Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (3)

What happened in the villagised A1 schemes?

This blog focuses on Masvingo’s villagised land reform areas (where people have an individual arable plot, live in villages and share communal grazing). Our sites (N=99) are nearby the self-contained schemes in Gutu and Masvingo districts discussed in the last blog in this series, and they share many similarities, with a focus on maize production, combined with horticulture. There are fewer who are accumulating significantly, but there are still many who are doing well.

Households in these sites are slightly younger, with the average age of the household head being 43, and there are fewer women who are the main household head (19%), although 41% of households have a de facto female head due to absent husbands. Today, 47% of household heads have off-farm jobs (some quite informal and part-time), such as trading or being builder), down from 67% earlier. 59% of household heads went to school beyond Form II, while 26% have Master Farmer certificates. Many households (58%) have children in the age range 21-30, and 35% of households have adult children who are out of the country earning money, while 27% have children who have established farms, including through a number of subdivisions (only 2% of households had family members who had gone to other resettlements). While overall, these areas have been successful, there were around 10% of the original sample who had left, mostly returning to communal areas, and the farm had been abandoned, or taken over by another settler.

Average maize production across the 99 households in our survey ranged between 1381 kg and 986 kg in the years between 2017 and 2019, with between 26% and 41% producing more than a tonne. Around 85% regularly applied inorganic fertiliser, and nearly everyone used manure. Maize was combined with some other crops, including groundnuts, some millet, and a few starting up cotton production again after a hiatus due to poor prices. However, as in the nearby self-contained areas, the main income-earning in addition to maize was horticulture, with a third of households earning income from selling vegetables. The average figures hide the variations, however, and there is a significant minority (around a quarter) who are struggling to make ends meet.

Some households, through strategic investments, particularly in water management are increasing production significantly. Mr and Mrs MN for example had expanded their home garden plot and had invested in two 5000 litre tanks, and fenced their plot, surrounding their garden and new houses. It looked like a self-contained plot in a village, and intensive horticulture production was being pursued. This combined with maize production in the field around a kilometre away. For some years they had been combining life in nearby Masvingo town with farming in Wondedzo Wares, but had recently decided to commit full-time to farming. Mrs MN explained:

When we first got this plot, we were still living in Masvingo. I had a dress-making business and my husband was in the private transport business, having given up his job as a butcher at TM supermarket in 2008 when the economy was in dire straits. I used to travel as far as Durban selling wedding clothes, bedspreads and cushion covers that I had made. We came once a week, and we had someone here looking after the plot and the cattle, which had grown to a herd of six last year. The guy who we had employed left for South Africa last year, and we decided to move here. We had been investing in the place for some years: boreholes, pumps, fencing and so on. The irrigation system has been in place since 2013-14, but not really working. Now we are going into full production, and I can continue to do wedding dress hire from here, and my husband has his car and can do local transport. We have also got a poultry project, which is building up. We will grow maize, but rainfed production is very risky these days because of the climate, so we are concentrating on irrigation in our home field.

On average households in the villagised A1 areas in Gutu and Masvingo districts owned six head of cattle, and 31% had sold one in the past year, and 23% had sold milk. Informants commented that there was a limit to how many animals could be held because of lack of grazing and most held under ten. Most households balanced cattle sales (for investment, school fees or emergency costs, such as medical fees) with building the herd, and 34% had purchased cattle in the last five years. This meant that 69% used their own cattle for ploughing. However 23% had no cattle at all, and were struggling on all fronts.

On average, because of this more stark differentiation compared to the self-contained areas, the level of farm employment was lower, with 16% employing men permanently and 3% women, and there was more of a focus on temporary employment, with around a third of households regularly employing both men and women for particular tasks. Given that a sizeable group did not have sufficient draft power and did not employ labour, the practice of collective work parties was more evident in these areas, with around 40% of households holding them.

Farm production is combined with a range of off-farm sources, including remittances (48% of households), trading (20%), piece work on others’ farms (27%), welfare payments (35% – for the old, sick, disabled or orphans) and pensions (19%). Quite a few were also making use of natural resources for selling products or making crafts. This was a rather different mix of activities to that seen in the self-contained areas. With a group of perhaps a quarter of households with limited assets and low production, they had to make ends meet across a range of low-skilled and poorly-remunerated activities, including selling labour locally (mostly to other richer A1 farmers). Remittances, pensions and welfare payments featured strongly as complements to agriculture.

As Mrs V explained from Lonely farm, fortunes can change quite dramatically:

We came here originally in 2000 with four cattle. By 2017, we had over 30, but then a terrible disease struck our animals and we lost many. We only have 17 now. Now we don’t have the surplus of milk and meat we had before. That year too, my husband passed away, and we are not doing so well, even though my sons help. We now produce only about a tonne of maize, but before we used to produce four or five tonnes each year, and sell to the Grain Marketing Board. We have access to a vlei (wetland) and it produces good crops, including vegetables, and we have a pump and sell the produce. There’s a huge market when the AFM (Apostolic Faith Mission) gathers. If you are well organised, you can make a killing! In those days we bought scotch carts, ploughs and built our homes. We employ labour from the nearby communal areas, and pay them in cash or kind. Even though we were old, we were doing well! Kids went to boarding school, then colleges and universities. Our quality of life had improved massively.

Even if not on the scale of those in the self-contained resettlements, around half of the sample were regularly producing surpluses and investing, ‘accumulating from below’. Many were selling food to nearby communal areas, or exchanging for labour. In the past five years, 36% of households had bought ploughs, 26% had dug boreholes (especially for vegetable gardens), 17% had bought cars and 50% had invested in solar panels. In other words, a highly differentiated population is observed – some doing well, others less so. For the next generation, subdivision of land is important, as is education in order to find jobs, often abroad.

Several informants commented on how things are developing within the area:

We don’t have to go to Chatsworth now. There are shops here, and a grinding mill. There’s a clinic at Bath farm, and since we are near the communal area, there are other shops and there’s a mini-township there that’s sprung up to service the resettlement area. Things are coming up because of land reform.

People are building beautiful houses here. Even better than town. People have electricity from solar, and some have even connected to ZESA; all paid for by irrigation and selling vegetables. When we came here we had to buy drinking water, but now nearly everyone has a borehole. In our local township there were originally no shops, but now there are nine grocery stores, two bottle stores/bars, two butcheries, two welding shops and two grinding mills.

However, several also commented on declines in environmental conditions. The large vlei at Lonely is drier than it once was, and everyone complained of poor and variable rainfall. Soils are not as good as they once were, and investing in improvements – digging infiltration pits, establishing boreholes and careful ploughing to conserve soil – are all important.

By comparison with the more remote self-contained areas where access is difficult, the state is more present in the A1 villagised areas. There is now a clinic, a school and there is a visible presence of extension workers, vets and others. “Yes, the government has helped us”, one informant explained. What they were wanting though is greater clarity from the government on who is in charge. One informant exclaimed:

We are confused, everything is not functioning. The chiefs are fighting over the land, and the MP is not helping. Some people support Chikwanda, others support Musara. Plots are allocated by different chiefs, and we have competing authorities. We marched to Masvingo a few years ago, and demanded that the district administrator sort things out. This was disturbing development, as conflicts occur. Conflicts are a problem: we have to go to meetings nearly every day!

Overall though over 20 years, conditions have improved, and life is easier than it was when the land was invaded, with facilities and connections improved. With the villagised set-up on the surface these areas look more like the communal areas – but with larger land areas, production is higher and the possibilities for accumulation and investment are there. Unlike in the communal areas where good houses are the result of jobs and remittances, in the resettlements, investments come from farming, making agricultural marketing crucial. When asked about the next 20 years, most people said that if it rains, things will be fine, but if not then irrigation, zero grazing and fodder feeding of animals will be essential. This they said will make it easier to share small areas of land with the next generation, which is a continual concern a generation on from land reform.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.

 

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (2)

What happened in the ‘self-contained’ A1 resettlement sites

This blog focuses on the ‘self-contained’ A1 farms, with a sample size now of 78. These are found in two sites in Gutu and Masvingo districts, and are in many ways the most successful in our sample. The number of exits is relatively small (only three since our first survey), and households have held onto the farms, very often with women taking over from husbands who have passed on. Currently there are nearly 30% of all households where women are the household head, many of whom have their own business (30% of all households with a female-run business contributing to household incomes), while 23% of households include women who are part of organised groups, and 18% have women who are in leadership positions. On our visit to Clare farm in Gutu district, we met Mrs BB. She explained how they had built up the farm:

When we came we had one scotch cart, one plough and we brought one heifer. My husband was working at that time. In 2005, we bought a pump from his salary and started developing our gardens, selling tomatoes to local boarding schools. Cattle multiplied and by 2007, we had 13. We also had more kids to help us on the farm too! My last child was born in 2012, and I have five. Now we have three pumps, although one is broken, and also a sprinkler and a large water storage tank. In 2016, we drilled a new borehole and aim to put in a submersible pump. In 2018, we bought a truck, which I can drive (she demonstrated, see below). All of this is from selling vegetables, as well as maize, and we sold five beasts for university and school fees. The kids are now getting older. One has banking and finance degree, and another has his own plot in a nearby resettlement and is doing well. The younger ones are in boarding schools. Our kids’ education was paid for by the farm, as well as a fine white wedding for our first-born in 2015. We also relocated our homestead to be nearer the horticulture plots and built new houses, buying a sofa, beds, wardrobes and a fridge.

Some self-contained farms were favoured by influential figures during the land invasions and 28% of all households are occupied by former war veterans. Many residents came from urban jobs, with 72% previously having jobs off-farm. This is now down to 54%, but links to off-farm employment are important. Overall, the population is relatively well-educated (59% having continued in schooling beyond Form II) and 27% of household heads have been trained in the Master Farming Certificate.

The average age of household heads in these farms is 52, and 46% of households have grown-up children aged between 21 and 30, a fifth of whom are out of the country, while 14% are now farming, very often on subdivisions of parents’ plots. Remittance income is received by about a quarter of households, but for most it is agricultural production that is the core of livelihoods. On average, 6.6 hectares is cultivated in a farm averaging 35.1 hectares in total. There is some rental of land in the area, but this is not significant. As one of our informants explained, “there is no space here now, and we are holding onto the land…. We may rent out a little to teachers and others who need a small plot, but otherwise it’s for the family”.

On average, households in these areas produce about two tonnes of maize and sell between 600-900 kg in the period between 2017 and 2019 (although with large variations in output and sales). Half of all households produced more than one tonne of maize, which is sufficient to feed a family. This is relatively intensive production, with between 65% and 80% applying inorganic fertiliser, and nearly all applying manure from the growing livestock populations. Given the poor sandy soils in the area, and despite the high level of tree cover still present, additional work to maintain soil fertility is important, especially in the Clare farm area, and a quarter of households had invested in soil conservation works on their farms in the past five years.

Although there is differentiation across households, a significant number are ‘accumulating from below’, and reinvesting surplus in agricultural production, including the hiring of labour. 44% of households have permanent male labour living and working on their farms (only 8% have permanent female labour), while around a third regularly hire temporary labour. Agricultural production focused on maize is complemented with horticulture, making use of the rivers that run through these sites, with around a third regularly producing for market, with an average income of US$1200 across all households (again highly differentiated). Cattle production is important – both for sale (38% of households sold in the past year) and for draft power (68% used their own cattle for draft in 2019). Quite a few households specialise, linking production to market. There are some who stick to maize, and other field crops, while others have invested in intensive irrigated horticultural production, some with contracts to supermarkets and with traders. Large church gatherings, notably the annual event at Serima Mission, are important marketing opportunities.

Mr and Mrs M from Wondedzo Extension showed us round their impressive horticulture farm, recently the site of a field day organised by a private sector company, and attended by extension workers and others. Mr M had been a bus driver before, and had chucked in his job in 2015, investing in a borehole on his farm. Today nearly two hectares are irrigated, with a huge range of vegetables, from beetroot to butternut, with an attempt to capture the higher value markets in Masvingo. We continued to Mr and Mrs MV who explained the story of their farm:

We came from Bikita with six cattle. They increased to 30 or more as there’s plenty of grazing here. We cleared a large area of land – up to 15 hectares – and grew and sold maize for many years. We bought a truck from selling. We also sold cattle – for example, last year we sold cattle and paid for a 50m borehole near the home, plus building the pump house and fencing. It cost US$4000. We currently have four pumps, and cultivate about two hectares near the Mtirikwi river. It is very profitable, and we are now down-sizing our maize production area, as prices change all the time and it’s difficult to plan. From profits from farming we bought a plot in Rujeko C in Masvingo. It has been a long project since 2006, but is now complete, and we have just bought barbed wire to fence the plot.

Mr MV is a local head teacher, and he says he wants to retire soon. “Farming pays much better”, he says. “But it needs time and commitment… We lost 5000 cabbages last year from cattle wandering into the field, as we were not supervising well. You also have to focus on workers. We employ a number, but they soon leave. Their aims to buy a mobile phone, then they go”. Given the level of production they achieve, they frequently send food regularly to the communal areas, and their home in Bikita, supporting a wider network of relatives beyond the immediate family. “This isn’t just ordinary farming: it’s commercial farming!”, Mr MV exclaims.

Across our sample, other common income sources include milk sales (17% of households), goat sales (15%), poultry sales (29%), trading (13% – mostly of vegetables to local towns) and house rental (14%), as a number of farmers have bought plots in nearby towns following good crop sales. These diverse income sources are added to by occasional examples of natural resource based harvesting and crafts, and are highly differentiated among households and by gender. Very few rely on institutional credit/loan finance, although around 18% had managed to secure command agriculture finance for seed/fertiliser, while only one farmer had a private contract for crop growing, so inputs and investment are derived from farm surpluses or off-farm work.

Increasingly in these areas a local economy is developing. Mr MV from Wondedzo Extension observed: “We no longer go to town… there are others who supply things. The Vapostori (members of the Apostolic church) have many businesses. They are very entrepreneurial. They can fix things, supply things. They have such big families, so have much labour for farming and other activities”.

Investments in the past five years included the purchase of ploughs (31% of households), carts (26%), cattle (22%), pumps (28%), solar panels (53%) and transport, notably cars (24%). By 2019, 74% had built a protected well near their homestead and 82% had a Blair-type latrine with a roof, and all had improved housing, with electricity for lighting supplied by solar and battery combinations in nearly all. Many also had multiple dwellings with cross-generational families living on the plots, with farms supporting growing numbers.

Overall, conditions are good in these areas, and people comment on how their lives have improved significantly. Mrs BB from Clare farm commented:

Nearly everyone here has cars – except for a few, such as the civil servants with jobs that don’t pay. Those who say farming doesn’t pay are talking rubbish! Even the graduates are coming back to farm. My husband has a local government post and is paid very little. I don’t worry about his small money. He has to borrow money from me. I am the farmer! My husband earns US$80 a month, but I can earn US$800 a day!

The main complaints focus on conflicts with those who come from nearby communal and A1 areas to poach graze, harvest wood and steal fencing. The governance arrangements retain the old ‘Committee of Seven’, established during the period of invasion, but this is combined with more formal systems, including councillors and other post holders. Struggles over chieftaincy boundaries have plagued the new resettlements, and our sites are no exception. The lack of infrastructure development in these areas reflects the absence of the state. Informal roads criss-cross the area, and people have to walk long distances to get a bus. As one informant from Wondedzo complained: “We had a grader come for our road, but only once. We have to maintain it ourselves. The government supports the schools and local clinic, and we do see the extension officer and the vet occasionally, and some receive support from Command or the Presidential Scheme, but we are mostly on our own!” For some, this absence of state involvement is seen as an advantage. One informant commented on the recent visit by an audit team: “It was a waste of time, they came to collect information, but I said at the meeting, just look around, we are doing well!”

While there is a clear pattern of differentiation emerging both within these areas and between the self-contained schemes and others, the self-contained farms are by-and-large booming, with regular maize harvests – some very significant; the highest across the four years we collected data for in this round (2016-2019) was 20 tonnes, with 16 tonnes sold, combined with an important focus on intensive horticultural production.

Since the farms are self-contained, with less than a quarter of the area cultivated and the rest grazing, and because of the haphazard nature of bush roads, for those visiting for the first time, they might assume that these areas are under-used and of low productivity. But this would be wrong. There is significant investment, including in relatively luxury goods like cars and trucks, and the housing stock is impressive across the areas, even if scattered in what some would deem ‘just bush’. As MV from Wondedzo Extension commented:

We expect great riches in 20 years’ time. The future is definitely irrigated horticulture. If we sink more boreholes and diversify and intensify our production, people will be rich and lives will improve, even from the next generation, as you only need a few hectares. One of my sons has a plot here and is growing sugar beans, very successfully.

Those who are accumulating from below – probably over a half of all households – are investing in the farm, and are employing others in the area (although most employment comes from nearby communal and A1 areas). Such households also have an eye on the longer term, with purchases of plots in nearby towns and the building of rental houses. Some with older children who have not gone out of the country to seek jobs, are accommodating them on the farm, as land is subdivided a generation on from land reform. Those who are doing well are employing others (although most employment comes from nearby communal and A1 areas), as a future of intensive, commercial, market-oriented production is envisaged for these farms.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.

 

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (1): A blog series

Twenty years ago the news was filled with stories about land invasions in Zimbabwe. Since then, a group of us have been working in Masvingo province in particular (but also now in Mazowe in Mashonaland Central and Matobo in Matabeleland South) attempting to offer research-based reflections on what happened to people’s livelihoods. Since 2008, this blog has been dedicated to an informed discussion of the ramifications of the land reform, aiming to counter some of the misinformed debate that sadly is still evident, even 20 years on.

The research has been based on long-term field studies in a number of sites. We have been collecting crop production data on many sites continuously, and this has been complemented with more detailed census surveys, exploring demography, land use, asset ownership, labour practices, and off-farm income earning, amongst a whole host of questions. We have also carried out focused enquires on themes that have emerged, like young people’s livelihoods, medium-scale farms, changing land tenure governance, rural towns, small-scale irrigation, amongst much more. As a recent blog series documented, we have also been exploring the comparisons between resettlement and communal areas, testing the assumption that redistributing more land has resulted in improved livelihoods (by and large it has). We have tried to draw out of this research some overarching policy conclusions, and attempted to relay them to government, donors and other researchers through various fora.

Over time, we have tried to share our results in various forms. At last count there were 18 journal articles published from our research, and our 2010 book – Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities – remains a key text. Since then two books – Debating Zimbabwe’s Land Reform and Land Reform in Zimbabwe: Challenges for Policy– have been published that pull together a number of blogs into themes, with short introductions to the issues. Aimed at disseminating in our field sites (see picture below), we have also produced several booklets (in English and Shona) and two video series. The Conversation has published a few overviews of research over time, including a set in early 2018 aimed at informing the new land reform policy debates emerging then.

This post introduces a new blog series, based on new data that have just been analysed. The series examines how people are faring in our Masvingo province land reform area study sites, based on a census survey during 2019 that repeated earlier rounds in 2006-7 and 2011-12. The survey was followed up by extensive qualitative discussions with various informants across the sites. To conclude the study, at the end of last year, we visited many of our land reform sites across Masvingo province to catch up with people there. They were fascinating visits, as we have been working in these areas since the early 2000s, soon after they were settled following the ‘fast-track’ land reform of 2000.

There are 16 sites, stretching from Gutu in the north to Mwenezi in the south, covering A2 (medium-scale) and A1 farms, including originally over 400 households. The A1 farms include those that are ‘self-contained’ (more like small A2 farms really) and the more common ‘villagised’ arrangements, including those that are well-established in Gutu and Masvingo districts and those that are more ‘informal’ (some without ‘offer letters’, permits to occupy the land) in Chiredzi and Mwenezi districts.

This blog series reflects on our preliminary findings, both from the quantitative survey and the qualitative interviews, focusing on each resettlement category. The series concludes with a very provisional reflection on how things have changed over time, with some ideas about the future. The analysis is only very tentative, and the material deserves more time to go into depth. While there are important changes and nuances to the land reform story, the ‘myths’ about Zimbabwe’s land reform that we challenged in our first book in 2010 remain myths, and there is a much more complex reality.

A number of important themes emerge across the blogs, with implications for the future. In all sites there is deepening social differentiation, with some being able to accumulate while others are struggling. This is creating new labour relations, as some become wage labourers for others. Changing environmental conditions are mentioned frequently, as climate change impacts intensify, making the diversifications into small-scale irrigation vital. This is especially important for women and young people, especially those who cannot gain access to land and have few opportunities for off-farm employment given the state of the Zimbabwean economy. Despite the clear challenges of farming, successes are concentrated in the A1 schemes, with most A2 farms struggling due to lack of financing. Successful A1 agriculture is driving local growth and investment, especially in rural towns. The story is diverse and complex,  and will become more so as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Zimbabwe (again) contemplates a new land policy, and undertakes wider assessments through the Zimbabwe Land Commission, having data to inform interventions now remains important.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.

 

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COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe: a disaster for farmers

Over the last few weeks we have been tracking what’s been happening in our rural study sites in Zimbabwe as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown (see the earlier blog too). Last week, I caught up with a colleague in Masvingo who had been recently in touch with others in our team in Chatsworth, Chikombedzi, Hippo Valley, Matobo, Mvurwi and Wondedzo. This blog is a report on current conditions, summarising a long phone conversation.

The lockdown was first announced by the President Mnangagwa on 30 March, and was subsequently extended on 19 April for a further 14 days. As of April 26 there were 31 reported cases and 4 deaths, spread unevenly across the country. But of course the fear is that the disease will spread and strike hard. The lockdown measures have been heavily enforced and have caused massive hardship, particularly in the poorer urban areas, where informal traders in particular have been targeted. Farmers have suffered too due to movement restrictions and the collapse of markets.

As my conversation last week revealed, Zimbabwe’s experience, like elsewhere in Africa, raises questions as to the costs of a heavy-handed lockdown, particularly on the poor and marginalised, and whether there are alternative approaches both to confront the virus now and for different approaches to society and economy in the future.

How have movement restrictions affected people’s lives in the rural areas?

Massively. Although you can go to the local shops (between 9am and 3pm) and move about your area, you cannot move further without a permit, and have to prove that travel is essential. Security people can stop you at any moment. You can get a permit from Agritex (extension service) locally for agriculture-related movement, or from the councillor or police. But if you have to move further you have to go to the provincial level. It can take days. You can try your luck and negotiate at the road-blocks, but you will likely be turned back. There are so many police out – they’re everywhere! There is no public transport these days. If you travel in your private vehicle, you can only have two people. All the private Kombis and buses are grounded. ZUPCO (a government-owned company) operate buses, which are disinfected after each trip, but there are very few. This has had a disastrous effect on business, and farmers cannot get crops to market. Right now people need workers to help with the harvest, and although this is allowed as agriculture is essential, you can easily be stopped, and it makes getting help on the farm more difficult than before.

So what about agricultural produce markets?

It’s a disaster. All the main ones have been shut down. There was an outcry and they opened them again for a bit, but people crowded there. It was chaos, so they shut them again. This means for horticultural farmers in our study areas things are tough. Vegetables, especially cabbages and tomatoes, are rotting at their farms. In the south, huge number of melons have gone to waste. For some, vegetable-drying is possible, and people are creating ‘mufushwa’ in large quantities. But overall it’s a disaster. Some are selling individually, travelling to the ‘locations’ (high density suburbs) and selling from their pick-ups. Some can sell to the supermarkets if they have contracts, but demand has gone down. You can’t move from the location to town in Masvingo without permission, and so people just buy locally, informally. Other markets have also dried up. The boarding schools are closed, so are the universities, along with all hotels, restaurants and so on. These all used to be so important for horticulture markets, as well as for poultry. Income from these sources has ceased. Same too with the massive church gatherings, attended by thousands. In some of our sites, people had been growing for the Easter gatherings, but now they have had to dispose of the produce. It’s a disaster for farmers.

What about businesses more generally?

Most of these are closed. It means that as a farmer you can’t get your pump repaired, or a car fixed. You can’t go and buy key bits of equipment. Even if the shop opens for a short time, which some are allowed to, getting a permit to travel from you rural farm and ensuring you are there at the right time is impossible. A big problem is cash. This has been a problem for a time. The electronic RTGS Zim dollar is worth less than the Zimbabwe bond notes, but people are not keen to use cash notes as it might transfer the virus. Even if you have money in the bank, you cannot get it. They’ve opened banks only for forex, and for short periods, to allow remittances from the diaspora to be paid. This is vital for many of us, including farmers.

How are people surviving?

The rural people are on their own. There is a big chain reaction – without markets, producers, transporters, and all others suffer. And then there is no cash to buy food or other inputs. For example, there is a big theileriosis disease outbreak among cattle currently, but people have not been able to buy spray dip chemicals and cattle are dying in numbers. They cannot be driven to other places to avoid the ticks, so they just die. Of course people in the rural areas are in some way better off. It’s the beginning of the main harvest season and, although the season was bad, people at least have something. It’s much tougher in town. There’s subsidised mealie-meal, but a packet of 10kg that should be Z$70 it’s being sold for Z$90. Traders are exploiting the situation. Some are illegally doing business. In one study site the grinding mills open at night to allow people to get food. The money changers operate under cover and there is a growth of private business, from people’s homes, including brewing beer, baking and selling food. In the south, some are even risking crossing the border to get supplies for resale in South Africa. The danger is that they can smuggle the virus too.

What are some of the social issues emerging?

Certainly there are reports of increased domestic violence. People cannot go out, and tensions rise. Some are consuming illegal brews – including spirits made at home. This can be dangerous, just like we are seeing increased drug use among the youth. Normal life is disrupted. You cannot even bury the dead – you again need a permit, and a health worker has to be present to supervise the burial, and a maximum of 50 can attend, but following social distancing rules. Travelling to funerals is impossible if outside your area. Family relations – and life in general – are being challenged by this virus.

What about health services?

Yes the clinics and hospitals are open. The problem is that you have to get a permit to move. And then the nurses at a clinic may not see you. They don’t always have the full personal protective equipment (PPE) and are really scared. Even though there are no cases in Masvingo as yet, people may be dying of malaria or childbirth complications or whatever, because of the lockdown. It’s killing people. The government is investing seriously in the health service, even employing more health workers. They are creating emergency beds, even in the rural areas, but it may not be enough. We have seen what has happened in Europe and the US on the news.

What are people’s attitudes to COVID-19?

People ask, what disease is this? Where has it come from? It is such a shock! There are so many rumours. People say it’s God’s revenge; they blame the superpowers; they say it has been manufactured to kill us. But mostly people are just scared. They have seen the news. We know pandemics, we had HIV/AIDS, but this is worse. It’s the number 1 disease. With AIDS people died over a long time, but this is sudden. With HIV you knew how it was transmitted, and people changed their behaviour. It could be avoided. This is just meeting someone – it’s so contagious. Even though he’s allowed, one of our colleagues who works with Agritex was moving around and was told in one village to go home – to ‘keep to your place’!

Who are the main people involved in the response?

There are so many. The government actually has organised quite well, it is doing something. Before they’d forgotten the health system – there was a freeze on health posts, people were paid badly and the hospitals and clinics were in a terrible state. Now they see the importance. This crisis has at last awakened the administration. For years we haven’t had an effective health service, but now something at least is happening. In each area there are COVID-19 task-forces – and mines, business people, well-off individuals and others are contributing resources. The universities and some businesses are making things – sanitiser, masks, PPE materials and so on. It’s a joint effort with government. The chiefs are involved too, and so are the spirit mediums who are seeking spiritual help to get through the crisis. The churches are doing the same; although they are not meeting, the church leaders, prophets and others are mobilising. Everyone is praying! There are WhatsApp groups giving advice on what to do, including some ideas for remedies. There seems to be a unified approach, and all the political parties are involved.

What next?

So far we haven’t suffered from the disease, only the lockdown. We have a few cases only. We accept that this lockdown period is for building the capacity of the health system to cope. Let’s hope that’s possible. It’s a Catch 22. We see what has happened in the UK, US and even South Africa. We don’t want this to happen here. But with lockdown most people are surviving hand-to-mouth. Life has become very, very difficult. There is mass suffering, and so far in Masvingo we haven’t had a single case recorded. Is it worth it? I don’t know, but everyone is very scared. Maybe there can be a process where kids can go to school, markets can open and we can move around because we cannot go on like this for long. There must be ways to make the places where lots of people gather safe – schools, transport hubs, markets, shops, religious gatherings and so on. Surely we can think of ways. Good hygiene, distancing and so on. Once the health service is adequate and built up things will be better; maybe there will be some anti-viral medicines too, like we have for HIV. Hopefully we can then live with the virus, and still survive.

What lessons can we draw from the experience so far?

We know that health services are important, and the government needs to invest. We know that farmers are essential and contribute to combatting a crisis, especially getting food to urban areas. We also know that lockdowns are really impossible – and they can kill. They may be worse than the virus! We also know that we can do things ourselves. Good diets bring immunity. There are traditional remedies that may help. And hygiene in the home and at work is always important. In the past we used to be self-reliant, making and selling things locally. There were often big crises, such as droughts, but our parents had granaries to tide them over. In future, we have to be prepared, we have to use our own resources. In the past we used to make things ourselves, not go to the shop to buy. Why are we importing so many things like face-masks? We can make them. We produce huge amounts of ethanol from sugar, so we can make sanitisers. We have forgotten self-reliance. We have been taught a very big lesson by this virus. We should not rely on the outside, and individuals and households have to take the responsibility ourselves.

This blog is a summary of a recorded conversation on 23 April 2020. Thanks to the whole team form across Zimbabwe for their contributions. Future posts will offer more updates and detailed cases from our field sites in Masvingo, Matabeleland South and Mashonaland Central provinces of Zimbabwe.

 

 

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Living with coronavirus: lessons from pastoralists?

Moments of surprise can expose deep uncertainties and even ignorance. They also uncover issues of contested politics, unequal social relations and the capacities of states and citizens. The unfolding coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is one such moment.

We don’t know what will happen where and when; our normal ways of doing things are massively disrupted, so we must adapt rapidly and radically. This is now life with the coronavirus. For those of us used to predictability and stability, with systems that function continuously and reliably, this sort of uncertainty – now being experienced the world over – is unsettling, provoking anxiety, stress, dislocation and sometimes panic.

But for many people, living in highly variable environments, where shocks of drought, flood, snowfall locust swarms or human and animal disease are regular occurrences, uncertainties are always part of everyday life. Indeed, uncertainties are not only lived with, but lived off, as variability, mobility, flexibility are a central part of livelihood systems.

A question we have been asking in our European Research Council-funded PASTRES programme (Pastoralism, Uncertainty, Resilience: Lessons from the Margins) is: Can we learn about how to address uncertainties within wider society – including around disease pandemics – from pastoralists who live with and from uncertainty? What are the logics, practices, strategies and social and political arrangements that allow for adaptive, flexible responses in the face of uncertainty, generating reliability in turbulent times?

Of course, the spread of a global pandemic virus of massively lethal potential is very different to the regular problems faced by pastoralists, whether in mountainous Tibet, lowland Ethiopia or the hills of Sardinia, but there are some themes that emerge from our research that offer pointers. Here we outline four of them.

  1. Multiple knowledges

In navigating uncertainties, pastoralists must engage with multiple sources of knowledge, triangulating between them.

This may involve engaging with expert, scientific knowledge, derived from, say, weather reports; or expert advice on pasture condition or animal disease. It may involve referring to local, embedded traditional knowledges, consulting local experts such as traditional healers, prophets and soothsayers — involving, for example, predictions around the seasons from signs in nature or messages from the spirit world. And it may involve informally-shared updates and locally-rooted practical knowledge from friends, neighbours, relatives and others – these days often via mobile phone through Facebook or WhatsApp groups. These may include information on the state of grazing, the availability of water in a well or the source and quality of forage, for example.

All these sources – formal, informal, real-time, predictive – are combined, reflected upon and, in turn, feed into action. No one source is relied upon alone. This sometimes frustrates development experts who spend huge amounts of money providing sophisticated forecasting systems or satellite monitoring, with user-friendly online mobile interfaces, such as those used in climate/weather forecasting, drought early warning or market information systems. Why is it that these are not used as expected?

It is the same with disease response systems: again, huge efforts are made to predict and prepare, and communicate expert advice. But this must be incorporated into local-embedded knowledges in order to become part of regular practice. Yes, we know that hand-washing and ‘social-distancing’ are important, but such changes only happen when other sources of knowledge and advice combine. Just relying on formal models and accredited expertise (‘the science’) is not enough, in the context of deep uncertainties. Reducing everything to directive risk management is insufficient, and is in fact misleading, as uncertainty, ambiguity and ignorance must be embraced.

Pastoralists know this when they hear a climate forecast and an early warning message from the government. Local experience and assessment is an essential complement to the official message. Only when such a message is fully trusted will it be accepted. Today, publics everywhere are grappling with how to respond to public health messages about the risks of COVID-19, along with orders to isolate and quarantine. In these situations, people’s personal, experienced, embodied uncertainties have to be addressed too. Accepting the existence of plural knowledges, even some that may be regarded as ‘unscientific’, is essential when navigating uncertainty and ignorance.

2. How time is experienced

Very often external interventions – whether around disease or drought – are constructed around the notion of an ‘event’ and a timeline around which a staged series of risk management measures are deployed.

Forecasts that assess the probabilities of something happening assume that, based on past experience or modelled futures, we can predict and manage people and things. So, whether it is the varying level of ‘early warning’ alert around a drought or the stages of a response in an unfolding epidemic, the planning system imagines time in a linear, ordered, managed way. The result is the sequential deployment of interventions, managed by ‘emergency’ teams and ‘rapid response’ facilities.

But this isn’t the way most people experience time. The ordered, hierarchical administrative time of crisis and emergency management has to articulate with the more complex flows of lived-with time in everyday life. Whether this is people responding to a pandemic disease in their family or neighbourhood, or a group of pastoralists managing highly variable grazing over far-flung territories with mobile herds, the experience of time may be quite different to those of preparedness planners and early warning system administrators.

How the present, the future and the past are experienced may vary dramatically. Memories of past droughts or disease outbreaks loom large, while expectations of the future are affected by current conditions, as well as deeper cosmologies. Futures are not just simply a linear extension of the present, as in the liberal modernist view, but are deeply intertwined with memories, experiences and histories. These will differ across class, gender, age and race, affecting how different people anticipate and respond. Everyday, unfolding time is therefore a flow, not an event.

For people responding to a disease, or managing mobility and seeking out pasture, time may therefore not be so obviously punctuated with distinct events, and responses may not appear in neat sequences. Instead, a host of other considerations apply – people’s lives, livelihoods, spiritual need, or mental states. All of these can affect what is done when, and by whom.

3. Reliable systems

Uncertainties provide major challenges to standardised systems that assume stability. Following Emery Roe, we can understand pastoral systems as ‘critical infrastructures’, with the objective of reliably delivering desired outputs (milk, meat, hides, services and overall wellbeing) in the context of multiple uncertainties. Just as an energy supply system aims to keep the lights on, and a health system aims to provide effective healthcare, pastoralists also must generate reliability through a range of practices. And they seem to be quite good at it.

What are the features of this? Reliability emerges from an understanding of the wider system and its vulnerabilities, as well as insights into local contexts. Horizon scanning must combine with the day-to-day practices that allow rapid, adaptive responses. Herders and market traders must do this all the time, regularly checking on grass, water, prices and so on, while having a good sense of the overall system. They will not rely on an ‘expert decision system’ from outside, but they must build reliability through their own networks, among individuals, kin, age-groups and communities. Communication and deliberation is central, facilitated these days by mobile communications. When a disaster strikes, knowledge, resources and labour can be mobilised rapidly, and animals can be moved, fodder purchased or water supplied.

Most standard, engineered systems designed for stable conditions are poor at generating reliability under such variable conditions. A health system relies on a regular flow of patients with a standard set of ailments requiring a prescribed array of treatments. This is fine under ‘normal’ conditions, but when a disease outbreak occurs, such systems quickly become overwhelmed, and there is a need to think differently.

Part of this is basic capacity, particularly in systems that are under-funded, but it also relates to the capacities of the professionals involved. Very often it is the frontline workers – doctors, nurses, pharmacists – who are left to innovate, to create reliability on the move. Managing an intensive care unit in a hospital may be more similar than we think to the embedded skills, aptitudes and practices of pastoralists, who must make agile, sometimes difficult, choices when facing variability.

4. Collective solidarities

If states cannot provide, businesses struggle and experts are overwhelmed, then what can we turn to?

Because externally-defined, top-down risk management based on predictive science is always insufficient under radical uncertainty and ignorance, we must also rely on ourselves – on community action and forms of solidarity and mutuality. Such initiatives are emerging during the coronavirus pandemic, including the explosion of locally-organised ‘mutual aid’ groups helping those in self-isolation and quarantine. Across Europe, a new, re-discovered moral economy is confronting the crisis.

How such arrangements work will, of course, depend on the setting and the challenge, but in pastoral areas, collective approaches to herd and flock management have always been vital in responding to variability. For example, a common tactic is to split a herd between young and vulnerable calves and milk cows who remain at home with additional fodder, and those that must migrate to distant pastures for the dry season. Mobility, flexibility and modular approaches to managing livestock and territory are the watchwords. These responses only work if they can mobilise labour, and this requires reciprocal relationships across kin and age groups and across communities.

In the past, east African pastoralism was characterised by extensive redistributive practices, as livestock were shared, loaned and redistributed across multiple ownership arrangements, facilitated by segmentary lineage structures and age-groups with specific responsibilities. This allowed for horizontal redistribution, friendship alliances across territories and marriage contracts that allocated stock. While such arrangements have declined, due to the individualisation and commoditisation of pastoral production, the cultural values and embedded practices still remain, and are often remobilised in times of severe crisis.

The revival of community and neighbourhood solidarities around COVID-19 are an example of how such social relationships are crucial in responding to uncertainty. Even in the commercialised, individualised West, they can still re-emerge around a re-defined sense of collective responsibility. In tackling a pandemic, working across nations, individual and collective actions must combine, public and private interests must converge, and centralised and local decision-making must interact.

***

COVID-19 is changing everything: how we live, how we relate, how we engage with expertise and how states and citizens interact. Deep uncertainties and extensive ignorance, as well as contested ambiguities, necessarily reshape society and politics.

In Western countries, we are learning to adapt fast. In the future – for this will not be the first or last time such a shock emerges – perhaps we can learn from others, including pastoralists, who have long embraced uncertainty as part of life.

This post first appeared on the PASTRES blog (www.pastres.org). It was written by Ian Scoones and Michele Nori, drawing on research on pastoralism and uncertainty

in Amdo Tibet, China; Borana, Ethiopia; Isiolo, Kenya; Gujarat, India; Sardinia, Italy and southern Tunisia.

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Surviving COVID-19 in a fragile state: why social resilience is essential

The article below appeared on African Arguments’ Debating Ideas blog last Friday. As of 29 March there were 7 cases, and no further deaths. But there is little doubt that the impending situation in Zimbabwe is serious, and the government is unable to respond. The tragic death of Zororo Makamba was an early warning of what may be in store. While support from corporate philanthropists, such as Jack Ma and Strive Masiyiwa, is welcome, everyone needs to take action.  So don’t just read the blog, please do donate to the Citizens’ Initiative organised by Freeman Chari and others. It’s a legit outfit and gets money where it’s needed.

Surviving COVID-19: Fragility, Resilience and Inequality in Zimbabwe

Ian Scoones

Zimbabwe had three confirmed cases and one recorded death of COVID-19 (coronavirus) as of 26 March, and a national disaster has been declared. So far suspected cases have been limited, but once the virus spreads through the population, it could be devastating.

In thinking about COVID-19 in Zimbabwe, and in Africa more broadly, three dimensions are important – fragility, resilience and inequality. It may be that obvious fragilities are counteracted to some extent by capacities to adapt and be resilient, but this depends on who you are and where you live.

Fragility

The conditions for rapid spread of COVID-19, certainly in townships in urban centres, are all there – crowded housing, poor sanitation, lack of water, immune-compromised populations due to HIV and lack of services. For pandemic preparedness planners, this is a recipe for a major disaster.

As people get sick, the ability of the health services to respond is seriously limited. The one infectious disease hospital (Wilkins in Harare) has limited capacity, and apparently no intensive-care ventilation facilities. There are supposedly only 16 ventilator machines in the country.

The medical profession is disillusioned and under-paid, and has recently been on a long strike, unheard of among committed doctors. Yesterday, nurses and some doctors walked out complaining of a lack of basic protective equipment. Many well-qualified doctors have left the country; even Cuban doctors, who have come to Zimbabwe’s aid in the past, may be fewer this time.

State neglect of the health service has been long-running, ever since the imposition of structural adjustment policies from 1991. In the past years it has got worse, and the public system has nearly collapsed. Private providers offer good services to the rich who can pay, but this is limited. And they are not geared up for a public health emergency.

The government’s response has been patchy so far. After ignoring warnings, an emergency declaration was made banning public gatherings and encouraging social distancing, but the President still proceeded with a rally the next day. Meanwhile, the defence minister caused an international sensation, and much opprobrium, by declaring that coronavirus had come from God to punish the West for imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe. The government distanced itself, but it rather highlights the dismal calibre of some at the highest level.

This current regime clearly doesn’t garner much trust. The political settlement has fallen apart. The state seems simply not to care. As Simukai Chigudu describes for the 2008 cholera outbreak a mixture of disdain and callous contempt is shown by the state. With the economy continuing to free-fall, Zimbabwe, by any indicator, is a ‘fragile state’ – and so one of the least able to respond to a pandemic.

Resilience

Yet, indicators of fragility tend to focus on the functioning of the state, assuming that states must replicate those in the West or China. In a crisis, however, well-ordered, functioning states are often unable to cope. They are not used to responding to surprise, high variability, random shocks and an inability to plan and predict. They do not have systems of reliability at their core.

While the Zimbabwean state is clearly highly fragile, given years of neglect and a serious lack of resources, there are other aspects of the Zimbabwe setting that give hope. Resilience – the ability to respond to and bounce back from shocks, even transforming the situation along the way – is built by people in networks, embedded in social relations, with values and commitments that go beyond narrow individualism. We see a lot of these characteristics in Zimbabwe; and people have had to learn these skills and practices the hard way.

Over twenty years of economic and political chaos has ensured that food is supplied through informal means, across multiple social networks, even as food emergencies are declared at a central level. The informalisation of life – the sense of getting by and living with uncertainty (débrouillardise in the Congolese rendition) – has affected all relations. If there is nothing in the shops or no fuel at the pumps, then look elsewhere, ring someone up, find an alternative. Something will happen, always. It is these capacities that are essential for surviving in a pandemic, and that those in the West are learning fast, as shops empty, people panic buy and services cease.

The painful lessons of the HIV/AIDS pandemic are imprinted on Zimbabwe’s consciousness: first it was a blame game – gays, foreigners, sex workers, truck drivers; and then everyone realised this was affecting everyone, and many friends and family were dying. Leadership from Timothy Stamps, the health minister, the commitment of front-line health workers and community changes in behaviour (along with the supply of cheap anti-retrovirals) turned the tide, and Zimbabwe was one of the first in the region to show declines in the disease. These lessons will be important now; just as in West Africa where the lessons from Ebola will be vital. Pointing the finger elsewhere doesn’t stop a virus, and everyone has to be committed to a collective response.

So now will be an important moment for rebuilding solidarities and forms of mutualism and moral economy that are at the heart of social resilience. With the UK Premier League cancelled, the WhatsApp groups dedicated to following Chelsea or Arsenal can be repurposed to helping each other, while churches will take on new meanings amongst congregations, even if not gathering physically. International connections are important too, although South Africa’s plan to build a fence on the Zimbabwe border to prevent illegal, ‘diseased’ migrants entering sends out a dismal signal. Networks of kin across the world, connected though remittances flows and Western Union, will be vital, just as messages (and good Zimbabwean jokes and memes) via social media will be important.

Even in the UK, so subsumed in an individualistic culture for generations, the importance of community, connection and solidarity are being rediscovered through ‘mutual aid’ groups. This will be much easier in Zimbabwe and, in the absent of a caring or competent state, will be essential.

Inequality

While at one level it’s true that viruses respect no borders and affect all people, the consequences are very unevenly felt. While we are all in it together, some are more exposed. Who is most likely to catch the disease? Who is most likely to become ill? Who is most likely to suffer from the failure of health services?

Some of this is to do with biology – it is the elderly, for example, who seem to get the worst symptoms – but a lot is to do with deep structural inequalities. The colonial shape of cities is one aspect: crowded townships (for black African workers), distant from places of work and the suburbs originally reserved for whites, require daily travel on crowded transport networks. This is the perfect setting for contagion.

Add to this the crowded nature of such ‘high-density’ townships (yes it’s in the name – blacks were not deemed to need space), and the decline in services, mean that ‘social-distancing’ is impossible. This was ruled out in the colonial era, and has been made worse by economic decline, where travelling for precarious work and endless queuing are part of daily life.

Meanwhile, the edicts of ‘hand-washing’, good hygiene and healthy food are impossible to follow if tap water doesn’t run, people share boreholes and poverty restricts what food can be bought. This is what Paul Farmer refers to as ‘structural violence’ – the violence of deep inequality that causes vulnerability and disease.

By contrast, those living in the low- or medium-density suburbs, and with resources, can distance themselves, and have resources to buy alternatives – privately pumped water, insurance for health care, money to buy things at inflated prices, or they’re even able skip the country if needs be.

Workers from the townships who service the city and offer labour in businesses and factories are those who are the most vulnerable to economic shutdown. They have experience of this, and many have already lost their formal jobs as the economy collapsed. They travel in to take up precarious, informal work, which can cease at a stroke without recompense.

Knee-jerk reactions by the state, in shallow attempts at asserting control, are often directed at the most vulnerable. Informal markets are closed because of notional hygiene concerns, for example. Those operating in recognised trading sites are taxed exorbitantly, even though this restricts access to toilets and washing facilities, especially for women. Extreme quarantine measures, in the context of a fragile state, may end up doing more harm than good, undermining social resilience.

It’s probably those in the rural areas who are the most resilient in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. Having food to eat or sell, and solid local networks to draw on, with limited expectations of the state anyway, many have successfully ridden out the roller-coaster ride that has been the Zimbabwean economy. Forms of collective action that can regrade roads in rural areas can surely also assist with pandemic response, in alliance with Zimbabwe’s many committed health care workers, community leaders and others.

Of course, as people become very critically ill, this is outside anyone’s ability to respond – and in Zimbabwe this includes the whole health system – so this is why enhancing the ability to stop the spread and building resilience is the essential challenge of the moment. As winter approaches, there is probably very little time.

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New farm size regulations in Zimbabwe: can they encourage land redistribution?

In mid-February, the Government of Zimbabwe issued a new set of farm size regulations, arguing that this would release new land for land reform. This announcement arrived out of the blue and came as a surprise to many. Was this a new attempt to rationalise land holdings following the 2000 land reform? Was this the implementation phase of the national audit starting? Was this a political move to deal with large holdings accumulated by the previous regime? Why now, and what impact would it have?

Despite the press claims that this was a big, bold new move, a closer look at the new regulations suggests that actually things haven’t changed that much. The 1999 regulations were marginally adjusted in 2000, and this was a further minimal, slightly random, adjustment, as the table below shows.

Natural region

2000 regulations

2020 regulations

I 250 250
II 350/400 IIa/b 500
III 500 700
IV 1500 1000
V 2000 2000

 

Within land policy, farm size regulations demonstrate a policy commitment to redistribution, avoiding massive consolidations and huge, under-utilised farms. In theory that is. As an administrative tool they are only as effective as the land administration system; and unfortunately in Zimbabwe this is not very effective.

In practice land allocations since land reform in 2000 have been ad hoc and at the discretion of land officers and committees at the district level. Exceptions are regularly made. In many respects, having such flexibility makes much sense. A simple centralised system cannot deal with local variations and contingencies. It can only be a guide. The problem comes when such flexibilities are exploited by those in power; maintaining large or multiple farms, for example, and so excluding others from access to land.

Prosper Matondi of Ruzivo Trust has provided a useful draft paper on the recent regulations, helpfully facilitating debate. He points out the huge variation in actual allocations as against the formal regulations (Table 4.1 in the paper), based on the government’s own audit data. In our sites, a similar story applies. There are 16 (of 817) A2 farms in Masvingo province that exceed the ceilings (12 in Mwenezi in Region V – all huge livestock/wildlife ranches – and 4 in Gutu/Masvingo districts in Region III/IV) and there are 11 (of 700) A2 farms over 500 ha in Mazowe district. How many might be deemed suitable for subdivision for (small-scale) agriculture is very unclear.

So will the new regulations really have any effect?

Land ceiling regulations are a very blunt instrument in land policy. They have been intensely controversial internationally over many decades. From the 1960s in India they were implemented across the country, aiming to break up the zamindari system of large holdings. Different states took different approaches, and outcomes were varied. Today, there are some who believe they have become a constraint, particularly for smaller farmers aiming to grow. Technological change in irrigation in particular has made the assumptions behind the original reforms problematic too.

In South Africa, an attempt to set land ceilings in 2017 through a new Bill fell by the way-side, and many were extremely critical of the process. Apartheid era legislation preventing farm subdivision extraordinarily is still in force, notionally protecting the ‘viability’ of large-scale farms. The 2019 land panel has argued strongly for a rethink, both on subdivision and a renewed effort to impose ceilings, linked to land taxation – with high levels beyond the ceilings to encourage the market-based release of land. Maybe this a route for Zimbabwe to follow too?

However, there is an even more basic question raised: what are the appropriate sizes for expropriation or taxation legislation? What sizes for what conditions make sense? This is the tricky part. In the colonial era, policy on land sizes also existed, but was racialized. The original assumption was that a white farmer needed land that would produce an income equivalent of a senior (white) civil servant in government. So-called Native Purchase Areas were established in the 1930s to create a yeoman class of African farmer, but were considerably smaller (averaging under 100 ha) than white commercial farms. Other blacks meanwhile were deemed to require less land – indeed land apportionment legislation was geared of course to ensuring that land was sufficiently small and poor in the ‘reserves’ that labour was released for the rest of the (white) economy.

What was deemed ‘viable’ was also influenced by the planning models on optimal production in different agroecological regions. This again linked to a bunch of assumptions, influenced by a particular idea of (white commercial) farming. The famous agroecological ‘Natural Region’ map, produced in 1961 by Vincent and Thomas, identifies what should be produced in each region. In the drier regions it was only extensive livestock, unless there was irrigation, for example. Of course there is plenty of cropping in Masvingo and Matabeleland provinces: it’s not ‘optimal’ as far as the assessment goes, but it’s necessary for the livelihoods of many.

As Ben Cousins and I showed in a paper a while back, ideas of ‘viability’ are therefore highly contested, conditioned by politics and assumptions about production, and (ideologically-inflected) visions of what a farm and farmer should be. What is viable for one type of farmer (say with off-farm income earning options) may not be viable for another. And ideas of what is optimal cannot be generalised either. Much depends on levels of investment (irrigation for example), land formation and topography (large areas with huge granite outcrops are not the same as large areas with levelled, high quality irrigable land), and how the land can be used (including market potential). Just saying that, in a region defined by average rainfall (what is that these days, with such variability anyway?), a maximum land size should be X really doesn’t make sense.

This is why local adaptations of national farm size regulations are essential, but they must be based on a sound and transparent administrative process. This is why building a wider land administration system in Zimbabwe is essential and just issuing edicts through new regulations will change little.

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

 

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Zimbabwe’s economy goes from bad to worse

Zimbabwe’s economy continues to decline, with inflation spiralling and the new local currency losing value by the day. The IMF’s recent report makes grim reading, with negative growth recorded for last year, and an expectation of effectively no growth, growing inflation and a devaluing currency into 2020. The underlying macro-economic instability has been made worse by major climate impacts during 2019 – both the drought and cyclone Idai. The situation is bad, and getting worse.

With the failure of government to address the required reforms, the prospects of renewed external support with the necessary debt write-offs look minimal. The stand-off with the international community continues, with international sanctions and a lack of investment continuing. With external public debt rising to over 50% of GDP, much of it in arrears, there is little chance of the Zimbabwean state repaying. Bail-outs at some point will be required, and the scale of investment needed for basic infrastructure and services is estimated at US$16 billion. But instead of Zimbabwe, Somalia seems to be the focus of favourable terms, with Zimbabwe being left to decline further.

The embedded corruption at the heart of state failure becomes intensified as the economic chaos deepens. Those able to profit from parallel currency deals and leverage resource from state-led programmes are the elite few, connected to the political-military elite. And who suffers? Ordinary people, and especially the poor. The consequences of economic collapse are most felt in the urban areas, where safety nets are non-existent. While those in the rural areas have their own production to fall back on; even though this year the effects of drought have hit rural livelihoods hard too.

As the state tries to ameliorate the situation, things only get worse. For example, the Finance Minister announced the creation of ‘garrison shops’ so a restive army could buy goods on favourable terms. It was supposed to be financed by a levy on civil servants. But another parallel economy only creates opportunities for hoarding and profit, and punitive taxation on already struggling people causes resentment. Policy is being made on the hoof. Almost as soon as it was announced, it seems the tax was rescinded, or deemed voluntary, and so a big unbudgeted expenditure was added to the inflation pressures.

The uncovering of the massive rent-seeking in the milling industry, directly fuelled by state-sponsored grain buying for food relief, has exposed the problems. An apparently well-meaning policy is naively implemented, and those in the system exploit its benefits ruthlessly. In this case, with many alleged connections right to the top. The sense that those in charge are wholly out their depth or exploiting the system for their own benefit (or possibly both) is palpable. The IMF review team, in appropriately guarded language, clearly felt this.

Mentioned only obliquely was the cause celebre of this chaos – command agriculture. The corruption at the heart of this programme has been widely exposed, not least by the Public Accounts committee, chaired by opposition MP, Tendai Biti. Around US$3 billion is alleged to have been misused, through a complex web of government funding, private companies and military involvement. A recent ZDI report has highlighted the nexus of corruption at the heart of the party-state and military.

Under normal circumstances a public-private partnership for contract financing of commercial agriculture would have some credibility – just as would subsidised produce for the armed forces or state purchasing of grain through milling companies. But circumstances aren’t normal in Zimbabwe. Despite attempts at restructuring, the grip of corruption is so intense, and often led by networks close to those in power and running these initiatives, that these apparently sensible schemes become the basis for significant extraction, no matter what their worth.

No-one has quite got to the bottom of the command agriculture story as yet. The political economy is clear, but there have certainly been benefits. In our study areas for example, command agriculture resources have unquestionably resulted in boosts in production, especially on A2 farms. Repayments have been inconsistent, but many have been pursued rigorously. Not everyone can get away with just exploiting the system. But this is the point – it is just a few that continue to profit, getting massively rich while the rest suffer.

Is there a way out of this downward spiral? Attempts by the technocrats in the state to do what is required are foiled with each move it seems. Policies seem to be concocted at random, desperately responding to situation that is out of hand. One day it was illegal to sell fuel in US dollars to protect the local currency, the next day it is permitted across the country. Secret printing of money to offset US dollar losses in the mining industry solve one problem, but create many others.

The loss of trust in the government by key players – the IMF, western donor governments, even the Chinese – is clear. Sanctions (or other ‘restrictive measures’) are still in place, with influential players within and outside Zimbabwe arguing that they should remain until the regime changes. Investors are shying away, despite the occasional positive effort to rebuild key parts of the economy. Moves to create political coalitions across the divides are viewed with great scepticism given the experience of the Government of National Unity from 2009-13. It’s stale-mate. Some are holding out for an ‘uprising’ (usually those sitting in comfort firing off tweets), while others think it will have to get much worse before there is a change.

It is not a happy story, and given the dire food security situation this year, the consequences for livelihoods are severe. In agriculture, the glimmers of progress seen up to 2016 on the back of greater economy stability are fast being stamped out. Things are currently very fragile, and most farmers are holding back on investing further.

Today, like Somalia, Zimbabwe has a collapsed economy with vanishingly little state capacity, but, unlike Somalia, seems to be unable to convince the IMF, AfDB or other donors and investors to provide support. Another shock – whether further drought, the spread of coronavirus or something else – may create cascading, disastrous effects, with the elite being able to escape, while the poor (and this now includes a large portion of the population) will have to bear the brunt.

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

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Can joint ventures and sub-letting unleash Zimbabwe’s agricultural potential?

The under-performance of parts of Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector continues. This mostly applies to large estates and some medium-scale farms that were reallocated under the fast-track land reform as A2 resettlement farms. Last year, as part of the economic reform agenda, the government has responded by approving measures that allow joint ventures (JVs) and sub-letting with the hope that this will encourage investment, foster skills, increase mechanisation and release finance for improving productivity.

A useful paper by Prosper Matondi of Ruzivo Trust came out recently that discusses the issues. Building on past practices of tenancy arrangements in large-scale commercial farms, ever since land reform, joint ventures with external investors, former white large-scale commercial farmers and others has been on-going, but frequently very much under-the-radar. Former president, Robert Mugabe, was very much against the idea, fearing that such arrangements would reverse the gains of land reform, allowing former farmers back onto the land. Selective agreements were made, notably with Chinese investors in tobacco, but otherwise deals had to be struck informally or at a local level with district approval but without wider publicity.

JVs on state farms: state assets for private gain?

In 2014, with state farms in crisis, the Agricultural Rural Development Authority (ARDA) was encouraged to lease out its land to private investors and broker joint ventures on all parastatal-held land. This now involves 24 farms across the country, all of which are now running as commercial ventures, with a variety of investors, based on 5-20 year partnership arrangements. The transparency of such deals has left much to be desired, however, and state assets have been deployed for private gain, with some particular firms, such as Trek Petroleum (which Trafigura/Sakunda has a stake in), having powerful political backers. This was a hidden land ‘reform’ on a large scale, and while hailed as a route to recapitalisation of state farms can also be seen a source of elite capture.

An earlier blog discussed this move, raising questions as to whether this is the appropriate use of parastatal resources and capacity. New public-private initiatives around strategic investments in sugar for biofuel are proposed for the areas around the new Tugwi Mukose dam in Masvingo province. This follows on from the Chisumbanje deal in the Save valley, involving the notorious ZANU-PF supporter, Billy Rautenbach, whose Green Fuels company took over around 10,000 hectares of ARDA land for a mix of estate and outgrower production of cane in 2009.

Partnership farming in land reform areas: boosting production on A2 farms

Perhaps more interesting than these large-scale state transfers, often to well-connected companies, are the smaller deals that can now unfold with land reform beneficiaries on resettlement land. While the Ruzivo paper notes correctly that the new arrangements open up opportunities for joint ventures or sub-leases on any type of land, this is most likely to happen on A2 land, as A1 smallholder areas are well utilised and often highly productive. It is in the A2 areas where investment has been lacking and there is a dire need for recapitalisation. To date, the lack of financing has been the major constraint to success in most A2 farms without external sources of capital.

Existing JVs show the potentials. In our study areas in Mvurwi, we have been following a number of arrangements, including six involving Chinese investments and several involving local investors. Chinese investors have usually come through the Chinese tobacco contracting company, Tianze, that operates widely in the area, or have made deals with banks who have taken control of properties due to non-payment of loans. They have clear contractual arrangements, usually over 20 years or more, for full management of the farm, including taking over all property, the workforce and so on. A wholly new operation is established, often with significant new investment in irrigation (centre pivots), mechanisation (tractors etc.) and processing facilities (rocket barns).

Very often they are employing consultants and farm managers who have worked in the tobacco industry for years to assist them, as the companies investing are often Chinese provincial companies with diverse portfolios often not involving tobacco. While the financial performance of such operations is of course not known, many comment that the prospect of turning a profit is remote in the initial period, and investors need deep pockets. Chinese company officials working on such farms comment that the business conditions in Zimbabwe are so bad that they wonder if they will survive, and some are diversifying into mining and other operations to spread risk.

Such JVs contrast with those established more informally, often involving a former white farmer or an urban business person going into partnership with an existing A2 land reform farmer. The farmer may still be resident and farm some of the area, in line with their means, while the investor takes over the larger portion of the land. When relationships are good and trust is built up, these seem to work well. They are still few and far between, but the potentials are significant, as many farms have spare land which could easily be sub-let. As noted on this blog before, there is much debate in Zimbabwe about the ‘under-utilisation’ of land, and certainly joint ventures can help reduce this, increasing capacity. However, contrary to the Ruzivo paper, which generally paints a rather dismal picture of post-land reform areas, there is certainly not as much as 60% of land available for use across A1 and A2 resettlement areas.

Another JV mentioned in the paper, but not seen so prominently in the areas we work, is seasonal short-term land sub-letting for a particular crop. Here, land across many farms is let for – say maize – and the company is in charge of inputs, marketing and providing equipment. This returns some of the scale advantages of large-scale farming but distributes risk across multiple producers, much as does contract farming, now familiar in cotton, tobacco and some other commodities. This may have potential for some crops in some places (mostly likely where there are large concentrations of A2 farms), but the management and logistics of operating multiple contracts over many farms is considerable, and current conditions certainly would make this a very difficult business proposition.

Navigating bureaucracy: practical risks of JVs

Perhaps the most interesting part of the paper for me was the discussion of the risk of joint ventures. You can see the economic rationale clearly. One party has an asset (land) and the other has another asset (finance – and/or skill, equipment etc.) and it seems like a win-win. Until you try and get the arrangement formalised that is. A neat diagram in the paper (Figure 2.1, page 7; see below) encapsulates the challenges, and multiple risks, involved in negotiating a joint venture. The complex bureaucracy of land administration, across national and district scales, combined with the multiple legal frameworks (discussed at length in the paper) make the prospect daunting to say the least. No wonder Chinese investors have gone to powerful individuals and negotiated directly, while other arrangements have remained hidden and informal.

If JVs are to be a feature of Zimbabwe’s agricultural landscape, building an administrative system fit for purpose and, through this, building trust that it can work efficiently, and without the risk of sudden reversals and political interference, is vital. The government can go on and on about the importance of ‘unlocking value’ and ‘facilitating investment’, but unless the system is easy to navigate and is transparent and accountable, then many will continue to shy away, and the opportunities to invest in agriculture will remain on paper, but seldom realised in practice.

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

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Sugar scandals in Zimbabwe’s lowveld

While visiting our research sites in Mkwasine and Hippo Valley in Zimbabwe’s lowveld recently, there was only one topic of conversation among sugar farmers we have been working with in land reform areas: the scandal that has overwhelmed the South African sugar firm, Tongaat Hullett.

A forensic audit by Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) uncovered massive accounting irregularities and the report named most of the top brass of the company, including the top team in Zimbabwe. What’s more, the accounting audit identified land acquired for land reform as an asset that shouldn’t be on the books, immediately wiping billions of Rand off the company’s value.

This episode has sent shock-waves through South Africa’s corporate sector. The company was delisted from the Johannesburg stock exchange, all those implicated have been removed from their posts, and there are potentially criminal charges pending. Not surprisingly, big questions are being asked about the companies that previously audited Tongaat’s accounts.

Sugar deals: alliances between state and capital

Tongaat Hullett is the owner of Triangle estates and mill and the major stakeholder in Hippo Valley, having bought out Anglo-American’s shares. A total of 640,000 tonnes of sugar can be produced per year from two mills. Since the late 1950s, this has been a strategic contribution to the national economy. Ever since the sugar industry was first established in the lowveld with 100 hectares planted by Murray McDougall in 1937, the companies involved – first MacDougall’s Triangle company, then the Hullett company from 1957 then conglomerate, Tongaat Hullett, later – have been a central part of the lowveld political economy. In the estate museum there are pictures of company executives and colonial governors, prime ministers or presidents from the early colonial era to the present. The state indeed invested substantially in the sugar industry – building dams, creating canals, levelling fields and offering land. The state and sugar capital have always been intimately intertwined in Zimbabwe (see the brief history in our open-access JSAS paper).

This was certainly the case during land reform when deals were struck to protect the core estates from land invasions. Concessions were offered and the white and Mauritian outgrowers were expelled in favour of new A2 farmers, but the main business was protected. By all accounts this was agreed at the highest political level. Since then the company has been cajoled into make further concessions, releasing cane land for those local invaders who felt that they had lost out in the early 2000s, and again recently a major new initiative has been started, opening up new land for outgrower cane, and the settlement of more people.

When we started our work in the sugar growing areas in the early 2000s, soon after land reform, the company executives were dismissive of the resettled farmers. How could they possibly grow cane at the level and quality that the estate does? As our work has shown, they have been surprised. Yield levels are comparable to the estate and the outgrower sector is delivering a significant proportion of the cane. With risk transferred to outgrowers and the company acting as a monopoly buyer, this has worked out well for the estate.

But farmers and the company have not always got along well. The company has monopoly market power and sets the terms (even if these are quite good by regional standards), and the exposure of the level of dodgy accounting by PwC has only acted to enrage farmers. For them, this proves that they are being ripped off, and that the company fat cats are benefiting, while they suffer. Growing sugar is hard, and made harder, especially for those in Mkwasine area operating outside the estate, as water and electricity supply is challenging, given the decline in infrastructure. For them, not only the company, but the state – always seen to be in cahoots – are to blame for their plight.

Plantation life and empire economics

Sugar plantations have always been central to the economics of empire. Linked in some parts of the world to slavery, land expropriation and exploitation, sugar, global capital and colonial states are intimately entwined, as Sydney Mintz has so eloquently written about in Sweetness and Power. Yet plantations also have connotations of modernity and progress, creating order and wealth in marginal areas, and with this gainful employment and an export commodity that boosts national economies.

Being in the lowveld sugar areas you can feel this. The emerald green sugar cane is laid out in neat blocks, and the busy efficiency of the tractors, haulage trucks and mills give a sense of unified purpose. The massive engineering works that have gone into ensuring continuous supplies of water to this otherwise dry land are witness to state commitment, with canals criss-crossing the landscape, and the area dotted with sluices, check-dams and ponds. Meanwhile, the country clubs, the golf courses, the manicured village greens, the cricket creases, the football teams and the schools named after sugar heroes of the lowveld, present a sense of another world, beyond the mayhem of contemporary Zimbabwe. The massive Tongaat billboards on the roads welcome you to an almost sovereign space, beyond the nation, with its own rules and security forces.

Plantation life is often a separate existence, where you are provided for; as long as you commit to the deal with the company you can be housed, educated, medically cared for and provided with a job. The remuneration may be poor and conditions bad, but there is not much else among the dry baobabs of the lowveld.

The outgrowers, begrudging and forever complaining, have by-and-large accepted this incorporation into this company world. Many have done well from sugar, faring considerably better than their counterparts on other A2 farms, and with better deals than other sugar producers in the region (see our JSAS special issue on the political economy of sugar in southern Africa). Learning the ways of sugar, and its seasonal cycles, has taken some doing, and many have diversified to avoid total reliance on one commodity, but our data show significant levels of income from most. And this is much more than the pathetically remunerated government jobs that many retired from.

Yet the accounting scandal has upset this accommodation. People are angry at being ripped off. And dodgy accounting is resurfacing resentments around land politics. Noone is very clear about who actually owns the land that sugar wealth is built on. For land reform areas it is clearly state land as it was expropriated, but the estate as whole does not have clear land titles. It was always an accepted arrangement that the estate provided a strategic industry, valued and supported by the state, and lowveld land was cheap and plentiful. But forensic accounting doesn’t take account of vague agreements struck in the early twentieth century, and the deregistering of land reform land may have opened up a larger can of worms, as land rights and control in the lowveld sugar areas are renegotiated.

Sugar and power

What this episode once again exposes is that sugar and power are intimately linked. The state and sugar capital have worked together across regimes in Zimbabwe, incorporating outgrowers – white, Mauritian and more recently black – in this bigger project. The order of the estate, with its facilities and regimented control – meant that a colonial style status quo could be preserved long into Independence, no matter how loudly outgrower farmers shouted or local politicians agitated.

When updating investors in December, Tongaat Hullett tried to put a brave face on the scandal, suggesting that they’d turned a corner, everything had been rectified, and that all would be OK. There is a prospect that the company will be listed again on the Joburg exchange today. But, in the last months, the accounting scandal has changed the game in Zimbabwe. When dubious corporate accounting and colonial land politics get mixed up, things get messy. With Tongaat bosses allegedly fiddling the books to get bigger bonuses, the fragility of the long-running arrangement between state, capital, outgrowers and local populations has been seriously tested. Farmers are more vocal about their rights and demand a greater share from the company. And estate land, and perhaps other assets, are now being contested in ways that they haven’t been since MacDougall’s planting of the first sugar in 1937. An accounting scandal has created a whole new politics in the lowveld, which is likely to run and run.

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

 

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