Comparing communal areas and new resettlements in Zimbabwe IV: accumulating assets and investing in the land

One of the striking findings of our earlier work on the new resettlements was the level of investment that was going on in the resettlements – in houses, wells, toilets, farm equipment, transport and, above all, cattle. This investment has continued, and indeed expanded.

But the question has been raised, what is the baseline against which this success is measured? How do we know what is a lot or a little? One way is to compare with what has happened in the communal areas: the areas where many in the new resettlements came from. Is the ownership of assets higher, and the rate of accumulation greater in the resettlements? And if so, what does this say about the ‘success’ of land reform?

Let’s start with housing and shelter, a very basic human need. Many other studies have shown that housing is often the first thing people invest in when acquiring new land. It is so fundamental, and the basis for further accumulation. Housing per se does not reduce income poverty, but by improving the quality of life, and the level of comfort, it is an important route to accumulating and investing. Certainly in the mid-2000s we found people building like fury. Many structures were permanent brick ones, with thatched or tin/asbestos roofs. There was considerable expenditure, and much labour invested. People had camped for months in the bush during the invasions and in those days the communal area amenities looked very enticing. The new settlers were therefore insistent that getting homes established was a priority. This was about marking out the territory, asserting the right to remain in the absence of often even an ‘offer letter’, let alone something more secure. But it was also about making life reasonable: having somewhere dry or warm for the family to live in.

By 2011-12, 83% of houses (excluding kitchens/granaries) in the A1 sites were brick built, with 1.9 such structures per household on average. This compared to 86% in the communal areas, with 2.3 house structures per household compound. Thus by 2011-12, the resettlements had almost reached the level of housing investment that existed in the communal areas that they had left. While there were plenty of fancy homes, with tin/asbestos roofing, glass windows and the rest, in the resettlement areas, there were still fewer than in the communal lands, reflecting the length of residence time, and demands on investment. In the building realm, there is clearly more to aspire to.

In terms of water and sanitation, 63% of households in the resettlements had built toilets by 2011-12, a substantial leap from five years earlier. But this was still less than in the communal areas, where the figure was 78%. In terms of water sources too, the resettlements are catching up. An average of 0.3 wells were built per household in the five years before the survey in the resettlements, compared to 0.06 in the communal lands. In the communal area sites 74% of households had access to household water through such communal wells, while in the resettlements it was 49%. Private well ownership was again higher in the communal lands at 24% compared to 14% in the resettlements. 14% of homes in the resettlements still collected water from an unprotected dam or river source, while none did so in the communal areas.

These different patterns reflect the longer period for investment in the communal lands, and the fact that in the 1980s and 90s, government and donors invested considerable amounts in water and sanitation, particularly communal boreholes. By contrast, resettlement investments have been largely independent of state or donor support, and focused on private and community initiatives. Investment is continuing, as witnessed by the rate of well digging, and it will not be long before the resettlements have water and sanitation coverage at a level of the communal areas, but without 30 years of external investment.

The rate of investment in farm equipment has also been significant in the resettlements. 80% of households have an ox plough, many several, with an average of 0.5 ploughs per household being bought in the past five years. This contrasts with 73% ownership in the communal areas, with only 0.15 having been bought per household over five years. Ox cart ownership is also higher in the resettlements (at 52% of households compared to 49%). Only cultivators have a lower ownership level at 25% of households in the resettlements compared to 32% in the communal areas; although 0.1 cultivators per household was purchased over the previous five years on average, showing a pattern of continued accumulation in the new land reform sites.

A similar pattern is shown with transport. In the new resettlements 48% of households own a bicycle, while this is only 38% in the communal areas. 0.45 bikes per household were bought over the previous five years in the new resettlements, compared to 0.2 in the communal areas. The contrasts are more dramatic for cars (21% ownership compared to 5%) and tractors (6% compared to 1.6%). Transport is seen as vital to livelihoods in the new resettlements, given the larger distances, poor transport infrastructure, and lack of public transport.

We also looked at two other items, once deemed ‘luxuries’ now seen as essential: cell phones and solar panels. These have been bought in large numbers in all areas, although the rate of purchase in the previous five years has been a bit higher in the resettlements (1.7 per household versus 1.2 per household for cell phones, and 0.6 per household versus 0.5 per household for solar panels). Everyone needs to be connected now, and this helps on multiple fronts, from agricultural marketing to family relations. And having electricity for lighting at night improves rural living no end, improving health, enhancing education for kids, and making sure that you are up on the latest news, football scores and soap opera dramas.

But the big story in the resettlements is livestock, and especially cattle. Comparing the A1 villagised sites in Gutu, Masvingo, Chiredzi and Mwenezi clusters with their counterparts in nearby communal areas, the average cattle ownership per household is 6.6 v 5.0, 5.7 v 3.5, 4.9 v 6.3, and 9.5 v 12.3. Thus in the drier areas, it is the communal areas that have the larger herds on average, but this is reversed in the other sites. Again focusing on the A1 villagised sites, 98% of those in the top ‘success group’ (those doing the best, according to local criteria), while 80% of those in the middle group and 73% of those in the bottom group had cattle. This compared to a pattern of 80%, 93% and 50%, over all sites. Cattle ownership is thus better distributed in the resettlements, with more people, across all groups, having access to animals for draft, milk and meat. Donkey ownership shows a comparable pattern, with 24% of the top success group owning donkeys in the resettlements, 9% in the middle and 5% in the bottom. This contrasts with 19%, 10% and 3% in the communal areas. The pattern though is however reversed for goats, as across success groups (top to bottom), 57%, 44% and 37% of households own goats in the A1 villagised schemes, while 71%, 68% and 45% own goats in the communal areas. This reflects the high herding costs of goats, and the difficulties of managing them in the resettlement areas.

Since the terrible droughts of the early 1990s, livestock populations across the country have recovered. In the economic chaos of the 2000s, investing in livestock made even better sense, as the formal currency lost its value. As sources of draft power, access to draft animals – whether cattle or donkeys, or some combination – is vital, and boosts production potentials. This is why the new farmers have invested so heavily in this key asset. It is not that communal farmers have not been accumulating too, but the new resettlement farmers have been doing so faster and across a wider group of people than in the communal areas, particularly in Gutu and Masvingo areas.

Investment by new resettlement farmers remains impressive. It is clearly differentiated by site and by households within sites, but the continued investment in housing, equipment, transport, livestock and so on is impressive. And is especially so when compared to the communal area patterns, where investments are less extensive and less well distributed. In the resettlement areas, the data reflects a broader based accumulation from below, with investments focused on improving the effectiveness of farming, as well as the living conditions on the new farms.

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 IV: accumulating assets and investing in the land

  1. john birchall

    Might be of interest, John 25/forests-land-rights-deforestation-climate-change

  2. William Doctor

    On a different topic, I know, but worth discussion. Don’t you think that the ‘coming revolution’ in Africa will be taking corrupt and incompetent leaders to task? Making them pay? The old left seems to be stuck in an anti-colonial time warp. Those days and arguments are over. Socialism does not work. No one wants to re-create the British Empire. Now it is time to smash the corruption and bigotry that defines modern Africa. Below link is insightful.

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