Tag Archives: land reform

Land reform and transformative social policy


A new article published by UNISA is out by Freedom Mazwi, Rangarirai Muchetu and Musavengana Chibwana based on the major district level survey carried out by the Sam Moyo African Institute for Agrarian Studies. It focuses on the social policy dimensions of land reform, but offers a hint of the wider findings on production and differentiwereation too.

This 2013/14 study is a follow up to the highly influential 2006 survey and involved surveying 1090 households in the districts of Chipinge, Chiredzi, Goromonzi, Kwekwe, Mangwe and Zvimba across A1, A2 and Communal Areas.

The authors note that “although the Fast Track Land Reform Programme has met the redistributive element of the transformative social policy agenda, the productive, protection and social cohesion potentials of the programme are still to reach their maximum potential”.

As in the 2000s, there is much differentiation across sites, largely attributed to agroecological conditions, and between settlement models, associated with land size and capital availability. Land utilisation rates vary significantly between A1 and A2 areas, with A1 smallholders using most of their land, while A2 farms struggle due to lack of capital. Perhaps surprisingly 95% of households across sites had not seen disputes over land, suggesting high levels of tenure security. As seen in other studies, differentiation within sites is also seen, with some accumulating, while others are struggling.

Transformative social policy?

Much of the paper focuses on social policy themes, asking if the land reform has been transformative. The paper is rather uneven and does not push the analysis, nor offer comparisons with other studies or more importantly the earlier AIAS survey. It therefore fails to offer a clear answer as to how the land reform affects social policy, but the results are suggestive.

The results show remarkably high access to services across the sites. Educational access is rated at 71.6 %, while 65.4% of households were able to access health facilities Access to transportation is low, however, at 58.8%. By contrast retail services (73.4%) and grinding mills (76.6%) showed high levels of access. Investment in schools and to a lesser degree health clinics in or near the resettlement areas has improved access since land reform, although the quality of such services leaves much to be desired. The data of course does not indicate how close any schools or clinics were, and many are distant, and with poor transport infrastructure persisting, gaining access to such services is often a challenge. High access to retail services and grinding mills is indicative of growing small-scale private sector investment in the resettlement areas, a feature particularly since the dollarization of the economy in 2009.

In answer to the question whether households are members of formal farmers’ groups, only 23% answered positively. There were more in the A2 than in the A1 areas, with Input sourcing (48.6%) the most common activity, followed by group marketing (31.0 %) and credit sourcing (29.1 %). Answers of course very much depend on what is understood as a ‘farmer group’, as in our experience in our study sites there is much more group-based activity, but often informally arranged around a particular task or challenge, rather than as part of a formal ‘group’.

Collective activities were recorded around a number of activities, including the sharing of tools (26.6%), the sharing of animal drawn implements (22.9 %), reciprocal labour arrangements, (19.2 %) and the sharing of tractor-drawn implements (17.7 %). These activities are more prevalent in A1 areas, reflecting the emergence of more embedded communities.

These snippets of data offer a snapshot of conditions on the new resettlements, but do these add up to transformative social policy and improved social protection? It is difficult to judge. The paper does not dig deeper into the differentiated dynamics of the sites, and the comparisons between them. We must await further explorations of the data for this. What it does show, however, is that the now no longer new resettlements continue to evolve, with changing access to services and new cooperative arrangements emerging in response to a range of production, marketing and other challenges.

Longitudinal results

Compared to the study carried out in the midst of economic crisis and growing inflation in the 2000s, this study was conducted in a period of relatively economic stability, with a dollarized economy. In many respects, the results not surprising, and confirm what many others have reported.

The real importance of the SMAIAS work is that the repeat surveys offer national insights into the evolution of land reform areas. We all eagerly await the publication of the 2013/14 report, and perhaps more particularly the comparison with the findings of 2006. This will help us understand what has changed for whom and where, and assist the better targeting of interventions. This paper offers some important hints, but more analytical work is needed.

This is the third in a series of short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity and ability to comment on important issues of policy in the post-Mugabe era. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

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



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Mining and agriculture: diversified livelihoods in rural Zimbabwe


Easther Chigumira has recently published an excellent paper in The Journal of Rural Studies, Political ecology of agrarian transformation: The nexus of mining and agriculture in Sanyati District, Zimbabwe. It’s well worth a read if you can get past the pay-wall. Here is a quick overview of some of the highlights.

The paper aims “to examine the process and expression of re-peasantization in Zimbabwe through a 10-year on-the-ground study into the lived experiences of land recipients from three resettled communities in Sanyati District (formerly Kadoma District)”. Based on intensive, engaged field research, the paper is full of fascinating insights, particularly around the links between agriculture and mining.

The study adopted a political ecology approach and “explores the day-to-day practices of land recipients, the meanings they attach to land, and reasons for particular land use activities and livelihood strategies. It argues that a more localized approach that looks at the interlinked themes of people, their livelihoods and their relationship with the physical environment, rather than solely focusing on economic indicators and productivity, provides an understanding of the processes and expressions of re-peasantization, and essentially the nexus of mining and agriculture since the FTLRP.”

This wider scope of analysis is important and revealing. While it’s true many of us have focused on production, and the associated class dynamics, a wider appreciation of what people are doing and why is important, especially in order to get a sense of the diverse livelihoods – including artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) – that people are pursuing and how these change over time.

In this paper, insights are enhanced by the longitudinal nature of the study, with surveys in 2004/05 (soon after settlement), 2009 (after several years of extreme economic crisis) and 2012/13 (in a relatively stable period). The study encompassed two A1 settlement sites (a villagised and self-contained) and one A2 site. The paper offers a number of significant conclusions, highly relevant to on-going debates about Zimbabwe’s new agrarian landscape.

Settlers come from diverse origins, around half originally from urban areas, the other half from rural areas. While initially land invasions did not appear to be directly linked to party affiliation, access to land in later years, particularly around the 2008 elections, linkages with ZANU-PF became more important, particularly for young people requiring land. An emergent patronage system evolved, requiring people to at least ‘perform’ being party members. This was most prominent in the A1 villagised area, reflecting the particular patterns of land allocation and local politics, as young people demanding land were slotted in around election time. But patronage was not the whole story, and the empirical data suggests a more nuanced story than others have offered for other sites.

As observed in many studies, processes of differentiation are on-going, as some accumulate and others struggle. A distinct grouping of ‘rich’, ‘middle’ and ‘poor’ farmers is observed in the area, with distinctions becoming greater over time. Crop outputs are highly unequal, for example, with higher outputs overall from A1 farmers, as the medium-scale A2 farms suffered serious capital constraints. Production varied over time due in part to rainfall, but also to the economic situation, affecting availability of inputs, with a big dip in 2007-08 at the peak of the crisis.

Overall, there has been a significant investment in new assets and improved infrastructure on people’s farms; something we’ve seen across our sites. “There has been a significant accumulation of assets linked to farm production, as well as non-productive assets by the first group of settlers. This group of farmers all own small productive assets such as hoes, axes, picks and shovels, while 41% now own ox carts, ploughs and cultivators, and 14% had bought tractors. An increase in the number and quality of dwellings in the community was also observed. Fifty-nine percent of the first group of settlers had upgraded their dwellings from mud and pole to brick with thatch roofing and/or brick with asbestos or corrugated iron roofing. In the 2004/5 survey sample there were no toilet structures in the community but in 2012/13, almost two thirds of these households had constructed ablution facilities in the form of Blair toilets or pit latrines on their property. Further investments included cell phones, bicycles, solar panels, radios and televisions. The increase in livestock ownership was another indicator of asset accumulation.”

Many settlers have diversified livelihoods (‘pluriactivity’), and this has grown over time. Small-scale mining in particular has become important, as a complement to agricultural production. This was especially so when the economic crisis deepened and the gold price increased. The paper argues that “the commonly held view that non-agricultural activities such as ASM are an indicator of de-peasantization/de-agrarianization is flawed…. Instead, the study “provides evidence that context specific realities need to be considered, because ASM can also be an integral part of re-peasantization”. Mining in the area is a year-round activity, with important gender divisions of labour. Men engage year-round, while women are more seasonal miners, focusing on agriculture in the cropping season. In some cases, settlers employ others to help, generating a new labour economy in the area.

A range of off-farm labouring jobs are pursued. The extent of these have grown too. They include: In 2004/05, most ‘maricho’ (piecework) activities were carried out by women alongside former farm workers, but increasingly men are involved too, as a local labour market grows, responding to demands from more successful agricultural producers in the area. The later settlers (post 2008) in particular were especially reliant on this source of labour based income.

Investment has also occurred beyond the farm, and this accelerated particularly post dollarization. Relatively well-off farmers now have small shops and other businesses in the area providing services, removing the need for settlers to travel to Kadoma to purchase items.

Finally, the state has been largely absent in the area throughout the study period. But whereas in 2004-05 people complained, by 2013 most had accepted this, and created new ways of gaining services, sourcing finance and so on. There was noted growth in entrepreneurial activity among individuals, as well as collective action in groups, around issues ranging from credit to marketing to input supply.

The patterns seen in Sanyati are very similar to what has been observed elsewhere. The integration of the mining economy is perhaps more evident than in other areas, although work in Ngezi, Matabeleland and elsewhere observes this as an important phenomenon. Land reform was not just about opportunities for agriculture, but access to other resources too.

What is striking about the longitudinal story so effectively told in this paper is how things have changed – greater class differentiation, shifting gender roles, more asset accumulation, shifts in work/labour patterns and so on, while particular events generate important shifts, driven by the wider political economy, with 2008 being an important conjuncture.

Making sense of the implications of land reform in Zimbabwe requires just this sort of study, and this adds to others offering nuanced insights that help new framings for policy.

This is the second in a series of short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity and ability to comment on important issues of policy in the post-Mugabe era. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

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

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Panic, privilege and politics: South Africa’s land expropriation debate

South Africa’s land reform policy is a mess. A combination of incompetence, poor policy and scandal have meant that there has been little progress in years. The parliamentary High Level Panel report effectively dissects the problems. But in recent days, the land issue, always bubbling under the surface in South Africa’s unresolved post-apartheid settlement, has burst into the limelight.

By announcing the intention to change the Constitution to allow for ‘expropriation without compensation’, the ANC has tried to steal the thunder of maverick radical Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters party. Last week a motion was approved in Parliament with the full backing of new president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

There has been panic and outrage. The white privileged classes are shocked. Sections of the international media are apoplectic. Capital has warned of the worst. The rand has taken a knock on the markets. And the newspapers and airwaves are full of vivid commentary of impending doom. And – yes of course – Zimbabwe is once again being deployed in South Africa’s political discourse as the example of how bad it can become. This is just like Mugabe’s land grab, which can only result in poverty and disaster. And on, and on, with all the usual myths and stereotypes being trotted out.

More sane commentary points out of course that this is more about political power plays than any big change. Listen to an excellent interview with Ruth Hall, and further commentary here and a useful round-up here.

Unlike the EFF, which is calling for land nationalisation, the ANC has made no mention of such a move. To allay fears, they’ve announced that expropriation without compensation would only take place only if food security and the wider economy was not threatened. Quite how this would be assessed is anyone’s guess.

And, in any case, as Adv. Geoff Budlender, the DG of Land Affairs from 1994, and many others point out, the existing 1996 Constitution in section 25(3) allows for expropriation anyway, with ‘just and equitable’ compensation. Any change therefore would be largely symbolic not substantive. Even Julius Malema says ‘no-one will lose their houses!

The problem in the past has been that the ‘willing seller-willing buyer’ approach has been the policy default. This has meant a slow pace of change and high costs when ‘market prices’ are paid, as in the notorious R1 billion originally proposed payout in the Mala Mala case. Shifting the balance towards expropriation, away from only a reliance on the market may change the dynamic of land reform for the better. Debates must follow as to what just and equitable compensation would be. Sometimes it will be zero; in most cases not.

One of the foci for outrage and panic has been the presumed assault on the unassailable ‘property rights clause’, a key element of the negotiated settlement of 1994. In South Africa, this is an ideological lynchpin; an almost religious conviction that the world would collapse if there was any change in freehold property rights. Again, as discussed many times on this blog before, these arguments are replete with myths; ones that keep being repeated in Zimbabwe. For example, see these recent pieces by John Robertson and Eddie Cross, offering textbook repetitions of the same problematic arguments seen in South Africa in the past weeks.

Under the new proposals, a framework of property rights would continue to exist but the conditions would change, just as they have in Zimbabwe. A new post land reform framework can continue to be the basis for investment, finance and successful agriculture. Indeed, as it does in many other parts of the world without the weird hang-ups that are the legacy of southern Africa’s settler past.

It is this past that is swirling around the debate in South Africa. Race, white privilege and the unresolved questions of redistribution following the end of apartheid are all central. As Ben Cousins points out, those who are suffering the most from expropriation without any hint of compensation are poor blacks in places like Kwazulu Natal, where chiefs, holding state land in trust in the communal areas, are complicit in massive expropriation for mining, housing and other grabs. This seems not to be part of the debate, as it’s framed as an assault on historic white privilege.

Seen through this lens, the pleading of the (mostly) white farmer lobby or the business community is simply an argument for continuing special treatment that started with colonialism. The big mistake of their Zimbabwean equivalents from the 1980s, and particularly in the late 1990s, was the abject failure to accept that change was long overdue and then not engaging with the process fulsomely and positively, so shifting the narrative.

With the Motlanthe High Level panel report out, a political debate raging and a new president, this should be the moment in South Africa to change the discourse on agriculture and land reform, after so many years in the doldrums.

Unlike in the 1990s in Zimbabwe, this must mean everyone engaging in a national dialogue. One of the best contributions in the furore last week in South Africa was from Sue from Somerset West who called into Eusebius McKaiser’s talk show, proclaiming emotionally that not all whites are against land reform, and that grappling with white privilege is vital. A brave and powerful intervention.

The lesson from Zimbabwe for South Africa is not that land reform is a disaster. Far from it – it is essential for economic renewal and central to moving on from the past. Agrarian reform in post-settler economies must deal not only with economic reconfiguration, but also fundamental changes in institutions and outlook for a new era.

Hopefully this is the moment for South Africa – at last – to confront these tough transitional issues, now 24 years on.

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

Thanks to Ben Cousins and Ruth Hall for sending on links. Photo from flickr, CC via Government ZA



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Reconfigured agrarian relations following land reform

A new book is just out titled “Reconfigured Agrarian Relations in Zimbabwe”. It’s by Toendepi Shonhe, and is based on his recently-completed PhD at KZN. It’s published by Langaa publishers, and is available via the African Books Collective.

The book reports on important research carried out in Hwedza district, and compares the fortunes of communal area, A1, A2, small-scale commercial farms and old resettlement areas. It’s a neat opportunity to compare contrasting land use types within one area. Hwedza is a relatively high potential area, although spread across several agroecological regions, and tobacco production is central. So lots of interesting parallels with our work in Mvurwi.

Chapters 5-7 provide a useful overview of the national story, broken up into periods from the 1880s to 2015, but this is contextualised in relation to the study area in Chapter 8, which offers a succinct and interesting agricultural and economic history of the district. This was an important commercial farming district, but always had other land uses nearby, notably in the Svosve reserve. The booms and busts of tobacco and other forms of production are well illustrated with historical data, showing that the past was not always so rosy for the commercial farm sector.

In Chapter 9, the book offers a lot of data on household assets, production, marketing and so on, across a variety of different agricultural activities. This shows patterns of differentiation, with some doing well and some less so. No big surprises there, but the data once again confirm that the resettlement areas are vibrant, happening places, out-performing other areas across a number of criteria.

Appropriately, the book is situated theoretically within a Marxist framework of uneven development and primitive accumulation, introduced in Chapter 2, and explored in relation to theories of class differentiation in agrarian settings in Chapter 3. The book’s novel contributions come in the chapters that explore the relationships between production in the study areas and wider circuits of capital and accumulation (notably Chapters 10 and 11). For, with tobacco in particular, the production on farms is linked via contracting and marketing arrangements to international markets and corporate players.

Chapter 11 offers a useful typology of social differentiation based on a cluster analysis of survey data, with criteria such as the numbers of months harvests last, maize and tobacco output, cattle ownership and labour hiring being identified as key characteristics. These are similar patterns to what we found from our studies, but the contrasts across so many different land use types is especially valuable here.

Shonhe also makes the important argument that understanding patterns and processes of local differentiation must be linked to the wider context of uneven development and capital accumulation. While some accumulation occurs at the local level, with richer farmers emerging in some resettlement sites, accumulation is occurring elsewhere, along commodity value chains, where surpluses are extracted. An important discussion of contract farming is included, questioning the simplistic rush to such approaches as a source of financing of agriculture.

The book contains a welter of data and some interesting and important analyses, but as with many PhDs the focus is on the detail, rather than drawing out the wider story. Frustratingly too the book missed out on a final copy-edit; something Langaa publishers really should have seen to, given the cost of the book. The final concluding chapter was a classic PhD summary of answers to questions posed, rather than drawing out wider implications. I think there is much more in the material here than is presented in the book, and I look forward to further publications from Dr Shonhe as he works to tease out the implications.

As Zimbabwe re-engages with the international community – and international capital in particular – the lessons here for how this is done, and the likely effects, positive and negative, are vitally important. Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector is certainly massively reconfigured following land reform, as the book lays out well, but the implications of this, particularly in relation to the wider dynamics of agrarian capital, require further thought and analysis. This book makes an excellent start.

I have been catching up on my reading. There is a huge amount of new literature coming out, and this book is just one example. In the coming weeks I will be sharing short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity in this field. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

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


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NEW BOOK: Land reform in Zimbabwe: challenges for policy

Zimbabwe’s land reform continues to be controversial, but in the post-Mugabe era there is at least the prospect of sensible policies to get agriculture and rural economies moving.

In the coming months there will be hordes of consultants and advisers arriving in Harare with lots of plans, projects and funds of different sorts. Unless their local counterparts in government, academia and civil society resist the temptation of jumping on whatever bandwagon is on offer, Zimbabwe’s recovery will be hampered and confused.

In relation to land and agriculture, there has been a huge amount of research done in the 18 years since the land reform. This blog has attempted to share some of it. Now there’s a new low-cost book – Land Reform in Zimbabwe: Challenges for Policy –  that contains a selection of blogs, collected together in different sections, with newly written introductions to each.

The book includes one section summarising data on post-land reform production and livelihoods, another on medium-scale farms and their prospects, another on youth challenges, ones on markets, local economies and the importance of small towns, and still other sections on land administration and wider policy. There are 44 chapters in total over 238 pages, and you can buy the book on Amazon for only £5.50 (or 99p for a Kindle version). It’s a follow-up to Debating Zimbabwe’s Land Reform, available for the same bargain price!

For those jetting into Harare ‘on mission’ perhaps have a look at both books on the plane. It could save you a lot of time! There is so much misunderstanding about Zimbabwe’s recent history and current land and agriculture situation that access to some research based evidence is important. Such misunderstandings are not only among the jet-setting consultants, but among too many donors, NGOs, journalists and others in Zimbabwe, as well as wider publics in the region and more broadly.

So this book is for all of you! And while you are at it have a look at the recent pieces on post-Mugabe land and agriculture policy published in The Conversation in the past weeks (and reposted on this blog). Here are the links:

These short articles have had massive readership and generated much interest.

Some objected to the very idea of compensation, perhaps forgetting that compensation for improvements (not land) was an important part of the cross-party Constitutional settlement. That colonialism removed land from Africans in the past is of course not excused by paying compensation for investments made by white farmers now (again, not the land), but the Constitutional requirement for compensation for improvements is seen by most in Zimbabwe as a necessary step for moving forward.

Many found the piece on land administration a helpful overview. Nothing new in this, but the need to get this right, and not make the system complex and expensive is essential (consultants and donors, please take note!).

The final piece on ten priorities for agriculture got broad approval – again the need to see these as part of an integrated strategy was emphasised, linking efforts to regularise tenure with investment, finance and technical support. The theme of thinking about all this at a local level as part of regional or local economic development generated further positive comment.

The debate on land and agriculture in Zimbabwe continues, and the Zimbabweland blog – if a little more intermittently than in the past – will carry on. So do sign up now to receive email alerts (to the right of this post) or follow me on Twitter @ianscoones to get the link. I have a pile of excellent articles and books to review in coming blogs, highlighting the fantastic, high quality research that is being done in Zimbabwe now.

Maybe the external consultants are not so needed given this huge capacity? Perhaps in this phase Zimbabwe can do development differently? Let’s hope so. Hopefully the research covered in this blog and these books will contribute in a small way. The first book was widely distributed in Zimbabwe: in our study areas, across government departments and university libraries. We will be doing the same with the new one, so look out for it in the coming weeks, or buy it if you can!

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

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Ten priorities for getting agriculture moving in Zimbabwe

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REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Agriculture is taking centre stage in plans for the revival of Zimbabwe’s ailing economy under the new leadership of Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Getting agriculture moving in Zimbabwe is a big task. The radical land reform of 2000 has left many outstanding challenges; not least the importance of compensating former farm owners. But the biggest challenge is that, with new ownership patterns, the agricultural sector has a much more diffuse base. Today there are many small to medium sized farms, rather than a few major players.

This has implications for what Mnangagwa does next. What are the top priorities for agriculture, and what can be learnt from the challenges faced since the land reform?

The research

Research we’ve done over the past 18 years provides some useful pointers. We have been tracking what has happened to land reform farms across Zimbabwe, with sites in Masvingo (in the dry south-east), in Mvurwi (north of Harare) and in Matobo (in Matabeleland). We have been looking at both smallholder production (in so-called A1 areas) and medium-scale commercial farms (so-called A2 allocations), as well as outgrower arrangements in lowveld sugar estates.

The results have been surprising. Despite the woeful lack of support, the smallholders have done reasonably well. Most are producing surpluses and reinvesting in their farms. Around two thirds have produced more food than just for subsistence in nearly all years that we’ve conducted the research. In Mvurwi, tobacco dominates, and the smallholder-led tobacco boom has brought significant investment, both on and off-farm.

For their part larger landholdings have struggled. Lack of finance capital for many has meant they have not got off the ground and some have significant areas of under-utilised land, with infrastructure in disrepair.

The exceptions are those operating under contract arrangements with estates. These farmers have done relatively well because they’ve been supported and finance has been guaranteed. New contracting and joint venture arrangements are emerging in some areas, but much more needs to be done.

Ten priorities for agricultural development

Drawing on this experience, below I suggest ten priorities for getting agriculture moving once the first tasks of paying compensation, undertaking a land audit and establishing an efficient land administration system are complete.

Land tenure

Land tenure security should be assured through issuing 99-year leases for larger land reform farms and permits for smaller farms. This should be complemented by clear regulations to avoid land concentration and to facilitate women’s access to land. This can be achieved through a multiform tenure system based on trusted, secure property relations.


Getting private bank finance flowing is essential. Bankable leases will help, as will the acceptance of a range of forms of collateral by finance institutions. State assurances and the building of trust will be key.


Partnerships and joint ventures will be significant for some larger farms and certain crops, where external finance and expertise are essential. Already Chinese involvement in tobacco production is proving to be important. Opening opportunities for the return of highly skilled former white farmers will be significant too. Regulations to ensure such partnerships are truly joint and involve the transfer of skills are vital.

Government loans

Government loans for agriculture are currently offered through the “command agriculture” programme. Focusing on larger farms with irrigation infrastructure, it has shown some success in the past season. But such programmes should not be abused for political ends. And it’s essential that loans are fully repaid.

Access to markets

Linking diverse producers to markets is essential. Too often smallholders get poor value for their products, but ensuring local content purchasing by supermarkets, reduced red tape and support for investment in transport infrastructure will help. Already the reduction in market transaction costs through the removal of many police roadblocks has had a massive, positive impact, as fewer bribes have to be paid.

Value addition

The country must work on developing value-added activity around the agricultural sector. Local processing and packaging would ensure employment along the value chain. And preservation, processing and selling to niche markets could offset risks, such as a glut in horticultural products.

Smart support systems

Extension advice and market support through IT applications is increasingly feasible, given growing connectivity and the wide ownership of smartphones. This means farmers can be offered more attuned and useful advice. A wholesale rethink of agricultural extension and support services is therefore required.


Irrigation is essential to boost production in dryland areas, especially given the increased variability in rainfall patterns due to climate change. But this should not involve expensive, large-scale schemes. Instead they should be focused on supporting farmer-led irrigation, using small pumps and pipes bought locally. External intervention should be focused on improving water use efficiency and management.


Appropriate mechanisation is another priority. Again this shouldn’t be focused on the large-scale options of the past. Small-scale mechanisation, such as two-wheeled tractors and motorbike-drawn trailers may be more appropriate and affordable, and less subject to patronage, than large tractors and combines. For larger equipment, cooperative arrangements or private hire schemes could work, supported by online infrastructure and training.

Local economic development

Agricultural development needs to be seen as part of local economic development. It must be integrated into wider planning and investment frameworks at a district level, with new farms of varying sizes linked to small towns near land reform areas, where new employment and service provision opportunities open up.

The ConversationThese ten suggestions together could make a big difference, both to the economy and to farmers’ livelihoods across the country. Let’s hope that President Mnangagwa’s commitment to agricultural development is translated into action – and soon.

This is the third in a short series of articles for The Conversation. The previous two on compensation and on land administration are available here and here.

Ian Scoones, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Zimbabwe urgently needs a new land administration system

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REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

This is the second in a short series of articles produced for The Conversation on the land and agricultural development challenges for the post-Mugabe era. See the first one on compensation in last week’s post.

Zimbabwe urgently needs a new system of land administration to harness development in the agricultural sector. The country’s land use and ownership have been significantly reconfigured by the fast-track land reform programme undertaken during Robert Mugabe’s rule.

Today, following the land reform of the 2000s, Zimbabwe has an agrarian structure that’s made up of small, medium and large farms, all under different forms of land ownership. A landscape that used to be dominated by 4,500 large-scale commercial farmers is now populated by about 145,000 smallholder households, occupying 4.1 million hectares, and around 23,000 medium-scale farmers on 3.5 million hectares.

Knowing exactly who has land and where is difficult. Illegal multiple allocations combine with unclear boundary demarcations and an incomplete recording system. Many new land owners don’t have formal documentation and lack leases or permits confirming ownership. There is a great deal of uncertainty given the often haphazard, sometimes corrupt, approach to land reallocation that took place under the land reform programme.

Given that the landscape is very different to what went before, a new system of land administration is urgently needed.

Promise of change

In his inaugural speech, Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, declared that land reform was both necessary and irreversible, and acknowledged some big, outstanding challenges.

A new land administration system for the post-land reform era is long overdue. Paying compensation to former owners is a vital first step. This has to be combined with a comprehensive land audit to weed out those failing to produce, or those illegally holding more than one plot, alongside allocating leases and permits to those in land reform areas, and attracting investment into agriculture as the mainstay of an ailing economy.

Both compensation and audit processes will inevitably throw up disputes. A fair and transparent system for rapid resolution is required, including the establishment of an independent Land Tribunal. Alternative dispute resolution processes at a local level will hopefully avoid the dangers of the courts getting clogged with numerous cases.

An audit also has to be linked to land registration, and an effective, but low-cost, land information management system. Following registration, legal recognition and formal documentation of land ownership is essential, as land tenure security is vital for future investment.

Many forms of tenure

Some believe that the only solution is individual freehold titling, as land is otherwise seen as “dead capital”. But this is mistaken, as other forms of land tenure can offer security, spurring investment, if the institutional, legal and political context is right.

As argued in 1994 by the Rukuni Commission, a major review of tenure policy in Zimbabwe, a multi-form tenure arrangement makes most sense. In some settings, communal tenure regimes are best, allowing flexibility and broad access. In others, a simple permit system can allow registration. In others, a leasehold arrangement can offer security and collateral, while regulations can offset land concentration and assure access for certain people.

Occasionally freehold title may be appropriate if a completely free market in land is required. However, titling schemes are notoriously expensive to deliver, open up multiple disputes and are difficult to regulate to ensure more equitable ownership structures, including land ownership by women.

Financing is essential

To pay land taxes, mortgages or compensation payments, the land must be productive, and this requires finance. Finance for agriculture has been missing in recent years.

Great efforts have been made to ensure that the 99-year lease for medium-scale commercial farm land (known as A2) is bankable, and cannot be withdrawn arbitrarily. It seems that, at last, the Zimbabwe Banking Association is in agreement. This will allow the release of private bank finance, as land can be used as collateral.

For those without land leases, other types of collateral can also be used, including assets such as livestock, vehicles or buildings. Alternative sources of farm finance include commercial crop contracting, partnerships and joint ventures or government backed loans.

All these financing models have shown some promise in Zimbabwe in recent years, with crop contracting at the core of the smallholder tobacco production success story. Contracting arrangements are also extending to other crops. Joint ventures, including partnerships with Chinese investors and former commercial farmers, have also been emerging in a number of under-capitalised medium-scale farms.

“Command agriculture” – a public-private input supply scheme – has been a flagship project led by the new president and the military. It has helped to revitalise maize and wheat production, especially on larger farms with irrigation infrastructure. Questions are however raised about longer-term sustainability of such subsidised financing.​

Sustainability is key

Getting a new land administration system working is a huge task. All the elements have to work together – from audit to valuation to compensation to dispute resolution to issuing land tenure documentation to financing – and back again.

And this is not just a one-off task to resolve the current mess. Land disputes will continue, audits will need to be repeated, and new leases and permits and sources of finance secured. For this reason any new system must be sustainable, both administratively and financially, and not reliant on external donor finance. Taxes, rents and compensation repayments need to be paid back into a land fund, which in turn supports the system for the long-term.

Testing this all out at a district level before rapidly rolling it out across the country is an urgent task for Zimbabwe’s new Land Commission. Elaborating a new land administration system is long overdue. Such a system will help the country get over the post-land reform impasse, resolving outstanding land issues and getting much-needed investment flowing into the agriculture sector.

The ConversationOnly with this working well – as countries in East Asia recognised when they undertook land reforms decades ago – will the full benefits of Zimbabwe’s land reform be realised.

Ian Scoones, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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