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Ten priorities for getting agriculture moving in Zimbabwe

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REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Agriculture is taking centre stage in plans for the revival of Zimbabwe’s ailing economy under the new leadership of Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Getting agriculture moving in Zimbabwe is a big task. The radical land reform of 2000 has left many outstanding challenges; not least the importance of compensating former farm owners. But the biggest challenge is that, with new ownership patterns, the agricultural sector has a much more diffuse base. Today there are many small to medium sized farms, rather than a few major players.

This has implications for what Mnangagwa does next. What are the top priorities for agriculture, and what can be learnt from the challenges faced since the land reform?

The research

Research we’ve done over the past 18 years provides some useful pointers. We have been tracking what has happened to land reform farms across Zimbabwe, with sites in Masvingo (in the dry south-east), in Mvurwi (north of Harare) and in Matobo (in Matabeleland). We have been looking at both smallholder production (in so-called A1 areas) and medium-scale commercial farms (so-called A2 allocations), as well as outgrower arrangements in lowveld sugar estates.

The results have been surprising. Despite the woeful lack of support, the smallholders have done reasonably well. Most are producing surpluses and reinvesting in their farms. Around two thirds have produced more food than just for subsistence in nearly all years that we’ve conducted the research. In Mvurwi, tobacco dominates, and the smallholder-led tobacco boom has brought significant investment, both on and off-farm.

For their part larger landholdings have struggled. Lack of finance capital for many has meant they have not got off the ground and some have significant areas of under-utilised land, with infrastructure in disrepair.

The exceptions are those operating under contract arrangements with estates. These farmers have done relatively well because they’ve been supported and finance has been guaranteed. New contracting and joint venture arrangements are emerging in some areas, but much more needs to be done.

Ten priorities for agricultural development

Drawing on this experience, below I suggest ten priorities for getting agriculture moving once the first tasks of paying compensation, undertaking a land audit and establishing an efficient land administration system are complete.

Land tenure

Land tenure security should be assured through issuing 99-year leases for larger land reform farms and permits for smaller farms. This should be complemented by clear regulations to avoid land concentration and to facilitate women’s access to land. This can be achieved through a multiform tenure system based on trusted, secure property relations.


Getting private bank finance flowing is essential. Bankable leases will help, as will the acceptance of a range of forms of collateral by finance institutions. State assurances and the building of trust will be key.


Partnerships and joint ventures will be significant for some larger farms and certain crops, where external finance and expertise are essential. Already Chinese involvement in tobacco production is proving to be important. Opening opportunities for the return of highly skilled former white farmers will be significant too. Regulations to ensure such partnerships are truly joint and involve the transfer of skills are vital.

Government loans

Government loans for agriculture are currently offered through the “command agriculture” programme. Focusing on larger farms with irrigation infrastructure, it has shown some success in the past season. But such programmes should not be abused for political ends. And it’s essential that loans are fully repaid.

Access to markets

Linking diverse producers to markets is essential. Too often smallholders get poor value for their products, but ensuring local content purchasing by supermarkets, reduced red tape and support for investment in transport infrastructure will help. Already the reduction in market transaction costs through the removal of many police roadblocks has had a massive, positive impact, as fewer bribes have to be paid.

Value addition

The country must work on developing value-added activity around the agricultural sector. Local processing and packaging would ensure employment along the value chain. And preservation, processing and selling to niche markets could offset risks, such as a glut in horticultural products.

Smart support systems

Extension advice and market support through IT applications is increasingly feasible, given growing connectivity and the wide ownership of smartphones. This means farmers can be offered more attuned and useful advice. A wholesale rethink of agricultural extension and support services is therefore required.


Irrigation is essential to boost production in dryland areas, especially given the increased variability in rainfall patterns due to climate change. But this should not involve expensive, large-scale schemes. Instead they should be focused on supporting farmer-led irrigation, using small pumps and pipes bought locally. External intervention should be focused on improving water use efficiency and management.


Appropriate mechanisation is another priority. Again this shouldn’t be focused on the large-scale options of the past. Small-scale mechanisation, such as two-wheeled tractors and motorbike-drawn trailers may be more appropriate and affordable, and less subject to patronage, than large tractors and combines. For larger equipment, cooperative arrangements or private hire schemes could work, supported by online infrastructure and training.

Local economic development

Agricultural development needs to be seen as part of local economic development. It must be integrated into wider planning and investment frameworks at a district level, with new farms of varying sizes linked to small towns near land reform areas, where new employment and service provision opportunities open up.

The ConversationThese ten suggestions together could make a big difference, both to the economy and to farmers’ livelihoods across the country. Let’s hope that President Mnangagwa’s commitment to agricultural development is translated into action – and soon.

This is the third in a short series of articles for The Conversation. The previous two on compensation and on land administration are available here and here.

Ian Scoones, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Two speeches for ‘new era’ Zimbabwe

From http://www.zimbabwesituation.com

Over the last few weeks I have been in Zimbabwe, visiting our field research sites in Mvurwi, Matobo and Masvingo. It has been an exciting period, with fast-moving developments. The euphoria of November has given way to the realism of December, and with this some emerging sense of what the ‘new era’ might bring.

Two speeches have dominated the news – first the inauguration speech by President Mnangagwa and, second, the budget speech last week by reinstalled finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa. Of course actions must follow words, but overall I find the tenor and content broadly positive, and I remain cautiously optimistic that a corner has been turned.  In this blog, I will offer some excerpts from and comments on both, focusing only on land and agriculture issues.

The inauguration speech was well crafted, aimed to send messages to different audiences from each paragraph. Following a respectful acknowledgement of the former president Robert Mugabe, he rejected the sanctions imposed on the country, creating a ‘pariah state’. He argued for letting ‘bygones be bygones’ and for the need for everyone to accept the historical realities and politics of the country, particularly in relation to land reform. Land – and the irreversibility of land reform, but the importance of investment and effective utilisation – was emphasised right up front in the speech in the following important passage:

“…given our historical realities, we wish the rest of the world to understand and appreciate that policies and programmes related to land reform were inevitable. Whilst there is a lot we may need to do by way of outcomes, the principle of repossessing our land cannot be challenged or reversed. Dispossession of our ancestral land was the fundamental reason for waging the liberation struggle. It would be a betrayal of the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives in our liberation struggle if we were to reverse the gains we have made in reclaiming our land. Therefore, I exhort beneficiaries of the Land Reform Programme to show their deservedness by demonstrating commitment to the utilisation of the land now available to them for national food security and for the recovery of our economy. They must take advantage of programmes that my Government shall continue to avail to ensure that all land is utilized optimally. To that end, my Government will capacitate the Land Commission so that the commission is seized with all outstanding issues related to land redistribution”.

The following comment on compensation was the one that was picked up by the international press. It of course represented no shift in position, as compensation for ‘improvements’ on the land (but not for the land itself) has long been accepted, although payments have been extremely slow:

“My Government is committed to compensating those farmers from whom land was taken, in terms of the laws of the land. As we go into the future, complex issues of land tenure will have to be addressed both urgently and definitely, in order to ensure finality and closure to the ownership and management of this key resource, which is central to national stability and to sustained economic recovery. We dare not prevaricate on this key issue.”

Reference to the ‘laws of the land’ clearly relates to the Constitution, which as an all-party agreement confirmed this policy position. What was different in this speech was the tone, and the public commitment. While policies may have not changed, the PR machine and sense of urgency clearly has. This is excellent news, given that compensation has long been a major outstanding issue, preventing closure on the land reform, and resulting in on-going sanctions being applied around still ‘contested land’.

While the inauguration speech was inevitably thin on detail, more was offered in the budget statement last week. Chapter 7 focused on ‘support for agriculture’, with the budget rather optimistically expecting the sector to grow by 15.9% on the back of a really good season. Re-emphasising the importance of agriculture in the President’s inauguration speech as the ‘mainstay’ of the economy, issues of land utilisation, land tenure and boosting production were emphasised.

Chinamasa’s statement summarised the challenges of ‘new farmers’ thus, “On average, the new farmer had been encountering constraints which became a hindrance to full productive utilisation of the land, bordering around capacity, resources, and elements of insecurity over tenure. The result was much idle farmland, and unaccountability on the part of the farmer with regard to use of acquired land holdings for farming in support of domestic food security, supply of agro-inputs and exports”.

A number of remedies were offered:

On land tenure: “To give confidence to beneficiaries that their occupancy is guaranteed, and cannot be withdrawn willy-nilly, through the indiscipline of either youths, political leaders, traditional leaders or senior officials, Government is undertaking to institute measures to strengthen the legal standing of Offer Letters and 99 Year Leases. This enables the much needed farm investments, improved utilisation of land and, therefore, production”. This is good news, and also a relief that the lease/permit option remains preferred over a mad titling spree advocated by some. The budget emphasised the need to speed up farm valuations and surveys, so that the issuing of leases can be speeded up, supported by the Surveyor General (and drones!).

On land audits and under-utilised land: Through the process of land auditing “issues of multi-farm ownership, idle land and under-utilisation of land are going to be identified. Idle land represents dead capital and promotes speculative tendencies, if not checked on the part of the land holders. As a result, the economy loses on optimal agricultural production”. The Zimbabwe Land Commission is charged with this responsibility, and the budget speech urged the long-awaited audit to move forward.

On Command Agriculture: “The thrust is on full, efficient and sustainable utilisation of allocated land, for increased investment on the land and production”. The role of ‘anchor companies’ (such as Sakunda) as part of a strategic public-private partnership is emphasised,. Such companies provide “access to capital and markets, sharing of best practices, farming knowledge and transfer of expertise, mutually beneficial to both parties. More specifically, the identified anchor companies have the critical roles of providing access to capital, training the small scale farmers and coordinating marketing, including exporting”. Interestingly, Command Agriculture is seen as a “transitional inception intervention”. There is a recognition that, pending allocation of leases and the release of private finance (especially for the A2 farms), collaborative financing models, involving the state and the private sector are needed. “In the interim, the new farmer would need to be incubated as they learn the ropes and overcome learning-by-doing inefficiencies that entail yields lower than would obtain with best practices, making a case for transitional producer prices higher than import parity levels.” As discussed in an earlier blog, a key issue is how long – and how politically necessary – such an ‘interim’ phase is required, as the cost of defaults and $390 per tonne of maize is huge.

On ‘leakages’ and abuse: An extended section of the speech focused on leakages in the Command Agriculture and Presidential Inputs Scheme, recognising the problems of corruption that have been widely reported. A decentralised electronic data management is proposed, along with the capacitation of Agritex offices and ‘command centres’. Investigations of abuse are promised, whereby “culprits will be quickly brought to book”. Clearly Command Agriculture is a high-profile plank of economic policy for the ‘new era’ (at least for now) – extending from maize and wheat to include soy beans and livestock in the coming season. In line with the wider rhetoric around stamping out corruption, military discipline and well-designed logistics operation will be applied it seems, with Air Marshall Perence Shiri firmly in charge.

On loan repayments: The budget speech highlighted (in the context of course of a very good rainfall season) the loan repayment pattern of Command Agriculture. For maize, “loan recoveries are running at 66%, with the Command Agriculture Revolving Fund registering repayment receipts of US$47.4 million in loan recoveries from farmers. This is against an anticipated repayment target of US$72 million. Out of the 50 000 farmers contracted to produce maize under Command Agriculture, 33% fully paid their loan obligations, with 22% having partially paid their obligations, while recoveries others are being made as they deliver to GMB.” A broadly similar pattern is reported for wheat. Let’s see what the final figures are once all crops are delivered, but for a state loan scheme such returns are not bad, although clearly could be improved, with over 10,000 farmers not having paid anything by 23 November. To that end: “To encourage our farmers to continue paying back their debt obligations, all fully paid farmers are being prioritised in accessing inputs under the 2017/18 Command Agriculture programme.” This sort of financial discipline is encouraging, and is certainly reflected in conversations I had with a number of A2 farmer beneficiaries of the scheme who are committed to repayments, and are actively being chased for them, despite their apparent status or political connections.

On private finance: With Command Agriculture presented as temporary, what alternatives are suggested? “As we move forward, private sector and commercial bank finance will be required to fully take up its rightful role of adequately underpinning agriculture, particularly, A2 commercial farmers”. For this, the A2 99 year lease is seen as crucial, although continued politicking around this continues. For smallholders, contract farming arrangements are highlighted.

On compensation: Not much detail was offered here, other than a recommitment to paying compensation in line with the Constitution. The statement indicated monies were to be set aside, both for normal compensation and for those areas appropriated that were under bilateral investment treaties. The amounts were however not specified; clearly there is hope that donor support and debt rescheduling will help.

In sum, the policy directions proposed by both speeches are certainly on the right track. The opposition complained that their ideas had been stolen, highlighting a converging consensus on many policy issues. The challenge will be to make the grand ambitions happen, so far with extremely limited resources; although of course with the hope of new injections of donor funds and lines of credit. Central to the challenge for land and agriculture will be to combine all elements in a new, effective land administration and financing/support system. The new minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement and his team, as well as the independent land commission, all have their work cut out. Hopefully some of the ideas shared in this blog and from our research over the years will help in charting a way forward.

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


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Why governance constraints are holding back young people in rural Zimbabwe

In the last blog I looked at what young people aged 16-18, studying at three schools in land reform areas in Zimbabwe, imagined they would be doing in 20 years. This blog focuses on their perceptions of constraints to getting there. Many of these constraints relate to ‘governance’.

As explained before, we used a Q sort methodology – a qual-quant approach for looking at subjective perceptions – with 61 participants, 22 female and 39 male; all Form IV students in schools in our study sites in Mvurwi, Wondedzo (near Masvingo) and Chikombedzi in the Lowveld, and coming from families with A1 plots or from families of former farmworkers resident in the same areas.

Francis Rwodzi, recently a Chevening scholar and now based at the Australian Embassy in Harare, has just completed a really excellent MA thesis at IDS at the University of Sussex, analysing this data. I was lucky enough to supervise him, and we both learned a lot from the discussions that went into the writing of the thesis (which you can read in full here). The rest of this blog summarises the findings of Francis’ work. It has important implications, which I come to at the end.

Last week’s blog explained the Q sort methodology; here I will focus on the results of the factor analysis. Four factors emerged for both male and female sorters, and these are summarised below, with the statements (see full list here) referred to by number and the ranked score (ranging from +5 to -5) following.

For male students, the following were the factors highlighted by the analysis, along with the associated narratives that Francis drew out.

  • Lack of support from parents and local leaders. Young people have been unable to gain support from kin networks and local leaders. Parents fail to pay school fees (S29, +5), and do not hand on land to their children (S35, +3). This makes it difficult to earn a living independently as farmers and constrains the capacity to establish one’s own home and start families, confining young people to working for their parents. Networks  and connections are vital; if parents don’t have these connections this has a huge bearing on opportunities. Chiefs and local leaders do not support the youth (S8, +3), and do not redistribute land to young people.
  • A non-functioning state. Lack of state support is a major constraint. Corruption of officials makes business difficult (S32, +5). This is a big problem and limits the ability to pursue desired livelihoods. Clientelistic systems, and lack of support from local leaders and the local state (S8, +3), including failure to distribute land (S16, +3), constrains youth from attaining livelihoods. The lack of state facilitation of markets (S7, +2) further hinders agricultural opportunities. Expensive university education (S30, +4) and lack of training in farming business (S3, +3, combined with poor English (S36, +2), all link to lack of state support in training and education.
  • Absence of social networks and relations. As with Factor 1, this viewpoint emphasises how parents do not have good connections to get jobs for children (S10, +3) and there is an absence of rich relatives to help out (S14, +3). Social connections are all, but these can be seriously undermined through early marriage (S9, +5), and the general dismal state of the economy and lack of investment (S17, +4) limits opportunities, made worse by the high taxes paid by the local state (S26, +4),  which makes businesses fail.
  • Lack of access to assets and skills. The lack of land redistribution for youth (S16, +5) prevents farming livelihoods. Alternative off-farm options are constrained by lack of a driving licence (S5, +4), no access to the Internet or a computer ( (S6, +3). An incompetent and corrupt state is often blamed (S32), as well as lack of market opportunities in a crisis economy (S7).

For female sorters, a different set of factor narratives emerged, but with some important overlaps:

  • Poverty. Underlying poverty and disadvantage is highlighted, linked to lack of jobs in the country (S27, +5), lack of land (S33, +3). Lack of support from rich relatives (S14, +1) is also a constraint, linked to poor educational qualifications (S28, +1), as school fees are not paid . Lack of opportunity may end up with early marriage (S9, +4).
  • Lack of educational opportunities. Lack of education, because parents cannot pay school fees (S29) and going to university is expensive (S30, +4) is seen as central in this narrative. Educational opportunities for young women is also constrained by lack of childcare (S21,+3). And if you are not educated, then you fail to get jobs (S27, +5). In contrast to the first factor, this narrative does not refer to land access and farming, and indeed all such statements are ranked low.
  • Absence of social networks and relations. In this narrative the focus is on relationships, or the lack of them. For example, the lack of links to the political party in power (S24, +5) for youth is a significant factor, as is lack of support from church (S2, +4). As in other factors, complaints are made about lack of support from families or local leaders.
  • Asset inequality. In this narrative, the lack of access to land is highlighted (S16, +3), with complaints in particular that women are discriminated against in land allocations (S25, +4). Parents’ reluctance to hand on land to their children (S35, +3), and particularly women is emphasised. However the constraints to farming are recognised, including lack of markets, high taxes and so on.

So what? How can young people’s livelihoods be improved?

Looking across these factors emerging from the sorting of statements, and the narrative analysis that followed, a number of conclusions can be drawn (see also this earlier blog, part of a series on young people, agriculture and land reform).

Standard approaches to ‘youth programming’ by NGOs, donors and governments alike tend to focus on training and capacity building for skills that are assumed to be lacking among youth for use in an economic landscape that may not exist. The optimistic picture of tech-savvy young people becoming new entrepreneurs, opening businesses along value chains and engaging in agriculture as ‘private sector’ players is often promoted.

But looking across these factor arrays, the constraints identified are not ones of skills and training potentially unleashing a new private sector dynamism; they are much more fundamental. They are about a basic lack of access to resources (including land), and structural constraints, including gross economic mismanagement and political corruption, all adding up to create deep-seated poverty and disadvantage. These are much less ‘youth’ questions, but more ones about development priorities as a whole. As Francis argues in his thesis (following many others), youth-focused projects may be missing their mark.

In the thesis Francis argues that attention to ‘governance’ is central to understanding constraints on youth’s future livelihoods. He identifies the importance of four different types of ‘governance’ as constraining young people’s imagined futures. Governance is often rather narrowly defined in relation to formal state actions, including laws, policies, regulations and so on, but in these narratives, governance needs to be framed much more widely to encompass the diversity of both formal and informal, state and non-state hybrid social and political relations that affect access to livelihood opportunities.

The four governance themes highlighted in the thesis include: ‘Governance as state provisioning, functioning and capacity’ (the more conventional approach to governance, more linked to government provisioning)., ‘Governance as leadership and political control’ (again a more conventional frame, linking to discussions of clientelism, corruption and patronage); ‘Governance as institutional arrangements for gaining access to livelihood resources’ (cross-cutting formal processes, such as land allocation regulations, and informal social relationships around access) and, finally, ‘Governance as kin, family networks and relations’ (where social relationships at the local level are seen as central to who gains what and how).

All of these repeatedly appear in the factor narratives briefly outlined above, and the latter two, focusing on informal governance arrangements at the local level, are perhaps especially evident. Yet, standard approaches to governance reform focus on the first two – making governments work better. But this is not enough, Francis argues, as governance has to encompass other relationships influencing access to livelihood resources and opportunities. This is an argument for taking ‘hybrid’ governance seriously and getting beyond the formal to look at informal social and political relations.

The thesis concludes that “youth livelihoods programming should not be a one-size fits all approach”. Indeed, in a small group exercise eight narratives emerge, differentiated by gender, and governance – broadly defined – is central to all. Therefore, “standard approaches based on training or youth empowerment through small businesses are highly constrained by governance factors”.

It’s an important conclusion, with big implications, explored further in a recent IDS Bulletin. Let’s hope this sort of analysis can be pushed further, in explorations of what next for land reform areas and helps influence programming and policy in Zimbabwe, and beyond.

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

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Mvurwi: from farm worker settlement to booming business centre

On the back of the tobacco boom, Mvurwi town in Mazowe district is humming. It is a hive of activity, with many new businesses and much new building. Mvurwi town had an estimated 2000 residents before land reform, but by 2012 the ZIMSTAT census report showed the population had gone up to 6500. 7500 residents were reported by Mvurwi council in 2016. Before land reform it had a small business centre, with a selection of shops, service providers and government offices, but mostly it was essentially a farm worker settlement, a dormitory town supplying labour to the surrounding large-scale white farms.

Suwoguru compound settlement was established during the colonial era. In the early days houses were pole and dagga structures, but with time the Mvurwi white business and farming community built better homes in the compound for their supervisors and clerical staff. The white business owners, managerial staff and government workers, lived a distance away, in secure, electrified homes close to what became Mvurwi CBD. Foreigner labourers were the largest group within the compound. They originated from Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. Locals came from surrounding communal areas, such as Chiweshe, Centenary, Muzarabani and Guruve. Social life in the compound centred around the potent ‘kachasu beer’ and entertainment provided by the still popular Malawian Nyau dancers. Diverse religions were catered for including Islam, and a mosque was built.

Before land reform the central business district of Mvurwi was dominated by farm suppliers. Farmec sold farm inputs, while William Bains and KR sold farm machinery. Tractor agencies serviced large-scale farms nearby. Commercial farmers deposited their monies into Standard Bank in Mvurwi, which in turn, extended loans to them.  CABS Bank was also in town before land reform. POSB served a few blacks such as farm supervisors and civil servants, while farm workers did not have bankable income. Mvurwi commercial farmers enjoyed their leisure time at a country club 8 km along the Mvurwi-Centenary road and at another one at Mutorashanga. A police station and hospital were also present.

Mvurwi has long been a centre for government offices. But with increasingly populations there are greater demands for services. Today from the Ministry of Agriculture there are 17 Agritex staff, 15 Vet, 2 Plant Protection and 6 Mechanisation staff.  There were only 8 Agritex staff pre land reform. Health services have also expanded. Mvuri hospital currently employs 120 workers, up from 60 workers in the past. The hospital serves up to 600 patients per month, double earlier numbers. A clinic was registered after land reform and employs 8 workers. There are 36 Ministry of health extension workers covering Mvurwi locations and CBD, up from 16 in the past. In addition there are 5 primary schools (each with around 800 pupils), up from 3 before land reform and 3 secondary schools, up from 2 before land reform.

Tobacco: the core of the economy

Since land reform the economy of Mvurwi has changed, and there has been significant restructuring as well as growth. Money from tobacco has of course been the driver of growth in Mvurwi since its establishment. But in the past profits were shared among relatively few large-scale white commercial farmers. While workers rented accommodation and would buy basic provisions, their presence in Mvurwi did not generate significant growth. This all changed following 2000, and particularly after 2009 with dollarization, and the expansion of tobacco growing in the area.

There are a number of tobacco buyers and agents in Mvurwi. The TIMB has its offices in the town, and has 4 permanent workers based in Mvurwi. The Mashonaland Tobacco Company has an estimated 28,000 tobacco growers with plantings ranging from 1ha to 120 hectares. 85 % of growers are A1 and CA and 15 % in A2 farms. Tobacco is also bought by Tianze, a Chinese company, and by BAT. ZLT is a big American international company led by Phillip Morris. All in all there are 13 tobacco companies in Mvurwi.

Since land reform, there has been a building boom, with funds from local tobacco farmers and business people driving an expansion of housing. Rusununguko Phase 1 was the first initiative of Mvurwi council, involving 900 stands. Tenants included former employees of white businesses and top former commercial farm employees who used their retirement packages to buy residential stands. After land reform local indigenous business owners, A1 farmers and well to do individuals acquired residential stands. Sizes range between 200 square meters and 600 square meters, and cost around USD 4500. Electricity and tower lights were provided, and Mrs C built a guest house in the residential area.

Another high density location Rusununguko Phase 2 was implemented as a cooperative led by local people. So many problems were encountered mainly due to funding constraints. UNDP and UNICEF provided water and constructed sewer systems, and ZINWA is now servicing the area, although electricity and road networks are yet to be put in place. In a further development (Kurai Phase 1), council allocated 1080 stands to low income earners measuring 300 square meters each. Indigenous construction companies were given tenders by council to carry out development of the location. Servicing of stands started in 2014. Water, sewers and road construction are almost complete. Four houses have since been built. The former Mazoe MP earlier on bought around 150 stands in the location which he allocated to his supporters. He was later implicated in externalization of funds and fled the country, but most beneficiaries held on to their stands.

A number of medium-density areas are also being developed (Kurai Phase 2, Mbizi). The council is offering stands, but servicing of these is taking time. Mbizi is a favourite investment destination for successful A1 farmers. 70 % of the 500 plot holders have completed building of their homes, creating many jobs, and local hardware shops have also profited. Land was allocated to 2 churches, 1 school and 2 creches, but nothing is on the ground yet. In the past low density areas were dominated by retired whites, but demand has grown. Pembi view and Dombomaringa are two new suburbs, with 750 stands pegged with costs of USD 5 to USD 7 per square meter. A good number of owners are A2 farmers and local business people.  Land was also allocated to 1 secondary school and 3 creches.

Across all these residential developments, around 85 commercial stands have also been allocated in the hope that business will increase. Most current business activity is however in and around the CBD, and near the original township area. The massive building projects on-going have generated business for hardware stores in particular. There are currently 23 hardware shops in Mvurwi employing 46 workers compared to only four before land reform that employed 28 workers. Tractor, truck and lorry owners made money transporting building materials, and these transport business have also expanded. Today there are also 8 brick moulding groups in Mvurwi compared to none before land reform. There are also 4 sawmills in Suwoguru, owned by local individuals, all established after land reform, and providing materials for new homes. Saw millers buy raw timber from the resettlement farmers, add value and sell the sawn timber to carpenters who made doors, cabinets and roofing materials that they sell to those building houses.

A changing business environment

Following land reform a number of businesses closed as the economy restructured. Farmec and William Bain closed shop around 2008, The four trator agencies closed down, as demand for tractor services in the new farms was being met locally. Delta Beverages also closed in 2015 citing operational losses, and lack of a stable maize supply for brewing with a resulting loss of around 50 jobs. There has been a shift in financial institutions too as the economy restructured, with Standard Chartered and CABS closing, while CBZ and Agribank have established operations, and the government owned POSB continued. The current 3 banks employ 24 people – less than the pre land reform banks when 32 workers were employed. There has been a massive shift to the informal economy, with many people creating livelihoods from new, informal businesses.

In the past a few farm supply shops sold inputs to large-scale commercial farmers. However many such farmers bought wholesale in Harare, and did not frequent local shops. Today, following land reform, business has expanded locally but with a new customer base, and different demands. The old shops – Agricura, Farm and City and Mashco – still continue (in some cases cashing in also on hardware supplies) – but they have been joined by new investors including, Nico Orgo and Omnia, along with many other smaller indigenous businesses. Stock feed and day old chick suppliers have also prospered. There are 5 stockfeeds shops now that sell day old chicks and animal feeds. Profeeds a subsidiary of Irvines sells chicks, point of lay pullets, vets and feeds. Windmill also sells feeds of all farm animals. Other stockfeed shops include Fivet, Farm and City and Northern Supplies.

A multiplicity of enterprises have opened in Suwoguru and Mvurwi CBD following land reform. Expansion has occurred in certain areas. Butcheries have expanded from 3 to 14, with employment growing from 6 to 30. Equally bars and bottle stores are increasing. Today there are 11 registered beer outlets in Suwoguru and CBD that employ 55 workers, compared to 9 beer outlets, employing 45 people, before 2000. General ‘tuck shops’ selling mainly clothes and items from clothing, cellphones, electrical gadgets, to kitchen ware have expanded, with about 70 stalls at Suwoguru market. The Chinese have also set up shops, and also employ locals in their stores.  Eco-cash and airtime vendors are plentiful. There are over 20 registered, but also many more working informally in Mvurwi. There is now one Internet café, and 10 photocopy shops and typing service shops. With increased car ownership there are now 6 service stations and 3 car washes, all opened since land reform.

Such businesses operate at different scales, and often interact. For example, Golis supermarket in Mvurwi is the big wholesaler with cheaper prices, and has been long established. Before land reform there were also 10 other grocery shops employing around 30 workers. By 2015 grocery shops had increased to 32, employing about 96 workers. Market vendors complement the formal shops. The market area has expanded significantly since land reform. MN is a female vendor aged 35:

“I buy and sell various farm produce like vegetables and tomatoes but my main business is buying and selling sweet potatoes. I buy sweet potatoes from farms and hire scotch carts to bring the produce to the tar road. A cart can carry 36 buckets and transport charge is US 3 per trip. At the tar road Kombis charge USD 9 to ferry the 36 buckets to my market stall in Mvurwi township. I buy sweet potatoes at farm gate for USD 3 per bucket and sell at USD 5 per bucket. I manage to buy and sell 36 buckets per week. I am the sole owner of the business which has helped me buy a residential stand and pay school fees”

Agro-dealers bring in produce from as far as Muzarabani and Guruve to Suwoguru and Mvurwi CBD markets. A wide range of products are brought which include masau berries, indigenous chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes, rape, covo, water melons, cabbages, onions, carrots, green mealies, apples and bananas.

Some of this is sold on to food outlets. There are now 11 food outlets in Mvurwi CB and 9 in Suwoguru location. The 20 food outlets employ 60 workers compared to the 6 food outlets pre land reform that employed 20 workers. We interviewed owners of food business outlets in Mvurwi CBD who get their supplies from agro- produce dealers. Mrs G, aged 60, owns Gogo’s Chikenland

“I have two outlets one in Mvurwi CBD and another in the Suwoguru towship. I buy Irish potatoes from local farmers which I process into chips served with chicken. I employ a driver who earns usd 300 per month as well as 6 other permanent workers. Business constraints include load shedding and poor quality potatoes at times. Other income sources include a boarding house in town which accommodates up to 60 school children and a creche which takes 50 children. I have plans to build a primary school. I own 2 private cars and a house in Mvurwi’s low density surburb. I also bought 3 residential stands.”

Transport business is key in and around Mvurwi. Business involves carrying passengers, inputs/ produce and building materials. Buses, kombis, lorries, trucks are readily available. All roads from Harare, Mtorashanga, Guruve, Centerary and Muzarabani pass through Mvurwi.

Local transporters with 30 tonne trucks were given transport contracts by some of the 13 tobacco companies in Mvurwi. We interviewed Mvurwi CBD based transporter, Mr DK:

“I own 3 x 30 ton trucks. I carry tobacco and tobacco fuelwood between April and September. I transport fuelwood to Chiweshe, maize to Mvurwi and tobacco to Harare. The main business challenge is competition from transporters using smaller trucks. Customers prefer them because they fill up quickly and farmers get to the market in time. More and more farmers are also buying their own trucks.”

Brick moulding and transport are linked. About 90% of houses built in Mvurwi used common farm bricks giving livelihood opportunities to the ordinary brick moulder as well as transporters and loaders. Bricks sell at USD 30 per thousand and USD 15 to transport. On a good day a loader can get USD 8 while a transporter can get USD 80 after accounting for fuels. Brick moulders also sell pit sand, river sand and quarry stones.

A fast changing urban centre

Driven by local agricultural activity, there has been growth across a variety of sectors. Opportunities have expanded, particularly in the informal sector.  Tobacco profits are the main driver, although in the last year these have been down, and some are questioning the long-term sustainability of the sector. Farmers are moving to other products, including irrigated horticulture, and this will continue to drive demand for services in Mvurwi, and when profitable will provide the basis for further investment. Unlike in the period before land reform the economy is increasingly localised, with benefits generated in towns like Mvurwi.

Yet despite this growth, there are multiple challenges for small towns in largely rural areas. How should urban policy respond to changes in the agrarian sector, how can local economic growth linked to agriculture be sustained, and what new thinking around physical planning, town development and governance is needed? These policy questions will be the focus for next week’s blog.


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

Research was also carried out by Sarai, BZ Mavedzenge and Felix Murimbarimba


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Making a living as a former farm worker: some cases from Zimbabwe

Last week’s blog discussed the livelihoods of former farm workers living in compounds on three farms near Mvurwi in the tobacco growing zone of Mazowe district, now subdivided into multiple A1 plots (see also Zimbabweland blogs here and here). The compounds were established for farm workers on what were previously large-scale commercial farms. They now must sell their labour to several hundred A1 smallholders, mostly growing tobacco and maize. They must supplement this employment, most of it temporary and poorly paid, with other livelihood activities. This week, I offer four very brief profiles of four former farm worker households to give a sense of how livelihoods are composed.

Case 1

Mr K is a farm worker originally employed as a general hand at Forester Estate. He moved with his family to Ruia A compound following the acquisition of a portion of the large estate for resettlement.   A descendant of immigrants from Malawi who came to do farm labour, the 55 year old received limited education and has struggled since fast-track. The family’s housing in the compound consists of a four roomed house with a communal borehole as the main domestic water source. Currently there are two adults and two children resident at the home.

Prior to land reform K was a full-time employee earning Z$35, supplemented by the periodic sale of poultry, vegetables and fish, combined with brick-making and thatching, as well as petty trading. At Ruia A, K and his son, along with Mrs K, participate in casual labour in nearby A1 plots. The three of them supplied 600 work days to the farms in the 2013-14 season at a daily wage rate of US$3 generating US$1800 in household income. The household also has access to 1000 square meters of land near the compound where they grow subsistence crops. They also get remittance income from a son who is employed elsewhere as a security guard.

In the pre-resettlement period the Ks did not have access to land or cattle, goats or sheep. This has not changed much post resettlement. The family has access to one cell phone and has two photo voltaic panels for night lighting. They also keep a few scavenging chickens that they sometimes sell for extra income.

Case 2

A number of farm workers moved from other farms that were occupied under the A2 programme. Mr T who now lives with his family at Ruia A Compound is one of them. A Mozambique national originally, the 45 year old Mr T is one of the more successful former farm workers. Before coming to Ruia A he worked at ADA farm as a general hand. In 2000 he earned Z$30 per month. Currently 3 adults (more than 20 years old) and six children (less than 20 years old) reside at the compound. T did not go beyond Grade 7 in his education. The family resides in a four roomed residence without electricity or running water. The family gets water from a communal borehole. The most precious asset owned by the family is a motor cycle. They have two cell phones for communication and a solar panel for lighting their home at night. The Ruia A committee allocated them 0.3 ha of land, all of which is cropped with maize and a few lines of tobacco. In the 2014 season the family reaped 20 bags of maize and 50 kgs of tobacco. In addition they have access to a small garden in the vlei areas for vegetables.

Three members of the T family – one male and two females – are involved in farm labour in the Ruia A A1 plots. In the 2013-14 growing season the family supplied a total of 500 work days at a wage rate of US$3 per day generating an income of US$1500. Prior to settlement T had access to only 1000 square-meters of land and did not have any large livestock. Currently the family has 6 cattle, 3 of which were acquired in the past five years. They also have a goat. T earns some money from periodic sales of cattle, vegetables, building and carpentry. The T family feels their welfare has improved post Fast Track land reforms.

Case 3

Mr M, is a 45 year old descendent of migrant workers from Malawi. He previously worked at Ruia A farm as a general hand earning Z$30 per month prior to the Fast Track land reforms. Mr M who did not receive any formal schooling remained at the Ruia A worker compound when the farm was parcelled out to A1 scheme farmers. Currently three adults and four children are resident in a four roomed dwelling. Two men and one woman in the household contribute to household income through casual labour supply to maize and tobacco farmers in the surrounding A1 farms. In the 2013-14 season they worked for a total of 400 work-days at a wage rate of US$3 per day or a total household income of US$1200. This income is supplemented by income from poultry sales, vegetable sales, brick-making and thatching.

Prior to land reform the family had no access to allocated or rented land, and very few assets. This was supplemented by income from brick-making, poultry sales and vegetable sales. According to them, the welfare of household has improved post Fast Track with the family having access to 0.4 hectares allocated by Ruia A leadership and they have invested in two cell phones, a bicycle and a couple of solar panels for night lighting. From the 0.4 hectares the family reaped 0.6 MT of maize to supplement the family’s food needs.

Case 4

60 year-old Ms C has no formal schooling, and is resident in Hariana compound. Prior to settling at Hariana she worked at Fia Farm in Centenary as a farm guard earning Z$20 per month. They are now residing in a five roomed Hariana compound house, including six adults and three children. Farm labour is no longer the main source of income for the household, with more income being derived from own farming operations.

The family secured a hectare of land from the Hariana scheme leadership and they rent 0.4 hectares from an A1 farmer in Hariana scheme, where they grow tobacco, maize and sweet potatoes. In the 2013-14 season the family harvested half a tonne of maize all for household consumption, 900 kg of flue-cured tobacco worth about US$2700 and 1000 kg of sweet potatoes sold along the Mvurwi – Harare highway. The family also grows vegetables in a small garden close to the dam that are also marketed to travellers along the Mvurwi-Harare highway. Extra income is also earned from sale of goats (she keeps 5 goats on the plot), poultry and tailoring services, while fishing in the Hariana dams supplements household food.

Only one male member of the family is still involved in farm labour services to Hariana A1 farmers. During the 2013-14 season he supplied 120 labour days at an average wage rate of US$3 per day, bringing in about US$360 over the 2013-14 season. Using proceeds from farming and prior farm labour services the family managed to dig their own well for domestic water supply, purchase a bicycle and a car. Two members of the family also have cell phones.


These very brief profiles show the fragility of life in the compounds. Farm labour is no longer guaranteed, and other livelihood options have to be sought. Access to small plots of land near the compounds, allocated by the A1 committees, is essential, and those who gain access to a hectare or more are diverting energies to small-scale agriculture and away from labouring. While the A1 farmers are hiring employing people, the number of days hired and the low salary rate means that total incomes are low, especially when spread across often large household groups. Farm compound houses are often of low quality, and without amenities, but may have multiple residents, as many farm workers have been evicted, especially from A2 farms, as new farmers have restructured their work forces. In each of the cases discussed above, representative of the wider sample, the family originally came from Malawi or Mozambique. This means that they do not have connections elsewhere in Zimbabwe, and are only linked to other former farm workers, with limited means. A few manage to get work elsewhere, and benefit from remittances, but not many.

Before land reform, life on the compounds was isolated, overseen by a highly controlled arrangement that allowed limited opportunities, described so well in terms of ‘domestic government’ by Blair Rutherford in Working on the Margins. Before farm workers were wholly dependent on the large-scale commercial farmer for food, housing, income, health care, education and more, but today they have had to carve out new social and political relationships in the post land reform era. This has been tough for many, as the cases above show. However, perhaps surprisingly, with the exception of one case, all the others remarked how life had improved following land reform. While clearly still extremely poor, they liked the flexibility of not having to be behoven to a single employer. They were happy to have small plots of land that were often not allowed before. And they saw the independence to set up small businesses and have a diversified livelihood liberating. The oppressive character of their former employment conditions was commented on again and again in interviews. They clearly would desire a better life, but the life they had before, for many, was worse.

What the longer-term prospects are for former farm workers living in new resettlement areas is not clear. Will they remain and continue to provide an often highly skilled, cheap labour pool? Will they become more integrated with the A1 farmers, and take up farming, acquiring more land? Will they be evicted and resettled themselves, being seen as a difficult legacy of the previous era (as has occurred in some farms), and if so where will they go? Often seen as ‘non-citizens’, discriminated against politically, they have little voice and limited agency. The mainstream narrative of ‘displacement’ does not apply in the way it is often presented, but the reality is certainly tough, and needs some imaginative policy solutions that currently are not even being debated.

Thanks to BZ Mavedzenge and the Mvurwi research team for compiling the cases

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

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What happened to farm workers following Zimbabwe’s land reform?

Previous blogs have discussed the fate of workers who had worked on the large-scale commercial farms that were distributed during land reform, both in relation to the total numbers affected, and the new livelihood strategies that have been pursued. The role of labour in the new farm structure is a crucial and under-studied issue, as it is more generally in agrarian and livelihood studies. However we now have some data from our own fieldwork that sheds light on these issues.

Over the last few years we have been working in the Mvurwi area of Mazowe district as part of the Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development project. We have carried out similar surveys to those that we had done before in Masvingo (and now more recently in Matobo) to find out how similar and different these sites are, and how the experience of land reform has affected different people in different places.

In Mvurwi we have been looking at what has happened on a series of A1 farms (involving a sample of 220 households), as well as a few case studies of A2 farms nearby. We have also been investigating what happened to farm workers who have either got land as part of A1 settlements or are still living in the farm worker compounds.

Across the three farms where our A1 sample is located, there are four farm worker compounds, with around 370 farm worker families currently living in them – half are original workers from those farms, the rest were displaced from about 25 other farms (notably A2 farms), from Mazowe district and beyond, where new owners have expelled former workers, as they have restructured their operations.

Former farm workers are not a uniform category of course. There are some who managed to get land under the fast-track process and since, and are part of our A1 sample. Of this sample 10% were former farm workers, from the farms concerned or from further afield, as many had to move. Others were compound dwellers with small plots where they were growing food, and indeed tobacco, and they were engaged in regular work, being employed by A1 or A2 farmers. Others had carved out new livelihoods, sometimes combining piece work on farms, with other activities such as building, carpentry or fishing (see below). However others have no jobs or other forms of livelihood, and are struggling. Some have gone to communal areas and have reinsterted themselves into social networks there, but many do not have access to these, being ‘foreigners’ originally from Malawi, Mozambique or Zambia for example, and with no rural home, despite having lived in Zimbabwe for generations. It is a diverse experience, and one that deserves more research scrutiny.

Among our sample of A1 farms, on average each household employed 0.8 permanent workers and 4.2 temporary workers, both men and women. Many of the permanent workers are drawn from where the household previously came from, often nearby communal areas, bringing in relatives and others. However, new A1 farmers growing tobacco have also hired in permanent workers from the compounds. These are often the skilled farm managers and others who can help with their new tobacco businesses. Others say they prefer to hire from the compounds as the labour is skilled and disciplined, and they are happy to avoid being tied to relatives. Permanent workers include both men and women, and the same applies to temporary workers. These are nearly all drawn from the compound, and are hired for particular production tasks. Wages are low especially for temporary work, and workers are not organised or unionised, and so have little bargaining power. Not all compound households can find work for all the time, and so must develop more diversified livelihoods. Land reform was 15 years ago, and a whole new generation has grown up in the compounds since. This group of youth have not learned the skills of their parents in tobacco growing, and so are not hired so often. They must seek out other income earning activities to survive.

The table below offers some average household social profiles and backgrounds of A1, A2 and farm worker households. The A1 households are split up into ‘success groups’ (more or less successful according to local informants), while the others are lumped together.

Table: Profiles of A1 (Success Group 1-3), A2 and Farmworker households in terms of characteristics of household head/land, crop outputs, income sources; assets and their accumulation.

  A1-SG1 A1-SG2 A1-SG3 A2 FW
Educational level of household head (% above Form 2) 54 51 58 80 19
Age of household head (% above 50 years) 42 48 33 60 40
Land area allocated [ ha ] 5.4 5.6 5.6 51.9 0.6
Land area cultivated (ha) 3.6 3.7 2.4 7.8 0.6
Maize production (kg), 2014 4805 2931 2232 18400 419
Maize sales (kg), 2014 3279 1384 973 14280 0
Tobacco production (kg), 2014 1338 1460 880 4700 246
Remittance income (percentage receiving) 13 17 16 60 15
Cattle sales (%) 33 39 22 40 1
Local piece work (%) 8 8 14 0 44
Vegetable sales (%) 27 52 49 60 34
Building, thatching, carpentry (%) 12 24 32 0 54
Fishing (%) 8 11 22 0 19
Cattle ownership (N) 9.8 6.9 4.7 10.0 0.5
Car/truck ownership ( %) 47.9 23.2 30.1 20 2
Bicycle ownership (%) 58 60 59 80 35
Cattle purchased (N) in last 5 years 1.2 0.9 2.1 0 0.2
Cars purchased % in last 5 years 27 19 21 0 0
Bicycles purchased % in last 5 years 25 35 44 80 23
Cell phones purchased in last 5 years (N) 3.4 3.2 3.8 6 1.6
Solar panels purchased (N) in last five years 1.1 1.1 0.9 0.8 0.8
Water pumps purchased % in last five years 0.25 0.52 0.34 0.2 0.2

Comparing farm worker households to others, we can see that across variables, farm worker households are badly off. They have very small plots of land (average 0.6ha), all of which is cultivated. They do this intensively although in 2014 only realising 400kg of maize on average, and 250kg of tobacco. Maize is all consumed, while tobacco offers some additional income. This is complemented by a range of other sources of income. Local piece work (including the temporary farm labour discussed above), building/thatching/carpentry and vegetable sales (for women) dominate. Fishing is also important in one of the farm dams for some. Compared to the other sample groups, asset ownership is very limited, although a few have livestock, and some are buying new animals. By contrast to the more successful A1 farmers, the possibilities of accumulation are limited, although farm worker households have bought bicycles, cell phones, solar panels and water pumps.

There is little doubt that former farm workers are extremely poor and often have precarious livelihoods. However, in the absence of alternatives, they are surviving, often through a combination of intensive agriculture on garden sized plots and other work. The compounds across what was the large-scale commercial farming areas of the Highveld are home to many thousands of people. The long-term future of this population remains uncertain, but for now their labour and skill is an important element of the success of some of the new resettlement farmers, and some are managing to find ways of getting their own plots.

Next week, I will share a few case studies of former farm workers from this area to show how different people are making a living.

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

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Making markets: local economic development following land reform

Today we are releasing a series of films on the relationships between land reform and economic activity in Zimbabwe, focusing on three commodities: tobacco, beef and horticulture. The films emerge from on-going work coordinated by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies based at UWC in Cape Town under the ‘Space, Markets and Employment in Agricultural Development’ (SMEAD) project supported by the UK ESRC and DFID growth research programme. They were made by Pamela Ngwenya, supported by the field team. This week, I am posting the overview film which gives you a taste of the series. In subsequent weeks, I will post ones on the each of the three commodities we looked at.

Over the last couple of years the work has been carried out in Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe looking at the linkages between agricultural production, employment and other economic activity and the spatial patterns of these interactions. Through some detailed case study research, the project has been attempting to look at the different growth pathways linked to agriculture, and investigate how inclusive these are, asking who gains and who loses from agricultural commercialisation.

The study of course links to old debates about scale and agriculture, and the linkage and multiplier effects of different types of farming. Do big or small farms create more employment and economic growth, for whom and where? What spatial mix of farm sizes and markets make sense? Can local economic development flourish in an era of globalisation? These are not easy questions to answer, and that’s why the debate has continued and continued. It depends what commodity, which markets, what spatial arrangement of farms and markets, levels of infrastructure and much more.

But across our studies in southern Africa, some interesting patterns emerge. The cases from Malawi show very localised economic activities, with spillovers and connections occurring within a few kilometers. Few farmers are able to scale up, and although commericalised, the prospects for growth without wider shifts in the economy look bleak. In South Africa by contrast, the linkages were extensive, with very few steps to large companies operating in highly developed value chains, and linking to markets in distant urban conurbations. Here, for differnt reasons, the prospects for local economic development looked limited. The value was captured and exported, and employment was not being generated in the local area. Zimbabwe showed an intriguing middle ground. Here lots of local economic activity was evident, particularly linked to entrepreneurial farmers in the A1 resettlement areas. These farmers were selling into new value chains, created since land reform. These were more local, supplying markets in nearby towns and business centres for beef or horticulture, but also export markets for tobacco. Employment was being generated along the value chains, and benefits were far more widely shared.

The results of the study are still being processed, synthesised and written up and I will share more when the reports are out. But the early indications suggest an interesting story, especially for Zimbabwe. This suggests a focus on local economic development, capitalising on and amplifying the linkages already created by entrepreneurial farmers who have benefited from land reform. This will mean a major rethink of rural development policy and planning, but the benefits could be significant if the cases highlighted in these films are anything to go by.

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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