At Davos, can Zimbabwe re-engage with the global economy on its own terms?

As Emmerson Mnangagwa heads for the snowy slopes of Davos, Switzerland to rub shoulders with the global capitalist and political elite at the World Economic Forum, he must not forget the more radical ambitions of his background.

His recent discussion over lunch with Financial Times journalist, Alec Russell, was revealing. Zimbabwe desperately needs finance, and support from western nations, as well as China, Brazil, India and others who stuck with the country in the last years. The Investment Policy Statement and Action Plan released last week makes all the right noises. The charm offensive with the British is in full flow, and the FT interview was part of creating the right mood music.

But there are red lines it seems; and one is land reform, despite the long period of sanctions imposed from 2000 and the antagonism of many western powers to this redistributive move. Mnangagwa’s enthusiasm for getting agriculture, as the core sector in an agrarian economy, moving is clear too – although all seen through the lens of his ‘command agriculture’ experiences. The full transcript of the FT interview is available too – and it offers a glimpse of an unusually relaxed, engaging Mnangagwa.

A reminder that a commitment to a radical transformation of agrarian relations is crucial for Zimbabwe, and that the land reform was only one step, was offered in the first annual Sam Moyo memorial lecture last week. Hosted by the Sam Moyo African Institute of Agrarian Studies, the lecture was delivered by Prabhat Patnaik from JNU, India and introduced by Issa Shivji from Tanzania. The video is available here. It offers a powerful call not to forget ‘peasants’ and poor smallholder farmers in agrarian transitions in the context of globalisation.

Sam Moyo tragically died in a car accident in India in late 2015, but his work and committed yet practical radicalism lives on amongst many young scholars, and in the vibrant agrarian studies summer school held each January in Harare. Mnangagwa and his people should go along next year to learn more about experiences of agrarian transformation globally.

At Davos, the allure of much-needed capital will be strong for Mnangagwa and his ministers. The WEF represents a gathering of the high priests of neoliberal capitalism, all eager for investments and returns. Zimbabwe may soon be seen as a promising investment destination, and needs to prepare for this. Such investments need to be for Zimbabwe’s development, not just servicing global capital. A strong state leadership will be essential, as deals are negotiated.

Some 70 heads of state are expected to attend the Swiss meeting. Mnangagwa may get a chance to meet the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and many others. As revealed by his FT interview, with his predecessor, he definitely approves of female British leaders, including the Queen, so prospects of rejoining the Commonwealth are raised, for whatever benefits that might bring.

Mnangagwa may also bump into some other leaders too. There will also be a scattering of the leading authoritarian populists there, including Trump and Modi, who will be offering perspectives on new nationalist and populist versions of global capitalist relations from the US and India.

But a return to a neoliberal framework for the Zimbabwean economy would be a disaster, as would an attempt to veer towards an isolationist, nationalist populism. We all know how the supplication to the conditionalities of the international finance institutions, through structural adjustment, destroyed state capacity and undermined a diversified economy from the early 1990s. Many of the problems of today derive from this period. This was exacerbated of course by Mugabe’s populism: an economically naïve ‘Zimbabwe first’ position just does not work in a connected world.

Can Mnangagwa steer a different course? Committed to redistribution, economic justice and inclusive development, while encouraging investment from different sources – both east and west – but regulated on Zimbabwe’s terms? It may mean doing less well on the World Bank’s now discredited, ideologically-motivated ‘doing business’ rankings exposed this week, but it may be better for Zimbabwe. He has little room for manoeuvre, and having announced ‘free and fair’, internationally-observed elections for May or June, also not much time to turn things round – but this must be on Zimbabwe’s terms.

Next week the blog will offer the last of the short series for The Conversation on challenges for land and agriculture in Zimbabwe. The first two on compensation and on land administration are already out. The final one on priorities for agricultural development will be out soon on The Conversation’s platform.

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

The lead photo is from the Human Rights Council 25th session, 2014, under CC license.



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Zimbabwe urgently needs a new land administration system

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REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

This is the second in a short series of articles produced for The Conversation on the land and agricultural development challenges for the post-Mugabe era. See the first one on compensation in last week’s post.

Zimbabwe urgently needs a new system of land administration to harness development in the agricultural sector. The country’s land use and ownership have been significantly reconfigured by the fast-track land reform programme undertaken during Robert Mugabe’s rule.

Today, following the land reform of the 2000s, Zimbabwe has an agrarian structure that’s made up of small, medium and large farms, all under different forms of land ownership. A landscape that used to be dominated by 4,500 large-scale commercial farmers is now populated by about 145,000 smallholder households, occupying 4.1 million hectares, and around 23,000 medium-scale farmers on 3.5 million hectares.

Knowing exactly who has land and where is difficult. Illegal multiple allocations combine with unclear boundary demarcations and an incomplete recording system. Many new land owners don’t have formal documentation and lack leases or permits confirming ownership. There is a great deal of uncertainty given the often haphazard, sometimes corrupt, approach to land reallocation that took place under the land reform programme.

Given that the landscape is very different to what went before, a new system of land administration is urgently needed.

Promise of change

In his inaugural speech, Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, declared that land reform was both necessary and irreversible, and acknowledged some big, outstanding challenges.

A new land administration system for the post-land reform era is long overdue. Paying compensation to former owners is a vital first step. This has to be combined with a comprehensive land audit to weed out those failing to produce, or those illegally holding more than one plot, alongside allocating leases and permits to those in land reform areas, and attracting investment into agriculture as the mainstay of an ailing economy.

Both compensation and audit processes will inevitably throw up disputes. A fair and transparent system for rapid resolution is required, including the establishment of an independent Land Tribunal. Alternative dispute resolution processes at a local level will hopefully avoid the dangers of the courts getting clogged with numerous cases.

An audit also has to be linked to land registration, and an effective, but low-cost, land information management system. Following registration, legal recognition and formal documentation of land ownership is essential, as land tenure security is vital for future investment.

Many forms of tenure

Some believe that the only solution is individual freehold titling, as land is otherwise seen as “dead capital”. But this is mistaken, as other forms of land tenure can offer security, spurring investment, if the institutional, legal and political context is right.

As argued in 1994 by the Rukuni Commission, a major review of tenure policy in Zimbabwe, a multi-form tenure arrangement makes most sense. In some settings, communal tenure regimes are best, allowing flexibility and broad access. In others, a simple permit system can allow registration. In others, a leasehold arrangement can offer security and collateral, while regulations can offset land concentration and assure access for certain people.

Occasionally freehold title may be appropriate if a completely free market in land is required. However, titling schemes are notoriously expensive to deliver, open up multiple disputes and are difficult to regulate to ensure more equitable ownership structures, including land ownership by women.

Financing is essential

To pay land taxes, mortgages or compensation payments, the land must be productive, and this requires finance. Finance for agriculture has been missing in recent years.

Great efforts have been made to ensure that the 99-year lease for medium-scale commercial farm land (known as A2) is bankable, and cannot be withdrawn arbitrarily. It seems that, at last, the Zimbabwe Banking Association is in agreement. This will allow the release of private bank finance, as land can be used as collateral.

For those without land leases, other types of collateral can also be used, including assets such as livestock, vehicles or buildings. Alternative sources of farm finance include commercial crop contracting, partnerships and joint ventures or government backed loans.

All these financing models have shown some promise in Zimbabwe in recent years, with crop contracting at the core of the smallholder tobacco production success story. Contracting arrangements are also extending to other crops. Joint ventures, including partnerships with Chinese investors and former commercial farmers, have also been emerging in a number of under-capitalised medium-scale farms.

“Command agriculture” – a public-private input supply scheme – has been a flagship project led by the new president and the military. It has helped to revitalise maize and wheat production, especially on larger farms with irrigation infrastructure. Questions are however raised about longer-term sustainability of such subsidised financing.​

Sustainability is key

Getting a new land administration system working is a huge task. All the elements have to work together – from audit to valuation to compensation to dispute resolution to issuing land tenure documentation to financing – and back again.

And this is not just a one-off task to resolve the current mess. Land disputes will continue, audits will need to be repeated, and new leases and permits and sources of finance secured. For this reason any new system must be sustainable, both administratively and financially, and not reliant on external donor finance. Taxes, rents and compensation repayments need to be paid back into a land fund, which in turn supports the system for the long-term.

Testing this all out at a district level before rapidly rolling it out across the country is an urgent task for Zimbabwe’s new Land Commission. Elaborating a new land administration system is long overdue. Such a system will help the country get over the post-land reform impasse, resolving outstanding land issues and getting much-needed investment flowing into the agriculture sector.

The ConversationOnly with this working well – as countries in East Asia recognised when they undertook land reforms decades ago – will the full benefits of Zimbabwe’s land reform be realised.

Ian Scoones, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Settling the land compensation issue is vital for Zimbabwe’s economy

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REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Zimbabweland kicks off 2018 with three articles republished from a series coming out in The Conversation, each on commenting on different land and agriculture policy issues under the post-Mugabe dispensation. This is the first.

In his inaugural address the new President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, confirmed that land reform was both historically necessary and irreversible. He also made a commitment to compensate farmers who were forced off their land during the fast track land reform programme of the 2000s.

Many international commentators read this as a sign of a more inclusive stance that could benefit economic recovery. Indeed, the recent reinstatement of an evicted white farmer is perhaps an indication that things are changing.

Mnangagwa has no option but to tackle land reform if he’s serious about getting Zimbabwe’s economy back on track. This is because agriculture continues to play a significant role.

Zimbabwe’s major land reform, starting in the year 2000, resulted in around 6,000 farms owned by about 4,500 farmers and companies being taken over. Former owners, most of them white commercial farmers, were evicted, sometimes violently.

Today around 145,000 households occupy 4.1 million hectares under smallholder resettlement schemes. Another 3.5 million hectares are used by about 23,000 medium-scale farmers.

One of the new government’s major policy priorities has to be to get agriculture moving as a motor of growth. The long-running issue of outstanding compensation payments has meant that international donors and financiers have not engaged with land reform areas, missing out on supporting major development opportunities.

Agriculture remains a mainstay of Zimbabwe’s economy. People on the resettlement farms are producing significant quantities of food and other agricultural products. For example, in the last season over half of the 2.2 million tonnes of maize produced in the country, as well as 60% of total tobacco output worth nearly USD$350 million, came from land reform areas. These numbers make it clear how vital they are to Zimbabwe’s struggling economy.

Fixing the system

Former commercial farmers held land under freehold title. In some cases bilateral investment agreements, mostly with European countries, also governed ownership. Yet, as part of the reform, land was expropriated by the state and allocated to new users. Initially this was done without regard to these rights.

The lack of redress, and the ongoing contestation over ownership of land, has caused uncertainty. This in turn has affected growth and investment. Many western countries have refused to undertake work in these areas, linked to a wider sanctions regime.

Resolving the compensation question is vital for seeking a way forward for Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector.

Of course offering compensation is not a new policy. Compensation for “improvements” on the land has been on offer for years. It was reconfirmed by the 2013 Constitution, negotiated by all political parties.

To date around half of all farms acquired during land reform have been valued by the government. In parallel, others have been valued by private surveyors and ValCon, an organisation backed by former large-scale farmers.

So far around 250 compensation settlements have been reached, amounting to a payment of around USD$100 million.

For farms where land was acquired under bilateral investment treaties, compensation for both land and improvements must be paid, adding to the costs.

What’s been missing has been the capacity to undertake valuations of the remaining farms; the funds to pay compensation; as well as the political will to see it through.

This may now have changed under Mnangagwa. A commitment has been made to a process of auditing, valuing and paying compensation, linked in turn to the issuing of 99-year leases and permits to use the land.

Who will pay and how?

The total compensation bill is likely to run into several billion dollars. Who will pay – and how – are the big questions.

A mix of payments across different liabilities will be required.

There will be private components, such as equipment that a new farmer is using, that will have to be paid off by larger-scale farmers. This payment can be done over many years through mortgaging arrangements, with upfront payments by the state to former owners.

For smallholder farmers, the “improvements” designed for large-scale farming have been less useful. And their ability to pay is much less. Here state or aid funding of compensation will be required.

Other public assets – such as a dam, a road, a building now being used as school or as an extension workers’ house – are more appropriately paid off by the state, or as part of a donor-financed or debt-rescheduling scheme.

Quick resolution is essential

Nearly 18 years after the land reform most evicted farmers want a quick, pragmatic solution. This has dragged on for too long. Former white farmers are ageing and are in urgent need of pension support. Others have moved on to different businesses or left the country. This is about acknowledgement, reconciliation and justice.

In a period when there have been currency changes, hyperinflation and dramatic shifts in the economy, valuation will always be an approximate science. While some will continue to contest the land reform in whatever court or tribunal that will hear them, most want resolution – and soon.

Resolving the compensation issue is essential not only to provide redress for those who lost their farms, but also to reduce uncertainty, encourage investment and unlock potential for growth and development.

The ConversationMnangagwa’s commitment is a good sign. But it now needs to be seen through, and urgently.

Ian Scoones, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Zimbabweland’s festive top 20, 2017

This has been quite a year for Zimbabwe. No-one would have guessed in January that by the end of the year there would have been a (not) coup, and a new president. The ongoing succession drama appeared to be endless, and unresolved, combined with the seemingly terminal decline of the economy. Let’s see if a corner is turned with the new government, and what 2018 brings in terms of economic recovery and election outcomes.

Land and agriculture are core issues for the Zimbabwe debate. Yet still the old myths about land reform continue to be repeated. With the revived global interest in Zimbabwe in recent weeks, it has been interesting (and depressing) how often the same old narratives are trotted out in the mainstream international media. That said, there has been also some excellent, thoughtful commentary elsewhere. I have added a postscript to my 21 November blog on the (not) coup with some of my favourite pieces.

As everyone navigates an uncertain political context with new policy possibilities in a (maybe) post-sanctions era with full re-engagement with the international community, others are looking for evidence to inform commentary and policy, and it’s good that the Zimbabweland blogs have become a useful source for journalists, donors, diplomats, government officials, civil society groups and others.

This year there have been more visitors than ever to Zimbabweland, from many, many countries, although concentrated in Zimbabwe, South Africa, the UK and the US. You have looked extensively at the now 300-odd past blogs, as well as new ones posted most Mondays. Once again the popular ones are overviews on land and agriculture policy issues, as well as the now quite old series on ‘new agricultural entrepreneurs’.

The top 20 (in terms of number of views) of those published this year are listed below. There were a number of blog series during the year, including one on youth, another on medium-scale farms and one on various dimensions of land administration, linked to the agenda for the Zimbabwe Land Commission. Blogs from all these series appear in the top 20.

Political events of the year have also attracted views, from the inauguration of Donald Trump at the beginning of the year to President Mnangagwa’s ascent to power at the end.

A particularly sad event for me, and many others too, was the passing of B.Z. Mavedzenge, who was so central to the research reported on this blog over so many years. An obituary, also carried in a number of national newspapers, appears in the list below.

Beyond this top 20 – of course rather arbitrary given that some are very recent and some were published months ago – there are plenty more to view on the site. So for 2018, do sign up for your email update, and look out on Twitter for alerts. Or just browse across the now extensive material since 2011. 

Also, look out too for a new low-cost book early in 2018, which will compile blogs across a range of themes, carrying on from the 2013 compilation, Debating Zimbabwe’s Land Reform.

There is little doubt that 2018 will be another eventful year for land and agriculture issues in Zimbabwe. And many of the themes in the blogs in this year’s festive top 20 will recur. 

Happy reading!

  1. View Tobacco and contract farming in Zimbabwe
  2. View Women and land: challenges of empowerment
  3. View “No condition is permanent”: small-scale commercial farming in Zimbabwe
  4. View BZ Mavedzenge: the loss of a true public servant
  5. View What is the future for medium-sized commercial farms in Zimbabwe?
  6. View Land and agriculture in Zimbabwe following land reform
  7. View “The path to prosperity starts with land reform”, says the Economist
  8. View The future of medium-scale commercial farms in Africa: lessons from Zimbabwe
  9. View What will the inauguration of President Trump bring to Africa?
  10. View Zimbabwe’s diamond theft: power and patronage in Marange
  11. View A very Zimbabwean (not) coup
  12. View Why governance constraints are holding back young people in rural Zimbabwe
  13. View Young people and agriculture: implications for post-land reform Zimbabwe
  14. View Medium-scale farming for Africans: The ‘Native Purchase Areas’ in Zimbabwe
  15. View Roads, belts and corridors: what is happening along Africa’s eastern seaboard?
  16. View Command agriculture and the politics of subsidies
  17. View How persistent myths distort policy debate on land in Zimbabwe
  18. View A new land administration system for Zimbabwe
  19. View Getting agriculture moving: finance and credit
  20. View Underutilised land in Zimbabwe: not a new problem


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Two speeches for ‘new era’ Zimbabwe


Over the last few weeks I have been in Zimbabwe, visiting our field research sites in Mvurwi, Matobo and Masvingo. It has been an exciting period, with fast-moving developments. The euphoria of November has given way to the realism of December, and with this some emerging sense of what the ‘new era’ might bring.

Two speeches have dominated the news – first the inauguration speech by President Mnangagwa and, second, the budget speech last week by reinstalled finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa. Of course actions must follow words, but overall I find the tenor and content broadly positive, and I remain cautiously optimistic that a corner has been turned.  In this blog, I will offer some excerpts from and comments on both, focusing only on land and agriculture issues.

The inauguration speech was well crafted, aimed to send messages to different audiences from each paragraph. Following a respectful acknowledgement of the former president Robert Mugabe, he rejected the sanctions imposed on the country, creating a ‘pariah state’. He argued for letting ‘bygones be bygones’ and for the need for everyone to accept the historical realities and politics of the country, particularly in relation to land reform. Land – and the irreversibility of land reform, but the importance of investment and effective utilisation – was emphasised right up front in the speech in the following important passage:

“…given our historical realities, we wish the rest of the world to understand and appreciate that policies and programmes related to land reform were inevitable. Whilst there is a lot we may need to do by way of outcomes, the principle of repossessing our land cannot be challenged or reversed. Dispossession of our ancestral land was the fundamental reason for waging the liberation struggle. It would be a betrayal of the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives in our liberation struggle if we were to reverse the gains we have made in reclaiming our land. Therefore, I exhort beneficiaries of the Land Reform Programme to show their deservedness by demonstrating commitment to the utilisation of the land now available to them for national food security and for the recovery of our economy. They must take advantage of programmes that my Government shall continue to avail to ensure that all land is utilized optimally. To that end, my Government will capacitate the Land Commission so that the commission is seized with all outstanding issues related to land redistribution”.

The following comment on compensation was the one that was picked up by the international press. It of course represented no shift in position, as compensation for ‘improvements’ on the land (but not for the land itself) has long been accepted, although payments have been extremely slow:

“My Government is committed to compensating those farmers from whom land was taken, in terms of the laws of the land. As we go into the future, complex issues of land tenure will have to be addressed both urgently and definitely, in order to ensure finality and closure to the ownership and management of this key resource, which is central to national stability and to sustained economic recovery. We dare not prevaricate on this key issue.”

Reference to the ‘laws of the land’ clearly relates to the Constitution, which as an all-party agreement confirmed this policy position. What was different in this speech was the tone, and the public commitment. While policies may have not changed, the PR machine and sense of urgency clearly has. This is excellent news, given that compensation has long been a major outstanding issue, preventing closure on the land reform, and resulting in on-going sanctions being applied around still ‘contested land’.

While the inauguration speech was inevitably thin on detail, more was offered in the budget statement last week. Chapter 7 focused on ‘support for agriculture’, with the budget rather optimistically expecting the sector to grow by 15.9% on the back of a really good season. Re-emphasising the importance of agriculture in the President’s inauguration speech as the ‘mainstay’ of the economy, issues of land utilisation, land tenure and boosting production were emphasised.

Chinamasa’s statement summarised the challenges of ‘new farmers’ thus, “On average, the new farmer had been encountering constraints which became a hindrance to full productive utilisation of the land, bordering around capacity, resources, and elements of insecurity over tenure. The result was much idle farmland, and unaccountability on the part of the farmer with regard to use of acquired land holdings for farming in support of domestic food security, supply of agro-inputs and exports”.

A number of remedies were offered:

On land tenure: “To give confidence to beneficiaries that their occupancy is guaranteed, and cannot be withdrawn willy-nilly, through the indiscipline of either youths, political leaders, traditional leaders or senior officials, Government is undertaking to institute measures to strengthen the legal standing of Offer Letters and 99 Year Leases. This enables the much needed farm investments, improved utilisation of land and, therefore, production”. This is good news, and also a relief that the lease/permit option remains preferred over a mad titling spree advocated by some. The budget emphasised the need to speed up farm valuations and surveys, so that the issuing of leases can be speeded up, supported by the Surveyor General (and drones!).

On land audits and under-utilised land: Through the process of land auditing “issues of multi-farm ownership, idle land and under-utilisation of land are going to be identified. Idle land represents dead capital and promotes speculative tendencies, if not checked on the part of the land holders. As a result, the economy loses on optimal agricultural production”. The Zimbabwe Land Commission is charged with this responsibility, and the budget speech urged the long-awaited audit to move forward.

On Command Agriculture: “The thrust is on full, efficient and sustainable utilisation of allocated land, for increased investment on the land and production”. The role of ‘anchor companies’ (such as Sakunda) as part of a strategic public-private partnership is emphasised,. Such companies provide “access to capital and markets, sharing of best practices, farming knowledge and transfer of expertise, mutually beneficial to both parties. More specifically, the identified anchor companies have the critical roles of providing access to capital, training the small scale farmers and coordinating marketing, including exporting”. Interestingly, Command Agriculture is seen as a “transitional inception intervention”. There is a recognition that, pending allocation of leases and the release of private finance (especially for the A2 farms), collaborative financing models, involving the state and the private sector are needed. “In the interim, the new farmer would need to be incubated as they learn the ropes and overcome learning-by-doing inefficiencies that entail yields lower than would obtain with best practices, making a case for transitional producer prices higher than import parity levels.” As discussed in an earlier blog, a key issue is how long – and how politically necessary – such an ‘interim’ phase is required, as the cost of defaults and $390 per tonne of maize is huge.

On ‘leakages’ and abuse: An extended section of the speech focused on leakages in the Command Agriculture and Presidential Inputs Scheme, recognising the problems of corruption that have been widely reported. A decentralised electronic data management is proposed, along with the capacitation of Agritex offices and ‘command centres’. Investigations of abuse are promised, whereby “culprits will be quickly brought to book”. Clearly Command Agriculture is a high-profile plank of economic policy for the ‘new era’ (at least for now) – extending from maize and wheat to include soy beans and livestock in the coming season. In line with the wider rhetoric around stamping out corruption, military discipline and well-designed logistics operation will be applied it seems, with Air Marshall Perence Shiri firmly in charge.

On loan repayments: The budget speech highlighted (in the context of course of a very good rainfall season) the loan repayment pattern of Command Agriculture. For maize, “loan recoveries are running at 66%, with the Command Agriculture Revolving Fund registering repayment receipts of US$47.4 million in loan recoveries from farmers. This is against an anticipated repayment target of US$72 million. Out of the 50 000 farmers contracted to produce maize under Command Agriculture, 33% fully paid their loan obligations, with 22% having partially paid their obligations, while recoveries others are being made as they deliver to GMB.” A broadly similar pattern is reported for wheat. Let’s see what the final figures are once all crops are delivered, but for a state loan scheme such returns are not bad, although clearly could be improved, with over 10,000 farmers not having paid anything by 23 November. To that end: “To encourage our farmers to continue paying back their debt obligations, all fully paid farmers are being prioritised in accessing inputs under the 2017/18 Command Agriculture programme.” This sort of financial discipline is encouraging, and is certainly reflected in conversations I had with a number of A2 farmer beneficiaries of the scheme who are committed to repayments, and are actively being chased for them, despite their apparent status or political connections.

On private finance: With Command Agriculture presented as temporary, what alternatives are suggested? “As we move forward, private sector and commercial bank finance will be required to fully take up its rightful role of adequately underpinning agriculture, particularly, A2 commercial farmers”. For this, the A2 99 year lease is seen as crucial, although continued politicking around this continues. For smallholders, contract farming arrangements are highlighted.

On compensation: Not much detail was offered here, other than a recommitment to paying compensation in line with the Constitution. The statement indicated monies were to be set aside, both for normal compensation and for those areas appropriated that were under bilateral investment treaties. The amounts were however not specified; clearly there is hope that donor support and debt rescheduling will help.

In sum, the policy directions proposed by both speeches are certainly on the right track. The opposition complained that their ideas had been stolen, highlighting a converging consensus on many policy issues. The challenge will be to make the grand ambitions happen, so far with extremely limited resources; although of course with the hope of new injections of donor funds and lines of credit. Central to the challenge for land and agriculture will be to combine all elements in a new, effective land administration and financing/support system. The new minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement and his team, as well as the independent land commission, all have their work cut out. Hopefully some of the ideas shared in this blog and from our research over the years will help in charting a way forward.

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


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Why title deeds aren’t the solution to land tenure problems

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An excellent new book is out in South Africa, focusing on titling and tenure. A big issue for policy in Zimbabwe. It’s called Untitled. Securing land tenure in urban and rural South Africa, published by UKZN Press and edited by Donna Hornby, Rosalie Kingwill, Lauren Royston and Ben Cousins. It’s well worth a read. While based on South Africa, where the obsession with freehold title is an article of faith, it has many resonances for Zimbabwe, and beyond. 

As I have argued many times before on this blog, a focus on titling is often not the best route to ensuring security of tenure. The obsession with freehold title is repeated endlessly. As Zimbabwe contemplates new policy directions temptations to get involved in mass titling programmes must be resisted. This book is therefore essential reading. It argues for ‘legal recognition of rights within what they call ‘social tenures’. In this article reposted from The Conversation, Ben Cousins, from PLAAS at the University of the Western Cape, explains: 

The conventional view is that insecurity of land tenure results from the lack of a registered title deed which records the property rights of occupants of land or housing. Across Africa, many governments and international development agencies are promoting large-scale land titling as the solution.

In the South African context, some commentators suggest that a key legacy of the apartheid past is the continued tenure insecurity of the third of the population who live in “communal areas”, under unelected chiefs or of traditional councils. The remedy, they suggest, is simple: extend the system of title deeds to all South Africans.

We have just published a book which disputes this view. Untitled. Securing land tenure in urban and rural South Africa contains case studies of a wide range of land tenure systems found in different parts of the country. These include informal settlements, inner city buildings in Johannesburg, “deep rural” communal systems, land reform projects, and examples of systems of freehold rights held by black South Africans since the 19th century.

With the exception of systems of freehold rights, most people who occupy land or dwellings in these areas are “untitled”, and occupy land or dwellings under a very different kind of property regime. We term these social or off-register tenures.

But we argue that, fundamentally, South Africans need to question the assumption that the sole solution to the problem of tenure insecurity is a system of title deeds. Alternative approaches are needed, which we set out to explore.

Social tenures

The book offers an analysis of social tenures, which are regulated by a different logic and set of norms than those underpinning private property. Such tenures are diverse but share some key features. As is the case across the developing world, including Africa, land tenure is directly embedded in social identities and relations.

Rights are often shared and overlapping in character and generally derive from accepted membership of a community or kinship group. Processes of land allocation and dispute resolution are overseen by local institutional structures.

In these contexts, decisions are often informed by norms and values that stress the importance of reciprocal social relationships rather than buying power as the basis for land allocation. They involve flexible processes of asserting, negotiating and defending land rights, rather than the enforcement of legally defined rules.

It’s estimated that in 2011 some 1.5 million people lived in low-cost dwellings provided to the poor by government’s, so-called “Reconstruction and Development Programme” (RDP) houses, with inaccurate or outdated titles, in most cases due to transfers outside of the formal system.

Another 5 million lived in RDP houses where no titles had yet been issued due to systemic inefficiencies. Along with 1.9 million people in backyard shacks, 2 million on commercial farms, and 17 million in communal areas, this means that in that year around 30 million people, nearly 60% of all South Africans, lived on land or in dwellings held outside of the land titling system.

RDP housing. Flickr

The edifice of title deeds

The book contrasts social tenures with the conventional system of title deeds, which constitutes a key element of an imposing “edifice”. The current system of rates, services and processes of development assumes that land tenure equals a surveyed plot with a singular registered owner, which may be persons or corporate bodies.

The system is serviced by a Deeds Registry, private sector surveyors and conveyancers, as well as municipal officials, all governed by a range of laws and regulations in a complex and interlocking manner.

One key problem facing those in social tenures is the discrimination they suffer at the hands of the state and the private sector. Despite some protection under laws such as the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act of 1996, people living in social tenures are severely disadvantaged. They may have to go to court to have their rights legally enforced, but most cannot afford to do so.

Development and land use planning, public investment and service delivery are constrained under these systems of tenure. Elite capture or abuse by unaccountable leaders can also take place, as in communal areas where minerals are found and chiefs and councils enter into business deals with mining companies that benefit only a few.

Titling enthusiasts argue that another problem with social tenures is the fact that banks do not accept untitled land or dwellings as security for bank loans. This constrains the poor from borrowing capital to invest in businesses of their own. But research indicates that few of the poor are willing to risk their homes in this way, since small enterprises often fail.

Tenure reform policy options

How then to proceed with pro-poor tenure reform? Our research indicates that it is not realistic to extend land titling to all; the system may be at breaking point, and is inadequate even for the emerging middle class.

Another option is to adapt elements of the edifice to provide a degree of official and legal recognition of rights within social tenures. Lawyers and planners working with communities and officials have developed a range of innovative practices, concepts and instruments aimed at securing such rights in an incremental manner. This includes special land use zones, recognising occupation rights in informal settlements, and recording rights using locally accepted forms of evidence.

A third option is a more radical overhaul of land tenure, leading to systematic recognition of and large scale support for social tenures. This would involve stronger laws protecting rights holders, an adjudication system that allows new forms of evidence to be considered in determining who holds rights, and new institutions for negotiating, recording and registering rights under social tenures. The system could include the office of a Land Rights Protector.

We believe that these alternatives all pose their own challenges. But we also believe that pursuing alternatives to a system of title deeds is not an impossible task.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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“The path to prosperity starts with land reform”, says the Economist

It’s not often that the Economist magazine sings the praises of radical land reform. But on October 12th, the Banyan column on Asia proclaimed: “the path to prosperity starts with land reform”. The article caught my attention, and I read on. Vital reading for all those contemplating the new post Mugabe Zimbabwe. 

The piece starts with some stats on economic growth in Asia, and the contrast with Africa and Latin America. It outlines the standard (for the Economist at least) explanations: market-friendly policies, capital accumulation, training and skill development, the importance of institutions and so on. But goes on to argue that the restructuring of agriculture through land reform is an underplayed explanation (of course not a new argument – see Michael Lipton, and many others, on land reform experiences).

“Radical action may be necessary in countries with big, impoverished, rural populations”, the article argues. Wow, this doesn’t sound like the Economist, I thought! It goes on to give the example of China.

“By the 1920s, a tenth of the population owned over seven-tenths of the arable land. Three-quarters of farming families had less than a hectare. Mao Zedong’s Communists reallocated land in every new territory they seized. After the defeat of the Kuomintang (KMT) in 1949, they rolled out land reform nationwide….The effect was immediate. Grain output leapt by perhaps 70% in the decade after the war. When farmers can capture most of the value of their land, they have a powerful incentive to produce. And while smallholder agriculture is hugely labour-intensive, that makes sense when labour is abundant”.

China’s experience encouraged Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to follow. Agriculture boomed. Landed elites of course resisted, compensation was inadequate, and sometimes violence ensued, although not on the scale meted out in China, and in Russia before. In the East Asian countries outside China, land reform was supported by the US (yes, the US was a great advocate back then; how times change!).

The article goes on to explain how Taiwan shows the clearest benefits from land reform:

“[Land reform] started with rent controls and reforms to tenancy. Sales of formerly Japanese-owned land followed. Then, in 1953, came appropriation. The share of land tilled by the owner rose from just over 30% in 1945 to 64% in 1960. Yields on sugar and rice leapt. New markets sprang up for exotic fruits and vegetables. Household farmers dominated early exports. Crucially, income inequality shrank thanks to the new farmer-capitalists. Less spent on imports of food, more money in Taiwanese pockets, a new entrepreneurialism: farming was the start of Taiwan’s economic miracle”.

What happened elsewhere? “Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand could have followed Taiwan’s example, but didn’t. Their economies have done far worse”, the article states. In these countries because of extensive rural, agricultural populations, land distribution matters. Yet “the state favours agribusiness and plantations over small farmers. There is a yawning gap in income between countryside and city”.

Inequality in land has political consequences too: “In South Korea and Taiwan inclusive agricultural growth prefigured the inclusive politics of today’s thriving democracies”. Again by contrast in Southeast Asia, “cronyism and inertia are consequences of an economy that is unfair to those at the bottom”. This has costs in terms of “insurgencies and rural unrest”. If done well, the article concludes, land reform starts to look cheap.

The Economist seems to have joined the ranks of the radical agrarianistas. What has happened? Well, actually not a lot. The economic arguments about agrarian transition have long been made, and the need for equality before growth is well established. Incentives to invest, and the labour-intensive features of smallholder agriculture have long been understood. The experience of Zimbabwe’s land reform offers some pointers, especially from the smallholder A1 farms. The problem is that in the current narrative of agricultural development, big is beautiful, multinational agribusiness investment and finance is essential, and global markets are all – as with Africa’s agricultural growth corridors discussed a few weeks ago.

This narrative is seemingly endlessly promoted by donors (DFID and USAID seem obsessed currently), alongside national governments and political elites, all keen to attract land investment deals. Sometimes there are ‘pro-poor’ tweaks to the narratives; more often it’s old-fashioned external investment, growth and trickle down. This all has somehow drowned out the long-established conventional wisdom and lessons from history that radical, redistributive land reform makes economic (and political and social) sense in many settings.

Of course Asia is different to Africa, and the 1940s different to today, but the basic arguments made many, many times before of course are worth repeating, and the lessons of history worth learning. In none of the positive cases of land reform from Asia did success spring up overnight, but they emerged from intensive, thoughtful state support, and backed (in some cases) by external donors (of course interested more in geopolitics than poor people’s livelihoods, but…).

In Zimbabwe, these conditions have not applied over the last 17 years, and the continued decline in economic conditions and state capacity of any sort, is a tragedy. This now may all change. With the euphoria of change, and in the presence of no doubt much international interest in Zimbabwe, we should not forget the basic argument that land reform can bring prosperity, and the failure to undertake radical land reform can bring many costs, in both the short and long-term. Zimbabwe now has the opportunity to make the most of its land reform. 

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




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