Small towns and economic development: lessons from Zimbabwe

At Independence in 1980, the new government set about investing in new infrastructure aimed at redressing the imbalances of the colonial past, as described by K.H. Wekwete. This included a focus on small urban centres. The 1982 Transitional Development Plan stated:

“Existing discrepancies in the ordering of urban settlements will be corrected by balanced investment in growth and rural service centres. The intention is to bring the rural population into close contact with services and markets, thus forging linkages with the national economy and stimulating the development of local markets with regional specialisations and a multitude of informal employment opportunities”

The Department of Physical Planning proposed a seven tier hierarchy of urban areas – consolidated villages, business centres, rural service centres, district service centres, growth points, towns and cities. This built on attempts from the 1970s to create ‘African’ towns in ‘African areas, and the emergence of the first set of ‘growth points’ supported by TILCOR, the Tribal Trust Land Development Corporation. This was aimed at maintaining the dual economy, and racial separation, while encouraging economic growth in ‘African’ areas.

Urban and regional planning theory had long argued for a distributed approach to infrastructure development, in order to generate balanced growth and effective service delivery. New urban areas should be aimed at facilitating economic activity through ‘linkage’ and ‘multiplier’ effects, while providing sites for markets and services. This might involve significant infrastructure investment to encourage industrial activity (as in ‘growth poles’) or a more incremental approach through planning support for the growth of ‘nodes’ of economic activity – as in the arguments of ‘central place theory’.

However in the context of a highly uneven economy, with spatially concentrated populations – the legacy of colonial land allocation and racialized settlement policy – simply investing in infrastructure and services was not enough. In the colonial era towns grew where there was economic activity. There were the mining towns, such as Zvishavane, Mashava, Hwangwe, Shurugwi, Kadoma and Kwekwe; there were the estate towns, such as Chiredzi and Triangle; and there were the white farming towns, such as Chinoyi, Bindura or West Nicholson. These had their own growth dynamic; but expecting similar patterns to emerge simply through planning edict and limited investment in infrastructure was bound to fail.

The TILCOR growth points that included Sanyati, Maphisa, Gutu, Mrewa, Nkayi, Wedza and others were incorporated into the post-Independence investment strategy. District centres and growth points were placed under the control of local government, with all districts across the country having investment plans that included the supply of water, electricity, feeder roads, sewage systems, and the establishment of government offices. But these centres suffered many problems. They were not necessarily integrated into local economies, and the dualistic pattern of economic development continued. Some prospered, but many remained more in planners’ imaginations than in reality. Those that grew significantly included Gokwe, which prospered due to the cotton boom. Meanwhile, Gutu-Mupandawana took advantage of its location at a distance from other larger towns and in a communal area that had agricultural potential. Mrewa and Mutoko similarly grew through the links to farming and particularly as staging posts for small-scale horticultural marketing to Harare from the communal areas. Meanwhile places like Chivi, where I spent a lot of time in the 1990s, and many others like it languished.

The lesson of course was clear. You need things happening in the economy around an urban centre, and this cannot be conjured up by grand plans and infrastructural investment. For it is the wider structural constraints that hold economies back. In Zimbabwe of course this was substantially to do with access to productive land. Gokwe had plenty of land nearby, and new migrants profited from cotton and Gokwe boomed, but at the same time, peasant farmers in Chivi communal area were barely surviving on small plots and without access to resettlement and the economy remained depressed; more so from the early 1990s with the squeeze on the economy due to structural adjustment policies, and the decline in off-farm opportunities and remittance flows.

At Independence there was much policy discussion about reshaping the economy, and investing in ways that created a ‘rebalancing’ from the skewed racially-defined economy that Zimbabwe inherited. Despite the high rhetoric and the impressive plans little of course happened, and the ambitions of new small town growth were largely dashed. Following land reform post-2000 however the economy has been substantially restructured, with new areas of economic activity – combined of course with declines elsewhere. This requires new thinking, and a new set of ambitions. Not based on the false promises of planning, but linking new investments to existing dynamics of economic activity. Lessons today should not draw on the (largely) failed growth point approaches of the 80s and 90s, but focus on how to capitalise on the new economic activity prompted by land reform through an integrated regional economic development approach.

For sure, growth and economic activity is tentative, and much of it is informal but it is certainly there – and in places like Mvurwi or Chatsworth covered in previous blogs in this series, and often not in those places that the old economy worked for. Comments on the blog series on various platforms over the last few weeks have offered a number of critiques. People have said, look at my town, it’s declined and it’s not like you describe. Well that may be the case, as the restructuring of the economy has resulted in the collapse of certain industries, and the spatial redistribution of economic activity. Those reliant on large-scale commercial agriculture have unquestionably suffered, but in areas where land redistribution has occurred there has been a growth in other activities, as the blogs have shown. Equally, some large mines have closed in some places, while others (often smaller, more distributed) have opened elsewhere. This all means economic activity has a new spatial pattern, one that investment needs to be linked to if the multiplier effects are to be realised. While the economy is certainly depressed currently, and issues of cash liquidity and lack of investment are restricting growth seriously, it is not without potential, but the future spatial pattern of economic development will certainly not be the same as the past.

Others have argued that the new growth is not ‘real growth’ because it is informal. This is a common refrain, and one that needs more than this blog to tackle. But we must not simply dismiss the informal economy because it’s informal. It is massively important in Zimbabwe today and the basis of significant employment and generation of substantial numbers of livelihoods. It may not result in huge tax revenue streams, which is a problem, and it may be fragile, poorly remunerated and operating with poor working conditions, which is a problem too, but it is unquestionably the basis for significant accumulation and wide economic activity, linked to wider economic growth, and must not be ignored. Informal economies across Africa are huge, but poorly understood. This is perhaps especially the case in Zimbabwe, where research and statistical data and so much policy commentary seems to ignore the new dominant pattern, and the places – including the growing small towns and the new (mostly A1) resettlement areas – where things are really happening.

As the economy restructures – painfully, slowly and with all sorts of hardships resulting – there is an urgent need to rethink how we look at issues of economic development – and especially where. Small towns in new farming areas, I have argued in this blog series, are a good place to start.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

For further information on the history of small town planning and policy in Zimbabwe, see Wekwete, K. 1991. Growth Centre policy in Zimbabwe: with special reference to district service centres, in: Mutizwa-Mangiza, N. D., and A. H. J. Helmsing. Rural development and planning in Zimbabwe. Avebury.


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Mvurwi: from farm worker settlement to booming business centre

On the back of the tobacco boom, Mvurwi town in Mazowe district is humming. It is a hive of activity, with many new businesses and much new building. Mvurwi town had an estimated 2000 residents before land reform, but by 2012 the ZIMSTAT census report showed the population had gone up to 6500. 7500 residents were reported by Mvurwi council in 2016. Before land reform it had a small business centre, with a selection of shops, service providers and government offices, but mostly it was essentially a farm worker settlement, a dormitory town supplying labour to the surrounding large-scale white farms.

Suwoguru compound settlement was established during the colonial era. In the early days houses were pole and dagga structures, but with time the Mvurwi white business and farming community built better homes in the compound for their supervisors and clerical staff. The white business owners, managerial staff and government workers, lived a distance away, in secure, electrified homes close to what became Mvurwi CBD. Foreigner labourers were the largest group within the compound. They originated from Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. Locals came from surrounding communal areas, such as Chiweshe, Centenary, Muzarabani and Guruve. Social life in the compound centred around the potent ‘kachasu beer’ and entertainment provided by the still popular Malawian Nyau dancers. Diverse religions were catered for including Islam, and a mosque was built.

Before land reform the central business district of Mvurwi was dominated by farm suppliers. Farmec sold farm inputs, while William Bains and KR sold farm machinery. Tractor agencies serviced large-scale farms nearby. Commercial farmers deposited their monies into Standard Bank in Mvurwi, which in turn, extended loans to them.  CABS Bank was also in town before land reform. POSB served a few blacks such as farm supervisors and civil servants, while farm workers did not have bankable income. Mvurwi commercial farmers enjoyed their leisure time at a country club 8 km along the Mvurwi-Centenary road and at another one at Mutorashanga. A police station and hospital were also present.

Mvurwi has long been a centre for government offices. But with increasingly populations there are greater demands for services. Today from the Ministry of Agriculture there are 17 Agritex staff, 15 Vet, 2 Plant Protection and 6 Mechanisation staff.  There were only 8 Agritex staff pre land reform. Health services have also expanded. Mvuri hospital currently employs 120 workers, up from 60 workers in the past. The hospital serves up to 600 patients per month, double earlier numbers. A clinic was registered after land reform and employs 8 workers. There are 36 Ministry of health extension workers covering Mvurwi locations and CBD, up from 16 in the past. In addition there are 5 primary schools (each with around 800 pupils), up from 3 before land reform and 3 secondary schools, up from 2 before land reform.

Tobacco: the core of the economy

Since land reform the economy of Mvurwi has changed, and there has been significant restructuring as well as growth. Money from tobacco has of course been the driver of growth in Mvurwi since its establishment. But in the past profits were shared among relatively few large-scale white commercial farmers. While workers rented accommodation and would buy basic provisions, their presence in Mvurwi did not generate significant growth. This all changed following 2000, and particularly after 2009 with dollarization, and the expansion of tobacco growing in the area.

There are a number of tobacco buyers and agents in Mvurwi. The TIMB has its offices in the town, and has 4 permanent workers based in Mvurwi. The Mashonaland Tobacco Company has an estimated 28,000 tobacco growers with plantings ranging from 1ha to 120 hectares. 85 % of growers are A1 and CA and 15 % in A2 farms. Tobacco is also bought by Tianze, a Chinese company, and by BAT. ZLT is a big American international company led by Phillip Morris. All in all there are 13 tobacco companies in Mvurwi.

Since land reform, there has been a building boom, with funds from local tobacco farmers and business people driving an expansion of housing. Rusununguko Phase 1 was the first initiative of Mvurwi council, involving 900 stands. Tenants included former employees of white businesses and top former commercial farm employees who used their retirement packages to buy residential stands. After land reform local indigenous business owners, A1 farmers and well to do individuals acquired residential stands. Sizes range between 200 square meters and 600 square meters, and cost around USD 4500. Electricity and tower lights were provided, and Mrs C built a guest house in the residential area.

Another high density location Rusununguko Phase 2 was implemented as a cooperative led by local people. So many problems were encountered mainly due to funding constraints. UNDP and UNICEF provided water and constructed sewer systems, and ZINWA is now servicing the area, although electricity and road networks are yet to be put in place. In a further development (Kurai Phase 1), council allocated 1080 stands to low income earners measuring 300 square meters each. Indigenous construction companies were given tenders by council to carry out development of the location. Servicing of stands started in 2014. Water, sewers and road construction are almost complete. Four houses have since been built. The former Mazoe MP earlier on bought around 150 stands in the location which he allocated to his supporters. He was later implicated in externalization of funds and fled the country, but most beneficiaries held on to their stands.

A number of medium-density areas are also being developed (Kurai Phase 2, Mbizi). The council is offering stands, but servicing of these is taking time. Mbizi is a favourite investment destination for successful A1 farmers. 70 % of the 500 plot holders have completed building of their homes, creating many jobs, and local hardware shops have also profited. Land was allocated to 2 churches, 1 school and 2 creches, but nothing is on the ground yet. In the past low density areas were dominated by retired whites, but demand has grown. Pembi view and Dombomaringa are two new suburbs, with 750 stands pegged with costs of USD 5 to USD 7 per square meter. A good number of owners are A2 farmers and local business people.  Land was also allocated to 1 secondary school and 3 creches.

Across all these residential developments, around 85 commercial stands have also been allocated in the hope that business will increase. Most current business activity is however in and around the CBD, and near the original township area. The massive building projects on-going have generated business for hardware stores in particular. There are currently 23 hardware shops in Mvurwi employing 46 workers compared to only four before land reform that employed 28 workers. Tractor, truck and lorry owners made money transporting building materials, and these transport business have also expanded. Today there are also 8 brick moulding groups in Mvurwi compared to none before land reform. There are also 4 sawmills in Suwoguru, owned by local individuals, all established after land reform, and providing materials for new homes. Saw millers buy raw timber from the resettlement farmers, add value and sell the sawn timber to carpenters who made doors, cabinets and roofing materials that they sell to those building houses.

A changing business environment

Following land reform a number of businesses closed as the economy restructured. Farmec and William Bain closed shop around 2008, The four trator agencies closed down, as demand for tractor services in the new farms was being met locally. Delta Beverages also closed in 2015 citing operational losses, and lack of a stable maize supply for brewing with a resulting loss of around 50 jobs. There has been a shift in financial institutions too as the economy restructured, with Standard Chartered and CABS closing, while CBZ and Agribank have established operations, and the government owned POSB continued. The current 3 banks employ 24 people – less than the pre land reform banks when 32 workers were employed. There has been a massive shift to the informal economy, with many people creating livelihoods from new, informal businesses.

In the past a few farm supply shops sold inputs to large-scale commercial farmers. However many such farmers bought wholesale in Harare, and did not frequent local shops. Today, following land reform, business has expanded locally but with a new customer base, and different demands. The old shops – Agricura, Farm and City and Mashco – still continue (in some cases cashing in also on hardware supplies) – but they have been joined by new investors including, Nico Orgo and Omnia, along with many other smaller indigenous businesses. Stock feed and day old chick suppliers have also prospered. There are 5 stockfeeds shops now that sell day old chicks and animal feeds. Profeeds a subsidiary of Irvines sells chicks, point of lay pullets, vets and feeds. Windmill also sells feeds of all farm animals. Other stockfeed shops include Fivet, Farm and City and Northern Supplies.

A multiplicity of enterprises have opened in Suwoguru and Mvurwi CBD following land reform. Expansion has occurred in certain areas. Butcheries have expanded from 3 to 14, with employment growing from 6 to 30. Equally bars and bottle stores are increasing. Today there are 11 registered beer outlets in Suwoguru and CBD that employ 55 workers, compared to 9 beer outlets, employing 45 people, before 2000. General ‘tuck shops’ selling mainly clothes and items from clothing, cellphones, electrical gadgets, to kitchen ware have expanded, with about 70 stalls at Suwoguru market. The Chinese have also set up shops, and also employ locals in their stores.  Eco-cash and airtime vendors are plentiful. There are over 20 registered, but also many more working informally in Mvurwi. There is now one Internet café, and 10 photocopy shops and typing service shops. With increased car ownership there are now 6 service stations and 3 car washes, all opened since land reform.

Such businesses operate at different scales, and often interact. For example, Golis supermarket in Mvurwi is the big wholesaler with cheaper prices, and has been long established. Before land reform there were also 10 other grocery shops employing around 30 workers. By 2015 grocery shops had increased to 32, employing about 96 workers. Market vendors complement the formal shops. The market area has expanded significantly since land reform. MN is a female vendor aged 35:

“I buy and sell various farm produce like vegetables and tomatoes but my main business is buying and selling sweet potatoes. I buy sweet potatoes from farms and hire scotch carts to bring the produce to the tar road. A cart can carry 36 buckets and transport charge is US 3 per trip. At the tar road Kombis charge USD 9 to ferry the 36 buckets to my market stall in Mvurwi township. I buy sweet potatoes at farm gate for USD 3 per bucket and sell at USD 5 per bucket. I manage to buy and sell 36 buckets per week. I am the sole owner of the business which has helped me buy a residential stand and pay school fees”

Agro-dealers bring in produce from as far as Muzarabani and Guruve to Suwoguru and Mvurwi CBD markets. A wide range of products are brought which include masau berries, indigenous chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes, rape, covo, water melons, cabbages, onions, carrots, green mealies, apples and bananas.

Some of this is sold on to food outlets. There are now 11 food outlets in Mvurwi CB and 9 in Suwoguru location. The 20 food outlets employ 60 workers compared to the 6 food outlets pre land reform that employed 20 workers. We interviewed owners of food business outlets in Mvurwi CBD who get their supplies from agro- produce dealers. Mrs G, aged 60, owns Gogo’s Chikenland

“I have two outlets one in Mvurwi CBD and another in the Suwoguru towship. I buy Irish potatoes from local farmers which I process into chips served with chicken. I employ a driver who earns usd 300 per month as well as 6 other permanent workers. Business constraints include load shedding and poor quality potatoes at times. Other income sources include a boarding house in town which accommodates up to 60 school children and a creche which takes 50 children. I have plans to build a primary school. I own 2 private cars and a house in Mvurwi’s low density surburb. I also bought 3 residential stands.”

Transport business is key in and around Mvurwi. Business involves carrying passengers, inputs/ produce and building materials. Buses, kombis, lorries, trucks are readily available. All roads from Harare, Mtorashanga, Guruve, Centerary and Muzarabani pass through Mvurwi.

Local transporters with 30 tonne trucks were given transport contracts by some of the 13 tobacco companies in Mvurwi. We interviewed Mvurwi CBD based transporter, Mr DK:

“I own 3 x 30 ton trucks. I carry tobacco and tobacco fuelwood between April and September. I transport fuelwood to Chiweshe, maize to Mvurwi and tobacco to Harare. The main business challenge is competition from transporters using smaller trucks. Customers prefer them because they fill up quickly and farmers get to the market in time. More and more farmers are also buying their own trucks.”

Brick moulding and transport are linked. About 90% of houses built in Mvurwi used common farm bricks giving livelihood opportunities to the ordinary brick moulder as well as transporters and loaders. Bricks sell at USD 30 per thousand and USD 15 to transport. On a good day a loader can get USD 8 while a transporter can get USD 80 after accounting for fuels. Brick moulders also sell pit sand, river sand and quarry stones.

A fast changing urban centre

Driven by local agricultural activity, there has been growth across a variety of sectors. Opportunities have expanded, particularly in the informal sector.  Tobacco profits are the main driver, although in the last year these have been down, and some are questioning the long-term sustainability of the sector. Farmers are moving to other products, including irrigated horticulture, and this will continue to drive demand for services in Mvurwi, and when profitable will provide the basis for further investment. Unlike in the period before land reform the economy is increasingly localised, with benefits generated in towns like Mvurwi.

Yet despite this growth, there are multiple challenges for small towns in largely rural areas. How should urban policy respond to changes in the agrarian sector, how can local economic growth linked to agriculture be sustained, and what new thinking around physical planning, town development and governance is needed? These policy questions will be the focus for next week’s blog.


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

Research was also carried out by Sarai, BZ Mavedzenge and Felix Murimbarimba


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Chatsworth: from railway siding to growing small town

Chatsworth is in Gutu district in Masvingo province. Before land reform it was important as a cattle loading siding run by the national railways. Surrounded by around 100 large-scale farms, mostly owned by whites, it was a centre for the ranching business. Cattle were loaded onto trucks and taken to the Cold Storage Commission in Masvingo, a government parastatal. The Erasmus and Odendaal families were key ranchers in the area, owning many thousands of beef cattle between them on multiple farms. Today, with the exception of one large ranch, all the other farms have been resettled, with a mix of A1 and A2 schemes. This has transformed rural production and livelihoods, but it has also transformed Chatsworth.

Before Independence in 1980, Chatsworth was a small outpost with a scattering of shops, some railway employees and a whites-only primary school. There were few businesses, and racial differences were stark. FV recalls: ’Greeks and Indians owned the shops in Chatsworth. I got employed at Tackey’s hardware on 7 January 1977. There was a colour bar. Shops had two entrances, one for blacks and another for whites. Even at the Post Office there were two entrances”.

Chatsworth became more established after 1980. Government offices were established, and the school grew and allowed all races. Chatsworth now has 8 Ministry of Health employees at the clinic, 7 Ministry of Agriculture extension officers, 2 officers representing the Registrar General, 3 officers for the Ministry of Youth, 1 officer Women’s Affairs, 1 worker at Zimpost, and 2 Chatsworth Rural Council officers. But the growth of state presence from 1980 did not change much in terms of business opportunities. This only changed in 2000, with land reform.

Over the last 16 years, Chatsworth has grown very fast as a rural business and service centre. From a small settlement with 50 location and 50 railway stands, which were home to about 300 residents pre-land reform, residential stands have now increased to 300. Chatsworth is home to more than 1000 residents, and there are another 200 pegged stands await Council servicing.

In the past, the railway dominated the town. But today the National Railways employs just 2 workers in Chatsworth. The train still runs (erratically) and has become an important transport route for vegetable traders from the areas going to Masvingo to the ‘kutrain’ market by the railway tracks in town. According to ward councillor, Mr B, “Traders board the train to Masvingo town every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and sell tomatoes, vegetables, green mealies and grain bought at cheaper prices, from surrounding land reform farms. They have established relations with land reform farmers selling their labour, doing piece jobs [maricho] and sourcing agricultural produce for resale and consumption”

Indeed, many of the new homes in Chatsworth have been built by these new agro-vendors, along with resettlement farmers and their children who are working elsewhere. Some rent out spare rooms at their residences to tenants who include civil servants. Some vendors have become part of a new business elite and invested in transport business, owning kombis and small trucks, while others rent shops. Civil servants – the formally employed class – do not have houses, as they do not have disposable income to buy stands, and must rent from the new landlords.

Chatsworth has also become a focus for religious activity in the region. Mrs C explained: “Many churches are active here. The international centre of the AFM is located here. AFM holds an annual prayer meeting attended by thousands of worshipers from all over the world. There are other numerous churches, Roman Catholic, Dutch Reformed, Zion and others. This creates a big demand for accommodation, but also other business”.

Mrs C migrated to Chatsworth in 1988 with her late husband and opened one of three black-owned shops. She complained about the Chatsworth Growth Point status which she claims was imposed by the council as a ruse to hike stand prices. “Today high density stands cost USD 900, medium density USD 1400 and low density USD 4000’”, she complained. But despite the prices, there remains demand, and more stands are due for pegging.

Business activity has increased in Chatsworth since land reform. Today farmers on nearby resettled farms and their workers visit Chatsworth each day. In the past, Chatsworth had no supermarket, but today there is Mhakayaora supermarket, which employs two shop workers and a guard. Just before land reform, there were 4 grocery shops, employing one employee each. Today there are 12 grocery shops employing a total of 13 workers. Many grocery stores are also agrodealers.

Mr M commented: ’I usually sell grocery in my shop but sell fertilisers and seed from August to October. Business is good. I started this business in 2010 after noticing that farmers spend time and money purchasing seed and fertilisers in Masvingo and Mupandawana. I am contracted to Pannar and Pioneer who deliver seed only to my shop. My main problem is transporting fertilisers which is not covered by the contract from Gutu-Mupandawana or Masvingo”. Currently there is no shop solely devoted to farm supplies, although the former white-owned shop that closed in the mid-2000s, is being renovated by a new owner.

In addition to larger grocery stores, there are smaller ‘tuck shops’, selling take-away food. Pre-land reform there was only one near the filling station, but today there are 4 tuck shops at present employing 4 workers. Tuckshops gross USD 25 to USD 35 per day and pay licence fees amounting to USD 47 to Chatsworth Council every quarter. In the past there were 2 white owned butcheries, each employing 4 workers. White owned butcheries used to slaughter up to 4 cows per month. Today there are 4 butcheries, employing one worker each who does all the work. In the past there was one hardware store supplying nearby communal area farmers. White farmers travelled to Masvingo as they had transport and did not frequent the local shop. Today there are 2 hardware shops, which employ one worker each. The current hardware shops gross about USD 300 per day each selling building materials to residents developing their stands. Hardware shops also sell ploughs, harrows and cultivators. A worker at one of the stores commented:

“I sell business materials such as doors, door frames, window frames, and other building materials. My boss has a 3 tonne truck to carry hardware from Gutu-Mupandawana. The only constraint is USD 87 truck license per quarter which is high. Business is good. We are selling most building materials to increasing number of people constructing homes in Chatsworth. Resettled farmers are also our clients. It is expensive for people without own transport to buy building materials from Masvingo town and load it on the train or public transport. Expenses of buying from afar forces them to buy from us ’.

As with any small rural town there are of course in addition bottle stores. Before land reform, there were 3, each employing one worker. Currently Chatsworth has 6 bottle stores also employing one worker each. Bottle stores gross up to USD 250O per month.

In addition to the formal stores, there is now an open market selling vegetables. It is operated by four local women. Open market vendors gross only around USD 10 per day. The vegetable market faces steep competition from resettled farmers. ‘We order cheaper vegetables from the resettlement farmers for resale but they follow us here and compete with us for customers selling door to door to Chatsworth residents and schools’, complained PM.

Other businesses in Chatsworth include: 2 grinding mills, 2 carpentry shops, 4 welding shops, 1 tailoring shop and 1 hair salon. At one time illegal vendors selling fuel from jerry cans used to do thriving business, although this was brought to a halt by the opening of Petrol trade Service Station.

As a small town between Masvingo and Gutu-Mpandawanda, both much larger settlements, businesses in Chatsworth must compete. Ease of transport benefits many but not local businesses. In addition to the train to Masvingo that costs only a dollar, there are more than 15 Chatsworth based kombis making access to other towns very easy these days. Mr RT commented:

‘I started a transport business in 2010 when there were few vehicles on the road. I have a 20 seater kombi and charge USD 2 to Mpandawana. Nowadays competition is stiff, we are too many plying my Chatsworth – Mpandawana route. Another big problem is police road blocks. Each and every day you should pay a ticket of USD 15–USD 20 for operating illegally. Even if you use short cuts to try and detour them some traffic police will be waiting to nail you. These days Gutu Council requires us to enter the Mupandawana Terminus to offload passengers paying USD 2 for each entry. The off – tar roads I use are very poor but I have no option, because I am forced to pick and offload customers door to door or at farm gate to remain popular and sustain business’.

Since land reform Chatsworth has nearly doubled in size, with an expansion of all businesses. Not all have prospered, as competition with nearby towns is harsh, only increased with the massive expansion of transport access. Nevertheless there is a local economic dynamic linked to agricultural production nearby on the new resettlements. Such farmers and their workers, have boosted demand for basic groceries, hardware, agricultural inputs and of course beer. They also sell their produce locally, either directly to Chatsworth residents or via agro-dealers. It is the agro-vendors, mostly women without land but living in Chatsworth, who have really amplified the economic effect. Making use of the good transport connection to Masvingo they have made significant profits, and are the new landlords in the town, and are investing intensively in new building projects. The Chatsworth boom prompted the transfer of status to ‘growth point’, a move that did not go down well with everyone, as it resulted in hikes of rates, stand and service costs by the council. As the council seeks to gain revenues, undermining the tight margins of local businesses will be a challenge, especially as access to Masvingo and Mupandawanda increases.

Chatsworth today is a long, long way from the white-owned farm town of 50 years ago, but it faces many challenges similar to other small towns that have emerged post land reform, and for which no strategic growth and development policy exists.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland. Research was also carried out by BZ Mavedzenge and Felix Murimbarimba

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Small towns in Zimbabwe are booming thanks to land reform

Small towns near resettlement areas are booming. New business opportunities generated by a change in rural production systems has transformed opportunities. In the past these were very sleepy service centres for the surrounding large-scale commercial farms. Somewhere where farm workers would come on days off to drink, or where people living on the farms would buy basic provisions.

But with wages low and food and other rations sometimes offered by farm owners, business was limited. Most such towns had a few general supplier and a bar at most. There were also usually a few farm suppliers, providing inputs such as seed and fertiliser; in some cases a formal marketing outlet run by a company or parastatal; and a few repair shops for farm vehicles. Transport connections were limited, as farm workers were largely resident on farms, and the owners had their own vehicles. In sum, they were rather depressing places.

But today they have changed. There are many more shops, bars, butcheries, and service providers of various sorts from tailors to hairdressers. Outlets from major chains are opening operations, and there is a general buzz of activity, especially at harvest season when people are selling produce. Transport connections have multiplied too, with buses and Kombis departing regularly to larger urban centres, as well as traversing the rural areas.

There have been many attempts over the years to encourage such growth. Rural and urban planners often designated such places as ‘growth points’ in the 1980s. But this was more an aspiration than a reality, and many failed to grow at all, surrounded as they were by rural areas that were the inheritance of the colonial ‘reserves’. The reorganisation of district administrations created Rural District Councils too, and these were supposed to link the large-scale farming areas, with the communal areas, and encourage economic activity, particularly in small towns. Again this failed as the two economies never integrated, with communal areas being largely domains of poverty, and the large-scale farming areas exporting profits in vertical value chains without local spin-off benefits.

So it was only with land reform that a major reconfiguration of the rural economy occurred. With new farmers on new land in need of output and input markets, as well as cash to spend on services and other consumption goods. The linkage and multiplier effects have been tangible. This did not emerge from municipal town planning, but from a reconfiguration of the whole rural economy. With value chains now more locally rooted, and linked to local businesses there was more money flowing in the economy, and profits to be made.

This has attracted external investors. From large supermarkets to small-scale entrepreneurs, people have been setting up businesses in such towns, as well as in the more conventional and larger towns nearby. Many beneficiaries of land reform have profited too. They have started stores, repair shops, transport businesses, and more. They have also started investing in real estate. The new landlords in these towns are the farmers with profits from farming to invest, and this has seen a growth in building on plots made available as part of long planned town growth by the municipal authorities.

This process was in many ways not expected, and took a time to emerge. When we started our work after the land reform in 2000, the economy was not in a good shape, and it only got worse in the following years. As hyperinflation struck, any business involve the exchange of cash was out, and there was simply no business finance available. So it was only after 2009, when the economy was stabilised, and the US dollar became the currency of choice, that business started. It took a while, but today, things are moving.

And this despite the wider economic woes of the country as a whole. Yes, there is still limited bank finance, and loans for anything are hard to come by. Yes, business is small-scale, mostly based on a limited array of goods and services. And yes some investment is perhaps only speculative, and not that productive, like building houses (although most are rented, so there is a demand). But all of this is happening without a sense of a plan. This is the market economy at work, generating a surprising economic momentum that over 46 years since Independence has failed to happen through plans and formal investment. But in order to make the most of it, more has to happen: plans are useful, when things are happening, and investment in roads, sanitation, electricity, health care, education and so is vital. Just as is financing for everything from the smallest market stall to a major business operation. But municipal authorities sitting on a tax base for the first time ever must not be greedy, and take advantage. Building sustained growth requires care, and corrupt political manoeuvres or over-zealous regulation can stifle everything. But the small towns of Zimbabwe, as the small towns of Africa more generally, are definitely places to watch.

In the coming weeks, I will explore these dynamics, and pose some questions for planning and policy. As the countryside has reconfigured following land reform, so have the towns that link to the new areas of rural production. But there has been vanishingly little thinking post land reform on the new dynamics of rural-urban economies, and the connections being forged. This short blog series is a first attempt to provoke some thinking in this area, based on our research.

In the 1980s there was much work, largely through the Department of Rural and Urban Planning at the University of Zimbabwe, which highlighted the importance of small towns and urban development, including some important Occasional Papers and an influential book. Researchers then asked what the changes of policy priorities that Independence brought would imply for urban development in rural areas. New thinking is urgently needed today that asks what land reform implies around the same issues.

In the forthcoming blogs I will profile two small towns in the heart of new resettlement areas – Chatsworth and Mvurwi – from our study areas in Masvingo and Mazowe areas. They are very different in origins and character, but illustrative of the dynamics. The final blog will return to some of the bigger policy issues, and ask what needs to be done.T

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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The political ecology of land and disease in the Zambezi valley

In addition to migration discussed in last week’s blog, the changing politics of land use in the Zambezi valley is another dimension that has affected the incidence of trypanosomiasis over time.

Over the last century, the people of Hurungwe have been subject to numerous external interventions. The Korekore were the original inhabitants of the area, prior to the waves of migration discussed last week. The reasons the Korekore are settled where they are today is a result of the massive engineering project of the Kariba dam, and the creation of the Mana Pools national park in the 1950s and 60s.

Colonial visions of modernity and the need for electricity to supply the growing industries and urban centres of Rhodesia resulted in a major eviction of people who had traditionally made a living along the Zambezi river. Colonial economic imperatives reshaped the landscape, and pushed people into new territories. In the subsequent decades, the Mana Pools area became a significant tourist attraction, generating revenues for the state and for elite ecotourism operators, as well as a symbolic site of ‘wild’ Africa for white residents of Rhodesia.

Surrounding the park a series of hunting/safari areas were established, and particularly after Independence, these became the location for high-end hunting operations. Some of these activities generated some employment for locals, but not much. Ecotourism and hunting was by and large the preserve of a white elite, and money did not find its way back into the local economy.

The Zambezi valley was a major front during Zimbabwe’s liberation war, with frequent incursions of fighters from Zambia and regular battles with the Rhodesian forces. In this period, tsetse control efforts were abandoned, and the fly encroached into once cleared areas. With peace and Independence in 1980, aid programmes supported clearance efforts once again, and the tsetse fly retreated. Combined with migration from other areas of the country (see last week’s blog), and the mid-1980s cotton boom, the habitat for tsetse flies also declined.

But there were countervailing drivers, encouraging an expansion of tsetse habitat too. From the late 1980s, Zimbabwe was at forefront of ‘community-based conservation’ and the CAMPFIRE programme became a world-famous experiment. Revenues from hunting were to go back to the community, and provide much needed support. But CAMPFIRE was premised on generating revenue from animals shot (or sometimes photographed) in the communal areas, where people lived. While providing an economic basis for conserving wildlife, it encouraged wild animals to be closer to people. And since such wildlife are significant hosts of trypanosomiasis, and their habitats the same as those of tsetse fly, the disease consequences of CAMPFIRE were potentially significant.

With the decline in hunting operations with the collapse of the economy and the failure of bankrupt Rural District Councils to share revenues, CAMPFIRE has declined in significance. But there is a new kid on the block, focused not on wildlife, but on carbon. A massively ambitious project – Kariba REDD – was established notionally over thousands of hectares, including in Hurungwe, and in our study area. Making use of international markets for carbon, and linking to the UN REDD programme (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries), the project aimed to put a value on carbon, and reverse the decline in forested area across the Zambezi valley.

Through protecting – and indeed expanding – forests against a notional baseline, other values could be marketed, including an expanded trade in ecotourism and wildlife hunting. Like the interventions that went before, carbon is restructuring disease landscapes too. As carbon has acquired value, the project is increasing incentives both the plant and protect trees. These may expand the habitat of tsetse flies, including into the formerly cleared areas.

Understanding disease incidence, spread and risk requires looking at the underlying structural drivers. These are not just the proximate ones of changing climate, habitat, demography and so on, but can be traced back to much deeper causes. Whether these are the factors that drive migration or incentivise investments in hunting or carbon, these can be linked to wider political economy processes. These may often reach to the global political economy; way beyond the confines of the fields and forests of the Zambezi valley.

A political ecology of disease must therefore take these factors into account. Any appraisal of intervention – whether for forest protection, carbon sequestration, wildlife protection or infrastructure development – must look at these wider webs of power and influence. Without looking at the political drivers of disease, we may never understand underlying causes, or define the most appropriate interventions. As the blogs in this series have shown, ‘control’ interventions may miss their target, if wider questions of land access, migration, economic opportunity and the politics of competing land values are not addressed.

The Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa work was supported by ESPA (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) programme funded by NERC, ESRC and DFID, and the Zimbabwe study was led by Professor Vupenyu Dzingirai (CASS, UZ), working with William Shereni (Ministry of Agriculture), Learnmore Nyakupinda (Ministry of Agriculture), Lindiwe Mangwanya (UZ), Amon Murwira (UZ), Farai Matawa (UZ), Neil Anderson (Edinburgh University) and Ewan McLeod (Edinburgh University), among others.

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

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Migration and changing disease dynamics in the Zambezi valley

 In last week’s blog, we saw how ‘structural violence’ and deep patterns of inequality and marginalisation, affected by patterns of social difference – of gender, age and ethnicity – have influenced who gets exposed to trypanosomiasis (just as is the case with other diseases, such as Ebola).

This week, the theme is continued, by looking at how migration into the area has created both dramatic land use change and changing patterns of vulnerability to different social groups. Migration has radically changed landscapes in the Zambezi valley over the past 30 years, as large numbers of new people moved into what were once sparsely populated areas.

As people have moved into the valley to farm – first cotton, now increasingly tobacco – they have cleared land for fields and homes. Initially animals suffered badly from trypanosomiasis, but this declined after a while, as cleared areas were created through intensive control efforts. The work of the Tsetse Control Branch, and projects such as the RTCCP, funded by the European Union, helped. But such control was always partial, and risks increased as people settled in new areas.

In the 1980s and 1990s people moved from the overcrowded communal areas to the south. Unable to make a living on shrinking land sizes and in the context of the absence of a substantial land reform programme. From the 1990s, following a structural adjustment programme that shrunk the economy and reduced job opportunities, people had to find other means of making a living, and migration to new lands was one response.

In the late 1980s I was living in Zvishavane district in the central-south of the country in a communal area. From our sample, several people made the move to go and settle elsewhere (in Gokwe, Muzarabani and beyond). They were relatively young men with their families who had been granted very small fields, and had greater ambitions. As employment opportunities shrunk, carving out a new life on the land frontier to the north was increasingly appealing. As the boom in smallholder cotton growing occurred, news travelled back, and more left.

On arrival, it was a harsh existence. New fields had to be cleared from pristine bush, wildlife were a constant threat, and the tsetse fly was ever-present in the newly settled areas, constantly threatening the health of both people and animals. Today, the settlers from 20-30 years ago are now established, have cleared land (and so tsetse flies), and many are currently prospering from the tobacco boom. Well connected to political elites, these now 50-60 year olds are mostly no longer part of the vulnerable population that they once were.

But today, a new group of migrants has arrived, and they are especially vulnerable to disease, again being pushed to a new fly-infested frontier. With land reform in 2000, the Karoi farms to the south of our study area were taken over, and transformed into land reform settlements. In this area, many well positioned political figures took over the large, (mostly) tobacco farms, although there were also subdivisions to create A1 farms for many more people.

In both cases, farm workers who had lived on these farms for generations, often in appalling conditions, were expelled in numbers. Thousands had to seek other alternatives to farm wage labour. A few had connections elsewhere in Zimbabwe, but many were second or third generation ‘foreign’ migrants, originally from Malawi, Mozambique or Zambia, with nowhere to go. They had been isolated through the form of ‘domestic government’ so well described by Blair Rutherford in these very sites, and were almost completely reliant on the white farm owner.

With the economy nose-diving due to a complex combination of gross economic mismanagement, capital flight and economic sanctions from western governments, after land reform many fled north to our study sites in the valley in search of land for farming, or for hunting and gathering. The local chiefs had already accommodated huge numbers of others in the previous years, where were these new arrivals to go? Eager to expand their territory and increase numbers under their rule (and so acquire increased remuneration from the government), they placed them along the frontier of the national park, and even, illegally, into the buffer area. Acting as a human and livestock shield for others in the now cleared core areas, they provided political and economic benefits to local elites, while in the process taking the brunt of disease impacts.

Thus the disease landscape has over time been radically restructured by migration, and the demand for land. Understanding disease is not just a biological-epidemiological task, but one that must take account of wider political economic factors – such as the state of the economy, opportunities for employment, land reform impacts and more. Diseases such as trypanosomiasis are always inevitably political.

The Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa work was supported by ESPA (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) programme funded by NERC, ESRC and DFID, and the Zimbabwe study was led by Professor Vupenyu Dzingirai (CASS, UZ), working with William Shereni (Ministry of Agriculture), Learnmore Nyakupinda (Ministry of Agriculture), Lindiwe Mangwanya (UZ), Amon Murwira (UZ), Farai Matawa (UZ), Neil Anderson (Edinburgh University) and Ewan McLeod (Edinburgh University), among others.

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


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Land, politics and tsetse flies: changing disease landscapes in Zimbabwe

What do land, politics and flies have to do with each other? If you live in the Zambezi valley quite a lot, as I will explain in a short series of blogs over the next few weeks.

As part of the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa project, I have been working with a team from the University of Zimbabwe and the Tsetse Control Branch of the Ministry of Agriculture in Hurungwe district looking at trypanosomiasis (a disease affecting animals and humans, when it’s called sleeping sickness), and the vector that carries it, the tsetse fly. We have been trying to unravel the complex puzzle that connects changing ecologies, disease and livelihood impacts, working as a cross-disciplinary team (see earlier blog too).

Despite decades of control efforts – from clearance of vegetation to wildlife extermination to aerial spraying of chemicals to baited traps (see this paper), the tsetse fly and trypanosomiasis, affecting both animals and humans, persists. And indeed in the last few years we have seen peaks in both human and animal forms. Not high, but definitely worrying – and devastating for those who are affected.

In our work, we trapped flies along transects, took blood from animals to look for parasites, examined habitat change from satellite imagery and talked to people in the villages. The question we had – why did the disease persist? – was a difficult one to answer. The official maps showed the tsetse ‘belt’ being kept to the south, into the Highveld. Control measures continued to some extent, and official reporting of trypanosomiasis, both animal and human, was highlighting very few cases.

Our tsetse fly surveys showed a peak of fly populations along the valley escarpment, with declining numbers of flies caught in our traps as you travel south away from the valley. Cluster traps located near villages and dips also showed a variable pattern. But overall tsetse fly populations (of different species) were low and relatively few were trapped. Why, if people complain about both animal and human trypanosomiasis? The answer came through an analysis of habitat change.

Abandoning very coarse grained images in favour of LANDSAT images with a higher resolution, we found a major shift in vegetation patterns over time, and particularly a noticeable fragmentation of habitat. Maybe the flies were residing in these fragmented habitat patches, and were not being picked up by the standard belt transects? This indeed proved to be the case.

When villagers analysed the satellite image maps of their area with us, they quickly pointed to particular patches where they knew flies were. The Mushangishe gorge, the pools near the Chewore river, the villages along the edge of the hunting area, the Makuti area, and so on. Some more focused trapping, sampling not randomly but purposively according to what people had indicated, showed that flies do still persist, even in heavily populated areas, but just in small patches.

So what about the disease-causing trypanosomes themselves? Analysis of 209 tsetse flies showed that nearly half were carrying trypanosomes following molecular DNA analysis at Edinburgh University. The most prevalent species was T. vivax (in 32% of flies), followed by T. brucei. This pattern was consistent across fly species (G. m. mortisans and G. pallidipes) and sex. Blood sampling of 400 cattle and 222 goats across 19 villages again showed a very heterogeneous pattern of presence, with trypanosomes (T vivax and T. brucei) being found in only four village sites, with presence in cattle ranging from 2-10 per cent. The places where infected animals were found tallied almost exactly with the places where local people had identified tsetse infested habitat patches. Perhaps surprisingly, given the reports of human trypanosomiasis, we found no evidence of T. b. rhodesiense in either fly or livestock samples; although of course this does not mean it is not present.

The puzzle had been (partially) solved. Tsetse flies and so trypanosomiasis (although no human sleeping sickness causing trypanosmes found as yet) persist because of the maintenance of particular habitat patches. Who gets sick (and whose animals) depends on who goes to these sites. Those most likely to get the disease, and those whose animals are the most susceptible, are mostly poor and marginalised people who must make a living on the edge of wildlife areas. They are hired herders or children of school age moving with animals deep into forested areas; they are groups of men going on hunting trips harvesting wild animals as a source of protein; they are women who forage in the forests, or who collect water from streams and rivers; and they are the new in-migrants into the area, offered land to settle and farm in the frontier areas, sometimes in the buffer zones of the national park and hunting areas.

As people put it to us “we are now fighting a guerrilla war against the tsetse”. They don’t exist along a ‘front’, an identifiable belt on a map as in the past, but in particular sites, which only particular people go to. Gender, age, occupation all make a big difference as to who gets potentially exposed. This has important implications for both monitoring (coarse grained satellite imagery, broad transects and random sampling are no use) and response (by the same token, generic, area-wide approaches make little sense). A more targeted approach, identifying particular patches, and particular people at risk is vital.

In addition, disease risk has to be understood through an appreciation of history, politics and social relations. Such people and their animals do not become sick by chance. Disease is often caused by what Paul Farmer calls ‘structural violence’, with disease being “the biological reflection of social fault lines”. Inequality, poverty, dispossession, alienation, lack of rights, and deep neglect by states results in disease impacts that are often not even noticed or recorded.

The biological impacts of disease is reflected through politics, class, race and gender and, in the case of trypanosomiasis in the Zambezi valley, by the differential effects of changing landscapes. As discussed next week, migration into the valley is an important part of this wider story.

The Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa work was supported by ESPA (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) programme funded by NERC, ESRC and DFID, and the Zimbabwe study was led by Professor Vupenyu Dzingirai (CASS, UZ), working with William Shereni (Ministry of Agriculture), Learnmore Nyakupinda (Ministry of Agriculture), Lindiwe Mangwanya (UZ), Amon Murwira (UZ), Farai Matawa (UZ), Neil Anderson (Edinburgh University) and Ewan McLeod (Edinburgh University), among others.

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

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