educate my children and to build my house. I also built another house at my parents’ home nearby”.

The growth of informal trading in Maphisa has been huge. The council rents out numerous stalls. Mrs N is a trader, and has been operating since 1986. Originally there were only 9 stalls, but now there are about 20. The traders sell vegetables. These were originally supplied by the ARDA estate, but now local farmers in the resettlements supply them.

“We use cellphones to communicate and they bring the produce here. I also order at the Bulawayo market. When business is booming I go for orders three times per week. I pay USD 10 bus fare to and fro, or get Kombis to go and bring our orders. Proceeds from the market have been critical in keeping the home going – purchasing food and groceries, paying school fees and council rates”.

Small-scale mining as a driver of economic growth

In addition to changes in the agricultural economy, it is also changes in the mining economy that have affected Maphisa in recent years. Before, mining was formal and relatively large-scale, with compounds built in farms, with little contact with the wider area. In the past the Falcon Gold company used to run many of the mines nearby.

Today this has changed dramatically, with many new mining operations in the area, established. Mr T, a bar owner commented: “There are now well over 100 black miners with licences here. Night life at the GP is alive due to gold miners”. Each small mine operation employs around 30 people in each mine, meaning there are substantial numbers working in the area, and purchasing goods and services in Maphisa.

Mining is not for everyone though. Mr S observes: “I would not like to go into mining – it is too much a game of chance. I know a guy who got 7kg of gold after mining for 6 months and he quit with his loot. Another guy has been mining for the last 6 years investing monies but reaping nothing substantial”.

From an enclave town, linked to an estate, created through colonial racial-based planning, Maphisa has transformed into a business hub linked to local economic activity in both agriculture and mining. The estate remains important, and especially since the injection of new investment from through the partnership with Trek Petroleum (see next week’s blog). But it has a more diversified base today, and like other small towns shows the opportunities, but also challenges, of small towns in a restructured economy.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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