Mining and agriculture: diversified livelihoods in rural Zimbabwe


Easther Chigumira has recently published an excellent paper in The Journal of Rural Studies, Political ecology of agrarian transformation: The nexus of mining and agriculture in Sanyati District, Zimbabwe. It’s well worth a read if you can get past the pay-wall. Here is a quick overview of some of the highlights.

The paper aims “to examine the process and expression of re-peasantization in Zimbabwe through a 10-year on-the-ground study into the lived experiences of land recipients from three resettled communities in Sanyati District (formerly Kadoma District)”. Based on intensive, engaged field research, the paper is full of fascinating insights, particularly around the links between agriculture and mining.

The study adopted a political ecology approach and “explores the day-to-day practices of land recipients, the meanings they attach to land, and reasons for particular land use activities and livelihood strategies. It argues that a more localized approach that looks at the interlinked themes of people, their livelihoods and their relationship with the physical environment, rather than solely focusing on economic indicators and productivity, provides an understanding of the processes and expressions of re-peasantization, and essentially the nexus of mining and agriculture since the FTLRP.”

This wider scope of analysis is important and revealing. While it’s true many of us have focused on production, and the associated class dynamics, a wider appreciation of what people are doing and why is important, especially in order to get a sense of the diverse livelihoods – including artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) – that people are pursuing and how these change over time.

In this paper, insights are enhanced by the longitudinal nature of the study, with surveys in 2004/05 (soon after settlement), 2009 (after several years of extreme economic crisis) and 2012/13 (in a relatively stable period). The study encompassed two A1 settlement sites (a villagised and self-contained) and one A2 site. The paper offers a number of significant conclusions, highly relevant to on-going debates about Zimbabwe’s new agrarian landscape.

Settlers come from diverse origins, around half originally from urban areas, the other half from rural areas. While initially land invasions did not appear to be directly linked to party affiliation, access to land in later years, particularly around the 2008 elections, linkages with ZANU-PF became more important, particularly for young people requiring land. An emergent patronage system evolved, requiring people to at least ‘perform’ being party members. This was most prominent in the A1 villagised area, reflecting the particular patterns of land allocation and local politics, as young people demanding land were slotted in around election time. But patronage was not the whole story, and the empirical data suggests a more nuanced story than others have offered for other sites.

As observed in many studies, processes of differentiation are on-going, as some accumulate and others struggle. A distinct grouping of ‘rich’, ‘middle’ and ‘poor’ farmers is observed in the area, with distinctions becoming greater over time. Crop outputs are highly unequal, for example, with higher outputs overall from A1 farmers, as the medium-scale A2 farms suffered serious capital constraints. Production varied over time due in part to rainfall, but also to the economic situation, affecting availability of inputs, with a big dip in 2007-08 at the peak of the crisis.

Overall, there has been a significant investment in new assets and improved infrastructure on people’s farms; something we’ve seen across our sites. “There has been a significant accumulation of assets linked to farm production, as well as non-productive assets by the first group of settlers. This group of farmers all own small productive assets such as hoes, axes, picks and shovels, while 41% now own ox carts, ploughs and cultivators, and 14% had bought tractors. An increase in the number and quality of dwellings in the community was also observed. Fifty-nine percent of the first group of settlers had upgraded their dwellings from mud and pole to brick with thatch roofing and/or brick with asbestos or corrugated iron roofing. In the 2004/5 survey sample there were no toilet structures in the community but in 2012/13, almost two thirds of these households had constructed ablution facilities in the form of Blair toilets or pit latrines on their property. Further investments included cell phones, bicycles, solar panels, radios and televisions. The increase in livestock ownership was another indicator of asset accumulation.”

Many settlers have diversified livelihoods (‘pluriactivity’), and this has grown over time. Small-scale mining in particular has become important, as a complement to agricultural production. This was especially so when the economic crisis deepened and the gold price increased. The paper argues that “the commonly held view that non-agricultural activities such as ASM are an indicator of de-peasantization/de-agrarianization is flawed…. Instead, the study “provides evidence that context specific realities need to be considered, because ASM can also be an integral part of re-peasantization”. Mining in the area is a year-round activity, with important gender divisions of labour. Men engage year-round, while women are more seasonal miners, focusing on agriculture in the cropping season. In some cases, settlers employ others to help, generating a new labour economy in the area.

A range of off-farm labouring jobs are pursued. The extent of these have grown too. They include: In 2004/05, most ‘maricho’ (piecework) activities were carried out by women alongside former farm workers, but increasingly men are involved too, as a local labour market grows, responding to demands from more successful agricultural producers in the area. The later settlers (post 2008) in particular were especially reliant on this source of labour based income.

Investment has also occurred beyond the farm, and this accelerated particularly post dollarization. Relatively well-off farmers now have small shops and other businesses in the area providing services, removing the need for settlers to travel to Kadoma to purchase items.

Finally, the state has been largely absent in the area throughout the study period. But whereas in 2004-05 people complained, by 2013 most had accepted this, and created new ways of gaining services, sourcing finance and so on. There was noted growth in entrepreneurial activity among individuals, as well as collective action in groups, around issues ranging from credit to marketing to input supply.

The patterns seen in Sanyati are very similar to what has been observed elsewhere. The integration of the mining economy is perhaps more evident than in other areas, although work in Ngezi, Matabeleland and elsewhere observes this as an important phenomenon. Land reform was not just about opportunities for agriculture, but access to other resources too.

What is striking about the longitudinal story so effectively told in this paper is how things have changed – greater class differentiation, shifting gender roles, more asset accumulation, shifts in work/labour patterns and so on, while particular events generate important shifts, driven by the wider political economy, with 2008 being an important conjuncture.

Making sense of the implications of land reform in Zimbabwe requires just this sort of study, and this adds to others offering nuanced insights that help new framings for policy.

This is the second in a series of 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 and ability to comment on important issues of policy in the post-Mugabe era. 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


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