Tag Archives: local economic development

Land, livelihoods and small towns

In early June, I was invited by the Africa Research Institute in London to a panel discussion held to launch a new ARI Counterpoints piece by Beacon Mbiba on ‘missing urbanisation’ in Zimbabwe. Beacon’s piece raised some important questions about how urban areas are defined, and how many urban people there are. As part of a wider debate about the dynamics of urbanisation in Africa – which Debbie Potts has provocatively contributed in a number of articles, including another ARI Counterpoints issue – the question of numbers and geographic boundaries is important – and has significant implications for planning and politics.

In my talk, I focused instead on the underlying processes of livelihood change that might reveal rather different numbers – if they could be counted accurately. I argued that the conception and the role of ‘the urban’ in people’s lives is changing following land reform, especially in rural areas.

The session was chaired by Edward Paice, and involved Beacon Mbiba (Oxford Brookes), Jo McGregor (Sussex) and myself. An audio version is available online if you want to have a listen. This is my presentation – slightly elaborated from my notes – picking up from the earlier Zimbabweland blog series on small towns in particular.

Land reform and small towns

Following land reform in 2000, there were major changes in production, economic activity and settlement – and with these largely rural changes there have been big changes in urban centres – very often small towns – near new resettlements. This I would argue has gone largely unresearched and unnoticed – partly because of the ways urban areas and people are demarcated, classified and counted.

Over last few years, we have been studying three such small towns (all featured in earlier blogs):

  • Mvurwi (in Mazowe district, formerly servicing large-scale white farming, a farm labour settlement, now at the centre of a booming smallholder led tobacco growing area),
  • Chatsworth (in Gutu, a railway siding, and again in the centre of what was large-scale farms, now surrounding by land reform areas producing maize, vegetables and other ag commodities) and
  • Maphisa (in Matabeleland South, Matobo district, again in a reconfigured rural area, including resettlements and an ARDA farm with a recent JV investment).

According to very outdated hierarchical urban planning classifications, of these, only Mvurwi is classified as ‘urban’ according to ZIMSTATS. Chatsworth and Maphisa (formerly a TILCOR town) are ‘growth points’.

All these small towns in rural areas have some common features in the 17 years since land reform:

  • Significantly increased resident populations (Mvurwi was up by 6,000 to the 2012 census)
  • A massive increase in stands, a building boom (tripled high and medium density stands in all towns, with many more pegged)
  • A rapid growth in business activity, especially of small enterprises – many linked to agriculture (market vendors, grocery stores, butcheries, hardware stores – as well as grinding mills, carpentry/building, welding, tailoring, hair salons, photocopy shops, phone card vendors, and, and, and….)
  • Many more transport connections and operators (kombis, small trucks)

And, on the negative side, there has been the closing down of some large businesses (some banks and companies formerly servicing large-scale farms, for example), and a serious decline in public services and state investment in urban infrastructure in all three cases.

Big changes in small towns: four themes

Noting these changes, and the links to land reform resettlement areas, we have asked, what shifts are important in understanding the changing role of rural small towns? I want to highlight four themes:

    1. Business opportunities. There is now money in the rural economy from agriculture on land reform farms (mostly A1). This includes cash from sales of tobacco (Mvurwi), horticulture (Chatsworth), and livestock (Maphisa). The dynamism of many local economies linked to A1 resettlements is there for anyone to see. Many of these flows of cash are seasonal – and today seriously affected by cash crisis, although the shift to e-commerce has been swift – but the overall volumes are significant. The result is what economists call linkage and multiplier effects: demand for services, inputs etc., especially agriculture related business, including transport, equipment, seed, fertiliser and so on.
    2. New people in town. In the past such commercial activity in such towns was dominated by large businesses. They were places where you might get a job or they were residential areas for farm workers or civil servants. Workers on farms would come to shop after being paid. Today, there are multiple small businesses. These are especially important for youth and women, and those who didn’t get land through land reform. Such activities are fragile, informal and risky, but offering a livelihood, and employing one or two others, generating overall considerable economic activity. For example: across our three cases, since land reform in 2000 up to 2016, there are five times as many hardware stores, 4 x grocery stores, 4 x food outlets, 3 x butcheries, 2 x bottle stores, 5 x numbers of market vendors and so on. And there are also new outside investors, including ‘black’ capital, as well as Indian, Chinese, and other investors, not seen in these towns before.
    3. Housing. There has been a massive expansion of low and medium density housing. There’s been a huge building boom (and yes, with this, opportunities for corruption and patronage, but not quite like Harare peripheries described by Jo McGregor’s research). In Mvurwi, 2000 low density and 750 medium density stands have been established since 2000. Many investors are land reform farmers and traders in agricultural commodities. Those linked to land reform sites are the new landlords, putting up the teachers, nurses and other civil servants. The period therefore has seen shifts in economic and class relations, and patterns of accumulation, as people invest in real estate from farming.
    4.  Infrastructure and planning. Basic services, infrastructure and planning is not keeping up with this rapid pace of change. Lack of state capacity and investment really shows in all our sites. Sewage, electrical supply and roads, for example, are all in a poor state. Local government is in a mess, but there is a new rural-urban politics emerging, as people demand that the state responds.

Rethinking rural-urban relations

Overall, I see a changing role of ‘town’. In the past, the classic pattern of southern African circular migration existed. Men went to work, usually somewhere distant; they remitted funds home, and then later retired to the rural communal home. This no longer happens, at least not in the same way.

Now ‘town’ is closer to the rural (small towns are where the action is, with better transport costs driving down local prices), people shuttle between houses in town and on the farms and families are split and mobile (seasonally, but also even daily – there are always full kombis coming to and from the farms).

To my mind, this makes the question of residence on a snapshot census almost meaningless! In my view, then, instead of worrying about the numbers or the classification of what is and isn’t a town, it’s better to invest in understanding the changing spatial dynamics of livelihoods – patterns of settlement, production, investment, accumulation – and so the changing relationships between urban and rural.

This requires a radical rethink of local government, service provision, infrastructure investment and economic and spatial planning. Throw out old colonial planning models, and redesign statistical data collection to fit new contexts.

I have long argued for a more regional spatial perspective to planning and development, incorporating the reconfigured rural areas and linking to urban areas, of all types. Local economic development is happening, but is not coordinated, supported and made the most of, due to the fragmented, dysfunctional nature of state (and private, NGO, and donor) support. Making this happen will of course require a functioning bureaucratic state, along with economic and political stability. This sadly still seems far off.

In the meantime, people will get on with their lives, refashioning urban and rural spaces, and the relationships between in ways that the planning textbooks and the census data just simply do not reveal.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Policies for land, agriculture and rural development: some suggestions for Zimbabwe

Last week, I critiqued the framings of policy by the major political parties on land and agriculture. While agreeing with elements of the proposals, there seemed to be some important gaps, misunderstandings, and problematic assumptions. At root was the failure to grasp the implications and opportunities of the new agrarian structure.

Whether positioned around a populist, nationalist narrative or one focused on private investment and individual entrepreneurship, the policies do not focus on the importance of a new group of ‘emergent’ or ‘middle’ farmers, as part of a socially and economically differentiated rural population. The new agrarian structure, with a tri-modal pattern (involving large, medium and small scale farms), also has important implications for all areas of policy, whether infrastructure, services, finance and so on.

In our 2010 book, based on a decade of work in Masvingo province, we started from the realities of farmers in A1 and A2 farms acquired through the post 2000 land reform programme. We argued that these new farmers are not like communal farmers, nor larger scale commercial farmers. They are different, with different aptitudes, skills, needs and potentials. We equally argued that we don’t have to start from scratch. There is much to build on in terms of initial investments, and the skills and knowledge of the new settlers are significant. These are new people with new production systems engaging in new markets – all with new opportunities and challenges.

What then should the top priorities be now to meet these new demands – and particularly to support those ‘new’ middle farmers who are already ‘accumulating from below’? Here I identify four (drawn from our final chapter):

1.    Infrastructure investment, research and extension support and rural finance

Getting agriculture moving requires investment, and this means private individuals, businesses and the state working together. Yet a vibrant agricultural sector always is reliant on solid state support – to provide basic infrastructure, extension support, and public research. This has been a long-term lesson, both in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere. Following land reform in 2000, there has been vanishingly little support, from government, donors or others. Where subsidies have been offered they have often been misused. With new people on the land, a major investment is required to reconfigure the basic infrastructure for new uses. The old patterns, appropriate to large-scale farms, are no longer appropriate. Investing in roads, schools, health clinics, dams, irrigation schemes, dip tanks and so on is essential. While individual entrepreneurs are making a difference through private investment, these basic public investments are a vital complement. In addition, research and extension is vital. But the new farmers are often highly educated, well-connected. This opens up new opportunities: the old style intensive extension system probably doesn’t make sense. For example, support for marketing or input supply via mobile phone updates, or agricultural extension or business planning advice offered via the Internet offer real opportunities. One of the big constraints on agriculture currently is finance. Approaches to loan arrangements with new forms of collateral are required, with state guarantees to private bank loans. Accessible, cheap finance could open up multiple opportunities.

2.    Securing the land

 Security of land tenure is an essential prerequisite for successful production and investment in agriculture. Tenure security arises through a variety of means. Existing legislation allows for a wide range of potential tenure types, including freehold title, regulated leases, permits and communal tenure under ‘traditional’ systems. All have their pros and cons.  Policymakers must ask how tenure security can be achieved within available resources and capacity; how safeguards can be put in place to prevent land grabbing or land concentration; and what assurances must be made to ensure that private credit markets function effectively. Lessons from across the world suggest there is no one-size-fits-all solution centred on freehold tenure. Instead, a flexible system of land administration is required – one that allows for expansion and contraction of farm sizes, as well as entry and exit from farming. While the excesses of elite patronage and land grabbing must be addressed through a land audit, a successful approach, overseen by an independent, decentralised authority, must not be reliant on technocratic diktat.

3.    Fostering local economic development

 Land reform has reconfigured Zimbabwe’s rural areas dramatically. No longer are there vast swathes of commercial land separated from the densely-packed communal areas, the inheritance of the colonial Land Apportionment Act. Today, small-scale farms are nearby medium and large-scale farms, sharing labour, technologies, market chains, skills and expertise. This has created ‘multiplier effects’ in land reform areas – economic linkages from new farms to the wider economy. The land reform has given rise to the growth of new businesses to provide services and consumption goods. Such local economic development potentials are far from fully realised, and to date there has been little support to this wider, new rural economy. To make the most of the new mosaic of land uses and economic activities, an area-based, local economic development approach is required. This would facilitate investment across activities, adding value to farm production. An area-based approach needs to draw in the private sector, farmer groups and government agencies, but with strong leadership from a revived local government, with rethought mandates and rebuilt capacities.

4. Giving farmers a voice

 Reflecting a wide range of interests, the new resettlement farmers are highly diverse in class, gender and generational terms. This diversity has many advantages, adding new skills and experiences, but it is also a weakness. Formal organisation in the new resettlements is limited. There are of course emergent organisations focused on particular activities – a garden, an irrigation scheme, a marketing effort, for example – but these are unlikely to become the basis of political representation and influence. Because politics has been so divisive in recent years, many shy away from seeing political parties as the basis for lobbying for change, and there are few other routes to expressing views. Building a new set of representative farmers’ organisations, linked to an influential apex body, will be a long-term task, and will be highly dependent on the unfolding political alliances in rural areas. In contrast to the past when smallholders could easily be marginalised and were courted only at elections for their votes, the new farmers – and particularly the burgeoning group of ‘middle farmers’ – now control one of the most important economic sectors in the country. Today, this new politics of the countryside cannot be ignored.

 A new debate on land and agriculture in Zimbabwe

Many of these four themes do of course chime with policy recommendations that are now appearing in policy documents. However, the real implications of the land reform and capturing the potentials of a new agrarian structure must be front and centre, rather than assuming that the job ahead is only to offset the downsides of the fast-track programme or recapture an assumed ideal past.

The conclusions we offered in 2010 hold today. A new debate on land is required, and this needs to be reflected in policy debates. The challenge for the future is a new one however. As the then head of extension Masvingo province put it back in 2006: “We don’t know our new clients: this is a totally new scenario”.

If given the right support, the new farmers can drive a vibrant agricultural revolution in Zimbabwe. Of course, this has happened before: with white commercial farmers in the 1950s and with communal area farmers in the 1980s. Both past agricultural revolutions required support and commitment from outside, something that has been starkly absent since 2000. Zimbabwe’s green revolution of the 1980s has been much hailed, but this only involved perhaps 20% of farmers, mostly in high potential communal areas and was quickly extinguished following structural adjustment. The nascent green revolution in the new resettlement areas potentially has far wider reach, both geographically and socio-economically, and must not meet the same fate.

A smallholder-based agricultural revolution could indeed be the basis of wider growth and development in Zimbabwe. Now is the time for some strategic policy thinking, not blinkered by ideology or false images of the past, but by a deeper understanding, based on the facts on the ground, of what is going on, and what might if the right investment and support was offered.

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

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