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Zimbabwe’s sugar politics

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In 2000, as land invasions occurred around Zimbabwe, there were many calls for the sugar estates to be taken over. Indeed, there were a number of occupations of ‘white’ outgrower farms on the lowveld estates. This coincided with major strikes, and the burning of large areas of cane. Yet high-level negotiations and political manoeuvring averted wholesale takeover. Despite the rhetoric, the strategic importance of the sugar industry to the national economy was recognised and the state and the sugar companies brokered compromises. The result was the subdivision of former settler outgrower areas in Hippo Valley and Mkwasine estates and their transfer to now around 800 land reform beneficiaries who had applied through the A2 scheme, designed for medium-scale enterprises and suited to those with capital and expertise. The sugar outgrower land reform represented nearly 16,000 ha, leaving about 30,000 ha as core estate land.

How have the new outgrowers fared? In a new open access paper published as part of the Journal of Southern African Studies special issue on the political economy of sugar in southern Africa (see last week’s blog for an overview), we explore this question with data over 12 years from Hippo Valley from 2002. Following land reform, company officials, government extension agents and others were sceptical that the new outgrowers would be able to supply sugar in amounts and at the quality required for Tongaat Hulett’s two mills at Triangle and Hippo Valley. They argued that the new outgrowers were given portions of land that were ‘unviable’, and that commercial sugar growing could only occur on irrigated plots of more than 35 ha. Further, they argued that the land reform beneficiaries did not have the skills for the highly technical and demanding process of sugar production. And finally they suggested that a politically-driven land reform process was inimical to economically successful production, and that the investors would flee, abandoning Zimbabwe for more stable contexts.

The new outgrowers: how have they fared?

In the years since, the sceptics have been proven wrong. Outgrowing on A2 resettlement plots is now a central part of the business, supplying 852,000 tonnes of cane in 2013 of a total throughput of 3.9 million tonnes. Yields are up too, with our sample of cane farmers producing 86 tonnes/hectare since 2009, higher than the estate average of 83 tonnes/hectare in 2014. Outgrowers must hand over 26 per cent of their crop to the mill, and pay additionally for irrigation water, transport and inputs. Many complain, but the company ‘rips us off’ and ‘cheats on price’, but sugar growers have little option, and are tied intimately into the company’s operation. Tongaat Hulett makes considerable profit from its Zimbabwe business ($30 million in 2014), and land reform farmers are central to this. As part of the rehabilitation of cane land, the company (via the Canelands Trust, and supported until recently by over 30 million euros in aid from the European Union as part of the sugar adaptation fund) subsidises the replacement of cane, and improvement of infrastructure.

In our Hippo Valley sample, the average plot size is 24.3 ha (with a range from 9.8 to 58.1 ha), with on average 20.9 ha under sugar. Only four farmers (of 38) have centre pivot irrigation equipment, although everyone has access to canal water. Farm labour compounds exist both in the new resettlements and on the estate, from where labour for the range of sugar production tasks is derived. The new outgrower farmers on land reform plots come from a mix of backgrounds, including teachers, extension workers, estate employees, as well as well-connected politicians and security service personnel. Not everyone is doing well, and some recent arrivals have taken time to establish, but across our sample the levels of production and management are good. Making a go of sugar production is however tough, as explained in one our ‘voices from the field’ videos. Organising inputs, hiring and managing labour, dealing with cash flow, and negotiating with the company is always a challenge. But despite the early scepticism, the new farmers are by and large doing well, investing and accumulating, as well as providing employment and providing sugar for the profitable company mills.

The land reform in the sugar outgrower areas was not a ‘land to the people’ redistributive move to combat landlessness and poverty. This was part of an accommodation of a middle-class demand for land, creating a very particular type of outgrower arrangement, quite different to other sugar outgrower relationships elsewhere in the region, as discussed in other papers in the Journal of Southern African Studies special issue. The A2 beneficiaries are certainly not universally powerful and well connected, but the sugar allocations were definitely not addressing the poor, disadvantaged masses. Nationally, the land reform had to accommodate multiple class interests, and one was the middle-class aspiration for land, particularly in the context of declining living standards, wages and job opportunities in the post-structural adjustment period.

 Zimbabwe’s sugar politics

Zimbabwe’s sugar politics since land reform – and indeed much earlier – involves a complex balance of competing forces. Large-scale international capital, seeing the opportunities for accumulation from the excellent climatic conditions and top-quality infrastructure and increasingly guaranteed supplies of irrigation water, has invested in the area over decades, despite the political and economic challenges. Tongaat Hulett sees Zimbabwe as central to its ability to make profit in the region, and so is prepared to weather the storms of economic and political crisis, and broker deals which are far from ideal.

Politically and economically, sugar is vital for Zimbabwe. Together with tobacco, these export commodities create a particular dependency politics, and are central to the imaginaries and processes of state-making. They are deeply implicated in both national and local politics. Today debates about indigenisation, restitution and resettlement colour these politics, and result in much rhetoric and frequent threats usually linked to the electoral cycle. But in essence the story is the same as it always has been; one about how the state makes deals with capital, and how farmers, and other local people, including workers, are incorporated, and on what terms.

It is such political-economic dynamics, rooted in often fragile, contingent elite alliances that have driven the transformation of the sugar industry, and with it the agrarian landscape in Zimbabwe since land reform. As has been the case since 1937, when Murray MacDougall first planted cane in the Lowveld, a contested political economy will continue to shape sugar, people and livelihoods over the next decades too. And the new land reform beneficiaries operating as sugar outgrowers will be central to the story.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Water, land and politics in southern Africa: remaking Mutirikwi

A great book is just out by Joost Fontein, now director of the British Institute in Eastern Africa. It’s called Remaking Mutirikwi: Landscape, Water and Belonging in Southern Zimbabwe, and is published by James Currey. It’s long and detailed, but important and fascinating (preview here).

It tells the story of Lake Mutirikwi (in southern Zimbabwe near Masvingo) and its surrounding areas, and its influence on landscape and livelihoods through its provision of water. Lake Kyle, as it was formerly called, was completed in 1960, and was part of an ambitious project to provide water for the lowveld for the expanding sugar estates, and a European recreation area around the lake. It served both capital and racial politics, and became a symbol of the European dream for Africa.

Kyle created an Europeanised landscape – removing people to the reserves, creating game parks, and providing irrigation, all through an impressive engineering feat. It tamed nature, created an European aesthetic, and offered white residents of Masvingo and beyond a playground for fishing, hunting, game viewing and more. But landscapes are never static – they have long histories, memories and echoes of past social relations and politics embedded within them. This is a key theme for the book: pasts anchor the present, layered landscapes with multiple meanings are generated and diverse (material) cultures of belonging are combined.

The book starts with 2005-06 and with the fast-track land reform. A sense of optimism and hope is seen in the lands surrounding the lake. Old gravesites have been reclaimed, sacred groves now honoured as part of newly peopled landscape. And with this old disputes and political competition between ‘traditional’ leadership groups rekindled. The land invasions are seen by many of Joost’s informants as a restitution of ancestral lands, and the important spirit mediums of the area – Mai Macharaga and Ambuya VaZarira – reconfirm this.

Starting with the present, then moving to the past and returning to the present at the end, offers an overall story of how landscapes’ characters are hybrid creations, ones that always carry the past with them. The story of the shifts from an ‘African’ landscape to ‘Europeanisation’ through colonialism then ‘Africanisation’ again following land reform shows how politics, belonging, and discursive constructions of landscape are ever shifting. There are frequent ruptures, as new landscape visions are imposed, but also, importantly, continuity, with the past always having an influence on the present.

The book is of course especially fascinating to me having worked in this area for a long time. While our sites, where we have tracked land reform outcomes since 2000, are on the other side of the lake to where the book focuses, the stories are very similar. The reigniting of chieftaincy disputes, as the book explains in some detail in Chapters 1 and 5, has certainly dominated local politics on the Masvingo borderlands with Gutu. Such ‘genealogical geographies’ provide an important historical backdrop to any study of contemporary land use, with what the historian Gerald Mazarire calls nineteenth century “principles of territoriality” revived in a new politics of land. What is nice about this book is that this is not ‘just’ history – based on archive based reconstructions – but very much rooted in the present, informed by fieldwork immersion, and written by someone who really knows the area well, having researched and indeed lived in the area for years.

In Chapter 6, the book takes a bigger, regional view of landscape, and looks at the hydropolitics associated with the provision of water to the sugar estates in the lowveld. This complements the earlier work by Will Wolmer, and provides a useful historical background to our work on sugar and land reform in Hippo Valley. As Joost explains in the conclusion, the experience of Muturikwi is being reflected in new ways with the Tokwe Mukorsi dam, with similar issues around displacement and resettlement, the removal of people from ancestral lands, graves and religious sites, and the creation of a new tourist-friendly lake environment.

At 340 pages, it’s a long and detailed book, sometimes with some rather heavy ‘academic’ language, and a quick review cannot do it justice. But the chapters are packed with fascinating stories and important data. Other chapters deal with spirit control of landscapes, and the intersection of the material and spirit world in negotiating use and creating belonging; the contested relationship between wildlife – including fish and hippos – and people; the legacies of the liberation war and the struggles over land that occurred both during and after the war. All with intriguing, sometimes gripping, stories contained within them. For understanding the complex cultural and political histories underlying land reform in southern Zimbabwe, this is a really important contribution. I hope Weaver Press will produce it in Zimbabwe, but if you can afford it, buy it now!

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

 

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Voices from the field: a successful sugarcane grower from Chiredzi

As I mentioned last week, while I am away on holiday, I am going to highlight a few of our videos, ‘Voices from the Field’. If you don’t want to watch the intro sequence again, run it on to around 1 minute 11 seconds.

This week, I want to introduce Mr Nago and family who have an A2 plot in Mkwasine near Chiredzi. He explains how difficult it was to start up. The land he received was uncleared bush. They have gradually cleared portions of the 66ha. They started with maize and vegetables that brought income, and then increased the proportion of land allocated to sugarcane. Now they have a large area, and Mr Nago is a member of the Sugarcane Development Association.

On-going disputes with the core estate at Hippo Valley resulted in problems for the new farmers, but relations have improved since the film was made, as has the water supply which was previously highly intermittent. Getting credit finance was also a big challenge, although now loan arrangements linked to sugarcane have improved.

Sugar production on these A2 sites is booming, and as Mr Nago explains, cane is bringing income, allowing him to expand the area under production.

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

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

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The sweet smell of success: the revival of Zimbabwe’s sugar industry

A recent report by the USDA’s Global Agricultural Information Network has shown that Zimbabwe’s sugar industry is rebounding fast on the back of a 6% increase in area cultivated mostly by private outgrowers who are part of the A2 land reform allocations.  Sugar output in 2012/13 is expected to increase by almost 16% to 430000 tonnes from the 372000 tonnes in 2011/12 season, with 160000 tonnes expected to be exported, earning important revenue for the country.

Much of this is happening in the lowveld of Masvingo province, and in the large estates, including Hippo Valley and Mkwasine where we have been studying sugar production on A2 outgrower plots since 2000 (see video here). The Hippo Valley story reflects the wider picture.

Towards the end of last year the Zimbabwe newspapers carried a double page spread reporting the annual results of Hippo Valley Estates Ltd, which are wholly owned by the South African conglomerate Tongaat Hulett. The highlights were: revenue up by 30% at USD90m, with an operating profit of over USD17m. The commentary was upbeat: “The relatively stable operating environment continues to provide a platform for the recovery, growth and development of the sugar industry … The Company remains focused on its goal to achieve full milling capacity utilization of more than 300000 tons annual sugar production over the next three years”.

Although a way off the target in 2012 at just over 160k tons, total deliveries of cane were up 40% on 2011, with 1.349m tons of cane produced by private growers and the company. Private growers’ deliveries were up 55% on the previous year, and an additional 178k tons was delivered by Green Fuel Ltd, the biofuel company linked to the infamous Billy Rautenbach. With the integration of the once separately controlled estates at Triangle and Hippo Valley, the company envisages a total combined capacity of 4.8m tons of cane production, resulting in 600k tons of sugar.

With both company funds and external support, channelled through the EU, there has been considerable investment in cane production on ‘uncontested’ private land (mostly in the Chipwa and Mpapa areas). Private cane growing has expanded dramatically from the relatively small outgrower arrangements that existed in the past. The company report notes that “in the current season, 611 indigenous private cane growers, farming 11138ha and employing 5569 people will supply 772000 tons of cane generating for them US$50 million in revenue”.

The company estimates that private growing could increase substantially on the basis of existing mill capacity. They estimate an additional 661 growers farming 12742 ha could supply 1.4 million tons of cane each year to the Hippo Valley mill, creating employing for 12000 and additional revenue of US$150m. This would amount to a total employment in the sugar industry of 30000, and a revenue of around US$250m. This would surely be the sweet smell of sugar success.

The rebounding of the Zimbabwe sugar industry is attracting attention in the business press in South Africa clearly seeing the investment value for South African companies. Interestingly and typically, the Business Day report failed completely to mention that the growth of production is being driven by a revived partnership between South African capital and new land reform beneficiaries.

But to achieve such ambitious targets, and to continue the impressive growth, will require much new investment, not least in rehabilitating and replanting cane fields, and supply new water resources for newly cleared land. Sugar has long been a central part of Zimbabwe’s agricultural economy, providing stable revenues for the treasury, and earlier when part of ACP agreements, benefiting from a guaranteed and profitable market. Rather overshadowed by the success of the tobacco sector, sugar has not been much in the spotlight, but deserves to be. Just as in tobacco, but in a more organised, estate linked production system, an increasing proportion of production is now coming from outgrower areas allocated as A2 plots as part of the land reform.

As we showed in our book, production in these sites in Hippo Valley in the remote lowveld area of Chiredzi district (and also in Triangle and Mkwasine estates) increased over time from the establishment of A2 plots in 2002. In parallel these farmers accumulated equipment, transport and invested in their land. They also employed considerable amounts of labour. As we documented, they had at that time an uneasy relationship with the core estate. The estate management did not know how to deal with the new outgrowers. They had been used to dealing with a relatively few white and Mauritian outgrowers, but now there were hundreds (around xx plots are registered in Chiredzi district as A2 farms across Hippo Valley and Mkwasine). Many new farmers felt they were being squeezed, with low prices offered, quality controls dubiously applied and transport being supplied late. They thought, perhaps correctly, that the estate management was waiting for them to give up, so the old regime which was easier to manage and control could be reinstated.

From around 2007 when the economy was in freefall sugar production collapsed. Payments being offered in Zimbabwe dollars were meaningless and credit arrangements and cheque payments were wiped out by hyperinflation. Many did indeed give up, ripping out their cane and planting other crops, including maize and tomatoes. But with the stabilisation of the economy through dollarization in 2009, the situation changed. The incentives to reinvest in sugar production returned, and the estate management changed its tune. Now they needed cane desperately so they could break even running the huge mills and vast estates. They belatedly realised that they had to accept private outgrowers, and encouraged them to reengage. And in the period from 2009 they have done on a massive scale as the company figures show.

Now the company is more upbeat about the new outgrower model. It is not as if this is alien to them, as in other operations in the region, this sort of relative smallholder model is dominant. Indeed compared to operations in Zambia and South Africa the new A2 plots are large, average 20-30ha, enough to produce a substantial amount of cane, and some other crops besides. Cane farmers in our study sample in Hippo Valley are much more optimistic now. We are currently doing a resurvey of the small sample we investigated in 2007-08, and I will report back the results in due course.

However there are constraints. The company report alludes to these obliquely mentioning the performance has been “despite the prevailing liquidity and socio-economic challenges”. These are many of course, not least the on-going uncertainty over tenure arrangements in the outgrower areas. Leases have been promised, but only offer letters exist. More significantly there has been a rumbling of discontent among the Shangaan political elite from the area, complaining that ‘outsiders’ got the prime sugar areas. Some influential people have barged others out of their plots, asserting their ‘indigenous’ rights. Most A2 sugar farmers are indeed from outside the area; many are (or were) civil servants, many from the ministry of agriculture. In the scramble for A2 plots through a chaotic and patronage-influenced allocation system, sugar plots were seen as prime targets for those in the know, and they carefully filled their forms and ‘business plans’ to ensure they were successful. By the mid-late 2000s many regretted this move, but now they are much more happy, which is why the land is become contested again.

Questions of finance (or ‘liquidity’) are also significant, as the company notes. It is not cheap to farm sugar: you need equipment, significant amounts of inputs, a lot of labour, irrigation and expensive transport. And you need to replant on a sustainable rotation: crops planted one year may not yield significantly for several years hence. At the farm level cash flow is the perennial challenge, and without effective credit and banking systems in rural Zimbabwe, this is tough without company support. Yet reliance on a single company, just as any contract farming arrangement, puts the grower at a disadvantage in terms of negotiating a good deal. But there are also other pressing financing issues in the sugar sector. The infrastructure was originally built in the 1950s and 60s, and much of it is decrepit and in need of repair. Irrigation canals need constant attention, as do rail lines and mill machinery. Extending farmed areas requires clearing, levelling and laying of canals. None of this is cheap. With profits being scarce in recent years, the company has not invested. External strategic investments financed by the EU under the post ACP regime Adaptation fund are constrained. Euro 45m have been allocated, but only 10m euro have been released to date via the Canelands Trust, a body controlled by the company. Due to sanctions, only areas which were not part of the ‘fast-track’ land reform programme are eligible, meaning that most new private outgrowers – the largest producers today of Zimbabwean sugar – cannot benefit from the industry rehabilitation programme (at least officially – there is course there is considerable leakage and wider investments benefit everyone). These anomalies created by the political stand-off between the EU, and other western donors, and the Zimbabwean government, despite much evidence that sanctions do more harm than good, continue, and are likely to at least until after the next elections.

Meanwhile, and despite these constraints, the sugar industry continues to grow, providing livelihoods, income and employment for many, and much needed revenue for the government exchequer too.

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

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