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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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NEW PAPER – Medium-scale farms in Africa: history lessons from Zimbabwe

‘Medium-scale’ farms as seen as potential drivers of future agricultural growth in Africa. In Zimbabwe, much hope is vested in A2 farms allocated at land reform becoming productive, with hopes pinned on investment flowing following the election. The A2 farms, averaging around 100 ha in extent, will be a major focus of policy attention in the coming years, as attempts are made to resuscitate the commercial sector. These are also the areas where the political-military elite now firmly in power own land, and there will be multiple political and economic incentives to invest in the A2 land reform areas.

But what will be the future of such medium-scale commercial farms? Can we look to historical experience to suggest possible trajectories? What will happen to the A2 farms several generations on? Will we see a progressive evolution of increasing commercialisation and investment driven by market forces as is sometimes assumed, or will a greater diversity of outcomes arise, as chance, necessity and contingency play their part? A new paper is just out in the journal Africa (open access) that asks these questions.

The paper draws on an historical and contemporary assessment of what were called ‘native purchase areas’ in Zimbabwe. These were medium-scale farms in todays’ parlance, established for black farmers by the colonial government from the 1930s. Through a study of Mushagashe area, we asked what’s happened since, and why?

Structural transformations

A number of recent studies have documented the growth of ‘medium-scale’ farms across Africa, from Ghana to Malawi to Zambia to Kenya. ‘Investor farmers’ – local rural elites, retired civil servants and urbanites wanting a rural base – are creating a new dynamic as land markets – both formal and informal – emerge, and rural traditional leaders, government officials and others get involved in the process, accruing personal benefits along the way.

This redistribution of land towards a new elite results in processes of land dispossession and rural proletarianisation, but also investment, skill development and economic linkage effects between new medium-scale farms and the smallholder plots that surround them. For many, despite the negative consequences for some (perhaps many), this dynamic is seen as the future: a ‘structural transformation’ of the agrarian setting, offering many opportunities for growth and investment.

In Zimbabwe, the land reform of 2000 created a category of medium-scale farms – the A2 schemes. Around 25,000 such farms were allocated, ranging in sizes from around 20 ha (especially with irrigation) to over 500 ha, in dry areas. Like in other neighbouring countries, this has resulted in a new agrarian structure, complemented in Zimbabwe’s case by a massive increase also of smallholder agriculture.

The new A2 farmers have a similar social and economic profile to elsewhere: urban connections, business people, retirees, and they are also often well-connected politically. Unlike elsewhere the new A2 farms did not emerge from a land market, but from direct allocation by the state, subdividing large-scale commercial farms and estates. Although allocations were notionally done on the basis of a formal application process, including the submission of a business plan and a vetting of applicants in terms of qualification, capital availability and investment ideas, this often didn’t happen. Instead, in multiple cases, there was a well-documented pattern of corruption and patronage, especially around election times, when politically- and military-connected elites grabbed farms.

The result has been a mixed set of outcomes for A2 farms. Some have done very well, investing and producing; many though have not, and the farms are languishing. Very often this is due to the lack of capital and finance, which has not been forthcoming due to lack of collateral security. The process of issuing 99 year leases has been painfully slow, and for a variety of reasons the banks have been reluctant until recently to accept them as guarantees. The general lack of liquidity in the economy due to recurrent crises has also hampered investment.

The recent studies of medium-scale farms across Africa have focused on farm structure (in the MSU studies they have taken a huge range of sizes from 5-200 hectares to represent this group) and who owns the farms, and largely not their fortunes as productive enterprises, patterns of investment and long-term viability. Our new studies under the DFID-supported APRA (Agricultural Policy Research in Africa) programme, which is linked to a set of MSU studies led by Thom Jayne, is looking at A2 farms: investigating their sizes, ownership patterns and through some detailed surveys in Mvruwi and Masvingo, investigating both production and investment.

Most post-land reform studies have focused on the A1 smallholder farms (appropriately so, given they are the majority), so this will be the first in-depth assessment of the A2 farms, beyond very selective audits carried out by the state a decade or more ago. This will help us understand whether the dynamic in Zimbabwe, generated by the A2 allocations in land reform, replicate or contrast with, what has been found in other countries in the region.

Native Purchase Areas 80 years on

In addition to this study, our work has been looking at longer-term histories, and a previous allocation of ‘medium-scale’ farms (also averaging 100 ha) from the 1930s in Zimbabwe. These are the Native Purchase Areas and an earlier blog series has highlighted some of the findings already. Our new open access paper in Africa synthesises and extends the analysis, based on Mushagashe small-scale commercial farming area near Masvingo.

Our findings show that unbridled optimism (or indeed pessimism) about the future of medium-scale farms is unwarranted. The MSU studies from across Africa have spotted an important shift in size structure, but they tell us little about the future. The idea that there is a linear evolution of farm systems from smallholder to medium-scale to large-scale commercial, as land areas consolidate and market forces drive comparative advantage needs to be challenged.

The big debates about structural transformation in agriculture currently being revived in agricultural economics are often starkly ahistorical. They assume simple, unidirectional evolutionary change as incentives shift. But there’s a lot else that goes on besides. When we look at history in detail – as we did for Mushagashe, but more impressively Sara Berry did for Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia – we see that commercialisation doesn’t happen like this. There are stops and starts, booms and busts, generational changes, policy shocks and so on. History is about contingency, conjucture and chance, not predictable, linear evolution.

As we found in Mushagashe, 80 years on some farms were thriving; others had been but were languishing now; others had plans for the future, but weren’t getting going; while others had been abandoned, or were in the process of being so. Still others had different views of the land: this was home, somewhere to seek refuge from ‘communal area’ life, or where other family members could be settled, in what, over generations, had become more like villages than conventional farms.

Commercialisation we found wasn’t a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. For some it was the classic pattern of increasing external inputs, greater deployment of labour and higher, more marketed outputs. But for others commercialisation was selective: in projects run by particular family members, or in particular plots, where water was available.

Lessons from history

While history cannot predict the future, it can help us ask questions about what might be. And the Native Purchase Area lessons documented in the new paper suggest that it is unwise to be too gung-ho about the future of medium-scale farms in Africa. The restructuring of farm sizes we are seeing now will have many outcomes, and the sort of processes that unfolded in Mushagashe since the early 1930s will likely play a part in creating a wide diversity, both in the A2 farms and in other medium-scale farms in the region.

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

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What is the future for medium-sized commercial farms in Zimbabwe?

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Zimbabwe’s land reform created two ‘models’ for resettlement farms – one relatively small-scale, the A1 schemes, and one medium to large-scale, the A2 farms. A1 farms now cover (very) approximately 4.2 m ha including around 150,000 farms and A2 farms 2.7 m ha across 20,000 farm units (although A2 areas now include a range of other larger-scale commercial farms in addition). The idea was that the small-scale farms would provide a productive base for large numbers of land-hungry people, including those who had invaded the white-owned farms in 2000, while the A2 farms would accommodate demand from the middle classes and elites. The A2 farms were to be the new drivers of commercial agriculture, occupied by qualified, business-savvy farmers, able to invest in new production.

As every observer of Zimbabwean agriculture since land reform knows, the planners’ vision has not come to pass. The A1 farms have done better than many have expected, as documented on this blog many times. Contrary to some commentaries, they have generated livelihoods, employment and production, in often very difficult circumstances. There is a huge range of farm types within the A1 model, ranging from self-contained farms, more similar to A2 holdings, to small-scale village-style set-ups. Numbers of farms under this category has expanded significantly, with some estimating that there are now around 175,000 farm units. As we have documented in Masvingo, Matabeleland South and Mashonaland, not all A1 farmers are the same – a good proportion have done well, but not everyone, and processes of agrarian differentiation continue.

By contrast the A2 farms have been disappointing. In part this has resulted from the failure to invest during the economic crisis of the 2000s, when finance and support were severely lacking. In part a number of A2 farms, particularly those with good infrastructure, whether housing or irrigation systems, were ‘grabbed’ by politically-connected elites. The neat bureaucratic system of application and assessment of candidates against strict criteria of business viability and agricultural expertise was by-passed due to political expediency in such cases.

As discussed on this blog many times before, such ‘cronies’ are not the majority by any means, even in the A2 farms, but they do exist, and perhaps especially so in the high potential areas, near Harare, where commercial agriculture is potentially profitable. Of course some A2 farmers have made a go of it, and invested through private sources – whether from diaspora remittances, NGO jobs or other less straightforward means. These include ‘cronies’ – able to divert state resources – and others. But many have struggled. The failure to create and deliver an effective lease system, and the lack of finance, either from state or private sources has hampered ambitions to invest, rehabilitate infrastructure and increase production. Many A2 farms remain in a sorry state, neglected and failing to produce, while a some are prospering; either through own investment or increasing through various forms of joint venture.

Our studies have been looking at these farms both in Masvingo and Mashonaland Central provinces. We have carried out a number of detailed case studies looking at farm production, labour and the challenges associated. These show a mixed picture of failure and success. But beyond the audit a decade ago, more comprehensive data on patterns of ownership and production are lacking. We are beginning to piece together a broader picture, as finding a route to supporting A2 farm production is essential. We are asking, for example, what are the levels of production and land utilisation in these farms, how is labour organised, and what are the challenges being faced? The aim, in time, will be to come to suggestions as to what might be done to support new forms of commercial agriculture, and what types of financing, technical support, land tenure regimes and other policy arrangements, including joint ventures, make sense.

One way of informing this enquiry has been to look to past experiences, and notably that of the so-called ‘African Purchase Areas’, now known as ‘small-scale commercial farming areas’. These add up to 1.4m ha in total, across approximately 8000 farms scattered across the country. They were established from the 1930s, with more set up in the 1950s to counter nationalist moves among the African population. Colonial policymakers were aimed at creating a ‘yeoman’ class of farmer, accommodating an educated, urban-based middle class in the reform of land use. As with the land reform of 2000, there were explicit political motivations to enlist and incorporate, but also a productionist/modernisation agenda to generate new forms of commercial agriculture based – in the case of Purchase Areas – on offering Africans freehold title to land.

The policy narrative was clearly focused on a ‘civilising’ mission – these were acceptable, English-speaking ‘natives’, educated through the mission school systems, and valued clerks, messengers, native police, teachers and others working for the colonial state. Politically, the colonial regime could not afford for such groups to rebel and join the ranks of the nationalists (although of course many did), and needed to be co-opted, by being given special favours not available to the ‘reserve native’. Others given land were those Africans who did not have land in the ‘reserves’, but were not acceptable in ‘white’ areas, and included South African Basotho migrants, African churches and others.

The allocations of land varied from area to area, but they were in the order of 100 ha, not dissimilar to those offered to most A2 farmers in the 2000s. A2 plots ranged from 20ha in the irrigated sugar estates to several hundred hectares in the dryland ranching country of Matabeleland, but the overall average – typical of the medium-potential largely dryland farming areas where the Purchase Areas were located – was about 70 ha. In our recent research we have been asking, what has happened to the former Purchase Areas several generations on? Do these experiences give hints as to what might happen to the A2 farms in 50 or 60 years? What lessons can be drawn – positive and negative – that planners and policymakers need to take on board now, as the A2 model is assessed and potentially rethought?

In the next few weeks, I will look at some of these questions based on some preliminary research carried out in Mushagashe and Dewure SSCFAs in Masvingo Province. Since the classic work by Angela Cheater carried out in Msengezi Purchase Area, documented in ‘Idioms of Accumulation: rural development and class formation among freeholders in Zimbabwe (Mambo Press, 1984), plus many subsequent articles, and the important historical studies by Allison Shutt focusing on Marirangwe, there has been remarkably little research done on these areas, with the notable exception of Joseph Mujere’s fascinating study of the evangelist Basotho migrants from South Africa to Dewure Purchase Area. In the mid-1990s Vincent Ashworth carried out a study on small-scale farming areas for the World Bank, but I cannot locate it (if anyone has a copy, please, please let me know!), and there is a scattering of data among various Commissions and reports, but little else. But as an experiment in creating a class of medium-scale farmer in Zimbabwe, the Purchase Area story is fascinating, which is why we have returned to it in our Masvingo studies during the last year.

In our current studies we are working with a random sample of 26 farms in Mushagashe SSCFA, near Masvingo. Established in from the early 1930s, the area was transferred to blacks able to purchase the land. The area now has 250 farms, and rather like the A2 farms, these have varying levels of production and investment. As the forthcoming blogs show, many of the challenges relate to cross-generational transfers, inheritance and how subsequent generations make use of family-owned land.

These issues are only beginning to be faced in the A2 farms, but glimpses of the future may be shown by a look to the past. Next week I will offer a very brief historical background to the ‘Native Purchase Areas’, before exploring some detailed case studies, and then concluding the series with a reflection on the future of A2 farms in Zimbabwe, and medium-scale commercial farming more broadly.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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