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Learning from crises: state-citizen relations in the time of cholera

The cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe in 2008 was the worst ever recorded in Africa. There were nearly 100,000 infections and some 4,300 deaths. The disease swept through the crowded urban areas in particular, and spilled across the borders to neighbouring countries. The deadly bacterium caused illness and death, but also new forms of politics in its wake.

A fascinating new paper by Simukai Chigudu has recently been published in African Affairs, entitled The Politics of Cholera, Crisis and Citizenship in Urban Zimbabwe. Based on recall interviews 7-8 years on, the paper reflects on how the spread of cholera was not a ‘natural’ disaster, but one that was created by the fundamental failures of the state. It was, in the words of Paul Farmer, a form of ‘structural violence’, where poor and marginalised people living in townships where the housing, water and sanitation infrastructure had decayed were exposed to the disease, and ‘died like flies’, to quote one of the paper’s informants.

The cholera outbreak was unquestionably a major health crisis, but it was also a significant political moment, coming as it did on the back of accelerating economic chaos, hyperinflation and infrastructural collapse. I remember the period well. This was the moment when things really did seem to be falling apart. A friend of mine, working then in Beitbridge, was hospitalised, and nearly died. Luckily for him, South African doctors came across the border bringing rehydration medicines. Others were less lucky.

Forging new political subjectivities

The paper makes the case that the response to the crisis was not post-political coping and adaptation (as suggested by much of the ‘resilience’ literature), but one that forged new political subjectivities (relationships between citizens and the state, and other sources of authority). The failure of the state to provide safety and security – part of the modernising, developmental project of the post-Independence years – was laid bare. A politics of ‘disposability’ was generated. The state did not care; people were disposable.

The paper shines a light on the changing relationships between the state and (poor, urban) citizens in this period. The paper is rather vague about the sampling of informants, but a mix of cholera survivors, government officials, local activists and others are interviewed. The paper admits that most were positioned as against the ZANU-PF government when the research took place in 2015-16, but not all were signed-up members of the opposition. Given the locations of the research, this is of course not surprising, but the narratives inevitably offer a particular position, particularly as honed by the intervening years.

The paper argues that “despite their sense of abandonment by the state—a politics of disposability—and despite their claims to substantive citizenship from the state—a politics of expectation—townships residents also exhibit a remarkable politics of adaptation in how they negotiated and survived the cholera crisis”.

These politics, the paper suggests, were generative of a new form of citizenship emerging from the crisis that rejects a corrupt and ineffective state and creates new forms of social and political belonging.

Drought, hunger and crisis in rural areas: comparative reflections

In reading the paper, I was struck both by the parallels and contrasts with how crises of drought and hunger are faced in rural settings. Clearly, a cholera outbreak is far more dramatic. Mortality rates without treatment can be up to 50 percent. A drought is more of a slow-onset disaster, where direct threats to life, at least in Zimbabwe, are much lower. This year another El  Niño event is unfolding, with predictions of food deficits in certain parts of the country.

Yet vulnerabilities to drought-induced food insecurity are not ‘natural’ either. Those without access to food are often the structurally vulnerable, those without ‘entitlements’ (to use Amartya Sen’s term). It is not absolute lack of food that causes famine but its distribution and the politics of access. This is why the annual numbers game around the people likely to face food insecurity is so problematic.

Drought crises too produce new forms of political subjectivity. Since Independence, the Zimbabwean state has always provided the guarantee that no one will starve. Food aid will be provided in some form. This was the social-political contract with the communal area population offered by the ZANU-PF government. But, just as in the urban areas where the party state has abandoned people, new political relations are being forged in the rural areas. Those in the communal areas are frequently reliant on projects from donors, with the state almost completely absent, while those in resettlement areas, where donors choose not to operate, often feel that the offer of land reform has not been followed up with support and investment.

In the context of drought crises, food aid, it seems, is increasingly politicised and selective. This is not a contract with all citizens, but is reliant on conditions. This might be showing party membership and allegiance, for example, in areas where the government delivers food aid, or participating in certain projects, where it is NGOs who are in the lead. Crises always provide moments to exert control, generate patronage relations and create new forms of citizenship.

In the narratives of people, drought – or El  Niño, which entered popular discourse particularly during the 1997-98 event – is related to politics very explicitly. In interviews we did in Chivi in 1997-98 (draft report here), El  Niño was described as a ‘wind that brought bad things’. Fingers were variously pointed at South Africa, Britain, local ‘witches’, failure to appease certain spirts and the state. Drought was not just a climatic phenomenon, but one that reflected political relations; just as was the case for cholera.

Things (don’t quite) fall apart

The overriding narrative of Chigudu’s paper is one of despair, neglect and anger. People feel abandoned, neglected and disposable. More than ten years on, the riots last month are witness to how these feelings have festered and grown. The failure of the state and the political system more broadly is the central storyline.

For sure, this is certainly part of the story of the last decade or more. However, the paper, perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t nuance this with any analysis of what – despite everything – was working. The mortalities from cholera were shocking, but were in the end 5 percent not 50. This was in large part due to deeply committed and massively underpaid state health professionals who were able to treat people, and encourage more effective hygiene and preventive measures. There were of course outsiders – including finance via NGOs and the South African doctors who saved the life of my friend – but there were also government doctors, nurses and health assistants, operating in decrepit hospitals and clinics with limited medicines across the country.

Chigudu’s paper emphasises a common refrain about how the Zimbabwean state has been captured by a military-security elite, and how the modernising bureaucracy no longer functions. Research on the prisons service and the Attorney General’s office, for example, shows just how politicised (and sometimes militarised) some parts of the bureaucracy have become.

Yet, as Chigudu argued in an appearance in the UK parliament a few weeks back, assuming the state – and government agencies – are all the same is deeply problematic. Sectors such as health (and also in some parts of the system, agriculture) retain committed professionals who, under extremely difficult situations, are continuing to operate (indeed the same goes for those areas of the bureaucracy that are highly politicised, as discussed in an earlier blog). Technocrats and service professionals are frequently deeply committed to their jobs, and in the case of disease outbreaks and severe droughts, saving lives.

As discussed in the parliamentary evidence session, sanctions in 2008 (which are still in place and according to the UK Africa minister may be extended) meant that support to confront cholera was fragmented, as sanctions prevented international aid – from DfID and others – being channelled through the state. NGOs had to deliver, with funds disbursed by UN agencies. External aid was unquestionably significant, but as Chigudu argued in his evidence, it could probably have saved more lives if a more coordinated approach was allowed, involving committed government officials in the ministry of health.

As the paper shows, crises are always political. And, in Zimbabwe’s fraught context, this applies not only to the reframing of political subjectivities of township dwellers confronting cholera or rural people facing drought, but also the relationships between the state, civil society and external players, including donors. The current crisis – including a recent, but thankfully more contained, cholera outbreak starting in September last year – is of course generating new state-citizen political dynamics, with uncertain consequences.

This is the second of a short series of blogs profiling recent papers on Zimbabwe. This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Photo credit: WHO/Paul Garwood

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Does land reform increase resilience to drought?

The Hazards and Opportunities book, reflecting on the impacts of the 1991-92 El Niño drought, had a few things to say about how to boost resilience to drought shocks. Key features included taking account of changing livelihood systems, reducing vulnerabilities through improving assets, and the urgent need for land redistribution, in particular. Commenting on the increasingly challenging livelihoods in the communal areas, the book commented:

“As production has become more constrained due to declining field areas and reduced land quality and local storage levels have become more limited due to shifts in cropping patterns and greater crop sales, farmers in Chivi are increasingly reliant on off-farm income sources, particularly during drought. In examining drought response policies, the role of local markets, the importance of removing burdening restrictions and the significance of trade and exchange should not be underestimated….

Policies that ensure that markets work effectively and exchange entitlements can be realised are vital….social networks, especially those based on the extended family, remain central to coping strategies in Chivi. Access to remittances, opportunities for food sharing and other linkages appear to be key to survival strategies….

[Yet] the pressures of macro-economic reform were being felt particularly acutely during the 1991-92 drought with high inflation resulting in the reduced buying power of money received from trading, piece work or remittances…..[Therefore] external support – from the state, local networks or rural-urban connections – will almost certainly remain key in sustaining livelihoods…..

….The reduction in people’ asset levels over time has increased vulnerability and added to the ratchet effect of poverty…. A more complete understanding of local responses to risk in drought conditions is clearly essential if more effective drought relief, mitigation and proofing strategies are to be designed. Appropriate policies for coping with drought must therefore take the dynamics of local response into account…..”.

Well, much the same could be said 25 years later. But one thing has changed, and that is the distribution of land. In 1996, Hazards and Opportunities commented:

“The pace of resettlement since Independence has been very slow. It has not really had an impact on places like Chivi. Most people resettled from Chivi have been moved to similar drought-prone areas within Masvingo province. Although settlers have larger land areas than they had before, they often do not have sufficient draft power, labour or inputs to invest in ensuring high productivity. The result has been the disappointing performance of most resettlement schemes. The response has been to change the criteria for selection, with more `qualified’ farmers now being favoured. However without good soils and reliable rainfall, agricultural production will continue to be a risky enterprise…. New models for resettlement are urgently needed that are low cost and flexible…

Back then we asked: “What are the policy alternatives to entering a spiral of poverty and dependency in the communal areas?”. And the answer, we offered? “There is no better way to reduce rural vulnerability and ensure the viability of people’s livelihoods than to increase the productive base. Proofing the system against drought (and other risks) means strategic investments….

First, addressing the land redistribution with more flexible and imaginative approaches than in the past is a major priority…..urgent solutions to the problems of land scarcity will have to be sought in the coming decades. It may now be time to explore a wider range of land redistribution opportunities abandoning the strict adherence to a standardised, packaged settlement model and testing other options. If they are to address the fundamental problems of the communal areas, such options must offer new land of reasonably high potential and in sufficient quantities to begin to satisfy land needs. Such areas must be supported, perhaps through innovative credit schemes, but not constrained by excessive planning and intervention from outside. Settlement areas must have tenure arrangements secure enough to encourage investment. If these conditions are satisfied, evidence suggests that a vibrant small-scale sector can offer Zimbabwe a bright future, both satisfying food needs and entering cash crop production for export. However, if the challenges of land redistribution are not met, then the viability of communal area livelihoods will continue to be undermined with the associated costs of food aid, social disquiet and spontaneous migration”.

It was not until 2000 when Zimbabwe’s major land reform took place. It was radical, allowed opportunities in higher potential areas, and was flexible and pragmatic in its implementation. There have been many downsides, but in many respects it responded to the calls we made some years before. But has the land reform increased livelihood resilience and so provided a form of drought proofing, reducing underlying vulnerabilities, and so exposure to drought risks? Is land reform the best form of ‘social protection’ offsetting the need for even more humanitarian aid?

The answers are mixed. Certainly having access to land has improved production for most, particularly in the A1 resettlements. It means people have more assets to fall back on, and have a pattern of higher crop production that for grains has meant significantly higher storage levels prior to the drought than anything we encountered in Chivi back in the 1990s. The aggregate statistics of food production, as discussed a couple of weeks ago, are so inaccurate, we really don’t know how much food is circulating through informal markets and sharing networks within the rural areas. My guess is quite a lot. We know that people have moved livestock to the resettlement areas, as discussed in last week’s blog. But people are moving too, as households in the resettlements take on relatives from communal area who are in difficulty. This form of ‘moral economy’ is vital to drought coping, and usually massively underestimated. We have known for years that resettlement households are exporting food both to urban areas and to the communal areas, but this has accelerated during the drought. With remittance levels way down on those in the 1990s, reliance on local production and economies is much higher these days, although off-farm work, including illegal mining, hunting and other activities, is widespread. So at one level land reform has enhanced drought coping options, and offers a buffer of production in the food economy that we still know too little about. The details of this remain obscure, and we are currently collecting data on what is happening across our sample in Masvingo to find out more, and offer a more complete comparison with the 1991-92 story (watch this space for reports from the field later in the year).

But there have also been downsides of land reform for drought coping. The decline in irrigated production with the transfer of large-scale farms has had impacts on the larger picture. Large-scale commercial farms never produced huge amounts of food in the 1990s, focused as they were on high value export commodities. But irrigated maize (and wheat) were important, both for food and feed, and without these supplies, there is increasing reliance on imports (although as shown in the blog a couple of weeks back, imports of food were massive in 1991-92, contrary to popular views that food grain imports are just a recent phenomenon). With land being far more utilised than in the past, with many more people on the land in multiple small scale farms (again contrary to some popular opinion that emphasises underutilised land – this was a big issue in the 1990s too), there is now less of a buffer. As discussed last week, livestock would often poach graze in underutilised ranches, and this provided an important source of reserve fodder in times of drought. These options no longer exist, and the system has little slack, making shocks like drought more keenly felt. This makes having national strategic reserves, and a contingency planning policy, all the more important. Ever since the structural adjustment programme got rid of grain reserves, arguing that this was an inefficient and costly approach given the availability of cheap food on world markets, there have been limited centralised reserves. This makes coordination and payment of imports essential – something that plagued the 1991-92 response, and has done again today.

So, as ever, there is not a simple response to the question of whether land reform has improved drought resilience. The important point though is that with land and production reconfigured along with local economies, there is a need to rethink drought response policies, along with the way we monitor food production and livelihood vulnerabilities. With changes in system functioning, resilience has to be constructed in new ways, based on new forms of production, and social and market relations. Resilience planning, has not got to grips with the new situation. Unfortunately in 2016, we have more or less the same (late and poorly targeted) response we had in 1991-92. Partly this is due to lack of capacity, and the form of routinized, sometimes rather panicked responses we are seeing from the state, and partly this is due to the fact that much of the ‘humanitarian’ aid response – by WFP and the western donors – does not really even consider the role of the new resettlement areas, and their integration in the new food and livelihood economy, thanks to the legacy of sanctions. This is hampering sensible thinking and effective responses.

The sooner the post land reform land, livelihood and economic contexts is taken into account in the planning of drought responses, and so-called ‘resilience building’ programmes the better. Currently lessons are not being learned, money is being wasted, and effective responses are lacking.

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

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The El Niño drought hits livestock hard in Zimbabwe

The El Niño drought is hitting hard this year. Livestock in particular are suffering, as grass and water are scarce. Some fear that it could be as bad as 1991-92 when around a million cattle died. To date some 7000 cattle mortalities have been recorded, the majority of which have been in Masvingo province, as well as Matabeleland. Government and aid agencies are encouraging farmers to destock, urging people to buy supplementary feed to save breeding stock. Drought task teams have been established in the affected provinces, and emergency feedlots are being established. It is a very serious situation. As perhaps the most valuable asset that most people have, losing herds can be devastating for livelihoods and recovery takes many years. Some small showers have recently improved grass conditions in some places, but the amount of fodder available is clearly grossly inadequate to see animals through the long dry season across the coming months.

Livestock in the 1991-92 drought

In this blog I again draw on work we carried out in 1991-92 in Chivi communal area, and is reported in the book, Hazards and Opportunities. During 1991-92 overall cattle survival among our sample was only 41%. This was the case for both large and small herd owners, with no significant relationships being shown between pre-drought herd sizes and survival rates. As now, it was a widespread drought, with all areas and all people affected. By the end of the drought 68% of households had no cattle at all, up from 55% before the drought. Drought recovery took years, and it was only by the late 1990s that herds had reached pre drought levels.

Herd composition is also affected by drought, and in turn affects the recovery dynamics. The table below shows the composition in the Chivi sample, pre and post 1991-92 drought. Cows were especially badly affected (particularly those with calves), although heifers survived better, and were the basis of post-drought recovery.

 

Cattle type Pre-drought (N = 583) % Post-drought (N = 247) %

 

Bull 8.1 6.5
Oxen 22.5 17.8
Cow 34.5 21.9
Steer 5.7 8.1
Heifer 20.8 37.7
Male Calf 2.7 2.4
Female Calf 5.8 5.7

 

 

The pattern of response among Chivi herds during 1991-92 is shown in the Table below. This differentiates between two phases of the drought: the early period before December 1992 and the later phase after this time and before the end of 1992.

RESPONSE Period 1 (N=64) % Period 2 (N=48) %
Illegal grazing 9.7 25.0
Movement out 29.0 35.4
Leasing 14.1 10.4
Commercial feed 16.1 14.6
Pods and hay 3.2 4.2
Cut & carry grass 12.5 4.3
Tree products 100.0 100.0
Crop residues 34.4 2.1

Movement out of the area was a vital strategy. However it took on a different form to earlier droughts. Data from the 1982-84 drought and the impact on cattle survival in Mazvihwa, Zvishavane district collected during my PhD studies (Scoones 1992), show how early movement was crucial to overall survival.

Strategy

 

Description of movement % survival N   (herds)
A Out of area (c. November 1982) 40.1 287
B Out of the area in the dry season (Aug-Oct 1993) 22.9 402
C No movement outside area 3.3 181

But by contrast to 1982-84, movement had less of an impact in 1991-92. Cattle were moved from Chivi to a variety of sites during late 1991. In the first part of the drought, 29% of herds were moved out of their home area to another site within the communal lands. By the second part of drought this had risen to over 35%. Illegal grazing outside the communal area (in resettlement areas or commercial farms) represented another type of movement. Nearly 10% of herds had been moved to such sites in the first period of drought and by the second period a quarter of all herds were using illegal grazing. However, the drought’s impact was so extensive and so dramatic that movement within a large radius was pointless. Animals that had been moved earlier got stranded, unable to benefit from the micro-management afforded to cattle resident at home kraals

During 1991-92, the largest cause of mortality was death due to starvation or extreme water shortage (47.7%). A significant number of animals were slaughtered just prior to death through poverty in order to salvage some meat for local consumption or sale (30.3%). Low nutritional status is linked with disease susceptibility and a number of animals died either directly from illness or were slaughtered because of disease (4.5%). Extensive searching for food required animals to wander far. This meant that a number were permanently lost; either they died while out foraging or they were stolen (5.7%). Foraging also had to take place in dangerous places (road edges, mountains, river banks) and a number of cattle died due to accidents (7.2%). Only very few animals (4.5%) were purposefully slaughtered.

The pattern observed during 1991-92 parallels that in previous droughts. Due to the fact that cattle are considerably more valuable live (for draft power, manure, milk etc.) than dead (sale value), there are very strong incentives to try and maintain live stock. Destocking is a risky option as the terms of sale during drought and repurchase following drought are not favourable to the herd owner. The costs of not having animals available to plough in the rainy season (assuming rains came) is so high that most farmers retain their stock as long as possible. No matter how much the government or the NGOs beseeched livestock owners to destock, they didn’t, and the rationale was clear.

The 1991-92 drought mortalities meant that much restocking during the 1990s was with mixed breeds, or animals purchased from commercial ranches. During the land reform, breeds got mixed even more, with the hardy indigenous Shona, Tuli and other breeds being diluted in the nation’s genetic stock. Indigenous breeds are well known to be able to survive off mixed diets of grass and browse and can survive without water for long periods. By contrast the larger, grass-dependent ‘improved’ breeds’ condition quickly deteriorates when grazing and water is scarce. In many respects, Zimbabwe’s cattle herds are less resilient than they were before.

What lessons can be drawn?

First, flexible movement is key, and restrictions imposed by veterinary controls can result in major increases in mortality. However illegal movement to underutilised commercial ranches is now not possible, nor is lease grazing on ranches. Most of these areas are now resettled as part of the land reform. Movement to the new resettlements from the communal areas has been a regular feature of the past 15 years, as have new relationships being struck with A2 farms. Relief grazing on state land is also vital, and so making access to state farms, military land and national partks will be important. These strategies will be crucial for herd survival in the coming months, and need to be encouraged and facilitated.

Second, access to water is almost as important as grazing, and in the past many animals perished from thirst rather than starvation (although usually a combination). A focused public works programme that invested in rehabilitating water sources, including pumping from dry rivers, establishment of mifuku, and so on, could be a highly productive investment.

Third, supplementary feeding is vital, especially for maintaining a core breeding herd. In the early 1990s there were not so many agrodealers, and certainly very few out in the rural areas. This has changed, and means that the purchase of blocks and other supplementary feeds has become much easier. People also have experience of using such sources of feed now, and will likely make much more use of them this year than in the past. Ensuring market supply, and offering subsidised options, may be a good investment.

Fourth, encouraging people to sell animals early as part of a destocking campaign has been a failure in the past, and is likely to be so again. While some richer A2 and A1 farmers, with other sources of income, and no reliance on draft animals for ploughing, may opt for destocking sales, most will only sell when animals are already virtually dead. Those with access to land, water and feed may take advantage of such poverty sales and buy up animals for rehabilitation and later fattening. Here the role of A2 farmers may become important, compared to the past.

The costs of losing herds is devastating as we saw in the early 1990s. The impacts are felt for years, undermining agricultural production and livelihoods. Ensuring that mortalities are reduced, and that animals survive is essential, but it seems the efforts being invested now are too little, too late; and sadly making the same mistakes of the past.

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

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Drought politics in southern Africa

Why is it that droughts always seem to surprise, despite the warnings? The current El Niño drought is no exception, and the patterns of response (and lack of response) are remarkably familiar when looking back at the 1991-92 El Niño drought. There is a scary sense of déjà vu 25 years on, with important political implications, both in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

In 1991-92 I was working with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Farming Systems Research Unit on a project on risk, livelihoods and dryland farming in Chivi district. We had the opportunity of studying the drought up close. The findings are reported in the book Hazards and Opportunities: Farming Livelihoods in Dryland Africa. Lessons from Zimbabwe. It’s now out of print, but you can still find copies second hand. In the coming three weeks, I will share some of the findings from back then, but also reflect on what’s changed since.

Here is an extract from chapter 10. Sound familiar?

“The national Early Warning Unit first sounded the alarm about impending food shortages in July 1991. At that time they alerted the government that food stocks would run out in early 1992. This proved to be ominously accurate…..[A SADC Food Security Bulletin dated July 1991 noted} “An overall cereal shortfall of 189,000 tonnes is anticipated… Although the country has no exportable maize surplus, the GMB has an export commitment of 228000 tonnes… Imports of 383000 tonnes will be needed. So far, however, no import plans for maize have been formulated”.

Through 1991, the multiple warnings were basically ignored. As we discuss in the book:

”Indeed, no-one appeared to trust them. Even when the situation was obviously critical the government insisted on commissioning its own monitoring exercise to investigate the food situation in the country. Similarly the United Nations World Food Programme and Food and Agricultural Organisation sent their own mission to confirm the results emerging from the early warning system, before committing themselves to food relief activities….

….It was only when the failure of the 1991-92 rains became very clear and the national press started to highlight the issue,that government started to act. In April 1992, The Herald reported the concerns of Syndey Malunga MP: “The government must ensure that its promises to the nation to make food available during the drought are met, otherwise the rift between the Government and the people will cause the failure of the economic reform programme” (Herald, 8.4.92). Stories of how people were driven to extreme lengths by the failures of the relief effort were common. For instance, The Herald reported how Mberengwa villagers forced a train driver to stop and stole over 300 bags of maize and how Masvingo residents were scavenging for food in dustbins (Herald, 5.10.92).

In February 1992 the government announced significant increases in producer prices for white maize… However such incentives were too late to provide the necessary maize for the year. By February the GMB only expected 250,000 tonnes of maize to be delivered from Zimbabwean producers, but demand was likely to rise during the year to around 150,000 tonnes per month because of the near complete failure of the communal area crop. The Chairman of the GMB suggested….that Zimbabwe would have to import up to 2 million tonnes of maize to meet local demand.. (Herald, 21.2.92). A columnist in the Financial Gazette commented:

“This predicament need never have arisen. The primary cause of the problem has been the totally impractical maize price. Droughts do come but the nation has had three reasonable seasons…Stockpiles are a necessity. It is now evident that at least one year’s supply should always be retained rather than selling maize for foreign currency” (Financial Gazette, 13.2.92).

The food import programme started during December 1991. The arrival of food aid in the country was plagued by logistical problems, made worse by the widespread nature of the drought in the region. Hazards and Opportunities recalls:

“Road and rail transport was commandeered in order to bring American grain from South Africa and Mozambique. By March 1992 the country had effectively run out of reserves and people waited expectantly for supplies. By the end of March the President had appointed eight ministers to oversee food relief in the provinces. The first American maize arrived at the ports at the end of March, but by the first week of April there was still none inside the country, although six maize trains a day supplemented by road transport were expected (Herald, 7.4.92). The government committed itself to the feeding of some 4-5 million people during the drought requiring the eventual importation of around 1.7million tonnes. The initial monthly ration allocation of 10kg per person was later reduced to 5kg as supplies became uncertain and costs escalated…

…..However by mid-1992, public and political pressure mounted sufficiently and by most accounts a highly effective and efficient drought relief and food distribution campaign was launched. By this time, the cost of relief was around Z$30 million per month, much of which was paid for by government. During 1992 in Masvingo Province, around 250,000 children were being given regular supplementary feeding rations and around one million people (practically the whole communal area population) were receiving food relief. Churches and NGOs also played an important role in providing distribution facilities. The total costs of the drought relief operation were estimated to be around 2.7% of GDP in 1991-92 and 4.5% of GDP in 1992-93, requiring a significant increase in government borrowing”.

Drought and politics

Those who remember the situation in 1991-92 in Zimbabwe, will recall how things were increasingly desperate. Government seemed unable to respond, and donors were equally silent. But the drought soon became political. In the book, we wrote:

“For a time during 1992 the government had lost control; its food security policy was completely discredited, its maize pricing policy was suddenly drastically revised, the Minister for Agriculture was hurriedly shifted and the highly unpopular economic structural adjustment policy looked to be going off course. The rumblings of discontent had reached even the remotest rural areas, usually the stalwarts of support for the ZANU-PF party and government….

….Politicians did not trust the information emanating from their own civil servants, nor from international sources. Despite the claims of scientific certitude of the early warning bulletins, the government failed to act early on. It was only through a wider political process of lobbying and petitioning, by government officials in the districts, by the press and by churches, NGOs and others that forced action…. Uncertainty over what to do about the drought had resulted in a certain helplessness and a loss of political control and power.”

Indeed it was not until well into 1992, that the state took control of the situation. Indeed President Mugabe himself intervened. The book comments:

“Not until the launch of the food aid programme and the country-wide tours by President Mugabe was some confidence restored. Only then was it realised by rural people that Mugabe and the ZANU-PF government had not broken their post-independence bargain and would not let the people of Zimbabwe starve….”.

Indeed it was this political intervention, and not the early warning statistics, and the dire warnings from the districts, that meant that the 1991-92 drought was not the disaster it might have been (although it was pretty bad). Drought is inevitably political. And failure to act as people are suffering is not looked at kindly. While Mugabe’s intervention was welcome, it was also seen as too little and too late. We commented:

“The politicians did not know what to do. They refused to believe the science of prediction and would not listen, at least initially, to their constituents. The uncertainty surrounding drought resulted in a perilous loss of control and an unnerving loss of power. Power and control were only regained by firm action later on, when political and social processes, and not rational scientific argument, provided the impetus for action…”

Lessons for southern Africa?

Uncertainties around climate always exist. Climate models never can predict exactly, and even shorter-run weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable (how many times have the Met Office predicted imminent rains this year?). This is compounded with our lack of knowledge – and associated poor statistics – on Zimbabwe’s food economy. We simply don’t know how much food is being produced by whom and where, and how much is being sold in local markets, shared through local networks, or being transported to different areas, including towns. As I have mentioned before on this blog, the post 2000 land reform has radically changed the food system, and we don’t down its implications. My best guess, based on the mismatches between our local data and the aggregate statistics, is that the official stats are way off, but I don’t know by how much, and how this varies across the country.

Getting to grips with this, and improving the statistical basis for responses to drought is essential. At the moment huge efforts are based on massive guesswork. So it’s not surprising there’s large dispute about the statistics – some calling an impending catastrophe, others arguing things are not as bad as we thought. Bottom line is we just don’t know, and this is a dangerous situation.

It is dangerous practically, but it is also dangerous politically. We saw from 1991-92 how a late response in Zimbabwe was only salvaged by later decisive action. Famine was averted, and although many hardships were suffered, and a devastation of the livestock population occurred, a major humanitarian disaster did not unfold, despite huge economic losses. This of course was in a setting where politics looked very different. Today with fragmented authority and endless battles for political supremacy and a President who is 25 years older, decisive leadership are not qualities often seen. The government has however declared the drought a ‘national disaster’, although ministerial ineptitude and bungling has been widely condemned, with the opposition highlighting the confusion

It is interesting to contrast Zimbabwe’s experience with that of South Africa. In 1991-92 in South Africa, the drought response was impressive and coordinated, and drew on the incipient state structures of the ANC, impressively led by the Land and Agriculture Desk of the ANC’s Department of Economic Planning. As Coleen Vogel reminded me in a paper presented at a recent workshop, the decentralised network of Drought Forums provided the basis for a focused and effective response, and these in turn became the foundation for the post-1994 development committees, and the basis of the short-lived but radical Reconstruction and Development Programme effort. Fast forward to 2016, the ANC has been unable to respond effectively to the ravaging drought, with President Zuma failing to present a coherent policy, and getting heckled in parliament by opposition groups.

Wherever you are in southern Africa, politics and drought are intimately connected. And in 2016, the conditions for an effective response both in Zimbabwe and South Africa look worse than 25 years ago. And this despite huge amounts of effort invested in drought proofing, livelihood programmes, resilience building and so on in the intervening period; and yet more projects expected on the back of climate adaptation finance.

What has gone wrong?

Why is drought response as bad today, or often worse than before? Several things strike me.

First, despite all the hype about climate change and resilience building, very few such programmes look at the underlying patterns of vulnerability and how these have changed. Vulnerabilities arise very often from social and political factors, and so are less amenable to technical, donor-led interventions. Just adding sticking plaster in the name of climate ‘adaptation’ or ‘resilience’ is not enough. As we argued long back in our Hazards and Opportunities book, responses require tackling the root causes of vulnerability – including as I will show in a blog in a couple of weeks addressing inequalities, including of land.

Second, uncertainties cannot be planned for. By definition we don’t know the probability of the outcome, and very often we don’t know what outcome will result, meaning we are in the realm of ignorance. For administrative, bureaucratic and financing systems to respond in such settings is tough. Such systems are conventionally geared towards certainties, or at least predictable risks. This is why they so often fail. Predictions (based on risk assumptions) very often turn out not to be the case, and so trust is undermined. And administrators may argue for more funds or food reserves, only to be rebuffed. Dealing with what Emery Roe calls ‘mess’ in order to generate reliability in system response is essential, but it requires a radical overhaul of approaches. Governments, UN agencies, NGOs, district administrations and others are just not geared up, and they almost inevitably fail, as they are doing now.

Third, we have to remember drought is always political. The basic ‘contract’ between the state and people has to be renegotiated in drought periods, meaning engaging with rural people. For far too long elite politics in Zimbabwe (and of course in South Africa) has often ignored rural areas. The implicit deal is that rural votes for a ruling party are secured by making basic support available, including food in times of drought. But this dependency relationship cannot persist. People want more, and that means proper investment and support, not just palliative forms of development. As Zimbabwe’s (and South Africa’s) politics fragments, and the liberation parties struggle to maintain power, then people are going to look to others. This makes addressing drought firmly and effectively even more important, yet both ZANU-PF and the ANC are currently failing, as other political issues dominate.

Ignoring the drought, however, may well have long-term political consequences if the current failures continue. Watch out for some big impacts of drought on politics across southern Africa.

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

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Why tractors are political in Africa

In May last year, the long-awaited tractors from Brazil arrived in Zimbabwe. There was a bizarre handing over ceremony at Harare showgrounds, with the tractors all lined up and the President was there to receive them.

Tractors New Zimbabwe (May 2015)

This has been a long-running saga, reported on earlier in this blog. The tractors are part of Brazil’s international cooperation programme, supported by the Ministry of Agrarian Development in Brazil under their ‘More Food International’ (MFI) programme, and purchased from the Brazilian company, Agrale. Under the first phase of a $98m loan (based on highly concessionary interest rates, spread over a 15 year term), Brazil has supplied Zimbabwe with 320 tractors, 450 disc harrows, 310 planters, 100 fertiliser spreaders and 6 650 knapsack sprayers valued at $39million. A second phase is, according to the Brazilian ambassador to Zimbabwe, expected soon. MFI is based on a Brazilian programme that supports public procurement of agricultural equipment to support small-scale ‘family farmers’. In Brazil tractors and other forms of mechanised farming equipment are a useful addition to what in Zimbabwe would be called medium-scale commercial farms. Run by families, but not often not that small by African standards.

In international development this mismatch of languages causes much confusion, as Lidia Cabral discusses in relation to Brazil-Africa development cooperation. What is small scale in one place (say Brazil – where there are some very, very big farms) is large somewhere else (including Zimbabwe). So approaches – or ‘models’ – generated in one place do not easily travel. The argument of course from Brazil is that they have long experience of successful agriculture, across scales, and that their ‘tropical technology’ is transferrable, as they have the technical and agronomic skills based in similar agroecological settings. Quite how ‘tropical’ the Brazilian tractors prove to be, we will see. And whether they are preferable to the non-tropical Chinese, Iranian, Belarusian, American or British versions.

So where are these tractors supposed to go, and how are they supposed to be used? As I have discussed on this blog before, there is a long history of failed attempts to encourage ‘tractorisation’ of small-scale farming in Zimbabwe. The big problem is that farms are too small and undercapitalised for a single farmer to usefully use one, and collective arrangements have largely failed. That said, there is certainly an increase in tractor usage in the new resettlements. Some have bought second-hand tractors are successfully hiring them out. In our Mvurwi sample for example, about 5 per cent of A1 farmers own tractors, most purchased in the last few years. Ownership is concentrated among the richer farmers, with 17 per cent of farmers in our top ‘success group’ owning them; some coming via government programmes. With larger land areas, and such a premium on timely ploughing with increasingly erratic rainfall (although sadly this year it may be a complete write-off due to the El Nino drought), tractors do make sense. The interaction between (smaller-scale) A1 and (medium-scale) A2 farms becomes important here. With many A2 farmers having tractors, they hire them out to their neighbours on A1 farms, making the new spatial configuration following land reform crucial.

But tractors in Zimbabwe are indelibly associated with corruption and patronage. The Chinese tractors that arrived in numbers in the 2000s at the height of Gideon Gono’s bizarre attempts to salvage the economy were handed out as deals to those in power. Many have ended up as sad memorials of this period, rusting in people’s compounds. I hope this will not be the fate of the Brazilian tractors. They have been handed over in good faith, even if with a certain naivety about the context. But the omens are not good. As symbols of modernity and power, tractors just have this effect.

While I was in Zimbabwe at the end of last year, the Grace Mugabe roadshow was in full swing. This seems to have become an annual event in the build up to the ZANU-PF Congress. Many are bussed to her rallies, and not showing up is certainly noticed. As in all political rallies, these are opportunities for high-flown rhetoric and for handing out goodies. The expense is extraordinary. Newspaper reports of a rally near one of our research sites in Matabeleland South listed the following: 220 tonnes of maize, 120 tonnes of rice, 4440kg of washing powder, 5000kg clothes, 3000kg salt, 2000 pairs of shoes, 5280 bars of washing soap, 3000kg of bath soap, 1800 litres of cooking oil, 220 tonnes of Compound D fertilizer, 20 tonnes cotton seed, 10 soccer kits, 30 netballs and 30 soccer balls. All chiefs who attended received food hampers and 100 litres of fuel each.

And of course there were also tractors. I cannot verify that these were part of the Brazilian shipment, but I assume so – and there have been other accusations in the press, and series of court cases trying to prevent this. It seems the tractors – as many times before – are already being used for exerting patronage in the name of development. Tractors do seem to be so deeply entwined with the practices of patronage, and despite the (somewhat misguided but nevertheless genuine) goodwill of the Brazilians it has it seems to have happened again. It is sad, but perhaps inevitable, and is a warning to any agency that patronage and aid are tightly linked. Well meaning, good governance protocols may not be enough, and resources get wasted.

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

Photo from NewZimbabwe.com

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Climate negotiations open in Paris: a perspective from southern Africa

Today COP 21 opens in Paris. Over two weeks a new climate deal will hopefully be agreed. It is a critical juncture for humanity. As high level officials discuss options in these negotiations, many people around the world are already living with climate change and uncertainty.

In Southern Africa, the effects of what is expected to be a massive El Niño event are being felt. El Niño is a natural climatic event when the equatorial waters in the eastern Pacific ocean warm. It occurs every few years, but this one is expected to be the most extreme ever. El Niño disrupts regular weather patterns, increasing the risk of droughts in some areas and heavy rainfall and floods in others. The consequences can be severe food shortages, as well as heightened risk of floods, disease and forest fires.

The UN is offering dire warnings, and contingency and emergency plans are being drawn up. Although El Niño is not due to anthropogenic climate change, climate scientists argue that the effects can be exacerbated. Are we witnessing the future of climate uncertainty under climate change?

There have been a number of El Niño events in southern Africa over the years, upsetting the older pattern of regular cycles of higher and lower rainfall. In the early 1990s, we studied the consequences in our book on dryland agriculture in Zimbabwe. Massive livestock deaths were recorded as grazing ran out, and people were plunged into deep insecurity. The economy lost 8 per cent of GDP, with ramifications across sectors. Our book ‘Hazards and Opportunities: Farming Livelihoods in Dryland Africa – Lessons from Zimbabwe’ (sadly out of print, but you can still get it second-hand) was not especially framed by climate change debates, but reading it again now, it is highly relevant. Back then, we were indeed investigating what would now be called ‘climate adaptation’ responses in the context of extreme drought.

In Zimbabwe, the rains are certainly late and the prognosis from the Met Department is not good. The Zimvac assessment, echoed in recent press releases by UN agencies, warn of up to 1.5 million people being food insecure at the end of the season. As commented before, these estimates have to be qualified, but there is little doubt that the situation is severe. As ever, food security numbers are being used as a political football, and a spokesperson for Tendai Biti’s new PDP party, Jacob Mafume, clearly couldn’t resist making up a completely random number, claiming that 3.5 million people were in need of food aid.

This sort of irresponsible numbers game helps no-one, but disputes over figures should not detract from the serious business of responding to potential major drought impacts. Contingency planning is an essential task when disasters are potentially in the offing. Donor funds are flowing into Zimbabwe, but the lack of state capacity, and the continued hesitance of donors, NGOs and government working together, is hampering preparations.

But for the longer term, building local resilience to respond to climate uncertainty is essential. This inevitably must be central to any development option for the future in the context of living with climate change. No matter what happens in Paris, we will all have to live with the consequences of several degrees of global temperature rise.

This means more droughts, more floods, and less certainty for rainfed agricultural production and livestock keeping in particular. Resilience building has become a favoured buzzword, but it must start with what people already do, and build on local solutions and knowledge. This means storing more water, shifting to more drought resilient crops, creating livestock systems that can be buffered against climate shifts and more.

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

 

 

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