Catch-up on Zimbabweland

Zimbabweland is taking a break for a few weeks, so it’ a good time to catch up on blogs published this year. The top 10 by downloads so far of blogs published in 2019 are listed below. The challenges for 2019 outlined in January remain as pertinent as ever, perhaps more so as the Zimbabwean economy continues to slump. This year there have also been a number of blogs that look at the bigger picture, including a commentary on the SDGs, the Chinese Belt and Road initiative and Boris Johnson’s premiership in the UK.

Our Zimbabwe research in the new resettlements has featured in several blogs, notably around our work on small-scale irrigation and mechanisation processes. Look out for more from September when the blog will feature a major series comparing the experience of the communal areas adjacent to our A1 resettlement study areas in Masvingo province. A few years on from our original research on this theme, this time our data show perhaps an even more stark disparity, with the A1 areas being relatively prosperous and the communal areas suffering. Anyway, more on this soon. Meanwhile my holiday job is to pore over the spreadsheets and make sense of a lot of data!

Sometime in the coming months the blog will also feature an important new special issue just out in the Review of African Political Economy, titled Agrarian change in Zimbabwe: where now? It has been a ridiculously long time in coming (such is the pace of journal publishing these days), but it’s worth the wait! It has great series of papers updating the agrarian reform story from a range of Zimbabwean researchers. It is opened by an editorial by Grasian Mkodzongi and Peter Lawrence that sets the scene.

We have a paper in the issue on the experiences of young people following land reform. Here is a link (if you don’t have a subscription, there are 50 copies here apparently – do share! And if they run out, do ask for a copy). Thinking ahead to what next after land reform very nearly 20 years on, the generational question is vital and one that is too little debated. Look out for a blog on the paper soon.

Top 10 of 2019, so far……

1.     Zimbabwe’s challenges for 2019
2.     Connecting the Sustainable Development Goals
3.     Why radical land reform is needed in the UK
4.     Is farmer-led irrigation driving a new ‘green revolution’?
5.     What are ‘appropriate technologies’? Pathways for mechanising African agriculture
6.     Zimbabwe’s fuel riots: why austerity economics and repression won’t solve the problem
7.     The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative: what’s in it for Africa?
8.     Can the technocratic reformers win in Zimbabwe?

9.     Boris as PM: it’s no laughing matter
10.  Models for integrated resource assessment: biases and uncertainties

And if this selection is not enough for your August reading, we have been developing another blog linked to the new project, PASTRES, focusing on pastoralism and uncertainty.  There are now 42 blogs on the PASTRES site, so do feel free to have a browse. And don’t forget to sign up to the blog (here) and our newsletter (here). Here are the top five most downloaded blogs to date:

1- The vegan craze: what does it mean for pastoralists?

2- Pastoralism under pressure in northern Kenya

3- Can pastoralists benefit from payments for ecosystem services?

4- Why killing reindeer is poor science

5- Youth moving to town: a major cause of uncertainty among the pastoralists of Isiolo, Kenya

Happy reading!

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Boris as PM: it’s no laughing matter

© 2019 – 2019 Zapiro (All Rights Reserved). Originally published in the Daily Maverick in 2019. Used with permission. More Zapiro cartoons at http://www.zapiro.com.

African leaders from across the continent have dutifully congratulated Boris Johnson on becoming the new British PM. This thanks to the votes of an ageing, white, male Conservative party membership of only 92,000 people. With an extreme right-wing cabinet, and the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, the UK is poised for a dangerous new era. As a Washington Post comment piece argues, it really is no laughing matter.

What is Africa making of it all? One of the most fulsome messages of congratulation came from President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe, combined with a fawning piece in the state-run Herald newspaper. Desperate to normalise relations and seek investment, the Zimbabwean government has struck on a journalistic piece by Johnson penned in 2015, which blamed Tony Blair for the mess Zimbabwe was in, the propping up of Mugabe and the failure to pay compensation to white farmers.

As ever with Johnson’s writing – and much of his political conduct to date – journalistic flourish comes before facts. As anyone reading this blog will know, the history of UK-Zimbabwe relations, especially over land, is much more complex. It may be however that, with the UK concerned about post Brexit trade (despite the bluster, very few deals have been signed) and Zimbabwe keen to be re-admitted to the Commonwealth and become accepted again by the international community, common cause will be found.

To the relief of many, Johnson did not abolish the Department for International Development, nor reinstate the disgraced Priti Patel as minister – although shockingly she got the much bigger Home Secretary post. That said, the department’s mandate will no doubt continue to shift towards promoting the fanciful idea of ‘Global Britain’, focused on promoting UK trade and investment through ‘aid’.

Maybe this will deliver the bilateral partnerships (and cash) that Mnangagwa so desires. But the Zimbabwean government should be wary. What will the terms be? Just as with dealings with the much more powerful (and rich) Chinese, negotiating aid relationships with strings attached is fraught with dangers. With the prospect of a Johnson premiership some years ago on this blog, I argued that we should all be ‘scared, very scared’. Well now it has come to pass, and scary times are upon us.

The ever-astute South African cartoonist Zapiro captured it well in the image above. Trump and Johnson seem to come from the same stock. George Monbiot calls them and their ilk, the ‘killer clowns’. Dangerous, below a thin veneer, and backed by oligarchs interested in making money out of the chaos created by the ruthless destruction of the administrative state. Buffoonery, overt racism, and an overwhelming sense of privilege (of different sorts), combine with a lack of attention to detail, and a proclivity to make up facts to suit the argument. But both are smart, wily and surrounded by clever, dangerous people – from Bannon to Cummings –  with radical political agendas to pursue.

The link to a wider form of authoritarian populism is clear in their respective political projects. Along with close links to oligarchic capital and big business, they see their political base rooted in disenchantment with metropolitan, ‘elite’ politics, which has emerged as a consequence of a politics of austerity and the failure of ‘progressive neoliberalism’. Unlike the traditional Left, right-wing populist politicians across the world – from Bolsanaro to Modi, Orban, Salvini, Duterte and Erdogan – have been able to mobilise this discontent effectively – despite its obvious contradictions. We can expect a UK election soon with a similar regressive, populist rhetoric.

This inward-looking nationalism has consequences for how international relations are viewed. Johnson, like Trump, has a dismissive, colonial, often racist, approach to Africa. His litany of comments is well known. He has argued that Africa (which he described as ‘that country’) would be better off if still colonised, arguing that “the problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more” and ‘‘The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty”. Meanwhile, he claimed that the Commonwealth is supported by the Queen “because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies”. There is a long catalogue that could have come from the mouth of a Victorian imperialist.

Some will dismiss such comments as flourish and frippery. I believe this is mistaken. These are not jokes; they are deeply offensive comments from someone who is the British PM. They reveal much about the current state of the Tory party and British politics. Zimbabwe – and Africa more broadly – should be worried. It certainly is no laughing matter.

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

 

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What are ‘appropriate technologies’? Pathways for mechanising African agriculture

Capital goods are essential for agriculture, whether for tillage, irrigation or threshing. Mechanisation of agriculture is therefore seen as a core aim for agricultural development, and is widely pushed as a route to increasing production and efficiency. But what scale of technology is appropriate? Where can farmers find the right sort of technology to meet their needs? Does trade in capital goods respond to market demands? Do aid projects help or hinder?

These are the sort of questions we have been puzzling over in Zimbabwe as we’ve been looking at the role of various types of capital goods used in agriculture in land reform areas. Capital goods range from large tractors to small pumps, and these are being used across farms of different sizes, from A1 resettlement farms, with typically under 5 hectares of cultivated land, to much larger A2 medium scale resettlement farms. Size matters, both of the technology but also of land areas and the scale of operation, but so also does capacity, flexibility, maintenance requirements and politics.

Tractors: the symbol of mechanisation

Tractors have always been the symbol of mechanisation in agriculture. From Soviet mass production under Stalin to aid projects across Africa. As a previous blog discussed, the promotion of tractors has a long history in Zimbabwe too. While there was a healthy trade in the large-scale commercial sector, with imports from different parts of the world, the record of tractor projects in the small-scale farming areas was dismal. But land reform from 2000 has changed the dynamic. The large-scale sector is much diminished, replaced by a mix of medium-scale A2 farms and a larger number of smaller A1 farms, where dynamics of ‘accumulation from below’ are evident. This has generated a new demand for tractors.

As part of a wider study on mechanisation and commercial agriculture in Africa under the APRA programme, new work from Mvurwi area, a high-potential tobacco growing area north of Harare, has shown how tractor use has been expanding. Despite various projects, including the Brazilian More Food International programme, much of this has been based on a private market. Official figures suggest that tractor numbers increased nearly six-fold between 2011 and 2017, mostly in the medium-scale farming areas, and predominantly through a second-hand market of machines originally imported for former large-scale farms. These figures may be an underestimate, however, as survey data show that in the small-scale A1 resettlement areas tractor hiring has increased significantly, as tobacco successful small-scale farmers invest in tractors and hire them out.

The Brazilian tractor cooperatives have contributed to this, but are only a very partial element of a bigger story. Large four-wheel tractors are expensive items and only some are able to buy them, even when old, battered and repaired for a second-hand market. Collective ownership through the Brazilian coops potentially open access to others, but the politics of coops are notorious, and the ones in Mvurwi have become embroiled in turf-wars over control, with coop leaders fending off attempts at political capture by party officials. Tractors of course are always political.,

Tractors in Mvurwi these days are therefore a mix of very old machines imported several decades ago (usually ancient Massey Ferguson and John Deere models), and more recent Chinese models (imported in the flurry of investment under the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe programmes of the mid-2000s) and a few new Brazilian models (as in the picture above). Perhaps surprisingly, it is the older ones that are the most common and the most likely to continue to function, as there are both the skills to mend them, and a (declining) second-hand spares market. For any mechanisation programme, the ability to repair and reconstruct is essential, and often forgotten in the eagerness to bring in new, shiny machines that support a domestic industry (in China, Brazil, Belarus, India, Iran or wherever) through an aid programme.

Small-scale pumps: opportunities for farmer-led irrigation

The tractor story contrasts with that of small-scale irrigation pumps, which have expanded massively in recent years across the new resettlement areas. As discussed in a recent paper, focused on sites in Masvingo, small, cheap, Chinese-made pumps, together with flexible plastic piping, have transformed the capacity for farmer-led irrigation in a dramatic fashion. This process has largely been ignored by policy-makers and aid agencies alike.

The process is being driven by an agile private market, involving a network of players that link importers with retailers with a growing cottage industry in repairs. Gone are the days when you could only buy a pump set if you were seriously rich or the beneficiary of an NGO project in a ‘group garden’. Costing only US$250, virtually anyone can get one, and start irrigating from rivers, streams, dams and vlei ponds. This has expanded the opportunities to many, including young people without land. The onward links to horticultural markets and processing opportunities in turn all generate employment and local economic growth.

It is both the characteristic of the technology (small, mobile, flexible etc.), but also the market context, that allows small-scale pump irrigation to thrive, and makes the technology ‘appropriate’. Upgrading and scaling up is possible too. Some choose to buy more small pumps to maintain flexibility, while others buy larger, fixed pumps and dig boreholes to expand irrigation.

There are therefore many pathways of innovation and mechanisation. These must suit different people’s social and economic conditions, as access to cash, technology, land and labour is managed together. Appropriate technologies are always socio-technologies, with technical, social and political lives intimately linked.

Rethinking agricultural mechanisation policy

Mechanisation of agriculture is occurring apace in Zimbabwe, but not as the planners would wish it. The irrigation engineers remain sceptical about the small-scale pump revolution, fixated as they often are with ordered, regularised irrigation schemes with fixed, large-scale pump technologies. Meanwhile, the engineers in the mechanisation departments dream of bigger tractors, with more horsepower and linked to drillers, seeders, combines and the rest, in order to create a vision of commercial agriculture derived from the textbooks. Aid programmes, such as the Brazilian coops, often replicate such visions, as technicians import a perspective from their own context of what ‘tropical technology’ should be, without thinking about need and context.

However, under the noses of the technicians and planners things are happening. These are largely private ‘below-the-radar’ initiatives, linked to locally-embedded markets, and with entrepreneurship not only linked to supplying the kit, but also adapting, maintaining and repairing it. For tractors, the second-hand market is thriving allowing more timely tillage of larger areas, and with small-scale pumps, the cheap, flexible sets have transformed irrigation.

But there are limits. As the stock of tractors, and particularly spares, declines, there are challenges in meeting demand. Hiring businesses, including via cooperatives, are an alternative, and particularly important for small-scale production, where owning a large tractor just for yourself doesn’t make much sense. This is why the connections between A2 and A1 areas is important, and such coordination requires facilitation. For pumps, the semi-disposable pump sets are ideal for starting up, but upgrading is a big step, and borehole drilling remains very costly. Issues of ground and surface water access and management for sustainable use of course become important as pump use expands.

In the wider technological landscape there are gaps too. Two-wheeled tractors, for example, for use on small plots might have an advantage for some, while intermediate level pumps and cheaper drilling options may help upgrading. Investments in linking hiring options through online applications have emerged in some places, while support for training in repairing diverse types of equipment may encourage local businesses. With a better idea of the nature of what ‘appropriate technology’ means a role for coordination and facilitation by state or NGO players emerges, including encouraging south-south trade in capital goods.

Silent, hidden green revolutions

Despite the narrative of state-led, directed innovation and mechanisation, agricultural green revolutions rarely happen in this way. Much more common is a flexible bricolage of initiatives that emerge, based on pulling together options that fit. As Steve Biggs and Scott Justice argue for the Asian experience:

“In regions where smaller-scale mechanization has taken place, there has also been a growth of rural industries and strong linkages with the broader national economy. Whether by design or not, it appears that markedly different patterns of smaller-scale rural mechanization over time have led not only to agricultural production increases but also to broad-based rural and economic development…. It is our hope that there will be increasing interest in the “silent and hidden” revolutions of the spread of smaller-scale equipment and that broad-based rural development, such as worthwhile rural employment and careful and intensive use of water and energy sources, will again become important goals of economic development. There is now empirical evidence on a grand scale that shows it can be done”.

This empirical evidence is emerging in Zimbabwe too, and a wider recognition, along with selective coordination and facilitation by state and aid players, is essential if Zimbabwe’s agriculture is to transform in the post-land reform setting.

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

 

 

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Responding to uncertainty: who are the experts?

Uncertainties are everywhere, part of life. But how to respond? Who are the experts? These are questions that we are debating this week at an ESRC STEPS Centre symposium. But they are also questions very pertinent to daily life in Zimbabwe, as elsewhere in the world.

Everyday uncertainties

For example, last week in Zimbabwe, a new currency arrangement was announced overnight. The multi-currency regime disappeared and all monetary transactions within the country had to take place in the Zimbabwe dollar. No-one expected this to happen so suddenly.

This year too farmers have confronted uncertainties in their farming practices, with a widespread drought. An El Nino event was predicted, but what impact this would have, where on cropping and livestock production was unknown. Farmers and herders have had to adapt and innovate.

Many of those who received plots as part of the land reform after 2000 are still awaiting confirmation of the status of their holdings. Offer letters have been issued by multiple authorities and sometimes to different people. Many with medium-scale A2 farms were promised leases, but their issuing has been painfully slow. Securing finance has therefore become very uncertain.

Agricultural markets have always been uncertain, as prices vary with both local and global supply and demand. But selling tobacco, for example, has become more tricky today. Contracting arrangements are fragile, and auction sales are subject to all sorts of mediation making prices unclear. Even getting your crop to the sales floors can be subject to uncertainties, as police extract bribes at roadblocks.

In the past two decades, the economy as a whole has been informalised. Secure, stable jobs are rare. Instead, many must make a living in a highly precarious setting. The kukiya-kiya economy – improvising and making do – is the norm. This provides opportunities, but also challenges. Traders in an urban setting selling vegetables can have their businesses closed down at a stroke, as some ‘planning’ law is invoked by the local state. This has devastating consequences for traders, and their farmer suppliers.

Improvised responses, remembered pasts

These are just some examples; there are many more. Zimbabweans have become experts at responding to uncertainty. The old certainties of the past, based on stable, agreed plans, rules and regulations have gone. Informality means that transactions across numerous players have expanded.

And, added to this, people must respond to the wider global challenges of climate change, disease outbreak and volatility in financial markets, for example. Layered uncertainties intersect in an increasingly complex setting. Improvisation, experimentation, adaptation, negotiation are the watchwords in the performance of responding to intersecting uncertainties.

This can generate anxiety and stress. Confronting these challenges is not easy when you are having to make a living. Life depends on navigating a whole array of uncertainties. Coping takes many forms. When formal systems don’t exist or are not trusted, gossip, rumour and informal networks become important. Who knows what the parallel market rate is? Where is the best place to market a product? What time of day or night is it safe to travel on the road and avoid costly extortion? All these questions are regularly asked by Zimbabwe farmers (and others), with responses exchanged via Whatsapp. When the stresses of responding to uncertainty increase, humour is a good release. Jokes, stories, satire and songs are all very Zimbabwean outlets.

Some dream of the past, conjuring up a vision of when things were all apparently OK. Some even refer back to the colonial past when order and stability were features. Back then, so the narratives go, you knew where you stood; the system worked; a contract meant a firm agreement; the local currency was strong. Of course, nostalgic memories of the past are part of how the challenges of today are coped with too.

Yet, these constructed pasts of course don’t reflect the reality. Stability and order were created in favour of a certain elite and arbitrary intervention – removal of land, arrest for dissent, forcing of conservation measures on agricultural land and so on – were part of this regime of control. The past is not the answer to the future, even when the present is especially challenging.

Uncertainty: a sign of the times

It’s not only Zimbabweans who must confront the challenges of the new contexts of turbulence, complexity and uncertainty. This is a global phenomenon as the old systems fail to contain and control. Whether it’s climate chaos, the collapse of financial systems, mass migrations, epidemic disease outbreaks or the unravelling of political settlements, uncertainties are everywhere. And the old systems of control and order – what James Scott called ‘seeing like a state’ – no longer function. Our institutions are not geared up to respond to complexity and uncertainty of the sort seen today. They are failing on all fronts, and new alternatives are needed.

This is the topic of the symposium this week organised by the ESRC STEPS Centre at Sussex, which I co-direct. With participants examining everything from crime to volcanoes, we are aiming to unpack the politics of uncertainty, and explore the implications. I don’t think we will nail it in two days, but the event has attracted much interest from very diverse fields. We have participants focusing on finance and insurance, as well as disaster risk management and disease preparedness. Others have been researching new technologies – from driverless cars to CRISPR genetic tech – while others are concerned with global migration and expanding cities.

A central feature of these discussions is the distinction between uncertainty (where we don’t know the likelihoods of outcomes) and risk (where likelihoods are known, or can reliably be estimated). This is important, because how you respond must differ. With risk, clear control-based management is possible. Models, designs and plans all provide support for a rational, directed response. With uncertainty, you cannot predict, and different responses must follow. As Andy Stirling – the other co-director of the Centre – points out in this short video, there are other dimensions of incertitude too; and taking these seriously is essential.

In advance of the symposium – and as part of the background work for our PASTRES project on pastoralism and uncertainty – I produced a (rather long and quite dense) working paper called ‘What is Uncertainty and Why does it Matter?’. You can read it here. It is an attempt to grapple with the vast literature on risk and uncertainty. You can judge for yourself whether I was successful; it wasn’t an easy task!

Taking uncertainty seriously, I argue, is essential for addressing complexity, turbulence and contexts where knowledge about what the future holds are unclear. But this also requires a radical rethinking of how we go about everything from technological assessment to disaster preparedness to infrastructure design to the management of financial and market networks. In other words, it means a fundamental rethinking of what we once thought of as ‘development’.

This is a rather big, perhaps overambitious, argument, but I think it’s important. I was lucky enough to be invited to Copenhagen University recently to receive this year’s Ester Boserup prize for development research. I was very pleased to accept, especially as I am a big fan of Ester Boserup’s work, as it was always thoroughly empirically-based, challenging of conventional wisdoms and radically interdisciplinary, and often not accepted by the mainstream. My talk (35 min talk in video also below) tried to lay out these arguments, of why embracing uncertainty means a radical rethinking of development.

Who are the real experts?

The uncertainty working paper and the Copenhagen talk lay out the bigger arguments, but we must recognise that there are those, by both necessity and choice, who are already living with and off uncertainty, from whom we can learn.

This includes the pastoralists we are researching with in Amdo Tibet in China, southern Ethiopia, western India, northern Kenya, Sardinia and southern Tunisia as part of the PASTRES project, who have for millennia have made a living in highly variable environments.

Zimbabweans too are experts in uncertainty – perhaps especially so, given the turbulence of the political and economic setting over the past two decades. Zimbabweans have been learning the skills and aptitudes, and managing the stress and anxiety, that an uncertain world requires.

Nostalgic dreaming of an imagined past is not the answer, but inventing new practices and institutions that make the informal, networked, volatile, uncertain world possible – less a source of stress and anxiety, but supported and facilitated – is a crucial challenge for us all.

The experts who can radically transform both thinking and practice in development must therefore include Zimbabwe’s farmers and traders, along with pastoralists, front-line health officials dealing with disease outbreaks, brokers in complex, volatile, financial markets, and reliability professionals in critical infrastructures – and the many, many others. All of whom, in different, dispersed ways, are inventing a future (in ways as yet often unrecognised) that matches the huge challenge of uncertainty.

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

 

 

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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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