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Migration and changing disease dynamics in the Zambezi valley

 In last week’s blog, we saw how ‘structural violence’ and deep patterns of inequality and marginalisation, affected by patterns of social difference – of gender, age and ethnicity – have influenced who gets exposed to trypanosomiasis (just as is the case with other diseases, such as Ebola).

This week, the theme is continued, by looking at how migration into the area has created both dramatic land use change and changing patterns of vulnerability to different social groups. Migration has radically changed landscapes in the Zambezi valley over the past 30 years, as large numbers of new people moved into what were once sparsely populated areas.

As people have moved into the valley to farm – first cotton, now increasingly tobacco – they have cleared land for fields and homes. Initially animals suffered badly from trypanosomiasis, but this declined after a while, as cleared areas were created through intensive control efforts. The work of the Tsetse Control Branch, and projects such as the RTCCP, funded by the European Union, helped. But such control was always partial, and risks increased as people settled in new areas.

In the 1980s and 1990s people moved from the overcrowded communal areas to the south. Unable to make a living on shrinking land sizes and in the context of the absence of a substantial land reform programme. From the 1990s, following a structural adjustment programme that shrunk the economy and reduced job opportunities, people had to find other means of making a living, and migration to new lands was one response.

In the late 1980s I was living in Zvishavane district in the central-south of the country in a communal area. From our sample, several people made the move to go and settle elsewhere (in Gokwe, Muzarabani and beyond). They were relatively young men with their families who had been granted very small fields, and had greater ambitions. As employment opportunities shrunk, carving out a new life on the land frontier to the north was increasingly appealing. As the boom in smallholder cotton growing occurred, news travelled back, and more left.

On arrival, it was a harsh existence. New fields had to be cleared from pristine bush, wildlife were a constant threat, and the tsetse fly was ever-present in the newly settled areas, constantly threatening the health of both people and animals. Today, the settlers from 20-30 years ago are now established, have cleared land (and so tsetse flies), and many are currently prospering from the tobacco boom. Well connected to political elites, these now 50-60 year olds are mostly no longer part of the vulnerable population that they once were.

But today, a new group of migrants has arrived, and they are especially vulnerable to disease, again being pushed to a new fly-infested frontier. With land reform in 2000, the Karoi farms to the south of our study area were taken over, and transformed into land reform settlements. In this area, many well positioned political figures took over the large, (mostly) tobacco farms, although there were also subdivisions to create A1 farms for many more people.

In both cases, farm workers who had lived on these farms for generations, often in appalling conditions, were expelled in numbers. Thousands had to seek other alternatives to farm wage labour. A few had connections elsewhere in Zimbabwe, but many were second or third generation ‘foreign’ migrants, originally from Malawi, Mozambique or Zambia, with nowhere to go. They had been isolated through the form of ‘domestic government’ so well described by Blair Rutherford in these very sites, and were almost completely reliant on the white farm owner.

With the economy nose-diving due to a complex combination of gross economic mismanagement, capital flight and economic sanctions from western governments, after land reform many fled north to our study sites in the valley in search of land for farming, or for hunting and gathering. The local chiefs had already accommodated huge numbers of others in the previous years, where were these new arrivals to go? Eager to expand their territory and increase numbers under their rule (and so acquire increased remuneration from the government), they placed them along the frontier of the national park, and even, illegally, into the buffer area. Acting as a human and livestock shield for others in the now cleared core areas, they provided political and economic benefits to local elites, while in the process taking the brunt of disease impacts.

Thus the disease landscape has over time been radically restructured by migration, and the demand for land. Understanding disease is not just a biological-epidemiological task, but one that must take account of wider political economic factors – such as the state of the economy, opportunities for employment, land reform impacts and more. Diseases such as trypanosomiasis are always inevitably political.

The Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa work was supported by ESPA (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) programme funded by NERC, ESRC and DFID, and the Zimbabwe study was led by Professor Vupenyu Dzingirai (CASS, UZ), working with William Shereni (Ministry of Agriculture), Learnmore Nyakupinda (Ministry of Agriculture), Lindiwe Mangwanya (UZ), Amon Murwira (UZ), Farai Matawa (UZ), Neil Anderson (Edinburgh University) and Ewan McLeod (Edinburgh University), among others.

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


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Seeds for Africa’s green revolution: can India help?

Over the last year or so we have been doing some work exploring how the Indian seed sector might contribute to African agriculture, boosting productivity and assisting in particular smaller, poorer farmers. Could the seed sector replicate the great success of the generics pharmaceuticals from India that have revolutionised access to low cost drugs, with many benefits across the developing world?

The work has been supported by DFID-India, and has been led by colleagues linked to the Future Agricultures Consortium (in Ethiopia, Kenya and the UK), as well as at the RIS in Delhi. The final report, put together by Dominic Glover, is just out. It is accompanied by a shorter briefing paper too that focuses on the generics drugs-seeds comparison.

The briefing opens; “Experts agree that Africa’s farmers need quality seeds, but the continent’s share in the global seed trade is very low. African countries often lack the institutional capacity to support the growth of seed markets in the continent, an issue that cuts across regulation and other areas. The supply of breeder seeds is weak and improved crop varieties are introduced extremely slowly. Foreign expertise and investment could help build capacity in crop breeding and other aspects of the seed sector, including management, logistics, marketing and the integration of new technologies.”

This is the vision, but what of the reality? There are some parallels with the pharmaceutical sector, but they can be over-stretched. The big successes of generic drugs emerged in a particular period. Today markets are much more competitive, and many of the successful generics manufacturers have moved on, merged or been bought up. Seeds are also a rather different product, and we have to differentiate between different market segments. Low cost, high volume production of quality seed may be possible say for vegetable seeds, but it is less likely for grain crops for instance, given the costs of development, regulatory restrictions and the marketing/transport/logistics challenges. So how ‘pro poor’ will a top quality tomato seed really be, and will it really be any better or cheaper than one produced in Holland, France or China?

And then there’s the GM factor, an issue that has had less resonance in medical applications of biotechnology. Genetically-modified seeds – basically transgenics – have been highly controversial globally. And also in Africa, where there remain restrictions on their use in most countries, including Zimbabwe (despite widespread spread of GM crops informally, notably in Zimbabwe’s cases GM maize from South Africa). But the Indian seed sector sees GM crops as essential for growth. Bt cotton (a pest resistant GM crop) has been a massive success in India since its formal release in 2002 (and indeed before – although with some serious qualifications about its ‘pro-poor’ success). Monsanto, together with the Indian company Mayhco, pioneered it, but today many companies market the transgene backcrossed into numerous varieties. Bt cotton has filled the coffers of the seed companies across India, but now the market is saturated, and the extension of GM revolution in Indian agriculture has been stalled by controversies about transgenic food crops, notably the furore that exploded around Bt brinjal (aubergine) a few years back. Business managers in the seed sector see exports of Bt cotton to Africa as a next frontier.

There have been various attempts to make links, facilitated in part by the US government and outfits such as the Syngenta Foundation (closely associated as the name suggests to the biotech company of the same name). And the most recent development has occurred in Zimbabwe, with the purchase of a majority stake in Quton by Mahyco (and so with close links to Monsanto) from SeedCo in 2014. With cotton in the doldrums this acquisition has passed off without much comment, but Quton is a significant player, with some fantastic genetic resources and much skill and experience. It was originally part of Cottco, and formerly the Cotton Marketing Board (see a couple of earlier papers I did with James Keeley on seeds and agricultural biotechnology regulation in Zimbabwe). The genetics it has were built through public investment in the Cotton Research Institute. Quton has been toying with GM cotton for years, but regulatory hurdles have prevented it from moving forward. This acquisition certainly positions it as a major player for a future GM-accepting Africa, despite the concerns.

However, this Indian (and indirectly, American) investment is one of few direct take-overs. The expansion of the Indian seed industry in Africa has been slow and rather tentative. Most activity is in East Africa where business connections across the Indian Ocean and linked to diaspora links has been the most intensive. This is why we focused our research in Kenya and Ethiopia, both of which have Indian seed sector links. We identified a series of mechanisms by which these are forged, ranging from direct seed sales, to local multiplication, to company alliances and mergers. None have really boomed as yet, and we were really looking at only first-stage commercial engagements.

What were the challenges faced? There were many. First is the international business context. India often cannot compete with the hyper efficient logistics operations of others. It may have low cost production in India, but it is not so effective at the trade element. Second, regulations around seed are complex, nationally-focused and often quite political. Some companies have got in trouble as objections to the testing of food grains for instance were made – not so much on scientific grounds, but on the basis of unclear risks to importing grains on national food security. Seed testing authorities do not have standard approaches, and each country is different. With markets being small and entry costs high, this is a challenge. Third, moving into a country, acquiring land for seed testing and multiplication and developing a new business is challenging. The whole debate about ‘land grabbing’ has heightened awareness around foreign investment. And when things go wrong – as has happened with the Indian investor Karuturi both in Ethiopia (over land grabbing claims) and in Kenya (over tax bills and labour disputes) – this has ripple effects that are difficult to control.

Currently, India is a relatively minor player in seed exports to Africa, with less than two percent of the trade, and ranking only 14th. Trade with Africa is growing in a variety of ways, and there are clearly useful skills and technologies that India can offer. But how this will be ‘pro poor’ and so support developmental trajectories is less clear. The ‘Green Revolution’ experience is often held up as the example that Africa must follow. But as the report notes

“The development of India’s own seed industry, as well as India’s Green Revolution, were largely directed and supported by public investments and policy frameworks. Even then, the benefits of India’s agricultural transformation were not evenly or equitably distributed…. If Africa is to enjoy an agricultural transformation that creates broad developmental benefits, then the public sector as well as civil society institutions will need to play crucial roles. It is therefore not only a question of what profit-seeking seed firms from India might accomplish in pursuit of their own commercial interests, but how improving access to modern agricultural technologies might create broad benefits for cultivators and consumers, and for rural and national development”.

There is much hype about ‘South-South’ cooperation and the role of ‘business in development’, but in a complex and often rather unprofitable sector like seeds for poor, smallholders, a more developmental strategy is needed that gears investment, regulation and wider support in ways that private goods (and profits) work for wider public gain. Holding on to public genetic resources and deploying public policy and expertise in support of the seed sector – agriculture more generally – in alliance with business (from whatever source) is, as explained in a now old paper with Shaila Seshia, the big, usually forgotten, lesson of the Asian ‘green revolution’.

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

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Cotton in crisis: the limits to liberalisation

The cotton industry in Zimbabwe is in crisis. World market prices have collapsed, and the liberalised contract system, where numerous companies compete with each other, is failing. Side-selling is rife, profits are being squeezed and farmers are losing out, as ginning companies threaten to reduce input supplies to maintain profits. With some ginners only offering cotton seed, and no fertiliser and agrochemicals, this means that yields are set to decline further, debts mount up and incentives for side-selling increase. A mix of contracting arrangements, with some involved in input supply, while others are just involved in buying up cotton, has been a recipe for confusion, and increasingly bad practice.

Many farmers have decided to switch from cotton to more lucrative crops, including tobacco. The consequence is that a number of companies have withdrawn from the Zimbabwean market. Cargill for example announced the ceasing of its cotton operations. The formerly state-owned company and the company with by the far the largest market share, Cottco, is in real trouble, posting a $30m loss in the last year, and racking up $56m of debt. It has restructured its operations, shedding management and other staff. The government has moved in recently to bail it out, proposing to increase its stake from 16 cent to about 65 per cent, taking on the debt in exchange for shareholdings, and guaranteeing inputs for its 100,000 farmer grower base this season. Cotton merchants – with the exception of China cotton that continues to operate independently – have initiated a centralised buying scheme to cut down on side-selling, although some complain that this is a return to a monopolistic arrangement reducing competition, not seen since the days of the Cotton Marketing Board. China cotton, a relatively recent arrival and an increasingly important player also has its own problems.

The current situation is a far cry from the days when a liberalised market was being hailed as the saviour of the cotton industry. There were numerous new entrants, with Indian, Chinese, US, South African and other local companies entering the fray. The old monopoly of Cottco – and before it the CMB – was shattered, and, so went the argument, competition would promote efficiency and would benefit farmers and the economy alike.

For a time, this looked to be the case – and certainly our study from Masvingo in the 2000s showed how the growth of cotton farming in dryland resettlement areas really benefited post-land reform farmers. In the Uswaushava area, six companies operated, and there were new gins opened, allowing farmers choices of who to contract with. In the period of economic chaos in the mid-2000s, cotton contracting was essential, as this was the only way farmers could gain access to inputs, and get paid for their produce. Until the prices collapsed, farmers were happy, and profited significantly, investing in their farms and homes. Our data from Masvingo on the percentage of farmers in the A1 Uswaushava farms growing cotton between 2001 and 2013 shows the growth to a 2007-08 peak of over 90% involvement, and then more recent declines:


This pattern is reflected nationally. Cotton output for the 2013-14 season declined to about 136 million kg, from 145 million kg in 2012-13 and 350 million kg in 2011-12. Farmers have switched away from cotton, including to the more lucrative tobacco in some parts of the country. The prices are not high enough to cover the high input costs (of chemicals, fertiliser, labour and so on). While farmers are able to choose between companies, none are offering good enough deals in their view. Side-selling has grown, as farmers break contracts, and switch to capture good deals. The ideal of a liberalised market, especially in the context of declining commodity prices, is looking decidedly less shiny.

Through the 1980s and 90s, cotton production grew significantly, and became centred on smallholder production linked to outgrowing, especially in ‘frontier’ areas such as Gokwe and Zambezi valley. This dynamic was only boosted by land reform in 2000 as more small-scale farmers came into the sector, eager to profit from the ‘white gold’. In the 1990s, the zeal of policymakers for radical liberalisation and privatisation was aided and abetted by misguided advice from international experts from donor agencies and lending institutions. And of course in the ESAP era of the ‘Washington Consensus’, full-scale liberalisation was often obligatory under the disastrous conditionalities of the International Finance Institutions. This was added to by the enthusiasm of companies, sometimes with strong political connections, wanting to gain access to what then was seen as a highly lucrative market.

At the time many warned of the dangers of sudden and complete liberalisation. They pointed to the dangers of an unregulated, poorly coordinated market solution, and the risks of state withdrawal from the sector. Cottco as an effective private oligopoly initially maintained a coordination role, and offset the worst consequences of liberalisation. But as liberalisation continued, these effects were lost to the detriment of the sector. While ‘parastatal’ was a dirty word in the 1990s (and still is in many quarters), in agricultural economies across Africa they often played an important role. While they were undoubtedly inefficient and often corrupt, an ideologically-driven privatisation at all costs was often worse. And so it proved in many instances.

The contrasts between west and southern Africa, both major cotton producers, is instructive. West Africa has maintained output, productivity and competitiveness, but with continued state and institutional coordination and support. Burkina Faso for example was able to build its cotton industry, and it has remained with substantial, if reduced, state involvement. By contrast in southern Africa production has declined, and privatised businesses have struggled.

That the state in Zimbabwe has returned to prop up the failing Cottco is perhaps a sign that the limits of liberalisation are finally being understood. Cotton is such a crucial crop for Zimbabwean smallholders that it is vital that, even as commodity prices dip, the capacity of the industry to produce top quality export cotton is maintained. Zimbabwe is still a major producer globally, and has a tradition of producing high quality lint. However, the dangers of assuming that a completely liberalised contracting approach will work in the longer term need to be heeded – for cotton, but also other crops such as tobacco, currently seeing a boom.

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

























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Old powers and new powers: agriculture and investment in Africa

Last week I chaired a fascinating panel discussion at a conference titled: “Emerging Powers: Going Global”. It was all about the new world order, and the role of China, Brazil, India and others, particularly in Africa. Such powers of course have long emerged and so the title was a bit misleading, but the interesting discussions focused on the changing dynamics of power, and especially in Africa.

The conference was held in the British Academy, in their fine building on Carlton Terrace off the Mall in London, the inside of which is adorned with portraits and busts of the great and the good of years gone by (all men, at least the ones I saw). The establishment of the BA was first proposed in 1899, and it was established in 1902, just before the coronation of Edward VII, following the death of Queen Victoria. It was at the height of the British Empire when Britain ruled the world, or at least large parts of it.

111 years on, Britain’s role in the world has much declined, and the great and the good of today assembled in the conference hall of the Academy (there were lots of Lords, Sirs, OBEs and more in the guest list – and I even wore a tie for the occasion) were having to contemplate a new configuration of power and influence, with Britain as a declining power.

Our panel was on food and agriculture, and included the inevitable discussion about ‘land grabs’, large and small farm models, and how investment in Africa could be increased, but also guided and regulated. The panel included two investors in farm businesses in Africa (including Zimbabwe), a financier from the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group, and researchers from India, Brazil and the UK. We had an excellent debate. Here are some highlights:

  • The pattern of large scale land acquisition (‘land grabbing’) noted post 2007-08 is on the decline. Many investors have had their fingers badly burned. One panellist indicated that he would never touch land acquisitions, and would only invest up the value chain. Another said that you enter ‘green field’ investments with trepidation, and it’s so much easier to go for ‘brown field’ sites, where ownership is clear, infrastructure is available and so on.
  • There was universal support for a smallholder led strategy (this was a surprise given the panel composition), but with linkages to large-scale capital investments in core estates or farms. Outgrower and contract farming arrangements were favoured, allowing for market connections, quality control and upgrading. While there were ‘intermediation’ problems to be addressed, the efficiency and productivity of smallholders was acknowledged, especially if they could be offered capital investment, input support and training.
  • Land tenure and ownership was highlighted as a big issue affecting land based investments in Africa. Lack of clarity of who owns what, and empty land turning out not to be were highlighted. Negotiating at a local level with traditional leaders and local communities was seen as one route, but with its own risks.
  • The ‘Africa rising’ narrative had to be tempered. The massive growth estimates that are sometimes touted are often based on extremely dodgy data; and where growth occurs it tends to be associated with oil discoveries or recovery from conflict. The longer term future is not as bright as the hype. Clearly investments from Brazil, China and others are going to be key, but they will inevitably allied to other investors and finance arrangements as part of multi-partite business arrangements. Unlike geopolitics, business does not differentiate between old or new powers in the same way, and there is much more interconnection.
  • There is far more room for manoeuvre by African states than is sometimes imagined. While everyone is prepared to play on the rhetoric of solidarity and South-South cooperation, everyone also knows where interests lie. And in the end national sovereignty counts. Getting a good deal from investments in a ‘buyers’ market’ is easier than some think; however some states are better than others at the negotiations.

Interestingly Zimbabwe came up a number of times. The new geopolitical configurations in southern Africa mean that China in particular is a key partner, and essential to the support of the Zimbabwe regime. Chinese support for the agricultural sector, notably tobacco, but also cotton, was mentioned several times. One of the investors commented favourably on the potentials of the post-land reform setting, with multiple small farmers offering products to the market. Investment in marketing, product upgrading and processing linked to A1 settlements in particular was seen as somewhere where ‘money could be made’. He had seen firsthand how the Chinese were doing it in tobacco, and thought this could be replicated more widely. As he noted, the international media impression of Zimbabwe doesn’t match the reality on the ground. He was keen to get in there soon, before others got wind of the potential. There was a sense of early entrant advantage in a business opportunity ripe for exploitation.

Commentaries on the business potentials of agriculture in Africa – and particularly smallholder agriculture following land reform – from agribusiness entrepreneurs are not often heard in the hallowed halls of venues like the BA. But these are surely just the discussions going on Sao Paulo, Delhi and Beijing, not to mention Johannesburg, as ’emerging powers’ and their investors plot how to make the most from Africa’s potentials. While investing in agriculture is tough, as the panel confirmed, Zimbabwe may well be a good bet. This is certainly the view of the book, Flight of the Phoenix – Investing in Zimbabwe’s Rise from the Ashes during the Global Debt Crisis, which offers a very positive longer term view of the investment prospects.

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


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Voices from the field: growing cotton in Nuanetsi ranch

This week again I am highlighting another of our videos from the series, ‘Voices from the Field’. Again, if you don’t want to watch the intro sequence again, run it on to around 1 minute 11 seconds.

This week, I want to introduce Mr Chidangure who produces cotton in the Uswaushava area, part of the massive Nuanetsi ranch. While he focuses on cotton, his wife organises beer sales. Together they make a significant income, and have begun investing in purchasing cattle, and building their home.

While the cotton price has dipped in recent years, they are still committed to growing it, but are also diversifying into other crops. Mr Chidangure favours the former parastatal Cottco, as it reliably supplies seed and chemicals, but there are many other companies competing for custom in the area, and competition is fierce.

When the film was made this was still an ‘informal settlement’ with absolutely no formal tenure security. Despite this, investments such as house building have occurred, as seen in the film. Since then their claims on the land have been recognised with ‘offer letters’, and with this farmers feel more secure.

Thanks to income from cotton the family has finished the construction of the houses, with them all now plastered and painted.

For the full set, go to: http://www.youtube.com/user/ZimLandReform

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


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Why good numbers matter in Zimbabwe (part II)

This week’s blog follows on directly from last week, when I introduced the excellent new book, Poor Numbers, by Morten Jerven. This week we move from the general argument to the Zimbabwe case.

Let me offer three examples – each of which have been mentioned in this blog before – that complement Jerven’s cases, and contribute to the same bigger point that good numbers matter.

Agricultural output data: Zimbabwe’s agricultural data comes from a variety of sources, including annual crop surveys, market surveys and assessments of throughput at marketing depots. In the past, when the sector was dominated by a few large farms, it was relatively easy to get a picture of production each year. Output from the communal areas was assessed through state marketing channels through marketing boards for most of the agricultural commodities, especially maize (but also cotton, tobacco and beef). While statistics on cotton and tobacco remain reasonably good, as their marketing is channelled through few players, the production and marketing of maize and beef, by contrast, has changed dramatically since land reform.

Today there are diverse marketing channels, including much locally-focused marketing and little reliance on the old marketing board routes. And with many more farms across the country (around 150,000 new units in the A1 schemes alone), field-level monitoring by extension agents is nigh on impossible. For important crops such as the small grains (millets, sorghum), groundnuts, many oilseeds and beans, as well as smallstock, we know virtually nothing about total production and marketing.

The bottom line is that we don’t know how much food is produced and where, nor do we know how much is stored and marketed. Despite the attempts of Fewsnet, ZimVAC and others, the estimates are increasingly guesswork, especially as sampling frames and data collection protocols have not changed sufficiently to respond to the dramatically reconfigured agrarian structure.

Each year we get conflicting estimates of how dire the harvest is going to be, and the consequences this will have for food imports, and food aid. With such uncertainties, this becomes a critical area of political contestation: between government and the donors, and even between international agencies. Claiming a food ‘crisis’ may be the only way of securing international funds, as sustaining an ‘emergency’ has been essential to continued international engagement through ‘humanitarian’ aid. Such a response may well be justified; but it may be not. The problem is often we don’t know.

Migration data: Similar uncertainties centre population data and migration-related demography. While we know that migration, particularly to South Africa, has increased, we have absolutely no idea how many people have moved permanently there (or indeed to other destination countries, although the data for the UK, for example, is better). Large numbers are bandied around, which serve particular politically purposes; in South Africa (linked to xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric) and in Zimbabwe and internationally (supporting the narrative that people are ‘fleeing’).

But the figures of course don’t take into account the long-term pattern of circular migration whereby people move temporarily, or indeed increasingly seasonally. If we were to believe the figures, there would be far fewer people in Zimbabwe than there seem to be. For example, the preliminary results for the 2012 census show that the population has increased by 1% over a decade and stands at nearly 13m. Even within the country we don’t know where people are living. There is an assumption that the urban areas are growing, as people flood to the cities. But is this the case? Debbie Potts doubts this data for sub-Saharan Africa generally, but until we get better locational census data that accounts for regular movement, we will not know.

Land ownership data: This is perhaps the most contested, and in the absence of a proper land audit, we cannot know. But when ‘surveys’ purport to present data that show that “40% of the land was seized by Mugabe and his cronies”, and these figures get reported in the international media as fact, we are in trouble. This most recent examples of this short-cut journalism and recycling of ‘facts’ are from the BBC (on the Hard Talk show with Patrick Chinamasa) and the UK Guardian (in a link put in by the paper in an otherwise good piece by Simukai Tinhu). The earlier land audits by Utete and Boka have shown categorically the problem of elite capture in the A2 sites, and our detailed province-specific work in Masvingo supports this. But the scale is nothing like that claimed.

This poverty of data leads to a poverty of understanding, and so a distortion of debate. We should not be ignoring the abuse of the land reform programme by some politically-military connected elites, and the ownership of multiple farms is clearly contrary to any regulation, but our focus should equally not be only on this issue, and the wider picture, based on realistic data, needs to be central. This is why, in terms of the GPA and in line with the now agreed constitutional commitments, a proper land ownership and use survey (an audit) is critical.

If you don’t know how much food is being produced, how many people are in the country or have left and who owns what land, then how can you begin to make plans for the future? As contributors to other headline statistics, including GDP, such figures may result in major distortions.

For example, in Zimbabwe, GDP figures have been used to show the dramatic decline, and then impressive recovery in the formal economy (see the shower of graphs in the most recent budget statement), yet, as I have argued before, even in the depths of the crisis in the late 2000s, economic activity was far higher than measured. The ‘real economy’ – informal, often based on barter exchanges, sometimes illegal, much of linked to cross-border trade – was thriving, despite the collapse in the core, formal economy. It had to: this is how people survived. If you believed the figures on the formal economy, where the numbers were collected, people would have been suffering far more than they did.

As the formal economy has recovered, this has been registered in the statistics, but the informal economy still exists, and indeed the 2000s saw a massive restructuring of economic activity, not only in the agricultural sector, but across the economy towards more small-scale, informally-based enterprises. This is not a bad thing, as it provides the basis for more inclusive, employment generating, broad based growth. But if it is not understood, measured and recorded, it does not feature in planning and crucially budget allocation discussions. ZIMSTAT has recently published the 2011/12 Poverty, Income Consumption and Expenditure survey, and in a future blog I will review its findings, and the degree to which it has been able to respond to the changed post-2000 context.

While it may seem that a focus on statistical services is a rather dry and dull subject, it is in fact essential. ZIMSTAT has a small ‘did you know?’ box on their website’s front page. It says: “The likely success of development policies in achieving their aims will be improved by the use of statistics”. They are right. Revitalising statistical services, and improving their capacity to carry out national-level, macro-census type work, as well as smaller, more focused surveys, complemented with qualitative insights, is vital.

If development is to be successful, a thorough-going and honest debate on the quality of data and how to improve it is essential. Jerven’s superb book discusses an important topic with clarity and honesty; and for donors thinking of investing in government capacities in Zimbabwe again, it is well worth a read.

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


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Farming under contract

Contract farming is all the rage in Zimbabwe at the moment. Indeed, more generally across Africa, there is growing interest in linking up smallholder farmers with larger business operations to produce and market certain agricultural commodities. Advocated by the World Bank and others, it seems like a perfect ‘win-win’ scenario. Smallholders get access to inputs and markets, and agribusiness gets guaranteed products at good prices and at scale, without having to take over large areas of land and produce everything themselves. Thus, in the great ‘land grab’ debate, some offer contract farming, with smallholders linked into global value chains, as an alternative.

Of course contract farming arrangements are not new in the Zimbabwean agricultural sector. The great cotton boom from the 1990s when smallholders entered cotton production in a big way was driven by contract arrangements, initially with the parastatal Cottco, and then with a variety of companies following liberalisation. This has been hailed as a massive success. Production increased and quality was maintained, and the Zimbabwe cotton industry thrived. The same is now happening in tobacco, as contract producers, on new resettlement farms, both A1 and A2, are hooking up with contractor, including some major contracts with the Chinese company Tianze. Other commodities have seen positive contracting experiences, including specialised crops like paprika. Where there are high demands for expensive inputs (fertilisers, sprays, seeds) and a need for specialist marketing support, then contracting makes much sense.

Now though contracting arrangements are expanding to other crops, including food staples like maize. This is in response to a different set of drivers, created in particular by the land reform programme. The land reform distributed over 8 million hectares to some 170000 households. Many, especially in the A1 smallholder schemes have got going on production, based on relatively low capital inputs and investments. Many have hooked into the tobacco or cotton contract schemes already mentioned. But there are also quite a number of particularly A2 farmers and some A1 farmers with larger plots who have found it difficult to get production moving on their new farms. This is for a variety of reasons, including lack of credit, poor access to machinery, limited skills and knowledge of larger scale farming, tenure insecurity and so on. There are quite a few A2 farms that remain underutilised. Of course this was also the case in the former large-scale sector, where over 1400 farms were deemed underutilised in the late 1990s, but under the land reform where new land is supposed to be put under production to meet national food security needs and enhance agricultural incomes, this situation is needs to be reversed.

Contract farming provides a way of overcoming some of the obstacles facing the new farmers, and is being embraced by many, particularly it seems in the higher potential areas of the Highveld. With contractors offering credit, inputs and transport and marketing facilities, and the new farmers offering land and labour, there is a matching up of capacities not being provided either by government or the banking/credit system. Economists should be delighted: demand and supply are being matched up, and market imperfections are being resolved.

Who then are the new contractors and contractees, and what problems are being faced? There has been little in-depth research on this evolving phenomenon, and it will be important to dig deeper. But a number of patterns are clear. The new contractors are not the classic large-scale agribusiness operations who run the tobacco, cotton or paprika contracting arrangements, they are often new entrepreneurs with some capital and out to make a buck (or many in fact). For the maize trade, purchasing a three-tonne truck is a key investment, as well as having contact with multiple land owners in an area. Supplying some inputs, and supporting a network of contract farmers requires good social relations and some keen business acumen. The new contractors are often urban based, with jobs in town, but perhaps no land, or not enough of it. They are well connected and highly entrepreneurial. Their operations are small, but sometimes allowing considerable quantities of produce to be traded in a season. They play the price differentials well, selling into informal markets at key moments to maximise profit. A number of such players are former white farmers, often in consortia with others, who know the production system, and the economics and technical requirements of production and trade.

On the other side, the A2 farmers with spare land have a range of arrangements, from classic contracting where they produce the crop to land leasing, where the contractor takes on the production on their land. Maize and livestock production seem to dominate, as these both have high demand local markets into which products can be sold. For the new farmers demonstrating that the land is being used is also important, as the threat of a land audit is always around the corner. There are downsides of  ‘living under contract’, as the classic literature shows. There may be little competition and it is often a buyers’ market, with produce being sold off at knock-down rates. Contracting tends to benefit men more than women, and the cash that comes may come late or not at all. Inputs supplied may be sub-standard or inappropriate, and becoming reliant on one product and one market may increase risks for producing households.

There are also particular risks to these new contracting arrangements in the post-land reform context in Zimbabwe. These revolve around land ownership and tenure security. In many of the Highveld areas, particularly where high value land with infrastructure is at stake, there continues to be insecurity in land holdings, especially on the A2 farms. An avaricious politician or military officer may eye up land that looks productive, and try and take it over. This process of politically-driven land grabbing continues today, despite attempts to stop it. Leases have not been issued, as uncertainty about the legal status of ‘contested land’ persists, and so land holders have little recourse to law, and must rely on local political connections to hold on to land – a risky and volatile strategy. In the same way contractors must balance the risks of this highly uncertain land ownership situation. They usually spread their risks, preferring to invest in multiple, smaller land areas than contract at scale in one place. This increases transaction costs substantially, but offsets the risks of default, take-over and disruption. Indeed, many prefer the more stable and settled A1 schemes to the more politicised, turbulent A2 areas, where well connected big chefs can intervene at any time.

There are pros, cons, risks and opportunities of the new contract farming boom in Zimbabwe. Past experiences show the need to be cautious, as outlined in the excellent recent review by Carlos Oya. But it’s certainly a trend worth tracking, and especially the new, private entrepreneur led strategies. As new farmers, particularly on larger plots, fail to get production moving due to lack of credit and other input support from government or the private sector, a contracting arrangement may be a positive solution, especially as it draws new entrepreneurs with new finance and skills, as well as former white farmers who lost their land, into the sector, reshaping economic and political relationships and spreading the gains of land reform in new ways.

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


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