Tag Archives: land grabbing

The return of fortress conservation: why excluding people means biodiversity conservation will fail

The recent UN biodiversity summit reported disappointing results. Not one of the 20 indicators set a decade before were met. In many quarters, there is a growing cry for more assertive measures to protect and extend biodiverse rich areas; a return to ‘fortress conservation’ where an increasingly militarised approach is recommended. This is a big mistake and will undermine local people’s commitments to conservation.

The privatisation and securitisation of national assets: conservation grabbing

Unfortunately, Zimbabwe, a pioneer in community-based conservation through the CAMPFIRE programme, is returning to a fortress conservation approach, enlisting foreign, private-sector partners to re-fence parks and keep people out, if necessary through lethal force. A number of deals have been struck, including with African Parks, supported by (ex-)British royalty, in Matusadona National Park and with Frankfurt Zoo in Gonarezhou National Park in the south (since 2017 under the Gonarezhou Conservation Trust).  There are plans afoot for other joint ventures in park areas in Zimbabwe, with external support providing a much-needed boost to the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s (Zimparks) depleted coffers.

In parallel to this expansion of parks areas, international donors have sponsored the training of game rangers, via the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, including of the now-famous group of heavily armed female game guards, trained by a (white, Australian) special forces soldier who had served in Iraq. As women conserving nature and battling crime, the group, dubbed ‘the brave ones’, have been widely celebrated (and ruthlessly stereotyped) in the media (also see this BBC video to get a flavour and more here).

The effective privatisation (under 20 year leases) of the conservation estate and the taking over of huge areas of the country by foreign organisations (Gonarezhou alone covers 5,053 km², while Matusadona covers 1,407 km2) has not had the sort of scrutiny that higher profile ‘land grabs’ have had. In fact, outside the particular areas, most people don’t even know this is happening. In many respects the deals make sense. The state is broke, there is a need to protect such national assets, and a partnership with outsiders allows for the rehabilitation of infrastructure, paying of staff and continuing the conservation work on behalf of the government (which still holds a majority stake).

However, what happens with such partnerships is that it’s not only the money that is on the table, but a very different way of thinking about conservation. Despite the rhetoric (and conservation organisations are good at this) about community consultation and involvement the experience of these efforts has largely been one of rewinding to an older era of colonial-style exclusionary conservation.

This is a wider trend, as documented by the excellent BIOSEC research programme  (video here) and shared most recently at a great POLLEN conference plenary session. Militarised conservation efforts to tackle ‘wildlife crime’ deploy technologies – from drones to military hardware to surveillance systems – which are used to assert an increasingly security-led style of conservation, casting locals as poachers and game wardens (now armed to the teeth) as saviours. This of course plays into a wider Western racialised narrative about conservation being about protecting wildlife and excluding and removing local (usually black) people.

The lessons of the community-based conservation era from the 1980s, where Zimbabwe was probably the world leader in both ideas and practice – are fast being lost. Yes of course CAMPFIRE and similar programmes had their problems. Questions were raised about who got the benefits, what a ‘community’ really was and whether this relied too much on conservation through iconic species that had a hunting value. But the basic principles that conservation gets nowhere unless local people are on board are as valid as ever.

Fortress conservation in Gonarezhou

A recent extended phone conversation with a colleague living near Gonarezhou park highlighted that the new Frankfurt Zoo led initiative is certainly more fortress than community conservation, with the effort focusing especially on species conservation (elephants and wild dogs are heavily profiled, as is the reintroduction of black rhinos). For sure, there are a variety of community support initiatives in the surrounding areas and there are ‘community liaison’ and extension officers employed. Around 300 game rangers have been employed by the park, many from the local area, and others are employed in building projects in new tourist facilities. This provides local benefits, but also provokes tensions. There have been some education programmes (the Chilojo Club), although framed in ways distant to local vernacular understandings. And there were extended, largely performative, consultations in the local area explaining the project, with multiple consultants employed.

But the complaints are multiple. The new electric fencing – which is expected to surround the park and stretch as far as Save Valley Conservancy – has prevented cattle grazing in the park, especially in drought periods. Animals are impounded and fines to reclaim them are high, and in many cases they are never returned. While there are periods when groups of villagers can come and cut grass, this is expensive if transport is hired but insufficient for fodder supplies, although good for thatching. People are having to reduce their cattle numbers due to lack of grazing, which is causing serious hardships. The fences were supposed to keep elephants out, but they continue to cause crop damage, even death in the area, as their numbers continue to expand and the electric fence is either destroyed or becomes non-functional when the solar panels are not working. The lack of compensation payments for elephant damage is a long-running complaint. The argument is that CAMPFIRE should pay, but this produces very little revenue and much of it is not distributed to the wider community. And the long-promised community projects have failed to materialise beyond a few school projects and savings clubs, adding to disgruntlement and rumours that others have pocketed the cash.

The strict, armed policing of the park boundaries causes friction with the local communities as boundaries used to be flexible and more negotiated (indeed some, such as by the Chitsa people in Sangwe, highly disputed). In the past, rangers would turn a blind-eye to those who came and hunted small animals as a source of livelihood, using only dogs, spears and snares. Many have returned from South Africa having lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and are having to survive off substance hunting. Locals complain that they are treated just the same as the organised hunting syndicates who run from Mozambique and are involved in heavily-armed poaching, using AK47s and cyanide poisoning. This they argue is completely different, and deserves policing, but it is local people who seem to be arrested and jailed most. The conflicts between the park and the local communities are increasing, as park rangers clamp down and the challenges of the COVID-19 period increase. This is creating tensions and threats of violence in the community, as local people employed as rangers arrest locals. Despite the ‘out-reach’ activities and commitments to ‘community’ development, trust it seems is at a low ebb; as my colleague put it “there is a war between the park and the locals”.   

As with all fortress conservation approaches, the conservation area is separated from people. Low intensity hunting and grazing uses are banned and resentments rise. Militarised security operations signal that this is not your land, and the only people who now use the park and its surrounding hunting areas are extremely rich outsiders, who are mostly white; many of whom are investing seriously in tourist facilities with external capital in Gonarezhou. The park thus becomes a place of privilege not a national asset, and biodiversity conservation becomes dissociated from people’s practices – and something to resent not participate in.

From protecting areas to supporting people

The obsessive targets of the conservation lobbies to expand conservation areas – from a current global 15% of land area to 30%, and for some even 50% – miss the point. Expanding these areas through massive conservation led ‘land grabs’ in places where people are poor and landscapes are made us of – and the biodiversity within them – will fail. They have before, which is why a rethinking of colonial conservation models took place 30 years or more ago.

Instead, the targets should not focus on areas or in most cases even species, but on people. How about a 100% target for incorporating local people into biodiversity management practices by 2030 instead? Many of the villagers surrounding Gonarezhou already do this to far a greater extent than most of those who arrive on planes or live in towns who visit the now highly protected island of biodiversity.

As in the important debates about ‘convivial conservation’, perhaps local people and vernacular conceptions of conversation should have a greater say and more substantial involvement in the futures of such shared assets. Without this, the biodiversity and conservation targets for the next decade will certainly be missed too.  

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

Photo credits: J, Chikombedzi and IAPF

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Open for business: what does investment look like on the ground?

Last week I was at the at the African Studies Association of the UK (ASA) conference in Birmingham. I was co-hosting, with my colleague Jeremy Lind (whose earlier blog this one draws from), a fantastic stream of five panels and 17 papers. Drawing on rich and recent empirical evidence from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Somaliland, the discussions covered the emergence of investment corridors, investments in oil, minerals and renewable energy and the implications of the rush for land for the dynamics of circulation, accumulation and patterns of social differentiation. Listening to the presentations, I was struck by the potential lessons for Zimbabwe, as the country becomes ‘open for business’.

Across the drylands of eastern Africa, the past ten years have seen the spread of large-scale investments in infrastructure, resources and land. In the past these areas were insignificant to states in the region and large capital from beyond – at least compared to the region’s agrarian highlands and Indian Ocean coast. Yet, the recent rush to construct pipelines, roads, airports, wind farms, and plantations signals a new spatial politics that binds the pastoral margins ever closer to state power and global capital.

Being ‘open for business’ in order to develop infrastructure, resources, and towns as new industrial centres and markets is often seen very positively. State officials and donor agencies view these as part of generating growth; bringing the margins into the core of the national economy. Some see such investments as a precursor to peacebuilding of restive frontiers, ushering in stability through diversification and the creation of new livelihoods.

As Zimbabwe’s new government repeats the mantra of being ‘open for business’, seeking investment from any source is seen as an imperative in order to rescue the economy from the doldrums. The new cabinet is aimed to highlight technocratic competence, banishing the reputation of corrupt neglect. Certainly, President Mnangagwa’s choices have been widely hailed, and the appointment of Prof. Mthuli Ncube as finance minister was a smart move. His credentials and connections signal a new way of doing things. With a training in mathematical finance economics, a post at Oxford and experience with the private sector finance advice and the African Development Bank, he will be central to galvanising much-needed investment across all sectors.

But what investment will emerge? And who will it benefit? Certainly, Zimbabwe’s economy is still seen as high risk, so early investors may seek to strike a hard bargain, and safeguards, whether environmental or social, may get short shrift. As our ASA panels showed, large-scale investments have far-reaching consequences for the future directions of development. Many powerful actors are involved, from international corporations and financiers to states and local elites, but important questions are raised about who gains and who loses out, and whether such large-scale projects do indeed deliver poverty-reducing development as is often claimed.

Early debates on large-scale investments in eastern Africa’s pastoral areas turned on headline grabbing figures of the size of proposed projects, such as the $23 billion price tag for the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor project (LAPSSET), or the scale of proposed land deals for commercial agriculture, such as the 300,000 hectare land lease (since cancelled) to Indian Karuturi Global in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region.

A decade on, the large-scale investments have advanced in a more piecemeal way as challenges of implementation have mounted. LAPSSET’s grand modernist vision has not materialised in a sudden multi-billion dollar bang but rather emerged incrementally, such as through the completion of the Isiolo-Moyale highway and the recent opening of Isiolo’s airport. Mass expropriations to establish large-scale commercial farms have by-and-large not come to pass, as only a small part of an agreed area is actually farmed.

But the focus on ‘opening up’ the frontier through new infrastructure and investments in land and resources has had other consequences. Proposed infrastructure and investments have ignited intense competition for and revaluation of land as local elites, and other domestic and foreign investors, jostle to claim tracts of land. In and around Isiolo, which is being reimagined as an industrial centre and gateway to northern Kenya, proposed investments have set in motion an economy of anticipation as diverse actors rush to collectively and individually lay exclusive claims to land at the town’s edges. A similar dynamic plays out in Lokichar – the base of operations for nascent oil development in Kenya’s Turkana County – where fencing has multiplied around town as area residents race to claim plots to develop housing, shops and guest houses.

Development of oil, wind and geo-thermal reserves has fuelled other competitions around ‘local content’ – the industry term for procuring goods and services from local suppliers and workers. The footprint of these developments, and the arrival of workers and contractors from outside of local areas, sit uncomfortably with the reality of work opportunities that are thinly spread and temporary. Protests by residents and political leaders in south Turkana halted Kenya’s Early Oil Pilot Scheme in June barely days after it was launched to great fanfare by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Operations only resumed in late August after political concessions to address local demands for greater opportunities for work, contracts and tenders.

In this and other instances of protest, local elites have advanced their own interests by playing on the legitimate concerns of residents living adjacent to development sites concerning inclusion, rights and compensation. Various local interlocutors have positioned themselves as key liaisons between investors and communities in and around sites of operational activity, including political aspirants, ward and sub-county administrators, brokers, elders, seers, and young people. Local capital has been the greatest beneficiary of investments in oil in Turkana, or wind in Kenya’s Marsabit County. Wealthier local elites – many with connections in politics or who have worked for international relief or church organisations – have constructed rental housing, guesthouses, bars and restaurants.

Thus, while the impacts and influences of large-scale investments still unfold, the early signs can be seen. New territorialisations, local contestations and struggles, and enrichment of local elites are all part of an emerging picture. Some investments are proposed and never take off, but nevertheless reconfigure land use and local political and social relations.

As we heard in Birmingham, it’s a complex picture, and one that continues to unfold in a very fast-moving setting. Zimbabwe is only now dreaming of such investments, and state efforts will be energised to seek them out. However there are lessons to be learned from eastern Africa. Investments certainly transform, but there are always winners and losers. This is worth remembering as Zimbabwe opens its borders to all-comers with money to invest.

This post was written in part by Ian Scoones and this version first appeared on Zimbabweland. Thanks to Jeremy Lind for the original blog, and to all the presenters at the ‘Precarious Prospects’ stream of the ASA UK conference.

Photo credit (from Turkana, Kenya): Evans Otieno

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Can joint ventures revive large-scale commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe?

Ndodana Sibanda shows how the center pivot works to water the wheat in Arda Jotsholo recently. (picture by Nkosizile Ndlovu)

The Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) has a substantial land holding across the country, including 21 estates of varying sizes, with a total of 98,000 ha of arable land, 19,000 ha of which is irrigable. In the last decade most of these fell into disrepair, with production plummeting. Financing of parastatal operations became increasingly challenging, as government issued bonds via the Agricultural Marketing Authority were no longer available. In the last few years, as part of a reform programme focused on parastatals, the government has encouraged ARDA to go into public-private partnerships with private companies in an attempt to revive their fortunes, seeking new finance and investment from the private sector. 40 companies bid for such partnerships in 2014, involving a mix of local and foreign capital.

Currently there are 12 estates with such joint ventures: Chisumbanje, Middle Sabi, Katiyo, Mkwasine, Sisi, Nandi, Faire Acres, Jotsholo, Antelope, Ngwezi, Sedgewik and Doreen’s Pride (see a profile of each here, including details on the production focus and contract length). Those that remain wholly managed by Government include; Balu, Sanyati, Muzarabani, Mushumbi Pools, Nijo, Katiyo Main Estate, Rusitu, Magudu and Kairezi.

The most (in)famous is the Chisumbanje estate, where tycoon Billy Rautenbach took over operations, and built a mill for processing sugar cane. Land disputes and controversies over ethanol pricing and markets have plagued the operation for some years. Others have established operations in the last few years, and have been widely hailed as seeing a dramatic turn-around in ARDA’s fortunes.

A variety of private enterprises have seen the availability of high quality land and good infrastucture (although much of it in urgent need of renewal) as a good business opportunity. Both local and international investment has flooded in.

We must ask though, whether this sort of large-scale, capitalised farming is the most appropriate use of this land, and whether these operations genuinely contribute to employment, food security and local economic development, as well as boosting government revenues.

The Trek Petroleum-ARDA partnership in Matobo

Trek Petroleum has invested in several estates, including the Antelope estate near Maphisa mentioned last week and Doreen’s Pride near Kadoma, where beef ranching with imported Namibian animals is underway. It also has contracts with the Cold Storage Company, and with ARDA Ngwezi, and works with Northern Farming on a contract with ARDA Mashonaland. For foreign investors, particularly from South Africa, the US dollar environment in Zimbabwe is very attractive.

Trek has imported state-of-the-art equipment, including several 350 HP Casey tractors which can pull 24 disc harrows each. Huge seed and fertiliser planters are drawn by these tractors, which are fitted with sensors that analyse soil fertility status and automatically adjust application rates. 12 centre pivots are in place and irrigate 520 hectares of winter wheat and summer maize. Hi-tech driers are in place to ensure timely harvesting of grain and drying to 12.5 % moisture. It has been a substantial investment that has resulted in massive boosts in production from the estate.

The level of mechanization has a downside too, as discussed with the estate manger during a visit earlier this year. For example, only 12 workers are employed to run the centre pivots. In the past, 250 workers were needed to irrigate the 230 hectares that were then cultivated. Equally, there is only one section manager compared to three in the past. There are now just 48 permanent workers in place of around 90 in the past, while now 162 temporary workers are required to detassle maize for a 7 day contract, compared to hundreds in the past for a season (although these figures are disputed by ARDA, who claim over 200 jobs have been created, although mostly in the land clearance and establishment phase).

With the revived irrigated area, ARDA Antelope has entered into seed multiplication contracts with Seed Co, Pannar and ICRISAT.   ARDA provides land, labour and electricity, as well as agronomists. Pannar’s contract is for 60 hectares with Pan 473 and G90 varieties bulk produced, while Seed Co has a 40 hectare stake producing SC 513 and SC 621. The balance of the 520 ha is planted with commercial maize in summer and wheat in winter sold to National Foods Company. Trek also has a joint venture with the Cold Storage Company, and currently feeds 700 cattle brought from Namibia, with a further 1300 to come. There has been a massive expansion of both area and intensity of production. There are plans for another 800 ha of irrigation, harnessing water from the Shashane dam, as well as expansion of grazing land. An investment in processing plants, including for livestock feed, is planned.

Land disputes

Despite investments in ‘social responsibility’ programmes, involving support for local educational institutions, the new arrangement has run into trouble, as the land area has been expanded, apparently without consultation and ‘free prior informed consent’.

For years the ARDA estate only operated on a small extent of its area, and villagers regarded the land as theirs. With many parallels with the disputes that arose in Chisumbanje, wrangles over land have emerged around the estate. In September, villagers organised protests in Maphisa, stopping traffic. Graffiti linking the estate investment to the notorious Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland were seen. A visit by VP Mnangagwa was abandoned, and villagers were arrested, although later freed. Villagers claimed their land was being taken and that they were not benefiting from the new scheme.

Protesting villagers’ views are in sharp contrast to the narratives of government officials. A queue of high-profile visitors have come to praise the operations, from the First Lady onwards. Recently, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Paddy Zhanda, has congratulated ARDA for its operations in Maphisa. The resurrection of large-scale farming on state land, is central to the envisaged approach of ‘command agriculture’, where production priorities are set by the state. Joint ventures with ARDA supporting (mostly) A2 farmers with irrigation infrastructure, but under-production, have also been hailed as key to the future success of agriculture.

What role should parastatals play?

But we have to ask what roles should parastatals play in the revival of Zimbabwean agriculture? The PPP model is certainly attractive. New infrastructure and finance allows for the revival of moribund operations. With a ‘command agriculture’ perspective these revitalized farms could, ministers hope, provide just the sort of backbone to the agricultural economy needed. But as we have seen conflicts can arise, as people are removed from land that they thought was theirs. Highly capitalized operations may not provide the employment once offered. As the land reform has shown, with the right support small scale farmers can produce often produce significant quantities of maize and other crops, but at far lower costs, and generating more employment. Maybe it would make more sense to redistribute the land instead?

The parastatal assets of ARDA however should not be seen just as a cheap, underutilized source of land and water, either to be redistributed to the masses or to be handed over to well-connected corporates as part of partnerships benefiting elites. We should recall the role ARDA used to play in providing an important development coordination function. In the ‘roll back the state’ zeal of the 1990s, combined with the obvious corruption and poor management of many parastatals, we sometimes forget the importance of such organisations, notably ARDA, but also the CSC, in offering credit, markets and a brokering facility for smaller operators.

Unlike the new enclaves being created in a desperate attempt to raise revenues, the effective parastatal operations of the past were more integrated into the wider agricultural economy landscape. In thinking about the future, the alternatives need to be carefully balanced. Further land reform – particularly to A1 farmers – is certainly an option in some areas, as small farmers may be best able to make use of existing irrigation facilities. But in other cases new investment is clearly needed, but the obsession with large, command-oriented agriculture or divesting state assets to the private sector through PPPs must be tempered.

Lots of big, shiny centre pivots look impressive, but they may not be economic or generate employment. This was often the lesson of large-scale commercial agriculture before. Having large farms as part of a wider landscape of agriculture may be important for some crops and in some places, but making sure these operations are integrated not isolated enclaves, are employment generating not just mechanized, and have a coordination function to support wider development is essential.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and 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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