Reconfigured agrarian relations following land reform

A new book is just out titled “Reconfigured Agrarian Relations in Zimbabwe”. It’s by Toendepi Shonhe, and is based on his recently-completed PhD at KZN. It’s published by Langaa publishers, and is available via the African Books Collective.

The book reports on important research carried out in Hwedza district, and compares the fortunes of communal area, A1, A2, small-scale commercial farms and old resettlement areas. It’s a neat opportunity to compare contrasting land use types within one area. Hwedza is a relatively high potential area, although spread across several agroecological regions, and tobacco production is central. So lots of interesting parallels with our work in Mvurwi.

Chapters 5-7 provide a useful overview of the national story, broken up into periods from the 1880s to 2015, but this is contextualised in relation to the study area in Chapter 8, which offers a succinct and interesting agricultural and economic history of the district. This was an important commercial farming district, but always had other land uses nearby, notably in the Svosve reserve. The booms and busts of tobacco and other forms of production are well illustrated with historical data, showing that the past was not always so rosy for the commercial farm sector.

In Chapter 9, the book offers a lot of data on household assets, production, marketing and so on, across a variety of different agricultural activities. This shows patterns of differentiation, with some doing well and some less so. No big surprises there, but the data once again confirm that the resettlement areas are vibrant, happening places, out-performing other areas across a number of criteria.

Appropriately, the book is situated theoretically within a Marxist framework of uneven development and primitive accumulation, introduced in Chapter 2, and explored in relation to theories of class differentiation in agrarian settings in Chapter 3. The book’s novel contributions come in the chapters that explore the relationships between production in the study areas and wider circuits of capital and accumulation (notably Chapters 10 and 11). For, with tobacco in particular, the production on farms is linked via contracting and marketing arrangements to international markets and corporate players.

Chapter 11 offers a useful typology of social differentiation based on a cluster analysis of survey data, with criteria such as the numbers of months harvests last, maize and tobacco output, cattle ownership and labour hiring being identified as key characteristics. These are similar patterns to what we found from our studies, but the contrasts across so many different land use types is especially valuable here.

Shonhe also makes the important argument that understanding patterns and processes of local differentiation must be linked to the wider context of uneven development and capital accumulation. While some accumulation occurs at the local level, with richer farmers emerging in some resettlement sites, accumulation is occurring elsewhere, along commodity value chains, where surpluses are extracted. An important discussion of contract farming is included, questioning the simplistic rush to such approaches as a source of financing of agriculture.

The book contains a welter of data and some interesting and important analyses, but as with many PhDs the focus is on the detail, rather than drawing out the wider story. Frustratingly too the book missed out on a final copy-edit; something Langaa publishers really should have seen to, given the cost of the book. The final concluding chapter was a classic PhD summary of answers to questions posed, rather than drawing out wider implications. I think there is much more in the material here than is presented in the book, and I look forward to further publications from Dr Shonhe as he works to tease out the implications.

As Zimbabwe re-engages with the international community – and international capital in particular – the lessons here for how this is done, and the likely effects, positive and negative, are vitally important. Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector is certainly massively reconfigured following land reform, as the book lays out well, but the implications of this, particularly in relation to the wider dynamics of agrarian capital, require further thought and analysis. This book makes an excellent start.

I have been catching up on my reading. There is a huge amount of new literature coming out, and this book is just one example. In the coming weeks I will be sharing short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity in this field. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland



1 Comment

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One response to “Reconfigured agrarian relations following land reform

  1. Ivan Lwanga-Iga

    Hallo Ian

    Thanks for keeping us updated.



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