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GM crops: continuing controversy

In 2002, the international press was full of headlines such as ‘Starving Zimbabwe Shuns GM Maize’. This was repeated again in 2010. The context was the refusal to import whole-grain GM maize from South Africa, as regulatory approval had not been granted, and there were fears that the food aid grain would be planted when GM crops had not been approved for release by the national regulatory authorities. The 2002 episode in particular caused a massive furore, with the governments of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique cast as villains, at odds with the needs of their people.

The debate has re-emerged recently with calls from a number of quarters, including the CZI and CFU, for Zimbabwe to accept the inevitable and formally approve the planting of GM crops. Of course GM crops, and especially maize, are planted widely as so much maize grain has been imported through informal routes from South Africa in recent years. An official acceptance of GM crops would, it is argued, increase productivity, reduce food aid dependence and tackle poverty. GM for some is the silver tech bullet that Zimbabwe urgently needs.

The Zimbabwe debate, not surprisingly, almost exactly replicates the international discussion that has heated up recently too. In the UK a group of science advisors to the Prime Minister have recently reported their view that the UK should lift its moratorium. The UK Chief Scientist, Sir Mark Walport, argued in his covering letter that ‘people will go unfed’ if such a response was not forthcoming. Some extreme press coverage, including in the normally restrained Sunday broadsheet, the Observer, has backed the advisors, with claims that such a move would help solve the global food crisis and world poverty. A similar narrative is being pushed by some commentators in a debate this week convened by SciDev.net.

Most sensible scientists would not go so far. Indeed these days much of the advocacy of GM crops is presented in terms of seemingly balanced positions on technology choices. The same lead author of the recent advisers’ report also led an inquiry for the Royal Society on ‘biological science-based technologies’ for crop production. Professor Sir David Baulcombe is a respected plant scientist from Cambridge, but also an ardent advocate of GM solutions. Yet the position of his 2009 Royal Society report seems at face value completely balanced: GM is only one part of a wider array of technologies, both genetic and agroecological:

Over the next 40 years, biological science-based technologies and approaches have the potential to improve food crop production in a sustainable way. Some of these technologies build on existing knowledge and technologies, while others are completely radical approaches which will require a great deal of further research. Genetic improvements to crops can occur through breeding or GM to introduce a range of desirable traits. Improvements to crop management and agricultural practice can also address the constraints identified….. There are potential synergies between genetic and agroecological approaches. Different approaches will be needed for different regions and circumstances. There is a need to balance investment in radical new approaches that may have major consequences on productivity with investment in approaches which deliver modest improvements on a shorter timescale.

What could be wrong with that? The strapline is ‘reaping the benefits’ from science-based ‘sustainable intensification’. Seemingly all good things – although see next week’s blog on some of the hidden politics of the ‘sustainable intensification’ buzzword. In his more recent report, Baulcombe is less circumspect: GM is most definitely central to the answer. Five years on there is a greater determination it seems to change the policy landscape, and deal with what they term ‘dysfunctional’ regulation imposed by the EU. Also the composition of the advisory group is distinctively different with strong industry links: no troublesome agroecologists amongst their number this time.

As someone who has tracked this debate now over 15 years, and studied the role of GM crops and the politics of regulation in India, Africa and the UK, it is interesting to note the changing patterns of discourse. Today the advocacy for new technologies to solve global food problems is particularly shrill. Yet where is the evidence for such approaches being ‘pro-poor’ and enhancing ‘food security’? Dominic Glover did a very detailed analysis of the available data, and found very little in the way of hard evidence to support the claims made. Others have provided similar assessments. Yes, GM pest-resistant cotton has been a success, but has it always benefited the poor and improved food security? Probably not.

This is of course no reason to reject a technology as part a mix, but the near obsession with GM solutions can act to crowd out alternatives. As explained by Gaëtan Vanloqueren and Philippe Baret in an excellent paper, agricultural innovation processes can become locked in to particular trajectory: through R and D funding flows, the need to recoup investment costs through intellectual property sales and via the biases and motivations of particular scientists’ professional careers. The GM hype that reached its apogee in the early 2000s has created such a dynamic, and some companies, most notably the US multinational Monsanto, have hooked their fortunes on GM technologies. As funders of much so-called public research, the big companies reinforce this too. This dynamic is unhealthy, and means that alternatives are not identified, funded and developed.

The counter to this is that the biotech and genomics revolution is throwing up all sorts of new possibilities. Certainly this is a frontier area of bioscience, and there are multiple exciting avenues being pursued. Indeed, many are not hooked into the transgenic GM promise at all, but more based on innovative applications of bioinformatics and genomics. The GM lobby for most of the past 15 years has promised an exciting ‘pipeline’ of new products that will solve inter alia constraints of drought, nutrients, aluminium toxicity and much more besides. Indeed, Baulcombe and colleagues provide a familiar list in their report. But while some may be forthcoming, others have been long promised. Unfortunately the hype fuels expectations, garners venture capital as well as public funding, and pushes R and D in ever narrower directions.

Despite the promises, GM science has yet to deliver anything approaching an effective product for tackling drought for example. Yet biotechnology and marker assisted selection has done wonders in improving drought tolerance in maize in Africa. This research, led by the CGIAR Centres CIMMYT and IITA, was pioneered in Zimbabwe, and has resulted in a suite of new varieties that have transformed farmers’ possibilities in maize farming. This work has used high-end biotech science, but it has not relied on proprietary technologies and has been publicly-funded. The result is a widespread use of drought tolerant maize, with traits embedded in well-adapted background genetics. In many ways this approach is far more sophisticated than the rather brutal technique of transgenics, where a gene (or a stack of them), usually owned by a company, is inserted into a variety that the company also owns. Sometimes, while the transgene may be effective, the background variety may be hopeless, and the net effect is negative (as was the case in the early years of Monsanto’s Bt cotton in India).

So should Zimbabwe hurriedly embrace GM crops? It’s a difficult question to answer generically. It depends on the trait, the crop, the intellectual property arrangements, the costs and risks relative to the benefits and the alternatives that exist. This is why a precautionary policy stance, backed by a solid regulatory framework, is essential, as I argued in a paper with James Keeley over a decade ago. This has been the position of the Zimbabwe government since the 1990s, and there doesn’t seem any reason to change now, despite the clamour.

Much of the simplistic advocacy of GM crops as the tech solution to ‘feed the world’, as illustrated by the recent flurry of reports and media articles in the UK, fails to take account of the political and social contexts in which such technologies (if they existed – remember most useful ones are ‘in the pipeline’) are used. It really does matter who owns, controls and oversees access. And when one technological track is favoured over others, then a whole raft of much more suitable and sustainable alternatives may be missed.

Contrary to the Observer’s claim that ‘there is no choice’, there certainly is, and the multiple choices available need to be thoroughly debated, including by those who are the users of technologies (as occurred in an interesting engagement on Zimbabwe’s food and farming futures in the early 2000s). We should always avoid being pushed in a singular direction by those who are (mis)using the authority of science, without a proper and open debate.

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

 

 

 

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Food crisis in Zimbabwe: 2.2 million at risk. But where do the figures come from, and what do they mean?

The newspapers have been full of commentary on a looming food crisis in Zimbabwe. This has followed from the World Food Programme’s press release that 2.2 million people will be in need of food aid in the coming months. The Commercial Farmers Union has called it a ‘man-made crisis’, the direct result of the ‘chaotic’ land reform, and a decade of inappropriate policies.

I wanted to find out a bit more about where the 2.2 million figure came from. It’s a big number, and would mean a lot of food imports, way beyond the means of the Finance ministry. After a bit of digging I eventually found the figure, buried on page 122 of the ZimVac (Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee) livelihood assessment draft report for 2013.

Each year ZimVac, a coalition of NGOs, researchers and government agencies, undertake a major rural livelihood assessment, based on a sample of over 10,000 households across the country. The sample is drawn according to the latest ZIMSTAT ‘master sampling frame’, and the resulting data is aimed to be representative of the country as a whole. It’s an excellent and important initiative, but it has its deficiencies, as those involved readily admit.

The process for deciding the headline figure is complex. It involves assessing for each household all the cereal production, and then adding in income from employment, remittances, livestock sales, and other sources of income that could be used to buy food (p. 120). Assumptions on prices and market availability are used to translate income into food and in turn energy (p.121). The food security assessment is based on the household’s potential access to enough food from all sources, including purchases, to give each member a minimum of 2100 kilocalories per day in the consumption period 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014 (p. 119). The total number in food deficit figure is then calculated as a sum of all of those experiencing any negative balance in the accounting period.

It’s a complicated procedure with lots of steps and plenty of assumptions. What the headline figure doesn’t indicate – although the report does, and the background documents for the ZimVac surveys over the years are quite transparent about this – is that the big number includes many people who may have a projected deficit for actually a very short period. Indeed, at the time of the survey in May 2013, over 80% of households surveyed had no hunger problems with only a very small proportion recording ‘severe hunger’ (p. 115). The report shows that there is a progression of food insecurity, with a peak of 2.2m people expected in January to March 2014 (p.124). 31% of the total (683,000 people) move into food deficit only in this crunch period before the next harvest; and some of whom may in fact be food insecure for only a very few days.

The 2.2 million figure is of course a good flag-waving number for the WFP to raise funds, and for the CFU to bash the government for the land reform (and even President Mugabe is now joining the critique of the ‘new farmers’), but the actual implications are more complex. Here are five reasons why we need to be cautious about the figures.

  • First, there’s geography: as the report shows the problems are concentrated in the dry south of the country which experienced the worst season in terms of rainfall and its distribution (p.125-6).
  • Second, there is almost certainly (as ever in surveys) an underreporting of income, and so purchasing power. Since in drought years, market purchases are essential for food entitlements, this is rather crucial.
  • Third, the assessment model allows for only limited sales of livestock to compensate for food deficits (households are assumed to retain a minimum of 5 goats and 3 cattle). Yet livestock is precisely the asset in the drier parts of the country that are used in times of drought to exchange for grain, and distress sales are common, and important for food security.
  • Fourth, remittances are especially important in drought-prone areas, yet the figures used in the model for this year are based on recall of last year’s receipts. Last year was of course a relatively good year for rural production, and so remittance flows inevitably dropped. But this year, you can be sure, they will increase in response to the shortfalls. For perfectly good reasons, the model does not account for this, but it’s another reason why we can expect things to be not as bad as predicted.
  • Finally, the assessment does not include early cropping – for example of green maize – which is often important in that crunch period before the ‘proper’ harvest.

For all these reasons and more, we should be cautious about the headline statistics, and understand in more detail what happens to whom and where.

One of the most striking figures in the report is the prediction that 98% of rural households nationally will hit a food deficit by next March if only cereal production and stocks were included (p. 123). Of course this includes those with no food production to speak of, such as farmworkers and other rurally-based non-farm households. But even discounting this group, this is striking, and does suggest a problem in agricultural production, as Charles Taffs of the CFU indicates. However, again we must be cautious in jumping to conclusions.

One big concern I have with recent national surveys is that they have been sampling according to old sample frames set before the land reform. This was the case for the 2011 PICES (Poverty, Income, Consumption and Expenditure Survey) study and the 2010-11 Demographic and Health Survey, both using the 2002 census sample frame. I have been assured that the ZimVac survey for 2013 used an updated sample, with ‘enumeration areas’ allocated proportional to population distribution derived from the 2012 census. If so, this would have included the significant populations, especially in A1 areas, who are – at least according to our data from Masvingo – producing more and doing better than their counterparts in the communal areas, where most the earlier rural samples are drawn from. And in our study areas on A1 sites we see between half and two-thirds of the households producing sufficient cereals for the year – not just 2%,

Following the 2012 census, ZIMSTAT is revising the national ‘master sample frame’, and hopefully from now on national surveys will be statistically more representative. Unfortunately it is still difficult to stratify the data according to land use types, and so distinguish between resettlement areas and others, so Taffs and co should probably hold off on their outright dismissal of land reform on the back of this data for now. As ever, it’s more complicated than it first seems.

That said, last season was unquestionably a worse one than experienced in the last few years, including in Masvingo. It also hit some higher potential areas hard, with a very unevenly spread rainfall. Despite improvements since 2009, input supply was again erratic and untimely last year. Also, maize area planted was again down, reflecting the shift from food crops to tobacco in some areas, perhaps especially in those food producing areas in the higher rainfall zones. This restructuring of the crop system is directly driven by incentives – tobacco, supported through contract arrangements – , is a much more profitable crop than maize, especially if marketed through the Grain Marketing Board. Over the last decade or more we have seen switches to small grains (although plantings were down this past year according to ZimVac), but these are still a small percentage of total crop output, and it remains maize that drives the food economy, although much of this circulates outside the formal channels, and so is difficult to capture in national statistics.

So what should we make of all this? Certainly there is going to be a problem of food deficits in the coming months. However, problems are going to be concentrated in a certain time period, and outside a few areas and for more vulnerable people, it’s not going to be as bad as the headline figure and the media commentary perhaps suggests. Imports will certainly be needed, and targeted food aid will be important, but other coping strategies will also come into play to offset the worst.

Indeed this seems to have been the pattern over many years now. There is a ritualised flurry of activity around this time of year, with the aid agencies calling for funds to support food aid, and those critical of land reform saying that this ‘proves’ that Zimbabwe has gone for food producer to ‘basket case’. Yet by the end of the season, the expected famine has not occurred and, although hardships unquestionably are faced, the scale and depth of the problem is not as expected. This can be explained due to both sampling and non-sampling errors inherent in the standard surveys; but also significantly because assessments have not got to grips with the new patterns of production (particularly in A1 areas) and marketing (mostly informal). This will require new, and better attuned, data collection techniques.

Unfortunately too often the emergency, humanitarian aid and disaster relief momentum overrides discussion of the developmental issues, and the scramble for food aid (and all the associated politicking) diverts attention and resources. As I have mentioned in this blog many times before, rural development challenges are many. They include the need to invest in irrigation to offset drought vulnerability, the importance of investment and reforms to ensure timely supply of inputs, a pricing and market policy to balance incentives between food and cash crops, a livestock policy that ensures such assets are secure and available in times of need, and, overall, more concerted support for the resettlement areas to ensure that they can indeed supply the nation with food.

Next week, I will continue this theme and look at the data on production and imports over time in a bit more detail. Since 2000 there is little doubt Zimbabwe is in a new era, and policy responses have to take this into account.

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

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The new farm workers: Changing agrarian labour dynamics following land reform in Zimbabwe

Farm labour has been highlighted by many as one of the big losers from land reform. Certainly, the post-2000 land reform in Zimbabwe has resulted in a significant displacement of farm workers from former large-scale commercial farms. However, the scale and implications of this are much disputed, and poorly understood. In assessing the implications for employment, livelihoods and agrarian relations, it is critical to have a proper assessment of what has happened since 2000. Unfortunately, as with so much in the Zimbabwe land debate, this discussion is coloured by inaccurate figures and ideological positions, unsupported by empirical data.

Fortunately, a new paper by Walter Chambati, one of Zimbabwe’s leading researchers on agrarian labour, has just been published the Future Agricultures Consortium in association with AIAS. This helps move the debate forward by providing a detailed examination of changing agrarian labour relations based on detailed research from Goromonzi district, one of the high potential farming areas of Zimbabwe influenced by land reform.

One of the big problems with the debate about farm labour since 2000 has been (once again) the lack of data on what happened to farm workers following land reform. The figures regularly trotted out in the media, and by many others too are usually wildly inaccurate. For example the MDC in their recently launched policy paper claimed (p. 44) that “some 400 000 farm workers have been displaced with their families plunging nearly 2 million people into destitution and homelessness” due to what they term the ‘chaotic’ land reform. This is way off the mark, and inevitably colours the analysis and the policy conclusions reached.

When we were putting together our book in 2010, we searched across the available data and tried to triangulate between sources. Our best estimates (based on CFU, GAPWUZ, CSO/Zimstat and other sources) were that before land reform in the late 1990s, there were between 300000 and 350000 [ammended, 29 May – see comments] permanent and temporary farm workers working on large-scale farms and estates. Of these 150000-175000 (169000 in 1999 according to the CSO) were permanent workers, making up a total population of around one million, including any dependents. In the new settlements established after 2000, around 10000 households were established by those who were formerly permanent farm workers, along with others who were temporary farm workers and joined the land invasions. A further 70000 permanent worker households remained in work on estates, state farms and other large-scale farms. There were also substantial numbers of in situ displaced people still on farms living in compounds, seeking work on the new farms and perhaps with access to a small plot – perhaps around 25000 households. These were predominantly in the Highveld areas where significant farm worker populations resided on the farms, many without connections elsewhere and originally migrants from elsewhere in the region. Thus nationally this all means around 45000-70000 permanent farm worker households were displaced and had to move elsewhere – to other rural areas or towns – while others who were temporary workers had to seek new sources of income but remained based at their original homes, some continuing as labourers on the new farms.

These figures suggest a very different pattern to that suggested in many media commentaries, donor reports, and policy documents. It is disappointing that some more thorough cross-checking does not take place before these are published. Of course such patterns of displacement and resettlement vary dramatically across the country. In the Highveld areas where highly capitalised farms required large amounts of labour – for instance for tobacco or horticulture operations – displacements were significant. Outside these areas, the pattern was different. This was the case in Masvingo province, where land reform displaced largely ranch operations which offered limited employment. However, while there has undoubtedly been displacement and associated hardship, the scale and implications are very different to what is often suggested.

And what has replaced the former pattern of farm employment? Again this varies significantly, depending on the intensity of the farm operations, type of crops and the type of labour required. Across the farms in our study sample in Masvingo, we found that in the late 2000s on average 0.5 and 5.1 permanent workers were employed in A1 and A2 farms respectively, while 1.9 and 7.3 temporary workers were employed. This is shown in Chambati’s studies of labour in Goromonzi, and his earlier studies in Chikomba and Zvimba , and is confirmed by the AIAS six district study that showed how the average number of permanent workers increased from 1.28 on the smallest farms (up to 5 ha arable area – largely A1) and increased to 4.87 labourers for farms with arable areas of above 40 hectares (largely A2). The number of casual workers increased from 5.43 to 10.69 labourers across these ranges (p.118). Aggregating such figures up across new resettlement farms nationally, this represents a considerable amount of employment generated, including for many women.

When the new farms replaced low employment operations such as ranching as in many of our Masvingo sites, the amount of employment available now far exceeds what was there before. However farms that employed greater amounts of labour before, the opposite may well be true. And in addition to the numbers of jobs, there is of course the question of pay, conditions, and the type of skills required. This again is highly variable.

Chambati explains how the labour regime has continued to evolve, especially following the dollarization of the economy:

“Non-wage labour such as sharecropping and labour tenancies are emerging in response to shortages of finance to hire labour. The integration of farm labour and land beneficiary communities through familial relations and other social networks provides prospects for the improved social reproduction of labour. The new form of social patronage based on kinship ties is being extended as more relatives are brought in for farm work to minimise cash outlays on the dollarized farm wages”.

It is important to keep up with these changes, and understand the transformations in labour regimes that are occurring, with their implications for wages, rights, gender access, skill requirements and overall employment levels. With small-scale, medium scale and large-scale farms competing for labour in a particular area, there is a range of new dynamics of play. In the Highveld, the farm compound, although transformed from the past, remains a site of contestation, as Chambati explains for Goromonzi.

The social relations of labour on the new farms are of course a far cry from the exploitative residential tenancy system of the old large-scale commercial farms, with a diversity of new arrangements seen. But this does not mean that exploitation has disappeared. The new farm workers, dispersed over many more farms and often embedded in kinship networks, are poorly organised and unable to articulate demands effectively, and there has been downward pressure on wages. The organisations that once assisted farm workers on large-scale farms have yet to re-orientate their activities towards these new vulnerable groups.

With the debate still focused on the discussion of displacement, and informed by a poor understanding of what happened, a thorough reappraisal of rural labour regimes and their implications following land reform has yet to happen. The paper by Chambati offers a further useful case study to complement others, and suggests some important new directions. Sadly the policies of Zimbabwe’s farm worker labour unions and all the political parties remain largely silent on this issue, stuck in old debates informed by poor data. The same is true of much of the policy and media commentary.

Farm labour on the new resettlement farms generates a considerable number of livelihoods. As a source of employment, this sector is underestimated and poorly understood, yet is highly significant in the rural economy. As a group with poor labour rights and in need of organisation and support, the new farm workers are also an important constituency for unions, support groups and others. Hopefully those thinking about future policy frameworks will read Chambati’s paper – and indeed all the other studies on the subject – and think harder about rural labour issues, before pronouncing a standard, but now thoroughly disputed, narrative.

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

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After the land reform: what next?

This was the title of a talk I gave at the SAPES Trust in Harare on 13 November, as part of the SAPES Policy Dialogue series organised by Ibbo Mandaza.

It was a well attended event, and it generated some interesting debate. The session was chaired by Mandivamba Rukuni and the discussant was Charles Mangongera, Director of Policy and Research of the Movement for Democratic Change. The dialogue was attended by the Minister of Lands, Herbert Murerwa, as well as the President of the Commerical Farmers Union, Charles Taffs. In addition, there were many researchers, activists, donors, diplomats and others present.

I mentioned this event in a recent blog responding to Dale Dore, and a number of people have asked if it was recorded. It fortunately was, and the audio recording can be listened to here. This starts with my 45 minute presentation (after a few seconds of noise!). The discussant’s comments follow and then there is an open discussion, which concludes with some comments from the minister.

My powerpoint slides can be viewed also (zimbabwe land reform Harare SAPES Trust Nov 12), and if you listen to the audio, you can probably guess when the next slide is due.

The presentation aims to lay out a vision for ‘what next?’ after land reform, and provides the outline of an agenda for investment and support by government and donors alike.

Let me know what you think.

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

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Compensation for land

In an important piece in the on-going Sokwanele debate on land entitled “The significance of land compensation for rehabilitation of Zimbabwe’s land sector”, Professor Mandi Rukuni, former chair of the Zimbabwe Land Tenure Commission and professor of agricultural economics at UZ, offers his thoughts on the compensation issue. As ever it is a measured, pragmatic stance and one with much merit. He makes a number of key points and maps out a way forward. It is worth summarizing the highlights.

He points out that existing legislation (from 2000) allows for compensation for ‘improvements’ only. This has been confirmed in the still-disputed draft Constitution, suggesting at least that the MDC agrees with this formula, although the Constitution allows for full compensation including for land for those farms governed by investment treaties. Around 125 farmers settled on this basis in the early 2000s before hyperinflation kicked in. Now others are contemplating this, among the former owners of the 1250 farms that have been surveyed and valued. Thus since the Fast Track programme, 210 farmers have been compensated for improvements. Compensation values which have been paid out vary from about $200,000 to $1.2 million, according to Rukuni.

But what would the total cost? In order for the agricultural economy to move forward and for investment to flow, with confidence once again being restored, dealing with the compensation issue is a priority. Under the existing law, compensation and so ‘quittance’ must precede the issuing of any new lease. Without compensation then, especially for the larger A2 farms, lease arrangements are impossible, resulting in continued insecurity for existing farmers.

According to government, the total settlement bill on this current basis would be US$1.5-2 billion. However, the Commercial Farmers’ Union disputes the legislation, arguing that compensation values should include land, improvements, interest and consequential damage. They estimate the total would come to between $6 and $10 billion. Clearly there is a big gap between the estimates. What then is a pragmatic solution? The fact that the government is serious about compensation is clear from the budget allocations up to 2014, over which period some $30 million has been earmarked for compensation. This is clearly not enough, and other support, including from the international community will be required, to resolve this. So, what else needs to be done?

Rukuni identifies two things for immediate action. First, valuations must be speeded up. Currently over 5000 properties still need to be properly valued, and if valuations are disputed, they must be dealt with in the Administrative Court. Second, a Land Acquisition Compensation Fund needs to be set up to allow swift and complete payment of all compensation. The fund would be made up of contributions from the national budget, contributions from international donors and development banks, and from transfer fees and ground rents from A2 farmers once leases were issued.

Above all, Rukuni argues for a pragmatic and flexible process. While there are some who will stick out for a full settlement and will continue to pursue this in any court that will hear them, there are many others – perhaps the majority – who want an end to the uncertainty. For many the economic collapse, as well as the loss of their farm assets, has resulted in severe hardships, very often in a vulnerable period of retirement, given the age profile of most former white farmers.

Rukuni comments, showing his frustration with all sides: “…frankly the country needs a more proactive leadership from both government and organized farmers on this matter. It is better for government and farmers to face donors with a negotiated position than the current huge gulf in positions”. In other words, he suggests, until there is a sense of joint movement on this donors, whose budgets are being squeezed in any case are unlikely to touch the politically charged prospect of compensating a few thousand white former farmers, prioritizing them above other perhaps more pressing humanitarian and development needs in the country.

Yet for the country to move forward some compensation deal, at least for the majority, is essential. This must emerge from a national consensus, driven jointly by former farmers and the inclusive government. This must represent a reasonable, not a maximum, claim, more likely in the ballpark of the government’s estimate. My personal view, expressed in an earlier blog, is that, rather than expecting the constrained national budget and aid budgets to bankroll this, any compensation settlement must be wrapped up in a deal around national debt. Yet sadly on this too, there remains little consensus. So, while the administrative and legal mechanisms for resolution exist, the political commitment from key players must be there too. Sadly, this may still be something that has to wait until a new political settlement is reached, hopefully in the next year, with a new agreed Constitution being the basis for moving forward on this thorny consequence of the land reform.

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Masvingo exceptionalism? The challenge of case studies

One of the main complaints about our book is that it’s mostly about Masvingo, and that it does not tell the whole story of land reform in Zimbabwe over the past decade or so. On all counts we are guilty. As we are clear in the book we are not making wider claims. This is a case study – of 16 sites in one province over 10 years. As Professor Terry Ranger remarks in his recent review of our book: “Patterns emerge but the book pays admirable attention to variation and variety”. Such a province-wide case study is still important, we maintain, as a basis for more in-depth comparison where contrasts and convergences can be teased out.

The Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe and their supporters often make the point that Masvingo is ‘exceptional’, and that somehow are results should not be taken too seriously. They argue that this was not a ‘real farming’ area, and that something different happened there. Well, if this was not an important part of the commercial farming sector, why on earth did they not give up the land for resettlement many years before? Of course other areas in the Highveld are different, as we clearly state in the book. But, as we equally argue, there are some important broader patterns. And indeed, wider work that has emerged since has challenged in similar ways the five myths we lay out in the book.

A number of points are made about Masvingo ‘exceptionalism’. First, of course, Masvingo is in the drier part of the country, where certain cropping and livestock rearing patterns prevail. This agroecological difference is of course important, but let’s also remember that geographically the largest portion of the country is dry, with poor infrastructure and reliant on rainfed production, even in the former commercial sector. Second, the proximity to Harare is seen as a key factor in affecting the degree to which land was grabbed by elites through processes of violence and patronage. This again is true, and many of the high-profile cases where whole farms were taken by those well connected to the political-military elite are in these areas. But, as argued before in this blog, the pattern of ‘cronyism’ remains much under dispute. Third, as Terry Ranger argues in his review, the longer-term histories of particular places are important both in the processes and outcomes of land reform. This is absolutely correct. As we point out in the book it is these micro-political contexts, influenced by histories – of the liberation war, chieftaincy and political party allegiances – that have had really important influences on what happened, where. He admonishes us for not referring more to a set of important historical district studies (by for example Alexander, Kriger, Maxwell, Moore, Ranger, Schmidt), but all of these fall outside Masvingo (all are from Manicaland). In Masvingo there is a perhaps surprising absence of such studies, beyond the important study of Great Zimbabwe by Fontein, although we have some fantastically rich pre-colonial accounts from Gerald Mazarire and others.

These three factors will have a big influence on land reform processes and outcomes. But to what degree do these specificities (all variable indeed within Masvingo as we point out) affect the broad challenge of the 5 ‘myths’? We now have a growing body of work available to assess this, including the AIAS 6 district study led by Sam Moyo, the 3 district study by Ruziwo Trust led by Prosper Matondi, and the growing array of more focused, farm-based studies by research students and others, supported for example as part of the ‘Livelihoods after Land Reform’ small grants call, and some collected together in the important synthesis volume of the Journal of Peasant Studies by Lionel Cliffe and colleagues. These studies cover an increasing number of locations across Zimbabwe, with perhaps Matabeleland North and Midlands provinces being the least covered to date.

While the results from this now large body of work show wide variation, there are also some important common patterns. Overall, our analysis of the 5 myths is supported by other studies: all are rejected. A more detailed and systematic cross-study assessment would certainly be valuable, but the deployment of the ‘Masvingo is exceptional’ narrative in order in some way to reject the validity and applicability of our findings is clearly inappropriate. And so is the argument that ‘we need much more data from other places in order to take the wider significance of the Masvingo study seriously’. We have this data, and the body of work is growing: to date no one has dealt a killer blow to our study!

But what these other studies have done is nuance, extend and challenge some of the implications of our analysis. This is important. This is good research and how understanding progresses. Avoid the point-scoring, the summary rejections, and the attempts to side-line, but engage. This is certainly my attitude. The contrasts between studies certainly highlight all three of the factors highlighted above – agroecology, location and history – in interesting ways.

Clearly agroecology has a huge influence on what is possible in agronomic terms, but also the returns to investment, and so the incentives to invest in infrastructure, including greenhouses, irrigation and so on. This in turn influences the style of farming – higher potential areas offer opportunities for more intensive farming, where farm labour is important, and is more linked to the (still struggling) A2 sector. Paradoxically, until investment gets going (and this requires market confidence and stability as well as credit and financial services), it is the lower potential low-input areas based on smallholder family farm labour that are the more successful. Of course the tobacco story offers a different angle on this, and there are important lessons to be learned for the A2 farms more generally from this experience.

Proximity to urban centres, and particularly Harare, is again important. The attraction of big chefs is one dimension to this. It is certainly the case that the Mashonaland provinces had substantially more A2 plots allocated during fast-track land reform. These were particularly prone to capture by elites as we have discussed elsewhere. But we also have to differentiate between this sort of patronage – through manipulation of bureaucratic allocation procedures, for example – to the large scale ‘grabs’ of whole farms. The high profile cases of these are almost exclusively in the high potential Mashonaland provinces, and although small in number they are large areas and the ‘grabbers’ are very high profile people, from the president down. These are now euphemistically called ‘large-scale A2’ farms, and have been accepted as part of the new agrarian structure. The big question is whether these players gain the upper hand politically and assert a new dualism in farming, just with new owners. This would be a regressive move, undermining the aims of the agrarian reform. As a result an effective land audit and a close social, political and economic analysis of these new farms (and their new owners) will be essential. Here there certainly are important contrasts between provinces, and this must be an essential part of the wider political analysis (see next week’s blog on ‘missing politics’).

Finally, longer term histories of people and places are, as Terry Ranger, argues essential. This may not have a big impact on overall production patterns, for example, but the underlying authority structures, the role of different local elites, chiefs and others, as well as the political dynamic will all be influenced by such histories. This will have had an impact for sure – as it did across our sites in Masvingo – on land invasion and acquisition processes, as well as patterns of violence. But it will also influence future governance arrangements, and the possibilities (or not) of ‘rebuilding public authority from below’.

As Ranger correctly argues there will not be a ‘Masvingo solution’, and our book “is not the end but very much the beginning of a discussion”. This discussion is now well under way, and supported by a range of scholarship mostly from Zimbabweans studying what happened where to build the bigger story of Zimbabwe’s land reform.

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Who took the land? More on the ‘crony’ debate

The debate continues to rage as to who were the beneficiaries of land reform in Zimbabwe. The standard international and Zimbabwe opposition media line is that the land reform is discredited as it was captured by ‘cronies’ – well connected party members linked to ZANU-PF, including politicians, senior security forces personnel, judges and others connected to them.

The main source of evidence is the report produced by a ‘ZimOnline Investigations Team’ in November 2010, coinciding with the launch of our book. The headline figure in this report – that half of the land was taken by top-level cronies – is repeated again and again, in all sorts of reputable places, from the Guardian to the Mail and Guardian to the Zimbabwean. Recently, Professor Roger Southall from the University of Witswatersrand, quoted it at great length (p. 93) in a largely favourable review of Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities for Africa Spectrum. He concludes: “It would seem to offer a very different picture than that provided by Scoones et al”. Arguing that the book may have missed an important political context for land reform, he goes on to ask rhetorically, “If… the major portion of land has gone to the political elite, is it not likely to shape their political behaviour?”

But what is the basis and source of the ZimOnline claims? When the ZimOnline report came out I tried to contact the authors via the website. I got nowhere. No documents were forthcoming. I wrote to the various newspapers who published this data to enquire about their sources, but got no further, and only one published my letter. Someone more cynical than myself commented that I was wasting my time, that this was propaganda and the data made up, and that no report or ‘investigation team’ existed.

Despite making it central to his critique, Southall does concede that “The accuracy of this study needs to be confirmed”. But in practice, as I found out, the data is difficult to cross-check and verify. One set of data based on a decade of research (with all its readily admitted limitations) is thus set against another ‘investigation’ with no report on an online blog. Such data though is really important, as who got what and where is central to any discussion about land reform and the future of the agrarian economy and wider political behaviour and context, as Southall correctly argues.

Certainly some of the information is true, and there has definitely been a capture of land by high ranking officials through a combination of violence and patronage. The ‘large-scale A2’ category of farms that Sam Moyo describes in his detailed analysis of the emerging agrarian structure in Zimbabwe is an important indicator of elite capture. But these are far fewer than claimed by the ZimOnline data, and the overall picture of a land reform dominated by small-scale and medium-scale acquisitions in the A1 and A2 schemes, most of whom are ‘ordinary’ farmers (a problematic category admittedly), still stands.

With the political wrangles over the constitution, the election dates and the ZANU-PF succession, the likelihood of a full-scale land audit happening now is receding. As Professor Mandi Rukuni explained in his recent contribution to the Sokwanele land debate, the technical capacity is in place to carry it out, but the political moment must be right. Earlier land audits by Utete, Buka and the 2006 A2 audit by the Ministry of Lands have shown a complex picture, with much variation between different parts of the country. But the overall picture is not hugely different to what we found, despite the on-going discussion about ‘Masvingo exceptionalism’.

Currently our work in Masvingo is looking at the A2 sector in more detail than we were able to do in our work to 2010, and we want to update the information in the book. It is clear that, unlike the majority in A1 schemes, some A2 farmers gained access through patronage linkages. Application processes were manipulated and so certain people gained land when their qualifications were inadequate or their business plans were poor. These farms often still remain underutilised and undercapitalised, and some are effectively abandoned. But this is not the majority, the rest are building up their farms, slowly but surely, and it is interesting how these are linking into value chains in new ways. We cannot announce a success of the A2 farms yet, but there are more positive signs than a few years ago when the incentives and capacities to invest were so minimal due to the chaos in the economy.

But in addition to the standard A2 farms we also have the ‘large-scale A2’ farms, where whole farms were handed over. These are where the ‘big chefs’ reside, and where political patronage and cronyism of the sort described by ZimOnline is most prevalent. But again, these cases are limited and scattered, and in fact some are thriving – because funds from elsewhere (not always above board I am sure) are being invested. And then there are the conservancies, formally outside the Fast Track Land Reform programme, where an elite take-over has been attempted. However, much of this has stalled, as many such ‘investment partners’ have not been forthcoming.

Our preliminary findings from Masvingo show that our earlier conclusions remain robust: that the vast majority of land reform beneficiaries and land areas are being used by people who could not be classified as ‘cronies’. There are however ‘land grabs’ on the margins which, while still small in overall numerical and area terms, are important politically. These peaked around the contested elections in 2008, and continue. A few remaining ‘white farms’ and wildlife areas have been targeted and taken over by politically and militarily connected elites. This is a pattern that is repeated elsewhere in the country and particularly dramatically in the high value land areas of the Highveld.

These whole farm and conservancy takeovers was a phenomenon, we agree, that was not well covered in the book (as it didn’t exist to such an extent when we set our sample, and only emerged in the most recent period, especially around 2008), but is covered in more detail in our current work, where we are hoping to get the really detailed and accurate numbers on land ownership and distribution across the province, and in some forthcoming articles – on patterns of differentiation and politics, in the Journal of Agrarian Change, and on the land grab in the lowveld, under review with African Affairs. I will alert blog readers when these are out, as these are important complements to our original research. However new work does not reject our core findings, nor support the conclusions of the ZimOnline ‘investigation’.

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