Roads, belts and corridors: what is happening along Africa’s eastern seaboard?

The main port at Nacala, Mozambique

The eastern seaboard of Africa from Kenya to Tanzania to Mozambique has become a major focus of attention. The ports – from Bagamoyo to Beira – are seen as the gateway to Africa, a place where great riches can be found. Such ports, and the road and rail links that connect them, are now being redeveloped at a frenzied pace. Much of this is about mineral export, but agriculture is part of the picture too, as a number of the new (or often revived) corridors are seen as ‘agricultural growth corridors’, a term on the lips of many ambitious planners and investors.

Eastern Africa’s ports are also vital staging posts in China’s massively ambitious ‘belt and road’ initiative to connect to the rest of the world. The maritime ‘roads’ across the India Ocean, connect to ‘belts’ that stretch across Asia to China, and through Africa and Europe. The Chinese vision, promoted enthusiastically by President Xi Jinping, is one of an interconnected world, supported by the best of Chinese infrastructure, providing new opportunities for profitable exchange and market-driven export-based development.

For the sceptics this is a replaying of colonial exploitation; imperial ambitions in a new age with new loci of commercial power. An interest in the eastern seaboard of Africa is of course not new. The ports, roads and rail links of played other roles in previous eras – from the slave trade to colonial extraction. For those with strategic geopolitical interests in the region, not least India who sees the Indian Ocean as important militarily and economically, recent developments have major implications.

 

A canon pointing out to sea at the Portuguese colonial slave fort on Ilha de Moçambique

The Nacala corridor: more than coal?

I recently spent a week in Nampula province in northern Mozambique. This is the location of the Nacala corridor, which stretches from the coal mining region of Tete through southern Malawi to the port of Nacala. The visit was part of a project, led in Mozambique by Euclides Gonçalves, on the political economy of agricultural growth corridors in eastern Africa. It is a small component of the new DFID-funded APRA programme, which has just produced its first Working Paper by Rebecca Smalley on this theme.

The Nacala corridor has been the subject of much controversy around the Prosavana project, a trilateral development cooperation project involving Brazil, Japan and Mozambique, discussed in earlier work on China and Brazil in African agriculture. In its early incarnations Prosavana was aiming to roll out massive agricultural investment projects along the corridor, focusing on Brazilian investment and expertise, replicating the much hailed success of the Cerrado in Brazil. These grand plans however unravelled through a combination of organised international opposition, collapsing commodity prices, the Brazilian political crisis and the plain fact that investing in large-scale agriculture in Africa is incredibly difficult, requiring very deep pockets given the risks.

Now things have moved on. The grand plans – at least in their original form – have been put on hold, but there is much happening below the radar. The rail line carrying coal from Tete is fully functional, as is the new port facility at Nacala. There is a new airport at Nacala and the road is in good shape. Land is cheap, good quality and relatively plentiful, and the processes for transfer of ‘DUATs’ from communities to investors is relatively straightforward, as long as some bureaucratic and consultation hoops are jumped through. Locally and nationally there is much political will supporting external investment from the Mozambican party-state, seen as a way of generating growth in a poor part of the country prone to supporting opposition groups. As a source of patronage and backhanders no doubt there are other incentives too.

The Vale coal rail line cutting across the rural Mozambican landscape

At one level the corridor to the new Nacala port facility, established on the other side of the bay to the original Nacala port, is only about exporting coal. Vale, the huge Brazilian conglomerate, has invested millions, now in partnership with Japanese investors. The rail line is increasing freight capacity, although local passengers have limited opportunities to use the railway and local villagers must wait ages for long trains to pass as the rail line cuts through their lands. Others are involved too. For example, Chinese construction companies are also involved in infrastructure development. With improved facilities in the original port, and the potential, as yet unrealised, for the railway to be used for more than coal and the odd passenger train, others are eyeing up the region too.

Agribusiness and development

From established agribusiness operations, such as Rift Valley Corp’s Matanuska banana operation near Manapo, to smaller, more prospective investors in agriculture from Brazil, South Africa, Portugal, India, Jordan, Canada the US and more, the corridor appears to be generating interest, although not at all as part of a coordinated grand plan. Such investments are often supported by international ‘aid’ funds that help to ‘de-risk’ investments or provide opportunities for cutting costs (such as the use of Brazilian tractors supplied through the More Food International programme; again the subject of earlier research being continued under APRA).

A Brazilian tractor in use on a new commercial farm

Local farmers may benefit too. Such operations generate employment opportunities, although the labour conditions are poor, and they may not benefit villagers in the immediate locality. Outgrower arrangements are often mooted as part of improving local relations, a model heavily promoted earlier by AgDevCo in the Beira corridor as part of a UK aid programme, but many fail because generating export quality, regular supplies in sufficient quantities is seriously tough. Local players are also jumping on the corridor bandwagon, with government officials and business people investing in land, and linking up with new external investors.

Who benefits? Political economy questions

It is a highly dynamic situation that the research is only now starting to examine. Corridor investments clearly provide much needed infrastructure in locations that have been marginalised, and remain extremely poor. But who will benefit? An extractivist regime that sees the corridor merely as transport route to export natural resources (in Nacala’s case coal) may see limited local benefits, as the rail line acts more like a ‘tunnel’ connecting mine to port, with little interaction with local people and economies along the way.

A more integrated corridor development may yet emerge, however, as the corridor becomes an attractor for economic activity that spreads out as a network, rather than an isolated, linear connector. For this to happen, as in the old ‘growth pole’ model, other economic activity has to be attracted, and the benefits of infrastructure development shared locally, and also more widely. In this case to the hinterlands of the eastern seaboard, across regions to the landlocked countries of Malawi and Zimbabwe, for example.

But, even if such wider activity happens, some will appropriate the spoils more than others. As in other areas where rapid economic transitions happen through land investments, there is plenty of room for speculation, patronage and deals that create new elites, excluding others. Political economy really matters, and in contrast to much existing research on growth corridors that focuses on the ‘business case’ and the sequencing of infrastructure, this is the emphasis of our research in Mozambique (Nacala/Beira), as well as Kenya (LAPSSET) and Tanzania (SAGCOT).

The longer history of corridors along eastern Africa is one of exploitation and extraction: from slaves to plantation crops to minerals. But how can contemporary investments – which I believe should not be naively rejected – be made to work for the majority, not just the few? This is the underlying challenge, and one our research hopes to investigate, engaging along the way with investors, local villagers and the brokers and intermediaries among state and non-state actors who can make a difference to the way corridor development pathways emerge.

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

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Interdisciplinary puzzles: some lessons from Zimbabwe

Just out in Human Ecology is a new open access paper – People, patches and parasites: the case of trypanosomiasis in Zimbabwe. It presents the results of a project looking at the socio-ecology of disease in Africa – part of the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium – which has had a number of other recent outputs, linking social and natural sciences in the investigations of disease dynamics in Africa.

The Zimbabwe work – led by Prof Vupenyu Dzingirai of CASS, UZ and reported on earlier on this blog here, here, here and here – started with a puzzle. Why was it that after nearly a century of control efforts, tsetse flies and the disease they carry – trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness in humans) – still persists. Indeed human cases seem to be on the rise, although reporting is poor. The battle against the tsetse fly has been intense. Everything has been thrown at them: habitats have been cleared with bulldozers, intermediate wildlife hosts have been exterminated, chemicals have been sprayed from the air and from the ground, millions of sterile male flies released, traps have been set. And still, despite all this, the fly is still there, and the disease still a threat – mostly to poor people living in places like the Zambezi valley, but also those who visit, including hunters and tourists.

For sure the extent of tsetse infestation has changed over time. The paper includes some rough estimates of the ‘tsetse front’ at different periods since the near extermination of the fly following the rinderpest pandemic of the late nineteenth century, when wildlife were all but wiped out. But the images of a ‘front’ and a ‘battle’ is perhaps misleading. There is no longer a tsetse ‘belt’, as there once was, as flies have retreated into particular habitat patches. Instead, the fight against the tsetse, as informants from our study areas in Hurungwe put it is more a set of skirmishes, requiring more guerrilla tactics than conventional warfare.

A new ‘guerilla’ science: rethinking methods

This suggest a different type of science too. Much conventional science and associated monitoring and control efforts directed at the dreaded tsetse fly have assumed uniform distributions, and sampling approaches in particular have not caught up with the more complex spatial realty and the new geography of disease. Standard transect survey techniques cut straight lines through landscapes, remote sensing imagery reveals only coarse patterns and sampling of livestock (at dip tanks) or households (in recognised villages) in a random way may miss spatial variability and more illegal, surreptitious activity. In unravelling the puzzle we confronted, we had to think hard about sampling in particular.

Our study certainly made a few mistakes along the way. We used existing data and standard techniques as the starting point, hoping perhaps that by combining them we would find the answer, falling into a safe, classic multidisciplinary approach. The team had different ‘work packages’ and proceeded with approaches they knew. The social scientists did a survey, the epidemiologists sampled blood from cattle, the entomologists trapped along transects, the GIS specialist analysed their images. But individual pictures did not add up until we started to think together as a team; and most crucially with villagers who knew this disease landscape and its history.

It was some very informal discussions in the field on a transect walk with villagers, and in subsequent participatory mapping that the ‘ah ha’ moments really happened. Villagers pointed to particular places – what we call in the paper, patches – small in size, with certain biophysical and social-cultural characteristics, distinct from the wider landscape. These were the places where they’d seen flies (which were not appearing in vast numbers in our traps, except near the escarpment), and where they were convinced their cattle, and sometimes people, got sick. These patches were sometimes just small bits of vegetation along a stream or around a pool, or more dramatically the deep Mushagashe gorge that cut through the study area. These were the areas too where late dry season grazing could be found, where fruits could be collected and wild animals hunted.

But these sites were not on our transects; the villages near these patches were not necessarily part of the livestock sampling; the social survey missed out completely those illegal villages in the buffer zone near the hunting concession areas that were most at risk; and the patches villagers identified could not be seen from space, at least not at a sufficient resolution. We had to think again about our data, and the biases of our statistically-rigorous, but ultimately misleading, random sampling. So we looked harder at our available sampled data, differentiating the villages, looking at the links between sampling stations and patches, and extended our interviews to other areas to test our emerging hypotheses. We set up new traps in these patches and started to find more flies, and we explored the trypanosomiasis presence in certain villages and found it to be broadly related to proximity to patches; and our GIS team members looked harder and deeper into the patterns of habitat fragmentation, exploring particular areas pointed out by villagers.

A complex socio-ecology and epidemiology

It seems that, just as the villagers suggested, flies are persisting in particular sites, and that certain people and animals are differentially exposed to the risk of infection as a result. That we did not have human trypansomiasis data meant we could not fully test the link, but the animal trypanosomiasis data, assumed to be a close correlate, suggests something is going on. Thankfully the disease risk is not massive, but is probably significantly underreported. Epidemiologically, we see the intersection of two cycles of infection – one domestic, the other ‘sylvatic’ (linked to wildlife). When these come into contact, as in these patches, the chance of heightened infection emerges.

Our findings are not that novel, as others have suggested these dynamics before; although not necessarily investigated them in such depth in one area through so many different lenses. But our process of investigation does suggest some cautions about our initial research approach and, reflecting back, we can spot our mistakes. We made the classic one of rushing into field investigations, without thinking hard about the questions, nor getting advice from villagers in the field who have their own hypotheses and continuously conduct their own observations and experiments.

Instead, we were driven by standard scientific routines and the pressure to deliver (on time, with limited project resources) for conventional scientific journals. Thus ensuring statistical power, sampling randomly, going to where data already existed or places where household lists were present, and using conventional techniques and measures at scales that are standard, but not necessarily appropriate, were what framed the study design at first. And so, driven by the disciplinary norms of different fields, different teams went their own way, collecting data on the assumption that it could be added up at the end.

Transdisciplinary working for complex challenges

With hindsight, this was a big mistake (although we weren’t the first or last group to make it!). We should have started much earlier – as a team and with villagers – exploring the framing of the hypotheses to test, and not relying on standard approaches imported from elsewhere. We should have pushed earlier for the interaction of different spatial, process and participatory modelling approaches, with the participatory investigations leading the way for framing questions, and defining data collection protocols. We should have listened harder – to other team members and villagers themselves – and spent more time in the field.

For complex challenges, multidisciplinary approaches – expecting things to add up after the event through disparate work packages – do not work. Inter- and transdisciplinary working is essential, but difficult to convene, and challenging for those who have to let go of conventional approaches that are held dear. Of course the sort of serendipitous discoveries that shifted our research directions and design in the end – late on, but not too late – cannot be designed, but they have to be allowed to happen; and that does require, our experience suggests, a new approach to science, which this paper hints at the possibilities of.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland and the ESRC STEPS Centre blog

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Command agriculture and the politics of subsidies

Command agriculture – a major, private-sector-backed subsidy programme implemented by the Government of Zimbabwe – has been hailed as a massive success, especially following the huge maize harvest reaped this year (see last week’s post). President Mugabe recently described command agriculture as ‘beautiful’.  The programme, led by the Vice President, Emerson Mnangagwa, with the ministry of agriculture and support from the armed services, involved the delivery of fertiliser (along with seed and fuel) to farmers in higher potential areas, and especially with larger land areas (targeting 2000 farmers with 200 ha or more of arable land) and irrigation facilities. Sakunda Holdings (and others) backed the scheme reputedly to the tune of $160m, and government implemented it on the ground, requiring those receiving the package to repay by delivering an ambitious five tonnes of maize per hectare funded to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB).

The command agriculture programme is being repeated again this coming season; this time with even more ambitious targets, and again with backing of Sakunda. Apparently 45,000 have registered and high crop outputs are expected. While much of the hype is wildly unrealistic, the programme has become core to an increasingly centralised approach to agricultural planning and development in Zimbabwe, as advocated by the VP. There are now ‘command’ approaches mooted for livestock, fisheries, wildlife and more. Given the VP’s background, these all follow the model of Chinese central planning, executed with military logistics and support. Hailed by the Chinese ambassador, it has been an enormous operation, taking up the energies and time of extension workers and apparently up to 1000 members of the army across the country.

The programme has not surprisingly come under intense scrutiny, and has become embroiled in the on-going soap opera of internal ZANU-PF political machinations, with a lively media spat between Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo (of the G40 faction – and apparently a direct beneficiary), who denounced command agriculture, and the Lacoste faction who vigorously back the programme. The commander of the defence forces gave a robust defence too. Given the scale and ambition of the programme, there have been ‘leakages’ – and some high-profile cases of those abusing the system – and the delivery was not always smooth, with many not receiving the full package on time.

But despite everything – and significantly because of the excellent rains – the programme seemingly delivered. I cannot find reliable data that details how much of the 2.15 million tonnes of maize produced in the 2016-17 season (as well as improved soya production too) is attributable to command agriculture (some say 1 million tonnes), nor any results of detailed economic evaluations, but the basic point is that if you throw inputs (notably nitrogen fertiliser) at improved seed in well prepared soil, and there’s good rainfall, increased outputs will result. There is no agronomic surprise there. But with the GMB buying maize at $390 per tonne, way above world prices, and questions about how the financing works, there are clear concerns. The big question is of course, how sustainable is this approach for the longer term – economically and politically?

How sustainable?

This is the concern raised by economists and other policy analysts, including the IMF. There are precedents of course. This is not the first time Zimbabwe has embarked on massive agricultural subsidy programmes. Indeed the successful origins of white commercial agriculture in the country were built on huge subsidies from the state. Is this just a well-timed kick-start to the struggling A2 farms, which have lagged behind due to lack of financing, allowing them to find their own feet, as white farmers did before? In the 1980s and 90s, there were regular fertiliser subsidy (or cheap credit) programmes aimed at boosting communal area agriculture, resulting in a short-lived ‘green revolution’ in the country. In the 2000s, subsidy programmes – from Taguta to the mechanisation progammes led by the Reserve Bank – were attempts at spurring growth in the sector following land reform, but failed due to poor implementation, patronage and corruption.

More widely in the region, Malawi had a period of intensive investment in (mostly) maize production through the FISP (Fertiliser Input Subsidy Programme). This produced a significant growth in production, with Malawi becoming a regional exporter of maize. The same occurred in Zambia, through a range of programmes across successive governments. All of these subsidy programmes however became fiscally unsustainable, and while producing food and reducing import bills became very, very expensive, taking up significant proportions of national expenditure (with opportunity costs elsewhere – in schools, health services, road building and on). A bad rainfall year (or even a middling one) may unravel things quickly, loading more onto an already crippling national debt.

Subsidies and politics

Subsidies are always political. They are ways of directing political power and patronage to particular groups, who those in power want the support of. In the 1980s, it was the communal areas, who had backed the liberation war, with the political compact being that rural people (and their votes) needed securing. In the 2000s, it was the new resettlement farmers (notably A1 smallholders) who required support, as they were the base that ZANU-PF had to rely on in a succession of contested elections.

Today, while an economic-technocratic position of commercial boosting production is well articulated, the focus is on larger, more connected A2 farmers who are being favoured. As the core of the middle class, professional, business and security service elite who benefited from such land, but had not been using it effectively, securing their support politically, and ensuring greater economic viability of A2 farms (while securing food for the nation) had become a political imperative. And given the positioning of the VP and the ED/Lacoste faction, very much in line with a political dynamic unfolding now.

A more strategic view?

As with the support of emerging white settler agriculture by the colonial government of Rhodesia in the 1930s and 40s, this may be seen in the future as a successful investment. Long-term commitment by states to transformation – through innovation and core support – is increasingly seen as essential in any economic strategy. Gone are the days of the Washington Consensus when subsidy was always a dirty word.

But a wider strategic debate about such investment (including more broadly finance and credit in agriculture) and approaches to exit is needed, separating it from the complex machinations of intra-party politics and faction fighting. As with Zambia and Malawi (and India and so many other countries besides where electoral politics is heavily reliant on a rural vote), extricating the state from subsidy addiction is tough. Phasing out a fuel or fertiliser subsidy can result in protests, and an electoral backlash. Patronage and dependency relationships get set up, and peoples’ political careers and parties’ fortunes, become tied up with subsidies.

Zimbabwe urgently needs a more thorough-going debate about what type of subsidies make sense for rebuilding agriculture, avoiding the ideological knee-jerk that all subsidies are bad, but at the same time countering the tendency of patronage lock-in that subsidy programmes, tied to political cycles, always generate.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Is Zimbabwe food secure this year?

A bumper harvest has meant that Zimbabwe is largely food secure this season. Despite the fall armyworm outbreak, maize production was up to an estimated 2.1 million tonnes, thanks in large part to good rains. Government and donor support programmes supplying fertiliser helped too. Total cereal production – including small grains such as sorghum and millet – was estimated to be 2.5 million tonnes. Areas planted expanded significantly, with maize planted on 1.9 million ha, up from 1.2 million ha the previous year. Tobacco production – a key source of income for buying food for many – suffered a bit due to heavy downpours and waterlogging, but a good season was recorded with 186 million kg produced. Grain imports were expected to be minimal – perhaps 5,000 tonnes mostly through informal cross-border exchange – and the GMB and private producers were storing grain in large quantities. The Grain Marketing Board was expecting to purchase about half a million tonnes of maize.

So, with a good season, combined with effective supply of lots of fertiliser, Zimbabwe returned to its former ‘breadbasket’ status. Or so goes one narrative on last season. Certainly output last year was impressive. Everywhere you went was a maize field; green and productive. The government hailed the ‘command agriculture’ scheme as the basis for reviving commercial production (see next week’s blog). And the aid donors were thrilled with their food security programming. But without greater resilience in the agri-food system, this new success is fragile. What if the rains fail again, as they did in 2016 due to El Nino, when only 512,000 tonnes of maize were produced?

Vulnerabilities persist

Even in this year of apparent plenty, the ZimVac study, which looks at food security and livelihood vulnerability nationally, warned that some people, in some places, right at the end of the season were likely to be food insecure. The World Food Programme country director quoted the figure – 1.1 million people will be food insecure in Zimbabwe. As discussed many times on this blog, this sort of statement is dangerously misleading and irresponsible, but of course understandable, as it is wrapped up in the politics of food, and the positioning of large UN agencies, donors, relief NGOs and the state, each reliant on claims about food insecurity for their flows of income.

But there is an important point underlying the headline figure (which really is a distraction, but one the newspapers love each year when the ZimVac report comes out). As the detail of the report shows, vulnerabilities have not gone away. The cash crisis currently gripping the country, the stealth of rising inflation and parallel markets, and the lack of access to food or income to buy it is what is worrying. Pockets of vulnerability persist: on the margins of the country where market connections are poor; among highly marginalised groups (the unwell, disabled, aged, infirm, or child-headed households); and particularly in communal areas where access to productive assets (most notably land) is limited, or in urban settings where employment is fragile and connections to rural homes is weak.

Understanding food systems

With centralised food storage and a boosting of irrigation and production capacity in commercial farms (notably A2 land reform areas), the prospects of overall food balances being met at a national level are improving. But as Amartya Sen argued long ago, aggregate food availability is not the same as access and entitlement; and it is entitlement failure more often than not that causes food insecurity and famine. This is why the debate needs to shift to food systems – and the links between production, markets and provisioning. While getting estimates of total production through the annual crop assessments is vital, it is not enough. Even the relatively sophisticated vulnerability assessments that use this data do not capture everything, as I have discussed before.

The maps of food insecurity that the agencies put out do not reveal the social and political geography of the different colour shades. How are urban and rural areas linked? What is the relationship in the food system between communal areas and new resettlements? Where are markets and how are they linked to producers and consumers, by what infrastructure? And so on. This requires a more connected approach, one that perhaps looks at regional interactions, and especially links between areas.

Land reform areas: central to food security?

My hunch is that at the heart of the new agri-food system, and central to a new perspective on food security in Zimbabwe are the new resettlement areas – to date mostly the A1 areas, but increasingly A2 too. While not everyone by any means, our data from Mvurwi, Matobo and Masvingo shows that there are a significant group (ranging from 60% to 40%, depending on site and season) who are producing surpluses year on year, selling on through local markets, transferring to relatives in town, or storing for future years. More or less everyone produced surpluses this year, but even in bad years, like the last few, this is an unseen motor of the new food economy.

In the generic reports or undifferentiated maps, this dynamic is not revealed. Aggregate pictures do not tell the full story. There is a politics to keeping this from view of course, but also a lack of capacity in data sampling and analysis. We are currently extending our earlier studies that looked at communal areas near our A1 sites to look at links, and interesting stories are emerging, but these will inevitably remain case studies in need of locating in a wider national picture for planning and policy.

It is great news that Zimbabwe is (mostly) food secure this season, and such a massive harvest was reaped. But food and agriculture policy cannot rely on just hoping for a good rainfall season – especially with the heightened variability due to climate change – and must take on board a more nuanced perspective rooted in a deeper understanding of how the post-land reform agri-food system works in Zimbabwe. It is amazing to me that this has yet to happen, more than 17 years on.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

 

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BZ Mavedzenge: the loss of a true public servant

Blasio Zivengwa Mavedzenge (better known simply as BZ) has tragically died following a car crash near Mashava. Another terrible loss in the global carnage of road traffic accidents, which claim 1.3 million people each year. And, after Sam Moyo, another brilliant person from our Zimbabwe land research community, robbed from us too early due to others’ reckless driving.

BZ has been a research collaborator and good friend of mine for 30 years. With many others, I am devastated by our loss. A constant source of sage, practical advice, with a deep knowledge of farming contexts, especially in Masvingo, BZ has been an inspiration on many fronts. Over the years, he has taught me so much, not least about how to do sustained, grounded research in rural settings.

I got to know BZ, and his close friend and colleague Felix Murimbarimba, in the mid-80s, when they were leading the Masvingo-based research of the Farming Systems Research Unit (FSRU), then part of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Research and Specialist Services. Since then we have worked on many projects, and produced many publications together:  from early work on the impacts of structural adjustment on agriculture to work on drought and dryland farming (that ended up with the book, Hazards and Opportunities), work on soil fertility management, studies of crop-livestock integration and of course, since 2000, long-term research on the livelihood consequences of land reform. We also produced several film series together, and BZ’s skills extended to film narration, with his deep baritone voice providing the perfect commentary for the ‘voices from the field’ films.

BZ was no ordinary researcher. He did not have a string of qualifications after his name, no academic titles or positions. He was first and foremost a public servant, working for government from 1974 when he took his first job with TILCOR (now ARDA) to work on the Chisumbanje estate. BZ was born in 1947 in the depths of colonial rule. He grew up in Chirumanzu communal area, part of a chiefly family. He was educated, like his children, at the mission school, Gokomere, and later trained at a government agricultural training college, gaining an agricultural diploma.

From Chisumbanje, BZ went to Gokwe and trained as a cotton grader, and then joined the research department and worked at Matopos Research Station as a technician, implementing important research on grazing systems, from the mid-1970s until 1981, when the FSRU was established. Unlike many researchers, BZ knew his agriculture, and he also knew about implementing rural research, and how difficult it is. As a technician, low down in the hierarchy, BZ was often at the receiving end of poorly designed experiments or absurdly long surveys. From long experience, he had an acute sense of what was feasible, and what might be interesting, and our many discussions over the years on research design, methodology and data analysis have massively enriched my own capacities as a researcher.

On-farm research, bringing research from the station to farmers’ own fields, was central to the FSRU’s mission. As the approach evolved from simply replicating experiments in field conditions to more participatory approaches, involving farmers in the design, implementation and analysis of experiments, BZ and the Masvingo team came into their own. Important work on open-pollinated seed varieties radically shifted policy thinking, and later work on soil fertility and nutrient management provided important pointers to a more balanced approach to soil health. In this period, we developed close links with farmers in different sites across Masvingo province, which became crucial in later phases of work.

When the FSRU closed down, BZ moved to a research officer position within Agritex, the extension department. Nyasha Pambirei, then provincial head, knew the value of research and the important insights it could bring on the ground. This capacity was vital as we developed our work on ‘livelihoods after land reform’ from 2000, initially in Masvingo province. This resulted in the 2010 book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities, plus many co-authored papers and reports. BZ was also central to extending our research efforts to Mvurwi and Matobo in recent years, using his extraordinary diplomatic skills to negotiate access to new sites, sometimes in tricky settings.

BZ was also a farmer himself, applying his exceptional knowledge of agriculture in the difficult dryland environment of Mashava. He gained land through the land reform, joining with the late Cosmas Gonese and the AZTREC group in the invasion of Shashe farm. In an interview, BZ recounts this story, and the early establishment of his A1 plot. The farm was his pride and joy. Following his retirement from government service, he moved there permanently with his wife, Mai Tapiwa, who has joined him in making it a wonderful home and productive farm. With the prolific rains this season, BZ was sending me many photos through WhatsApp of the harvest as it came in – maize, sorghum, millet, groundnuts and more.

Despite the sniping of some other researchers and journalists, being a farmer – proudly part of the land reform – did not distort BZ’s perspectives on Zimbabwe’s land issues. Quite the opposite: his engagements on his farm helped us all understand the challenges much better. He could be the harshest critic of some aspects of land reform, and associated policy, but equally recognised the potentials and opportunities it presented, as he tried to realise them himself. Over the last decade, Shashe farm has become a focus for training of others in farming approaches, and a centre for experimentation on agroecology and debate about food sovereignty, with many people coming from across Zimbabwe, and internationally, to learn from the Shashe experience. The Mavedzenge homestead regularly hosted visitors, and many recall the long and intense discussion into the night on all aspects of land, agriculture and livelihoods.

Even in his retirement, BZ was continuing his public service. Quiet and unassuming, BZ’s deep knowledge and commitment was inspiring to everyone who met him. Unlike BZ, his children and grandchildren were able to benefit from the fruits of Independence, and particularly education, which BZ and Mai Tapiwa were passionate about. As a regular visitor to his home in Masvingo over 30 years, I have seen the family grow, regularly reviewing spectacular school reports and hearing about many family achievements, near and far and across generations. I have learned much about parenting from the Mavedzenges, and only wish that the long-planned trip to their home with my own kids had happened before this awful event.

BZ’s passing is a deep loss for everyone who knew him, and for our research community more broadly. We have lost a true public servant; someone with strong values and commitment, deep intelligence and insight, grounded pragmatism and good humour. BZ, we will miss you, your kind advice and generous counsel, and of course that inimitable laugh.

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 This tribute to BZ Mavedzenge, 13 October 1947-27 August 2017, was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. BZ was laid to rest at his farm in Mashava on 30 August. He is survived by his wife, and children – Tapiwa, Kenneth, Terrence, Romualdo, Tunga and Tafadzwa – along with many grandchildren. Please feel free to add your own comments, memories  and reflections below.

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The 20 top Zimbabweland blogs of 2017, so far!

It’s the time of year that Zimbabweland takes a break for a few weeks. But it’s also a good time for readers to catch up on what they’ve missed. Here are the posts from this year that have received the most views (and now with all the right links – sorry for those who were browsing earlier in the week). The list starts with a topical one from January, but there are also quite a few from the blog series that have been run this year, based on our on-going research in Masvingo, Mvurwi and Matobo. These have included:

  • A series on the future of medium-sized farms, based on our work in a former ‘purchase area’, and reflecting on the challenges of new A2 land reform farms.
  • A series on young people after land reform, and the challenges of precarious livelihoods, as well as the opportunities presented by the new agrarian structure
  • A series focused on land administration challenges confronting the Zimbabwe Land Commission, including land audits, compensation, dispute resolution and more.

Apart from these, there have been book reviews, summaries of some of our new papers and more.

So far there have been around 35,000 views of the blog this year, covering many posts across the years – and from all over the world. There are now nearly 300 posts to view, so there’s plenty to dig into. Just search! And if you are not one of the 570 people who receive a copy of the post each Monday morning into their inbox, do sign up, or follow me on Twitter @ianscoones, as new blogs are usually highlighted. Happy reading!

  1. View What will the inauguration of President Trump bring to Africa?
  2. View What is the future for medium-sized commercial farms in Zimbabwe?
  3. View Tobacco and contract farming in Zimbabwe
  4. View Zimbabwe’s diamond theft: power and patronage in Marange
  5. View “No condition is permanent”: small-scale commercial farming in Zimbabwe
  6. View Women and land: challenges of empowerment
  7. View How persistent myths distort policy debate on land in Zimbabwe
  8. View Young people and agriculture: implications for post-land reform Zimbabwe
  9. View Medium-scale farming for Africans: The ‘Native Purchase Areas’ in Zimbabwe
  10. View The future of medium-scale commercial farms in Africa: lessons from Zimbabwe
  11. View Beyond the crises: debating Zimbabwe’s future
  12. View How are the children of Zimbabwe’s land reform beneficiaries making a living?
  13. View Underutilised land in Zimbabwe: not a new problem
  14. View What prospects for the next generation of rural Zimbabweans?
  15. View Methods for agrarian political economy: reflecting on Sam Moyo’s contributions
  16. View Compensation following land reform: four big challenges
  17. View Africa must take the lead in addressing global health challenges
  18. View Diverse life courses: difficult choices for young people in rural Zimbabwe
  19. View Land audits: a tricky technical and political challenge
  20. View Land dispute resolution in Zimbabwe

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Land and agriculture in Zimbabwe following land reform

In May, I was invited to give a talk on Zimbabwe’s land reform and its aftermath by a great new student initiative at SOAS (School of African and Asia Studies) focused on agriculture and development in Africa. The event was hosted by the Royal African Society and SOAS. I was on a panel with Na Ncube who leads a great initiative in Matabeleland called the Global Native (see an earlier blog).

There is a recording of the event available here. Below I have elaborated my notes a bit, so they are more readable. They should vaguely tally with what I said. The discussion was great too, and worth a listen.

So here’s the talk….

A very brief history

Land and its relationship to agriculture has had a long and fraught history in Zimbabwe. As Robin Palmer said in his brilliant book, Land and Racial Domination in Rhodesia, back in 1977:

The most acute and difficult question confronting the first government of Zimbabwe will be that of land, bedeviled by its past use as a political and economic weapon by the whites and by consequent mythologies to which this has given rise. The problem will not be an easy one to resolve.

Indeed, this has come to pass. A difficult relationship between land, agriculture and livelihoods continues.

Before discussing some of our work on land and livelihoods since the land reform of 2000, I want to offer some brief historical context.

In the 1980s – resettlement was central to the post-Independence effort, and various models, based on a willing seller, willing buyer approach to transfers, were tried out. The so-called Model A schemes – a smallholder approach – was relatively successful as shown by the long-term by Bill Kinsey and others.

By the 1990, resettlement had slowed down, and by late 90s, some 72,000 households on 3.2m ha had been settled. This was way lower than the original targets. In this period there was an acceleration of acquisitions of farms by black elites, and commercial farms prospered in the liberalised economic environment.

But by 2000, 20 years after Independence, there had been no fundamental changes in the agrarian system. It was still based on a dualist arrangement – large-scale commercial farms contrasting with communal areas (and some resettlement schemes) – and was hiding many tensions and much political discontent.

From the early land invasions in late 1990s, accelerating in 2000 following the Constitutional referendum, there were major changes in land use across Zimbabwe, as people took the land. What later became the fast-track land reform programme (FTLRP), resulted in about 10 million hectares being transferred to about 220,000 households, within just a few years, involving both small-scale (A1) and medium scale (A2) farms.

This was a volatile period, sometimes violent, resulting a huge upheaval, and a loss of much of what was white owned large-scale agriculture. It is a highly varied story, and any simple narrative is simply not possible, as I’ve argued many times before.

Post-land reform livelihoods: three themes

Since 2000, we’ve been tracking what has happened – now in three sites in Masvingo, Mazowe and Matobo. Since the land reform, we have argued it is important to have some solid data on economic, social and political changes in the face of often highly ill-informed commentary and policy debate.

I want to highlight three key themes from our findings.

First, there is a new agrarian structure. As Sam Moyo and others have described, it’s now a trimodal system: small-scale (most), medium scale and large-scale and estates (importantly still present and often involving multinational agribusiness).

Second there has been varied performance in production, and so mixed success, across this trimodal system.

The small-scale A1 farms have done surprisingly well (this is consistent across our sites: production has grown; investment has expanded, involving what we refer to as accumulation from below; some economic growth potentials have been generated, especially linked to small towns; and new value chains and linkages have been created. To my mind, this is an important, unsung agricultural transformation, but with vanishingly little external support

By contrast, the A2 medium-scale farms have done less well. Capital constraints, lack of investment, limited finance/credit have hampered production, but some new joint ventures and contracting arrangements have helped. Unlike the European commercial farms established in colonial era in these same areas, there has been virtually no finance and state support.

In the large-scale and estate sector, the story has been varied. But the sugar estates are continuing, and are increasingly reliant on new outgrower arrangements to assure profits.

Third, there have been shifts in politics, as a result of this reconfiguration of land and its uses. Again, this is reflected in different ways across the trimodal system.

Most of the new A1 farmers were from other rural areas, mostly communal areas, and the urban unemployed. Not all are doing well by any means, but many are – and all aspire to accumulate, as many are managing to do. They have varied links with ruling party (and not all are supporters by any means). They are now demanding services and support from the state/party, which has so far been strikingly absent. As a more educated/younger/connected demographic than their immediate communal area counterparts, they are now demanding more, with increasingly louder voices.

The A2 farmers represent a very different class composition. A professional middle class dominates, with many civil servants gaining land, part of the state’s deal with such class interests. In some sites more than others, there are also members of the security services and others with strong political-business-military connections. Many A2 farmers are now seeking alliances with other investors, including former white farmers, Chinese and others, in order to boost production and offset debt.

Finally, the large-scale farms and estates, often with direct links to international agribusiness have negotiated the political uncertainties with brokered deals with the party-state, providing them some cover for their interests (see our work on the sugar estates, for example).

Thus the new trimodal agrarian system has generated new forms of production and economic relations and with this a new political dynamic. These are different across A1, A2 and large-scale/estate sectors, and represent an important new class dynamic in the countryside, with major implications for the future.

A constrained agrarian setting

Overall, though, the potentials of the new agrarian structure is highly constrained: by failures in the wider economy, lack of rural credit and finance, insecure tenure arrangements, poor land administration, patronage and corruption (as I have discussed many times on this blog – for example, a few weeks back). The failure to pay compensation to former white farmers, in line with the Constitution, has hampered political progress too, as various international ‘restrictive measures’ (aka sanctions) persist.

Within these broad categories in the trimodal system, we must also look at other actors – some of whom lost out significantly from the land reform. These include former farm workers, now becoming incorporated into new farm structure, but on poor terms; women who gained early, but are losing out due to reassertion of patriarchal structures; and youth, who nearly a generation on don’t have a chance of getting like their parents did in 2000, with small subdivisions being offered and resentment building.

Over 17 years, there have been winners and losers from the land reform, and the net result of the wider political-economic impasse in Zimbabwe has been stagnation in the key economic sector of agriculture (although with a much vaunted bumper harvest this year of course). Generally, there’s a deep lack of policy vision of what to do about rural development and agriculture in the post-land reform setting.

Unfortunately, the current debate about land and agriculture in Zimbabwe is hopelessly limited. All political parties repeat same tired old rhetoric – whether ZANU-PF’s nationalistic stance or the opposition’s version of neoliberal policy prescriptions – while donors or others seem to have an extraordinarily limited grasp of the realities on the ground. None have got to grips with the big implications – technical, economic and above all political – of the new agrarian structure.

What next? Three scenarios

So what next? Whatever the outcome of next year’s election, and whatever happens in the on-going soap opera of succession struggles and opposition coalitions formation, there are some big questions that are raised.

I want to outline three possible scenarios for the future (see also Toendepi Shonhe’s very thoughtful scenario discussion in Gravitas recently, which has some echoes):

Scenario 1: Status quo, impasse and conflict. Under this scenario, a political stalemate emerges post 2018, and with this a failure to address outstanding compensation issues, address security of tenure challenges, and the refinancing of agriculture doesn’t happen. Under this scenario, A1 smallholders continue as now – they will be doing OK, but not reaching their potential. And discontent with lack of state support will build. Among the A2 farms, a few elite enterprises with external finance will prosper, but little else and the pattern of underutilisation will continue. A long-term demand for land continues from youth, former farm workers and others, in the absence of the growth of the wider economy. But without economic dynamism more broadly, linking the agricultural sector with the wider economy, there will be few prospects for most. This is I am afraid is the default scenario, and currently, sadly the most likely.

Scenario 2. Elite capture. A political change (of some sort – in whatever permutation) results in a flood of capital from outside the country for investment in commercial farming. New joint ventures are established particularly in medium-scale A2 farms and estates (including on parastatal land), adding to a trend that has already begun. Pushed by international finance institutions, donors and global capital, this will lead to a process of consolidation, squeezing out small-scale production. Elite pacts will be struck between the state, connected land reform beneficiaries and external capital (including donors), around a narrative of economic growth and modernisation. Selective accumulation will occur among those with A2 farms, and the result will be a reversion to a large-scale commercial farming trajectory, benefiting a few, but excluding many.

Scenario 3. Smallholder led transformation. This is my favoured, ideal scenario (as you may well guess). In this scenario, A1 accumulators in particular – existing now in large numbers and electorally significant, in alliance with other rural producers – will demand support from the state (under whatever regime), gaining greater political voice. They will push for example for transfers of land from underutilised A2 areas to extend A1 resettlements, accommodating youth and others. They will demand more effective and appropriate rural finance arrangements, and service support, including infrastructural investment (as European farmers did so effectively during the colonial period). Building on an existing dynamic of accumulation from below, a smallholder led agricultural and economic transformation extends, with ripple effects on employment and local economic development. This is made possible by support from new political configurations, but these would require policy vision and commitment, seemingly currently unlikely until a new political settlement is reached, and all parties realise how important rural questions are.

Final thoughts

While land reform happened in a way that was far from ideal, it was certainly necessary. The question is what happens now, rather than harking back to past mistakes and misdeeds. And thinking this through needs evidence-informed policy planning that in my view envisages an agriculture that is productive but also equitable, with the real potentials of land reform – centred on a transformatory smallholder vision – at the core, and rejects both the depressing scenario of the status quo or the scenario of elite capture. Time, as they say, will tell.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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