Sharing results, generating impact: experience from Zimbabwe

One of the many exciting things I did when visiting our field sites in Zimbabwe at the end of last year, was to help hand out a new set of booklets based on our ‘Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development’ project (supported by DFID-ESRC), that has now concluded.


The project looked at how changing patterns of agriculture is influencing markets (upstream and downstream) and employment. We looked at a series of commodities – tobacco, beef, horticulture and maize – in two sites – Mvurwi in Mazowe area and Masvingo district.

This allowed for some important insights to emerge through both qualitative and quantitative work. We have produced a long report if you want all the detail, and some journal articles are in the works. But in our research we are also committed to making findings available to wider audiences. Our prize last year recognising ‘impact’ highlighted this approach. So we have produced some more popular outputs, including a series of much-viewed films (they are short – just 10 mins or less) that I have mentioned on the blog before. The films have been shared in showings in the study areas, and DVDs have been circulated to agricultural offices, training centres, schools and so on. And for those with good enough Internet connections they can be viewed online via youtube (there are hi and low res versions). At the end of last year we produced a booklet summarising the findings, and offering some case studies of how people have engaged with these changing markets, paid for in part by our prize money.

The booklets are in Shona and English, and are available to download here (scroll down to get the new booklets – they’re blue, and uploaded in low res quality so they are feasible to download). They complement our earlier booklets that offered an overview of the findings presented in our 2010 book (these are the green ones!). These proved a massive hit in our study areas, and ‘reading circles’ were formed to share them across villages in Masvingo.

As before we have produced a large print run of the colour booklets. In November-December we distributed over 1500 to our field sites in Mvurwi, Masvingo, as well as Masvingo. These were handed out to the villagers we have worked with over the years, as well as officials in Agritex offices, local government, private sector businesses and others. Not only were people delighted to see themselves and friends and family in the photos, but they were appreciative of the effort to feedback and share results. There have been many conversations of our findings since.

There is much talk about ‘impact’ these days in research circles. It’s become an obligation to demonstrate impact, uptake and so on, but these edicts are often followed rather reluctantly. In the last UK national research assessment exercise, university researchers had to produce ‘impact case studies’. Many were excellent, but there were a few where it was clear that researcher were scraping at the bottom of a rather empty barrel. Much of the research impact business is also rather mechanical. There are endless guidelines, tedious workshops, toolkits and yes inevitably consultants to help you with the process. And so often ‘impact’ efforts are added on after the event, with the funding body deciding (after being critiqued) that they need to ‘do impact work’ on research that has already been done, and with a group of people who are not really ready to do it.

But in my view with ‘engaged’ research (another buzzword), it’s an ethical obligation to feedback, link with research users and find ways that your research has resonance – and from the very beginning of all research efforts. Impact may not be immediate, and may require years and years of engaging before a moment arises when the research becomes relevant and useful. It may also be highly unexpected, with engagements from unusual sources. This is the problem with the approach to ‘compulsory’ impact, as people are forced to demonstrate impact and uptake in rather inane ways, when actually it wasn’t appropriate.

I am in the lucky position of working with an amazing group of people in Zimbabwe and over a long period of time. This is how we can have impact, but it is slow, patient and cumulative, and requires multiple strategies. These booklets are our latest effort: do read them!

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


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Seeds for Africa’s green revolution: can India help?

Over the last year or so we have been doing some work exploring how the Indian seed sector might contribute to African agriculture, boosting productivity and assisting in particular smaller, poorer farmers. Could the seed sector replicate the great success of the generics pharmaceuticals from India that have revolutionised access to low cost drugs, with many benefits across the developing world?

The work has been supported by DFID-India, and has been led by colleagues linked to the Future Agricultures Consortium (in Ethiopia, Kenya and the UK), as well as at the RIS in Delhi. The final report, put together by Dominic Glover, is just out. It is accompanied by a shorter briefing paper too that focuses on the generics drugs-seeds comparison.

The briefing opens; “Experts agree that Africa’s farmers need quality seeds, but the continent’s share in the global seed trade is very low. African countries often lack the institutional capacity to support the growth of seed markets in the continent, an issue that cuts across regulation and other areas. The supply of breeder seeds is weak and improved crop varieties are introduced extremely slowly. Foreign expertise and investment could help build capacity in crop breeding and other aspects of the seed sector, including management, logistics, marketing and the integration of new technologies.”

This is the vision, but what of the reality? There are some parallels with the pharmaceutical sector, but they can be over-stretched. The big successes of generic drugs emerged in a particular period. Today markets are much more competitive, and many of the successful generics manufacturers have moved on, merged or been bought up. Seeds are also a rather different product, and we have to differentiate between different market segments. Low cost, high volume production of quality seed may be possible say for vegetable seeds, but it is less likely for grain crops for instance, given the costs of development, regulatory restrictions and the marketing/transport/logistics challenges. So how ‘pro poor’ will a top quality tomato seed really be, and will it really be any better or cheaper than one produced in Holland, France or China?

And then there’s the GM factor, an issue that has had less resonance in medical applications of biotechnology. Genetically-modified seeds – basically transgenics – have been highly controversial globally. And also in Africa, where there remain restrictions on their use in most countries, including Zimbabwe (despite widespread spread of GM crops informally, notably in Zimbabwe’s cases GM maize from South Africa). But the Indian seed sector sees GM crops as essential for growth. Bt cotton (a pest resistant GM crop) has been a massive success in India since its formal release in 2002 (and indeed before – although with some serious qualifications about its ‘pro-poor’ success). Monsanto, together with the Indian company Mayhco, pioneered it, but today many companies market the transgene backcrossed into numerous varieties. Bt cotton has filled the coffers of the seed companies across India, but now the market is saturated, and the extension of GM revolution in Indian agriculture has been stalled by controversies about transgenic food crops, notably the furore that exploded around Bt brinjal (aubergine) a few years back. Business managers in the seed sector see exports of Bt cotton to Africa as a next frontier.

There have been various attempts to make links, facilitated in part by the US government and outfits such as the Syngenta Foundation (closely associated as the name suggests to the biotech company of the same name). And the most recent development has occurred in Zimbabwe, with the purchase of a majority stake in Quton by Mahyco (and so with close links to Monsanto) from SeedCo in 2014. With cotton in the doldrums this acquisition has passed off without much comment, but Quton is a significant player, with some fantastic genetic resources and much skill and experience. It was originally part of Cottco, and formerly the Cotton Marketing Board (see a couple of earlier papers I did with James Keeley on seeds and agricultural biotechnology regulation in Zimbabwe). The genetics it has were built through public investment in the Cotton Research Institute. Quton has been toying with GM cotton for years, but regulatory hurdles have prevented it from moving forward. This acquisition certainly positions it as a major player for a future GM-accepting Africa, despite the concerns.

However, this Indian (and indirectly, American) investment is one of few direct take-overs. The expansion of the Indian seed industry in Africa has been slow and rather tentative. Most activity is in East Africa where business connections across the Indian Ocean and linked to diaspora links has been the most intensive. This is why we focused our research in Kenya and Ethiopia, both of which have Indian seed sector links. We identified a series of mechanisms by which these are forged, ranging from direct seed sales, to local multiplication, to company alliances and mergers. None have really boomed as yet, and we were really looking at only first-stage commercial engagements.

What were the challenges faced? There were many. First is the international business context. India often cannot compete with the hyper efficient logistics operations of others. It may have low cost production in India, but it is not so effective at the trade element. Second, regulations around seed are complex, nationally-focused and often quite political. Some companies have got in trouble as objections to the testing of food grains for instance were made – not so much on scientific grounds, but on the basis of unclear risks to importing grains on national food security. Seed testing authorities do not have standard approaches, and each country is different. With markets being small and entry costs high, this is a challenge. Third, moving into a country, acquiring land for seed testing and multiplication and developing a new business is challenging. The whole debate about ‘land grabbing’ has heightened awareness around foreign investment. And when things go wrong – as has happened with the Indian investor Karuturi both in Ethiopia (over land grabbing claims) and in Kenya (over tax bills and labour disputes) – this has ripple effects that are difficult to control.

Currently, India is a relatively minor player in seed exports to Africa, with less than two percent of the trade, and ranking only 14th. Trade with Africa is growing in a variety of ways, and there are clearly useful skills and technologies that India can offer. But how this will be ‘pro poor’ and so support developmental trajectories is less clear. The ‘Green Revolution’ experience is often held up as the example that Africa must follow. But as the report notes

“The development of India’s own seed industry, as well as India’s Green Revolution, were largely directed and supported by public investments and policy frameworks. Even then, the benefits of India’s agricultural transformation were not evenly or equitably distributed…. If Africa is to enjoy an agricultural transformation that creates broad developmental benefits, then the public sector as well as civil society institutions will need to play crucial roles. It is therefore not only a question of what profit-seeking seed firms from India might accomplish in pursuit of their own commercial interests, but how improving access to modern agricultural technologies might create broad benefits for cultivators and consumers, and for rural and national development”.

There is much hype about ‘South-South’ cooperation and the role of ‘business in development’, but in a complex and often rather unprofitable sector like seeds for poor, smallholders, a more developmental strategy is needed that gears investment, regulation and wider support in ways that private goods (and profits) work for wider public gain. Holding on to public genetic resources and deploying public policy and expertise in support of the seed sector – agriculture more generally – in alliance with business (from whatever source) is, as explained in a now old paper with Shaila Seshia, the big, usually forgotten, lesson of the Asian ‘green revolution’.

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

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Why tractors are political in Africa

In May last year, the long-awaited tractors from Brazil arrived in Zimbabwe. There was a bizarre handing over ceremony at Harare showgrounds, with the tractors all lined up and the President was there to receive them.

Tractors New Zimbabwe (May 2015)

This has been a long-running saga, reported on earlier in this blog. The tractors are part of Brazil’s international cooperation programme, supported by the Ministry of Agrarian Development in Brazil under their ‘More Food International’ (MFI) programme, and purchased from the Brazilian company, Agrale. Under the first phase of a $98m loan (based on highly concessionary interest rates, spread over a 15 year term), Brazil has supplied Zimbabwe with 320 tractors, 450 disc harrows, 310 planters, 100 fertiliser spreaders and 6 650 knapsack sprayers valued at $39million. A second phase is, according to the Brazilian ambassador to Zimbabwe, expected soon. MFI is based on a Brazilian programme that supports public procurement of agricultural equipment to support small-scale ‘family farmers’. In Brazil tractors and other forms of mechanised farming equipment are a useful addition to what in Zimbabwe would be called medium-scale commercial farms. Run by families, but not often not that small by African standards.

In international development this mismatch of languages causes much confusion, as Lidia Cabral discusses in relation to Brazil-Africa development cooperation. What is small scale in one place (say Brazil – where there are some very, very big farms) is large somewhere else (including Zimbabwe). So approaches – or ‘models’ – generated in one place do not easily travel. The argument of course from Brazil is that they have long experience of successful agriculture, across scales, and that their ‘tropical technology’ is transferrable, as they have the technical and agronomic skills based in similar agroecological settings. Quite how ‘tropical’ the Brazilian tractors prove to be, we will see. And whether they are preferable to the non-tropical Chinese, Iranian, Belarusian, American or British versions.

So where are these tractors supposed to go, and how are they supposed to be used? As I have discussed on this blog before, there is a long history of failed attempts to encourage ‘tractorisation’ of small-scale farming in Zimbabwe. The big problem is that farms are too small and undercapitalised for a single farmer to usefully use one, and collective arrangements have largely failed. That said, there is certainly an increase in tractor usage in the new resettlements. Some have bought second-hand tractors are successfully hiring them out. In our Mvurwi sample for example, about 5 per cent of A1 farmers own tractors, most purchased in the last few years. Ownership is concentrated among the richer farmers, with 17 per cent of farmers in our top ‘success group’ owning them; some coming via government programmes. With larger land areas, and such a premium on timely ploughing with increasingly erratic rainfall (although sadly this year it may be a complete write-off due to the El Nino drought), tractors do make sense. The interaction between (smaller-scale) A1 and (medium-scale) A2 farms becomes important here. With many A2 farmers having tractors, they hire them out to their neighbours on A1 farms, making the new spatial configuration following land reform crucial.

But tractors in Zimbabwe are indelibly associated with corruption and patronage. The Chinese tractors that arrived in numbers in the 2000s at the height of Gideon Gono’s bizarre attempts to salvage the economy were handed out as deals to those in power. Many have ended up as sad memorials of this period, rusting in people’s compounds. I hope this will not be the fate of the Brazilian tractors. They have been handed over in good faith, even if with a certain naivety about the context. But the omens are not good. As symbols of modernity and power, tractors just have this effect.

While I was in Zimbabwe at the end of last year, the Grace Mugabe roadshow was in full swing. This seems to have become an annual event in the build up to the ZANU-PF Congress. Many are bussed to her rallies, and not showing up is certainly noticed. As in all political rallies, these are opportunities for high-flown rhetoric and for handing out goodies. The expense is extraordinary. Newspaper reports of a rally near one of our research sites in Matabeleland South listed the following: 220 tonnes of maize, 120 tonnes of rice, 4440kg of washing powder, 5000kg clothes, 3000kg salt, 2000 pairs of shoes, 5280 bars of washing soap, 3000kg of bath soap, 1800 litres of cooking oil, 220 tonnes of Compound D fertilizer, 20 tonnes cotton seed, 10 soccer kits, 30 netballs and 30 soccer balls. All chiefs who attended received food hampers and 100 litres of fuel each.

And of course there were also tractors. I cannot verify that these were part of the Brazilian shipment, but I assume so – and there have been other accusations in the press, and series of court cases trying to prevent this. It seems the tractors – as many times before – are already being used for exerting patronage in the name of development. Tractors do seem to be so deeply entwined with the practices of patronage, and despite the (somewhat misguided but nevertheless genuine) goodwill of the Brazilians it has it seems to have happened again. It is sad, but perhaps inevitable, and is a warning to any agency that patronage and aid are tightly linked. Well meaning, good governance protocols may not be enough, and resources get wasted.

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

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China: Zimbabwe’s ‘all-weather friend’

china zimbabwe

At the end of last year, President Xi Jinping dropped in to Harare en route to South Africa and the major FOCAC (Forum on China-Africa Cooperation) meeting, held every few years, where $60bn was pledged for African development. The road to Harare airport was adorned with huge posters welcoming Zimbabwe’s ‘all-weather friend’. The Chinese delegation included around 200 officials, all keen to consolidate the long-standing relationship with Zimbabwe.

There was much hype in the local press. Was China going to bail out Zimbabwe, with the ‘look east’ policy finally paying off? In advance of the ZANU-PF Congress, was the Chinese president going to help with the succession issue, publicly backing Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa, who has long ties with China? Was this going to be the turning point for Zimbabwe’s politics and economy?

Well no. As with many other engagements with China over the past few years, the expectations were not matched with the reality. China certainly values its partnerships in Africa, and connections with Zimbabwe are certainly important. Chinese interests in mineral exploitation in the country are significant, and as a sympathetic country not captured by Western interests in the southern African region, Zimbabwe can be important to Chinese diplomatic efforts. But of course Zimbabwe is small fry for China – even its significant mineral wealth – and this is not a new ‘colonisation’ as some suggest.

In China’s ‘new normal’ – characterised recently by a slowing economy, overvalued currency, collapsing stock markets – China is attempting to switch from resource-dependent industrial growth to a more service-oriented, knowledge-based economy. This will take time, but the heat has gone out of China’s voracious drive to acquire resources in Africa, and elsewhere, with trade declining. This has had a major impact on resource-dependent economies in Africa and elsewhere, most notably Brazil.

So Zimbabwe may be more important as a symbolic friend, one where connections and networks that date back to the liberation war, and early careers of the now aging generation of ZANU-PF politicians. Of course the political economy of the relationship is very different to the 1960s and 70s, but these connections of solidarity matter – on both sides. And both are happy to make use of them, whether through joint deals on land, support for the mining industry, investments in power and infrastructure, security sector support or diplomatic solidarity in Africa – President Mugabe is after all the chair of the African Union.

Zimbabwe hit the international headlines with the (re)announcement that Zimbabwe would adopt the yuan – China’s currency – as part of its multi-currency basket (it has actually been so since 2014), down-grading in turn the South African rand, which has suffered badly recently. This will have virtually no tangible effect, and the US dollar will continue as the main currency for now. Instead, it was an importantly symbolic move, as China is keen to move the yuan to the status of an internationally tradeable currency. Just as the British PM and Chancellor offered the City of London as a place for international trading, so too President Mugabe – bizarrely on the same diplomatic and economic mission – could offer China the opportunity to symbolically showcase its currency, even if in one of the most depressed economies in the region.

There were of course agreements and signings and some tangible offers as part of the visit. There was the long hailed support for the rehabilitation of the Hwange power station; a commitment to help build a new parliament building; there was the promise of a debt write off to the tune of $40m; and there were other promises of investment into the future. Chinese investment in Zimbabwe of course continues, both through official state-facilitated channels and more informal routes – whether small-scale mining operations or deals with A2 farmers made by Chinese companies. The security services, with their strong historic links to China, are an important conduit – including in retail and agriculture. And Zimbabwe will in turn continue its strong trade in tobacco, and occasionally elephants, with China.

It was a whistle-stop tour, and the delegation was soon gone. But long after the posters on the airport road come down, the connections will remain important, and other investors, diplomatic missions and aid agencies will have to take note.

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


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Zimbabweland’s festive top 20 for 2015

This year about 50 blogs have been published, adding to an archive now of over 220 posts. Also, there have been around 55,000 views so far this year on the Zimbabweland site, which is rather amazing. Many posts have been reprinted in other outlets, including different Zimbabwean newspapers (from the Herald to the Bulawayo Chronicle to the Zimbabwean), as well as sites such as The Conversation, African Arguments, AllAfrica and so on. Below I list the top 20 posts this year in terms of views on the Zimbabweland site only, with links to each (under ‘view’), if you want to catch up on ones you have missed. Many from previous years are still being viewed, so feel free to dig around in the archive too. As usual readers come from a wide mix of places, dominated by Zimbabwe, South Africa, the UK and the US, although overall readers have come from a remarkable total of 171 countries.

It seems that discussion of livestock production is a big draw for readers, with pigs and poultry topping the chart. Indeed in the comments strings, there have been quite a few queries about pigs. It seems lots of people are setting up pig production units in Zimbabwe right now! In terms of other themes this year, there have been quite a few posts on other aspects of commercial agriculture, linked to our project on ‘space, markets, employment and agricultural development’, as well as wider international affairs, including the Greek crisis and the UK election. And yes of course there was Cecil the lion. The blog has also paid tribute to the passing of a number of people who have contributed in various ways to debates about land and agriculture in Zimbabwe, including Sam Moyo, Zephaniah Phiri, Freedom Nyamubaya and Terrence Ranger. They are all much missed.

I hope that readers will continue to engage with the always evolving debates on land, agriculture and economic development in Zimbabwe during 2016. During this year, the work associated with Zimbabweland won a prize, recognising the role of the blog in linking research to ‘impact’. So if you want to keep up to date, do sign up to get your weekly blog in your inbox, follow me on Twitter, or just bookmark the blog.

  1. View – Zimbabwe’s new agricultural entrepreneurs I: pig production
  2. View – Zimbabwe’s new agricultural entrepreneurs II: Poultry
  3. View – What if Greece was in Africa?
  4. View – Bill Gates discovers redistributive land reform
  5. View – Greece and Africa: learning the lessons of structural adjustment
  6. View – A tribute to Sam Moyo – a giant of agrarian studies
  7. View – Cecil the lion: a lens on land, wildlife and elite politics in Zimbabwe
  8. View – Why economists fail in Africa
  9. View – Zimbabwe’s new agricultural entrepreneurs III: irrigators
  10. View – Democracy in Africa: why it’s complicated
  11. View – The water harvester, Zephaniah Phiri, has died
  12. View – A hot commercial success: growing chilli in the eastern highlands
  13. View – BRICS and development: new hubs of agrarian capital
  14. View – The UK election, Africa and Zimbabwe
  15. View – Soils for life: Some cautionary tales for the International Year of Soils
  16. View – Terence Ranger, historian of Zimbabwe, dies
  17. View – Nutrition puzzles: the shit factor
  18. View – Africa’s Land Rush: Rural Livelihoods and Agrarian Change – a new book
  19. View – Booming agricultural markets and the politics of control in Zimbabwe
  20. View – Land and commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe: new findings

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Making a living as a former farm worker: some cases from Zimbabwe

Last week’s blog discussed the livelihoods of former farm workers living in compounds on three farms near Mvurwi in the tobacco growing zone of Mazowe district, now subdivided into multiple A1 plots (see also Zimbabweland blogs here and here). The compounds were established for farm workers on what were previously large-scale commercial farms. They now must sell their labour to several hundred A1 smallholders, mostly growing tobacco and maize. They must supplement this employment, most of it temporary and poorly paid, with other livelihood activities. This week, I offer four very brief profiles of four former farm worker households to give a sense of how livelihoods are composed.

Case 1

Mr K is a farm worker originally employed as a general hand at Forester Estate. He moved with his family to Ruia A compound following the acquisition of a portion of the large estate for resettlement.   A descendant of immigrants from Malawi who came to do farm labour, the 55 year old received limited education and has struggled since fast-track. The family’s housing in the compound consists of a four roomed house with a communal borehole as the main domestic water source. Currently there are two adults and two children resident at the home.

Prior to land reform K was a full-time employee earning Z$35, supplemented by the periodic sale of poultry, vegetables and fish, combined with brick-making and thatching, as well as petty trading. At Ruia A, K and his son, along with Mrs K, participate in casual labour in nearby A1 plots. The three of them supplied 600 work days to the farms in the 2013-14 season at a daily wage rate of US$3 generating US$1800 in household income. The household also has access to 1000 square meters of land near the compound where they grow subsistence crops. They also get remittance income from a son who is employed elsewhere as a security guard.

In the pre-resettlement period the Ks did not have access to land or cattle, goats or sheep. This has not changed much post resettlement. The family has access to one cell phone and has two photo voltaic panels for night lighting. They also keep a few scavenging chickens that they sometimes sell for extra income.

Case 2

A number of farm workers moved from other farms that were occupied under the A2 programme. Mr T who now lives with his family at Ruia A Compound is one of them. A Mozambique national originally, the 45 year old Mr T is one of the more successful former farm workers. Before coming to Ruia A he worked at ADA farm as a general hand. In 2000 he earned Z$30 per month. Currently 3 adults (more than 20 years old) and six children (less than 20 years old) reside at the compound. T did not go beyond Grade 7 in his education. The family resides in a four roomed residence without electricity or running water. The family gets water from a communal borehole. The most precious asset owned by the family is a motor cycle. They have two cell phones for communication and a solar panel for lighting their home at night. The Ruia A committee allocated them 0.3 ha of land, all of which is cropped with maize and a few lines of tobacco. In the 2014 season the family reaped 20 bags of maize and 50 kgs of tobacco. In addition they have access to a small garden in the vlei areas for vegetables.

Three members of the T family – one male and two females – are involved in farm labour in the Ruia A A1 plots. In the 2013-14 growing season the family supplied a total of 500 work days at a wage rate of US$3 per day generating an income of US$1500. Prior to settlement T had access to only 1000 square-meters of land and did not have any large livestock. Currently the family has 6 cattle, 3 of which were acquired in the past five years. They also have a goat. T earns some money from periodic sales of cattle, vegetables, building and carpentry. The T family feels their welfare has improved post Fast Track land reforms.

Case 3

Mr M, is a 45 year old descendent of migrant workers from Malawi. He previously worked at Ruia A farm as a general hand earning Z$30 per month prior to the Fast Track land reforms. Mr M who did not receive any formal schooling remained at the Ruia A worker compound when the farm was parcelled out to A1 scheme farmers. Currently three adults and four children are resident in a four roomed dwelling. Two men and one woman in the household contribute to household income through casual labour supply to maize and tobacco farmers in the surrounding A1 farms. In the 2013-14 season they worked for a total of 400 work-days at a wage rate of US$3 per day or a total household income of US$1200. This income is supplemented by income from poultry sales, vegetable sales, brick-making and thatching.

Prior to land reform the family had no access to allocated or rented land, and very few assets. This was supplemented by income from brick-making, poultry sales and vegetable sales. According to them, the welfare of household has improved post Fast Track with the family having access to 0.4 hectares allocated by Ruia A leadership and they have invested in two cell phones, a bicycle and a couple of solar panels for night lighting. From the 0.4 hectares the family reaped 0.6 MT of maize to supplement the family’s food needs.

Case 4

60 year-old Ms C has no formal schooling, and is resident in Hariana compound. Prior to settling at Hariana she worked at Fia Farm in Centenary as a farm guard earning Z$20 per month. They are now residing in a five roomed Hariana compound house, including six adults and three children. Farm labour is no longer the main source of income for the household, with more income being derived from own farming operations.

The family secured a hectare of land from the Hariana scheme leadership and they rent 0.4 hectares from an A1 farmer in Hariana scheme, where they grow tobacco, maize and sweet potatoes. In the 2013-14 season the family harvested half a tonne of maize all for household consumption, 900 kg of flue-cured tobacco worth about US$2700 and 1000 kg of sweet potatoes sold along the Mvurwi – Harare highway. The family also grows vegetables in a small garden close to the dam that are also marketed to travellers along the Mvurwi-Harare highway. Extra income is also earned from sale of goats (she keeps 5 goats on the plot), poultry and tailoring services, while fishing in the Hariana dams supplements household food.

Only one male member of the family is still involved in farm labour services to Hariana A1 farmers. During the 2013-14 season he supplied 120 labour days at an average wage rate of US$3 per day, bringing in about US$360 over the 2013-14 season. Using proceeds from farming and prior farm labour services the family managed to dig their own well for domestic water supply, purchase a bicycle and a car. Two members of the family also have cell phones.


These very brief profiles show the fragility of life in the compounds. Farm labour is no longer guaranteed, and other livelihood options have to be sought. Access to small plots of land near the compounds, allocated by the A1 committees, is essential, and those who gain access to a hectare or more are diverting energies to small-scale agriculture and away from labouring. While the A1 farmers are hiring employing people, the number of days hired and the low salary rate means that total incomes are low, especially when spread across often large household groups. Farm compound houses are often of low quality, and without amenities, but may have multiple residents, as many farm workers have been evicted, especially from A2 farms, as new farmers have restructured their work forces. In each of the cases discussed above, representative of the wider sample, the family originally came from Malawi or Mozambique. This means that they do not have connections elsewhere in Zimbabwe, and are only linked to other former farm workers, with limited means. A few manage to get work elsewhere, and benefit from remittances, but not many.

Before land reform, life on the compounds was isolated, overseen by a highly controlled arrangement that allowed limited opportunities, described so well in terms of ‘domestic government’ by Blair Rutherford in Working on the Margins. Before farm workers were wholly dependent on the large-scale commercial farmer for food, housing, income, health care, education and more, but today they have had to carve out new social and political relationships in the post land reform era. This has been tough for many, as the cases above show. However, perhaps surprisingly, with the exception of one case, all the others remarked how life had improved following land reform. While clearly still extremely poor, they liked the flexibility of not having to be behoven to a single employer. They were happy to have small plots of land that were often not allowed before. And they saw the independence to set up small businesses and have a diversified livelihood liberating. The oppressive character of their former employment conditions was commented on again and again in interviews. They clearly would desire a better life, but the life they had before, for many, was worse.

What the longer-term prospects are for former farm workers living in new resettlement areas is not clear. Will they remain and continue to provide an often highly skilled, cheap labour pool? Will they become more integrated with the A1 farmers, and take up farming, acquiring more land? Will they be evicted and resettled themselves, being seen as a difficult legacy of the previous era (as has occurred in some farms), and if so where will they go? Often seen as ‘non-citizens’, discriminated against politically, they have little voice and limited agency. The mainstream narrative of ‘displacement’ does not apply in the way it is often presented, but the reality is certainly tough, and needs some imaginative policy solutions that currently are not even being debated.

Thanks to BZ Mavedzenge and the Mvurwi research team for compiling the cases

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

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What happened to farm workers following Zimbabwe’s land reform?

Previous blogs have discussed the fate of workers who had worked on the large-scale commercial farms that were distributed during land reform, both in relation to the total numbers affected, and the new livelihood strategies that have been pursued. The role of labour in the new farm structure is a crucial and under-studied issue, as it is more generally in agrarian and livelihood studies. However we now have some data from our own fieldwork that sheds light on these issues.

Over the last few years we have been working in the Mvurwi area of Mazowe district as part of the Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development project. We have carried out similar surveys to those that we had done before in Masvingo (and now more recently in Matobo) to find out how similar and different these sites are, and how the experience of land reform has affected different people in different places.

In Mvurwi we have been looking at what has happened on a series of A1 farms (involving a sample of 220 households), as well as a few case studies of A2 farms nearby. We have also been investigating what happened to farm workers who have either got land as part of A1 settlements or are still living in the farm worker compounds.

Across the three farms where our A1 sample is located, there are four farm worker compounds, with around 370 farm worker families currently living in them – half are original workers from those farms, the rest were displaced from about 25 other farms (notably A2 farms), from Mazowe district and beyond, where new owners have expelled former workers, as they have restructured their operations.

Former farm workers are not a uniform category of course. There are some who managed to get land under the fast-track process and since, and are part of our A1 sample. Of this sample 10% were former farm workers, from the farms concerned or from further afield, as many had to move. Others were compound dwellers with small plots where they were growing food, and indeed tobacco, and they were engaged in regular work, being employed by A1 or A2 farmers. Others had carved out new livelihoods, sometimes combining piece work on farms, with other activities such as building, carpentry or fishing (see below). However others have no jobs or other forms of livelihood, and are struggling. Some have gone to communal areas and have reinsterted themselves into social networks there, but many do not have access to these, being ‘foreigners’ originally from Malawi, Mozambique or Zambia for example, and with no rural home, despite having lived in Zimbabwe for generations. It is a diverse experience, and one that deserves more research scrutiny.

Among our sample of A1 farms, on average each household employed 0.8 permanent workers and 4.2 temporary workers, both men and women. Many of the permanent workers are drawn from where the household previously came from, often nearby communal areas, bringing in relatives and others. However, new A1 farmers growing tobacco have also hired in permanent workers from the compounds. These are often the skilled farm managers and others who can help with their new tobacco businesses. Others say they prefer to hire from the compounds as the labour is skilled and disciplined, and they are happy to avoid being tied to relatives. Permanent workers include both men and women, and the same applies to temporary workers. These are nearly all drawn from the compound, and are hired for particular production tasks. Wages are low especially for temporary work, and workers are not organised or unionised, and so have little bargaining power. Not all compound households can find work for all the time, and so must develop more diversified livelihoods. Land reform was 15 years ago, and a whole new generation has grown up in the compounds since. This group of youth have not learned the skills of their parents in tobacco growing, and so are not hired so often. They must seek out other income earning activities to survive.

The table below offers some average household social profiles and backgrounds of A1, A2 and farm worker households. The A1 households are split up into ‘success groups’ (more or less successful according to local informants), while the others are lumped together.

Table: Profiles of A1 (Success Group 1-3), A2 and Farmworker households in terms of characteristics of household head/land, crop outputs, income sources; assets and their accumulation.

  A1-SG1 A1-SG2 A1-SG3 A2 FW
Educational level of household head (% above Form 2) 54 51 58 80 19
Age of household head (% above 50 years) 42 48 33 60 40
Land area allocated [ ha ] 5.4 5.6 5.6 51.9 0.6
Land area cultivated (ha) 3.6 3.7 2.4 7.8 0.6
Maize production (kg), 2014 4805 2931 2232 18400 419
Maize sales (kg), 2014 3279 1384 973 14280 0
Tobacco production (kg), 2014 1338 1460 880 4700 246
Remittance income (percentage receiving) 13 17 16 60 15
Cattle sales (%) 33 39 22 40 1
Local piece work (%) 8 8 14 0 44
Vegetable sales (%) 27 52 49 60 34
Building, thatching, carpentry (%) 12 24 32 0 54
Fishing (%) 8 11 22 0 19
Cattle ownership (N) 9.8 6.9 4.7 10.0 0.5
Car/truck ownership ( %) 47.9 23.2 30.1 20 2
Bicycle ownership (%) 58 60 59 80 35
Cattle purchased (N) in last 5 years 1.2 0.9 2.1 0 0.2
Cars purchased % in last 5 years 27 19 21 0 0
Bicycles purchased % in last 5 years 25 35 44 80 23
Cell phones purchased in last 5 years (N) 3.4 3.2 3.8 6 1.6
Solar panels purchased (N) in last five years 1.1 1.1 0.9 0.8 0.8
Water pumps purchased % in last five years 0.25 0.52 0.34 0.2 0.2

Comparing farm worker households to others, we can see that across variables, farm worker households are badly off. They have very small plots of land (average 0.6ha), all of which is cultivated. They do this intensively although in 2014 only realising 400kg of maize on average, and 250kg of tobacco. Maize is all consumed, while tobacco offers some additional income. This is complemented by a range of other sources of income. Local piece work (including the temporary farm labour discussed above), building/thatching/carpentry and vegetable sales (for women) dominate. Fishing is also important in one of the farm dams for some. Compared to the other sample groups, asset ownership is very limited, although a few have livestock, and some are buying new animals. By contrast to the more successful A1 farmers, the possibilities of accumulation are limited, although farm worker households have bought bicycles, cell phones, solar panels and water pumps.

There is little doubt that former farm workers are extremely poor and often have precarious livelihoods. However, in the absence of alternatives, they are surviving, often through a combination of intensive agriculture on garden sized plots and other work. The compounds across what was the large-scale commercial farming areas of the Highveld are home to many thousands of people. The long-term future of this population remains uncertain, but for now their labour and skill is an important element of the success of some of the new resettlement farmers, and some are managing to find ways of getting their own plots.

Next week, I will share a few case studies of former farm workers from this area to show how different people are making a living.

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

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