Comparing communal areas and new resettlements in Zimbabwe I: An introduction to a short blog series

One of the things people have asked us about our research on land reform in Zimbabwe is: are people better off in the new resettlements, compared to the communal areas? We made the case in the book by comparing our results with published data from nearby communal and resettlement areas, and argued that indeed the new settlers were better off: producing more, accumulating more assets, and investing.

But to probe this question in more depth, in 2012 Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene and I decided to undertake a survey in some nearby communal areas in parallel with the resurvey of the land reform sites. Exactly the same questions were asked of 120 households evenly spread over four sites, each of which were near the A1 sites we had been studying since 2000-01. With one exception, these were sites we had done surveys in during 2006, as part of a study of livestock production in the province, and we used the same sample. This was drawn to represent a range of households, with cattle ownership used as the main indicator. A ‘success group’ ranking confirmed an even spread of households in each of the 3 ‘success groups’. Although necessarily a small sample (due to budget and logistics), we believe it is broadly representative of the communal area settings.

The sites were in Serima (near our Gutu sites, in fact adjacent to Lonely A farm), Gutu South (close to our Masvingo district sites in Wondedzo), in Ngundu south (along the road from our Chiredzi sites at Uswaushava) and in Chikombedzi area (near our Mwenezi sites in Edenvale). The Ngundu site in southern Chivi is probably the least comparable to its paired resettlement site, as it benefits from a particular micro-environment, and regularly has better crops than the more dryland site along the Chiredzi road. But overall, the sites have many similarities in terms of basic agroecology, proximity to markets and so on.

The question was whether, a decade after people had moved – often from these very places – to the new resettlements whether they were doing better, worse or much the same. This is an important question for a number of reasons. Clearly critics of land reform argue that new, backward, hopeless communal area settings are being recreated in the new resettlements and that things are no better, perhaps worse. Some instead argue that the communal areas are not so bad after all, and investments should have been focused there, leaving the new land for more commercial, larger-scale endeavours – or indeed keeping the status quo. Others argue that there is a new dynamic emerging in the new resettlements, especially the A1 areas where access to land has provided the opportunity for people to move beyond ‘subsistence’ and move towards ‘market-oriented’ growth. Some thought that land reform offered the chance to ‘decongest’ the communal areas, and allowing those left behind further opportunities, moving the communal areas from ‘reserves’ to productive areas as land became available. Still others argue that we need to understand the relationships between communal areas and old and new resettlements, both A1 and A2 in an area if the real economic benefits of land reform are to be realised.

All of these debates are relevant as discussions unfold about how to support agriculture and rural development after land reform. For example, major investments by donors – including for example the UK’s Department for International Development in partnership with FAO and others – have premised their programme’s design on assumptions about agrarian structure, patterns of accumulation, and the opportunities for investment and growth between different types of farmers and different areas. So solid data on what is going on where and what the potentials are really does matter.

In the 1990s, Bill Kinsey and colleagues did systematic studies between the now ‘old resettlements’ and communal areas, and found that those given resettlement lands fared significantly better on most criteria, although there were some interesting contrasts too.

So, what is the story for the 2000s resettlements in Masvingo province? As ever, the story is complex.

There are clear limitations with our survey (sample size, comparability, lack of counterfactual of no exits to resettlements and so on), but we believe there is some interesting evidence that emerges. In our analysis we concentrated on the comparison between the communal area sites and the A1 villagised/’informal’ sites in our larger sample. These seemed to be the most relevant groups to compare, as 62% of new settlers in our sample in these sites came from nearby communal areas. This was less in the A2 and A1 self-contained sites which had 12% and 39% respectively.

In the next few weeks on this blog, I will present some of the headline results under some different headings: people and places, focusing on demography, household composition and movements; land and cropping, focusing on land sizes and crop production; asset accumulation, focusing on asset ownership and investment, including of livestock; and off-farm income and diversification, focusing on the range of other income activities people are engaged in, including reliance on remittances.

We are writing this up more formally as a journal article, but in the meantime we thought blog readers would like a taste of the results. So please do check in each Monday for the next month for an update.

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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2 responses to “Comparing communal areas and new resettlements in Zimbabwe I: An introduction to a short blog series

  1. William Doctor

    These are interesting data – but there is a broader context as always that will have ramifications for development in vulnerable and impoverished nations like Zimbabwe.

    One such bigger picture event is the upcoming United States-Africa Leaders Summit. I’m sure that this will have positive knock-on effects for many countries, but Zimbabwe has been excluded from this summit [for the abuse of human rights], and the AU is not backing Mugabe at this one, like they did at the AU-EU summit. Such is the influence / draw of Obama I guess.

    Any comment?

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

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