A tribute to Sam Moyo – a giant of agrarian studies

Professor Sam Moyo, director of the African Institute of Agrarian Studies, and a giant of agrarian studies has died tragically as a result of a car accident in New Delhi. This is a terrible loss for Zimbabwe, Africa and the world. Sam had a massive intellect and a deep knowledge of agrarian issues, especially in Zimbabwe. He argued strongly for land reform throughout his career and was always an advocate for radical alternatives that challenged oppression and exploitation in whatever form.


I first got to know Sam in the 1980s, when he was working at the Zimbabwe Institute for Development Studies, then a think tank linked to the President’s office. As a PhD student interested in similar themes, he was always welcoming and encouraging, as he has been to so many others since (see this from Alex Magaisa posted over the weekend). Over the years we have had many, many conversations: always challenging, always inspiring. We did not always agree, but I have always massively respected his commitment, integrity and intellectual depth.

Certainly in the last 15 years, as the debate around Zimbabwe’s controversial land reform has continued, Sam’s contributions – and those of his colleagues at AIAS – have been essential. Their district level study published in 2009 preceded our book, and set the stage for a more mature, empirically-informed debate that (sometimes) has followed. Sam has often been inaccurately pigeon-holed as being on one ‘side’ or another. But his scholarship is far more sophisticated than this. In Zimbabwe’s land debate nearly everyone at different times disagreed with him, but they all listened. Whether inside the state and party, among opposition groups or with the World Bank and other donors, no one could ignore what Sam had to say. And his influence in seeking a more sensible line has been enormous.

But Sam’s scholar activism was not just focused on Zimbabwe. He was frequently invited by governments, social movements and others around the world, and particularly in southern Africa. His experiences in Nigeria, teaching at Calabar and Port Harcourt universities, were influential too, giving him a wider perspective than many. His on-going contributions to South Africa’s land debates have been important also, as he shared Zimbabwe’s lessons. More broadly still, he was central to a wider engagement with agrarian studies from the global South, offering a challenge to those who argued that the classical agrarian question is dead. From the perspective of peasants, social movements and struggles across the global South, it certainly is not. Together with Paris Yeros in Brazil and Praveen Jha in India, and as part of a wider collective of Southern scholars linked to the journal Agrarian South, he has made the case for a revived agrarian studies, in the context of land grabs and intensifying capitalist exploitation across rural areas.

Sam’s intellectual leadership has inspired many. He was recently president of Codesria, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, and was a director of the Southern African Regional Institute for Policy Studies (SARIPS) for a period. Since being established in 2002, AIAS in Harare has become a centre for training and research, with the annual summer schools attracting researchers, activists and others from across Africa. Earlier he was involved with ZERO, the Harare-based regional environment organisation, together with Yemi Katerere; another organisation that attracted young researchers who established their careers under Sam’s guidance. Like all the organisations he has been involved with, ZERO was ahead of the game, set up when few were thinking about the connections between environment and development. And, as with AIAS, Codesria, SARIPS and ZIDS, it mixed solid research, with a deep political commitment to social justice and equality.

With the passing of Sam we have lost a giant. I will miss our intense conversations on his veranda in Borrowdale, as we tested out our ideas and findings on each other, and he smoked furiously. I was always a few steps behind Sam, and it took me days to digest the content of our lengthy exchanges. But they have always been important and formative, even when we disagreed. This is a terribly sad moment and this tribute has been difficult to write. Professor Issa Shivji summed up many people’s feelings well in a post on Sunday: “We have lost one of our great comrades: utterly committed, a most unassuming scholar and an absolutely decent human being”. So thanks Sam for your friendship, inspiration and commitment. You will be very sorely missed.

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



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Cotton in crisis: the limits to liberalisation

The cotton industry in Zimbabwe is in crisis. World market prices have collapsed, and the liberalised contract system, where numerous companies compete with each other, is failing. Side-selling is rife, profits are being squeezed and farmers are losing out, as ginning companies threaten to reduce input supplies to maintain profits. With some ginners only offering cotton seed, and no fertiliser and agrochemicals, this means that yields are set to decline further, debts mount up and incentives for side-selling increase. A mix of contracting arrangements, with some involved in input supply, while others are just involved in buying up cotton, has been a recipe for confusion, and increasingly bad practice.

Many farmers have decided to switch from cotton to more lucrative crops, including tobacco. The consequence is that a number of companies have withdrawn from the Zimbabwean market. Cargill for example announced the ceasing of its cotton operations. The formerly state-owned company and the company with by the far the largest market share, Cottco, is in real trouble, posting a $30m loss in the last year, and racking up $56m of debt. It has restructured its operations, shedding management and other staff. The government has moved in recently to bail it out, proposing to increase its stake from 16 cent to about 65 per cent, taking on the debt in exchange for shareholdings, and guaranteeing inputs for its 100,000 farmer grower base this season. Cotton merchants – with the exception of China cotton that continues to operate independently – have initiated a centralised buying scheme to cut down on side-selling, although some complain that this is a return to a monopolistic arrangement reducing competition, not seen since the days of the Cotton Marketing Board. China cotton, a relatively recent arrival and an increasingly important player also has its own problems.

The current situation is a far cry from the days when a liberalised market was being hailed as the saviour of the cotton industry. There were numerous new entrants, with Indian, Chinese, US, South African and other local companies entering the fray. The old monopoly of Cottco – and before it the CMB – was shattered, and, so went the argument, competition would promote efficiency and would benefit farmers and the economy alike.

For a time, this looked to be the case – and certainly our study from Masvingo in the 2000s showed how the growth of cotton farming in dryland resettlement areas really benefited post-land reform farmers. In the Uswaushava area, six companies operated, and there were new gins opened, allowing farmers choices of who to contract with. In the period of economic chaos in the mid-2000s, cotton contracting was essential, as this was the only way farmers could gain access to inputs, and get paid for their produce. Until the prices collapsed, farmers were happy, and profited significantly, investing in their farms and homes. Our data from Masvingo on the percentage of farmers in the A1 Uswaushava farms growing cotton between 2001 and 2013 shows the growth to a 2007-08 peak of over 90% involvement, and then more recent declines:


This pattern is reflected nationally. Cotton output for the 2013-14 season declined to about 136 million kg, from 145 million kg in 2012-13 and 350 million kg in 2011-12. Farmers have switched away from cotton, including to the more lucrative tobacco in some parts of the country. The prices are not high enough to cover the high input costs (of chemicals, fertiliser, labour and so on). While farmers are able to choose between companies, none are offering good enough deals in their view. Side-selling has grown, as farmers break contracts, and switch to capture good deals. The ideal of a liberalised market, especially in the context of declining commodity prices, is looking decidedly less shiny.

Through the 1980s and 90s, cotton production grew significantly, and became centred on smallholder production linked to outgrowing, especially in ‘frontier’ areas such as Gokwe and Zambezi valley. This dynamic was only boosted by land reform in 2000 as more small-scale farmers came into the sector, eager to profit from the ‘white gold’. In the 1990s, the zeal of policymakers for radical liberalisation and privatisation was aided and abetted by misguided advice from international experts from donor agencies and lending institutions. And of course in the ESAP era of the ‘Washington Consensus’, full-scale liberalisation was often obligatory under the disastrous conditionalities of the International Finance Institutions. This was added to by the enthusiasm of companies, sometimes with strong political connections, wanting to gain access to what then was seen as a highly lucrative market.

At the time many warned of the dangers of sudden and complete liberalisation. They pointed to the dangers of an unregulated, poorly coordinated market solution, and the risks of state withdrawal from the sector. Cottco as an effective private oligopoly initially maintained a coordination role, and offset the worst consequences of liberalisation. But as liberalisation continued, these effects were lost to the detriment of the sector. While ‘parastatal’ was a dirty word in the 1990s (and still is in many quarters), in agricultural economies across Africa they often played an important role. While they were undoubtedly inefficient and often corrupt, an ideologically-driven privatisation at all costs was often worse. And so it proved in many instances.

The contrasts between west and southern Africa, both major cotton producers, is instructive. West Africa has maintained output, productivity and competitiveness, but with continued state and institutional coordination and support. Burkina Faso for example was able to build its cotton industry, and it has remained with substantial, if reduced, state involvement. By contrast in southern Africa production has declined, and privatised businesses have struggled.

That the state in Zimbabwe has returned to prop up the failing Cottco is perhaps a sign that the limits of liberalisation are finally being understood. Cotton is such a crucial crop for Zimbabwean smallholders that it is vital that, even as commodity prices dip, the capacity of the industry to produce top quality export cotton is maintained. Zimbabwe is still a major producer globally, and has a tradition of producing high quality lint. However, the dangers of assuming that a completely liberalised contracting approach will work in the longer term need to be heeded – for cotton, but also other crops such as tobacco, currently seeing a boom.

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

























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Land and commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe: new findings

Over the last few years we have been studying the relationships between land, markets and employment in commercial agriculture Zimbabwe through the SMEAD project, supported by the UK’s DFID-ESRC ‘Growth Research Programme’, and coordinated by PLAAS at UWC in South Africa as part of a regional, comparative study (research has also been completed in South Africa and Malawi). In Zimbabwe, the work has focused on Mvurwi area of Mazowe district and the Wondedzo area of Masvingo district, contrasting a high and low potential area.

The final report is now out, along with a briefing paper. I have already alerted readers to the series of films (‘Making Markets – in high and low res) we have made on the 3 commodities that we focused on in Zimbabwe – tobacco, horticulture and beef. Please do check out the publications and videos to get more detail. This blog offers some highlights of key findings and recommendations emerging from the work.

Despite many challenges, Zimbabwe’s agrarian economy is generating new economic activity and new employment because it is more locally rooted following land reform. Our research shows however how, while economic linkages generated by agriculture create opportunities, the distribution of benefits is patchy; some succeed and are accumulating, while others are not.

There are many challenges ahead. This blog has often focused on practical and policy challenges associated with agricultural production. These include for the need for a reliable supply of affordable fertilisers; the need for enhanced extension and service support, including through mobile phones and the Internet; the need for investment in water management and irrigation facilities; and the requirements of tenure security to encourage investment.

In our work in the SMEAD-Zimbabwe project, we focus on key recommendations for supporting economic linkages and the non-farm rural economy. These include:

  • Investment in rural infrastructure is essential. Restructuring rural production and economic activity following land reform requires a new configuration of infrastructure – roads, electrification, network coverage for mobile phones, market sites and storage facilities, business centres and so on. This is urgently required in order to facilitate the growth of economic linkages and support for the non-farm rural economy.
  • Encouragement of market information services via mobile phones, text messaging and the Internet will assist in increasing knowledge of prices and market options for farmers, input suppliers, service providers and other entrepreneurs, and help develop a more market-targeted approach, avoiding gluts and price crashes.
  • Contract farming arrangements for certain crops eases capital constraints, provides inputs and offsets some risks. In the tobacco sector, the Chinese company, Tian Ze, has contracted a number of (mostly larger) resettlement farmers, but has been key in supporting sales from the auction floors, and the wider contracting system for tobacco. However contracting needs sensitive regulation to protect all parties.
  • Finance and credit is extremely limited, and constrains on and off-farm business development. Bank loans are concentrated on contracting companies, and so a limited suite of crops and activities. Access to finance for others is constrained by major problems of liquidity in the banking and finance sector. There is need for low interest finance for farm and non-farm business activities. Rules and regulations have to be in place to protect financiers and borrowers.
  • Small towns and business centres near new resettlement areas are often booming, providing services, markets and employment. As ‘growth poles’, basic support for their sustained expansion is required, including infrastructure investments, and the facilitation of informal, small-scale trade and service supply.
  • Training in business development skills for farmers, service providers and technology manufacturers will help in the upgrading of business opportunities, particularly for youth and others without land, so they can participate in a local non-farm economy. Business training – including the issuing of business management certificates – is essential.
  • Investment in developing value addition from agricultural production is vital. This includes drying and bottling facilities for vegetables and meat products, as well as small-scale food selling, compliant with food hygiene and safety standards. Tobacco farmers lose on rejected leaf and sweepings. Value addition could involve technologies to make manures, as done by companies such as Nico Orgo.
  • Private sector-led agricultural trade, input supply and service support is often hampered by restrictive regulations and by-laws, combined with often punitive taxes and charges. Policy and regulatory reform to support the growth of small-scale businesses linked to agriculture in the rural areas is a priority. Local councils/government need to do away with out-dated rules and regulations that hinder the initiation and growth of new small businesses.

Zimbabwe’s rural economies are undergoing rapid change following land reform. However, redistributing the land was only the first step. Building sustainable local economic growth that generates employment and is rooted in vibrant rural markets is a longer process, requiring continued support. Local economic growth is being generated by a new vibrancy in the agricultural sector created by land reform. But for the full potentials to be realised, and for the benefits to be shared widely, greater investment in the conditions required – including infrastructure, skills, regulations and policy – is needed if Zimbabwe’s agricultural revolution is really to take off.

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

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Africa’s Land Rush: Rural Livelihoods and Agrarian Change – a new book

There is a rush on for African farmland – a phenomenon unmatched since colonial times. Africa’s land rush, and the implications for rural livelihoods and agrarian change, is the subject of a new book that I have edited together with Ruth Hall (from PLAAS at UWC, South Africa) and Dzodzi Tsikata (ISSER, University of Ghana at Legon). It includes a series of cases from Africa, written by researchers associated with the land theme of the Future Agricultures Consortium, and you can get a taste of the content from the introductory chapter, available here. The book is available from James Currey publishers (and for a 25% discount here). You can also buy it in all good bookshops  – and if you must, Amazon. It was launched in Cape Town last week at the Book Lounge.


By some estimates, 70% of the land transacted globally in large-scale deals in recent years has been in Africa, often considered the world’s last reserve of unused and under-utilised fertile and irrigable farmland. This is what has lured investors motivated by rising food prices, by growing demand for ‘green’ energy, and by the allure of cheap land and free water. But governments have often allocated to investors land that is occupied, used, or claimed through custom by local people, resulting in disrupted livelihoods and even conflict.

The case studies in the book show the striking diversity of such deals: white Zimbabwean farmers in northern Nigeria, Dutch and American joint ventures in Ghana, an Indian agricultural company in Ethiopia’s hinterland, European investors in Kenya’s drylands and a Canadian biofuel company on its coast, South African sugar agribusiness in Tanzania’s southern growth corridor, in Malawi’s ‘Greenbelt’ and in southern Mozambique, and white South African farmers venturing onto former state farms in Congo.

In many cases these big international deals were on land that had previously been state farms, and before that colonial estates. In the mainstream narrative of a ‘land grab’, there is little sense of the history of large-scale farming and how this evolved at different moments – and our research shows how recent land deals mimic and even resurrect forms of large-scale farming from the past.

A recurring theme in the book is the pivotal role of African governments – as actors and referees – in large-scale land transactions and how this is influencing change in local agrarian systems. States were willing to make major changes to their economic policies, provide preferential terms and often failed to leverage benefits in their attempts to keep investors coming.

Contrary to the popular depictions of a rampant neo-colonial push, dispossessing local people while investors cashed in, in fact some investors are having a rather hard time of it. New commercial investments are vulnerable to difficult agroecological conditions, changing market trends and local politics. Local people are certainly carrying many of the costs – most commonly, the loss of grazing land, water and forests – but there are also clear local ‘winners’ from the process. The picture is far more complex than has been portrayed in many mainstream accounts.

Many of the book’s case studies document deals that failed. Land was demarcated, people excluded, but in the end investments failed to materialise – or did so only with low levels of production and employment. But despite the African countryside being littered with failed agricultural commercialisation projects (as it has been for decades), there are major changes afoot, as land changes hands, and a new politics of access unfolds.

Such changes in who holds land, how it is farmed, at what scale, with what technologies, and for what value chains are profoundly reshaping rural societies and economies in ways that will have long-lasting impacts. Will farmers become wage workers or move to cities? Will smallholder production persist – or perhaps even thrive – alongside large-scale investments? Will people be incorporated into commercial ventures as outgrowers, and will this enable them to improve their livelihoods, educate their children, and move out of poverty?

While these deals are diverse in their contexts and design, the direction of change is clear: towards commercial production by medium- to large-scale local farmers alongside larger estates, now owned not by colonial powers but by foreign or multinational companies, often in partnership with domestic capital. As with previous moments of enclosure and commercialisation, Africa’s recent land rush is already sparking resistance and counter-movements.

Community responses have varied from enthusiastic support to outright hostility and resistance. In some cases, initial support for investment and the promise of development turned to hostility in the face of disappointments. Within communities, certain groups found new opportunities for employment or for enterprises linked to new commercial operations. But across our studies, many were locked out of these new opportunities and we found people resorting to various acts of resistance including theft, destruction and acts of vandalism.

Since its peak following 2007-08, Africa’s ‘land rush’ has slowed, as the real implications of investment and production have become more apparent, as opportunity costs in other investment destinations have changed, and as drivers such as spiking food and oil prices have abated, even if temporarily. Today, investors are far more cautious in their prognoses for profits: several ‘bubbles’ have burst, not least the hype surrounding biofuels. However, while the land rush may have slowed, it has not stopped. All indications are that global demand for food, fuel and feedstock will continue to drive demand for fertile land and water into the future. Growing African economies and consumer demand in urban centres compound this effect.

As the book shows, the land rush is best seen as one of a number of processes of commercialisation of agriculture, involving financialisation and commodification – not all of which result in the appropriation of land. The story is therefore far more complex than the simplistic caricatures of the ‘land grab’, as either catastrophe or opportunity. While there are both winners and losers in this process, the direction of change is towards large-scale farming linked to global markets. What is certain though is that rural Africa is being transformed in profound ways.

This blog is based on a piece by Ruth Hall for the African Griot, James Currey’s magazine profiling new books

This post first appeared on Zimbabweland


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Sustainable livelihoods: taking agrarian political economy seriously

My book, Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development, has just been published by Practical Action Publishing and Fernwood. It appears in the ‘short books for big ideas’ agrarian and peasant studies series, and tries to offer a readable overview of the key debates, as well as suggesting important new directions. Being short, accessible and on a massive topic that I know quite a bit about, it was very difficult to write, and took quite a while to come to fruition. You can buy it here for a bit of discount at under £10.

It’s based on years of work, much of it in Zimbabwe. Over the past few decades, livelihoods perspectives have become increasingly central to discussions of rural development. They have offered a way of integrating sectoral concerns and rooting development in the specifics of different settings, being centred on understandings of what people do to make a living in diverse circumstances and differentiated social contexts. This has been at the centre of work on livelihoods after land reform in Zimbabwe, as well as my long-term work that preceded this. As I mention in the acknowledgements, the book would not have happened without that experience, and the conversations and interactions with many in Zimbabwe over the past 30 years.

From classic studies of seasonality, livelihood change and vulnerability in the 1980s and 90s, to the presentation of more synthetic frameworks in the 1990s, first from. Robert Chambers and Gordon Conway’s classic IDS discussion paper of 1992 that was followed by my 1998 paper that proposed a Sustainable Livelihoods Framework, based on work on-going at the time with colleagues in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Mali, and led by Jeremy Swift.

These perspectives contributed to a major change in aid programming and funding approaches, and many agencies adopted various forms of a ‘sustainable livelihoods approach’. There followed multiple responses: huge numbers of studies, consultancies, trainings and communications efforts, as the interest in livelihoods approaches took hold.

But what has happened since? Livelihoods is no longer the buzzword. The fickle faddism of development has been taken over by others since. But the underlying arguments of livelihoods analyses still have relevance, this short book argues. The message is clear: livelihoods approaches are an essential lens on questions of rural development, poverty and wellbeing, but these need to be situated in a better understanding of the political economy of agrarian change. As Henry Bernstein of SOAS, University of London comments, the book “makes a potent argument for reinstating an expansive perspective on livelihoods, informed by the political economy of agrarian change, at the centre of current concerns with overcoming rural inequality and poverty”.

In his review, Simon Batterbury of the University of Melbourne observes: “Nurturing sustainable livelihoods for the poor is not just about recognising their exceptional skill at making a living, which includes diversifying livelihoods, jumping scales, and nesting home places within productive networks, but also mitigating their vulnerability to land grabs, drought and floods, natural disasters, corporate greed and venal politics”. Drawing on critical agrarian and environmental studies, some new questions are posed that challenge and extend earlier livelihoods frameworks.

Four dimensions of a new politics of livelihoods are suggested: a politics of interests, individuals, knowledge and ecology. Together, these suggest new ways of conceptualizing rural and agrarian issues, with profound implications for thinking and action. As Tony Bebbington of Clark University in the US comments, the book “places livelihood thinking in context, explores its applications, explains its limits and – perhaps most important of all – persuades the reader that being political and being practical are absolutely not mutually exclusive options in development, whether writing about it or working within it”.

You can read more comments about the book, check out the table of contents and buy it for a discounted price for a limited time here. I hope it proves useful to researchers, practitioners and students, and helps to revive livelihoods thinking and approaches, in a new more politically oriented guise, for a new generation of research, policy and practice. Let me know what you think!

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




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The political economy of small-scale mining in Zimbabwe

There was much discussion about small-scale and artisanal mining at the STEPS Centre’s Resource Politics conference last month. This is where resources and politics come together; perhaps especially so in Zimbabwe.

Ever since the enactment of  Zimbabwe’s Mines and Minerals Act, which gives the state rights over mineral resources wherever they are found, mining has been controversial. In the colonial period, the Act gave precedence to miners over other colonists making use of the land, including for farming, forestry and ranching. The colonists of Rhodesia failed to find a second Rand, but the mineral resources of Zimbabwe are nevertheless rich. And with recent discoveries – notably diamonds in Marange and platinum in various parts of the country – mining has been the source of hot politics and big bucks.

But beyond the international debates about ‘blood diamonds’, certification and scandals and speculation about corrupt deals between politicians, Chinese corporations and other mining firms, there is another set of contests over access to and control over resources going on. This is focused on small-scale or artisanal mining – sometimes through concessions (or at least leases within concessions), sometimes completely informal, as in much of the alluvial gold panning. Since the early 1990s, in large part as a response to drought and impending hunger, many people, especially in the drier parts of the country, have taken to mining/mineral extraction as a source of livelihoods.

Estimates vary, but several million people are regularly making at least part of their livelihood from mining. This is often a precarious, dangerous and risky endeavour, as Clifford Mabhena and others describe. Dealers in gold (this is the dominant mineral extracted in this way) often operate monopolies or cartels and panners and miners may not get the best deal. International gold prices have been on the decline recently, so returns are low. The police and corrupt officials are always on the look-out for making a cut, so mining is embroiled in a mesh of patronage relations. It is incredibly hard work, and dangerous, especially when mercury is used in the process. Although the data is limited, recent work shows that over 70% of small-scale miners have some level of mercury poisoning.

In the 1990s, Zimbabwe was at the forefront of supporting small-scale mining as a livelihood option. This was a response to the growth of illegal alluvial panning, with the idea that upgrading and formalising would create more viable and long-term sources of employment and livelihood. Various projects, including from the likes of ITDG/Practical Action and SNV, supported the development of small-scale operations. The investment in appropriate technology and business skills resulted in some significant successes. At the same time the government decentralised control over mining regulation and revenue collection to Rural District Councils. Although there were problems, it meant that councils were able to target local entrepreneurs, and support them.

All this changed in the mid-2000s. At the height of the economic crisis, the Reserve Bank, under Gideon Gono, decided to recentralise control over mining. The rationale was the ‘rampant’ environmental destruction caused as many more took to gold panning and illegal, informal small-scale mining to make ends meet. The Bank was also in desperate need of revenues, and tax collection and other fees were not being collected due to the collapse of the state machinery, and there was a massive leakage of potential government revenue, justifying, they argued, a more centralised approach. At face value, the response followed in the footsteps of many other global initiatives trying to ‘formalise’ a sector, and reduce its environmental damage.

The result was Operation Chikorokoza Chapera (no more illegal mining) starting at the end of 2006. This had many echoes of Operation Murambatsvina, applied to informal housing and markets, with a technocratic, modernist legitimation being applied to an essentially political act. For Operation Murambatsvina, it was related in part to regaining control over urban areas by ZANU-PF, while for Operation Chikorokoza Chapera it was more about capturing revenue streams at the centre, and redirecting patronage around mining. The result was disastrous for small-scale mining and people’s livelihoods, as explained in a series of papers by Sam Spiegel, based on work in Kadoma, Insiza and Umzingwani. The crack-down involved the full might of the state-military-security complex. Thousands were arrested (some 25,000 between 2006 and 2009, with 6000 still in prison in 2013), others were beaten, and people’s property was destroyed and confiscated.

And what came in its place? The formal, regulated mining operations that were allowed under the new regulations were run by a combination of elite business people, always with good political connections, sanctioned groups (such as the well-connected Zimbabwe Women in Mining), and outsider investors with good political links, including a range of Chinese companies. Operating at this scale requires capital and investment, and to get past the environmental regulations which were insisted on is pricey, with most EIAs tagged at over $4000. This excluded most informal sector miners, except as part of groups or mediated by ‘sponsors’, well-connected mining barons.

Because of the provisions of the Mining Act, mineral concessions supersede any other land use. While most large concessions are held by large mining conglomerates in established fields, the Ministry of Mines, under Obert Mpofu, has been handing out concessions in a large numbers of areas to new operators. While notionally controlled by environmental and other regulations, the central political backing of new mining operators is such that they often gain precedence – including over (relatively) newly allocated land reform farms. We visited an A2 farm on the outskirts of Gwanda that was completely devastated by surface mining. A concession had been granted to a well-connected group, and the farmer, despite being an A2 land holder and well connected himself at the local level, was at a loss. The cattle herd that he had built up on the farm over the past years since acquisition were grazing on a small portion, and mostly along the road. His farm had become worthless.

The consequence of the crackdown and the shift of focus to a ‘formal’ sector, ‘modern’, ‘regulated’ approach to mining was that informal mining went further underground, became more corrupt (more people to pay off) and became a more vulnerable source of livelihoods given its illegality. But informal mining has certainly not gone away. The bans and crackdowns cannot prevent livelihoods – as in the past under the draconian laws of the Natural Resource Board that implemented environmental legislation as a form of disciplining with ‘scientific’ rationale. The capacity to regulate and control is inevitably limited, so people find a way around. Technology has helped, with metal detecting equipment – notably the ubiquitous ‘Vuvuzela’ that arrived in the country around the time of the South Africa hosted World Cup – having made things cheaper and faster if you can get hold of the equipment (which is now cheap and easy). And the ‘makorokoza’ (informal miners) are increasingly organised and vocal, often reflecting young people’s dismay at the stance of the state, and associated elites, with threats to invade mines and challenge the mining barons and the patronage based economy.

In our study sites, particularly in the drier south of Masvingo and Matebeland South – small-scale mining and illegal panning is widespread and essential for livelihoods. Recourse to modernist and environmental rhetoric to justify elite grabbing of resources is a well-known move in Zimbabwe as elsewhere, but if the state was genuinely interested in inclusive development and environmental protection, it should return to some of the lessons learned in the 1990s, and develop a more integrated, decentralised and broad-based mining policy. And this has to come with a long overdue revision of the Mines and Minerals Act. With its colonial origins, it should no longer have such a purpose and a more balanced and equivalent perspective on land and resource use needs to be enshrined in law. All this will benefit people, the environment – and the exchequer. Unfortunately the current political economy of mining means this is unfortunately rather unlikely.

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



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Transdisciplinary perspectives on soils are crucial for sustainability

As I have mentioned on this blog before, 2015 is the International Year of Soils. Soils are important, but despite this are poorly understood. And I don’t just mean their physical, chemical or biological properties, but soils are also social, political and economic resources.

In order to understand soils properly, we need a transdisciplinary perspective that broadens out our analysis and opens up debates about what soils are for and for whom. Such an approach is central to the conceptual and methodological underpinnings of the ‘pathways approach’ developed by the ESRC STEPS Centre at Sussex.

In a recent paper for Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (vol 15), I explored this in relation to soils, and with examples from earlier work in Ethiopia. It is as relevant to any setting, and it is the wider plea for a transdisciplinary approach that is most important. Without such an approach, achieving sustainable solutions to soil health will be impossible. You can read the short article here (until 23 October) and here.

This is from the abstract:

“Soils must be understood from a transdisciplinary perspective, integrating biophysical, social, economic and political understandings. This requires new combinations of methods. This paper introduces the STEPS ‘pathways approach’, which emphasises the importance of ‘framing’ of different options.

Through a case study from Ethiopia, the possibilities of a transdisciplinary analysis of soils are explored. This highlights the importance of investigating the spatial patterning of nutrients in farm landscapes, and the social processes that influence why soils have different levels of fertility, as well as how local dynamics are influenced by wider policy framings.

A set of participatory methods, including farm mapping, landscape level transect walks and biographical analysis of people and places, is discussed. These help broaden out analysis and open up debate, exposing alternative pathways to sustainability”.

You may remember that earlier in the year, I did a set of posts on soils. Here they are if you missed them:

Soils for life: Some cautionary tales for the International Year of Soils

Homefields and outfields: different sites, different response to soil management

Why an integrated approach to soil management is essential

Policy options for African soils: learning lessons for future action

Soil management in Africa: ways forward

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

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