One of the most contested figures on Zimbabwe’s land reform is the decline in production resulting from land reform (see earlier blog commentaries, below).
Martin Plaut in his report in the Crossing Continents programme (http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/cc) interviews John Robertson, the Zimbabwean economist. Robertson says production declined by half. Plaut asks him: but surely lots of production is going through informal channels being exchanged in markets which the statistics do not capture? Robertson (sort of) concedes that this is the case, but says that such markets have always existed.
The failure to grasp the changed production and marketing system following land reform means that there remains a very poor understanding of what is actually going on under the new agrarian structure. Much remains under the radar, unreported, and simply missed. It allows the narrative to persist that all was well in the past, and disaster reigns today. The result is that we end up with very poor estimates of ‘food deficits’, prompting on occasions unwarranted food aid efforts.
Charlest Tafts, president of the CFU, relays one of the favourite myths that Zimbabwe was in the past always a breadbasket of the region, and rarely imported food: twice in a century, compared to every year in the past 11 was the statistic offered. Of course this is not true, but who is questioning it? And where is the data to show the growth of production post 2000? The basic data collecting capacities remain weak, and we remain reliant on guesses and suppositions all informed by inherent biases.
The commodities where real growth following land reform has occurred – tobacco and cotton – were mentioned in an aside in the BBC programme, but of course wheat and coffee have declined. Unlike other commodities, the stats on these are better, given the central marketing arrangements and the orientation to export. And as discussed in earlier posts in this blog, the growth has been impressive, far outstripping any expectations. As in any change in agrarian change, there will be switches between commodity foci, but how do we balance the costs and benefits in a more rounded, informed way.
What we need urgently is a revitalisation of the Statistical Services of Zimbabwe, and a recasting of their data collection efforts, to capture the sort of production and marketing that the farmers featured on the Crossing Continents programme, are engaged in.
If the donors are looking for something to spend resources on, this might be a good option. Next time the BBC return, they can then cross-check the data more rigorously.