Young people, land and agriculture in Zimbabwe: big challenges ahead

A new paper based on our work with young people in post-land land reform resettlement areas is out in the journal, Review of African Political Economy. You can read it in full here. It’s part of a great special issue on Zimbabwe edited by Grasian Mkodzongi and Peter Lawrence, which is well worth looking at.

While there has been an explosion of interest in the role of young people in rural development, most recently through a much-publicised (and mostly rather good) IFAD report, policy recommendations tend to focus on the economic opportunity questions, not the complex, practical, lived, emotional realities of young people in challenging environments. Our paper attempted to open these up, especially through learning from young people’s own testimonies.

The paper is based on research carried out in Mvurwi area in Mazowe district, north of Harare and Masvingo district in the southeast of the country. The data are based on a cohort study of 183 young people aged between 20 and 31 in 2016, and so aged between four and 15 at land reform. The study is based on a survey of all indivduals, plus 31 randomly-selected in-depth biographical interviews. These are all children of the settlers whose fortunes we have been following over many years now, as part of our long-term tracking studies on livelihoods after land reform. This allows the study of young people to be set in context, both of land reform challenges and wider generational shifts.

These are two very different areas in terms of livelihood opportunities, but there were similar findings reflecting the challenges of generational transfer in resettlement areas. Many young people were in a period of ‘waithood’ – neither dependent children or independent adults. Precarious, stressful lives were evident among many, and income-earning opportunities were temporary and fragile. Many saw small-scale, intensive irrigated agriculture as the best option, and some were able to address the major challenges of social reproduction, and begin a path of accumulation. This however was dependent on access to land, and some resources to get started.

The findings challenge some of the assumptions presented in standard narratives about young people and agriculture. Those in our sample were not the lazy, indolent, unemployed youth of some characterisations uninterested in the toil of agriculture, nor were they necessarily the entrepreneurial whizz-kids of a new tech-savvy generation who were going to change everything. Instead they were young people struggling, waiting and living emotionally-stressful, tough lives, but trying their best – through education to get more stable jobs outside the area or investing in production at home, often in alliance with their parents, who were able to provide small parcels of land or a leg-up with a new venture.

The context in Zimbabwe is of course peculiar with the sustained collapse of the wider economy, combined with opportunities for land-based income earning provided by the land reform. This means that irrigated agriculture above all other options provides the best option, for both men and women in both the wetter and more dryland sites. This is certainly practising a different type of agriculture to their parents’, and it often involves more use of technologies and entrepreneurial networks, as pumps and pipes are bought and markets for vegetables grown are found, but it allows for young people to commit to rural life and production in ways not seen in other countries, as this case shows:

‘Having realized the disaster ahead in my life [working in South Africa], I decided to go back home to do farming. In 2010 I got married and am now blessed with two children. I am now a full-time farmer doing market gardening alongside my father. I started with 0.1 ha, given by a relative, and I worked together with my father, in 2015 one ha was allocated by the village head, and I have a 5.5 HP pump, and can work independently. I grow cabbages, tomatoes and green mealies all year round and sell in Masvingo. I hire a motor car from one of the local farmers. I also have one hectare dryland plot, given by my father in 2011. I saw the possibilities of farming in South Africa [when employed as a farmworker]. There’s plenty of land, good soils and water here, but when you don’t irrigate, the crops get burned and fail.’

This does not mean that all is rosy. Far from it. Striking in the interviews we undertook across the sites, was the sense of boredom, despair and depression. This is combined with a tangible frustration – personal and political – with the current situation, and the failure of the state (and so the ruling party) to provide for the next generation. The real difficulties and dangers of precarious work – in for example illegal mines or moving across borders as illegal migrants – were evident too. And this took its toll, not only in criminalising young people desperate to make an income, but as several admitted, this also led to drug and alcohol abuse, often in ways that shocked them personally, as the following testimony shows:

‘I was born at Mushagashe in 1989, and did primary school here. In 2004, I slipped out of the country to South Africa as an illegal immigrant. I had no documents. I evaded the police and border control as I went through the notorious Limpopo river. We were five, and fortunately we all survived the jaws of the crocodiles in the river. I stayed in South Africa for six months, and did piece work on the farms. Hunger was a menace as I survived on handouts from fellow Zimbabweans who were employed. I then decided to go back to Zimbabwe and I helped my parents for two years doing all the farming activities. Thereafter I again tried my luck to find a job. I went to Chiadzwa diamond mine in Manicaland and later Shurugwi to do gold panning. I also worked in Nema mine near Bulawayo. This involved processing mine dumps, but there were disputes and the place was closed down. In many ways, life was rosy as I could manage to buy what I wanted. However, I encountered a lot of fighting with fellow gold panners. The police troubled us, always locking us up. I was later engaged in some vices that were against my religion like beer drinking’.

Gender differences in young people’s experiences are striking too. Women may seek to marry earlier, in the hope of gaining opportunities beyond the family of birth, although with access to land in the resettlements there is a rising pattern of men moving to the wife’s home if land is available. Alternatively, if parents have the funds, continuing in education as part of a seemingly endless cycle of exam retakes is common for young women, combined with support for domestic and farming work at home. The hope is for sufficient qualifications even for the most menial of jobs, even though so few are available. Today in the informal economy, labour for both women and men is about work not employment, getting enough through a variety of activities, rather than ever having a stable job.

Part of the frustrating period of ‘waithood’ for men is waiting to establish a home and family. Delays in marriage for men are common, with children being born later. This has an impact on men’s conceptions of masculinity, as several informants relayed in different ways. This shift in the demographic cycle is in part because of the precarity of informal work available off-farm. As the case above shows, this is not a life where bringing up a family is feasible. This is why many men reflected that coming ‘home’ to farm, or develop ‘projects’, was the best option, as the first case showed.

While the land reform has provided opportunities for a generation that got the land, the next generation is struggling. Small opportunities exist, and sub-division of original allocations is ongoing. But the inter-generational challenge of land reform has not been addressed. As argued on this blog many times, redistribution of land is just one step, but in Zimbabwe there has been an abject failure to formulate a wider strategy for agrarian reform that includes support for the longer-term, and for the next generation.

Our research has exposed this challenge, but also pointed to some ways forward rooted in the lived realities of young people. As the paper argues, a focus on young people, land and agriculture is a vital area for policy and development for the future.

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

 

 

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Robert Mugabe: a complex legacy

Robert Mugabe died on September 6th in Singapore after a long illness, and the press has been full of commentary about his legacy. There is a deep fascination with him in the UK. Despite the drama of Brexit, his death was top news across the papers and TV channels. I was taken aback  when I saw his image on a massive news screen at King’s Cross station in London announcing his death. Once feted by the Queen, now almost universally reviled, what is it about the dramatic tragedy in the narrative of a transition from ‘hero’ to ‘villain’ that so captivates people, but also blinds us to the complexities of history?

This complexity, and the importance of a deeper history, comes across in some of the better reflections on his death. There is much that’s already been written, but there are a few articles that have stood out for me. The piece ‘Mugabe: a man of more than one story’, for example, highlights the multiple threads of a complex narrative, as does Alex Magaisa’s BSR piece, which urges us not to forget the victims of Mugabe’s regime. Perhaps surprisingly, but like many Zimbabweans of his age, Tendai Biti, once tortured by the regime, says ‘I don’t feel bitterness. I feel indebtedness’. The missed opportunities of the liberation are reflected on in many pieces, including by Fadzayi Mahere, who argues that he ‘killed the freedoms he had worked so hard for’. Roger Southall, meanwhile, reflects on his legacy alongside other liberation party leaders in the region, pointing out that he is ‘as divisive in death as he was in life’. A typically quirky take comes from Percy Zvomuya focusing on deeper family backgrounds and historical contingencies in the piece, Robert Mugabe: the leader who shouldn’t have been. And my favourite of all is the 2017 article by Everjoice Win, widely recirculated in the past days, which captured the moment around the ‘coup’, but seems even more apposite today, and reflects the feelings of many.

Why has Mugabe’s passing attracted so much attention, particularly internationally? Some while ago, Miles Tendi, a Zimbabwean scholar and professor at Oxford University, pointed to the roots of the media fascination with Mugabe in the UK:

“Mugabe is the British media’s bogeyman for everything that is wrong with Africa and one can never escape the naked reality that the fallout from ZANU-PF’s violent eviction of white farmers in Zimbabwe from 2000 onwards, many of whom were British descendants, continues to attract a disproportionate amount of international focus compared to other more severe crises…”

In a similar vein, back in 2008, the renowned Ugandan scholar, Mahmood Mamdani pointed out in his controversial essay for the London Review of Books:

“It is hard to think of a figure more reviled in the West than Robert Mugabe. Liberal and conservative commentators alike portray him as a brutal dictator…. There is no denying Mugabe’s authoritarianism, or his willingness to tolerate and even encourage the violent behaviour of his supporters…. [but this] gives us little sense of how Mugabe has managed to survive. For he has ruled not only by coercion but by consent, and his land reform measures, however harsh, have won him considerable popularity, not just in Zimbabwe but throughout southern Africa. In any case, the preoccupation with his character does little to illuminate the socio-historical issues involved”.

Mugabe’s death reminded me of the screening of Simon Bright’s film, Robert Mugabe… What Happened? at Sussex some years ago. An earlier blog observed that it is a powerful documentary, using fascinating archival footage, together with interviews with key figures in the opposition movement in Zimbabwe. It tells a sympathetic, historically-informed, but still highly critical, story about the man. With Mugabe gone, it is well worth watching again.

It is considerably more nuanced than much of the mainstream commentary that has emerged following his death. This typically follows the hero-to-villain storyline, often attached to the positive then evil influence of his two wives, Sally and Grace. Land reform in 2000 is often marked as the turning point, with the story of land reform being given the usual, misinformed gloss of disaster, turning Zimbabwe from ‘breadbasket to basket case’, the result of party cronies being given the land, and poorly qualified poor farmers making matters worse. I have largely ceased to engage with these narratives, coming from many who really should know much better by now, and I am not going to rehearse the argument again that these views are grossly misinformed here. There are now 360 blogs on Zimbabweland, and many more research articles besides, which together give a more nuanced story.

Too often in mainstream accounts, the role of the British in the Mugabe story is glossed over. Yet the British government’s complicity – for example in the silence about the massacres by the Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland in the 1980s – was significant. The failure of the British to push a more complete settlement at Lancaster House in 1979, and of course the diplomatic gaffe of the infamous ‘Clare Short letter’ in 1997, are all part of the picture. The resentments and hostility rose to a head in the late 1990s, as Mugabe and Blair locked horns. And, while commentaries are critical of white Rhodesia and Ian Smith’s UDI rule, they often do not explore the failure of a more complete reconciliation and integration of whites in the new Zimbabwe following Independence.

At our film screening panel discussion back in 2012, this was an issue tackled by Denis Norman, who served in Mugabe’s cabinet after Independence, and came from being the head of the white Commercial Farmers’ Union. He conceded that more could have been done back then, especially on land reform. There was an unwritten political contract between white farmers and the new state that whites could farm and make money, but not be involved in opposition politics, and land reform, despite the liberation war rhetoric, was parked. This fell apart with the launch of the MDC, and the support of white farmers of an opposition movement. The failure of the donor-brokered land conference in 1998 was a key moment, as no side was willing to compromise. The land invasions that followed were then perhaps inevitable.

As a number of the more sophisticated commentaries highlight, countering the hero-to-villain narrative means emphasising the continuities in the way politics have been played out in Zimbabwe since Independence, with Mugabe at the centre. A lack of tolerance of alternative views, violence and oppression have all been a consistent pattern, and stretch into the the pre-Independence period and the nationalist struggle (and indeed in particular the ‘struggles within the struggle’). A transition from militarised, violent liberation war struggle to peaceful, democratic governance did not happen.

It is not a question of seeing a golden age of the 1980s to contrast with the period since 2000. While there have been important changes, there are also repeated patterns. This is why the much-hailed 2017 ‘coup’ was doomed to failure, and perhaps no surprise that the Mnangagwa regime has seen much continuity, notably in violent repression of opposition forces. This is of course why a democratic transition, with a strong constitutional base, remains so critical; to shed once and for all this violent history.

In assessing Mugabe’s complex legacy, the positive legacies of massively improved education and health services for all in the 1980s and land redistribution to smallholders, especially post-2000, have to balanced against the persistent use of violence, gross economic mismanagement and the failure to develop a democratic state. As opposition politician, Tendai Biti, noted on his death, Mugabe was a ‘coalition of controversies’.

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

Photo credit: President of Zimbabwe Addresses UN General Assembly, 25 Sep 2009. UN Photo/Marco Castro. www.unmultimedia.org/photo/ via flickr)

 

 

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South Africa’s land report: Zimbabwe lessons?

South Africa’s land panel finally produced its report at the end of July. At 144 pages it’s an impressive document, making all the right noises. South Africa, like Zimbabwe, left the land issue for too long. 25 years after freedom, at least now a serious move is being made in South Africa. But will it make a difference?

The report documents the sorry tale of land reform in South Africa since 1994. The misuse of funds, the corruption, the inappropriate technical designs, the focus on a misplaced ideal of ‘commercial’ farming, and the lack of focus on redistribution, with restitution taking up so much effort. The lack of a capacity of government, and the paltry funds allocated, as well as the reliance on often poorly equipped consultants, are also pointed to. The hopeless state of land administration systems outside freehold private property is also highlighted, as most South Africans still have no formal recognition of their rights. The report makes it very clear that action on land reform is long overdue, and that the failures to date lie substantially at the door of the state and the ANC as the ruling party over this period.

Expropriation and redistribution: new and old debates

Much of the public and media debate has been about the mechanisms of expropriation, and in particular the recommendation that some redistribution should be without compensation. A couple of representatives of white commercial farming on the presidential panel did not sign up and issued an alternative report in protest. AgriSA and the usual suspects made a lot of fuss in the media on the report’s release. But, as many more level-headed commentators have noted, the debate about expropriation without compensation is a diversion. Expropriation was possible under existing rules; the issue was that the state had failed to act. The report recommends only ten circumstances where no compensation should be paid, including where land is not being used or being held for speculation. In other settings, compensation of different levels will be required. This makes complete sense.

Perhaps the most important element in the report in my view is the policy shift towards equity as a goal of land reform. Land reform is cast in its wider sense, as around justice as well as production, recognising the multiple social and economic roles of land in society. This is crucial. Leading from this is a recommendation for shifting the focus of land reform funding towards redistribution, and focusing on three groups: poor, smallholders, commercialising small-scale farmers and medium-scale commercial farmers. Only 10% of funds should be allocated to large-scale, black-owned commercial farming, the rest split between these three priority groups. This is a big, important shift, and could see meaningful land reform with a redistributive focus. Further, the report makes the case for substantial (at least half) allocations to women, and for a focus on urban/peri-urban land, a key issues for South Africa.

Adding to redistribution, restitution and land tenure reform, the report also recommends adding a fourth pillar to the land reform programme: land administration. Given the parlous state of land administration in South Africa, this is an important move, and will give rights to many marginalised people in ‘squatter’ settlements, as workers on farms, or farmers in the homelands. This will also provide an important route to assuring accountability, and insisting that the land reform programme is targeted properly. This will not be an easy undertaking, and must avoid a process of land privatisation, instead emphasising the allocation of rights, including communal rights to land.

There has been much bluster in the South African media and Twittersphere, since the report’s release, but for a good overview of the report’s findings, see this SABC interview from the brilliant Ruth Hall of PLAAS, one of the report authors, as well as some balanced commentaries in the South Africa press (for example here, here and here). International press coverage seems to have been muted, but, recalling its (mostly) appalling coverage of Zimbabwe, the BBC of course couldn’t resist the use of the words ‘land seizures’, even if qualified with ‘limited’!

Zimbabwe lessons?

What are lessons for and from Zimbabwe? Zimbabwe’s experience is not even mentioned in the report (even the bibliography, although it’s good that Mandi Rukuni is acknowledged as attending some meetings). This is rather surprising, given the lessons learned since 2000. Perhaps the fear of the Zimbabwe bogey-man being raised by opponents was the reason.

I think there are important lessons both ways, and regional neighbours really ought to collaborate on important issues like land. The equity focus has certainly been a central tenet of Zimbabwe’s land reform since 1980, but how to balance different interests, with different political clout remains a challenge. The importance of A1 resettlement in Zimbabwe is clear (encompassing the first two groups in the South African priorities) and the real potentials for providing food, employment and income, alongside welfare and support, are evident across the country. South Africans could learn a lot from the Zimbabwe experience for any new programme south of the Limpopo.

A lesson from Zimbabwe is that moving from land reform to wider agrarian reform is crucial – and this means changing the agrarian structure and with this the agrarian economy. This must be the ambition in South Africa, but through a more deliberate, slower process with less disruption. Redistributing land is only step, as the report recognises. However, Zimbabwe has so far failed to provide the post-settlement support that is required. This will be a big issue in South Africa, as, like Zimbabwe, technical capacities are not geared up to supporting this sort of farming.

The importance of medium-scale farms as a complement to the smallholder sector is also recognised in Zimbabwe, but again the tension between A1 and A2 farming has been an issue, and the failure to capitalise on the potential synergies between small and medium-scale farming as part of territorial development remains an issue. Redistribution of land in an area, seeking linkages and complementarities with on and off-farm based activity is vital, and remains a big unmet challenge for Zimbabwe, as I have long argued. Hopefully South Africa will think more strategically and invest for local economic development with land reform at the centre. These sort of practical, wider development questions are largely absent in the report, focused as it is on land, and in particular the legal ramifications of reform.

The highlighting of land administration is however a vitally important move in the South African report. Similar issues arise in Zimbabwe, as I have pointed out before. The dangers of aiming for comprehensive registration rather than a more flexible rights allocation is present too, and Zimbabwe and South Africa share the dilemmas, and long-inherited biases of the freehold tenure model.

So, yes, there are many important lessons for and from Zimbabwe. I hope the biases – even among progressives who should know more – about Zimbabwe that are deeply held in South Africa can be shed, and the region as a whole (including Namibia) can learn together about how to deal with the appalling inheritance of settler colonialism at last.

Beyond policy-speak to political action

What next? How to move beyond a well-argued report to action on the ground at scale? The report is full of legalistic proclamations and policy-speak in true South Africa style. Zimbabwe of course had many of these before 2000: well argued, costed, policy plans for reform. The faith in state action apparently remains in South Africa – perhaps surprising given the track-record. The report assumes implementation will follow forthcoming policy approval.

The report’s authors are not naïve, however. Many have struggled for action on land reform over decades. Everyone knows that political action – from diverse sources within and outside parliament – must follow. The big question will be: will the South African state, with pressure from big capital, international investment, influential ‘tribal’ leaders and political parties not committed to land reform, actually – at last – commits to land reform on the scale and with the support that is needed?

We will have to watch carefully as funds are allocated, and capacity built. It seems President Ramaphosa is committed, but he has also got other problems on his plate. There are plenty of routes to blocking progressive action, and civil society will have to be ready to put pressure to realise the vision of the report.

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

Photo credit: The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa flickr library: https://www.flickr.com/photos/presidencyza/47841232031/

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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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