Tag Archives: agriculture

How does agricultural commercialisation affect livelihoods in Zimbabwe?

The question of how agricultural commercialisation affects livelihoods has been central to the recently completed APRA programme (Agricultural Policy Research in Africa), which, along with Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, had work going on in Zimbabwe. A core part of the Zimbabwe work was major repeat panel surveys of smallholder A1 resettlement farms in Mazowe district. The surveys were undertaken in 2018 and 2020, reflecting on the previous season’s performance, with a repeated matched sample of 533. A cluster sample randomly chose 11 A1 (smallholder) resettlement schemes in Mvurwi and 7 in Concession and then all households in those areas were included. The panel design allowed for confounding factors to be controlled for and analysis of effects of different variables could be discerned, even though the seasons were radically different.

The team, led by Chrispen Sukume and involving Godfrey Mahofa, Vine Mutyasira and others – supported by a large team of enumerators and others drawn especially from Agritex – explored some key questions at the top of policymakers’ minds. Does commercialisation (i.e., regular sales) of tobacco, soya and maize result in improved incomes and accumulation of assets, and so reductions in poverty? How does the focus on cash crops influence seasonal hunger and food insecurity? Do women benefit from this process of commercialisation?

A1 farmers generating income and investing in assets

As discussed many times on this blog, these A1 areas are at the forefront of a new agricultural revolution, particularly in the high potential zones of the country. They are a significant supplier of marketed crops contributing 36 per cent of all soybeans sold on formal markets, 26 per cent of all maize registered a6s sales and they constitute 41 per cent of registered producers of flue-cured tobacco in the country, with the remainder made up by A2 medium-scale farms and remaining large-scale farms. Even though this is only the formally recorded sales (there are many, many more, including informal exchanges), this is a major contribution to the core of Zimbabwe’s formal economy. But how do farmers themselves fare? This was the question for the research, now reported in a series of APRA Working Papers.

In terms of income and accumulation (or rather the value of asset ownership, as the studies do not look at trajectories over time), the results shared in an APRA paper show that those households engaging in tobacco, soya and maize sales all gain more income and own more assets. Income is measured as volume of sales x the cash gained as reported by farmers and assets are those reported by farmers valued according to replacement costs. Tobacco producers fare best, followed by soya and maize producers. However, it’s those who combine tobacco and soya that have the best incomes, and it is the tobacco producers in particular who see the most impressive asset ownership levels. Econometric analysis suggests that selling both tobacco and soya will result in an increase of income by 194%, “all else being equal”. Positive outcomes in terms of farm income are also correlated with spending on inputs, livestock ownership, area of land planted and tractor usage.

Farming pays: returns to land and labour

The results are of course not surprising – cash crops provide cash and cash can be invested in assets – and the pattern seen from the surveys confirm what we and others have found before. Further questions are raised, however. Of course, getting cash from sales is one thing, but what about the varied expenses of production? This is tackled in another APRA paper that looks across countries at ‘gross margins’ (incomes minus expenditures) and so calculates returns to land and labour for different crops in different settings. For Zimbabwe, the results show (again) that farming tobacco results in good returns, especially to land (US$1053/ha), but also to labour even though labour costs are high (US$6.4/day). The returns to land for maize are less spectacular (US$781/ha) but returns to labour are higher (US$19.4/day), as maize returns are boosted because of the artificially high value of maize in Zimbabwe (compared to international border prices) and it is a less labour-intensive crop.

Returns are of course highly sensitive to changing prices, with major swings in returns resulting as prices increases or decrease. Intensification – increasing costs on inputs – however may not always be a good idea, as returns may not be sufficient, and this appears to be especially the case for the already high-cost production of tobacco in Zimbabwe, facilitated by contract arrangements with companies. Contract arrangements and facilitation and intermediation of value chains by brokers of different sorts, however, can bring bigger returns for commercial crops such as maize. As the paper concludes, overall, it pays to be a small-scale farmer these days, even with relatively low levels of intensification, as these returns represent reasonable overall incomes for a family, especially if higher than world prices are paid for maize.

Does cash cropping increase seasonal hunger?

How does commercialisation affect seasonal hunger? One of the arguments against cash cropping is that such crops divert effort away from food, leaving people vulnerable. But is this the case? Can people use the cash they earn to buy food and so offset any food deficits? The results from the surveys in another APRA paper show that overall cash cropping reduces seasonal hunger and that this is especially the case for tobacco and food crops (but not soya), and the effect is greatest for asset poor households. ‘Hunger’ during six months of the lean season (November to May) was assessed in relation to people’s recall of whether they had enough to eat during the day for each month and various commercialisation indices were also used (by crop and overall), representing the ratio between sales value and total value. Here, the timing of payments from the tobacco crop is crucial as this happens at the time when food deficits are at the peak.

Other variables that had a positive correlation with reduced seasonal hunger were being a male head of household, having larger cropped area and having access to remittances and off-farm work. Of course, there is variation across households, but the overall conclusion drawn is that supporting cash cropping is not a route to food insecurity. This supports earlier findings in cotton-growing areas, such as Gokwe where in the boom cotton years, people did well.

Who benefits from agricultural commercialisation?

Another important question is who benefits? This basic distributional question requires delving into cross-household comparisons. The averages and median figures presented in these papers do not tell us much about distribution, and especially the implications for particular groups of people, such as women or younger farmers. Here there are wider questions raised about equity in commercialisation trajectories.

Another APRA paper looks at how commercialisation of different crops was related to ‘women’s empowerment’. This was imputed through an aggregate indicator from assessments of whether women primarily managed agricultural plots, decided on how outputs are used, decided on sales and involved in decisions around how crop sales revenue was used. Those households with high levels of commercialisation of tobacco and soya in particular tended not to show indicators of women’s empowerment. As many have pointed out before, these crops are male-dominated, as value chains are highly gendered in Zimbabwean agriculture as an earlier APRA paper discussed.

Longer-term trajectories

A further question not really tackled by these papers is how the surpluses from high returns from commercial agriculture (for some) are spent over time. This is important as the way assets are accumulated affects the wider economy and the broader trajectory of development in an area. Here more longitudinal studies beyond two snapshot panel surveys, as the processes of change are slow and intermittent, and affected by wider political-economic dynamics.

In our historical studies, which overlap with these survey sites in Mvurwi, we see periods of accumulation – associated with good rainfall years and more stable economic and political conditions, such as during the Government of National Unity – and periods of stagnation (such as now), with different impacts on the local economy, household accumulation and also the environment.

Also, over the 20 years since resettlement, the forms of accumulation have shifted. At settlement there was initial investment in land clearing and preparation and the building of homes; this shifted after establishment to investment in transport, mechanisation and intensification of farming, including well-digging irrigation; and more recently there has been a move by some to invest away from the farms in businesses and houses for rental in town. This pattern is important because different people gain from such shifts at different times, with the linkage effects of land reform increasing over time.   

While none of these papers offer anything hugely surprising – (male) farmers in Mazowe all well know that tobacco is profitable but has high inputs costs yet can provide good income and potential for investment – the confirmation of the patterns across sites with in-depth, rigorous quantitative analysis, complemented by econometric models, helps reinforce our understanding, suggesting some important policy directions for the future.

So, do delve into the papers, there’s lots of rich information contained in them all – and some complicated econometric equations too!

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

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The neoliberal restructuring of land and agriculture in Africa: two new books

Two important new books have come out on the neoliberal restructuring of land and agriculture in Africa recently. Both take a radical agrarian political economy stance on the theme, but from different angles. Such analyses have important implications for thinking about agrarian reform, the role of contract farming and the place of land and agriculture in African economies.

Processes of neoliberalisation

The first book Capital Penetration and the Peasantry in Southern and Eastern Africa is edited by Freedom Mazwi, George Mudimu and Kirk Helliker, respectively from the Sam Moyo African Institute of Agrarian Studies, PLAAS at UWC and the Zimbabwe Studies Institute at Rhodes University. The collection has contributions on South Africa, Uganda, Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Mozambique and Eswatini, and two on Zimbabwe and makes the case that “the hallmark of the neoliberal agenda, for agrarian spaces, has been the entrenchment of landed property rights and the push for market-led land reforms”.

Neoliberalism, the editors explain, is characterised by “unequal exchange on global markets, large-scale land dispossessions, underfunding of the agricultural (particularly smallholder or peasant) sector, and macro-economic initiatives such as the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).” The contemporary form of financialised, globalised capitalism in particular allows capital to penetrate places that had previously been ignored, resulting in significant extractive profits. This they argue results in marginalisation, impoverishment and increasing differentiation alongside elite capture.

In this book, neoliberalisation is seen as a process, not a singular state – a useful point that gets away from some of the very simplistic and polemical treatises misusing the term. As the introduction to the book explains, the processes of neoliberalisation are variegated, uneven, contradictory and subject to repeated crises and moments of rupture. Interests associated with neoliberalisation are pushed by class interests, which are allied globally with monopoly capital and western powers aligning with national elites in Africa, but there are equally forms of resistance, locally and nationally.

Extractivism

This process seen across Africa and illustrated across the chapters of the book is very much centred on processes of extraction, which serve the needs of metropolitan states. This includes “land concentration and grabbing (by private, domestic and international capital), monopolistic control over natural resources, and new forms of production arrangements (for example, contract farming) involving agrarian capital— in which there is corporate control over flows of commodities, credit and value.”  As Ye Jingzhong and colleagues explain, extractivism has moved from a pattern of single sites of mining, land grabbing to a more generalised process, encompassing whole agrarian systems.

Several case studies in the book (e.g., Sakata, Mhlanga and Bruna) home in on ‘contract’ farming as a globally-driven agricultural production and marketing strategy that, they argue, reduces the autonomy and livelihood opportunities of the peasantry. The result is, they argue, increasing impoverishment and differentiation and a reinforcing of the international division of labour, with value extracted elsewhere.

While there is a much wider debate about contract farming, including some (such as our work) that highlights its immediate benefits for the relatively (but not extremely) poor, situating the growing phenomenon in a wider historical and political frame is definitely useful. It is the contingent political economy that influences whether contract relations ‘upgrade’ and so support local production or ‘capture’ the peasantry through extractive relations, as Kojo Amanor has pointed out.  

Overall, the book argues that sustaining the neoliberal project is in the interests of metropolitan powers and capitalist interests globally, with strong alliances across nations, drawing on ‘theories of imperialism’ as articulated so effectively by Utsa and Prahbat Patnaik. Those countries that challenge the neoliberal tenets are isolated, and sanctions are imposed to get them into line, the book argues.

The case of Zimbabwe’s land reform is of course the example given, but there are others. As they argue, following Sam Moyo, Praveen Jha, Paris Yeros and others, “this raises complex questions about state autonomy vis-à-vis global capital as well as the importance of resolving the national question through pursuing relatively autonomous development paths”, a theme picked up especially in the second book.

An Afrocentric perspective?

The second book for this review is edited by Vusi Gumede and Toendepi Shonhe, respectively from the University of Mpumalanga and formerly of UNISA in Johannesburg, and is called ambitiously “Rethinking the Land and Agrarian Questions in Africa” (available as an e-book and a hard copy), again with a number of case study chapters from across east and southern Africa.

Developing the ideas of the great thinkers of African agrarian studies including Samir Amin, Archie Mafeje and Sam Moyo, the book makes the case for an Afrocentric perspective, where ideas around agrarian change – and land reform in particular – are recast, away from a Eurocentric epistemology. Such standard Eurocentric views “underscore the preoccupation with property rights and thus the need to remain in harmony with global capital, enabling colonial systems to persist.”

Instead, the book argues for an alternative way of thinking about land and its value that decolonises the land and so provides “a basis for creating new platforms for social change and broadened accumulation”.  This focus on constructions of knowledge around land, law, policy, property and so on is a really useful intervention, and opens up new areas of debate not framed in a restrictive way by conventional thinking.

Delinking and autonomous development

In arguing for a radical departure from neoliberal, colonised thought and practice and a liberation of the mind towards ideas that are rooted in African initiative and local economies, the work of Samir Amin on delinking comes to mind (whose work is drawn upon in both books). His 1987 short note on delinking encapsulates many of the ideas being revisited by African scholars of agrarian settings today, inspired of course by the important mentor to many, the late Sam Moyo (who the second book is dedicated to and whose work informs much of the thinking in the first).

“The development of countries at the periphery of the world-capitalist system, consequently, passes through a necessary “break” from this world capitalist system – a “delinking” – that is to say, the refusal to submit national-development strategy to the imperatives of “globalization”. But the meaning we give to the concept of “delinking” is not at all a synonym for autarky. We mean the organization of a system of criteria for the rationality of economic choices based on a law of value, which has a national foundation and a popular content, independent of the criteria of economic rationality that emerges from the domination of the law of capitalist value that operates a world scale.”

Amin goes on to suggest a model of national and popular auto-centred development, which “does not consist of rejecting all relations with the outside, but in submitting the external relations to the logic of an internal development that is independent from them.” This means accepting trade relations, market exchanges, technologies and aid/external support on different terms, resisting the extractivism of neoliberalism and the imperatives of a particular style of agrarian policy.

In this sense, the vision is different to one of localised, autonomous ‘food sovereignty’, but accepts that a break with hegemonic power (and as Gumede and Shonhe argue, ideas and styles of knowledge-making) allows for liberation, even if ‘western’ technologies, external trade and so on are part of the solution. As Amin and others argue, a key question is who can benefit from such popular, nationally-determined development? Questions of class and the dangers of capture once again come to the fore. As with neoliberalisation, struggles for alternatives must be seen as a process.

In the Zimbabwean context, the “break” with the West occurred following land reform and the imposition of ‘sanctions’ and the subsequent lack of investment and finance. This perhaps should have offered some of this opportunity. Indeed, in some of the land reform settings we work in a sense of autonomy and independent economic activity on farmers’ own terms is evident. And during the pandemic, due to force of circumstance, this accelerated as people generated resilience and capacities to survive the effects of lockdowns in a collapsing economy. However, as we have discussed many times on this blog, these opportunities remain constrained. This is why Amin argues that delinking is not just autarky, instead a progressive national state needs to support such endeavours and this has been lacking.

Resisting imperial impositions from metropolitan powers and transforming the depredations of neoliberalism requires more than just getting by as farmers in rural Zimbabwe are incredibly good at doing, but requires a mobilisation, across classes and with allies in the state and beyond, for liberation to be realised. These books help us think about this process, but (as ever) there are no easy answers.  

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

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The future of Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector: a new book

A new book on land and agriculture Zimbabwe – The Future of Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Sector – is just out with Routledge and edited by Grasian Mkodzongi. It’s fiendishly expensive, but a paperback version is promised soon. Meanwhile be in touch with authors for copies of chapters or look out on Researchgate or other platforms for pre-print versions, as there’s lots of good material.

The ‘new dispensation’: a failure?

The book takes the post-‘coup’ transition to the ‘new dispensation’ after 2017 under President Mnangagwa as its starting point. It asks, how has the ‘open for business’ rhetoric made a difference to the agrarian sector following the land reform in 2000? The introduction argues that “the post-Mugabe era is characterised by a neoliberal macro-economic agenda which has intensified land grabs and resource thefts to the detriment of peasants and other vulnerable groups.”

It is this shift towards a business-oriented, large-scale farming discourse and away from a peasant-centred one that characterised the Mugabe era that has reframed the debate, the book argues. An alliance with Chinese capital (and others) linked to a ‘comprador bourgeoisie’ class connected to ZANU-PF political and military leadership has resulted in resource grabbing on a large scale, undermining the gains of land reform, Mkodzongi argues. The result is intensified class struggle over land, as political elites ally with international capital and foreign powers to acquire resources, using political influence to remove land from those who are out of favour politically or who cannot resist, as in the case of the notorious Chilonga communal area land dispute.

While many recognise the inequities that persist following land reform, with demands for land from youth, women, former farmworkers, displaced urbanites and others, instead the current government’s focus appears to be on improving production efficiencies in more commercial operations through subsidy and other loan schemes (such as the ‘command agriculture’ programme). This shifts the political dynamics of the post-land reform era away from redistribution, reinforcing the power of those who gained land in the reform in medium-scale A2 farms, and supporting the process of consolidating land holdings through joint ventures.

Diverse outcomes

Chapters cover a broad range of themes, highlighting once again the richness of empirical work on-going in Zimbabwe. The book is dedicated to the late, great Sam Moyo, and he would I am sure be impressed by the breadth of work on-going, represented not only in this book but also others (which I will review soon too).

Felix Murimbarimba and I delve into the politics of A2 (medium-scale) farms based on our survey and interview work in Masvingo and Mazowe, looking at the mixed fate of A2 farmers and the influence of political alliances on rural politics. Meanwhile, others look at patterns of investment, particularly in the A1 areas, notable the chapters by Tom and Chipenda, who looks at joint-ventures.

A focus on particular crops is taken by Ncube, Kamuti and Ncube (tobacco) and Taringana (coffee), who all show how smallholders are now growing what were deemed to large-scale commercial crops. As Ndhlovu speculates new forms of locally based agriculture in A1 farms may offer prospects for ‘food sovereignty’.

The new agrarian dynamic is also creating conflicts, displacements and patterns of exclusion and differentiation, with implications for gendered access to resources as Chiweshe and Bhatsara and Batisai and Chipato show in different cases. As the time from the land reform lapses, questions of and the rights of women are brought to the fore, for example. Overall, as we’ve seen in our work again and again, there is a clear vibrancy in the agrarian sector following land reform, but also many problems.

Structural constraints

What is clear is that the ‘new dispensation’ did not resolve these challenges. Maybe it couldn’t. The structural constraints of lack of finance, sanctions and deep corruption all have contributed to lack of action by the new government. The populist policy rhetoric of being ‘open for business’ was largely empty, as action did not follow beyond the opening of resources for grabbing by elites and others. The result has been increasing tensions and a more tense struggle between classes, with the smallholder A1 beneficiaries of land reform pitted against others.

The business-friendly discourse and the land compensation deal with white farmers did not impress western governments who latched on to a particular human rights discourse around political reforms as their central conditionality, preventing the release of strangulating economic sanctions, as Chipuriro and Mkodzongi explain. Despite various policy initiatives, the corruption by political elites has made even the more sensible ones irrelevant, as rent is extracted at every turn whilst political factions vie for power.

The result has been economic collapse, which has massively constrained growth in the agrarian sector. Attempts to woo the Chinese failed as they too were not fooled, and the mega-projects promised did not materialise. Mkodzongi documents this rather sorry tale both in the introduction and conclusion to the book.  

Ways forward?

So, what to do about it? There is a clear failure of the current political dispensation, but Mkodzongi and others are not optimistic about alternatives either. As he notes, “the new neoliberal policy trajectory is in conflict with the ethos of the fast-track land reform, which sought to restructure agrarian relations in favour of the broader majority of Zimbabwe’s citizens, in particular the peasantry”.

As a consequence, a new agrarian-focused politics is required, something hinted at in our chapter, but requiring alliances between those generating production on the A2 farms (not everyone by any means, given patronage allocations) and the more vibrant and more numerous A1 farmers, who have significant electoral influence. A new progressive political coalition together with those in urban areas also struggling over land and livelihoods – as explained by Mujere and Mwatara – is essential. Perhaps this will deliver the ‘national political consciousness’ and ‘ideological clarity’ that Mkodzongi advocates.

However, to be effective, such an alliance must in turn construct coherent policies, deliver security of tenure, provide support for agriculture, develop rural infrastructure, facilitate markets and address the needs of those left behind by the land reform. At the moment, sadly, this looks far off, with any forthcoming election outcome unlikely to resolve these issues, whatever the result. 

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

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The changing face of urban agriculture in Zimbabwe

Over the last four weeks, the blog has explored the changing face of urban agriculture across our sites in Chikombedzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa, Masvingo, Chatsworth and Mvurwi. We have explored the growth of urban agriculture and its different forms (backyard, open space and titled) and examined the changing relationships between rural and urban production. A photo story captured some of the dynamics, including the patterns of investment that are on-going. The role of urban agriculture in food security in an economy with few other options, currency chaos and rising inflation was also explored.

A number of themes emerge:

  1. Urban agriculture is not just backyard cultivation, but a much more significant endeavour, with often large areas planted, sometimes with significant intensification through irrigation and mechanisation.
  2. Urban/peri-urban production is essential for food security. This was especially so in the pandemic when the trend to urban cultivation accelerated, but is also important in the context of Zimbabwe’s economic situation where inflation is high and other jobs scarce. Self-provisioning not only for ‘relish’ but for staples and selling surplus is a feature of urban agriculture today.
  3. The relationships between the rural and urban are being reconfigured, as production (of some crops) moves to town. This means adjusting marketing practices for rural producers as they cannot compete with those in town. Rural producers must switch to different crops, new forms of transport and new marketing strategies.
  4. For towns in largely rural areas, many have access to plots in both town and in the rural areas. Investment in land and housing in town has been an important feature of investment from the proceeds from agricultural production, especially for those with larger land areas in the land reform areas. Shuttling between rural and urban production sites is important, with equipment and investments being moved between sites.
  5. Access to land and water for urban agriculture is vital, but is unevenly distributed. Political patronage and brokerage plays an important role in governing land access in urban areas. Municipal by-laws and town planning regulations often formally ban urban agriculture, putting officials in an invidious position, where they have to police the laws, while recognising the importance of urban agriculture in straitened circumstances (including for themselves).
  6. Urban farming is important for men and women, rich and poor. But different people gain access to different types of land thanks often to political connections and can invest in different ways, depending on existing resources and access to capital.

In case you missed them, links to the four blogs are below, with the most recent first.

Urban agriculture: surviving in a collapsing economy

Urban agriculture in Zimbabwe: a photo story

Changing food systems in Zimbabwe: shifts from rural to urban production

The growth of urban agriculture in Zimbabwe

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

Thanks to the team – Iyleen Judy Bwerinofa, Jacob Mahenehene, Makiwa Manaka, Bulisiwe Mulotshwa, Felix Murimbarimba, Moses Mutoko and Vincent Sarayi – who have contributed the research material for this series from across Zimbabwe.

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Changing food systems in Zimbabwe: shifts from rural to urban production

Last week’s blog discussed the massive growth of urban agriculture in Zimbabwe. How is this affecting the wider food system? What are the impacts on traditional sources of production in the rural areas? And what was the role of the COVID-19 pandemic in precipitating these changes?

With transport costs rising and inflation hitting hard again, the incentive to grow locally and self-provision grows. For farmers in rural areas, this has always been possible, which is why they have weathered the compounding storms of economic collapse and the pandemic relatively well. As we have reported a number of times on this blog, the supply of food to towns from the resettlement areas where surpluses are produced fundamentally shifted the food supply system across the country since land reform.

The importance of resettlement areas in food flows

Over the last 20 years, those living in town have become increasingly reliant on food from those producing in the land reform areas. I was talking to a colleague in Zvishavane recently and, as in previous years, the resettlement areas to the north of the town along the Gweru road are supplying maize and other produce to town dwellers, both through informal exchanges between relatives and the market. Where rural food supplies are close and transport is possible – in this case along a major road where buses and other vehicles move frequently – the flow of food to urban areas remains key.

This avoids the costs of the centralised food system of the past where maize and other staples were sold to the Grain Marketing Board and then on to millers and those in town bought processed flour for consumption. This route is now expensive and inefficient. Today there are many more flows of food within the system, most of which are unrecognised and unrecorded – which, as discussed here before, is why the national food security data are so problematic.

However, the high and secure production from the De Beers resettlement farms near Zvishavane does not mean that town residents are not investing in agriculture. The same colleague told me that many are moving mobile grinding mills from the rural areas to town, where crops are being grown in ever larger amounts. This is not just small-scale vegetable gardening to provide ‘relish’, but significant amounts of grain for basic food provisioning. This is an important change, and one that has accelerated during the pandemic.

Pandemic transformations

Through the pandemic, as we have documented many times in our two-year blog series on COVID-19 experiences in rural areas, lockdowns prevented the transportation of agricultural goods to urban areas. Roadblocks, complex permit arrangements and incessant requirements for bribes made normal agricultural market expensive and full of hassle.

Over time, as we have documented, some found ways round these restrictions by moving and selling at night or making deals with the authorities, but it was not easy. This meant that the cost of rural produce increased relative to that produced in town. In the past, because of the limitations of land, the costs of water and labour and so on, this was not the case. Through the pandemic, the comparative advantages of crop production – including of cereals, oil seeds, livestock, as well as the usual vegetables – increased in urban areas. For example, today urban producers can supply a bundle of rape to the market for a dollar, while a bucket of maize from town is US$5-6, while in the rural areas it’s US$7-8. The same goes for broiler chickens, with a rural one costing US$5 compared to one in the rural areas being US$7. This reverses the price differentials of a just few years ago, and this is having major consequences.

We asked about changes through the pandemic in all our field sites, and a rough-and-ready estimate was derived from a number of informants. This is not hard science but reflects the reality that we have all seen. The results are shown below, which show the approximate percentage of residents in different towns in our study areas who are farming in open spaces (meaning beyond just backyard vegetable gardening) in two periods.

SitePrior to COVID (2016-2019) (%)During COVID (2020 to date) (%)
Mvurwi2540
Masvingo3570
Triangle/Hippo Valley4555
Maphisa2050
Chatsworth3055
Chikombedzi2545

Since the onset of COVID-19, many lost their jobs and while some returned to rural areas, others had to make ends meet in town. The lack of transport possibilities during COVID meant that town residents also had assure supply, once offered by exchanges with rural relatives and others. Shops became expensive as the economy declined further and inflation crept up. This was made worse by the unstable local currency (RTGS, Zimbabwe dollars) and many preferred to barter and exchange or produce their own food.

With schools closed and sports, church and other activities cancelled there was a greater supply of labour for agriculture in town. Even urban-based young people shifted attitudes towards farming, seeing it as an option to make a bit of money and help out their families. The array of crops has expanded too. Farming involves producing staple crops, vegetables, but also responding to the demand for COVID-19 treatments (garlic, ginger, chilli, lemons) as well as ornamental trees for the development of new suburbs being invested in.

The result has been a sharp increase in demand for land in urban areas, particularly those where the rural hinterland is further away, as reflected in the higher percentage engaging in farming in the city of Masvingo compared to other small towns, where residents have closer connections to nearby rural areas, with many having access to their own plot.  

Consequences for rural production: permanent or temporary?

This shift towards urban farming was an important adaptive response to the combined challenges of economic meltdown and the pandemic. It is having profound effects on the wider food system and putting pressure on rural producers who now must compete with lower cost urban farming where market access is assured, with urban farmers able to capture markets in timely fashion given their proximity. Rural farmers, particularly those who managed to capture lucrative contracts with supermarkets in town, are complaining bitterly.

With the breaks in supply during the pandemic, contracts were lost and tomatoes, vegetables and other crops sold regularly to urban wholesalers and retailers rotted. Rural producers are having to think of their own solutions, including the drying and processing of vegetables for later sale, when urban production is lower. However, others are leaving land fallow and reducing agricultural output as it’s impossible to sell surpluses, returning to a more subsistence pattern of self-provisioning.

Will this be a permanent change, or is this only a temporary shift responding to particular circumstances? It’s difficult to tell. The prospects for economic renewal in Zimbabwe look bleak, even if the pandemic restrictions have gone for now. The connections between rural and urban in changing patterns of food production – and associated issues of water and land use – will be themes to watch in the coming years. And this nexus definitely must become a key focus of future efforts to assess food insecurity and address vulnerability across the country.

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

Thanks to Iyleen Judy Bwerinofa, Jacob Mahenehene, Makiwa Manaka, Bulisiwe Mulotshwa, Moses Mutoko and Vincent Sarayi for their contributions and to Felix Murimbarimba for both researching and coordinating.

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The growth of urban agriculture in Zimbabwe

The growth of urban agriculture in Zimbabwe has been phenomenal. Every space seems to be cultivated, with a huge array of crops. Today you see tractors, irrigation pumps, trucks carrying produce to markets, with significant investments in commercialised agriculture happening alongside traditional backyard farming and opportunistic cropping in open spaces around towns and cities. What explains this growth, and how is it affecting the wider food system?

Over the last couple of months the Zimbabwe research team has set out to explore these questions in diverse urban settings – from Masvingo town to Chatsworth, Chiredzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa and Mvurwi. As this short blog series will explain the patterns are different, but the trend is the same. Agriculture in towns is growing and becoming an increasingly important source of food for consumers. This in turn is putting a squeeze on rural producers in our study sites who must compete with higher transport costs and lack of access to markets.

Urban and especially peri-urban agriculture of course has a long pedigree in Zimbabwe. In the colonial era, Africans in town were allowed to grow food crops in their backyards. However, the townships and high-density suburbs were only expected to be temporary residences for Africans who were expected to return home to their ‘reserves’. In the colonial era urban food production was heavily controlled and restricted to compounds where vegetables could be grown. Attempts to expand to other areas was illegal, and banned crops were slashed and destroyed by municipal authorities. This restrictive approach continued after Independence with urban agriculture being seen in terms of the supply of ‘relish’ rather than a key source of food production and so urban food and nutrition security.

Today urban residents are much more permanent; although in recent decades many are unemployed or reliant on temporary piece work as economic conditions in the country have deteriorated. While uncontrolled urban agriculture remains illegal according to planning laws, over the last decades – out of necessity – there has been much more accommodation of the practice. With the retrenchments of the structural adjustment era from 1991, the level of urban food insecurity grew making urban agriculture essential for survival. The need for urban agriculture has grown over the last 30 years, with economic chaos bringing real hardships to urban residents across Zimbabwe. COVID-19 accelerated this as movement restrictions and the closing of businesses made stable employment even less likely. Some decided to return to the rural areas seeking out land for farming. As some other African countries, the growth of urban areas has been slow in Zimbabwe and connections to rural areas is essential. Some suggest that urban populations have declined as migration switches from rural to urban to the other way round.

COVID-19 arrived in the midst of an on-going economic crisis in Zimbabwe and many sought refuge in the rural areas. However those in town needed access to food production especially when they couldn’t travel to the rural areas during lockdowns.

Economic conditions have made matters worse. The failure of the local currency has meant that parallel currency systems exist and inflation is rising. The costs of household food provisioning rises daily and with the challenges of finding gainful employment, this means that growing food for urban families is essential.

With a poor harvest this year, urban food insecurity is graded as ‘stressed’, with a number of donor programmes focusing on vouchers and cash transfers to support people. But cash these days can lose value quickly; much better to have some food directly on the table from your own urban plot or garden.

Three types of urban agriculture

Our studies across our sites have shown that urban agriculture takes on a variety of forms but is virtually universal, with its contribution today being highly significant, perhaps far more so than in other urban settings in the southern African region due to the particularly harsh economic conditions in Zimbabwe. Three main types of agriculture are seen:

Backyard farming – This is the most common form of urban agriculture, and nearly every compound has a few beds for vegetables of different sorts, but also maize, sweet potatoes and other staples. Those renting rooms may also have a garden bed as part of their rental package. While space is extremely limited – plots in the high-density suburbs are regulated and as the name suggests there’s not much room. The result is that every square inch is exploited. And not only with crops: broilers, rabbits, turkeys and more are common in backyards. Some have invested in boreholes to supplement municipal water supplies, while others have intensified with various forms of irrigation.

Open space farming – While notionally still illegal, such farming has expanded massively in recent years. In areas designated for future building, in now disused industrial areas, along roadsides, by streams and rivers, every available area it seems is cultivated. Allocations of land in such areas are not formally controlled, and indeed such farmers can be evicted at any time. Environmental regulations (such as around stream bank cultivation) can be enforced, and municipal police can come to destroy crops. However, in recent years there has been a decline in regulatory capacity and enforcement, and sometimes bribes are paid to allow farming to continue. In some sites, land barons who control housing developments may be involved. Such urban land is highly contested, and land access is extremely politicised, with land being handed out for housing schemes as part of political patronage, particularly in the larger towns and cities.

Negotiating with authorities of different sorts, whether municipal, environmental or political chefs, barons and brokers, makes such open space farming highly insecure. Nevertheless, the demand for land and food in urban areas is so high that people will try their luck. A process of what people describe as ‘self-allocation’ occurs and people carve out an unused portion at the beginning of a season. Disputes over boundaries and claims are common, and negotiation with farming neighbours is always on-going. Many people have multiple, scattered plots, fitted in amongst other farmers where spaces open up. These plots may be 0.1 ha or less, but together can add up to a decent holding where production can be significant. Those with money and political clout may be able to command larger areas in one location, with cultivation expanding to allow mechanisation, with tractors and other equipment brought in. These larger farmers may have formal deals with supermarkets and other contractors, while others with smaller plots sell in local markets when they have surplus. As others have noted, unequal access to land for urban agriculture is generating new forms of injustice.

Formal plots – In some towns, including Masvingo, titled plots were offered for purchase by town authorities during the colonial era. These small plots, usually around 6 ha, are on the town periphery and were occupied by both whites and blacks. Today they are much sought after and, given their proximity to markets, provide real opportunities for intensified commercial agriculture. While some have merged into the suburbs that continue to expand through diaspora and other investments, others have invested in irrigation equipment, stall feeding systems for animals and increasingly sophisticated systems of intensive crop and animal production. Some engage in contract farming for particular crops (like chillies for example), others have deals to supply supermarkets in town. As the economy becomes more and more localised – again a trend accelerated by COVID-19 – such producers have an advantage compared to their rural neighbours.   

Next week, we will explore how this growth in urban agriculture is having an effect on the wider food production system, and especially how the pandemic has restructured food systems both in towns and in the wider rural areas. The final blog in the series will offer some case studies of urban agriculture from different towns in our study areas and across the types outlined above.

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

Thanks to Iyleen Judy Bwerinofa, Jacob Mahenehene, Makiwa Manaka, Bulisiwe Mulotshwa, Moses Mutoko and Vincent Sarayi for their contributions and to Felix Murimbarimba for both researching and coordinating.

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Insuring against disaster: the politics of protection

One of the most popular responses to drought – and disasters more generally – by aid agencies today is insurance. This fits the current development mood, requiring market-based solutions that operate at a distance and work seemingly ‘efficiently’, offsetting the need for cumbersome, late responses of state or development agency delivered humanitarian aid.

It all sounds good in theory, but what is the reality? This was a theme we explored in Zimbabwe both in the field with farmers across our sites, as well as in Harare with some of those managing a new insurance approach for drought response, sponsored by the Africa Risk Capacity Group, and supported by multiple donors.

Many types of insurance  

Insurance comes in many shapes and forms. There’s classic indemnity insurance where if a disaster strikes an assessor will estimate the damage and pay out if you have a policy. This is the sort of insurance you have in case your house burns down or you crash your car.

Index-based insurance by contrast aims to pay out before the event happens. This provides early response and avoids the dangers either of later payment or of emergency responses that can undermine people’s livelihoods in the longer term. Here pay-outs occur if a threshold is crossed, say of rainfall or its proxy, such as vegetation cover. Index-based policies have become quite popular for agricultural and livestock insurance in developing countries, for instance.

A final type is sovereign insurance where a whole country takes out a policy against drought (or some other disaster) and the pay-out happens again if a threshold (the ‘attachment point’) is crossed (such as below average rainfall across the country, assumed to be affecting a certain number of people). This is aimed at ensuring ‘early action’ as part of an anticipatory approach to assistance, which again doesn’t have to wait for the mobilisation of international funds after the event.

Sovereign insurance: the Africa Risk Capacity model

This ‘sovereign insurance’ is what the government of Zimbabwe has recently bought from ARC (USD 2.5m) in partnership with the UN World Food Programme (USD 1.5m) and the START network (USD 2.5m) (a consortium led by international NGOs involved in humanitarian assistance with 20 members in Zimbabwe), who run ‘replica’ programmes paid for by international aid donors. The model will pay-out when an estimated 3.3 million people are affected (the attachment point), with a response cost of USD 154m, and so is designed for a major national disaster not for regular responses to food insecurity.

However, the ARC approach, which is an African Union initiative, with separate development and commercial arms, has had a chequered history. For example, in 2016 the insurance failed to pay out in Malawi during what was clearly on the ground a disastrous drought. In the end an ex gratia payment was made, but the approach was seriously critiqued – a damning Action Aid report argued that this was the wrong model for improving resilience. Despite its many promoters in the aid agencies, the ARC lost credibility and there was a period when it looked like it would collapse with insufficient country subscribers and too little funding to reinsure. A preliminary evaluation by OPM suggest some major flaws, particularly in the way the underlying ‘AfricaRiskView‘ model was constructed.

Since then, there have been multiple efforts at improving the system and customising the underlying model. Zimbabwe has bought into a very different operation, with the model being calibrated with local information through a committee, led by the Ministry of Finance, with many experts from the ministry of agriculture (Agritex) as well as aid agencies and NGOs. Although the details of the model are secret – they are proprietary information of the commercial arm of the ARC, and the basis on which it presumably gears a profit from its assessment of risks – there is clearly more local participation and transparency than before. Those who have premiums invested can monitor the progress through the season, assessing if a pay-out is likely.

The implementing agencies, whether government, the WFP or the START network, must come up with a contingency plan for how they will deliver assistance in case a pay-out is made. The current policy aims to reach up to 800,000 people in drought-prone districts if a full pay-out occurs. This is supposed to mean that things can happen quickly and before the worst impacts of a disaster strike.

Contingency plans currently involve the usual array of targeted interventions, with all the problems that these entail, but the principle of early action and rapid response is definitely a good one; although such plans need to be held in place and updated in all the years in between pay-outs (the ARC deal for Zimbabwe expects, but doesn’t guarantee, a one in four year pay-out; the assumed ‘return period’).

Practical concerns

How will it work it practice? This is the first year with the latest round of insurance, so the simple answer is we don’t know. Past experience is limited in Zimbabwe, as there has only been one payment from a previous round in mid 2020 of USD 1.4 million to the government and around USD 300k to WFP (as the replica premium holder) following the poor rains of 2019-20.

As one senior official from a humanitarian agency observed, such pay-outs are all well and good, but they are a drop in the ocean. When hundreds of millions of dollars are required across over 8 million food insecure people and maybe 1.8 million in dire need, then the premiums required to cover this would be enormous, and way beyond any agency or donor, let alone the government (even though of course the ‘food insecurity’ figures may be dubious). For example, under the new policy WFP’s maximum pay-out would only be USD 6.5 million; hence people referred to the approach as a ’boutique experiment’, with varying doses of scepticism.

Other commentators we talked to were intrigued by the system, desperate to find a new way of doing things given the failures of the standard approaches but wondered whether a profit motivated company could really deliver funding for humanitarian assistance through global reinsurance markets. Should insurance brokers be making money out of disasters? For the humanitarians this was a difficult one, even if it worked (which was not sure).

There were many other debates about the practicalities and questions were still raised about the underlying model. For example, it focuses on maize as the indicator crop, but what about in areas where sorghum or other crop mixes are important? What about livestock? It was unclear if the model differentiated between different soil types – the impact of rainfall deficits is massively different between sandy and heavy soils, for example. The idea of a ‘sovereign’ drought given the variability of patterns across the country seemed odd to others. How can a single-cut off for the whole of such a diverse country be decided? And how can a single point be defined, when drought always evolves through the season?

As the next seasons unfold (the premium has been paid over several years), we will see how it pans out. A key issue for any index type insurance (where predictive risk indicators are used and actual damage is not assessed post hoc) is the question of what is called ‘basis risk’: the difference between the predictions and the actual outcomes.

If this is large (as was the case in Malawi in 2016), then the insurance pay-outs are not geared to need, and the product becomes ineffective. Those who pay the premiums or expect pay-outs rightly object and in an increasing number of cases, ex gratia pay-outs are made, effectively acknowledging the failure of the calculative risk model.

Even though the ARC model has been improved, there are plenty of reasons to expect significant basis risk, given what we know about drought in Zimbabwe (see previous blogs here and here).

From risk to uncertainty: basic challenges to insurance as a solution to disasters

There are however some more fundamental issues with insurance as a response to uncertain disasters. The challenges are more than fixing the technical parameters and reducing basis risk and improving contingency planning and implementation.

Any insurance assumes you can calculate the probabilities of an event happening (or an index being triggered). This is the basis of setting premiums where the insurance company bets on incomes versus pay-outs based on estimates of the likelihood of trigger events/disasters happening. In other words, insurance is premised on assumptions about ‘risk’ – where you have a good idea of the probability of what is going to happen (a calculable, predictive approach) – but not ‘uncertainty’ – where you don’t know the likelihood of outcomes. Under conditions of uncertainty, insurance will not work.

By assuming risk, insurance creates particular political dynamics centred on strategies of management and control. As a result, most contemporary forms of insurance are based on a modernising, market-based vision of predictive control, generating forms of ‘governmentality’ over insurance ‘subjects’. In the case of the ARC’s sovereign insurance this is scaled across a whole nation, is exerted through an insurance company with links to the global insurance markets and is executed on the ground by the state, UN agencies or international NGO networks.

This is very different to the drought responses among farmers, discussed in previous blogs in this series, with radically different politics. As discussed in the previous two blogs, it’s uncertainty not risk that dominates the experience of drought in Zimbabwe, as elsewhere. This becomes more the case as climate change affects patterns of rainfall. Taking uncertainty seriously suggests a very different approach to disaster response.

An approach centred on uncertainty, rather than risk, would have to adopt the approaches used by farmers in the face of variable patterns of rainfall and uncertain drought conditions, described in the previous blogs. This would mean flexibility, adaptability, contingency planning and performative responses to unfolding circumstances (a theme picked up in the next blog).

This is less neat than the technocratic, market solution of insurance, and for large and cumbersome agencies may be impossible. But, in the end, an uncertainty-centred approach may be more effective and more attuned to the real world of uncertainty that characterises drought and disaster, as we argued in a recent paper in relation to humanitarian and social assistance more broadly.

Time will tell how the ARC sovereign insurance model fares in Zimbabwe. Maybe it can adapt and become the flexible, early response system taking account of uncertainties that is so needed. Watch this space for updates in the coming years.

This is the third blog in a short series on ‘drought’. See the first and second blog here and here.

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

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Farming with variability: mobilising responses to drought uncertainties in Zimbabwe

Climate change is generating greater variability within and across seasons. This is requiring new responses among farmers in Masvingo province in Zimbabwe. Today, farmers must adapt, be flexible and agile and respond to uncertain seasons as they unfold. This requires new skills and approaches; not just from farmers, but also from development agencies who are hoping to assist rural people cope with drought.

Shifting responses, changing droughts

There are strong memories of drought (or rather ‘nzara’, see previous blog) among farmers in Masvingo. During our visits earlier in the year many recalled past events. The 1991-92 drought was firmly etched on their memories, while older people recalled the droughts of 1982-84. These days the memories of 1947 (associated with the distribution of ‘Kenya’ yellow maize) are disappearing, but drought is a recurrent phenomenon central to how histories are recalled in rural areas, as we explored in our book Hazards and Opportunities over 25 years ago.

But how people have responded over time and how different ‘droughts’ have been experienced is highly contrasting. Some droughts are recalled as ones affecting cattle, but not people; others are the opposite. Some affected everyone all over the area, meaning real shortages of food and dependence on hand-outs, while others were quite localised and food could be purchased in nearby districts. As discussed in last week’s blog, drought is not a singular phenomenon.

One thing people mentioned again and again was that droughts today are so varied. It is not just a simple failure of ‘the rains’, but the problem of increasing variability. Sometimes there’s very heavy rain, then nothing for weeks. In the ‘old days’ rain – if it came – would be steady and continuous, soaking the land, they say. This is much more effective for crops than the rains today, when heavy rains can destroy crops through waterlogging and wind and rain damage.

As many climatologists have argued, it is not the absolute amount of rain that is changing with climate change, but its variability. This is certainly the experience in our Masvingo study areas.

Land reform and resilience

We were discussing with farmers in our A1 resettlement area study sites across Masvingo province, from the very dry south to the relatively wetter northern parts of the area. One of the common narratives that we heard was that today we don’t suffer from drought as much as we did before. This seemed to run counter to the arguments about climate change and the frequency of events that were recalled. Why was this?

The answer of course was that land reform has created a buffer against the effects of drought by providing more land with better soils and the ability to accumulate assets that can be used to improve agriculture and weather a lean period. Land reform was thus an impressive boost to resilience, although of course not usually discussed in those terms. This applies to nearly everyone as even those who have not managed to accumulate from agriculture significantly are able to gain farm employment from others.

However, even with larger areas of land and accumulated farm assets, smallholder farmers in the land reform areas must still learn to cope with the high levels of rainfall variability in order to avoid ‘nzara’. This requires skill and aptitude and some well-honed practices.

From prediction to performance

In the past, rainfall patterns were more predictable, forecasts for the season were sometimes reasonably good. There was a standard movement of the ‘inter-tropical convergence zone’ southwards and the nightly bulletins on TV would document its position. More broadly, historical analysis of climate records show a cyclical pattern of wetter and drier periods over around seven years over many decades that seem to suggest some type of pattern. This is no longer the case.

In our discussions, farmers pointed to their own forms of prediction that had been used in the past: certain types of bird being present, with certain calls; the flowering of particular trees; the formations of certain clouds; or the strength and direction of wind. These would provide short-term predictions of what might happen in the next days, but even these local prediction mechanisms frequently seem to fail these days.

As we sat in one farmer’s compound, the rain was pouring down only a kilometre away, but right there it was completely dry. This variability means a different response. Farmers were unanimous in their rejection of formal predictions, as being useless today – whether from the met department or from prophets or priests. “This is ‘fake news”, someone proclaimed, continuing, “if you follow it, you can make a serious error.”

What’s the alternative to following predictions? The answer nearly everyone gave was ‘planning’, being ready for any contingency. Having your seeds and fertiliser available, making sure you have a fit span of animals for ploughing, working out how you can divert if the rains failed – say from investing lots of effort in the ‘outfield’ to more focused, intensive gardening, where you can manage the soil, irrigate and so on.

During our discussions, lots of examples were given of how, during a highly variable season like the one being experienced, different strategies were pursued. This required flexibility, and of course resources (labour, inputs and so on) to be able to switch between options. This is the farming ‘performance’ that everyone must follow, where there are diverse scripts and different players.

This is very different to the standard packages or the technocratic solutions of ‘climate-smart’ agriculture. Even when these are useful, they must be adapted. The fertiliser recommendations from the extension workers must be changed to fit the season, even the micro-plot. As discussed in a recent blog, the no-till practice Pfumvudza must equally be changed, bigger or smaller pits, more or less mulch, extra ridges to divert water if there’s too much.

In the uncertain world of today, no one size fits all. Coping with drought and avoiding hunger requires much skill, and careful contingency planning.

Embracing uncertainty

As farmers have had to over the last decades in Masvingo, a shift in support more attuned to uncertainty rather than predictive risk will require new ways of doing things, as we highlight in a paper on rethinking humanitarian and social assistance in ‘crisis’ situations. Unfortunately, as discussed in the next blog, this is not yet happening.

As I discussed in a recent book chapter, perhaps these practices – centred on embracing uncertainty, living with and from variability – are the future, not the frequently rigid and standardised forms of humanitarian and social protection responses we see offered by the state or aid agencies. development agencies.

This is the second blog in a short series on ‘drought’. See the first blog here.

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

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What is drought? Local constructions, diverse perceptions

There is a huge government and aid machinery to respond to ‘drought’ in Zimbabwe. Humanitarian relief, cash-plus transfer schemes, shock-responsive aid, anticipatory action, insurance products, climate-smart development and much, much more, with millions of dollars spent. But what is ‘drought’, and how are different responses framed?

For some, drought is just a deficit in rainfall across a season – this is a meteorological framing, which mostly drives the formal responses, and assumes that drought is a defined risk, an event that can be easily understood, resulting in particular interventions (usually some combination of the list above).

But for others – including farmers – drought is much more complex, with interacting and highly context-specific causes, with diverse outcomes and impacts on livelihoods. This requires a much more attuned, flexible response, embracing this complexity.

Multiple causes of ‘drought’

A few weeks back, we were visiting our sites across Masvingo province – from Chikombedzi in the far south to Gutu-Chatsworth further north – and asked about ‘drought’. It was a topical conversation as the season (yet again) had been a strange one, with very uneven rainfall even if the totals were relatively high. This has made it very difficult to manage the season, with the stop-start rainfall. Everyone was hoping for some more rains, as the maize was wilting in the fields after a good start. Since then, some have been lucky, others not and there will be no crop to speak of.

Across our field sites everyone was therefore talking of ‘nzara’. This translates from Shona as ‘drought’, but it’s different to a meteorological definition; it’s more about the consequences, ‘hunger’. This is important, as there are many causes to the outcome of nzara, and this is what we ended up discussing.

Yes, lack of rainfall is important – but as people repeatedly emphasised it’s not the seasonal average but when and where rain falls within the season, as well as how effective it is. Does it simply run off from capped soils or does it soak in? Rainfall effectiveness for crop growth is very different on heavy clay soils as against sandy soils, and also different in valleys and on the uplands. The interaction between rainfall and agronomy, soils, topography and management of land is very specific, and one place (even one part of a farm) can be very different from another. This is why farmers universally rejected weather forecasts as being of any use, as conditions are so variable. 

But even if rain falls, farmers explained, there are a range of factors that influence crop production. With the same rain, one farmer can succeed, while others fail. Many referred to ‘planning’, being ready for eventualities and being able to adapt. This requires skill, intelligence and, above all, flexible labour and draft power. Others argued (always about others!) that some farmers were simply ‘lazy’, they didn’t care about their fields, were always at beer parties and did not attend to their farms. Some failed because they were old, without help, or ill or infirm. These social, health and psychological factors contribute to what the effects of ‘drought’ might be, they argued.

Material assets are important too. Those with draft power of their own can plough early and catch the rains; those with tractors are even better off especially in the larger land areas of the new resettlements. Those by contrast who had to hire or borrow or worse dig by hand were unable to respond to rainfall events so effectively. The same applies to fertiliser – those able to purchase fertiliser (now ridiculously expensive) or with access to manure, were able to achieve better yields, even with the same land and labour. Access to inputs of different sorts therefore is crucial to confronting ‘drought’.

The pattern of farming makes a difference too. The small-scale Pfumvudza plots that many have invested in – and backed by the government and NGOs as part of ‘drought relief’ and ‘climate-smart agriculture’ – have become an important part of the agricultural system of late. In the resettlement areas, these essentially garden plots are farmed intensively by hand and yield well, but provide in total only small amounts, while the extensive outfields need a different type of investment. Only if you have both can you provide enough food for sale and consumption and avoid ‘nzara’, our informants explained.

Adapting to uncertain contexts

As we discussed many years ago in the book, Hazards and Opportunities: Farming Livelihoods in Dryland Africa, in the aftermath of the major 1991-92 drought, all of these factors – biophysical, social, material and more – all affect who wins and loses in a drought. In some instances, lack of rainfall wipes out everything for everyone (what some call a co-variate shock), but this is rare, as there’s usually a much more variegated outcome. There are – in the jargon – more idiosyncratic effects, with quite specific outcomes.

This is important, as the simplistic responses from the state and aid machinery often miss their mark, and why they have to be adapted to uncertain contexts, as we explained in a recent paper. This is why understanding how responses are mobilised by different people in different places is essential. This is the focus of the next blog in this short series.  

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

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NEW BOOK: Researching Land Reform in Zimbabwe

Researching Land Reform in Zimbabwe is a new book compiling 20 articles our team has published over the last 20 years. All the chapters bar one have appeared as peer-reviewed journal articles, with the material covering the period from early land invasions in 2000 to more recent developments. All the articles are available, many as open access, but there was a demand to have these all in one place.

The book is available for free as a pdf, or via Amazon as and e-book (£0.99) or a print copy (£10.68) if you want it for your shelves and with a nice cover! It’s a bit of a bargain as we charge no royalties and this is just printing/hosting costs! It’s a hefty tome, coming in at nearly 600 pages, and weighing more than a kilo. I know this because at least half my baggage allowance on my flight last week to Harare was taken up by books. These are now being distributed around university and institute libraries across the country. Access to literature remains a challenge in Zimbabwe as elsewhere in Africa, and even open access material cannot necessarily be easily downloaded if internet speeds are slow. So, as with previous books of ours, we are trying to make physical copies available in libraries…. Old fashioned I know, but important in my view!

Most of the chapters are co-authored outputs, based on the work of an incredibly dedicated team. The core team started working together in the late 1980s, under the aegis of the then Farming Systems Research Unit of the Department of Research and Specialist Services of the Ministry of Agriculture. Under the leadership of the late BZ Mavedzenge, we kept working together on various topics and, following 2000, focused on land reform experiences, starting in Masvingo. Sadly, BZ passed away prematurely in 2017 and Felix Murimbarimba has since led the team, supported by long-standing team member, Jacob Mahenehene. Jacob Chaumba, Easther Chigumira, Nelson Marongwe, Toendepi Shonhe, Chrispen Sukume and William Wolmer among others have also been part of the research team at different points linked to different projects. Over the years, we have also worked with many field assistants, very often agricultural extension workers based in the field sites, and their inputs have been immensely important for the overall research effort. While this book focuses on the research by our team, the work is complemented by that of many others. For it is this wider corpus of work, conducted in the context of a vibrant research community working land and agriculture in Zimbabwe that continues despite the challenges.  

There are 20 chapters in the book organised across six themes:

  • ‘Experiences of land reform’ presents our overarching data on what happened to people’s livelihoods in different sites in Masvingo province over time.
  • ‘Political contestations’ highlights the changing political dynamics emerging in our sites, resulting from different trajectories of accumulation and so social differentiation.
  • ‘People and places’ looks at particular groups of people – such as young people and farm labour – and locates their experience in the wider land reform story and certain places, including small towns in farming areas.
  • ‘Production and markets’ examines particular commodities – notably livestock, tobacco and sugar – and investigates changes in production systems, including through farmer-led irrigation.
  • ‘Environmental dynamics’ and touches on the contests over land in wildlife areas and the impacts of foot-and-mouth disease in a new agrarian setting.
  • ‘Land reform in the wider context’, touching on broader questions of long-term rural development and what is the meaning of ‘viability’ in the Zimbabwean farming context.

Much of this work has already appeared as blogs on Zimbabweland, where published papers are shared or the ideas tested out before writing an academic article. But the final papers are a more polished product, situated in wider academic debates about agrarian change.

What are some of the overarching conclusions that emerge from all this work? They are difficult to summarise as there are differences across sites, between people and over time, but the listing below, taken from the newly written introduction to the book, offers some headlines.

• Farmers on the new resettlement areas are producing and accumulating from investments in agriculture. Patterns vary widely between farms and across years, but a distinct pattern of ‘accumulation from below’, particularly in the A1 smallholder land reform sites, is seen. However, political and economic conditions over the past 20 years have seriously limited opportunities for most.

• Farmers who gained access to land during the land reform came from many different backgrounds. In the A1 smallholder areas, the majority were previously poor, small-scale farmers from the communal areas or were un(der)employed in nearby towns. In the A2 areas, there was a mix of those who applied through the formal route (mostly civil servants, including teachers and agricultural ministry staff) and those who gained access to land through patronage arrangements,, drawing on close connections with the party and security services. Outside this latter group, which is a small minority, the beneficiaries were not ‘cronies’, nor even necessarily ruling party supporters.

• Many of the new farmers are investing in their farms. First this was focused on land clearance and building new homes, but since this has extended to investing in new technology (notably irrigation pumps), as well as tractors and diverse forms of transport for marketing. Some are able to invest off-farm and there has been a growth in investment in real estate in nearby towns, especially in the tobacco-growing areas.

• Over time, there has been a distinct process of social differentiation, within both smallholder (A1) and medium-scale (A2) farms, with some accumulating, while others struggle. This results in new social relations between farms and between sites, as those who are not surviving from farm-based income must seek employment on other farms or develop off-farm income- earning options.

• There are major contrasts between A1 and A2 farms in all of our sites. A1 smallholder farms have performed relatively well, often producing surpluses, with investment flowing back to the farms or supporting relatives in other areas, including the communal areas and towns.

• A2 farms have by contrast struggled. As larger medium-scale operations, they require finance and capital investment, and this has been difficult to secure due to lack of bank finance or government support. Beyond a few years when the economy stabilised, the economic conditions over the past 20 years have not been conducive to successful farm business investment. That said, some have managed, and again there is substantial differentiation among A2 farms.

• The spatial restructuring of rural economies through land reform has resulted in new patterns of economic activity, with the sharing of labour, equipment and other resources across A1, A2 and communal areas. The concentration of locally-based economic growth driven by agriculture has had important effects on small towns, and many of these have grown significantly.

• During the land reform, resident farm labour on farms, especially in the high-potential areas, largely lost out on the allocation of new land. Farm labour has had to reincorporate in a new agricultural economy and has faced many challenges. Gaining access to even small pieces of land is crucial for survival, as the demand for labour varies and the working conditions are poor.

• Now over twenty years on from land reform, there is a next generation of young people who are seeking out agriculture-based opportunities. They may benefit from subdivision of their parents’ land, but many must survive on small patches. Investment in small-scale irrigation through the purchase of small pumps and, linked to horticulture production, is a favoured activity.

• Finance for agriculture is extremely limited, constraining opportunities for small- and medium-scale resettlement farmers alike. Banks have so far rejected either permits to occupy in the A1 areas and leases in the A2 areas as a basis for lending. State investments have been limited, and are often misdirected and subject to corruption. Western donors have not supported land reform areas as these are deemed ‘contested areas’ and so are effectively subject to ‘sanctions’.

• The dynamics of agriculture is highly dependent on the type of crop. Some crops, such as tobacco and sugar, are linked to contract finance arrangements, supported by private companies. This allows farmers to invest in their production and some have been highly successful, although the terms of the contracts are not always favourable. Other crops, including grain crops and most horticulture, require self-financing  or reliance on very selective government schemes, and so are more challenging business propositions; although again there are important successes, notably around small-scale irrigated horticulture.

• The contrasts between A1 and A2 areas and the differentiation of farmers within each mean that there is a highly heterogeneous farming population. There are different classes of farmer emerging, ranging from emergent rural capitalists to petty commodity producers to diverse classes of labour, only partly reliant on agriculture. This results in a new politics of the countryside, with quite volatile political affiliations.

• The new agrarian structure, centred on a smallholder-based agriculture and complemented by medium-scale farms, requires a very different policy approach to agriculture, with new forms of support, including a revamped and revived agricultural administration system to encourage investment. Economic and political instability, combined with wider sanctions, has massively restricted the potential of land reform farmers to drive rural economic growth, but the potentials are clearly apparent, along with many, on-going challenges.

I hope you enjoying reading the articles  – or even reading them again. Do let those who might find the material useful know about where to buy the book or download it.

ORIGINAL SOURCES

The following lists the original sources of each of the chapters in the six sections of the book after the introduction. Those articles that are published open access are reproduced under Creative Commons licenses, while others are either author submitted versions or are reproduced with permission.

Experiences of land reform (chapters 2-5)

Scoones, I., N. Marongwe, B. Mavedzenge, F. Murimbarimba, J. Mahenehene, and C. Sukume. 2011. Zimbabwe’s land reform: challenging the myths. Journal of Peasant Studies, 38(5), 967–993.

Scoones, I. 2016. Land reform, livelihoods and the politics of agrarian change in Zimbabwe. In: Pallotti, A., Tornimbeni, C. (eds.), State, Land and Democracy in Southern Africa, 127–149. London: Routledge.

Scoones, I., N. Marongwe, B. Mavedzenge, F. Murimbarimba, J. Mahenehene, and C. Sukume. 2012. Livelihoods after land reform in Zimbabwe: understanding processes of rural differentiation. Journal of Agrarian Change, 12(4), 503–527.

Shonhe, T., I. Scoones, and F. Murimbarimba. 2020. Medium-scale commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe: The experience of A2 resettlement farms. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 58(4), 601–626.

Political contestations (chapters 6-8)

Chaumba, J., I. Scoones, and W. Wolmer. 2003. From jambanja to planning: the reassertion of technocracy in land reform in south-eastern Zimbabwe? Journal of Modern African Studies, 41(4), 533–554.

Scoones, I. 2015. Zimbabwe’s land reform: new political dynamics in the countryside. Review of African Political Economy, 42(144), 190–205.

Scoones, I., J. Chaumba, B. Mavedzenge, and W. Wolmer. 2012. The new politics of Zimbabwe’s Lowveld: struggles over land at the margins. African Affairs, 111(445), 527–550.

People and places (chapters 9-11)

Scoones, I., B. Mavedzenge, F. Murimbarimba, and C. Sukume. 2019. Labour after land reform: The precarious livelihoods of former farmworkers in Zimbabwe. Development and Change, 50(3), 805–835.

Scoones, I., B. Mavedzenge, and F. Murimbarimba. 2019. Young people and land in Zimbabwe: livelihood challenges after land reform. Review of African Political Economy, 46(159), 117–134.

Scoones, I. and F. Murimbarimba. 2020. Small towns and land reform in Zimbabwe. The European Journal of Development Research, https://doi.org/10.1057/s41287-020-00343-3.

Production and markets (chapters 12-15)

Mavedzenge, B.Z., J. Mahenehene, F. Murimbarimba, I. Scoones, and W. Wolmer. 2008. The dynamics of real markets: cattle in southern Zimbabwe following land reform. Development and Change, 39(4), 613–639.

Scoones, I., B. Mavedzenge, F. Murimbarimba, and C. Sukume. 2018. Tobacco, contract farming, and agrarian change in Zimbabwe. Journal of Agrarian Change, 18(1), 22–42.

Scoones, I., B. Mavedzenge, and F. Murimbarimba. 2017. Sugar, People and Politics in Zimbabwe’s Lowveld. Journal of Southern African Studies, 43(3), 567–584.

Scoones, I., F. Murimbarimba, and J. Mahenehene. 2019. Irrigating Zimbabwe after land reform: The potential of farmer-led systems. Water Alternatives, 12(1), 88–106.

Environmental dynamics (chapters 16-17)

Wolmer, W., J. Chaumba, and I. Scoones. 2004. Wildlife management and land reform in south-eastern Zimbabwe: a compatible pairing or a contradiction in terms? Geoforum, 35(1), 87–98.

Scoones, I. and W. Wolmer. 2007. Land, landscapes and disease: the case of foot and mouth in southern Zimbabwe. South African Historical Journal, 58(1), 42–64.

Land reform in the wider context (chapters 18-20)

Scoones, I., B. Mavedzenge, and F. Murimbarimba. 2018. Medium-scale commercial farms in Africa: the experience of the ‘native purchase areas’ in Zimbabwe. Africa, 88(3), 597–619.

Mushongah, J. and I. Scoones. 2012. Livelihood change in rural Zimbabwe over 20 years. Journal of Development Studies, 48(9), 1241–1257.

Cousins, B. and I. Scoones. 2010. Contested paradigms of ‘viability’ in redistributive land reform: perspectives from southern Africa. Journal of Peasant Studies, 37(1), 31–66.

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

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