Tag Archives: land

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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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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What are ‘appropriate technologies’? Pathways for mechanising African agriculture

Capital goods are essential for agriculture, whether for tillage, irrigation or threshing. Mechanisation of agriculture is therefore seen as a core aim for agricultural development, and is widely pushed as a route to increasing production and efficiency. But what scale of technology is appropriate? Where can farmers find the right sort of technology to meet their needs? Does trade in capital goods respond to market demands? Do aid projects help or hinder?

These are the sort of questions we have been puzzling over in Zimbabwe as we’ve been looking at the role of various types of capital goods used in agriculture in land reform areas. Capital goods range from large tractors to small pumps, and these are being used across farms of different sizes, from A1 resettlement farms, with typically under 5 hectares of cultivated land, to much larger A2 medium scale resettlement farms. Size matters, both of the technology but also of land areas and the scale of operation, but so also does capacity, flexibility, maintenance requirements and politics.

Tractors: the symbol of mechanisation

Tractors have always been the symbol of mechanisation in agriculture. From Soviet mass production under Stalin to aid projects across Africa. As a previous blog discussed, the promotion of tractors has a long history in Zimbabwe too. While there was a healthy trade in the large-scale commercial sector, with imports from different parts of the world, the record of tractor projects in the small-scale farming areas was dismal. But land reform from 2000 has changed the dynamic. The large-scale sector is much diminished, replaced by a mix of medium-scale A2 farms and a larger number of smaller A1 farms, where dynamics of ‘accumulation from below’ are evident. This has generated a new demand for tractors.

As part of a wider study on mechanisation and commercial agriculture in Africa under the APRA programme, new work from Mvurwi area, a high-potential tobacco growing area north of Harare, has shown how tractor use has been expanding. Despite various projects, including the Brazilian More Food International programme, much of this has been based on a private market. Official figures suggest that tractor numbers increased nearly six-fold between 2011 and 2017, mostly in the medium-scale farming areas, and predominantly through a second-hand market of machines originally imported for former large-scale farms. These figures may be an underestimate, however, as survey data show that in the small-scale A1 resettlement areas tractor hiring has increased significantly, as tobacco successful small-scale farmers invest in tractors and hire them out.

The Brazilian tractor cooperatives have contributed to this, but are only a very partial element of a bigger story. Large four-wheel tractors are expensive items and only some are able to buy them, even when old, battered and repaired for a second-hand market. Collective ownership through the Brazilian coops potentially open access to others, but the politics of coops are notorious, and the ones in Mvurwi have become embroiled in turf-wars over control, with coop leaders fending off attempts at political capture by party officials. Tractors of course are always political.,

Tractors in Mvurwi these days are therefore a mix of very old machines imported several decades ago (usually ancient Massey Ferguson and John Deere models), and more recent Chinese models (imported in the flurry of investment under the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe programmes of the mid-2000s) and a few new Brazilian models (as in the picture above). Perhaps surprisingly, it is the older ones that are the most common and the most likely to continue to function, as there are both the skills to mend them, and a (declining) second-hand spares market. For any mechanisation programme, the ability to repair and reconstruct is essential, and often forgotten in the eagerness to bring in new, shiny machines that support a domestic industry (in China, Brazil, Belarus, India, Iran or wherever) through an aid programme.

Small-scale pumps: opportunities for farmer-led irrigation

The tractor story contrasts with that of small-scale irrigation pumps, which have expanded massively in recent years across the new resettlement areas. As discussed in a recent paper, focused on sites in Masvingo, small, cheap, Chinese-made pumps, together with flexible plastic piping, have transformed the capacity for farmer-led irrigation in a dramatic fashion. This process has largely been ignored by policy-makers and aid agencies alike.

The process is being driven by an agile private market, involving a network of players that link importers with retailers with a growing cottage industry in repairs. Gone are the days when you could only buy a pump set if you were seriously rich or the beneficiary of an NGO project in a ‘group garden’. Costing only US$250, virtually anyone can get one, and start irrigating from rivers, streams, dams and vlei ponds. This has expanded the opportunities to many, including young people without land. The onward links to horticultural markets and processing opportunities in turn all generate employment and local economic growth.

It is both the characteristic of the technology (small, mobile, flexible etc.), but also the market context, that allows small-scale pump irrigation to thrive, and makes the technology ‘appropriate’. Upgrading and scaling up is possible too. Some choose to buy more small pumps to maintain flexibility, while others buy larger, fixed pumps and dig boreholes to expand irrigation.

There are therefore many pathways of innovation and mechanisation. These must suit different people’s social and economic conditions, as access to cash, technology, land and labour is managed together. Appropriate technologies are always socio-technologies, with technical, social and political lives intimately linked.

Rethinking agricultural mechanisation policy

Mechanisation of agriculture is occurring apace in Zimbabwe, but not as the planners would wish it. The irrigation engineers remain sceptical about the small-scale pump revolution, fixated as they often are with ordered, regularised irrigation schemes with fixed, large-scale pump technologies. Meanwhile, the engineers in the mechanisation departments dream of bigger tractors, with more horsepower and linked to drillers, seeders, combines and the rest, in order to create a vision of commercial agriculture derived from the textbooks. Aid programmes, such as the Brazilian coops, often replicate such visions, as technicians import a perspective from their own context of what ‘tropical technology’ should be, without thinking about need and context.

However, under the noses of the technicians and planners things are happening. These are largely private ‘below-the-radar’ initiatives, linked to locally-embedded markets, and with entrepreneurship not only linked to supplying the kit, but also adapting, maintaining and repairing it. For tractors, the second-hand market is thriving allowing more timely tillage of larger areas, and with small-scale pumps, the cheap, flexible sets have transformed irrigation.

But there are limits. As the stock of tractors, and particularly spares, declines, there are challenges in meeting demand. Hiring businesses, including via cooperatives, are an alternative, and particularly important for small-scale production, where owning a large tractor just for yourself doesn’t make much sense. This is why the connections between A2 and A1 areas is important, and such coordination requires facilitation. For pumps, the semi-disposable pump sets are ideal for starting up, but upgrading is a big step, and borehole drilling remains very costly. Issues of ground and surface water access and management for sustainable use of course become important as pump use expands.

In the wider technological landscape there are gaps too. Two-wheeled tractors, for example, for use on small plots might have an advantage for some, while intermediate level pumps and cheaper drilling options may help upgrading. Investments in linking hiring options through online applications have emerged in some places, while support for training in repairing diverse types of equipment may encourage local businesses. With a better idea of the nature of what ‘appropriate technology’ means a role for coordination and facilitation by state or NGO players emerges, including encouraging south-south trade in capital goods.

Silent, hidden green revolutions

Despite the narrative of state-led, directed innovation and mechanisation, agricultural green revolutions rarely happen in this way. Much more common is a flexible bricolage of initiatives that emerge, based on pulling together options that fit. As Steve Biggs and Scott Justice argue for the Asian experience:

“In regions where smaller-scale mechanization has taken place, there has also been a growth of rural industries and strong linkages with the broader national economy. Whether by design or not, it appears that markedly different patterns of smaller-scale rural mechanization over time have led not only to agricultural production increases but also to broad-based rural and economic development…. It is our hope that there will be increasing interest in the “silent and hidden” revolutions of the spread of smaller-scale equipment and that broad-based rural development, such as worthwhile rural employment and careful and intensive use of water and energy sources, will again become important goals of economic development. There is now empirical evidence on a grand scale that shows it can be done”.

This empirical evidence is emerging in Zimbabwe too, and a wider recognition, along with selective coordination and facilitation by state and aid players, is essential if Zimbabwe’s agriculture is to transform in the post-land reform setting.

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

 

 

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Responding to uncertainty: who are the experts?

Uncertainties are everywhere, part of life. But how to respond? Who are the experts? These are questions that we are debating this week at an ESRC STEPS Centre symposium. But they are also questions very pertinent to daily life in Zimbabwe, as elsewhere in the world.

Everyday uncertainties

For example, last week in Zimbabwe, a new currency arrangement was announced overnight. The multi-currency regime disappeared and all monetary transactions within the country had to take place in the Zimbabwe dollar. No-one expected this to happen so suddenly.

This year too farmers have confronted uncertainties in their farming practices, with a widespread drought. An El Nino event was predicted, but what impact this would have, where on cropping and livestock production was unknown. Farmers and herders have had to adapt and innovate.

Many of those who received plots as part of the land reform after 2000 are still awaiting confirmation of the status of their holdings. Offer letters have been issued by multiple authorities and sometimes to different people. Many with medium-scale A2 farms were promised leases, but their issuing has been painfully slow. Securing finance has therefore become very uncertain.

Agricultural markets have always been uncertain, as prices vary with both local and global supply and demand. But selling tobacco, for example, has become more tricky today. Contracting arrangements are fragile, and auction sales are subject to all sorts of mediation making prices unclear. Even getting your crop to the sales floors can be subject to uncertainties, as police extract bribes at roadblocks.

In the past two decades, the economy as a whole has been informalised. Secure, stable jobs are rare. Instead, many must make a living in a highly precarious setting. The kukiya-kiya economy – improvising and making do – is the norm. This provides opportunities, but also challenges. Traders in an urban setting selling vegetables can have their businesses closed down at a stroke, as some ‘planning’ law is invoked by the local state. This has devastating consequences for traders, and their farmer suppliers.

Improvised responses, remembered pasts

These are just some examples; there are many more. Zimbabweans have become experts at responding to uncertainty. The old certainties of the past, based on stable, agreed plans, rules and regulations have gone. Informality means that transactions across numerous players have expanded.

And, added to this, people must respond to the wider global challenges of climate change, disease outbreak and volatility in financial markets, for example. Layered uncertainties intersect in an increasingly complex setting. Improvisation, experimentation, adaptation, negotiation are the watchwords in the performance of responding to intersecting uncertainties.

This can generate anxiety and stress. Confronting these challenges is not easy when you are having to make a living. Life depends on navigating a whole array of uncertainties. Coping takes many forms. When formal systems don’t exist or are not trusted, gossip, rumour and informal networks become important. Who knows what the parallel market rate is? Where is the best place to market a product? What time of day or night is it safe to travel on the road and avoid costly extortion? All these questions are regularly asked by Zimbabwe farmers (and others), with responses exchanged via Whatsapp. When the stresses of responding to uncertainty increase, humour is a good release. Jokes, stories, satire and songs are all very Zimbabwean outlets.

Some dream of the past, conjuring up a vision of when things were all apparently OK. Some even refer back to the colonial past when order and stability were features. Back then, so the narratives go, you knew where you stood; the system worked; a contract meant a firm agreement; the local currency was strong. Of course, nostalgic memories of the past are part of how the challenges of today are coped with too.

Yet, these constructed pasts of course don’t reflect the reality. Stability and order were created in favour of a certain elite and arbitrary intervention – removal of land, arrest for dissent, forcing of conservation measures on agricultural land and so on – were part of this regime of control. The past is not the answer to the future, even when the present is especially challenging.

Uncertainty: a sign of the times

It’s not only Zimbabweans who must confront the challenges of the new contexts of turbulence, complexity and uncertainty. This is a global phenomenon as the old systems fail to contain and control. Whether it’s climate chaos, the collapse of financial systems, mass migrations, epidemic disease outbreaks or the unravelling of political settlements, uncertainties are everywhere. And the old systems of control and order – what James Scott called ‘seeing like a state’ – no longer function. Our institutions are not geared up to respond to complexity and uncertainty of the sort seen today. They are failing on all fronts, and new alternatives are needed.

This is the topic of the symposium this week organised by the ESRC STEPS Centre at Sussex, which I co-direct. With participants examining everything from crime to volcanoes, we are aiming to unpack the politics of uncertainty, and explore the implications. I don’t think we will nail it in two days, but the event has attracted much interest from very diverse fields. We have participants focusing on finance and insurance, as well as disaster risk management and disease preparedness. Others have been researching new technologies – from driverless cars to CRISPR genetic tech – while others are concerned with global migration and expanding cities.

A central feature of these discussions is the distinction between uncertainty (where we don’t know the likelihoods of outcomes) and risk (where likelihoods are known, or can reliably be estimated). This is important, because how you respond must differ. With risk, clear control-based management is possible. Models, designs and plans all provide support for a rational, directed response. With uncertainty, you cannot predict, and different responses must follow. As Andy Stirling – the other co-director of the Centre – points out in this short video, there are other dimensions of incertitude too; and taking these seriously is essential.

In advance of the symposium – and as part of the background work for our PASTRES project on pastoralism and uncertainty – I produced a (rather long and quite dense) working paper called ‘What is Uncertainty and Why does it Matter?’. You can read it here. It is an attempt to grapple with the vast literature on risk and uncertainty. You can judge for yourself whether I was successful; it wasn’t an easy task!

Taking uncertainty seriously, I argue, is essential for addressing complexity, turbulence and contexts where knowledge about what the future holds are unclear. But this also requires a radical rethinking of how we go about everything from technological assessment to disaster preparedness to infrastructure design to the management of financial and market networks. In other words, it means a fundamental rethinking of what we once thought of as ‘development’.

This is a rather big, perhaps overambitious, argument, but I think it’s important. I was lucky enough to be invited to Copenhagen University recently to receive this year’s Ester Boserup prize for development research. I was very pleased to accept, especially as I am a big fan of Ester Boserup’s work, as it was always thoroughly empirically-based, challenging of conventional wisdoms and radically interdisciplinary, and often not accepted by the mainstream. My talk (35 min talk in video also below) tried to lay out these arguments, of why embracing uncertainty means a radical rethinking of development.

Who are the real experts?

The uncertainty working paper and the Copenhagen talk lay out the bigger arguments, but we must recognise that there are those, by both necessity and choice, who are already living with and off uncertainty, from whom we can learn.

This includes the pastoralists we are researching with in Amdo Tibet in China, southern Ethiopia, western India, northern Kenya, Sardinia and southern Tunisia as part of the PASTRES project, who have for millennia have made a living in highly variable environments.

Zimbabweans too are experts in uncertainty – perhaps especially so, given the turbulence of the political and economic setting over the past two decades. Zimbabweans have been learning the skills and aptitudes, and managing the stress and anxiety, that an uncertain world requires.

Nostalgic dreaming of an imagined past is not the answer, but inventing new practices and institutions that make the informal, networked, volatile, uncertain world possible – less a source of stress and anxiety, but supported and facilitated – is a crucial challenge for us all.

The experts who can radically transform both thinking and practice in development must therefore include Zimbabwe’s farmers and traders, along with pastoralists, front-line health officials dealing with disease outbreaks, brokers in complex, volatile, financial markets, and reliability professionals in critical infrastructures – and the many, many others. All of whom, in different, dispersed ways, are inventing a future (in ways as yet often unrecognised) that matches the huge challenge of uncertainty.

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

 

 

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Mining farmers and farming miners: what opportunities for accumulation?

This blog starts a short series of reviews of recent papers on Zimbabwe. First up is an excellent paper by Grasian Mkodzongi (from the Tropical Africa-Land and Natural Resources Research Institute in Harare) and Sam Spiegel (from the University of Edinburgh) in the Journal of Development Studies, entitled “Artisanal Gold Mining and Farming: Livelihood Linkages and Labour Dynamics after Land Reforms in Zimbabwe”.

In the post-land reform setting, the relationship between farming and small-scale artisanal mining is increasingly important (see an earlier blog). This is especially so in areas where there are large mineral deposits, such as along the Great Dyke, as in the study area in this paper in Mhondoro-Ngezi near Kadoma. Sam Moyo described the land reform as ‘liberating’ natural resources, and those who took the land have exploited mineral resources as a complement to farming, either through opening up new areas or mining old deposits.

Gold is a key mineral resource and mining takes many forms, ranging from exploitation of alluvial sources along rivers and streams, or digging below ground to seams below. Small-scale artisanal mining, however, very often remains illegal and criminalised, making the negotiation of access to new mineral resources tricky.

A complex network of actors

The paper explores three neighbouring farms, which are now A1 settlements and examines the different associations with mining among a complex network of actors. In particular, the paper explores differential accumulation dynamics in artisanal mining, and the complex links between farming and mining. Based on qualitative interviews, the paper offers some interesting profiles of people who combining mining and farming in different ways. There is huge differentiation in roles and opportunities for accumulation.

Young men in particular are involved in the hard labour involved in mining. Many come from other areas, and work in the land reform farming areas, often in cooperative groups. Those with land in the resettlement areas may hire in groups of labourers to exploit deposits in their areas, working out a share of profits. Farmers may provide equipment, or they may join up with others to supply the range of digging and processing equipment required. Key players are ‘sponsors’ who allow the sale of gold. They may have contracts with the government-sanctioned buyers, or they may engage in illegal trade, linked to smuggling networks to South Africa.

The ‘sponsors’ include a mix of politicians, security personnel, civil servants and others with political connections. Able to manoeuvre through the system (or avoid it), they are able to extract significant surpluses from the growth of artisanal mining. That much of it remains illegal is to their advantage, as they can exploit the system. Joining the local group of ‘sponsors’ are others too. Chinese entrepreneurs are involved, either in the buying trade or in support for extraction through the supply of equipment and contract arrangements with farmers with deposits or labourers digging or panning. The paper offers some insights into the murky networks of sponsors, illegal trade and political patronage, but – for obvious reasons – much of this remains opaque (see discussion in another blog).

As a result of this complex set-up, the relationships between mining and farming livelihoods are varied. Unlike their counterparts in the cities who have no jobs and increasingly limited opportunities (as seen with the riots in January), rural youth can migrate to mining/gold panning areas in search of work. Operating in cooperatives, they may be able to bargain, but the terms are poor. Work is harsh and dangerous too, and returns are small. This is survival labour rather than offering any opportunity for improvement. However for their livelihoods, and for those of their immediate kin, living either in the area, or often in the areas to the north, where mining has long been a key part of livelihood activity, these meagre earnings are important.

For those with land, the benefits of land reform include not only the opportunity to farm on larger plots, but to exploit the mineral resources below ground. Many do not have formal permits, but illegal operations continue. In areas, such as the study areas reported on in this paper, the land is pock-marked with old shafts and mining pits, often long-abandoned. These have may have been rehabilitated by farmers, although certainly not to any approved safety standard. New deposits have also been found in many farms, both on the surface and below ground, and these too have attracted investment to ensure exploitation. This involves the mobilising of resources for equipment, as well as labour.

The relationship between farming and mining is complex. Some shift towards mining but keep their plots going for subsistence food, including feeding mining labour. Others see mining as a complement to farming, which remains the more stable, secure income source. As interviews in the paper noted, mining requires patience. You may not find anything for ages, and so need other sources of income, and food, to keep going. But sometimes it pays dramatically, and this new source of funds can be vital for new investment – both on and off the farm.

Pathways of investment and accumulation

As the paper outlines, the way mining revenues are invested varies between different people. For labourers, immediate consumption items may be the most important, notably food. However, for others, particularly with mining windfalls, there are opportunities for investing in farming, housing or other assets, such as livestock, or alternatively in off-farm businesses, including in local towns. Who invests in what, the paper suggests, depends on their origins. The new resettlements include people from all walks of life. Most came from other rural areas, and they see farming as the best route to livelihood improvement. Others came from town, and they have aspirations and connections to allow investment in businesses and other urban-based enterprises that become linked to their farming and mining operations.

Across the gold value chain, there are varied accumulation opportunities. Some are able to move up the value chain, buying equipment, establishing more formalised arrangements, and moving into dealing. Others, as mentioned, invest their resources in improving farming or setting up off-farm businesses. Unlike in other cases of mining booms elsewhere in Africa (or indeed in Zimbabwe, such as the early Marange diamond rush), there is less ‘hot money’, involving ostentatious consumption and purchasing of flash items. It happens, but for most involved, the focus is on improving livelihoods, investment and accumulation.

Those in these rural settings are thus ‘accumulating from below’, making use of local resources to invest and improve livelihoods through different pathways. However, there are also those ‘accumulating from above’, engaged in what the paper sees as ‘primitive accumulation’ through direct exploitation. The use of political patronage networks to capture trading opportunities means that the ‘sponsors’ – the king-pins in the value chain – can call the shots, and make serious money.

Here investment is focused in bigger business investments – from networks of shops to transport businesses and so on – with some having connections outside the country, making sure new mineral wealth is protected from the chaos of the Zimbabwe economy. This trajectory of accumulation is not available to anyone. You can move up the value chain only so far, as these key positions are protected through networks and connections. These of course shift with the political winds, but those involved in production rarely get a look in.

Complex mining-farming intersections

The paper therefore paints a diverse picture of social differentiation and patterns of accumulation, linked to complex intersections of farming and mining. This is a poorly understood, yet important, dynamic.

Moves to legalise and formalise artisanal mining through the offering of permits and licenses are afoot, but it will be important to have more studies of this sort that examine the complexities of mining-farming relationships and the economic, social and political dynamics of gold value chains to assess whether such moves will have the desired impacts.

Given Zimbabwe’s mineral-rich geology, mining and farming (as happened before on the large-scale farms) will always be intimately connected, at least in some parts of the country. Thinking about the use of resources – both land and minerals – in an integrated way, and how their use affects different livelihoods, is an essential task. This paper is an important contribution towards this aim.

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

Photo credit: Business Daily News, Zimbabwe

 

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Zimbabwe’s challenges for 2019

This time last year there was an excitement in the air. Things were going to change. Investment was on its way. Zimbabwe just might get back on track after the Mugabe years. I was getting numerous enquiries from potential investors in agriculture who had come across this blog, for instance. Not that I had much to offer, but I encouraged them to explore options. Today they are silent. The uncertainties in the economy have meant that people are seeking other alternatives. Zimbabwe may be losing its moment. A year is a long time in Zimbabwe.

What then needs to be done in 2019 to turn things around? Many options can be implemented if the government is brave and confident. Others require outsiders to be convinced that change is afoot. In 2018, there have been important moves. The mood music is right, and the post-election cabinet is slimmer and more competent. But actions must follow words.

Many Zimbabwean commentators are offering their advice for the new year. Hopewell Chin’ono for example identifies the need to get agriculture moving again as a key priority. I agree. The 10 priorities I spelled out a year ago still apply. Chin’ono also highlights the importance of paying compensation to former farmers, and seeing through the land audit. Again, I agree, as also discussed many times over the last years. While he suggests there is masses of underutlised land, I suspect much of this is the result of failures to invest because of lack of financing, rather than an unwillingness or disinterest. The rhetoric around underutilised land in Zimbabwe has a long history, as I have pointed out before. But the issue remains: particularly in the A2 areas, there needs to be a step-change in investment and production, and command agriculture is only part of the solution.

As argued on this blog before, the land audit needs to address these issues, and head on; no matter what the political sensitivities. The Land Commission has indeed initiated the audit, but only 500 A2 farms are expected to be issued with 99-year leases this year. This is too slow. And because funds have become available only for elements of what is required, the audit is not necessarily being connected to galvanising other areas of land administration and investment. My suggestions of last year – the need for a comprehensive, district based approach – still stands. But this needs to be done quickly and comprehensively to show that it is possible and successful, based on pilot areas. This will generate the confidence that investors need to engage in the post-land reform setting.

Eddie Cross has some good recommendations for the president on wider policy change, all of which I agree with. The emphasis was on implementing the agreed Constitution and ensuring key institutions are functioning. Growth and investment follow from effective institutions, as trust increases. His ideas echo those of prolific commentator, Alex Magaisa, in his most recent BSR, and in an earlier one on the problems – for both capital (such as Delta) and labour (such as the junior doctors) of having a parallel currency arrangement. Along with many others, I would add in security sector reform to the list, but the key elements are there. Much will flow from such actions aimed at legitimising and reinforcing key political and economic institutions, including positive consequences for the agriculture sector.

Cross’ six suggestions are worth repeating:

“Firstly, please bring the market chaos under control – not by dictate because that would just make matters worse, but by allowing market forces to sort out supply and demand and set values. Take the Reserve Bank out of the market for currency, stop stealing hard currency, allow our banks to trade and float the local dollar. And do not delay, do it like we did on the 17th February 2009. You will be very surprised by the market response.

Secondly, set a clear timetable and list of targets for the reform of our legal system so that we implement the 2013 Constitution in full in three years. Do not do it by subterfuge, like indigenisation, but do it openly and properly so that the world can see we are at last putting our legal and political house in order.

Thirdly, start the process of cleaning up our politicized and compromised Judicial system. Begin with the Chief Justice and the Judge President and then allow them to review the entire bench down to Magistrate level. Give us a powerful and totally independent Prosecutor General who will take no prisoners when it comes to fighting corruption and enforcing the law.

Fourthly, respect our property rights. Start by fulfilling your commitment to pay compensation that is fair and affordable to all those who have lost property to the State – and it’s not just the former farmers – it includes Mawere. Stop all those who are using their political connections to abuse the rights of others. Insist on the Courts enforcing contracts and the Police in following Court instructions – to the letter.

Fifthly, if taking your comrades to the cleaners over past violations of the law or corruption is too much to ask, draw a line in the sand and say that all who did those sorts of things before the recent elections are given a blanket Presidential Pardon and protection from prosecution. But then, demand that all such activities stop immediately or else those who are continuing to abuse their posts will face severe penalties and the full weight of the law for both present and past violations of the law.

Finally, insist on everyone making decisions on all outstanding matters, even if in the process some mistakes are made. No decisions are much more damaging than poor decisions. The present situation where nothing is moving ahead, no Parastatals are being privatised, new investments are being held up by Officials and Ministers who have no stakes in the outcome….. This has cost Zimbabwe billions of dollars in new investment and GDP, even exports.”

I have just one quibble with Cross’ list. I agree that respecting past rights is essential – and that includes compensation for expropriated property – but this is not of course the same as advocating private title for the future; an issue on which I diverge significantly from Cross’ prescriptions. This however does not undermine the argument for addressing the compensation issue, even if future land tenure arrangements should be different to the past.

More generally, as Hopewell Chin’ono argues, a new attitude in government is required, one that grabs the opportunities and does not blame outside forces for all ills. This was the narrative of the Mugabe era. It is true that on-going sanctions, even if directed only at certain individuals, are hampering investment indirectly. ZIDERA in particular is a big blockage. But the government needs to address the conditions squarely, while not conceding everything.

A more confident, pro-active stance on land, agriculture and investment, combined with an acknowledgement of the need for compensation for former land owners, will go a long way towards convincing outsiders – maybe even the United States government – that Zimbabwe is serious, and the second republic has a chance of flourishing with external support.

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

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