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Commercial agriculture in Africa: winners and losers

The findings of the Land and Agricultural Commercialisation in Africa project, funded by DFID and ESRC, have just been published in the Journal of Peasant Studies in a series of four papers – an introduction (open access) and country cases from Ghana, Kenya and Zambia.

In this work we asked what difference did the ‘model’ of commercial farming make, contrasting large-scale plantations/estates, medium-scale farms in commercial farming areas and contract farming arrangements linked to core estates (see background paper here). This is a theme being picked up by a new initiative – the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa project of the Future Agricultures Consortium – which includes new work in Zimbabwe, starting this year.

A blog on The Conversation – The pros and cons of commercial farming models in Africa (Ruth Hall, University of the Western Cape; Dzodzi Tsikata, University of Ghana, and Ian Scoones, University of Sussex) – discusses the findings. In the debate about what approaches to revitalising commercial agriculture, at what scale (including medium-scale farms), with what relationships between smallholders and large-scale agribusiness, this research from across Africa is highly relevant to ongoing debates in Zimbabwe.
The pros and cons of commercial farming models in Africa

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Workers harvesting from a commercial farm in Ethiopia.
Reuters/Barry Malone

Ruth Hall, University of the Western Cape; Dzodzi Tsikata, University of Ghana, and Ian Scoones, University of Sussex

Colonialism brought large-scale farming to Africa, promising modernisation and jobs – but often dispossessing people and exploiting workers. Now, after several decades of independence, and with investor interest growing, African governments are once again promoting large plantations and estates. But the new corporate interest in African agriculture has been criticised as a “land grab”. The Conversation

Small-scale farmers, on family land, are still the mainstay of African farming, producing 90% of its food. Their future is increasingly uncertain as the large-scale colonial model returns.

To make way for big farms, local people have lost their land. Promises of jobs and other benefits have been slow to materialise, if at all.

The search is on for alternatives to big plantations and estates that can bring in private investment without dispossessing local people – and preferably also support people’s livelihoods by creating jobs and strengthening local economies.

Two possible models stand out.

Contract farming is often touted as an “inclusive business model” that links smallholders into commercial value chains. In these arrangements, smallholder farmers produce cash crops on their own land, as ‘outgrowers’, on contract to agroprocessing companies.

Then there is growth in a new class of “middle farmers”. These are often educated business people and civil servants who are investing money earned elsewhere into medium-scale commercial farms which they own and operate themselves.

So what are the real choices and trade-offs between large plantations or estates; contract farming by outgrowers; or individual medium-scale commercial farmers?

These different models formed the focus of our three-year study in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. Evidence suggests that each model has different strengths. For policy makers, deciding which kind of farming to promote depends on what they want to achieve.

Plantations are ‘enclaves’

Our cases confirm the characterisation of large plantations as being “enclaves” with few linkages into local economies. They buy farming inputs from far afield, usually from overseas, and in turn send their produce into global markets, bypassing local intermediaries.

Plantations are large, self-contained agribusinesses that rely on hired labour and are vertically-integrated into processing chains (often with on-farm processing). They’re usually associated with one major crop. In Africa, these started with colonial concessions, especially in major cash crops such as coffee, tea, rubber, cotton and sugarcane. Some of these later became state farms after independence while others were dismantled and land returned to local farmers.

Many plantations do create jobs, especially if they have on-site processing. Plantations may also support local farmers if they process crops that local smallholders are already growing. For example, we found an oil palm plantation in Ghana that buys from local smallholders, giving them access to processing facilities and international value chains they would otherwise not reach.

But, typically, plantations have limited connections into the local economy beyond the wages they pay. Where production is mechanised, they create few jobs, as we found in Zambia: the Zambeef grain estate employs few people, and most of these are migrants whose wages don’t go into the local economy. And the jobs that are created are invariably of poor quality.

The main story is that plantations take up land and yet often don’t give back to the local economy. In the cases we researched, all the plantations led to local people losing their land. For instance, the establishment and later expansion of the 10,000-hectare Zambeef estate led to forced removals of people from their cropping fields and grazing lands.

There are some benefits from plantations and estates. But, given more than a century of bad experience, it may be time to concede they seldom – if ever – live up to their promises.

Contract farming brings benefits for some

Contract farming has a long history in Africa, dating back to colonial times. As with plantations, these arrangements were largely for the major cash crops, including cocoa, cotton, tobacco and sugarcane.

Contract farmers are smallholders who enter into contracts with companies that buy and process their crops. Sometimes members of outgrowers’ households might also get jobs on larger “nucleus” estates run by the companies. Whether or not they benefit, or get mired in debt and dependence, depends entirely on the terms of these contracts. Our study looked at contract farming in Ghana’s tropical fruit export sector, in French bean production in Kenya and in sugarcane farming in Zambia.

Contract farming has been hailed by some as the “win-win” solution, enabling commercial investment for global markets without dispossessing local farmers. Farmers farm on their own land, using their own family labour, while also accessing commercial value chains – rather than being displaced by large farms. But we found that this is not necessarily the case. Crucially, there are different kinds of arrangements that determine who benefits.

In Kenya, contract farmers are poorer than most farmers around them. For them, farming on contract provides a crucial livelihood, especially for poor women, who cultivate French beans for the European market and combine this with seasonal jobs on big farms.

In one Zambian block scheme all outgrowers gave up their land to Illovo, a South African company that grows sugarcane. The company pays them dividends. Here, the landowners, typically the old patriarchs, benefit from cash incomes. Young people lose out: they neither inherit the land nor control the cash incomes.

Contract farming clearly provides one effective avenue for smallholders to commercialise. It means, though, that smallholders take on both the risks and the benefits of connecting to commercial value chains.

Medium-scale farming: a promising option

Between the large plantations and the small contract farmers is another model: medium-scale commercial farms owned by individuals or small companies. We studied areas where medium-scale farms were dominating: mango farmers in Ghana, coffee farmers in Kenya and grains farmers in Zambia. While this kind of medium-scale farming also has colonial origins, the past two decades have seen massive growth in new “middle farmers”. Many of them are male, wealthy, middle-aged or retired, often from professional positions.

The medium -scale commercial farming model has a lot to offer. We found that they create more jobs and stimulate rural economies more than either big plantations or smallholder contract farmers. Yet cumulatively, such farms may threaten to dispossess smallholders, just as the big colonial and more recent plantations and estates have done.

The push behind the explosion of the “middle farmers” in the countries we studied has been investment by the educated and (relatively) wealthy. In Ghana in particular, we found, their expansion has displaced smallholders. Cumulatively, even modest-sized farms have led to substantial dispossession and reduced access to land.

Their informal employment patterns mean poor working conditions and few permanent jobs. But, unlike the plantations, these farms are well connected with the local economy. Building on social networks, these “middle farmers” often buy inputs and services from local businesses. At least some of their produce is sold into local markets.

Winners and losers

While policy choices are of course political, they can and should be informed by research about the implications of these different pathways of agricultural commercialisation. What is clear from our research is that different kinds of commercial farming will have different effects on the economy. It’s not just about efficiency. Ultimately, it’s about who wins and who loses.

Ruth Hall, Associate Professor, Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, University of the Western Cape; Dzodzi Tsikata, Associate Professor, University of Ghana, and 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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Research collaboration for global challenges: why it’s really hard

I spent much of last week at London zoo. It was the final conference of a project I have been involved in over the past four years on zoonoses, ecosystems and wellbeing in Africa. The conference highlighted the idea of ‘One Health’, a movement aimed at linking human, livestock and ecosystem health. The focus was on how to make this happen in the ‘real world’, so that both emerging and endemic zoonotic diseases can be tackled effectively.

Over the last few years, influenza, Ebola and now Zika have struck in different parts of the world, often with devastating consequences. The argument of those at the conference – and indeed of our project, the Dynamic Drivers or Disease in Africa Consortium (DDDAC) – was that better integration, and more interdisciplinary collaboration will make a big difference to the effectiveness of responses to disease, and a focus on ecosystems, poverty and wellbeing needs to be central.

There was certainly a great buzz at the conference, and beyond (#OneHealth2016 was one of the top trending topics on Twitter in the UK on the opening day!). We had some very high level speakers, from the head of the Wellcome Trust, Jeremy Farrar, to the Chief Scientist at the UK’s Department for International Development, Charlotte Watts, as well as excellent participation from a range of stellar researchers and students working on One Health issues.

One of the recurrent themes was that making a ‘One Health’ approach, rooted in interdisciplinary science, is really tough. And perhaps even more so, when we move to a transdisciplinary approach, working with practitioners and policy makers to ‘co-construct’ knowledge and action.

There is a lot of talk of inter- and transdisciplinary research these days. Everyone wants cutting edge research that makes a difference. So whether it’s the Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme, or the new UK research council strategy, or umbrella programmes such as Future Earth, all want such problem focused research to tackle the big global issues of our time. And the themes of our conference, and our project, linking environmental change with disease with policy impacts certainly fit into this category.

Our project was supported by the UK Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation Programme, funded by DFID, the UK Natural Environmental Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council, and was hosted by the ESRC STEPS Centre based at Sussex University. It involved five countries in Africa (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Ghana), four diseases (trypanosomiasis, Rift Valley Fever, Lassa Fever and Henipah). Each country study was focused on a puzzle, focusing on how diseases emerge, get transmitted, and who they affect different groups of people. The overall Consortium involved 19 institutions, ranging from diverse research groups in multiple universities in Africa, Europe and the US to veterinary, public health and wildlife departments in Africa. At last count there were more than 50 researchers involved in various ways. It was massively ambitious, and premised on a commitment to transdisciplinary working,

 Unpacking the process of transdisciplinary research

 Here I want to focus on the challenges and opportunities of the research process, rather than the results (more on those soon on this blog). The work has aimed to seek answers to on-the-ground problems, aiming at producing top-level research and generating an impact. But this is easier said (or written glibly into a proposal) than done. Building the ways of working in a transdisciplinary team is not easy. Much of it is about building trust, creating relationships, and finding new languages for interacting. These do not come easily. We had four all-team workshops during the project. Their tenor followed almost exactly the phases of group formation proposed by the psychologist, Bruce Tuckman.

The first was about ‘forming’ – finding out what the Consortium was about – which we held at ILRI in Nairobi. We didn’t know each other then. There was a nervousness, and not a little scepticism. The next workshop at Sussex focused on setting up the research and methodology. This was the ‘storming’ phase. Here we had to negotiate our roles, and define our stance – in a potentially threatening and confusing setting. There were a few arguments, and some misunderstandings – and some storming. We got through this, and got on with the work, but it took us a while to reach the ‘norming’ phase. This was already three years into the project at a workshop in Naivasha, Kenya. We had found a way of working, but we were only just beginning to build the relationships that really deliver transdisciplinary work. This really only happened in the final period, and at our last workshop – last week at London zoo – we could really say that we were ‘performing’. This final stage, where groups genuinely work together, came too late. We already had a nine-month no-cost extension ending next month, and the money had run out.

What lessons have we learned from this journey?

Central is the importance of time. It takes a while for any group to go through these stages. With a large, complex, international group, it takes longer. There are no real short-cuts.

Time is also important when studying dynamic complex systems, as there will be events that cannot be planned for that reframe the way we think, and the way we work. Ebola was the big one in our project, coming in 2014, right in the middle of the Sierra Leone fieldwork, which was in the epicentre of the outbreak. This made us rethink and restructure the work. But, despite the horrors, the experience helped us focus on new issues, and appreciate the value of cross-disciplinary working; something that of course proved to be vital to the Ebola response more generally.

Time is also important as the last pieces of the puzzle may be difficult to find. The whole story of the Zimbabwe work looking at trypanosomiasis only fell into place last week, when we were able to sit together and discuss the results of the livestock blood sampling. Mapped onto our GIS information from the geographers, and combined with the participatory analysis done in the field in Hurungwe the story became much clearer (more on this on this blog soon).

Linking different disciplinary approaches is not easy. There are different languages (from complex mathematics to complex words), and different styles of collecting, analysing and writing up data. Fieldwork means different things to different disciplines; as does paper writing, policy engagement, and so on. All these have to be negotiated. To work together we have to learn both new languages and cultures, and be patient and respectful.

But we also need frameworks that help make the connections that create the new insights. The DDDAC project had a simple framework that helped our earlier ‘forming’ and ‘norming’ stages, but we really got to ‘performing’ when we were able to link analytical approaches. This particularly focused on connecting different types of ‘modelling’. Everyone models the world – it’s just a framework for understanding expressed in different ways – but what the assumptions, frames and data requirements are will depend on who is modelling, and posing the questions.

We had various modelling efforts looking at diseases, emergence, spread and impact, from mechanistic Process based models, to statistical, macro ecological Pattern models to a diversity of Participatory modelling approaches, rooted in field analysis. Our 3P approach allowed conversations to happen and new results to begin to emerge, in this final period.

In other cross-disciplinary experiences – whether around the sustainable livelihoods framework or the STEPS pathways approach – my experience has been that, for all their limitations (there are many, for sure), these frameworks (‘models’) allow new conversations to happen, and new insights to emerge. So it has been in our integrative modelling, although only just touching the surface, due to our curtailed ‘performing’ phase. Four years in, new insights on disease emergence, transmission and effect were just beginning to emerge.

But it’s not just the frameworks that are important, it’s the people who are able to make the links – creating the basis for joint work. There are many different people with different roles in a successful team, as group psychologists, such as Meredith Belbin, have long known. We had very high-powered people in our team, many top researchers in their disciplines. But getting researchers and other project participants to work together required some unusual and new skills.

Research brokers, facilitators and leaders are rarely recognised, but are essential for cross-disciplinary work. We had a number of such people luckily, but I don’t think we knew enough about their importance at the beginning to give them well thought through roles, or even identify such skills in advance. Leadership in transdisciplinary working is a very special skill and a vital, usually unrecognised, and poorly rewarded, role.

Challenges faced

Our four team workshops moved the approach to working together forward incrementally. But between our four workshops, the team dispersed, fragmented, and often went back to silo working. Sustaining a continuous process of interaction is difficult, and expensive in an international project. Students can be key, as they are not subject to the same institutional strictures, and set professional behaviours and practices. Yet in our project, studentships were not encouraged, and we had only selective engagements, often from outside the project. This undermined coherence and continuity, and constrained genuine opportunities for transdisciplinary working.

As so many large projects, the temptation is to break things down into ‘work packages’; manageable units, associated with certain deliverables, with devolved leadership roles. This makes sense from an ease of management point of view, and indeed was encouraged in our project by the funding going to four separate Principal Investigators in four institutions. But integration then becomes incredibly difficult, as making links between activities, and making use of budgets to make this happen is impossible, as they are held multiply in protected silos.

Breaking out of existing institutional cultures, structured around disciplines and sectors, is incredibly difficult. And any project must know its limits. People have to be rewarded in their own systems, as well as gaining benefits from new collaborations. It’s not an easy balancing act. Ultimately people get promoted in their own institutions/disciplines, not in a project. And different people in such a project have very different reward systems, styles of publishing, forms of authorship and so on. Developing ways of working that take these into account, but move people to work in new ways is important, but not easy.

As so many projects formulated in a highly competitive funding environment, the earth was promised. But inevitably it could not be delivered in three  years. It would be absurd to expect it to have been despite the generous budget. The pressure was on from the beginning – high end, international science delivering impact. Anyone involved in research projects these days will know the routine. Impact, engagement, communications are central. This is all good, but forcing it may not make sense. Impacts emerge over time through relationships, and based on results that may not emerge easily. These are complex, difficult, challenging puzzles.

So the formulaic model of impact may not be appropriate, and we perhaps should be more sanguine about what is possible. Of course in our ‘pathways to impact’ assessments we over-promise (sometimes even lie), so the audit culture of project management kicks in to assess why we haven’t met the targets. And changing course, being flexible and reinventing projects to fit the moment is regarded with horror by research managers.

There is a dangerous culture of control in much research funding. Yes, linked to accountability, and assuring ‘value for money’, but pushing an inflexible audit approach can too often undermine creative, innovative research. There were moments in this project where overbearing centralised funder management constrained operations, and undermined partnerships.

Ways forward?

At the end of our project last week, we felt we’d only just started. We had done some good work, we had struck up excellent new transdisciplinary relationships, but we had only just started ‘performing’ when the money had run out.

All large group based projects (a common feature of funding modalities these days) go through the four group formation phases. So why not fund and manage in relation to this? Fund the forming, norming and storming, and performing separately in a phased approach.

There can be an expectation that some projects never get past forming, some never generate norms, and some fall apart during the storming (I have been in projects of all these types over the last 30 years!). But if you get to performing, often after quite a while, then you need proper funding for really generating the value from the funding. In our case much of the investment is sunk in a set of relationships that sadly will not be fully utilised as the funds have finished.

One route to this is through such a phased ‘challenge’ approach (Gates follows something similar, in the language of proof of concept to final project, although the argument is a bit different here). Another is to establish long-term, well-funded Centres around successful groups that have begun ‘performing’. This is the approach of UK research councils, Wellcome Trust and others. Centres with 10-20 years of funding can really make a difference. They can provide the home (real and virtual) for the type of interactions that are required to create real transdisciplinary work.

Only as part of Centres can the ‘constructive conflict’ between disciplines be generated and the type of frameworks that allow integrative, joint working encouraged. And only in such settings can the new norms and cultures that transdisciplinary work requires be fostered – and across generations of researchers and practitioners, this is a long-haul job.

Such efforts are of course not cheap, but the investment can be very worthwhile (and great value for money), as the sunk costs can genuinely be capitalised upon for really change-making work. Too often the money is pulled just as things get going, and exciting. The costs need to be focused on the relation-building that generate impact, rather than formulaic approaches, and invested in leadership, brokerage and facilitation that allow creative partnerships to be nurtured and allowed to work. This is difficult to programme and plan, and even more difficult to fit into the audit systems that dominate funding agencies’ obsessions.

Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaboration is really hard, and involves a long slog that can be conflictual and challenging. But in the big issues that confront us today – whether climate change, sustainable development, zoonotic disease emergence, or indeed any area where multiple perspectives on a complex, dynamic problem are required – such approaches are imperative, and in my view a good investment. In our DDDAC project we made a creditable start, but are only at the beginning.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland.  The blog will be back on 28 March, after a short Easter break


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Sharing results, generating impact: experience from Zimbabwe

One of the many exciting things I did when visiting our field sites in Zimbabwe at the end of last year, was to help hand out a new set of booklets based on our ‘Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development’ project (supported by DFID-ESRC), that has now concluded.


The project looked at how changing patterns of agriculture is influencing markets (upstream and downstream) and employment. We looked at a series of commodities – tobacco, beef, horticulture and maize – in two sites – Mvurwi in Mazowe area and Masvingo district.

This allowed for some important insights to emerge through both qualitative and quantitative work. We have produced a long report if you want all the detail, and some journal articles are in the works. But in our research we are also committed to making findings available to wider audiences. Our prize last year recognising ‘impact’ highlighted this approach. So we have produced some more popular outputs, including a series of much-viewed films (they are short – just 10 mins or less) that I have mentioned on the blog before. The films have been shared in showings in the study areas, and DVDs have been circulated to agricultural offices, training centres, schools and so on. And for those with good enough Internet connections they can be viewed online via youtube (there are hi and low res versions). At the end of last year we produced a booklet summarising the findings, and offering some case studies of how people have engaged with these changing markets, paid for in part by our prize money.

The booklets are in Shona and English, and are available to download here (scroll down to get the new booklets – they’re blue, and uploaded in low res quality so they are feasible to download). They complement our earlier booklets that offered an overview of the findings presented in our 2010 book (these are the green ones!). These proved a massive hit in our study areas, and ‘reading circles’ were formed to share them across villages in Masvingo.

As before we have produced a large print run of the colour booklets. In November-December we distributed over 1500 to our field sites in Mvurwi, Masvingo, as well as Masvingo. These were handed out to the villagers we have worked with over the years, as well as officials in Agritex offices, local government, private sector businesses and others. Not only were people delighted to see themselves and friends and family in the photos, but they were appreciative of the effort to feedback and share results. There have been many conversations of our findings since.

There is much talk about ‘impact’ these days in research circles. It’s become an obligation to demonstrate impact, uptake and so on, but these edicts are often followed rather reluctantly. In the last UK national research assessment exercise, university researchers had to produce ‘impact case studies’. Many were excellent, but there were a few where it was clear that researcher were scraping at the bottom of a rather empty barrel. Much of the research impact business is also rather mechanical. There are endless guidelines, tedious workshops, toolkits and yes inevitably consultants to help you with the process. And so often ‘impact’ efforts are added on after the event, with the funding body deciding (after being critiqued) that they need to ‘do impact work’ on research that has already been done, and with a group of people who are not really ready to do it.

But in my view with ‘engaged’ research (another buzzword), it’s an ethical obligation to feedback, link with research users and find ways that your research has resonance – and from the very beginning of all research efforts. Impact may not be immediate, and may require years and years of engaging before a moment arises when the research becomes relevant and useful. It may also be highly unexpected, with engagements from unusual sources. This is the problem with the approach to ‘compulsory’ impact, as people are forced to demonstrate impact and uptake in rather inane ways, when actually it wasn’t appropriate.

I am in the lucky position of working with an amazing group of people in Zimbabwe and over a long period of time. This is how we can have impact, but it is slow, patient and cumulative, and requires multiple strategies. These booklets are our latest effort: do read them!

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



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Land and commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe: new findings

Over the last few years we have been studying the relationships between land, markets and employment in commercial agriculture Zimbabwe through the SMEAD project, supported by the UK’s DFID-ESRC ‘Growth Research Programme’, and coordinated by PLAAS at UWC in South Africa as part of a regional, comparative study (research has also been completed in South Africa and Malawi). In Zimbabwe, the work has focused on Mvurwi area of Mazowe district and the Wondedzo area of Masvingo district, contrasting a high and low potential area.

The final report is now out, along with a briefing paper. I have already alerted readers to the series of films (‘Making Markets – in high and low res) we have made on the 3 commodities that we focused on in Zimbabwe – tobacco, horticulture and beef. Please do check out the publications and videos to get more detail. This blog offers some highlights of key findings and recommendations emerging from the work.

Despite many challenges, Zimbabwe’s agrarian economy is generating new economic activity and new employment because it is more locally rooted following land reform. Our research shows however how, while economic linkages generated by agriculture create opportunities, the distribution of benefits is patchy; some succeed and are accumulating, while others are not.

There are many challenges ahead. This blog has often focused on practical and policy challenges associated with agricultural production. These include for the need for a reliable supply of affordable fertilisers; the need for enhanced extension and service support, including through mobile phones and the Internet; the need for investment in water management and irrigation facilities; and the requirements of tenure security to encourage investment.

In our work in the SMEAD-Zimbabwe project, we focus on key recommendations for supporting economic linkages and the non-farm rural economy. These include:

  • Investment in rural infrastructure is essential. Restructuring rural production and economic activity following land reform requires a new configuration of infrastructure – roads, electrification, network coverage for mobile phones, market sites and storage facilities, business centres and so on. This is urgently required in order to facilitate the growth of economic linkages and support for the non-farm rural economy.
  • Encouragement of market information services via mobile phones, text messaging and the Internet will assist in increasing knowledge of prices and market options for farmers, input suppliers, service providers and other entrepreneurs, and help develop a more market-targeted approach, avoiding gluts and price crashes.
  • Contract farming arrangements for certain crops eases capital constraints, provides inputs and offsets some risks. In the tobacco sector, the Chinese company, Tian Ze, has contracted a number of (mostly larger) resettlement farmers, but has been key in supporting sales from the auction floors, and the wider contracting system for tobacco. However contracting needs sensitive regulation to protect all parties.
  • Finance and credit is extremely limited, and constrains on and off-farm business development. Bank loans are concentrated on contracting companies, and so a limited suite of crops and activities. Access to finance for others is constrained by major problems of liquidity in the banking and finance sector. There is need for low interest finance for farm and non-farm business activities. Rules and regulations have to be in place to protect financiers and borrowers.
  • Small towns and business centres near new resettlement areas are often booming, providing services, markets and employment. As ‘growth poles’, basic support for their sustained expansion is required, including infrastructure investments, and the facilitation of informal, small-scale trade and service supply.
  • Training in business development skills for farmers, service providers and technology manufacturers will help in the upgrading of business opportunities, particularly for youth and others without land, so they can participate in a local non-farm economy. Business training – including the issuing of business management certificates – is essential.
  • Investment in developing value addition from agricultural production is vital. This includes drying and bottling facilities for vegetables and meat products, as well as small-scale food selling, compliant with food hygiene and safety standards. Tobacco farmers lose on rejected leaf and sweepings. Value addition could involve technologies to make manures, as done by companies such as Nico Orgo.
  • Private sector-led agricultural trade, input supply and service support is often hampered by restrictive regulations and by-laws, combined with often punitive taxes and charges. Policy and regulatory reform to support the growth of small-scale businesses linked to agriculture in the rural areas is a priority. Local councils/government need to do away with out-dated rules and regulations that hinder the initiation and growth of new small businesses.

Zimbabwe’s rural economies are undergoing rapid change following land reform. However, redistributing the land was only the first step. Building sustainable local economic growth that generates employment and is rooted in vibrant rural markets is a longer process, requiring continued support. Local economic growth is being generated by a new vibrancy in the agricultural sector created by land reform. But for the full potentials to be realised, and for the benefits to be shared widely, greater investment in the conditions required – including infrastructure, skills, regulations and policy – is needed if Zimbabwe’s agricultural revolution is really to take off.

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

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Zimbabweland wins a prize!

Last week our work was runner up in the category of ‘Outstanding International Impact’ at the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council annual Celebrating Impact award ceremony. I had to go to London to receive the award (a trophy and some money that we will help keep the research going). They even made a slightly embarrassing film about the work that you can see here. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Council, and they are keen to demonstrate that research they invest in has an impact.

Over the years, we have received several grants from the ESRC for our work in Zimbabwe. The core of our work that became the book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities, was funded as part of a regional project led by PLAAS on livelihoods after land reform. More recently the ESRC/DFID grant for the Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development (SMEAD) in southern Africa – also led by PLAAS – allowed us to expand our case study sites to Mvurwi, and continue work in Masvingo. Indeed, my UK Research Council funding goes back much further – to my PhD work in Mazvihwa communal area which started a shocking 30 years ago.

Long-term research and engagement leads to impact, and in our work since 2000, it has been this ability to track changes since the land reform that has allowed us to generate deep, textured, longitudinal data, and so a rich evidence base to engage with debates about the impacts and consequences of land reform. The prize money we won last week will help keep the work going – now in Masvingo, Mvurwi and Matopos.

The prize committee really liked the range of ways we have communicated our work. Impact emerges from engaging with different audiences through a range of channels. Our outputs have included conventional academic material, such as books and journal articles, but we’ve also put out our material through other routes. This blog has been especially important, and has helped update the research, challenge misinformation and generate debate. I am continually amazed how many of you read it each week. There are now over 190 blogs on the site, and last year there were over 40,000 views. As readers of this blog will know, there have been videos that have allowed us to present findings in a different medium, and these have been widely viewed in Zimbabwe and beyond. And also we’ve produced a set of booklets, including one in Shona. This has allowed the work to be debated in the villages where we have worked, with reading circles formed to discuss them. It’s this diversity of formats that really helps create debate and dialogue in a whole range of fora.

After all the hard work, we are naturally delighted to be recognised in this way. Although rather focused on me in the ESRC publicity, this is of course a team effort. The field team, led by BZ Mavedzenge, but also involving Felix Murimbarimba, Jacob Mahenehene and many others, has been at the centre of this work. BZ, Felix and I have worked together now continuously since 1990, when we were working in Chivi with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department for Research and Specialist Services on a project on risk, that became the book ‘Hazards and Opportunities. It has been an immensely productive working relationship and I feel immensely privileged to have had this opportunity.

For now, I will keep the blog going, and I hope all readers will celebrate with us, as it is a recognition that research, when done thoroughly, over a long time and is communicated well, can really make a difference.

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



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Beyond the farm: getting local economies moving

The Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at UWC, South Africa (PLAAS) is just launching a new research programme on local rural economies financed by the UK’s ESRC and DFID, titled ‘Space, Markets and Employment in Agricultural Development’. It will have field sites in Zimbabwe, as well as Malawi and South Africa.

The project aims to address the critical issue of non-farm employment and the growth linkages associated with agriculture, operating at different scales. The project’s starting point is that “non-farm employment plays a vital role in ensuring broad-based, inclusive and sustainable development… Yet the impact of agricultural development decisions on non-farm employment is often disregarded by policymakers, who assume that those who do not find employment in agriculture can be absorbed into the economy in other ways”.

The proposal argues that: “This is an issue of central importance for agricultural development policy: not only because there are many people in rural areas who are landless or not involved in agricultural production, and who will therefore not benefit directly from agricultural development; but also because, in addition, large-scale agricultural investment projects, and increases in the productivity and efficiency of agriculture may lead to people being displaced from land, ‘shaken out’ of farming, or to be otherwise induced to leave agricultural employment. Internationally, the existence of a large and growing population of landless and unemployed people, no longer involved in agriculture but unable to find a foothold in the non-farm economy, seriously compromises poverty reduction, food security, well-being and stability”.

The problem is that, while widely recognised, the linkages between agricultural development and non-farm employment are poorly understood. In particular, the proposal argues that “not enough is known about the vital role of spatial relationships and linkages that can either support positive integration into markets, or lead to adverse incorporation or exclusion”.

It is the spatial dimensions of economic relations (and with these of course social, institutional, political and other interactions) that are especially interesting to me. Land reform in Zimbabwe has radically reconfigured the spatial pattern of economic activity in rural areas, and with this, markets, value chains, trading routes, employment opportunities and so on. How can the economic potential unleashed from small-scale agriculture be amplified through off-farm linkage effects in the local rural economy? Can a territorial approach to local economic development help capture the benefits of land reform?

Zimbabwe of course inherited a century-old spatial structure based on a dualistic economy where large commercial farms and associated farm labour were separated off from small-scale ‘peasant’ farming areas. There were two economies, one deemed the mainstream, the other informal, marginal and ignored. The communal areas were supposed to act as labour reserves for the mainstream economy, and there was no real expectation of employment and growth within them. This has now changed, but this historical inheritance – and the mindsets that go with it – will be difficult to shift.

The project has only just started, and there is much thought that needs to go into identifying suitable sites, developing innovative methodologies and collecting data. I am involved in the Zimbabwe component and will keep readers of this blog posted on results as they emerge.

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