The return of fortress conservation: why excluding people means biodiversity conservation will fail

The recent UN biodiversity summit reported disappointing results. Not one of the 20 indicators set a decade before were met. In many quarters, there is a growing cry for more assertive measures to protect and extend biodiverse rich areas; a return to ‘fortress conservation’ where an increasingly militarised approach is recommended. This is a big mistake and will undermine local people’s commitments to conservation.

The privatisation and securitisation of national assets: conservation grabbing

Unfortunately, Zimbabwe, a pioneer in community-based conservation through the CAMPFIRE programme, is returning to a fortress conservation approach, enlisting foreign, private-sector partners to re-fence parks and keep people out, if necessary through lethal force. A number of deals have been struck, including with African Parks, supported by (ex-)British royalty, in Matusadona National Park and with Frankfurt Zoo in Gonarezhou National Park in the south (since 2017 under the Gonarezhou Conservation Trust).  There are plans afoot for other joint ventures in park areas in Zimbabwe, with external support providing a much-needed boost to the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s (Zimparks) depleted coffers.

In parallel to this expansion of parks areas, international donors have sponsored the training of game rangers, via the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, including of the now-famous group of heavily armed female game guards, trained by a (white, Australian) special forces soldier who had served in Iraq. As women conserving nature and battling crime, the group, dubbed ‘the brave ones’, have been widely celebrated (and ruthlessly stereotyped) in the media (also see this BBC video to get a flavour and more here).

The effective privatisation (under 20 year leases) of the conservation estate and the taking over of huge areas of the country by foreign organisations (Gonarezhou alone covers 5,053 km², while Matusadona covers 1,407 km2) has not had the sort of scrutiny that higher profile ‘land grabs’ have had. In fact, outside the particular areas, most people don’t even know this is happening. In many respects the deals make sense. The state is broke, there is a need to protect such national assets, and a partnership with outsiders allows for the rehabilitation of infrastructure, paying of staff and continuing the conservation work on behalf of the government (which still holds a majority stake).

However, what happens with such partnerships is that it’s not only the money that is on the table, but a very different way of thinking about conservation. Despite the rhetoric (and conservation organisations are good at this) about community consultation and involvement the experience of these efforts has largely been one of rewinding to an older era of colonial-style exclusionary conservation.

This is a wider trend, as documented by the excellent BIOSEC research programme  (video here) and shared most recently at a great POLLEN conference plenary session. Militarised conservation efforts to tackle ‘wildlife crime’ deploy technologies – from drones to military hardware to surveillance systems – which are used to assert an increasingly security-led style of conservation, casting locals as poachers and game wardens (now armed to the teeth) as saviours. This of course plays into a wider Western racialised narrative about conservation being about protecting wildlife and excluding and removing local (usually black) people.

The lessons of the community-based conservation era from the 1980s, where Zimbabwe was probably the world leader in both ideas and practice – are fast being lost. Yes of course CAMPFIRE and similar programmes had their problems. Questions were raised about who got the benefits, what a ‘community’ really was and whether this relied too much on conservation through iconic species that had a hunting value. But the basic principles that conservation gets nowhere unless local people are on board are as valid as ever.

Fortress conservation in Gonarezhou

A recent extended phone conversation with a colleague living near Gonarezhou park highlighted that the new Frankfurt Zoo led initiative is certainly more fortress than community conservation, with the effort focusing especially on species conservation (elephants and wild dogs are heavily profiled, as is the reintroduction of black rhinos). For sure, there are a variety of community support initiatives in the surrounding areas and there are ‘community liaison’ and extension officers employed. Around 300 game rangers have been employed by the park, many from the local area, and others are employed in building projects in new tourist facilities. This provides local benefits, but also provokes tensions. There have been some education programmes (the Chilojo Club), although framed in ways distant to local vernacular understandings. And there were extended, largely performative, consultations in the local area explaining the project, with multiple consultants employed.

But the complaints are multiple. The new electric fencing – which is expected to surround the park and stretch as far as Save Valley Conservancy – has prevented cattle grazing in the park, especially in drought periods. Animals are impounded and fines to reclaim them are high, and in many cases they are never returned. While there are periods when groups of villagers can come and cut grass, this is expensive if transport is hired but insufficient for fodder supplies, although good for thatching. People are having to reduce their cattle numbers due to lack of grazing, which is causing serious hardships. The fences were supposed to keep elephants out, but they continue to cause crop damage, even death in the area, as their numbers continue to expand and the electric fence is either destroyed or becomes non-functional when the solar panels are not working. The lack of compensation payments for elephant damage is a long-running complaint. The argument is that CAMPFIRE should pay, but this produces very little revenue and much of it is not distributed to the wider community. And the long-promised community projects have failed to materialise beyond a few school projects and savings clubs, adding to disgruntlement and rumours that others have pocketed the cash.

The strict, armed policing of the park boundaries causes friction with the local communities as boundaries used to be flexible and more negotiated (indeed some, such as by the Chitsa people in Sangwe, highly disputed). In the past, rangers would turn a blind-eye to those who came and hunted small animals as a source of livelihood, using only dogs, spears and snares. Many have returned from South Africa having lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and are having to survive off substance hunting. Locals complain that they are treated just the same as the organised hunting syndicates who run from Mozambique and are involved in heavily-armed poaching, using AK47s and cyanide poisoning. This they argue is completely different, and deserves policing, but it is local people who seem to be arrested and jailed most. The conflicts between the park and the local communities are increasing, as park rangers clamp down and the challenges of the COVID-19 period increase. This is creating tensions and threats of violence in the community, as local people employed as rangers arrest locals. Despite the ‘out-reach’ activities and commitments to ‘community’ development, trust it seems is at a low ebb; as my colleague put it “there is a war between the park and the locals”.   

As with all fortress conservation approaches, the conservation area is separated from people. Low intensity hunting and grazing uses are banned and resentments rise. Militarised security operations signal that this is not your land, and the only people who now use the park and its surrounding hunting areas are extremely rich outsiders, who are mostly white; many of whom are investing seriously in tourist facilities with external capital in Gonarezhou. The park thus becomes a place of privilege not a national asset, and biodiversity conservation becomes dissociated from people’s practices – and something to resent not participate in.

From protecting areas to supporting people

The obsessive targets of the conservation lobbies to expand conservation areas – from a current global 15% of land area to 30%, and for some even 50% – miss the point. Expanding these areas through massive conservation led ‘land grabs’ in places where people are poor and landscapes are made us of – and the biodiversity within them – will fail. They have before, which is why a rethinking of colonial conservation models took place 30 years or more ago.

Instead, the targets should not focus on areas or in most cases even species, but on people. How about a 100% target for incorporating local people into biodiversity management practices by 2030 instead? Many of the villagers surrounding Gonarezhou already do this to far a greater extent than most of those who arrive on planes or live in towns who visit the now highly protected island of biodiversity.

As in the important debates about ‘convivial conservation’, perhaps local people and vernacular conceptions of conversation should have a greater say and more substantial involvement in the futures of such shared assets. Without this, the biodiversity and conservation targets for the next decade will certainly be missed too.  

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

Photo credits: J, Chikombedzi and IAPF

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“Know your epidemic”: Reflections from Zimbabwe

“Know your epidemic, act on its politics” was a lesson learned in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As Alex De Waal argued back in March, it’s just as important for COVID-19. The pandemic is playing out in very different ways in different places, yet the public health responses tend to be standardised and not adapted to context. What needs to be understood are both local responses and their politics.

Since the end of March (when the lockdown was first imposed in Zimbabwe), we have been tracking the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on diverse rural areas and linked small towns across the country (see our first blog (Surviving COVID-19 in a fragile state: why social resilience is essential) for early reflections from March 27. Since then, and based on reports from colleagues from Chikombedi in Mwenezi district; Matobo district in Matabeleland; Masvingo and Gutu districts and from Mvurwi in Mashonaland Central, we have produced so far four extended blogs based on compilations of field reports.

Through some reflections on the past four blogs (links included below), this piece asks how can we get to ‘know the epidemic’ in Zimbabwe, exploring the implications for the response and wider politics?

April 27 (COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe: a disaster for farmers): Three weeks into the lockdown and the effects on rural livelihoods were already being felt. Movement restrictions and the closing of markets were causing havoc. A heavy-handed response was being led by the police who ‘were everywhere’, stopping people moving. Rumours abounded about the origins of the virus and who it was affecting, and people feared going to health centres. The fear was tangible and the unknown nature of the virus (compared to say HIV) was causing major anxiety. Many had seen on the TV or heard about from relatives the devastating consequences elsewhere, including in the UK and South Africa. The expectation was that this was going to happen in Zimbabwe, in a situation with far fewer resources and an extremely under-resourced health service. The fear galvanised a collective response, and at this stage collaboration between people, the state, churches and others was growing. There was a sense that this was something that had to be addressed together, and for Zimbabwe there was an unusual politics of unity and collaboration.

June 15 (COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe: ‘we are good at surviving, but things are really tough’): By mid-June the lockdown had been in place for about 10 weeks, and people were having to find ways to cope. Things were getting very difficult and consumer products and even food was scarce. By this stage transport of imported goods from South Africa was being facilitated (mostly illegally) by truckers. Traders of all sorts had emerged to supply both rural areas and townships; as someone put it, “we are all vendors now”. Agricultural production had spread – “everyone is a gardener” – including in town. Avoiding reliance on wider value chains had become essential and production, trade and consumption links were increasingly localised across our study sites. With the drying up of remittance flows (as diaspora populations were also affected by COVID-19 job losses and economic contraction), a sense of self-reliance emerged. The large number or returnees from South Africa (who had lost jobs and had been denied social assistance) was by this stage putting a strain on local communities. They also brought the virus and it was from this stage that cases were not just imports from outside but began to be based on local community transmission, although still at a very low rate. Community tensions rose in this period, as concerns over livelihoods and infection increased, with new arrivals from South Africa often shunned and stigmatised. Political scandals around procurement of PPE and equipment reinforced the sense that people were on their own.

July 27 (Viral politics and economics in Zimbabwe): By the end of July, the informal economy – including a substantial growth of smuggling – had expanded further to provide alternatives. A new economy had emerged in order for people to survive. While really tough, people had begun to find ways around restrictions. In this period there had been an growth of movement of people – first back from South Africa and neighbouring countries as people lost their jobs and had no other forms of support, and then from urban areas within Zimbabwe back to the rural areas. The extreme challenges of living in town had hit hard and many felt that the only way to survive was to go ‘home’ to the rural areas, where at least there were family members to offer support, and the opportunity of a small plot of land to do gardening. This pattern continued through August into September, likely resulting in a massive flow of people (and viruses). Meanwhile, the wider political context shifted. With the prospects of opposition protests scheduled for the end of the month, the state and security forces were clamping down, using the COVID-19 regulations to restrict movements and gatherings. Some high-profile arrests had changed the political mood. While at the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was pulling together and the joint COVID committees involved all political parties, the churches, businesses and others, tensions were rising.

September 7 (Innovation in the pandemic: an update from Zimbabwe): The most recent update again showed a shift in responses. The restrictions had relaxed a bit and the political tensions had eased somewhat. Although lockdowns were still being imposed along with movement restrictions, the way local economies had adapted over the previous months had meant that new supply chains had emerged. The shift from formal to informal marketing was complete and mobile shops from cars had become the dominant approach to retail selling. By this stage, people had given up on expectations that the state was going to provide, and many had turned to traditional healers, herbalists and prophets offering health care and support. While cases had not expanded massively, the threat of COVID-19 remained real, but new ways of coping had to be found. The failure of state provision, combined with the series of corruption scandals allegedly linked to those at the top, fed into a disappointment with political leadership and process. People were again on their own having to cope with the virus – and in particular the harsh lockdown measures that had been imposed. Many argued that it was not the virus that was killing them but the lockdown. There were of course always ways around the restrictions as life had to go on, whether involving selling things at night, moving through new routes or paying off police or security forces at road blocks. A sense of disconnection and disillusionment reigned, with a feeling that no-one else – and particularly the state – cared. This has generated a spirit of innovation however, as people have found new ways to get products to market, provide goods and get round the restrictions.

The COVID-19 pandemic – and in particular the lockdown control measures – has resulted in changing economic responses, huge transformations of market arrangements and value chains, there have been large movements of people, and with the rapid expansion of informal economic activity there has been innovation on all fronts. At the same time, politics has shifted from a politics of collaboration to a politics of conflict and dissent to a politics of disillusionment. With the economic struggles for livelihoods deeply entwined with politics, we can expect further changes as the pandemic unfolds. We are continuing our informal monitoring – getting to ‘know the epidemic’ – across the sites, so look out for further updates in the coming weeks.

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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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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