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Zimbabweland’s top posts of 2022

As is traditional at this time of year, it’s time to review the top blogs of 2022. Below is a list of the top 15 by views on the website. Of course this doesn’t count all those who have read the blog through the email alert (do sign up if you haven’t – there’s about 1000 of you who receive an alert every time a blog has posted). And then there are also those who read the posts when they are republished in Zimbabwean newspapers, including the Zimbabwe Mail, The Chronicle, The Zimbabwean and the Zimbabwe Independent (along with a host of different websites). Thanks to all those publications plus those on Twitter for reposting.

As you will see, some of the blog series were popular this year, most notably the one on urban agriculture. Another series on conservation dilemmas in the Lowveld following our visits to Gonarezhou and the Chikombedzi field sites earlier in the year also got a lot of attention (and comment). The series on ‘drought’ and ‘disasters’ picked up on earlier posts, and continues to be an important theme of our work. The most recent series on religion hasn’t been up for long enough to get so many views, but has been widely appreciated as an under-studied topic. These series are initial digests of on-going research across our sites in Mvurwi, Matobo, Chatsworth, Wondedzo, Hippo Valley/Triangle and Chikombedzi. We’ve got more themes – and so more blog series – planned for next year.

The blog also focused on a number of new books this year, including ones on ‘neoliberal restructuring’ and ‘ethnicity’ featured in the top 15, as well as an important journal special issue on contract farming. Each year I try and review new books and articles coming out on land, agriculture and rural development in Zimbabwe. It’s a reflection of the vibrant research culture in the country that our team is happy to be contributing to in a small way. Our own books also featured on the blog, including the huge compilation of past articles in ‘Researching Zimbabwe’s Land Reform’. This was produced so as to make available journal articles that are scattered across different publications and are often unavailable in libraries in Zimbabwe. We have distributed a copy to most university libraries in the country now.

The COVID-19 pandemic dominated our research and blogs over the past couple of years and we have produced another book – Learning in a Pandemic – which is a compilation of 20 blogs, with an overview introduction. We have been distributing this book around our field sites and handing it to key institutions across the country as a reminder of the important lessons that we learned during the pandemic.

As ever the blog has been read widely across many countries, with Zimbabwe, the US, the UK and South Africa seeing the most visitors. As a source of information and an archive of research over many years, many visitors arrive through search engines at old posts (the ones on agricultural entrepreneurs continue to be some of the most read each year). There are now about 475 blogs on the site, so do have a look around. And look out for more in 2023!

  1. View The growth of urban agriculture in Zimbabwe
  2. View Urban agriculture in Zimbabwe: a photo story
  3. View Omicron for Christmas: what was the experience in rural Zimbabwe?
  4. View Why COP27 needs a more sophisticated debate about livestock and climate change
  5. View The neoliberal restructuring of land and agriculture in Africa: two new books
  6. View The trouble with elephants: why limits on culling are bad for conservation
  7. View NEW BOOK: Researching Land Reform in Zimbabwe
  8. View ‘Living under contract’: reflections after 25 years
  9. View Ethnic minorities in rural Zimbabwe: identities and livelihoods
  10. View Rethinking disaster responses: from risk to uncertainty
  11. View Failing institutions: the challenge of governing natural resources in Zimbabwe
  12. View Changing food systems in Zimbabwe: shifts from rural to urban production
  13. View What is drought? Local constructions, diverse perceptions
  14. View The changing face of urban agriculture in Zimbabwe
  15. View What is environmental degradation and what should we do about it?

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The politics of religion in Zimbabwe: land, agriculture and citizenship

Religion and politics have always had a close relationship. The early European missionaries provided a platform for the establishment of the colonial state and a modernising vision, while today the Pentecostal denominations along with the prophets from indigenous African churches are influential both in national politics and in local land politics. Meanwhile, although not as visible as before and to some extent incorporated into syncretic forms of Christian religious practices, traditional forms of religion remain significant to livelihood practices, informed by their connections with the spirit world.

Traditional, ‘ecological’ religion

In different ways religions of all stripes are deeply connected to land and resources. Traditional forms of religious practice highlight the importance of ancestral and wider territorial spirits. In some important ways, traditional beliefs are deeply ecological, with spirits defining territories, controlling rain and protecting particular sites – whether sacred groves or pools, where spirit mermaids (njuzu) reside. Angry spirits can destroy lives and livelihoods it is believed and must be appeased through appropriate forms of supplication and strictly managed religious ceremonies led by spirit mediums.

Across large swathes of the country, collections (rusengwe) were made led by spirit messengers (nyusa) who would travel to the Njelele shrine in Matabeland near one of our sites in Matobo. Such contributions would assure good rains and successful harvests for those communities. During the liberation war, the enlistment of key territorial spirits (mhondoro) provided the support for the guerrilla fighters as they fought to liberate the country. Meanwhile, hunters would draw on the assistance of particular ancestral spirits during the expedition, allowing them to hide from their prey before the kill. Land and resource control were centrally about religious adherence and practice, as the material and spirit world were always connected.

As people have converted to Christianity, such beliefs and practices are not so obvious today, but as a subterranean set of beliefs deeply rooted in culture they are never far away. The appeal of some of the new prophets lies in particular with mimicking traditional practices, dress and ritual as a way of extending their appeal. Spiritual forms of Pentecostal Christian religion show many overlaps, and even Roman Catholic fathers are reported to link their preaching in a flexible way to traditional forms.

Many churches are incorporating kurova guva ceremonies (bringing the spirit back some time after death to be sure it is not angry and revengeful) into their practices, ensuring peace and harmony with the spirit world – an important contributor to successful agricultural livelihoods. Syncretism and hybridity are the watchwords today.

Religion and the politics of the domestic sphere

The politics of religion are also evident in the domestic sphere, influencing in particular gender relations and inheritance. This has important implications for access to land and resources, especially for women. While Zimbabwe has progressive legislation on inheritance on the statute books, how this implemented varies widely.

For some churches accepting that women can inherit land on the death of husband is anathema, as women are assumed to take on subservient roles to men. Justified by ‘African tradition’, this is especially obvious in the Johanne Marange Apostolic church, where polygamous practices mean husbands often have multiple wives, all of whom work together for the family, along with their children. Amongst the wider network of Apostolic prophet churches similar beliefs are held, but this does not prevent entrepreneurial women become prophets themselves, often with significant church followings.

Conservative views on gender relations are evident too amongst the Pentecostal churches and some Protestant churches, but how inheritance plays out in practice is often involves a political tussle at the family level and outcomes vary. By contrast, more progressive views are expressed by other churches, with women involved in religious activity, although often in a minor role compared to men despite proclamations about empowerment and transformation.

Gender relations therefore remain a site of political contention across churches, and whether women gain access to resources and are empowered independently varies greatly.

Politics, parties and religion

Given the importance of religion in everyday life in Zimbabwe, it is no surprise, then, that politicians position themselves carefully. For example, the former president Robert Mugabe was a committed Catholic, educated by Jesuits in mission schools, while the current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa has deep associations with the Methodists, while regularly praising other churches. Meanwhile, Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the opposition, and notably from a different generation, is a pastor and preacher linked to the AFM, and has become embroiled in the church’s in-fighting.

All political leaders make a point of being visibly present at significant events held by other churches than their own, and regularly consult with church leaders. The Pentecostal churches, as noted in the first blog in this series, often attract an educated elite often with business and professional connections. With significant funds at their disposal and with powerful, influential followers they cannot be ignored. Church leaders’ sermons (such as from Prophet Walter Magaya PHD (Prophetic Healing and Deliverance) Ministries and Emmanuel Makandiwa for UFIC (United Families International Church) are listened to attentively for their political proclamations. The same applies to the ZCC, an African indigenous church again with huge assets and influence and important followers. The Apostolic churches have a rather different following and so political constituency but remain very significant politically in many parts of the country, making mobilising church leaders and followers a key part of any election campaign, as happened in 2018.

Church leaders with significant followings are sometimes drawn into political wrangles, such as during the establishment of the Government of National Unity. Arbitration and brokerage are all part of the role of church leaders in order to maintain national peace. As one of our informants commented, the practices associated with the death of Queen Elizabeth II were all about assuring peace and stability (and of course the maintenance of a ruling elite) but managed through religious ritual authorised by to the state.  

Most of the new churches studiously ally themselves with the government of the day, gaining benefits in terms of political patronage as a result, as well as protection of their assets from expropriation, including land. Mobilising followers in advance of elections is often a feature of this association with political authority.

Troublesome priests

However, this supportive relationship with the state is not a certainty. The appeal of opposition politics among the more urban, elite Christian protestant and Pentecostal churches is a case in point. Other churches have taken a stridently independent stand, especially in recent years, although different factions and struggles over co-optation exist.

Some Anglican bishops spoke out over the violence following the 2018 election, calling for calm; others towed the ruling party line, resulting in serious divisions within the community. The Roman Catholic church has had a long tradition of association with struggles from below, including very visible support to the liberation struggle.

The Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace spoke out early about the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland through its landmark report, Breaking the Silence, in 1997. The publishing houses associated with the church have long offered outlets for critique of the state, whether through popular magazines such as Moto or the string of publications that came from Mambo Press in Gweru.

Changing religious and so political landscapes

Religious and political affiliations are closely connected therefore and so religion has a huge impact on how state authority is claimed and citizenship defined. As the religious landscape changes, notably with the rise of Pentecostal and African indigenous churches, so does politics and citizenship.

For example, the preaching of self-reliance and autonomy by the Apostolic faith churches affects people’s relationships with the state, with followers rejecting standard medical advice (rejecting medicine and vaccines in the pandemic, for example) or not committing to formal education, a feature of most Zimbabwean’s aspirations since the colonial period.

In these debates, land and agriculture are never far from the surface. As discussed in the previous blog, many institutionalised Christian churches have significant land holdings, with major investments linked to agriculture, as well as other businesses. Some of these holdings were inherited from the colonial era, while others have been established more recently. All reflect a particular relationship between church and state, which has changed over time. Some church lands were taken during the land reform, but churches that were in political favour lost little, and some have continued to accumulate through close connections to the party-state.

While the forms of territorial land control and ancestral spirit supplication are no longer as evident, certainly within the African indigenous churches the role of the spirit world is central and biblical teachings on land and agriculture remain significant across all denominations. Religious beliefs thus construct relationships to land and resources in particular ways, with important political implications – which is why all politicians from whatever background must pay close attention to how religious identities and positions are changing, particularly as elections loom.

This blog was first published on Zimbabweland and was compiled by Ian Scoones. It is the third blog in a short series – see also here and here It is informed by contributions from Judy Bwerinofa (Triangle), Jacob Mahenehene (Chikombedzi), Makiwa Manaka (Chatsworth), Bulisie Mlotshwa (Matobo), Felix Murimbarimba (Masvingo/Hippo Valley), Moses Mutoko (Wondedzo) and Vincent Sarayi (Mvurwi)

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Religion, agriculture and market dynamics in Zimbabwe

The last blog offered a brief overview of different churches across our study sites. This second blog in this series focuses on their role in agriculture and markets, and more broadly rural livelihoods. Given their different histories, forms of organisation, finance and religious beliefs different churches’ influence is quite varied.  

The modernising mission

As discussed previously, the missionary churches that dominated in the colonial era were committed to a vision of elite, technically ‘modern’ African farming. This was often central to the paternalistic form of development offered through vocational training and an array of ‘development’ projects.

The famed American Methodist ‘native instructor’, E.D. Alvord, proclaimed a ‘Gospel of the Plow’ in his book. He was influential in framing agricultural policies from the 1927 onwards when an extension programme was established by the state, with many of his ideas being central to support for ‘native agriculture’ for decades, becoming enshrined for example in the Native Land Husbandry Act of 1952. The Alvord Training Centre exists today in Masvingo province and has been a site of training for many of the farmers in our sites.

In the same way, training at Reformed Church of Zimbabwe centres (such as Morgenster) and Roman Catholic centres (such as Gokomere) were all focused on improving agricultural practices and the uplift of African communities.

Churches as land owners

Many of these churches also had farms on significant amounts of land allocated by the colonial state, often near ‘native’ reserve areas. These not only provided agricultural produce for use in schools, colleges and hospitals, but also were a source of revenue. They also became training centres for sharing a particular version of agriculture in a period when the extent of state-led agricultural extension was limited. Such efforts in turn were supported by manuals, pamphlets and books produced by church-owned printing presses. The modernising (Christian) version of agriculture dominated rejected the ‘backward’ ways of African agriculture and became firmly allied to the colonial project.

Not all such efforts were misplaced of course. Breeding of crops and animals, a focus on soil conservation and initiatives to encourage mechanisation were taken up by some, most notably the leading ‘master farmers’ and those chosen for freehold plots in the so-called Native Purchase Areas. However, as the liberation war revealed some such interventions as imposed by the colonial state were widely resented and became a focus for mobilisation of local farmers in the struggle.

Today, although such church farms have contracted in size, in part due to land reform, they remain important. The newer institutionalised African indigenous churches have followed the model, with the ZCC for example having multiple farms that produce significant quantities of cereals, livestock and other crops.

How church gatherings change agricultural production and marketing

The newer churches, including both the Pentecostals (notably AFC) and the African Indigenous churches (ZCC, Johanne Marange) encourage commitment of their followers through huge gatherings in different locations across the country, often several times of year. These church gatherings involve thousands of followers who are in turn joined by thousands of businesspeople, selling food, goods and so on. These are major business opportunities for those living in the area and influence agricultural production and marketing in important ways.

For example, in our Chatsworth study sites farmers gear their production to the annual gatherings of the AFM at Rufaro and make use of the huge market for produce. Plantings are done at particular times so produce is ready for the gatherings. Meanwhile, others process agricultural products for sale, including setting up canteens and small shops. Still others come with things to sell boosting their incomes.  In this way, the local economy is transformed for a number of weeks each year. While this ceased during the pandemic, with major consequences for local farmers as they explained, the gatherings have started again, although with the split in the AFM, the numbers have declined, although the breakaway group still has its own gatherings, influencing another area nearby. 

In the same way, the ZCC and the Johanne Marange Apostolic church have huge annual gatherings, attracting participation from many countries across the region. At Mbungo in Masvingo, near one of our sites, several gatherings are held by the ZCC attracting thousands, and causing traffic chaos in the area as people arrive en masse both for worship and business. In the same way, along the Bulawayo Road from Masvingo the Johanne Marange church gathers, again providing important marketing and business opportunities for farmers in our study sites.   

Such massive church gatherings have a huge influence on how agriculture is practised – what is grown, when and how its value can be transformed in these very particular markets. Largely ignored in agricultural policy and research on agricultural markets, the role of churches (of different types with different demands) is an area requiring much more insight.

Large church gatherings are a relatively new phenomenon and were not part of the old mission style churches practices. Nevertheless, the older churches have always provided an important source of markets – notably supplying church mission boarding schools, hospitals and training colleges for example.

In all our study sites, these remain important sources for marketing, and the resettlement area farmers in particular have leapt at the opportunity, producing particular crops demanded by canteens, whether soybeans or butternut squash. Lucrative deals with such church institutions, often brokered through church connections, are important for commercialising farmers in all our sites.

Religious beliefs and practices shaping agriculture

As discussed above, the mission-led Christian churches preached a modernising vision of agriculture, one that is central to government policy and extension support today. This has been pursued by newer arrivals, both within protestant denominations (such as the Seventh Day Adventists) and among the Pentecostals. This allies with their vision of rejecting the ‘backward’ African ways in religious practice, projecting this into agricultural education and training, as well as the design of projects.

These approaches are influenced more by Euro-American visions of farming than drawing on indigenous knowledges and practices and are reinforced by selective quotations from the Bible. Financing of such projects – often through donations from Europe or the US – allows such a vision to be pursued as ‘development’, in turn closely allied with state-led support in agriculture.

Rejecting such influences, the religious practices of Johanne Marange Apostolic Faith followers foster a very different approach to agriculture and markets, which is having a huge impact on rural areas including our study sites. Johanne Marange followers are encouraged to seek self-reliance, with a distrust in the state, medical science and indeed standard agricultural approaches. In addition to the support for skill development in particular trades discussed in the previous blog, Johanne Marange followers are committed commercial agriculturalists, but in a form shaped by their religious beliefs. This has a large impact in areas where such followers live.

For example, the large flow of horticultural markets in Masvingo is dominated by a number Apostolic faith church members who have large, irrigated farms in the resettlement areas where we work (see lead photo). With a rejection of formal education and a strong commitment to polygamy, they rely on large reserves of family labour, as a large number of wives and children are available as labourers in any household. With skills within the church community, repairs, manufacture and adaptation of machinery is easily done, and many are important innovators in agriculture, leading others in the wider area. As skilled traders and vendors they have access to goods often at cheap prices, and large, closely linked families in tight communities encourage collective arrangements such as shared ploughing and joint arrangements for farm labour.

Religion and agriculture: a poorly understood connection

Understanding how religion affects family structure, labour and so production is a crucial but understudied aspect of agricultural development. For example, with growing numbers of adherents to the Johanne Marange Apostolic church in some parts of the country, this is having a massive influence, especially in the resettlement areas where large areas of land can be exploited with relatively good soils with irrigation potential. 

As the examples in this blog have shown – derived from discussions across our six study areas – organised religion, agriculture and markets are intimately linked. In different areas of the country, the connections will be contrasting, but recognising the role of religion in agriculture is essential; whether in terms of the beliefs and practices that influence the organisation of production and marketing, the generation of markets through church-based activity and through formal institutionalised interventions – such as church farms or educational initiatives.

Given the importance of religious affiliation in the lives of most Zimbabweans, factoring in religion into analyses of agricultural development is vital, but rarely done.

This blog (the second in a short series, see the first blog here) was first published on Zimbabweland and was compiled by Ian Scoones. It is informed by contributions from Judy Bwerinofa (Triangle), Jacob Mahenehene (Chikombedzi), Makiwa Manaka (Chatsworth), Bulisie Mlotshwa (Matobo), Felix Murimbarimba (Masvingo/Hippo Valley), Moses Mutoko (Wondedzo) and Vincent Sarayi (Mvurwi)

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Religion and agriculture: reflections from Zimbabwe

A recurrent theme in our research across Zimbabwe is the role of organised Christian religion in agriculture and rural livelihoods. The connection is not usually made. However, religious beliefs, practices and institutions have important influences, and these have changed over time. In the last few months, the research team in sites across Zimbabwe has been exploring how religion impinges on daily life and so affects how agriculture, land use and wider patterns of social support are practised.

Today the rise of Pentecostal and traditional African Christian churches is an important feature. ‘Traditional’ African religious practice is not as widespread as in the past, and the earlier influence of those churches central to missionary activity from the colonial era is in decline.

However, the pattern varies from place to place. In some of our sites, for example, the Roman Catholic church remains significant, drawing on the long legacy of mission education and strong rural presence. In others, it is the Pentecostal churches that have seen a major rise, with the now split AFM (Apostolic Faith Mission) being central to local life. In all places, numerous new churches are being established by ‘prophets’, claiming healing and other powers.

Across our sites there are three broad categories of institutionalised Christian religion existing alongside and sometimes in tension with traditional forms of territorial and spirit-based traditional religion. How do they each relate to agriculture and rural livelihoods, and so land control, investment patterns and knowledge sharing around agriculture?

Missionary influences

The earliest Christian churches in our study areas were either Protestants (such as United Methodists, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Reformed Church of Zimbabwe (formerly the Dutch Reformed Church), the Church of Christ and Anglicans) or the Roman Catholics. The early arrivals established missions and associated schools, hospitals, teacher training centres, printing presses and so on, such as the huge complex at Morgenster under the RCZ. Through translating the bible they were influential in the ‘civilising’ mission of the colonial state and through this they influenced agriculture (see next blog in this series).

Committed to both academic and vocational training, such churches have offered an educational infrastructure across the country, with many contemporary leaders receiving their education in mission institutions. In different parts of the country different church denominations held sway, reflecting earlier missionary efforts. In our study areas, the Catholic influence at Gokomere is important, notably through the school, while at Morgenster elsewhere in Masvingo province, the RCZ has huge influence.

Educational provision, notably in the colonial era before education for Africans was widespread was important, and many liberation war leaders came through such systems. While associated with colonial conquest through missionary activity and very much bound up with the colonial state through educational and training provision in ‘African’ areas, these churches had a liberal sensibility, and many church leaders became involved in the struggle for national liberation (see later blog in this series). Investment in training in vocational skills, including agriculture, was important across churches, with different denominations having different foci. Concentrated in Manicaland, the Methodists for example are well known for supporting carpentry training and other skills, while the RCZ has long had important agricultural projects.

More recent arrivals, now with many followers across the country – like the Seventh Day Adventists – have a huge array of activities associated with their churches. As someone described it, the church is like a government – services in health, education and so on are provided, with support through the church for businesses and other activities. People’s whole lives are oriented around the church and the teachings from the bible, with pastors and preachers taking on important roles in communities. As with other Protestant churches, spiritualism is formally rejected and people dress smartly in European clothes. Other practices are deemed ‘too African’ and church services are seen as ‘more like a meeting’ rather than the more vibrant forms of spiritualism seen in other evangelical and African indigenous churches. Laying of hands, casting out demons and so on is frowned upon, although some admitted that some pastors are beginning to incorporate these practices on the margins.  

Although congregations are declining, these churches remain important across Zimbabwe, and in our sites the SDA are seeing expanding numbers amongst the protestant churches, while the Roman Catholics continue to invest in development activities, now through formalised NGOs, such as CADEC or Caritas, and progressive institutions such as Silveira House, linked to ‘liberation theology’ movements and Freirean ‘training for transformation’ approaches. Significant flows of resources come from outside the country through churches connected to Zimbabwean partners.

The rise of Pentecostal religion

However, the religious landscape in Zimbabwe is changing, especially with the rise of evangelical Pentecostal churches and indigenous African churches of many types. Amongst the Pentecostals, the AFM (Apostolic Faith Mission) – and its breakaway group Later Rain – are especially important in our sites, along with Zaoga and Members in Christ, for example. These churches are led by charismatic leaders – such as Prophet Magaya for PHD ministries and Emmanuel Makandiwa for United Family International Church) – and many have strong connections in South Africa, where some originated. AFM is especially dominant in Chatsworth, Gutu where the Rufaro mission hosts a school and its three massive revival gatherings held each year, where thousands descend on the area. These churches have constructed temples and large halls for worship and have invested in schools, and even universities. They have church farms and projects, alongside other business investments such as shops and hotels.

They raise significant funds through tithe contributions from their congregations, with followers being urged to contribute up to 10% of their salaries. With relatively rich church members they have significant financial clout and attract the interests of corporates and politicians. The local Pentecostal followings overlap with others from elsewhere on the continent, notably from Nigeria (such as the late T.B. Joshua) and the influence of US evangelical preachers (such as Christ Embassy and others from Billy Graham onwards) visiting the country has long been a feature.

Preachers encourage a commitment to self-reliance, with the holy spirit guiding practices, including in agriculture. Formally, they reject the role of other ancestral spirits, although some n’angas claim they have become involved and some groups offer a more flexible interpretation, encouraging a more syncretic belief system, although not going as far as the African indigenous churches (see below).

The importance of prophets

African indigenous churches can in many shapes and forms. The most formalised in Zimbabwe are the ZCC (Zion Christian Church) and the Johanne Marange Apostolic church, while alongside these are the huge number of small churches led by self-proclaimed prophets (Johanne Masowe and more broadly those classified as Madzibaba). A syncretic mix of Christian teachings from both the Old and New Testament and sprit-based religion, linking to the ancestors and traditional religion is observed. This has important impacts on agriculture in all our sites.

The ZCC has significant resources through tithes paid by congregants and like the other formalised churches has invested in farms, schools and businesses and there is a massive conference centre at Mbungo near Masvingo. Johanne Marange by contrast has less infrastructure beyond the headquarters in Manicaland, as worship takes place under trees and on mountains. The numerous Johanne Masowe prophets each with small followings have shrines often at their homes.

There is a big focus amongst the Apostolic churches in a commitment to self-reliance. The Johanne Marange church followers are associated with the skills of tin-smithing, welding, electrical engineering and many run workshops both in rural areas and in town. They are deeply committed to commercial agriculture and, as discussed in the next blog in this series, many markets are dominated by Apostolic faith followers in our study areas.

While less formalised, the huge number of local prophets amongst the Johanne Masowe followings offer an even more explicit blending of traditional religion and Christian preaching. The dress codes reflect those that the spirit mediums use (black, white, red) and the array of artefacts used (clay pots, soil, salt, bones and so on) can barely be distinguished. Reliance on herbs and divination is combined with spiritualism, the laying of hands and healing through possession by spirits. Such prophets often use religion as a livelihood pathway, coming to new areas to gain land and followers.

Across our sites, the declared religious association in our 2017/18 survey in Gutu/Masvingo for example suggested a dominance of new African indigenous churches (53%) over Pentecostal churches (25%), Protestants (12%) and Roman Catholics (10%) (see table), but this probably underestimates the importance of new prophets who have risen in prominence in recent years. While sometimes rejected by those associated with more formal religious denominations as ‘false prophets’, peddling non-Christian beliefs and practices, they nevertheless are important numerically. Meanwhile, the commercial and political clout of the likes of ZCC cannot be underestimated, while in a more mundane way the Johanne Marange Apostolic faith followers are reshaping agriculture in many of our sites in important ways.

Table: Declared religious affiliation of resident household heads attending ‘churches’ in Gutu and Masvingo A1 sites (2017-18 survey)

Roman Catholic10%
RCZ5%
SDA4%
Methodist2%
AFM16%
Other Pentecostal (incl Zaoga, Members in Christ)9%
ZCC21%
Johan Marange Apostolic25%
Johan Masowe Apostolic8%

The next blogs in this short series look at particular aspects of this new dynamic, with the next examining agriculture and markets in more detail. This is followed by another that will focus on the politics of religion in land and agriculture, as well as more broadly, while the last in the series looks at how religion shapes how farmers respond to an uncertain environment.

This blog was first published on Zimbabweland and was compiled by Ian Scoones. It is informed by contributions from Judy Bwerinofa (Triangle), Jacob Mahenehene (Chikombedzi), Makiwa Manaka (Chatsworth), Bulisie Mlotshwa (Matobo), Felix Murimbarimba (Masvingo/Hippo Valley), Moses Mutoko (Wondedzo) and Vincent Sarayi (Mvurwi)

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How does agricultural commercialisation affect livelihoods in Zimbabwe?

The question of how agricultural commercialisation affects livelihoods has been central to the recently completed APRA programme (Agricultural Policy Research in Africa), which, along with Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, had work going on in Zimbabwe. A core part of the Zimbabwe work was major repeat panel surveys of smallholder A1 resettlement farms in Mazowe district. The surveys were undertaken in 2018 and 2020, reflecting on the previous season’s performance, with a repeated matched sample of 533. A cluster sample randomly chose 11 A1 (smallholder) resettlement schemes in Mvurwi and 7 in Concession and then all households in those areas were included. The panel design allowed for confounding factors to be controlled for and analysis of effects of different variables could be discerned, even though the seasons were radically different.

The team, led by Chrispen Sukume and involving Godfrey Mahofa, Vine Mutyasira and others – supported by a large team of enumerators and others drawn especially from Agritex – explored some key questions at the top of policymakers’ minds. Does commercialisation (i.e., regular sales) of tobacco, soya and maize result in improved incomes and accumulation of assets, and so reductions in poverty? How does the focus on cash crops influence seasonal hunger and food insecurity? Do women benefit from this process of commercialisation?

A1 farmers generating income and investing in assets

As discussed many times on this blog, these A1 areas are at the forefront of a new agricultural revolution, particularly in the high potential zones of the country. They are a significant supplier of marketed crops contributing 36 per cent of all soybeans sold on formal markets, 26 per cent of all maize registered a6s sales and they constitute 41 per cent of registered producers of flue-cured tobacco in the country, with the remainder made up by A2 medium-scale farms and remaining large-scale farms. Even though this is only the formally recorded sales (there are many, many more, including informal exchanges), this is a major contribution to the core of Zimbabwe’s formal economy. But how do farmers themselves fare? This was the question for the research, now reported in a series of APRA Working Papers.

In terms of income and accumulation (or rather the value of asset ownership, as the studies do not look at trajectories over time), the results shared in an APRA paper show that those households engaging in tobacco, soya and maize sales all gain more income and own more assets. Income is measured as volume of sales x the cash gained as reported by farmers and assets are those reported by farmers valued according to replacement costs. Tobacco producers fare best, followed by soya and maize producers. However, it’s those who combine tobacco and soya that have the best incomes, and it is the tobacco producers in particular who see the most impressive asset ownership levels. Econometric analysis suggests that selling both tobacco and soya will result in an increase of income by 194%, “all else being equal”. Positive outcomes in terms of farm income are also correlated with spending on inputs, livestock ownership, area of land planted and tractor usage.

Farming pays: returns to land and labour

The results are of course not surprising – cash crops provide cash and cash can be invested in assets – and the pattern seen from the surveys confirm what we and others have found before. Further questions are raised, however. Of course, getting cash from sales is one thing, but what about the varied expenses of production? This is tackled in another APRA paper that looks across countries at ‘gross margins’ (incomes minus expenditures) and so calculates returns to land and labour for different crops in different settings. For Zimbabwe, the results show (again) that farming tobacco results in good returns, especially to land (US$1053/ha), but also to labour even though labour costs are high (US$6.4/day). The returns to land for maize are less spectacular (US$781/ha) but returns to labour are higher (US$19.4/day), as maize returns are boosted because of the artificially high value of maize in Zimbabwe (compared to international border prices) and it is a less labour-intensive crop.

Returns are of course highly sensitive to changing prices, with major swings in returns resulting as prices increases or decrease. Intensification – increasing costs on inputs – however may not always be a good idea, as returns may not be sufficient, and this appears to be especially the case for the already high-cost production of tobacco in Zimbabwe, facilitated by contract arrangements with companies. Contract arrangements and facilitation and intermediation of value chains by brokers of different sorts, however, can bring bigger returns for commercial crops such as maize. As the paper concludes, overall, it pays to be a small-scale farmer these days, even with relatively low levels of intensification, as these returns represent reasonable overall incomes for a family, especially if higher than world prices are paid for maize.

Does cash cropping increase seasonal hunger?

How does commercialisation affect seasonal hunger? One of the arguments against cash cropping is that such crops divert effort away from food, leaving people vulnerable. But is this the case? Can people use the cash they earn to buy food and so offset any food deficits? The results from the surveys in another APRA paper show that overall cash cropping reduces seasonal hunger and that this is especially the case for tobacco and food crops (but not soya), and the effect is greatest for asset poor households. ‘Hunger’ during six months of the lean season (November to May) was assessed in relation to people’s recall of whether they had enough to eat during the day for each month and various commercialisation indices were also used (by crop and overall), representing the ratio between sales value and total value. Here, the timing of payments from the tobacco crop is crucial as this happens at the time when food deficits are at the peak.

Other variables that had a positive correlation with reduced seasonal hunger were being a male head of household, having larger cropped area and having access to remittances and off-farm work. Of course, there is variation across households, but the overall conclusion drawn is that supporting cash cropping is not a route to food insecurity. This supports earlier findings in cotton-growing areas, such as Gokwe where in the boom cotton years, people did well.

Who benefits from agricultural commercialisation?

Another important question is who benefits? This basic distributional question requires delving into cross-household comparisons. The averages and median figures presented in these papers do not tell us much about distribution, and especially the implications for particular groups of people, such as women or younger farmers. Here there are wider questions raised about equity in commercialisation trajectories.

Another APRA paper looks at how commercialisation of different crops was related to ‘women’s empowerment’. This was imputed through an aggregate indicator from assessments of whether women primarily managed agricultural plots, decided on how outputs are used, decided on sales and involved in decisions around how crop sales revenue was used. Those households with high levels of commercialisation of tobacco and soya in particular tended not to show indicators of women’s empowerment. As many have pointed out before, these crops are male-dominated, as value chains are highly gendered in Zimbabwean agriculture as an earlier APRA paper discussed.

Longer-term trajectories

A further question not really tackled by these papers is how the surpluses from high returns from commercial agriculture (for some) are spent over time. This is important as the way assets are accumulated affects the wider economy and the broader trajectory of development in an area. Here more longitudinal studies beyond two snapshot panel surveys, as the processes of change are slow and intermittent, and affected by wider political-economic dynamics.

In our historical studies, which overlap with these survey sites in Mvurwi, we see periods of accumulation – associated with good rainfall years and more stable economic and political conditions, such as during the Government of National Unity – and periods of stagnation (such as now), with different impacts on the local economy, household accumulation and also the environment.

Also, over the 20 years since resettlement, the forms of accumulation have shifted. At settlement there was initial investment in land clearing and preparation and the building of homes; this shifted after establishment to investment in transport, mechanisation and intensification of farming, including well-digging irrigation; and more recently there has been a move by some to invest away from the farms in businesses and houses for rental in town. This pattern is important because different people gain from such shifts at different times, with the linkage effects of land reform increasing over time.   

While none of these papers offer anything hugely surprising – (male) farmers in Mazowe all well know that tobacco is profitable but has high inputs costs yet can provide good income and potential for investment – the confirmation of the patterns across sites with in-depth, rigorous quantitative analysis, complemented by econometric models, helps reinforce our understanding, suggesting some important policy directions for the future.

So, do delve into the papers, there’s lots of rich information contained in them all – and some complicated econometric equations too!

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

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The neoliberal restructuring of land and agriculture in Africa: two new books

Two important new books have come out on the neoliberal restructuring of land and agriculture in Africa recently. Both take a radical agrarian political economy stance on the theme, but from different angles. Such analyses have important implications for thinking about agrarian reform, the role of contract farming and the place of land and agriculture in African economies.

Processes of neoliberalisation

The first book Capital Penetration and the Peasantry in Southern and Eastern Africa is edited by Freedom Mazwi, George Mudimu and Kirk Helliker, respectively from the Sam Moyo African Institute of Agrarian Studies, PLAAS at UWC and the Zimbabwe Studies Institute at Rhodes University. The collection has contributions on South Africa, Uganda, Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Mozambique and Eswatini, and two on Zimbabwe and makes the case that “the hallmark of the neoliberal agenda, for agrarian spaces, has been the entrenchment of landed property rights and the push for market-led land reforms”.

Neoliberalism, the editors explain, is characterised by “unequal exchange on global markets, large-scale land dispossessions, underfunding of the agricultural (particularly smallholder or peasant) sector, and macro-economic initiatives such as the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).” The contemporary form of financialised, globalised capitalism in particular allows capital to penetrate places that had previously been ignored, resulting in significant extractive profits. This they argue results in marginalisation, impoverishment and increasing differentiation alongside elite capture.

In this book, neoliberalisation is seen as a process, not a singular state – a useful point that gets away from some of the very simplistic and polemical treatises misusing the term. As the introduction to the book explains, the processes of neoliberalisation are variegated, uneven, contradictory and subject to repeated crises and moments of rupture. Interests associated with neoliberalisation are pushed by class interests, which are allied globally with monopoly capital and western powers aligning with national elites in Africa, but there are equally forms of resistance, locally and nationally.

Extractivism

This process seen across Africa and illustrated across the chapters of the book is very much centred on processes of extraction, which serve the needs of metropolitan states. This includes “land concentration and grabbing (by private, domestic and international capital), monopolistic control over natural resources, and new forms of production arrangements (for example, contract farming) involving agrarian capital— in which there is corporate control over flows of commodities, credit and value.”  As Ye Jingzhong and colleagues explain, extractivism has moved from a pattern of single sites of mining, land grabbing to a more generalised process, encompassing whole agrarian systems.

Several case studies in the book (e.g., Sakata, Mhlanga and Bruna) home in on ‘contract’ farming as a globally-driven agricultural production and marketing strategy that, they argue, reduces the autonomy and livelihood opportunities of the peasantry. The result is, they argue, increasing impoverishment and differentiation and a reinforcing of the international division of labour, with value extracted elsewhere.

While there is a much wider debate about contract farming, including some (such as our work) that highlights its immediate benefits for the relatively (but not extremely) poor, situating the growing phenomenon in a wider historical and political frame is definitely useful. It is the contingent political economy that influences whether contract relations ‘upgrade’ and so support local production or ‘capture’ the peasantry through extractive relations, as Kojo Amanor has pointed out.  

Overall, the book argues that sustaining the neoliberal project is in the interests of metropolitan powers and capitalist interests globally, with strong alliances across nations, drawing on ‘theories of imperialism’ as articulated so effectively by Utsa and Prahbat Patnaik. Those countries that challenge the neoliberal tenets are isolated, and sanctions are imposed to get them into line, the book argues.

The case of Zimbabwe’s land reform is of course the example given, but there are others. As they argue, following Sam Moyo, Praveen Jha, Paris Yeros and others, “this raises complex questions about state autonomy vis-à-vis global capital as well as the importance of resolving the national question through pursuing relatively autonomous development paths”, a theme picked up especially in the second book.

An Afrocentric perspective?

The second book for this review is edited by Vusi Gumede and Toendepi Shonhe, respectively from the University of Mpumalanga and formerly of UNISA in Johannesburg, and is called ambitiously “Rethinking the Land and Agrarian Questions in Africa” (available as an e-book and a hard copy), again with a number of case study chapters from across east and southern Africa.

Developing the ideas of the great thinkers of African agrarian studies including Samir Amin, Archie Mafeje and Sam Moyo, the book makes the case for an Afrocentric perspective, where ideas around agrarian change – and land reform in particular – are recast, away from a Eurocentric epistemology. Such standard Eurocentric views “underscore the preoccupation with property rights and thus the need to remain in harmony with global capital, enabling colonial systems to persist.”

Instead, the book argues for an alternative way of thinking about land and its value that decolonises the land and so provides “a basis for creating new platforms for social change and broadened accumulation”.  This focus on constructions of knowledge around land, law, policy, property and so on is a really useful intervention, and opens up new areas of debate not framed in a restrictive way by conventional thinking.

Delinking and autonomous development

In arguing for a radical departure from neoliberal, colonised thought and practice and a liberation of the mind towards ideas that are rooted in African initiative and local economies, the work of Samir Amin on delinking comes to mind (whose work is drawn upon in both books). His 1987 short note on delinking encapsulates many of the ideas being revisited by African scholars of agrarian settings today, inspired of course by the important mentor to many, the late Sam Moyo (who the second book is dedicated to and whose work informs much of the thinking in the first).

“The development of countries at the periphery of the world-capitalist system, consequently, passes through a necessary “break” from this world capitalist system – a “delinking” – that is to say, the refusal to submit national-development strategy to the imperatives of “globalization”. But the meaning we give to the concept of “delinking” is not at all a synonym for autarky. We mean the organization of a system of criteria for the rationality of economic choices based on a law of value, which has a national foundation and a popular content, independent of the criteria of economic rationality that emerges from the domination of the law of capitalist value that operates a world scale.”

Amin goes on to suggest a model of national and popular auto-centred development, which “does not consist of rejecting all relations with the outside, but in submitting the external relations to the logic of an internal development that is independent from them.” This means accepting trade relations, market exchanges, technologies and aid/external support on different terms, resisting the extractivism of neoliberalism and the imperatives of a particular style of agrarian policy.

In this sense, the vision is different to one of localised, autonomous ‘food sovereignty’, but accepts that a break with hegemonic power (and as Gumede and Shonhe argue, ideas and styles of knowledge-making) allows for liberation, even if ‘western’ technologies, external trade and so on are part of the solution. As Amin and others argue, a key question is who can benefit from such popular, nationally-determined development? Questions of class and the dangers of capture once again come to the fore. As with neoliberalisation, struggles for alternatives must be seen as a process.

In the Zimbabwean context, the “break” with the West occurred following land reform and the imposition of ‘sanctions’ and the subsequent lack of investment and finance. This perhaps should have offered some of this opportunity. Indeed, in some of the land reform settings we work in a sense of autonomy and independent economic activity on farmers’ own terms is evident. And during the pandemic, due to force of circumstance, this accelerated as people generated resilience and capacities to survive the effects of lockdowns in a collapsing economy. However, as we have discussed many times on this blog, these opportunities remain constrained. This is why Amin argues that delinking is not just autarky, instead a progressive national state needs to support such endeavours and this has been lacking.

Resisting imperial impositions from metropolitan powers and transforming the depredations of neoliberalism requires more than just getting by as farmers in rural Zimbabwe are incredibly good at doing, but requires a mobilisation, across classes and with allies in the state and beyond, for liberation to be realised. These books help us think about this process, but (as ever) there are no easy answers.  

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

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The future of Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector: a new book

A new book on land and agriculture Zimbabwe – The Future of Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Sector – is just out with Routledge and edited by Grasian Mkodzongi. It’s fiendishly expensive, but a paperback version is promised soon. Meanwhile be in touch with authors for copies of chapters or look out on Researchgate or other platforms for pre-print versions, as there’s lots of good material.

The ‘new dispensation’: a failure?

The book takes the post-‘coup’ transition to the ‘new dispensation’ after 2017 under President Mnangagwa as its starting point. It asks, how has the ‘open for business’ rhetoric made a difference to the agrarian sector following the land reform in 2000? The introduction argues that “the post-Mugabe era is characterised by a neoliberal macro-economic agenda which has intensified land grabs and resource thefts to the detriment of peasants and other vulnerable groups.”

It is this shift towards a business-oriented, large-scale farming discourse and away from a peasant-centred one that characterised the Mugabe era that has reframed the debate, the book argues. An alliance with Chinese capital (and others) linked to a ‘comprador bourgeoisie’ class connected to ZANU-PF political and military leadership has resulted in resource grabbing on a large scale, undermining the gains of land reform, Mkodzongi argues. The result is intensified class struggle over land, as political elites ally with international capital and foreign powers to acquire resources, using political influence to remove land from those who are out of favour politically or who cannot resist, as in the case of the notorious Chilonga communal area land dispute.

While many recognise the inequities that persist following land reform, with demands for land from youth, women, former farmworkers, displaced urbanites and others, instead the current government’s focus appears to be on improving production efficiencies in more commercial operations through subsidy and other loan schemes (such as the ‘command agriculture’ programme). This shifts the political dynamics of the post-land reform era away from redistribution, reinforcing the power of those who gained land in the reform in medium-scale A2 farms, and supporting the process of consolidating land holdings through joint ventures.

Diverse outcomes

Chapters cover a broad range of themes, highlighting once again the richness of empirical work on-going in Zimbabwe. The book is dedicated to the late, great Sam Moyo, and he would I am sure be impressed by the breadth of work on-going, represented not only in this book but also others (which I will review soon too).

Felix Murimbarimba and I delve into the politics of A2 (medium-scale) farms based on our survey and interview work in Masvingo and Mazowe, looking at the mixed fate of A2 farmers and the influence of political alliances on rural politics. Meanwhile, others look at patterns of investment, particularly in the A1 areas, notable the chapters by Tom and Chipenda, who looks at joint-ventures.

A focus on particular crops is taken by Ncube, Kamuti and Ncube (tobacco) and Taringana (coffee), who all show how smallholders are now growing what were deemed to large-scale commercial crops. As Ndhlovu speculates new forms of locally based agriculture in A1 farms may offer prospects for ‘food sovereignty’.

The new agrarian dynamic is also creating conflicts, displacements and patterns of exclusion and differentiation, with implications for gendered access to resources as Chiweshe and Bhatsara and Batisai and Chipato show in different cases. As the time from the land reform lapses, questions of and the rights of women are brought to the fore, for example. Overall, as we’ve seen in our work again and again, there is a clear vibrancy in the agrarian sector following land reform, but also many problems.

Structural constraints

What is clear is that the ‘new dispensation’ did not resolve these challenges. Maybe it couldn’t. The structural constraints of lack of finance, sanctions and deep corruption all have contributed to lack of action by the new government. The populist policy rhetoric of being ‘open for business’ was largely empty, as action did not follow beyond the opening of resources for grabbing by elites and others. The result has been increasing tensions and a more tense struggle between classes, with the smallholder A1 beneficiaries of land reform pitted against others.

The business-friendly discourse and the land compensation deal with white farmers did not impress western governments who latched on to a particular human rights discourse around political reforms as their central conditionality, preventing the release of strangulating economic sanctions, as Chipuriro and Mkodzongi explain. Despite various policy initiatives, the corruption by political elites has made even the more sensible ones irrelevant, as rent is extracted at every turn whilst political factions vie for power.

The result has been economic collapse, which has massively constrained growth in the agrarian sector. Attempts to woo the Chinese failed as they too were not fooled, and the mega-projects promised did not materialise. Mkodzongi documents this rather sorry tale both in the introduction and conclusion to the book.  

Ways forward?

So, what to do about it? There is a clear failure of the current political dispensation, but Mkodzongi and others are not optimistic about alternatives either. As he notes, “the new neoliberal policy trajectory is in conflict with the ethos of the fast-track land reform, which sought to restructure agrarian relations in favour of the broader majority of Zimbabwe’s citizens, in particular the peasantry”.

As a consequence, a new agrarian-focused politics is required, something hinted at in our chapter, but requiring alliances between those generating production on the A2 farms (not everyone by any means, given patronage allocations) and the more vibrant and more numerous A1 farmers, who have significant electoral influence. A new progressive political coalition together with those in urban areas also struggling over land and livelihoods – as explained by Mujere and Mwatara – is essential. Perhaps this will deliver the ‘national political consciousness’ and ‘ideological clarity’ that Mkodzongi advocates.

However, to be effective, such an alliance must in turn construct coherent policies, deliver security of tenure, provide support for agriculture, develop rural infrastructure, facilitate markets and address the needs of those left behind by the land reform. At the moment, sadly, this looks far off, with any forthcoming election outcome unlikely to resolve these issues, whatever the result. 

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

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The changing face of urban agriculture in Zimbabwe

Over the last four weeks, the blog has explored the changing face of urban agriculture across our sites in Chikombedzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa, Masvingo, Chatsworth and Mvurwi. We have explored the growth of urban agriculture and its different forms (backyard, open space and titled) and examined the changing relationships between rural and urban production. A photo story captured some of the dynamics, including the patterns of investment that are on-going. The role of urban agriculture in food security in an economy with few other options, currency chaos and rising inflation was also explored.

A number of themes emerge:

  1. Urban agriculture is not just backyard cultivation, but a much more significant endeavour, with often large areas planted, sometimes with significant intensification through irrigation and mechanisation.
  2. Urban/peri-urban production is essential for food security. This was especially so in the pandemic when the trend to urban cultivation accelerated, but is also important in the context of Zimbabwe’s economic situation where inflation is high and other jobs scarce. Self-provisioning not only for ‘relish’ but for staples and selling surplus is a feature of urban agriculture today.
  3. The relationships between the rural and urban are being reconfigured, as production (of some crops) moves to town. This means adjusting marketing practices for rural producers as they cannot compete with those in town. Rural producers must switch to different crops, new forms of transport and new marketing strategies.
  4. For towns in largely rural areas, many have access to plots in both town and in the rural areas. Investment in land and housing in town has been an important feature of investment from the proceeds from agricultural production, especially for those with larger land areas in the land reform areas. Shuttling between rural and urban production sites is important, with equipment and investments being moved between sites.
  5. Access to land and water for urban agriculture is vital, but is unevenly distributed. Political patronage and brokerage plays an important role in governing land access in urban areas. Municipal by-laws and town planning regulations often formally ban urban agriculture, putting officials in an invidious position, where they have to police the laws, while recognising the importance of urban agriculture in straitened circumstances (including for themselves).
  6. Urban farming is important for men and women, rich and poor. But different people gain access to different types of land thanks often to political connections and can invest in different ways, depending on existing resources and access to capital.

In case you missed them, links to the four blogs are below, with the most recent first.

Urban agriculture: surviving in a collapsing economy

Urban agriculture in Zimbabwe: a photo story

Changing food systems in Zimbabwe: shifts from rural to urban production

The growth of urban agriculture in Zimbabwe

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

Thanks to the team – Iyleen Judy Bwerinofa, Jacob Mahenehene, Makiwa Manaka, Bulisiwe Mulotshwa, Felix Murimbarimba, Moses Mutoko and Vincent Sarayi – who have contributed the research material for this series from across Zimbabwe.

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The growth of urban agriculture in Zimbabwe

The growth of urban agriculture in Zimbabwe has been phenomenal. Every space seems to be cultivated, with a huge array of crops. Today you see tractors, irrigation pumps, trucks carrying produce to markets, with significant investments in commercialised agriculture happening alongside traditional backyard farming and opportunistic cropping in open spaces around towns and cities. What explains this growth, and how is it affecting the wider food system?

Over the last couple of months the Zimbabwe research team has set out to explore these questions in diverse urban settings – from Masvingo town to Chatsworth, Chiredzi, Triangle/Hippo Valley, Maphisa and Mvurwi. As this short blog series will explain the patterns are different, but the trend is the same. Agriculture in towns is growing and becoming an increasingly important source of food for consumers. This in turn is putting a squeeze on rural producers in our study sites who must compete with higher transport costs and lack of access to markets.

Urban and especially peri-urban agriculture of course has a long pedigree in Zimbabwe. In the colonial era, Africans in town were allowed to grow food crops in their backyards. However, the townships and high-density suburbs were only expected to be temporary residences for Africans who were expected to return home to their ‘reserves’. In the colonial era urban food production was heavily controlled and restricted to compounds where vegetables could be grown. Attempts to expand to other areas was illegal, and banned crops were slashed and destroyed by municipal authorities. This restrictive approach continued after Independence with urban agriculture being seen in terms of the supply of ‘relish’ rather than a key source of food production and so urban food and nutrition security.

Today urban residents are much more permanent; although in recent decades many are unemployed or reliant on temporary piece work as economic conditions in the country have deteriorated. While uncontrolled urban agriculture remains illegal according to planning laws, over the last decades – out of necessity – there has been much more accommodation of the practice. With the retrenchments of the structural adjustment era from 1991, the level of urban food insecurity grew making urban agriculture essential for survival. The need for urban agriculture has grown over the last 30 years, with economic chaos bringing real hardships to urban residents across Zimbabwe. COVID-19 accelerated this as movement restrictions and the closing of businesses made stable employment even less likely. Some decided to return to the rural areas seeking out land for farming. As some other African countries, the growth of urban areas has been slow in Zimbabwe and connections to rural areas is essential. Some suggest that urban populations have declined as migration switches from rural to urban to the other way round.

COVID-19 arrived in the midst of an on-going economic crisis in Zimbabwe and many sought refuge in the rural areas. However those in town needed access to food production especially when they couldn’t travel to the rural areas during lockdowns.

Economic conditions have made matters worse. The failure of the local currency has meant that parallel currency systems exist and inflation is rising. The costs of household food provisioning rises daily and with the challenges of finding gainful employment, this means that growing food for urban families is essential.

With a poor harvest this year, urban food insecurity is graded as ‘stressed’, with a number of donor programmes focusing on vouchers and cash transfers to support people. But cash these days can lose value quickly; much better to have some food directly on the table from your own urban plot or garden.

Three types of urban agriculture

Our studies across our sites have shown that urban agriculture takes on a variety of forms but is virtually universal, with its contribution today being highly significant, perhaps far more so than in other urban settings in the southern African region due to the particularly harsh economic conditions in Zimbabwe. Three main types of agriculture are seen:

Backyard farming – This is the most common form of urban agriculture, and nearly every compound has a few beds for vegetables of different sorts, but also maize, sweet potatoes and other staples. Those renting rooms may also have a garden bed as part of their rental package. While space is extremely limited – plots in the high-density suburbs are regulated and as the name suggests there’s not much room. The result is that every square inch is exploited. And not only with crops: broilers, rabbits, turkeys and more are common in backyards. Some have invested in boreholes to supplement municipal water supplies, while others have intensified with various forms of irrigation.

Open space farming – While notionally still illegal, such farming has expanded massively in recent years. In areas designated for future building, in now disused industrial areas, along roadsides, by streams and rivers, every available area it seems is cultivated. Allocations of land in such areas are not formally controlled, and indeed such farmers can be evicted at any time. Environmental regulations (such as around stream bank cultivation) can be enforced, and municipal police can come to destroy crops. However, in recent years there has been a decline in regulatory capacity and enforcement, and sometimes bribes are paid to allow farming to continue. In some sites, land barons who control housing developments may be involved. Such urban land is highly contested, and land access is extremely politicised, with land being handed out for housing schemes as part of political patronage, particularly in the larger towns and cities.

Negotiating with authorities of different sorts, whether municipal, environmental or political chefs, barons and brokers, makes such open space farming highly insecure. Nevertheless, the demand for land and food in urban areas is so high that people will try their luck. A process of what people describe as ‘self-allocation’ occurs and people carve out an unused portion at the beginning of a season. Disputes over boundaries and claims are common, and negotiation with farming neighbours is always on-going. Many people have multiple, scattered plots, fitted in amongst other farmers where spaces open up. These plots may be 0.1 ha or less, but together can add up to a decent holding where production can be significant. Those with money and political clout may be able to command larger areas in one location, with cultivation expanding to allow mechanisation, with tractors and other equipment brought in. These larger farmers may have formal deals with supermarkets and other contractors, while others with smaller plots sell in local markets when they have surplus. As others have noted, unequal access to land for urban agriculture is generating new forms of injustice.

Formal plots – In some towns, including Masvingo, titled plots were offered for purchase by town authorities during the colonial era. These small plots, usually around 6 ha, are on the town periphery and were occupied by both whites and blacks. Today they are much sought after and, given their proximity to markets, provide real opportunities for intensified commercial agriculture. While some have merged into the suburbs that continue to expand through diaspora and other investments, others have invested in irrigation equipment, stall feeding systems for animals and increasingly sophisticated systems of intensive crop and animal production. Some engage in contract farming for particular crops (like chillies for example), others have deals to supply supermarkets in town. As the economy becomes more and more localised – again a trend accelerated by COVID-19 – such producers have an advantage compared to their rural neighbours.   

Next week, we will explore how this growth in urban agriculture is having an effect on the wider food production system, and especially how the pandemic has restructured food systems both in towns and in the wider rural areas. The final blog in the series will offer some case studies of urban agriculture from different towns in our study areas and across the types outlined above.

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

Thanks to Iyleen Judy Bwerinofa, Jacob Mahenehene, Makiwa Manaka, Bulisiwe Mulotshwa, Moses Mutoko and Vincent Sarayi for their contributions and to Felix Murimbarimba for both researching and coordinating.

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Conservation conflicts: land use in Zimbabwe’s Lowveld

The conservation of biodiversity in places where people also live and farm is not straightforward. The last three blogs have offered some perspectives on the dilemmas faced in the southeast Lowveld of Zimbabwe, and this blog offers an overview.

The politics of land in this region is much contested and has been for much of the last century. National parks, conservancies, hunting concessions, sugar estates, large-scale farms and small-scale farming and herding all compete for space. Beyond the irrigated estates and farms, it is a dry and hostile place, where carving out a living is difficult. This is made more challenging for those living close to areas where wildlife also live, especially as the exploding population of elephants spills over destroying crops in their wake.

All these land uses will be part of the future of the southeast Lowveld near the Gonarezhou park, but how to make sure that conflicts don’t escalate and livelihoods are not destroyed? This was the focus of the most recently published trio of blogs. Based on our recent discussions in the area, they aimed to offer all sides of the story, including those who are often not heard in conservation debates – poorer farmers and herders living on the margins of the wildlife estate.

Seeking compromises and searching for solutions that involve all parties is essential, whether over controversies about park boundaries and fences or about investments in large-scale farming, as in the Chilonga case. Ignoring local views only creates more conflict and resentment. This was the lesson learned when the CAMPFIRE concept was developed – the importance of sharing benefits so as to have a joint commitment to the future both of wildlife and of livelihoods. As the last blog in this series shows this illustrious Zimbabwean experiment has run into problems, but learning lessons from these is the route to a more effective approach to conservation, rather than reverting to the ‘fortress conservation’ models of the past.    

Since this blog series was published during Easter/Ramadan/Passover periods and readers may have missed them, I thought I would have a reprise this week, providing links to all three. Read them together and please feel free to comment on the blogs, whether you agree or disagree. The important point is to have a debate about the future of biodiversity, conservation and livelihoods.

This is a long running discussion, but one that needs more airing across different viewpoints if the ambitions of the action plan on biodiversity to be launched at the forthcoming Biodiversity COP in China are ever to be met.

In case you missed them, here are the three blogs:

The trouble with elephants: why limits on culling are bad for conservation | zimbabweland (wordpress.com)

Protected areas: national assets or shared heritage? | zimbabweland (wordpress.com)

Failing institutions: the challenge of governing natural resources in Zimbabwe | zimbabweland (wordpress.com)

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

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

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