Tag Archives: agriculture

How persistent myths distort policy debate on land in Zimbabwe


In 2010 we published the book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities. In the book, we chose 5 recurrent ‘myths’ often relayed about the post-2000 land reform, both in academic and popular commentary. We interrogated them with very detailed data based on a sample of 400 households across 16 sites in Masvingo province. All were found seriously wanting – although as with all ‘myths’, there were grains of truth, complexities and grey areas in each.

Some argued that our argument was contrived; that the myths were just ‘straw men’, easy to shoot down. We begged to differ, and pointed to the repeated articulation of such arguments. This blog was established in 2011 in order to continue the debate, as the myths persisted to colour sensible discussion, and indeed became more entrenched. In 2017 myths about land reform sadly still dominate much discourse, and policy debate (and unfortunately much ‘academic’ work) is sadly mired in ideological positions rather than grounded in field-level, evidence-based realities.

This is why we continue the research work, and I continue with the blog. Our work has now expanded to multiple sites, both in the Highveld (Mvurwi area of Mazowe district) and in Matabeleland (Matobo district), and complemented by many, many other studies (see the map above from a few years back – I am planning to update this, so please send me links to your studies, and the precise location). This other work continues to challenge the standard myths, but extends, expands and nuances the debate in important ways. Research is led by such organisations as the African Institute for Agrarian Studies and the Ruziwo Trust, and the subject of many theses from students registered across Zimbabwe’s universities and indeed the world, and adds up to a substantial corpus of evidence.

But despite the evidence, there remains much misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Zimbabwe’s land reform. I could take many examples but a section on land in what was otherwise quite a good report by a Harare-based campaign NGO, the Research and Advocacy Unit, is a good example. I choose it not because it is especially problematic (there are many much worse), but it comes from a respectable organisation, is purportedly based on research and was highlighted by the press (and in turn sent to me a dozen or more times).

Under the headline ‘Land reform crippled the economy’, The Zimbabwe Independent, reproduced an excerpt. This stated for example that “The transformations brought about by the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP), led directly to the collapse of commercial farming and the manufacturing sector and the consequent displacement of millions of workers and a man-made humanitarian crisis.” It continued: through “violations of property rights”.. “the land invasions signaled contempt for the most fundamental basis for any investment”. The report claims that the reform distributed “multiple holdings to a small political elite, who for the most part have not used them productively. Many of these new farmers have allowed viable farms to become derelict”. In relation to land reform farmers more generally, the report argues that in 2016 “It is certainly doubtful that these farmers will produce any food surplus during the worst drought in 35 years”. It states that “millions of Zimbabweans, both rural and urban, [are] at risk of extreme hunger and even starvation” and that “informalising of the economy has resulted in deepening poverty and with Zimbabweans now existing on greatly reduced income”. You get the picture: lots of bold statements, big figures (millions) and superlatives (many/extreme/greatly) and emotive language (contempt, violating), and plenty of assumptions (such as understandings of viability, informality), yet limited data, qualifications, case material and so on. And as I say this is a mild offender, and there is much in this particular report with which I agree!

Saying that there is a more complex story, and that this sort of ‘research’ analysis does not add up, does not imply (as some continuously argue on social media, in aggressive emails to me, and in newspaper and blog comment strings) that you are necessarily a lackey of the ruling party, complicit in everything that the regime has done. No, it simply urges everyone to look at the facts, and make a rather more balanced assessment.

Four myths that distort policy debate

Seven years on what myths seem to drive and distort policy debate? Here I choose four – all have featured prominently on this blog, and because there are so many the choice was tough. In different guises all feature in the RAU report mentioned earlier, and many, many news reports, research articles, donor consultancies and other commentaries (just google, and you will see!). Some basic interrogation though suggests some new questions, and in what follows and before signing off, I identify some of the debates that I think would be more productive, and highlight some of the issues we are working on and will feature on the blog this year.

Property rights and investment. This one won’t go away, and remains central to the rhetoric of many, across the political spectrum. The argument is simple: without secure (read: private property, freehold title) tenure, land is ‘dead capital’, and so has no or little value. Without title, the argument continues, it lacks collateral value and so it is impossible to raise finance. The model of ‘success’ is the commercial farm sector pre-2000, which had freehold title, and good relationships with the banking sector. The argument is that this needs to be either returned to or replicated now, and that the ‘failure’ of land reform can be explained in these terms. You’ve all heard it – from the likes of Eddie Cross, Ben Freeth, Craig Richardson, and many others. So what’s wrong with the argument, surely secure tenure is important. Yes, absolutely! But there are many routes to tenure security, and elaborate titling is not often the best; a fact widely substantiated by research across the world, notably, perhaps surprisingly, by the World Bank. Permit and leasehold systems may be just as good, and when the institutional and governance arrangements are right, security emerges from communal tenure too, as Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom and others have showed. The ‘dead capital’ argument pushed by Hernando De Soto, and adopted by many free market ideologues has been found wanting. As we have shown, there is much investment going on in some parts of the new resettlement areas, but also a lack of it in others. The variable explaining the differences is not titling or legal form of tenure, but other factors to do with a range of social, political and institutional factors. The relationship between land, collateral and finance is a complex one too. There are many ways of assuring finance institutions that lending money is a safe bet. Land titles are only one route, but there are other forms of collateral, state guarantee schemes, group lending and so on that have all worked well in other places, including in Zimbabwe. There were undoubtedly issues with the original wording of the 99 year leases in Zimbabwe, but there was also intransigence by the finance sector that preferred to lend to larger enterprises and outside agriculture when money was short. Some headway has been made on this, and we must look forward to some innovations in the financing of agriculture into the future. The old model of large-scale commercial agriculture finance is simply not replicable in a more variegated agricultural sector.

Cronyism, patronage and capture. Most land acquired through fast track land reform was under the A1 ‘smallholder’ scheme, where by far the majority of beneficiaries were formerly land and income poor communal area dwellers or those from town with no or precarious jobs. The land occupations certainly involved those with political connections, notably war veterans, but this was not universally the case. As our and other work showed, farm by farm the process was different. Generalisations that the whole land reform was subject to cronyism, patronage and political capture are simply untenable. While some admit that the beneficiaries were often relatively poor, the next argument is that they were necessarily ZANU-PF members. While resettlement areas are unquestionably ZANU-PF strongholds, and the opposition parties have found it difficult to operate there, especially around election times, the electoral picture shows something more mixed. There are many who will ‘perform ZANU-PF’ but have other allegiances, so it is difficult to assess empirically how party affiliation and control affected land access, and subsequent outcomes. Again across our study areas it is extraordinarily variable, and volatile. The A2 resettlement areas show a different story, however. Here there was much more patronage politics at play, and this remains the case, with faction fights playing out in land access disputes. But again, while land was ‘grabbed’ by party and security officials, both at land reform and at subsequent elections, these were high profile and well publicised cases which while significant politically did not necessarily dominate. Again, it depends where you are talking about – for obvious reasons such political dynamics played out more strongly in Mazowe than in Masvingo and Matobo, where other dynamics, sometimes related to long-running chieftaincy allegiances or church affiliations, played a role. Land is always political, no question, but we do need to be more sophisticated in our assessments. As I have argued, we need to look beyond the links to party (or factional) politics to questions of class positions in order to understand the shifting politics of the Zimbabwean countryside. The successful A1 farmers, ‘accumulating from below’, allied with emerging A2 farmers, and successful communal area entrepreneurs are a political force to be reckoned with. They have diverse political commitments, and no clear position (many who I speak to are crying out for an alternative political leadership from whatever source), but no party – whether ZANU-PF or the MDC and now other opposition parties – has a political and policy stance that in any way speaks to their needs, aspirations and motivations, despite the substantial electoral weight that they can apply. ZANU-PF persists with a tired nationalist rhetoric and assumes that resettlement farmers will follow them as they are the rightful leaders of the land revolution, and if they keep them sweet with subsidies. Meanwhile the opposition seems to have no ideas on land and rural policy, beyond a litany of tired rhetoric about investment and entrepreneurship, which could come from a generic World Bank document from the 1990s. I went to a very disappointing speech by Joice Mujuru in London last year – just look at the transcript for a taste – but all the others are the same I am afraid. As I keep saying to anyone who will listen, the political landscape is crying out for a new stance on land, agriculture and rural development, and there is a ready constituency there to respond.

Agricultural production and food security. As I have discussed in a number of blogs over the last years blaming ‘land reform’ for food insecurity is very problematic, as there are so many variables in play. That said, there is no doubt that the restructuring of the agrarian sector has resulted in major changes. While the former commercial farms did not produce as much food in the 1990s as they did in the previous decades, the associated infrastructure, and the capacity to irrigate was important. Recorded maize production declined dramatically after 2000, resulting in increasingly frequent imports. Add to this the impacts of climate change/El Nino, and the picture is mixed, varying by location, type of land use and crop mix (the growth tobacco and the displacement of maize in some of the high potential areas is part of the story of course). Despite dire prognoses though there has not been widespread famine conditions in Zimbabwe, even if there have been areas of severe food insecurity. The standard line of ‘breadbasket to basket case’ is just so much more complex. Today the food economy is totally different to the 1980s and 90s, with many more producers selling through many more market channels, most of which are not regulated and recorded. The fact is we just don’t know how much is being produced and sold where, despite the attempts of the ZimVac and other assessments. I have a persistent worry that we are not getting it right, and that the politics of food, whether driven by the government, the UN agencies or the relief NGOs, is grossly distorting the picture. Our data, now collected over 16 years from many households across the country, does not match the aggregate picture emerging from the national assessments. There is a disconnect that poses important empirical questions about what is going on. I have not yet been able to persuade anyone to commission work to find out, and to engage properly with the new food economy in the post land reform setting, but this seems an urgent priority. This would be an important precursor to a more effective national statistical system for assessing agricultural production, marketing and food security; a prerequisite for any sensible food and agriculture policy, as well as economic policy more generally.

Land reform and economic collapse. Again suggesting a tight causal link to a complex relationship is misguided. There are of course many factors contributing to Zimbabwe’s economic woes. They include massive financial mismanagement (especially in the mid-2000s), rampant corruption (continuing), ‘sanctions’ (aka restrictive measures), withdrawal of international finance and credit lines, lack of business and investment confidence due to poorly articulated policy positions (notably around ‘indigenisation’), the collapse of commodity prices (for mineral exports), drought/climate change/El Nino, the strength of the US dollar, and of course the major restructuring of a core sector through land reform, with knock-on effects in employment and upstream and downstream industries. Choosing one or other these factors is clearly inadequate, and a more sophisticated analysis is needed. Of course the economy as whole hasn’t collapsed, and in some areas it’s booming. This is where, again, the new realities of a more diverse, informal economy need to be taken account of. This is simply not measured in the formal assessments of GDP, for example, yet represents at least 90% of the economy. Untaxed, unregulated and often based on limited returns and opportunities for accumulation, we should avoid glorifying the informal economy, but we should equally not ignore it – and it’s not all bad. For it is from such small-scale entrepreneurial activities – in agriculture and beyond – that many livelihoods are generated, and from which the wider more formalised economy can be revitalised. With a major restructuring expecting the future to be a replica of the past is the continuous mistake of too many commentators. As our work has shown there are huge potentials of new multiplier effects of a vibrant small-scale agriculture sector centred in the (mostly) A1 resettlement areas, linking to small towns across the country which are becoming new centres for economic activity and employment. The spatial pattern of the new economy is different, as are the actors and networks that drive it. Yet policy engagement remains limited. Due to ongoing ‘restrictive measures’, the western donors continue to focus efforts only on the communal areas, where the prospects of growth – and so wider economic linkages – are limited, as we have known for years. And no-one seems to be thinking about how to make the most of the complementarities of small, medium and large-scale agriculture (don’t forget there still is large-scale agriculture, including very substantial estates – such as sugar in the lowveld), and how agriculture across scales is linked to urban centres and market networks, at a district/regional level, as part of new planning and investment.

Land tenure security, class and patronage politics, food insecurity and linking agriculture to economic growth are all massively important policy priorities. I am the first to admit that there are major challenges. But we must ask the right questions if we are to seek a way forward, and this requires solid, research-based empirical information and a balanced assessment that is not distorted by ideological positions, anger and distress, wishful thinking or attempts to recreate pasts that probably never existed. I am often asked, whether I think land reform was good or bad; whether I am for against it. This is impossible to answer, and journalists get furious by the response (and so often misreport). It’s of course more complex. Land reform was undoubtedly necessary, a long overdue response to the violence and inequality of colonialism, but that does not mean it was implemented well, and with all the ideal outcomes. Our research shows this is not the case – far from it. 17 years on though, we do need a more mature, informed debate on policy options, and I hope this blog provides the forum for some of this.

Second generation challenges: some blog themes for 2017

In the coming weeks and months, many of these issues will continue to be debated in depth, with new data, reflections and commentary on news stories. There are emerging, second-generation challenges that our research is throwing up, and these will in particular be subject to more analysis and comment on the blog. Last year, I posted a series on farm labour and the struggles for livelihoods of former farm workers. The relationship between labour and capital is of course a central theme in any study of agrarian change, and I will return to this theme with more results from the field, exploring how the new class of petty commodity producers on the resettlements interact with classes of labour. ‘Accumulation from below’ results in investment on farms, and the building of assets in the rural areas, but it also results in social differentiation and new relations with labouring classes. This dynamic is perhaps especially important as we see the emergence of next generation of ‘youth’, without land but interested in agriculture-related livelihoods in a depressed economy. Generational conflicts, inflected with important gender dynamics, is a theme that we must understand as we envisage what happens post land reform over the next 20 or more years. A key aspect of this of course is the relationship between rural and urban livelihoods, never as separate as many studies suggest. New forms of migration, remittance flows, on- and off-farm investment and employment are emerging that allow us to imagine a new form of economy, not based on the old, dualist ‘settler’ model, but with new interactions and dynamics, requiring radical new thinking in development policy and planning. As we have documented in the past 17 years, the next period will see changing political configurations, as some win and some lose out from these changes, with impacts on the wider political landscapes as rural politics shift with new forms of production and accumulation.

Debating this endlessly fascinating but still poorly understood agrarian transition following Zimbabwe’s land reform will continue to the focus of this blog. So do come back each Monday, and sign up to get your email or Twitter alerts now! Next week though we must contemplate the momentous events in Washington and the implications of the Trump inauguration.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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Zimbabwe’s bond notes: the birth of a new currency?


The bond notes have arrived! Well at least a $2 one and a $1 coin. Subject to street protests, court cases, beatings and arrests, and the object of both ridicule and fear, never has a new form of exchange been subject to such intense – and prolonged – debate.

I got my first note in a bar in Mvurwi on the day they were released, and they have been circulating widely since. While, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) didn’t follow my advice for the design and instead opted for the famous Epworth balancing rocks on one side and a picture of parliament and the Heroes Acre flame on the other, they certainly look like ‘real’ money.

But exchange is all about trust and confidence, and that has been in short supply. The RBZ’s endless TV adverts and the full page spreads in the newspapers, along with the calming words of a string of ministers, will not satisfy everyone. The bond notes are supposed to provide an incentive for those who export, and aimed to preventing the massive expatriation of US dollars. Zimbabwe has become the ‘bureau de change’ of the region, with foreigners joining local elites in removing valuable currency reserves. The result has been a massive liquidity crunch, with less and less physical cash circulating.

Yet the spectre of a return to the Zimbabwe dollar, and a return to money printing and hyperinflation is ever present. The trauma of 2008 is very recent, and memories last. Of course Zimbabweans have had bond coins for a while, and they appeared without any fuss. In the absence of small change, and as an alternative to endless supplies of boiled sweets and lollipops as change in supermarkets, the small denomination bond coins were widely welcomed.

The government has assured the population that the new bond notes are backed by a US$200m bank loan and only that amount will be issued, although the details of the deal with Afrexim bank remain opaque. With such backing, it is argued, the new notes are ‘real’, exchangeable one to one with the US dollar. In most transactions this seems to be the case and over two weeks I have not had a bond note refused, although parallel trading to secure US dollars has inevitably started with the exchange apparently currently at 1:0.7. The fear certainly exists that with new control on monetary policy, there will be a temptation to print more, with or without security, and this will get out of hand once again, with local accounts filled with useless bond notes, as was the case with the ill-fated Zimbabwe dollar.

Some claim that there was under a million US dollars of physical cash circulating in the economy, although Finance Minister Chinamasa is more optimistic. Much of this is not in the banks, as many prefer to store it themselves, and significant amounts may have already left the country, so it’s difficult to know. But bank queues and limits on withdrawals (down at one stage to $50 a day) were witness to the troubles being faced. The liquidity crunch is severely hampering business and constraining investment, so boosting cash supply must be a good thing.

However many fear the gradual conversion to a local currency, while hard-earned US dollars are siphoned off from bank accounts to service the government’s massive debts. It is no surprise that many commentators remain sceptical. While the present RBZ governor, John Mangudya, is no Gideon Gono with is wild ‘casino economy’ of the mid-2000s, the severe economic crisis, combined with huge corruption, suggest desperate moves are possible, especially if pushed by political circumstances.

It is also worth reflecting on some of the potential benefits of this controversial move. While many have moved to cashless exchange – just as Greece did during the euro crisis and India is trying to do now – the lack of hard cash in circulation can affect exchange. I was in a resettlement area the other day, and one of my colleagues bought two buckets of sugar beans for $40 using an ecocash transfer there and then, thanks to both parties having accounts and there being 3G network.

But not everyone has a mobile ecocash account, an electronic ‘wallet’ on a smart phone or a swipe card linked to a bank account, although in a very short space of time out of necessity increasing numbers do. As we enter the farming season, having small dollar denominations that are valid sources of exchange is vital for buying inputs, marketing crops and for day-to-day supplies. Going to the grinding mill, buying a cup of beans, securing a bag of fresh termites or purchasing a bowl of maize flour cannot be done without.

You can already see the changes happening as cash circulates again, particularly in rural areas where such exchanges are so vital. Keeping the bond note introduction to small denominations, up to $5 (although we haven’t seen this one yet – apparently with giraffes on the note), seems to make much sense, particularly for those outside the electronic exchange economy. We will however fear the worst if denominations creep up, and hugely divergent parallel markets emerge. We all remember how notes and bearer cheques increased in the 2000s, with so many zeros that cash machines couldn’t cope.

While the introduction of the US dollar in 2009 put an end to the hyperinflationary period at a stroke, it also limited options for economic policy making, hiked prices, reduced liquidity, as the dollar is so strong, and domestic growth and productivity is so low. The Rand as an alternative currency in a multicurrency environment soon got squeezed, and the US dollar dominated. US dollars in a region of weak currencies proved a honey pot for those wanting to exchange into a harder currency, and often illegally moved funds offshore, reducing cash availability yet further. Returning to a more diverse currency arrangement, with US dollars focused on international transactions, and bond notes, and perhaps the Rand making a comeback, being more for local exchange, has some logic.

Radical and inventive solutions are certainly needed, as Zimbabwe’s economy is in dire straits. Injection of cash to relieve some liquidity problems must be combined with new investment, and increased export earnings. Whether gaining access to bond notes will incentivise this waits to be seen, and more structural macro-economic measures, combined with improved political relations with investor countries, will have to take place in tandem.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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Integrated water resource management: panacea or problem?


Integrated water resource management (IWRM) became the buzzword for water resources policy gurus in the 1990s. The donors poured millions into projects, plans, programmes and many, many workshops and consultancy exercises. The idea was seemingly neat and simple. Water resources had to be managed locally at catchment level through an inclusive process involving all water users. Water as a scarce commodity should in turn be priced and paid for through tariffs charged on level of use. This would pay for the management systems, and also for improvements, as well as investments in environmental sustainability. The ‘Dublin principles’ – a worthy list developed at a big conference in 1992 – guided the approach, and included all the buzzwords of the time: participation, gender, decentralisation, good governance market efficiency, and more.

Zimbabwe became one of the test cases. In the 1990s it too had its share of consultancies and workshops, and eventually an Act of Parliament – the 1992 Water Act. This overturned the old colonial legislation that was based on ‘riparian rights’, or the ability to draw water depending on the location of your land. Water and land were thus separated – different ministries, legislation, administrative units and governance arrangements. The aim was to rid the country of the inequitable distribution of the past, now with all water users potentially having access if they could pay. For those who could not pay or access a permit, such as communal area farmers and small-scale irrigators, allocations of water in government dams were made. A new independent, quasi private authority – the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) was established to oversee all water issues, including the market basis of the new regime. The authority was supposed to be funded from the revenues. Catchment councils, as the new forum for managing water, were planned for seven catchments. Different donors became involved, each supporting a different area. It seemed like a dream solution, perfectly suited to the neoliberal age, but with participation, decentralisation and women’s empowerment thrown into the mix.

And then land reform happened. The rapid, largely unplanned unfolding of the land reform from 2000 quickly unravelled the carefully laid plans for the IWRM revolution in Zimbabwe. The donors who were funding the whole operation all withdrew, and the catchment councils mostly ceased to operate. The mismatch between the original design and the new agrarian reality was stark, requiring some major rethinking. Three new papers in the open access journal Water Alternatives document this story, and examine the consequences for IWRM after land reform. These come from a major Norwegian-funded project on IWRM in Southern Africa. The papers by long-term observers of the water scene in Zimbabwe, including Emmanuel Manzungu and Bill Derman, offer some fascinating insights into the history and some of the contemporary challenges of IWRM in Zimbabwe, echoing earlier findings by Sobona Mtisi, Alan Nicol and others.

Changing land use, changing water use

Only one of the papers offers data for the post-land reform period, and this focuses on some A2 farms in the Middle Manyame sub-catchment area near Harare. This is an area where there were previously massive large-scale commercial tobacco and wheat farms (including irrigated winter wheat). They had impressive infrastructure, with large scale water abstraction and irrigation systems, including massive centre pivots that irrigated the huge fields throughout the year. This was really water-intensive farming, despite efforts at improving irrigation efficiencies in the last few decades.

Following land reform, these farms, with a few exceptions, no longer operate, and nearly all have been subdivided into both A1 and A2 plots of varying sizes. All these are much, much smaller than the original properties. The consequence is that the previous irrigation infrastructure is largely redundant; it is mostly inappropriate for the current land sizes or too expensive to run. Much irrigation equipment was removed or vandalised during the tumultuous land reform period too.

Most ‘new farmers’ on the resettlements have also switched their cropping mix. Summer white maize and soy beans are now common, and tobacco is also grown in increasingly large quantities, through contract farming arrangements. Most of this is not irrigated and the only intensive irrigation tends to be on relatively small horticulture plots, reflecting a growth in small-scale market gardening.   In their study of 18 A2 farms near Mazvikadei dam, Hove and colleagues found that although about 60% were irrigating, the new farmers were reluctant to pay the fees for water use to ZINWA. Many claimed that they were not doing irrigation, or if they were did their own abstraction through boreholes or small-scale river pumps. The result has been a massive decline in officially-recorded water use, especially from ZINWA controlled dams, making the market-based response to water scarcity that IWRM offered largely meaningless.

Ignoring politics: IWRM as a technical-market fix

IWRM was a technical-market fix and (especially in Zimbabwe) explicitly ‘apolitical’. It therefore failed to address the underlying political economy of water use and control. While the Water Act abandoned the riparian rights approach in favour of an open market approach, this made little difference in practice. For access to markets for irrigated agricultural water was directly correlated with ownership of land, and the capital invested in it, especially irrigation equipment. And guess who had the land and the capital before 2000? Just the people who had benefited from the colonial legislation – the (mostly) white large-scale farmers and the commercial estates. The result was that catchment councils were dominated by this group as they had a vested interest in maintaining their access to water, and preventing reallocations elsewhere. Through the assessments that they commissioned, they could also influence water pricing, crucial to the overall commercial viability of their farming operations. Derman and Manzungu document in detail the membership of the Mupfure, Mazowe and Manyame catchment councils and the participation in the meetings in the period 1993-2001. The councils were not inclusive, participatory, decentralised and democratic, but were captured by elite interests, making use of their existing assets to leverage further resources at relatively low cost under a new mechanism, backed substantially by (international) public money. Earlier studies have shown this pattern elsewhere, for example in the Save Catchment. Rather than a model of good development, in many ways it was a scandal. Inequalities of power and control over water, reproduced by a neoliberal technical-market fix, were however overturned by land reform, creating a new rural politics of water.

Reviving the catchment councils or a more radical rethink of water resource governance?

So what is happening today? With some funds trickling back through various routes there are attempts to revive the catchment council system and institute payment systems for the new farmers, as suggested by the World Bank backed 2013 Water Policy. But, as already mentioned, there is resistance. The rhetoric of the land reform that ‘land is for the people’ (and so free) is replicated for water. Why should we pay for water? This is the government’s, or indeed God’s, resource, and part of the heritage that has been reclaimed through the land reform.

With a shift in crop mix, a change in irrigation systems towards small-scale gardening operations, and lack of capital to rehabilitate defunct water supply and irrigation systems on larger farms, the demand for water has dropped, or at least shifted to different sources (see last week’s blog). The consequence is that the incentives to invest in water management are just not there. It is not appropriate to berate the land reform for this outcome. A return to water intensive large-scale agriculture, and with this the IWRM catchment approaches, is not appropriate. With a restructured agricultural sector in terms of farm size, cropping pattern and level of capital investment, a radical rethink of water resource issues is required. This cannot take its cue from the past. The challenges are many, but they are different to the past, and so require new institutional and governance solutions.

Certainly, water resource issues have been largely ignored during land reform – in part due to the organisational, legislative and administrative separation that the 1990s IWRM system instituted. But this is not to say that they are not very significant. In fact, water provisioning for agriculture is one of the most important priorities for investment in the new resettlements, as I have argued many times on this blog. New investments should not be large-scale dams nor centre-pivot irrigation installations, but more of a focus on water harvesting, small dams/tanks, and micro-irrigation and pumping – the farmer-led irrigation systems described last week. This is revolutionising how irrigation is practised on the ground. Unfortunately, this thinking by farmers has yet to permeate through to the planners, consultants and donors.

In our work in Masvingo on new horticulture supply chains, we have observed some new water management challenges emerging. These are of two sorts. The first is the competition for pumped irrigation water from perennial and seasonal rivers and streams. There has been a massive growth in market gardening especially near Masvingo, but also other growth points and towns. This has been spurred by investment in small-scale pumps, as well as market demand. This has resulted in some severe competition between water users in particular areas. There have been the beginnings of some local initiatives to regulate use, but this has not be institutionalised. Indeed, this has been made more difficult by the existence of ZINWA and the fear of control and water charging. The result has been that the new irrigators have continued under-the-radar, but without the ability and encouragement to develop new institutions to manage the resource sustainability. Rather than an elaborate top-down, market-driven catchment council system, some more local water user associations for such areas are clearly needed, and should be allowed to flourish and assisted in doing so.

Where a larger-scale response is required is across the catchments (both Save and Runde) in the region, and in relation to water destined for the sugar and citrus estates in the lowveld. The use of water from Mtirikwe dam as well as Bangala, and now Tokwe Mukorsi, has long been controversial. The financial and political backing of the estate companies has always been important for the politics of water. This was not a resource that was going to be open to inclusive management of any sort. This remains the case. Yet the demands for water in and around these dams is growing, especially as farms expand and demands to improve productivity increase. Why should it all go to the lowveld when demands are local too? Why should we rely on an old colonial division of water that backs (white, in this case South African) capital against small-scale black farming? Why can’t water reform follow form land reform and we take back ‘our water’?

Here again an IWRM solution will not deal with these high water politics. Indeed such a solution, as before, will likely simply reinforce existing inequalities, but with a market gloss. Instead, a wider political solution is required to the politics of resource access across areas, relating to land for agriculture of different sorts, urban areas, wildlife zones and so on. This requires more than a technical land-use planning exercise based on notionally ideas of land suitability, or simplistic community management solutions, but a political negotiation about equitable access and sustainable productivity.

Water resource challenges are going to increase with growing agricultural intensification combined with climate change in the coming years. New institutions and mechanisms, and likely new legislation, will be required. Outdated and inappropriate technical-market fixes such as IWRM that simply replicate inequality and fail to deal with emerging challenges in the new agrarian system need to be rejected.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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Farmer-led irrigation in Africa: driving a new Green Revolution?


A new open access review paper is just out in the Journal of Peasant Studies on farmer-led irrigation in Africa. The authors, led by Phil Woodhouse, define farmer-led irrigation development as “a process where farmers assume a driving role in improving their water use for agriculture by bringing about changes in knowledge production, technology use, investment patterns and market linkages, and the governance of land and water”. Covering a huge array of literature and many cases (although surprisingly very little from Zimbabwe), the paper offers a fantastically useful overview of the debate about what form of irrigation is most likely to support increases in smallholder production and livelihoods in Africa.

The paper in particular identifies furrow systems in mountainous areas, valley bottom/vlei systems, small-scale pumping from wells/open water, and peri-urban agriculture, as areas where farmer-led irrigation is important. All of these are important in Zimbabwe, whether the famous furrow systems of Inyanga, the ‘wetland in dryland’ vlei or dambo cultivation in the miombo zones, small-scale pump systems everywhere, and the massive growth of cultivation in and around towns and cities. Yet such forms of irrigation are often not acknowledged, nor counted in the statistics or supported by donor investments and government policy. This is of course not a new argument, but it’s one that has become more pertinent given the rise of small-scale, informal irrigation systems, with the decline of state support for formal schemes and the decline in costs of pumps in particular allowing informal systems to expand.

There was one statistic that really struck me in the paper, based on work by Beekman and colleagues in Mozambique. They estimate that over 115,000 ha are irrigated by farmers on a small scale. Accounting for this area, this would nearly double the national total irrigated area. Perhaps not to such an extent, but the total area irrigated in Zimbabwe is surely a gross underestimate too. This is a pattern increasingly seen by more detailed satellite-based estimates of irrigated areas globally. Estimates vary but there are approximately 150,000 hectares of irrigation land in Zimbabwe, mostly in large-scale schemes, including the sugar estates. The irrigation infrastructure in Zimbabwe, however, is in a sorry state, but people are compensating by digging boreholes or pumping from open water bodies directly. Earlier blogs and some of our films profiled ‘irrigation entrepreneurs’ operating small-scale farmer designed and managed irrigation systems, mostly for market-oriented horticultural production.

Our data from Mvurwi area in Mazowe district in 2014-15 showed that 34% of A1 households in our sample of 220 had pumps, with 0.44 on average being bought per household in the five years from 2010. Around 12% of households have irrigated plots on their main fields, while all households have gardens, either at the home or by a nearby river/stream. Even former farm workers living in compounds are buying pumps, as they branch out into farming (see earlier blogs), with 0.2 pumps on average bought per household in the same period. Pumps now cost only around $200 for a cheap Chinese make, and these can irrigate small gardens. Some are upgrading to larger engines, while others are expanding production areas through storage systems, and having a series of pumps. The extent of such irrigated areas is not known, but just taking our study areas in Mazowe, Masvingo and Matobo districts, my estimate is that it’s considerable.

The JPS paper highlights five characteristics of farmers’ investment in irrigation. They all apply in Zimbabwe, and each has important policy implications.

  1. Farmers invest substantially. Whether this is in new pumps or pipes or furrow systems in mountain areas or in vleis, irrigation requires investments of cash and labour. This is significant, and as we saw in our survey data from land reform areas in Zimbabwe, pumps in particular have become a priority investment, across social groups and geographical areas.
  2. Interactions among farmers, external agencies and the rural economy are crucial. Too often studies of irrigation focus just on the technology, but not on the interactions required and generated. In Zimbabwe, most new irrigation is spontaneous, independent of the state, NGOs and projects. But connections with the rural economy are important. There is a whole new set of businesses emerging for selling, maintaining and repairing pumps. And the production generated from new irrigation is transforming markets, as we showed in our earlier work, highlighted in our SMEAD films.
  3. Innovation occurs in broad socio-technical networks and complex agricultural systems. The classic engineering approach to irrigation focuses on flat areas, large water supplies and fixed technology. This is the form of standard irrigation schemes. But farmer-led irrigation manages water in different ways, making use of water within a landscape. Slopes, pits, valley bottoms and so on all become significant in maximising irrigation potential. The late Zephaniah Phiri was perhaps the most famous of Zimbabwe’s farmer irrigators, and was a master of harvesting water in landscapes. Technologies – in Mr Phiri’s case, a combination of pits, check dams, pumps and contour ridges – are constructed in a social context, and must always be seen as ‘socio-technologies’, part of ‘networks’, as the paper suggests.
  4. Formal land tenure is not a prerequisite for irrigation development. As discussed many times on this blog, ‘formal land tenure’ (such as freehold or leasehold) is not a prerequisite for investment in farming, including irrigation. This is especially so with mobile, flexible irrigation. Communal tenure or the permit/offer letter system found in A1 areas is not a constraint, as we have seen. This seems to be the case across Africa too, as the paper shows.
  5. Many benefit, but others are adversely affected. Highlighting the benefits of farmer-led irrigation must be tempered by an assessment of who wins and who loses. As discussed in respect of the new pump based irrigation systems in Masvingo, downstream impacts can be severe, and second-generation challenges of water management are emerging. The investors in these new irrigation systems are usually men (able to buy the pumps) and the losers may be women and other family members, who often have to supply the labour (a theme largely ignored in the review). Gluts of production are common in such systems too, so those surviving along market chains may be affected. As the paper argues, an overall assessment is necessary, but the benefits are significant – and underestimated.

There is a much-repeated narrative about Africa’s agriculture – that it missed out on the ‘Green Revolution’ due to the lack of irrigation. The comparison with Asia is always made, where approximately 20 per cent of land is irrigated, while in Africa it is supposed to be less than 4 per cent. As discussed above, this contrast is probably not accurate, and far more land is already being irrigated in Africa, but through different systems. Because of rainfall, topography, markets and a host of other factors, Africa and Asia are never going to be the same, and such comparisons are often rather futile. But nevertheless, we should learn more about what is happening with water and agriculture on the ground in Africa. This paper identifies farmer-led irrigation as an important trend, and one that may well be driving an unnoticed Green Revolution in Africa.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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Can joint ventures revive large-scale commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe?

Ndodana Sibanda shows how the center pivot works to water the wheat in Arda Jotsholo recently. (picture by Nkosizile Ndlovu)

The Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) has a substantial land holding across the country, including 21 estates of varying sizes, with a total of 98,000 ha of arable land, 19,000 ha of which is irrigable. In the last decade most of these fell into disrepair, with production plummeting. Financing of parastatal operations became increasingly challenging, as government issued bonds via the Agricultural Marketing Authority were no longer available. In the last few years, as part of a reform programme focused on parastatals, the government has encouraged ARDA to go into public-private partnerships with private companies in an attempt to revive their fortunes, seeking new finance and investment from the private sector. 40 companies bid for such partnerships in 2014, involving a mix of local and foreign capital.

Currently there are 12 estates with such joint ventures: Chisumbanje, Middle Sabi, Katiyo, Mkwasine, Sisi, Nandi, Faire Acres, Jotsholo, Antelope, Ngwezi, Sedgewik and Doreen’s Pride (see a profile of each here, including details on the production focus and contract length). Those that remain wholly managed by Government include; Balu, Sanyati, Muzarabani, Mushumbi Pools, Nijo, Katiyo Main Estate, Rusitu, Magudu and Kairezi.

The most (in)famous is the Chisumbanje estate, where tycoon Billy Rautenbach took over operations, and built a mill for processing sugar cane. Land disputes and controversies over ethanol pricing and markets have plagued the operation for some years. Others have established operations in the last few years, and have been widely hailed as seeing a dramatic turn-around in ARDA’s fortunes.

A variety of private enterprises have seen the availability of high quality land and good infrastucture (although much of it in urgent need of renewal) as a good business opportunity. Both local and international investment has flooded in.

We must ask though, whether this sort of large-scale, capitalised farming is the most appropriate use of this land, and whether these operations genuinely contribute to employment, food security and local economic development, as well as boosting government revenues.

The Trek Petroleum-ARDA partnership in Matobo

Trek Petroleum has invested in several estates, including the Antelope estate near Maphisa mentioned last week and Doreen’s Pride near Kadoma, where beef ranching with imported Namibian animals is underway. It also has contracts with the Cold Storage Company, and with ARDA Ngwezi, and works with Northern Farming on a contract with ARDA Mashonaland. For foreign investors, particularly from South Africa, the US dollar environment in Zimbabwe is very attractive.

Trek has imported state-of-the-art equipment, including several 350 HP Casey tractors which can pull 24 disc harrows each. Huge seed and fertiliser planters are drawn by these tractors, which are fitted with sensors that analyse soil fertility status and automatically adjust application rates. 12 centre pivots are in place and irrigate 520 hectares of winter wheat and summer maize. Hi-tech driers are in place to ensure timely harvesting of grain and drying to 12.5 % moisture. It has been a substantial investment that has resulted in massive boosts in production from the estate.

The level of mechanization has a downside too, as discussed with the estate manger during a visit earlier this year. For example, only 12 workers are employed to run the centre pivots. In the past, 250 workers were needed to irrigate the 230 hectares that were then cultivated. Equally, there is only one section manager compared to three in the past. There are now just 48 permanent workers in place of around 90 in the past, while now 162 temporary workers are required to detassle maize for a 7 day contract, compared to hundreds in the past for a season (although these figures are disputed by ARDA, who claim over 200 jobs have been created, although mostly in the land clearance and establishment phase).

With the revived irrigated area, ARDA Antelope has entered into seed multiplication contracts with Seed Co, Pannar and ICRISAT.   ARDA provides land, labour and electricity, as well as agronomists. Pannar’s contract is for 60 hectares with Pan 473 and G90 varieties bulk produced, while Seed Co has a 40 hectare stake producing SC 513 and SC 621. The balance of the 520 ha is planted with commercial maize in summer and wheat in winter sold to National Foods Company. Trek also has a joint venture with the Cold Storage Company, and currently feeds 700 cattle brought from Namibia, with a further 1300 to come. There has been a massive expansion of both area and intensity of production. There are plans for another 800 ha of irrigation, harnessing water from the Shashane dam, as well as expansion of grazing land. An investment in processing plants, including for livestock feed, is planned.

Land disputes

Despite investments in ‘social responsibility’ programmes, involving support for local educational institutions, the new arrangement has run into trouble, as the land area has been expanded, apparently without consultation and ‘free prior informed consent’.

For years the ARDA estate only operated on a small extent of its area, and villagers regarded the land as theirs. With many parallels with the disputes that arose in Chisumbanje, wrangles over land have emerged around the estate. In September, villagers organised protests in Maphisa, stopping traffic. Graffiti linking the estate investment to the notorious Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland were seen. A visit by VP Mnangagwa was abandoned, and villagers were arrested, although later freed. Villagers claimed their land was being taken and that they were not benefiting from the new scheme.

Protesting villagers’ views are in sharp contrast to the narratives of government officials. A queue of high-profile visitors have come to praise the operations, from the First Lady onwards. Recently, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Paddy Zhanda, has congratulated ARDA for its operations in Maphisa. The resurrection of large-scale farming on state land, is central to the envisaged approach of ‘command agriculture’, where production priorities are set by the state. Joint ventures with ARDA supporting (mostly) A2 farmers with irrigation infrastructure, but under-production, have also been hailed as key to the future success of agriculture.

What role should parastatals play?

But we have to ask what roles should parastatals play in the revival of Zimbabwean agriculture? The PPP model is certainly attractive. New infrastructure and finance allows for the revival of moribund operations. With a ‘command agriculture’ perspective these revitalized farms could, ministers hope, provide just the sort of backbone to the agricultural economy needed. But as we have seen conflicts can arise, as people are removed from land that they thought was theirs. Highly capitalized operations may not provide the employment once offered. As the land reform has shown, with the right support small scale farmers can produce often produce significant quantities of maize and other crops, but at far lower costs, and generating more employment. Maybe it would make more sense to redistribute the land instead?

The parastatal assets of ARDA however should not be seen just as a cheap, underutilized source of land and water, either to be redistributed to the masses or to be handed over to well-connected corporates as part of partnerships benefiting elites. We should recall the role ARDA used to play in providing an important development coordination function. In the ‘roll back the state’ zeal of the 1990s, combined with the obvious corruption and poor management of many parastatals, we sometimes forget the importance of such organisations, notably ARDA, but also the CSC, in offering credit, markets and a brokering facility for smaller operators.

Unlike the new enclaves being created in a desperate attempt to raise revenues, the effective parastatal operations of the past were more integrated into the wider agricultural economy landscape. In thinking about the future, the alternatives need to be carefully balanced. Further land reform – particularly to A1 farmers – is certainly an option in some areas, as small farmers may be best able to make use of existing irrigation facilities. But in other cases new investment is clearly needed, but the obsession with large, command-oriented agriculture or divesting state assets to the private sector through PPPs must be tempered.

Lots of big, shiny centre pivots look impressive, but they may not be economic or generate employment. This was often the lesson of large-scale commercial agriculture before. Having large farms as part of a wider landscape of agriculture may be important for some crops and in some places, but making sure these operations are integrated not isolated enclaves, are employment generating not just mechanized, and have a coordination function to support wider development is essential.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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How land reform is transforming a small town in southern Zimbabwe


Maphisa in Matobo district in Matabeleland has transformed from its early days as a TILCOR (Tribal Trust Land Development Corporation) growth point linked to the nearby Antelope farm estate. Like Mvurwi and Chatsworth that I profiled in the earlier series on small towns and economic development, Maphisa is booming in the post land reform era.

An African town in an African area

Maphisa was established in the 1970s as part of the TILCOR attempt to create ‘African’ towns in ‘African areas’, aimed at maintaining the dual economy, and racial separation, while encouraging economic growth in ‘African’ areas. Mrs N, who was born nearby, explained:

“Maphisa was a forest. It was a grazing area for communal livestock. The place where Omadu Motel was located, was an aerodrome for the white farmers and those on the estate. In the 1970s, a white man called Fish was sent to address the local community about justification for building Maphisa township. He explained that Antelope dam and irrigation were going to create jobs and benefit communities who would in turn invest at the township and grow rich. The chiefs and local leadership present at the meeting agreed and Maphisa was established”.

One of the early black shopowners, Mr T, recalled the beginnings of the growth point:

“In 1973 I cut down trees and built my shop. It started operating in July 1975, as the authorities made it difficult for a black person to possess a liquor licence. In 1975 TILCOR drew a masterplan for Maphisa, started clearing land and built three shops and rented these out. Four other private shops including mine were operated by teachers”.

Post-independence these early growth points were incorporated into the wider spatial planning approach for mixed development. The TILCOR estate was taken over by ARDA, and for several decades Maphisa became intimately linked to the success of the nearby estate. ARDA created opportunities for outgrowers on 150 ha of the irrigation scheme, with plots averaging 1-2 hectares. ARDA also began to build infrastructure in Maphisa in the mid-1980s , including housing for workers and some general dealer shops. The government also established administrative offices for various government departments at the time, and built the Hlalanikuhle location with high density housing. The ARDA irrigation scheme was central to the economy of the town, as it employed up to 8000 people at the height of the 1990s cotton boom.

But through this period Maphisa remained an enclave, reliant on the ARDA estate, and surrounding by large-scale commercial farms, owned by whites (although with one black-owned farm belonging to Chief Ndiweni). These were huge ranches, supplying beef to CSC abbatoir in Bulawayo, and many with commercial gold mines on them. The impact of this largely white-owned farming-mining economy on Maphisa was limited. This all changed with land reform, with most farms taken over, and allocated to resettlement land. In this period too the fortunes of ARDA declined, with many laid off, and the estate production collapsing. The outgrowers (now numbering 132 families) have carried on making use of canal irrigation, but got little support from the estate.

With new people on the land, Maphisa changed from an estate-linked enclave town to one serving the wider area, with a whole range of new businesses established. The decline of ARDA though had a negative effect, as revenues from labourers working on the estate vanished. In 2015 a new investment partnership was agreed, with Trek Petroleum, a local company, taking over the estate operations, and investing substantially in 12 new mobile centre pivot irrigation systems and 350 HP tractors, growing maize over 520 ha (including seed maize contracts with various companies). As I will discuss next week, this highly mechanized operation has not created the level of employment of before, but it has nevertheless meant that new life has been injected into the economy.

New people, new enterprises

Our enterprise survey in Maphisa showed that the local economy has grown since 2000, despite challenges. There are now 6 supermarkets (when before 2000 there were none), 8 butcheries (from 4), 5 hardware stores (from 1), 10 bottle stories, some including ‘nightclubs’ (from 6), and more than 30 kombi operators. Plus today there are more welding shops, tailors, hair salons, service stations, car washes, internet cafes, photocopy/typing shops, and ecocash outlets.

There are now more people living in the town, and investing in property. The occupied high density stands have increased from 223 to 1118, while the medium density stands have increased from 121 to 498. Low density stands have not had such a take-up but overall the size of the town has increased significantly, and with this business activity.

Mr T, a local businessman and long-term resident in Maphisa, as well as A2 land reform beneficiary with 350 ha, explained the impacts of land reform on business:

“Land reform opened up more grazing land and opportunities for livestock marketing. I have 80 cattle, mostly Simenthal crosses. I hire private transporters who charge USD 40 per animal to Bulawayo, where I get around USD 800 per beast. I have just too many goats at the farm! Prices are good. I can get USD 50 per goat. The new cattle business is helping Maphisa to grow. For example, hides and skins are available for establishing a tannery industry. Also, there are plenty of mopane worms. Value addition and packaging could be done here”.

Mr N was also born in the area, and has owned shops in Maphisa over many years. He established a large supermarket in 2012 to complement his four other shops, his transport business (he owns ten 30 tonne trucks), his mining claims, and Mopane worm collection and sale business. He comments:

“The supermarket business is good – we are the leaders here at Maphisa. I employ 34 people. Yes liquidity is a challenge that forces prices down. ZESA high tariffs are a concern too but plans are on to change over to solar power. We sell products to civil servants, ARDA employees, irrigation outgrowers, miners, communal and resettlement farmers and in transit customers. Up to 200 customers cross our doors per day”.

Others have invested in shops more recently. Mr S for example comes from Gwanda, and worked in the civil service and then the diaspora for 20 years. His father had shops and he has invested in a bottle store/night club in Maphisa, which opened in 2014. Mr S commented:

“Proceeds from working in South Africa, the UK and the US helped me to build the business premises over a 5 year period. Some of the money was also raised from horticulture at the family’s 6 acre plot near Bulawayo city. I also did buying and selling cattle as an additional sideline to raise funds. We employ 4 workers in the restaurant and 2 in the bottle store. Business is up and down at the restaurants. We managed to keep ZESA bills down in the restaurant by using gas and firewood for cooking. Electricity is only for lighting and fridges. Beer sales go up when ARDA pays its workers but it is the miners contribute a lot towards beer sales”.

Others rent shops from the council or richer property owners. Comrade M explains:

“From 2009 I have been renting this shop where I operate a butchery and food outlet. I pay USD 350 per month rent. I buy cattle for USD 400 – USD 500 on the hoof after bargaining with the seller. I take the beasts to Maphisa Council slaughter facilities. I buy 2 – 3 beasts per week and sell meat to customers at USD 5 per kg. I prefer buying live cattle because after slaughter I gain from offal, heads and hooves. I used to sell hides to several buyers, who have since gone bust. The food outlet business is a strategy to increase turn-over of meat sales from the butchery. My wife supervises the business while I run around looking for slaughter stock. I also have a A1 villagised land reform farm, with 30 cattle. These support my business”.

Mrs N is a divorcee who stayed before in Gutu, but was born in the area. She has been building a house in the location, and renting a shop in Maphisa. She sells hardware now, having shifted from a grocery store, which was outcompeted by the new supermarket. She explains:

“I operate the shop on my own. We recently added an agro-vet section to the hardware. Our customers are local but we also sell hardware and livestock medicines to resettled farmers. To promote sales, we extend credit to those we know – based on trust. I used proceeds from the hardware to educate my children and to build my house. I also built another house at my parents’ home nearby”.

The growth of informal trading in Maphisa has been huge. The council rents out numerous stalls. Mrs N is a trader, and has been operating since 1986. Originally there were only 9 stalls, but now there are about 20. The traders sell vegetables. These were originally supplied by the ARDA estate, but now local farmers in the resettlements supply them.

“We use cellphones to communicate and they bring the produce here. I also order at the Bulawayo market. When business is booming I go for orders three times per week. I pay USD 10 bus fare to and fro, or get Kombis to go and bring our orders. Proceeds from the market have been critical in keeping the home going – purchasing food and groceries, paying school fees and council rates”.

Small-scale mining as a driver of economic growth

In addition to changes in the agricultural economy, it is also changes in the mining economy that have affected Maphisa in recent years. Before, mining was formal and relatively large-scale, with compounds built in farms, with little contact with the wider area. In the past the Falcon Gold company used to run many of the mines nearby.

Today this has changed dramatically, with many new mining operations in the area, established. Mr T, a bar owner commented: “There are now well over 100 black miners with licences here. Night life at the GP is alive due to gold miners”. Each small mine operation employs around 30 people in each mine, meaning there are substantial numbers working in the area, and purchasing goods and services in Maphisa.

Mining is not for everyone though. Mr S observes: “I would not like to go into mining – it is too much a game of chance. I know a guy who got 7kg of gold after mining for 6 months and he quit with his loot. Another guy has been mining for the last 6 years investing monies but reaping nothing substantial”.

From an enclave town, linked to an estate, created through colonial racial-based planning, Maphisa has transformed into a business hub linked to local economic activity in both agriculture and mining. The estate remains important, and especially since the injection of new investment from through the partnership with Trek Petroleum (see next week’s blog). But it has a more diversified base today, and like other small towns shows the opportunities, but also challenges, of small towns in a restructured economy.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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Food security in Zimbabwe: why a more sophisticated response is needed


The food security situation in Zimbabwe – and indeed across large swathes of southern Africa – is serious. El Niño has struck hard and production levels this past season were well down. The UN estimates that in Zimbabwe alone 4.1 million people – 42% of the rural population – will be in need of support before the next season. Aid agencies are raising funds and are involved in a major humanitarian operation (see WFP and USAID, for example).

We are now entering the most difficult period. Between September and March, when early ‘green’ crops become available, the food situation will be tough, and many will be reliant on handouts and purchased imported food. Disposal of livelihood assets is already occurring and FEWSNET predicts that large parts of southern Zimbabwe will be in ‘emergency’ conditions, together with parts of Mozambique and Malawi.

There is little doubt that the harvests this year were really poor. And this was on the back of a bad season last year. This means that stocks are low and funds circulating in the local, rural economy limited. I do not want to question for a minute the severity of the situation, but I do want to challenge the way it is being portrayed, and ask whether this allows for the most effective targeting of those really in need.

Data challenges

For Zimbabwe the basic data comes from the annual ZimVac report, complemented by various crop surveys. ZimVac, as discussed on this blog before, is a major survey based on a sample of 14,434 rural households across 60 districts. Enumeration areas are chosen across districts and samples selected based  on population density estimates from the most recent population census. It assesses food production, cash income, livestock and so on, and comes up with a food access estimate, based on a daily 2100 k Calorie intake requirement during the consumption year to 31 March. Those unable to meet food needs through a range of sources are deemed to be in deficit and in need of support. This is where the 4.1 million figure comes from – the number of people estimated to be in this situation at the end of March 2017 (even if just for a day).

But as discussed before on this blog, these estimates may miss out on certain aspects. For example, In April, when visiting field sites in some areas hit badly by drought, I was surprised how much maize was being produced in home gardens and around settlements this year. While the main field crop had failed, more intensive production near the home. Sometimes involving supplementary irrigation, and certainly higher inputs of organic fertiliser, home garden areas were producing maize, including substantial quantities of green mealies. These crops rarely get noticed in the larger censuses as they focus on the main field crop, but added up these can be significant, although of course totals are way down on other years.

The other missing story relates to livestock. This year there were major concerns that the El Niño drought would decimate livestock. There were significant die-offs early on, but thankfully sporadic rains fell in February. This was too late for most crops, but it did replenish grass and water sources in many parts of the country, including those drought prone areas of Masvingo and Matabeleland that were suffering livestock mortalities. This turn-around will have had major impacts on food provisioning in these areas in the absence of harvests. There were entrepreneurs buying up animals in numbers and this was a ready source of cash for many. Many livestock were moved to resettlement areas where there is more plentiful grass due to (currently) lower population densities. The high livestock populations in resettlement areas, particularly in southern districts, adds to their food security resilience.

Livestock and their movement is often forgotten in food security assessments (ZimVac covers elements of this, but it’s complex, and difficult to capture in large surveys). Along with the importance of green mealies, other ‘famine’ crops, and the range of (often illegal) coping strategies that people employ mean that successful food provisioning is far more extensive than the UN agencies suggest.

While the data is broken down by district, it is not differentiated by the type land tenure and use. We do not get a sense of the differential vulnerabilities of, for example, communal area dwellers, those with A1 or A2 farms, villagised or self-contained, nor workers linked to such rural households. We know from extensive research that rural communities are highly differentiated, both within and between sites. At the moment we get a very blunt assessment, district by district. The report lists the ten best-off and worse-off districts, for example. Some of the districts where we work, where there was more land redistribution, both in the Highveld and further south, are in the better-off areas. Does this mean land reform areas are less food insecure? We cannot tell from ZimVac data as presented.

A more complex pattern: why land reform is not to blame

There are hints though that a more complex pattern sits below the aggregate numbers. The ZimVac summary report (p. 150) shows that nationally only 11% of households will be food secure this year based on their own cereal crop production. This is even lower in drought-prone areas, such as Masvingo, for example. On aggregate 58% of the national rural population will be food secure through the consumption season, but this is made up through access to income from a variety of sources, not just food production. How do these aggregate figures match up with data from the new resettlement areas?

We’ve been tracking food production in our study areas in Masvingo for some years. In our sites in Masvingo and Gutu districts for example across the harvest seasons from 2003 to 2013, between 44% and 69% of households produced enough for household consumption (estimated at 1 MT). In the Wondezo extension A1 site in Masvingo, farmers produced on average 2 MT in 2014 and over 6 MT in 2015, with 85% and 89% producing sufficient from maize alone for household consumption in those years. In our A1 resettlement sites in Mazowe, over 5 years between 2010 and 2014 seasons the average household maize production was 3.5 MT, declining over time as tobacco production increased. This means that on average 78% of households produced more than a tonne of maize in each year, and were food secure from own-farm production alone. This of course does not account for the significant cash income from tobacco in Mazowe (realising nearly $3000 per household on average across A1 farms between 2010 and 14), or vegetable production and livestock in Masvingo, along with other sources of income.

In other words, the ZimVac sample must be very different. 11 per cent this year (and higher but still low figures in other years) having sufficient food from own production is way lower than in our admittedly much smaller samples in the resettlements. In our areas, consistently over time and across sites, we do not see the level of food insecurity recorded by the ZimVac surveys – although of course it exists in pockets, among certain vulnerable people. There are of course communal areas nearby our A1 sites where the situation is quite different, and it is probably from here that the ZimVac data derives. Our comparisons with communal areas showed the contrasts, with resettlement areas outperforming communal areas across the board. But without any differentiated national food security data, it is difficult to make sense of the aggregates generated by standard crop assessments and livelihood surveys.

This food security crisis therefore is not the result of land reform as some would have it (as I keep telling journalists who ask; here’s an example from a Dutch daily that offered a more sophisticated take). Other countries in the region have suffered badly from the same drought, and Zimbabwe has before, long before the post 2000 land reform. In fact, land reform areas are an important part of why the actual underlying situation is better than it might be. My hunch – still not tested despite much encouragement – is that ZimVac’s sampling frame (appropriately for a national sample that is proportional to population density) is focused on communal areas. This means that the dynamics of the new resettlements in the food economy are being missed out on.

As reported many times on this blog, we see significant flows of food and other finance coming from the A1 resettlement areas, both to communal areas and to urban centres, through kin networks and labour migrancy. This is unrecorded and therefore not accounted for. My guess is that it is really significant in the overall food security story in the country, and taking account of land reform in the wider assessment would allow a redirection of effort by humanitarian and development agencies to support production for boosting local food security and economies, investing where the potential lies.

There is no reason for complacency though. Things could and should be much better, with proper investment. For example, the lack of irrigation infrastructure (and its state of repair, and its poor functioning due to intermittent electricity supplies) is a cause for major concern, and undermines resilience

The politics of food aid: why a more targeted approach is needed

Food aid is of course is highly political. It always has been, and accusations of partisan allocations have occurred again this year. Many are happy not to rely on the obligations and patronage that food aid implies – whether to the party-state or NGOs – and seek their own way. But there are some who are really destitute, without the networks that provide support. They are really needy and include a lot of people, but it’s certainly not 4.1 million. They include widows or older parents without living children, child-headed households, farm labourers, those with illness and disability, for example.

They all need help, as existing provisioning and coping strategies are insufficient. They are scattered all across the country – including in the high potential, richer areas within communities who are otherwise prospering, and are difficult to find. These are the people who need food, and would be a better focus for a more sophisticated, targeted approach to relief, which could combine with a more strategic developmental approach to increase production and market led economic development across communal, resettlement and urban areas.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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