Tag Archives: land reform

How land reform transformed small towns in Zimbabwe

Our recent paper – small towns and land reform in Zimbabwe – out in the European Journal of Development Research (open access) – explores some of the themes discussed last time for the Zimbabwe setting.

Over a number of years, we have been monitoring changes in three small towns in Zimbabwe, situated in different parts of the country (see map below).

The results point to a major growth in population, building and business activity (see Table below). This is substantially driven by a reconfigured local economy, with production from smallholder farming land reform areas (A1 resettlements) contributing to this.

Mvurwi’s growth has been driven by the tobacco boom following land reform, while Chatsworth has benefited from the growth of maize and vegetable production, but also the presence of popular churches in the area. Maphisa has grown thanks the cattle and mining economy, which is now more locally-rooted involving many land reform farmers.

Although contingent and context dependent, the changes that have occurred in each of the small towns can be summarised across four themes. The following sections are much-abbreviated extracts from the EJDR paper.

Business opportunities

The expansion of small- and medium-scale agriculture since land reform has resulted in income from agricultural surpluses being circulated locally, especially from A1 smallholder farms. This includes cash from sales of tobacco (Mvurwi), maize/horticulture (Chatsworth) and livestock (Maphisa). In Maphisa in particular this agricultural income is complemented by money from small-scale gold mining. This is generating demand for services, as well as opportunities for the sale of produce. Compared to the pre-land reform situation, there are many more businesses of all types in all three towns. There are five times as many hardware stores, four times as many grocery stores and food outlets, three times as many butcheries, double the number of bottle stores and bars, and five times more informal vendors. Transport has become a vital business linking the town with the wider agricultural hinterland.

Demography and difference: new people in town

In the last 20 years, populations have more than tripled; and this is just the permanent population, and not those who commute back and forth from the rural areas. Today there are new people in town. In Mvurwi in particular, former workers in commercial farms no longer have jobs on farms and have had to seek alternatives. Some have left, but many have stayed and become engaged in supporting new forms of local agriculture and become involved in town based business activities. Women and young people are especially important players in the new informal economy of these small towns. Women, for example, may be married to a man who received land through the land reform and will assist at the family farm, but also will be involved in trading businesses in town. Young people are often without land, missing out on land reform in 2000, but may live at home with their parents but run a business in the nearby town. Moving small distances, seasonally or daily, is the new pattern, with multi-locational households and multiplex livelihoods the norm. 

Rural-urban social relationships and networks

Land reform has created new rural-urban connections. In the past, the rural town was quite disconnected from the large-scale commercial farming operation, beyond being the source of labour and providing some inputs and services. Today such small towns are intimately linked in a much tighter, more integrated local economy. There are relations from rural to urban (marketing of produce, movement of people) and from urban to rural (supplies of labour, inputs, services and provision of transport). These linkages are fostered through social relationships, which have to be invested in. Making sure that a vending business in town thrives requires the vendor to have good relationships with suppliers in the nearby resettlement areas, with transporters to ferry goods to town, with council officials who collect rates and inspect premises and the police who invariably are looking for a bribe. Having a rural home nearby to return to is important, and today the rural areas surrounding these towns are now full of farms and people. Keeping close to ‘home’ – even if you do not have land – remains crucial, and the ability to be mobile and opportunistic is vital in the face of economic uncertainty, especially for young people.  

Planning, politics and governance

While there has been a building boom across the sites, generating opportunities for brick-makers, hardware suppliers, transporters and builders, the wider public infrastructure of all three small towns is in a poor state. The state has not invested significantly in basic maintenance and expansion of roads, sewage systems or electricity supply in these fast-expanding towns. The failure of the state (local and national) to provide for basic services and infrastructure in rural and urban areas is a source of deep resentment, especially when high-profile expenditures and rampant corruption are highlighted.   The standard, divided approach to urban administration and governance makes little sense, as people straddle urban and rural areas. With new interest groups and associated power relations, the politics of the urban-rural nexus after land reform has become highly contested, with a new rural-urban politics emerging. How this translates into reformed administrative and governance arrangements for small towns and associated rural areas remains a major challenge in Zimbabwe, as elsewhere.

Rethinking rural-urban development

As with the AGRA report discussed in the last blog, our paper concludes with a focus on ‘territorial development’:

“[The] post-land reform rural-urban configuration means going beyond a separated town and countryside focus to a wider spatial, territorial perspective, looking at sites of accumulation across rural and urban spaces, and the connections between them, focusing on how social and political relations and governance arrangements are able to support these. Small towns in this sense offer a window onto a new set of economic, social and political relations at the heart of Zimbabwe’s new agrarian landscape, and must be central to territorially-focused, regionally-connected local economic development efforts into the future”.

As a consequence, development priorities must change. As we note, “feeder roads to rural areas become important, as does the provision low-cost and safe market stands and temporary accommodation for mobile traders and business people. Equally taking account of the changing demographic composition of small towns in important, “with the need to provide safety and security for young and female mobile populations, who are essential to the urban economy often without permanent homes in town.” 

More broadly, assumptions of a simple linear ‘structural transformation’ in development – from rural to urban, from agriculture to industry, from small to larger scale – is challenged. A focus on the spatial relationship of local economies and food systems, and the territorial connections across rural and urban spaces, suggests that such transformations are much more complex. With a redistribution of land through the post 2000 land reform and the growth of especially smallholder agriculture that resulted, a very different, unexpected trajectory has emerged, more embedded in local territories, with integrated links between agriculture and urban enterprise.

As Zimbabwe continues to contemplate its post-land reform transition, a focus on small towns and the links to wider rural production systems must be central.  The next blog updates the story in the context of the pandemic where decentralisation of business operations to small towns has become essential.

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

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Medium-scale commercial farming in Zimbabwe: how has it fared since land reform?

We have a new open access paper out in the Journal of Modern African Studies – “Medium-scale commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe: The experience of A2 resettlement farms”. Contrary to assertions that A2 medium-scale farms allocated during the land reform are largely occupied by ‘cronies’ and that they are unproductive and under-utilised, a more differentiated picture emerges, with important implications for policy and the wider politics of Zimbabwe’s countryside following land reform.

The paper is based on in-depth empirical studies in Mvurwi (a higher potential area to the north of Harare) and Masvingo-Gutu (in the drier south). The findings are important as they show ways forward for supporting the revival of commercial agriculture in the country.

This has been seriously hampered by lack of finance, sanctions affecting donor investments, uncertainties around the lease arrangements, poorly designed support programmes (notably the now notorious Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) mechanisation scheme and Command Agriculture) and selective capture and corruption by elites, during and after the land reform programme.

Surprising findings

The research was carried out during 2019 and involved a representative sample of 90 farms across the two sites, representing around 20% of all farms in the areas. This was a small, random sample, but the challenges of researching A2 farms are well-known to any field researcher in Zimbabwe. They are scattered over long distances, owners are often not present and because of on-going threats of audits talking to people is often challenging. In the end, we managed to speak to everyone in the sample, generating fascinating reflections from farmers, managers and workers documented in the paper.

The findings were a surprise. In the mid-2000s, we undertook research on a small group of A2 farms across Masvingo province and our conclusions were rather dismal. By-and-large, they were not occupied and if so very little was happening, except for a few individuals where external investments were driving recapitalisation of the farms. When we undertook the recent study, there was much more happening, although anecdotal evidence suggests that this has tailed off as the economy has declined further in the last year or so.

A key period in our reconstruction of the fates and fortunes of each of the farms since the early 2000s was the small window of relative stability around the time of the Government of National Unity (2009-2013) and immediately afterwards. At this time, it was possible to raise funds and invest, and markets were relatively stable and commercial agriculture was thus feasible.

Before and after this period, this has not been the case, and over the whole period the lack of financing for agriculture has been a major constraint for all farmers. Without leases being issued, as promised, farmers cannot raise bank credit with their farm as collateral, although some have used houses in town to do so.

Meanwhile, the external financing schemes have not supported production. Across our sample not that many received equipment through the RBZ mechanisation scheme in the 2000s, but as we discussed back then (p.99), and reinforced by recent BSR revelations, this proved a hopeless investment, and mostly a source of patronage-based corruption, with well-connected elites linked to the party-state and military benefitting and so appropriating public resources.

Much the same applies to the Command Agriculture scheme. Since 2016 this has been a loan/subsidy scheme supported by the party-state. In our sample, 43.7% in Mvurwi and 12.0% in Gutu-Masvingo benefited from the scheme to some extent in 2018-19. Although higher maize yields were achieved on average, it clearly was not a good use of public funds, and much of the investment was wasted, with benefits accruing mostly to the financing ‘cartels’.

Indeed, many recipients complained to us that their allocations were late or grossly insufficient, and that it is only a very few well-connected people who can jump the queue and get inputs – fertiliser, seed, fuel and so on – as part of the programme.

Patterns of accumulation and differentiation

Our data show a growing pattern of differentiation emerging between A2 farmers. The standard narrative that A2 farmers are all ‘cronies’ of the party-state and military and that the land is unutilised and unproductive does not hold up.

Yes, there are those who are beneficiaries of patronage for sure, including via Command Agriculture, but only an elite few gain the full package, and most of those who were recipients in our sample got very little, and complained bitterly.

Equally, there also some who have large areas unutilised, but this is far from the whole story. Indeed, patterns of ‘underutilisation’ are not hugely different to what was observed during the 1980s and 1990s when these farms were settled by white farmers. It all depends on the focus of production (intensive on small areas or extensive) and the type of operation (irrigated or dryland cropping or livestock, for example), as well as the nature of the land (many areas have extensive rocky areas, unsuitable for agriculture, but great for grazing). 

In terms of accumulation patterns, some have access to external finance (from jobs, diaspora investment and so on) and can make a go of it, even under very difficult circumstances. In the two sites, we have some quite successful tobacco farmers in Mvurwi and livestock farmers in Gutu-Masvingo – proper commercial farmers by any standard. Others are more aspiring, and lack the financing, while others are really struggling, farming only a small portion. Some have managed to mobilise joint ventures with former white farmers or with other investors, including Chinese firms involved in tobacco around Mvurwi, while others benefit from close relationships with tobacco contracting companies. Meanwhile, others have effectively abandoned farming or may be holding the land speculatively for future generations. Across these groups, especially the aspiring farmers, some are investing in ‘projects’ on small areas, while others have been joined by other families and are creating ‘villages’ on the farms.

Perhaps not surprisingly the patterns were very similar to what we found in our study of a former ‘purchase area’ (small-scale commercial farming area) near Masvingo – again supposedly commercial farms of a similar scale on average. Here we found very similar categories, but perhaps fewer commercial farmers than in the A2 study, in part because of lack of state support of any sort in these areas. And this was 80 years after their establishment, not just 18 as in the A2 farms we studied.

Ways forward

A more differentiated view therefore suggests ways forward for the A2 areas.

To ensure more effective, commercial use of A2 areas requires investment based on sustained financing and secure leasehold tenure. A2 farmers we talked to wanted to be independent, not reliant on state patronage, but able to get financing on time to produce successfully. Successful production can also be facilitated through land administration policy – including land audits and forms of taxation – that encourages more intensive, commercial use. But farm investment will only flow if the conditions are right, which means getting the leases issued, the contestation over land resolved through land compensation and private and public finance made available in flexible forms, and not through state schemes that are prone to corruption and patronage.

Contrary to assumptions – including our own before undertaking this latest research – A2 medium-scale farms do have future, but those with potential need investment and support, while others need to be encouraged to pass on the land they received during the land reform. The next blog will discuss the political consequences of the emerging pattern of differentiation on the A2 farms, and the implications for policy.

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

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‘The land is the economy, the economy is the land’, but does this include young people? Reflections from Zimbabwe

There has been a flurry of studies on young people and agriculture in recent years, including in Zimbabwe. The wider critical literature has challenged the standard narratives around youth specific policy measures – such as narratives that youth are innovative, entrepreneurial, tech-savvy and so the future of agriculture that we see in report after report. Instead, much of this work makes the case that broad, fairly standard development policies – improved infrastructure, better education, agricultural R and D, labour policies and so on – are what is needed to expand “landscapes of opportunity” for everyone, including younger people.

A recent comparative study using survey data from six African countries showed (rather obviously) that opportunities expanded when people were near markets (for off-farm work) and when agricultural potential was higher (for farming). More interestingly, the patterns were not much different between different age groups, although those in their 20s reported ‘no activity’ most frequently and those in their 30s were more likely to engage in off-farm work.

Large surveys such as this reveal very little however about the relational dynamics of generational change and the ways life courses are adapted. This is an important point made by a paper on youth and food systems, which eschews an age-based categorisation beloved of surveys and argues that youth is a “transitional phase within a life cycle”. It’s this transition (often including considerable periods of ‘waithood’) – of establishing a home, gaining access to land, investing in agriculture or starting up a business – that is crucial. Of course, as the paper argues, such processes of generational change intersect with gender, class, wealth, location and other dimensions.

In this sense, there are particular challenges faced by young people – across a variety of ages depending on their life course. This comes out in the more empirically-grounded, qualitative studies, which are increasingly coming out on this theme with work on Zimbabwe.

For example, a comparative assessment of young people’s experiences in commercial farming ‘hotspots’ in Ghana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe highlights the many challenges people face in first gaining access to land, capital and markets for agriculture as a young person. As the paper highlights, social relations – amongst family and beyond – are crucial, but overall it’s very hard work and challenging, according to the testimonies collected.

Successes can quickly be reversed, as ‘hazards’ strike – both misfortune and mistakes. The paper’s conclusions that it is not land or credit that is needed are slightly contradicted by the data, as it’s clear that in Ghana and Zimbabwe land constraints are very real, and access to finance is a challenge across sites for young people. The paper concludes that what young people need is an insurance or form of protection from sudden, unexpected shocks, adding to the array of policy measures on offer.

More in-depth studies are offered from different parts of Zimbabwe that reinforce some of these themes. For example, based on in-depth life histories from Matabelaland (Lupane and Umguza districts), Vusilizwe Thebe argues that challenges of young people are very contextual. In the A1 resettlement area many young people who occupied land or joined parents who did so are disconnected from the sort of deep networks that provide access to resources and help transitions in life courses as in nearby communal areas. Nevertheless, young, independent, single women have been able to make a go of agriculture in the resettlement areas, whereas patriarchal institutions would have constrained such opportunities elsewhere.

A study from Goromonzi in Mashonaland East by Clement Chipenda and Tom Tom focused on the challenges of social reproduction in the new resettlements, and pointed to the complaints of young people feeling left out of the land distribution. This has resulted in generational conflicts between young people and their parents, as those without land and employment have to resort to highly precarious work, such as gold panning or temporary hired labour. Young people in Henry Bernstein’s terms are a new fragmented class of labour. These class tensions and implications for social reproduction are important themes raised.

A similar sense of struggle was highlighted in our study of young people in land reform areas in Masvingo district and Mvurwi farming area (see also earlier blogs here, here, here and here). The ROAPE paper that summarises the findings shows how

Opportunities for young people following land reform are severely constrained. The precariousness of work, the challenges schooling and getting qualifications, family disputes and illnesses, the lack of land, the poor productivity of dryland farming, and the difficulties of establishing businesses without capital, are all recurrent themes. While a few have found their way into reasonably remunerated jobs, the routes to accumulation, and getting established as independent adults, are limited for others, with very small-scale irrigated farming seemingly by the far the best option.”

The wider politics of young people and land reform is picked up by another recent paper by Fadzai Chipato and colleagues, which focuses on youth struggles. The paper documents the long association between youth, the liberation war and ruling party politics and the particular position of young people in the struggle over land. However, the paper highlights the real problems of the conflation of state and party politics and the use of land as patronage resource. This has resulted in an increasing disenfranchisement of young people, as they next generation does not feel it is being provided for, with land not available and the economy in ruins. However, the cross-generational struggles for livelihoods are being revived, often outside party control, as young people exert their agency and organise to take land through informal invasions as well as upsetting land use laws and claiming land and water for their farming.

‘The land is the economy, the economy is the land’ is a well-known ZANU-PF rallying cry. The centring of land in the politics of the country means that questions are always raised about who gets land and through what means? The land reform undoubtedly benefited a large number of people, many of whom are doing well, but this was a particular generation, and others who were children or even not born in 2000 are now seeking out livelihoods in rural areas. The generational dimensions of the agrarian challenge does not go away through a redistribution; in some ways the conflicts intensify, but between different people.

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

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Zimbabweland’s 2020 wrap-up

2020 has been quite a year in Zimbabwe and across the world. The blog has had two major series of posts, and this wrap-up features both – now with the links all working.

One series has followed the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe, and particularly the consequences of lockdown in rural areas. The blogs are based on discussions with our team based across the country – from Mwenezi to Matobo to Masvingo to Gutu to Mvurwi. The pandemic measures have radically reshaped the rural economy, with diverse impacts on different people. Heavy-handed clamp-downs have combined with (as ever) plenty of innovation and adaptation as people find ways of surviving. Luckily, despite dismal predictions, Zimbabwe has as yet not been heavily affected by the disease, a pattern seen in many parts of Africa. Why this is will be the focus of continuing discussion in the new year when this series will continue.

2020 has also seen the 20th anniversary of the fast-track land reform. Our surveys across Masvingo province have continued throughout the 20 years, documenting how livelihood changed in this turbulent period in Zimbabwe’s history, where economic collapse, political chaos and continuous sanctions preventing investment by Western development agencies have persisted. The other major blog series this year therefore presents of the results of our longitudinal studies looking at what has happened in A2 medium-scale farms, A1 self-contained, villagised and informal settlements across Masvingo. The story is fascinating yet complex, and the blogs present much data to show how there have been both important successes, but also major challenges.

Links to the two blog series are presented below. Additional themes discussed this year include commentary on the important compensation deal signed between former white commercial farmers, yet another blog on land tenure (given the on-going intransigence of the debate) and one on conservation and development in the Lowveld. A new paper on the history of commercial farming in Mvurwi was also highlighted.

As ever the blog has been widely read across the world, with many thousands of views, multiple subscribers and plenty of reposts, notably in The Zimbabwean and Chronicle newspapers. The blog will return in the new year with more evidence-based research and comment on agriculture and rural development in Zimbabwe and beyond. 

COVID-19 in rural Zimbabwe: a blog series

Women and young people in Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 economy, Nov 9

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“Know your epidemic”: Reflections from Zimbabwe, Sep 27

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Innovation in the pandemic: an update from Zimbabwe, Sep 7

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Viral politics and economics in Zimbabwe, Jul 27

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COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe: ‘we are good at surviving, but things are really tough’, Jun 15

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COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe: a disaster for farmers, Apr 27

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Surviving COVID-19 in a fragile state: why social resilience is essential, Mar 30

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Twenty years after Zimbabwe’s land reform: a blog series

20 years after Zimbabwe’s land reform: what does the future hold? Jun 29

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (summary and reflection), Jun 22

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (A2 areas), Jun 8

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (A1 informal settlements), Jun 1

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (A1 villagised areas), May 25

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (A1 self-contained areas), May 18

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on: Introduction to the blog series,May 11

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

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Unequal land, unequal societies

A really important report from the International Land Coalition and Oxfam is just out calledUneven Ground: Land Inequality at the Heart of Unequal Societies’, along with 17 supporting papers. Through new analysis it shows that land inequality is even larger than previously thought, and that this has dramatic effects on poor people’s livelihoods, particularly those of women and young people.

In the rhetoric around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) there’s lots of talk about rising inequality, and pleas to ‘leave no one behind’, but most discussion barely touches on land, despite land access being vital for so many people’s lives. The corporate-driven concentration of land holding has been well researched around discussions of the ‘land grab’, but this report goes further, digging into the dynamics of inequality and how changes in the agri-food system are driving it.

New analysis, dramatic conclusions

The report adopts a new methodology for exploring land inequalities, taking account not just of patterns of land holding and farm size, but the significance of multiple holdings across a corporate portfolio, land value and the presence of landless people. This shifts the metric dramatically, highlighting levels of hidden inequality so far not exposed.

The report estimates that there are around 608 million farms in the world with most being small family farms. But it is the largest 1% of farm operations that make use of more than 70% of the world’s farmland, and these are linked into global, corporate led food systems that in turn support this inequality. The 80% of farms that are smallholdings of under two hectares are by contrast excluded from the benefits of such markets. The report’s extended analysis of land value shows how, “the wealthiest 10% of rural populations across the sampled countries capture 60% of agricultural land value, while the poorest 50% of rural populations, who are generally more dependent on agriculture, capture only 3% of land value.”

Patterns vary across the world of course, but levels of land inequality are high everywhere and are rising. Not surprisingly, land inequality is particularly high in Latin America, the US and parts of Europe, where smallholder farming has all but disappeared in many farming areas. The UK is of course a stark example, and has been discussed on this blog before (see here and here).

In Asia, the huge numbers of smallholders make inequality measures just of land holdings less high, but when you take account of the equally huge numbers of landless people, then the measure changes quite dramatically. Under any measure, patterns of land inequality are not as high in Africa, but they are rising. And the post 2007-08 land grab documented widely shows how land investments were concentrated in Africa with, according to the Land Matrix, 42% of deals across 10 million hectares over a decade. As countries seek out investment, especially in cash-strapped, debt-ridden post-COVID-19 times, the temptation to allocate notionally ‘empty’ or ‘idle’ land is high. Combine this with corrupt governance practices with deals to be made with politicians and others, the likelihood of the land grab accelerating again is high.

Focusing exclusively on ‘farms’ and ‘holdings’ of course misses key populations making use of land that do not use land in this way. This is a gap in an otherwise good report. Whether shifting cultivators, hunter-gatherers or pastoralists, such populations typically suffer the brunt of land expropriation. The inequality is just as keenly felt, but it is not measured in terms of the metrics used here.

Redistribution and development

The report has a lot of good recommendations, although none of them are that new. Good land governance, land taxation, effective land registries, corporate and investor accountability, protecting the commons and women’s land rights, building sustainable and equitable production and food systems, encouraging inclusive value chains and so on have all long been talked about. But the big question is of course the political economy of inequality: why is that such a pattern is acceptable? Why isn’t redistribution at the centre of the sustainable development agenda? The report unfortunately is rather quiet on this.

The period of the great land reforms in the 1960s and 70s resulted in major decreases in land inequality. As the report shows, these gains have been massively reversed since. Through various examples, cautionary tales are told – for example of Ecuador – where land reforms occurred only to be reversed by land consolidation and the extension of large-scale capitalist farming.

The report however is seemingly rather equivocal on redistribution, saying land reforms can be unsettling, redistributive policies have to be ‘aligned’ to socio-economic goals and that when post-land reform support limited (as is frequently the case), this can undermine the benefits leading to reconcentration subsequently. But land redistribution surely must be a major response to land inequality, even if (of course) inequalities in the wider agro-food systems must be addressed also. So it was a bit disappointing that the report was a little coy on the subject.

There are many possibilities for land redistribution and shifts in its use. And this is not just in the so-called ‘developing world’. For example, the Downland Estate around Brighton in the UK is owned by the city council and is leased out to tenant farmers. They have continued to consolidate land into larger chunks, expanding arable farming and reducing access land through hunting/pheasant enclosures. But moves are afoot, pushed by citizen alliances in the city and beyond, to regulate land use differently, and allow smaller scale farm holdings to be allocated as tenancies, helping to transform the local food system and local livelihoods, widening access, as well as improving environmental care. If rethinking land and its use is possible in the UK, surely it must be possible elsewhere. The report could have been more ambitious in my view.

Missing the Zimbabwe experience

Rather surprisingly, Zimbabwe is not mentioned at all in the report. Still too much of a hot potato even for the ILC and Oxfam maybe? As the most significant land redistribution of the past several decades, it surely offers important lessons. A massively unequal land holding system was redistributed with mixed effects – many positive, some negative – as discussed on this blog multiple times. In many respects, especially through the transfer of land to smallholders, Zimbabwe implemented what the report is arguing for, offering a new trajectory for agrarian development.

In Zimbabwe, as has been seen again and again elsewhere, the failure to provide the needed supportive infrastructure of investment, regulation, taxation, land administration and so on may potentially undermine the gains of land reform, as this blog has long argued. And if the pressures of capital are the same as elsewhere, the process of land grabbing of extensive areas taken by smallholders will be an issue to look out for.

Zimbabwe is broke and claims it is ‘open for business’ and, with a deeply corrupt polity, the conditions are right for a dangerous reversal of land reform in the name of ‘investment’. Indeed, on the margins of the country this is already happening, whether in quasi-privatised national parks or in new investments in commercial agriculture.

Land and power

The report concludes that “reversing land inequality to any significant extent will require a deep transformation in power relations. Solutions will require major changes in political, economic, and legal norms. They will require action that strikes at the root of what makes societies and economies unequal and unsustainable”. Absolutely. But, as the Zimbabwe experience has shown, this will require more than just ‘inclusive processes’ and ‘involving civil society’.

Challenging inequality is a struggle against powerful interests, and redistribution always affects the powerful – which is of course why it often doesn’t happen. Moving beyond the easy rhetoric about inequality being at the heart of the SDGs and central for tackling sustainability and development together, land must be at the centre of this inevitably political struggle.

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

Image credit: International Land Coalition

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Land reform in Matabeleland: the challenges of living in a harsh, variable environment

The land reform story in Matabeleland has been under-researched, but now there are some new findings being published. This blog profiles two papers focusing on Matobo district, also one of our study areas.

The first by Adrian Nel and Clifford Mabhena traces the historical ‘echoes’ of the land reform experience. The paper focuses on research in wards 23 and 24, where both A1 and A2 farms were established after land reform. Most new settlers were from nearby communal areas and towns, but around 40% were from further afield, including Bulawayo town, Insiza district and even Masvingo and beyond. The initial lower uptake of land reform sites in this area compared to other parts of the country can be explained by people’s need for grazing not land for cropping, combined with reticence about joining a land reform programme with unknown outcomes, especially in areas where the opposition was strong. Land reform has been more protracted in these areas, with some only signing up much later as the political temperature dropped. Quite a few white farmers held on to their land for a long time, and there have been some high-profile attempted grabs of these farms, some resisted by local people.

Historical echoes: living with variability

The title of the paper plays on Terry Ranger’s classic book ‘Voices from the Rocks’ on the history of the area. As the paper shows, the struggles to set up farms echoes the experience of earlier settlers in the area in the colonial era. Afrikaaner farmers for example were criticised by the authorities as long ago as 1939 for failing to establish farm and managing cattle and cropping in a haphazard and informal manner. The new settlers have been similarly-accused, but just as in 1939 getting farms going in a very dry area with limited resources is exceptionally difficult. Diversification is imperative, and the data from A1 farms today show how livestock, and especially cattle, become the mainstay of a stable income stream. Although there are episodic die offs due to drought or disease on average households in the A1 farms had around nine beasts, rising to 13 among the richer wealth categories.

Livestock are combined with opportunistic cropping. In most years, crops produce little, sometimes failing completely; but once in a while there is a bumper crop, and grain is stored for years and investments are made. In the five years for which cropping data is reported in this paper there was one year where farmers produced on average around two tonnes of grain per household. In most years, the total was below what is sufficient to provide for a family, and farming had to be complemented with off-farm income. Again, the experiences from past years echo through the years. Ranger comments on the importance of vleis (wetlands) and riverbanks as the source of food security in the early twentieth century in the hilly areas nearby.

In the past, the white farmers who made use of this land largely concentrated on ranching, with limited arable plots, fruit orchards and irrigated gardens near homesteads. They too had to respond to the high variability of rainfall and the sudden lack of grazing during droughts provoking high mortalities. The historical record is replete with examples of such events, with farmers going bust, moving off to do other things, and coming back as herds built up.

The same type of strategy has to be followed by the new A2 farmers on the same land. They have been allocated much smaller farm sizes making managing herds in a confined space even more challenging. This means a variety of strategies for extending feed provisioning in drought periods, including deals with neighbours, including A1 and communal farmers, and buying feed, as many A2 farmers continue with jobs elsewhere. With many farms many of which have seen significant herd growth since land reform, there are now stock numbers comparable to the pre-land reform period. This is a far-cry from the complaints of earlier periods, when officials complained that ranches were understocked.  

The movement of animals across multiple properties and land use types requires a particular type of negotiation, but is essential for maintaining herds in such a ‘non-equilibrium’ landscape. For both A1 and A2 farmers there are reinventions of past arrangements for stock sharing and movement, such as lagisa and miraka. Compared to the classic land reform areas in wetter areas focused on fixed plots and farms, the arrangements in Matobo have to be more flexible and informal, allowing movement and combining income streams from multiple sources, both local and agrarian and off-farm, including of course cross-border migration, which is a major historical feature of this area.

Conciliatory strategies: white farmers in Matobo

In another paper, also based on research from Matobo, Adrian Nel explores what white farmers have done since land reform. Compared to other parts of the country during the land invasions there were more ‘protected’ farms, with farmers being allowed to stay. This emerged because such farmers had good relationships with local communities through on-going projects and being members or leaders of the same Christian church communities.

This again is different to some other parts of the country where white farming was often very separated, geographically, economically and politically. The greater integration in Matabeleland reflects the struggles for establishing livelihoods in a harsh environment and the need for collaboration and alliance making. As the paper explores, these forms of accommodation have persisted since land reform among some farms. As in the past, there were others who dropped out as the economics of farming post 2000 became too challenging and others. Also some have pushed back against the land reform, pursuing various legal cases as part of the more militant section of commercial farmers.

The paper concentrates on those who have adapted, accommodated and developed conciliatory approaches. Some label them as ‘sell-outs’ or ‘enablers’, but they are seen to be pragmatic, committed to farming and the communities they live with. When one farm was targeted for grabbing by a security official from outside the area, the locals resisted and in the end the white farmer, who had a large Christian led community project on his farm, combined with outreach activities and a huge contract broiler project, was allowed to stay thanks to interventions from the highest level.

Others have abandoned their farms (some with great relief given the travails) and taken up new business activities linked to local farming activities, very often moving up the value chain to set up abattoirs, butcheries, feedlots and other wildlife/hunting businesses. As one large operator explained he continues to run some animals through rental agreements, but mostly sources from local producers and fattens animals in a large feedlot for his abattoir and butchery, which is much easier and more profitable he explains than producing yourself.

With Andrew Hartnack, Rory Pilosoff and others, the paper argues for the need to go beyond a simplistic ‘homogenising’ view of whiteness. Those who remained distance themselves from other whites, and need to build new local alliances to survive. This results in new ‘becomings’ linked to diverse subjectivities, reconstituting the imaginary of whiteness as collaborative and conciliatory. Like their black neighbours, their identity is centrally-focused on making a living in a harsh environment, sometimes reinforced by strong and shared Christian religious values.

Living with and from uncertainty

The agrarian landscape of Matabeleland has changed massively since 2000. But there are important continuities with the past. Making a living in this area is tough, and requires flexibility, innovation, movement and diversification. As in the past, this requires collaboration and alliance-building in ways that allow all people – whether small-scale A1 plot owners, A2 medium-scale farmers or remaining white farmers – to live with and from uncertainty.

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

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Still debating land tenure reform in Zimbabwe

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

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

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

Titling is not always the answer

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

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

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

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

A political settlement over land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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