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The politics of medium-scale A2 farms in Zimbabwe

The findings of our recent open access Journal of Modern African Studies paper, shared in the last blog, show that A2 farmers are not one uniform group. They vary a lot both between and within sites. They are not universally the standard caricature of a party-linked ‘crony’ who is doing very little and extracting rent from state-funded patronage schemes (although of course such farmers do exist). Instead, we see a highly differentiated context, with different pathways of accumulation (or lack of).

This is important for understanding the politics of medium-scale farms. We also have to situate these farms in a wider understanding of the new agrarian structure, now made up of small-scale farms (communal areas, old resettlement farms and newer A1 resettlement farms), medium-scale farms (A2 farms, and the old small-scale commercial farms, formerly the purchase areas) and large-scale farms, estates and conservancies, and think about where medium-scale farming sits in this wider agrarian landscape, now substantially dominated by smallholder farming.

A political bargain

A2 farms were allocated as part of the political bargain that emerged around land reform. Across the country, most land was taken by land-poor communal area people and un/der-employed people from towns, with these areas seized through occupations subsequently becoming A1 smallholder areas. A2 farms, a smaller but nevertheless substantial area (details in the paper), were allocated later as part of a political deal with the middle classes – the professional and bureaucratic elite – along with some going to those linked to the party-state and military (see Table below from our A2 farm survey).

% PercentageMvurwiMasvingo-Gutu
Communal area farmer1816
Farmworker32
Urban employed4112
Civil servant1035
Security services1810
Self-employed businessperson812
Other213

Our studies show how previous occupations varied across sites, but that those with jobs in town and civil servants (many teachers and agricultural ministry workers) were dominant. There were also some who previously farmed in the communal areas and a few farmworkers. Those with direct links to the party and having benefited from allocations organised through political connections were mostly in the ‘security services’ category, estimated at 10% and 18%  of farms in the two sites – although these farms included those occupied by retired police officers, army personnel and others, now with few on-going connections although with strong party affiliation.

We looked at the full population using census and audit data alongside information from knowledgeable key informants in each site to compare our sample data with the wider picture. There was a good match overall.  In the wider population, there were several MPs, one (now late) former Vice President and a few politically-connected church leaders, as well as a scattering of military top brass, councillors and others.

As in our sample, these especially well-connected people were a small minority. While media headlines focus on the acquisition of multiple farms by certain politicians – including former President Mugabe – this is clearly not the whole story (although of course an important part of it – and still an impediment to reform and the realisation of the Constitutional requirements on land ownership).

Among the sample population, there were also those who identified as ‘war veterans’ (a notoriously flexible category) averaging about 23% of farmers across our sites. Although some war vets were simply peasant farmers from the communal areas before their status was revived in the late 1990s, some remain influential in political circles and can make use of this in their relationships with the state.  

Accumulation trajectories and class formation

As the last blog discussed, some A2 farmers have been able to make a go of farming despite the constraints and this was especially so in the period from around 2009 to around 2016.

Accumulation trajectories differed though. Some invested from their own sources of funds or from patronage allocations (or sometimes combinations), others were able to mobilise funds through joint-venture arrangements and contracting. Others relied on ‘projects’ funded by relatives and others, sending money home. Others still expanded production through settling relatives on the farm, and creating a ‘villagised’ arrangement, with multiple farms effectively working together.

Each of these forms of investment has resulted in accumulation – of equipment, homes, cars, trucks and further investment in the farm. Those who were struggling and doing little were either failing because they had no resources, or were ill or infirm, or out of choice, as they had other activities going on elsewhere but were holding land for speculative purposes.

How does this complex picture pan out in terms of class and political dynamics? We can identify a core group of a productive accumulators, with different sources of finance, and varying dependence on the party-state political nexus. This group is an emergent capitalist class, some independent, others very much tied into the state through patronage relations. They make profits, employ people and are investing. They are the commercial farmers expected by the plans.

Next, we have those who are aspiring to be commercial farmers, but lack the financing. They produce reasonably well, but on smaller areas and with fewer animals; they employ few workers and cobble together financing from various sources, including off-farm work. As emergent capitalist farmers, they are severely hampered by the economic conditions and very often lack of access to patronage funds.

Others are struggling, operating more as ‘petty commodity producers’, combining peasant-style farming on small areas, with some level of market engagement. In Mvurwi they may be assisted by contracts with tobacco companies, and in other cases there are investments in ‘projects’ by relatives who transfer funds from outside. In some cases too, the land is effectively subdivided or at least shared by a number of families, as sons take up small-scale farming on the larger plot.  There are others still who have abandoned farming and may have a care-taker looking after the plot and any houses. This may be due to ill-health, age or because the household decided A2 farming was definitely not for them. In addition, there are those who are holding the land speculatively for future generations, making sure the windfall of gaining a farm is not lost for others in the family.

Each of these broad groupings have different associations with the party-state and so different linkages with party politics and patronage. With different levels of production and investment and different patterns of accumulation resulting, they have contrasting political interests. Those capitalist and aspiring capitalist farmers are keen to ensure that the state resolves major blockages to financing, including issuing leases, addressing compensation to former owners and facilitating bank finance. They are committed farmers, with capacity, but currently constrained. While some will rely on patronage, through the Command Agriculture scheme, most observe that this is not sustainable and all are aware of the whims of political favours that can change at any minute.

Those who are struggling may make it in time with the right support, but many will not. They are concerned about holding on to their land given land audits of utilisation. Such families actually may benefit from some form of subdivision of land, taking on a more manageable size of farm. Land taxes would hit such farmers hard given that they produce so little, and they are widely resisted, but may encourage a more appropriate land use. Those who have effectively abandoned their land fear the consequences of an audit. While some are well-connected and may hold onto their land through corrupt means, others are not and may lose it. The wider policy challenge is how to re-absorb such farm families into the smallholder areas in places where broader social safety nets can be provided or into gainful urban jobs, and in turn how to reallocate land to new entrants.

Emerging debates: future politics and policy questions

In sum, as processes of differentiation have emerged over nearly 20 years in the A2 farming areas, there is no one standard ‘A2 farmer’. Far from it: in fact there are many different types, with patterns varied over sites. This has implications for rural politics. The better-connected, richer farmers, with close alliances to the state, may succeed in lobbying for commercial farmer-friendly policies, including on-going subsidies and investment, just as their white predecessors so successfully did during the colonial era. They are also keen on joint-venture arrangements, including with former white farmers, as well as Chinese and other investors, making new alliances in the countryside.

With the current government’s penchant for neoliberal policies and a focus on business, these commercialising A2 farmers are well-placed. However, currently they are not well organised, and cohesion is fractured by the invidious effects of patronage politics, made worse by the endless reconfiguration of factions amongst the party-military elite.

Those who are struggling or abandoning farms may still wish to join the ranks of more successful farmers, but this will require concerted external support, which is currently absent. Their class characteristics are more akin to ‘petty commodity producer’ smallholders, especially in the A1 areas, and in the end following subdivision or movement to other areas may become part of a larger political force in the countryside lobbying for support for investment in agriculture and rural development, with smallholder farming at the centre.

Beyond the populist rhetoric, there is little political support for this position currently and connections to the party-state remain weak, but the war veteran lobby that is strong amongst this grouping, as well as others advocating a smallholder path of development, may yet provide the basis for longer-term support if a vision for smallholder-led transformation, perhaps in time with donor support, can be forged.

Numerous policy issues emerge from the analysis, including the need to address land tenure/lease issues, farm finance, land administration and wider agrarian support, including investment in basic infrastructure. The lessons from the successes of white commercial agriculture from the 1930s onwards is that a clear vision for the sector is needed, with strong leadership and backing from the state, as well as accessible and cheap private finance.

To date, the economic and political chaos that has dominated Zimbabwe’s recent history has prevented this, but there are opportunities. Maybe a new political settlement emerging from proposed dialogues across political parties will generate the sort of stability seen in the GNU period, and once again the chance of farm investment.

And over a longer period as it becomes clearer who can make it as a commercial farmer maybe a smaller, focused medium-scale sector may yet emerge around the nascent commercial farmer groups we have identified, potentially specialising on certain products and with a variety of joint-venture arangements. With land in the A2 areas subdivided further to allow a greater number of people to take up farming in the future, others may join a solid and powerful core farming sector based on smallholders (centred on the A1 areas).

Only time will tell what the future holds, but our study has revealed important dynamics, allowing a more open and informed debate on commercial agriculture and its future in Zimbabwe than has happened to date.

This blog was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland and is based on conversations with our team based in Masvingo, Mvurwi, Matobo, Gutu, Wondedzo, Hippo Valley and Chikombedzi. Thanks to Felix Murimbarimba for compiling and supplying the photos.

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Reconfigured agrarian relations following land reform

A new book is just out titled “Reconfigured Agrarian Relations in Zimbabwe”. It’s by Toendepi Shonhe, and is based on his recently-completed PhD at KZN. It’s published by Langaa publishers, and is available via the African Books Collective.

The book reports on important research carried out in Hwedza district, and compares the fortunes of communal area, A1, A2, small-scale commercial farms and old resettlement areas. It’s a neat opportunity to compare contrasting land use types within one area. Hwedza is a relatively high potential area, although spread across several agroecological regions, and tobacco production is central. So lots of interesting parallels with our work in Mvurwi.

Chapters 5-7 provide a useful overview of the national story, broken up into periods from the 1880s to 2015, but this is contextualised in relation to the study area in Chapter 8, which offers a succinct and interesting agricultural and economic history of the district. This was an important commercial farming district, but always had other land uses nearby, notably in the Svosve reserve. The booms and busts of tobacco and other forms of production are well illustrated with historical data, showing that the past was not always so rosy for the commercial farm sector.

In Chapter 9, the book offers a lot of data on household assets, production, marketing and so on, across a variety of different agricultural activities. This shows patterns of differentiation, with some doing well and some less so. No big surprises there, but the data once again confirm that the resettlement areas are vibrant, happening places, out-performing other areas across a number of criteria.

Appropriately, the book is situated theoretically within a Marxist framework of uneven development and primitive accumulation, introduced in Chapter 2, and explored in relation to theories of class differentiation in agrarian settings in Chapter 3. The book’s novel contributions come in the chapters that explore the relationships between production in the study areas and wider circuits of capital and accumulation (notably Chapters 10 and 11). For, with tobacco in particular, the production on farms is linked via contracting and marketing arrangements to international markets and corporate players.

Chapter 11 offers a useful typology of social differentiation based on a cluster analysis of survey data, with criteria such as the numbers of months harvests last, maize and tobacco output, cattle ownership and labour hiring being identified as key characteristics. These are similar patterns to what we found from our studies, but the contrasts across so many different land use types is especially valuable here.

Shonhe also makes the important argument that understanding patterns and processes of local differentiation must be linked to the wider context of uneven development and capital accumulation. While some accumulation occurs at the local level, with richer farmers emerging in some resettlement sites, accumulation is occurring elsewhere, along commodity value chains, where surpluses are extracted. An important discussion of contract farming is included, questioning the simplistic rush to such approaches as a source of financing of agriculture.

The book contains a welter of data and some interesting and important analyses, but as with many PhDs the focus is on the detail, rather than drawing out the wider story. Frustratingly too the book missed out on a final copy-edit; something Langaa publishers really should have seen to, given the cost of the book. The final concluding chapter was a classic PhD summary of answers to questions posed, rather than drawing out wider implications. I think there is much more in the material here than is presented in the book, and I look forward to further publications from Dr Shonhe as he works to tease out the implications.

As Zimbabwe re-engages with the international community – and international capital in particular – the lessons here for how this is done, and the likely effects, positive and negative, are vitally important. Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector is certainly massively reconfigured following land reform, as the book lays out well, but the implications of this, particularly in relation to the wider dynamics of agrarian capital, require further thought and analysis. This book makes an excellent start.

I have been catching up on my reading. There is a huge amount of new literature coming out, and this book is just one example. In the coming weeks I will be sharing short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity in this field. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

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

 

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Class and rural differentiation after land reform

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

A new paper in the Journal of Agrarian Change by the team that wrote the Zimbabwe’s Land Reform book examines the processes of rural differentiation that have occurred following land reform in 2000, and their political and economic consequences.

The paper points out that “acquiring land through reform processes… and allocating it to a mix of largely land and income poor people from nearby rural areas is not the end of the story. As new livelihoods are established, investments initiated and production, business, trade and marketing commence, processes of differentiation begin – within households, between households in a particular place and between sites”.

A simplistic, populist back-to-the-land narrative is therefore insufficient. Rural economies are always dynamic – some win, some lose. So what happened across the 16 sites studied over a decade in Masvingo province?

The story is interesting – and complex. The paper shows how, among 400 households, 15 different livelihood strategies are observed, classified into four broad groups (stepping up, stepping out, hanging in and dropping out, following Andrew Dorward and Josphat Mushongah). These can be broadly associated with rural classes. These include an emergent rural bourgeoisie, and a larger group of petty commodity producers doing quite well by stepping up through agricultural production and stepping out through diversified livelihoods, and often a combination of both. There are worker-peasants who farm but also sell their labour, and the semi-peasantry who are struggling.

Linking the diversity of livelihood strategies – what Karl Marx in his treatise on the method of political economy called ‘the rich totality of many determinations’ focusing on real life on the ground – and broader patterns, tendencies and class formations (‘the concrete – the unity of the diverse’) is not an exact science, but the paper makes an attempt.

Why is this important? First, it is vital to realise that the new resettlements are not static or homogenous. The instability of class formations, and the overall fluidity of social and economic relations is emphasised. Efforts to support the new resettlement areas must take this into account. Who to back? The new emergent middle farmers or the poor and struggling? Second, the dynamic formation of class – cross-cut by differences of gender, age and ethnicity – has implications for political dynamics in the countryside. Again, who will have the political voice in the future? Will it be the ‘chefs’ who are small in number but who have grabbed land, or a larger group of emerging farmers who are doing well? And will workers, poorer peasants and others ally with them in pushing for a better deal?

These political dynamics are discussed at the close of the paper. Much is speculation, but informed by an understanding of emerging patterns of socio-economic differentiation. If political parties in forthcoming elections want to know a bit more about their constituencies, then the paper offers some food for thought.

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

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