The politics of reform in Zimbabwe


Last month two major reports came out on economic and political reform in Zimbabwe. The first from Chatham House, looking at economic reform and the question of re-engagement by international actors, and the second, from the Institute for Security Studies, looking at similar themes, but focusing more on the political challenges.

They come to rather different conclusions. The Chatham House report argues strongly for re-engagement by the West and the International Finance Institutions. The ISS report is more sceptical, arguing that Zimbabwe’s reforms could be seen more of an exercise in pretence, and may help prop up the regime.

We have heard these arguments before. The pragmatists, arguing for engagement with the inevitable response that this is appeasement and those arguing for a major overhaul, but without any clear plan for how. Neither of these reports fall firmly into these stereotypes. These are both written by commentators with deep knowledge of the situation.

However, I found the Chatham House report definitely the most convincing. The authors are sanguine about the challenges, but realistic about what needs to be done. Their headline message is that “International and regional governmental engagement does not guarantee the success of long-term reform, but continued isolation will almost certainly lead to the failure of reforms to take hold”.

They point to the very real shifts that have occurred in the last year or two, often not accounted for in commentary on Zimbabwe. In part this is a response to the desperate economic situation, but also a sense of greater realism amongst elements of the ZANU-PF elite. The Chatham House report highlights the words of Patrick Chinamasa (pictured above), who has been leading the negotiations with the IFIs, among others. In a London speech in July he said:

“We are doing everything in our power to improve the operating environment in Zimbabwe to attract foreign direct investment. What the country needs right now is capital – new money. The debts and liabilities are there, and we need a strategy that can make the economy grow. And for the economy to grow we need foreign direct investments, which is why we are involved in a strategy to change the operating environment and we’ve moved mountains in this regard.”

The economic situation is certainly dire. The appreciation of the US dollar has made Zimbabwe’s exports less competitive. Manufacturing has declined yet further, along with the tax base, and so government revenues. This means paying civil servants (83% of public expenditure) is more and more difficult. Attempts to improve liquidity through creating treasury bills, bond notes and the rest have met with protest. Banks have gone bust, cash is in short supply, and hard currency is leaving the country in large amounts as the country becomes the region’s ‘bureau de change’.

Continued restrictions by the US government under ZDERA (the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001) means currency negotiations with the US Federal Reserve are prevented, and the economy must rely on exports, remittances, foreign investment and credit lines, all of which are under pressure. Confidence is at a low ebb, as political turmoil persists, and this in turn puts off investors, who fear yet more disruption around the next elections, and as a result of any succession battle for the presidency. The Chatham House report lays out the details, with some stark facts and figures (although as ever misrepresenting the data on food security – see recent blogs on this).

From liberation to liberalism: what prospects for reform?

This is the context that is forcing change. Chinamasa represents what the Chatham House report authors call a “transition from hard-line ‘patriotic liberationism’ to a more pragmatic economic liberalism”. The ISS report agrees that Zimbabwe has “the technical competencies to deliver” but points to the political challenges. The report observes: ”political support has been partial, inconsistent and largely tepid, underscoring a dawning reality that the imperatives of retaining ZANU-PF hegemony, the inevitability of Mugabe leaving office and the related factionalism around succession fundamentally stifle prospects for reform and, by extension, narrow options for engagement”. It goes on: “engagement is selective, policy statements often incoherent and serious questions remain about government’s commitment to deliver”. It concludes pessimistically: “the course appears set for continued economic decline, internecine political machinations and growing potential for violence, resistance and repression”.

There are good grounds for such pessimism, but a more rounded examination, as contained in the Chatham House report, shows that there is more going on than many give credit for, and that the political struggles over what reform means are more complex. To date, the government has certainly made important strides towards IFI compliance, under extremely constrained circumstances. This has been focused on the public finances, including reforms of the banking sector, attempts at public wage restraint, parastatal reform and privatization, efforts to inject greater transparency and accountability into the mining sector, and implementation of Constitutional provisions around land compensation and audit. Not all of these interventions have been successful, and there have been popular and political backlashes. Many – rightly – remain cynical. But there has been a surprising energy and commitment. This is about economic, and crucially, political survival.

However, as the Chatham House report notes, such reforms are only the beginning. Many international players want to see more. For example, “A deep wage cut across the board, clarity and consistency on indigenization, and the finalization of 99-year leases” will be required, plus “measurable democratic reforms, including the alignment of legislation to the 2013 constitution, abidance to the rule of law and adherence to human rights norms”. This may all be a tall order, particularly in the febrile political atmosphere in the run up to the 2018 elections, meaning many in the international community and the wider opposition will remain unconvinced.

Currently Zimbabwe is in a bind. The constraints on both international public and also private investment are stifling any prospect of economic recovery. Many investors suspect that reforms will be affected by party political dynamics. As the Chatham House report observes: “Attempts to attract investors are hampered by the lack of apparent planning for Zimbabwe’s post-Mugabe political leadership, and a prolonged succession battle could be extremely risky, not just for the party, but also for the country”.

Despite these qualifications, the Chatham House report is upbeat. It notes: “even in a context of severe economic constraints – and despite some overlaps between party and government issues – the government continues to function, and is supported by a professional, albeit eroded, civil service. There is still an operational distinction between party and government, and the divisions in the party have not fully replicated themselves across the state. Zimbabwe’s institutional capacity is fairly robust. Parliament remains an important nexus for bipartisan debate and scrutiny of elected officials”. These are important observations, and often forgotten (see an earlier blog on persistent bureaucratic professionalism).

Political alliances for reform

If technocratic and institutional capacity is not lacking, political incentives for reform often are. Here the Chatham House report again offers a nuanced analysis. It points to two opposing forces, cutting across party lines. First, there are those who have incentives to support reform. This includes many in ZANU-PF and the military who have strong business interests. They are driving the reform agenda, and include many in the upper echelons of the party, as well as new opposition groups (most notably Joice Mujuru and People First). The military-business elite is crucial here, as they may be the ultimate arbiters in the succession battle. With revenues from the Marange diamonds drying up due to new regulations and reforms, and other patronage networks in decline, as the Chatham House report notes, they are likely to be vested heavily in improving the business environment, and so ally strongly with reformers in the party, notably Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa.

Others are implacably opposed to reforms, seeing these as an imperialist imposition. There are those in the G40 group within ZANU-PF who make this nationalist-populist argument. According to Chatham House, they are: “sceptical of economic liberalization and re-engagement, particularly with the Bretton Woods institutions, as they fear this will mean the end of ZANU PF’s historical ideological objective to create a de facto one-party socialist state with a ‘captive’ or ‘token’ opposition”. While anyone with a memory of ESAP has a right to be cautious, the need to revive the economy is also apparent to anyone.

There are those in the opposition parties, supported especially by diaspora groups, who argue strongly against re-engagement too. But for different reasons. They are relaxed about a liberalisation stance at the centre of reforms and advocate free market approaches, but feel that the international community is letting the regime off the hook. More chaos, more decline, they believe will make the transfer of power easier, at or before the 2018 elections. If the opposition had a vision and an organisational base, such a stance might be credible. But accepting continued suffering for unlikely political gain, is in my view highly  irresponsible.

The Chatham House report therefore calls for re-engagement, and a phased approach to reforms, recognising the limits of alternatives, and the dangers of not doing anything:

“The interests of the ruling party, of the citizens of Zimbabwe and of international stakeholders are not mutually exclusive. There is little doubt that one of the main incentives behind the current government’s apparent commitment to the reform agenda is party survival. But if this means measures to achieve a stronger economy and better livelihoods, there should be tangible improvements in social and economic rights – and maybe, in time, more space for promoting civil and political liberties. Other options have not worked. The opposition, for its part, is in a fractured state, and it is not clear whether any strong alliance will be forged before the next elections”.

Failing to engage, and persisting with outdated sanctions measures (the report in particular fingers the US’s ZDERA restrictions and Canada’s stance), could be disastrous, not only for Zimbabwe but for the region as a whole. The report argues “Avoiding renewed economic collapse in Zimbabwe is important for Southern Africa, especially at a time when economic resilience is weakening elsewhere in the region.”

I agree, which is why a pragmatic if politically-challenging way forward must be found. The Chatham House report certainly offers valuable pointers, if not solutions, and is well worth reading.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Zimbabwe’s sugar politics


In 2000, as land invasions occurred around Zimbabwe, there were many calls for the sugar estates to be taken over. Indeed, there were a number of occupations of ‘white’ outgrower farms on the lowveld estates. This coincided with major strikes, and the burning of large areas of cane. Yet high-level negotiations and political manoeuvring averted wholesale takeover. Despite the rhetoric, the strategic importance of the sugar industry to the national economy was recognised and the state and the sugar companies brokered compromises. The result was the subdivision of former settler outgrower areas in Hippo Valley and Mkwasine estates and their transfer to now around 800 land reform beneficiaries who had applied through the A2 scheme, designed for medium-scale enterprises and suited to those with capital and expertise. The sugar outgrower land reform represented nearly 16,000 ha, leaving about 30,000 ha as core estate land.

How have the new outgrowers fared? In a new open access paper published as part of the Journal of Southern African Studies special issue on the political economy of sugar in southern Africa (see last week’s blog for an overview), we explore this question with data over 12 years from Hippo Valley from 2002. Following land reform, company officials, government extension agents and others were sceptical that the new outgrowers would be able to supply sugar in amounts and at the quality required for Tongaat Hulett’s two mills at Triangle and Hippo Valley. They argued that the new outgrowers were given portions of land that were ‘unviable’, and that commercial sugar growing could only occur on irrigated plots of more than 35 ha. Further, they argued that the land reform beneficiaries did not have the skills for the highly technical and demanding process of sugar production. And finally they suggested that a politically-driven land reform process was inimical to economically successful production, and that the investors would flee, abandoning Zimbabwe for more stable contexts.

The new outgrowers: how have they fared?

In the years since, the sceptics have been proven wrong. Outgrowing on A2 resettlement plots is now a central part of the business, supplying 852,000 tonnes of cane in 2013 of a total throughput of 3.9 million tonnes. Yields are up too, with our sample of cane farmers producing 86 tonnes/hectare since 2009, higher than the estate average of 83 tonnes/hectare in 2014. Outgrowers must hand over 26 per cent of their crop to the mill, and pay additionally for irrigation water, transport and inputs. Many complain, but the company ‘rips us off’ and ‘cheats on price’, but sugar growers have little option, and are tied intimately into the company’s operation. Tongaat Hulett makes considerable profit from its Zimbabwe business ($30 million in 2014), and land reform farmers are central to this. As part of the rehabilitation of cane land, the company (via the Canelands Trust, and supported until recently by over 30 million euros in aid from the European Union as part of the sugar adaptation fund) subsidises the replacement of cane, and improvement of infrastructure.

In our Hippo Valley sample, the average plot size is 24.3 ha (with a range from 9.8 to 58.1 ha), with on average 20.9 ha under sugar. Only four farmers (of 38) have centre pivot irrigation equipment, although everyone has access to canal water. Farm labour compounds exist both in the new resettlements and on the estate, from where labour for the range of sugar production tasks is derived. The new outgrower farmers on land reform plots come from a mix of backgrounds, including teachers, extension workers, estate employees, as well as well-connected politicians and security service personnel. Not everyone is doing well, and some recent arrivals have taken time to establish, but across our sample the levels of production and management are good. Making a go of sugar production is however tough, as explained in one our ‘voices from the field’ videos. Organising inputs, hiring and managing labour, dealing with cash flow, and negotiating with the company is always a challenge. But despite the early scepticism, the new farmers are by and large doing well, investing and accumulating, as well as providing employment and providing sugar for the profitable company mills.

The land reform in the sugar outgrower areas was not a ‘land to the people’ redistributive move to combat landlessness and poverty. This was part of an accommodation of a middle-class demand for land, creating a very particular type of outgrower arrangement, quite different to other sugar outgrower relationships elsewhere in the region, as discussed in other papers in the Journal of Southern African Studies special issue. The A2 beneficiaries are certainly not universally powerful and well connected, but the sugar allocations were definitely not addressing the poor, disadvantaged masses. Nationally, the land reform had to accommodate multiple class interests, and one was the middle-class aspiration for land, particularly in the context of declining living standards, wages and job opportunities in the post-structural adjustment period.

 Zimbabwe’s sugar politics

Zimbabwe’s sugar politics since land reform – and indeed much earlier – involves a complex balance of competing forces. Large-scale international capital, seeing the opportunities for accumulation from the excellent climatic conditions and top-quality infrastructure and increasingly guaranteed supplies of irrigation water, has invested in the area over decades, despite the political and economic challenges. Tongaat Hulett sees Zimbabwe as central to its ability to make profit in the region, and so is prepared to weather the storms of economic and political crisis, and broker deals which are far from ideal.

Politically and economically, sugar is vital for Zimbabwe. Together with tobacco, these export commodities create a particular dependency politics, and are central to the imaginaries and processes of state-making. They are deeply implicated in both national and local politics. Today debates about indigenisation, restitution and resettlement colour these politics, and result in much rhetoric and frequent threats usually linked to the electoral cycle. But in essence the story is the same as it always has been; one about how the state makes deals with capital, and how farmers, and other local people, including workers, are incorporated, and on what terms.

It is such political-economic dynamics, rooted in often fragile, contingent elite alliances that have driven the transformation of the sugar industry, and with it the agrarian landscape in Zimbabwe since land reform. As has been the case since 1937, when Murray MacDougall first planted cane in the Lowveld, a contested political economy will continue to shape sugar, people and livelihoods over the next decades too. And the new land reform beneficiaries operating as sugar outgrowers will be central to the story.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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The sugar rush in southern Africa


The expansion of sugar production in southern Africa has been dramatic. From its early beginnings in Natal to the huge commercial estates across the region established during the colonial era, new investments are being planned. The land rush in southern Africa is often a sugar rush, with the ‘white gold’ promising riches to governments, local elites and large corporates alike.

While sugar consumption is rising with increasing wealth and urbanisation, the prospects for export to the favoured European Union market look more fragile. In 2017 preferential trade access ceases, and with this the huge ‘adjustment’ payments that some southern African countries and sugar corporates have received as aid. Nevertheless the sugar giants, mostly centred on three South Africa-based companies – Illovo, Tongaat Hulett and TSB – as well as new entrants, are still eyeing up cheap land, good soils and water resources for new ventures.

With these major changes underway it is a good moment to review the political economy of sugar in southern Africa. This is what a new open access special issue of the Journal of Southern African Studies does. There are 9 papers, with case studies from 7 countries across the region, and a valuable comparative overview of patterns of accumulation in different operations.

The issue argues that the region’s sugar industry provides a useful lens through which to understand current dynamics of corporate capital and agricultural production in Africa. The papers highlight the rapid concentration of corporate control over the past decade, but also the very diverse outcomes across the cases. Capital does not operate in a uniform way, and local contexts, resistances and struggles, and wider political economy make a big difference.

Taking the company Illovo (now owned by Associated British Foods), Alex Dubb shows how it gains high profits in Malawi due to favourable market conditions (notably preferential trade access and protected domestic markets) and  high productivity (combining cheap field labour, land and water with capital-intensive milling). By contrast, Mozambican profits come exclusively from favourable market conditions, while profits in Tanzania, Swaziland and especially Zambia are due to particularly high levels of productivity. South Africa, Illovo’s country of origin, receives low profits, making expansion across the region essential for commercial success. Value relations, at the heart of political economy, are core to understanding accumulation through sugar, Dubb argues. As companies seek to expand their operations, the search for cheap land, water and labour continues. As papers from Malawi and Tanzania caution, attempts at expansion of sugar land through grand development schemes – such as the Green Belt in Malawi or SAGCOT in Tanzania – may result in elite capture and exclusions of poorer people, even when ‘outgrower’ approaches are advocated.

A central theme of the papers is an examination of the diverse patterns of ‘outgrower’ sugar cane production. This is massively different in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe or Swaziland for example, where starkly different relationships between the estate and mill and smallholder outgrowers (of different scales, and with different involvement in direct production) apply. While often presented as the ‘inclusive business’ solution to corporate engagement with smallholders, it is clear that there is no single model, and relations between corporate capital, states and local producers varies massively.

How then should we understand sugar in southern Africa? Is the sugar industry part of a new developmental frontier in the region, transforming investment, market opportunities and livelihoods with a ‘win-win’ model, centred on linking core agro-industrial investments with outgrowers, as the industry and other advocates claim? Or is it a predatory form of capital, backed by elites and international finance, where production and market risks are transferred to vulnerable smallholders and estate labour; where land and water resources are ‘grabbed’; where a colonial model of exploitative estate production is at the centre, and profits are accumulated through monopoly power?

The experience in southern Africa suggests that these stereotypes rarely apply. While the logic of capital results in a relentless pursuit of profit, state agency and national political-economic context influence outcomes, as do local conditions. Local negotiations, resistances, and accommodations matter. The result is diverse patterns of production and profit, together with different livelihood outcomes for very different types of ‘outgrower’, and quite different implications for different groups of estate labour, as shown for Xinavane in Mozambique, both in terms of gender relations and health and wellbeing.

With the vagaries of the international market dominating, and the changing fortunes of large corporate agribusiness capital in the region so deeply intertwined with this, we cannot predict whether the long-established corporation-state-outgrower relationship will persist. But for now, in all its variety and differing political dimensions, this relationship dominates the southern African sugar sector, and is central to understanding its contemporary political economy.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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Will white farmers in Zambia feed Zimbabwe?


The El Niño drought has hit southern Africa hard. Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and seven provinces in South Africa have announced emergencies. Coming on the back of a bad season last year, the food situation across the region is dire. Large volumes of food will have to be imported into drought-affected areas, with a regional deficit of 7.3 MT reported. News reports – including one from the Southern Daily that was widely circulated – point to white farmers who fled from land reform in Zimbabwe and now farming in Zambia as the saviours. Is this really the case or, as ever, is it a bit more complicated?

Who is producing Zambia’s food?

As discussed last week, the figures on how much food is needed and where is confused, but the latest on Zimbabwe suggest that up to 4.1 million people will need food aid before the end of the consumption season. While the estimates may be problematic, even adding a large margin of error, the bottom-line is that food must be imported into Zimbabwe in large quantities. The nearest source is Zambia, where good rainfall produced a harvest higher than predicted at 2.8m tonnes (not 3.3m as the Southern Daily reported, which confusingly took figures from 2014 and reported as if this year).

Who then is producing all this maize in Zambia? One of the oft-repeated narratives has been that the food being supplied to Zimbabwe now is being produced by white farmers who were evicted from Zimbabwe during the land reform. In a 2004 piece by Jan Lamprecht on the blatantly racist, white-supremacist site gloated that white farmers outcompeted 150,000 peasants in Zambia. Even President Mugabe seemed to have been swayed by the propaganda, commenting on the success of former large-scale commercial farmers from Zimbabwe at a rally. This was the narrative too of the error-filled Southern Daily piece (that was sent to me at least four times when it came out, with commentaries not dissimilar to that on The evicted-farmers-save –Zimbabwe narrative is prevalent, but is it true?

Certainly there are some former commercial farmers now farming in Zambia – in such places as Mkushi block. Mkushi has attracted South Africans, Tanzanians, British and Zimbabweans, and is a focus for large-scale agriculture in the centre of the country.  Estimates suggest there are perhaps 750 white Zimbabwean farmers in Zambia, rising from 400 following land reform in 2000. External finances, such as through Agrivision Africa supported by the IFC, has allowed the capitalisation of commercial operations, and farms there produce a mix of crops, ranging from soya to maize to beef and dairy. Many commercial agricultural enterprises in places like Mkushi are highly productive, and currently very profitable. In part this results from skill and investment, but also the combination of recent periods of good rainfall and supplementary irrigation capacity that has improved production.

Maize being exported to Zimbabwe in part comes from such farms, but it’s actually – and contrary to the simplistic narrative – primarily grown on smallholder producers across the country. Maize production – and so the ability to export – has been massively supported by a highly-subsidised input support programme over a number of years. For example, in 2011 the Government of Zambia spent US$184 million on 182k MT of fertiliser and 9k MT of hybrid maize seed. This amounted to 0.8% of GDP then, and 30% of total agricultural expenditure. This is an enormous investment and, as in Malawi before, it has boosted maize production massively, but probably unsustainably. Today smallholders in Zambia produce around 2.5m tonnes annually, while large-scale producers 300k tonnes in a good year, like this past one.

In other words, the maize export story from Zambia is driven not by valiant white farmers of the much-promoted narrative (although they of course contribute) but mostly by the efforts of smallholders (including of course black Zimbabwean migrants who came during the Federation era, and have been important producers in central Zambia since then). But in fact the big story too is the role of massive (and fiscally untenable) subsidies from the Zambian state (and its aid donor allies), and big questions as to whether this will continue under the new political dispensation.

White farmers in Africa: mixed fortunes

White commercial farming in Zambia, as Zimbabwe before, and in experiences from Nigeria and Mozambique too, has been one of mixed fortunes. The lack of infrastructure, limited state support and poor finance and other support systems, made many farmers complain bitterly about their new settings. They had been successful farmers in Zimbabwe in the context of a massively supportive environment, with huge subsidies and state support, consistent from the 1950s at least until the 90s. This is not the case in Zambia – or Nigeria and Mozambique. Commercial farming in Zimbabwe was not always an independent, heroic effort by whites in the face of adversity. Of course there is always skill, hard work and entrepreneurial acuity in the mix, but state support, infrastructure and public investment was also part of the picture.

However, despite the challenges – and many gave up – some former farmers from Zimbabwe have become highly successful in Zambia. Considerable private resources from other businesses (some still in Zimbabwe) have been invested to make these farms going concerns, and now in the context of favourable exchange conditions and high demand, they are definitely contributing to the feeding of the region. But there is also other food entering circulation from a range of sources, most notably from smallholders in Zambia, and, as discussed last week, from production not captured by standard crop surveys and livelihood assessments in Zimbabwe itself.

A regional approach?

SADC and COMESA have always tried to take a regional approach to food security, with the expectation that at different times different countries or regions will feed others. An approach to open borders and trade should, ideally, allow low-cost food to move from places of surplus to those of deficit.

Supply of maize from surplus areas in Zambia to the Zimbabwean market has been restricted, however. Controversial restrictions on exports have helped drive the trade underground. Despite the formal limits, there is much that is travelling across the border illegally. The allure of the US dollar in the Zimbabwean economy is attracting much speculative trading activity, including in food (as well as other commodities). With a declining Zambian kwacha due to the collapse in mineral commodity prices, selling food to Zimbabwe in US dollars is an attractive prospect, and formal restrictions are very often circumvented. This of course adds to the liquidity problems and cash crisis in the Zimbabwean economy, as the dollars end up in Zambia, even if food is provided. This cross-border currency exchange politics is creating potentially large problems, especially as the US dollar increases in value against other regional currencies.

As much research shows, trade restrictions damage investment and can undermine food security. An open trading regime by contrast, it is argued, is efficient and economic, and offsets risks, which because of differential patterns of rainfall and the widespread reliance on rainfed production makes sense. Ensuring that there is regional surplus and efficient movement will offset the requirements for shipping from elsewhere in the world, which is slow and expensive. In this respect if Zambia feeds Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique this year (and maybe South Africa too), this is fine, and the reverse may be the case at other times.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland



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Food security in Zimbabwe: why a more sophisticated response is needed


The food security situation in Zimbabwe – and indeed across large swathes of southern Africa – is serious. El Niño has struck hard and production levels this past season were well down. The UN estimates that in Zimbabwe alone 4.1 million people – 42% of the rural population – will be in need of support before the next season. Aid agencies are raising funds and are involved in a major humanitarian operation (see WFP and USAID, for example).

We are now entering the most difficult period. Between September and March, when early ‘green’ crops become available, the food situation will be tough, and many will be reliant on handouts and purchased imported food. Disposal of livelihood assets is already occurring and FEWSNET predicts that large parts of southern Zimbabwe will be in ‘emergency’ conditions, together with parts of Mozambique and Malawi.

There is little doubt that the harvests this year were really poor. And this was on the back of a bad season last year. This means that stocks are low and funds circulating in the local, rural economy limited. I do not want to question for a minute the severity of the situation, but I do want to challenge the way it is being portrayed, and ask whether this allows for the most effective targeting of those really in need.

Data challenges

For Zimbabwe the basic data comes from the annual ZimVac report, complemented by various crop surveys. ZimVac, as discussed on this blog before, is a major survey based on a sample of 14,434 rural households across 60 districts. Enumeration areas are chosen across districts and samples selected based  on population density estimates from the most recent population census. It assesses food production, cash income, livestock and so on, and comes up with a food access estimate, based on a daily 2100 k Calorie intake requirement during the consumption year to 31 March. Those unable to meet food needs through a range of sources are deemed to be in deficit and in need of support. This is where the 4.1 million figure comes from – the number of people estimated to be in this situation at the end of March 2017 (even if just for a day).

But as discussed before on this blog, these estimates may miss out on certain aspects. For example, In April, when visiting field sites in some areas hit badly by drought, I was surprised how much maize was being produced in home gardens and around settlements this year. While the main field crop had failed, more intensive production near the home. Sometimes involving supplementary irrigation, and certainly higher inputs of organic fertiliser, home garden areas were producing maize, including substantial quantities of green mealies. These crops rarely get noticed in the larger censuses as they focus on the main field crop, but added up these can be significant, although of course totals are way down on other years.

The other missing story relates to livestock. This year there were major concerns that the El Niño drought would decimate livestock. There were significant die-offs early on, but thankfully sporadic rains fell in February. This was too late for most crops, but it did replenish grass and water sources in many parts of the country, including those drought prone areas of Masvingo and Matabeleland that were suffering livestock mortalities. This turn-around will have had major impacts on food provisioning in these areas in the absence of harvests. There were entrepreneurs buying up animals in numbers and this was a ready source of cash for many. Many livestock were moved to resettlement areas where there is more plentiful grass due to (currently) lower population densities. The high livestock populations in resettlement areas, particularly in southern districts, adds to their food security resilience.

Livestock and their movement is often forgotten in food security assessments (ZimVac covers elements of this, but it’s complex, and difficult to capture in large surveys). Along with the importance of green mealies, other ‘famine’ crops, and the range of (often illegal) coping strategies that people employ mean that successful food provisioning is far more extensive than the UN agencies suggest.

While the data is broken down by district, it is not differentiated by the type land tenure and use. We do not get a sense of the differential vulnerabilities of, for example, communal area dwellers, those with A1 or A2 farms, villagised or self-contained, nor workers linked to such rural households. We know from extensive research that rural communities are highly differentiated, both within and between sites. At the moment we get a very blunt assessment, district by district. The report lists the ten best-off and worse-off districts, for example. Some of the districts where we work, where there was more land redistribution, both in the Highveld and further south, are in the better-off areas. Does this mean land reform areas are less food insecure? We cannot tell from ZimVac data as presented.

A more complex pattern: why land reform is not to blame

There are hints though that a more complex pattern sits below the aggregate numbers. The ZimVac summary report (p. 150) shows that nationally only 11% of households will be food secure this year based on their own cereal crop production. This is even lower in drought-prone areas, such as Masvingo, for example. On aggregate 58% of the national rural population will be food secure through the consumption season, but this is made up through access to income from a variety of sources, not just food production. How do these aggregate figures match up with data from the new resettlement areas?

We’ve been tracking food production in our study areas in Masvingo for some years. In our sites in Masvingo and Gutu districts for example across the harvest seasons from 2003 to 2013, between 44% and 69% of households produced enough for household consumption (estimated at 1 MT). In the Wondezo extension A1 site in Masvingo, farmers produced on average 2 MT in 2014 and over 6 MT in 2015, with 85% and 89% producing sufficient from maize alone for household consumption in those years. In our A1 resettlement sites in Mazowe, over 5 years between 2010 and 2014 seasons the average household maize production was 3.5 MT, declining over time as tobacco production increased. This means that on average 78% of households produced more than a tonne of maize in each year, and were food secure from own-farm production alone. This of course does not account for the significant cash income from tobacco in Mazowe (realising nearly $3000 per household on average across A1 farms between 2010 and 14), or vegetable production and livestock in Masvingo, along with other sources of income.

In other words, the ZimVac sample must be very different. 11 per cent this year (and higher but still low figures in other years) having sufficient food from own production is way lower than in our admittedly much smaller samples in the resettlements. In our areas, consistently over time and across sites, we do not see the level of food insecurity recorded by the ZimVac surveys – although of course it exists in pockets, among certain vulnerable people. There are of course communal areas nearby our A1 sites where the situation is quite different, and it is probably from here that the ZimVac data derives. Our comparisons with communal areas showed the contrasts, with resettlement areas outperforming communal areas across the board. But without any differentiated national food security data, it is difficult to make sense of the aggregates generated by standard crop assessments and livelihood surveys.

This food security crisis therefore is not the result of land reform as some would have it (as I keep telling journalists who ask; here’s an example from a Dutch daily that offered a more sophisticated take). Other countries in the region have suffered badly from the same drought, and Zimbabwe has before, long before the post 2000 land reform. In fact, land reform areas are an important part of why the actual underlying situation is better than it might be. My hunch – still not tested despite much encouragement – is that ZimVac’s sampling frame (appropriately for a national sample that is proportional to population density) is focused on communal areas. This means that the dynamics of the new resettlements in the food economy are being missed out on.

As reported many times on this blog, we see significant flows of food and other finance coming from the A1 resettlement areas, both to communal areas and to urban centres, through kin networks and labour migrancy. This is unrecorded and therefore not accounted for. My guess is that it is really significant in the overall food security story in the country, and taking account of land reform in the wider assessment would allow a redirection of effort by humanitarian and development agencies to support production for boosting local food security and economies, investing where the potential lies.

There is no reason for complacency though. Things could and should be much better, with proper investment. For example, the lack of irrigation infrastructure (and its state of repair, and its poor functioning due to intermittent electricity supplies) is a cause for major concern, and undermines resilience

The politics of food aid: why a more targeted approach is needed

Food aid is of course is highly political. It always has been, and accusations of partisan allocations have occurred again this year. Many are happy not to rely on the obligations and patronage that food aid implies – whether to the party-state or NGOs – and seek their own way. But there are some who are really destitute, without the networks that provide support. They are really needy and include a lot of people, but it’s certainly not 4.1 million. They include widows or older parents without living children, child-headed households, farm labourers, those with illness and disability, for example.

They all need help, as existing provisioning and coping strategies are insufficient. They are scattered all across the country – including in the high potential, richer areas within communities who are otherwise prospering, and are difficult to find. These are the people who need food, and would be a better focus for a more sophisticated, targeted approach to relief, which could combine with a more strategic developmental approach to increase production and market led economic development across communal, resettlement and urban areas.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Zimbabwe’s political uncertainty continues


In Zimbabwe, a day not a week seems like a long time in politics. It is difficult to get a sense of perspective when so much is happening, and so fast. Just scanning the daily compilations made by the amazing (what a service this has supplied since 2000!) is overwhelming, and being immersed in the day-to-day means that it is difficult to separate wood from trees.

Recent Zimbabweland blogs reflected on the popular #This Flag movements and wider protests, which seemed to have come from nowhere. They can of course as easily disappear, in the foment that is Zimbabwean politics. In recent weeks, as the state feared opposition groups capitalising on discontent, there was an attempted two-week ban on protests. This was in turn overturned by the High Court, as the Attorney General’s office provided an inadequate case. Meanwhile, on the back of the dramatic rejection of the President by his strongest allies, the war veterans, fears in the party about its base continue. Former Vice President, and war veteran heroine, Joice Mujuru’s rally in Bindura was nearly blocked, to the outrage of People First activists. And in the ranks of the wider opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai and Tendai Biti seem to be talking again, with ‘olive branches’ being offered and talk of alliances being once again rekindled. And of course the backdrop is the continued speculation about President Mugabe’s health, with the tracking of Air Zimbabwe’s UM1 to various destinations becoming an obsession for some.

On the land front, the attempts to create a new land administration system are being hampered by dispute, contention and continued lawlessness. The now Cabinet-approved Land Commission Bill, emerging from the cross-party Constitutional Agreement, provides a framework for audit, compensation and oversight (more on this on the blog soon), as well as the payment of lease fees, under a revised 99 year lease arrangement. But, perhaps inevitably, things are not settled. With volatile politics, seeking a stable, technocratic solution, rooted in laws and regulations, is almost impossible.

So what to make of it all? There are as many views as commentators, but someone who speaks from a non-partisan position, and on the basis of both distance and long, intimate engagement in Zimbabwe is Professor Stephen Chan, from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. In January this year he offered his views to the New York Times. He made the case for tentative re-engagement by the West, and a focus on the players within ZANU-PF:

Unpalatable as it appears, there is much to be said for swallowing hard and re-engaging with the regime….Should there be conditions for re-engagement? The West probably won’t be able to resist making calls for less opaque financial and political dealings. But the land issue is settled: There is no politically viable force that would seek to restore farms to ousted whites….The world will one day soon see the end of Robert Mugabe. But his party will likely live on, and it is within that party that, like it or not, the West must now find people with whom it can work toward some kind of viable future….

Much has changed in the 8 months since then. In his mid-August interview with the Daily News (reproduced below), his core argument of the need to engage, and the expectation that change will emerge from within ZANU-PF persists, despite the influence of the #ThisFlag movement.  Not everyone will agree with the analysis – and there are many in the original post’s comments section who don’t – but a hard look at the forces at play does help. I am sure, just as some of Professor Chan’s predictions from January turned out not to be true, so too with his prognosis here. But making sense of uncertainty is always a challenge. And the current situation is more than baffling to me at least. So, in the hope that it can shed light, here are the published extracts from the interview with Daily News Senior Assistant Editor, Guthrie Munyuki:

Q: We have seen ructions in Zanu PF over the unresolved succession issues, how are they likely to shape the future of Zanu PF?

A: Yes, these ructions will destroy Zanu PF as the party of liberation. The war veterans have lost faith in Mugabe. Joice Mujuru, a genuine war heroine, has been purged. Emerson Mnangagwa, a hero of the struggle, has been under sustained attack.

Those who will be left will have played no part in armed struggle. If that is the case, those who succeed Mugabe will need a successful policy programme, but all we see is struggle for succession and no policy programme.

If  Mnangagwa also falls, then the Zanu PF of the 2018 elections will not be the same party of the 1980 independence elections.

Q: At 92, President Robert Mugabe is considered to lack the stamina and energy he once had in keeping Zanu PF intact, does his age underline the current squabbling in Zanu PF?

A: There is no major leader anywhere else in the world who is Mugabe’s age.

In China, which also venerates age, you cannot become a member of the Politburo or become President if you are over 60. You must have done that in your 50s and then the President only has two terms, so it is impossible to still be President in your 70s.

But I think there is a misunderstanding here about age: it is not just that someone lacks the stamina and vigour of youth; it is much more that one takes into age the habits and mental processes of one’s own youth.

But a man who was in his 20s 70 years ago will not be able to understand the aspirations, technological environment, and complex future imaginings of those who are in their 20s today.

In a way, it doesn’t matter how much Zanu PF squabbles, if the president and the entire party lose touch, at one and the same time, with its living liberation history and with the ability fully to understand the needs and aspirations of very young people.

It then loses its past and its future and has only its squabbling present.

Q: Is there any role left for him to play in keeping Zanu PF together when one considers that he is now being identified with the G40 faction yet previously he would, at least publicly, maintain a neutral role.

A: What is the G40? We in the West keep hearing of the G40, but we recognise not a single brilliant technocratic name; we recognise no one who has the intellectual capacity to rescue Zimbabwe.

Whether Mugabe will come down firmly on the side of the G40 or not, my worry is that the G40 will not bring successful policies to Zimbabwe.

Q: How significant is Mugabe’s fall-out with the war veterans and how do you see things shaping (up) in Zanu PF given the relationship that the ex combatants have with the military?

A: To lose the war veterans is a disaster for Mugabe. They fought. They sacrificed. Who else carries the mantle of the men and women who suffered in the field against huge odds?

I saw the Rhodesian war machine. It took huge courage to go up against that. Losing the veterans will mean, as I said, Zanu PF is no longer the party of liberation.

Q: For a long time Emmerson Mnangagwa  was touted as the likely man to succeed Mugabe but  there are doubts based on how he is being  humiliated by juniors in the party while Mugabe’s watches on. What’s your take on that?

A: I cannot read crystal balls. Perhaps this is not yet over. We shall see. But it is extraordinary to see a vice president treated this way.

Q: What options are there for Mnangagwa and how does his relationship with the military and the war veterans help him in his bid in light of the current attacks by G40?

A: Mnangagwa retains close links with the military, past and present.

To alienate him may be to alienate very powerful other people. But a coup would be very bad for Zimbabwe.

Whoever is president of Zimbabwe should be something for Zimbabweans to decide, not men in uniform. But I do think Zimbabwe is entering a tense moment.

Q: The economy has remained in the doldrums, leading to strikes and protests as well as suggestions that Zimbabwe could have its own Arab Spring; Is Zimbabwe ready for this?

A: There will be no Arab Spring. Besides, the Arab Spring brought nothing to the people of north Africa and only untold suffering to the people of Libya and Syria.

People can wrap as many flags around themselves as they like. This battle will be fought in the great institutions of the country. Zanu PF is one such institution. The army is another. I hope the judiciary will be another. And, if the church is to be an active institution in all this, it will take more than just one single Pastor.

Q:  Can the opposition political parties profit from this situation?

A: The opposition parties have nothing I recognise as viable policy platforms either.

Q: Is their grand coalition possible given that they seem to be hesitant and overly cautious in going towards this route?

A: There will be no grand coalition.  The opposition leaders are content to be princelings in their own courts. They are afraid that one of them might indeed become king.

Q: Zimbabwe’s face of the opposition for 16 years, Morgan Tsvangirai, is suffering from the cancer of colon, how does this impact his party’s chances in future elections?

A: Tsvangirai will no longer be a force in Zimbabwean politics. He has made his mark in history. He was a very brave leader of the opposition, and a far from perfect prime minister.

Q: Do you see him having a role in the 2018 elections?

A: No powerful or decisive role whatsoever.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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Empowering chickens: why Bill Gates’ plan may be flawed

gates chicken3

Are chickens the route to rural women’s empowerment? Bill Gates thinks so. In a recent Gates Notes comment piece he announced ‘a big bet on chickens’ with an initial distribution of 100,000  to rural women in Africa. With just 5 chickens, he argued a woman could earn $1000 in a year. Melinda Gates meanwhile emphasises the empowerment angle, arguing in a blog that “raising chickens is considered women’s work, and the money from selling chickens and eggs belongs to women to spend as they choose”.

Simply handing out chickens and expecting these to improve livelihoods is of course not so straightforward. That is a big income from an initial 5 chickens! There have been many well-meaning projects that have done the same over many years. The relationship between poultry, disadvantage and empowerment for women is complex.

As Joseph Hanlon and Teresa Smart point out for Mozambique commercial poultry production is a costly business. Successful businesses require basic infrastructure, veterinary care, assured supplies of day-old-chicks and effective markets. Few manage this, and as our profiles of new agricultural entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe, the new poultry producers must rely on established businesses and services for support, and not all the beneficiaries of such enterprises are of course women. Most rural people rely on a few chickens of local breeds that require little maintenance and provide an important source of nutrition and income, but not sufficient for economic empowerment, by any stretch of the imagination.

gates chicken2

In our surveys across the resettlement areas, nearly every household has a few indigenous, village chickens. These are widely used, but do not provide a stable or significant income. Across 400 households in our A1/A2 sample in Masvingo province, we found 16 new broiler operations, but only two of these exceeded the $1000 profit level being suggested by Bill Gates; most made about $500 profit and many much less. These were 50 to 100 bird operations, reliant on significant and expensive inputs, not available to most women, except in the few cases when they were organised in groups.

Hanlon and Smart contrast the Gates NGO model with that of Brazil. In the last few decades, Brazil has become a major producer and exporter of chickens. Frozen chicken cuts from Brazil undercut local production in many parts of the world including Africa. The Brazil model, heavily invested in by the state investment bank, BNDES, relies on large producers of chicks, and a major support network established through contracting arrangements with small-scale producers. This realises massive economies of scope and scale, which are very difficult to replicate in African settings.

In Zimbabwe, large-scale commercial farmers are often crucial links in the value chain in a fast-changing commercial poultry sector. In Masvingo for example, the Mitchells’ farm supplied day-old chicks to many farmers, and continues to do so across the communal and new resettlement areas, despite attempts at land grabbing. The presence of such an operation, with all the infrastructure, skill and market connections that it requires, has been crucial to the success of the medium-scale new entrepreneurs that we profiled. As Hanlon and Smart argue:  “As usual, the aid industry can only see the two extremes and ideas that come from outside – Bill Gates’ five hens or Odebrecht’s [a Brazilian company] millions of chickens. The successes in the middle, and the successes developed locally, are ignored”.

Bill Gates and his team have to understand the changing global political economy of poultry production in their announcement, as well as the range of enterprises that actually exist. As Jim Sumberg and colleagues point out for Ghana there are many competing narratives about the role of poultry production in economic development. Too often the NGO vision – often tied to naïve ambitions of local economic empowerment – dominates but does not match the facts on the ground.

Major evidence gaps exist in the debate, and the Gates proposal has fallen foul of these. In Ghana, as elsewhere, we simply don’t know how many chickens there are, and in what sized flocks they are being kept. There are confusions between a generic ‘chicken’, and different types – broilers, layers, and the ubiquitous ‘road runner’ chicken, seen in villages across the continent. Each require different inputs, feeds, management care, and levels of capitalisation, and they usually operate in very different markets. ‘Indigenous’ chickens are valued for taste, ritual slaughter and other uses; broilers and the ‘improved’ breeds that the Gates Foundation are distributing do not cut it.

Patterns of consumption of meat are changing too, with chicken often favoured over for example beef, due to cost. But it is the very cheap imports (from Brazil in particular, but also Europe and the US) that have driven this in urban areas, along with the opportunities that supermarkets provide for frozen products. This is not the vision of the mini flock of village chickens owned by newly empowered women. In Ghana as elsewhere, policy is confused and conflicting, as different interest groups compete, but often with a poor understanding undermining any pretence at ‘evidence-based’ policy.

Empowerment of course is a political process. It’s about recognition, rights, voice and participation, not just about chickens, and new sources of income. Empowerment must also challenge the wider structural political-economic factors that keep poor people poor, and women disenfranchised. Cheap frozen chicken from Brazil will not go away as long as free trade regimes and cheap oil allow transnational value chains that can often undercut even the most diligent producers in rural Ghana, Mozambique or Zimbabwe. As we’ve long learned, giving women new assets without the requisite changes in gender relations and shifts in power relations in the domestic economy, can result in intra-household struggles, with men often benefiting more than women.

Easy gestures from rich philanthropists are insufficient, and must address these wider issues if the highly commendable focus on poorer rural women and their empowerment is to be addressed. Handing out chickens may not be the simple solution that it first appears.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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