How have the ‘new farmers’ fared? An update on the Masvingo study I

It is now nearly over four years since we finished our book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities. Since then we have not been idle. We have continued research in all our study sites and extended our work to new areas, including in the Highveld, as well as in nearby communal areas. We have also continued to publish our results and debate the findings, and this blog has become an important focus for some of this.

Many people have asked how have Zimbabwe’s ‘new’ (not that new anymore) farmers fared in the last few years? In the next four weeks I will offer some updates from our on-going data collection. We now have nearly 14 years of data from our sample of 16 sites and 4oo households in ‘new resettlements’ across Masvingo province. Longitudinal data offers important insights on dynamics and trends not available from snapshot surveys or roadside assessments. We have not fully analysed all the data (there is a lot of it!) and there are some journal articles in the works, but we thought we should share preliminary results now, as the formal publication process can take ages.

So what has happened since 2009-10? In some important respects the conditions have improved since the stabilisation of the economy since 2009, and the ending of hyperinflation. But equally there have been few major investments in agriculture in this period, as the government remains broke, the donors have shied away from supporting the land reform areas, and beyond individual farmers’ investments, wider private investment has been limited. Also the weather has been bad, with rainfall below the average in every season from 2008-09 to 2011-13, although of course it has picked up in this last season.

In our 2010 book, we reported a picture of expansion and growth, and significant investment, concentrated in the A1 sites, and particularly the self-contained resettlements. At the same time, A2 farms were struggling with limited investments, and those with sugar plots had suffered badly from low prices, and poor payment systems. It was a mixed picture, but one that showed a significant group of ‘accumulators from below’, particularly in the A1 schemes who were producing surpluses regularly, selling some of these, and reinvesting in their farms.

Has this pattern persisted in years since? In 2011-12, we conducted a follow up survey to find out. This was carried out across all the sites, and involved the 400 households from our original sample (although with turnover in households, there were both new entrants and replacements in our new sample – more on this in a future blog). In addition, we collected crop production and sales data for the same group in all seasons (up to the 2013 harvest).

What did we find? Overall, we found remarkably similar overall patterns to before. The A1 self-contained farmers were doing by far the best, while those in the A2 sites were still struggling, although by 2012, the sugar farmers were back on track. Meanwhile those in ‘informal’ sites were doing better than before, partly we suspect because the uncertainties over their land had been reduced, with one group in Uswaushava having been granted ‘offer letters’ after a long struggle. Tenure it seems does make a difference, but it doesn’t have to be the gold-plated freehold version.

Cropped area had not increased in the way it had during the 2000s; indeed in some sites it seemed to have declined a bit, although it’s not clear why. The process of land clearance and expansion occurred mostly in the 3-4 years after settlement and the rate of expansion then declined. There is it seems not enough labour or draft power to plough more, hence stability or decline in arable areas (again with some exceptions). This even includes the A2 areas, where capital shortages, and lack of equipment, have constrained agricultural expansion for most.

Why is all this painstakingly collected longitudinal data important, and what does it tell us?

First, it shows that the Masvingo study sites are far from the situation sometimes portrayed in the media. There is a wide array of activities. Not everyone is doing well, but a significant proportion continue to ‘accumulate from below’ and invest in farms and farming. This is most prominent in the A1 sites, especially the self-contained versions.

Second, despite repeated droughts, a considerable amount of food is being produced, and sold. The mismatch between dire predictions of impending shortage and the reality as it turns out has been commented on before. This is in part due to the production occurring in the new resettlement areas that often goes unaccounted for in general food security assessments.

Third, there is a pattern of differentiation emerging that means only some are doing well while a significant proportion are failing to meet livelihood needs. These differences within and across sites is quite stark and suggests the need for targeted policy responses.

Fourth, the lack of investment and support in the new resettlements continues, and this means that basic improvements are not occurring. Yields for example remain stubbornly low, and this is less to do with seeds and fertilisers (although supplies of both have been a challenge), but more to do with water control in the dry area of Masvingo. Without irrigation there are high variations in crop output between years that has to be compensated for by non-farm activities of various sorts.

The data suggests ways forward for government, donors, NGOs, farmer organisations and others wishing to support the ‘new farmers’. It suggests a focus for intervention (irrigation, flexible credit and basic rural infrastructure to reduce costs would be the top three in my view); it highlights a need to rethink food security and livelihood assessment; and it suggests the need to take a differentiated response to policy and support, contrasting for example the ‘accumulators’ and those who are struggling. None of these are new suggestions; indeed they all appeared in our 2010 book. However, the updated data simply reinforces their importance, and the urgency of doing something on the ground.

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

The on-going Masvingo study research is conducted by Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene.




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6 responses to “How have the ‘new farmers’ fared? An update on the Masvingo study I

  1. am

    Point three on differentiation needs deep consideration because of the detrimental effects it has on the nation. I do know that the blog is a summary of key points and that each could have been very much more fleshed out by the blogger should the blogger have wished to do so.
    It may be worth considering the following as a reason for differentiation which is stated as significant proportions failing to meet their needs:
    If the A1 settlement, say a whole farm, was populated by people from a poorly producing nearby communal area then the fast track A1 will be like that communal area. Or it will be like that communal area in direct proportion to the numbers of A1 that come from a nearby poorly producing communal area. Meaning that the fast track A1 will quickly become like the communal area. In total, producing poorly, but with notable exceptions who produce very well and a small group of almost incredible elite farmers who with oxen only, produce incredible harvests, even in these dry years mentioned above. These latter farmers produce from the same allocated plots the equivalent of what another 20 houses produce. This is what happens in communal also. However, I think that in fast track there is less reason for this to happen. Another way of saying this is that the people are different. Their habits or life-style strategy is different. Hence differentiation occurs.
    The summary is that fast track differentiation is for the same reasons as communal differentiation and so they become like each other. Or rather, fast track becomes like communal.
    The last sentence on the post contained the word urgency. This cannot be mentioned enough. There is an inertia prevailing in the nation. The encroachment of ngo food aid into fast track is to me a very loud alarm bell to the nation. At best these things should only be temporary but they become almost permanent features. Dependency when it sets in is detrimental to production. The Ndebele have a proverb: when hunger comes into an house it is very difficult to chase it out. The same is true when hunger comes into a nation or large parts of it. It is very difficult to get rid of it.

  2. Will the Doctor

    Any comment on the work of Paul Collier at Oxford who states that we should

    ‘debunk the ‘myth of the efficient peasant’ and rural romanticism and support commercial agriculture and urban growth.’?

    He also says “Smallholder agriculture has been a persistent productivity disaster for Africa,” … “Despite a huge land area to population ratio and higher proportion of its labor force engaged in food production, Africa is still not able to feed itself. The smallholder business model of the last 50 years is fundamentally flawed…maybe it is time for a Plan B.”

    These quotes are taken from a debate on the ‘future of food in Africa’; I’ve pasted the http below.

  3. MrK

    ” “Despite a huge land area to population ratio and higher proportion of its labor force engaged in food production, Africa is still not able to feed itself. The smallholder business model of the last 50 years is fundamentally flawed…maybe it is time for a Plan B.” ”

    We’ve already had 50 years of ‘Plan B’, austerity and structural adjustment programs from the IMF and World Bank, which were in effect even more destructive than ‘Plan A’, which was colonialism itself.

    Did you know that the famines of Ethiopia were caused by Structural Adjustment? Google: Somalia real causes of famine chossudovsky

    The problem with economics is that there is a massive GIGO factor – garbage in, garbage out.

    For instance, Jeffrey Sachs, who other than being an economist is no dunce, exclaimed that the population of Malawi was both ‘devastated by AIDS’, while ‘soaring beyond the carrying capacity of the land’. Another hoot was the idea that Malawi has a ‘nitrogen deficiency’ (I wonder who owns a chemical plant).

    In most people’s minds, those would be two mutually exclusive outcomes, however if you’re an economist, you get information about politics, agriculture, healthcare, from people whose specialism one doesn’t share.

    In the case of Africa, people seem to be working on the screeching and contradictory calls for attention from the $6 billion a year AID industry, which of course is the public face of the $200 billion a year ‘donor aid’ industry.

    Here is another example of the aid industry scrambling in the face of – to them – disastrous news.

    (THE BODY) Rapid Population Growth in Uganda Affecting Efforts to Fight HIV/AIDS
    From Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

    I quote: “There are an estimated 30 million people living in Uganda, New Vision/ reports. Apuuli said about 1.1 million, of them are HIV-positive, but 90% are not aware that they are living with the disease.”

    I guess that means they’re not on anti-retrovirals. Also, 1.1mn out of 30 million is 3.6% of the population, a far cry from the 30% claimed in the 1990s. And by the way, those are 2006 numbers. Today, the Ugandan population is 37.5 million.

    And yet, higher than the 1.3% of the population being HIV positive, that was actually measured in the DR Congo’s first Demographic and Health Survey in 2007, of over 14,000 samples.

    ” According to the EDS-RDC, 1.3 percent of the population age 15-49 years is HIV-positive. The prevalence is 1.6 percent for women and 0.9 percent for men. ”

    Click to access SR141.pdf

    Oh, what a difference a DHS (as opposed to an Antenatal Clinic Survey or ANC) makes.

    Uganda: ‘Population Pressure Affecting Aids Fight’

    I quote: “UGANDA’S rapid population growth is making it hard for the country to effectively fight the spread of HIV/AIDS, according to the AIDS commission.”

    Notice that condom use and abstinence are both incompatible with rapid population growth. Yet both these lobbies are falling all over themselves to take credit.

    Notice also that although in the 1990s Uganda was declared the ‘Epicenter Of AIDS In The World’, it’s population growth was never affected and was always over 3% per year.

    My point is – economic policy is only as good as the data that goes into it. And the fact is that we live in a world where the billionaires can spend any money they want to propagandize the population, or market their products.

    On the write-down of HIV estimates, a decade ago (most people would have missed that) notice the big switch came with the switch from Antenatal Clinic Surveys of pregnant women at urban clinics, to the much larger DHS of statistically representative samples of the general population (men, women, children, rural as well as urban, etc.).

    (BOSTON GLOBE) Estimates on HIV called too high
    New data cut rates for many nations
    By John Donnelly, Globe Staff | June 20, 2004

    And it’s follow-up in the Washington Post:

    (WASHINGTON POST) How AIDS in Africa Was Overstated
    Reliance on Data From Urban Prenatal Clinics Skewed Early Projections
    By Craig Timberg Washington Post Foreign Service
    Thursday, April 6, 2006; Page A01

    Notice that even though mysteriously, national prevalence rates in West and Central Africa were much lower, they still believe in the (heavily ANC survey driven) high estimates for Southern Africa.

    Another factor in the drastically lower infection rate estimates, is the use of confirmation testing in surveys, which did not happen (re-testing positive samples with a different test) in the ANC surveys.

    So, this is the GIGO factor we’re talking about, and it can be massive.

  4. am

    Chossudovsky has been described as a neo-Stalinist and amongst other things he is supposed to believe is that Alqaeda is a CIA outfit with Saudi support. He is an example of a fine mind ruined by politics. Of course, he wouldn’t say that the famines were anything to do with Mengistu, a fellow communist and enemy of the peasant and working class.

  5. Pingback: Zimbabweland’s festive top 20 | Zimbo News

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