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Land and tenure in Zimbabwe’s communal areas: why land reform was needed

Access to land is central to the livelihoods of rural people, but in the communal areas this is highly constrained outside the land-extensive Lowveld site of Mwenezi. Even in dryland Chivi average holdings are only 2.1 hectares, while in Gutu North they are as small as 1.4 hectares on average (see table below). The communal areas of course were established as labour reserves in the colonial period, and were never meant to afford the opportunity to accumulate independently. The aim was to provide some level of social security in old age, and a place for women and children to live, while men migrated to town or to the farms and mines to work. This wage labour was then the source of income and agricultural production just complementary subsistence.

  Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Average land area owned (ha) 6.5 2.1 1.6 1.4
Cultivated in last year (ha) 4.4 2.1 1.5 1.0
Rented in land (%) 4.1 2.0 1.0 0.0
Rented out land (%) 2.1 2.0 4.1 3.6
Households with members with land in A1 resettlements (%) 17.1 5.0 3.1 3.6
Households with livestock in resettlement areas (%) 11 0.4 3.1 `1.8
Women’s independent control of land (%) 48 43 48 21
Gardens near home (%) 35 26 30 6
Gardens away from home (%) 1 57 36 0
Irrigated land (% of households) 2.8 0.5 10.4 0
Trees planted in last 5 years (%) 25 46 41 58
Conservation measures added in last 5 years (%) 25 21 8 25

Some managed to break away from these strictures in the past, and there were always a few communal area agricultural entrepreneurs – the hurudza – who ran large herds or farmed large fields, often through polygamous family labour. But for most, the colonial system of land use kept the reserves poor but surviving, and purposely so. Following Independence this did not change hugely. The post-independence resettlement schemes provided opportunities for a few, but most continued with patterns of circular migration to elsewhere in Zimbabwe or from some areas to South Africa, as part of a demographic cycle. With employment opportunities drying up in the 1990s this changed thanks to structural adjustment, with new patterns of land use emerging in the communal areas including some intensification (see below). Nevertheless, the basic patterns persisted within a dualistic agrarian structure, with the communal areas highly constrained.

Only with the major land reform did this change radically with the significant expansion of opportunities to gain access to land through the ‘fast-track’ land reform programme following 2000. But from our communal sites, despite there being resettlement areas nearby (which was the basis for the choice of study areas), relatively few moved from the households in our sample to the new areas. Even when they did, apart from in Mwenezi, connections between the old homes in the communal areas and the new resettlement areas have declined over time, although there still remains important exchanges of livestock, labour and food that continue. Those lucky enough to get land in the new resettlements are doing much better: having access to land, especially in the higher potential districts of Masvingo and Gutu, makes a big difference, and as our work has shown now over many years, there are opportunities for accumulation and livelihood improvement that are significantly greater than those in the communal areas.

Overall, following land reform the communal areas remained much as they did. There was of course some reduction in population density but not enough to make a big difference. The communal areas remain extremely land constrained, and this conditions the opportunities available. With low yields and limited inputs this is not enough to live from. Since the 1980s there have been loads of projects aimed to improve agricultural production and livelihoods in the communal areas, and these continue under various banners. When living in a communal area in Zvishavane district in the mid-1980s I got involved in some of these. They certainly improved things at the margins, but the historical constraints of these being ‘labour reserves’, not agricultural areas with potential, made opportunities limited. Only with land reform did opportunities increase, and then only for some. As argued in various blogs in this series, questions must be raised about these ‘development’ interventions: do they really make a difference?

Gardens and homefields: new patterns of agriculture in the communal areas

In addition to their main land holdings many people in the communal areas also have gardens. As more intensive areas of production, these have often been the focus for intervention but usually as group efforts rather than individual enterprises. Gardens can be near the home or further away near a suitable water source. Apart from Gutu North, where gardens seem to be (surprisingly) few, between 83% and 36% of households have such gardens. These tend to small, usually less than 0.1 ha, and irrigated mostly by hand, with most vegetables for home consumption (see other blogs). Most are managed by women, and such gardens are an important source of relish year round.

With the exception of Gutu North, where land is especially constrained, about 40-50% of lead women in the households have access to land in their own right. This is not necessarily because of being the household head (because a husband is deceased or they have divorced), as so-called female headed households make around a quarter of the sample, but through household level arrangements as part of the marriage bargain. In most cases, this is in relation to the allocation of certain land – including gardens – to women for sole management. Very often this involves particular crops, including groundnuts, Bambara nuts and so on.

The availability of irrigation plots depends on the proximity of a government scheme or an organised ‘group garden’. Unlike in the resettlement areas, particularly in Masvingo district, people have not invested in small-scale irrigation, but if there is a scheme some from a household may get a 0.1 ha plot. Overall the numbers are small, however, and this is not a big part of land use or production, despite these being dry areas. Irrigation schemes have long been a central pillar of investment in the communal areas, but they have tended to be focused on giving a larger number of irrigators just enough irrigated land, and this is not a driver of accumulation like the small, private initiatives in the resettlement areas, which have taken over the land along rivers, streams and around dams. Schemes are also prone to difficulties, as they are reliant on pumping equipment that often breaks down or ceases when power is not supplied. Many also resent the disciplining effects of scheme requirements, with specified rotations, crop choices and so on, under the control of an irrigation scheme extension officer.

Outside the Lowveld, there has been a shift in allocation in land in the communal areas, which has gendered implications. Very often the total land area is divided between homestead areas, often extensions of the home plot to include land around, and outfields which are the ‘traditional’ fields allocated way back in line with the Native Land Husbandry Act rules, where settlements (lines) and fields were separated in the land use plan. With more people and more land cultivated this separation has broken down and very often the outfields are seen as secondary. They are further away, more difficult to protect and require extensive production, which may not be possible because of lack of draft animals and labour. By contrast the homefields are a focus for more intensive production, using home waste, ash and labour from the home. These are often based on intensive garden production, often with hoes and hand irrigation, in small areas, and very often are the domain of women. Per hectare, productivity is much higher and from these small areas the main production is realised.

This is different to the nearby A1 resettlement areas that, in the villagised sites, have been planned in a similar way to the old ‘reserves’, with settlement separated from grazing. Here there may be small home gardens, but the main farming is done in the now cleared outfields. This is quite a different operation because of the scale, the level of inputs and the outputs expected, with different gender implications. While women are heavily involved in agricultural production, outfield farming is usually led by male heads of household, while women often focus on gardening.

Indeed, because of lack of inputs, notably labour (often because of age and infirmity) the outfields may not even be cultivated. For example, in the land-scarce area of Gutu North, on average 0.4 ha of a total of 1.4 ha, over a quarter, was left fallow across two relatively good rainfall years. In the resettlement areas there is also land left fallow, but this is usually because the land area is too big or it has not been completely cleared for ploughing by oxen or tractor.

These (relatively) new patterns of land utilisation in the communal areas, with the focus on a more garden-like form of production in the home fields, also affect the market in land rentals and sales (notionally illegal). In other parts of the country where production is more reliable because of better rainfall the emergence of ‘vernacular markets’ in land have been widely documented. You might expect that, given land scarcity, even if land exchanges are banned, these would emerge in these sites, with those able to make better use of land either buying up or renting in land.

The data show that this is not happening in the way that would be expected, as few rent out and rent in, and no one admitted to land sales. This may of course be a bias in the data, as people do not like to admit illegal activity, but based on our more qualitative research the data probably reflect the existing situation. Bottom line, as discussed in earlier blogs, people don’t have the resource to make a go of agriculture even on expanded plots, and so the demand for land, except at the margins (and usually around particular better quality patches near homesteads), is not high, and land markets are limited.

While areas are small and production limited, investment in particular areas continues. This is demonstrated by the planting of trees (mostly for fruit, sometimes for shade) and the expansion or rehabilitation of conservation measures (mostly contour ridges to reduce erosion). Tree planting, unsurprisingly, increases along the rainfall gradient from Mwenezi to Gutu North, with the most households recording planting trees where the land is most densely populated and the rainfall higher. Investment in conservation measures was noted by around a quarter of households, with the exception of Gutu West (for reasons that are not clear). This shows that there remains a commitment amongst a significant minority in sustaining production for the long term.

Tenure challenges

Investment, rental markets and so on happens despite these areas being under ‘communal tenure’. Some argue that a reform of tenure systems, and the offering of some form of private tenure will improve tenure security and increase production in the communal areas. I seriously doubt whether this will be the case. Despite this notionally being state land, these areas are held securely with usufruct rights, allocated through local institutions, usually a hybrid arrangement between local state officials (councillors etc.) and ‘traditional’ leaders (headmen, chiefs etc.), with allocation and inheritance processes mediated by close kin networks in extended household arrangements in family based villages. Through such arrangements land rentals are permitted, but sales are seriously frowned upon. This puts a brake on an acceleration of land sales and so land consolidation, although the odd corrupt local leader is not immune of course.

In the communal areas, therefore, a mix of de facto private and common property exists, which is recognised not formalised. A hybrid bricolage of informal and formal institutions supports this, which by and large serves the function of delivering land security to land holders, as well as resolving conflicts and disputes over land. It is not neat – there are no bits of paper to formalise it all – but it (mostly) works. The economists and planners who yearn for formalised systems will I fear be disappointed, as the constraint to production is nothing to do with tenure security, but due to structural constraints of finance, assets and land access. These will not be addressed by an expensive land tenure reform programme, which will, as so many places in Africa, be a wasted effort.

In the nearby A1 resettlement areas, the situation is different. There are fewer, long-standing local institutions and local kin networks to regulate land administration, and more formal systems are often required (although these are always hybrid combining resettlement committees of seven, war veterans, party officials and traditional leaders, sometimes involving the same people), to address land allocation, subdivision and inheritance, particular where there disputes. Unlike in the communal areas, where the land is being held as ‘home’, and production is limited, there are different stakes in the resettlement areas.

Here land is more extensive and valuable, and often significant levels of production are realised. Ensuring security for this is essential. For the A1 areas, this is less of a problem, but for the A2 medium-scale farms of, where finance for investment is vital, having a more formal arrangement so that land can be used as collateral, even through a lease agreement with the state, is important. For A1 areas, ‘offer letters’ or permits to occupy are issued, but their status remains unclear, especially in regard of financing.

The failure to address these land tenure issues comprehensively, but in a nuanced and differentiated manner, post-land reform has been a major policy failing, as discussed before on this blog. The priorities though must be addressing A2 leases, not communal area tenure reorganisation, where lack of land makes opportunities for development extremely limited. Communal areas still act in many respects as ‘the reserves’, but now without the labour in the wider economy. Beyond some marginal improvements, communal area livelihoods are not going to improve without an improvement in the wider economy. The focus for land-based interventions therefore must be elsewhere where the prospects are better.

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

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

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Livelihoods assets: differentiated development in Zimbabwe

Last week’s blog introduced this blog series on communal area development in Zimbabwe, and the comparisons with resettlement areas. This week’s blog continues the series with a look at the distribution of assets people have and their importance in building livelihoods.

Our four communal area sites across Masvingo province each have highly differentiated populations. We undertook a ‘success ranking’ in each, where local informants allocated each of the 608 households in our sample to a group (doing well, doing OK and failing), and explained the reasons behind their choice. In each case there was a majority in the bottom two categories, with relatively few in the top success group.

What were the criteria they used? These varied between sites. In the dryland areas of the Lowveld, cattle ownership was the key, alongside off-farm work, reflecting the importance of migration to South Africa in household economies. In the Gutu sites, crop production became more of an indicator, alongside remittances and formal jobs. In all sites ‘a good home’ (usually meaning a brick house, with a tin roof) was an important criterion.

What then are the characteristics of the households in our four sites? The table below offers some basic information.

  Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Sample size (N) 150 251 97 110
Since 2011, % left and abandoned farms 6.3 13.4 14.9 9.8
Average household size 8.0 (4 under 16) 6.2 (3.1 under 16) 6 (2.3) 6.1 (2.3)
Female headed households (%) 23 27 36 34
Households w members who went to resettlement areas post 2000 (%) 11.3 1.9 3.1 3.6
Households with someone working elsewhere 55 25 45 21
Households with children aged 21-30 working elsewhere 63% (half in SA) 27% (inc. 13 working abroad) 27% (only 5 away from area) 41 (8 away, mostly SA)
Lead women in household with access to land (%) 48 43 48 21
Average age of household head 41-50 41-50 41-50 41-50
Household heads attending school above Form 2 (%) 29 26 32 37
Master Famer certificate (%) 14 13 27 26

Since our original studies, there has been a turnover in households, with 11.2% of our cases (N=77) from our original sample of 685 households having left over six years, with no one replacing them. Various reasons for exit were recorded. In rank order these were: death, moving to live in town, moving to other communal areas, moving to South Africa, abandonment and moving to a resettlement area. Ageing communal area populations are not necessarily being replaced on death, as the younger generation does not take up the homestead or plot, and the land remains abandoned. Due to old age, some parents, especially if one has passed on, will go and live with children in town or the new resettlements. Younger inhabitants may also abandon plots too, finding better alternatives, for example with work in South Africa or in town, or through the allocation of a resettlement plot. The highest rate of exit was seen in Gutu West, followed by Chivi, Gutu North and Mwenezi. In Mwenezi, some maintain two homes and fields in the communal and resettlement areas, which is reflected in a lower exit rate.

For those remaining, the data show a pattern evident in many communal areas. Household heads have a mix of ages, with an average in the mid-late 40s. Quite a few household heads have passed on since we last visited in 2011-12; although some farms have been abandoned, others have been replaced by younger people through inheritance or reallocation. 23-36% of the households are recorded as female-headed, where husbands have died or are absent for long periods. Outside Gutu North, where land is especially constrained, 43-48% of women, either because they are in charge or through the marriage contract, have access to their own land.

As is the case throughout Zimbabwe, and especially for those who benefited from the post-1980 educational provision, schooling is on average quite advanced, more so in the mission influenced areas such as Gutu, where 32-37% of household heads attended secondary school. Master Farmer certificates are indicators or engagement with agricultural extension training provided by the state, particularly in the past, and 13-27% of households have a certificate, with more in the higher potential Gutu areas. As discussed in a later blog in this series, engagement with projects – by NGOs or donors or the state – is patchy, with intensive activity in some areas, but almost complete absence elsewhere. These data show that external interventions overall are limited, and very few people indeed benefited from the Presidential inputs scheme or ‘command agriculture’ in this period.

Asset poor, but differentiation

Across our communal area sites in Masvingo province, there is a broad similarity in average levels of average household asset ownership, as the table below shows. Not surprisingly, livestock ownership is highest in the drier areas, as is investment in well digging. Within the sites there are large variations, with asset ownership patterns being highly correlated with the success ranks discussed above. Some assets are widely owned, such as a brick house with a tin roof, as well as ploughs, cell phones and bicycles. Others differentiate the group more, including cattle, tractor and car ownership.

  Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Land owned (ha) 6.5 2.1 1.6 1.4
% households dug well in last 5 years 14 2 2 8
Cattle owned (nos) 7.6 4.0 3.1 3.7
Households with brick/tin roof house (%) 89 80 69 86
Plough ownership (%) 52 45 30 37
Harrows (%) 10 34 22 65
Cultivators 12 23 26 16
Cart ownership (%) 50 21 10 24
Wheelbarrow owned 41 50 21 25
Car ownership (%) 13 5 10 8
Tractor ownership (%) 13 0 0 0
Bicycle ownership (%) 45 32 36 43
Solar panel ownership (%) 75 57 69 47
Cell phone ownership (%) 87 92 89 91
TVs owned (%) 23 25 44 30
Pumps owned (%) 5 1 2 2
Spray equipment owned (%) 22 35 21 15

Levels of asset ownership are lower on average in the communal areas compared to the nearby A1 schemes, although there are exceptions in both directions. The key difference of course in the A1 schemes is land ownership, where households cultivate 4.0-6.6 ha of land in the sites nearby, and there is much more extensive grazing. This is associated with accumulation from crop and livestock production and so investment in other productive and service assets. Again, this is not universal, but whereas perhaps 5-10% of households in the communal areas (the top of our success group 1) are able to accumulate from local production, this increases to 30-40% in the A1 areas next door.

People’s capacities are broadly similar (A1 resettlement area populations are on average slightly younger and a bit more educated), but it’s access to assets that make the difference. Land redistribution in particular has made a big difference for many. While in the communal areas there is a long tail of asset and income poor households in need of external support, through remittances, off-farm work and state/donor aid, with only a few able to accumulate through farm-based production, in the A1 resettlements this pattern is reversed and there is much more development potential driven by ‘accumulation from below’ for at least a third of households. For them, a positive upward cycle is generated, as agricultural surpluses allow reinvestment in productive assets, and so potentials for greater accumulation, while others aspire to create such opportunities.

As discussed in later blogs, this has important implications for rural development options, with investment in productive, agriculture-based development possible in the resettlements (focused on ‘stepping up’ livelihoods), but much less so in the communal areas, where a focus on exit to non-farm livelihoods (‘stepping out’) and social protection (‘hanging in’) must dominate.

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

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

Lead photo credit: Tapiwa Chatikobo

 

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Are communal areas in Zimbabwe too poor for development?

Communal areas are where the majority of rural people live in Zimbabwe. With an estimated population of 1.1 million households and a land area of 16.4 million hectares, these areas far exceed those allocated land in the resettlements. This blog has largely focused on what has happened in the post 2000 land reform resettlements, which amount to around 8 million ha with about 175,000 households across A1 and A2 areas. But what about the relations between these areas; what are the implications for development?

This is the first in a series of nine blogs that will run over the next weeks that reflects on the situation in the communal areas, and compares this to resettlement areas, based on our on-going research in Masvingo province.

As argued on this blog before, Zimbabwe’s ‘second republic’ must focus on rural development if the economy is to be regenerated and livelihoods are to be sustained. In 2018, rural people voted en masse for ZANU-PF (outside parts of Manicaland and Matabeleland North), so the party must deliver. So far it is failing. But in order to deliver, policymakers need to understand the constraints, challenges and opportunities of rural settings.

In the past, this blog has identified a range of policy priorities, and suggested some key requirements for land policy in particular, mostly focused on the ‘new’ resettlements. Too often politicians and those based in urban areas or the diaspora dismiss rural areas as backward and desperate, mired in poverty. Alternatively such places are idealised as ‘the village’, where traditions are sustained. But these places are complex, with diverse populations, and with different needs.

A1 resettlements vs communal areas: big contrasts

To shed light on some of these issues, I have been delving into the data we collected in 2017-18 in a number of communal areas in Masvingo. Each site is close to one of our long-term A1 sites that we have been tracking since the early 2000s. Our sites therefore range from dryland areas in the Lowveld to relatively higher potential areas in Masvingo and Gutu districts further north.

As discussed in an earlier blog series, we are interested in whether the land reform areas, with larger land allocations, more assets and a different population profile, are doing better than their communal area neighbours, or whether the A1 areas are essentially an extension of communal area poverty and underdevelopment.

Our earlier analysis found on nearly all criteria that the A1 areas were doing better. Significant numbers of people were accumulating, and investing in productive assets on their farms. Six years on, what has happened? We returned to the same sites and households in Mwenezi district, Chivi, Gutu West and Gutu North.

The blogs that follow will look at a sample of 608 households (excluding 77 farms that had been abandoned since 2011-12). In particular they will examine land and its use, crop and livestock production and marketing, differentiated asset ownership and investment, labour hiring and employment, as well as the range of off-farm income earning activities in these communal areas, comparing them with our findings from the adjacent resettlement areas in our core study.

The data reveal variations across and within sites, showing differentiation by location and across social groups. The characterisation of these areas as poor holds up, but we also see great enterprise and diversity of livelihoods. Some are able to invest relatively limited returns in new assets (the numbers of cars purchased in some areas was a surprise, as was the number of tractors in Mwenezi) and, despite the state of the public education system, many prioritise paying for school fees as a core expenditure from crop and livestock sales.

Comparing the data to those in the A1 areas nearby, however, we do not see sustained accumulation from farm production, and reliance on external support, including remittances and off-farm work, is the norm. Hiring of labour is limited and a dynamic economy driven by agriculture is not evident. For sure, there are a few who are doing well – those with large herds of cattle in the dryland areas, or those able to produce significant quantities of maize in the higher rainfall areas. These are the ‘hurudza’ of contemporary times and are important people within kin and village networks, supporting others. But the data show these isolated cases and, in everywhere but Mwenezi, not part of a wider economic dynamism.

Because of large land areas, Mwenezi is in some ways more like a resettlement area, with opportunities for accumulation seen if rainfall is good (as was the case in the two years we have recent data for), as crop yields on the relatively good Lowveld soils can be substantial. With grazing plentiful, livestock production is possible too, and proximity to the border with South Africa means trading and jobs across the border is also an option. As the data show, Mwenezi is in some respects a different economic system – more variable, but with greater opportunity – compared with the more conventional, highly resource constrained communal area sites to the north.

Links to the resettlement areas: a territorial perspective

In our interviews, we discussed the links between the four communal areas and the resettlements nearby. The results are interesting. They highlight both cooperative and conflictive relationships. The land reform areas are seen as sources of food (to purchase or via support from relatives), grazing (either through loaning arrangements of animals from the communal area to relatives or others in the resettlement or where surplus grazing can be made use of by communal area cattle) and work (through labour hiring practices of the new farmers). These areas, reclaimed through land reform, are also important for culture and identity. In all cases people identified sites where people have been reconnected with religious and grave sites, previously protected as part of private land under the control of large-scale commercial farmers.

Conflicts also occur, and disputes over grazing access and boundaries were highlighted most frequently. Given that there are many people in the resettlements who originally come from the nearby communal areas, conflicts are usually resolved easily. When things escalate, local councillors, and even the police are drawn upon. Many resettlement sites originally had surplus resources, with fewer people and large grazing areas. This is changing as populations grow and more people settle (often illegally) in the resettlements, so disputes are increasing, people say.

Seeing the communal areas as part of a wider economic system is important. These areas were established originally in the colonial era as ‘labour reserves’. With the collapse of the wider economy and the change in the employment market since structural adjustment in the 1990s, the relationships between the rural and urban, and the role of circular migration has changed.

Today, communal areas now must be seen more in terms of their relationships with surrounding land use and economic activity – notably the linkages with both A1 and A2 resettlements, and the small towns, now often booming, that are in rural areas. With the removal of the stark separation between large-scale, mostly white-owned commercial farms and the communal areas removed, the racial, political landscape has changed. This has important implications for economic development.

As several blogs in this series argue – and as has been discussed here before – thinking about local economic development is key. The communal areas may be too poor to develop by themselves, but as a source of labour, markets, service needs and some production, they are important in local economies. Development planning and investment needs to take a wider view, and not just invest in small agricultural projects in communal areas in the hope of a transformation, but think about linkages, synergies and connections, in ways that connect communal areas with resettlements and small towns.

In the forthcoming blogs, I will discuss these questions in relation to particular themes. The bottom line is that investing in production, marketing and economic growth in most communal areas is severely constrained. Where these opportunities open up is when we look at the communal area in relation to the land reform areas nearby, as part of a spatial, territorial approach to economic development. Communal areas are certainly poor, but not too poor for development: thinking more broadly about linkages and connections across a territory is essential.

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

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

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