Why radical land reform is needed in the UK

Half of the land is owned by 1% of the people. Getting information on who owns what land it is nigh on impossible. Tax arrangements favour land speculation. Ordinary people cannot get access to land to grow food.

Where is this place? Not a settler country in southern Africa, but England/England and Wales/the UK. With the publication of a landmark report for the UK Labour Party, Land for the Many, at last equality of land access in Britain is on the political agenda (article/video summary here and here).

Typically, the right-wing press have got into a frenzy of indignation. George Monbiot (the lead author, working with a wider team) is going to take your land, destroy farming and tax your front garden. Middle England outrage does not respond to facts and arguments, but promotes misleading tropes. The spectre of Zimbabwe (and Venezuela) was raised in an absurdly ill-informed piece in the UK Daily Mail, which frothed: “What Labour is determined on is a new age of collectivism. Well, we know how disastrously that worked out in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere – famine and starvation”.

Pointing out hidden and stark privilege always raises hackles amongst the ruling class – and its media supporters. Look at the controversies around the Scottish land debate covered on this blog before, where land inequality is especially extreme. Aristocrats, corporations, the crown, Oxbridge colleges are all big owners, as well as some nouveau-riche speculative investors. In the arcane system of land taxation, inheritance rules and so on, huge amounts of wealth are tied up by this tiny group.

Suggesting a more democratic, equitable alternative, overturning the accepted status quo, is seen as an assault, even if it makes absolute sense. The outrage that has met the arguments for land reform in Zimbabwe have been voluble, vicious and intense (I know from experience). And again, wildly ill-informed. Just like the Daily Mail, facts are irrelevant when privilege is to be protected. And all this, despite wide acknowledgement that the massively skewed colonial inheritance ran against economic, political and social sense, and that smallholder-led agrarian transformation can generate many gains (although not without challenges, as described many, many times on this blog).

The report is radical yet practical. There is a welter of suggestions for policy change. Some are very specific to the UK setting, but there is much else in the report that will have resonance elsewhere. A number of themes grabbed my attention.

  • The lack of public transparency – and so accountability – around land ownership is highlighted. You have to pay to view each deed in the land registry, and that means it would cost millions to find out who owns the land in Britain, as the system was privatised, and has to cover its costs. This suits elite landowners, but it doesn’t help those who want to get access to land, as it’s impossible to find out where land is available, and it’s opaque how it is priced. Those who own the land control the system and, with the support of the Daily Mail, they want to keep it that way. Opening up data though helps the democratisation of land ownership, and ensuring citizens are active in the process of deciding how the nation’s land is used.
  • The report recommends that public land – including that owned by local councils – should be put to better use, and prevent it being sold off to speculative investors, especially near urban areas. Such areas could, the report argues, provide the basis for food-growing and employment and the development of local economies, aiming for a more sustainable, local food system, reinvigorating the ‘county farm’ system. An important element of this proposal, includes a focus on rural workers. If the UK leaves the EU, gaining access to labour for farm production will become a big issue, so making the countryside attractive for a range of workers, and ensuring that conditions and rights are assured, and rural work becomes an attractive proposition for younger people.
  • The history of capitalism in Britain (as elsewhere) is one of enclosure. Karl Marx observed long ago that “Land grabbing on a great scale [. . .] is the first step in creating a field for the establishment of agriculture on a great scale. Hence this subversion of agriculture puts on, at first, more the appearance of a political revolution”. Land grabbing and privatisation of land through narrow property titling systems is also a phenomenon across Africa, supported by western corporations and donors. The report suggests that reclaiming the commons, and the spirit of community-based land use, offers many possibilities. Community trusts could own land for their own use or for protecting landscapes, watersheds and other environmental values. And opening up land for community growing in allotments is seen as a priority.
  • There are many interesting proposals around the implications of redistributing land wealth on housing. Addressing inflated land values can help to release areas for building for the poor, and reduce prices of housing. In the UK a huge proportion of the value of housing is in the land, and this continues to increase making housing more expensive, and incentives to capture land for speculative investment rises and rises. Through new forms of land ownership, this could radically change the housing access, shifting where value is held.
  • Tax is talked about a lot in the report. Land taxes – taxes on extreme wealth – can be a highly progressive move, and are long overdue. Addressing issues of underutilisation of land or housing stock is essential in the UK, as it is in Zimbabwe, currently preventing those who could productively use land from doing so. With the financialisation of land and resources, distortions occur and result in rampant speculation as land becomes an ‘asset class’, rather than a collective resource.

Hopefully, once a Labour-led administration is in power in the UK, connections might be forged between the UK and other places where land inequality is constraining a flourishing economy and society. Maybe successful resettlement farmers from Zimbabwe can come to the UK to advise on and learn about ways of putting land to better use. As the report argues, land must be for the many, not the few.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Picture credit: Ian Scoones

 

 

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Turning the populist tide: what are the alternatives?

The last week has seen major gains for nationalist, populist parties in elections, both in Europe and India. Is this the end of the centre-ground consensus? What are the alternatives?

In India, the BJP swept to victory on the back of anti-Muslim rhetoric and Hindu nationalist slogans. Only Kerala stood out as a state where progressive politics resisted. In Europe, the picture was more mixed, but in France, Hungary, Italy, Poland and the UK, populist parties won, while in Germany a proto-fascist party won 10 percent of the vote.

Such parties rail against ‘elites’ and ‘outsiders’, notably migrants and minorities, and set a nation-first policy agenda seemingly against any forms of internationalism and globalisation. But who are their supporters? What are the connections to rural areas? Are there any lessons for Southern Africa?

Authoritarian populism and the rural world

The rural roots of such regressive, populist movements have been the focus of research linked to the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative over the last couple of years. Yet, as we argued in the framing paper that kicked off the initiative, the rural dimension is frequently missed out in much contemporary commentary.

A major event last year gathered together researchers and activists to debate the issues. Emerging from this, a number of papers have been published in the Journal of Peasant Studies Forum on Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World. New papers (all currently open access) look at the US, Belarus, Hungary, Turkey, Spain, Russia, Bolivia and Ecuador…. and there are more in the pipeline.

Together, these papers demonstrate how the failure of neoliberal economic policies over the past decades has resulted in often extreme rural deprivation, combined with land and resource grabbing, and declining opportunities for young people in particular. A good overview from the ERPI-Europe group is offered by Natalia Mamanova. It is no wonder that populist politicians can easily enlist those who have been left behind. The dynamics are different across countries, of course, but the failure of the centrist consensus – what Nancy Fraser refers to as ‘progressive neoliberalism’ – is clear.

Whether it is the mainstream parties in the UK, the Indian National Congress or Macron’s En Marche, people do not see the jobs or livelihood opportunities being generated, and blaming migrants or minorities is an easy political win. Even when there’s a failure to create jobs or regenerate the countryside, as with Narendra Modi’s BJP over the past five years, nationalist-populist, religiously-inflected rhetoric seems able to deliver the votes, especially when a convincing alternative is absent.

Southern African challenges

In southern Africa, the nationalist populism of Zuma and Mugabe has gone, but their successors are struggling to find a convincing alternative. In South Africa, President Ramaphosa has just won an election offering a vision of stability, apparently appealing to everyone. But, if the pressing demands around land reform are not met, and a radical vision of economic transformation not pursued, the pent-up tensions at the heart of South Africa’s fragile post-1994 settlement may burst to the surface.

In Zimbabwe, meanwhile, President Mnangagwa’s appeal as being ‘not Mugabe’ is wearing thin, as a process of economic reform creates austerity and widening poverty. The IMF’s economic medicine didn’t work in the 1990s, and is unlikely to do so now with a fragile economic base. Popular fury burst onto the streets in January, and may do so again, with unknown political consequences.

Emancipatory alternatives?

So what of other alternatives that offer more hope, and tap into a more radical desire for economic and environmental transformation?

Across Europe, the Green parties had a good showing last week, committing to social justice, economic transformation and environmental policies.  In Kerala, the Congress-led alliance won with commitments to poverty reduction and social welfare. In southern Africa, the political starting point for alternatives are absent, with all main parties seemingly committed to some form of neoliberal consensus. Meanwhile, the populist radicals, led by Julius Malema in South Africa, offer little in the way of alternative economic and social programme.

Alternatives have to respond to real, lived, local problems, and, as we discussed at the ERPI conference last year – and shared in a number of short videos – there are many emergent examples of alternatives across the world that are creating new economies and generating sustainable alternatives. Whether these are experiments in food or energy sovereignty; new forms of mutual, collective economic regeneration; or commoning practices using new technologies that generate jobs and livelihoods, they all challenge the standard neoliberal recipe of austerity, efficiency and externally-led investment in rural areas.

Mobilising against right-wing populism

Too often, though, connections are not made between rural and urban efforts, between farmers and workers, between land-based and housing design initiatives. If isolated, the opportunities are missed for political mobilisation, based on new emancipatory narratives – what Chantal Mouffe calls left-populism. This is frequently the failing of the Green movement, seen too often as a privileged, urban, middle class concern; or indeed the Left more generally, with its roots in industrial unions.

Yet, taking a leaf from the right-wing populists and the Steve Bannon playbook that was well-rehearsed in Trump’s America, networking across potential supporters, linking diverse concerns, is essential. A great new paper from Jun Borras explains how mobilising alternatives in agrarian settings is tough, but not impossible.

The rural dimensions of creating emancipatory alternatives to both neoliberal capitalism and populist nationalism are essential, whether in Europe, Asia or Africa. The elections this week are yet another wake-up call.

Reading:

ERPI Framing paper: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.2017.1339693

JPS Forum (series of articles): https://think.taylorandfrancis.com/journal-of-peasant-studies-forum-on-authoritarian-populism-and-the-rural-world/

Open Democracy blog series: https://steps-centre.org/authoritarian-populism-rural-world/#articles

Viewing:

Open Democracy video series: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/authoritarian-populism-and-rural-world/

 

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Picture credit: David Sierralupe: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sierralupe/25937491768/in/album-72157662852000427/

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The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative: what’s in it for Africa?

The huge Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum recently concluded in Beijing. 37 heads of state attended, along with droves of policy advisors and numerous thinktanks and research institutes, including IDS where I work. Monica Mutsvanga, Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, attended on behalf of the Zimbabwe government. By all accounts it was a lavish affair, with grand speeches and big commitments totalling $64 billion. But what to make of it all from an African perspective?

As discussed on this blog several times before (see here, here and here), while Chinese engagements with Africa can be framed in terms of ‘new imperialism’ or part of a benign process of ‘mutual learning’, in practice a more nuanced perspective is needed. African states have agency in the process of negotiation, and the Chinese always adopt an incremental and adaptive approach to policy, in Africa as in China. There is no single top-down plan to be forced on unwilling recipients.

As our studies of Chinese (and Brazilian) investments in African agriculture (in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe – reported in an open access World Development issue) showed, what emerges varies from country to country, project to project, depending on how negotiations play out. And this very much depends on which Chinese state owned company, from which province in China, is involved, and how African states and officials negotiate. Sometimes the outcomes are disastrous – inappropriate technologies and failed projects – but sometimes positive dynamics unfold. No surprises here: Chinese engagements are very similar to aid from Denmark, the UK or the US, just more focused on productive infrastructure and perhaps more honest and straightforward.

Beyond the BRI rhetoric

At the BRI Forum there was grand talk of mutual benefit, inclusive approaches and green and sustainable development. Just as with western aid, forget the rhetoric, and look at the practice. Chinese geopolitical and commercial ambitions are clear. The BRI is certainly about regional, even global, political influence, especially through trade. With coal mines and power stations being opened under its banner, forget the green credentials for now. As a strategic player, who plays the (often very) long game, the benefits to China of all the roads, ports and other infrastructure being built are obvious.

This does not mean though that such investments are disadvantageous to host countries and regions, just because China benefits too. The TAZARA railway built between Tanzania and Zambia in the early 1970s still provides an important trade link, assisting economic integration. New investments may too – but only if designed in the right way, and subject to careful deliberation and negotiation at a local level. Being too eager (or desperate) to receive Chinese investment could be dangerous.

Minister Mutsvanga’s speech in Beijing had a hint of this. Repeating the ED ‘mantra’ (her term) that Zimbabwe is ‘open for business’, she continued:

Zimbabwe has fertile soils and a favourable climate for farming and agro-industry. It is a treasure trove of much desired mineral wealth. Zimbabwe has gold, diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones. There is the diverse energy offering of hydroelectric power, thermal and coking coal, methane gas. For new and green energy there is, platinum, lithium, uranium and abundant solar. Base metals galore include chrome, nickel, vanadium, tin, rare earths and scores of others.

This sounds more than being open for bilateral negotiations around mutually beneficial investment; more an invitation to a resource grab. The Chinese are not immune to this, as the sorry tale of diamond mining in Marange shows. But it needn’t be this way: being open for business doesn’t mean open for any business on any terms.

Waving the flag, the state-run newspapers in Zimbabwe hailed the minister’s visit, and the prospects for Zimbabwe. But the list of supposed BRI projects – such as the new parliament – were planned long before, and nothing to do with building a corridor for trade. To link with the BRI hype in Beijing, the Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe opened a BRI art exchange exhibition, demonstrating how the two countries were connected. Cultural exchange is certainly a good thing, but Minister Mutsvanga, I think, was looking for more.

Corridors for development?

So what might a corridor development look like that has wider benefits for development, and is not simply a route to facilitating extractivism? A recent study carried out along the eastern seaboard of Africa – in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique – has looked at four very different corridors, all notionally connected to the BRI – LAPSSET, SAGCOT, Nacala and Beira. All involve major port and road/rail developments, linked to a variety of energy and agricultural investments of varying scales (see the earlier blog on Mozambique).

Our research contrasted corridors constructed as ‘tunnels’, conducting valuable resources out of a country and importing goods to metropolitan centres, and ‘networks’, that allow linkages to rural hinterlands and a dynamic of development associated with the investments. Each of our case studies showed elements of both at play.

Corridors, as Euclides Gonsalves explains for Mozambique, are about ‘acts of demonstration’, linking political ambitions to local development. The grand, stylised performances at the BRI Forum in Beijing also play out in villages and project sites in African rural areas. Enlisting and enrolling actors, and material artefacts (grain siloes, extension centres, new roads and so on), are part of the game. Enacting corridors has political and material effects, as some people are included and some excluded, and certain political interests are promoted. The net benefits may be positive, but the performative aspect is key, he argues.

Many corridors are about constructing imaginaries, and creating an economy of expectations, Ngala Chome argues for LAPSSET in Kenya. The corridor has been long planned, and while port facilities are being built in Lamu, many follow-on investments have not yet materialised. Anticipation, expectation and speculation create a new political economy around prospective corridor sites, as we see in the pastoral rangelands of Isiolo where the pipeline and road is expected to traverse. As our work under the PASTRES project shows, pastoralists in these areas complain this has resulted in a massive growth in speculative land deals.

A struggle over development and its directions is unleashed by corridor developments. Everyone has been crying out for investment, but when it comes, the terms of incorporation are inevitably uneven. As Emmanuel Sulle shows for the sugar and rice plantations in the SAGCOT corridor area of Tanzania, processes of displacement and disenfranchisement unfold. And this is even with ‘inclusive’ business models, such as outgrower schemes, heavily promoted by agricultural investors across the corridors.

Networks not tunnels

What are the policy recommendations from our APRA corridors research? Here are the highlights:

  • Policy appraisal must include political economy analysis to explore the potential winners and losers. External capital/infrastructure investment mobilises local interests, including local capital and the state, creating new patterns of differentiation. This means appraisal must go beyond the standard economic assessment to a wider social and political analysis.
  • The design of a corridor – and the associated business models promoting agricultural investment – make a big difference. Opportunities for a more networked organisation, avoiding the limitations of a ‘tunnel’ design, need to be explored, especially around the design of transport infrastructure that can benefit local economies.
  • Terms of inclusion and exclusion in corridors are mediated through a range of local institutional and political processes. For example, land speculation and the revitalisation of older conflicts over resources may occur as a result of corridor development. Benefits may be unevenly shared in already unequal societies, with women and poorer households missing out.
  • Processes for negotiating corridor outcomes require the mobilisation of less empowered actors – including women and poorer people – and their organisation around clear guidelines – such as those within the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on land tenure – that ensure terms of incorporation into corridor investments are not disadvantageous.
  • Support for legal literacy and advocacy, as well as the organisation of disadvantaged groups, will help people to be able to articulate demands. This requires building on local organisations and networks to help counter the power of appropriation of local elites in alliance with the state and investment capital.

All these are relevant for any investor, and for any corridor-style investment. I hope Minister Mutsvanga and the BRI planners take note, and avoid the rush to invest and take a more patient, deliberate approach that creates networks not tunnels.

 

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Photo credit: Ian Scoones. Photo credit: Ian Scoones, Nampula, Mozambique

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Can the technocratic reformers win in Zimbabwe?

If you’ve been finding it difficult to keep up with the situation in Zimbabwe, you are not alone. Since the overthrow of Mugabe in the (not quite) coup in November 2017, the contested elections of July 2018, the 1 August shootings, the January 2019 riots and brutal clampdown, things have moved apace. Meanwhile, the economy has continued to contract, with rising inflation and an acceptance that there are parallel currencies with different exchange rates. It’s fast-moving and confusing.

Contested politics

Luckily, there have been some useful briefings on these rapidly unfolding events. The most recent is a piece in African Affairs that covers the political dimensions, and poses the fundamental question of whether President Mnangagwa is really in charge, and if not who is?

The piece by Nicole Beardsworth, Nic Cheeseman and Simukai Tinhu covers the period from the coup to early 2019, and makes the case that, despite the slick public relations, ZANU-PF has reverted to type, with an increasingly violent, authoritarian, militarised response.

What is absent in this overview is a substantive discussion of the economy, and the role of other players – including the minister of finance, Mthuli Ncube – who are arguing for a technocratic reform agenda from within ZANU-PF. The focus on contested elections and tensions between Mnangagwa and VP Chiwenga, and the role of the armed forces in the state apparatus is of course highly relevant, but it is not the only story.

The military figures and senior ZANU-PF politicians are also business people who look forward to a more stable economy. Rinsing funds on parallel exchange markets, along with all the other corrupt practices open to the oligarchs, only goes so far, especially when there’s not much left to steal. For such figures it is not contradictory to have a strong military involvement in the state alongside reformist business-friendly policies that can be sold to the world.

Another piece that explores in detail the events of January 2019, focusing especially on Bulawayo, comes from the Solidarity Peace Trust. This combines a very useful analytical introduction from Brian Raftopolous with a detailed, day-by-day unpacking of what went on. The conclusions usefully nuance some of those in the African Affairs piece. In particular, they point to the economic context of the riots.

People who are poor, disenfranchised and without hope can quickly become angry and, the report argues, the state should tread carefully. This was not something organised by the opposition – they are not sufficiently organised anyway – but an angry crowd, responding to dismal and deteriorating circumstances, particularly in urban centres, where jobs and services have all but disappeared.

A focus on politics must be located in an understanding of the economy – and its history (as @matigary reminded us in an Independence day Twitter mega-thread). Beyond the electoral politics focus, and the micro-analysis of the many different interest groups, we have to understand how people are motivated – from the urban poor to rural farmers to the oligarchs linked to the political-military elite. And this needs a much wider historical, political-economy analysis than is sometimes offered by narrower political science commentaries.

Positive signs in the economy?

So what of the economy? In the last months, the economy seems to be changing. It’s at the margins, and is far from ‘recovery’, but there are some positive signs. The fourth quarter report from the Reserve Bank had some positive news for the first time in years. The meetings at the IMF/World Bank meetings in Washington this month seemed productive. Another IMF staff supervision mission is in the offing, and IMF head, Christine Lagarde, had a few positive things to say. Even the right-wing Cato Institute held a well-attended meeting in Washington DC, with continued sanctions by the US being denounced by all panellists, including the perennial critic, Steve Hanke.

This is all good news for the technocrats, led by Ncube. Whether he is able to bring Mnangagwa and co with him is the unknown.

Eddie Cross’s recent blogs offer some useful reflections on shifts in the productive economy – all in a positive direction. Ncube listened to disgruntled tobacco farmers who were withholding their crop from the floors and removed the 2% transaction tax. The response was immediate, and tobacco auctions are now in full swing.

Cross points to the accumulation of significant funds in $RTGS (the parallel non-currency), a sign that internal investment has an opportunity under a new currency regime, expected in the next year.

A changing mood on international sanctions?

Will international funds flow and sanctions be removed?

International support that was gearing up to support the post Mugabe era dried up after the August and January shootings, as the world was correctly appalled by what they saw on their TV screens. And key players such as the UK even mooted increasing sanctions.

The UK’s confused diplomatic positioning (a sorry, long-running story) is discussed in an interesting piece in Yale’s The Politic, quoting many well-informed authorities from all sides of the debate. With Brexit consuming the UK government’s energies, there are unlikely to be any meaningful initiatives from the UK any time soon, and Zimbabwe is not going to do much to contribute to the UK’s absurd ‘global Britain’ imaginary in any case.

The US does not seem to be budging yet, but may yet. Some (but not all) US commentators, who long argued for sanctions against Mugabe, are seemingly changing their tune.

A key move, playing into the discourse around ‘protecting property rights’ as a condition for releasing sanctions, is the allocation of RTGS$53 million in the recent budget to pay compensation for improvements on farms expropriated during the land reform.

While this is not new (even in the Mugabe era the government had agreed to pay and had allocated similarly paltry sums), but there (finally) seems to be movement on finalising the audit and agreement on the payment formula, and wider discussions about how concretely to link payments to overall debt repayment.

Could this at last help unlock the 19 year post-land reform impasse?

Unpleasant but necessary medicine?

Much of this may be grasping at straws. The struggles between factions that has consumed ZANU-PF since the liberation war will continue. The opposition does not seem to be in any better position. Will the technocrats win out, and the politician-securocrats let them move ahead, if reform is in their own interests too?

An IMF-led technocratic reform regime will undoubtedly lead to further austerity and suffering, hitting those who are already the least well off hardest. Remember ESAP in the 1990s? It will also inevitably allow those with existing assets and connections to do best; perhaps further entrenching the military-political-business oligarchic elite.

In her Washington speech, Lagarde talked of the need for ‘social protection’ programmes, not only in relation to post-Idai recovery, but more broadly to help the poor through the transition.

If this is the medicine that unleashes the investment and opens up the economy again, then unfortunately it may be necessary. But the medicine must not be taken without a much wider debate about the future.

As the Solidarity Peace Trust report argues, “the major strategic task for all democratic forces involved in the Zimbabwe national question in the immediate future will be to build sufficient consensus for credible national, regional and international forces to assist with a national dialogue”.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Photo credit: Ian Scoones. Photo credit: IMF Photo/flickr (Lagarde and Ncube, March 5 meetings)

 

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Connecting the Sustainable Development Goals

Last week a short article of mine – Sustainable rural livelihoods and the SDGs – was published in an excellent new edition of the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth’s (IPC-IG) journal, Policy in Focus. Along with a number of other articles – including ones on poverty, labour, migration, gender and land access– it made the case for rural poverty issues to be central to discussions around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To go beyond the siloed, box-ticking of too much activity around the SDGs, an integrated approach is needed. I made the case for a politically-informed livelihoods perspective linking across goals. This could draw on the sustainable livelihoods approaches that became central to rural development debates in the 1990s, but learn lessons from their limitations.

This is an argument I have also made recently in a lecture at Sussex (available here) and in an IDS podcast conversation with my colleague, Marina Apgar. The podcast discusses the book Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development (a 20 percent discount on the paperback is available via this link, using the code SLRD20), which makes the case that linking sustainable livelihoods approaches with critical agrarian political economy can move the debate forward.

These are the themes picked up in the Policy in Focus article, an edited excerpt of which follows (for the full piece, including references, check out the issue here):

Negotiating pathways to sustainable development

“The emergence of the SDGs as an overarching approach to development, agreed across the United Nations system, suggests that a grounded and integrative approach is urgently needed if implementation is to deliver the type of radical transformations envisaged. Sustainable rural development will not be realised if policymakers and practitioners proceed goal by goal, target by target, governed by elaborate monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and impact protocols. Instead, a return to a more integrated approach is required, allowing debates to occur about synergies, connections and trade-offs across the SDGs.

Achieving sustainability across environmental, economic and social spheres is centrally about political negotiation between different actors and interests. The pathways that emerge, and the directions that social and technical innovation takes, necessarily involve some people winning, while others lose out. What is ‘best’ for a particular place cannot be decided through technocratic diktat but must emerge through inclusive, participatory deliberation that allows for dissent, disagreement and inevitable conflict. Such processes must involve political negotiations, and require people and institutions, at local, national and global levels, to broker, facilitate and allow all voices to be heard, and alternative pathways to sustainable development to be uncovered and realised.

Power and political economy: extending the livelihoods approach

Some of the very legitimate critiques of the early versions of the sustainable livelihoods framework—and particularly the versions that were adapted for use by development agencies—focused on the lack of attention to politics, power and political economy. Some argued that the approach was too deterministic and too technocratic and contestation, dispute and patterns of winners and losers were not made clear. Politics of course appeared in discussions of the ‘institutions and organisations’ acting as mediating between resources and activities, and so affecting outcomes; but in many of the more operational applications, this element became side-lined in favour of a rather mechanistic institutional or policy design focus, rather than attention to the contestations around access and control, as originally intended.

The short book, Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development, aimed to link the original framework with a wider concern with agrarian political economy, making politics, power and control central. The result was an extended framework diagram, articulating key questions in agrarian political economy.Following Henry Bernstein (and his superb book in the same ‘small books for big ideas’ series – Class Dynamics and Agrarian Change), four core questions are asked:

  • Who owns what (or who has access to what)? This relates to questions of property and ownership of livelihood assets and resources.
  • Who does what? This relates to the social divisions of labour, the distinctions between those employing and employed, as well as to divisions based on gender and age.
  • Who gets what? This relates to questions of income and assets, and patterns of accumulation over time, and so to processes of social and economic differentiation.
  • What do they do with it? This relates to the array of livelihood strategies and their consequences as reflected in patterns of consumption, social reproduction, savings and investment.

In addition to these four, we can add two more, both focused on the social and ecological challenges that characterise contemporary societies:

  • How do social classes and groups in society and within the State interact with each other? This focuses on the social relations, institutions and forms of domination in society and between citizens and the State as they affect livelihoods.
  • How are changes in politics shaped by dynamic ecologies and vice versa? This relates to questions of political ecology, and to how environmental dynamics influence livelihoods. These in turn are shaped by livelihood activities through patterns of resource access and entitlement.

Taken together, these six questions – all central to critical agrarian and environmental studies – provide an excellent starting point for any analysis across the SDGs, when seeking to link rural livelihoods with the political economy of agrarian change in any setting.

Long-term, historical patterns of structurally-defined relations of power between social groups are central, as are processes of economic and political control by the State and other powerful actors, together with differential patterns of production, accumulation, investment and reproduction across society. Such an analysis allows analysis to move beyond mere empirical description of multiple cases to explanations rooted in understandings of wider structural relations, patterns and processes.

Taking a differentiated view of rural livelihoods in any context, we see that rural dwellers may be farmers, workers, traders, brokers, transporters, carers and others, with links spread across the urban–rural divide. Classes are not unitary, naturalised or static. Given this diversity of hybrid livelihood strategies and class identities, accumulation—and, therefore, social differentiation and class formation—takes place through a complex, relational dynamic over time.

Indeed, only with a longitudinal perspective, rooted in an understanding of the political economy of agrarian change, can longer-term trajectories of livelihoods be discerned. Rural livelihoods are not isolated and independent, amenable to narrow development interventions, but tied to what is happening elsewhere, both locally and more broadly. For these reasons, a wider political economy perspective is essential for any effective livelihoods analysis, and indeed any assessment of SDG interactions.

Making political economy central to the SDGs

It is essential to rescue the SDGs from a graveyard of technocratic-bureaucratic approaches, where goal-specific indicators, monitoring and impact assessment take over, locked into a sectoral view of the world, where the politics of interactions, connections and negotiations are ignored.

This requires new ways of thinking and working, and a revived livelihoods approach, rooted in an understanding of political economy can offer a way forward. By examining diverse pathways of change in a particular area, the contests between SDGs come to the fore, with winners and losers identified. Asking the six questions highlighted earlier shows how accumulation by some affects others, and how benefits and their distribution are contested over time.

Only with such an analysis can we get to the heart of the politics of the SDGs, and establish the platforms that are required for real transformative change. This will require new integrative institutions, with new people with new skills of more integrative analysis and practice. Reinventing, revitalising and resuscitating sustainable livelihoods approaches, but adapting and extending them for new demands, presents an urgent challenge for rural development and the SDGs.”

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

 

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Is farmer-led irrigation driving a new ‘green revolution’?

One of the most striking things about some of our study sites in the A1 (smallholder) land reform schemes of Zimbabwe is the amount of small-scale irrigation going on. This is not on schemes or in formalised group gardens, but irrigation by individual farmers, many using small pump sets and pipes.

Last year we decided to investigate this more systematically, and a recent open access paper – part of a special issue in Water Alternatives – documented the results from our Masvingo sites. A similar story (with important variations) was found also in Mvurwi, in high-potential Mashonland East, and in Chikobedzi, in Chiredzi district the dry lowveld.

It seems to be a widespread phenomenon, but emerging largely unnoticed and unsupported. If the patterns seen in our study sites are representative, this implies a very large and expanding irrigated area driven by individual initiative, largely unrecognised by agricultural and irrigation policy. This is perhaps the beginnings of a new ‘green revolution’ led by farmers.

To highlight the research, we wrote a short piece for The Conversation. In case you missed it, the article is reproduced below.

Irrigating Africa: can small-scale farmers lead the way?

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We often hear that irrigation in Africa is too limited, and that the key to a “green revolution” on the continent is to expand to levels seen in Asia. But what if there is much more small-scale, informal irrigation in Africa than we thought? Could this be the basis for irrigating Africa?

In our recently published paper, we looked at initiatives taken by small-scale African producers in expanding irrigation. We found that farmer-led irrigation comes in many different shapes and forms. Informality, flexibility and adaptability are the watchwords. Most significantly, such irrigation initiatives are led by farmers, although they also rely on networks of technology suppliers, equipment repairers, market brokers, extension agents, transporters, banks and credit agencies, among others.

This sort of irrigation was dismissed as “just gardening” by an irrigation specialist we engaged with during our study: too small to make a difference, and not geared to commercial production. Instead, engineer-designed irrigation schemes are often advocated, in Zimbabwe as elsewhere. But the history of these schemes in Africa has not been a happy one. They have repeatedly failed, as strict cultivating and watering regimes are imposed, and high-cost equipment breaks down.

Yet, such schemes remain central to development programmes across the continent, despite the disastrous record. What is the alternative? Could farmer-led systems lead the way?

Informal irrigation

In our study on land reform farms in Zimbabwe, published as part of a wider collection from across Africa, we found that farmer-led irrigation in our sites proportionally covered many times more area than formal irrigation schemes do at a provincial level. And this despite official statistics suggesting that informal irrigation accounts for under 10% of national irrigated area.

The mismatch in the figures is striking. Of course, extrapolation is problematic, but evidence from across the country suggests that farmer-led systems, across multiple small plots, is widespread. Without external support, land reform farmers use their own initiative and resources, making use of available water – from small dams, rivers, streams or wells – to boost production.

Areas irrigated range from small homestead plots to large fields. One commercial irrigator was securing an income of around US$30,000 from five hectares, with input expenses of US$12,000, and was employing some 20 people. Most had more intermediate operations, using a variety of pumping systems, whom we classified as “aspiring irrigators”, with plot sizes averaging 0.43 hectares.

Regional mapping is now capturing the true extent of small-scale irrigation more effectively, while research in Mozambique shows how accounting for multiple, small farmer-managed plots would nearly double the national estimate of total irrigated area.

Could farmer-led systems, then, be the basis for a new irrigated “green revolution” in Africa; one that is already happening?

Conditions for success

Access to cheap technology has been essential. The price of mobile pump sets has massively declined in recent years. Made in China, available in every town, and repairable by local mechanics, such pumps can be bought in Zimbabwe for as little as US$250. Combined with flexible piping, this means that water sources can be used year-round.

Since acquiring the land in 2000, around three-quarters of those irrigating in our sites have built new wells, many of them subsequently deepened, while 85% have purchased pumps of different types. Across 49 plots, over 8km of piping has been bought in the last few years.

Because such farmer-led irrigation systems can be operated flexibly across a range of scales, available labour and capital can be matched to the production system. Some very small plots, usually around homesteads, are favoured by women, who can combine watering and tending vegetables with domestic and care work.

Young people, who did not receive plots during the land reform of 2000, are enthusiastically embracing irrigated farming as a livelihood. Without any chance of a formal job in town due to the deeply depressed economy, they are investing in farming, aiming to scale up over time. Technical knowledge, urban contacts and other skills are being deployed for successful businesses, focused on horticultural farming and trading.

At the other extreme, larger plots with irrigation systems that use submersible pumps – powered by generators and fitted to newly-drilled boreholes – are being established. These farmers have upgraded to significant commercial operations, based on contracts with supermarkets and vegetable traders in nearby towns and market centres.

Indeed, many of the irrigated plots in our sample are geared to commercial production. This is not “just gardening”. These farms are supplying regional towns, including supermarkets, with vegetables. As a video from our sites shows, this is boosting the local economy, with market traders, brokers, transporters and others all benefiting.

As irrigated agriculture expands, there are also dangers of creating market gluts. There is a limit to how many perishable tomatoes can be sold. Diversification is key and some of those in our study area are trying out new vegetables, from butternut squashes to sweet peppers. With expanded mobile phone coverage, people’s ability to negotiate contracts and supply markets in a timely way also improves.

Rethinking irrigation policy

Small-scale, flexible, farmer-led irrigation is not a panacea for the challenge of expanding irrigation and boosting production in Africa. Standard irrigation schemes will continue to be part of the answer. Yet the hidden extent of informal irrigation, led and managed by farmers, is clear across Africa.

There are challenges for sure. Opportunities are unevenly spread, with larger operations dominated by richer men. Markets are limited, and issues of product diversification, storage and processing must be tackled. Sources of water for irrigation are constrained, and sustainable use and access regulations are needed.

With the right policy framework and support – not blinkered by a narrow and outdated view of irrigation – these challenges can be surmounted. As Zimbabwe contemplates new land and agriculture policies, farmer-led irrigation approaches must be central.

Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene also contributed to this article.The Conversation

Ian Scoones, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Lead photo credit: Ian Scoones

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Models for integrated resource assessment: biases and uncertainties

What are the most appropriate ways of understanding changes in natural resource change in rural areas, particularly in the context of climate change? How can we make use of data that is patchy and uncertain? How can models help decision-making about future management?

These questions are at the heart of three recently published journal articles on Zimbabwe. The three papers focus respectively on climate impacts on livestock feed (in Nkayi), land use intensity patterns (in Wedza) and the prevalence of grass fires (in Mazowe). What connects them is the use of remotely-sensed data on land use with an integrated modelling approach, aimed at policy prescriptions for resource management.

This style of research on natural resource use has become more and more common in recent years, as increasingly detailed data derived from satellite systems has become freely available. Integrated assessment models, modelling everything from climate impacts to crop production to land-use to water scarcity, can be linked to geo-referenced spatial data and parameterised with field-based data collection.

As a style of inquiry, integrated modelling approaches have a number of advantages. Diverse data sources can be combined, and predictions made around key policy issues. But there are also problems – and, in different ways, these three papers illuminate some of them.

Five problems with integrated resource assessment modelling

First, models are always framed by assumptions around problems and solutions. Each of these studies adopts a particular stance, resulting in recommendations for interventions to address the highlighted problem. So, climate change results in feed gaps for livestock, which can be solved by ‘climate smart’ adaptation measures in Nkayi. High land use intensity – excessive extraction of primary production – means that ‘hot spots’ of land degradation ‘externalities’ can be identified for intervention measures in Wedza. Increasing fire frequencies are assumed to be universally a bad thing, not a necessary consequence land clearance or a reflection of natural cycles in savannah dynamics, as fuel load builds up. Instead, recommendations, including the deployment of fire teams, creating fire-breaks and developing monitoring systems, are put forward for Mazowe.

Second, the uncertainties embedded in complex models are legion, meaning that any predictions have to be heavily qualified. These papers all acknowledge important uncertainties. In the assessment of land use intensity against a baseline of net primary production in Wedza, these arise, for example, from problems of estimating primary production in the baseline case, especially below-ground. Linking biomass harvesting to specific areas when livestock move is also recognised as a source of uncertainty. In the analysis of climate impacts on fodder management options in Nkayi, the uncertainties surrounding climate predictions across scenarios is acknowledged, and the model in turn is developed with parameters that are constrained within a ‘reasonable range of uncertainty’. Yet, by the end of the papers, important uncertainties are seemingly put aside in the desire to reach a definitive conclusion for the way forward. The apparent need for prediction, directions for ‘decision-making’ and control-oriented intervention are all-consuming.

Third, the style of argument too often leads to a closing down of discussion of more diverse options. All three papers are structured in the standard way of scientific papers, with propositions tested according to a set of methods, leading to results and conclusions. In the methods section, the qualifications, imperfections and uncertainties are duly noted. But, by the time the results are presented, around a particular quantitative model, such difficult issues are quietly put to the background. By the time of the conclusions, they have all but disappeared, and much stronger causal, predictive statements offer a definitive way forward, frequently hinted at by the original framing. For example, a model of land use intensity Wedza, focused on the extraction of net primary productivity, inevitably side-steps questions of how landscapes are understood, and how future resource use is seen by different groups of people. The social and political dynamics of change are not part of the storyline, despite the attempt to link resource use with different wealth groups.

Fourth, models are only models – simplified ways of thinking about the world – and they certainly can be helpful in thinking through options. But sometimes the assumptions just don’t make sense. Models to have any purchase need some ground-truthing, and some stress-testing with reality. The paper on grass fires shows clearly that there are no statistically significant differences across tenure types in fire frequency and extent. In other words, land reform farmers cannot be blamed, but without field based data, the paper is unable to explain the patterns, and instead uses a model that extrapolates future patterns from the past. In respect of fire, this is rather unlikely – fires due to land clearing will decline as farms and fields are established, while hunting will decline as game animal populations are eliminated. As a result, the regression-based models become detached from likely future realities. Instead, the regressions play a political role: by extrapolating increases in fires, they justify a set of externally-defined interventions.

Finally, the rush to a definitive recommendation for policy too often results in missing out on complex system dynamics, histories and contexts. The paper in this trio on livestock fodder systems, for example, assumes that the ‘feed gap’ will be filled by improved fodder quantity and quality, including the growing of fodder crops and the application of fertiliser to crops to improve stover. And this in dryland Nkayi? Surely not. The paper acknowledges that past attempts at improved fodder management have consistently failed, but does not probe why in the rush to provide an intervention-friendly recommendation aligned with a ‘climate-smart’ intervention narrative.

Styles of science: how to broaden out inquiry and open up debate

All three of these papers make important arguments and present significant data. They all have been peer-reviewed in respectable journals (Agricultural Systems, Ecological Economics and Geocarto International). The data is (mostly) of high quality, the models are consistent (if problematic) and the arguments are clearly made (although open to challenge). But reading these (and these are only exemplars of many, many others, perhaps rather unfairly singled out), the five wider concerns raised above kept coming back.

It makes me uneasy when a style of science closes down debate. Uncertainties are not embraced and alternative interpretations are not given space. An assumption that the end-point must be a science-based ‘smart’ intervention means other possibilities – more social, political for example – are not countenanced. This is less a critique of the particular methods and models, but more the style of policy-oriented science, centred on integrated assessment modelling, now central to a huge industry of ‘global change’ research.

What might an alternative approach look like? Modelling that takes uncertainty seriously would not close down to definitive solutions, but would aim to open debates up. Models that are interrogated with deep, field-based data, thus triangulating between modelling approaches, result in greater robustness and wider interpretation. When reading the papers, I had to ask: are there alternatives to new fodder regimes and crop fertilisation to address the consequences of climate change on livestock production in Nkayi? Of course there are! Does fire management have to be focused always on fire prevention; are fires always bad? Of course not! But such alternatives were not debated.

Suggesting diverse, alternative options for the future – different interpretations and solutions from an open approach to data, evidence and integrated assessment modelling – allows for an engaged, inevitably political debate, about what makes sense for whom. This would make for papers that are less neat, but perhaps ultimately more useful.

This is the fourth of a short series of blogs profiling recent papers on Zimbabwe.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Photo credit: Ian Scoones

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