Tag Archives: agriculture

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

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

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

Natural region

2000 regulations

2020 regulations

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


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

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

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

So will the new regulations really have any effect?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Zimbabwe’s economy goes from bad to worse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JVs on state farms: state assets for private gain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Navigating bureaucracy: practical risks of JVs

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

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

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

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Zimbabweland”s festive top 20 for 2019

For readers of the blog who want to catch up, the ‘top 20’ most viewed blogs posted this year are listed below. Many looked at older ones too, and there are now over 370 to choose from. As ever, the favourite blogs are a mix of broad development issues with a Zimbabwe angle, or more specific reports on research, either our own field results or reviews of papers by others. There are a remarkable number of people who follow the blog, and many more who check in from all over the world. As in previous years, the readers come mostly from Zimbabwe, then South Africa, the US and the UK.

Over the last few years the blog has been commenting on occasions on UK engagement – from the 2015 election onwards. Given the recent events in the UK, all these blogs have relevance today. The comment ‘be scared’ sadly rings true.

Boris as PM: it’s no laughing matter

UK supports Zimbabwe’s return to the Commonwealth

What will Brexit mean for Africa?

The UK election, Africa and Zimbabwe

Meanwhile, here are the top 20 for 2019. There will be more in the new year. Meanwhile, happy reading!

1 Zimbabwe’s challenges for 2019
2 Connecting the Sustainable Development Goals
3 Is farmer-led irrigation driving a new ‘green revolution’?
4 What are ‘appropriate technologies’? Pathways for mechanising African agriculture
5 Why radical land reform is needed in the UK
6 Zimbabwe’s fuel riots: why austerity economics and repression won’t solve the problem
7 The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative: what’s in it for Africa?
8 South Africa’s land report: Zimbabwe lessons?
9 Mining farmers and farming miners: what opportunities for accumulation?
10 Are communal areas in Zimbabwe too poor for development?
11 Can the technocratic reformers win in Zimbabwe?
12 Boris as PM: it’s no laughing matter
13 Robert Mugabe: a complex legacy
14 Young people, land and agriculture in Zimbabwe: big challenges ahead
15 Models for integrated resource assessment: biases and uncertainties
16 Off-farm work and diversified livelihoods in Zimbabwe’s communal areas
17 Responding to uncertainty: who are the experts?
18 Land and tenure in Zimbabwe’s communal areas: why land reform was needed
19 What does pro-poor rural development mean for Zimbabwe?
20 Turning the populist tide: what are the alternatives?





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Why is there food insecurity in Zimbabwe?

The food situation in Zimbabwe this year is bad. But what’s the cause? Drought is part of the story – you just have to see the dramatic pictures from Victoria Falls to realise something is up. But the food crisis is not just the result of a natural disaster, prompted by a major El Nino event across the region. Nor is it just due to land reform as too often surmised, as land reform has had complex impacts on the food economy, both positive and negative.

The situation is poorly understood because national food security assessment data are not effectively disaggregated, and miss certain dimensions. In particular, post-land reform grain market and exchange processes are very poorly understood.

These elaborate, informal processes – often sharing food from surplus producing land reform areas with other, poorer communal and urban areas – are however heavily disrupted by the economic chaos and uncertainty currently gripping the country, as discussed last week.

A few weeks ago I did an article for The Conversation, which explored these issues. In case you didn’t see it before, it is reproduced below.

Economic chaos is causing a food security and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe

Ian Scoones, University of Sussex

Since Zimbabwe’s land reform of 2000 – when around 8 million hectares of formerly large-scale commercial farmland was distributed to about 175,000 households – debates about the consequences for food security have raged.

A standard narrative has been that Zimbabwe has turned from “food basket” to “basket case”. This year, following the devastating El Niño drought combined with Cyclone Idai, some 5.5 million people are estimated to be at risk of hunger, with international agencies issuing crisis and emergency alerts.

It is unquestionable that this season was disastrous – only 776,635 tonnes of maize was produced, more than a third below the five-year average. Nevertheless, the story of food insecurity is more complex than the headline figures suggest.

It’s true that Zimbabwe’s food economy has been transformed over the past 19 years. Aggregate production of maize has certainly declined, and imports have become more frequent.

But Zimbabwe suffered food shortages, often precipiated by El Niño events, before land reform. These too led to the need for more imports. And surpluses have also been produced since land reform. For example, in 2017, there was a bumper crop. Some of it was stored and has been used to keep people going.

Getting behind the headline figures and understanding an increasingly complex food economy is essential. Our on-going research shows just how complicated the picture is.

Farming and food

Since land reform, we have been tracking livelihood change in resettlement areas in a number of sites across the country. Our research is exploring how people have fared since getting land, asking who is doing well and not so well, and why. Some of our key findings include:

  • Crop production is higher in the land reform areas compared to the communal lands. Larger land areas allows new settlers to produce, invest and accumulate.
  • There are substantial hidden flows of food between land reform areas and poor rural and urban areas, as successful resettlement farmers provide food for relatives, or sell food informally.
  • There is a significant growth of small-scale, farmer-led irrigation in resettlement areas. This is often not recognised, as production occurs on disparate small plots, frequently farmed by younger people without independent homes.
  • Trade in food across regions and borders, facilitated by networks of traders, often women, is significant, but unrecorded.
  • Market networks following land reform are complex and informal, linking producers to traders and small urban centres in new ways. Outside formal channels, the volume and flows of food through the system is difficult to trace.

Simple aggregate analyses of food deficits, estimating the numbers of people at risk of food insecurity, do not capture these new dynamics. National surveys are important, but may be misleading, and local studies, such as ours, often do not match the national, aggregate picture.

So, what is going on?

Access to food: complex relationships

Food insecurity is not just about production, it is also about access. This is affected by the value of assets when sold, the ease with which things can be bought and sold in markets, the value of cash as influenced by currency fluctuations and inflation, local and cross-border trade opportunities, and all the social, institutional and cultural dimensions that go into exchange.

When these dimensions change, so does food security. And this is particularly true for certain groups.

Take the case of Zvishavane district, in Midlands province of Zimbabwe. In the communal area of Mazvihwa, there was effectively no production this season. Some got a little if they had access to wetlands, and a few had stores. But compared to 30 years ago, production is focused on maize, which stores poorly, rather than small grains that can be kept for years.

How are people surviving? Some seek piecework in the nearby resettlement areas; others have taken up seasonal gold panning; others migrate to town, or further afield; others get help from relatives through remittances; while others are in receipt of cash transfers or food hand-outs from NGOs.

With small amounts of cash, people must buy food. It’s available in shops, but expensive. So a vibrant trade has emerged, with exchanges of maize grain for sugar or other products. And it’s especially people from the land reform areas who are selling their surpluses. Many have relatives who got land, and some travel there to get food, but there is also a network of women traders who come and sell in the communal areas.

Aggregate surveys almost always miss this complexity. There are sampling biases, as the importance of the resettlements as sites of production and exchange are missed.

There are data problems too, as it is difficult to pick up informal exchanges, and income-earning activities on the margins. The result is that each year there are big food insecurity figures proclaimed, fund-raising campaigns launched, but meanwhile people get on with surviving.

This is not to say that there is not a problem this year. Far from it. But it may be a different one to that diagnosed.

Economic collapse is causing a humanitarian crisis

As the Zimbabwean economy continues to deteriorate, with rapidly-rising inflation, parallel currency rates, and declining service provision, whether electricity, fuel or water, the challenges of market exchange and trade become more acute. Barter trade is more common, as prices fluctuate wildly and the value of physical and electronic money diverge. With poor mobile phone networks due to electricity outages, electronic exchange becomes more difficult too.

Collapsing infrastructure has an effect on production also. Fuel price hikes make transport prohibitive and irrigation pumps expensive to run. Desperate measures by government often make matters worse. The now-rescinded edict that all grain must be supplied to the state grain marketing board undermined vital informal trade. Meanwhile, the notoriously corrupt “command agriculture” subsidy scheme directs support to some, while excluding others from the provision of favourable loans for government-supplied seed, fertiliser, fuel or equipment.

Economic and infrastructural collapse is threatening food security in Zimbabwe. Even if there is good rainfall this season, the crisis will persist. Farmers will plant, produce and market less this year. While food imports are needed for targeted areas and population groups for sure, this may not be the biggest challenge.

Stabilising Zimbabwe’s economy is the top priority, as economic chaos is causing a humanitarian crisis.The Conversation

Ian Scoones, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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Institutions, social relations and rural development in Zimbabwe

Social and political relations are central to land and agricultural production. Unlike in the resettlement areas, where new institutions and relations had to be built following land reform, those in the communal areas draw on longer traditions. Like in the resettlements, institutions are often hybrids, combining ‘traditional’ (such as chiefs and headmen) and ‘modern’ (such as village committees and councillors). In the communal areas, party officials and war veterans are less of a feature, although very often party structures have melded with other arrangements; something that is also happening in the resettlements twenty years on.

Informal institutions: the social fabric of rural life

These officially-recognised institutions may however not be the most important. In fact, churches were often referred to as the most important institution, providing support in various ways. Across our sites, the presence of evangelical churches is noticeable. In Mwenezi, the top two churches attended by households in our sample were the Zionist church and Joanne Masowe’s apostolic church, although two-thirds of households said they were not affiliated to any church. Only in Gutu were the Methodists (Gutu West) and the Catholics (Gutu North) ranked as the most important church, above the Zionist and Zaoga churches.

Outside Mwenezi, nearly 80% of households were linked to a church. The Catholics and Methodists have had long traditions of supporting education in the Gutu sites, which is evident in the engagement with schooling both of previous and current generations, including both men and women. Evangelical churches by contrast emphasise church-based solidarity, including giving and sharing funds raised for the church. Such churches do not frown on polygamy, and there are few progressive views on gender rights shown in most evangelical churches, with women taking on particular, subservient roles.

When asked about leadership positions of both senior men and women in our sample, it was links to churches – as pastors, deacons, preachers, as well as church secretaries, treasurers and so on – that were pointed to. Church leadership positions were the most significant among men for the approximately 15% of male household heads who identified themselves as leaders in some way. These roles came second to involvement in village committees, both traditional and modern, as well as burial societies in Gutu North.

For women, churches were important, and women often took on administrative roles. Indeed, for approximately 10% of women who were identified as having leadership positions, the role of secretary or treasurer of committees (for gardens, burials, churches, as well as a range of projects) was the most commonly named role.

These roles linked to projects of various sorts, some supported by churches, others by NGOs, are an important feature of communal area life, linking people outside the immediate kin network. This may result in support ranging from loaning of draft power, sharing of ideas or links to markets. Traditional group based activities, such as work parties (humwe) for tillage, weeding or other activities, persist in Mwenezi and Chivi in particular, and were identified as happening for 34% and 13% of households in 2016-17. They are less common in the Gutu sites (7% and 3%), where a more individualised culture has emerged.

Where is the state?

Links to the state and external projects are also an important feature in the communal areas. Despite the decline in state capacity between 52% and 53% of households had engaged with an extension worker in the previous year. Most of these were agricultural extension officers from Agritex, but also there were mentions of seeing state veterinarians too. Across our sites, between 13% and 26% of household heads had gained a ‘Master Farmer’ certificate (see earlier blog), and so had participated in a rigorous training course on agriculture. Some of these qualifications were gained years ago, but the continued presence of state actors in the communal areas is a feature of life. The Agritex extension worker, even if there is no fuel in his or her motorbike, is known.

In Mwenezi, around two-thirds of households were recipients of state handouts through the Presidential Scheme, mostly seed and fertiliser. This however was absent in the other sites in 2017, although of course state handouts increased in the run-up to the election the following year. Outside Mwenezi and Gutu North engagement in other projects was not a big feature, as NGOs working in the communal areas concentrate activities and miss out huge areas. In Mwenezi, project links were around a donor-supported irrigation project and a contracting scheme for sorghum led by the brewing firm, Delta.

Compared to the land reform resettlements, the communal areas are much more connected to state- and NGO-led development. There are projects, demonstrations, events, and the infrastructure of these areas, the inheritance of the 1980s in particular, including schools, clinics and government offices, demonstrates state presence, even if the buildings are decrepit and the staff poorly paid. In the resettlement areas, such investment has not happened since land reform, and the developmental state very often feels very distant. Instead, in the resettlements, much more present is the ruling part (ZANU-PF)y, alongside the war veterans who led the land invasions from 2000.

In the early days, the politics were intense, with ‘seven member committees’ installed to protect the land reform gains, mirroring structures from the liberation war. This has subsided since, as the administrative state has attempted to establish structures for development, and allowed ‘traditional’ authorities to claim control. But without state resources and personnel, and with no donor or NGO projects due to on-going ‘sanctions’ (or ‘restricted measures’ if you prefer), the dynamics are different, and tensions frequently arise between the different forms of authority, which since the imposition of the VIDCOs in the 1980s, has not been a feature of communal area life.

Institutions and agriculture: comparisons with the resettlement areas

How does all this affect land and agriculture? In the communal areas, well-established systems exist, involving both headmen and village committees, who allocate land, help resolve disputes and often assist with marketing, the delivery of state or NGO relief handouts and the negotiation projects with external actors. This system is evolving in the resettlements, but the creation of a sense of ‘community’ – essentially emerging from scratch – with established trusted relations at the centre, takes time. In the resettlements, more individual arrangements for supporting agriculture, notably around marketing, tend to emerge, reflecting the more individualised, entrepreneurial culture in the resettlement areas.

The difference in social and political relations – and associated institutions – has important gender implications. In the communal areas, women are widely involved across institutions, more usually in supporting roles, but nevertheless important ones. Women’s involvement in churches, including in leadership positions, is significant. Women are also central to projects and development activities in all of our communal area sites. This partly reflects the absence of men in the communal areas, who may be migrating for work, but also the increasing openness of what is still a highly patriarchal society. In the resettlements, while land reform offered opportunities for some women, notably those cast out of tight kin-based communal area settings because of divorce, accusations of witchcraft and so on, roles in most resettlement areas remain very circumscribed, and men, who are more present, take the lead.

Thinking about institutions, formal and informal, is central to rural development and building more sustainable livelihoods. Too often this dimension is forgotten in the rush to address technical and economic questions. But whether it’s land, production, market or service provision (the subject of the next blog), social relations are key.

This post is the seventh in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge

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Agriculture in Masvingo’s communal areas: limited prospects

We investigated agricultural production across our communal area sites throughout Masvingo province during the 2016 and 2017 harvest seasons. These were relatively good rainfall years, with 690 mm recorded in Masvingo town in 2016-17, for instance. Compared to the past seasons, these were bumper harvest years, especially in the Lowveld site of Mwenezi.

Yet, as the table below shows, with the exception of Mwenezi, none of the sites produced on average sufficient grain to feed a family. If this is estimated to be one tonne of grain per year, three of the sites produced about half this amount on average. Of course there was a wide range, but across three sites only 14-18% households produced over a tonne of grain.

The Mwenezi results are unusual, given that this is drought prone area, but good soils under higher rainfall can produce the occasional good crop, especially as land areas are significantly higher. Here 51% of households produced over a tonne of grain on average across the two seasons, much of this from sorghum. Some sorghum is sold under contract to brewers, but most is retained for food, and because of good storage can tide people over through a number of years.

  Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Maize 16/17 seasons average (kg) 915 543 509 613
Sorghum (kg) 1312 20 21 36
Pearl millet (kg) 0 3.4 3.9 0
Finger millet (kg) 3.3 1.7 37.6 52.5
% households producing over 1 tonne of grain (16/17 average) 51 16 14 18
Sunflower (kg) 5.8 0 18 12.7
Cotton (kg) 0 0 0 0
Groundnuts (kg) 73 182 189 220
Horticulture sales $ per household 26 6 5 8
Maize sales 16/17 seasons average(kg) 159 60 18 18
Zero maize sales 16/17 seasons (%) 85 89 96 95
Maize certified seed purchase (%) 59 88 90 100
Fertiliser purchase (%) 2 23 52 44
Manure applied (%) 3 37 44 65
Pesticide purchase (%) 40 41 45 23
Credit (%) 0 0 0 0
Contract (%) 13 0 0 0


Overall, crop diversity is limited. Outside Mwenezi, maize dominates, and pearl and finger millet have nearly disappeared, beyond being grown on very small plots for specialist production, usually for home brewing. Groundnuts are grown but not in large quantities and in these sites sunflowers are rare, because of the lack of markets these days. Cotton and tobacco are absent except for a few isolated cases.

Sales are also very limited. A few larger maize and sorghum producers sell, but most don’t. In fact across the two years on average 85%, 89%, 96% and 95% in the Mwenezi, Chivi, Gutu West and Gutu North communal area sites sold nothing, even in these relatively good years. With very few cash crops and little surplus to sell, this is largely a subsistence economy, one that requires off-farm income to supplement meagre agricultural production, as explored in a subsequent blog.

Tillage is especially reliant on access to livestock, which, as discussed in an earlier blog in this series, have a skewed ownership pattern. 50-68% of households use their own oxen, while others hire. Tractors are not a feature outside Mwenezi where a few have bought second-hand machines. Those with without other options must hoe their land, a feature most evident in Mwenezi.

% Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Own oxen 54 68 51 50
Hired oxen 14 28 29 35
Loaned oxen 2 5 11 4
Own Tractor 7 0 0 0
Rented tractor 2 0 0 0
Hoeing 21 3 9 11


Big contrasts with the A1 resettlements

These patterns of agricultural production contrast significantly with the nearby A1 resettlement areas where, especially in the higher rainfall areas, production is higher. In 2010-11 for example, sites nearby the two Gutu sites produced on average 844kg and 1238kg of maize, with 38% of households selling surplus maize. Over the period from 2003-2013, 44% of households in those A1 sites produced more than one tonne of maize. Cultivated land areas are higher, averaging 3.2 ha in the resettlements near our Gutu sites, but also the intensity of production is greater, with higher inputs, including fertiliser (with over half of the households applying fertiliser).

As discussed in a later blog in this series, labour hiring is more common, both of permanent and temporary workers. Across our A1 land reform sites, excluding Mwenezi, over a third of households are regularly producing surpluses and reinvesting in the development of the farm. At the time of our last major census of A1 sites in 2011-12, the level of mechanisation was modest, however, with only half a dozen tractors across all the A1 sites, but this has changed since as people have invested in tractors and other equipment, notably pumps.

In the A1 resettlement areas, this results in a dynamic of accumulation for a significant group, where investments in farm and house improvements occur year on year. Not everyone manages this, and the patterns of differentiation – and associated dynamics of class formation – are very evident, with those not able to accumulate either dropping out and moving away or becoming wage labourers supporting the production of the accumulators.

Across the communal area sites this dynamic is not seen. Those able to realise surpluses are vanishingly few. Only around 15 percent in three of the areas achieved levels of output of grain sufficient to provide for household food needs, and even fewer sold surpluses. And this in relatively good rainfall years.

Although there is obvious differentiation in assets, production, labour hiring and so on, as other blogs in this series show, most communal area households are poor, unable to do much more than subsist off their farms and rely on off-farm incomes of various sorts. Agricultural production in the communal areas is therefore very low input and low output.

As the table shows, across the communal area sites, fertiliser input levels were low, although increasing in the wetter Gutu sites. Virtually no-one uses synthetic fertiliser or manure in Mwenezi, where soils are good and the potential for crop ‘burning’ due to excessive fertiliser is high. This contrasts with the sandy soils of the miombo areas further north, where higher rainfall and leaching means soil fertility is low and additions are required. In all sites, as another blog will discuss further, labour hiring is minimal, and outside Mwenezi collective work parties are very rare.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the low levels of production, outside Mwenezi the vast majority use certified maize seed, purchased hybrids or open pollinated improved varieties. The proportion is less in Mwenezi, but still nearly 60%. The long-term commitment to improved varieties across Zimbabwe persists, supported by a 50 year tradition and continued extension reinforcement. This makes the economics of production of maize very risky, especially if purchased fertilisers are added too, and so this seed, along with most effort in agricultural production, is focused on the homefield areas, where extra labour, fertilisation and, if needed, additional irrigation can be applied. In small quantities, such maize may be produced as green maize for local consumption and sale rather than for grain.

Pesticides were bought by around a quarter of households, but these were in very small quantities and mostly applied to vegetables. Horticulture as a source of income, however, was highest (but not very high) in Mwenezi where irrigation projects provide opportunities. This again contrasts with the A1 resettlement areas, where informal irrigation has taken off in all sites, resulting in significant production of vegetables and green maize for market.

Finally, commercial credit was purchased by no one across the sites. Limited contracting for sorghum in Mwenezi provides some finance, but otherwise farmers are on their own. They rely on off-farm sources and remittances to finance agriculture, but overall, and by contrast to the A1 resettlements, this is a very low input, low output form of agriculture. Indeed, the possibilities of improvement are constrained. Land areas are small, soils are poor or rainfall is highly variable, labour is scarce and many farm owners are old and unable to invest effort.

Communal area projects: missing the mark

Agricultural production remains important of course, but more as stop-gap social security rather than as a basis for accumulation. This is vital given the absence of wider welfare opportunities and declining employment possibilities in Zimbabwe, but it is no surprise that government, NGO and donor food and cash for work schemes are an important source of livelihood for a significant group in these areas.

While there are many well-meaning projects aimed at improving agriculture in the communal areas of Masvingo province – usually with a ‘climate smart’ or ‘resilience building’ tag these days – you have to wonder whether these can have any impact, beyond marginal, often very labour intensive, improvements (like ‘conservation agriculture’). The communal areas, as discussed in other blogs, are structurally poor and disadvantaged and technical tinkering will make little difference. Maybe there are some high value, niche products that can be promoted – such as has been done with chillies in some parts of the country – but our Masvingo sites are in lower rainfall areas, more remote from markets, and it may make sense.

In sum, contrasting the communal areas with the A1 resettlements demonstrates how important land redistribution is if agriculture is to become more than a marginal, subsistence activity for most.

This post is the fourth in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge


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