Tag Archives: maize

Command agriculture and the politics of subsidies

Command agriculture – a major, private-sector-backed subsidy programme implemented by the Government of Zimbabwe – has been hailed as a massive success, especially following the huge maize harvest reaped this year (see last week’s post). President Mugabe recently described command agriculture as ‘beautiful’.  The programme, led by the Vice President, Emerson Mnangagwa, with the ministry of agriculture and support from the armed services, involved the delivery of fertiliser (along with seed and fuel) to farmers in higher potential areas, and especially with larger land areas (targeting 2000 farmers with 200 ha or more of arable land) and irrigation facilities. Sakunda Holdings (and others) backed the scheme reputedly to the tune of $160m, and government implemented it on the ground, requiring those receiving the package to repay by delivering an ambitious five tonnes of maize per hectare funded to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB).

The command agriculture programme is being repeated again this coming season; this time with even more ambitious targets, and again with backing of Sakunda. Apparently 45,000 have registered and high crop outputs are expected. While much of the hype is wildly unrealistic, the programme has become core to an increasingly centralised approach to agricultural planning and development in Zimbabwe, as advocated by the VP. There are now ‘command’ approaches mooted for livestock, fisheries, wildlife and more. Given the VP’s background, these all follow the model of Chinese central planning, executed with military logistics and support. Hailed by the Chinese ambassador, it has been an enormous operation, taking up the energies and time of extension workers and apparently up to 1000 members of the army across the country.

The programme has not surprisingly come under intense scrutiny, and has become embroiled in the on-going soap opera of internal ZANU-PF political machinations, with a lively media spat between Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo (of the G40 faction – and apparently a direct beneficiary), who denounced command agriculture, and the Lacoste faction who vigorously back the programme. The commander of the defence forces gave a robust defence too. Given the scale and ambition of the programme, there have been ‘leakages’ – and some high-profile cases of those abusing the system – and the delivery was not always smooth, with many not receiving the full package on time.

But despite everything – and significantly because of the excellent rains – the programme seemingly delivered. I cannot find reliable data that details how much of the 2.15 million tonnes of maize produced in the 2016-17 season (as well as improved soya production too) is attributable to command agriculture (some say 1 million tonnes), nor any results of detailed economic evaluations, but the basic point is that if you throw inputs (notably nitrogen fertiliser) at improved seed in well prepared soil, and there’s good rainfall, increased outputs will result. There is no agronomic surprise there. But with the GMB buying maize at $390 per tonne, way above world prices, and questions about how the financing works, there are clear concerns. The big question is of course, how sustainable is this approach for the longer term – economically and politically?

How sustainable?

This is the concern raised by economists and other policy analysts, including the IMF. There are precedents of course. This is not the first time Zimbabwe has embarked on massive agricultural subsidy programmes. Indeed the successful origins of white commercial agriculture in the country were built on huge subsidies from the state. Is this just a well-timed kick-start to the struggling A2 farms, which have lagged behind due to lack of financing, allowing them to find their own feet, as white farmers did before? In the 1980s and 90s, there were regular fertiliser subsidy (or cheap credit) programmes aimed at boosting communal area agriculture, resulting in a short-lived ‘green revolution’ in the country. In the 2000s, subsidy programmes – from Taguta to the mechanisation progammes led by the Reserve Bank – were attempts at spurring growth in the sector following land reform, but failed due to poor implementation, patronage and corruption.

More widely in the region, Malawi had a period of intensive investment in (mostly) maize production through the FISP (Fertiliser Input Subsidy Programme). This produced a significant growth in production, with Malawi becoming a regional exporter of maize. The same occurred in Zambia, through a range of programmes across successive governments. All of these subsidy programmes however became fiscally unsustainable, and while producing food and reducing import bills became very, very expensive, taking up significant proportions of national expenditure (with opportunity costs elsewhere – in schools, health services, road building and on). A bad rainfall year (or even a middling one) may unravel things quickly, loading more onto an already crippling national debt.

Subsidies and politics

Subsidies are always political. They are ways of directing political power and patronage to particular groups, who those in power want the support of. In the 1980s, it was the communal areas, who had backed the liberation war, with the political compact being that rural people (and their votes) needed securing. In the 2000s, it was the new resettlement farmers (notably A1 smallholders) who required support, as they were the base that ZANU-PF had to rely on in a succession of contested elections.

Today, while an economic-technocratic position of commercial boosting production is well articulated, the focus is on larger, more connected A2 farmers who are being favoured. As the core of the middle class, professional, business and security service elite who benefited from such land, but had not been using it effectively, securing their support politically, and ensuring greater economic viability of A2 farms (while securing food for the nation) had become a political imperative. And given the positioning of the VP and the ED/Lacoste faction, very much in line with a political dynamic unfolding now.

A more strategic view?

As with the support of emerging white settler agriculture by the colonial government of Rhodesia in the 1930s and 40s, this may be seen in the future as a successful investment. Long-term commitment by states to transformation – through innovation and core support – is increasingly seen as essential in any economic strategy. Gone are the days of the Washington Consensus when subsidy was always a dirty word.

But a wider strategic debate about such investment (including more broadly finance and credit in agriculture) and approaches to exit is needed, separating it from the complex machinations of intra-party politics and faction fighting. As with Zambia and Malawi (and India and so many other countries besides where electoral politics is heavily reliant on a rural vote), extricating the state from subsidy addiction is tough. Phasing out a fuel or fertiliser subsidy can result in protests, and an electoral backlash. Patronage and dependency relationships get set up, and peoples’ political careers and parties’ fortunes, become tied up with subsidies.

Zimbabwe urgently needs a more thorough-going debate about what type of subsidies make sense for rebuilding agriculture, avoiding the ideological knee-jerk that all subsidies are bad, but at the same time countering the tendency of patronage lock-in that subsidy programmes, tied to political cycles, always generate.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Will white farmers in Zambia feed Zimbabwe?

 maize-zambia

The El Niño drought has hit southern Africa hard. Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and seven provinces in South Africa have announced emergencies. Coming on the back of a bad season last year, the food situation across the region is dire. Large volumes of food will have to be imported into drought-affected areas, with a regional deficit of 7.3 MT reported. News reports – including one from the Southern Daily that was widely circulated – point to white farmers who fled from land reform in Zimbabwe and now farming in Zambia as the saviours. Is this really the case or, as ever, is it a bit more complicated?

Who is producing Zambia’s food?

As discussed last week, the figures on how much food is needed and where is confused, but the latest on Zimbabwe suggest that up to 4.1 million people will need food aid before the end of the consumption season. While the estimates may be problematic, even adding a large margin of error, the bottom-line is that food must be imported into Zimbabwe in large quantities. The nearest source is Zambia, where good rainfall produced a harvest higher than predicted at 2.8m tonnes (not 3.3m as the Southern Daily reported, which confusingly took figures from 2014 and reported as if this year).

Who then is producing all this maize in Zambia? One of the oft-repeated narratives has been that the food being supplied to Zimbabwe now is being produced by white farmers who were evicted from Zimbabwe during the land reform. In a 2004 piece by Jan Lamprecht on the blatantly racist, white-supremacist site AfricaCrisis.org gloated that white farmers outcompeted 150,000 peasants in Zambia. Even President Mugabe seemed to have been swayed by the propaganda, commenting on the success of former large-scale commercial farmers from Zimbabwe at a rally. This was the narrative too of the error-filled Southern Daily piece (that was sent to me at least four times when it came out, with commentaries not dissimilar to that on AfricanCrisis.org). The evicted-farmers-save –Zimbabwe narrative is prevalent, but is it true?

Certainly there are some former commercial farmers now farming in Zambia – in such places as Mkushi block. Mkushi has attracted South Africans, Tanzanians, British and Zimbabweans, and is a focus for large-scale agriculture in the centre of the country.  Estimates suggest there are perhaps 750 white Zimbabwean farmers in Zambia, rising from 400 following land reform in 2000. External finances, such as through Agrivision Africa supported by the IFC, has allowed the capitalisation of commercial operations, and farms there produce a mix of crops, ranging from soya to maize to beef and dairy. Many commercial agricultural enterprises in places like Mkushi are highly productive, and currently very profitable. In part this results from skill and investment, but also the combination of recent periods of good rainfall and supplementary irrigation capacity that has improved production.

Maize being exported to Zimbabwe in part comes from such farms, but it’s actually – and contrary to the simplistic narrative – primarily grown on smallholder producers across the country. Maize production – and so the ability to export – has been massively supported by a highly-subsidised input support programme over a number of years. For example, in 2011 the Government of Zambia spent US$184 million on 182k MT of fertiliser and 9k MT of hybrid maize seed. This amounted to 0.8% of GDP then, and 30% of total agricultural expenditure. This is an enormous investment and, as in Malawi before, it has boosted maize production massively, but probably unsustainably. Today smallholders in Zambia produce around 2.5m tonnes annually, while large-scale producers 300k tonnes in a good year, like this past one.

In other words, the maize export story from Zambia is driven not by valiant white farmers of the much-promoted narrative (although they of course contribute) but mostly by the efforts of smallholders (including of course black Zimbabwean migrants who came during the Federation era, and have been important producers in central Zambia since then). But in fact the big story too is the role of massive (and fiscally untenable) subsidies from the Zambian state (and its aid donor allies), and big questions as to whether this will continue under the new political dispensation.

White farmers in Africa: mixed fortunes

White commercial farming in Zambia, as Zimbabwe before, and in experiences from Nigeria and Mozambique too, has been one of mixed fortunes. The lack of infrastructure, limited state support and poor finance and other support systems, made many farmers complain bitterly about their new settings. They had been successful farmers in Zimbabwe in the context of a massively supportive environment, with huge subsidies and state support, consistent from the 1950s at least until the 90s. This is not the case in Zambia – or Nigeria and Mozambique. Commercial farming in Zimbabwe was not always an independent, heroic effort by whites in the face of adversity. Of course there is always skill, hard work and entrepreneurial acuity in the mix, but state support, infrastructure and public investment was also part of the picture.

However, despite the challenges – and many gave up – some former farmers from Zimbabwe have become highly successful in Zambia. Considerable private resources from other businesses (some still in Zimbabwe) have been invested to make these farms going concerns, and now in the context of favourable exchange conditions and high demand, they are definitely contributing to the feeding of the region. But there is also other food entering circulation from a range of sources, most notably from smallholders in Zambia, and, as discussed last week, from production not captured by standard crop surveys and livelihood assessments in Zimbabwe itself.

A regional approach?

SADC and COMESA have always tried to take a regional approach to food security, with the expectation that at different times different countries or regions will feed others. An approach to open borders and trade should, ideally, allow low-cost food to move from places of surplus to those of deficit.

Supply of maize from surplus areas in Zambia to the Zimbabwean market has been restricted, however. Controversial restrictions on exports have helped drive the trade underground. Despite the formal limits, there is much that is travelling across the border illegally. The allure of the US dollar in the Zimbabwean economy is attracting much speculative trading activity, including in food (as well as other commodities). With a declining Zambian kwacha due to the collapse in mineral commodity prices, selling food to Zimbabwe in US dollars is an attractive prospect, and formal restrictions are very often circumvented. This of course adds to the liquidity problems and cash crisis in the Zimbabwean economy, as the dollars end up in Zambia, even if food is provided. This cross-border currency exchange politics is creating potentially large problems, especially as the US dollar increases in value against other regional currencies.

As much research shows, trade restrictions damage investment and can undermine food security. An open trading regime by contrast, it is argued, is efficient and economic, and offsets risks, which because of differential patterns of rainfall and the widespread reliance on rainfed production makes sense. Ensuring that there is regional surplus and efficient movement will offset the requirements for shipping from elsewhere in the world, which is slow and expensive. In this respect if Zambia feeds Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique this year (and maybe South Africa too), this is fine, and the reverse may be the case at other times.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Reviving indigenous crops: the return of millet in Gutu

A new report is just out making the case for the revival of indigenous crops – notably finger millet – as a way of tackling food security. The author, Chidara Muchineripi, is a management consultant in Harare, but also the son of a chief in Gutu. Since 2005, he has encouraged the revival in millet growing across Gutu as a response to drought and economic crisis.

This has all been done without external support and finance, and demonstrates what’s possible when the motivation is right. According to the report the growing of a core crop of millet has resulted in the accumulation of some 20,000 tonnes of stored grain, across 40,000 households. This provides a source of resilience against future shocks, improving the sustainability of livelihoods in the district.

It all sounds too good to be true. Unfortunately I missed the launch of the report in London, and I have not been able to visit the areas in Gutu (clearly the effort is focused outside the new resettlement areas, as the farmers in our sample in Gutu are sticking solidly to maize), but the data is impressive, and the testimony passionate.

But there are questions about the indigenous grain strategy being advocated. I speak from experience, as in the 1980s, together with an NGO ENDA Zimbabwe, I was involved in a project that promoted small grains – finger and pearl millet, and sorghum – in Zvishavane district. The project supplied seeds, and supported the processing of the grains with the provision of ‘dehullers’. While it did make some in-roads, by and large the project failed. The dehullers are now archaeological relics and most farmers in the area plant maize.

Why was this? There are a number of complex intersecting reasons. First, growing millet is hard work. Finger millet is a difficult crop and pearl millet is subject to massive bird damage, from flocks of Quelea who descend in large numbers on any field. This is a big turn-off, as bird scaring is labour consuming and troublesome. Older farmers used to tell us that the problem is worse because millet fileds are now few. Being a first mover growing millet is brave. Second, millets take a lot of processing. The hard outer layer has to be removed to get the flour – hence the dehullers. Without these, it’s tough pounding, and much more difficult to prepare than women. In discussions around the ENDA project, women always used to object. They didn’t want the hassle of going to the fields early and staying late – they had other caring work to do too – to scare the birds, and pounding for hours to get a few kilogrammes of millet flour was not worth the effort in their view. Finger millet in particular was not liked by women, as it encouraged beer drinking. While men would get quite motivated about millets in the discussions, it was women who often dominated the planting decisions, and it was striking that there was always much less millet planted than was discussed. In intrahousehold decision-making, women’s agency can be quite powerful. Third, is taste. Finger millet is good for beer, but many find the ‘sadza’ porridge of pearl or finger millet less a delicacy as is suggested in the new Harare ‘African’ restaurants. With the colour and consistency of concrete, pearl millet sadza is not my favourite food either! Several generations of people accustomed to easting white maize means that sadza from millet is difficult to sell (although it’s quite nice with soured milk I must admit!).

So there are reasons why adoption of millet is constrained. But the advantages of secure storage, as documented in Gutu, are potentially substantial. Millet stores well – for years. Unlike maize that needs to be consumed within a year, you can keep a granary full of millet over a full drought cycle. In the past, rainfall was patterned by cycles of a few years, with droughts coming more or less predictably. Having millet stores for the times when rain was less was essential for food security, and the store could be replenished when the rains returned. It was a perfect system for local level resilience. But with the move to maize, and the advent of food aid and relief programmes, these cycles have been disrupted. Climate change too has had an impact, as droughts are much more unpredictable these days, even if average rainfall has not shifted much.

In the areas I have worked in Masvingo and Midlands provinces, a key moment in this transition in the food crop mix and local food security system, was the devastating drought of 1991-92. This had a catastrophic impact on many fronts, and many were reliant on food aid through imports. Perhaps the most dramatic impact for the long-term was the disappearance of local varieties and land races, particularly of small grains. People had to plant their last seed stores, and when they didn’t grow, that meant the local extinction of a huge array of genetic variety, and with it the knowledge of what grows well where. A number of research and NGO projects – most notably the Community Technology Development Trust, whose head Andrew Mushita is a veteran of the ENDA experience – have tried to document and revive this genetic biodiversity, but with it lost from the farming and livelihood system, it is difficult to reincorporate.

Around that time, as part of a wider project on risk and farming systems, we did some modelling of risk responses under different conditions. Like all models it was only an interpretation of reality, but the approach used tried to simulate the type of stochastic variability seen in an increasingly volatile climate. The results were surprising. Despite the greater vulnerability to low rainfall episodes, a maize dominated strategy came out better than one focused on small grains in the model. This was because of the costs of production, and the value of maize. As long as this value (in the form of grain or cash) could be carried over to the following year, opting for risky maize made sense especially for the poor.

Farmers didn’t need a model to show them this – and especially women, for the reasons described – but it highlighted how complex decision-making under conditions of high variability is. As the model showed, mixed strategies made the most sense, with a smaller amount of millet as part of a mix. As the maize economy came under stress in the 2000s with the failure of markets, and government support through the Grain Marketing Board, new incentives to secure food locally emerged. In this period, for the first time in decades, the political and economic support for maize had disappeared. And without state support and the absence of a cash market because of hyperinflation, the maize reliance strategy became much riskier, and a local production system became preferable.

I suspect it’s a combination of these factors have pushed farmers in Gutu to take up millet again at the peak of the economic crisis. These were very different conditions to those in the late 1980s, when the earlier millet focused strategies foundered. Context matters a lot, and it is a combination of factors – markets, taste preferences, labour requirements and the wider political economy of crop support – that combine to make one technology more or less favourable. Maybe the experiences from Gutu suggest that the age of millets are returning, and we will have to get used to a different type of sadza.

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Millions at risk of food insecurity in Zimbabwe? Or not? How the dire predictions were confounded by a good harvest

Last September I critiqued the assumptions behind the prediction that 2.2 million people would be needing food aid. In order to raise funds and galvanise attention, international agencies, local lobby groups and the media were using an extreme worst case scenario figure, based on a variety of assumptions, many of them highly questionable.

As it turned out, the rains arrived and a good season has followed (with some exceptions of course). In the section below, I offer some extracts from the most recent USAID-funded FEWSNET update on the food security situation in Zimbabwe. Good rains have boosted production and the current food security projections to September are largely very positive.

It is amazing what a change in the weather can do. But it also adds to my earlier plea to be cautious about headline figures and assumptions in forward projections. There is no harm in being cautious – this must be the sensible stance – but overblown figures and dramatic proclamations that serve particular interests should be guarded against.

Unlike the portrayals of imminent doom, the relatively good news about a reasonable harvest does not hit the headlines, or raise aid money, and the bad news stories from Zimbabwe persist. So for a change, and in case you are not regular readers of FEWSNET bulletins, I thought you would like an update on a good harvest and a reasonably positive food security situation

Here is a summary edited from from the May update:

The majority of very poor households across the country including the traditionally food insecure southwestern districts, will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes between May and June owing to the projected above average 2013/14 harvest. Similar outcomes will continue from July through September as most households will still be consuming cereals from own production.

Markets will continue functioning but most of the cereal supplies are likely to be locally procured with a few imports by private traders. As households begin to access cereal from their own production there have been significant reductions in monthly maize grain price trends. Since March, national maize grain prices have dropped by 11 percent, but in comparison to national averages during the same period last year the prices are still 16 percent higher. For maize meal the national average stands at $0.66 and has decreased by 2 percent in comparison to the same time the previous month, but remains 4 percent higher than the national average for same time last year. Month-on-month maize grain prices fell by 26 and 16 percent in Manicaland and Masvingo Provinces, respectively.

Casual labor opportunities are projected to increase by up to 20 percent throughout the outlook period as a result of ongoing harvesting activities. Additional incomes, particularly in the northern areas, will be earned through tobacco preparation, sales and casual labor for poor households. However given cash constraints, most casual labor will likely be paid by in-kind.

The first round results of the Ministry’s crop and livestock assessment indicate that there are increased chances of an above average harvest, especially for maize, millet, and sorghum. This assumption is based on an estimated 16 percent increase in cropped area for cereals this season in comparison to the 2012/13 season. Maize alone this season accounts for approximately 1.6 million hectares, which is an 18 percent increase from the previous season. This increase in area planted for cereals is due to fairly well distributed rainfall patterns this season.

Ongoing tobacco curing and sales are boosting household income, particularly in the northern areas, where production levels are projected to have significantly increased. Based on the first round assessment, this year’s production levels has surpassed the 2012-13 season by about 21 percent. At the household level, higher than average tobacco production will increase farmer income levels and opportunities for casual labor opportunities (i.e. curing, processing, transportation) for poor households. Households benefiting from this labor will therefore receive additional income for food purchases and other livelihood needs.

Cotton production this season is 16 percent below last year’s levels. The processing of cotton is ongoing in cotton growing areas but incomes are likely to remain low. The reduction in the area under cotton is due to marketing price uncertainty given the low marketing prices offered during the previous season.

The increase in the availability of water due to the good rainfall this season will increase gardening activities from May through September. Vegetable production will provide both food and cash to very poor households.

Livestock body conditions in areas including Matebeleland South and Masvingo Provinces have significantly improved and are in good shape. Despite the improved pasture and water access for cattle, the calving rate included in the recent first round crop and livestock assessment report remains low at 49 percent, and only 2 percent higher than last season.

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The FEWSNET report provides the assumptions it uses in this analysis, along with some useful graphics. The second assessment report is due shortly and this will update the situation. Certainly the tobacco harvest looks promising, and reports from many parts of the country shows grain production is good.

So, thankfully 2.2 million people in Zimbabwe didn’t need food relief assistance, and the agricultural production has prospered in a good season. This however should be no reason for complacency. Droughts strike hard in a system where irrigation is not widespread, and improving resilience to such shocks must be a key part of future investments.

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

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Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector goes from ‘bread basket to basket case’? Or is it (again) a bit more complicated?

 With tedious regularity we hear the narrative that Zimbabwe has turned from ‘breadbasket’, producing sufficient food for the population and even exporting it, to ‘basket case’, with near permanent reliance on imports, even from Zambia of all places. The reason forwarded is the ‘chaotic’ land reform that undermined the basis of food production in the country – the large-scale commercial sector (try these from Foreign Policy, The Economist and the UK Daily Mail from the international press for starters – just google for many more!).

Endless repetition often results in such narratives being accepted as fact. I have heard this argument from multiple sources, including those who frankly should know better. It’s a nice media sound-bite, and it serves particular interests.

But what’s the truth behind these claims? As ever ‘myths’ of this sort have some element of reality embedded in them. The graph below shows the pattern of maize imports since Independence in 1980. There is no doubt that maize imports have become more regular since 2000. In the coming year, we will likely have another high figure.

Graph 1: Maize imports, 1980-2011 (tonnes)

fig2

But the argument that Zimbabwe never had to import food before is simply untrue. The major drought of 1992 resulted in the highest ever import requirements, exceeding even the most dramatic predictions for this year. And there were other occasions too in the period from Independence to the 2000 land reform – in 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and earlier in 1980 and 1984. Each of these was associated with production collapses, due to multiple causes usually precipitated by drought.

If we look at the total production of maize and the pattern of rainfall (an averaged figure for the country as a whole) we see more interesting patterns. Since 1961, production has fluctuated dramatically, with the contribution of small-scale and large-scale production varying over time. The levels of variability have also increased over time, with grain (maize and small grains) production being much more tightly correlated with rainfall in recent years, and highly affected by climatic events. With longer-term climate change impacts likely to result in greater rainfall variability, this is concerning, and suggests the need for more drought proofing policies.

Graph 2: Maize production, 1961-2012 (tonnes)

fig3

Graph 3: Maize and small grain production and rainfall, 1980-2012 (thanks to Blessing Butaumocho for this graph)

fig1

The import figures are from FAOSTAT, with all the cautions and qualifications that go with that. They are therefore only official, recorded figures, and do not take account of informal cross-border trade. As we found out in Masvingo province during the 2000s, this is significant, involving all sorts of exchanges, with food flowing in often large quantities in both ways to Mozambique and South Africa. The grain production figures too are limited by the sampling approaches used, and are biased towards communal area production. Since 2000 sampling biases have meant that production from the A1 farms has not been accounted for sufficiently, although this is being corrected.

Bearing all these many limitations in mind, what should make of it all? Is the ‘basket case’ narrative justified? The data show that since Independence there have been three broad phases that have affected the overall food economy. Identifying these helps to focus attention on what needs to be done now, rather than harking back to an assumed golden era past.

In the immediate post-Independence period, there was much emphasis on food production. Government initiatives supported communal area farmers in particular through credit, loans and extension support. This was the much hailed phase of Zimbabwe’s ‘green revolution’. At the same time, large-scale commercial farmers continued to produce food, often through irrigation, as they had pre-Independence under the UDI sanctions regime.

Towards the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s, especially following ESAP (the economic structural adjustment programme) from 1991, subsidies and other government support for communal area agriculture declined, and the nascent ‘green revolution’ collapsed. At the same time globally driven market incentives encouraged shifts of the commercial sector away from maize to higher value and often less land intensive production. This included livestock (with a big move of beef production to the Highveld), wildlife and game farming (for eco-tourism and hunting, including in the high rainfall areas), horticulture and floriculture (linked to supermarket value chains) and an expansion of tobacco. All of this meant that less maize was produced, although there was still a core irrigated production, increasingly of feed, that remained important. The impact of these changes on food production levels and methods was severely felt of course in the 1992 drought, but also in other years in the 1990s, resulting in an increasing frequency of imports.

After 2000, things changed again with land reform, and the maize production under irrigation more or less disappeared, with the exception of a few A2 farms being revitalised in recent years. Communal area production remained depressed, and increasing land competition meant that surpluses were rare. Season to season storage was limited as small grains that store well were replaced by maize. It has taken some years for A1 farms to gain momentum due to establishment challenges, but for much of the 2000s, the economic crisis affected production dramatically. After 2009, and the stabilisation of the economy, things improved, but droughts affected production for several years, including the last season. Without irrigation on any significant scale focused on food production, output has become more variable and imports have been necessary.

Thirteen years on, we would expect that the (no longer) ‘new farmers’ would be established. Most reflections on resettlement identify a decade as the minimum period for establishment and transition, but this assumes sustained support and investment. This has been starkly absent, both from government and donors who have shied away from development interventions in so-called ‘contested areas’. The result has been a slower improvement than hoped for.

In our study areas in Masvingo, we see a progressive increase in the proportion of households producing more than their household food needs through the 2000s, with 30-40% regularly selling some surplus maize. However, the rate of growth has tailed off over time, as longer term challenges – of soil fertility and inputs, of infrastructure, of markets and so on – have hit. But overall production and levels of food security in the A1 farms remain significantly higher than in nearby communal areas. Unfortunately, as discussed last week, this dynamic is poorly represented in national figures on food production, as production from new resettlement areas often goes unrecorded, and increasingly such output, especially of maize, is channelled via informal channels, and so is difficult to capture in standard surveys.

Production of maize from the new resettlements is however highly vulnerable to rainfall variation given the lack of irrigation. In addition, price and market incentives will probably continue to see a drift towards contracted crops, such as tobacco and cotton, away from food production, meaning that overall food deficits and import requirements will persist, even if across all commodities aggregate agricultural production and income increases.

Since the 1980s, first large scale commercial farmers and now resettlement farmers have shifted from growing maize to other higher value commodities, for the same perfectly sound reasons. Since the 2000s, food production is even less resilient than it was in the 1990s, due to the lack of last-resort irrigation, either on state or private large-scale farms. The maize surplus era of the 1980s, when both communal and commercial farmers were growing large quantities, backed by government support, has long gone. But this does not mean that Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector is a ‘basket case’. It has restructured, and is confronted by new problems, requiring new solutions. Dreaming of the 1980s will not help.

What should we conclude? Here are four thoughts to end on:

  1. Zimbabwe has often imported food, and will continue to do so. This is not a bad thing if the prices are reasonable, and trade is efficient. However in times of regional drought, this is risky, and an emphasis on local production, and strategic reserves, is needed. As argued a decade ago by Thom Jayne and Mandi Rukuni, a simplistic policy approach to national food self-sufficiency does not make sense. Expensive, overflowing grain silos may not be the best indicator of a sound food economy, but instead there is a need for a resilient system that involves managed imports in times of drought combined with improvements in local production.
  2. Drought proofing such production is needed as a core policy to improve the resilience of the system. This includes improving storage systems, so that people can tide over from one season to the next; encouraging switching to drought resistant crops such as small grains, and continuing to invest in drought tolerant maize varieties; improving irrigation systems, including very small scale water harvesting systems, as well as ‘schemes’; and focusing on livestock as an important asset for exchange in times of drought.
  3. Price and market incentives need to ensure that it pays to grow food crops, and there is a balance between maize and tobacco production overall. This includes extending contracting systems to food crops, and improving input supply and other support to ensure that food crops are profitable. Efficient grain markets are essential to avoid distortions.
  4. Investment should be focused on areas where surplus production is possible, and this must include first and foremost the A1 resettlement areas. Ensuring effective market links so that such surpluses can be exchanged locally and regionally will be important. This will mean investment in roads, transport and so on, and avoid any restrictions on movement of grain and agricultural commodities.

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

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Why good numbers matter in Zimbabwe (part II)

This week’s blog follows on directly from last week, when I introduced the excellent new book, Poor Numbers, by Morten Jerven. This week we move from the general argument to the Zimbabwe case.

Let me offer three examples – each of which have been mentioned in this blog before – that complement Jerven’s cases, and contribute to the same bigger point that good numbers matter.

Agricultural output data: Zimbabwe’s agricultural data comes from a variety of sources, including annual crop surveys, market surveys and assessments of throughput at marketing depots. In the past, when the sector was dominated by a few large farms, it was relatively easy to get a picture of production each year. Output from the communal areas was assessed through state marketing channels through marketing boards for most of the agricultural commodities, especially maize (but also cotton, tobacco and beef). While statistics on cotton and tobacco remain reasonably good, as their marketing is channelled through few players, the production and marketing of maize and beef, by contrast, has changed dramatically since land reform.

Today there are diverse marketing channels, including much locally-focused marketing and little reliance on the old marketing board routes. And with many more farms across the country (around 150,000 new units in the A1 schemes alone), field-level monitoring by extension agents is nigh on impossible. For important crops such as the small grains (millets, sorghum), groundnuts, many oilseeds and beans, as well as smallstock, we know virtually nothing about total production and marketing.

The bottom line is that we don’t know how much food is produced and where, nor do we know how much is stored and marketed. Despite the attempts of Fewsnet, ZimVAC and others, the estimates are increasingly guesswork, especially as sampling frames and data collection protocols have not changed sufficiently to respond to the dramatically reconfigured agrarian structure.

Each year we get conflicting estimates of how dire the harvest is going to be, and the consequences this will have for food imports, and food aid. With such uncertainties, this becomes a critical area of political contestation: between government and the donors, and even between international agencies. Claiming a food ‘crisis’ may be the only way of securing international funds, as sustaining an ‘emergency’ has been essential to continued international engagement through ‘humanitarian’ aid. Such a response may well be justified; but it may be not. The problem is often we don’t know.

Migration data: Similar uncertainties centre population data and migration-related demography. While we know that migration, particularly to South Africa, has increased, we have absolutely no idea how many people have moved permanently there (or indeed to other destination countries, although the data for the UK, for example, is better). Large numbers are bandied around, which serve particular politically purposes; in South Africa (linked to xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric) and in Zimbabwe and internationally (supporting the narrative that people are ‘fleeing’).

But the figures of course don’t take into account the long-term pattern of circular migration whereby people move temporarily, or indeed increasingly seasonally. If we were to believe the figures, there would be far fewer people in Zimbabwe than there seem to be. For example, the preliminary results for the 2012 census show that the population has increased by 1% over a decade and stands at nearly 13m. Even within the country we don’t know where people are living. There is an assumption that the urban areas are growing, as people flood to the cities. But is this the case? Debbie Potts doubts this data for sub-Saharan Africa generally, but until we get better locational census data that accounts for regular movement, we will not know.

Land ownership data: This is perhaps the most contested, and in the absence of a proper land audit, we cannot know. But when ‘surveys’ purport to present data that show that “40% of the land was seized by Mugabe and his cronies”, and these figures get reported in the international media as fact, we are in trouble. This most recent examples of this short-cut journalism and recycling of ‘facts’ are from the BBC (on the Hard Talk show with Patrick Chinamasa) and the UK Guardian (in a link put in by the paper in an otherwise good piece by Simukai Tinhu). The earlier land audits by Utete and Boka have shown categorically the problem of elite capture in the A2 sites, and our detailed province-specific work in Masvingo supports this. But the scale is nothing like that claimed.

This poverty of data leads to a poverty of understanding, and so a distortion of debate. We should not be ignoring the abuse of the land reform programme by some politically-military connected elites, and the ownership of multiple farms is clearly contrary to any regulation, but our focus should equally not be only on this issue, and the wider picture, based on realistic data, needs to be central. This is why, in terms of the GPA and in line with the now agreed constitutional commitments, a proper land ownership and use survey (an audit) is critical.

If you don’t know how much food is being produced, how many people are in the country or have left and who owns what land, then how can you begin to make plans for the future? As contributors to other headline statistics, including GDP, such figures may result in major distortions.

For example, in Zimbabwe, GDP figures have been used to show the dramatic decline, and then impressive recovery in the formal economy (see the shower of graphs in the most recent budget statement), yet, as I have argued before, even in the depths of the crisis in the late 2000s, economic activity was far higher than measured. The ‘real economy’ – informal, often based on barter exchanges, sometimes illegal, much of linked to cross-border trade – was thriving, despite the collapse in the core, formal economy. It had to: this is how people survived. If you believed the figures on the formal economy, where the numbers were collected, people would have been suffering far more than they did.

As the formal economy has recovered, this has been registered in the statistics, but the informal economy still exists, and indeed the 2000s saw a massive restructuring of economic activity, not only in the agricultural sector, but across the economy towards more small-scale, informally-based enterprises. This is not a bad thing, as it provides the basis for more inclusive, employment generating, broad based growth. But if it is not understood, measured and recorded, it does not feature in planning and crucially budget allocation discussions. ZIMSTAT has recently published the 2011/12 Poverty, Income Consumption and Expenditure survey, and in a future blog I will review its findings, and the degree to which it has been able to respond to the changed post-2000 context.

While it may seem that a focus on statistical services is a rather dry and dull subject, it is in fact essential. ZIMSTAT has a small ‘did you know?’ box on their website’s front page. It says: “The likely success of development policies in achieving their aims will be improved by the use of statistics”. They are right. Revitalising statistical services, and improving their capacity to carry out national-level, macro-census type work, as well as smaller, more focused surveys, complemented with qualitative insights, is vital.

If development is to be successful, a thorough-going and honest debate on the quality of data and how to improve it is essential. Jerven’s superb book discusses an important topic with clarity and honesty; and for donors thinking of investing in government capacities in Zimbabwe again, it is well worth a read.

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

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