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Confronting authoritarian populism: challenges for agrarian studies

Woman reaper, 1928 (K. Malevich, Russian Museum, St Petersburg)

Last week I was in Russia at the fascinating fifth BRICS Initiative in Critical Agrarian Studies conference. Throughout the event we heard about the emergence of particular styles of authoritarian populist regimes, including in the BRICS countries, but elsewhere too. Based on my remarks at the final plenary, I want to ask what the challenges are for agrarian studies in confronting authoritarian populism.

This is a theme that is at the core of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI), launched in May this year. The open access framing paper is available from the Journal of Peasant Studies, as is a brilliant contribution to the JPS Forum on this theme from Walden Bello.  The ERPI conference in March next year at ISS, the Hague now also has an open call for contributions (deadline, Nov 15). We have been somewhat overwhelmed by the global response to the initiative, and we had a flood of applicants for small grants, with the winners of the 2017 competition announced recently. There is a very vibrant network emerging among scholars and activists around the world, and many were present at the conference in Moscow.

So, what do we mean by authoritarian populism? It takes many forms, but we draw on the arguments of Stuart Hall and others made in the context of Thatcherism in the UK. In Gramscian terms, authoritarian populisms can emerge when the ‘balance of forces’ changes, creating a new ‘political-ideological conjuncture’. Drawing on populist discontents, a transformist, authoritarian movement, often with a strong, figurehead leader, is launched, mobilising around ‘moral panics‘and ‘authoritarian closure’, and being given, in Hall’s words, ‘the gloss of populist consent’. Sound familiar?

In this blog, I want to discuss the implications and challenges for how we think about agrarian issues in the context of authoritarian populism, and want to make four brief points.

First, as Dani Rodrik, the Harvard economist, explains, the form of populism that emerges around the world – broadly characterised as authoritarian or progressive – depends very much on the historical engagements with globalisation, and how populists mobilise, either around ethno-nationalist arguments when global migration flows create discontents or around class divisions when global trade has impacts on livelihoods. I think this is an important argument, but so far in his writings he doesn’t flesh out the detail, and in particular how globalisation processes affect rural spaces in different ways to urban metropoles, with contrasting implications for class, caste, gender or age – and so processes of political mobilisation. I’d argue that agrarian studies needs to engage with these questions, and perhaps bring more of a global political economy angle back in, where the economics are taken seriously.

Second, the emergence of populism, with a strong rural base, needs a careful analysis of the social and cultural dynamics of rural change, asking sympathetically why it is that young people, women, peasant farmers and others are often strongly behind reactionary populist positions. Liberals and leftists may argue that this does not serve their interests and they are somehow mistaken, but we need to look beyond such rationalist arguments, and think harder about the politics of identity, belonging, recognition and community. Rural religion and cultural identities are important, but not conventionally part of agrarian studies. Interest-based analyses (centred on class or whatever category) and conventional political economy may simply be not enough.

Third, at the same time, authoritarian populism provides an impetus to the continuation of extractive exploitation of rural resources – land, water, resource grabbing continues apace. But this time with a nationalist tinge, and with new capital-elite-state alliances forged. These processes, which were a response to the global financial crisis of 2008 and the desperate search for investment opportunities by global capital, now have a new context in many settings. How do new configurations of power, and a populist, nationalist, often anti-globalization narrative, affect the politics of dispossession in rural spaces, and with these the dynamics of accumulation, among local and international elites? I think these wider political shifts mean that our conversations around grabbing and extractivism that occupied many of the presentations at the conference, require an expanded frame that takes populist politics seriously.

Fourth, the ERPI is interested in how alternatives are forged and resistances mobilised to authoritarian populism. Our analyses must probe why these don’t happen, but also how and when they do. We also must think hard about the conventional frames for mobilisation, and ask whether these do the job today, in the face of authoritarian populisms. Take the idea of food sovereignty. For many, the food sovereignty movement has been a site for progressive discussion about agrarian alternatives. But the notion of sovereignty, localism, autonomy and rejection of the role of the state and globalism, has frequently been captured by regressive populist positions. Why do peasant farmers support such political leaders? Because they claim to offer a voice and a commitment to protecting their autonomy from the ill-winds of global trade and state interference. The Natural Farming Movement in India is a case in point. A perfectly good idea about agro-ecological farming gets wrapped up in exclusionary Hindutva nationalism, yet is celebrated as a food sovereignty success. A new politics of the mainstream requires a new politics of the alternative, and agrarian movements need in my view some hard thinking about positioning.

As outlined in our ERPI framing paper, a new moment is emerging: a critical, historical conjuncture, when the tectonic plates of global power relations shift. We cannot pretend this is not happening. In Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, for sure, but also in Turkey, the Philippines, Indonesia, much of Europe and of course the US, political reconfigurations are underway, responding in different ways to a quite fundamental crisis in globalised neoliberal capitalism, with huge ramifications across rural worlds everywhere.

New contexts require new questions, new analytical frames and new forms of mobilisation. And with this moment unfolding rapidly, in alliance with others, the intellectual and political project of agrarian studies must rise to the challenge.

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




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Global land grabbing: some new resources

Those of you interested in land in Zimbabwe will be interested in what’s happening elsewhere in the world. This week’s blog focuses on some wider themes, and points you towards some useful new resources.

Last week 200 delegates assembled in Chiang Mai in Thailand for a major conference on land grabbing, conflict and agrarian-environment transformations in southeast Asia. It was co-organised by the Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI), a research network that I helped co-found. The conference marked the next step in this work, aiming to locate debates about land investment and agricultural commercialisation in regional contexts. Southeast Asia has been a focus of the global land rush in the period since the financial-food-energy crisis of 2008, but as elsewhere the dynamics of transformation have evolved in ways that are more complex than the original ‘land grab’ rhetoric.

Due to changes in commodity prices, challenges of infrastructure and investment and shifts in public and policy opinion, large-scale grabs have been less frequent than the ‘multiple pin pricks’ of changes in land use and ownership that have occurred as the new hubs of capital – in the southeast Asia case dominated by China – assert their influence in agrarian systems. The conference website has 68 papers already posted, and there were around 100 presentations on all dimensions of land and environmental change in the region at the event. Sadly I missed it, but with me you can find out what went on by checking out the papers and abstracts.

Boy Dominguez political reactions from below 2015 copy smallerAnother new set of resources comes in a special issue of the Journal of Peasant Studies (JPS) on land grabbing and ‘politics from below’. This emerged from the LDPI conference at Cornell a few years back. The collection documents the varied forms of resistance – active and more passive – that have occurred, and how this is refracted through local political dynamics. The special issue is free to download through a special link, which is available for the coming months. There are papers from Mexico, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique and many, many more. It is well worth a read. I was one of the editors, and the papers are really fascinating.

The themes of land and agrarian struggle are continued in two further JPS special issues that marked the journal’s 40th anniversary, and most articles are again free to download. As the journal with the top ‘impact factor’ in development studies and anthropology, it is increasingly seen as one of the key journals for debates on agrarian change. The anniversary issues include a series of new articles reflecting on new directions in agrarian political economy (lots of good articles – I was an editor on this one too!), as well as a dedicated issue on the controversial debates surrounding approaches to food sovereignty, including an excellent piece by Henry Bernstein, offering a ‘sceptical view’, one which I largely share.

Finally, advance notice for anyone with a particular interest in Africa, the book Africa’s Land Rush: Rural Livelihoods and Agrarian Change, edited by Ruth Hall, Dzodzi Tsikata and myself, will be out in a month or so, and includes chapters by African researchers from seven different countries. The research was carried out as part of the land theme of the Future Agricultures Consortium. It is published by James Currey in the African Issues series, and is available for advance order.

The ‘land grab’ debate continues to evolve. Unlike when we held the first LDPI-convened international land grab conference at Sussex in 2011, today there is much more empirical data, as witnessed by the veritable explosion of publications (what Carlos Oya calls the literature rush). This allows a more balanced assessment, and one that can differentiate patterns regionally, across types of agroecologies and crop types, and in relation to different forms of investment. Several years on, a different dynamic is evident, with a focus on the dynamics of agrarian capital, from diverse sources, on agricultural commercialisation, land dispossession and forms of conflict and resistance.

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

Picture credit: Painting by Boy Dominiguez for Journal of Peasant Studies special issue ‘Political Reactions from Below’


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Food sovereignty: a contested concept

Emerging out of two major conferences and with a background reading list of more than 90 papers, a special issue of the Journal of Peasant Studies has just emerged on ‘critical perspectives on food sovereignty’. This is free to view for a limited period (here:  http://www.tandfonline.com/r/fjps-41-6 – click to articles via this link if you don’t have a subscription), and contains a number of important papers and commentaries by both academics and activists, and many hybrids. It is an important moment, both for the food sovereignty movement and for the debate around it. For far too long there has been an absence of sustained critical and engaged debate about the meanings and implications of food sovereignty. These papers discuss, among other things, the origins of the concept, its connection to other food justice movements, its relation to rights discourses, the roles of markets and states and the challenges of implementation. It demonstrates a maturing of the movement, and a growing willingness to debate from a position of confidence and strength.

The most visible representation of the food sovereignty movement is the peasant movement, La Via Campesina. This has grown through combining diverse campaigns for changes in the global agri-food system. Some claim that it is the world’s largest social movement. ‘Food sovereignty’, is a term, as Marc Edelman notes in his paper that has a longer genealogy but has become very effectively popularised. This is an argument for peasant autonomy, local food systems, fairer more environmentally-sound, agroecological production and trade and much more besides. As a vision and political programme it is one to which many would subscribe.

For a while I have been intrigued to find out where the food sovereignty debate had got to, what political strategies were emerging and whether, in different and diverse contexts, the ideals were in fact realisable. I attended one of the conferences early this year in the Hague. Elizabeth Mpofu, a Zimbabwean farmer from Shashe resettlement area near Mashava and now the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina and a leader of the movement, opened the proceedings with a passionate rallying call.

What are my reflections on the debate? In many ways I remain rather confused as to what food sovereignty is, and how it is to be translated into a political struggle. The concept has evolved, and the movement has adopted many different angles as more and more elements have been incorporated. These included the move from a focus on small-scale production and markets to concerns with gender, indigenous peoples, environment, workers, consumers, migrants, trade relations and more.

Through accreting issues and agendas, the movement thus offers an all-encompassing vision where nothing is left out it seems. This helps build linkages between different areas of activism, but it also makes it very difficult to get a handle on what the core issues are, and where to focus intellectual and political energies. This is made more challenging by the lack of clarity over the focus of the key concept – sovereignty. There is much focus on ‘the local’, but this may not be sovereign without addressing the role of the state, or indeed the relationships between states in international trade and global politics. A populist appeal to locality may miss the importance of defining the arenas for political action that necessarily impinge on what happens in local settings.

It is clearly intensely political issue, part of an assertive political project, but it often lacks a solid political analysis. As many argue in the Journal of Peasant Studies issue, a more thorough-going engagement with critical agrarian studies might help address this gap. Three areas of politics, I felt, are missing.

The first is the politics of peasants. La Via Campesina – the peasant’s way – asserts the rights of peasants. But who is the peasantry in the context of a globalising world, with dynamic patterns of differentiation across sites? Classic issues of class formation and differentiation are raised, ones that Henry Bernstein so effectively elaborates in his ‘sceptical view’ paper for the issue. What is the relationship between the peasantry and workers, or indeed worker-peasants, with one foot in town and another in the countryside? Are petty commodity producers or even emergent commercial farmers part of the peasantry, or separate? What differences of gender, age, race for example cut across these class differences, and what conflicts and tensions arise? These are old questions, but highly pertinent to the formation of the emergent solidarities that must define a movement. Creating an idealised vision of a peasant, seemingly independent of context, makes the political project problematic, as the contradictions and conflicts that arise between and within groups may act to undermine the alliances required for a movement to gain traction.

The second area of missing politics is around the politics of technology and ecology. An important strand of the food sovereignty movement is the advocacy for an agroecological approach to farming. Low external inputs, organic production, rejection of biotechnology and so on are all hallmarks. Yet in the advocacy of agroecology too often there is a resort to an essentialist, technical argument, thus falling into the same trap as the advocates of the technologies that are opposed. As Jack Kloppenberg puts it in his paper in respect of agricultural biotechnology, the argument should be less about the particular technology but instead around the terms of access. An open access approach to research and development may generate a range of productivity-enhancing technologies that improve efficiency and reduce production costs, without being at the behest of large-scale corporations. New technologies are of course essential for improving agriculture. Improving the yield of crops through high-tech genetics or the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides may be essential, yet seem to be rejected by agroecology fundamentalisms.

The bottom line is that farmers want good prices, and consumers want cheap food. This structural relation between producers is crucial. The current agri-food system involves much distortion of prices, and a distribution of value in corporate-controlled value chains that often benefits agribusinesses and retailers, and neither producers nor consumers. Yet too often local food systems can only produce expensive food for elite markets. Clearly internalising the costs to the environment and to labour of the current agri-food system is essential, and this will doubtless produce shorter commodity chains, more localised production and marketing, better conditions for workers and a more equitable distribution of value, as well as more ecologically-sensitive forms of production. Yet, even with such measures, a diversity of innovative, technological responses will be necessary that should not be limited by a technically narrow definition of agroecology.

The third area is the politics of capital, and in particular the relationships between capital and the peasantry. Again, a very old debate. Peasants, however they are defined, are never disengaged from the historical processes of capitalist development. Indeed they are mutually constituted by such processes. The debate is not therefore how to disengage, but how to negotiate the terms of incorporation. There are many examples of adverse incorporation, where poor, marginalised farmers are disadvantaged. But the solution is not to go back to earlier forms of production and market relationship, but to organise for a better deal. Re-embedding markets in social contexts, following Karl Polanyi, is essential if a more democratic control of the food system is to be realised, and this means a political struggle around the terms of trade, the rejection of monopolistic market behaviours, and the opening up of markets to a wider range of players. In many ways, this is an advocacy for a better functioning capitalism without the distortions of corporate concentration, not its rejection outright. This means developing a more strategic engagement with capital around the terms of incorporation and the relationships between markets and societal values, much as the fair trade, organic certification and other movements have done.

The progressive ambitions and utopian ideals of food sovereignty are clearly evident, and ones that many can easily subscribe to. You only have to visit Elizabeth Mpofu and her colleagues on Shashe farm to get a sense of the vision. But how to translate this into a political programme and strategic advocacy around which clear solidarities and alliances can build is less evident. Perhaps with a tighter political economic analysis of the nature of the problem, always necessarily contextualised by history and place, then a more targeted, more effective approach might emerge. I am inspired by the passion and vision of the movement participants and their academic allies, but I am perhaps more sceptical about the practicalities of how, in any setting that I know of, such a vision might be realised in practice, including in Shashe (a question asked by Tania Li). This is of course not a reason to reject trying, but it also suggests the need to think harder about both political possibilities and strategies, and be less dogmatic about approaches, technologies and economic arrangements for more sustainable, people-centred agriculture than sometimes the agroecology and food sovereignty advocates allow.

This blog draws from an earlier reflection on the ISS conference published by Future Agricultures

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Transforming Zimbabwe’s agrarian economy: why smallholder farming is important

In a recent article in the Cape Times , prompted by Max du Preez’s review of Joe Hanlon and colleague’s book, Tony Hawkins (professor of economics at UZ) and Sholto Cross (research fellow at UEA) make the case that Zimbabwe’s land reform has been a disaster, and that a smallholder, ‘peasant’ farming is not a route to economic growth.

Beyond the wholly inappropriate ad hominem attack on Hanlon (respectable newspapers should not publish such insults I believe – although they have printed a response), what is their actual argument? The views of a neoliberal economist and a one-time communist should be interesting I thought.

The full-page article starts with a slightly bizarre critique of what has become to be known as ‘peasant studies’, a strand of academic work that has built over the years (it’s the 40th anniversary of the Journal of Peasant Studies this year – and you can read 40 of the ‘classics’ in a free virtual issue – just sign in, it’s quick and easy!) that examines the dynamics of change in agrarian societies. They pinpoint the work of Frank Ellis at UEA and those at Sussex, including myself – but probably more appropriately Michael Lipton – who have advocated a smallholder path to economic development.

But it is a very odd caricature of these positions. There are very few who argue for a permanent condition of subsistence peasantry, somehow preserved in aspic. The point is that as a labour intensive, efficient form of production, small-scale agriculture, given the right support, can be an important driver of economic growth and poverty reduction (inclusive, pro-poor growth to use the current jargon). Diversification out of agriculture is an important dynamic too, as Frank Ellis’ work has shown from across Africa. As Michael Lipton argues in his magisterial book (now thankfully available in paperback), based on a mass evidence and experience, land reform can be an important spur to such a transformation. This is the foundation for the so-called East Asian economic miracles – in Korea, Taiwan, Japan and elsewhere.

This process of change is always dynamic, and takes time. Resettlement success, just as wider economic change resulting from large-scale redistribution, is never immediate, as Bill Kinsey and Hans Binswanger have shown. Restructuring of agricultural production has to be combined with the reconfiguration of supply industries and wider value chains. And following any redistributive land reform, there are inevitable processes of differentiation among agrarian classes. Some end up with larger plots, some smaller, others as labourers. It is the well-known multiplier effects of small-scale agriculture that can create economic opportunities elsewhere, and provide other non-farm livelihood opportunities, and so broader based growth. Migration to urban areas is also important, but maintaining a rural base as part of a wider social security mechanism is also crucial. And, yes, as the economy grows, there is a greater pull towards higher paid, industrial jobs and people leave the countryside over time. In their article, Hawkins and Cross forget this historical experience, and misinterpret the experience of China. Ha-Joon Chang has written a brilliant piece in JPS that is well worth a read if you want to get to grips with the comparative historical lessons – from Europe, Asia, Latin America and beyond.

Such transformations are therefore long-term processes, and always highly context specific. In the developmental states of East Asia (and elsewhere, and earlier in Europe), the state has an important role to play: protecting people and new businesses, and so guiding and nurturing the transition through targeted incentives and subsidies. You cannot expect the existing arrangement to be appropriate to a new scenario, so it’s important to facilitate the change of the wider agro-industrial base. What we are seeing in Zimbabwe is not so much “deindustrialisation” but a fundamental restructuring. Supporting such a transformation is essential, and this requires investment – something starkly absent in Zimbabwe due to a bankrupt government, a lack of private finance and donors refusing engagement due to sanctions.

Hawkins and Cross appear to reject such an agrarian vision for Zimbabwe. A welter of statistics are presented that fail to engage with the now substantial evidence base on Zimbabwe’s rural economy, presenting once again dubious production, employment, displacement and GDP figures to support their argument. Without reviewing the data (in Hanlon et al’s book, as well as ours, Matondi’s, Moyo and Chambati’s and many others), they proclaim that Zimbabwe’s land reform has been a failure, and that only option for economic growth in Zimbabwe is the old model of a large-scale commercial agricultural sector, combined with industrial manufacturing, reclaiming the assumed halcyon days of the 1990s (which of course they were not).

This view is deeply problematic. A focus on the large-scale agricultural sector may produce some growth, although in the globally competitive markets of today it is unlikely to produce much, but will it produce jobs and livelihoods? Jobless growth creates social divisions, inequality and pressure on the state to provide social protection to the economically disenfranchised. Look at the ‘third world’ in Europe and you can see the challenges. Zimbabwe’s own history, from the liberation war to the events of 2000, should show anyone that a return to an economic structure dominated by a few, but excluding the majority is not a politically viable option, even if it made any economic sense (which is very doubtful).

Hawkins and Cross seem blind to the opportunities of the new agrarian structure, rejecting these out of hand. Have they done any field research I wonder (I could not find any – only multiple ‘opinion’ articles from Hawkins)? Research from diverse sources has shown how across the new resettlements there are large numbers of new farmers ‘accumulating from below’ – generating surpluses, investing and accumulating. Not everyone, but enough to generate an economic dynamic that creates investment and employment. This has been done with vanishingly little external support. What more could be done if such support was larger and more effectively directed? Hawkins and Cross begrudgingly acknowledge the successes of some communal farmers in the 1980s, but this time the impact could be much wider, as there are more people involved, and they are geographically spread. In our book we argue for a form of local economic development that capitalises on this new agrarian dynamic, rooted in smallholder farming, but spinning out to new businesses and value chains. The new farmers are creating new local economies – currently small-scale, but with clear opportunities for generating further economic linkages.

Take the tomato farmers in Wondedzo resettlement areas near Masvingo – one of the case studies being documented by the PLAAS project on non-farm economies. Recognising the importance of the local market, they have invested in small-scale irrigation pumps, cleared land near the river areas, and have started to produce vegetables on a large scale. As their businesses have grown, they have employed more people, mostly women from nearby areas, and have worked with suppliers to get their crops to market. This has generated more employment along the value chain, with traders, transporters, retailers, supermarket chains and others becoming involved. Several have bought new one tonne trucks in the last year, to ensure prompt delivery to market. Again, this has brought new economic activity, with drivers, mechanics and others finding work. Input suppliers are attracted to the area, offering seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, piping, pump spare parts and more. And all of this is happening in the new land reform areas – without external support; yes on a small scale, but with significant cumulative impacts.

By area this sort of economic activity generates far more jobs and livelihoods than the large-scale commercial farms ever did. Being economically and socially integrated within rural settings, not set apart as was the case before, the multiplier effects are greater. Sales occur to supermarkets but also to small-scale traders – women who travel by bus to other towns and business centres to sell vegetables, sometimes processing them too to add value and to avoid losses.

But of course an agricultural economy cannot be just small-scale. The new agrarian structure of Zimbabwe is ‘tri-modal’, with a majority being small-scale (in the communal, A1 and old resettlement areas), but there are also medium scale commercial farms (A2) and the large-scale estates. Each can seek out their comparative advantages, and specialise production and marketing appropriately. But the important point is that there are now much greater opportunities for interaction – through contract farming, sharecropping, labour and market exchanges, and so on. This sort of integrated approach across farm scales to agricultural and rural development can have many spin-offs, and appropriately banishes the old dualism – a separation between ‘peasant’ agriculture and ‘modern’ commercial agriculture with its stark racial and economic divides – firmly to the past.

Hawkins and Cross seem to wish that this returns. They argue – on quite what basis it is not clear – that this is the only route to economic recovery for Zimbabwe. Yet they seem to reject the potentials of the dynamic entrepreneurialism and economic multipliers of the new agrarian system. With the potential of substantial state revenues from mining (as yet not fully captured of course), this is a moment when Zimbabwe could and should become southern Africa’s new developmental state, rebalancing the economy, and directing and supporting development in ways that allows for long-term, inclusive, poverty-reducing growth, initially rooted in smallholder production, but always transforming, as the economy rebuilds and restructures. Looking east, may well be the right thing to do, and the lessons from East Asia, as well as now SE Asia, may well provide important lessons.

At this critical moment, in advance of elections, political parties, media commentators, and academics alike need to engage with the realities on the ground, and avoid the posturing, the ideological grandstanding and the bitter, personal attacks and get to grips with the new realities. Harking on about the past, and failing to accept that there have been important successes of Zimbabwe’s land reform means that new thinking does not emerge. Hawkins and Cross need to engage with the facts of the present, not some idealised notion of the past.

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


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Two new books on Zimbabwe’s land reform

This month sees the publication of two, long-awaited, books on Zimbabwe’s land reform. Both are excellent. Buy them both if you can!

The first, Zimbabwe’s Fast-Track Land Reform, is by Prosper Matondi, director of the Ruzivo Trust, and a very well-informed commentator on Zimbabwe’s land issues. The book is based on work largely carried out in the mid-2000s in Mazowe, Shamva and Mangwe by a large team of Zimbabwean researchers, supported by Oxfam among others. By offering a broad geographical scope – from highveld Mashonaland to dryland Matabeleland – it offers an excellent overview of the diversity of processes and outcomes. As emphasised many times before in this blog, things are complex and diverse. But there are some important patterns that emerge: A1 smallholder farmers are doing well, while A2 medium scale farmers are struggling; violence and intimidation occurs, but is highly varied, and investment and production is occurring at a scale often not acknowledged. Clearly, as Matondi emphasises, more could be done, and the land reform beneficiaries have not reached their potential. The book lays out a set of challenges for policy which everyone concerned should take note of.

The second book is by Joseph Hanlon, Jeannette Manjengwa and Teresa Smart: Zimbabwe takes back its land. This is more up to date, covering more comprehensively the period since the formation of the GNU and the stabilisation of the economy after 2009. It is based on some new empirical material centred on Mazowe, but its main contribution is to highly offer a readable overview of the land reform experience in Zimbabwe. In so doing it draws extensively on the findings of the three major studies to date – the AIAS district studies, our Masvingo work and the work by Matondi and colleagues. It is an important synthesis, and offers highly pertinent insights which will hopefully find their way into the wider debate.

With these books published, together with the earlier contributions by ourselves and AIAS, plus the JPS special issue, no-one can say that we do not have the evidence base to understand the complex contours of Zimbabwe’s land reform. What is interesting is that, while there are differences in emphasis, there is a remarkable coherence in overall message. And, crucially, this contrasts dramatically with the mainstream commentary in the international media, many policy circles and (still) some academic writing. Maybe now – finally – the myths of Zimbabwe’s land reform will be put to rest, and we can debate more productively the complex realities.

Below are some more details on the two books:

Zimbabwe’s Fast-Track Land Reform

The Fast Track Land Reform Programme in Zimbabwe has emerged as a highly contested reform process both nationally and internationally. The image of it has all too often been that of the widespread displacement and subsequent replacement of various people, agricultural-related production systems, facets and processes. The reality, however, is altogether more complex. Providing new, in-depth and much-needed empirical research, Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform examines how processes such as land acquisition, allocation, transitional production outcomes, social life, gender and tenure, have influenced and been influenced by the forces driving the programme. It also explores the ways in which the land reform programme has created a new agrarian structure based on small- to medium-scale farmers. In attempting to resolve the problematic issues the reforms have raised, the author argues that it is this new agrarian formation which provides the greatest scope for improving Zimbabwe’s agriculture and development.

Table of Contents:

1. Understanding Fast Track Land Reforms in Zimbabwe
2: Land Occupations as the Trigger for Compulsory Land Acquisition
3: Interrogating Land Allocation
4: Juggling Land Ownership Rights in Uncertain Times
5: The Complexities of Production Outcomes
6: Accessing Services and Farm Level Investments
7: ‘Revolutionary Progress’ without Change in Women’s Land Rights
8: Social Organisation and the Reconstruction of Communities
Conclusion: From a ‘Crisis’ to a ‘Prosperous’ Future?

‘More than a decade on, Prosper Matondi provides a comprehensive, evidence based analysis through which surfaces the ’emerging order’ and a future out of the ‘chaos’ of Zimbabwe’s controversial Fast Track Land Reform Programme.’ – Mandivamba Rukuni, Director, The MandiRukuniSeminars

‘Refreshingly measured in its evidence-based analysis, Matondi’s work is scholarly, non-partisan and eschews the entrenched, dogmatic and often vested stances and positions that have been adopted by many of the analysts of the FTLR Programme. This book not only constitutes a valuable addition to the growing literature on the programme, but also is a sound academic addition to the corpus of international land and agrarian reform literature.’ Professor Rudo Gaidzanwa, dean of the Faculty of Social Studies, University of Zimbabwe

‘The study addresses an extraordinarily rich array of issues with economy, nuance and insight. In its attention to the role of the civil servants and in its disaggregation of multiple actors from the centre to the grassroots, it confronts the important question of whether the beneficiaries of land were predominantly political cronies. This is an exceptionally useful and intelligent response to a chaotic and complex moment of history.’ Diana Jeater, professor of African history, University of the West of England, Bristol

Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land

The news from Zimbabwe is usually unremittingly bleak. Perhaps no issue has aroused such ire as the land reforms in 2000, when 170,000 black farmers occupied 4,000 white farms. A decade later, with production returning to former levels, the land reform story is a contrast to the dominant media narratives of oppression and economic stagnation.
Zimbabwe Takes Back it Land offers a more positive and nuanced assessment of land reform in Zimbabwe. It does not minimize the depredations of the Mugabe regime; indeed it stresses that the land reform was organized by liberation war veterans acting against President Mugabe and his cronies and their corruption. The authors show how “ordinary” Zimbabweans have taken charge of their destinies in creative and unacknowledged ways through their use of land holdings obtained through land reform programs.
US and European sanctions are a key political issue today, and the book points out that sanctions are not just against a corrupt and dictatorial elite, but also against 170,000 ordinary farmers who now use more of the land than the white farmers they displaced. <!–

More > –>

Table of Contents:

Abbreviations 1) Veterans and Land 2) Starting Points 3) Land Apartheid 4) Independence and the First Land Reform 5) Adjustment and Occupation 6) The Second Land Reform 7) Tomatoes, Maize, and Tobacco 8) New Smallholders 9) New World of Commercial Farming 10) Women Take Their Land 11 )Cutting Down Trees 12) Workers, Water, and Widows 13) Conclusion: Occupied and Productive Bibliography Index
“Land and farming rights have been the most powerful issue in Zimbabwe for over 100 years, as I discovered when I wrote my MSc thesis on this subject in the 1960s. While white farmers were evicted in a brutal fashion and many of Mugabe’s cronies were the beneficiaries, this is not the whole story. This excellent book describes how agricultural production is now returning to the level of the 1990s. If tens of thousands of poor Zimbabwean farmers are now able to make a livelihood from the land, some significant good will have emerged from a terrible period of Zimbabwe’s history.” – Sir Malcolm Rifkind, MP, Former UK Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary

“This book provides a panoramic assessment of the land question in Zimbabwe over the last century, tracing how European settler land grabbing and farming was built through state subsidies and protection against black peasants and external markets. It examines how land reform since 1980 has reversed this trajectory of land ownership and agrarian development, and provided live narratives on the struggles of various classes of people to secure land and farm inputs, and gain access to markets, while revealing their hopes and pride as new farmers. Although it is critical about various deficiencies of the fast track land reform process and the subsequent agrarian reforms, it represents one of the few comprehensive renditions of the multi-faceted progressive outcomes of these reforms, which bring life to the social transformation underway and the challenges that remain. The authors combine various research approaches in their investigation, with an extensive reading of the relevant literature cutting across the ideological and political divide of the narratives, before independence and since 2000. It is a must read for scholars and lay people alike.” – Professor Sam Moyo, Executive Director of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies (AIAS), Harare
This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland


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Missing politics?

In a highly perceptive review of our book, Blair Rutherford from Carleton University in Canada, argues that our work has been “pivotal” in the “shifting of the debate on land reform” in Zimbabwe. But in so doing, he argues, we have created a new narrative which, while capturing the local and the specific, misses some of the bigger picture. This is an important challenge, and one that is worth exploring. It chimes, in a rather more sophisticated way than others, with the assertions that we have missed out on politics in our account, and that the wider processes of violent nationalism associated with ZANU-PF’s desperate holding on to power have been ignored (see some other book reviews).

Rutherford argues that our “immersion in the material details .. limits the book”. At the same time, he states “This book provides an incredible wealth of detail of the diverse economic practices emerging from and intersecting with the social relations and environmental conditions shaping the agrarian dynamics in Masvingo, while attending to the uncertain and disputed authority relations seeking to govern diverse farming areas”. The “exemplary strength” of the book, he says is that the book shows a “refined analysis of the particular socio-political and class positioning of individuals and households and some of the shifts over the last 10 years”.

Yet, despite this, he argues that the book ‘occludes’ and ‘limits’ analysis. What does he have in mind? He notes that we were reluctant to draw wider generalisations on the land invasions from the specific cases – each site was different, with a different dynamic, political history. We kept instead to the “empirical particularities”. However, when we looked at the ‘outcomes’ – the focus of the study – we did find some emerging patterns, embedded in huge diversity of course. And this was the focus on class-specific patterns of agrarian change that Rutherford commented on favourably.

This highlighted a group of ‘middle farmers’ accumulating from below on the basis of petty commodity production, employing labour, selling surpluses and investing in the land. This was not everyone in all places (and therefore highly qualified), but a broader pattern we noted, especially across the A1 schemes. We contrasted this with the patterns in the 1980s, and noted favourably the potentials of this dynamic both for production, and development more broadly. Rutherford argues that this in turn emerges as a emergent narrative – a new myth – based on a valiant picture of “yeoman effort”, around which the book positions itself. This is certainly one strand of our argument, but this is based on analysis, rooted in highly detailed empirical data, and certainly does not have the status of the ‘myths’ we were debunking. These were based more on ideology than fact, and although some have claimed that these were “overstated” in the book, any cursory look at the media, and much of the wider ‘academic’ commentary will show that they were not (just take a look at the sections on land in Daniel Compagnon’s otherwise useful book, Zimbabwe: A predictable tragedy, for a typical example).

Ours is therefore an emergent, interpretive narrative – but it is not simply “a position”, “a stand”, but a narrative based on findings and analysis. In many respects it was unexpected and emerged from our detailed studies through rigorous empirical study, and in this sense diverse, complex, nuanced and situated ‘realities’ did contrast with mainstream ‘myths’. Our new narrative around land and livelihoods is, we argue, of a very different status to the ‘myths’ being peddled elsewhere. Of course all narratives are partial, positioned and in need of unpacking. Rutherford does a good service in this regard. But, as discussed in this blog before, I don’t believe our method or our team was unreasonably biased. Our politics were and remain incredibly diverse, and were not, I would argue, “masked” by the book.

So what then is occluded and limited by the book’s focus? I think there are certainly some things which deserve further empirical investigation, analysis and scrutiny. Rutherford identifies a few.

For example, we did not include many of the experiences of those excluded from land reform post 2000 – the farm workers who were evicted, the white farmers who lost their land or the communal area people who were excluded, for example. This is a fair point. In respect of farm workers and former white farmers we certainly tried to locate them, but they were relatively few (unlike say in the Highveld) and difficult to trace, and even if found unlikely to talk – although we did devote a full chapter to issues around labour. Those white farmers who stayed in the district we have re-engaged with, and they appear in the book, although anonymised. In terms of the impacts in nearby communal areas, we made the choice (partly through issues of logistics and resources) not to do a comparative analysis of outcomes in the resettlements and the communal areas (along the lines of Bill Kinsey’s classic earlier studies). We are now filling this gap with a more focused study of what happened in nearby areas, including issues of inclusion/exclusion.

Even in retrospect, I do not regret our focus on a detailed site-by-site analysis of what happened to livelihoods after land reform, focusing on the specifics of each case within the ‘fast-track’ areas. When we started this work in 2000 – and even when we finished a decade later – there was a shocking absence of this sort of detailed work. It was not easy work to do, and there were many risks and challenges. But directing a forensic spotlight on these empirical particularities through a case study focus was (and remains) essential. We were, as Rutherford notes, interested in outcomes (what happened to who, where), but we were also interested in the processes which account for these outcomes. We do not, I think, present an “explicit disavowal of the debates and processes of land reform”. Far from it. In fact, Rutherford concurs: “this attention to the history, to the process, is another strength of the monograph, as they are able to analyse the differential consequences of land distribution on class, gender and productivity axes”.

However, Rutherford argues that “this analytical positioning prevents them from addressing the wider-scale politics and power relations which have been so crucial for these micro-dynamics…. This, I would suggest, leads them to make some questionable analyses and prognoses”. This is an argument made by others, and one that is important to address (and in fact – partially – agree with). I definitely agree that the wider national political context is important. We addressed this as part of Chapter 1, but perhaps this was not brought back sufficiently as context for the later analysis. However, the importance of a case study approach – one province, 16 sites, 400 households etc. – is that we must relate what happened in particular places to the broader setting. Sometimes wider processes impinge, sometimes not.

Rutherford, for example, critiques our treatment of Operation Murambatsvina and the 2008 election violence. In our book, we always insisted on locating our discussion in the evidence from our study areas. So, when discussing Operation Murambatsvina we did not include a long discussion of the wider politics and implications, especially in some parts of Harare (although we offered the appropriate references), but focused on the impacts in our areas, which were very different. Equally, when discussing election violence we focused on experiences in our sites (where violence was actually rather limited), and located these in the wider picture.

Both these instances of high-profile, politicised events show how diverse their impacts were, and how geographically located experiences have been. This does not undermine, deny or ignore the wider political significance of such events both nationally and in other places; indeed both shaped very fundamentally the political context in this period. However, by focusing on particular localities and experiences, our aim was to contextualise them, and so provide a sense of proportion in a wider, often highly generalised discussion of the Zimbabwe situation.

Following others, and most eloquently Brian Raftoupolos who spoke at the Cape Town launch of the book, Rutherford argues that the broader implications of land reform for national level politics are not brought out. How this period has reshaped the politics of the state and its relationship with people has been fundamental. He argues that our focus on the micro-details of what happened in particular places runs the danger of ignoring these wider political processes, a point made equally forcefully by Amanda Hammar in her review of the book. This is true, and certainly such a broader analysis should be part of a much larger project of understanding reconfigured state-society relations and the politicisation of state practices in the post-land reform period, alongside the political, economic and social consequences of a massively reshaped agrarian structure.

This is work that some scholars have now commenced, with Sam Moyo’s recent contributions particularly important in relation to agrarian politics. Forthcoming articles by us in the Journal of Agrarian Change and African Affairs (due out in September/October – keep an eye on the blogs for some summaries) reflect on patterns of differentiation and political dynamics both in the core ‘fast-track’ areas and the marginal lowveld areas outside formal land reform areas of Masvingo province. This work allows us to explore alternative interpretations and future scenarios. We argue that in our case study sites we are seeing the emergence of a ‘middle farmer’ class who, while benefiting from the land reform, are not allied to the political-military elite and mostly reject what Hammar calls the “political project of hegemony and sovereignty of the (previous yet persistent) Zanu-PF party-state”, even if they don’t all vote for the opposition (although many do, if secretly). Indeed, we argue, this group may represent a progressive alternative to the elite ‘land grabbers’, one that opposition formations ought to mobilise and create a ‘narrative around land, agriculture and rural development’ around. By contrast, Rutherford forwards an alternative interpretation: that the successful ‘accumulation from below’ we observed is the direct result of the suppression of political opposition and the violence of state practice, making resettlement farmers dependent subjects of a violent, nationalist state. This is an important discussion, one again that needs contextualising in site-specific analysis. Indeed both interpretations may be appropriate, but in different places and at different times.

So, in sum, I agree this is a gap and one that requires more debate, a debate that Rutherford has usefully sparked. But this does not undermine or fundamentally challenge the findings of the book, as some seek to do. We had one main aim – investigating and telling the story of land reform from the ground. This required presenting lots of detail (which most, including Rutherford, seem to appreciate), and it already ran to 288 pages in horribly small type. What is surely needed for this wider assessment of current and future national political dynamics is a located understanding of diverse experiences in different places, as Rutherford correctly argues in his conclusion. A synthetic, analytical perspective must reflect such diversity – and the complex, contingent and specific “entanglements” that exist. As the recent Journal of Peasant Studies special issue showed, Masvingo is different to Goromonzi (Marongwe’s paper) and to Chipinge (Zamchiya’s paper), but there are some important convergences too, as Cliffe et al note, and as highlighted by the AIAS district studies. With this accumulation of empirical evidence, it is this wider analysis that becomes so crucial.

Any wider assessment must therefore root its analysis in these diverse local contexts or contingencies or risk the kind of simplistic over-generalisation that has characterised much writing on Zimbabwe in recent years. Unfortunately, the gap between broader national-level political analysis and field-level specifics has been massive in recent debates, and has exacerbated misunderstanding and prevented productive debate. This gap urgently needs to be narrowed, and the communities of researchers engaged at these different scales, often debating in different languages and frames, need to start working together more concretely. We look forward to participating in such a collective project, as it is most definitely needed as Zimbabwe looks forward.

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Progress of what for whom in Zimbabwe?

‘Progress’ is a slippery term. It of course depends of what and for whom, and in relation to which alternatives. It is deployed to define all that is good, upholding particular visions and dismissing others. In development discourse it is often associated with all-powerful modernisation narratives, linked to a particular vision of civilisation, order and control. Lack of ‘progress’ is associated with all that is bad, backward and regressive. The result is that simple narratives of black and white, good and bad are presented, which fail to recognise nuance and complexity.

Professor David Moore in a recent special issue of the Journal of Contemporary African Studies launches into this debate (highlighted recently in African Arguments). This issue draws on a conference held in 2010 in Bulawayo. In his opening essay, Moore asks: “for whom (in late 2011) in Zimbabwe had “progress” unfolded? Very few indeed, it would seem”. Violent accumulation and the exertion of power have resulted in this lack of progress in Zimbabwe, he argues. Zimbabwe is portrayed as going backwards, in total chaos: forced migration, informal work, and corruption reign.

Of course this is part of the story. However, Moore unhelpfully does not define what he understands by ‘progress’, and how this is differentiated in contemporary Zimbabwe. Who are the winners and losers? Where and on whom is the violence being meted out? Who is accumulating through this? How is this restructuring social and political relations? And what are the implications of this for broader patterns of differentiation, class formation and political alliances? Instead, the overview paper – and most of the papers in the issue (with some good exceptions) – are based on broad-brush generalisations which, if backed up at all, reference newspaper articles and politically positioned commentaries.

Call me an old-fashioned empiricist (I am), but I was rather amazed that the now growing body of work on the post 2000 land reform which shows how significant numbers of people are ‘accumulating from below’ on the basis of new access to land, is so quickly dismissed. In a bizarre passage, our work is singled out. Moore says:

“The secular celebrants of the “land to the poor” litany maintain their beliefs (Scoones 2010…) but the statistical rebuffs to what appears to be their positivist rectitude are incubating”.

 I am not sure how our results can simply be cast as ‘beliefs’, nor where the rebuffs are incubating. Empiricism is dismissed as ‘positivist rectitude’, but in my view the lack of detailed field-based enquiry has plagued the Zimbabwe debate, and continues to do so as this contribution shows. Our theoretical understandings of the Zimbabwe situation are not going to be improved without a more solid empirical base, where contrasts and divergences are explored and analysed. The recent special issue of the Journal of Peasant Studies edited by Lionel Cliffe and colleagues was an important first attempt at this, yet this now broad body of work on land, agriculture and rural change in Zimbabwe post 2000 gets little recognition here.

Recent studies in Zimbabwe, including our own, do offer some insights into the concern of Moore and the contributors to the issue. Patterns of accumulation in the rural areas are highly diverse – some are accumulating ‘from above’ (sometimes, but certainly not always through violence), while some are accumulating ‘from below’ through hard work, ingenuity and persistence (see our forthcoming paper in the Journal of Agrarian Change). Who has been able to tap into the process of accumulation from above, and through what means is certainly an important question. But so is the question of who are those who are accumulating from below: building assets, income levels and with this social and political power in the countryside. These processes of differentiation, unleashed by a combination of land reform, political turmoil and economic collapse, are having important implications. Painting all this as simply ‘lack of progress’ and solely dominated by political violence, the result of a particular nationalist ideology (dubbed here ‘the Mugabe mode of accumulation’) is insufficient. Instead, a more sophisticated analysis is needed; one that identifies new social and political formations, and their relationships to elite military-political power.

As a number of contributors to this special issue argue, the form of authoritarian nationalism allowing for elite capture and control has been continuous since the liberation struggle within what became the core of ZANU-PF. The idea of a clean rupture in 2000 (or perhaps 1997) is of course inaccurate. Yet there are important new dimensions in the post 2000 period. These certainly include oppression, exclusion and violence, but they also include production, accumulation and innovation resulting from land reform. As in any dynamic, contingent and complex political process, there are winners and losers. Locating who these are, their networks and alliances – as well as, importantly, their geographic location – is a vital analytical task.

This might help us develop a more sophisticated assessment of ‘progress’ of what and for whom. In our work in Masvingo province, we asked different people about ‘success’ (a similarly slippery term, with comparable connotations), and it was fascinating to learn how the ‘new’ farmers on the resettlement schemes defined this in their own terms. If there is to be a debate about what type of progress is appropriate in Zimbabwe, this must move beyond broad-sweep generalisations to get to grips with these differentiated understandings based on field based research. In this regard, unfortunately, this collection is not as helpful as it might have been.

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JPS Special issue on land reform outcomes – just released

Just released – the much awaited:

Journal of Peasant Studies Special Issue: Outcomes of post-2000 Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe

Guest Editors: Lionel Cliffe, University of Leeds; Jocelyn Alexander, University of Oxford; Ben Cousins, PLAAS, University of the Western Cape, and Rudo Gaidzanwa, University of Zimbabwe

The occupations of large commercial farms that erupted in Zimbabwe in 2000 and lead to the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLR) has attracted an enormous amount of media comment and controversy in Zimbabwe and around the world, on the basis of which people developed very clear-cut stances about its consequences – on agricultural production, on the prospects of rural dwellers and on the overall economy. But until recently the rush to judgement was largely uninformed by any hard evidence, with little exploration of outcomes: what new production systems, changed livelihoods and social relations have emerged. In the last two or three years a significant volume of independent empirically-based material from detailed local studies has begun to see the light of day. This Special Issue is the first initiative to bring these empirical studies in one collection in order to contribute to a more informed and very necessary debate.

Some of these articles can be downloaded for FREE from the JPS website: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/fjps20/current for a limited period!

Table of Contents:

An overview of Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe, Lionel Cliffe, Jocelyn Alexander, Ben Cousins and Rudo Gaidzanwa

Changing agrarian relations after redistributive land reform in Zimbabwe, Sam Moyo

Zimbabwe’s land reform: challenging the myths, Ian Scoones, Nelson Marongwe, Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba, Jacob Mahenehene, and Chrispen Sukume

Contextualizing Zimbabwe’s land reform: long-term observations from the first generation, Marleen Dekker and Bill Kinsey

Women’s struggles to access and control land and livelihoods after fast track land reform in Mwenezi District, Zimbabwe, Patience Matupo

Restructuring of agrarian labour relations after Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe, Walter Chambati

Who was allocated Fast Track land, and what did they do with it? Selection of A2 farmers in Goromonzi District, Zimbabwe and its impacts on agricultural production, Nelson Marongwe

A synopsis of land and agrarian change in Chipinge district, Zimbabwe, Phillan Zamchiya

Land, graves and belonging: land reform and the politics of belonging in newly resettled farms in Gutu, 2000–2009, Joseph Mujere

Local farmer groups and collective action within fast track land reform in Zimbabwe, Tendai Murisa


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