Tag Archives: land reform

Institutions, social relations and rural development in Zimbabwe

Social and political relations are central to land and agricultural production. Unlike in the resettlement areas, where new institutions and relations had to be built following land reform, those in the communal areas draw on longer traditions. Like in the resettlements, institutions are often hybrids, combining ‘traditional’ (such as chiefs and headmen) and ‘modern’ (such as village committees and councillors). In the communal areas, party officials and war veterans are less of a feature, although very often party structures have melded with other arrangements; something that is also happening in the resettlements twenty years on.

Informal institutions: the social fabric of rural life

These officially-recognised institutions may however not be the most important. In fact, churches were often referred to as the most important institution, providing support in various ways. Across our sites, the presence of evangelical churches is noticeable. In Mwenezi, the top two churches attended by households in our sample were the Zionist church and Joanne Masowe’s apostolic church, although two-thirds of households said they were not affiliated to any church. Only in Gutu were the Methodists (Gutu West) and the Catholics (Gutu North) ranked as the most important church, above the Zionist and Zaoga churches.

Outside Mwenezi, nearly 80% of households were linked to a church. The Catholics and Methodists have had long traditions of supporting education in the Gutu sites, which is evident in the engagement with schooling both of previous and current generations, including both men and women. Evangelical churches by contrast emphasise church-based solidarity, including giving and sharing funds raised for the church. Such churches do not frown on polygamy, and there are few progressive views on gender rights shown in most evangelical churches, with women taking on particular, subservient roles.

When asked about leadership positions of both senior men and women in our sample, it was links to churches – as pastors, deacons, preachers, as well as church secretaries, treasurers and so on – that were pointed to. Church leadership positions were the most significant among men for the approximately 15% of male household heads who identified themselves as leaders in some way. These roles came second to involvement in village committees, both traditional and modern, as well as burial societies in Gutu North.

For women, churches were important, and women often took on administrative roles. Indeed, for approximately 10% of women who were identified as having leadership positions, the role of secretary or treasurer of committees (for gardens, burials, churches, as well as a range of projects) was the most commonly named role.

These roles linked to projects of various sorts, some supported by churches, others by NGOs, are an important feature of communal area life, linking people outside the immediate kin network. This may result in support ranging from loaning of draft power, sharing of ideas or links to markets. Traditional group based activities, such as work parties (humwe) for tillage, weeding or other activities, persist in Mwenezi and Chivi in particular, and were identified as happening for 34% and 13% of households in 2016-17. They are less common in the Gutu sites (7% and 3%), where a more individualised culture has emerged.

Where is the state?

Links to the state and external projects are also an important feature in the communal areas. Despite the decline in state capacity between 52% and 53% of households had engaged with an extension worker in the previous year. Most of these were agricultural extension officers from Agritex, but also there were mentions of seeing state veterinarians too. Across our sites, between 13% and 26% of household heads had gained a ‘Master Farmer’ certificate (see earlier blog), and so had participated in a rigorous training course on agriculture. Some of these qualifications were gained years ago, but the continued presence of state actors in the communal areas is a feature of life. The Agritex extension worker, even if there is no fuel in his or her motorbike, is known.

In Mwenezi, around two-thirds of households were recipients of state handouts through the Presidential Scheme, mostly seed and fertiliser. This however was absent in the other sites in 2017, although of course state handouts increased in the run-up to the election the following year. Outside Mwenezi and Gutu North engagement in other projects was not a big feature, as NGOs working in the communal areas concentrate activities and miss out huge areas. In Mwenezi, project links were around a donor-supported irrigation project and a contracting scheme for sorghum led by the brewing firm, Delta.

Compared to the land reform resettlements, the communal areas are much more connected to state- and NGO-led development. There are projects, demonstrations, events, and the infrastructure of these areas, the inheritance of the 1980s in particular, including schools, clinics and government offices, demonstrates state presence, even if the buildings are decrepit and the staff poorly paid. In the resettlement areas, such investment has not happened since land reform, and the developmental state very often feels very distant. Instead, in the resettlements, much more present is the ruling part (ZANU-PF)y, alongside the war veterans who led the land invasions from 2000.

In the early days, the politics were intense, with ‘seven member committees’ installed to protect the land reform gains, mirroring structures from the liberation war. This has subsided since, as the administrative state has attempted to establish structures for development, and allowed ‘traditional’ authorities to claim control. But without state resources and personnel, and with no donor or NGO projects due to on-going ‘sanctions’ (or ‘restricted measures’ if you prefer), the dynamics are different, and tensions frequently arise between the different forms of authority, which since the imposition of the VIDCOs in the 1980s, has not been a feature of communal area life.

Institutions and agriculture: comparisons with the resettlement areas

How does all this affect land and agriculture? In the communal areas, well-established systems exist, involving both headmen and village committees, who allocate land, help resolve disputes and often assist with marketing, the delivery of state or NGO relief handouts and the negotiation projects with external actors. This system is evolving in the resettlements, but the creation of a sense of ‘community’ – essentially emerging from scratch – with established trusted relations at the centre, takes time. In the resettlements, more individual arrangements for supporting agriculture, notably around marketing, tend to emerge, reflecting the more individualised, entrepreneurial culture in the resettlement areas.

The difference in social and political relations – and associated institutions – has important gender implications. In the communal areas, women are widely involved across institutions, more usually in supporting roles, but nevertheless important ones. Women’s involvement in churches, including in leadership positions, is significant. Women are also central to projects and development activities in all of our communal area sites. This partly reflects the absence of men in the communal areas, who may be migrating for work, but also the increasing openness of what is still a highly patriarchal society. In the resettlements, while land reform offered opportunities for some women, notably those cast out of tight kin-based communal area settings because of divorce, accusations of witchcraft and so on, roles in most resettlement areas remain very circumscribed, and men, who are more present, take the lead.

Thinking about institutions, formal and informal, is central to rural development and building more sustainable livelihoods. Too often this dimension is forgotten in the rush to address technical and economic questions. But whether it’s land, production, market or service provision (the subject of the next blog), social relations are key.

This post is the seventh in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge

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Off-farm work and diversified livelihoods in Zimbabwe’s communal areas

With low agricultural output, off-farm work is an essential complement to agricultural production in Zimbabwe’s communal areas. Working away has always been part and parcel of communal area livelihoods; indeed these were established as ‘labour reserves’ in the colonial era.

However, the patterns of labour migration have changed significantly over the past decades. Gone are the days of a stable job in town (or in the mines or farms), sending of regular remittances, and later retirement, with a cattle herd built up and enough land to subsist on. Following the retrenchments of the 1990s and the economic collapse of the 2000s, the wider economy is much less reliable. Jobs tend to be short-term and precarious, if they exist at all. Migration out of the country is an option, and has been taken by some, mostly to South Africa, but also to Botswana and the UK. Immigration restrictions and xenophobia are the risks migrants face in these longer migrations, even if the returns are better and more reliable.

Across our sample, we see reliance on migrant labour and remittances highest in Mwenezi. This is where agriculture is most unreliable, despite the study period’s results, and traditions of cross-border migration to South Africa most established. The recent jobs sample households mentioned included: game tracker, game guard, Illala palm products/basket making, Hippo Valley worker, builder, carpenter, well digger and herbalist. Most of these jobs were local, and linked to the economy in the area, including the national parks and the sugar estates near Chirdezi. Working in the estates was a more common feature of the households in Chivi, who included cane cutters, estate workers, security guards, drivers and others. Tour guides in local conservancies were also noted. Building, as in all areas, was a common profession, usually for local contracted work on a self-employed basis. Storekeepers were common too in Chivi. By contrast to Mwenezi, which is quite remote, in Chivi there were more teachers, police, soldiers and other government workers mentioned. This reflects the more established educational systems in the area, and so access to jobs requiring qualifications. This was definitely the case in the two Gutu sites. In Gutu West there were a large number of teachers and those with government jobs, again reflecting the (mission) education in the area over a long period. There were also bus conductors, security guards and self-employed local builders. In Gutu North, the majority of off-farm work was of this type, with builders, guards, drivers and a variety of business people, including shopkeepers, noted.

Overall, the data show that 25-57% of households had someone employed elsewhere. With the exception of Chivi, half to three-quarters of household heads were either currently employed or had been so in the recent past. Remittances were received by more households in Mwenezi (57%), but only between 11% and 21% of households received regular remittances in the other sites; a figure way lower than recorded in the 1980s and 90s. Again, other than Mwenezi, surprisingly few younger household members (aged 21-30) were in employment elsewhere. Those in Mwenezi joined the border-jumpers to South Africa, sometimes via Mozambique, whereas others were stuck at home, suffering the consequences of the poor state of the economy and lack of jobs. A predicament of many young people in rural areas, as our recent paper showed.

In the communal areas, levels of employment and reliance on remittances has historically been high. Studies in the 1980s put it as high as two-thirds of households receiving a significant proportion of income from remittances. With the decline in the wider economy this is now much lower and, although we didn’t ask about the figures, the amounts and regularity of remittance income has definitely declined. Nevertheless, reliance on off-farm employment, locally, within Zimbabwe and in other countries, is higher than seen in the nearby A1 resettlements, especially in the wetter areas where agriculture is profitable. In the Gutu and Masvingo district A1 areas remittances were only received by 7% of households in 2011, for example.

Access to education has historically been essential in gaining better-paid and stable jobs, such as those in government service. Since 1980, the ‘born free’ generation benefited massively, and before that the areas with mission education (such as via the Catholic and Methodist churches in Gutu) have been well educated. But with the decline in formal jobs, the collapse of pay in public service and periods of hyperinflation, the benefits of employment have dramatically declined. Better to set up your own business as a shopkeeper or builder than rely on formal employment. That younger household members in the 21-30 age group are barely working (outside the border jumpers of Mwenezi, which of course is dangerous and precarious) is witness to the collapse of the old livelihood strategies in the communal areas.

  Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Household head in a job, or having had one recently (%) 72 22 49 51
Household member employed elsewhere (%) 57 25 45 43
Remittances received in last year (%) 57 20 11 21
Lead women with non-agricultural independent income (%) 38 nd 5 16
Children aged 21-30 employed elsewhere


45 1.2 5.2 7.3

Off-farm activities: livelihood diversification

Given the limitations of agriculture, livestock keeping and formal employment, people must resort to other activities to earn enough. The table below shows the range of income earning activities recorded in the year before the 2017-18 interviews. It shows that poultry and vegetable sales are important for a good proportion, along with trading, especially in Mwenezi (near international borders) and Gutu North. Livestock related sales are important in Mwenezi, as discussed in an earlier blog.

Gender differentiation of tasks is evident across these activities, with vegetables and poultry largely the domain of women, as are a range of the other activities noted (including basket weaving, pottery etc.). Livestock sales are led by men, as are other activities such as building, carpentry, brick-making and transport provision. However, gender roles are not fixed and, with lack of jobs elsewhere, men and women are much more flexible about roles. Young men for example will garden, trade and sell chickens, unheard of in previous generations.

Natural resource-based activities are important, but these are concentrated in Mwenezi where plentiful resources still exist. Fishing, woodcarving, and wild food harvesting are important. This includes (illegal) hunting and collection of the famous mopane worm, which both are important activities in the Lowveld. None of our areas are serious gold panning areas like other parts of the country, but a few travel to nearby rivers to try their luck. None of this is seriously remunerative: enough to supplement but not survive, and in the case of the Chivi and Gutu sites, relatively few households engaging. Again, this is a sharp change from before when natural resource-based incomes were much more important.

% households Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Remittances 57 20 11 21
Pensions 38 8 4 3
Maricho local piecework 1 17 15 3
Food/cash for work 51 26 18 18
Land rental nd 0 0 2
House rental 3 2 0 1
Cattle sale 44 2 0 0
Milk sale 24 2 0 0
Poultry sale 63 16 19 23
Goat sale 37 3 1 0
Vegetable sale 43 25 11 21
Dry vegetable sale 23 `4 1 1
Brewing 26 9 3 7
Building and carpentry 43 6 7 5
Brickmaking 25 5 1 0
Wood carving 44 21 2 3
Pottery/baskets 73 1 1 5
Fishing 27 0 2 0
Wild products 26 2 2 0
Gold panning 12 3 5 5
Trading 67 2 3 10
Tailoring 65 0 3 0
Transport hire 5 0 2 1
Grinding mill nd 0 2 4

As the data on off-farm income earning shows, today diversification is all, and many communal area households have multiple streams of income, often with small, infrequent, uncertain amounts. This is much more stark than we see in the A1 resettlement areas, where, for most, agricultural incomes make up the bulk of livelihood support. For a significant group – perhaps 30-40 percent of households – agricultural surpluses generate investments that allow for further income to be made. In contrast to the resettlements, incomes derived from house rentals, shops or transport services are minimal in the communal areas. Instead of new businesses being established on the back of agriculture, people are scraping a living, hiring out labour and using natural resources.

Farm labour: a big contrast with the resettlements

On-farm labour has really taken off in the resettlements. With larger plots of land, the demand for labour is high, and those without resources to invest in their own land often hire out labour. This is often more than the occasional bit of piecework; there are quite a few permanent jobs, often involving a mix of tasks, including herding, housework etc. This is not evident in the communal areas, as the table below shows.

 % households Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Permanent labour (male) 5 9 3 4
Permanent labour (female) 2 3 2 3
Temporary labour (male) 9 0 0 5
Temporary labour (female) 2 0 1 13
Work party (average 16/17 seasons) 34 13 7 3
Employed on farms elsewhere (%) nd 3 0 1

There is very little agricultural labour employed, beyond some occasional temporary labour from the very few who are able to invest in agriculture (male in Mwenezi and female in Gutu North), but not from many households. This is in contrast to the nearby resettlements where, across our A1 sites, farm employment rates are much higher, with, in 2011, 17% of households employing permanent workers and 12% of households employing temporary workers. In Chivi and Gutu West a certain amount of piecework (maricho) is recorded, but this is very occasional, and not regarded as employment.

Precarious prospects

In other words, the patterns of class differentiation seen in the resettlements – between for example petty commodity producers and worker-peasants and semi-proletarians – is not observed to the same extent in the communal areas. There simply isn’t the productive base for surplus extraction and the formation of a worker-peasant/proletarian class. Unlike the studies from the 1980s that showed such patterns in the communal areas, we see much more of a uniform pauperisation of struggling households, who are mixing diverse forms of ‘work’ (rarely ‘employment’ or ‘jobs’), with limited, low productivity agriculture. This is not a classic self-sufficient peasantry, nor do we even see many emergent petty commodity producers – the hurudza; instead we see what Henry Bernstein describes as the ‘fractured classes of labour’, struggling to make a living.

Life in the communal areas, with limited land and poor job prospects, is increasingly precarious. Reliance on aid is important, and this rises from the drier Mwenezi to the wetter Gutu. NGOs and government programmes exist, but this is always hit and miss and not a way to survive. Making a living in the communal areas, with limited agricultural opportunities, is certainly tough. It is no surprise that, when our research partners in the A1 resettlement areas reflect on their lives, they are certain that they have improved, despite the hard work of getting established. Indeed, it is not only the state and NGOs that provide aid to the communal areas, there are significant flows of food from the resettlements to the communal areas that keep relatives, friends, fellow church members and others going, reflective of a new rural moral economy of the post land reform and economic crisis era.

It is these social relationships – with areas and between them – that are crucial when thinking about how agriculture is practised and economies function. The next blog discusses the social institutions at the heart of communal area life, contrasting this with what is found in the more recently established resettlement areas.

This post is the sixth in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge



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Livestock production: the limits of extensive systems in Zimbabwe

As the previous blog described, the communal area sites we have been studying in Masvingo rarely produced sufficient crops to cover even subsistence needs, and then if so only very occasionally, as with the Mwenezi experience in 2016-17. So what about livestock production?

Given its drought-prone nature, Masvingo province is known as cattle-keeping country. Many of the former white-owned farms were large ranches, often covering vast areas with very few stock. Communal area people were able to make use of this to poach graze and supplement the limited grazing in their own areas. Now with resettlement farms surrounding them, communal areas are more hemmed in. Although in the early 2000s there was surplus grazing in the new resettlements as people settled and carved out fields, this is much less the case now. Indeed, in responses to questions about interactions with nearby resettlement areas, conflicts over grazing (and also thatch grass and fuelwood) came top in the ranking by our communal area respondents.

This means that extensive livestock production is constrained in communal areas, perhaps even more so than in the past. Before the 2000 land reform sometimes negotiations were made with nearby (white) farmers, especially during drought, for access to grazing, but more often herders risked poach grazing, and occasionally suffered the consequences of the confiscation of herds and arrests. However, given the scarcity of grazing in the communal areas, it was worth it.

What happens now? Of course poach grazing persists, hence the recording of frequent conflicts, but also there are quite a few loan arrangements that facilitate access to grazing as animals are loaned to relatives or friends in the resettlements. They then have the benefit of the draft power, manure and milk, and (sometimes) the occasional offspring in exchange, while the owner keeps the animals alive and breeding. This was a very common pattern in the first decade of resettlement after 2000; however as settlers have built up their own herds, and the connections to their ‘home’ areas have faded, they are increasingly reluctant to take on communal area livestock. From our sample, loaning out was absent in the two Gutu sites, but still persisting in Mwenezi.

As the table below shows, with the exception of Mwenezi, our communal area sites could not be described as major livestock production areas. Indeed, over a third of households hold no cattle at all, and are reliant on sharing of others’ for draft power (see previous blog). Outside Mwenezi, smallstock holdings are small, and donkeys, pigs and broilers are rare.an purchase regularly. This was only 6-9% of households in the sites outside Mwenezi, where 23% had purchased cattle in the previous five years.

  Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Cattle held per household (N) 7.6 4.0 3.1 3.7
Loaned in (N) 1 0.5 0.5 0.4
Loaned out (N) 1.7 0.2 0 0
Above zero cattle (%) 64 66 51 61
Above ten cattle (%) 22 8 6 7.3
Cattle purchased in last 5 years (% of households) 23 8 6 9
Cattle sold in last year (%) 41 6 14 15
Cattle milk sales (%) 24 2 0 0
Goat (N) 7.9 1.8 2 2
Sheep (N) 0.8 0.1 0.5 0
Smallstock sold in last year (% of households) 44 8 14 5
Donkey (N) 1.3 0.3 0.2 0.1
Pig (N) 0.9 0 0.1 0.1
Broiler % 2 9 5 0
Broiler contract (% of households) 1 0 0 0
Herding labour hire (%) 7 4 1 2
Feed inputs (%) 7 0 5 19
Vet inputs % 30 20 23 19


Perhaps only Mwenezi could be described as a livestock system based on production, with a relatively large average cattle (7.6, ranging from zero up to 105) and goat (7.9, ranging from 0 to 60) holdings, and regular sales and purchases. Although more than the other sites, there is still very limited labour hired explicitly for herding (only 7% of households). Cattle milk sales are also recorded here from those with larger breeding herds. This is not surprising given the dry conditions of the area, and the extensive, relatively high quality sweet grazing available. While the bumper sorghum harvest in the years of our study was unusual, livestock production can provide a regular income.

This contrasts with all the other sites where average cattle holdings averaged 3-4; just about enough to maintain a draft span, and provide some transport, manure and milk, but sales and purchase are comparatively much lower. When sales occur, these are usually emergency sales for school fees, medical expenses or a funeral. Replacements are by-and-large through births within the herd, and these are infrequent because of the small herd size and the age/sex composition, which is geared towards older oxen for draft rather than a breeding herd.

Limited intensification

You might expect, with constrained grazing, there would be a shift to more intensified production – for example stall feeding with purchased feed. There is some evidence this is happening to a small extent in Gutu North, where 19% are purchasing feed, but most of this is at a very small level, and largely supplements. In other areas, this is not a phenomenon except for a few who will buy in to support calves or pregnant cows. Contract arrangements for livestock production have not taken off in these areas, which would be another way of financing feed and other inputs for a more intensified alternative. Only a few in Mwenezi are linked to a contract broiler arrangement with a local farm.

With the collapse of state veterinary services in recent years, and the poor quality of dipping chemicals, there has been a rise in tick diseases across the country. This has meant that those with resources purchase spray dip chemicals for private spraying. Some also recorded buying veterinary medicines for sick animals. A quarter to a third of households – those with larger, more valuable herds and flocks – invest in this way, and have learned to cope without state services. The rest remain vulnerable and deaths from a variety of tick-borne diseases are regularly recorded, especially in wetter years.

In sum, outside Mwenezi, despite Masvingo’s former reputation, these are largely not livestock production areas today. Cattle are kept for multiple uses, notably as inputs to agriculture which, despite poor results, is still seen as the core activity. Land areas are constrained in the communal areas with notional grazing areas often occupied by settlements and farms, or very heavily used and so degraded. This is very different to the situation in the past, and in other parts of the country further west in Matabeleland and southern Midlands, where a more livestock-based economy exists, more akin to that found in Mwenezi and the Lowveld areas.

Contrasts with the resettlement areas?

The A1 resettlement areas nearby are not that different. Here cattle are kept primarily as an input to agriculture, for draft power and manure, with milk, meat and live sales being bonuses, and sales key for emergencies. The herd is seen a stable savings account, which, given the volatility of the economy, makes much sense. Yet the herd size is mostly too small to allow for the possibility of making a regular living. In the A1 resettlement areas too, pressure on land is increasing. In 2000, there was plenty of spare grazing, but now more people have arrived, lands have been subdivided and grazing areas are being encroached. With more fields and settlement, the need to for herding labour during the cropping season increases, but labour is scarce and expensive, and relatively few invest in dedicated herding labour, as with the communal area sites. In other words, unlike for crop agriculture, livestock production in the resettlement and communal areas is more similar.

The big exception is broiler production, which, as a project for younger family members and women, has taken off across the new resettlements. Sometimes this is supported by contracting arrangements, but usually it is independent, financed by surplus income from agriculture and off-farm sources. The difference here is the availability of cash for investment. In the communal areas this is rare, and many are living hand to mouth. Occasionally an aid project will come along, but these are sporadic and often last just a few years. For most communal area households usually there’s not enough surplus to do much more than keep going. This is different in a significant proportion (not all by any means – see other blogs) of resettlement households, where accumulation from agriculture can be invested elsewhere and investment drives further investment in process of stepping out (diversifying) and up (accumulating) of livelihoods.

Once again, land redistribution and the opportunities for accumulation that this offers provides the basis for enhanced livelihoods. But this is constrained for land extensive production activities such as with livestock. Former white farmers had hundreds if not thousands of hectares and managed to make a reasonable (but not always very good) living from livestock ranching. With a more equitable distribution of land this is no longer an option, and more intensive approaches to production – broilers, piggeries, stall-feeding and so on – become the priorities outside the areas like Mwenezi with good grazing and land surplus. Such investments, though, need cash, and this is in very short supply, with limited other options in the communal areas as the next blog will discuss.

This post is the fifth in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge

Photo credit: Tapiwa Chatikobo

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Agriculture in Masvingo’s communal areas: limited prospects

We investigated agricultural production across our communal area sites throughout Masvingo province during the 2016 and 2017 harvest seasons. These were relatively good rainfall years, with 690 mm recorded in Masvingo town in 2016-17, for instance. Compared to the past seasons, these were bumper harvest years, especially in the Lowveld site of Mwenezi.

Yet, as the table below shows, with the exception of Mwenezi, none of the sites produced on average sufficient grain to feed a family. If this is estimated to be one tonne of grain per year, three of the sites produced about half this amount on average. Of course there was a wide range, but across three sites only 14-18% households produced over a tonne of grain.

The Mwenezi results are unusual, given that this is drought prone area, but good soils under higher rainfall can produce the occasional good crop, especially as land areas are significantly higher. Here 51% of households produced over a tonne of grain on average across the two seasons, much of this from sorghum. Some sorghum is sold under contract to brewers, but most is retained for food, and because of good storage can tide people over through a number of years.

  Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Maize 16/17 seasons average (kg) 915 543 509 613
Sorghum (kg) 1312 20 21 36
Pearl millet (kg) 0 3.4 3.9 0
Finger millet (kg) 3.3 1.7 37.6 52.5
% households producing over 1 tonne of grain (16/17 average) 51 16 14 18
Sunflower (kg) 5.8 0 18 12.7
Cotton (kg) 0 0 0 0
Groundnuts (kg) 73 182 189 220
Horticulture sales $ per household 26 6 5 8
Maize sales 16/17 seasons average(kg) 159 60 18 18
Zero maize sales 16/17 seasons (%) 85 89 96 95
Maize certified seed purchase (%) 59 88 90 100
Fertiliser purchase (%) 2 23 52 44
Manure applied (%) 3 37 44 65
Pesticide purchase (%) 40 41 45 23
Credit (%) 0 0 0 0
Contract (%) 13 0 0 0


Overall, crop diversity is limited. Outside Mwenezi, maize dominates, and pearl and finger millet have nearly disappeared, beyond being grown on very small plots for specialist production, usually for home brewing. Groundnuts are grown but not in large quantities and in these sites sunflowers are rare, because of the lack of markets these days. Cotton and tobacco are absent except for a few isolated cases.

Sales are also very limited. A few larger maize and sorghum producers sell, but most don’t. In fact across the two years on average 85%, 89%, 96% and 95% in the Mwenezi, Chivi, Gutu West and Gutu North communal area sites sold nothing, even in these relatively good years. With very few cash crops and little surplus to sell, this is largely a subsistence economy, one that requires off-farm income to supplement meagre agricultural production, as explored in a subsequent blog.

Tillage is especially reliant on access to livestock, which, as discussed in an earlier blog in this series, have a skewed ownership pattern. 50-68% of households use their own oxen, while others hire. Tractors are not a feature outside Mwenezi where a few have bought second-hand machines. Those with without other options must hoe their land, a feature most evident in Mwenezi.

% Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Own oxen 54 68 51 50
Hired oxen 14 28 29 35
Loaned oxen 2 5 11 4
Own Tractor 7 0 0 0
Rented tractor 2 0 0 0
Hoeing 21 3 9 11


Big contrasts with the A1 resettlements

These patterns of agricultural production contrast significantly with the nearby A1 resettlement areas where, especially in the higher rainfall areas, production is higher. In 2010-11 for example, sites nearby the two Gutu sites produced on average 844kg and 1238kg of maize, with 38% of households selling surplus maize. Over the period from 2003-2013, 44% of households in those A1 sites produced more than one tonne of maize. Cultivated land areas are higher, averaging 3.2 ha in the resettlements near our Gutu sites, but also the intensity of production is greater, with higher inputs, including fertiliser (with over half of the households applying fertiliser).

As discussed in a later blog in this series, labour hiring is more common, both of permanent and temporary workers. Across our A1 land reform sites, excluding Mwenezi, over a third of households are regularly producing surpluses and reinvesting in the development of the farm. At the time of our last major census of A1 sites in 2011-12, the level of mechanisation was modest, however, with only half a dozen tractors across all the A1 sites, but this has changed since as people have invested in tractors and other equipment, notably pumps.

In the A1 resettlement areas, this results in a dynamic of accumulation for a significant group, where investments in farm and house improvements occur year on year. Not everyone manages this, and the patterns of differentiation – and associated dynamics of class formation – are very evident, with those not able to accumulate either dropping out and moving away or becoming wage labourers supporting the production of the accumulators.

Across the communal area sites this dynamic is not seen. Those able to realise surpluses are vanishingly few. Only around 15 percent in three of the areas achieved levels of output of grain sufficient to provide for household food needs, and even fewer sold surpluses. And this in relatively good rainfall years.

Although there is obvious differentiation in assets, production, labour hiring and so on, as other blogs in this series show, most communal area households are poor, unable to do much more than subsist off their farms and rely on off-farm incomes of various sorts. Agricultural production in the communal areas is therefore very low input and low output.

As the table shows, across the communal area sites, fertiliser input levels were low, although increasing in the wetter Gutu sites. Virtually no-one uses synthetic fertiliser or manure in Mwenezi, where soils are good and the potential for crop ‘burning’ due to excessive fertiliser is high. This contrasts with the sandy soils of the miombo areas further north, where higher rainfall and leaching means soil fertility is low and additions are required. In all sites, as another blog will discuss further, labour hiring is minimal, and outside Mwenezi collective work parties are very rare.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the low levels of production, outside Mwenezi the vast majority use certified maize seed, purchased hybrids or open pollinated improved varieties. The proportion is less in Mwenezi, but still nearly 60%. The long-term commitment to improved varieties across Zimbabwe persists, supported by a 50 year tradition and continued extension reinforcement. This makes the economics of production of maize very risky, especially if purchased fertilisers are added too, and so this seed, along with most effort in agricultural production, is focused on the homefield areas, where extra labour, fertilisation and, if needed, additional irrigation can be applied. In small quantities, such maize may be produced as green maize for local consumption and sale rather than for grain.

Pesticides were bought by around a quarter of households, but these were in very small quantities and mostly applied to vegetables. Horticulture as a source of income, however, was highest (but not very high) in Mwenezi where irrigation projects provide opportunities. This again contrasts with the A1 resettlement areas, where informal irrigation has taken off in all sites, resulting in significant production of vegetables and green maize for market.

Finally, commercial credit was purchased by no one across the sites. Limited contracting for sorghum in Mwenezi provides some finance, but otherwise farmers are on their own. They rely on off-farm sources and remittances to finance agriculture, but overall, and by contrast to the A1 resettlements, this is a very low input, low output form of agriculture. Indeed, the possibilities of improvement are constrained. Land areas are small, soils are poor or rainfall is highly variable, labour is scarce and many farm owners are old and unable to invest effort.

Communal area projects: missing the mark

Agricultural production remains important of course, but more as stop-gap social security rather than as a basis for accumulation. This is vital given the absence of wider welfare opportunities and declining employment possibilities in Zimbabwe, but it is no surprise that government, NGO and donor food and cash for work schemes are an important source of livelihood for a significant group in these areas.

While there are many well-meaning projects aimed at improving agriculture in the communal areas of Masvingo province – usually with a ‘climate smart’ or ‘resilience building’ tag these days – you have to wonder whether these can have any impact, beyond marginal, often very labour intensive, improvements (like ‘conservation agriculture’). The communal areas, as discussed in other blogs, are structurally poor and disadvantaged and technical tinkering will make little difference. Maybe there are some high value, niche products that can be promoted – such as has been done with chillies in some parts of the country – but our Masvingo sites are in lower rainfall areas, more remote from markets, and it may make sense.

In sum, contrasting the communal areas with the A1 resettlements demonstrates how important land redistribution is if agriculture is to become more than a marginal, subsistence activity for most.

This post is the fourth in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge


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Land and tenure in Zimbabwe’s communal areas: why land reform was needed

Access to land is central to the livelihoods of rural people, but in the communal areas this is highly constrained outside the land-extensive Lowveld site of Mwenezi. Even in dryland Chivi average holdings are only 2.1 hectares, while in Gutu North they are as small as 1.4 hectares on average (see table below). The communal areas of course were established as labour reserves in the colonial period, and were never meant to afford the opportunity to accumulate independently. The aim was to provide some level of social security in old age, and a place for women and children to live, while men migrated to town or to the farms and mines to work. This wage labour was then the source of income and agricultural production just complementary subsistence.

  Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Average land area owned (ha) 6.5 2.1 1.6 1.4
Cultivated in last year (ha) 4.4 2.1 1.5 1.0
Rented in land (%) 4.1 2.0 1.0 0.0
Rented out land (%) 2.1 2.0 4.1 3.6
Households with members with land in A1 resettlements (%) 17.1 5.0 3.1 3.6
Households with livestock in resettlement areas (%) 11 0.4 3.1 `1.8
Women’s independent control of land (%) 48 43 48 21
Gardens near home (%) 35 26 30 6
Gardens away from home (%) 1 57 36 0
Irrigated land (% of households) 2.8 0.5 10.4 0
Trees planted in last 5 years (%) 25 46 41 58
Conservation measures added in last 5 years (%) 25 21 8 25

Some managed to break away from these strictures in the past, and there were always a few communal area agricultural entrepreneurs – the hurudza – who ran large herds or farmed large fields, often through polygamous family labour. But for most, the colonial system of land use kept the reserves poor but surviving, and purposely so. Following Independence this did not change hugely. The post-independence resettlement schemes provided opportunities for a few, but most continued with patterns of circular migration to elsewhere in Zimbabwe or from some areas to South Africa, as part of a demographic cycle. With employment opportunities drying up in the 1990s this changed thanks to structural adjustment, with new patterns of land use emerging in the communal areas including some intensification (see below). Nevertheless, the basic patterns persisted within a dualistic agrarian structure, with the communal areas highly constrained.

Only with the major land reform did this change radically with the significant expansion of opportunities to gain access to land through the ‘fast-track’ land reform programme following 2000. But from our communal sites, despite there being resettlement areas nearby (which was the basis for the choice of study areas), relatively few moved from the households in our sample to the new areas. Even when they did, apart from in Mwenezi, connections between the old homes in the communal areas and the new resettlement areas have declined over time, although there still remains important exchanges of livestock, labour and food that continue. Those lucky enough to get land in the new resettlements are doing much better: having access to land, especially in the higher potential districts of Masvingo and Gutu, makes a big difference, and as our work has shown now over many years, there are opportunities for accumulation and livelihood improvement that are significantly greater than those in the communal areas.

Overall, following land reform the communal areas remained much as they did. There was of course some reduction in population density but not enough to make a big difference. The communal areas remain extremely land constrained, and this conditions the opportunities available. With low yields and limited inputs this is not enough to live from. Since the 1980s there have been loads of projects aimed to improve agricultural production and livelihoods in the communal areas, and these continue under various banners. When living in a communal area in Zvishavane district in the mid-1980s I got involved in some of these. They certainly improved things at the margins, but the historical constraints of these being ‘labour reserves’, not agricultural areas with potential, made opportunities limited. Only with land reform did opportunities increase, and then only for some. As argued in various blogs in this series, questions must be raised about these ‘development’ interventions: do they really make a difference?

Gardens and homefields: new patterns of agriculture in the communal areas

In addition to their main land holdings many people in the communal areas also have gardens. As more intensive areas of production, these have often been the focus for intervention but usually as group efforts rather than individual enterprises. Gardens can be near the home or further away near a suitable water source. Apart from Gutu North, where gardens seem to be (surprisingly) few, between 83% and 36% of households have such gardens. These tend to small, usually less than 0.1 ha, and irrigated mostly by hand, with most vegetables for home consumption (see other blogs). Most are managed by women, and such gardens are an important source of relish year round.

With the exception of Gutu North, where land is especially constrained, about 40-50% of lead women in the households have access to land in their own right. This is not necessarily because of being the household head (because a husband is deceased or they have divorced), as so-called female headed households make around a quarter of the sample, but through household level arrangements as part of the marriage bargain. In most cases, this is in relation to the allocation of certain land – including gardens – to women for sole management. Very often this involves particular crops, including groundnuts, Bambara nuts and so on.

The availability of irrigation plots depends on the proximity of a government scheme or an organised ‘group garden’. Unlike in the resettlement areas, particularly in Masvingo district, people have not invested in small-scale irrigation, but if there is a scheme some from a household may get a 0.1 ha plot. Overall the numbers are small, however, and this is not a big part of land use or production, despite these being dry areas. Irrigation schemes have long been a central pillar of investment in the communal areas, but they have tended to be focused on giving a larger number of irrigators just enough irrigated land, and this is not a driver of accumulation like the small, private initiatives in the resettlement areas, which have taken over the land along rivers, streams and around dams. Schemes are also prone to difficulties, as they are reliant on pumping equipment that often breaks down or ceases when power is not supplied. Many also resent the disciplining effects of scheme requirements, with specified rotations, crop choices and so on, under the control of an irrigation scheme extension officer.

Outside the Lowveld, there has been a shift in allocation in land in the communal areas, which has gendered implications. Very often the total land area is divided between homestead areas, often extensions of the home plot to include land around, and outfields which are the ‘traditional’ fields allocated way back in line with the Native Land Husbandry Act rules, where settlements (lines) and fields were separated in the land use plan. With more people and more land cultivated this separation has broken down and very often the outfields are seen as secondary. They are further away, more difficult to protect and require extensive production, which may not be possible because of lack of draft animals and labour. By contrast the homefields are a focus for more intensive production, using home waste, ash and labour from the home. These are often based on intensive garden production, often with hoes and hand irrigation, in small areas, and very often are the domain of women. Per hectare, productivity is much higher and from these small areas the main production is realised.

This is different to the nearby A1 resettlement areas that, in the villagised sites, have been planned in a similar way to the old ‘reserves’, with settlement separated from grazing. Here there may be small home gardens, but the main farming is done in the now cleared outfields. This is quite a different operation because of the scale, the level of inputs and the outputs expected, with different gender implications. While women are heavily involved in agricultural production, outfield farming is usually led by male heads of household, while women often focus on gardening.

Indeed, because of lack of inputs, notably labour (often because of age and infirmity) the outfields may not even be cultivated. For example, in the land-scarce area of Gutu North, on average 0.4 ha of a total of 1.4 ha, over a quarter, was left fallow across two relatively good rainfall years. In the resettlement areas there is also land left fallow, but this is usually because the land area is too big or it has not been completely cleared for ploughing by oxen or tractor.

These (relatively) new patterns of land utilisation in the communal areas, with the focus on a more garden-like form of production in the home fields, also affect the market in land rentals and sales (notionally illegal). In other parts of the country where production is more reliable because of better rainfall the emergence of ‘vernacular markets’ in land have been widely documented. You might expect that, given land scarcity, even if land exchanges are banned, these would emerge in these sites, with those able to make better use of land either buying up or renting in land.

The data show that this is not happening in the way that would be expected, as few rent out and rent in, and no one admitted to land sales. This may of course be a bias in the data, as people do not like to admit illegal activity, but based on our more qualitative research the data probably reflect the existing situation. Bottom line, as discussed in earlier blogs, people don’t have the resource to make a go of agriculture even on expanded plots, and so the demand for land, except at the margins (and usually around particular better quality patches near homesteads), is not high, and land markets are limited.

While areas are small and production limited, investment in particular areas continues. This is demonstrated by the planting of trees (mostly for fruit, sometimes for shade) and the expansion or rehabilitation of conservation measures (mostly contour ridges to reduce erosion). Tree planting, unsurprisingly, increases along the rainfall gradient from Mwenezi to Gutu North, with the most households recording planting trees where the land is most densely populated and the rainfall higher. Investment in conservation measures was noted by around a quarter of households, with the exception of Gutu West (for reasons that are not clear). This shows that there remains a commitment amongst a significant minority in sustaining production for the long term.

Tenure challenges

Investment, rental markets and so on happens despite these areas being under ‘communal tenure’. Some argue that a reform of tenure systems, and the offering of some form of private tenure will improve tenure security and increase production in the communal areas. I seriously doubt whether this will be the case. Despite this notionally being state land, these areas are held securely with usufruct rights, allocated through local institutions, usually a hybrid arrangement between local state officials (councillors etc.) and ‘traditional’ leaders (headmen, chiefs etc.), with allocation and inheritance processes mediated by close kin networks in extended household arrangements in family based villages. Through such arrangements land rentals are permitted, but sales are seriously frowned upon. This puts a brake on an acceleration of land sales and so land consolidation, although the odd corrupt local leader is not immune of course.

In the communal areas, therefore, a mix of de facto private and common property exists, which is recognised not formalised. A hybrid bricolage of informal and formal institutions supports this, which by and large serves the function of delivering land security to land holders, as well as resolving conflicts and disputes over land. It is not neat – there are no bits of paper to formalise it all – but it (mostly) works. The economists and planners who yearn for formalised systems will I fear be disappointed, as the constraint to production is nothing to do with tenure security, but due to structural constraints of finance, assets and land access. These will not be addressed by an expensive land tenure reform programme, which will, as so many places in Africa, be a wasted effort.

In the nearby A1 resettlement areas, the situation is different. There are fewer, long-standing local institutions and local kin networks to regulate land administration, and more formal systems are often required (although these are always hybrid combining resettlement committees of seven, war veterans, party officials and traditional leaders, sometimes involving the same people), to address land allocation, subdivision and inheritance, particular where there disputes. Unlike in the communal areas, where the land is being held as ‘home’, and production is limited, there are different stakes in the resettlement areas.

Here land is more extensive and valuable, and often significant levels of production are realised. Ensuring security for this is essential. For the A1 areas, this is less of a problem, but for the A2 medium-scale farms of, where finance for investment is vital, having a more formal arrangement so that land can be used as collateral, even through a lease agreement with the state, is important. For A1 areas, ‘offer letters’ or permits to occupy are issued, but their status remains unclear, especially in regard of financing.

The failure to address these land tenure issues comprehensively, but in a nuanced and differentiated manner, post-land reform has been a major policy failing, as discussed before on this blog. The priorities though must be addressing A2 leases, not communal area tenure reorganisation, where lack of land makes opportunities for development extremely limited. Communal areas still act in many respects as ‘the reserves’, but now without the labour in the wider economy. Beyond some marginal improvements, communal area livelihoods are not going to improve without an improvement in the wider economy. The focus for land-based interventions therefore must be elsewhere where the prospects are better.

This post is the third in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge

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Livelihoods assets: differentiated development in Zimbabwe

Last week’s blog introduced this blog series on communal area development in Zimbabwe, and the comparisons with resettlement areas. This week’s blog continues the series with a look at the distribution of assets people have and their importance in building livelihoods.

Our four communal area sites across Masvingo province each have highly differentiated populations. We undertook a ‘success ranking’ in each, where local informants allocated each of the 608 households in our sample to a group (doing well, doing OK and failing), and explained the reasons behind their choice. In each case there was a majority in the bottom two categories, with relatively few in the top success group.

What were the criteria they used? These varied between sites. In the dryland areas of the Lowveld, cattle ownership was the key, alongside off-farm work, reflecting the importance of migration to South Africa in household economies. In the Gutu sites, crop production became more of an indicator, alongside remittances and formal jobs. In all sites ‘a good home’ (usually meaning a brick house, with a tin roof) was an important criterion.

What then are the characteristics of the households in our four sites? The table below offers some basic information.

  Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Sample size (N) 150 251 97 110
Since 2011, % left and abandoned farms 6.3 13.4 14.9 9.8
Average household size 8.0 (4 under 16) 6.2 (3.1 under 16) 6 (2.3) 6.1 (2.3)
Female headed households (%) 23 27 36 34
Households w members who went to resettlement areas post 2000 (%) 11.3 1.9 3.1 3.6
Households with someone working elsewhere 55 25 45 21
Households with children aged 21-30 working elsewhere 63% (half in SA) 27% (inc. 13 working abroad) 27% (only 5 away from area) 41 (8 away, mostly SA)
Lead women in household with access to land (%) 48 43 48 21
Average age of household head 41-50 41-50 41-50 41-50
Household heads attending school above Form 2 (%) 29 26 32 37
Master Famer certificate (%) 14 13 27 26

Since our original studies, there has been a turnover in households, with 11.2% of our cases (N=77) from our original sample of 685 households having left over six years, with no one replacing them. Various reasons for exit were recorded. In rank order these were: death, moving to live in town, moving to other communal areas, moving to South Africa, abandonment and moving to a resettlement area. Ageing communal area populations are not necessarily being replaced on death, as the younger generation does not take up the homestead or plot, and the land remains abandoned. Due to old age, some parents, especially if one has passed on, will go and live with children in town or the new resettlements. Younger inhabitants may also abandon plots too, finding better alternatives, for example with work in South Africa or in town, or through the allocation of a resettlement plot. The highest rate of exit was seen in Gutu West, followed by Chivi, Gutu North and Mwenezi. In Mwenezi, some maintain two homes and fields in the communal and resettlement areas, which is reflected in a lower exit rate.

For those remaining, the data show a pattern evident in many communal areas. Household heads have a mix of ages, with an average in the mid-late 40s. Quite a few household heads have passed on since we last visited in 2011-12; although some farms have been abandoned, others have been replaced by younger people through inheritance or reallocation. 23-36% of the households are recorded as female-headed, where husbands have died or are absent for long periods. Outside Gutu North, where land is especially constrained, 43-48% of women, either because they are in charge or through the marriage contract, have access to their own land.

As is the case throughout Zimbabwe, and especially for those who benefited from the post-1980 educational provision, schooling is on average quite advanced, more so in the mission influenced areas such as Gutu, where 32-37% of household heads attended secondary school. Master Farmer certificates are indicators or engagement with agricultural extension training provided by the state, particularly in the past, and 13-27% of households have a certificate, with more in the higher potential Gutu areas. As discussed in a later blog in this series, engagement with projects – by NGOs or donors or the state – is patchy, with intensive activity in some areas, but almost complete absence elsewhere. These data show that external interventions overall are limited, and very few people indeed benefited from the Presidential inputs scheme or ‘command agriculture’ in this period.

Asset poor, but differentiation

Across our communal area sites in Masvingo province, there is a broad similarity in average levels of average household asset ownership, as the table below shows. Not surprisingly, livestock ownership is highest in the drier areas, as is investment in well digging. Within the sites there are large variations, with asset ownership patterns being highly correlated with the success ranks discussed above. Some assets are widely owned, such as a brick house with a tin roof, as well as ploughs, cell phones and bicycles. Others differentiate the group more, including cattle, tractor and car ownership.

  Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Land owned (ha) 6.5 2.1 1.6 1.4
% households dug well in last 5 years 14 2 2 8
Cattle owned (nos) 7.6 4.0 3.1 3.7
Households with brick/tin roof house (%) 89 80 69 86
Plough ownership (%) 52 45 30 37
Harrows (%) 10 34 22 65
Cultivators 12 23 26 16
Cart ownership (%) 50 21 10 24
Wheelbarrow owned 41 50 21 25
Car ownership (%) 13 5 10 8
Tractor ownership (%) 13 0 0 0
Bicycle ownership (%) 45 32 36 43
Solar panel ownership (%) 75 57 69 47
Cell phone ownership (%) 87 92 89 91
TVs owned (%) 23 25 44 30
Pumps owned (%) 5 1 2 2
Spray equipment owned (%) 22 35 21 15

Levels of asset ownership are lower on average in the communal areas compared to the nearby A1 schemes, although there are exceptions in both directions. The key difference of course in the A1 schemes is land ownership, where households cultivate 4.0-6.6 ha of land in the sites nearby, and there is much more extensive grazing. This is associated with accumulation from crop and livestock production and so investment in other productive and service assets. Again, this is not universal, but whereas perhaps 5-10% of households in the communal areas (the top of our success group 1) are able to accumulate from local production, this increases to 30-40% in the A1 areas next door.

People’s capacities are broadly similar (A1 resettlement area populations are on average slightly younger and a bit more educated), but it’s access to assets that make the difference. Land redistribution in particular has made a big difference for many. While in the communal areas there is a long tail of asset and income poor households in need of external support, through remittances, off-farm work and state/donor aid, with only a few able to accumulate through farm-based production, in the A1 resettlements this pattern is reversed and there is much more development potential driven by ‘accumulation from below’ for at least a third of households. For them, a positive upward cycle is generated, as agricultural surpluses allow reinvestment in productive assets, and so potentials for greater accumulation, while others aspire to create such opportunities.

As discussed in later blogs, this has important implications for rural development options, with investment in productive, agriculture-based development possible in the resettlements (focused on ‘stepping up’ livelihoods), but much less so in the communal areas, where a focus on exit to non-farm livelihoods (‘stepping out’) and social protection (‘hanging in’) must dominate.

This post is the second in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge

Lead photo credit: Tapiwa Chatikobo


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Are communal areas in Zimbabwe too poor for development?

Communal areas are where the majority of rural people live in Zimbabwe. With an estimated population of 1.1 million households and a land area of 16.4 million hectares, these areas far exceed those allocated land in the resettlements. This blog has largely focused on what has happened in the post 2000 land reform resettlements, which amount to around 8 million ha with about 175,000 households across A1 and A2 areas. But what about the relations between these areas; what are the implications for development?

This is the first in a series of nine blogs that will run over the next weeks that reflects on the situation in the communal areas, and compares this to resettlement areas, based on our on-going research in Masvingo province.

As argued on this blog before, Zimbabwe’s ‘second republic’ must focus on rural development if the economy is to be regenerated and livelihoods are to be sustained. In 2018, rural people voted en masse for ZANU-PF (outside parts of Manicaland and Matabeleland North), so the party must deliver. So far it is failing. But in order to deliver, policymakers need to understand the constraints, challenges and opportunities of rural settings.

In the past, this blog has identified a range of policy priorities, and suggested some key requirements for land policy in particular, mostly focused on the ‘new’ resettlements. Too often politicians and those based in urban areas or the diaspora dismiss rural areas as backward and desperate, mired in poverty. Alternatively such places are idealised as ‘the village’, where traditions are sustained. But these places are complex, with diverse populations, and with different needs.

A1 resettlements vs communal areas: big contrasts

To shed light on some of these issues, I have been delving into the data we collected in 2017-18 in a number of communal areas in Masvingo. Each site is close to one of our long-term A1 sites that we have been tracking since the early 2000s. Our sites therefore range from dryland areas in the Lowveld to relatively higher potential areas in Masvingo and Gutu districts further north.

As discussed in an earlier blog series, we are interested in whether the land reform areas, with larger land allocations, more assets and a different population profile, are doing better than their communal area neighbours, or whether the A1 areas are essentially an extension of communal area poverty and underdevelopment.

Our earlier analysis found on nearly all criteria that the A1 areas were doing better. Significant numbers of people were accumulating, and investing in productive assets on their farms. Six years on, what has happened? We returned to the same sites and households in Mwenezi district, Chivi, Gutu West and Gutu North.

The blogs that follow will look at a sample of 608 households (excluding 77 farms that had been abandoned since 2011-12). In particular they will examine land and its use, crop and livestock production and marketing, differentiated asset ownership and investment, labour hiring and employment, as well as the range of off-farm income earning activities in these communal areas, comparing them with our findings from the adjacent resettlement areas in our core study.

The data reveal variations across and within sites, showing differentiation by location and across social groups. The characterisation of these areas as poor holds up, but we also see great enterprise and diversity of livelihoods. Some are able to invest relatively limited returns in new assets (the numbers of cars purchased in some areas was a surprise, as was the number of tractors in Mwenezi) and, despite the state of the public education system, many prioritise paying for school fees as a core expenditure from crop and livestock sales.

Comparing the data to those in the A1 areas nearby, however, we do not see sustained accumulation from farm production, and reliance on external support, including remittances and off-farm work, is the norm. Hiring of labour is limited and a dynamic economy driven by agriculture is not evident. For sure, there are a few who are doing well – those with large herds of cattle in the dryland areas, or those able to produce significant quantities of maize in the higher rainfall areas. These are the ‘hurudza’ of contemporary times and are important people within kin and village networks, supporting others. But the data show these isolated cases and, in everywhere but Mwenezi, not part of a wider economic dynamism.

Because of large land areas, Mwenezi is in some ways more like a resettlement area, with opportunities for accumulation seen if rainfall is good (as was the case in the two years we have recent data for), as crop yields on the relatively good Lowveld soils can be substantial. With grazing plentiful, livestock production is possible too, and proximity to the border with South Africa means trading and jobs across the border is also an option. As the data show, Mwenezi is in some respects a different economic system – more variable, but with greater opportunity – compared with the more conventional, highly resource constrained communal area sites to the north.

Links to the resettlement areas: a territorial perspective

In our interviews, we discussed the links between the four communal areas and the resettlements nearby. The results are interesting. They highlight both cooperative and conflictive relationships. The land reform areas are seen as sources of food (to purchase or via support from relatives), grazing (either through loaning arrangements of animals from the communal area to relatives or others in the resettlement or where surplus grazing can be made use of by communal area cattle) and work (through labour hiring practices of the new farmers). These areas, reclaimed through land reform, are also important for culture and identity. In all cases people identified sites where people have been reconnected with religious and grave sites, previously protected as part of private land under the control of large-scale commercial farmers.

Conflicts also occur, and disputes over grazing access and boundaries were highlighted most frequently. Given that there are many people in the resettlements who originally come from the nearby communal areas, conflicts are usually resolved easily. When things escalate, local councillors, and even the police are drawn upon. Many resettlement sites originally had surplus resources, with fewer people and large grazing areas. This is changing as populations grow and more people settle (often illegally) in the resettlements, so disputes are increasing, people say.

Seeing the communal areas as part of a wider economic system is important. These areas were established originally in the colonial era as ‘labour reserves’. With the collapse of the wider economy and the change in the employment market since structural adjustment in the 1990s, the relationships between the rural and urban, and the role of circular migration has changed.

Today, communal areas now must be seen more in terms of their relationships with surrounding land use and economic activity – notably the linkages with both A1 and A2 resettlements, and the small towns, now often booming, that are in rural areas. With the removal of the stark separation between large-scale, mostly white-owned commercial farms and the communal areas removed, the racial, political landscape has changed. This has important implications for economic development.

As several blogs in this series argue – and as has been discussed here before – thinking about local economic development is key. The communal areas may be too poor to develop by themselves, but as a source of labour, markets, service needs and some production, they are important in local economies. Development planning and investment needs to take a wider view, and not just invest in small agricultural projects in communal areas in the hope of a transformation, but think about linkages, synergies and connections, in ways that connect communal areas with resettlements and small towns.

In the forthcoming blogs, I will discuss these questions in relation to particular themes. The bottom line is that investing in production, marketing and economic growth in most communal areas is severely constrained. Where these opportunities open up is when we look at the communal area in relation to the land reform areas nearby, as part of a spatial, territorial approach to economic development. Communal areas are certainly poor, but not too poor for development: thinking more broadly about linkages and connections across a territory is essential.

This post is the first in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge.


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Robert Mugabe: a complex legacy

Robert Mugabe died on September 6th in Singapore after a long illness, and the press has been full of commentary about his legacy. There is a deep fascination with him in the UK. Despite the drama of Brexit, his death was top news across the papers and TV channels. I was taken aback  when I saw his image on a massive news screen at King’s Cross station in London announcing his death. Once feted by the Queen, now almost universally reviled, what is it about the dramatic tragedy in the narrative of a transition from ‘hero’ to ‘villain’ that so captivates people, but also blinds us to the complexities of history?

This complexity, and the importance of a deeper history, comes across in some of the better reflections on his death. There is much that’s already been written, but there are a few articles that have stood out for me. The piece ‘Mugabe: a man of more than one story’, for example, highlights the multiple threads of a complex narrative, as does Alex Magaisa’s BSR piece, which urges us not to forget the victims of Mugabe’s regime. Perhaps surprisingly, but like many Zimbabweans of his age, Tendai Biti, once tortured by the regime, says ‘I don’t feel bitterness. I feel indebtedness’. The missed opportunities of the liberation are reflected on in many pieces, including by Fadzayi Mahere, who argues that he ‘killed the freedoms he had worked so hard for’. Roger Southall, meanwhile, reflects on his legacy alongside other liberation party leaders in the region, pointing out that he is ‘as divisive in death as he was in life’. A typically quirky take comes from Percy Zvomuya focusing on deeper family backgrounds and historical contingencies in the piece, Robert Mugabe: the leader who shouldn’t have been. And my favourite of all is the 2017 article by Everjoice Win, widely recirculated in the past days, which captured the moment around the ‘coup’, but seems even more apposite today, and reflects the feelings of many.

Why has Mugabe’s passing attracted so much attention, particularly internationally? Some while ago, Miles Tendi, a Zimbabwean scholar and professor at Oxford University, pointed to the roots of the media fascination with Mugabe in the UK:

“Mugabe is the British media’s bogeyman for everything that is wrong with Africa and one can never escape the naked reality that the fallout from ZANU-PF’s violent eviction of white farmers in Zimbabwe from 2000 onwards, many of whom were British descendants, continues to attract a disproportionate amount of international focus compared to other more severe crises…”

In a similar vein, back in 2008, the renowned Ugandan scholar, Mahmood Mamdani pointed out in his controversial essay for the London Review of Books:

“It is hard to think of a figure more reviled in the West than Robert Mugabe. Liberal and conservative commentators alike portray him as a brutal dictator…. There is no denying Mugabe’s authoritarianism, or his willingness to tolerate and even encourage the violent behaviour of his supporters…. [but this] gives us little sense of how Mugabe has managed to survive. For he has ruled not only by coercion but by consent, and his land reform measures, however harsh, have won him considerable popularity, not just in Zimbabwe but throughout southern Africa. In any case, the preoccupation with his character does little to illuminate the socio-historical issues involved”.

Mugabe’s death reminded me of the screening of Simon Bright’s film, Robert Mugabe… What Happened? at Sussex some years ago. An earlier blog observed that it is a powerful documentary, using fascinating archival footage, together with interviews with key figures in the opposition movement in Zimbabwe. It tells a sympathetic, historically-informed, but still highly critical, story about the man. With Mugabe gone, it is well worth watching again.

It is considerably more nuanced than much of the mainstream commentary that has emerged following his death. This typically follows the hero-to-villain storyline, often attached to the positive then evil influence of his two wives, Sally and Grace. Land reform in 2000 is often marked as the turning point, with the story of land reform being given the usual, misinformed gloss of disaster, turning Zimbabwe from ‘breadbasket to basket case’, the result of party cronies being given the land, and poorly qualified poor farmers making matters worse. I have largely ceased to engage with these narratives, coming from many who really should know much better by now, and I am not going to rehearse the argument again that these views are grossly misinformed here. There are now 360 blogs on Zimbabweland, and many more research articles besides, which together give a more nuanced story.

Too often in mainstream accounts, the role of the British in the Mugabe story is glossed over. Yet the British government’s complicity – for example in the silence about the massacres by the Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland in the 1980s – was significant. The failure of the British to push a more complete settlement at Lancaster House in 1979, and of course the diplomatic gaffe of the infamous ‘Clare Short letter’ in 1997, are all part of the picture. The resentments and hostility rose to a head in the late 1990s, as Mugabe and Blair locked horns. And, while commentaries are critical of white Rhodesia and Ian Smith’s UDI rule, they often do not explore the failure of a more complete reconciliation and integration of whites in the new Zimbabwe following Independence.

At our film screening panel discussion back in 2012, this was an issue tackled by Denis Norman, who served in Mugabe’s cabinet after Independence, and came from being the head of the white Commercial Farmers’ Union. He conceded that more could have been done back then, especially on land reform. There was an unwritten political contract between white farmers and the new state that whites could farm and make money, but not be involved in opposition politics, and land reform, despite the liberation war rhetoric, was parked. This fell apart with the launch of the MDC, and the support of white farmers of an opposition movement. The failure of the donor-brokered land conference in 1998 was a key moment, as no side was willing to compromise. The land invasions that followed were then perhaps inevitable.

As a number of the more sophisticated commentaries highlight, countering the hero-to-villain narrative means emphasising the continuities in the way politics have been played out in Zimbabwe since Independence, with Mugabe at the centre. A lack of tolerance of alternative views, violence and oppression have all been a consistent pattern, and stretch into the the pre-Independence period and the nationalist struggle (and indeed in particular the ‘struggles within the struggle’). A transition from militarised, violent liberation war struggle to peaceful, democratic governance did not happen.

It is not a question of seeing a golden age of the 1980s to contrast with the period since 2000. While there have been important changes, there are also repeated patterns. This is why the much-hailed 2017 ‘coup’ was doomed to failure, and perhaps no surprise that the Mnangagwa regime has seen much continuity, notably in violent repression of opposition forces. This is of course why a democratic transition, with a strong constitutional base, remains so critical; to shed once and for all this violent history.

In assessing Mugabe’s complex legacy, the positive legacies of massively improved education and health services for all in the 1980s and land redistribution to smallholders, especially post-2000, have to balanced against the persistent use of violence, gross economic mismanagement and the failure to develop a democratic state. As opposition politician, Tendai Biti, noted on his death, Mugabe was a ‘coalition of controversies’.

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

Photo credit: President of Zimbabwe Addresses UN General Assembly, 25 Sep 2009. UN Photo/Marco Castro. www.unmultimedia.org/photo/ via flickr)



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South Africa’s land report: Zimbabwe lessons?

South Africa’s land panel finally produced its report at the end of July. At 144 pages it’s an impressive document, making all the right noises. South Africa, like Zimbabwe, left the land issue for too long. 25 years after freedom, at least now a serious move is being made in South Africa. But will it make a difference?

The report documents the sorry tale of land reform in South Africa since 1994. The misuse of funds, the corruption, the inappropriate technical designs, the focus on a misplaced ideal of ‘commercial’ farming, and the lack of focus on redistribution, with restitution taking up so much effort. The lack of a capacity of government, and the paltry funds allocated, as well as the reliance on often poorly equipped consultants, are also pointed to. The hopeless state of land administration systems outside freehold private property is also highlighted, as most South Africans still have no formal recognition of their rights. The report makes it very clear that action on land reform is long overdue, and that the failures to date lie substantially at the door of the state and the ANC as the ruling party over this period.

Expropriation and redistribution: new and old debates

Much of the public and media debate has been about the mechanisms of expropriation, and in particular the recommendation that some redistribution should be without compensation. A couple of representatives of white commercial farming on the presidential panel did not sign up and issued an alternative report in protest. AgriSA and the usual suspects made a lot of fuss in the media on the report’s release. But, as many more level-headed commentators have noted, the debate about expropriation without compensation is a diversion. Expropriation was possible under existing rules; the issue was that the state had failed to act. The report recommends only ten circumstances where no compensation should be paid, including where land is not being used or being held for speculation. In other settings, compensation of different levels will be required. This makes complete sense.

Perhaps the most important element in the report in my view is the policy shift towards equity as a goal of land reform. Land reform is cast in its wider sense, as around justice as well as production, recognising the multiple social and economic roles of land in society. This is crucial. Leading from this is a recommendation for shifting the focus of land reform funding towards redistribution, and focusing on three groups: poor, smallholders, commercialising small-scale farmers and medium-scale commercial farmers. Only 10% of funds should be allocated to large-scale, black-owned commercial farming, the rest split between these three priority groups. This is a big, important shift, and could see meaningful land reform with a redistributive focus. Further, the report makes the case for substantial (at least half) allocations to women, and for a focus on urban/peri-urban land, a key issues for South Africa.

Adding to redistribution, restitution and land tenure reform, the report also recommends adding a fourth pillar to the land reform programme: land administration. Given the parlous state of land administration in South Africa, this is an important move, and will give rights to many marginalised people in ‘squatter’ settlements, as workers on farms, or farmers in the homelands. This will also provide an important route to assuring accountability, and insisting that the land reform programme is targeted properly. This will not be an easy undertaking, and must avoid a process of land privatisation, instead emphasising the allocation of rights, including communal rights to land.

There has been much bluster in the South African media and Twittersphere, since the report’s release, but for a good overview of the report’s findings, see this SABC interview from the brilliant Ruth Hall of PLAAS, one of the report authors, as well as some balanced commentaries in the South Africa press (for example here, here and here). International press coverage seems to have been muted, but, recalling its (mostly) appalling coverage of Zimbabwe, the BBC of course couldn’t resist the use of the words ‘land seizures’, even if qualified with ‘limited’!

Zimbabwe lessons?

What are lessons for and from Zimbabwe? Zimbabwe’s experience is not even mentioned in the report (even the bibliography, although it’s good that Mandi Rukuni is acknowledged as attending some meetings). This is rather surprising, given the lessons learned since 2000. Perhaps the fear of the Zimbabwe bogey-man being raised by opponents was the reason.

I think there are important lessons both ways, and regional neighbours really ought to collaborate on important issues like land. The equity focus has certainly been a central tenet of Zimbabwe’s land reform since 1980, but how to balance different interests, with different political clout remains a challenge. The importance of A1 resettlement in Zimbabwe is clear (encompassing the first two groups in the South African priorities) and the real potentials for providing food, employment and income, alongside welfare and support, are evident across the country. South Africans could learn a lot from the Zimbabwe experience for any new programme south of the Limpopo.

A lesson from Zimbabwe is that moving from land reform to wider agrarian reform is crucial – and this means changing the agrarian structure and with this the agrarian economy. This must be the ambition in South Africa, but through a more deliberate, slower process with less disruption. Redistributing land is only step, as the report recognises. However, Zimbabwe has so far failed to provide the post-settlement support that is required. This will be a big issue in South Africa, as, like Zimbabwe, technical capacities are not geared up to supporting this sort of farming.

The importance of medium-scale farms as a complement to the smallholder sector is also recognised in Zimbabwe, but again the tension between A1 and A2 farming has been an issue, and the failure to capitalise on the potential synergies between small and medium-scale farming as part of territorial development remains an issue. Redistribution of land in an area, seeking linkages and complementarities with on and off-farm based activity is vital, and remains a big unmet challenge for Zimbabwe, as I have long argued. Hopefully South Africa will think more strategically and invest for local economic development with land reform at the centre. These sort of practical, wider development questions are largely absent in the report, focused as it is on land, and in particular the legal ramifications of reform.

The highlighting of land administration is however a vitally important move in the South African report. Similar issues arise in Zimbabwe, as I have pointed out before. The dangers of aiming for comprehensive registration rather than a more flexible rights allocation is present too, and Zimbabwe and South Africa share the dilemmas, and long-inherited biases of the freehold tenure model.

So, yes, there are many important lessons for and from Zimbabwe. I hope the biases – even among progressives who should know more – about Zimbabwe that are deeply held in South Africa can be shed, and the region as a whole (including Namibia) can learn together about how to deal with the appalling inheritance of settler colonialism at last.

Beyond policy-speak to political action

What next? How to move beyond a well-argued report to action on the ground at scale? The report is full of legalistic proclamations and policy-speak in true South Africa style. Zimbabwe of course had many of these before 2000: well argued, costed, policy plans for reform. The faith in state action apparently remains in South Africa – perhaps surprising given the track-record. The report assumes implementation will follow forthcoming policy approval.

The report’s authors are not naïve, however. Many have struggled for action on land reform over decades. Everyone knows that political action – from diverse sources within and outside parliament – must follow. The big question will be: will the South African state, with pressure from big capital, international investment, influential ‘tribal’ leaders and political parties not committed to land reform, actually – at last – commits to land reform on the scale and with the support that is needed?

We will have to watch carefully as funds are allocated, and capacity built. It seems President Ramaphosa is committed, but he has also got other problems on his plate. There are plenty of routes to blocking progressive action, and civil society will have to be ready to put pressure to realise the vision of the report.

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

Photo credit: The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa flickr library: https://www.flickr.com/photos/presidencyza/47841232031/


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Catch-up on Zimbabweland

Zimbabweland is taking a break for a few weeks, so it’ a good time to catch up on blogs published this year. The top 10 by downloads so far of blogs published in 2019 are listed below. The challenges for 2019 outlined in January remain as pertinent as ever, perhaps more so as the Zimbabwean economy continues to slump. This year there have also been a number of blogs that look at the bigger picture, including a commentary on the SDGs, the Chinese Belt and Road initiative and Boris Johnson’s premiership in the UK.

Our Zimbabwe research in the new resettlements has featured in several blogs, notably around our work on small-scale irrigation and mechanisation processes. Look out for more from September when the blog will feature a major series comparing the experience of the communal areas adjacent to our A1 resettlement study areas in Masvingo province. A few years on from our original research on this theme, this time our data show perhaps an even more stark disparity, with the A1 areas being relatively prosperous and the communal areas suffering. Anyway, more on this soon. Meanwhile my holiday job is to pore over the spreadsheets and make sense of a lot of data!

Sometime in the coming months the blog will also feature an important new special issue just out in the Review of African Political Economy, titled Agrarian change in Zimbabwe: where now? It has been a ridiculously long time in coming (such is the pace of journal publishing these days), but it’s worth the wait! It has great series of papers updating the agrarian reform story from a range of Zimbabwean researchers. It is opened by an editorial by Grasian Mkodzongi and Peter Lawrence that sets the scene.

We have a paper in the issue on the experiences of young people following land reform. Here is a link (if you don’t have a subscription, there are 50 copies here apparently – do share! And if they run out, do ask for a copy). Thinking ahead to what next after land reform very nearly 20 years on, the generational question is vital and one that is too little debated. Look out for a blog on the paper soon.

Top 10 of 2019, so far……

1.     Zimbabwe’s challenges for 2019
2.     Connecting the Sustainable Development Goals
3.     Why radical land reform is needed in the UK
4.     Is farmer-led irrigation driving a new ‘green revolution’?
5.     What are ‘appropriate technologies’? Pathways for mechanising African agriculture
6.     Zimbabwe’s fuel riots: why austerity economics and repression won’t solve the problem
7.     The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative: what’s in it for Africa?
8.     Can the technocratic reformers win in Zimbabwe?

9.     Boris as PM: it’s no laughing matter
10.  Models for integrated resource assessment: biases and uncertainties

And if this selection is not enough for your August reading, we have been developing another blog linked to the new project, PASTRES, focusing on pastoralism and uncertainty.  There are now 42 blogs on the PASTRES site, so do feel free to have a browse. And don’t forget to sign up to the blog (here) and our newsletter (here). Here are the top five most downloaded blogs to date:

1- The vegan craze: what does it mean for pastoralists?

2- Pastoralism under pressure in northern Kenya

3- Can pastoralists benefit from payments for ecosystem services?

4- Why killing reindeer is poor science

5- Youth moving to town: a major cause of uncertainty among the pastoralists of Isiolo, Kenya

Happy reading!

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