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Zimbabwe faces a COVID-19 surge: what is happening in the rural areas?

Vaccination drive at Hippo Valley sugar estate

The increase in COVID-19 cases in Zimbabwe has been significant in the weeks since our last blog. This has been matched by an increase in recorded deaths. The government has responded with a new ‘level 4’ lockdown, imposing a curfew, restricting business hours, limiting inter-city transport, requiring movement exemption permits, closing schools and educational institutions and banning all gatherings, except funerals where numbers are again restricted.

The national level data show an increasingly dangerous situation, but why now and how has it affected the rural areas? As we have reported in the past, the incidence has been extremely low in most of our study sites, but this has changed somewhat recently, although few deaths have been recorded. Why this change?

Why is there a surge now, including in the rural areas?

Informants across our study sites point to a number of factors.

  • First it is winter and this is the cold and flu season when respiratory infections spread as people are more frequently inside and interacting in close proximity.
  • Second, it has been marketing season when people have been travelling about, gathering at market places, interacting with itinerant buyers and going to auction floors in the tobacco areas. Indeed, it has been in the tobacco areas that the greatest spikes in infections have been noted, and people have speculated that buyers travelling from hotspots – such as Karoi – have brought new infections into areas.
  • Third, it has been the relaxation in measures, including the day-to-day practices of hygiene that have occurred. Certainly over the last months people had gone back to a (nearly) normal life, and abandoned wearing masks and had attended large gatherings of weddings, funerals and church services. These are now banned, but some churches are dismissive of the regulations and argue that the power of prayer in large gatherings should be recognised as a way of combating the disease, and many are still continuing.
  • Fourth, early foci for infections have been educational institutions, including Bondolfi mission, Morgenster and Great Zimbabwe University. Here students and staff have been infected and later isolated, but in places where there is residential accommodation such as teachers’ colleges and boarding schools, the virus can spread, and those moving to such establishments – as day pupils, as service providers or sometimes as church goers  – can in turn spread the infection to their communities.
  • Fifth, the ease of movement from South Africa through illegal crossings improves in the dry season as the Limpopo has little water and the danger from crocodiles and hippos recedes. This is the period for mass movements, as people go and shop in South Africa and bring back goods. At the Chakwalakwala crossing people move daily in their thousands, even with cars and trucks crossing the sandy river bed. This has a focus for significant importation of disease, as South Africa’s surge is in full swing, increasing earlier than Zimbabwe’s.
  • Sixth, the increase in dry season trade is linked to major markets in the south of the country. These bring people together over wide areas. These Bakosi markets are preferred to going to town as you can buy everything from iron sheets for roofing to a chicken for a meal, and everything else in between. Much comes from South Africa, but local produce is also sold and exchanged. Such large markets are also a focus for social events and much interactions. In the midst of a pandemic, they are clearly foci for infection, and have now been closed.

All these factors have combined in the last couple of months to fuel the pandemic in Zimbabwe, extending it to the rural areas.

Why do death rates remain low, at least for now?

Yet despite this, the number of deaths in our study sites remain low. This remains an anomaly as vaccination rates and existing immunity from earlier infections rates are low.

When we discussed this, the team pointed to the difference between mortalities of those coming from South Africa (and indeed of South Africans and Zimbabweans), pointing to different lifestyles, unhealthy diets of processed foods, co-morbidity factors (including being overweight, having diabetes and so on). Poverty, they argued, has kept us healthy!

In our study areas, burials have been occurring in cases where bodies have been returned home from South Africa. Cemeteries in Bulawayo for example are reported to be being under pressure. This may yet change, but there are some interesting hypotheses about what both results in infection and causes death.

Many informants across our sites point to local remedies as important in managing infection. While more people are getting the disease, its effects though far from pleasant are being addressed by local remedies. Mr Moses Mutoko from Wondedzo Extension in Masvingo district explained:

“In June my whole family was infected by an unknown ‘flu. It was persistent and heavy. We treated ourselves by steaming of a mix of Zumbani (a local herb), eucalyptus leaves and lemon, covering ourselves with a blanket for 15 minutes and sweating hard. We would also drink the mixture morning and night. We would also gargle several times a day with coarse salt and warm water and drink large amounts of water when we wake up and before we go to sleep to clean the body. We all recovered and are fine now. I have shared this prescription with the community, and everyone has taken it up. We hope it will save people from the disease.”

People across our sites urge the government to take local treatments seriously and invest in research as well as promoting seemingly efficacious ones.

Vaccine views

The surge in infections across the country has put the vaccine programme in the spotlight. Earlier reluctance among some has turned to an increasing eagerness to be vaccinated. Currently approximately 6% of the population have had a first dose, but rates have slowed of late due to supply problems. The vaccines being offered remain only the Chinese, Russian and Indian vaccines with an offer via the African Union of Johnson and Johnson vaccines being rejected on the grounds that the infrastructure for delivery was not up to scratch.

Many speculated that this was just politics being played out, with the Zimbabwe government snubbing the West. With the Chinese offering a further 2 million of their Sinovac shots, Zimbabwe may be able to play politics, but it seems a risky strategy right now. This is especially so as delivery is patchy, and the logistics not always streamlined with shortages reported across our sites. Nevertheless, the government’s overall COVID-19 approach has met with approval, both from other countries in Africa, and from the Zimbabwean population according to the Afrobarometer survey.

For a time Zimbabwe had been seen as a potential vaccine tourism destination, with private clinics offering shots for US$70 or more, and South African travel agencies offering pricey vaccination travel packages. However, with current shortages, this has all stopped for now.

Meanwhile, companies such as Tongaat Hullett who run the huge sugar estates are offering shots to workers, as there has been a local peak in infections on the estates, with worker compounds closed down and put into quarantine. Again, this is linked to the season and the greater movement of people associated with cane cutting.  

The discussion in our team and amongst informants across our sites on vaccination continues. Many views are expressed:

  • Some complain that agricultural extension workers are not treated as front-line workers and do not get priority on the vaccination lists like doctors and nurses, yet they have to have face-to-face contact on a regular basis and must travel over wider areas. These individuals are keen to get a shot but have failed so far.
  • Others say that since deaths remain low and that the surge will likely abate after the marketing season and when the weather warms up, then they don’t mind and will wait for an more effective vaccine. They argue that these vaccines are not fully protective like the ones for measles, diphtheria and so on that Zimbabweans are very familiar with and many can name a case where someone vaccinated gets it again.
  • There are some who argue that the situation is nothing like that experienced with AIDS when burials were happening daily and everyone was affected, and yet, they comment, we survived that without a vaccine and through changing behaviours and practices over time.
  • Still others say it’s like any other severe ‘flu and we must learn to live with it, using local remedies. It’s clearly now endemic and it will be part of our winter experience forever.

Just like in discussions across the world, there are plenty of views, each with their own evidence and case studies to share. Complexity, uncertainty and contested interpretations of both science and experience remain the order of the day.

Lockdown responses

The return of a lockdown is creating real concerns. The memories of the suffering from 2020 are fresh. This is especially challenging now as this is the main season for marketing horticultural products. Transporters can only start moving after 6am due to the curfew, meaning fresh, perishable products can only get to market late. And in the evening they want to move their transport out of town before 6pm for fear of getting vehicles impounded. This constrains the marketing day and for farmers reduces income.

In the past weeks, there has been an increase in direct contracting to local supermarkets, as markets have been closed down. This is only available to some and often means lower prices, even if a market is guaranteed. Wider business dependent on agriculture and dependent on farmers buying things are suffering as business hours and movement is restricted once again. It is back to the bad old days of 2020, with businesses laying off people or closing, and farmers suffering.

The importance of real-time reflections

This is the fifteenth contribution to our real-time monitoring and reflection of the pandemic in rural Zimbabwe. It is far from a linear story and there are many contested views and diverse experiences. Without such in-depth, real-time information it is difficult to make an assessment, and so difficult to learn lessons. Lots of studies are emerging right now that offer definitive statements from snapshot and circumscribed surveys, including from rural Africa. What our tracking has shown is that these are inadequate.

A fuller understanding of this pandemic in all its dimensions will only emerge in time, and we will continue our regular reflections, so watch out for the next blog in about a month.

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How is ‘China’ helping to transform ‘Africa’? The need for a more sophisticated debate

How is China helping to transform African economies? There are many different narratives cast around in public and policy debate: China as the new imperial power, China as the radical developmentalist, China as just like any other donor/foreign power. None are very convincing. A report synthesising a number of research projects has been published recently, titled Africa’s economic transformation: the role of Chinese investment, and aims to get beyond the rhetoric and gain a more sophisticated, empirically-based analysis based on substantial UK-funded research efforts over recent years. 

Based on detailed studies from Angola to Zambia, the report covers a range of Chinese investments from infrastructure to technology to manufacturing. Agriculture and land-based investments don’t get much attention, but some wider lessons can be drawn. Overall, the report argues that Chinese investments are not exceptional, but have certain patterns. They generally focus on the productive economic sector and that although most efforts are relatively isolated project investments, they result in increased local employment (but usually initially of lower-grade jobs) with positive impacts on local markets. Investments are not by-and-large focused on extraction of goods for export to China, as some narratives suggest. Limited vertical and horizontal linkages with the wider economy are observed with projects seen as rather isolated, and with limited impacts on the large African informal economy. Training of workforces happens, and may result in skill upgrading, although in the establishment phases of business investments, higher-skilled and management jobs largely remaining Chinese.

A few years ago now, together with colleagues from China, Brazil, Mozambique, Ghana, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, we conducted similar research looking at Chinese (and Brazilian) agriculture investments, both commercial projects and state-backed aid funding – all published open access in World Development. Some of these broader trends highlighted in the report are seen, but not all. Through joint ventures and contract farming efforts – accelerating since our earlier studies in Zimbabwe around tobacco – have resulted in much greater integration of agricultural businesses within the economy, even with smallholders. While tobacco is definitely geared to export to China, the spin-off linkage benefits to rural economies have been huge.

Training has been an important feature in Chinese agricultural investments, with large numbers of Africans trained at Chinese universities in a variety of subjects, along with support for technical upgrading. For example, Chinese investment in the Zimbabwean Tobacco Research Institute has been important, supported by exchange visits and investment in equipment. The Chinese Agricultural Technology Demonstration Centres (ATDCs) have had mixed success, and have turned out very differently in different countries. However at a time when state and Western donor investment in agricultural R&D had shrunk to virtually zero in many countries – certainly in Zimbabwe – the establishment of the ATDC at Gwebi was widely welcomed, even if the technologies on offer did not quite fit the new post-land reform setting.

As Carlos Oya and colleagues’ fascinating study of labour practices in Chinese construction and manufacturing sector investments in Angola and Ethiopia shows, there is no single labour regime observed. It very much depends on the wider political-economic context, and the dynamics of accumulation in the national economy, the nature of the state priorities and political commitments to different policies (foreign investment vs labour rights for example). The origin of the investment firm therefore has less of an impact than the investment context. This conditions what labour is available and hired, and how labourers are treated. Indeed, contrary to popular conceptions Chinese investors have no worse labour practices than others, with increasing integration into the local economy, with a localisation and training of the workforce seen over time. There is therefore no one pattern of Chinese investment, no one predictable outcome. This is part of the problem with the report as, in its search for a generalised prognosis, it frames the whole problematic in terms of ‘China’s investment’ and ‘Africa’s transformation’, as if both China and Africa were singular.

We know from the case studies discussed in the report – and reinforced by our multi-country study on agricultural aid and investment – that patterns of Chinese engagement vary massively between different African countries. This depends on historical legacies (particularly from the liberation wars and independence struggles of the 1960s and 70s), political positioning (for example in respect of alignment with US/Western interests, and especially in relation to Taiwan), and the state of the economy (investing in Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia or Nigeria, where economies have been booming is a very different prospect to investing in Mozambique or Zimbabwe). Not surprisingly, all these factors impinge on what investments happen and how they pan out.

Equally, ‘Chinese’ investments have to be understood in terms of where they come from. Some emanate from the centre, and are part of the Chines aid-investment strategy. But most, even if via State-Owned Enterprises, emerge from particular provinces. These may get central state backing for ‘going out’, but they take on a very particular provincial character. They are ‘Chinese’ in that they come from the People’s Republic of China, but they are more accurately described as from Guangdong or Yunnan. As research on Chinese economic development shows, there is a huge variety of approaches, with quite different provincial styles of business and investment. This important dimension did not come out in the report, resorting as it did to generic characterisations geared perhaps to a simplistic UK aid debate.

However, repeatedly we see in our work the very different provincial characteristics of the host firms of different ATDCs across countries resulting in contrasting priorities and operations on the ground in Africa (Zimbabwe and Ethiopia for example are massively different). ‘Chinese’ firms that take up tobacco joint ventures in our study sites in Mvurwi in Zimbabwe come from very different parts of China (not necessarily tobacco growing regions, as some are expanding from mining or other businesses), again with different business models, labour practices, investment priorities and sources of finance.   

Going beyond the ‘China in Africa’ simplification is long overdue. The individual research studies covered in the report no doubt pick up the particularities and the context (I admit that I haven’t read them all), but these sort of syntheses and associated policy debate too often fail to. We have to understand the particularities of these ‘development encounters’, and nuance the debate. Of course, just as we differentiate between ‘European’ investment from the UK or Sweden, so we must between ‘Chinese’ investment from Hunan or Hubei.

Investment outcomes and development processes are always a complex political negotiation – of knowledge frames, values, cultures, interests and economic priorities – between located firms and particular local political economies. Whether focusing on investments from China, Europe or the Americas, some more sophistication is needed in thinking through the processes, practices and possibilities of such encounters.

Photo credit: NewZimbabwe.com

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Vaccine politics in Zimbabwe

If you didn’t know already, vaccines are political. And in southern Africa perhaps particularly so as the Chinese, Russians, Indians and the so-called international community through the COVAX facility jostle for position, each trying to show their benevolence towards Africa, reaping soft power diplomatic benefits in return.

In this context, the vaccine becomes the symbolic totem of a new form of political power. This competition between old and new powers has important implications for how public health and development more broadly are seen and responded to across Africa, including in Zimbabwe.

Vaccine nationalism and diplomatic competition however is raising concerns. These exist in Europe of course, perhaps especially around the British-Swedish AstraZeneca vaccine, which at different times has been cast as dangerous, ineffective or highly efficacious, depending on which politician or selective media commentary you listen to.

These uncertainties of course feed into anxieties and contestations over different types of vaccines, some of which have a major commercial dimension. It’s predicted that those with a profit-making business model behind them – Pfizer, Moderna and the rest – will make huge profits over the coming years as the coronavirus settles into its endemic state across the world.

Of course many Africans will not be vaccinated well into 2022, such is the inequality of vaccine distribution and access. Zimbabweans currently only have one vaccine being administered: the Sinopharm vaccine from China. Arriving through a coup of diplomacy on a specially chartered Air Zimbabwe flight, and met by the Chinese ambassador and the Constantino Chiwenga, Vice-President and health minister, it was a symbolic moment showered across the press.

Other vaccines from China are expected (including Sinovax), along with the Indian vaccine, Covaxin and the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia. Nearly a million COVAX vaccines (AstraZeneca) are also expected as Zimbabwe (finally) signed up for a share, although the first deliveries to Africa from the international facility went to Ghana and Ivory Coast while nearby Malawi got a first shipment last week.

Zimbabwe’s vaccine roll-out: intense debate

With 200,000 Sinopharm doses delivered in the first batch, the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe was quick to approve the vaccine, and the Ministry of Health presented a plan for delivery across three phases. Initially, following the symbolic injecting of the vice-president (the president and the rest of the cabinet it seems await the next batch), 34,000 ‘front-line’ workers were targeted. In Zimbabwe, the front-line is nurses and doctors, but also police and soldiers, who have been very present throughout the various lockdowns.

Agricultural extension workers were supposed to be in this batch apparently, but have been relegated to the next phase, alongside teachers, college and university lecturers and those deemed vulnerable, including the elderly and some with particular health conditions. After these groups are vaccinated, the rest of the population will be offered vaccinations, which are free and not compulsory, with the aim of covering 60% of the population.

In all our sites bar one (and this is expected this week), the selection of frontline workers have been vaccinated. Not all took up the offers, with quite a few preferring to wait to see if there were any problems. Others were eager to get protection, while some feared that vaccinations were going to be used to restrict jobs in the health service – no jab, no job was the (actually unfounded) rumour. In our sites there were few side-effects commented on, and only a few nurses in one site who got a fever for a few days were mentioned. Sadly in one site someone died of a stroke following vaccination, although this was apparently due to high blood pressure rather than the inoculation.

With vaccinations underway, our team discussed with local people about their views. Many repeated the arguments that COVID-19 is not seen in the rural areas, so why bother get vaccinated. Others pointed to indigenous herbs and treatments that were proving sufficient. Rumours and strongly-stated viewpoints abound. Suspicion of China’s motives were presented: “China has economic and political interests in our country. They can now expand and exploit our resources”. Others observed that China “is known for sub-standard goods. This makes us worried… We definitely don’t rule out fake vaccines from China”. Some backed China – a war veteran from Mwenezi argued “We have a long relationship with China. It assisted us during the war of liberation. We have confidence in them, more than the West”.

Others shared more dramatic conspiracy theories circulating on social media: “COVID-19 is man-made; the vaccines alter our DNA and can kill us”. Others commented on the financial gains to be made: “This is about money. There are trillions to be made. How can we trust those companies?” Alongside the proliferation of stories on social media, a number of influential actors are adding to anxieties, despite the best efforts of government health services, with prophets, bishops and some churches urging people to avoid the vaccine.

Thus in the villages across our sites – from Mvurwi to Matobo – there is intense debate. As the vaccine rollout continues things may change, but there seems to be widespread hesitancy right now, which is concerning medical doctors. Even amongst our team there are quite contrasting views. In part this emerges from the context. The rural areas have not suffered massive deaths from coronavirus; indeed in the past weeks the number of cases has declined significantly across the whole country and no cases were reported from our study sites. People in all sites once again emphasised the importance of local medicines, vegetables and herbs. Their popularity has resulted in some commercialisation of these products, with Tanganda, the famous Zimbabwean tea manufacturer, producing a new green tea line made from the popular COVID-19 treatment, Zumbani (Lippia javanica).

As team members commented, the shifts in behaviour over the past year around hygiene in particular have been impressive. As one commented, “you go to people’s houses and there’s hand sanitiser or soap to wash; even the kids will pull you up and ask if you’ve washed your hands!” The village health workers reinforce health messages, and continue to work on small allowances, but are widely respected in local communities. With schools opening soon again, school development committees have been mobilised to supply sanitisers and masks and parents have set up duty rotas to clean and sanitise classrooms.

Despite the lack of coronavirus, people have seen the potential risks through high-profile deaths and sickness (including of relatives) in towns and in the diaspora, in South Africa and the UK in particular. This has prompted local mobilisation and collective action in the absence of state support.

Lockdown easing, but other challenges

In early March, the president eased the lockdown conditions. You can now move without permits between towns (although police are still at road blocks, extracting ‘fines’), and the massive price hikes that were seen in the last lockdown have reversed to some extent. There is more transport on the road and so greater competition among operators and now lower prices, which is in turn easing transport challenges for farmers who can bring their produce to towns to sell. Many suffered badly in the last lockdown as perishable crops just rotted at home, unable to be moved. Now things have improved, and there was a definitely more positive mood reported this month.

What has really struck people hard in this last period has been the tick disease of cattle known as January disease (theileriosis). People refer to this as ‘cattle COVID’, and it is hitting cattle herds really hard. Our team member from Mvurwi estimated that around 25 percent of all cattle have been lost. This collapse in a core asset will have long-term consequences, including damaging knock-on effects for ploughing next season. Tick grease has been supplied as part of government packages, but this is not easy to use given the density of ticks that have grown in number thanks to the heavy rains this season.

Lockdowns have meant that movement of animals is not possible, and people could not go to town to buy dipping chemicals, and even if farmers could get there they were in short supply. Standard government dipping has not been functioning effectively for a while, and the veterinary department has been overwhelmed and not been able to respond. In many ways, the impact of this cattle disease on people’s livelihoods is far greater than COVID-19, and it is being felt across our sites, with farmers selling animals for as little as US$60, and many have died.

***

We never expected to be reporting on the responses to COVID-19 a full year on, but this is now the eleventh report since our first post at the end of March 2020, and we will continue to monitor what happens across our sites in the coming weeks and months as vaccines become more common and the seasons shift from the wet to dry season, hopefully with a decline in tick diseases resulting along with a continued decline in COVID-19.

Thanks to the team from Mvurwi, Gutu, Masvingo, Matobo and Mwenezi. Photo credits: Felix Murimbarimba

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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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What are ‘appropriate technologies’? Pathways for mechanising African agriculture

Capital goods are essential for agriculture, whether for tillage, irrigation or threshing. Mechanisation of agriculture is therefore seen as a core aim for agricultural development, and is widely pushed as a route to increasing production and efficiency. But what scale of technology is appropriate? Where can farmers find the right sort of technology to meet their needs? Does trade in capital goods respond to market demands? Do aid projects help or hinder?

These are the sort of questions we have been puzzling over in Zimbabwe as we’ve been looking at the role of various types of capital goods used in agriculture in land reform areas. Capital goods range from large tractors to small pumps, and these are being used across farms of different sizes, from A1 resettlement farms, with typically under 5 hectares of cultivated land, to much larger A2 medium scale resettlement farms. Size matters, both of the technology but also of land areas and the scale of operation, but so also does capacity, flexibility, maintenance requirements and politics.

Tractors: the symbol of mechanisation

Tractors have always been the symbol of mechanisation in agriculture. From Soviet mass production under Stalin to aid projects across Africa. As a previous blog discussed, the promotion of tractors has a long history in Zimbabwe too. While there was a healthy trade in the large-scale commercial sector, with imports from different parts of the world, the record of tractor projects in the small-scale farming areas was dismal. But land reform from 2000 has changed the dynamic. The large-scale sector is much diminished, replaced by a mix of medium-scale A2 farms and a larger number of smaller A1 farms, where dynamics of ‘accumulation from below’ are evident. This has generated a new demand for tractors.

As part of a wider study on mechanisation and commercial agriculture in Africa under the APRA programme, new work from Mvurwi area, a high-potential tobacco growing area north of Harare, has shown how tractor use has been expanding. Despite various projects, including the Brazilian More Food International programme, much of this has been based on a private market. Official figures suggest that tractor numbers increased nearly six-fold between 2011 and 2017, mostly in the medium-scale farming areas, and predominantly through a second-hand market of machines originally imported for former large-scale farms. These figures may be an underestimate, however, as survey data show that in the small-scale A1 resettlement areas tractor hiring has increased significantly, as tobacco successful small-scale farmers invest in tractors and hire them out.

The Brazilian tractor cooperatives have contributed to this, but are only a very partial element of a bigger story. Large four-wheel tractors are expensive items and only some are able to buy them, even when old, battered and repaired for a second-hand market. Collective ownership through the Brazilian coops potentially open access to others, but the politics of coops are notorious, and the ones in Mvurwi have become embroiled in turf-wars over control, with coop leaders fending off attempts at political capture by party officials. Tractors of course are always political.,

Tractors in Mvurwi these days are therefore a mix of very old machines imported several decades ago (usually ancient Massey Ferguson and John Deere models), and more recent Chinese models (imported in the flurry of investment under the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe programmes of the mid-2000s) and a few new Brazilian models (as in the picture above). Perhaps surprisingly, it is the older ones that are the most common and the most likely to continue to function, as there are both the skills to mend them, and a (declining) second-hand spares market. For any mechanisation programme, the ability to repair and reconstruct is essential, and often forgotten in the eagerness to bring in new, shiny machines that support a domestic industry (in China, Brazil, Belarus, India, Iran or wherever) through an aid programme.

Small-scale pumps: opportunities for farmer-led irrigation

The tractor story contrasts with that of small-scale irrigation pumps, which have expanded massively in recent years across the new resettlement areas. As discussed in a recent paper, focused on sites in Masvingo, small, cheap, Chinese-made pumps, together with flexible plastic piping, have transformed the capacity for farmer-led irrigation in a dramatic fashion. This process has largely been ignored by policy-makers and aid agencies alike.

The process is being driven by an agile private market, involving a network of players that link importers with retailers with a growing cottage industry in repairs. Gone are the days when you could only buy a pump set if you were seriously rich or the beneficiary of an NGO project in a ‘group garden’. Costing only US$250, virtually anyone can get one, and start irrigating from rivers, streams, dams and vlei ponds. This has expanded the opportunities to many, including young people without land. The onward links to horticultural markets and processing opportunities in turn all generate employment and local economic growth.

It is both the characteristic of the technology (small, mobile, flexible etc.), but also the market context, that allows small-scale pump irrigation to thrive, and makes the technology ‘appropriate’. Upgrading and scaling up is possible too. Some choose to buy more small pumps to maintain flexibility, while others buy larger, fixed pumps and dig boreholes to expand irrigation.

There are therefore many pathways of innovation and mechanisation. These must suit different people’s social and economic conditions, as access to cash, technology, land and labour is managed together. Appropriate technologies are always socio-technologies, with technical, social and political lives intimately linked.

Rethinking agricultural mechanisation policy

Mechanisation of agriculture is occurring apace in Zimbabwe, but not as the planners would wish it. The irrigation engineers remain sceptical about the small-scale pump revolution, fixated as they often are with ordered, regularised irrigation schemes with fixed, large-scale pump technologies. Meanwhile, the engineers in the mechanisation departments dream of bigger tractors, with more horsepower and linked to drillers, seeders, combines and the rest, in order to create a vision of commercial agriculture derived from the textbooks. Aid programmes, such as the Brazilian coops, often replicate such visions, as technicians import a perspective from their own context of what ‘tropical technology’ should be, without thinking about need and context.

However, under the noses of the technicians and planners things are happening. These are largely private ‘below-the-radar’ initiatives, linked to locally-embedded markets, and with entrepreneurship not only linked to supplying the kit, but also adapting, maintaining and repairing it. For tractors, the second-hand market is thriving allowing more timely tillage of larger areas, and with small-scale pumps, the cheap, flexible sets have transformed irrigation.

But there are limits. As the stock of tractors, and particularly spares, declines, there are challenges in meeting demand. Hiring businesses, including via cooperatives, are an alternative, and particularly important for small-scale production, where owning a large tractor just for yourself doesn’t make much sense. This is why the connections between A2 and A1 areas is important, and such coordination requires facilitation. For pumps, the semi-disposable pump sets are ideal for starting up, but upgrading is a big step, and borehole drilling remains very costly. Issues of ground and surface water access and management for sustainable use of course become important as pump use expands.

In the wider technological landscape there are gaps too. Two-wheeled tractors, for example, for use on small plots might have an advantage for some, while intermediate level pumps and cheaper drilling options may help upgrading. Investments in linking hiring options through online applications have emerged in some places, while support for training in repairing diverse types of equipment may encourage local businesses. With a better idea of the nature of what ‘appropriate technology’ means a role for coordination and facilitation by state or NGO players emerges, including encouraging south-south trade in capital goods.

Silent, hidden green revolutions

Despite the narrative of state-led, directed innovation and mechanisation, agricultural green revolutions rarely happen in this way. Much more common is a flexible bricolage of initiatives that emerge, based on pulling together options that fit. As Steve Biggs and Scott Justice argue for the Asian experience:

“In regions where smaller-scale mechanization has taken place, there has also been a growth of rural industries and strong linkages with the broader national economy. Whether by design or not, it appears that markedly different patterns of smaller-scale rural mechanization over time have led not only to agricultural production increases but also to broad-based rural and economic development…. It is our hope that there will be increasing interest in the “silent and hidden” revolutions of the spread of smaller-scale equipment and that broad-based rural development, such as worthwhile rural employment and careful and intensive use of water and energy sources, will again become important goals of economic development. There is now empirical evidence on a grand scale that shows it can be done”.

This empirical evidence is emerging in Zimbabwe too, and a wider recognition, along with selective coordination and facilitation by state and aid players, is essential if Zimbabwe’s agriculture is to transform in the post-land reform setting.

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

 

 

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The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative: what’s in it for Africa?

The huge Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum recently concluded in Beijing. 37 heads of state attended, along with droves of policy advisors and numerous thinktanks and research institutes, including IDS where I work. Monica Mutsvanga, Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, attended on behalf of the Zimbabwe government. By all accounts it was a lavish affair, with grand speeches and big commitments totalling $64 billion. But what to make of it all from an African perspective?

As discussed on this blog several times before (see here, here and here), while Chinese engagements with Africa can be framed in terms of ‘new imperialism’ or part of a benign process of ‘mutual learning’, in practice a more nuanced perspective is needed. African states have agency in the process of negotiation, and the Chinese always adopt an incremental and adaptive approach to policy, in Africa as in China. There is no single top-down plan to be forced on unwilling recipients.

As our studies of Chinese (and Brazilian) investments in African agriculture (in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe – reported in an open access World Development issue) showed, what emerges varies from country to country, project to project, depending on how negotiations play out. And this very much depends on which Chinese state owned company, from which province in China, is involved, and how African states and officials negotiate. Sometimes the outcomes are disastrous – inappropriate technologies and failed projects – but sometimes positive dynamics unfold. No surprises here: Chinese engagements are very similar to aid from Denmark, the UK or the US, just more focused on productive infrastructure and perhaps more honest and straightforward.

Beyond the BRI rhetoric

At the BRI Forum there was grand talk of mutual benefit, inclusive approaches and green and sustainable development. Just as with western aid, forget the rhetoric, and look at the practice. Chinese geopolitical and commercial ambitions are clear. The BRI is certainly about regional, even global, political influence, especially through trade. With coal mines and power stations being opened under its banner, forget the green credentials for now. As a strategic player, who plays the (often very) long game, the benefits to China of all the roads, ports and other infrastructure being built are obvious.

This does not mean though that such investments are disadvantageous to host countries and regions, just because China benefits too. The TAZARA railway built between Tanzania and Zambia in the early 1970s still provides an important trade link, assisting economic integration. New investments may too – but only if designed in the right way, and subject to careful deliberation and negotiation at a local level. Being too eager (or desperate) to receive Chinese investment could be dangerous.

Minister Mutsvanga’s speech in Beijing had a hint of this. Repeating the ED ‘mantra’ (her term) that Zimbabwe is ‘open for business’, she continued:

Zimbabwe has fertile soils and a favourable climate for farming and agro-industry. It is a treasure trove of much desired mineral wealth. Zimbabwe has gold, diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones. There is the diverse energy offering of hydroelectric power, thermal and coking coal, methane gas. For new and green energy there is, platinum, lithium, uranium and abundant solar. Base metals galore include chrome, nickel, vanadium, tin, rare earths and scores of others.

This sounds more than being open for bilateral negotiations around mutually beneficial investment; more an invitation to a resource grab. The Chinese are not immune to this, as the sorry tale of diamond mining in Marange shows. But it needn’t be this way: being open for business doesn’t mean open for any business on any terms.

Waving the flag, the state-run newspapers in Zimbabwe hailed the minister’s visit, and the prospects for Zimbabwe. But the list of supposed BRI projects – such as the new parliament – were planned long before, and nothing to do with building a corridor for trade. To link with the BRI hype in Beijing, the Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe opened a BRI art exchange exhibition, demonstrating how the two countries were connected. Cultural exchange is certainly a good thing, but Minister Mutsvanga, I think, was looking for more.

Corridors for development?

So what might a corridor development look like that has wider benefits for development, and is not simply a route to facilitating extractivism? A recent study carried out along the eastern seaboard of Africa – in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique – has looked at four very different corridors, all notionally connected to the BRI – LAPSSET, SAGCOT, Nacala and Beira. All involve major port and road/rail developments, linked to a variety of energy and agricultural investments of varying scales (see the earlier blog on Mozambique).

Our research contrasted corridors constructed as ‘tunnels’, conducting valuable resources out of a country and importing goods to metropolitan centres, and ‘networks’, that allow linkages to rural hinterlands and a dynamic of development associated with the investments. Each of our case studies showed elements of both at play.

Corridors, as Euclides Gonsalves explains for Mozambique, are about ‘acts of demonstration’, linking political ambitions to local development. The grand, stylised performances at the BRI Forum in Beijing also play out in villages and project sites in African rural areas. Enlisting and enrolling actors, and material artefacts (grain siloes, extension centres, new roads and so on), are part of the game. Enacting corridors has political and material effects, as some people are included and some excluded, and certain political interests are promoted. The net benefits may be positive, but the performative aspect is key, he argues.

Many corridors are about constructing imaginaries, and creating an economy of expectations, Ngala Chome argues for LAPSSET in Kenya. The corridor has been long planned, and while port facilities are being built in Lamu, many follow-on investments have not yet materialised. Anticipation, expectation and speculation create a new political economy around prospective corridor sites, as we see in the pastoral rangelands of Isiolo where the pipeline and road is expected to traverse. As our work under the PASTRES project shows, pastoralists in these areas complain this has resulted in a massive growth in speculative land deals.

A struggle over development and its directions is unleashed by corridor developments. Everyone has been crying out for investment, but when it comes, the terms of incorporation are inevitably uneven. As Emmanuel Sulle shows for the sugar and rice plantations in the SAGCOT corridor area of Tanzania, processes of displacement and disenfranchisement unfold. And this is even with ‘inclusive’ business models, such as outgrower schemes, heavily promoted by agricultural investors across the corridors.

Networks not tunnels

What are the policy recommendations from our APRA corridors research? Here are the highlights:

  • Policy appraisal must include political economy analysis to explore the potential winners and losers. External capital/infrastructure investment mobilises local interests, including local capital and the state, creating new patterns of differentiation. This means appraisal must go beyond the standard economic assessment to a wider social and political analysis.
  • The design of a corridor – and the associated business models promoting agricultural investment – make a big difference. Opportunities for a more networked organisation, avoiding the limitations of a ‘tunnel’ design, need to be explored, especially around the design of transport infrastructure that can benefit local economies.
  • Terms of inclusion and exclusion in corridors are mediated through a range of local institutional and political processes. For example, land speculation and the revitalisation of older conflicts over resources may occur as a result of corridor development. Benefits may be unevenly shared in already unequal societies, with women and poorer households missing out.
  • Processes for negotiating corridor outcomes require the mobilisation of less empowered actors – including women and poorer people – and their organisation around clear guidelines – such as those within the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on land tenure – that ensure terms of incorporation into corridor investments are not disadvantageous.
  • Support for legal literacy and advocacy, as well as the organisation of disadvantaged groups, will help people to be able to articulate demands. This requires building on local organisations and networks to help counter the power of appropriation of local elites in alliance with the state and investment capital.

All these are relevant for any investor, and for any corridor-style investment. I hope Minister Mutsvanga and the BRI planners take note, and avoid the rush to invest and take a more patient, deliberate approach that creates networks not tunnels.

 

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Photo credit: Ian Scoones. Photo credit: Ian Scoones, Nampula, Mozambique

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“The path to prosperity starts with land reform”, says the Economist

It’s not often that the Economist magazine sings the praises of radical land reform. But on October 12th, the Banyan column on Asia proclaimed: “the path to prosperity starts with land reform”. The article caught my attention, and I read on. Vital reading for all those contemplating the new post Mugabe Zimbabwe. 

The piece starts with some stats on economic growth in Asia, and the contrast with Africa and Latin America. It outlines the standard (for the Economist at least) explanations: market-friendly policies, capital accumulation, training and skill development, the importance of institutions and so on. But goes on to argue that the restructuring of agriculture through land reform is an underplayed explanation (of course not a new argument – see Michael Lipton, and many others, on land reform experiences).

“Radical action may be necessary in countries with big, impoverished, rural populations”, the article argues. Wow, this doesn’t sound like the Economist, I thought! It goes on to give the example of China.

“By the 1920s, a tenth of the population owned over seven-tenths of the arable land. Three-quarters of farming families had less than a hectare. Mao Zedong’s Communists reallocated land in every new territory they seized. After the defeat of the Kuomintang (KMT) in 1949, they rolled out land reform nationwide….The effect was immediate. Grain output leapt by perhaps 70% in the decade after the war. When farmers can capture most of the value of their land, they have a powerful incentive to produce. And while smallholder agriculture is hugely labour-intensive, that makes sense when labour is abundant”.

China’s experience encouraged Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to follow. Agriculture boomed. Landed elites of course resisted, compensation was inadequate, and sometimes violence ensued, although not on the scale meted out in China, and in Russia before. In the East Asian countries outside China, land reform was supported by the US (yes, the US was a great advocate back then; how times change!).

The article goes on to explain how Taiwan shows the clearest benefits from land reform:

“[Land reform] started with rent controls and reforms to tenancy. Sales of formerly Japanese-owned land followed. Then, in 1953, came appropriation. The share of land tilled by the owner rose from just over 30% in 1945 to 64% in 1960. Yields on sugar and rice leapt. New markets sprang up for exotic fruits and vegetables. Household farmers dominated early exports. Crucially, income inequality shrank thanks to the new farmer-capitalists. Less spent on imports of food, more money in Taiwanese pockets, a new entrepreneurialism: farming was the start of Taiwan’s economic miracle”.

What happened elsewhere? “Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand could have followed Taiwan’s example, but didn’t. Their economies have done far worse”, the article states. In these countries because of extensive rural, agricultural populations, land distribution matters. Yet “the state favours agribusiness and plantations over small farmers. There is a yawning gap in income between countryside and city”.

Inequality in land has political consequences too: “In South Korea and Taiwan inclusive agricultural growth prefigured the inclusive politics of today’s thriving democracies”. Again by contrast in Southeast Asia, “cronyism and inertia are consequences of an economy that is unfair to those at the bottom”. This has costs in terms of “insurgencies and rural unrest”. If done well, the article concludes, land reform starts to look cheap.

The Economist seems to have joined the ranks of the radical agrarianistas. What has happened? Well, actually not a lot. The economic arguments about agrarian transition have long been made, and the need for equality before growth is well established. Incentives to invest, and the labour-intensive features of smallholder agriculture have long been understood. The experience of Zimbabwe’s land reform offers some pointers, especially from the smallholder A1 farms. The problem is that in the current narrative of agricultural development, big is beautiful, multinational agribusiness investment and finance is essential, and global markets are all – as with Africa’s agricultural growth corridors discussed a few weeks ago.

This narrative is seemingly endlessly promoted by donors (DFID and USAID seem obsessed currently), alongside national governments and political elites, all keen to attract land investment deals. Sometimes there are ‘pro-poor’ tweaks to the narratives; more often it’s old-fashioned external investment, growth and trickle down. This all has somehow drowned out the long-established conventional wisdom and lessons from history that radical, redistributive land reform makes economic (and political and social) sense in many settings.

Of course Asia is different to Africa, and the 1940s different to today, but the basic arguments made many, many times before of course are worth repeating, and the lessons of history worth learning. In none of the positive cases of land reform from Asia did success spring up overnight, but they emerged from intensive, thoughtful state support, and backed (in some cases) by external donors (of course interested more in geopolitics than poor people’s livelihoods, but…).

In Zimbabwe, these conditions have not applied over the last 17 years, and the continued decline in economic conditions and state capacity of any sort, is a tragedy. This now may all change. With the euphoria of change, and in the presence of no doubt much international interest in Zimbabwe, we should not forget the basic argument that land reform can bring prosperity, and the failure to undertake radical land reform can bring many costs, in both the short and long-term. Zimbabwe now has the opportunity to make the most of its land reform. 

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

 

 

 

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A very Zimbabwean (not) coup

It has been a dramatic week in Zimbabwe. There has been a (not) coup, Robert Mugabe has been expelled from ZANU-PF, but so far has not stepped down from the presidency [he has now, resigning a few hours after this was posted]. No-one could have predicted this, and no-one can guess what will happen next. I will not try, but just offer some links to some other commentary.

So what happened? The tanks rolled in, an officer in army fatigues made announcements on the TV, and the rumour mill on social media exploded. It certainly seemed like a coup. For those of us with links to Zimbabwe, we stayed up much of the night, had our attention diverted during meetings the next day, as we kept checking Twitter feeds and WhatsApp messages to make sense of the confusion.

And then, all smiles, General Chiwenga, the head of the army, appears at State House with President Mugabe, and a delegation of South Africans, plus a Catholic priest for negotiations about the departure of the president and a transfer of power. Photos were taken and tea was had. And bizarrely, negotiations on-going, the next day the President shows up at a graduation ceremony in full academic regalia. It could not have been scripted.

On Saturday, people of all races, creeds and political backgrounds, marched on the streets alongside the army, celebrating the possibility of change, and rejecting the meddling external intervention of SADC and the AU. The marches were a spectacular demonstration of peaceful, non-violent solidarity with the defence force’s intervention, although questions must be raised about what was being backed.

And then on Sunday, ZANU-PF removed Robert Mugabe as head of ZANU-PF, replacing him with Emmerson Mnangagwa, recently dismissed as Vice President. Others in the G40 group, led by Mugabe’s wife, Grace,  were also expelled, with threats of prosecutions to follow. Later on Sunday evening, after a long wait, it got even more bizarre. Everyone, possibly even the generals in attendance, thought this was the resignation of the president, but in a long and rambling speech and much shuffling of papers, it ended with thank-you and goodnight, polite applause and a stunned silence from the rest of the world.

We must remember that this is no people’s revolution, but is all part of a long-running generational struggle over power within ZANU-PF, with Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Lacoste faction, backed by the army and firmly rooted in the older generation with liberation war credentials, ousting the younger G40 faction, with Grace Mugabe as its figurehead. That, as ever, the focus has been on Robert Mugabe himself may ultimately be missing the point. Many of the potential players in any new dispensation have long, often extremely murky, histories; are embedded in complex business networks and have deep security service connections. It’s a complex web woven over many decades, and it will not be easy to unravel, even under the veneer of constitutional transition. For the opposition groups in any prospective transitional authority [which of course didn’t materialise], the ZANU-PF network will be tough to influence, as they found to their cost during the Government of National Unity from 2009.

What happens next remains very uncertain. Impeachment proceedings are starting, but these may not be as straightforward as some suggest. A resignation may yet happen [it did], but since this is officially not a coup, the army are playing by the constitutional rule-book. There are a lot of constitutional lawyers in Zimbabwe, from all sides, it seems.

It has been an extraordinary, exhausting week. No panic, no violence, and (so far) all very civil. Very Zimbabwean. Blessing Musariri offered an amusing commentary on the mood. There was lots of humour in the Twitter commentary too. Suggestions that General Chiwenga and the Zimbabwe National Army might be deployed at the Emirates to deal with a long-standing succession question at the Arsenal. The #apolojersey meme that began circulating after ZANU-PF Youth League head Kudzanai Chipanga, wearing a jersey and showing poor fashion judgement, apologised on TV for criticising the army. Tweets suggested that all apologies forthwith should be done while wearing the jersey, and there were many photo-shopped suggestions of who should do so. And then there was the outline script of the Hollywood film was proposed, with American actors playing all the leading roles and unable to pronounce Mnangagwa and Zimbabwe. And of course the much shared comment that Zimbabwean coups are so much more peaceful than elections, and that they should be held every five years (retweeted approvingly all over Africa).

This social media melee was the only way of getting information; things have been happening so fast. Thanks to @TrevorNcube in particular for keeping a lid on the speculation, and checking before informatively tweeting. Invaluable. In the UK, you are of course subject to the ill-informed mainstream media barrage on Zimbabwe. The narrative of decline is endlessly trotted out: the ‘basket case’ of Africa, a cabal of incompetent cronies at the helm, the ‘disaster’ of land reform, and on and on. Tedious, tiresome and very often inaccurate.

But unlike on previous occasions when Zimbabwe has hit the global headlines, there are some really thoughtful Zimbabweans available for the TV and radio punditry. Alex Magaisa and Miles Tendi, coming from different angles, were great. It’s excellent to have Zimbabwean profs in our UK universities to give a sophisticated, nuanced take. Most journalists are just too lazy to get into the detail, but assume they know the story without asking the questions. A point made by the brilliant Petina Gappah in a perceptive tweet (@vascodagappah). One exception (and of course there are more) is @fergalkeane47 from the BBC who, thanks to his superb reporting from South Africa in the early 1990s, knows the southern African context, and vitally its history, well.

What more in-depth commentaries have I found useful? Here are a few [and more in the postscript below]:

All of these analyses are fast being superseded by events. We don’t yet know the configuration of any new political settlement. In the process, complex manoeuvres must show that this was all aligned with the constitution, and not a coup. Those likely to back any new regime – China, South Africa and the UK are key – all need to be convinced.

Change in Zimbabwe has most definitely long been needed. Ironically, Mugabe’s undoing has been a result of perhaps his greatest legacy: a highly educated population – and elite political-military class – able to mobilise effectively, and in this case together. However, whatever happens in the next days and weeks, Zimbabwe’s problems have certainly not gone away, and these momentous events are only a beginning. Hopefully a longer-term, democratic transformation will occur, but it is far from assured. Just as with Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980, issues of land, agriculture and rural livelihoods will be central. More commentary on this on Zimbabweland in the coming months.

*****

POSTSCRIPT: SOME MORE COMMENTARY THAT I HAVE ENJOYED IN THE WEEKS SINCE (posted on 15 December):

Everjoice Win on the ‘old man’ and why he should have been surfing channels with his slippers on, not trying to continue to run a country, but not forgetting the past: : http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/staff-reporter/robert-mugabe-from-liberator-to-the-walking-dead_a_23285070/

Percy Zvomuya on alien and guardian spirits and political transition: http://www.theconmag.co.za/2017/11/23/13697/

Rudo Mudiwa on Grace Mugabe, misogyny and ‘political women’: http://africasacountry.com/2017/11/on-grace-mugabe-coups-phalluses-and-what-is-being-defended/

Miles Tendi interview on the political roots of the crisis: http://www.capetalk.co.za/articles/281503/mnangagwa-vs-mugabe-distrust-and-political-hits-roots-of-zim-s-crisis-run-deep

Knox Chitiyo on the ‘new era’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/22/robert-mugabe-departure-heady-new-era-zimbabwe-emmerson-mnangagwa?CMP=twt_gu

McDonald Lewanika: on the new regime, new or old, change or continuity? http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/2017/12/13/zimbabwe-and-zanu-pfs-continuing-hegemony-meet-the-new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss/

Alex Magaisa on the MDC Alliance’s ill-judged and poorly timed visit to the US: https://www.bigsr.co.uk/single-post/2017/12/15/Big-Saturday-Read-Going-to-America

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

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Roads, belts and corridors: what is happening along Africa’s eastern seaboard?

The main port at Nacala, Mozambique

The eastern seaboard of Africa from Kenya to Tanzania to Mozambique has become a major focus of attention. The ports – from Bagamoyo to Beira – are seen as the gateway to Africa, a place where great riches can be found. Such ports, and the road and rail links that connect them, are now being redeveloped at a frenzied pace. Much of this is about mineral export, but agriculture is part of the picture too, as a number of the new (or often revived) corridors are seen as ‘agricultural growth corridors’, a term on the lips of many ambitious planners and investors.

Eastern Africa’s ports are also vital staging posts in China’s massively ambitious ‘belt and road’ initiative to connect to the rest of the world. The maritime ‘roads’ across the India Ocean, connect to ‘belts’ that stretch across Asia to China, and through Africa and Europe. The Chinese vision, promoted enthusiastically by President Xi Jinping, is one of an interconnected world, supported by the best of Chinese infrastructure, providing new opportunities for profitable exchange and market-driven export-based development.

For the sceptics this is a replaying of colonial exploitation; imperial ambitions in a new age with new loci of commercial power. An interest in the eastern seaboard of Africa is of course not new. The ports, roads and rail links of played other roles in previous eras – from the slave trade to colonial extraction. For those with strategic geopolitical interests in the region, not least India who sees the Indian Ocean as important militarily and economically, recent developments have major implications.

 

A canon pointing out to sea at the Portuguese colonial slave fort on Ilha de Moçambique

The Nacala corridor: more than coal?

I recently spent a week in Nampula province in northern Mozambique. This is the location of the Nacala corridor, which stretches from the coal mining region of Tete through southern Malawi to the port of Nacala. The visit was part of a project, led in Mozambique by Euclides Gonçalves, on the political economy of agricultural growth corridors in eastern Africa. It is a small component of the new DFID-funded APRA programme, which has just produced its first Working Paper by Rebecca Smalley on this theme.

The Nacala corridor has been the subject of much controversy around the Prosavana project, a trilateral development cooperation project involving Brazil, Japan and Mozambique, discussed in earlier work on China and Brazil in African agriculture. In its early incarnations Prosavana was aiming to roll out massive agricultural investment projects along the corridor, focusing on Brazilian investment and expertise, replicating the much hailed success of the Cerrado in Brazil. These grand plans however unravelled through a combination of organised international opposition, collapsing commodity prices, the Brazilian political crisis and the plain fact that investing in large-scale agriculture in Africa is incredibly difficult, requiring very deep pockets given the risks.

Now things have moved on. The grand plans – at least in their original form – have been put on hold, but there is much happening below the radar. The rail line carrying coal from Tete is fully functional, as is the new port facility at Nacala. There is a new airport at Nacala and the road is in good shape. Land is cheap, good quality and relatively plentiful, and the processes for transfer of ‘DUATs’ from communities to investors is relatively straightforward, as long as some bureaucratic and consultation hoops are jumped through. Locally and nationally there is much political will supporting external investment from the Mozambican party-state, seen as a way of generating growth in a poor part of the country prone to supporting opposition groups. As a source of patronage and backhanders no doubt there are other incentives too.

The Vale coal rail line cutting across the rural Mozambican landscape

At one level the corridor to the new Nacala port facility, established on the other side of the bay to the original Nacala port, is only about exporting coal. Vale, the huge Brazilian conglomerate, has invested millions, now in partnership with Japanese investors. The rail line is increasing freight capacity, although local passengers have limited opportunities to use the railway and local villagers must wait ages for long trains to pass as the rail line cuts through their lands. Others are involved too. For example, Chinese construction companies are also involved in infrastructure development. With improved facilities in the original port, and the potential, as yet unrealised, for the railway to be used for more than coal and the odd passenger train, others are eyeing up the region too.

Agribusiness and development

From established agribusiness operations, such as Rift Valley Corp’s Matanuska banana operation near Manapo, to smaller, more prospective investors in agriculture from Brazil, South Africa, Portugal, India, Jordan, Canada the US and more, the corridor appears to be generating interest, although not at all as part of a coordinated grand plan. Such investments are often supported by international ‘aid’ funds that help to ‘de-risk’ investments or provide opportunities for cutting costs (such as the use of Brazilian tractors supplied through the More Food International programme; again the subject of earlier research being continued under APRA).

A Brazilian tractor in use on a new commercial farm

Local farmers may benefit too. Such operations generate employment opportunities, although the labour conditions are poor, and they may not benefit villagers in the immediate locality. Outgrower arrangements are often mooted as part of improving local relations, a model heavily promoted earlier by AgDevCo in the Beira corridor as part of a UK aid programme, but many fail because generating export quality, regular supplies in sufficient quantities is seriously tough. Local players are also jumping on the corridor bandwagon, with government officials and business people investing in land, and linking up with new external investors.

Who benefits? Political economy questions

It is a highly dynamic situation that the research is only now starting to examine. Corridor investments clearly provide much needed infrastructure in locations that have been marginalised, and remain extremely poor. But who will benefit? An extractivist regime that sees the corridor merely as transport route to export natural resources (in Nacala’s case coal) may see limited local benefits, as the rail line acts more like a ‘tunnel’ connecting mine to port, with little interaction with local people and economies along the way.

A more integrated corridor development may yet emerge, however, as the corridor becomes an attractor for economic activity that spreads out as a network, rather than an isolated, linear connector. For this to happen, as in the old ‘growth pole’ model, other economic activity has to be attracted, and the benefits of infrastructure development shared locally, and also more widely. In this case to the hinterlands of the eastern seaboard, across regions to the landlocked countries of Malawi and Zimbabwe, for example.

But, even if such wider activity happens, some will appropriate the spoils more than others. As in other areas where rapid economic transitions happen through land investments, there is plenty of room for speculation, patronage and deals that create new elites, excluding others. Political economy really matters, and in contrast to much existing research on growth corridors that focuses on the ‘business case’ and the sequencing of infrastructure, this is the emphasis of our research in Mozambique (Nacala/Beira), as well as Kenya (LAPSSET) and Tanzania (SAGCOT).

The longer history of corridors along eastern Africa is one of exploitation and extraction: from slaves to plantation crops to minerals. But how can contemporary investments – which I believe should not be naively rejected – be made to work for the majority, not just the few? This is the underlying challenge, and one our research hopes to investigate, engaging along the way with investors, local villagers and the brokers and intermediaries among state and non-state actors who can make a difference to the way corridor development pathways emerge.

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

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Command agriculture and the politics of subsidies

Command agriculture – a major, private-sector-backed subsidy programme implemented by the Government of Zimbabwe – has been hailed as a massive success, especially following the huge maize harvest reaped this year (see last week’s post). President Mugabe recently described command agriculture as ‘beautiful’.  The programme, led by the Vice President, Emerson Mnangagwa, with the ministry of agriculture and support from the armed services, involved the delivery of fertiliser (along with seed and fuel) to farmers in higher potential areas, and especially with larger land areas (targeting 2000 farmers with 200 ha or more of arable land) and irrigation facilities. Sakunda Holdings (and others) backed the scheme reputedly to the tune of $160m, and government implemented it on the ground, requiring those receiving the package to repay by delivering an ambitious five tonnes of maize per hectare funded to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB).

The command agriculture programme is being repeated again this coming season; this time with even more ambitious targets, and again with backing of Sakunda. Apparently 45,000 have registered and high crop outputs are expected. While much of the hype is wildly unrealistic, the programme has become core to an increasingly centralised approach to agricultural planning and development in Zimbabwe, as advocated by the VP. There are now ‘command’ approaches mooted for livestock, fisheries, wildlife and more. Given the VP’s background, these all follow the model of Chinese central planning, executed with military logistics and support. Hailed by the Chinese ambassador, it has been an enormous operation, taking up the energies and time of extension workers and apparently up to 1000 members of the army across the country.

The programme has not surprisingly come under intense scrutiny, and has become embroiled in the on-going soap opera of internal ZANU-PF political machinations, with a lively media spat between Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo (of the G40 faction – and apparently a direct beneficiary), who denounced command agriculture, and the Lacoste faction who vigorously back the programme. The commander of the defence forces gave a robust defence too. Given the scale and ambition of the programme, there have been ‘leakages’ – and some high-profile cases of those abusing the system – and the delivery was not always smooth, with many not receiving the full package on time.

But despite everything – and significantly because of the excellent rains – the programme seemingly delivered. I cannot find reliable data that details how much of the 2.15 million tonnes of maize produced in the 2016-17 season (as well as improved soya production too) is attributable to command agriculture (some say 1 million tonnes), nor any results of detailed economic evaluations, but the basic point is that if you throw inputs (notably nitrogen fertiliser) at improved seed in well prepared soil, and there’s good rainfall, increased outputs will result. There is no agronomic surprise there. But with the GMB buying maize at $390 per tonne, way above world prices, and questions about how the financing works, there are clear concerns. The big question is of course, how sustainable is this approach for the longer term – economically and politically?

How sustainable?

This is the concern raised by economists and other policy analysts, including the IMF. There are precedents of course. This is not the first time Zimbabwe has embarked on massive agricultural subsidy programmes. Indeed the successful origins of white commercial agriculture in the country were built on huge subsidies from the state. Is this just a well-timed kick-start to the struggling A2 farms, which have lagged behind due to lack of financing, allowing them to find their own feet, as white farmers did before? In the 1980s and 90s, there were regular fertiliser subsidy (or cheap credit) programmes aimed at boosting communal area agriculture, resulting in a short-lived ‘green revolution’ in the country. In the 2000s, subsidy programmes – from Taguta to the mechanisation progammes led by the Reserve Bank – were attempts at spurring growth in the sector following land reform, but failed due to poor implementation, patronage and corruption.

More widely in the region, Malawi had a period of intensive investment in (mostly) maize production through the FISP (Fertiliser Input Subsidy Programme). This produced a significant growth in production, with Malawi becoming a regional exporter of maize. The same occurred in Zambia, through a range of programmes across successive governments. All of these subsidy programmes however became fiscally unsustainable, and while producing food and reducing import bills became very, very expensive, taking up significant proportions of national expenditure (with opportunity costs elsewhere – in schools, health services, road building and on). A bad rainfall year (or even a middling one) may unravel things quickly, loading more onto an already crippling national debt.

Subsidies and politics

Subsidies are always political. They are ways of directing political power and patronage to particular groups, who those in power want the support of. In the 1980s, it was the communal areas, who had backed the liberation war, with the political compact being that rural people (and their votes) needed securing. In the 2000s, it was the new resettlement farmers (notably A1 smallholders) who required support, as they were the base that ZANU-PF had to rely on in a succession of contested elections.

Today, while an economic-technocratic position of commercial boosting production is well articulated, the focus is on larger, more connected A2 farmers who are being favoured. As the core of the middle class, professional, business and security service elite who benefited from such land, but had not been using it effectively, securing their support politically, and ensuring greater economic viability of A2 farms (while securing food for the nation) had become a political imperative. And given the positioning of the VP and the ED/Lacoste faction, very much in line with a political dynamic unfolding now.

A more strategic view?

As with the support of emerging white settler agriculture by the colonial government of Rhodesia in the 1930s and 40s, this may be seen in the future as a successful investment. Long-term commitment by states to transformation – through innovation and core support – is increasingly seen as essential in any economic strategy. Gone are the days of the Washington Consensus when subsidy was always a dirty word.

But a wider strategic debate about such investment (including more broadly finance and credit in agriculture) and approaches to exit is needed, separating it from the complex machinations of intra-party politics and faction fighting. As with Zambia and Malawi (and India and so many other countries besides where electoral politics is heavily reliant on a rural vote), extricating the state from subsidy addiction is tough. Phasing out a fuel or fertiliser subsidy can result in protests, and an electoral backlash. Patronage and dependency relationships get set up, and peoples’ political careers and parties’ fortunes, become tied up with subsidies.

Zimbabwe urgently needs a more thorough-going debate about what type of subsidies make sense for rebuilding agriculture, avoiding the ideological knee-jerk that all subsidies are bad, but at the same time countering the tendency of patronage lock-in that subsidy programmes, tied to political cycles, always generate.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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