Tag Archives: land reform

Challenging simplistic land degradation and restoration narratives in Zimbabwe

In the last blog, I reviewed the results of our land use analysis using a combination of Landsat satellite imagery, document/archival analysis and field interviews from Mvurwi area in northern Zimbabwe from 1984 to 2018, now out as an APRA Working Paper.

A number of themes emerged. The research showed how in this miombo savannah environment there were cyclical shifts in land use between woodland, grazing areas and arable fields depending on a set of intersecting factors. These including demographic pressure, but also included economic, social and political dimensions. Shifts occurred often quite dramatically at particular moments, when a confluence of factors combined. Such factors were often uncertain and contingent, with the result that linear, secular change in land use and the environment was not seen.

Instead, there were often cycles, a waxing and waning of different land use combinations, depending on the context. This was the case in the post-land reform period, where the land is dominated by a mix of smallholders and medium-scale farms. Today there is only one large estate remaining, contrasting with the pre-land reform period when the Mvurwi area was dominated by white-owned large-scale commercial farms.

There are some important wider implications that emerge from such an analysis that gets to grips with longitudinal environmental and land use change and its intersecting drivers. In the following sections, I identify four themes.

Non-linear, dynamic change

Unlike as is so often assumed, environmental change is non-linear and dynamic. This has important implications for how we understand ‘land degradation’, or ‘desertification’.

Degradation is often assumed to a be a negative shift from an assumed pristine (or wild) state. But what if this state doesn’t exist, and in dynamic ecologies there are more variations – whether from herbivory, fire or human intervention? Assessing degradation depends on defining an ideal state that is departed from, but the ideal may be something that is already transformed: like farmland or grazing areas – which expand and contract depending on a range of variables.

In this sense, the linear notion of degradation (and its equivalent, desertification) has little meaning in such variable environments.

Intersecting drivers

Environmental change is usually the result of intersecting drivers. As we saw in Mvurwi, change is not the consequence of a single, secular pressure, as in the Malthusian narrative so often imposed on environmental and land use debates.

Demographic factors intersect with economic, political, social and other dimensions too. And this means that change is not inexorably in one direction. There are key moments when changes happen – conjunctures when an array of factors combine, which are inevitably contingent and always uncertain.

Predicting environmental change is not an exact science, and the doomsday narratives that forecast environmental disaster may often be widely off the mark. Trees may increase, but also decline. It all depends on complex, intersecting and dynamic drivers of change, which have to be understood.

Beyond the closed forest obsession

Land use analysts have an obsession with closed forests. They are easy to see from space (large blocks of red on the satellite interpretations) and they fit the popular focus on deforestation as the major indicator of environmental damage.

But most forested areas are not closed forests (as in the Amazon for example), but open forests and woodlands, savannahs and parklands, where trees may dominate but are interspersed with different types of vegetation, including open grassland. This is the ‘natural’ landscape of much of Africa, although of course maintained over millennia by grazers, fire and human activity.

Classifying such landscapes is tricky on satellite images. Is it forest…or is it bush, or grassland or cropped land, or a mix? Trees are in all of these classificatory ‘types’ and often in significant numbers, but often are not spotted in the push to decide on a classification across the forest/not forest binary.

The sooner the grip of the standard, closed-forest image of ideal landscape gives way to a more variegated, patchy, complex understanding of temporally and spatially variable savannah ecosystems the better. We need more savannah ecologists and fewer foresters (or those obsessed with a particular type of forest) in this line of work.

Meaningless baselines in carbon assessments

The focus on ‘forests’ (or more particularly closed forests) has implications for how we assess baselines in environmental assessments for carbon markets, and increasingly popular approach to mitigating climate change through ‘offsetting’ and land ‘restoration’.

Gaining benefits from the carbon market through protecting forests to fix carbon assumes that there is a baseline of protected forest. Carbon premiums are then paid on this basis, paying out to protect the forest from damage that would otherwise occur. This all assumes that a closed forest is the ideal, and that protecting such areas (or when ‘degraded’ reafforesting through tree planting) will be beneficial.

But, in open ecosystems like savannahs, the dynamics of carbon sequestration are such that grasslands combined with woodland give the highest benefits, and the idea that a successional endpoint of a closed forest is somehow best is mistaken. The idea of a ‘baseline’, so central to carbon forestry schemes (like REDD+), simply doesn’t make sense, as we saw in studies in Hurungwe.

Again, it is the linear view of environmental change, the obsession with the idea of a closed forest and a lack of understanding of land use change dynamics that such schemes are premised on – and which a large and growing carbon market is defined by. These are shaky foundations for environmental protection, and it’s no wonder that so many such carbon forestry schemes don’t work despite the hype. 

Dispelling simplistic linear ideas of environmental change

All this is why the sort of fairly basic but cross-disciplinary perspective that we pursued in our study in Mvurwi, now published as an APRA Working Paper, is so important to dispel simplistic ideas about linear environmental change and usher in more sophisticated and appropriate measures for environmental protection and land use management for such dynamic settings.

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

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

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

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

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

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Dynamic drivers of land use change in Zimbabwe

What are the drivers of land use change and how do they interact over time? Are the changes, uni-directional and linear, or are the dynamics more complex? This is the question we posed for our study site in Mvurwi in northern Zimbabwe for the period 1984 to 2018, now published as an APRA Working Paper.

Using Landsat satellite imagery we looked at land cover change across the area over 34 years, including former large-scale farms (now resettlement farms, both small-scale and medium-scale) and one ward in the nearby Chiweshe communal area. This broad assessment was complemented by an in-depth look at a particular site, focusing on one ward. The satellite analysis was combined with field interviews with those who had lived through these changes, together with a wider analysis of changes in demography, agricultural policy, economic contexts and politics. What emerged was an interesting story.

Open forests: a dynamic environment

Mvurwi is a high potential region receiving on average about 750 mm of rainfall annually. There are sandy loam soils and a diverse miombo savannah woodland. These are open forests, with mixed patches of denser woodland with patches of grassland in between. In the past grassland areas were created and maintained by the actions of elephants and other large herbivores, or exist in places such as wetlands where trees will not grow.

Today, such patches are created through land clearance combined with grazing by domestic animals. As William Bond from UCT explains is in his excellent book – Open Ecosystems: Ecology and Evolution Beyond the Forest Edge – open forest environments are very common across Africa and are the dominant ecosystem in southern Africa’s savannah environments. These are not the classic closed forests of the foresters’ and satellite image analysts’ imagination, but a mixed, variegated environment, maintained by herbivory and human action.  

This has implications for how we understand land use change in such environments. It is not a binary forest/not forest choice, perhaps with the intermediate option of ‘scrub’, but a much more dynamic landscape that shifts through different pressures as forest areas increase and decrease and grassland (or cropped) patches change.

Land use change: cyclical not linear

What happens to land use when you redistribute land to multiple new land holders? Well, forest cover declines and a more open landscape emerges with woodlands and farms interspersed. This much is obvious – although the number of papers I see condemning Zimbabwe’s land reform for destruction of trees is amazing, such is the strength of the negative narrative.

However, this is the least interesting part of the story. Our analysis indeed showed that land reform did of course result in a decline in forest cover through clearance of lands on what were large, underutilised large-scale farms, often used for very extensive grazing. This occurred especially between 2000 and 2004, following the land reform of 2000. But this was not a permanent state as so often assumed. After 2004, woodland cover increased again (2004-09), before decreasing in the most recent period (2009-18).

Cyclical patterns were equally repeated in earlier periods when the land was under different ownership. The past was not a presumed ideal of continuous forest cover, undisturbed by the horrors of small-scale farming. Although we did not have satellite imagery earlier and did not look at the old aerial photographs, I am sure that in the earlier periods, when tobacco farming was expanding and profitable on the large-scale farms, there were similar dynamics as seen today as settlers cleared the land.

What explained all these changes? It was not a standard Malthusian story of inexorable rises in population pressure resulting in deforestation – the story told in so many of those doom-and-gloom papers I mentioned earlier. Instead, there were cycles – periods of woodland expansion then retreat, and then repeats, as conditions changed. These cycles were driven by a combination of factors, not just population growth; although this is of course part of the story.

In the early 1980s, both large-scale and communal farming was recovering from the impact of major droughts, with vegetation cover bouncing back.  Wider economic and political conditions had a clear effect. For example, the structural adjustment period from the early 1990s saw large-scale farmers contract their operations to small, high value production of horticulture, floriculture and so on, with some switching to wildlife. This resulted in an expansion of woodland as bush expanded to previously farmed fields. In the communal areas, structural adjustment saw the withdrawal of state support and subsidies, and so a contraction of farming activity is seen.

By contrast, in more recent years there has been a decline of forest cover due to agricultural expansion. The 2000 land reform was a key moment, with major land clearing happening in the period after 2000. But after 2004, the trend was temporarily reversed due to the economic consequences of economic chaos and hyperinflation on agriculture, particularly tobacco. This changed again after 2009, when a boom in tobacco production had a big impact, with the expansion of tobacco production (and also demand for wood for curing), resulting in significant declines in woodland area. After 2009, with the Government of National Unity and the dollarisation of the economy, there was a level of stability that saw incentives for agriculture return, and especially tobacco production in this area.

A more sophisticated approach to land use change analysis is needed

The APRA Working Paper gives much more detail of the fascinating twists and turns of a complex tale. It is best read alongside a longer history of agriculture in the area, appearing in another APRA Working Paper in the same series (see an earlier blog). Our study suggests the need for land use analysis to investigate complex patterns through multiple lenses. A simple analysis of satellite images is not enough to unpack the full story, and such patterns seen from space need interpretation from diverse sources, including from those living in the area.

Satellite-based analysis of land use change is all the rage these days, as it’s (relatively) easy, is now cheap and can be subject to multiple quant analyses through widely available software that impress journal editors and reviewers (well often not me!). But it’s not enough. Our satellite analysis was basic (Landsat after all was the earliest of the public satellites and so the imagery is not sophisticated), but it was long term (over 34 years) and so allows changes and cycles to be revealed. And most importantly, we didn’t stop there, but went to the field, studied accounts in the archives and reviewed the policy debates to explore what were the drivers behind the changes.

In the next blog, I look at some of the wider implications of taking such an approach.

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

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Worker-peasants and peasant-workers: new labour regimes in rural Zimbabwe

Much academic debate about rural farm labour has focused on the idea of linear transitions in labour regimes through processes of agricultural commercialisation. This sees farmworkers as either moving towards a class of wage-labour, profiting from modernising, efficient, large-scale agricultural commercialisation, or into subsistence, peasant-based family farming. Yet data discussed in a new open access paper just out in the Journal of Contemporary African Studies shows that neither of these simple transitions is happening.

In our studies in northern Zimbabwe, most of those we define as ‘farmworkers’ – both men and women – combine elements of both small-scale agricultural work and wage-work through various types of employment. In addition, they also participate in the informal economy, with involvement in small-scale artisanal mining, trading and so on. These are the diverse ‘working people’ described by Issa Shivji and represent what Henry Bernstein calls the ‘fragmented classes of labour’.  

Our new paper builds on our earlier work in Mvurwi area, published in Development and Change in 2018, but extends it beyond the A1 resettlements to look at the different labour regimes across new land reform areas (A1/A2), large-scale commercial farms (LSCFs) and communal areas (CAs), spanning Mvurwi and Chiweshe. The findings equally complement the important work on labour in the post land reform era by Walter Chambati and of course the pioneering analyses of Sam Moyo.

Across the different land uses, we see an array of patterns, ranging from stable wage-work to successful accumulation largely from part-time farming to diversified livelihoods emerging under highly precarious conditions. A complex story is evident that challenges the standard, linear narratives, as well as the assumptions still evident in much policy debate about who is a ‘farmworker’ derived from the pre-land reform era.

Diverse working people

A dual character of worker-peasants or peasant-workers in the context of an informalised economy and labour market is observed. Ambivalent, dynamic, hybrid class positions describe the new labour regimes. As our earlier work has discussed, labelling thus becomes difficult: ‘farmworker’ is clearly an inadequate descriptor, but as an important set of ‘classes of labour’ supporting agriculture under variable labour regimes, these diverse working people are clearly vital for the wider agrarian economy, and a greater understanding of their livelihoods is important.

In post-land reform Zimbabwe, access to land by former farmworkers displaced in situ, and now living in former labour compounds, has enabled them to engage in farming and other off-farm activities facilitating consolidation as accumulating worker-peasants. They have mobilised their skill and labour to work for the new A1 and A2 farmers, but increasingly on their own terms. Gaining access to land has been central, and skilled farm work has allowed them to produce and accumulate, even from very small plots.

By contrast, workers in the CAs tend to be poorer peasants – often younger households with limited land and productive assets – who need to combine farm production with piecework employment. A similar pattern also occurs in the A1 areas, although there is more scope for land rental and borrowing and so building an asset base through farming.

In the LSCF, A2 and A2-Joint Venture areas, farmworkers are more classic wage-workers, but flexible expansion to other livelihood options is occurring, with a range of land acquisition and informal employment opportunities pursued, as wage work becomes insufficient to sustain livelihoods. This becomes necessary especially for temporary workers, particularly women and younger people who, due to casualisation of the labour market, can only rely on wage employment for part of the year. Casualisation and feminisation of labour go hand-in-hand, and most women engage in the labour market on a temporary, informal basis, usually responding to seasonal demand.

Fluid, hybrid labour regimes

These categories of ‘working people’ are not static. People move between places and seek different opportunities. With the offer of land – for example, the illegal land invasion near our LSCF case – workers may leave their compounds and adopt a more flexible, bricolage approach, while maintaining some links to the original farm. Compound dwellers may increase their land holdings and become full-time farmers, abandoning wage work as an option, while communal area dwellers may abandon their areas in the hope of better opportunities in full-time work on LSCFs, A2-JVs or A2 farms or as farmers in a resettlement area.

The removal of the old form of what Blair Rutherford called ‘domestic government’ on commercial farms and its replacement with ‘residential autonomy’ following land reform has resulted in a major shift in labour regimes. The massive informalisation of the economy after 2000 has generated a new impetus to diversify livelihoods, creating new classes of labour. The new ‘farmworker’ – working people combining wage work with a range of other activities including agriculture – enjoys greater flexibility and bargaining power resulting from diversified livelihoods options, although suffers extreme precarity relying on unregulated labour markets and very small patches of land.

The new regimes of farm labour that have emerged following land reform remain poorly studied. The pattern we have researched over the years in the Mvurwi-Chiweshe area with its large population of resident farm labour before land reform and high potential commercial agriculture is very different to the patterns found elsewhere. As key contributors to post-land reform agriculture, the new farm labour is also an important yet still ignored focus for policy and advocacy. Understanding the new regimes and the forms of livelihood of diverse, rural ‘working people’ is an important first step to improved policy and support for a vulnerable, yet vitally important, group of people in rural Zimbabwe.

This blog draws on the paper Agricultural commercialisation and changing labour regimes in Zimbabwe just out open access in JCAS. The work was supported by UK FCDO through the APRA programme.

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

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Land reform in England?

Illustration by Nick Hayes for Landscapes of Freedom

Access to land is not only a concern in places like Zimbabwe. In England, less than 1% of the population own half the land and 92% of land is out of bounds for ordinary people. The skewed nature of land ownership and access is what Guy Shrubsole, author of the excellent book Who owns England?’ calls England’s best kept secret. Lack of transparency over who owns what is compounded by a land registry that is impossible to navigate. Detailed research reveals that much of England is owned by a mix of rich families, large corporations, the military, the church, the crown and local governments. This huge enclosure is excluding the majority and preventing the emergence of more sustainable, inclusive ways of using the land. Sound familiar?

This is why a land reform movement is again stirring in England. This last weekend I joined a ‘mass trespass’ near Brighton, organised under the banner ‘landscapes of freedom’. Light drizzle turned to sunshine and 300 odd people set off to the Downs as part of a movement for ‘free walking’ challenging the enclosure of land, a tradition that the ramblers’ associations pioneered long ago. In this case it was not even private property, but council land rented out to tenant farmers, but removed from use by Brighton city residents just a kilometre or two from the city.

As the brilliant local ecologist, historian and campaigner, Dave Bangs explained at the trespass event, the South Downs in southern England are a valuable habitat, a site of important biodiversity of chalk grassland species, which are maintained by grazing especially by sheep. The Downs are situated in a densely populated area with huge demands for recreational use. In part protected by ‘national park’ status, the valuable habitats are under threat.

Since the Neolithic times, land in the South Downs has shifted between grazing and arable farming and settlement pendulum like as economic fortunes change and property rights shift. The loss of unimproved grazing since the removal of sheep grazing and shepherds through the great enclosures of the seventeenth and eighteenth century has been dramatic. An agricultural depression in the nineteenth century made matters worse and since the end of the Second World War the intensification of farming, fuelled by subsidies, has meant that patches of downland have declined further. Where slopes cannot be farmed, valuable habitats remain, but these are only maintained if farmers still grazing, otherwise scrub encroaches and the areas are lost.

A major review of the council’s Downland estate is underway, with all sorts of views as to what should be done. But access for people is an important demand and the ‘trespass’ was a demonstration of the importance of the countryside, even for a largely urban population. The COVID-19 lockdowns have only made this more vital. Unlike the large estates, owned by a single family or corporation, the over 10,000 acres of downland near Brighton are owned by the Council, as are many areas across England, yet are rented out to farmers on tenancies. Over years, the ploughing up of downland or the use of inappropriate crops and chemicals has continued unabated.

As a lived landscape, farming must always be part of these areas, but what sort of farming, by whom? Can sheep return and downland habitats be restored? Can tenancies involve more smallholding to supply high value products for the city? Can rights to roam be required for open grazing areas to reverse the tide of enclosure? Will access become more inclusive – can the countryside be for everyone (as Kelly Smith of Black Girls Hike explained at the trespass, land access is of course both a race and class issue)? Will new measures under the UK’s regressive Police Bill further limit the ability of Romany people and other nomads and travellers to make use of the countryside, criminalising their ways of life? These are the rural development questions being debated in southern England, but are relevant to so many places, where skewed land distribution, unequal access to land, limits on mobile livelihoods and a long history of agricultural policy that does not encompass issues of sustainability and multiple use dominate.

The mass trespass in Brighton was all very genteel. This was no jambanja’ land occupation, where economic marginalisation and desperation for new land-based livelihoods drove invasions and occupations of private property in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s. There were no ‘base commanders’ or ‘seven member committees’ or stand-offs and violent encounters with farm owners. In Brighton, the tenant farmers came more to watch what was going on rather than to confront, and the police kept their distance. And, after some short speeches, a few poems and a song or two, we all returned to our comfortable, middle-class, urban homes.

Yet despite the peculiar Englishness of it all, the demands for land reform are growing. The excellent investigative work by Guy Shrubsole; the important Labour Party commission on land led by George Monbiot – Land for the Many; the long-running and brilliant magazine, The Land; and even a bestselling book – ‘The Book of Trespass – beautifully written and illustrated by Nick Hayes, all point to a shift in perspective on land in England.

The secret has been exposed, people have rediscovered the value of the countryside during the pandemic and the debate has become even more pressing as further restrictive measures are proposed for those who most rely on mobility and access in the countryside. Land rights are an English issue too.

More on UK land issues on this blog can be found in the links below:

Why radical land reform is needed in the UK  

Scottish land reform: echoes of Zimbabwe?

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

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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 blog 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 blog 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 blog 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 blog 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 blog was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

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