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

In last week’s blog, I looked at farm production, and the difficulties faced in recent drought years, and this was contrasted with patterns across the previous decade. But crop production is only one part of a wider, diversified livelihood portfolio. What other contrasts have we observed in the more recent period compared to the 2000s, the focus of our book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities?

Comparing the survey data between 2007-8 and 2011-12, what is significant is the accumulation of on-farm assets. And this in only a few years. This is most striking in cattle numbers. 281 cattle were purchased across the sample of 400 in the 5 years prior to 2011. This amounts to an outlay of perhaps US$100,000 in total. Interestingly, these purchases were concentrated in ‘success groups’ 2 and 3, the poorer end of our sample, who have shown the capacity, despite the challenges, to accumulate. Goat numbers have remained more stable, but sheep numbers have increased, although totals are not huge. It is cattle where the investment has been concentrated, and this represents a significant commitment to rural production.

In addition, people have bought ox carts, ploughs, cultivators, and a variety of forms of transport in large numbers, all indicating that people are keen to invest in land-based activities, despite disappointments in crop production in certain years. Cell phones and solar panels have featured prominently in assets purchased in recent years too, and house building has continued apace (see next week’s blog). This shows an on-going commitment to staying in the resettlements for most, but with ‘modern’ houses, solar electricity and phone connections assured. I will discuss this pattern of investment and its value in next week’s blog, but the total numbers and values are striking.

Another interesting change is the decline in remittances being sent to households in our sample, especially from the major sources abroad (notably South Africa, but also the UK, Botswana etc.), except in the site close to the South African border in Mwenezi. This reflects perhaps decreases in incomes in diaspora communities due to the post-2008 global financial crisis, but also a sense that in the post 2009 period, new settlers need less support given the ‘recovery’ of the Zimbabwean economy.

However, to counterbalance this, in 2010-11 there were greater percentages of households engaged in local off-farm income earning activities, across all categories (building and carpentry, brickmaking and thatching, fishing, wood carving, tailoring, transport businesses, grinding mills, trading and piecework employment), except pottery and basket-making. This suggests that, with the return of a viable cash economy, off-farm diversification is more feasible. But it also indicates the importance of such diversification, especially for poorer households, when crops fail, as they did in this period.

While there has been turnover in households – through death and inheritance as well as exits – there has also been a continued process of attraction of new household members, and a growth in household size, from 4.0 to 6.5 overall between 2007 and 2011-12. In part this is due to a predictable pattern of cyclical demographic change as younger families become older, and produce more children. But it is also the consequence of attracting relatives and others to work on the farms.

There has however been a slight decline in farm employment on A1/informal farms between 2007 and 2011-12, while on A2 farms permanent farm employment has increased a little, with temporary labourers declining slightly in this season. Across the full sample there were 244 permanent jobs and 384 temporary ones. This is an important source of livelihood for these people, with the permanent employees each with families linked to the farm, in addition to the core household members gaining livelihoods from the new resettlements.

With disappointing crop production overall (although with some doing relatively well nevertheless even in these drought years), but increased on-farm investment and off-farm diversification yet broadly static employment levels, what is going on? Have livelihoods changed since 2009 when we completed fieldwork for the book? The answer is: yes and no.

The broad pattern that we recounted in the book remains similar: a particular pattern of differentiation, with some successfully ‘accumulating ‘from below’. Clearly people remain committed to the land and to an agricultural future, and livestock in particular seem to be a major focus of investment. But people also realise that surviving only on crop production given the vagaries of the weather, is not enough, and other sources of income, especially if remittances decline, are important.

Data from more recent harvest seasons have been collected from the same group of households, along with some more detail on household turnover and exits, but the data has yet to be fully analysed. I will keep blog readers updated on the changing fortunes of our sample farms, as the longitudinal perspective really does give a sense of the peaks and troughs, trials and tribulations, opportunities and disasters of farming as a core livelihood in the land reform areas of Masvingo.

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

  1. am

    According to the headline figure of investment in cattle it equates to 400 houses buying 0.7 of a beast each in 5 years i.e. less than one beast in 5 years per household. This cannot be presented as successful when added to it is the lack of crop production.
    Another thing is that the investments in farm equipment are just what goes on every in rural areas. Ploughs, scotch carts, etc, are purchased all the time. It would be more meaningful if they were new purchases rather than replacement but the post is not clear on that.
    The employment figures are of interest. I suppose these are cattle herders who look after the cows but help out with all other duties as required. Does this also include the girl who helps at the house. In a communal area that is typically most of the permanent employment. Trades are there but the work is erratic and not frequent. Many of the trades would have to be classed as unemployed.
    If the money is not coming in from the diaspora, employment in other parts of the country or by production sales, it becomes difficult to see where the income comes from. In fact I would suggest that there is very little income created in the community itself hence there is little increase in the cattle herd over a 5 year period. i.e. fast track has become communal.
    But a feature not in the post is cash on hand or amongst the clothes. Many people in the country are great private savers. Sometimes there is more money in the house than one might think. It is being saved not spent. The funeral, hospitable bills are thought of in advance.
    However the post leads to the point that productivity is low. This is the common report in the nation and in the press. One of the main objectives of land reform was productivity in the fields. It would seem that this has not been achieved. The President said in the early days that people should not build permanent structures because they had to prove themselves by productivity. Is it not the case that this point needs to be addressed.
    It would seem a fair but sad conclusion that eventually large parts of the farms will become ngo areas. This will be the true measure of the success or failure of the productivity element in land reform. In fact, there has been enough said by way of warning, in the history of the blog, to show that it is an inevitable outcome, if things continue as they are.

    • AM thanks for your comment. Apologies, I have only just discovered it hence late posting.

      The headline figure refers to purchases of cattle with cash income. Compared with other comparators in the communal areas (see forthcoming blogs on this), this is a signficant level of investment. Overall accumulation of cattle is higher than this through natural increases (see blog on next week).

      An important finding is that purchases – as well as overall accumulation of cattle – has occurred among those groups who arrived with few or no animals. Accumulation is therefore occurring among the poor, although not the ultra-poor, resulting in a more equal distribution of such a key asset. While the number of purchases is not massive, this was a period when crop sales were low due to drought (see last week’s post). Purchases of animals tend to be episodic, resulting from windfall cash from exceptional harvests (as well as other occasional cash injections such as pensions, remittances etc.).

      Another factor to recognise with this data from Masvingo is the objective of cattle ownership. These are largely working animals for farming, and most households aim to acquire sufficient for draft power (around 4 animals). In Masvingo – perhaps by contrast to Matabeleland where I believe you come from – this is regarded as a high level of ownership. Thus not all households will seek to buy animals if they already have enough, as adding animals can result in problems of labour for herding, as well as crop damage, grazing pressure and so on. These contrasting dynamics of cattle ownership and accumulation across regions in Zimbabwe is important to recognise. Different assets mean different things for different people in different places.

      In relation to your wider conclusions that the new resettlements are becoming ‘NGO areas’ ‘like the communal areas’ I am not sure I agree. There are important differences that are being sustained. This is a theme I will address in a series of blogs based on our systematic comparison of resettlement farmers and communal area comparators. These are scheduled for May/June.

      • am

        I was in a farm near here on Saturday. The village in the farm I went to is not adjacent to this communal area but to the communal area next to here. The farm was formerly a ranch with some irrigation but mainly for cattle. The farm is adjacent to both communal areas. I think that it was several thousand hectares in extent.
        The purpose of the visit was to see a family I know. They had moved from one of the original 1980’s settlements to this new fast track village, last year. The reason for the move was, amongst other things, the old resettlement village had no water or very little of it from the borehole at the height of the dry season. The soil was sand and the grass poor. Also they were a long distance from amenities including the clinic. There was a poor development plan in some of these older resettlements.
        As said above they moved there last year, last winter actually. They did not have a lot of time to do much with the nearness of the rains but they are focussed, self-dependent and hardworking people who know the plough has to use every drop of rain. As to property they haven’t done too much more than was necessary. Kitchen, bedroom and one flat roofed two bedroomed house. The latter will be for the man and his wife with a sitting room. My point here is the rush factor. It was not far off with having to throw things up quickly to get a roof over their heads and some comfort -they had so little time. They have done very well. As to cropping, well it is still early, but they have had a fantastic start. The drier, from a judge by my eye, already contains 80-100 buckets. They have been drying seed in the sun and eating it bit by bit as they go along. In other words they have done very well and are extremely happy. They haven’t finished harvesting yet either so there is a good bit more to come. They have a little sorghum and a very nice plot of groundnuts and still a good bit more of maize. Due to spread planting some of the latter is still green but it is going to make it and produce. When I arrived at the stand they were in the fields harvesting and protecting the crops. The change in physical appearance of the man and his wife was notable. The latter, particularly, was a very thin woman. Now she is quite different. I commented on it to her and she said they never got food like this in the other place.
        I am writing the above just to show what some people can do if they get decent soil. The rains were exceptional and above-normal. But it is easy to see that because they work hard that they, in this better soil, will always get something, even with more normal rainfall.
        The village, itself, is laid out in a traditional way. Not lines with stands one on top of each other, but a house with a good sized garden and the fields further away. It was a pleasant village situated downstream from the headwaters of a major river. But borehole water is too far away needing scotch cart transport and a lot of time to collect it.
        I suppose lots of points can be made. As I have gone on too long already I will try to be brief.
        1. It shows what can be done by dynamic individuals but they need further support related to boreholes, a bit of advice here and there, etc.
        2. This seemed to be a village of a high standard though the above already appear to be ahead of many of their neighbours. Villages, in the same farm, are not all like that. One, I drive through regularly on the western side, is already decayed, with one house, known to myself from this communal area, holding the fort of productivity.
        3. Another farm adjacent to this farm is almost completely unproductive and getting ngo support. I do wonder about this unproductive farm. I almost tend to the view it is a “criminal” farm. The stock thief mentioned before lived there. Last week, the ZRP visited, doing the local crime surveys. The officers were uniformed but there was a man in plain clothes with them. I thought he was an officer but they didn’t say much about him. I found out later that he was a murderer who had been on the run but eventually caught by the police. He was from this unproductive farm. This is the social aspect that I don’t think is as prominent in the blog as perhaps it might be: harms to productivity due to for want of a better term, social problems. For me they are moral problems which have a social impact on society and in the case of the farms contribute to lack of agricultural productivity, in at least, a significant proportion.
        More specifically, in reply to your reply, although some of it I have touched on in the above, I have always thought that people want to increase their herds not just for draught power. The herd is the bank, the source for lebola, funerals, etc. I don’t know Masvingo too well. But vishavane and Mberenga I know quite well and many people who live there. Their ambitions are the same as other places in the country. But I will defer to your greater knowledge of these parts of the country.
        My point about fast track becoming like communal and hence ngo presence will increase is still held in relation to production. To me it was inevitable because of the way fast track was carried out. Too fast, no planning and especially poor selection of who got the land. If a cross section of a communal area is put on a farm then the farm will become like the communal area. It seems inevitable.

      • Yes, good soil and water access make a big difference. But you are right the social basis of production is important too. Cooperation, support and trust are all significant, and emerge from a sense of belonging and community. This varies dramatically across resettlement contexts, something that Abigail Barr and Marlene Dekker have written about in relation to ‘old’ resettlement sites. And for sure, cattle have multiple uses, including the ones you mention, and there are multiple motivations for increasing herds, but draft power in our areas is the primary one for most.

  2. Pingback: Comparing communal areas and new resettlements in Zimbabwe IV: accumulating assets and investing in the land | zimbabweland

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