Water, land and politics in southern Africa: remaking Mutirikwi

A great book is just out by Joost Fontein, now director of the British Institute in Eastern Africa. It’s called Remaking Mutirikwi: Landscape, Water and Belonging in Southern Zimbabwe, and is published by James Currey. It’s long and detailed, but important and fascinating (preview here).

It tells the story of Lake Mutirikwi (in southern Zimbabwe near Masvingo) and its surrounding areas, and its influence on landscape and livelihoods through its provision of water. Lake Kyle, as it was formerly called, was completed in 1960, and was part of an ambitious project to provide water for the lowveld for the expanding sugar estates, and a European recreation area around the lake. It served both capital and racial politics, and became a symbol of the European dream for Africa.

Kyle created an Europeanised landscape – removing people to the reserves, creating game parks, and providing irrigation, all through an impressive engineering feat. It tamed nature, created an European aesthetic, and offered white residents of Masvingo and beyond a playground for fishing, hunting, game viewing and more. But landscapes are never static – they have long histories, memories and echoes of past social relations and politics embedded within them. This is a key theme for the book: pasts anchor the present, layered landscapes with multiple meanings are generated and diverse (material) cultures of belonging are combined.

The book starts with 2005-06 and with the fast-track land reform. A sense of optimism and hope is seen in the lands surrounding the lake. Old gravesites have been reclaimed, sacred groves now honoured as part of newly peopled landscape. And with this old disputes and political competition between ‘traditional’ leadership groups rekindled. The land invasions are seen by many of Joost’s informants as a restitution of ancestral lands, and the important spirit mediums of the area – Mai Macharaga and Ambuya VaZarira – reconfirm this.

Starting with the present, then moving to the past and returning to the present at the end, offers an overall story of how landscapes’ characters are hybrid creations, ones that always carry the past with them. The story of the shifts from an ‘African’ landscape to ‘Europeanisation’ through colonialism then ‘Africanisation’ again following land reform shows how politics, belonging, and discursive constructions of landscape are ever shifting. There are frequent ruptures, as new landscape visions are imposed, but also, importantly, continuity, with the past always having an influence on the present.

The book is of course especially fascinating to me having worked in this area for a long time. While our sites, where we have tracked land reform outcomes since 2000, are on the other side of the lake to where the book focuses, the stories are very similar. The reigniting of chieftaincy disputes, as the book explains in some detail in Chapters 1 and 5, has certainly dominated local politics on the Masvingo borderlands with Gutu. Such ‘genealogical geographies’ provide an important historical backdrop to any study of contemporary land use, with what the historian Gerald Mazarire calls nineteenth century “principles of territoriality” revived in a new politics of land. What is nice about this book is that this is not ‘just’ history – based on archive based reconstructions – but very much rooted in the present, informed by fieldwork immersion, and written by someone who really knows the area well, having researched and indeed lived in the area for years.

In Chapter 6, the book takes a bigger, regional view of landscape, and looks at the hydropolitics associated with the provision of water to the sugar estates in the lowveld. This complements the earlier work by Will Wolmer, and provides a useful historical background to our work on sugar and land reform in Hippo Valley. As Joost explains in the conclusion, the experience of Muturikwi is being reflected in new ways with the Tokwe Mukorsi dam, with similar issues around displacement and resettlement, the removal of people from ancestral lands, graves and religious sites, and the creation of a new tourist-friendly lake environment.

At 340 pages, it’s a long and detailed book, sometimes with some rather heavy ‘academic’ language, and a quick review cannot do it justice. But the chapters are packed with fascinating stories and important data. Other chapters deal with spirit control of landscapes, and the intersection of the material and spirit world in negotiating use and creating belonging; the contested relationship between wildlife – including fish and hippos – and people; the legacies of the liberation war and the struggles over land that occurred both during and after the war. All with intriguing, sometimes gripping, stories contained within them. For understanding the complex cultural and political histories underlying land reform in southern Zimbabwe, this is a really important contribution. I hope Weaver Press will produce it in Zimbabwe, but if you can afford it, buy it now!

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


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

SDGs: Will they make a difference?

This week heads of state assemble in New York to launch the Sustainable Development Goals. The agreed text lays out 17 goals and 169 targets. It is an ambitious agenda for all of humanity.

But will they make any difference? We have had the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were launched with similar fanfare in 2000. These focused on ‘development’ and ‘poverty’, but were similarly high-sounding. Promoted heavily by Jeff Sachs, bed nets, vaccines and agricultural technologies were going to save the world. Big money from international donors and philanthropists came behind them, but did they make a difference?

I must confess I was a deep cynic in 2000. The ‘aid’ frame of the MDGs meant that implementation was subject to the usual top-down impositions, and there were many limitations, with the added burden of the target-oriented audit culture, and all the distortions this creates. Was aid going to be a saviour or just a sticking plaster, unable to address the real structural causes of poverty and inequality? Did the MDGs just reinforce a world order where underdevelopment was the consequence of capitalist power and control in some parts of the world? Maybe.

So what happened since 2000? There have been major changes in the world economy, and with this geopolitics. The old aid frame with western nations and rich philantrophists from the US setting the agenda has gone (or at least partially). The declines in aggregate poverty achieved since then were not largely the result of MDG interventions at all, but the growth of China (and also India, parts of Latin America and more recently some countries in Africa). These changes were not driven by goals and targets, or village pilot projects such as Sachs’ much criticised Millennium Villages, but by economic aspiration, capitalist expansion and growth.

But I must admit that my cynicism for the MDGs has waned over 15 years, and this gives me hope for the SDGs. There are a number of reasons.

Investment linked to MDG targets has in some places resulted in significant gains. Ethiopia was one country for example that took the MDGs seriously. The statistics are impressive. Child mortality is down by two-thirds from 1990, and various other targets – on women’s empowerment, nutrition and food insecurity – have been met. Yes, there have been distortions – sometimes a blind focus on a target, forgetting the wider picture – but the effect has been galvanising. A commitment to a new state-led developmentalism is especially apparent in Ethiopia, the inheritance of the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, but it’s evident elsewhere too. In a period when the neoliberal mantra has been the economic discipline, the retreat of the state and reliance on the private sector and voluntarism, the efforts of states like Ethiopia, committed in partnership with international donors to United Nations ambitions, is impressive.

Perhaps most importantly, the MDGs opened up a political space for a debate about development. The UNDP’s MDG ‘campaign’ was important in keeping a development agenda on the radar of governments around the world, and Salil Shetty was a great initial champion. These commitments were amplified, extended and supported of course by the major efforts of NGOs and civil society groups, around ‘Make Poverty History’, and other campaigns. Without such collective action and political pressure, the temptation to cut aid budgets in the face of the late 2000s financial crisis would have been even greater. The summits and grand UN meetings may have been performative circuses, but they have also provided a focus for advocacy and challenge. The politics of global summitry can be one where new ideas emerge, creating spaces for more radical alternatives. Moving beyond the target culture and shifting towards generating globally-agreed norms for policy and action – as has happened around human rights, women’s rights and the environment – is perhaps a more appropriate focus for advocacy, rather than getting hung up on all the goals and targets, while still keeping governments to account around key themes.

In a period of financial crisis, austerity, inward-facing nationalist politics and a geopolitics overtaken by the ‘war on terror’ post 9/11, the MDGs were in some way an important counter, offering a more internationalist vision of development, and a confirmation of the UN ideals. Fifteen years on, I have emerged with a somewhat less cynical view. But what of the SDGs? Might these offer the same? Just maybe.

If you read the document you will probably despair. It’s full of high-flown rhetoric and grandiose statements – most of which are rather meaningless hot air and grand gestures. Great fodder for the cynic. But I think if we (largely) forget the goals and targets (except as politically useful tools), and focus on the wider politics of the SDGs, we can see (perhaps) some radical potential. There are five things that might help assuage the cynic in me.

First, again, the launch this week, and the continued presence of the goals, agreed by all nations, opens up a political space, as the MDGs did in 2000. Like then, it will have to be followed up by an energetic campaign, and radical voices will need to enter the debates to keep governments on their toes. Today, the broader conditions for a new argument for development are even less promising than in 2000, so we need to catch the moment, and make the case.

Second, and this is emphasised repeatedly in the agreement document, the SDGs are universal – for all nations. This is not a ‘development’ document, with the unequal relations between ‘donor’ and ‘recipient’ inscribed. Instead, this is as relevant to the UK as it is to Zimbabwe, and accountabilities and commitments must work in all directions. This is an important departure from the MDGs that had the old (post-colonial) aid framework at the core. Recently the SDGs were discussed in the UK Parliament, but in the wrong committee. The SDGs are not just the concern of the International Development Committee but of all government. SDGs should be discussed under Home Affairs, as well as development.

Third, the explicit linking of sustainability and so environmental concerns, especially climate change, is vital. Long-term, sustainable development cannot forget this. The MDGs pigeon-holed environmental issues, and did not see them integral to all development. Bringing sustainability centre stage is crucial, as the world negotiates a future in the context of climate change. In terms of UN efforts, it also brings development (UNDP) closer to environment (UNEP), and so makes the connections that have been attempted repeatedly in Stockholm, Rio, Joburg and Rio again.

Fourth, what is needed here, along with the wider ‘campaign’ for sustainable development is what emerged from the 1992 Rio Summit on Environment and Development – a local level movement for sustainable development, based on practical change on the ground. Back then it was called Agenda 21. Remember that? Agenda 21 petered out and sustainable development became increasingly the domain of global summitry and COP events associated with climate change. But without practical enactments of sustainability, and a radical realisation of what it means in different places, the big ambitions will fall flat.

Fifth, a new developmentalism, linked to a universal commitment to an internationalised solution amongst the community of nations, gives the UN a pivotal role. As a new Secretary General is sought, I hope that whoever is appointed will keep these visions central and push member states to match their signing up to the SDGs with consistent financing and concerted action in line with the goals. This will not just mean carping at the failures of so-called developing nations, but will mean keeping developed nations to their word. As the UK imposes yet more austerity measures that affect poor people and ethnic minorities most harshly, at the same time as cutting support for transitions to green energy, will David Cameron, a great supporter of the SDGs, take note?

Green transformations involve politics, and require both high level goals, but most crucially organised collective action. As we discussed in the book The Politics of Green Transformations these may occur through a variety of processes, being led by technology and innovation, state intervention, market reforms or citizen actions. Lessons show that sustained transformations to sustainability require political coalitions between groups through mobilisation across sites and scales. If the SDGs are to have meaning it is this new politics that will make the difference, and not getting hung up on the many goals or targets.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Mujuru manifesto: Zimbabwe’s 2018 election battle gets going

Zimbabwe’s 2018 election battle started in earnest last week, with the publication of Joice Mujuru’s ‘manifesto’. Although her People First party has not yet been launched this is a clear signal that it will be soon. Amongst the new acronyms and the big promises, the important question is what alliances will be struck with whom, and whether this is the basis for a genuine opposition that can dislodge the hold of ZANU-PF.

Joice Mujuru was unceremoniously thrown out of ZANU-PF only at the end of last year by a faction led by Grace Mugabe, and closely linked to the current Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa. Once President Mugabe’s favoured successor her fall was rapid. Joice Mujuru was a ZANU-PF stalwart with a strong track record dating from her heroism in the liberation war, where she took the nom de guerre, Teurai Ropa (spill blood), reputedly gunning down a Rhodesian helicopter in a fierce battle. Before her fall, she was Vice President and a leading business person, taking over her husband’s empire after he died in mysterious circumstances in 2011. Solomon Mujuru, a general and also a war hero (known as Rex Nhongo and commander-in-chief of ZANLA), was a key figure in the post-independence political mix, but had fallen out with key members of ZANU-PF.

Since December, Joice Mujuru has bided her time. Along with her, a number of key members of her ‘gamatox’ faction were expelled too. Her team have also been discussing with the various factions of the split MDC opposition too, and the ‘manifesto’ is the result. Some in the MDC have cried foul and argued that it has been plagiarised, others are looking to new alliances that might bring the opposition together.

So beyond the new acronyms (BUILD – Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development; RAMP – Remove All Measurable Pitfalls and PEACE – Presidential Economic and Advisory Centre for Excellence), what does the short manifesto say? In many respects there is indeed not much to distinguish it from other offerings from other parties, including ZANU-PF. In his recent speech to parliament, Mugabe himself offered a ten-point plan for investment, inclusive growth, tackling corruption and so on that was barely different in key aspects. The government’s ZIMASSET programme offers an ambitious – some would say unrealistic – plan to do the same. And the MDC opposition’s own plans, and own acronym’s, of ART, JUICE and the rest are all very similar, and many opposition commentators have welcomed the new document. Everyone painfully realises that accountable institutions and new investment in the economy are the key.

But you have to look beyond the general statements to the more subtle emphases and associated mood music to get to the differences. Mai Mujuru’s manifesto, as Alex Magaisa points out, did not start with the classic ZANU-PF narrative centred on the liberation war. It’s mentioned, but not as the origin of all positions. The statement on ‘ideology’ covers all bases:

“We are national democrats, guided by the values of the liberation struggle, of self determination, self-dignity, self-pride, expressed through the adoption of market driven policies under a constitutional democracy, with the State acting as a facilitator and regulator to allow for a level playing field and provide equal opportunities for all.”

This moves beyond the ZANU-PF position of the nationalist state, but towards the more liberal version of a facilitating and regulating state, operating in the context of market-driven policies and the ‘rule of law’. There are important shifts on the discourse of being ‘indigenous’ that are significant too. Land in Zimbabwe is to be available for all those who call the country ‘home’, and the ‘indigenisation’ policies so favoured a few years back are to be relaxed to encourage investment. Of course all these are open to flexible interpretation, and a discourse of ‘home’ could be used to discriminate just as one of ‘indigeneity’.

The assertion of securing property rights and boosting investment has been interpreted by some as a swing to a ‘neo-liberal’ view, and away from a more nationalist perspective rooted in a developmental state argument. Certainly, the Mujuru faction has always been more ‘business friendly’ – they have plenty of businesses to protect and support after all – while the Mnangagwa group builds on the exposure to Chinese principles of development, with the hope that alliances with the East not the West will see Zimbabwe through (as yet unfulfilled, and with a shrinking possibility as China’s economy contracts). But these differences do not come out clearly in public positions or documents, and we have to look for more subtle inferences and indications to get a sense of underlying positions.

Some in ZANU-PF have accused the Mujuru manifesto of rejecting the land reform and proposing policies that will usher in a recolonization of land by whites. The Herald as the mouthpiece of the party is particularly shrill on this, as is Jonathan Moyo’s twitter feed. But I do not see this in the document. On land it is clear that the establishment of productive agriculture, based on secure tenure, is essential (the same as in Mugabe’s 10-point plan) and that paying compensation to those removed through land reform is crucial (as in the Constitution, and in current government policy – although of course only a small proportion has been paid and constitutionally this is only required for ‘improvements’ to the land). On land, Mujuru, just as the MDC claimed in their last election manifesto, seems committed to the land reform, but emphasises agriculture and productivity, as everyone else. Indeed, at face value, section 6 on land policy seems to have no differences with the current government position.

So it will be the interpretation and realisation of all these policies that will matter, not the documents themselves, as they are open to so much interpretive flexibility. This will depend on how alliances are struck, and who the constituency for any new political formation will be. These manoeuvres in the run-up to 2018 will be vital. ZANU-PF has maintained a constituency that includes large portions of the rural poor, alongside many of the new beneficiaries of the land reform. The MDC opposition parties failed to mobilise these groups, and did not offer a convincing stance on land and rural development, and instead relied on the traditional base of disaffected urban populations, and workers. For a range of reasons – including vote rigging, intimidation but also a failure to engage with rural issues – the opposition failed in 2013, and has imploded since.

A key question is whether People First – or whatever a new party emerges as – can develop a narrative around land and rural development that earlier opposition groups failed to do, and in so doing create an unstoppable vote drawn from the traditional ZANU-PF base. I do not see this appeal to the aspirant rural population – particularly those in the A1 farms, and their natural allies in the communal areas – coming through as yet. The political-economic analysis of Zimbabwe’s dramatically changed rural scene remains very weak across all parties, but as I have argued before, there is an important constituency out there ready to be enlisted, who neither are attracted to ZANU-PF’s tired nationalist discourse, nor the ‘return to commercial farming’ position of the MDC. But instead they will seek to ally themselves with a progressive political voice that understands the consequences of radical land reform, and how this has provided opportunities for a significant number of new, relatively younger, educated and aspiring farmers, well linked to urban and other economic and political circuits.

There are two other factors that will play heavily into the 2018 electoral drama, and will be central to this complex alliance building. The first is regional and ethnic political affiliation. With Mnangagwa and Mujuru potentially pitched against each other, we can see the split among Shona groups becoming more significant, alongside the longstanding Shona/Ndebele divide. This is of course unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable as individuals seek support. Alliance making across such divisions will be crucial, and may require links to and between different MDC factions for a solid electoral bloc to be created. Secondly, of course are alliances with the security services, the securocracy as Ibbo Mandaza calls it. The MDC opposition were of course rejected by the securocrats, some publicly saying they would not serve under a Tsvangirai leadership. But there are divisions now within the military-security elite that play into the new splits within and beyond ZANU-PF. For now, President Mugabe has retained a core group with known affiliations to Mujuru, but there will no doubt be plenty of behind-the-scenes discussions of who will ally with whom in the coming period. Joice Mujuru has promised ‘security reform’ in her manifesto, and this will no doubt please the donors she is wooing, but ensuring a stable transition that brings the security elite with her will be paramount, and having been intimately wrapped up in this political-military establishment with ZANU-PF for so many years, she knows how dangerous and challenging this will be.

While the policy statements will remain bland and general, appealing to everyone and no one, it will be this backroom politics and complex alliance building that will occupy people, and fill the bars and newspaper columns with endless gossip and speculation for the next few years. Hopefully this process of building alliances for the future, from whatever party, will not just happen in elite business-security-political circles as is the default, but will remember the wider population – the electorate – whose trust and commitment has to be sought. The majority of the electorate remains poor and rural, but with a growing group of emergent aspirants who could, if given the chance, drive a new political consensus. It’s going to be a rocky ride, but clearly Zimbabwe’s politics in the next while is not going to be dull.

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


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Resource politics: living in the Anthropocene

This week we are hosting a major conference at the STEPS Centre at Sussex on resource politics. There are panels looking at everything from mining to wildlife to carbon to water, with big themes cross-cutting on: Scarcity, politics and securitization; Resource grabbing; Governance, elites, citizenship and democracy; Financialisation and markets; Growth, waste and consumption and Gender, race, class and sustainability

Why is this important? As resources become more contested and incorporated as part of a globalised economy, politics take on a new form. We have seen this in the land, water and green grabbing debates, which provide the backdrop to the conference. The resource grabbing debates have each raised important issues around who gains from what resources, and how resources are constructed, regulated and shared, as we discuss in our ‘narratives of scarcity’ paper that will be presented at the conference.

Also at the conference, we will be debating the much talked about concept of the Anthropecene, and the notion of ‘planetary boundaries’, with Johan Rockstrom and Melissa Leach taking the stage to present their perspectives. These ideas have put the politics of resources at the centre of the debate, and the controversy generated has not been seen since the discussions around the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth report.

Some argue that these concepts down-play politics, constructed as they are in the register of science. Yet at the same time, they also imply a top-down, authoritarian response, and particularly problematic form of undemocratic resource politics to ‘save the planet’ against impending doom. The return of Malthusian narratives of population catastrophe, ‘perfect storms’ and resource wars is significant but, as in previous renditions, problematic. Such rhetoric can easily be deployed to justify appropriation of resources, and imposition of rules, regulations and market mechanisms that hurt local livelihoods, but not the global capitalist system that generates the problems in the first place.

Others however suggest that the Anthropecene framing and the concept of planetary boundaries offers a more emancipatory vision, connecting not separating nature and humanity, and offering the opportunity for the negotiation of a new more symmetrical political bargain for the planet. This requires not rejecting the ideas but claiming them, and injecting them with a new form of democratic politics that simultaneously respects nature and its limits, as well as puts people, social justice, equity and livelihoods at the core. This doesn’t need an old politics of environmental summitry and global regulation, but, in the words of Chantal Mouffe, a vibrant agonistic politics, part of what Nancy Fraser terms a ‘triple movement’ – neither state protection nor market dominance.

So what do we mean by resource politics? If we understand resources to be not just ‘things’, but created, assembled and constructed in social and political worlds, then we must see resources and their politics as located within particular knowledge frames, and in contextualised political economies – of particular places, and involving certain people. A bit of carbon here, is different to a bit there – just as all resources – because of the social, market, cultural, political and other connections made. Resource scarcity, as Lyla Mehta argues, is inevitably constructed and relational. My scarcity may be the result of someone else’s abundance, and what I see as scarce may not be seen in the same way by others.

Resource politics is therefore about knowledge, about social and political relations and about contests over meaning and access. It is the agonistic hybrid politics of Chantal Mouffe, cutting across state, market and civic spaces, creating an emancipatory politics of transformation, as Andy Stirling argues. It is not therefore the formal, institutionalised politics of global agreements, elections and international relations – although of course all these spaces can become important sites for contest and radical politics, as Catherine Corson argues. As Nancy Peluso and Mike Watts explain in a great chapter in the excellent ‘keywords’ book, Critical Environmental Politics, understanding resource politics requires understanding regimes of accumulation (who gets what – the classic concerns of Marxist political economy), regimes of truth (who understands what in what frame – drawing in Foucauldian analyses of knowledge and power), and regimes of rule (who controls what through what form of governance – Gramsci’s concern with hegemony). Each of these regimes intersects of course, and together make up resource politics.

Understanding resource politics inevitably then requires a diversity of disciplines, connecting natural and social sciences, and importantly across the siloes of social science. At the conference we have people coming from development studies, geography, science and technology studies, international relations, security studies, social anthropology and sociology, politics and political economy, and many with backgrounds in biology, engineering, physics, psychology, information technology and so on. With this mix, the conversation becomes vibrant and challenging – just what we hope to encourage at the STEPS Centre.

If you want to learn more, check out the conference website where there will be papers, presentations and other material. After the conference there will be videos of key sessions, photos and a Storify commentary. If you want to catch the buzz live – starting in a few hours – then follow the conference on Twitter with the hashtag #resourcepol.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The water harvester, Zephaniah Phiri, has died

The famed ‘water harvester’ of Zvishavane, Zephaniah Phiri, has died aged 88. He was an inspiration to many, and certainly to me. When I was in my 20s he taught me so much about agricultural ecology and rural development – indeed far more than I ever learned from textbooks or university courses. And it has stayed with me as a source of knowledge and guidance. Since then I have always tried to visit him at his home at Msipane when in Zimbabwe, and it has always been a joy to see him and his family. Each time there have been new developments on his farm to share, as well as the usual gossip and stories. He was the true local innovator, always trying out new solutions and sharing them widely. It was wonderful to welcome him to our own home in the UK in 2001, and hear him challenge us about our own extravagant and wasteful water use. It is a terribly sad loss, but his legacy will live on in the huge influence he has had on agriculture and soil and water conversation in Zimbabwe – and indeed much further afield.

zimsept09 029Zephaniah Phiri, 2 February 1927 – 1 September 2015/Photo: Msipane, Sept 2009

Below is an edited extract from his ‘cv’, on the Muonde Trust website, compiled by Ken Wilson. The cv has many other links to videos, testimonies, reports and other research relating to Mr Phiri’s work. See also another Zimbabweland blog here. For a much more detailed account, largely in his own words, see Mary Witoshynsky’s, ‘The Water Harvester: The Inspired Life of Zephaniah Phiri’, published by Weaver.

“Mr. Phiri was educated at Dadaya Mission, for which his father, Amon Phiri (“Bvuma”) was a renowned evangelist who played a lead role under Sir Garfield Todd in the Church of Christ Mission after its Africanization in 1938. Mr. Phiri himself played a leadership role in the Church in the 1960s and 1970s, including in establishing Makiwa Church near his home.

Mr. Phiri’s early career as a fireman on the railways was cut short by his detention in the early 1960s at Gonakudzingwa for his union and other political activities. Following his release in the mid­‐1960s he was blacklisted from formal employment by the Rhodesian Front Government.

Forced to depend upon a small piece of poor land on the edge of a vlei near Msipane in the Runde Communal land, Mr. Phiri experimented with wells, ponds and other water management systems from the late 1960s until Independence. Arrested three times for “farming a waterway” the magistrate eventually demanded to see Mr. Phiri’s land, ultimately ruling against the Government’s L.D.O. (Land Development Officer) and granting Mr. Phiri resource rights to use his conservation farming in his wetland. In 1973 a more progressive L.D.O. brought local farmers to see his drought-­‐beating methods.

In 1973 Mr. Phiri opened his first pond. Ponds enabled holding more water in the vlei, without waterlogging the soils. As the Liberation War expanded he was again detained under house arrest by the Rhodesian authorities in 1976 and severely tortured. His tribulations continued until the end of war, with a long period in leg­‐irons. He never regained his hearing in one ear, but physiotherapy improved the use of his leg.

After Independence his farm became the focus of much interest by local farmer groups and NGOs. Mr. Phiri continued to increase water storage on the farm and to diversify his homestead production system with extensive orchards, including of mango and banana, the sale of reeds for basket making, the adoption of bees, and the development of indigenous permacultural techniques to improve soil and protect areas from run-­‐off.

From 1982-­1986 he served as a Community Liaison Officer for the Lutheran World Federation water programme in the Zvishavane and Mberengwa region. The focus was on protecting wells and on small concrete dams in seasonal streams. Working closely with the District Development Fund and local councillors this revolutionized water and sanitation in the area after Independence. Still active on his land he founded the Vulindhlebe Soil and Water Conservation Project in 1984 and helped many other local gardening groups.

From 1986 to 1988 Dr. K.B. Wilson invited him to join the research team of the University of London/University of Zimbabwe agricultural ecology study in Mazvihwa (Zvishavane) with Mr. Mathou Chakavanda, Mr. Johnson Madyakuseni, Dr. B.B. Mukamuri, Mr. Abraham Mawere Ndhlovu, Dr. Ian Scoones, and others. Mr. Phiri was responsible for action research around soil and water management and again in collaboration with DDF, he assisted Mazvihwans to sink wells, to build more small dams and to improve gardening. His studies also transformed the research team’s understanding of the hydrology of these watersheds and their wetlands.

[Dug out of my archives, a summary of the research projects from that time can be found here, and some excerpts from Mr Phiri’s notebooks, when he was investigating the potentials of water projects in Mazvihwa from 1987 or thereabouts are here].

Stimulated by the experiments with sand filtration using concrete rings, Mr. Phiri discovered in 1987 the concept of “Phiri pits” – holes in contour trenches where water accumulates designed to drive water infiltration deep into the soils up-­‐slope to feed down slope fields later in the season. During the 1980s and 1990s he placed Phiri pits across his land. Efforts to replicate this system were widespread in the region, the most well‐known being by Kuda Murwira and Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) in Chivi.

He founded the Zvishavane Water Project (ZWP) in 1988 and served as its Director until his retirement in 1996. One of the country’s first indigenous NGOs, ZWP secured support from many local and international donors and played a major role in Zvishavane and neighbouring districts with the provision of water for domestic and agricultural uses.

Meanwhile Mr. Phiri continued to receive 25­‐30 visitors a month to his farm. Based upon analysis of his Visitor’s Book, Mr. Phiri officially received close to 10,000 visitors over the last thirty years. These visitors included people from every Government Department, research station, university, district in Zimbabwe and thirty different NGOs; as well as people from 14 African countries and 9 other countries in Asia, Europe and North and South America. The visitors included thousands of farmers who came on their own or with local NGOs, and AGRITEX/AREX officers and spread his ideas, and especially his faith in farmer innovation and responsibility.

As he became more and more well known, he received international recognition through the Ashoka fellowship and National Geographic Society/Buffet Award for Leadership in African Conservation. Proposed at his Lifetime Achievement Award event in 2010, the Phiri Award for Farm & Food Innovators was launched under the chairmanship of Dr. Mandivamba Rukuni and other leading figures in the sustainable agriculture field in Zimbabwe to offer an annual award for indigenous innovation among Zimbabwean farmers. The first awards were presented in 2014, in Mr Phiri’s presence.


The award, the legacy of Zvishavane Water Projects and the work of the Muonde Trust, as well as his homestead in Msipane, will continue the lifetime work of Mr Phiri. He will be sorely missed by all of us, but his work lives on. A remarkable person, a remarkable life.

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








1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Land policy and governance: the launch of LEGEND

The first in a series of Land Policy Bulletins from a new DFID-supported programme – LEGEND – came out recently.

This is from the Bulletin:

“Land Enhancing Governance for Economic Development’ (LEGEND) is a new global DFID programme designed to mobilise knowledge and capacity for design and delivery of new country programmes, improve land governance as an essential and inclusive basis for economic development, and strengthen land and property rights at scale.

Through building policy coherence globally and stimulating innovation across civil society, private sector and sector at country and local levels, LEGEND aims to improve the quality and impact of land investments of all kinds so they contribute sustainably to growth while safeguarding rights and opportunities for poor people – rural and urban — especially women”.

This is an important departure for DFID. A decade or more ago, DFID was a leader on land and agriculture issues, but the move away from the productive sectors has meant a loss of capacity both within DFID and outside. In the last few years DFID has supported a number of efforts focused on land. Many of these are now part of the wider LEGEND umbrella – including CCSI’s Open Contracts, Landesa, The Land Portal and RRI and the Munden Project, as well as on-going land work within FAO and the World Bank – allowing more coordination and coherence to result.

Through the Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC), I am involved in a small way with LEGEND, together with Ruth Hall from PLAAS. We are contributing to the work of the Knowledge Alliance that supports LEGEND, led by ODI and involving IIED and NRI. Our inputs can draw on a substantial body of evidence and analysis through the FAC network (much of it funded until recently by DFID). This has included extensive research on the effects and consequences of the ‘land rush’ in Africa, including several conferences, and now a book from James Currey (more on this in a future blog – meanwhile you can get 25 per cent off if you quote code 15350 on the publisher’s website). We have also worked closely and helped launch the Land Deal Politics Initiative that has convened an important researcher-practitioner network globally. And we have published a wide range of journal articles, special issues and Working Papers and policy briefs on land issues in Africa.

In launching LEGEND, David Kennedy, DFID Director General, Economic Development, observed: “Changing the way in which we deal with land is critically important for growth and poverty eradication”. This will require in-depth analysis leading to practical solutions, and hopefully LEGEND can help deliver both. To date DFID’s approach has been framed (rather problematically in my view) by Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘golden thread’, which focuses particularly on private property rights driving growth. As anyone who has studied land and property in different parts of the world, this simplistic narrative, modelled on the arguments of Hernando de Soto, is insufficient. I hope LEGEND can bring a more sophisticated response to the debate about land governance, and think about land and investment beyond the large-scale to encourage a more rounded approach that allows for genuine ‘inclusive’ growth.

To keep updated on the work of LEGEND do sign up to the Bulletin, and look out for Evidence Updates, Analytical Papers, events, and a State of the Debate report each year. The contact is: legend@odi.org.uk.

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


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Catch up on Zimbabweland

In case you haven’t been keeping up with all the posts on this blog, here’s a list of the top 20 in the past year in terms of numbers of views. I am away on holiday for a couple of weeks, but check in soon for more posts. And don’t forget to sign up for the weekly post to be sent to your email address. Or if it’s your thing, follow @ianscoones on Twitter for auto alerts. Thanks for reading. There’s now over 200 posts on the site, and in the last year there were nearly 50k views, on a huge array of topics.

1 Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector goes from ‘bread basket to basket case’? Or is it (again) a bit more complicated?
2 Policies for land, agriculture and rural development: some suggestions for Zimbabwe
3 Zimbabwe’s poultry industry: rapid recovery, but major challenges
4 Zimbabwe’s beef industry
5 What if Greece was in Africa?
6 Farming under contract
7 Abbatoirs and the Zimbabwe meat trade
8 Bill Gates discovers redistributive land reform
9 Greece and Africa: learning the lessons of structural adjustment
10 Rural cattle marketing in Zimbabwe
11 Zimbabwe’s new agricultural entrepreneurs I: pig production
12 Retail revolutions: the rise and rise of butcheries and informal food selling in Zimbabwe
13 Land tenure dilemmas in Zimbabwe
14 Why economists fail in Africa
15 Irrigating Zimbabwe: time for some new thinking
16 Tractors, power and development. Mechanising Zimbabwean agriculture
17 What role for large-scale commercial agriculture in post-land reform Zimbabwe: Africa’s experience of alternative models
18 Beef value chains in Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe
19 Class, politics and land reform in Zimbabwe
20 Zimbabwe’s gold rush: livelihoods for the poor or a patronage economy, or both?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized