Tag Archives: land reform

Still debating land tenure reform in Zimbabwe

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

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

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

Titling is not always the answer

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

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

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

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

A political settlement over land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who are the commercial farmers? A history of Mvurwi area, Zimbabwe

For some the answer to who are the commercial farmers in Zimbabwe is obvious. The image of the rugged, (male) white farmer in shorts, surveying his family’s land carved out through hard labour and skill from the African bush is etched on the popular imagination. But over time, there have been many different types of ‘commercial farmer’ in Zimbabwe, and a new paper from APRA – Agricultural Commercialisation in Northern Zimbabwe: Crises, Conjunctures and Contingencies, 1890–2020 – explores the conditions of their emergence in the Mvurwi area.

Mvurwi town is about 100km to the north of the capital Harare, and from the 1920s until the land reform of 2000 was surrounded by (largely) white-owned large commercial farms and estates. To the east was Chiweshe communal land (formerly reserve and Tribal Trust Land) where Africans farmed. Africans also lived in the labour compounds on the farms and in Mvurwi town, many originally from nearby countries, hired to provide labour for the large (mostly tobacco) farms.

Our paper documents the agrarian history of this area from Cecil Rhodes to Emmerson Mnangagwa, or from around 1890 and the initial colonisation of what became Rhodesia through different phases until today. The paper asks two questions: who are the commercial farmers – those producing surplus and selling it – and what drivers have affected changes in the agrarian setting, making some more or less likely to be able to commercialise production?

We made use of a diverse array of sources, including archival material, biographical interviews, survey data and satellite imagery of environmental changes (this will be the focus of a future blog). Mvurwi’s agrarian history is one of tobacco and maize, of labour shortages and migration, of infrastructure building and urban growth and of government policies that have supported some over others at different times. It’s complex and fascinating.

Establishing white commercial farms, marginalising Africans

In the early years, at least into the 1930s, it was African farmers from Chiweshe who were the commercial farmers, supplying food to the new European settlers who were getting established on their new farms. Before the Land Apportionment Act restricted land access for blacks, Africans and Europeans lived side-by-side, but it was Africans who knew how to farm this environment and produced large surpluses of small grains, and increasingly maize.

Following the establishment of the colonial government in 1923, a huge range of measures were applied that restricted African farming and supported the establishment of European agriculture. This was the time also when tobacco became established as the major crop, providing important revenue for Britain as the colonial power. European agriculture struggled through the depression years, yet was expected to contribute to the war effort from 1939. After the Second World War, the colonial government supported the expansion of European agriculture, and invested considerably in subsidised infrastructure development, as well as the provision of finance. British war veterans were settled, and the land around Mvurwi became a prosperous farming area, on the back of state intervention and African labour, with a new set of white commercial farmers who displacing Africans.

Prosperous white commercial agriculture, challenged by sanctions and war

The period from 1945 until the early 1970s, when the liberation war started in earnest, was the one where the image of the white (male) commercial farmer took hold. These were largely family farms in this period, operating increasingly efficiently with inputs of new technologies (hybrid seeds, fertiliser, tobacco curing facilities and so on, facilitated by state-led R and D), and considerable amounts of cheap African labour, often living and working in appalling conditions. The supply of labour was assisted both through recruitment from the Rhodesian Federation (from 1953), and through local migrant labour; as African farming was squeezed further men increasingly had to seek employment in towns, mines and on the farms.

After the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith’s government, the effect of sanctions hit the white farming community, but all sorts of sanctions-busting measures were used, with the help of apartheid South Africa and others. White commercial farming still prospered, but there was also the beginning of a trend towards consolidation, as the smaller, less capitalised and connected white family farms struggled. With the beginning of the liberation war and the arrival of guerrilla fighters in the Mvurwi area from 1973, farming was hit hard. Remote white farms became targets for liberation fighter attacks, and meanwhile the state restricted the engagement of Africans with the comrades by creating ‘protected villages’ in Chiweshe.

Independence: a smallholder green revolution and economic liberalisation

It was only after Independence in 1980 that farming took off again. The new state, now with support from international aid donors, shifted emphasis towards supporting small-scale communal area farming, while European farming was left largely to continue as before, but with less state support. In the African communal areas, the results were spectacular, ushering in a ‘green revolution’ with increased production and sale of maize, creating a class of African commercial farmers once again. White commercial farmers also benefited from the removal of sanctions, with preferential trade agreements in products such as beef, and they were able to shift to higher value products (horticulture, flowers etc.) as markets opened up.

The liberalisation of the economy from 1991, at the behest of the Bretton Woods institutions, saw further advantages for increasingly consolidated large-scale, white-owned commercial farms; although the withdrawal of state support, the decline of research and extension services and the loss of state-backed credit meant that poorer African farmers suffered, and the green revolution soon fizzled out. By the 1990s, a boom time for white commercial agriculture, many smaller white family farms had gone, and the commercial farmer in this period was more likely to be in a suit in a board-room, negotiating international financing and trade deals. In this period, African farming in the communal areas became increasingly impoverished, reliant on donor projects and frequent food hand-outs due to the recurrent droughts.

Land reform and new commercial farmers

All changed in 2000 with the land invasions and the subsequent Fast Track Land Reform Programme. Most of the white farms in the Mvurwi farming area were taken over, although a few were left initially, along with most of the large Forrester Estate to the north. Land invaders were mostly from land-scarce and poor Chiweshe as well as other communal areas and towns nearby. The land invasions resulted in the creation of smallholder A1 resettlement areas, often on farms with considerable numbers of compound labourers living there. Later, medium-scale A2 farms were established, attracting very often middle class professionals along with political, business and military elites.

Today it is a very different farming landscape, with new commercial farmers. These are largely black (although there are some joint ventures with former white commercial farmers and Chinese companies in the A2 areas) and include both successful A1 farmers (men and women) who have managed to accumulate and invest in their farms through own-production and some A2 farmers who have managed to secure finance through off-farm jobs or through state patronage. Unlike their white counterparts who established farms in the early twentieth century with a huge amount of state support, today’s resettlement farmers suffer a lack of assistance and limited finance. State incapacity, systemic corruption and international sanctions combine to undermine the potentials of commercialisation, as this blog has discussed many times before.

Crises, conjunctures and contingencies: a non-linear agrarian history

So what do we draw from this history (check out the long paper for the detail)? First is that there are very different types of commercial farmers beyond the stereotypical image that have existed over time. This is because different people have had different opportunities in each of the historical periods we have identified. This has been affected by state policy, international relations/sanctions, labour regimes, markets and so on. We see over time not a simple, linear secular trend, driven by relative factor prices, land scarcity, population growth or environmental change, but sudden shifts, as agrarian relations reconfigure.

Such changes may emerge through state policy – Land Apportionment, Maize Control and so on obviously had a huge impact in the 1930s; through the investment in particular infrastructure – the road from Concession to Mvurwi opened up markets massively and facilitated urban growth, as did the arrival of mobile phones decades later; as a result of the emergence of new technologies – the SR52 hybrid maize revolutionised white commercial farming, as did the arrival of the rocket barn for curing tobacco; as a result of a significant environmental event – the droughts of 1947, 1984, 1991 – and many more – meant that some farms went under, others were taken over or African labour migration became necessary; because of changing patterns of labour availability – the challenges of labour recruitment were a continuous refrain among European farmers from the 1930s, as they are among commercial land reform farmers today; as a result of shifts in geopolitics and global markets – sanctions from 1965 and 2000 have had huge impacts, as did the requirements of the Washington consensus loan conditionalities from the 1990s, while the growth in tobacco demand from the 1940s and again from the 1990s into the 2000s (increasingly from China) drove farming economies across Mvurwi. Along with other reasons discussed in the paper.

Like Sara Berry and Tania Li (among others), the paper argues that it is events – crises, conjunctures and contingencies – as inflected by social relations (of race, class, gender and age) and politics that offer a more insightful explanation of the history of farming in Mvurwi. This history is non-linear, uncertain and involves a complex interaction of drivers, and far from the deterministic theories either of classic agrarian Marxism or evolutionary agricultural/institutional economics. For this reason, over 130 years, there have been many different types of Zimbabwean commercial farmer, and there will likely to be others into the future as chance, contingent events and particular crises combine with longer-term drivers of change.

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



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20 years after Zimbabwe’s land reform: what does the future hold?

This is the final post in this blog series, which asks what have been the changes in land reform areas in Masvingo province since 2000, and what are the possible future trajectories? A more detailed analysis of our data over this twenty year period, including comparing our full census surveys in these sites from 2006-7 and 2011-12, must wait. This concluding blog is therefore a very preliminary reflection on the changes that we have observed over 20 years, and some speculation of what the future might hold for the land reform farmers of Masvingo over the next 20 years.

Demographic shifts

Clearly since we started the study in the early 2000s our sample households are older, with some having passed on. We see a pattern of inheritance, first often to wives and then to children. Many households now have adult children in the 21-30 age bracket, some of whom are working (often abroad) and sending remittances, while others have sought land to farm from their parents. The forms of subdivision vary – sometimes children take over the farm and work jointly with elderly parents; more often they take a subdivided section of the farm; sometimes they are resident at the homestead, but farm or work elsewhere, including in small, often illegal, irrigation plots. Sometimes of course, with the ageing or death of the original settlers, the farm is abandoned.

The turnover of farms across our sites varies (see previous blog), but there has been a considerable churn. We can expect this into the future. While a number left at the beginning, as carving out new land under uncertain conditions was too much for some. The rigours of farming a larger plot than in the communal areas and often without the support networks is certainly difficult. The uncertainty over tenure arrangements in some sites, now partially resolved, was a factor too early on. No-one then quite knew whether the land reform would be permanent.

While some people have left our sites, there are certainly always new arrivals eager to take on plots, even if not through inheritance. Indeed, in all sites the total number of settlers has increased, although as panels our surveys do not capture the new arrivals in new plots. Whether it’s local leaders getting backhanders, churches encouraging new followers to settle or formal allocations by the state, the demand for land is clear. This will undoubtedly continue, particularly as the next generation demands land.

Places of success

The majority who have remained now see their ‘new’ (now not so new at all) land reform farms as their primary residence. They no longer are straddling between communal and resettlement sites as was the case following settlement. They are largely secure in their new farms and see the advantages. Connections with their original communal area ‘homes’ are retained, including around family occasions, notably respect for ancestral spirits and burials, and important networks of support have emerged.

The flows of resources have reversed over time, and today it is the resettlement areas who are providing support to the communal areas. Food is regularly sent to families back home and people from the communal areas come and provide wage labour in the resettlement areas each season. This dynamic has consolidated in the past decade, particularly as the wider economic situation in the country has worsened, and the safety nets (of remittances, government support etc.) that communal area dwellers once relied on have gone.

Overall, the resettlement areas – especially the A1 sites – are therefore seen as places of success, certainly in comparison to the communal areas from where most came. Regular surpluses of grain production – mostly maize – has been complemented by engagement with cash crops, including cotton in the early years until the prices collapsed.

The A2 dryland areas are a different story. While people are happy to take on land as a speculative asset, the business environment for farming investment has remained challenging throughout the 20 years of our study. With some notable exceptions, many A2 farms have failed to take off. The irrigation-based Hippo Valley sugar farmers stand out from this pattern, and have prospered thanks to an obligatory connection to the sugar company that provides inputs and a guaranteed market.

Accumulation and differentiation

In the next 20 years, much will depend on economic and political stability, which doesn’t look like arriving soon, given the current political economy of Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, A1 farmers can continue to prosper based on limited own-investment and dependence on local economies.

The process of ‘accumulation from below’ has been evident from the beginning, but has accelerated, as people have become settled. In 2010 we estimated that around a third of households were able to make regular surpluses from farming and reinvest it, but this has now expanded to perhaps a half, certainly in the higher rainfall areas and in better farming years.

This dynamic is significant for processes of class formation in these areas. While patterns of differentiation were observed a decade ago, these have solidified, with a clear class of petty commodity producer accumulators emerging combined with other diverse ‘classes of labour’ seeking out piece-work wage employment and surviving off diversified incomes alongside more limited agricultural production.

This has gendered implications, as women in more wealthy households have greater opportunities and often take up focused agricultural activities, including gardening, while in poorer households they must undertake a range of more precarious income-earning activities. These patterns of differentiation feed through into opportunities for the next generation too. Richer homes can afford to educate their kids, sometimes in boarding schools, and can afford college and university fees, while others must make a living on the margins.

Changing patterns of investment

For those who are successful farmers, and even those who are aspiring to be, the pattern of investment has changed over the last 20 years. In the early years, most agricultural surplus – together with incomes from other sources and remittances – were invested in housing stock and basic farm infrastructure. The quality of homesteads across Masvingo is impressive, representing a considerable amount of money sunk into these new farms.

Once the farms were functioning and homes established, investment patterns have switched. In recent surveys we have seen the growth of investment in cars (allowing transport from often remote areas), pumps (allowing irrigation), solar panels (providing electricity) and plots in town (part of widening income opportunities), as well as the usual replacement of basic equipment (ploughs, harrows etc.). Livestock assets have fluctuated, but have been a vital source of income over time, but lack of space precludes a massive growth in herd and flock numbers outside the A2 ranch areas.

Into the future, the pattern of inequality observed is likely to persist and will likely deepen. A big question is whether the successful A1 petty commodity producers can accumulate sufficiently to leave agriculture to take up other opportunities. Much will depend on the wider economy, but we already see the emergence of a rural business class, with its base in agriculture, investing in small shops, transport operations and rural businesses, as well as others investing in real estate in urban areas and small towns.

This is likely to continue, and the role of agricultural capital in the wider economy – from housing, to transport to the service sector (restaurants, bars, tailors etc.) – will remain important, and will potentially be crucial in the revival of the economy over the next decades. Meanwhile, the more precarious ‘classes of labour’ will continue to rely on agriculture as a form of security, but a pattern of increased (semi-)proletarianisation is likely as they provide labour for emerging businesses, both farm-based and off-farm.

Agriculture and local economies

In terms of patterns of agricultural production, the last 20 years have seen major changes. While classic field crop maize production remains dominant, the rise of irrigated horticulture has been massively important across our sites. This has been accelerated by the availability of cheap pumps and piping and is especially important for younger people and women. The marketing networks that have emerged – to supermarkets and via traders – have been impressive, resulting in a serious injection of funds into local economies and the development of a set of secondary jobs – as people take up roles as processors, transporters, traders, brokers and others in support of small-scale commercialised production.

Another area of growth is poultry production, particularly broiler units. As with horticulture, this again has benefited from the informalisation of the wider economy and the failure of some of the big producers who once dominated the market. Sales of chickens to local restaurants, including those popping up in local townships funded by agricultural surpluses, are important, as well as sales to schools and urban supermarkets, who are now prepared to source locally.

Of course, these new ‘projects’, as they are known locally, are not available to everyone, given the start-up costs. However, many are able to get such activities going, through a profitable crop sale or a remittance payment from a working child. Indeed, it is often younger members of households who are making the running, as they’ve failed to get jobs in the collapsed Zimbabwe economy or who have tried their luck in South Africa but have felt that alternatives at home are better given poor conditions and xenophobic attacks.

In the future, we can expect more specialisation and entrepreneurship as the standard patterns of farming change, along with land scarcity, demographic change, the wider availability of technological expertise and shifts in market demand. This will be the case in both A1 and A2 areas, where a greater diversity of income earning activity is already seen compared to the early phases of land reform. With the economic linkage effects observed, even in the straitened economic circumstances of contemporary Zimbabwe, the opportunities for fostering local economic growth are certainly present, and are already being realised.

State failure

As many point out, such opportunities are severely constrained by the lack of basic infrastructure. The state has simply not provided over 20 years, while donors have emphasised humanitarian support and have avoided so-called ‘contested areas’ through sanctions of varying types. There have of course been some attempts to improve public infrastructure in all our sites, and clinics and schools for example have been built which were not there 20 years back. But basic support for road building and maintenance, irrigation infrastructure and agricultural and veterinary extension support has been very limited.

In all sites, right from the outset, people have largely had to go it alone. They have supplied the labour and bricks for building schools and clinics, they have hired graders to improve roads and they have developed their own private systems for providing transport in often remote settings. The frontier spirit of land invasion and the sense of solidarity that this inspired have allowed this to happen, alongside strong leadership from those who led the settlers from the ‘base camps’ to the ‘Committees of Seven’. Yet, the failure of state support is sorely felt, and with sanctions there has been no donor investment, bar a few stray NGO projects.

Future prospects will be highly dependent on the re-engagement of the state – with support from donors – in the land reform areas. The agenda for what needs to be done is clear, and has been laid out on this blog many times before. The constraints do not lie in lack of formalised tenure as many assume (this did not come up as an issue, even in our so-called informal sites), but more in effective financing, infrastructure investment and support for the growth of local economies, fostering already-existing linkage effects. For there is much going on, and the last 20 years have shown a commitment and determination of farmers across our sites that is truly impressive. Solutions must work from these beginnings, and stimulate and expand the many existing successes, while addressing the multiple challenges faced.

The future?

When we asked our informants across our sites about what they thought about the future over the next 20 years, the replies were equivocal. It all depends, most said. It depends on the climate and reliable rainfall. It depends on the availability of markets, and stable prices and currency. And above all it depends on wider macro-economic and political stability.

The roller-coaster of Zimbabwe’s situation over the past 20 years has meant that many farmers across our sites have produced, accumulated and invested against all odds. While many retain an allegiance to the ruling party and are thankful for the commitment to land reform, everyone is scathing about government incompetence, rampant corruption and the failure of basic provisioning by the state.

Over the next 20 years, much will depend on issues of politics and governance in these land reform areas, potentially with new political allegiances emerging. However, this wider political-economic story is something that is largely out of the hands of farmers who will continue to struggle in difficult circumstances until things change.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.


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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (6)

Reflections on processes of agrarian change across sites

As the previous blogs in this series have shown, there are quite dramatic differences between resettlement sites in our Masvingo sample, with different patterns of differentiation and so different trajectories of change emerging. This blog focuses on this comparison, and tries to draw out some of the most important differences.

Perhaps the most stark differences are between the A1 (smallholder) and A2 (medium-scale commercial) sites. The former emerged from land invasions more or less exactly 20 years ago, led by war veterans and others, and involving contesting land with then resident white farmers. Informal settlements were established as ‘base camps’ and only during the next year or so did regularised settlements emerge. Indeed, 20 years on some of our sites are still informal, and barely planned. The A2 farms emerged from a more formal procedure of application, although as noted this could be manipulated through political and other connections. These are much larger allocations, certainly for dryland A2 farms, and were expected to emerge as the new basis of commercial agriculture, led by an educated, professional middle-class farming elite.

The envisaged plan, first laid out in 1998 as part of the government’s plan for a new phase of land reform, has not emerged. With a few outlier exceptions amongst A2 farms, the A1 farms are by-and-large much more successful, certainly in terms of per area production, but also in terms of employment generation and the dynamics of accumulation and investment that have emerged. The A1 farms additionally have driven a wider process of local economic development, while A2 farms, like their large-scale commercial farm predecessors, have remained dislocated from local economies, although do provide a source of employment for poorer A1 farmers, and nearby communal area households too.

Within the A1 areas, as the previous blogs have shown, there are quite stark differences. Without doubt it is among the A1 self-contained farms where the greatest success is observed. Partly this is due to the nature of the original settlers, being more connected and with greater levels of assets, but it is partly due to the entrepreneurial focus of the self-contained farmers. As separated off farms, they have to go it alone, invest in farm equipment and infrastructure, building the farm up from scratch. Unlike in a villagised setting they can rely less on neighbours – for example for work parties, and even for the supply of temporary work. They must develop their farm business, and link to markets themselves, investing in infrastructure and transport, as well as accommodating permanent labour on the farm. This is of course not universally the case, and there is significant differentiation amongst self-contained A1 farmers, as the earlier blog has shown. Nevertheless, there are a good proportion of our A1 self-contained sample – admittedly from the higher potential areas of Gutu and Masvingo districts – who are ‘accumulating from below’ and emerging as successful petty commodity producers, even creating the beginnings of a rural bourgeoisie, with connections to town and investments elsewhere.

Such an entrepreneurial, petty commodity producer class exists across our other A1 villagised farmers too – both those also in Masvingo and Gutu districts and those further south in often more informal settings. The conditions for accumulation are however more constrained in the villagised schemes. The average arable area is smaller, and limited by allocations. The communal grazing is more or less ‘full’, although in more land abundant areas in Chiredzi and Mwenezi, livestock can graze in nearby under-used A2 areas. As in the self-contained areas, a focus on intensification through ‘projects’ – irrigation gardens, broiler units and contract farming of high value crops – is a route to accumulation that does not require extensive land areas. It is also important for grown-up children requiring land and needing to establish independent livelihoods. Women too lead diversification in agricultural production across the sites, but perhaps especially in the villagised areas, where they additionally are engaged in a range of off-farm activities.

Diversified income earning as part of a portfolio is essential in all resettlement areas but is particularly significant in the informal, dryland A1 sites. Here crop outputs are highly variable, and diversification into trading, natural resource harvesting, crafts and so on is essential, particularly for poorer households. In these informal sites, there certainly are some who are accumulating, through a combination of extensification of farming and livestock production and diversification into a range of mostly trading activities, but perhaps only a third of households, compared to about a half in other A1 sites. This is largely due to the marginality of the area, and the lack of markets and circulation, although cross-border trade – for example selling goats or dried mopane worms – provides opportunities, given the proximity to both the South African and Mozambican borders.

Over time, in all sites the reliance on off-farm employment has declined amongst household heads, as farmers have retired or simply decided to concentrate on farming. But none of these sites are settings where livelihoods are generated solely by farming, for anyone. Remittances from now older children may be important, alongside a variety of local income earning, and the persistence amongst a significant minority of someone (usually a male household head) earning through a job, very often a civil service post, such a teacher, solider or policeman.

External support, including through social welfare grants and pensions, is important for some across our sites, and in the drought year of 2019, welfare payments were especially significant among poorer households in our drier sites in the south of the province. In terms of access to other support, including extension services or command agriculture loans, this is quite sporadic. The sites closer to urban areas, notably the villagised sites in Masvingo district had the greatest access to extension services, while those with more political connections, notably the self-contained sites, had more access to command agriculture, although the coverage was uneven and quite limited, since the programme was focused much more in the higher potential areas of the country.

Proximity to markets is of course a major differentiating factor, and those sites near Masvingo have seen the greatest expansion of agriculture-related businesses. This relates in turn to infrastructure and transport availability, which is again uneven across sites. Despite the ability to produce, the remoteness of some self-contained sites is a constraint, whereas the formerly informal site, Uswaushava, that is along a main road definitely profits from connectivity. The cotton boom in the 2000s in that site was linked to this, with many contracting companies competing for business, and today the market gardening of melons is huge quantities is facilitated by easy transport connections. Comparing sites, it is the level of economic embeddedness, including opportunities to invest in local townships and small businesses in the rural areas, that allows an area to grow, agriculture to thrive and some to accumulate. Different places have different opportunities – in the south, it is connections across borders, elsewhere it is to major urban centres, in other places it is simply links to the immediate local economy, where demand is created due to successful agriculture.

The A2 farms do not profit from such a dynamic of local economic development. They rely instead on selling crops or livestock along more conventional value chains, which are more distant and reliant on wider infrastructure. As discussed in the blog on A2 sites, those relying on independent production in dryland areas are severely hampered due to the lack of flexible finance, and the costs of both production and marketing are high. Some manage to make a go of it, including connecting between the farm business and others in town, but for many, A2 farming has not been profitable, and quite a number of farms are operated more as small-scale operations, yet on large areas. These problems, created by the long-running lack of a system of agricultural finance, is offset when a contracting arrangement can be brokered but these are limited in Masvingo (as tobacco is not a crop grown and cotton has for a long period not been profitable). It is only the sugar farmers, with existing infrastructure and a contract/outgrowing arrangement with the estate central to their operations, that can get over the constraints faced by other medium-scale commercial farmers.

The A2 farms remain quite isolated from the rest of the rural economy. There are exchanges of labour and equipment hire, but little else. They also remain outside local patterns of governance that have impinged on all the A1 areas. In all our A1 sites across the province, on-going chieftaincy disputes have been disruptive. These arose when the new areas were occupied and competing parties claimed the land as theirs. This has not been helped by on-going local wrangles between multiple authorities. This is especially the case in the villagised areas, where Seven Member Committees may combine with local councillors, traditional leaders (headmen) identified by competing chiefs and ruling party ‘cells’. This has often caused confusion and dispute, and has undermined development efforts.

Overall, then, across our sites we see a highly varied pattern. Across the A1 sites, we see a significant dynamic of ‘accumulation from below’ – of successful crop (and to some extent livestock) farming that results in surpluses and so reinvestment in the farm. The scale of such accumulation depends on the year and site, and is linked to market access, infrastructure development and agroecological conditions. In all cases, farm-based incomes are complemented with off-farm income, and employment by household heads as well as adult children is crucial for household economies. The most successful accumulators are found in the self-contained farms, but they are also found across the villagised A1 areas. While this group is consolidating and growing, it still remains at most only a half of all households. Others aspire to this, but are currently failing due to lack of assets or labour, while others are struggling and must adopt much more diverse livelihoods, including selling wage-labour.

This pattern of social differentiation and resultant class formation within the A1 areas and between A1 and A2 areas is an important feature of the new agrarian landscape, both economically and politically. This has important implications for the future, as will be discussed in the next and final blog in this series.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.


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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (5)

What happened on the A2 medium-scale farms?

Medium-scale A2 farms were established in a very different way to A1 farms in Masvingo. They were not the result of invasion and occupation and later formalisation (or not), but through a process of application at a later stage. These application processes were supposed to take account of the qualifications and resources of the prospective farmer, and the aim was to establish a medium-scale farming sector to spearhead the revival of commercial agriculture, but under new ownership. In practice, the process of application was often manipulated, and political pressure was brought to bear. The result is that the beneficiaries of A2 farms are highly variable – many are former civil servants, including well-qualified agriculturalists amongst them, but they sit alongside those with party posts, military and security positions and others.

Our Masvingo sample of A2 farms is small. This is in part because, when the sample was set up in the mid-2000s, the A2 farms were only just being settled, and access was difficult. The contested nature of land on the A2 farms was such that research in these areas was initially regarded with suspicion, and we had to spend a considerable amount of time getting to know key players in each site. The other problem for any researcher of A2 farms is that the owners are often not present, and in some cases very little is happening.

Our Masvingo sample included dryland sites in each of four districts – Gutu (Northdale), Masvingo (Bompst), Chiredzi (Fair Range) and Mwenezi (Asveld). We also had a sample in the sugar estate of Hippo Valley, where a very different form of irrigated production takes place on smaller plots. Here we report on three of the dryland sites (excluding Northdale) (N=20) and the Hippo Valley site (N= 14), but take them separately. A more comprehensive study has been undertaken of A2 farms both in Masvingo and Mvurwi based on a random sample across all A2 farms, which will be shared on this blog soon.

The overall story of the dryland A2 cases is not positive, although there are a few outlier examples where agriculture has got moving. The Hippo Valley settlers irrigating sugar by contrast have fared much better. The disastrous economic conditions through the 2000s, peaking in 2008 with massive hyperinflation, have returned more recently, and it was only for a short period between 2009 and around 2014-15 when economic stability returned, and business investment of any sort was feasible.

Those with external funds – either through jobs or through forms of patronage – have fared best, but it has been a struggle for everyone. Bank credit has not been available, and outside the support through commercial crop contracts or the corrupt and inefficient command agriculture programme have been limited in Masvingo province, and it has been exceptionally difficult to finance farming. The conventional approach to commercial farming in Zimbabwe had always been to rely on bank loans, which would be paid back on harvest, and capital expenditure was sourced from profit, or further credit. This has simply not been possible over the past 20 years.

Dryland A2 farms

Across our dryland A2 sample, today the farms are more occupied, with men dominating as household heads (90%). Women are often quite isolated in these farms, sometimes left to manage the household and workers, and engaged in small-scale vegetable and poultry production. Men are more mobile, and travel to town, as nearly everyone has a car. In the past, 75% of (mostly male) household heads had jobs, but today it is only 20%, as people have moved to their farms, finding it impossible to maintain a job and farm.

Quite a number have retired, and the average age of household heads is today 52. Given the age profile, 60% have adult children between 21 and 30 years old, and 35% of all households have children in this age group who are farming. Many farmers’ children have taken up plots within the A2 farm allocation, even if subdivision hasn’t been formalised. 35% were previously war veterans, reflecting the numbers of A2 farmers who were previously in the armed or security forces. Educational levels are high, with 65% continuing in education beyond Form II, while 55% have Master Farmer certificates, reflecting the need to show farming qualifications when applying (at least for some).

Even though farm sizes are large (average 160.2 hectares), crop production is relatively limited (on average 11.7 hectares was ploughed), with maize production ranging from only 353 kg to 1462 kg per household between 2017 and 2019, with between 65% and 35% producing over a tonne. This is very low productivity, and although nearly everyone adds fertiliser, this is far from the envisaged commercial farming (although this data comes from farms mostly in dry and marginal Region V, as our Gutu site has not been included). Indeed, while 60% and 20% of farmers employ permanent male and female workers respectively, and 45% employ temporary workers, on-farm wage employment is not universal, indicating again the lack of commercialisation. Although 25% received some form of command agriculture support, it was widely complained about, and was not seen as a route to improvement by most. Production overall is lower than many A1 farms on much smaller land portions. Other crops are combined with maize, but in very small portions, essentially replicating small-scale, peasant farm production on huge farms.

The farms in Chiredzi and Mwenezi, however, are largely focused on livestock production, and the large land areas allow for relatively high herd sizes, averaging 72.3 cattle, at quite intensive stocking rates for such dry ranch areas. But despite this, there is relatively little commercial activity, and only 35% of farmers purchased supplementary feed for cattle. On average 6.9 cattle per household were sold in the past year, and only 2.6 were purchased over the previous five years. Goats complement cattle, but they are not produced commercially in large flocks, and the average household ownership is only 9.1.

To complement crops and livestock, dryland A2 farmers in our sample also produce poultry, and broiler production seems a popular activity, with 30% having broiler units, and 10% having contracts for these. Irrigated vegetables are also grown, but usually on small homestead plots, and 35% of households sell these. Off-farm income remains important, and over half have jobs, while 40% of households receive pensions. Half of all A2 farmers rent out houses in town (having now transferred to their farms), and this is an important source of supplementary income.

The forms of settlement on these farms varies considerably. Some maintain the farm as a business, employing a farm manager and supervising from a distance, with weekend visits. Others live on the property and have intensive involvement in the running of the farm on a day-to-day basis. Still others have retired to the farm, and use other sources of income to survive, it being more a retirement home than a fully productive farm. Others try and farm, but have invited family members to join them, creating small villages with subdivided or jointly-operated plots; essentially multiple small-scale farms. In our wider province-wide surveys we explored these patterns, and rather like our earlier study of the ‘small-scale commercial farms’ set up as African ‘purchase areas’ between the 1930s and 1950s, we see various future trajectories, only some of which could represent ‘commercial farming’, as imagined by the land reform planners.

Certainly many A2 farmers are trying, but it is a tough struggle. In many cases, these farms had to be carved out from the bush from scratch. Mr N from Fair Range near Chiredzi explained his story:

It was virgin land when I came in 2003. I cleared just one hectare in my first year. By 2006, I had a small irrigation plot of 3 ha, and then I continued to clear. I was in hospital for a while, and the bush all grew back. I had to start again. In 2011 I hired a bulldozer, and cleared 8 ha. I tried to hire tractors but it was difficult, as local whites discriminated against us. By 2016 I had 40 hectares cleared, but it was a lot of work, and very expensive. I had hoped to rely on dryland farming largely, but the rainfall pattern has changed. I now must irrigate, but the electricity supply is so variable. Right now I am irrigating only a day a week, and I may lose my crop. It’s so difficult! In the last years I have managed to buy new equipment. I bought tractors in 2014 and 2019, and have bought six pumps, a disc harrow, a ripper and a ridger. I also replaced my car in 2014 to get a jeep for this terrain. I have been investing in the farm, but neglecting my accommodation. I am living in this workers’ house, so I plan to build a big house for my retirement.

The average figures presented from the surveys therefore only tell part of the story. Within our sample, like Mr N, there are examples where farmers have managed to get things moving, but this has been incredibly hard. One farmer in Bompst farm for example invested a huge amount early on in irrigation equipment and for a time was doing well, but his business collapsed as inflation took hold. He then abandoned the farm, renting it out to others, returning to his town-based business operation, and has only just returned after nearly a decade to revamp the farm, having secured support through the command programme. Another farmer again invested from his off-farm job, which was paid in foreign exchange, through the economic crisis and it began to build up, connecting livestock production and vegetable sales to a shop and later a restaurant in Masvingo. But in recent years as the economy nose-dived again, the businesses have faltered and even this tightly managed, locally-based value chain was unable to operate in the chaotic currency environment from 2017.

Our wider, province-wide survey of A2 farms found a similar pattern: most were struggling, but a few prospering due to particular conditions, linked to particular financing opportunities. The period of investment from 2009, when the economy stabilised somewhat and the Zimbabwe dollar currency was abandoned in favour of US dollars, was widely evident. This period showed the potential of the A2 sector, but also the lack of resilience of farm businesses, as gains have been quickly wiped out, and investments made then (in equipment, irrigation facilities and so on) are lying idle.

Irrigated A2 farms: Sugar-growing in Hippo Valley

The largely dismal experiences on the dryland A2 farms contrast with those in the irrigated sugar farms in Hippo Valley. Here farmers were allocated on average 20.6 hectare plots, subdivided from former white and Mauritian outgrowers. There has been very limited turnover in this site. One farm in our sample is currently not being used as the owner died and his wife, who inherited the farm, could not cope with the accumulated debts. A plan to work with a contracting firm to produce animal feed for an abbatoir using the centre pivots has been proposed, but not yet realised. One other farm has been subdivided and allocated to two wives as part of an inheritance, but otherwise the farmers who took over the plots in 2002 – or their wives – are still farming.

The average age of sugar farmers is higher than any other resettlement category, with household heads being 57 on average. Those who gained plots were usually well-established men in jobs. In our sample the most common job was being a teacher or headmaster, followed by a sugar estate worker, followed by working for the ministry of agriculture. Some original farmers have passed on, and wives have inherited, with 28.6% of all farms in our small sample being run by women. When farms were taken over, 71% had jobs, but today this is down to 36% as people have retired or decided to concentrate on sugar farming.

With this pattern of household demography, all households have adult children in the 21-30 age range, but none are involved in farming. This reflects the high educational levels of both household heads (93% having continued in education after Form II) and children, who have largely gone on to professional jobs, like their parents. 29% of households receive remittances, including from these children.

Average production over four years is 1570 kg of raw cane in the Hippo Valley site, and this fluctuates considerably less than in dryland farming. Production levels overall among the new outgrowers has surprised many, including the estate management, as we discovered in our focused study of sugar growing in the lowveld. Today, outgrowers, who are producing yields at level if not higher than the estate, are central to lowveld sugar industry.

Since settlement, the estate has provided inputs – including guaranteed irrigation water, fertiliser, replanting ratoons and so on – on the basis of a contract with the mill. While every outgrower complains (naturally) about the conditions set by the estate and oligopolistic power of the mill, the ability to gain finance and inputs and have a guaranteed market is a major contrast to the conditions faced by dryland farmers (and other sugar growers in the region). Other crops grown include vegetables, with several in our sample producing significant quantities, amounting to between US$2000 and $US5000 annual income, alongside a limited amount of maize. On average 3.6 cattle are kept along with on average 4.4 goats, but the main operation is sugar.

All farmers employ permanent male workers, and 93% employ female workers too, and all farms rely on temporary workers for cane cutting and other jobs. The infrastructure of the former farmers is used by the new farmers, including worker compounds and farm houses, previously used by farm owners and their managers. All households in our sample have piped water and electricity and so the general level of infrastructure is far higher than other resettlement farms as it was taken over at settlement.

Sugar production is certainly hard work, but it is profitable, despite the complaints. And when complemented with vegetable production and some maize and other crops produced for own use, plus other off-farm income from jobs, remittances, house rental (43%) and grinding mill investments (28%), the situation in Hippo Valley at least is much better than the dryland farmers on A2 farms.

But across the A2 sites, we heard again and again complaints about the lack of state support. A sugar farmer in Mkwasine/Fair Range complained:

Our ministers just don’t care about us, they don’t know about growing sugar cane. They know maize and tobacco from the Highveld only. We don’t get any ‘command’ support, we are ignored. We don’t get good deals from the company, and we are heavily taxed. The company is stealing the money, as the bosses were corrupt. But we, the farmers, produce the best sugar in the world. Those who came here and just do dryland cropping are better off. They came through their (political) connections and had cleared fields, they continue to get support.

Asked about the future, he said:

We can’t foretell, we can’t predict, we can’t say because of climate change. We don’t know if the rain will come, and if we have more droughts, everyone will suffer and the nation will not have food. This is why looking after farmers is so important.

The story of A2 farms in Masvingo province is therefore highly variable. There are successes and failures, and much depends on the ability to raise finance – through links to patronage (such as via command agriculture), to off-farm jobs (especially if paid in foreign exchange) or to outgrower arrangements for sugar production on the Hippo Valley and Mkwasine (for some Fair Range farmers) estates. However the wider macro-economic conditions are not conducive, and the prospects for many are poor. A2 farms in Masvingo have a long way to go before they can be the basis of a vibrant, new commercial agriculture, and this in particular will require new forms of secure and reliable finance.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (4)

What happened in the villagised, ‘informal’ A1 areas?

When land invasions took place during 2000, many areas were invaded and land was claimed. In some instances this was not made official during the ‘fast-track’ process, and ‘offer letters’ were not issued. Sometimes there was dispute over years and years, as the new land reform villagers petitioned the government to gain recognition. In some cases this was granted, in other cases such claims are still outstanding.

This blog covers some of these so-called ‘informal’ sites, although all but one is now formalised. These sites are in Chiredzi and Mwenezi districts and so in the very dry southeast of the country. These are areas where agricultural production is risky, and more diverse livelihood options, including livestock production, must be sought.

In part because of the uncertainty over tenure and in part because of the challenges of agricultural production, these sites show the highest level of turnover, with 24 exits being recorded out of 110 households in our original sample. Some exits are only temporary, however, as diversified livelihoods mean that people move frequently, including recently from our Mwenezi sites to Masukwe to mine purple amethyst. There are, however, also many new households coming, especially in the most remote, informal sites. One of the village leaders argued, “if we have many people, then we stay here; the government will not be able to get rid of us, so we have Shangaans from Gezani, Vendas from Beitbridge and Pfumbi from Matibi coming here”.

The average age of household heads in these sites is 47, but 65% have children in the 21-30 age group, with 43.5% now farming, often having got plots in the area, or in other resettlements nearby. Indeed, half of all households had a member who had gained a plot in another resettlement; far higher than other areas. Due to the proximity of the border with South Africa and Mozambique, 34% of households had adult children outside the country, often in low-paid jobs, but nevertheless able to send some remittance income. 41% of households had received some remittance in the past year, which is a high rate compared to other sites, and reflective of the challenges of 2019 as a major drought year.

Overall, populations in this area are marginalised and mobile. Many male heads of household are working elsewhere, and 41% of households are de facto female headed. Women take on important roles in these areas and 37% of households have women involved in an independent business, while 24% have women involved in local leadership roles, often in groups for production and marketing. Educational levels are not as high as in other areas, with only 27% having proceeded beyond Form II at school, while 21% had Master Farmer certificates.

Everyone grows maize, but also sorghum. Total outputs are highly variable, with maize varying between an average of 297 kg and 1816 kg per household between 2107 and 2019. Sorghum production was a bit less variable and averaged about one tonne per household over the period. Although yields were way down in 2019, in the previous two years around 43% of households produced more than a tonne of maize and around 36% of households produced more than a tonne of sorghum. This is perhaps surprising given the marginal agroecology, but demonstrates the high variability of production. With decent rainfall, the good soils produce well in favourable years, but production drops to vanishingly little in other years, meaning grain storage and other off-farm incomes are required. Mr TG explained the consequences of this variability:

We came from Chivi communal area in 2000 with just three donkeys. I bought cattle since. I bought six at one time in 2004 from a bumper crop of cotton and sorghum. The highest number we had was in 2008 when there were 17. Since then the animals died from drought, and we have had to sell many over time. Drought is now every year.

One of the sites in this area (Uswaushava) was the centre of a cotton boom in the 2000s, but this dropped off as prices collapsed. Only in the last year or two has cotton picked up again, and in 2019, a quarter of households had a contract for cotton growing. To replace cotton, farmers in this area diversified into other contracted crops, including lablab bean, sesame and water melon; all of which generated decent profits. Those with gardens along the river – which is now nearly everyone – grow water melons, which are marketed in huge quantities along the road and to nearby towns. The water melon business is especially important for younger farmers. Without other land, they can get small portions by the river, and once they have a pump they can expand production, transporting their crop in cars they have acquired or on buses that move along the Ngundu-Chiredzi road.

The area is highly suited to livestock production given the ‘sweet veld’ of this region, but herd sizes are not large, with household holdings of cattle on average 7.4 head and goats 7.8 head. However, only 9% had no cattle at all. 38% of households had purchased cattle in the last five years, and 57% had sold at least one during the 2019 drought period. 59% had sold at least one goat, and two-thirds of households had sold poultry. Livestock as a source of livelihood, usually for coping with drought, are essential. Mr HM from Turf Ranch explained:

I arrived here with very few cattle. They grew to a large herd. Now I have only 24, but I have bought a tractor (in 2014) and a truck (in 2018), as well as invested in a well and pump (in 2012) and a grinding mill (in 2015). Cattle were bought from selling sorghum and the herd grew on its own. I have a large area of land, and the soil is good if there’s rain. My sons tried their luck in South Africa, but failed and I have allocated them land. All three of my wives have land too. There is plenty here – you just have to clear the bush!

Because of the variability of crop production, a diversified livelihood is essential. Here, the type of off-farm income sources include pottery/basket making (38% of households), piece work (48%) and cross-border trading (44%). Because of the marginality of the area, some 67% had been provided some form of welfare during the previous 12 months, in the form of food aid/cash support from the state or NGOs/church groups. However, all our informants commented that life was better in the new resettlements:

Despite the droughts, life here is good, much better than before. We don’t suffer that much from the drought, and we get good yields in some years, and if not we always have a beast to sell. Our relatives from Chivi come and get food here, and they come and sell labour in drought periods too. Things are definitely going up. We have household utensils, decent blankets and so on. It might look like something small, but it’s definitely an improvement. Others even have cars, everyone has bicycles and there are lots of livestock here. Scotch carts are like wheelbarrows now, and pumps and solar panels are everywhere.

Looking forward, people again comment on the importance of irrigation. There are some river bank irrigation areas in these sites, and people have started buying pumps and selling vegetables, including to various boarding schools. Domestic water supplies are also a challenge, but compared to when the land was invaded and settled, things have improved. “We used to have to go with carts and barrows up to eight kilometres, but now many have dug boreholes and with so many scotch carts in the areas it’s so much easier”, said one informant from Uswaushava.

Asked about the persistence of informal status on the land, our informants were less concerned than they were a decade or so ago, when protests to argue for their land rights were organised. “No-one comes to bother us”, one informant commented. These places are far away from the centres of power and administration and the state is largely absent. After a long silence, the same informant said, “yes the state does help us – certainly social welfare for the needy and cotton seed and maize seed are provided. We however had to build the school and clinic ourselves, although they provide the staff. And it was the church that paid for the first borehole”. Even in the remotest site in Mwenezi, our informants admitted that the state was now more present than before, and they have graded the road and a clinic and school nearby are being built, but extension workers are rare, and the government “doesn’t really bother us”.

In the Mwenezi sites, where turnover of plots is high and there are is a constant flow of people, the governance arrangements are more fluid than the more settled sites such as Uwwaushava where the original Committee of Seven continues to function. In Turf ranch, for example, the number of sabhukus (headmen) has increased from four to 18 since 2000, reflecting the influx of people. This is facilitated by village leaders who get paid for new land, and churches who attract followers and bring them to new land. Although wildlife damage remains a problem, and especially from elephants, there is perceived to be a large amount of land, and the under-used A2 farms nearby offer free, unrestricted grazing for now. For many years, these sites were remote, frontier settlements, operating under different rules, but increasingly they are being incorporated into state administration and wider economic circuits. Transport is easier now, for example. Eleven households have cars and scotch carts in Turf ranch, making transport to nearby townships easier. Cars are bought in exchange for cattle, and dealers from as far as Harare come and sell, knowing that in good years farmers in these remote new resettlements have money to spend.

As in our other case study areas, across a variety of income sources, some people are able to accumulate and invest. Perhaps surprisingly 33% had bought ploughs in the past five years, 22% had bought carts and 59% had bought solar panels. Unlike in the other areas covered in previous blogs, the investments are, however, intermittent and the result of infrequent windfalls – a good sorghum or maize crop, the selling of cotton, the sale of cattle and so on. Accumulation is a stop-start affair, but nevertheless, compared to when they first settled many – probably at least a third – are doing well, and comment how life has improved.

The townships and open markets in these areas are witness to the underlying strength of the economy. The weekly Chikombedzi bakosi market is always full, and many women are involved in the Mwenezi sites in trading, including selling goats in Limpopo, South Africa, as well as mopane worms across the region when in season. Similarly, the township near Uswaushava resettlement area now has 20 shops, several grinding mills as well as the usual selection of bottle stores/bars, with many of these up-and-coming businesses owned by farmers, with them being started from agricultural proceeds, notably cotton and vegetable sales.

Despite this, overall, households in these informal A1 areas in these remote, dry parts of the country are poorer and more vulnerable that the other A1 resettlement areas in Masvingo province. But nevertheless, these are not the same as nearby communal areas from where they mostly originally came from. A significant group are even are to accumulate, even if unevenly, and invest both in fine buildings, new township businesses and farming.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.


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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (3)

What happened in the villagised A1 schemes?

This blog focuses on Masvingo’s villagised land reform areas (where people have an individual arable plot, live in villages and share communal grazing). Our sites (N=99) are nearby the self-contained schemes in Gutu and Masvingo districts discussed in the last blog in this series, and they share many similarities, with a focus on maize production, combined with horticulture. There are fewer who are accumulating significantly, but there are still many who are doing well.

Households in these sites are slightly younger, with the average age of the household head being 43, and there are fewer women who are the main household head (19%), although 41% of households have a de facto female head due to absent husbands. Today, 47% of household heads have off-farm jobs (some quite informal and part-time), such as trading or being builder), down from 67% earlier. 59% of household heads went to school beyond Form II, while 26% have Master Farmer certificates. Many households (58%) have children in the age range 21-30, and 35% of households have adult children who are out of the country earning money, while 27% have children who have established farms, including through a number of subdivisions (only 2% of households had family members who had gone to other resettlements). While overall, these areas have been successful, there were around 10% of the original sample who had left, mostly returning to communal areas, and the farm had been abandoned, or taken over by another settler.

Average maize production across the 99 households in our survey ranged between 1381 kg and 986 kg in the years between 2017 and 2019, with between 26% and 41% producing more than a tonne. Around 85% regularly applied inorganic fertiliser, and nearly everyone used manure. Maize was combined with some other crops, including groundnuts, some millet, and a few starting up cotton production again after a hiatus due to poor prices. However, as in the nearby self-contained areas, the main income-earning in addition to maize was horticulture, with a third of households earning income from selling vegetables. The average figures hide the variations, however, and there is a significant minority (around a quarter) who are struggling to make ends meet.

Some households, through strategic investments, particularly in water management are increasing production significantly. Mr and Mrs MN for example had expanded their home garden plot and had invested in two 5000 litre tanks, and fenced their plot, surrounding their garden and new houses. It looked like a self-contained plot in a village, and intensive horticulture production was being pursued. This combined with maize production in the field around a kilometre away. For some years they had been combining life in nearby Masvingo town with farming in Wondedzo Wares, but had recently decided to commit full-time to farming. Mrs MN explained:

When we first got this plot, we were still living in Masvingo. I had a dress-making business and my husband was in the private transport business, having given up his job as a butcher at TM supermarket in 2008 when the economy was in dire straits. I used to travel as far as Durban selling wedding clothes, bedspreads and cushion covers that I had made. We came once a week, and we had someone here looking after the plot and the cattle, which had grown to a herd of six last year. The guy who we had employed left for South Africa last year, and we decided to move here. We had been investing in the place for some years: boreholes, pumps, fencing and so on. The irrigation system has been in place since 2013-14, but not really working. Now we are going into full production, and I can continue to do wedding dress hire from here, and my husband has his car and can do local transport. We have also got a poultry project, which is building up. We will grow maize, but rainfed production is very risky these days because of the climate, so we are concentrating on irrigation in our home field.

On average households in the villagised A1 areas in Gutu and Masvingo districts owned six head of cattle, and 31% had sold one in the past year, and 23% had sold milk. Informants commented that there was a limit to how many animals could be held because of lack of grazing and most held under ten. Most households balanced cattle sales (for investment, school fees or emergency costs, such as medical fees) with building the herd, and 34% had purchased cattle in the last five years. This meant that 69% used their own cattle for ploughing. However 23% had no cattle at all, and were struggling on all fronts.

On average, because of this more stark differentiation compared to the self-contained areas, the level of farm employment was lower, with 16% employing men permanently and 3% women, and there was more of a focus on temporary employment, with around a third of households regularly employing both men and women for particular tasks. Given that a sizeable group did not have sufficient draft power and did not employ labour, the practice of collective work parties was more evident in these areas, with around 40% of households holding them.

Farm production is combined with a range of off-farm sources, including remittances (48% of households), trading (20%), piece work on others’ farms (27%), welfare payments (35% – for the old, sick, disabled or orphans) and pensions (19%). Quite a few were also making use of natural resources for selling products or making crafts. This was a rather different mix of activities to that seen in the self-contained areas. With a group of perhaps a quarter of households with limited assets and low production, they had to make ends meet across a range of low-skilled and poorly-remunerated activities, including selling labour locally (mostly to other richer A1 farmers). Remittances, pensions and welfare payments featured strongly as complements to agriculture.

As Mrs V explained from Lonely farm, fortunes can change quite dramatically:

We came here originally in 2000 with four cattle. By 2017, we had over 30, but then a terrible disease struck our animals and we lost many. We only have 17 now. Now we don’t have the surplus of milk and meat we had before. That year too, my husband passed away, and we are not doing so well, even though my sons help. We now produce only about a tonne of maize, but before we used to produce four or five tonnes each year, and sell to the Grain Marketing Board. We have access to a vlei (wetland) and it produces good crops, including vegetables, and we have a pump and sell the produce. There’s a huge market when the AFM (Apostolic Faith Mission) gathers. If you are well organised, you can make a killing! In those days we bought scotch carts, ploughs and built our homes. We employ labour from the nearby communal areas, and pay them in cash or kind. Even though we were old, we were doing well! Kids went to boarding school, then colleges and universities. Our quality of life had improved massively.

Even if not on the scale of those in the self-contained resettlements, around half of the sample were regularly producing surpluses and investing, ‘accumulating from below’. Many were selling food to nearby communal areas, or exchanging for labour. In the past five years, 36% of households had bought ploughs, 26% had dug boreholes (especially for vegetable gardens), 17% had bought cars and 50% had invested in solar panels. In other words, a highly differentiated population is observed – some doing well, others less so. For the next generation, subdivision of land is important, as is education in order to find jobs, often abroad.

Several informants commented on how things are developing within the area:

We don’t have to go to Chatsworth now. There are shops here, and a grinding mill. There’s a clinic at Bath farm, and since we are near the communal area, there are other shops and there’s a mini-township there that’s sprung up to service the resettlement area. Things are coming up because of land reform.

People are building beautiful houses here. Even better than town. People have electricity from solar, and some have even connected to ZESA; all paid for by irrigation and selling vegetables. When we came here we had to buy drinking water, but now nearly everyone has a borehole. In our local township there were originally no shops, but now there are nine grocery stores, two bottle stores/bars, two butcheries, two welding shops and two grinding mills.

However, several also commented on declines in environmental conditions. The large vlei at Lonely is drier than it once was, and everyone complained of poor and variable rainfall. Soils are not as good as they once were, and investing in improvements – digging infiltration pits, establishing boreholes and careful ploughing to conserve soil – are all important.

By comparison with the more remote self-contained areas where access is difficult, the state is more present in the A1 villagised areas. There is now a clinic, a school and there is a visible presence of extension workers, vets and others. “Yes, the government has helped us”, one informant explained. What they were wanting though is greater clarity from the government on who is in charge. One informant exclaimed:

We are confused, everything is not functioning. The chiefs are fighting over the land, and the MP is not helping. Some people support Chikwanda, others support Musara. Plots are allocated by different chiefs, and we have competing authorities. We marched to Masvingo a few years ago, and demanded that the district administrator sort things out. This was disturbing development, as conflicts occur. Conflicts are a problem: we have to go to meetings nearly every day!

Overall though over 20 years, conditions have improved, and life is easier than it was when the land was invaded, with facilities and connections improved. With the villagised set-up on the surface these areas look more like the communal areas – but with larger land areas, production is higher and the possibilities for accumulation and investment are there. Unlike in the communal areas where good houses are the result of jobs and remittances, in the resettlements, investments come from farming, making agricultural marketing crucial. When asked about the next 20 years, most people said that if it rains, things will be fine, but if not then irrigation, zero grazing and fodder feeding of animals will be essential. This they said will make it easier to share small areas of land with the next generation, which is a continual concern a generation on from land reform.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.



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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (2)

What happened in the ‘self-contained’ A1 resettlement sites

This blog focuses on the ‘self-contained’ A1 farms, with a sample size now of 78. These are found in two sites in Gutu and Masvingo districts, and are in many ways the most successful in our sample. The number of exits is relatively small (only three since our first survey), and households have held onto the farms, very often with women taking over from husbands who have passed on. Currently there are nearly 30% of all households where women are the household head, many of whom have their own business (30% of all households with a female-run business contributing to household incomes), while 23% of households include women who are part of organised groups, and 18% have women who are in leadership positions. On our visit to Clare farm in Gutu district, we met Mrs BB. She explained how they had built up the farm:

When we came we had one scotch cart, one plough and we brought one heifer. My husband was working at that time. In 2005, we bought a pump from his salary and started developing our gardens, selling tomatoes to local boarding schools. Cattle multiplied and by 2007, we had 13. We also had more kids to help us on the farm too! My last child was born in 2012, and I have five. Now we have three pumps, although one is broken, and also a sprinkler and a large water storage tank. In 2016, we drilled a new borehole and aim to put in a submersible pump. In 2018, we bought a truck, which I can drive (she demonstrated, see below). All of this is from selling vegetables, as well as maize, and we sold five beasts for university and school fees. The kids are now getting older. One has banking and finance degree, and another has his own plot in a nearby resettlement and is doing well. The younger ones are in boarding schools. Our kids’ education was paid for by the farm, as well as a fine white wedding for our first-born in 2015. We also relocated our homestead to be nearer the horticulture plots and built new houses, buying a sofa, beds, wardrobes and a fridge.

Some self-contained farms were favoured by influential figures during the land invasions and 28% of all households are occupied by former war veterans. Many residents came from urban jobs, with 72% previously having jobs off-farm. This is now down to 54%, but links to off-farm employment are important. Overall, the population is relatively well-educated (59% having continued in schooling beyond Form II) and 27% of household heads have been trained in the Master Farming Certificate.

The average age of household heads in these farms is 52, and 46% of households have grown-up children aged between 21 and 30, a fifth of whom are out of the country, while 14% are now farming, very often on subdivisions of parents’ plots. Remittance income is received by about a quarter of households, but for most it is agricultural production that is the core of livelihoods. On average, 6.6 hectares is cultivated in a farm averaging 35.1 hectares in total. There is some rental of land in the area, but this is not significant. As one of our informants explained, “there is no space here now, and we are holding onto the land…. We may rent out a little to teachers and others who need a small plot, but otherwise it’s for the family”.

On average, households in these areas produce about two tonnes of maize and sell between 600-900 kg in the period between 2017 and 2019 (although with large variations in output and sales). Half of all households produced more than one tonne of maize, which is sufficient to feed a family. This is relatively intensive production, with between 65% and 80% applying inorganic fertiliser, and nearly all applying manure from the growing livestock populations. Given the poor sandy soils in the area, and despite the high level of tree cover still present, additional work to maintain soil fertility is important, especially in the Clare farm area, and a quarter of households had invested in soil conservation works on their farms in the past five years.

Although there is differentiation across households, a significant number are ‘accumulating from below’, and reinvesting surplus in agricultural production, including the hiring of labour. 44% of households have permanent male labour living and working on their farms (only 8% have permanent female labour), while around a third regularly hire temporary labour. Agricultural production focused on maize is complemented with horticulture, making use of the rivers that run through these sites, with around a third regularly producing for market, with an average income of US$1200 across all households (again highly differentiated). Cattle production is important – both for sale (38% of households sold in the past year) and for draft power (68% used their own cattle for draft in 2019). Quite a few households specialise, linking production to market. There are some who stick to maize, and other field crops, while others have invested in intensive irrigated horticultural production, some with contracts to supermarkets and with traders. Large church gatherings, notably the annual event at Serima Mission, are important marketing opportunities.

Mr and Mrs M from Wondedzo Extension showed us round their impressive horticulture farm, recently the site of a field day organised by a private sector company, and attended by extension workers and others. Mr M had been a bus driver before, and had chucked in his job in 2015, investing in a borehole on his farm. Today nearly two hectares are irrigated, with a huge range of vegetables, from beetroot to butternut, with an attempt to capture the higher value markets in Masvingo. We continued to Mr and Mrs MV who explained the story of their farm:

We came from Bikita with six cattle. They increased to 30 or more as there’s plenty of grazing here. We cleared a large area of land – up to 15 hectares – and grew and sold maize for many years. We bought a truck from selling. We also sold cattle – for example, last year we sold cattle and paid for a 50m borehole near the home, plus building the pump house and fencing. It cost US$4000. We currently have four pumps, and cultivate about two hectares near the Mtirikwi river. It is very profitable, and we are now down-sizing our maize production area, as prices change all the time and it’s difficult to plan. From profits from farming we bought a plot in Rujeko C in Masvingo. It has been a long project since 2006, but is now complete, and we have just bought barbed wire to fence the plot.

Mr MV is a local head teacher, and he says he wants to retire soon. “Farming pays much better”, he says. “But it needs time and commitment… We lost 5000 cabbages last year from cattle wandering into the field, as we were not supervising well. You also have to focus on workers. We employ a number, but they soon leave. Their aims to buy a mobile phone, then they go”. Given the level of production they achieve, they frequently send food regularly to the communal areas, and their home in Bikita, supporting a wider network of relatives beyond the immediate family. “This isn’t just ordinary farming: it’s commercial farming!”, Mr MV exclaims.

Across our sample, other common income sources include milk sales (17% of households), goat sales (15%), poultry sales (29%), trading (13% – mostly of vegetables to local towns) and house rental (14%), as a number of farmers have bought plots in nearby towns following good crop sales. These diverse income sources are added to by occasional examples of natural resource based harvesting and crafts, and are highly differentiated among households and by gender. Very few rely on institutional credit/loan finance, although around 18% had managed to secure command agriculture finance for seed/fertiliser, while only one farmer had a private contract for crop growing, so inputs and investment are derived from farm surpluses or off-farm work.

Increasingly in these areas a local economy is developing. Mr MV from Wondedzo Extension observed: “We no longer go to town… there are others who supply things. The Vapostori (members of the Apostolic church) have many businesses. They are very entrepreneurial. They can fix things, supply things. They have such big families, so have much labour for farming and other activities”.

Investments in the past five years included the purchase of ploughs (31% of households), carts (26%), cattle (22%), pumps (28%), solar panels (53%) and transport, notably cars (24%). By 2019, 74% had built a protected well near their homestead and 82% had a Blair-type latrine with a roof, and all had improved housing, with electricity for lighting supplied by solar and battery combinations in nearly all. Many also had multiple dwellings with cross-generational families living on the plots, with farms supporting growing numbers.

Overall, conditions are good in these areas, and people comment on how their lives have improved significantly. Mrs BB from Clare farm commented:

Nearly everyone here has cars – except for a few, such as the civil servants with jobs that don’t pay. Those who say farming doesn’t pay are talking rubbish! Even the graduates are coming back to farm. My husband has a local government post and is paid very little. I don’t worry about his small money. He has to borrow money from me. I am the farmer! My husband earns US$80 a month, but I can earn US$800 a day!

The main complaints focus on conflicts with those who come from nearby communal and A1 areas to poach graze, harvest wood and steal fencing. The governance arrangements retain the old ‘Committee of Seven’, established during the period of invasion, but this is combined with more formal systems, including councillors and other post holders. Struggles over chieftaincy boundaries have plagued the new resettlements, and our sites are no exception. The lack of infrastructure development in these areas reflects the absence of the state. Informal roads criss-cross the area, and people have to walk long distances to get a bus. As one informant from Wondedzo complained: “We had a grader come for our road, but only once. We have to maintain it ourselves. The government supports the schools and local clinic, and we do see the extension officer and the vet occasionally, and some receive support from Command or the Presidential Scheme, but we are mostly on our own!” For some, this absence of state involvement is seen as an advantage. One informant commented on the recent visit by an audit team: “It was a waste of time, they came to collect information, but I said at the meeting, just look around, we are doing well!”

While there is a clear pattern of differentiation emerging both within these areas and between the self-contained schemes and others, the self-contained farms are by-and-large booming, with regular maize harvests – some very significant; the highest across the four years we collected data for in this round (2016-2019) was 20 tonnes, with 16 tonnes sold, combined with an important focus on intensive horticultural production.

Since the farms are self-contained, with less than a quarter of the area cultivated and the rest grazing, and because of the haphazard nature of bush roads, for those visiting for the first time, they might assume that these areas are under-used and of low productivity. But this would be wrong. There is significant investment, including in relatively luxury goods like cars and trucks, and the housing stock is impressive across the areas, even if scattered in what some would deem ‘just bush’. As MV from Wondedzo Extension commented:

We expect great riches in 20 years’ time. The future is definitely irrigated horticulture. If we sink more boreholes and diversify and intensify our production, people will be rich and lives will improve, even from the next generation, as you only need a few hectares. One of my sons has a plot here and is growing sugar beans, very successfully.

Those who are accumulating from below – probably over a half of all households – are investing in the farm, and are employing others in the area (although most employment comes from nearby communal and A1 areas). Such households also have an eye on the longer term, with purchases of plots in nearby towns and the building of rental houses. Some with older children who have not gone out of the country to seek jobs, are accommodating them on the farm, as land is subdivided a generation on from land reform. Those who are doing well are employing others (although most employment comes from nearby communal and A1 areas), as a future of intensive, commercial, market-oriented production is envisaged for these farms.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.


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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (1): A blog series

Twenty years ago the news was filled with stories about land invasions in Zimbabwe. Since then, a group of us have been working in Masvingo province in particular (but also now in Mazowe in Mashonaland Central and Matobo in Matabeleland South) attempting to offer research-based reflections on what happened to people’s livelihoods. Since 2008, this blog has been dedicated to an informed discussion of the ramifications of the land reform, aiming to counter some of the misinformed debate that sadly is still evident, even 20 years on.

The research has been based on long-term field studies in a number of sites. We have been collecting crop production data on many sites continuously, and this has been complemented with more detailed census surveys, exploring demography, land use, asset ownership, labour practices, and off-farm income earning, amongst a whole host of questions. We have also carried out focused enquires on themes that have emerged, like young people’s livelihoods, medium-scale farms, changing land tenure governance, rural towns, small-scale irrigation, amongst much more. As a recent blog series documented, we have also been exploring the comparisons between resettlement and communal areas, testing the assumption that redistributing more land has resulted in improved livelihoods (by and large it has). We have tried to draw out of this research some overarching policy conclusions, and attempted to relay them to government, donors and other researchers through various fora.

Over time, we have tried to share our results in various forms. At last count there were 18 journal articles published from our research, and our 2010 book – Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities – remains a key text. Since then two books – Debating Zimbabwe’s Land Reform and Land Reform in Zimbabwe: Challenges for Policy– have been published that pull together a number of blogs into themes, with short introductions to the issues. Aimed at disseminating in our field sites (see picture below), we have also produced several booklets (in English and Shona) and two video series. The Conversation has published a few overviews of research over time, including a set in early 2018 aimed at informing the new land reform policy debates emerging then.

This post introduces a new blog series, based on new data that have just been analysed. The series examines how people are faring in our Masvingo province land reform area study sites, based on a census survey during 2019 that repeated earlier rounds in 2006-7 and 2011-12. The survey was followed up by extensive qualitative discussions with various informants across the sites. To conclude the study, at the end of last year, we visited many of our land reform sites across Masvingo province to catch up with people there. They were fascinating visits, as we have been working in these areas since the early 2000s, soon after they were settled following the ‘fast-track’ land reform of 2000.

There are 16 sites, stretching from Gutu in the north to Mwenezi in the south, covering A2 (medium-scale) and A1 farms, including originally over 400 households. The A1 farms include those that are ‘self-contained’ (more like small A2 farms really) and the more common ‘villagised’ arrangements, including those that are well-established in Gutu and Masvingo districts and those that are more ‘informal’ (some without ‘offer letters’, permits to occupy the land) in Chiredzi and Mwenezi districts.

This blog series reflects on our preliminary findings, both from the quantitative survey and the qualitative interviews, focusing on each resettlement category. The series concludes with a very provisional reflection on how things have changed over time, with some ideas about the future. The analysis is only very tentative, and the material deserves more time to go into depth. While there are important changes and nuances to the land reform story, the ‘myths’ about Zimbabwe’s land reform that we challenged in our first book in 2010 remain myths, and there is a much more complex reality.

A number of important themes emerge across the blogs, with implications for the future. In all sites there is deepening social differentiation, with some being able to accumulate while others are struggling. This is creating new labour relations, as some become wage labourers for others. Changing environmental conditions are mentioned frequently, as climate change impacts intensify, making the diversifications into small-scale irrigation vital. This is especially important for women and young people, especially those who cannot gain access to land and have few opportunities for off-farm employment given the state of the Zimbabwean economy. Despite the clear challenges of farming, successes are concentrated in the A1 schemes, with most A2 farms struggling due to lack of financing. Successful A1 agriculture is driving local growth and investment, especially in rural towns. The story is diverse and complex,  and will become more so as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Zimbabwe (again) contemplates a new land policy, and undertakes wider assessments through the Zimbabwe Land Commission, having data to inform interventions now remains important.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.


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New farm size regulations in Zimbabwe: can they encourage land redistribution?

In mid-February, the Government of Zimbabwe issued a new set of farm size regulations, arguing that this would release new land for land reform. This announcement arrived out of the blue and came as a surprise to many. Was this a new attempt to rationalise land holdings following the 2000 land reform? Was this the implementation phase of the national audit starting? Was this a political move to deal with large holdings accumulated by the previous regime? Why now, and what impact would it have?

Despite the press claims that this was a big, bold new move, a closer look at the new regulations suggests that actually things haven’t changed that much. The 1999 regulations were marginally adjusted in 2000, and this was a further minimal, slightly random, adjustment, as the table below shows.

Natural region

2000 regulations

2020 regulations

I 250 250
II 350/400 IIa/b 500
III 500 700
IV 1500 1000
V 2000 2000


Within land policy, farm size regulations demonstrate a policy commitment to redistribution, avoiding massive consolidations and huge, under-utilised farms. In theory that is. As an administrative tool they are only as effective as the land administration system; and unfortunately in Zimbabwe this is not very effective.

In practice land allocations since land reform in 2000 have been ad hoc and at the discretion of land officers and committees at the district level. Exceptions are regularly made. In many respects, having such flexibility makes much sense. A simple centralised system cannot deal with local variations and contingencies. It can only be a guide. The problem comes when such flexibilities are exploited by those in power; maintaining large or multiple farms, for example, and so excluding others from access to land.

Prosper Matondi of Ruzivo Trust has provided a useful draft paper on the recent regulations, helpfully facilitating debate. He points out the huge variation in actual allocations as against the formal regulations (Table 4.1 in the paper), based on the government’s own audit data. In our sites, a similar story applies. There are 16 (of 817) A2 farms in Masvingo province that exceed the ceilings (12 in Mwenezi in Region V – all huge livestock/wildlife ranches – and 4 in Gutu/Masvingo districts in Region III/IV) and there are 11 (of 700) A2 farms over 500 ha in Mazowe district. How many might be deemed suitable for subdivision for (small-scale) agriculture is very unclear.

So will the new regulations really have any effect?

Land ceiling regulations are a very blunt instrument in land policy. They have been intensely controversial internationally over many decades. From the 1960s in India they were implemented across the country, aiming to break up the zamindari system of large holdings. Different states took different approaches, and outcomes were varied. Today, there are some who believe they have become a constraint, particularly for smaller farmers aiming to grow. Technological change in irrigation in particular has made the assumptions behind the original reforms problematic too.

In South Africa, an attempt to set land ceilings in 2017 through a new Bill fell by the way-side, and many were extremely critical of the process. Apartheid era legislation preventing farm subdivision extraordinarily is still in force, notionally protecting the ‘viability’ of large-scale farms. The 2019 land panel has argued strongly for a rethink, both on subdivision and a renewed effort to impose ceilings, linked to land taxation – with high levels beyond the ceilings to encourage the market-based release of land. Maybe this a route for Zimbabwe to follow too?

However, there is an even more basic question raised: what are the appropriate sizes for expropriation or taxation legislation? What sizes for what conditions make sense? This is the tricky part. In the colonial era, policy on land sizes also existed, but was racialized. The original assumption was that a white farmer needed land that would produce an income equivalent of a senior (white) civil servant in government. So-called Native Purchase Areas were established in the 1930s to create a yeoman class of African farmer, but were considerably smaller (averaging under 100 ha) than white commercial farms. Other blacks meanwhile were deemed to require less land – indeed land apportionment legislation was geared of course to ensuring that land was sufficiently small and poor in the ‘reserves’ that labour was released for the rest of the (white) economy.

What was deemed ‘viable’ was also influenced by the planning models on optimal production in different agroecological regions. This again linked to a bunch of assumptions, influenced by a particular idea of (white commercial) farming. The famous agroecological ‘Natural Region’ map, produced in 1961 by Vincent and Thomas, identifies what should be produced in each region. In the drier regions it was only extensive livestock, unless there was irrigation, for example. Of course there is plenty of cropping in Masvingo and Matabeleland provinces: it’s not ‘optimal’ as far as the assessment goes, but it’s necessary for the livelihoods of many.

As Ben Cousins and I showed in a paper a while back, ideas of ‘viability’ are therefore highly contested, conditioned by politics and assumptions about production, and (ideologically-inflected) visions of what a farm and farmer should be. What is viable for one type of farmer (say with off-farm income earning options) may not be viable for another. And ideas of what is optimal cannot be generalised either. Much depends on levels of investment (irrigation for example), land formation and topography (large areas with huge granite outcrops are not the same as large areas with levelled, high quality irrigable land), and how the land can be used (including market potential). Just saying that, in a region defined by average rainfall (what is that these days, with such variability anyway?), a maximum land size should be X really doesn’t make sense.

This is why local adaptations of national farm size regulations are essential, but they must be based on a sound and transparent administrative process. This is why building a wider land administration system in Zimbabwe is essential and just issuing edicts through new regulations will change little.

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


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