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Still debating land tenure reform in Zimbabwe

As part of the on-going discussions about Zimbabwe’s new land policy, land tenure is a central concern. Zimbabwe has a multi-form land tenure system, involving different legal arrangements and different forms of authority. This suits a complex land system with multiple users wanting different things out of holding land. This has been acknowledged time and time again, most prominently by the Presidential Commission on Land led by Mandi Rukuni way back in 1994.

Each time there is a policy review, consultants and commentators line up to make arguments for regularising what is seen as a messy, complex system. Drawing on ideology more than evidence, they argue for a standardised, ordered system based on a singular form of titled private property. There are many examples of this position – and alarmingly I heard them in a number of aid agencies in Harare recently. Eddie Cross is the most consistent and articulate proponent, seemingly having persuaded large sections of the opposition movement and many donors too.

In order to justify an overhaul, a whole series of simplistic narratives are deployed. The most persistent of which is the assumption that freehold private tenure is the desired gold standard, and all reforms should aim to create cadastral uniformity with private, individual plots registered. This is assumed to result in the release of land value as land becomes ‘bankable’, able to be used as collateral for investment credit.

Titling is not always the answer

As so many have shown – and has been discussed on this blog many, many times – this narrative is deeply problematic. I apologise for coming back to this subject yet again, but the argument needs repeating, as it’s vitally important. For a refresher, see the short note (replicated in this blog) I produced with the late, great Sam Moyo years ago in an earlier attempt to address these misplaced arguments.

Bottom-line, there are other routes to delivering security of tenure, facilitating investment and financing of land-based activities than freehold tenure. Leases and permits with the right wording are perfectly good bases for collateral, and mortgaging land is not the only solution to agricultural financing anyway. And of course private titling land is not always a route to tenure security and sustainable management of resources. It depends on the political and institutional context. Just ask any white farmer around 2000 about the limits of security on private titled property. And consult the vast research resources compiled by Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom on the security of forms of common property.

Yet, it’s only particular forms of individualised, private property rights are seen as sacrosanct by right-wing, libertarian think-tanks like the Cato Institute – and their dubious followers in southern Africa. But, we must always remember the aim is not to generate one type of legal property arrangement, but security of tenure on any sort of land through diverse ownership arrangements.

Security emerges from different sources. These are political, social, cultural as well as through formal legal allocations of rights. These sources of authority have to emerge together. Traditional systems of communal land tenure, overseen by chiefs and headman and governed by culturally-accepted rules, can offer tenure security, just as can a piece of paper allocating a title. But this depends on whether the authority overseeing such tenure regimes is legitimate, trusted, transparent and accountable; and this depends on politics. It is the political settlement pertaining to land that provides security – or the opposite.

A political settlement over land

The problem in Zimbabwe is that, despite the repeated proclamations, there remains no finalised political settlement over land, even after 20 long years. This lack of settlement is what produces insecurity, and in its wake the on-going process of politically-motivated land grabbing that continues to plague the sector, especially around elections. Building a political settlement around land is not just high-sounding proclamations from the top, and some performative interventions to show willing, but also it means investing in the administrative and bureaucratic system that offers security and clarity. This may seem tedious – centred on recording, auditing, registering and documenting – and centred on the bureaucratic domain of surveyors and lands offices. But this demanding, long-term building of bureaucratic capacity is essential.

The fact that there are (finally) moves towards agreed compensation settlements with farmers whose land was acquired for land reform is very good news. It appears agreements are close on valuation measures, even if the mechanics over how compensation will be paid are as yet unclear. This is important, as the impasse that has lasted now nearly 20 years has been debilitating. Agreement on this will mean that the land reform areas, now settled for years, can no longer be deemed ‘contested’ by international donors and investors.

This means that donor and private support and investment can flow, without ‘restrictive measures’ (aka ‘sanctions’) getting in the way. With compensation processes agreed, then investment in land administration systems can follow; perhaps with some district level pilots, as I recommended a while back. In any area, this will allow for clarity on who owns what, and in turn audit systems can evaluate how land is used, and whether land is being held outside agreed laws, and with this clear, local negotiations over land use ownership can follow.

Getting an effective land administration system functioning is central to providing tenure security. Under such a such a system a multi-form tenure system is possible. It doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all solution. Donors endlessly push supposedly successful land titling projects, whether in Rwanda or Ethiopia, but rarely mention the pitfalls, or the historical failures such as Kenya, where the consequences – sometimes bloody and violent – are still being felt.

A land tenure system in a multi-form setting just has to accept different approaches for different areas: leases for larger A2 farms, registered permits for new A1 farms, and selective registration for some parts of communal areas, as required (such as protection of village land against aggressive land acquisition by mining concerns or, in peri-urban areas, housing developers). Overall the aim is the same: enhancing tenure security where it’s needed (more in A2, less in communal areas), but not assuming that there is one (legal/administrative) solution. Such a system needn’t be complex and expensive, and the use of satellite technology certainly speeds things up.

Despite the persistent, ideologically-driven arguments, the ideal for Zimbabwe must not a fully titled private land tenure system with every parcel registered in a deeds office. This would take decades to complete and would not take account of the flexible arrangements required, particularly in smallholder and communal settings. I wonder sometimes whether those who push such a line have worked on the ground in such settings where overlapping systems and complex negotiations are the norm, and required. A simplistic form of land titling would also create conflict of massive proportions with boundary disputes endlessly clogging up administrative courts.

The best solution is to go for a parsimonious approach, maintain the multiform tenure system, and enhance tenure security through improving land administration – and avoid an apparently neat titling option that will not work.

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

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Why title deeds aren’t the solution to land tenure problems

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An excellent new book is out in South Africa, focusing on titling and tenure. A big issue for policy in Zimbabwe. It’s called Untitled. Securing land tenure in urban and rural South Africa, published by UKZN Press and edited by Donna Hornby, Rosalie Kingwill, Lauren Royston and Ben Cousins. It’s well worth a read. While based on South Africa, where the obsession with freehold title is an article of faith, it has many resonances for Zimbabwe, and beyond. 

As I have argued many times before on this blog, a focus on titling is often not the best route to ensuring security of tenure. The obsession with freehold title is repeated endlessly. As Zimbabwe contemplates new policy directions temptations to get involved in mass titling programmes must be resisted. This book is therefore essential reading. It argues for ‘legal recognition of rights within what they call ‘social tenures’. In this article reposted from The Conversation, Ben Cousins, from PLAAS at the University of the Western Cape, explains: 

The conventional view is that insecurity of land tenure results from the lack of a registered title deed which records the property rights of occupants of land or housing. Across Africa, many governments and international development agencies are promoting large-scale land titling as the solution.

In the South African context, some commentators suggest that a key legacy of the apartheid past is the continued tenure insecurity of the third of the population who live in “communal areas”, under unelected chiefs or of traditional councils. The remedy, they suggest, is simple: extend the system of title deeds to all South Africans.

We have just published a book which disputes this view. Untitled. Securing land tenure in urban and rural South Africa contains case studies of a wide range of land tenure systems found in different parts of the country. These include informal settlements, inner city buildings in Johannesburg, “deep rural” communal systems, land reform projects, and examples of systems of freehold rights held by black South Africans since the 19th century.

With the exception of systems of freehold rights, most people who occupy land or dwellings in these areas are “untitled”, and occupy land or dwellings under a very different kind of property regime. We term these social or off-register tenures.

But we argue that, fundamentally, South Africans need to question the assumption that the sole solution to the problem of tenure insecurity is a system of title deeds. Alternative approaches are needed, which we set out to explore.

Social tenures

The book offers an analysis of social tenures, which are regulated by a different logic and set of norms than those underpinning private property. Such tenures are diverse but share some key features. As is the case across the developing world, including Africa, land tenure is directly embedded in social identities and relations.

Rights are often shared and overlapping in character and generally derive from accepted membership of a community or kinship group. Processes of land allocation and dispute resolution are overseen by local institutional structures.

In these contexts, decisions are often informed by norms and values that stress the importance of reciprocal social relationships rather than buying power as the basis for land allocation. They involve flexible processes of asserting, negotiating and defending land rights, rather than the enforcement of legally defined rules.

It’s estimated that in 2011 some 1.5 million people lived in low-cost dwellings provided to the poor by government’s, so-called “Reconstruction and Development Programme” (RDP) houses, with inaccurate or outdated titles, in most cases due to transfers outside of the formal system.

Another 5 million lived in RDP houses where no titles had yet been issued due to systemic inefficiencies. Along with 1.9 million people in backyard shacks, 2 million on commercial farms, and 17 million in communal areas, this means that in that year around 30 million people, nearly 60% of all South Africans, lived on land or in dwellings held outside of the land titling system.

RDP housing. Flickr

The edifice of title deeds

The book contrasts social tenures with the conventional system of title deeds, which constitutes a key element of an imposing “edifice”. The current system of rates, services and processes of development assumes that land tenure equals a surveyed plot with a singular registered owner, which may be persons or corporate bodies.

The system is serviced by a Deeds Registry, private sector surveyors and conveyancers, as well as municipal officials, all governed by a range of laws and regulations in a complex and interlocking manner.

One key problem facing those in social tenures is the discrimination they suffer at the hands of the state and the private sector. Despite some protection under laws such as the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act of 1996, people living in social tenures are severely disadvantaged. They may have to go to court to have their rights legally enforced, but most cannot afford to do so.

Development and land use planning, public investment and service delivery are constrained under these systems of tenure. Elite capture or abuse by unaccountable leaders can also take place, as in communal areas where minerals are found and chiefs and councils enter into business deals with mining companies that benefit only a few.

Titling enthusiasts argue that another problem with social tenures is the fact that banks do not accept untitled land or dwellings as security for bank loans. This constrains the poor from borrowing capital to invest in businesses of their own. But research indicates that few of the poor are willing to risk their homes in this way, since small enterprises often fail.

Tenure reform policy options

How then to proceed with pro-poor tenure reform? Our research indicates that it is not realistic to extend land titling to all; the system may be at breaking point, and is inadequate even for the emerging middle class.

Another option is to adapt elements of the edifice to provide a degree of official and legal recognition of rights within social tenures. Lawyers and planners working with communities and officials have developed a range of innovative practices, concepts and instruments aimed at securing such rights in an incremental manner. This includes special land use zones, recognising occupation rights in informal settlements, and recording rights using locally accepted forms of evidence.

A third option is a more radical overhaul of land tenure, leading to systematic recognition of and large scale support for social tenures. This would involve stronger laws protecting rights holders, an adjudication system that allows new forms of evidence to be considered in determining who holds rights, and new institutions for negotiating, recording and registering rights under social tenures. The system could include the office of a Land Rights Protector.

We believe that these alternatives all pose their own challenges. But we also believe that pursuing alternatives to a system of title deeds is not an impossible task.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Beyond the freehold title obsession: generating land tenure security

 

Zimbabwe has a regime of multi-form tenure, with multiple tenure types associated with different areas of land (freehold, lease, permit, communal and state land). This provides a flexibility in tenure arrangements, with each appropriate to different uses. For any form of tenure the overall objective is security but this can be achieved in multiple ways. The form of tenure must balance administrative complexity and cost of establishment (including cadastral survey, registration etc.) with use.

In Zimbabwe the typical post-settler economy pattern persisted following Independence, with large-scale farms retaining freehold, granted to white settlers during colonisation, while former tribal lands became de jure state-owned lands. These communal areas have de facto rights delegated to local communities (including chiefs), under the oversight of rural district councils. Other areas of freehold title were established in the colonial area, such as in ‘purchase areas’, becoming small-scale farming areas after Independence. Other land was designated as state land including parks, forestry areas and state farms. In the 1980s resettlement areas were established under a restrictive permit system, while following 2000, offer letters (later substituted by land permits) and 99 year leases were proposed, with a 25 year concession proposed for wildlife conservancies.

In line with the Land Tenure Commission of 1994, led by Mandi Rukuni, the challenge today is to clarify overlaps and confusions, and to develop a streamlined administrative system with regulatory oversight for all settings. This is a core challenge for the Zimbabwe Land Commission today, 23 years on. The post-2000 land reform has provided this opportunity for A1 and A2 areas, where permit and lease systems are proposed; although for some A2 areas, leases with options to buy and so transfer to freehold title are offered.

In Zimbabwe regulations exist that restrict multiple farm ownership, and stated policy encourages wide distribution of land, avoiding concentration. While issues of multiple farm ownership remain and regulations continue to be flouted, especially by senior politicians (see earlier blog on audits in this series), the principle is well established, and is based on commitments to social justice and the distribution of national productive assets, and is enshrined in the cross-party agreed national Constitution.

In the past, high levels of land concentration have resulted in political tension and inefficient utilisation of land, as well as land speculation. These inequalities, and many of the problems associated with the lack of regulation in ‘white’ freehold tenure areas, were an important impetus for land reform. But redistribution is only one step, ensuring tenure security following land reform is essential. Despite much evidence that investments in land, particularly in small-scale A1 settlements, has not been hampered by lack of clarity on land tenure and those in A1 areas usually regard their land as secure, a more formalised, accepted system is clearly required.

 Seven principles of tenure design

Here are a number of key principles for tenure design drawing on the international literature (and highlighted in an earlier blog). These are:

Democratic accountability to ensure the representation and participation of critical actors (landholders, farmers’ representatives, etc.) in the land administration system tailored to serve the needs of different forms of land tenure. Democratic control of this is afforded through the state having rights to regulate and intervene in land administration in line with national economic development goals.

A flexible market in land – including allowing sales, rentals and leases – to allow trading up and down in land size in line with investment and production capacity and skill (although with regulation by the state – see below), while providing safeguards against land concentration and multiple holdings.

Regulation against capture by elites or speculative investors to avoid inefficient and inequitable consolidation of land holdings and land disenfranchisement, especially of the poor and women. Safeguarding against the danger of mass or distress sales of land and rapid speculative land accumulation by local or foreign elites and companies, in times of economic hardship, and the reversal of redistributive gains is critical in the Zimbabwean context.

Facilitation of credit and investment through the provision of land and other assets as mortgaged collateral and the provision of bank credit guaranteed against land, combined with other credit guarantee mechanisms (for example, linked to farm equipment, livestock, buildings, urban assets etc. – see next section). This entails providing clear rules and regulation of farm investment partnerships, and pooled investment initiatives (e.g. cooperation in irrigation, agro-processing infrastructure etc.); and measures which enhance other forms of cooperation.

Guarantees of women’s access to land, as independent, legally-recognised land holders, with the ability to bequeath, inherit, sell, rent and lease land (for example through clearly defined and enforceable requirements for joint recognition of land holdings in leases, permits and titles, as well as administrative mechanisms to ensure equitable treatment of gender related land issues. Supporting the application of laws against discrimination, safeguarding women’s succession rights; and the division of rights on divorce (see earlier blog in this series)

A low administrative burden – both in terms of technical complexity and overall cost – of cadastral surveys, land registration and land administration more broadly. This also entails enforcing the levying of reasonable service charges for costly land titling services (e.g. surveying, valuation, registration, etc.), especially for ‘formalising’ leasehold property rights.

Revenues through survey, title, lease and permit fees and setting incentives to discourage underutilisation through land taxation is an important condition for an effective land tenure regime.

Multiple routes to land tenure security

Land tenure arrangements can be assessed against these key principles. Drawing on a discussion note I did with Sam Moyo some years ago (see earlier blog), the table below offers this assessment, based on both Zimbabwean and international experience. 

 

Freehold title Regulated leasehold Permit system Communal/traditional tenure
Democratic accountability to state None Yes Yes Limited
Flexible land markets Yes Yes Yes Informal only

 

Credit and collateral Yes

 

Yes Requires additional instruments for collateral guarantee Requires alternative credit/micro-finance support mechanisms
Regulation against capture No, although potentials for statutory restrictions on sales Yes Yes Limited regulatory reach
Preferential women’s access None Potential lease condition Potential permit condition None: traditional patriarchal biases
Administrative cost Very high High Low None
Revenues and incentives

 

Survey, land registration, title fees/Land tax Lease fees/land tax Permit fee/land tax Limited potentials

A key design principle is around administrative cost, and so delivery, management and efficiency. There is no point in designing a ‘gold standard’ solution if it cannot be implemented. The bizarre obsession in Zimbabwe with freehold title as the only route to land security – spouted at regular intervals by otherwise knowledgeable commentators and politicians – flies in the face of evidence from around the world. In Zimbabwe currently there are serious challenges of delivery, and a full cadastral survey and allocation of title to every plot in the country as some propose would be complete madness, resulting in massive cost, and a huge escalation of disputes that there would be no capacity to resolve. For lawyers and politicians (and some who combine the two) this may seem the neat option, but for anyone who works in farming areas (or has experience of attempts at this elsewhere, then the prospects are scary.

With appropriate design, leases and permits can offer the same security as title but via a different and much cheaper route that allows regulatory control, and they can be especially beneficial when combined with new approaches to financing (see next week’s blog). As with any form of property right, such rights of course must be upheld in law, and not removed at whim, dependent on political favours and patronage relations. But this is a general condition for all tenure arrangements, and with secure leases or permits, under conditions of accountable and non-politicised land administration (not something achieved in Zimbabwe at the moment of course), land security across a multi-form tenure systems should be possible.

Despite announcements on lease and permit systems for A2 and A1 areas, realising these ambitions on the ground remains a challenge. There is a need to assess realistically the scale of the surveying requirement and the cost and sources of funding this (along with compensation arrangements, see earlier blog in this series) in a systematic way. This could probably form part of a phased district land administration reform scheme (see blog in a couple of weeks for more on this). With options for A2 farmers at least to pay for surveying, this will speed up the issuing of leases, and so the refinancing of farms, as well as creating revenue streams to the state through rentals for further surveying. Fiscal sustainability is a crucial factor in the design of any system, and international experience shows that elaborate titling systems are very expensive.

LIMS: land information and management systems, a key piece of the jigsaw

A new land tenure system needs to be linked to an effective and appropriate land information and management system. Again the same principles apply: this needs to be designed with the real world challenges in mind, as a low cost rather than high end perfect system. Certainly, current efforts to re-equip and develop cadastral survey and land registration capacity is welcome. Fortunately today low cost GPS systems with automated computer upload and mapping services are feasible, and there is capacity in Zimbabwe on this (at the University of Zimbabwe, and elsewhere). A land registry that provides open access information on A1, A2 and other land holding types will be an invaluable resource. However, this must not be developed in isolation and separate from field level implementation, as the system must be functional and useable, and able to be supported from recurrent budgets.

While external donor funding is welcome, the land upgrading support should be widened, and a system must be designed and tested at district level with fiscal sustainability in mind. It must ultimately be able to be funded from land rentals, combined with self-payment for surveys. Rentals will thus result in tangible land administration benefits, especially for A2 farmers, as this will release opportunities for financing/mortgaging/loans (although see below), if clear tenure arrangements are established.

For A1 farms much of the land survey and registration work must be regarded as a developmental public intervention, and will have to be financed from the fiscus with donor support, at least for the first one-off permit delivery. Support for permit issuance needs to be done alongside a defined plan for paying compensation, and based upon establishing new financing arrangements. This financing should be seen as a core part of investments for re-gearing the economy.

An effective Land Information and Management System is a necessary part of this, but this needs to be designed and tested with real world conditions in mind. It needs to be low cost and able to remain funded under expected flows of recurrent budget generated from land rentals. However upfront investment is essential to get things started, and to do the initial survey and lease/permit allocation, and this can be seen as one public cost of implementing land reform. Without securing tenure, and creating an environment for financing and investment, then the flows of revenue that will sustain a land administration system will not emerge. The Lands Ministry and Surveyor General will be able to generate revenues from charging for services (including in urban areas), and also will need to set up a system for the systematic collection of rents in order to ensure fiscal sustainability.

Beyond the freehold title obsession

Zimbabwe needs to get over the idea that freehold title is the solution to all ills. Tenure security can emerge through many routes. An effective, transparent land administration and information management system is essential. Rebuilding the bureaucratic state and depoliticising land is essential. The Zimbabwe Land Commission has an important role in this, and one of its major challenges is thinking through a low-cost, replicable and sustainable system to support the delivery of leases and permits on a wide scale across a huge array of land types and sizes, from relatively large A2 farms to very small plots, including those in urban and peri-urban areas.

As discussed in other blogs in this series, and pursued further next week, through some phased district level initiatives it will be possible to integrate lease/permit registration and the development of a functioning land administration and information system, at the same time as dealing with compensation, and new financing arrangements. Getting such pilots moving soon is a major imperative for the new Land Commission.

This post was prepared by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland.  It is part of an occasional Zimbabweland blog series on priorities for the new Zimbabwe Land Commission.

 

 

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Medium-scale farming for Africans: The ‘Native Purchase Areas’ in Zimbabwe

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The Native Purchase Areas were established as a result of the 1930 Land Apportionment Act, following the recommendations of the 1925 Morris Carter Commission. They were designed as compensation for the fact that Africans were not allowed to purchase land elsewhere. These were areas that had mostly been farmed by early settlers before the colony’s land was carved up into racial designations. Africans were given the option of buying newly demarcated properties, but the land was often in remote areas and of poor quality.

The Purchase Areas were slow to become established, as these were often in remote areas, without infrastructure. At Independence around 10,000 households had settled on around 1.4 m hectares, falling far short of the earlier promises of 50,000 Africans with freehold title. The vast majority of the acquisitions were by men, although some women did manage to buy independently, despite many obstacles. Initially, those living in the ‘native reserves’ were reluctant to shift, as the successful “reserve entrepreneurs” (as Terry Ranger called them for Makoni) had land, labour and markets where they already lived. Urban-based Africans, such as government clerks or messengers, were also encouraged to sign up, but again many sensed the leap into the unknown was too risky, as they after all already had rural homes in the ‘reserves’. The depression of the 1930s, put the squeeze on incomes, and few had the income or cattle to purchase land.

By the 1940s, the Purchase Areas were often criticised for being poor, backward, wasteful and inefficient. Rather than intensified production, extensification of low productivity mixed farms, opportunistic use of wetland ‘patches’ and resource extraction (of wood for timber and fuel) were the main trends, as described for Marirangwe by Allison Shutt. Many Purchase Area land owners were ‘absentee farmers’, and according to officials, were not taking care of their properties. They accumulated, but not in ways that the planners hoped. The commentary on both production efficiency and environmental degradation, peaking with the 1942 Natural Resources Board Inquiry, was damning. These were not the envisaged modern, commercial farming areas. Instead they were second homes of often urban employed Africans, where farming was a side-line. A few relatives and often a lot of cattle from the reserves, and as a source of saving from urban wages, were deposited there, and homes were used during vacations rather than as a permanent base for a farming operation. Today, the ‘cell phone farmers’ of the A2 resettlements are cast in a similar light.

Again – as with the A2 farms today – there were exceptions, including Purchase Area farm owners in Mshagashe near Masvingo hiring labour contractors and engaging in destocking auctions, as Allison Shutt describes. Some farmers later became members of Intensive Conservation Areas, presenting themselves as guardians of the land and conservationists, like white farmers. But the general narrative at the time (very similar to today) was that allocating medium-scale farms to inexperienced, unqualified, often absent, urban-based Africans was not a good move, if agricultural modernisation and production was the aim, and attempts at eviction and control were common (see for example cases from Marirangwe).

After the Second World War, more families acquired farms. The earlier reticence changed to an enthusiasm for social and economic transformation, realised by access to a farm – just like white farmers (although of course not as big, or in such favourable areas). As described by Michael West, this was part of a pattern of (highly selective) “racial uplift” – some educated Africans were favoured by the colonial authorities and given such benefits. Terry Ranger’s fascinating biography of the Samkange family is a case in point, with the purchase of the Mzengezi farm a key moment in the family’s history. Gaining access to purchase area land was a critical aspect of shifting identities of an educated African middle class, straddling urban and rural areas.

As Allison Shutt puts it: “the Purchase Areas offered privacy, a measure of respect from the colonial government, and a symbolic separateness from African cultivators in the reserves and from lower-paid workers”. This was reinforced in the 1950s when, following the Native Land Husbandry Act of 1951, freehold title was offered. Again in the discourse of the time (persisting today in all sorts of unhelpful ways), freehold was the ultimate form of ownership, linked to a certain ideology and pattern of accumulation, as Angela Cheater describes. This was the pinnacle of modernity, otherwise only available to whites; and something allowing independence and autonomy, not feasible in the reserves, or even in most urban settings.

From the mid-1950s, those who acquired farms a few decades before retired to their farms. This was a moment when more commercialisation took place. The areas were now occupied and land extensification and high stocking rates were no longer as feasible. Tobacco and cotton became favoured crops, linked to new commercial value chains. For the first time the freehold titles acquired more than symbolic benefit, and loans were offered against the title as collateral for the first time. Farms were more assertively demarcated, with fences put up to keep out the neighbours from the reserves. The state invested more attention to these areas, improving infrastructure, providing finance and offering technical support. Realising the threats of growing nationalism, perhaps especially among the educated African elite who had been initially attracted to the Purchase Areas, these became a focus for political and administrative attention, after years of neglect.

With title deeds came a period of land sales and fragmentation of farms, as plots were sold off. This provided important revenues for some, securing retirement on their smaller farms. Also, with increasing intensification of production, there came the need for labour. Those designated as ‘squatters’ were crucial. As Angela Cheater describes for Msengezi, these included a wide range of people, including extended family members, peasants from the reserves, migrant labourers and others. Subdivision of land also meant that relatives – usually sons – could be passed on land, and a new generation took ownership. Land rentals also increased, as demand for land – including from ‘squatters’ – grew. The growing population of people and continued land rental and subdivision in the Purchase Areas was however frowned on. These areas were not becoming medium-scale commercial farms, but just ‘like the reserves’, officials complained. Again with echoes of the discourse today around resettlement land, the push was for a modernised vision of agriculture dominated. However, despite the admonishments, the mid-late 1950s and early 1960s, saw a brief period of prosperity in the Purchase Areas. Land sales and rentals, some cash crop production, continued resource extraction, and plentiful cheap labour (from ‘squatters’), ensured farming generated decent returns for the now resident, retired owners of these farms.

By the mid-60s, and especially with the declaration of UDI, this changed again. Shifts in the political climate, intensifying during the liberation war, saw the decline in state support to these areas. They were often seen with suspicion by security forces and intelligence agents, as places of nationalist organising and dissent. With Independence, nothing much changed. The SSCFAs as they were now called were seen as an anomaly of the colonial era, and the state’s efforts were focused on the former reserves, now communal areas, where the majority of poor people lived. Apart from some resettlement the ‘commercial’ farm areas were large-scale and predominantly white-owned, at least until the major land reform of the 2000s.

As mentioned last week, there has been virtually no recent research and very limited policy commentary on the contemporary SSCFAs, but these areas offer some interesting insights into what happens to medium-scale farms, now over multiple generations. The impacts were less in terms of revolutionising African production – production was low and marketing challenging for most – but more in the political and ideological transformation that a particular type of land ownership offered to an emergent rural-urban middle class.

The A2 farms allocated following land reform in the 2000s share many similarities, both in terms of agricultural challenges, as well as their political salience, as discussed last week. They operate at similar scales, are occupied by a similar class of people, they are presented as ‘commercial’ farms, but in many cases accumulation occurs not through intensification but extensification and extraction, and, although on a much larger scale, and in more high potential, prominent areas, they offer the potential for a new class of ‘emergent’, medium-scale farmer, farming private (in the case of A2 farms, leasehold) land.

Next week, through a couple of case studies, I will discuss some of the patterns of change observed in former Purchase Area farms, and ask whether these provide glimpses of the future of A2 farms.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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