Tag Archives: A1 informal

Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (6)

Reflections on processes of agrarian change across sites

As the previous blogs in this series have shown, there are quite dramatic differences between resettlement sites in our Masvingo sample, with different patterns of differentiation and so different trajectories of change emerging. This blog focuses on this comparison, and tries to draw out some of the most important differences.

Perhaps the most stark differences are between the A1 (smallholder) and A2 (medium-scale commercial) sites. The former emerged from land invasions more or less exactly 20 years ago, led by war veterans and others, and involving contesting land with then resident white farmers. Informal settlements were established as ‘base camps’ and only during the next year or so did regularised settlements emerge. Indeed, 20 years on some of our sites are still informal, and barely planned. The A2 farms emerged from a more formal procedure of application, although as noted this could be manipulated through political and other connections. These are much larger allocations, certainly for dryland A2 farms, and were expected to emerge as the new basis of commercial agriculture, led by an educated, professional middle-class farming elite.

The envisaged plan, first laid out in 1998 as part of the government’s plan for a new phase of land reform, has not emerged. With a few outlier exceptions amongst A2 farms, the A1 farms are by-and-large much more successful, certainly in terms of per area production, but also in terms of employment generation and the dynamics of accumulation and investment that have emerged. The A1 farms additionally have driven a wider process of local economic development, while A2 farms, like their large-scale commercial farm predecessors, have remained dislocated from local economies, although do provide a source of employment for poorer A1 farmers, and nearby communal area households too.

Within the A1 areas, as the previous blogs have shown, there are quite stark differences. Without doubt it is among the A1 self-contained farms where the greatest success is observed. Partly this is due to the nature of the original settlers, being more connected and with greater levels of assets, but it is partly due to the entrepreneurial focus of the self-contained farmers. As separated off farms, they have to go it alone, invest in farm equipment and infrastructure, building the farm up from scratch. Unlike in a villagised setting they can rely less on neighbours – for example for work parties, and even for the supply of temporary work. They must develop their farm business, and link to markets themselves, investing in infrastructure and transport, as well as accommodating permanent labour on the farm. This is of course not universally the case, and there is significant differentiation amongst self-contained A1 farmers, as the earlier blog has shown. Nevertheless, there are a good proportion of our A1 self-contained sample – admittedly from the higher potential areas of Gutu and Masvingo districts – who are ‘accumulating from below’ and emerging as successful petty commodity producers, even creating the beginnings of a rural bourgeoisie, with connections to town and investments elsewhere.

Such an entrepreneurial, petty commodity producer class exists across our other A1 villagised farmers too – both those also in Masvingo and Gutu districts and those further south in often more informal settings. The conditions for accumulation are however more constrained in the villagised schemes. The average arable area is smaller, and limited by allocations. The communal grazing is more or less ‘full’, although in more land abundant areas in Chiredzi and Mwenezi, livestock can graze in nearby under-used A2 areas. As in the self-contained areas, a focus on intensification through ‘projects’ – irrigation gardens, broiler units and contract farming of high value crops – is a route to accumulation that does not require extensive land areas. It is also important for grown-up children requiring land and needing to establish independent livelihoods. Women too lead diversification in agricultural production across the sites, but perhaps especially in the villagised areas, where they additionally are engaged in a range of off-farm activities.

Diversified income earning as part of a portfolio is essential in all resettlement areas but is particularly significant in the informal, dryland A1 sites. Here crop outputs are highly variable, and diversification into trading, natural resource harvesting, crafts and so on is essential, particularly for poorer households. In these informal sites, there certainly are some who are accumulating, through a combination of extensification of farming and livestock production and diversification into a range of mostly trading activities, but perhaps only a third of households, compared to about a half in other A1 sites. This is largely due to the marginality of the area, and the lack of markets and circulation, although cross-border trade – for example selling goats or dried mopane worms – provides opportunities, given the proximity to both the South African and Mozambican borders.

Over time, in all sites the reliance on off-farm employment has declined amongst household heads, as farmers have retired or simply decided to concentrate on farming. But none of these sites are settings where livelihoods are generated solely by farming, for anyone. Remittances from now older children may be important, alongside a variety of local income earning, and the persistence amongst a significant minority of someone (usually a male household head) earning through a job, very often a civil service post, such a teacher, solider or policeman.

External support, including through social welfare grants and pensions, is important for some across our sites, and in the drought year of 2019, welfare payments were especially significant among poorer households in our drier sites in the south of the province. In terms of access to other support, including extension services or command agriculture loans, this is quite sporadic. The sites closer to urban areas, notably the villagised sites in Masvingo district had the greatest access to extension services, while those with more political connections, notably the self-contained sites, had more access to command agriculture, although the coverage was uneven and quite limited, since the programme was focused much more in the higher potential areas of the country.

Proximity to markets is of course a major differentiating factor, and those sites near Masvingo have seen the greatest expansion of agriculture-related businesses. This relates in turn to infrastructure and transport availability, which is again uneven across sites. Despite the ability to produce, the remoteness of some self-contained sites is a constraint, whereas the formerly informal site, Uswaushava, that is along a main road definitely profits from connectivity. The cotton boom in the 2000s in that site was linked to this, with many contracting companies competing for business, and today the market gardening of melons is huge quantities is facilitated by easy transport connections. Comparing sites, it is the level of economic embeddedness, including opportunities to invest in local townships and small businesses in the rural areas, that allows an area to grow, agriculture to thrive and some to accumulate. Different places have different opportunities – in the south, it is connections across borders, elsewhere it is to major urban centres, in other places it is simply links to the immediate local economy, where demand is created due to successful agriculture.

The A2 farms do not profit from such a dynamic of local economic development. They rely instead on selling crops or livestock along more conventional value chains, which are more distant and reliant on wider infrastructure. As discussed in the blog on A2 sites, those relying on independent production in dryland areas are severely hampered due to the lack of flexible finance, and the costs of both production and marketing are high. Some manage to make a go of it, including connecting between the farm business and others in town, but for many, A2 farming has not been profitable, and quite a number of farms are operated more as small-scale operations, yet on large areas. These problems, created by the long-running lack of a system of agricultural finance, is offset when a contracting arrangement can be brokered but these are limited in Masvingo (as tobacco is not a crop grown and cotton has for a long period not been profitable). It is only the sugar farmers, with existing infrastructure and a contract/outgrowing arrangement with the estate central to their operations, that can get over the constraints faced by other medium-scale commercial farmers.

The A2 farms remain quite isolated from the rest of the rural economy. There are exchanges of labour and equipment hire, but little else. They also remain outside local patterns of governance that have impinged on all the A1 areas. In all our A1 sites across the province, on-going chieftaincy disputes have been disruptive. These arose when the new areas were occupied and competing parties claimed the land as theirs. This has not been helped by on-going local wrangles between multiple authorities. This is especially the case in the villagised areas, where Seven Member Committees may combine with local councillors, traditional leaders (headmen) identified by competing chiefs and ruling party ‘cells’. This has often caused confusion and dispute, and has undermined development efforts.

Overall, then, across our sites we see a highly varied pattern. Across the A1 sites, we see a significant dynamic of ‘accumulation from below’ – of successful crop (and to some extent livestock) farming that results in surpluses and so reinvestment in the farm. The scale of such accumulation depends on the year and site, and is linked to market access, infrastructure development and agroecological conditions. In all cases, farm-based incomes are complemented with off-farm income, and employment by household heads as well as adult children is crucial for household economies. The most successful accumulators are found in the self-contained farms, but they are also found across the villagised A1 areas. While this group is consolidating and growing, it still remains at most only a half of all households. Others aspire to this, but are currently failing due to lack of assets or labour, while others are struggling and must adopt much more diverse livelihoods, including selling wage-labour.

This pattern of social differentiation and resultant class formation within the A1 areas and between A1 and A2 areas is an important feature of the new agrarian landscape, both economically and politically. This has important implications for the future, as will be discussed in the next and final blog in this series.

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 (4)

What happened in the villagised, ‘informal’ A1 areas?

When land invasions took place during 2000, many areas were invaded and land was claimed. In some instances this was not made official during the ‘fast-track’ process, and ‘offer letters’ were not issued. Sometimes there was dispute over years and years, as the new land reform villagers petitioned the government to gain recognition. In some cases this was granted, in other cases such claims are still outstanding.

This blog covers some of these so-called ‘informal’ sites, although all but one is now formalised. These sites are in Chiredzi and Mwenezi districts and so in the very dry southeast of the country. These are areas where agricultural production is risky, and more diverse livelihood options, including livestock production, must be sought.

In part because of the uncertainty over tenure and in part because of the challenges of agricultural production, these sites show the highest level of turnover, with 24 exits being recorded out of 110 households in our original sample. Some exits are only temporary, however, as diversified livelihoods mean that people move frequently, including recently from our Mwenezi sites to Masukwe to mine purple amethyst. There are, however, also many new households coming, especially in the most remote, informal sites. One of the village leaders argued, “if we have many people, then we stay here; the government will not be able to get rid of us, so we have Shangaans from Gezani, Vendas from Beitbridge and Pfumbi from Matibi coming here”.

The average age of household heads in these sites is 47, but 65% have children in the 21-30 age group, with 43.5% now farming, often having got plots in the area, or in other resettlements nearby. Indeed, half of all households had a member who had gained a plot in another resettlement; far higher than other areas. Due to the proximity of the border with South Africa and Mozambique, 34% of households had adult children outside the country, often in low-paid jobs, but nevertheless able to send some remittance income. 41% of households had received some remittance in the past year, which is a high rate compared to other sites, and reflective of the challenges of 2019 as a major drought year.

Overall, populations in this area are marginalised and mobile. Many male heads of household are working elsewhere, and 41% of households are de facto female headed. Women take on important roles in these areas and 37% of households have women involved in an independent business, while 24% have women involved in local leadership roles, often in groups for production and marketing. Educational levels are not as high as in other areas, with only 27% having proceeded beyond Form II at school, while 21% had Master Farmer certificates.

Everyone grows maize, but also sorghum. Total outputs are highly variable, with maize varying between an average of 297 kg and 1816 kg per household between 2107 and 2019. Sorghum production was a bit less variable and averaged about one tonne per household over the period. Although yields were way down in 2019, in the previous two years around 43% of households produced more than a tonne of maize and around 36% of households produced more than a tonne of sorghum. This is perhaps surprising given the marginal agroecology, but demonstrates the high variability of production. With decent rainfall, the good soils produce well in favourable years, but production drops to vanishingly little in other years, meaning grain storage and other off-farm incomes are required. Mr TG explained the consequences of this variability:

We came from Chivi communal area in 2000 with just three donkeys. I bought cattle since. I bought six at one time in 2004 from a bumper crop of cotton and sorghum. The highest number we had was in 2008 when there were 17. Since then the animals died from drought, and we have had to sell many over time. Drought is now every year.

One of the sites in this area (Uswaushava) was the centre of a cotton boom in the 2000s, but this dropped off as prices collapsed. Only in the last year or two has cotton picked up again, and in 2019, a quarter of households had a contract for cotton growing. To replace cotton, farmers in this area diversified into other contracted crops, including lablab bean, sesame and water melon; all of which generated decent profits. Those with gardens along the river – which is now nearly everyone – grow water melons, which are marketed in huge quantities along the road and to nearby towns. The water melon business is especially important for younger farmers. Without other land, they can get small portions by the river, and once they have a pump they can expand production, transporting their crop in cars they have acquired or on buses that move along the Ngundu-Chiredzi road.

The area is highly suited to livestock production given the ‘sweet veld’ of this region, but herd sizes are not large, with household holdings of cattle on average 7.4 head and goats 7.8 head. However, only 9% had no cattle at all. 38% of households had purchased cattle in the last five years, and 57% had sold at least one during the 2019 drought period. 59% had sold at least one goat, and two-thirds of households had sold poultry. Livestock as a source of livelihood, usually for coping with drought, are essential. Mr HM from Turf Ranch explained:

I arrived here with very few cattle. They grew to a large herd. Now I have only 24, but I have bought a tractor (in 2014) and a truck (in 2018), as well as invested in a well and pump (in 2012) and a grinding mill (in 2015). Cattle were bought from selling sorghum and the herd grew on its own. I have a large area of land, and the soil is good if there’s rain. My sons tried their luck in South Africa, but failed and I have allocated them land. All three of my wives have land too. There is plenty here – you just have to clear the bush!

Because of the variability of crop production, a diversified livelihood is essential. Here, the type of off-farm income sources include pottery/basket making (38% of households), piece work (48%) and cross-border trading (44%). Because of the marginality of the area, some 67% had been provided some form of welfare during the previous 12 months, in the form of food aid/cash support from the state or NGOs/church groups. However, all our informants commented that life was better in the new resettlements:

Despite the droughts, life here is good, much better than before. We don’t suffer that much from the drought, and we get good yields in some years, and if not we always have a beast to sell. Our relatives from Chivi come and get food here, and they come and sell labour in drought periods too. Things are definitely going up. We have household utensils, decent blankets and so on. It might look like something small, but it’s definitely an improvement. Others even have cars, everyone has bicycles and there are lots of livestock here. Scotch carts are like wheelbarrows now, and pumps and solar panels are everywhere.

Looking forward, people again comment on the importance of irrigation. There are some river bank irrigation areas in these sites, and people have started buying pumps and selling vegetables, including to various boarding schools. Domestic water supplies are also a challenge, but compared to when the land was invaded and settled, things have improved. “We used to have to go with carts and barrows up to eight kilometres, but now many have dug boreholes and with so many scotch carts in the areas it’s so much easier”, said one informant from Uswaushava.

Asked about the persistence of informal status on the land, our informants were less concerned than they were a decade or so ago, when protests to argue for their land rights were organised. “No-one comes to bother us”, one informant commented. These places are far away from the centres of power and administration and the state is largely absent. After a long silence, the same informant said, “yes the state does help us – certainly social welfare for the needy and cotton seed and maize seed are provided. We however had to build the school and clinic ourselves, although they provide the staff. And it was the church that paid for the first borehole”. Even in the remotest site in Mwenezi, our informants admitted that the state was now more present than before, and they have graded the road and a clinic and school nearby are being built, but extension workers are rare, and the government “doesn’t really bother us”.

In the Mwenezi sites, where turnover of plots is high and there are is a constant flow of people, the governance arrangements are more fluid than the more settled sites such as Uwwaushava where the original Committee of Seven continues to function. In Turf ranch, for example, the number of sabhukus (headmen) has increased from four to 18 since 2000, reflecting the influx of people. This is facilitated by village leaders who get paid for new land, and churches who attract followers and bring them to new land. Although wildlife damage remains a problem, and especially from elephants, there is perceived to be a large amount of land, and the under-used A2 farms nearby offer free, unrestricted grazing for now. For many years, these sites were remote, frontier settlements, operating under different rules, but increasingly they are being incorporated into state administration and wider economic circuits. Transport is easier now, for example. Eleven households have cars and scotch carts in Turf ranch, making transport to nearby townships easier. Cars are bought in exchange for cattle, and dealers from as far as Harare come and sell, knowing that in good years farmers in these remote new resettlements have money to spend.

As in our other case study areas, across a variety of income sources, some people are able to accumulate and invest. Perhaps surprisingly 33% had bought ploughs in the past five years, 22% had bought carts and 59% had bought solar panels. Unlike in the other areas covered in previous blogs, the investments are, however, intermittent and the result of infrequent windfalls – a good sorghum or maize crop, the selling of cotton, the sale of cattle and so on. Accumulation is a stop-start affair, but nevertheless, compared to when they first settled many – probably at least a third – are doing well, and comment how life has improved.

The townships and open markets in these areas are witness to the underlying strength of the economy. The weekly Chikombedzi bakosi market is always full, and many women are involved in the Mwenezi sites in trading, including selling goats in Limpopo, South Africa, as well as mopane worms across the region when in season. Similarly, the township near Uswaushava resettlement area now has 20 shops, several grinding mills as well as the usual selection of bottle stores/bars, with many of these up-and-coming businesses owned by farmers, with them being started from agricultural proceeds, notably cotton and vegetable sales.

Despite this, overall, households in these informal A1 areas in these remote, dry parts of the country are poorer and more vulnerable that the other A1 resettlement areas in Masvingo province. But nevertheless, these are not the same as nearby communal areas from where they mostly originally came from. A significant group are even are to accumulate, even if unevenly, and invest both in fine buildings, new township businesses and farming.

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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