Innovation in the pandemic: an update from Zimbabwe

I  had the latest long discussion on responses to COVID-19 in our rural study areas across the country on 5 September. Check out the earlier updates from 27 July, 15 June and 27 April The pandemic continues to take a hold in Zimbabwe, and the case numbers are rising (total 6837 reported cases and 206 deaths on September 4), although the rapidity and extent of spread is not as feared – so far at least. As one of my colleagues put it, “we are still the survivors of COVID-19”. That said, the impact of the lockdown measures is far-reaching, but since it’s now gone on for so long, people are (by necessity) adapting, and finding new ways of responding. What was striking about this conversation was the array of innovations happening.

Rural and urban connections

The relationship between town and countryside has been transformed by the lockdown measures. In the past there were frequent visits between rural and urban homes, with people being able to respond immediately to a crisis or just go and visit for a weekend. Now movement requires an exemption letter issued by the police. “You very frequently have to lie”, one of our colleagues noted, “saying you have a sick relative or that there is a funeral; otherwise permission is not granted”. The comedian VaMayaya captured it well in a recent video. The inconvenience and hassle is evident, as villagers try and bluff their way past the police officer.

The restrictions have a big impact when flows of agricultural labour are curtailed. For example, in our sugar-growing site in Hippo Valley, it’s cane cutting season and usually migrant labourers come for short periods, but this year they either haven’t come or they are failing to get back home, causing tensions and family disputes. The lack of labour is also pushing up hiring costs for producers and the resettled farmers are now competing with the estate. Fortunately more resettlement A2 farmers are on their farms these days, especially since lockdown, as the management of labour is increasingly demanding.

The importance of ‘home’

There are large numbers of people who have moved from towns in Zimbabwe back to their rural homes. Some have been away for years and have to find new places to stay. But town has become difficult to live in – there are few jobs and many have lost them since lockdown, prices are high, rents are prohibitive and the lockdown restrictions are harsh. Many are finding sourcing food difficult. Drivers, company workers, civil servants, vendors, sex workers and others who have lost the means to make a livelihood have moved in droves to the rural areas. In all our sites, the population of villages has expanded massively. Added to these local migrations, there are those who have come from abroad, as we have commented on before. ‘Home’ in the rural areas is the social safety net that the state is unable to provide.

Those coming back have to make a living of course, and there has been an expansion of agricultural projects (poultry, horticulture etc.) as well as other farming activities, as land has been subdivided by relatives. In our Mvurwi site some of the returnees have signed up for tobacco contracts for the coming season, acquiring grower numbers through relatives. Teachers no longer working in schools have set up private tuition arrangements in their homes, while mechanics and others are providing services once offered in urban areas. Vending has exploded, as former civil servants and others try and raise money through new businesses and, in some areas such as Matobo and Mvurwi, small-scale artisanal mining provides sources of income for those who once populated offices and factories in town.

Food flows

The last few seasons have been poor in Zimbabwe and there are many areas this year in food deficit. Getting food to the right place when movement is restricted is a challenge. Responding to this has been a massive growth in private transport networks that facilitate the flow of food. There are food relief efforts by government and NGOs, but this is far more significant overall. Relatives with surplus in A1 resettlement farms will often take food to their kin in town in cars, where food is expensive and scarce. Those with significant volumes will sell on maize to traders who will take it to sell to traders in town markets. In local areas where there are patchy food deficits, people must scout around to check out which areas have food so links can be made, and food moved. It’s not like the past when people were always moving; in the COVID time people must actively seek out food and organise to get hold of it.

Some food is transported in larger quantities, with large 20 tonne trucks moving from Gokwe and northern Zimbabwe, for example, where food is plentiful to markets in the south of the country. The larger operations are well capitalised and organised, with ways of dealing with the movement restrictions through connections and payment to officials. Some operators control the whole supply chain, and move food to stores in urban areas where grinding mills are installed and direct sales organised. Other, more informal arrangements must deal with permits and road blocks, often having to pay off the police. Just as with the transport of groceries on trucks from South Africa discussed in an earlier blog, even though there are challenges, food does get through.

Despite the restrictions, the movement back-and-forth between town and the rural areas continues, and is essential for assuring food security and providing much needed goods. Much exchange is in the form of barter, as groceries (cooking oil, sugar, rice) and clothes are brought by people from town are exchanged with maize and other crops. Urban markets for food and other agricultural products are complemented by a huge growth of urban farming and gardening. As noted in a previous blog, nearly everyone is a gardener now.

Within rural areas such as our food insecure sites in the lowveld and Matabeleland South, some can exchange dried mopane worms, for example, with those who have grain nearby. It as a mostly informal system, but complemented increasingly by larger operations. It is far more effective than the cumbersome and politicised food relief systems of government, UN agencies and NGOs. As ever with food supply, even in a drought year like now, it’s about timely supply and access rather than overall availability, as is too often assumed in the ‘food crisis’ narratives about Zimbabwe.

Localising value chains: cars are the new mini-markets

Our team has been visiting local shops and supermarkets from Chikombedzi to Masvingo, Mvurwi and Kezi-Maphisa, and a common pattern is emerging. Retailers are increasingly sourcing locally. They complain that volumes are insufficient, quality is variable and the range of products is limited, but with restrictions on supply, including from South Africa, supermarket buyers are making use of local production. This is good news for horticulture, poultry and other suppliers in the rural areas who are receiving a COVID-19 dividend, despite the other travails.

This applies to other shops too. As stock cannot be sourced, local suppliers are turned to. The trend of South African ‘supermarketisation’ is being reversed due to an informal import substitution policy enforced by a virus. Of course not all products can be substituted and there are shortages of key elements for manufacturing processes. This is having knock-on effects for example in feed supplies, fertiliser manufacture, herbicide provision and spare parts of different sorts. This has definitely having a negative impact on farmers, as prices hike with increasing scarcity.

Shops in town are shifting their focus too. One hardware store in Masvingo, for example, was failing to stock goods and applied for a grocery trading license and is now shifted to supplying locally sourced groceries. But commerce is now not just through shops, as their opening hours are restricted by lockdown measures. The provision of groceries, grain, vegetables and a whole host of products is increasingly being done by local, mobile traders, frequently operating out of their own cars.

Mrs V. lives in Mucheke, a high-density suburb in Masvingo, she formerly has a stand at the KuTrain market in town. But this was closed for renovation due to lockdown and she instead took up trading from her car. “I don’t dream of going back to the kuTrain market”, she says, “I start at 3pm when shops are closing down and park at strategic points in the location and sell until the evening. It’s good business. I source products from local farmers, including those who have plots near Great Zimbabwe, and get groceries from truckers who come from South Africa”. Cars are the new ‘mini-markets’ and business is booming. All this is restructuring the economy towards more localised value chains that a greater diversity of people can benefit from, including farmers.

Working from home

Many formal places of work have closed and to make a living people must now work from home. It’s impossible to travel to work due to movement restrictions and those who are self-employed have shut up shop as rents and rates are high. Moving businesses to home during lockdown made total sense, and they are thriving. There are welding operations happening in living rooms, tailoring businesses in garages, bakeries in people’s kitchens, beer brewing in yards… along with hair salons, photocopy/printing businesses, brick-making and so on. The list is endless.

Working from home takes on a different meaning in Zimbabwe, whether in the townships or in the rural areas. Of course much of this activity is illegal, flouting health and safety rules and avoiding taxes, but as one person running a home business argued, “What can I do? I have to survive! We are learning new skills for survival!”

Finance in the COVID economy

With Zimbabwe’s economy in a mess, and currency swings a daily occurrence, navigating finance in business and agriculture is a challenge. The new Reserve Bank auction system, and the control measures that have limited exchanges, agents and cahs withdrawals has, it seems, brought some more stability of late. The official and parallel exchange rate is now closer, and the queues at shops, fuel stations and so on have reduced, as the opportunity for hoarding and speculation, and gaming the system has reduced. More commodities are now available in large part due to the new supply systems that have evolved in recent months. Instead, as one of my colleagues observed, “the queues you see today are waiting for sanitiser and temperature checks at shops”.

With inflation high and the local currency weak, the economy has by default re-dollarised, but the underlying fragility remains. All this is good for producers and consumers, but not everyone. Our team interviewed a money changer in Mvurwi, once a sight on every street corner: “I used to make US$500 per month, but now I am lucky to get US$80. I used to enjoy good living, drinking every day. Now it’s tough”. As our colleague put it, “rather than see the well- known money changers in the bars braaiing meat, they now go home with a bundle of vegetables like everyone else!”

Alternative health systems

With the near-collapse of the Zimbabwean public health system, and a series of rolling strikes by nurses and doctors who are poorly paid and badly treated, people are more and more reliant on alternative sources of health provision.

Sometimes this is through the family, with particular family members having knowledge about herbal remedies. There is a huge demand for particular herbs, tree roots as well as onions, ginger and lemons, which are seen as important in remedies. Not all of this is directed to COVID-19, but people are very aware of the need to boost immunity, stay healthy and have remedies at hand in case the virus strikes. Those supplying herbs or other agricultural products used as treatments have been experiencing a roaring trade in recent months.

The same is the case for prophets and other religious figures offering spiritual healing of different sorts, through banishing evil spirits and other causes of ailment. Large gatherings led by prophets from a variety of churches have attracted the attention of the authorities and some have been dispersed by the police. These days most are more organised, with effective distancing and requirements to wear masks. COVID-19 has definitely boosted the popularity of particular prophets across our study sites, who now have big followings.

Professional herbalists have also become massively popular. These range from the informal n’anga living in the village to Chinese/Indian herbalists to those African, traditional herbalists who have surgeries and clinics that spread between Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique and Malawi. One such surgery is in Masvingo. One of the herbalists explained: “We have 300-400 customers a day, and sell herbs as far afield as the UK. There is huge demand. The clinics and hospitals don’t look after their patients, but we can – whether you are young or old. We can visit people at home or they come here. For COVID you must build strength to fight it and our herbs really can help”.

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As elsewhere in the world, Zimbabwe’s pandemic experience continues to evolve, reflecting the very particular context of the country. Innovation, adaptation and learning to cope with a fast-changing, challenging setting are all important. We continue to monitor the situation across our sites from all corners of the country, so look out for another update in October.

Many thanks to all the research team from across Zimbabwe for continuing interviews and collecting local information on the COVID-19 situation (and for the photos from different sites).

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

 

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Still debating land tenure reform in Zimbabwe

As part of the on-going discussions about Zimbabwe’s new land policy, land tenure is a central concern. Zimbabwe has a multi-form land tenure system, involving different legal arrangements and different forms of authority. This suits a complex land system with multiple users wanting different things out of holding land. This has been acknowledged time and time again, most prominently by the Presidential Commission on Land led by Mandi Rukuni way back in 1994.

Each time there is a policy review, consultants and commentators line up to make arguments for regularising what is seen as a messy, complex system. Drawing on ideology more than evidence, they argue for a standardised, ordered system based on a singular form of titled private property. There are many examples of this position – and alarmingly I heard them in a number of aid agencies in Harare recently. Eddie Cross is the most consistent and articulate proponent, seemingly having persuaded large sections of the opposition movement and many donors too.

In order to justify an overhaul, a whole series of simplistic narratives are deployed. The most persistent of which is the assumption that freehold private tenure is the desired gold standard, and all reforms should aim to create cadastral uniformity with private, individual plots registered. This is assumed to result in the release of land value as land becomes ‘bankable’, able to be used as collateral for investment credit.

Titling is not always the answer

As so many have shown – and has been discussed on this blog many, many times – this narrative is deeply problematic. I apologise for coming back to this subject yet again, but the argument needs repeating, as it’s vitally important. For a refresher, see the short note (replicated in this blog) I produced with the late, great Sam Moyo years ago in an earlier attempt to address these misplaced arguments.

Bottom-line, there are other routes to delivering security of tenure, facilitating investment and financing of land-based activities than freehold tenure. Leases and permits with the right wording are perfectly good bases for collateral, and mortgaging land is not the only solution to agricultural financing anyway. And of course private titling land is not always a route to tenure security and sustainable management of resources. It depends on the political and institutional context. Just ask any white farmer around 2000 about the limits of security on private titled property. And consult the vast research resources compiled by Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom on the security of forms of common property.

Yet, it’s only particular forms of individualised, private property rights are seen as sacrosanct by right-wing, libertarian think-tanks like the Cato Institute – and their dubious followers in southern Africa. But, we must always remember the aim is not to generate one type of legal property arrangement, but security of tenure on any sort of land through diverse ownership arrangements.

Security emerges from different sources. These are political, social, cultural as well as through formal legal allocations of rights. These sources of authority have to emerge together. Traditional systems of communal land tenure, overseen by chiefs and headman and governed by culturally-accepted rules, can offer tenure security, just as can a piece of paper allocating a title. But this depends on whether the authority overseeing such tenure regimes is legitimate, trusted, transparent and accountable; and this depends on politics. It is the political settlement pertaining to land that provides security – or the opposite.

A political settlement over land

The problem in Zimbabwe is that, despite the repeated proclamations, there remains no finalised political settlement over land, even after 20 long years. This lack of settlement is what produces insecurity, and in its wake the on-going process of politically-motivated land grabbing that continues to plague the sector, especially around elections. Building a political settlement around land is not just high-sounding proclamations from the top, and some performative interventions to show willing, but also it means investing in the administrative and bureaucratic system that offers security and clarity. This may seem tedious – centred on recording, auditing, registering and documenting – and centred on the bureaucratic domain of surveyors and lands offices. But this demanding, long-term building of bureaucratic capacity is essential.

The fact that there are (finally) moves towards agreed compensation settlements with farmers whose land was acquired for land reform is very good news. It appears agreements are close on valuation measures, even if the mechanics over how compensation will be paid are as yet unclear. This is important, as the impasse that has lasted now nearly 20 years has been debilitating. Agreement on this will mean that the land reform areas, now settled for years, can no longer be deemed ‘contested’ by international donors and investors.

This means that donor and private support and investment can flow, without ‘restrictive measures’ (aka ‘sanctions’) getting in the way. With compensation processes agreed, then investment in land administration systems can follow; perhaps with some district level pilots, as I recommended a while back. In any area, this will allow for clarity on who owns what, and in turn audit systems can evaluate how land is used, and whether land is being held outside agreed laws, and with this clear, local negotiations over land use ownership can follow.

Getting an effective land administration system functioning is central to providing tenure security. Under such a such a system a multi-form tenure system is possible. It doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all solution. Donors endlessly push supposedly successful land titling projects, whether in Rwanda or Ethiopia, but rarely mention the pitfalls, or the historical failures such as Kenya, where the consequences – sometimes bloody and violent – are still being felt.

A land tenure system in a multi-form setting just has to accept different approaches for different areas: leases for larger A2 farms, registered permits for new A1 farms, and selective registration for some parts of communal areas, as required (such as protection of village land against aggressive land acquisition by mining concerns or, in peri-urban areas, housing developers). Overall the aim is the same: enhancing tenure security where it’s needed (more in A2, less in communal areas), but not assuming that there is one (legal/administrative) solution. Such a system needn’t be complex and expensive, and the use of satellite technology certainly speeds things up.

Despite the persistent, ideologically-driven arguments, the ideal for Zimbabwe must not a fully titled private land tenure system with every parcel registered in a deeds office. This would take decades to complete and would not take account of the flexible arrangements required, particularly in smallholder and communal settings. I wonder sometimes whether those who push such a line have worked on the ground in such settings where overlapping systems and complex negotiations are the norm, and required. A simplistic form of land titling would also create conflict of massive proportions with boundary disputes endlessly clogging up administrative courts.

The best solution is to go for a parsimonious approach, maintain the multiform tenure system, and enhance tenure security through improving land administration – and avoid an apparently neat titling option that will not work.

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

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Zimbabwe’s land reform compensation deal agreed at last

It has been 20 years since land reform and the issue of compensation for those who lost land has rumbled on. The government has always said it was committed to compensation of improvements (and not the land) and this was confirmed in the 2013 Constitution, which was supported by all parties and a public referendum.

The signing of the Global Compensation Deed Agreement by President Mnangagwa and Andrew Pascoe, head of the Commercial Farmers Union on July 29 was therefore an important moment. As I have argued many times on this blog (see here, here, here and here), this was a crucial step in creating some sort of closure to the land reform episode, and getting on with supporting agriculture and boosting the economy.

In fact the Zimbabwean government has already paid around 500 claims, with some quite large individual settlements and has regularly budgeted for compensation, but the amounts were small compared to the overall claims of 4,500 odd farmers. The state, the Commercial Farmers Union and various private parties, notably Valcon representing white farmers who lost their land, have attempted valuations over the years.

But the science of asset valuation – some of which have disappeared and all have deteriorated after 20 years – is far from exact. Indeed with currency variations, hyperinflation and general economic chaos intervening, precise valuation is nigh on impossible. As a consequence, until now the overall deal remained incomplete with much wrangling over the numbers.

The commercial farmers put up an estimate of US$5.4 billion (down from some earlier outrageously massive figures), while the government estimated US$1.2 billion was due. Others were still holding out for compensation of the land value too, and suggesting the total cost should be upwards of US$20 billion. All claimed to be following the FAO’s compensation guidelines, so in the end the compromise had to be a political one, assisted by the thorough work of all those involved.

This was achieved in part because everyone needed a deal to be reached. The government was desperate to get international recognition, and the lack of compensation had been a long-running hurdle in discussions with Western nations and institutions. Meanwhile, commercial farmers who lost land were not getting any younger, and some pay-out as a pension payment and final closure was desired. In the end, the compromise over valuation spreadsheets was reached through diligent work and trust being built across all parties.

Once the valuation assumptions and calculations were shared the discrepancies could be evaluated. Apparently the valuation of ‘biological’ assets (things like plantations) was a sticking point, and a difficult one to put a number to. The same applied to land clearance – when was this done, and by whom and what did it cost? And what assets should be included as improvements – how many swimming pools, dog kennels and tennis courts were really improvements to the value of the farm property? And then there were the basic choices of depreciation rates, which inevitably had a big impact on the totals.

Credit to the teams of government officials, Valcon staff, independent assessors and consultants that a global figure was brokered. It can’t have been easy!

The detractors and sceptics

There are a number of detractors of course. There are those who believe that this was selling out and that full compensation for land was needed, despite the Constitutional settlement. This group is a small (but vocal) minority, and 95% of those who voted on it among the CFU membership agreed to accept the deal. The conditions were clear – this was improvements only and paid in US dollars, and BIPPA properties (those under Bilateral Investment Treaties) could still pursue compensation for the land in the courts.

There are others who think this is a betrayal of the revolutionary ideals of land reform and that no compensation at all should have been paid. This seems to include Julius Malema of the EFF in South Africa who has been firing off tweets in defence of Zimbabwean lives and against the government for betraying the people on the land issue. As the G40 in exile’s unofficial spokesperson, the political dimensions of ex-ZANU-PF factionalism comes starkly into play. Any win for the Mnangagwa group is seen as damaging to their interests.

There are some who dismissed the signing event as a publicity ploy, aimed at covering up the news of the expected July 31 protests, and even as a diversion from what some have claimed was a ‘suspicious’ death of the Minister of Agriculture, Perrence Shiri from COVID-19 (yet more faction fighting implied). This again seems to be missing the point, indulging in conspiracy theories.

And there are those who argue that taking on a debt of US$3.5 billion on top of the already massive debt burden is a step too far. Those who got the land – especially those A2 farmers who got the land through political patronage connections – should pay up, it’s argued. Just as they should for the huge Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe mechanisation schemes of the mid-2000s that have recently been highlighted in various exposes.

The timing may well have been carefully chosen, but to dismiss the significance of gaining a deal on compensation after so long is inappropriate in my view, whatever you think of the current ZANU-PF government. A lot of people, inside and outside government, have struggled for years for this. Given the political and economic chaos that is Zimbabwe, whether this signals that the country is truly ‘open for business’ is of course another matter.

How will US$3.5 billion be paid for?

The big stumbling block will be the payment of such a huge sum in the dire economic circumstances that Zimbabwe faces, exacerbated massively by COVID-19. The official line is that half the sum will be raised as a sovereign bond with payments over 30 years, and the remaining half will be raised through ‘development partners’, with the government and the commercial farming union applying together.

The formula is not dissimilar to that proposed many times before (see an earlier blog here), with some effectively being rolled over into a form of government debt that gets paid off slowly including through the taxation of A2 medium-scale farms (perhaps involving a reformed land tax arrangement). Another portion of the sum can then be seen as part of development efforts, especially in paying for the investments with development potential in the small-scale farming A1 areas, such as what are now schools, clinics, small dams and irrigation schemes.

But can the full sum will be realised? In the past, the release of funds for compensation from the regular budget have been small from all Finance Ministers over the past 20 years. Clearly a more elaborate solution was required, but questions have been raised about the value of a sovereign bond linked to Zimbabwe’s economy and current government, and the pay-back time involved.

A 30-year timeline will mean that debt payment will only be concluded 50 years after land reform, with future generations paying off white farmers and supporting those who gained from the land reform. Yet without the compensation being resolved, Western donors (and so international finance and business) have repeatedly said they will not invest; and until they do the economy cannot regain stability and the compensation be paid. It’s a difficult chicken-and-egg situation.

And what about the donors? Will they pay up large sums for (mostly) privileged dispossessed white farmers? Will the agreement of a compensation deal, so long argued for, be the moment that ‘sanctions’ (or restrictive measures) on so-called ‘contested areas’ (around 10 million hectares of agricultural land) be released, with much-needed development funds flowing?

There has been much strong rhetoric about the rights of commercial farmers over many years, linked to outrage about the land reform’s upsetting of supposedly sacrosanct ‘property rights’ – the centre-piece of development’s expected neoliberal order. But with the Zimbabwean state acceding, will the international community now pay up? And will this all fit the bill for donors as a payment to reduce poverty and meet the Sustainable Development Goals?

Maybe the British will come to the table, given the long history in the country and the deep desire to move on. With the merger of the aid department, DFID, with the Foreign Office into the new FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) next month, priorities will change; although the shrinking pot of aid money is still meant to be focused on poverty reduction as required by an Act of Parliament.

Britain certainly needs a stable southern Africa to trade with post the double-whammy disasters of Brexit and COVID-19, but with continued violations of human rights, and now with high-profile political prisoners locked up in a high-security prison, the chances of a dialogue with the Mnangagwa regime still look remote.

In my view, though, this is an immensely important step in a long-running and frustrating saga on compensation. Those who have persisted deserve much credit. Let’s just hope it does work out in some form, and Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector can move towards a new phase of investment and growth, which has been so delayed, but is so necessary.

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

 

 

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Viral politics and economics in Zimbabwe

COVID-19 has taken hold in Zimbabwe with a significant growth in community transmission observed in the past weeks. On July 24th, the total reported cases were 2296, with 32 deaths. This is likely the tip of a much bigger iceberg given under-reporting and limiting testing. President Mnangagwa has re-imposed a strict lockdown in response, including a dawn to dusk curfew, further limits on movements and restrictions on transport and business.

The relative easing of COVID-19 measures over the past weeks was clearly premature given the huge flow of infections from South Africa via returnees coming home. In the last blog on the pandemic in Zimbabwe we discussed this mass migration of those who had lost their jobs or had become ill in what is now one of the major foci of COVID-19 in the world. Zimbabwe’s close proximity to South Africa is proving highly risky.

This is the third update from our field sites across the country, each focusing on how COVID-19 is affecting rural areas (see previous blogs here from 27 April and here from 15 June). Reports from all sites were relayed to me in a long phone conversation over the weekend. As the effects of lockdown have combined with an already deteriorating economy, the situation in Zimbabwe is bad. To survive people are resorting to a range of informal and sometimes illegal activities. The common view is that it’s better to risk COVID-19 in the future than die of hunger now.

The smuggling economy

Our colleagues in Mwenezi, Chiredzi and Matabeleland South in particular highlighted the massive growth in smuggling of goods, cash and people across the border from South Africa, and the implications for the spread of the virus. With restrictions on border crossing and the banning of private transport, the demand for goods has heightened and with this there have been massive hikes in prices.

A widespread network of smugglers, sometimes with the direct involvement of security forces and customs officials on both sides of the border, has emerged. Links are made to shop owners in Musina in South Africa who transport goods to the border, and link up with traders and transporters who move them throughout Zimbabwe. Paying off officials adds to the cost, but the result is that a range of goods – groceries, clothes, agri-chemicals and more – are supplied throughout Zimbabwe.

With some shops closed and others operating with shorter business hours and less stock, suppliers sell on to mobile shops that move around rural areas and locations/townships in urban areas. Much activity happens at night to avoid the authorities who restrict vending or may impose arbitrary fines. These are elaborate value chains, with many connections, and with people at every stage demanding a cut. The consumer inevitably suffers as prices go up and up, inflated further by the collapsing value of the local currency. Government and local councils also lose out as the taxes, customs duties and rates that are normally paid are lost. This huge trade is largely illegal, and many cross at secret points in the highly porous border.

This massive informalisation of the economy extends to how the supply of cash is dealt with. In the past, remittances from relatives in South Africa and elsewhere were usually paid through standard agents – like Mukuru, Western Union and so on – based in towns and cities. While still mostly operating, they no longer can be reached by many due to restrictions on access to town centres. This has become worse with the limitation of opening hours for businesses and the recent curfew.

This means that the lifeline of remittance cash in the absence of jobs has to be sought through new routes. Here the traders who illegally transport goods across the border also assist. Zimbabweans with South African bank accounts can receive and then withdraw large amounts of cash and send it via traders, lorry drivers and others to relatives on the other side of the border. Those moving the cash take a proportion for the service – up to 30% – but ensure that relatives’ money reaches their kin in Zimbabwe to keep them alive.

Mass migrations of people and viruses

The movement of people from South Africa (as well as the UK, Botswana and other neighbouring countries) resulted in the establishment of the virus in Zimbabwe. A month back nearly all cases were imported, but now community transmission exceeds these in the reported statistics. The migration of people with the virus across a region that has long relied on labour migration is one of the major stories of the pandemic in southern Africa.

When the pandemic first struck, the South African government built a massive (and very expensive) new fence along the border with Zimbabwe, notionally aimed at stopping Zimbabweans flooding into South Africa as the economy collapsed further, and so spreading the virus. But it was movement in the other direction that has driven the pandemic, with many Zimbabweans in South Africa losing jobs and fleeing poverty to be with their families back home. Excluded from social security measures, the migrant populations in South Africa not only suffer xenophobic attacks but now viral infection.

Those who return with the virus are often smuggled across the border with goods in lorries and trucks, hiding from the authorities. Illegal crossings are used to dodge the requirements to go to quarantine centres that have become notorious places, rumoured to spread disease through unsanitary conditions. Alongside normal returnees have been criminals who have been deported back to Zimbabwe, often returning to crime in the process. Returnees who arrive back in rural villages across Zimbabwe are often hidden from authorities and neighbours, and are sometimes protected by local officials and traditional leaders if well connected. It is no surprise that the pandemic has established itself in Zimbabwe.

Volatile markets: challenges for agricultural producers

As discussed in previous blogs, agricultural producers have been hit hard by the pandemic, notably through the restriction of movement and constrained access to markets. As the economy continues to implode, demand also drops. The horticultural producers from our research sites that surround Masvingo for example have cut their production by 40% and shifted to local drying and processing of vegetables as contracts with supermarkets and other traders have ceased. This has affected all household economies, as especially in the dry season (which it is now) income from horticultural production is vital.

Farmers are much better off than their counterparts living in the town, however. As our team reports, in all parts of the country those without land and some form of agricultural production are suffering badly. Hunger is really stalking the townships in all parts of the country. Farmers who have reduced production have had to diversify livelihood activities, switching to trading in particular; as our colleagues point out, nearly every household has someone trading in the informal COVID economy.

Due to the loss of value of the Zimbabwe dollar, now trading against the US dollar on the black market at over Z$120 per US dollar, many have adopted barter trade arrangements, informalising exchange yet further. This operates across international borders as well as within the country.

In rural areas, for example, farmers exchange grain, groundnuts, nyimo and other products for groceries supplied by mobile traders. In the sugar-growing areas, workers for the estates or A2 farmers who are able to buy 20kg of sugar per month at a reduced rate as part of their employment package, trade this for a range of goods. Sugar is an especially valuable currency as it holds its value well and is in constant demand. For farmers, agricultural products are fast replacing cash as a medium for exchange in the informalised COVID economy.

It is tobacco marketing season in our site in Mvurwi at the moment, and this is a rare focus of vibrant economic activity. Mvurwi town is a hive of activity with five auction floors now competing for trade. Payments are made half in US dollars and half in local currency, and although not as profitable as in the past, the tobacco sales are providing much-needed income in the area.

However, as our colleague in Mvurwi notes, the crowded scenes in the marketing areas and in the transport hubs do not result in public health compliance. Tobacco marketing, like the increasingly large church gatherings and major funerals, are feared as foci for infection. The police intervene and occasionally arrest people (sometimes in large numbers) for contraventions, but the next day things look much the same. Maintaining public health while continuing with economic activity is a tough balance.

Pandemic politics in a failing state

Zimbabwe in many respects has followed the WHO global recommendations on COVID-19 very assiduously. Interventions were early, movements have been restricted, masks are compulsory in public places and on transport, advice is to wash hands regularly and stay at home and so on. But these regulations just cannot work when people are starving, in desperate need of income. They cannot work either when the health services on which such measures rely are woefully inadequate or when health workers are hugely underpaid. Today nurses are on strike demanding better conditions, and in hospitals it is trainee nurses who are on the frontline, many now contracting the virus.

Without a functioning state that can provide security – through safety nets and support for livelihoods – and pay health workers and guarantee their safety, public health measures are quickly abandoned. Add to this the growing distrust of the state, and the likelihood of people following government edicts declines yet further.

At the beginning of the outbreak, when it seemed that this was a problem for others elsewhere, there was a sense of joint commitment: coming together to address something threatening and unknown. With the virus spreading fast and with the lockdown measures having decimated livelihoods this collective sense of purpose has gone.

Our colleagues report that, across the country, opportunistic crime has risen, along with gender-based violence. In all our sites, there is a palpable sense of frustration and tension; a sense of being left alone, abandoned by the state.

Trust in authority has been undermined too, and this has been massively exacerbated by the way the government and ruling party have acted. The scandal over corrupt procurement of PPE and other COVID-related materials that saw the Health Minister fired, charged (and then given bail) has enraged many. The heavy-handed tactics of the security forces – both the army and police – has generated resentments, as the informal trade that is the Zimbabwean economy has to pay off security officials at every turn, with bribes just adding to costs of an already expensive life. That the state is clamping down on opposition activists and journalists who are exposing corruption and restricting protests against the state is just further justification for a growing disquiet.

Rather than the sense of national collective effort in the face of crisis, it seems that everyone is on their own in the struggle to survive the virus.

What next?

The next weeks will be crucial ones in Zimbabwe. Will the virus continue to spread resulting in the scale of death and suffering now being seen in South Africa? Or will the measures being imposed now contain it? Will the resentments that have built up over the failure of the state – alongside scandals of corruption – result in strikes and protests that some have called for? Or will most Zimbabweans just continue to suffer; just about surviving and innovating continuously in response to the fast-changing economic, political and epidemiological conditions?

Our team will continue to listen to stories from the field and monitor what is happening, so watch out for the next update in a few weeks’ time.

Many thanks to all the research team from across Zimbabwe for continuing interviews and collecting local information on the COVID-19 situation (and for the photos from different sites).

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

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Who are the commercial farmers? A history of Mvurwi area, Zimbabwe

For some the answer to who are the commercial farmers in Zimbabwe is obvious. The image of the rugged, (male) white farmer in shorts, surveying his family’s land carved out through hard labour and skill from the African bush is etched on the popular imagination. But over time, there have been many different types of ‘commercial farmer’ in Zimbabwe, and a new paper from APRA – Agricultural Commercialisation in Northern Zimbabwe: Crises, Conjunctures and Contingencies, 1890–2020 – explores the conditions of their emergence in the Mvurwi area.

Mvurwi town is about 100km to the north of the capital Harare, and from the 1920s until the land reform of 2000 was surrounded by (largely) white-owned large commercial farms and estates. To the east was Chiweshe communal land (formerly reserve and Tribal Trust Land) where Africans farmed. Africans also lived in the labour compounds on the farms and in Mvurwi town, many originally from nearby countries, hired to provide labour for the large (mostly tobacco) farms.

Our paper documents the agrarian history of this area from Cecil Rhodes to Emmerson Mnangagwa, or from around 1890 and the initial colonisation of what became Rhodesia through different phases until today. The paper asks two questions: who are the commercial farmers – those producing surplus and selling it – and what drivers have affected changes in the agrarian setting, making some more or less likely to be able to commercialise production?

We made use of a diverse array of sources, including archival material, biographical interviews, survey data and satellite imagery of environmental changes (this will be the focus of a future blog). Mvurwi’s agrarian history is one of tobacco and maize, of labour shortages and migration, of infrastructure building and urban growth and of government policies that have supported some over others at different times. It’s complex and fascinating.

Establishing white commercial farms, marginalising Africans

In the early years, at least into the 1930s, it was African farmers from Chiweshe who were the commercial farmers, supplying food to the new European settlers who were getting established on their new farms. Before the Land Apportionment Act restricted land access for blacks, Africans and Europeans lived side-by-side, but it was Africans who knew how to farm this environment and produced large surpluses of small grains, and increasingly maize.

Following the establishment of the colonial government in 1923, a huge range of measures were applied that restricted African farming and supported the establishment of European agriculture. This was the time also when tobacco became established as the major crop, providing important revenue for Britain as the colonial power. European agriculture struggled through the depression years, yet was expected to contribute to the war effort from 1939. After the Second World War, the colonial government supported the expansion of European agriculture, and invested considerably in subsidised infrastructure development, as well as the provision of finance. British war veterans were settled, and the land around Mvurwi became a prosperous farming area, on the back of state intervention and African labour, with a new set of white commercial farmers who displacing Africans.

Prosperous white commercial agriculture, challenged by sanctions and war

The period from 1945 until the early 1970s, when the liberation war started in earnest, was the one where the image of the white (male) commercial farmer took hold. These were largely family farms in this period, operating increasingly efficiently with inputs of new technologies (hybrid seeds, fertiliser, tobacco curing facilities and so on, facilitated by state-led R and D), and considerable amounts of cheap African labour, often living and working in appalling conditions. The supply of labour was assisted both through recruitment from the Rhodesian Federation (from 1953), and through local migrant labour; as African farming was squeezed further men increasingly had to seek employment in towns, mines and on the farms.

After the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith’s government, the effect of sanctions hit the white farming community, but all sorts of sanctions-busting measures were used, with the help of apartheid South Africa and others. White commercial farming still prospered, but there was also the beginning of a trend towards consolidation, as the smaller, less capitalised and connected white family farms struggled. With the beginning of the liberation war and the arrival of guerrilla fighters in the Mvurwi area from 1973, farming was hit hard. Remote white farms became targets for liberation fighter attacks, and meanwhile the state restricted the engagement of Africans with the comrades by creating ‘protected villages’ in Chiweshe.

Independence: a smallholder green revolution and economic liberalisation

It was only after Independence in 1980 that farming took off again. The new state, now with support from international aid donors, shifted emphasis towards supporting small-scale communal area farming, while European farming was left largely to continue as before, but with less state support. In the African communal areas, the results were spectacular, ushering in a ‘green revolution’ with increased production and sale of maize, creating a class of African commercial farmers once again. White commercial farmers also benefited from the removal of sanctions, with preferential trade agreements in products such as beef, and they were able to shift to higher value products (horticulture, flowers etc.) as markets opened up.

The liberalisation of the economy from 1991, at the behest of the Bretton Woods institutions, saw further advantages for increasingly consolidated large-scale, white-owned commercial farms; although the withdrawal of state support, the decline of research and extension services and the loss of state-backed credit meant that poorer African farmers suffered, and the green revolution soon fizzled out. By the 1990s, a boom time for white commercial agriculture, many smaller white family farms had gone, and the commercial farmer in this period was more likely to be in a suit in a board-room, negotiating international financing and trade deals. In this period, African farming in the communal areas became increasingly impoverished, reliant on donor projects and frequent food hand-outs due to the recurrent droughts.

Land reform and new commercial farmers

All changed in 2000 with the land invasions and the subsequent Fast Track Land Reform Programme. Most of the white farms in the Mvurwi farming area were taken over, although a few were left initially, along with most of the large Forrester Estate to the north. Land invaders were mostly from land-scarce and poor Chiweshe as well as other communal areas and towns nearby. The land invasions resulted in the creation of smallholder A1 resettlement areas, often on farms with considerable numbers of compound labourers living there. Later, medium-scale A2 farms were established, attracting very often middle class professionals along with political, business and military elites.

Today it is a very different farming landscape, with new commercial farmers. These are largely black (although there are some joint ventures with former white commercial farmers and Chinese companies in the A2 areas) and include both successful A1 farmers (men and women) who have managed to accumulate and invest in their farms through own-production and some A2 farmers who have managed to secure finance through off-farm jobs or through state patronage. Unlike their white counterparts who established farms in the early twentieth century with a huge amount of state support, today’s resettlement farmers suffer a lack of assistance and limited finance. State incapacity, systemic corruption and international sanctions combine to undermine the potentials of commercialisation, as this blog has discussed many times before.

Crises, conjunctures and contingencies: a non-linear agrarian history

So what do we draw from this history (check out the long paper for the detail)? First is that there are very different types of commercial farmers beyond the stereotypical image that have existed over time. This is because different people have had different opportunities in each of the historical periods we have identified. This has been affected by state policy, international relations/sanctions, labour regimes, markets and so on. We see over time not a simple, linear secular trend, driven by relative factor prices, land scarcity, population growth or environmental change, but sudden shifts, as agrarian relations reconfigure.

Such changes may emerge through state policy – Land Apportionment, Maize Control and so on obviously had a huge impact in the 1930s; through the investment in particular infrastructure – the road from Concession to Mvurwi opened up markets massively and facilitated urban growth, as did the arrival of mobile phones decades later; as a result of the emergence of new technologies – the SR52 hybrid maize revolutionised white commercial farming, as did the arrival of the rocket barn for curing tobacco; as a result of a significant environmental event – the droughts of 1947, 1984, 1991 – and many more – meant that some farms went under, others were taken over or African labour migration became necessary; because of changing patterns of labour availability – the challenges of labour recruitment were a continuous refrain among European farmers from the 1930s, as they are among commercial land reform farmers today; as a result of shifts in geopolitics and global markets – sanctions from 1965 and 2000 have had huge impacts, as did the requirements of the Washington consensus loan conditionalities from the 1990s, while the growth in tobacco demand from the 1940s and again from the 1990s into the 2000s (increasingly from China) drove farming economies across Mvurwi. Along with other reasons discussed in the paper.

Like Sara Berry and Tania Li (among others), the paper argues that it is events – crises, conjunctures and contingencies – as inflected by social relations (of race, class, gender and age) and politics that offer a more insightful explanation of the history of farming in Mvurwi. This history is non-linear, uncertain and involves a complex interaction of drivers, and far from the deterministic theories either of classic agrarian Marxism or evolutionary agricultural/institutional economics. For this reason, over 130 years, there have been many different types of Zimbabwean commercial farmer, and there will likely to be others into the future as chance, contingent events and particular crises combine with longer-term drivers of change.

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

 

 

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20 years after Zimbabwe’s land reform: what does the future hold?

This is the final post in this blog series, which asks what have been the changes in land reform areas in Masvingo province since 2000, and what are the possible future trajectories? A more detailed analysis of our data over this twenty year period, including comparing our full census surveys in these sites from 2006-7 and 2011-12, must wait. This concluding blog is therefore a very preliminary reflection on the changes that we have observed over 20 years, and some speculation of what the future might hold for the land reform farmers of Masvingo over the next 20 years.

Demographic shifts

Clearly since we started the study in the early 2000s our sample households are older, with some having passed on. We see a pattern of inheritance, first often to wives and then to children. Many households now have adult children in the 21-30 age bracket, some of whom are working (often abroad) and sending remittances, while others have sought land to farm from their parents. The forms of subdivision vary – sometimes children take over the farm and work jointly with elderly parents; more often they take a subdivided section of the farm; sometimes they are resident at the homestead, but farm or work elsewhere, including in small, often illegal, irrigation plots. Sometimes of course, with the ageing or death of the original settlers, the farm is abandoned.

The turnover of farms across our sites varies (see previous blog), but there has been a considerable churn. We can expect this into the future. While a number left at the beginning, as carving out new land under uncertain conditions was too much for some. The rigours of farming a larger plot than in the communal areas and often without the support networks is certainly difficult. The uncertainty over tenure arrangements in some sites, now partially resolved, was a factor too early on. No-one then quite knew whether the land reform would be permanent.

While some people have left our sites, there are certainly always new arrivals eager to take on plots, even if not through inheritance. Indeed, in all sites the total number of settlers has increased, although as panels our surveys do not capture the new arrivals in new plots. Whether it’s local leaders getting backhanders, churches encouraging new followers to settle or formal allocations by the state, the demand for land is clear. This will undoubtedly continue, particularly as the next generation demands land.

Places of success

The majority who have remained now see their ‘new’ (now not so new at all) land reform farms as their primary residence. They no longer are straddling between communal and resettlement sites as was the case following settlement. They are largely secure in their new farms and see the advantages. Connections with their original communal area ‘homes’ are retained, including around family occasions, notably respect for ancestral spirits and burials, and important networks of support have emerged.

The flows of resources have reversed over time, and today it is the resettlement areas who are providing support to the communal areas. Food is regularly sent to families back home and people from the communal areas come and provide wage labour in the resettlement areas each season. This dynamic has consolidated in the past decade, particularly as the wider economic situation in the country has worsened, and the safety nets (of remittances, government support etc.) that communal area dwellers once relied on have gone.

Overall, the resettlement areas – especially the A1 sites – are therefore seen as places of success, certainly in comparison to the communal areas from where most came. Regular surpluses of grain production – mostly maize – has been complemented by engagement with cash crops, including cotton in the early years until the prices collapsed.

The A2 dryland areas are a different story. While people are happy to take on land as a speculative asset, the business environment for farming investment has remained challenging throughout the 20 years of our study. With some notable exceptions, many A2 farms have failed to take off. The irrigation-based Hippo Valley sugar farmers stand out from this pattern, and have prospered thanks to an obligatory connection to the sugar company that provides inputs and a guaranteed market.

Accumulation and differentiation

In the next 20 years, much will depend on economic and political stability, which doesn’t look like arriving soon, given the current political economy of Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, A1 farmers can continue to prosper based on limited own-investment and dependence on local economies.

The process of ‘accumulation from below’ has been evident from the beginning, but has accelerated, as people have become settled. In 2010 we estimated that around a third of households were able to make regular surpluses from farming and reinvest it, but this has now expanded to perhaps a half, certainly in the higher rainfall areas and in better farming years.

This dynamic is significant for processes of class formation in these areas. While patterns of differentiation were observed a decade ago, these have solidified, with a clear class of petty commodity producer accumulators emerging combined with other diverse ‘classes of labour’ seeking out piece-work wage employment and surviving off diversified incomes alongside more limited agricultural production.

This has gendered implications, as women in more wealthy households have greater opportunities and often take up focused agricultural activities, including gardening, while in poorer households they must undertake a range of more precarious income-earning activities. These patterns of differentiation feed through into opportunities for the next generation too. Richer homes can afford to educate their kids, sometimes in boarding schools, and can afford college and university fees, while others must make a living on the margins.

Changing patterns of investment

For those who are successful farmers, and even those who are aspiring to be, the pattern of investment has changed over the last 20 years. In the early years, most agricultural surplus – together with incomes from other sources and remittances – were invested in housing stock and basic farm infrastructure. The quality of homesteads across Masvingo is impressive, representing a considerable amount of money sunk into these new farms.

Once the farms were functioning and homes established, investment patterns have switched. In recent surveys we have seen the growth of investment in cars (allowing transport from often remote areas), pumps (allowing irrigation), solar panels (providing electricity) and plots in town (part of widening income opportunities), as well as the usual replacement of basic equipment (ploughs, harrows etc.). Livestock assets have fluctuated, but have been a vital source of income over time, but lack of space precludes a massive growth in herd and flock numbers outside the A2 ranch areas.

Into the future, the pattern of inequality observed is likely to persist and will likely deepen. A big question is whether the successful A1 petty commodity producers can accumulate sufficiently to leave agriculture to take up other opportunities. Much will depend on the wider economy, but we already see the emergence of a rural business class, with its base in agriculture, investing in small shops, transport operations and rural businesses, as well as others investing in real estate in urban areas and small towns.

This is likely to continue, and the role of agricultural capital in the wider economy – from housing, to transport to the service sector (restaurants, bars, tailors etc.) – will remain important, and will potentially be crucial in the revival of the economy over the next decades. Meanwhile, the more precarious ‘classes of labour’ will continue to rely on agriculture as a form of security, but a pattern of increased (semi-)proletarianisation is likely as they provide labour for emerging businesses, both farm-based and off-farm.

Agriculture and local economies

In terms of patterns of agricultural production, the last 20 years have seen major changes. While classic field crop maize production remains dominant, the rise of irrigated horticulture has been massively important across our sites. This has been accelerated by the availability of cheap pumps and piping and is especially important for younger people and women. The marketing networks that have emerged – to supermarkets and via traders – have been impressive, resulting in a serious injection of funds into local economies and the development of a set of secondary jobs – as people take up roles as processors, transporters, traders, brokers and others in support of small-scale commercialised production.

Another area of growth is poultry production, particularly broiler units. As with horticulture, this again has benefited from the informalisation of the wider economy and the failure of some of the big producers who once dominated the market. Sales of chickens to local restaurants, including those popping up in local townships funded by agricultural surpluses, are important, as well as sales to schools and urban supermarkets, who are now prepared to source locally.

Of course, these new ‘projects’, as they are known locally, are not available to everyone, given the start-up costs. However, many are able to get such activities going, through a profitable crop sale or a remittance payment from a working child. Indeed, it is often younger members of households who are making the running, as they’ve failed to get jobs in the collapsed Zimbabwe economy or who have tried their luck in South Africa but have felt that alternatives at home are better given poor conditions and xenophobic attacks.

In the future, we can expect more specialisation and entrepreneurship as the standard patterns of farming change, along with land scarcity, demographic change, the wider availability of technological expertise and shifts in market demand. This will be the case in both A1 and A2 areas, where a greater diversity of income earning activity is already seen compared to the early phases of land reform. With the economic linkage effects observed, even in the straitened economic circumstances of contemporary Zimbabwe, the opportunities for fostering local economic growth are certainly present, and are already being realised.

State failure

As many point out, such opportunities are severely constrained by the lack of basic infrastructure. The state has simply not provided over 20 years, while donors have emphasised humanitarian support and have avoided so-called ‘contested areas’ through sanctions of varying types. There have of course been some attempts to improve public infrastructure in all our sites, and clinics and schools for example have been built which were not there 20 years back. But basic support for road building and maintenance, irrigation infrastructure and agricultural and veterinary extension support has been very limited.

In all sites, right from the outset, people have largely had to go it alone. They have supplied the labour and bricks for building schools and clinics, they have hired graders to improve roads and they have developed their own private systems for providing transport in often remote settings. The frontier spirit of land invasion and the sense of solidarity that this inspired have allowed this to happen, alongside strong leadership from those who led the settlers from the ‘base camps’ to the ‘Committees of Seven’. Yet, the failure of state support is sorely felt, and with sanctions there has been no donor investment, bar a few stray NGO projects.

Future prospects will be highly dependent on the re-engagement of the state – with support from donors – in the land reform areas. The agenda for what needs to be done is clear, and has been laid out on this blog many times before. The constraints do not lie in lack of formalised tenure as many assume (this did not come up as an issue, even in our so-called informal sites), but more in effective financing, infrastructure investment and support for the growth of local economies, fostering already-existing linkage effects. For there is much going on, and the last 20 years have shown a commitment and determination of farmers across our sites that is truly impressive. Solutions must work from these beginnings, and stimulate and expand the many existing successes, while addressing the multiple challenges faced.

The future?

When we asked our informants across our sites about what they thought about the future over the next 20 years, the replies were equivocal. It all depends, most said. It depends on the climate and reliable rainfall. It depends on the availability of markets, and stable prices and currency. And above all it depends on wider macro-economic and political stability.

The roller-coaster of Zimbabwe’s situation over the past 20 years has meant that many farmers across our sites have produced, accumulated and invested against all odds. While many retain an allegiance to the ruling party and are thankful for the commitment to land reform, everyone is scathing about government incompetence, rampant corruption and the failure of basic provisioning by the state.

Over the next 20 years, much will depend on issues of politics and governance in these land reform areas, potentially with new political allegiances emerging. However, this wider political-economic story is something that is largely out of the hands of farmers who will continue to struggle in difficult circumstances until things change.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.

 

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (6)

Reflections on processes of agrarian change across sites

As the previous blogs in this series have shown, there are quite dramatic differences between resettlement sites in our Masvingo sample, with different patterns of differentiation and so different trajectories of change emerging. This blog focuses on this comparison, and tries to draw out some of the most important differences.

Perhaps the most stark differences are between the A1 (smallholder) and A2 (medium-scale commercial) sites. The former emerged from land invasions more or less exactly 20 years ago, led by war veterans and others, and involving contesting land with then resident white farmers. Informal settlements were established as ‘base camps’ and only during the next year or so did regularised settlements emerge. Indeed, 20 years on some of our sites are still informal, and barely planned. The A2 farms emerged from a more formal procedure of application, although as noted this could be manipulated through political and other connections. These are much larger allocations, certainly for dryland A2 farms, and were expected to emerge as the new basis of commercial agriculture, led by an educated, professional middle-class farming elite.

The envisaged plan, first laid out in 1998 as part of the government’s plan for a new phase of land reform, has not emerged. With a few outlier exceptions amongst A2 farms, the A1 farms are by-and-large much more successful, certainly in terms of per area production, but also in terms of employment generation and the dynamics of accumulation and investment that have emerged. The A1 farms additionally have driven a wider process of local economic development, while A2 farms, like their large-scale commercial farm predecessors, have remained dislocated from local economies, although do provide a source of employment for poorer A1 farmers, and nearby communal area households too.

Within the A1 areas, as the previous blogs have shown, there are quite stark differences. Without doubt it is among the A1 self-contained farms where the greatest success is observed. Partly this is due to the nature of the original settlers, being more connected and with greater levels of assets, but it is partly due to the entrepreneurial focus of the self-contained farmers. As separated off farms, they have to go it alone, invest in farm equipment and infrastructure, building the farm up from scratch. Unlike in a villagised setting they can rely less on neighbours – for example for work parties, and even for the supply of temporary work. They must develop their farm business, and link to markets themselves, investing in infrastructure and transport, as well as accommodating permanent labour on the farm. This is of course not universally the case, and there is significant differentiation amongst self-contained A1 farmers, as the earlier blog has shown. Nevertheless, there are a good proportion of our A1 self-contained sample – admittedly from the higher potential areas of Gutu and Masvingo districts – who are ‘accumulating from below’ and emerging as successful petty commodity producers, even creating the beginnings of a rural bourgeoisie, with connections to town and investments elsewhere.

Such an entrepreneurial, petty commodity producer class exists across our other A1 villagised farmers too – both those also in Masvingo and Gutu districts and those further south in often more informal settings. The conditions for accumulation are however more constrained in the villagised schemes. The average arable area is smaller, and limited by allocations. The communal grazing is more or less ‘full’, although in more land abundant areas in Chiredzi and Mwenezi, livestock can graze in nearby under-used A2 areas. As in the self-contained areas, a focus on intensification through ‘projects’ – irrigation gardens, broiler units and contract farming of high value crops – is a route to accumulation that does not require extensive land areas. It is also important for grown-up children requiring land and needing to establish independent livelihoods. Women too lead diversification in agricultural production across the sites, but perhaps especially in the villagised areas, where they additionally are engaged in a range of off-farm activities.

Diversified income earning as part of a portfolio is essential in all resettlement areas but is particularly significant in the informal, dryland A1 sites. Here crop outputs are highly variable, and diversification into trading, natural resource harvesting, crafts and so on is essential, particularly for poorer households. In these informal sites, there certainly are some who are accumulating, through a combination of extensification of farming and livestock production and diversification into a range of mostly trading activities, but perhaps only a third of households, compared to about a half in other A1 sites. This is largely due to the marginality of the area, and the lack of markets and circulation, although cross-border trade – for example selling goats or dried mopane worms – provides opportunities, given the proximity to both the South African and Mozambican borders.

Over time, in all sites the reliance on off-farm employment has declined amongst household heads, as farmers have retired or simply decided to concentrate on farming. But none of these sites are settings where livelihoods are generated solely by farming, for anyone. Remittances from now older children may be important, alongside a variety of local income earning, and the persistence amongst a significant minority of someone (usually a male household head) earning through a job, very often a civil service post, such a teacher, solider or policeman.

External support, including through social welfare grants and pensions, is important for some across our sites, and in the drought year of 2019, welfare payments were especially significant among poorer households in our drier sites in the south of the province. In terms of access to other support, including extension services or command agriculture loans, this is quite sporadic. The sites closer to urban areas, notably the villagised sites in Masvingo district had the greatest access to extension services, while those with more political connections, notably the self-contained sites, had more access to command agriculture, although the coverage was uneven and quite limited, since the programme was focused much more in the higher potential areas of the country.

Proximity to markets is of course a major differentiating factor, and those sites near Masvingo have seen the greatest expansion of agriculture-related businesses. This relates in turn to infrastructure and transport availability, which is again uneven across sites. Despite the ability to produce, the remoteness of some self-contained sites is a constraint, whereas the formerly informal site, Uswaushava, that is along a main road definitely profits from connectivity. The cotton boom in the 2000s in that site was linked to this, with many contracting companies competing for business, and today the market gardening of melons is huge quantities is facilitated by easy transport connections. Comparing sites, it is the level of economic embeddedness, including opportunities to invest in local townships and small businesses in the rural areas, that allows an area to grow, agriculture to thrive and some to accumulate. Different places have different opportunities – in the south, it is connections across borders, elsewhere it is to major urban centres, in other places it is simply links to the immediate local economy, where demand is created due to successful agriculture.

The A2 farms do not profit from such a dynamic of local economic development. They rely instead on selling crops or livestock along more conventional value chains, which are more distant and reliant on wider infrastructure. As discussed in the blog on A2 sites, those relying on independent production in dryland areas are severely hampered due to the lack of flexible finance, and the costs of both production and marketing are high. Some manage to make a go of it, including connecting between the farm business and others in town, but for many, A2 farming has not been profitable, and quite a number of farms are operated more as small-scale operations, yet on large areas. These problems, created by the long-running lack of a system of agricultural finance, is offset when a contracting arrangement can be brokered but these are limited in Masvingo (as tobacco is not a crop grown and cotton has for a long period not been profitable). It is only the sugar farmers, with existing infrastructure and a contract/outgrowing arrangement with the estate central to their operations, that can get over the constraints faced by other medium-scale commercial farmers.

The A2 farms remain quite isolated from the rest of the rural economy. There are exchanges of labour and equipment hire, but little else. They also remain outside local patterns of governance that have impinged on all the A1 areas. In all our A1 sites across the province, on-going chieftaincy disputes have been disruptive. These arose when the new areas were occupied and competing parties claimed the land as theirs. This has not been helped by on-going local wrangles between multiple authorities. This is especially the case in the villagised areas, where Seven Member Committees may combine with local councillors, traditional leaders (headmen) identified by competing chiefs and ruling party ‘cells’. This has often caused confusion and dispute, and has undermined development efforts.

Overall, then, across our sites we see a highly varied pattern. Across the A1 sites, we see a significant dynamic of ‘accumulation from below’ – of successful crop (and to some extent livestock) farming that results in surpluses and so reinvestment in the farm. The scale of such accumulation depends on the year and site, and is linked to market access, infrastructure development and agroecological conditions. In all cases, farm-based incomes are complemented with off-farm income, and employment by household heads as well as adult children is crucial for household economies. The most successful accumulators are found in the self-contained farms, but they are also found across the villagised A1 areas. While this group is consolidating and growing, it still remains at most only a half of all households. Others aspire to this, but are currently failing due to lack of assets or labour, while others are struggling and must adopt much more diverse livelihoods, including selling wage-labour.

This pattern of social differentiation and resultant class formation within the A1 areas and between A1 and A2 areas is an important feature of the new agrarian landscape, both economically and politically. This has important implications for the future, as will be discussed in the next and final blog in this series.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.

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COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe: ‘we are good at surviving, but things are really tough’

 On the 13th June I had a follow up conversation on how people are coping with the COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe. As with the previous discussion on April 23rd it was based on a compilation of insights and reflections from across our rural field sites – from Chikombedzi, to Masvingo district, Gutu, Matobo and Mvurwi. It was a long and fascinating call, and this blog offers only some highlights.

Compared to when we first talked, there are now more recorded cases in Zimbabwe (currently 356), although no more deaths (still at four recorded). The country is in ‘indefinite’ lockdown, but in Level 2 mode, which allows some more flexibility. However, things remain tough for all those in our study areas. Below are some themes that emerged from the discussion:

Restricted movement

Movement restrictions are very strict. You have to get a permit to travel, and it can take days for these to be issued. The police are everywhere, and the army. They will stop you at roadblocks and turn you back if you don’t have the paperwork. It’s a real challenge as farmers need to get to town to sell things or buy inputs. It’s really impossible. Shops are now open longer, but if you cannot travel, what can you do? It’s even difficult to get to hospital or the clinic. Those with conditions like HIV/AIDS or TB are suffering as they are not getting the medicines on time. If there’s a complication with a pregnancy there’s nothing you can do. You have to rely on local herbalists and others. The same is for livestock – they are dying of diseases as we can’t travel to town to get the dip chemicals or treatments. Movement is essential for life. People will always find a way though. They have to in order to survive. We have had 20 or more years of practice of living under hardship, we are good at surviving, but things are really tough.

We rely on the truckers

For supplies, we now rely on the truckers. Traders are not allowed to go to South Africa anymore (although some sneak through unregulated border crossings), and the buses that used to bring things from down South are not moving. So the truckers who are allowed to move bring things. It’s illegal, but there is a well-established network these days. And those who used to buy and sell from South Africa have set up tuck-shops in the locations (high density suburbs in town) and in the rural areas, and things are supplied. You can buy agri-inputs, groceries, phone credit, and much more. But it’s expensive. They are buying in Rand, and the Zimbabwe dollar is fast losing strength. The black market rate is three times the official rate, so buying goods these days is seriously expensive.

Remittances are no longer coming

People used to rely a lot on remittances. Either in kind – usually sent by bus from South Africa – or in cash – through transfer services like Mukuru, World Remit or Western Union. But relatives outside the country – even in the UK – have lost their jobs. They no longer send remittances. This is a big problem as these funds used to pay for labour or for agricultural inputs, or for fees or groceries. It’s a big gap. For example, the tobacco harvest in Mvurwi is being delayed as there’s no money to pay for labour.

We are all vendors now

To survive, everyone must become a vendor. It seems something is being sold from every house in the location, and even in the rural areas too. People stock some small things and sell. Some deal in groceries, others sell farm or garden produce (vegetables, peanut butter etc.), others do sewing and repairs, others sell clothes. There are so many shebeens (informal drinking places), and beer brewing is a massive business particularly in the locations. There are hair and beauty salons – all informal – in people’s houses, along with electrical repair shops, tailors – you name it, you can find it. It’s all illegal and the police can always close things down, so people wait until they knock off. It’s the evenings when there is so much activity. Some sell from their cars, as they can quickly move if the police come. Others use wheelbarrows, push carts, large dishes. Markets are everywhere, despite the older ones being closed. The government has destroyed the old informal markets and is building new ones, but these are not complete, so people must improvise. Some have even started online trading, but this is only feasible in the towns, given the cost of (phone) bundles. The action is all in the locations, and farmers must link with relatives and others there. In town, some buildings are registered for trade, and people can then set up tables there, but they will pay the tax. The government doesn’t like the informal traders and is trying to formalise everything. Although they are building new hygienic structures for people to trade from, much of this is just to control people and collect taxes. Right now, we need to live.

Everyone is a gardener

Gardening is essential too. Every bit of ground near people’s houses is now a garden. It’s vital to stay alive, and with the markets closed it’s difficult to buy things. You have to grow your own. It’s good as people stay healthy, and some can also sell as part of vending from their homes. In an area you know who has what. Wider markets are coming back too, as schools, universities and other institutions begin to open. The demand is not as it was, but there is business to be done if you are a farmer or gardener.

Restrictions on agricultural markets persist

Moving produce to markets is difficult. The police will stop you, ask for permits. It’s a total hassle. So some farmers will move early in the morning, offloading produce in the locations where others sell. Others move in the evening and sell from their pick-up trucks. There’s always a way, even if it’s more difficult. For more formal marketing there are so many regulations. For example in Mvurwi, people can come together and sell at a single point to a company representative who comes to the area. A farmer representative can travel with the crop to the auction floors, but the selling is not transparent. You cannot see how it’s weighed and graded because of the coronavirus restrictions, so farmers are easily ripped off. This is disastrous as these days payments are only in part in forex, so you don’t get much for your crop. Alternatively, you can take your tobacco to the auction floors yourself if you’ve got a truck, but you may have to queue for days, and they will not let you on the floor because of the virus. So there is always cheating, and you get a bad deal. Marketing for farmers is a big challenge due to COVID-19.

It’s better in the rural areas

There is massive urban to rural migration right now. Many people in town are really suffering. They have lost jobs, there’s no food, rents are getting hiked and there is huge inflation on everything. Some say it’s 700 percent! Many have come home to the rural areas. This is particularly those who were relying on informal activities, including vendors, sex workers and other informal jobs in town. The rural areas are now full of those coming back to their rural homes. Here rent is free, and you can grow food, even if only a small garden. And relatives know them, and will help out. It’s a much better situation. Some are wondering if they will ever go back to town.

Returnees from South Africa are feared and stigmatised

There are thousands coming back from other countries – mostly from South Africa, but also other countries in the region, such as Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and so on. And also from the UK, Australia, parts of Asia. There are so many. People are saying why did you leave if you come back when things are tough out there? They left because of Zimbabwe’s problems, but now they’re running away from hunger and disease in South Africa. The rise in reported cases has almost all been from returnees from South Africa and other countries. They have lost jobs and have no means of survival, as the ‘social protection’ measures in those places do not cover migrants, especially if you don’t have the right papers. When they cross the border into Zimbabwe, they are supposed to be put in a quarantine centre, but some may escape. These places are not good, and if you don’t have the virus you might catch it there! People are complaining seriously about these centres, as they are not well run. If you escape the police can chase you, and now they are confiscating passports and ID cards. If you don’t have the virus after eight days you can be transferred to an isolation centre, which are better. Less like prison. You can even pay for something better, as hotels are being used. Or you are sometimes allowed to self-isolate at a rural home under the supervision of a kraalhead. Those returnees from South Africa are seen as diseased and dangerous in the villages. People run away from them. There is so much stigma and fear. Those who dodged the quarantine camps, perhaps coming over an illegal crossing, are sometimes smoked out by locals, and reported. People really fear the returnees. We see this unknown virus in them.

Community relations are getting strained

COVID-19 is really straining relations. Social gatherings are restricted, and you have to get a permit. You can have up to 50 people for a church service or a funeral for example. But people cannot travel far to weddings, funerals and so on, so families are not keeping in touch at these important moments. With returnees coming back, they may be hidden from others for fear of them being exposed. This is causing problems within villages, where everyone knows everyone. But there are ways of bringing people together too. There has been a big rise in savings clubs to assist with people buying groceries. People now realise that saving is important so as to cushion you from a shock like this that just comes from nowhere. There’s also been a growth of burial societies, as the main funeral companies are no longer working. So people do help each other out in the villages particularly, making the rural a better place to stay right now. There are also quite a few projects and forms of assistance, which seems to be more common in the rural areas. This can come from government – including the First Lady’s projects – or through churches, NGOs, even companies. But the lockdown is certainly causing many frustrations for sure. You can see this especially in the locations but also in the rural areas. People want to socialise; they want to go for a drink and meet people. So you see lots of people hanging around in the urban and rural townships, especially where there are illegal bottle stores and shebeens. Drugs are a problem too, and this is causing conflicts between people, and sometimes the outbreak of fights. The police will round people up, hand out fines, but people will not obey; they are frustrated with lockdown life.

Sharing information and countering fake news

There’s so much fake news circulating about COVID-19, especially on social media, WhatsApp groups and so on. Some are now saying that after so many months it doesn’t kill Africans. Some say that there is a cure already found. Others argue that it is all a plot by foreigners. Some of us look at the international media and know that these things are not true, but gossip and rumour travel fast, and it’s amazing what people believe! The government is publishing official information. They’ve printed booklets in all 16 local languages, and they also use radio, TV and the state newspapers. There are phone and text messages from the government too. And they publish the data by province each day, so you can find out how things are changing. The rise in cases from returnees especially from South Africa is certainly worrying people, and adding to the stigmatisation of those who come back. So yes people know it’s dangerous. They see it next door in South Africa. Relatives tell them how bad it is in the UK and Europe too. Although we haven’t seen deaths, we realise that controlling it is important, so overall people still back the government, as we don’t want it here like it is in South Africa.

Political tensions

We hear that there are some in power who are benefiting from tenders due to COVID-19. We know the chefs are corrupt. There are others profiting too, but that’s not bad. For example, there are business people who are making and selling PPE and sanitisers. There are lots of small COVID businesses around. Farmers are even buying this stuff, including face masks and sanitiser so they can move around and trade safely. Some shop owners are even buying temperature testing kits costing US$100 or more. Emergencies always provide opportunities for some. However, some of the police and security forces are taking advantage. There were rumours of mass mobilisation by the opposition recently, and then the road blocks became harsher. Some were targeted, and there was reportedly some violence in some places. We heard the news of the shocking attacks on MDC people too. We don’t know how bad things are elsewhere, as where we stay in the rural areas there is less conflict. This seems to be in Harare and places like that. But we can see the tensions and we see the results in the movement restrictions and the massive presence of security people everywhere. But the police were more heavy-handed in the earlier lockdown period, and it’s eased a bit now, although if you are found in the wrong place at the wrong time, you will be in big trouble. It is lockdown with force, but people must violate the rules because they are starving. They see the rationale for the lockdown, but they just cannot always comply.

Many thanks to all the research team from across Zimbabwe for continuing interviews and collecting local information on the COVID-19 situation (and for the photos from Mucheke). In a few weeks we will have a further update on this blog. In the next two weeks the blog series looking at what happened 20 years after land reform will conclude, wrapping up the five previous blog with two summary/synthesis pieces.

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

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (5)

What happened on the A2 medium-scale farms?

Medium-scale A2 farms were established in a very different way to A1 farms in Masvingo. They were not the result of invasion and occupation and later formalisation (or not), but through a process of application at a later stage. These application processes were supposed to take account of the qualifications and resources of the prospective farmer, and the aim was to establish a medium-scale farming sector to spearhead the revival of commercial agriculture, but under new ownership. In practice, the process of application was often manipulated, and political pressure was brought to bear. The result is that the beneficiaries of A2 farms are highly variable – many are former civil servants, including well-qualified agriculturalists amongst them, but they sit alongside those with party posts, military and security positions and others.

Our Masvingo sample of A2 farms is small. This is in part because, when the sample was set up in the mid-2000s, the A2 farms were only just being settled, and access was difficult. The contested nature of land on the A2 farms was such that research in these areas was initially regarded with suspicion, and we had to spend a considerable amount of time getting to know key players in each site. The other problem for any researcher of A2 farms is that the owners are often not present, and in some cases very little is happening.

Our Masvingo sample included dryland sites in each of four districts – Gutu (Northdale), Masvingo (Bompst), Chiredzi (Fair Range) and Mwenezi (Asveld). We also had a sample in the sugar estate of Hippo Valley, where a very different form of irrigated production takes place on smaller plots. Here we report on three of the dryland sites (excluding Northdale) (N=20) and the Hippo Valley site (N= 14), but take them separately. A more comprehensive study has been undertaken of A2 farms both in Masvingo and Mvurwi based on a random sample across all A2 farms, which will be shared on this blog soon.

The overall story of the dryland A2 cases is not positive, although there are a few outlier examples where agriculture has got moving. The Hippo Valley settlers irrigating sugar by contrast have fared much better. The disastrous economic conditions through the 2000s, peaking in 2008 with massive hyperinflation, have returned more recently, and it was only for a short period between 2009 and around 2014-15 when economic stability returned, and business investment of any sort was feasible.

Those with external funds – either through jobs or through forms of patronage – have fared best, but it has been a struggle for everyone. Bank credit has not been available, and outside the support through commercial crop contracts or the corrupt and inefficient command agriculture programme have been limited in Masvingo province, and it has been exceptionally difficult to finance farming. The conventional approach to commercial farming in Zimbabwe had always been to rely on bank loans, which would be paid back on harvest, and capital expenditure was sourced from profit, or further credit. This has simply not been possible over the past 20 years.

Dryland A2 farms

Across our dryland A2 sample, today the farms are more occupied, with men dominating as household heads (90%). Women are often quite isolated in these farms, sometimes left to manage the household and workers, and engaged in small-scale vegetable and poultry production. Men are more mobile, and travel to town, as nearly everyone has a car. In the past, 75% of (mostly male) household heads had jobs, but today it is only 20%, as people have moved to their farms, finding it impossible to maintain a job and farm.

Quite a number have retired, and the average age of household heads is today 52. Given the age profile, 60% have adult children between 21 and 30 years old, and 35% of all households have children in this age group who are farming. Many farmers’ children have taken up plots within the A2 farm allocation, even if subdivision hasn’t been formalised. 35% were previously war veterans, reflecting the numbers of A2 farmers who were previously in the armed or security forces. Educational levels are high, with 65% continuing in education beyond Form II, while 55% have Master Farmer certificates, reflecting the need to show farming qualifications when applying (at least for some).

Even though farm sizes are large (average 160.2 hectares), crop production is relatively limited (on average 11.7 hectares was ploughed), with maize production ranging from only 353 kg to 1462 kg per household between 2017 and 2019, with between 65% and 35% producing over a tonne. This is very low productivity, and although nearly everyone adds fertiliser, this is far from the envisaged commercial farming (although this data comes from farms mostly in dry and marginal Region V, as our Gutu site has not been included). Indeed, while 60% and 20% of farmers employ permanent male and female workers respectively, and 45% employ temporary workers, on-farm wage employment is not universal, indicating again the lack of commercialisation. Although 25% received some form of command agriculture support, it was widely complained about, and was not seen as a route to improvement by most. Production overall is lower than many A1 farms on much smaller land portions. Other crops are combined with maize, but in very small portions, essentially replicating small-scale, peasant farm production on huge farms.

The farms in Chiredzi and Mwenezi, however, are largely focused on livestock production, and the large land areas allow for relatively high herd sizes, averaging 72.3 cattle, at quite intensive stocking rates for such dry ranch areas. But despite this, there is relatively little commercial activity, and only 35% of farmers purchased supplementary feed for cattle. On average 6.9 cattle per household were sold in the past year, and only 2.6 were purchased over the previous five years. Goats complement cattle, but they are not produced commercially in large flocks, and the average household ownership is only 9.1.

To complement crops and livestock, dryland A2 farmers in our sample also produce poultry, and broiler production seems a popular activity, with 30% having broiler units, and 10% having contracts for these. Irrigated vegetables are also grown, but usually on small homestead plots, and 35% of households sell these. Off-farm income remains important, and over half have jobs, while 40% of households receive pensions. Half of all A2 farmers rent out houses in town (having now transferred to their farms), and this is an important source of supplementary income.

The forms of settlement on these farms varies considerably. Some maintain the farm as a business, employing a farm manager and supervising from a distance, with weekend visits. Others live on the property and have intensive involvement in the running of the farm on a day-to-day basis. Still others have retired to the farm, and use other sources of income to survive, it being more a retirement home than a fully productive farm. Others try and farm, but have invited family members to join them, creating small villages with subdivided or jointly-operated plots; essentially multiple small-scale farms. In our wider province-wide surveys we explored these patterns, and rather like our earlier study of the ‘small-scale commercial farms’ set up as African ‘purchase areas’ between the 1930s and 1950s, we see various future trajectories, only some of which could represent ‘commercial farming’, as imagined by the land reform planners.

Certainly many A2 farmers are trying, but it is a tough struggle. In many cases, these farms had to be carved out from the bush from scratch. Mr N from Fair Range near Chiredzi explained his story:

It was virgin land when I came in 2003. I cleared just one hectare in my first year. By 2006, I had a small irrigation plot of 3 ha, and then I continued to clear. I was in hospital for a while, and the bush all grew back. I had to start again. In 2011 I hired a bulldozer, and cleared 8 ha. I tried to hire tractors but it was difficult, as local whites discriminated against us. By 2016 I had 40 hectares cleared, but it was a lot of work, and very expensive. I had hoped to rely on dryland farming largely, but the rainfall pattern has changed. I now must irrigate, but the electricity supply is so variable. Right now I am irrigating only a day a week, and I may lose my crop. It’s so difficult! In the last years I have managed to buy new equipment. I bought tractors in 2014 and 2019, and have bought six pumps, a disc harrow, a ripper and a ridger. I also replaced my car in 2014 to get a jeep for this terrain. I have been investing in the farm, but neglecting my accommodation. I am living in this workers’ house, so I plan to build a big house for my retirement.

The average figures presented from the surveys therefore only tell part of the story. Within our sample, like Mr N, there are examples where farmers have managed to get things moving, but this has been incredibly hard. One farmer in Bompst farm for example invested a huge amount early on in irrigation equipment and for a time was doing well, but his business collapsed as inflation took hold. He then abandoned the farm, renting it out to others, returning to his town-based business operation, and has only just returned after nearly a decade to revamp the farm, having secured support through the command programme. Another farmer again invested from his off-farm job, which was paid in foreign exchange, through the economic crisis and it began to build up, connecting livestock production and vegetable sales to a shop and later a restaurant in Masvingo. But in recent years as the economy nose-dived again, the businesses have faltered and even this tightly managed, locally-based value chain was unable to operate in the chaotic currency environment from 2017.

Our wider, province-wide survey of A2 farms found a similar pattern: most were struggling, but a few prospering due to particular conditions, linked to particular financing opportunities. The period of investment from 2009, when the economy stabilised somewhat and the Zimbabwe dollar currency was abandoned in favour of US dollars, was widely evident. This period showed the potential of the A2 sector, but also the lack of resilience of farm businesses, as gains have been quickly wiped out, and investments made then (in equipment, irrigation facilities and so on) are lying idle.

Irrigated A2 farms: Sugar-growing in Hippo Valley

The largely dismal experiences on the dryland A2 farms contrast with those in the irrigated sugar farms in Hippo Valley. Here farmers were allocated on average 20.6 hectare plots, subdivided from former white and Mauritian outgrowers. There has been very limited turnover in this site. One farm in our sample is currently not being used as the owner died and his wife, who inherited the farm, could not cope with the accumulated debts. A plan to work with a contracting firm to produce animal feed for an abbatoir using the centre pivots has been proposed, but not yet realised. One other farm has been subdivided and allocated to two wives as part of an inheritance, but otherwise the farmers who took over the plots in 2002 – or their wives – are still farming.

The average age of sugar farmers is higher than any other resettlement category, with household heads being 57 on average. Those who gained plots were usually well-established men in jobs. In our sample the most common job was being a teacher or headmaster, followed by a sugar estate worker, followed by working for the ministry of agriculture. Some original farmers have passed on, and wives have inherited, with 28.6% of all farms in our small sample being run by women. When farms were taken over, 71% had jobs, but today this is down to 36% as people have retired or decided to concentrate on sugar farming.

With this pattern of household demography, all households have adult children in the 21-30 age range, but none are involved in farming. This reflects the high educational levels of both household heads (93% having continued in education after Form II) and children, who have largely gone on to professional jobs, like their parents. 29% of households receive remittances, including from these children.

Average production over four years is 1570 kg of raw cane in the Hippo Valley site, and this fluctuates considerably less than in dryland farming. Production levels overall among the new outgrowers has surprised many, including the estate management, as we discovered in our focused study of sugar growing in the lowveld. Today, outgrowers, who are producing yields at level if not higher than the estate, are central to lowveld sugar industry.

Since settlement, the estate has provided inputs – including guaranteed irrigation water, fertiliser, replanting ratoons and so on – on the basis of a contract with the mill. While every outgrower complains (naturally) about the conditions set by the estate and oligopolistic power of the mill, the ability to gain finance and inputs and have a guaranteed market is a major contrast to the conditions faced by dryland farmers (and other sugar growers in the region). Other crops grown include vegetables, with several in our sample producing significant quantities, amounting to between US$2000 and $US5000 annual income, alongside a limited amount of maize. On average 3.6 cattle are kept along with on average 4.4 goats, but the main operation is sugar.

All farmers employ permanent male workers, and 93% employ female workers too, and all farms rely on temporary workers for cane cutting and other jobs. The infrastructure of the former farmers is used by the new farmers, including worker compounds and farm houses, previously used by farm owners and their managers. All households in our sample have piped water and electricity and so the general level of infrastructure is far higher than other resettlement farms as it was taken over at settlement.

Sugar production is certainly hard work, but it is profitable, despite the complaints. And when complemented with vegetable production and some maize and other crops produced for own use, plus other off-farm income from jobs, remittances, house rental (43%) and grinding mill investments (28%), the situation in Hippo Valley at least is much better than the dryland farmers on A2 farms.

But across the A2 sites, we heard again and again complaints about the lack of state support. A sugar farmer in Mkwasine/Fair Range complained:

Our ministers just don’t care about us, they don’t know about growing sugar cane. They know maize and tobacco from the Highveld only. We don’t get any ‘command’ support, we are ignored. We don’t get good deals from the company, and we are heavily taxed. The company is stealing the money, as the bosses were corrupt. But we, the farmers, produce the best sugar in the world. Those who came here and just do dryland cropping are better off. They came through their (political) connections and had cleared fields, they continue to get support.

Asked about the future, he said:

We can’t foretell, we can’t predict, we can’t say because of climate change. We don’t know if the rain will come, and if we have more droughts, everyone will suffer and the nation will not have food. This is why looking after farmers is so important.

The story of A2 farms in Masvingo province is therefore highly variable. There are successes and failures, and much depends on the ability to raise finance – through links to patronage (such as via command agriculture), to off-farm jobs (especially if paid in foreign exchange) or to outgrower arrangements for sugar production on the Hippo Valley and Mkwasine (for some Fair Range farmers) estates. However the wider macro-economic conditions are not conducive, and the prospects for many are poor. A2 farms in Masvingo have a long way to go before they can be the basis of a vibrant, new commercial agriculture, and this in particular will require new forms of secure and reliable finance.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (4)

What happened in the villagised, ‘informal’ A1 areas?

When land invasions took place during 2000, many areas were invaded and land was claimed. In some instances this was not made official during the ‘fast-track’ process, and ‘offer letters’ were not issued. Sometimes there was dispute over years and years, as the new land reform villagers petitioned the government to gain recognition. In some cases this was granted, in other cases such claims are still outstanding.

This blog covers some of these so-called ‘informal’ sites, although all but one is now formalised. These sites are in Chiredzi and Mwenezi districts and so in the very dry southeast of the country. These are areas where agricultural production is risky, and more diverse livelihood options, including livestock production, must be sought.

In part because of the uncertainty over tenure and in part because of the challenges of agricultural production, these sites show the highest level of turnover, with 24 exits being recorded out of 110 households in our original sample. Some exits are only temporary, however, as diversified livelihoods mean that people move frequently, including recently from our Mwenezi sites to Masukwe to mine purple amethyst. There are, however, also many new households coming, especially in the most remote, informal sites. One of the village leaders argued, “if we have many people, then we stay here; the government will not be able to get rid of us, so we have Shangaans from Gezani, Vendas from Beitbridge and Pfumbi from Matibi coming here”.

The average age of household heads in these sites is 47, but 65% have children in the 21-30 age group, with 43.5% now farming, often having got plots in the area, or in other resettlements nearby. Indeed, half of all households had a member who had gained a plot in another resettlement; far higher than other areas. Due to the proximity of the border with South Africa and Mozambique, 34% of households had adult children outside the country, often in low-paid jobs, but nevertheless able to send some remittance income. 41% of households had received some remittance in the past year, which is a high rate compared to other sites, and reflective of the challenges of 2019 as a major drought year.

Overall, populations in this area are marginalised and mobile. Many male heads of household are working elsewhere, and 41% of households are de facto female headed. Women take on important roles in these areas and 37% of households have women involved in an independent business, while 24% have women involved in local leadership roles, often in groups for production and marketing. Educational levels are not as high as in other areas, with only 27% having proceeded beyond Form II at school, while 21% had Master Farmer certificates.

Everyone grows maize, but also sorghum. Total outputs are highly variable, with maize varying between an average of 297 kg and 1816 kg per household between 2107 and 2019. Sorghum production was a bit less variable and averaged about one tonne per household over the period. Although yields were way down in 2019, in the previous two years around 43% of households produced more than a tonne of maize and around 36% of households produced more than a tonne of sorghum. This is perhaps surprising given the marginal agroecology, but demonstrates the high variability of production. With decent rainfall, the good soils produce well in favourable years, but production drops to vanishingly little in other years, meaning grain storage and other off-farm incomes are required. Mr TG explained the consequences of this variability:

We came from Chivi communal area in 2000 with just three donkeys. I bought cattle since. I bought six at one time in 2004 from a bumper crop of cotton and sorghum. The highest number we had was in 2008 when there were 17. Since then the animals died from drought, and we have had to sell many over time. Drought is now every year.

One of the sites in this area (Uswaushava) was the centre of a cotton boom in the 2000s, but this dropped off as prices collapsed. Only in the last year or two has cotton picked up again, and in 2019, a quarter of households had a contract for cotton growing. To replace cotton, farmers in this area diversified into other contracted crops, including lablab bean, sesame and water melon; all of which generated decent profits. Those with gardens along the river – which is now nearly everyone – grow water melons, which are marketed in huge quantities along the road and to nearby towns. The water melon business is especially important for younger farmers. Without other land, they can get small portions by the river, and once they have a pump they can expand production, transporting their crop in cars they have acquired or on buses that move along the Ngundu-Chiredzi road.

The area is highly suited to livestock production given the ‘sweet veld’ of this region, but herd sizes are not large, with household holdings of cattle on average 7.4 head and goats 7.8 head. However, only 9% had no cattle at all. 38% of households had purchased cattle in the last five years, and 57% had sold at least one during the 2019 drought period. 59% had sold at least one goat, and two-thirds of households had sold poultry. Livestock as a source of livelihood, usually for coping with drought, are essential. Mr HM from Turf Ranch explained:

I arrived here with very few cattle. They grew to a large herd. Now I have only 24, but I have bought a tractor (in 2014) and a truck (in 2018), as well as invested in a well and pump (in 2012) and a grinding mill (in 2015). Cattle were bought from selling sorghum and the herd grew on its own. I have a large area of land, and the soil is good if there’s rain. My sons tried their luck in South Africa, but failed and I have allocated them land. All three of my wives have land too. There is plenty here – you just have to clear the bush!

Because of the variability of crop production, a diversified livelihood is essential. Here, the type of off-farm income sources include pottery/basket making (38% of households), piece work (48%) and cross-border trading (44%). Because of the marginality of the area, some 67% had been provided some form of welfare during the previous 12 months, in the form of food aid/cash support from the state or NGOs/church groups. However, all our informants commented that life was better in the new resettlements:

Despite the droughts, life here is good, much better than before. We don’t suffer that much from the drought, and we get good yields in some years, and if not we always have a beast to sell. Our relatives from Chivi come and get food here, and they come and sell labour in drought periods too. Things are definitely going up. We have household utensils, decent blankets and so on. It might look like something small, but it’s definitely an improvement. Others even have cars, everyone has bicycles and there are lots of livestock here. Scotch carts are like wheelbarrows now, and pumps and solar panels are everywhere.

Looking forward, people again comment on the importance of irrigation. There are some river bank irrigation areas in these sites, and people have started buying pumps and selling vegetables, including to various boarding schools. Domestic water supplies are also a challenge, but compared to when the land was invaded and settled, things have improved. “We used to have to go with carts and barrows up to eight kilometres, but now many have dug boreholes and with so many scotch carts in the areas it’s so much easier”, said one informant from Uswaushava.

Asked about the persistence of informal status on the land, our informants were less concerned than they were a decade or so ago, when protests to argue for their land rights were organised. “No-one comes to bother us”, one informant commented. These places are far away from the centres of power and administration and the state is largely absent. After a long silence, the same informant said, “yes the state does help us – certainly social welfare for the needy and cotton seed and maize seed are provided. We however had to build the school and clinic ourselves, although they provide the staff. And it was the church that paid for the first borehole”. Even in the remotest site in Mwenezi, our informants admitted that the state was now more present than before, and they have graded the road and a clinic and school nearby are being built, but extension workers are rare, and the government “doesn’t really bother us”.

In the Mwenezi sites, where turnover of plots is high and there are is a constant flow of people, the governance arrangements are more fluid than the more settled sites such as Uwwaushava where the original Committee of Seven continues to function. In Turf ranch, for example, the number of sabhukus (headmen) has increased from four to 18 since 2000, reflecting the influx of people. This is facilitated by village leaders who get paid for new land, and churches who attract followers and bring them to new land. Although wildlife damage remains a problem, and especially from elephants, there is perceived to be a large amount of land, and the under-used A2 farms nearby offer free, unrestricted grazing for now. For many years, these sites were remote, frontier settlements, operating under different rules, but increasingly they are being incorporated into state administration and wider economic circuits. Transport is easier now, for example. Eleven households have cars and scotch carts in Turf ranch, making transport to nearby townships easier. Cars are bought in exchange for cattle, and dealers from as far as Harare come and sell, knowing that in good years farmers in these remote new resettlements have money to spend.

As in our other case study areas, across a variety of income sources, some people are able to accumulate and invest. Perhaps surprisingly 33% had bought ploughs in the past five years, 22% had bought carts and 59% had bought solar panels. Unlike in the other areas covered in previous blogs, the investments are, however, intermittent and the result of infrequent windfalls – a good sorghum or maize crop, the selling of cotton, the sale of cattle and so on. Accumulation is a stop-start affair, but nevertheless, compared to when they first settled many – probably at least a third – are doing well, and comment how life has improved.

The townships and open markets in these areas are witness to the underlying strength of the economy. The weekly Chikombedzi bakosi market is always full, and many women are involved in the Mwenezi sites in trading, including selling goats in Limpopo, South Africa, as well as mopane worms across the region when in season. Similarly, the township near Uswaushava resettlement area now has 20 shops, several grinding mills as well as the usual selection of bottle stores/bars, with many of these up-and-coming businesses owned by farmers, with them being started from agricultural proceeds, notably cotton and vegetable sales.

Despite this, overall, households in these informal A1 areas in these remote, dry parts of the country are poorer and more vulnerable that the other A1 resettlement areas in Masvingo province. But nevertheless, these are not the same as nearby communal areas from where they mostly originally came from. A significant group are even are to accumulate, even if unevenly, and invest both in fine buildings, new township businesses and farming.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.

 

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