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Still debating land tenure reform in Zimbabwe

As part of the on-going discussions about Zimbabwe’s new land policy, land tenure is a central concern. Zimbabwe has a multi-form land tenure system, involving different legal arrangements and different forms of authority. This suits a complex land system with multiple users wanting different things out of holding land. This has been acknowledged time and time again, most prominently by the Presidential Commission on Land led by Mandi Rukuni way back in 1994.

Each time there is a policy review, consultants and commentators line up to make arguments for regularising what is seen as a messy, complex system. Drawing on ideology more than evidence, they argue for a standardised, ordered system based on a singular form of titled private property. There are many examples of this position – and alarmingly I heard them in a number of aid agencies in Harare recently. Eddie Cross is the most consistent and articulate proponent, seemingly having persuaded large sections of the opposition movement and many donors too.

In order to justify an overhaul, a whole series of simplistic narratives are deployed. The most persistent of which is the assumption that freehold private tenure is the desired gold standard, and all reforms should aim to create cadastral uniformity with private, individual plots registered. This is assumed to result in the release of land value as land becomes ‘bankable’, able to be used as collateral for investment credit.

Titling is not always the answer

As so many have shown – and has been discussed on this blog many, many times – this narrative is deeply problematic. I apologise for coming back to this subject yet again, but the argument needs repeating, as it’s vitally important. For a refresher, see the short note (replicated in this blog) I produced with the late, great Sam Moyo years ago in an earlier attempt to address these misplaced arguments.

Bottom-line, there are other routes to delivering security of tenure, facilitating investment and financing of land-based activities than freehold tenure. Leases and permits with the right wording are perfectly good bases for collateral, and mortgaging land is not the only solution to agricultural financing anyway. And of course private titling land is not always a route to tenure security and sustainable management of resources. It depends on the political and institutional context. Just ask any white farmer around 2000 about the limits of security on private titled property. And consult the vast research resources compiled by Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom on the security of forms of common property.

Yet, it’s only particular forms of individualised, private property rights are seen as sacrosanct by right-wing, libertarian think-tanks like the Cato Institute – and their dubious followers in southern Africa. But, we must always remember the aim is not to generate one type of legal property arrangement, but security of tenure on any sort of land through diverse ownership arrangements.

Security emerges from different sources. These are political, social, cultural as well as through formal legal allocations of rights. These sources of authority have to emerge together. Traditional systems of communal land tenure, overseen by chiefs and headman and governed by culturally-accepted rules, can offer tenure security, just as can a piece of paper allocating a title. But this depends on whether the authority overseeing such tenure regimes is legitimate, trusted, transparent and accountable; and this depends on politics. It is the political settlement pertaining to land that provides security – or the opposite.

A political settlement over land

The problem in Zimbabwe is that, despite the repeated proclamations, there remains no finalised political settlement over land, even after 20 long years. This lack of settlement is what produces insecurity, and in its wake the on-going process of politically-motivated land grabbing that continues to plague the sector, especially around elections. Building a political settlement around land is not just high-sounding proclamations from the top, and some performative interventions to show willing, but also it means investing in the administrative and bureaucratic system that offers security and clarity. This may seem tedious – centred on recording, auditing, registering and documenting – and centred on the bureaucratic domain of surveyors and lands offices. But this demanding, long-term building of bureaucratic capacity is essential.

The fact that there are (finally) moves towards agreed compensation settlements with farmers whose land was acquired for land reform is very good news. It appears agreements are close on valuation measures, even if the mechanics over how compensation will be paid are as yet unclear. This is important, as the impasse that has lasted now nearly 20 years has been debilitating. Agreement on this will mean that the land reform areas, now settled for years, can no longer be deemed ‘contested’ by international donors and investors.

This means that donor and private support and investment can flow, without ‘restrictive measures’ (aka ‘sanctions’) getting in the way. With compensation processes agreed, then investment in land administration systems can follow; perhaps with some district level pilots, as I recommended a while back. In any area, this will allow for clarity on who owns what, and in turn audit systems can evaluate how land is used, and whether land is being held outside agreed laws, and with this clear, local negotiations over land use ownership can follow.

Getting an effective land administration system functioning is central to providing tenure security. Under such a such a system a multi-form tenure system is possible. It doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all solution. Donors endlessly push supposedly successful land titling projects, whether in Rwanda or Ethiopia, but rarely mention the pitfalls, or the historical failures such as Kenya, where the consequences – sometimes bloody and violent – are still being felt.

A land tenure system in a multi-form setting just has to accept different approaches for different areas: leases for larger A2 farms, registered permits for new A1 farms, and selective registration for some parts of communal areas, as required (such as protection of village land against aggressive land acquisition by mining concerns or, in peri-urban areas, housing developers). Overall the aim is the same: enhancing tenure security where it’s needed (more in A2, less in communal areas), but not assuming that there is one (legal/administrative) solution. Such a system needn’t be complex and expensive, and the use of satellite technology certainly speeds things up.

Despite the persistent, ideologically-driven arguments, the ideal for Zimbabwe must not a fully titled private land tenure system with every parcel registered in a deeds office. This would take decades to complete and would not take account of the flexible arrangements required, particularly in smallholder and communal settings. I wonder sometimes whether those who push such a line have worked on the ground in such settings where overlapping systems and complex negotiations are the norm, and required. A simplistic form of land titling would also create conflict of massive proportions with boundary disputes endlessly clogging up administrative courts.

The best solution is to go for a parsimonious approach, maintain the multiform tenure system, and enhance tenure security through improving land administration – and avoid an apparently neat titling option that will not work.

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

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Beyond the freehold title obsession: generating land tenure security

 

Zimbabwe has a regime of multi-form tenure, with multiple tenure types associated with different areas of land (freehold, lease, permit, communal and state land). This provides a flexibility in tenure arrangements, with each appropriate to different uses. For any form of tenure the overall objective is security but this can be achieved in multiple ways. The form of tenure must balance administrative complexity and cost of establishment (including cadastral survey, registration etc.) with use.

In Zimbabwe the typical post-settler economy pattern persisted following Independence, with large-scale farms retaining freehold, granted to white settlers during colonisation, while former tribal lands became de jure state-owned lands. These communal areas have de facto rights delegated to local communities (including chiefs), under the oversight of rural district councils. Other areas of freehold title were established in the colonial area, such as in ‘purchase areas’, becoming small-scale farming areas after Independence. Other land was designated as state land including parks, forestry areas and state farms. In the 1980s resettlement areas were established under a restrictive permit system, while following 2000, offer letters (later substituted by land permits) and 99 year leases were proposed, with a 25 year concession proposed for wildlife conservancies.

In line with the Land Tenure Commission of 1994, led by Mandi Rukuni, the challenge today is to clarify overlaps and confusions, and to develop a streamlined administrative system with regulatory oversight for all settings. This is a core challenge for the Zimbabwe Land Commission today, 23 years on. The post-2000 land reform has provided this opportunity for A1 and A2 areas, where permit and lease systems are proposed; although for some A2 areas, leases with options to buy and so transfer to freehold title are offered.

In Zimbabwe regulations exist that restrict multiple farm ownership, and stated policy encourages wide distribution of land, avoiding concentration. While issues of multiple farm ownership remain and regulations continue to be flouted, especially by senior politicians (see earlier blog on audits in this series), the principle is well established, and is based on commitments to social justice and the distribution of national productive assets, and is enshrined in the cross-party agreed national Constitution.

In the past, high levels of land concentration have resulted in political tension and inefficient utilisation of land, as well as land speculation. These inequalities, and many of the problems associated with the lack of regulation in ‘white’ freehold tenure areas, were an important impetus for land reform. But redistribution is only one step, ensuring tenure security following land reform is essential. Despite much evidence that investments in land, particularly in small-scale A1 settlements, has not been hampered by lack of clarity on land tenure and those in A1 areas usually regard their land as secure, a more formalised, accepted system is clearly required.

 Seven principles of tenure design

Here are a number of key principles for tenure design drawing on the international literature (and highlighted in an earlier blog). These are:

Democratic accountability to ensure the representation and participation of critical actors (landholders, farmers’ representatives, etc.) in the land administration system tailored to serve the needs of different forms of land tenure. Democratic control of this is afforded through the state having rights to regulate and intervene in land administration in line with national economic development goals.

A flexible market in land – including allowing sales, rentals and leases – to allow trading up and down in land size in line with investment and production capacity and skill (although with regulation by the state – see below), while providing safeguards against land concentration and multiple holdings.

Regulation against capture by elites or speculative investors to avoid inefficient and inequitable consolidation of land holdings and land disenfranchisement, especially of the poor and women. Safeguarding against the danger of mass or distress sales of land and rapid speculative land accumulation by local or foreign elites and companies, in times of economic hardship, and the reversal of redistributive gains is critical in the Zimbabwean context.

Facilitation of credit and investment through the provision of land and other assets as mortgaged collateral and the provision of bank credit guaranteed against land, combined with other credit guarantee mechanisms (for example, linked to farm equipment, livestock, buildings, urban assets etc. – see next section). This entails providing clear rules and regulation of farm investment partnerships, and pooled investment initiatives (e.g. cooperation in irrigation, agro-processing infrastructure etc.); and measures which enhance other forms of cooperation.

Guarantees of women’s access to land, as independent, legally-recognised land holders, with the ability to bequeath, inherit, sell, rent and lease land (for example through clearly defined and enforceable requirements for joint recognition of land holdings in leases, permits and titles, as well as administrative mechanisms to ensure equitable treatment of gender related land issues. Supporting the application of laws against discrimination, safeguarding women’s succession rights; and the division of rights on divorce (see earlier blog in this series)

A low administrative burden – both in terms of technical complexity and overall cost – of cadastral surveys, land registration and land administration more broadly. This also entails enforcing the levying of reasonable service charges for costly land titling services (e.g. surveying, valuation, registration, etc.), especially for ‘formalising’ leasehold property rights.

Revenues through survey, title, lease and permit fees and setting incentives to discourage underutilisation through land taxation is an important condition for an effective land tenure regime.

Multiple routes to land tenure security

Land tenure arrangements can be assessed against these key principles. Drawing on a discussion note I did with Sam Moyo some years ago (see earlier blog), the table below offers this assessment, based on both Zimbabwean and international experience. 

 

Freehold title Regulated leasehold Permit system Communal/traditional tenure
Democratic accountability to state None Yes Yes Limited
Flexible land markets Yes Yes Yes Informal only

 

Credit and collateral Yes

 

Yes Requires additional instruments for collateral guarantee Requires alternative credit/micro-finance support mechanisms
Regulation against capture No, although potentials for statutory restrictions on sales Yes Yes Limited regulatory reach
Preferential women’s access None Potential lease condition Potential permit condition None: traditional patriarchal biases
Administrative cost Very high High Low None
Revenues and incentives

 

Survey, land registration, title fees/Land tax Lease fees/land tax Permit fee/land tax Limited potentials

A key design principle is around administrative cost, and so delivery, management and efficiency. There is no point in designing a ‘gold standard’ solution if it cannot be implemented. The bizarre obsession in Zimbabwe with freehold title as the only route to land security – spouted at regular intervals by otherwise knowledgeable commentators and politicians – flies in the face of evidence from around the world. In Zimbabwe currently there are serious challenges of delivery, and a full cadastral survey and allocation of title to every plot in the country as some propose would be complete madness, resulting in massive cost, and a huge escalation of disputes that there would be no capacity to resolve. For lawyers and politicians (and some who combine the two) this may seem the neat option, but for anyone who works in farming areas (or has experience of attempts at this elsewhere, then the prospects are scary.

With appropriate design, leases and permits can offer the same security as title but via a different and much cheaper route that allows regulatory control, and they can be especially beneficial when combined with new approaches to financing (see next week’s blog). As with any form of property right, such rights of course must be upheld in law, and not removed at whim, dependent on political favours and patronage relations. But this is a general condition for all tenure arrangements, and with secure leases or permits, under conditions of accountable and non-politicised land administration (not something achieved in Zimbabwe at the moment of course), land security across a multi-form tenure systems should be possible.

Despite announcements on lease and permit systems for A2 and A1 areas, realising these ambitions on the ground remains a challenge. There is a need to assess realistically the scale of the surveying requirement and the cost and sources of funding this (along with compensation arrangements, see earlier blog in this series) in a systematic way. This could probably form part of a phased district land administration reform scheme (see blog in a couple of weeks for more on this). With options for A2 farmers at least to pay for surveying, this will speed up the issuing of leases, and so the refinancing of farms, as well as creating revenue streams to the state through rentals for further surveying. Fiscal sustainability is a crucial factor in the design of any system, and international experience shows that elaborate titling systems are very expensive.

LIMS: land information and management systems, a key piece of the jigsaw

A new land tenure system needs to be linked to an effective and appropriate land information and management system. Again the same principles apply: this needs to be designed with the real world challenges in mind, as a low cost rather than high end perfect system. Certainly, current efforts to re-equip and develop cadastral survey and land registration capacity is welcome. Fortunately today low cost GPS systems with automated computer upload and mapping services are feasible, and there is capacity in Zimbabwe on this (at the University of Zimbabwe, and elsewhere). A land registry that provides open access information on A1, A2 and other land holding types will be an invaluable resource. However, this must not be developed in isolation and separate from field level implementation, as the system must be functional and useable, and able to be supported from recurrent budgets.

While external donor funding is welcome, the land upgrading support should be widened, and a system must be designed and tested at district level with fiscal sustainability in mind. It must ultimately be able to be funded from land rentals, combined with self-payment for surveys. Rentals will thus result in tangible land administration benefits, especially for A2 farmers, as this will release opportunities for financing/mortgaging/loans (although see below), if clear tenure arrangements are established.

For A1 farms much of the land survey and registration work must be regarded as a developmental public intervention, and will have to be financed from the fiscus with donor support, at least for the first one-off permit delivery. Support for permit issuance needs to be done alongside a defined plan for paying compensation, and based upon establishing new financing arrangements. This financing should be seen as a core part of investments for re-gearing the economy.

An effective Land Information and Management System is a necessary part of this, but this needs to be designed and tested with real world conditions in mind. It needs to be low cost and able to remain funded under expected flows of recurrent budget generated from land rentals. However upfront investment is essential to get things started, and to do the initial survey and lease/permit allocation, and this can be seen as one public cost of implementing land reform. Without securing tenure, and creating an environment for financing and investment, then the flows of revenue that will sustain a land administration system will not emerge. The Lands Ministry and Surveyor General will be able to generate revenues from charging for services (including in urban areas), and also will need to set up a system for the systematic collection of rents in order to ensure fiscal sustainability.

Beyond the freehold title obsession

Zimbabwe needs to get over the idea that freehold title is the solution to all ills. Tenure security can emerge through many routes. An effective, transparent land administration and information management system is essential. Rebuilding the bureaucratic state and depoliticising land is essential. The Zimbabwe Land Commission has an important role in this, and one of its major challenges is thinking through a low-cost, replicable and sustainable system to support the delivery of leases and permits on a wide scale across a huge array of land types and sizes, from relatively large A2 farms to very small plots, including those in urban and peri-urban areas.

As discussed in other blogs in this series, and pursued further next week, through some phased district level initiatives it will be possible to integrate lease/permit registration and the development of a functioning land administration and information system, at the same time as dealing with compensation, and new financing arrangements. Getting such pilots moving soon is a major imperative for the new Land Commission.

This post was prepared by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland.  It is part of an occasional Zimbabweland blog series on priorities for the new Zimbabwe Land Commission.

 

 

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Land tenure dilemmas in Zimbabwe

A key question for policymakers today is what tenure system makes sense for the new configuration of land, livelihoods and production after land reform? What tenure and land administration arrangements will assure tenure security, encourage investment and boost production?

Unfortunately, much of the debate on this issue starts from ideological assumptions about what is claimed to be the ideal tenure type, rather than the basic principles which should guide the choice of administrative and legal arrangement for ensuring tenure security. Instead it’s better to start from defining key principles and move towards a pragmatic assessment of options and trade-offs.

This blog lays out the argument for a multiform tenure approach for Zimbabwe. This is not a new argument at all. Professor Mandi Rukuni and the Presidential Land Tenure Commission of 1994 presented a similar case. Five years ago I prepared a briefing note on land tenure dilemmas in response to the on-going confusion on this topic, drawing on discussions with Sam Moyo, Prosper Matondi and others. I have linked to this in previous blogs. This blog presents a version of it again, as the debate on land tenure continues today with a similar lack of clarity.

Seven key principles

What should be the key features of a new tenure regime? Here are seven principles, drawn from the wider international discussion on the topic:

Democratic accountability to allow for state intervention to shift the configuration of tenure in line with national economic and development goals, in the face of dynamic change in technology or economic conditions and when market mechanisms are insufficient (for example, to facilitate a shift to a large-scale freehold system under conditions of full industrialisation and urbanisation in order to assure national food security)

A flexible market in land – including sales, rentals and leases – to allow trading up and down in land size in line with investment and production capacity and skill (although with regulation by the state – see 4 and 5, below).

Facilitation of credit and investment through the provision of land as mortgaged collateral and the provision of bank credit guaranteed against land, combined with other credit guarantee mechanisms (for example, linked to farm equipment, livestock, buildings, urban assets etc.)

Regulation against capture by elites or speculative investors to avoid inefficient and inequitable consolidation of land holdings and land disenfranchisement, especially of the poor and women (for example, the danger of mass sales and rapid speculative land accumulation by local or foreign elites/companies in times of economic hardship, and the reversal of redistributive gains).

Guarantees of women’s access to land, as independent, legally-recognised land holders, with the ability to bequeath, inherit, sell, rent and lease land (for example through requirements for joint recognition of land holdings in leases, permits and titles, as well as administrative mechanisms to ensure equitable treatment of land issues).

A low administrative burden – both in terms of technical complexity and overall cost – of cadastral surveys, land registration and land administration more broadly.

Revenues through survey, title, lease and permit fees and setting incentives to discourage underutilisation through land taxation is an important condition for an effective land tenure regime.

There is broad agreement on the desirability of each of these seven principles, and a wider recognition from international experience of their importance. However, there are more questions about their practicality and feasibility, and the pragmatic trade-offs between each given administrative and technical capacities in land administration.

In Zimbabwe existing legislation allows for a wide range of potential tenure types, ranging from freehold title to regulated leases to permits to communal tenure under ‘traditional’ systems. All have their pros and cons. Any one or combination can offer a guarantee of secure property rights under particular conditions. There is thus no ‘gold standard’ or assumed ‘evolution’ towards an ideal, as is sometimes suggested. Instead, the debate about the appropriate tenure regime must start from principles in context, and draw conclusions about the best way forward from an analysis of the trade-offs between options under the particular circumstances currently pertaining.

For example, policymakers must ask, given the available resources and capacity for land administration, can the appropriate level of tenure security be achieved through lower cost means? Or, given the dangers of rapid land appropriation, what minimal safeguards need to be deployed which do not undermine the capacity of credit and land markets to function? Or, what other legal or financial assurances and coordination mechanisms must be added to ensure that private credit markets function effectively? These are very real dilemmas and are encountered the world over, especially in relatively resource poor settings where capacity is underdeveloped. A debate that is constructed around the false promise of an ideal may actually act to undermine opportunities and stall agricultural growth.

Tenure trade-offs

How do different tenure arrangements perform against these key principles? Table 1 offers a preliminary assessment, based on both Zimbabwean and international experience.

Table 1: Trade-offs in tenure design principles

  Freehold title Regulated leasehold Permit system Communal/traditional tenure
Democratic accountability to state None Yes Yes Limited
Flexible land markets Yes Yes Yes Informal only
Credit and collateral Yes Yes Requires additional instruments for collateral guarantee Requires alternative credit/micro-finance support mechanisms
Regulation against capture No, although potentials for statutory restrictions on sales Yes Yes Limited regulatory reach
Preferential women’s access None Potential lease condition Potential permit condition None: traditional patriarchal biases
Administrative cost Very high High Low None
Revenues and incentives Survey, land registration, title fees/Land tax Lease fees/land tax Permit fee/land tax Limited potentials

 

Depending on the legal and administrative regime or the interpretation and practice of ‘customary’ or ‘traditional’ tenure, for example, there are of course large variations in the reality of different tenure types in practice. But despite such variation there are some common features. Freehold tenure for example is always administratively cumbersome, expensive to implement and reliant on market forces with limited opportunities (assuming the rule of law is adhered to) for state intervention to limit consolidation or shape market incentives. On the other hand, communal, customary or traditional systems have advantages of decentralised operation and low cost, but there are limits on the ability to assure security of tenure through legislative means and a limited regulatory reach of the state.

Of course any tenure regime is only a legal/administrative procedure, and must function in a wider political-social-economic context. The lessons of the past decade show vividly that tenure insecurity does not necessarily derive from the nature of the regime, but from the wider political setting, the capacity to administrate land and the ability to assure a rule of law. When these very basic governance conditions are not in place, then no tenure regime can assure security. Indeed, in 2000 was those with freehold tenure that have been the least secure, and those with communal tenure that have been the most secure.

Ways forward

The new Constitution commits to a reestablishment of transparent administrative procedures, the stamping out of corrupt practices and mechanisms for compensation, all in a secure legal framework. With this essential precondition in place, the discussion on land tenure options can take place more effectively – and in relation to a set of clear principles of the sort outlined earlier.

The big question now, is what makes sense given the current situation, and given available administrative resources and capacity constraints? What tenure regime will help get agriculture moving and investment flowing, and support the new agrarian structure?

With the appropriate regulatory conditions attached as part of revisions of legislation and with a land administration streamlined system developed (neither of which exist to date), the above table suggests that the leasehold and permit systems offer considerable promise for the Zimbabwe situation for the A2 and A1 areas respectively. This would allow for the issuing of leases on surveyed A2 farms (perhaps with varying lengths and conditions to incentivise investment and production) and upgrading ‘offer letters’ in the A1 areas as part of a comprehensive, area-based land registration exercise.

Indeed such solutions reflect international thinking on this issue, where low cost land registration and administration approaches based on leases and permits have been shown to be highly effective in relation to the range of principles identified above. This does not mean that freehold tenure is not an option in some instances, particularly in urban/peri-urban settings. But full freehold does not seem to offer the right combination of features for the present situation for most rural agricultural settings. Such a solution to current tenure dilemmas also does not preclude a reform of communal tenure, perhaps extending versions of the approach developed for the A1 areas to the communal lands over time. As the 1994 Land Tenure Commission argued, hybrid approaches that offer the best of customary, communal tenure arrangements, but with new forms of tenure security offered through legally binding arrangements may be of great importance in such areas.

For now, though, the priority must be the A1 and A2 areas. This represents a substantial area of land, and a considerable number of people/land units, and a core national land asset in need of regularisation. Assuring tenure security in these areas must be the first priority (although the prior step remains addressing the compensation issue of course). This must be driven by a discussion based on clear principles, rather an ideological positioning, and an eye to rapid, effective implementation, rather than inappropriate ‘gold standard’ ideals.

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

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Land use planning is back in vogue in Zimbabwe

Land use planning has a chequered history in Zimbabwe, but despite this it seems to be back in vogue. As the state and its associated technocracy tries to get to grips with the informality unleashed by land reform, creating order through planning is a more and more frequent refrain.

Land use planning was used as a tool of control during the colonial era and, as a result it became a focus for resistance during the liberation war. Managing land and its use is always political, despite the proclamations of a technocratic state that science should prevail. The height of land use planning was of course during the implementation of the notorious 1951 Native Land Husbandry Act. Mike Drinkwater and Jos Alexander among many others have described the consequences, and the implications for people’s livelihoods and also social and political configurations in the countryside. Terry Ranger in particular described the implications for political mobilisation before and during the liberation war.

The plans associated with the Act had precedents in the technical advice of ‘Chief Instructor to the Natives’, E.D. Alvord, dating back to the late 1920s. Indeed the Southern Rhodesian state had a long history of imposition of plans, rules and regulations that influenced and limited how people could live and farm. People were put in settlement lines, contours were dug in particular ways to prevent soil erosion, gardens were banned from within 100 feet of waterways, the pulling of sledges was banned, and so on, and so on. Perhaps the most extreme imposition was destocking that was aimed at bringing livestock populations within a notional ‘carrying capacity’.

All of this was justified by science. There was a science of ‘civilised agriculture’ as described in a paper I co-authored with William Wolmer back in 2000. There were impressive scientists and field practitioners involved in defining the parameters. Alvord himself was of course one, but there were many others. Illtyd Pole Evans was another. He had a major influence on grazing management policy, influencing the 1939 Commission of Enquiry into Natural Resources of the Colony, and extension policy on ‘communal grazing’ ever since (despite my and others’ attempts at a critique from the 1980s onwards!).

There was a scientific rationale justified according to certain assumptions, usually derived from large-scale commercial farming. Thus ‘optimal’ stocking rates were based on beef ranching, and rotation and cropping systems based on extensive commodity production. Thus mixed livestock and cropping systems, and such practices as intercropping were banned. Indigenous systems for soil and water conservation were looked over, and engineering solutions derived from elsewhere (often South Africa or the US) were imposed. Optimal land uses were defined according to ‘suitability’ and  ‘capability’ maps based not on people’s social-cultural and economic needs but on soils, rainfall and vegetation patterns.

The most famous such mapping was conducted by Vincent, Thomas and Staples in 1960 in their agroecological survey of Southern Rhodesia that defined five ‘natural regions’ in Zimbabwe. Even today we still hear cries that particular areas should not be used for cropping, and are only suitable for livestock, even if cropping has been part of livelihood systems for centuries. Again, an industrial, modernist, commercial production imaginary is imposed, in neat, scientized maps and charts that carry with them an authority that has had huge implications.

Today there are calls for a new effort in land use planning. The World Bank is reportedly planning a major exercise. There are some good arguments put forward, not least by Mandi Rukuni, who knows the history well. Through the land reform the use of land has changed dramatically, and without a sense of what is where, sensible planning cannot take place. Some areas need to be protected from encroachment, such as agricultural land near urban areas, and so some form of regulated zoning is required. And with a clearer picture of how land is being used, a land administration system can be developed, allowing registration, the issuing of leases, perhaps land taxation. These are all sound reasons for investing in some efforts.

But the lessons of past attempts should be borne in mind too. The temptations of over-eager technocrats in 2014, just as 60 or more years ago, need to be offset. There is too often a sense that ground level problems will be solved through ordering, control and technocratic imposition. The view from above, from satellite images or air photos, can be misleading. And the urge to draw lines with the chinograph pencil or (more likely these days) the computer cursor that runs roughshod over people’s own constructed and lived-in landscapes is high.

There has been much wringing of hands among Zimbabwe’s planners, as well as many others, about the ‘chaotic’ nature of land reform. Indeed ‘chaotic’ has become the statutory epithet in both academic and media commentary. Yet, as we showed in a paper now over a decade old, there was order in the chaos, and war veterans involved in land invasions often bizarrely followed old planning rules in the early allocation of land and settlement before the formal ‘fast-track’ planning took over. The technocratic impulse is strong, even among those who fought a war that mobilised people against the impositions of Rhodesian planning laws.

Indeed, as we have shown in our work in Masvingo, it was the responsive informality and often the breaking of old rules and regulations that has allowed A1 farms in particular to develop. Unconstrained by particular requirements, they have been able to adapt to circumstances without the strictures of a constraining technocracy. Similar results have been found from across the Limpopo where in South Africa the technocratic impositions on land reform have been highly disabling. Here too it was the informal settlements that prospered most, whereas those that followed the rules and land use plans were almost designed to fail from the start.

While not advocating a completely anarchic approach (there are clearly some regulations around land and its use, perhaps especially around environmental management that make sense), avoiding closing down flexibility and options for change should be avoided at all costs if the current revival of land use planning is to have a benefit. There is an urgent need to develop a more locally-rooted, participatory approach to planning, where external experts become facilitators, rather than imposers of state-defined scientific diktat. This really would be a revolutionary approach to land use planning for Zimbabwe.

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

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The new land frontier in Zimbabwe: urban land for housing

In recent years urban, and perhaps especially peri-urban, land has become the centre of major political struggles for control in Zimbabwe. There is huge demand for housing in urban and peri-urban areas, very often from people with a foot in the rural areas but a need for an urban base. The costs of plots has sky-rocketed, and there are many, including those with resettlement farms making profits from farming, investing. As with any valuable resource, this attracts those who want to control it.

The control of urban land has become intensely political. Notionally controlled by municipal councils, urban land use and house building is supposed to be highly regulated. Indeed the building regulations in Zimbabwe are some of the strictest in the world. However in areas of the urban periphery there is more ambiguity. Former farm land that is being bought and sold illegally for new housing developments, creating often massive new settlements around Harare in particular. These areas are becoming a site of major conflict as chiefs or other local officials sell of land parcels to developers disenfranchising local people. This land market boomed particularly during Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, when land was privatised, and deregulation occurred. Those able to exploit the ambiguities of the system, and make gains on currency deals profited massively. The result has been significant accumulation by certain elites, along with invasions of land for new quasi-urban settlements.  Mandi Rukuni has called for new regulations to manage such land, and for a more effective land use planning and zoning system.

However a technocratic land use planning system may not be enough, as such areas are also sites of political contest and patronage.  Electoral politics have had a big influence.  ZANU-PF’s electoral strategy in 2013 was focused on such areas, with enticements being offered to people joining ‘housing cooperatives’ that were controlled by individuals with close ties to the party. These new urban voters, often poor and in need of housing, duly repaid their debt, and voted in ZANU-PF in areas previously controlled by the opposition. Some housing coops turned out to be bogus and people were enticed there without legal rights often to stands with multiple claimants. Some were later evicted to make way for big-time developers with political connections, while others remained living in appalling conditions in unserviced shacks with limited facilities.  After the election, ZANU-PF again announced its intentions to consolidate its gains by ‘regularising’ illegal settlements, including proposed demolition of informal settlements. With land consolidated in the hands of well-connected developers, their aim is to again hand out plots and assure electoral support in 2018.

Focusing on Ruwa and Norton near Harare, as well as Harare’s central markets, Jo McGregor shows in a recent paper how MDC councillors and municipal officials were intimidated, often violently, and were unable to fulfil their duties, and an alternative system of authority was established through party officials, youth militia and housing cooperative functionaries, supported by surveillance and control by the Central Intelligence Organisation. This was all allegedly coordinated from the highest levels, with key individuals, most notably the Minister of Local Government, Ignatius Chombo, being implicated. Some party-connected elites reputedly made huge amounts of money.

Rudo Gaidzanwa in a recent presentation retold the same story, but also asked who these new urban residents were, and what their aspirations and motivations were. While the political machinations around land and votes in urban areas drove a lot of the process, there were people who benefited from this. Gaidzanwa identified women as prime beneficiaries. She argued that due to lack of rural land rights due to ‘customary’ law, and lack of inheritance rights in practice, many wanted urban land and housing for alternative livelihoods. These included widows, divorcees, single women with families as well as entrepreneurial women with a rural base but in need of a stable urban home to raise their families, and gain access to schooling and health care absent in the rural areas, particularly the new resettlements. A diversity of such people were happy to join the coops and play along with the political game in order to gain much needed security of housing and land, unavailable to them elsewhere. Others were looking for sources of investment from the profits of farming. In our work in Mvurwi in Mazowe district, the high profits from tobacco are fuelling investment in land and housing in towns and cities, including in the politically-run housing coops, but also in other less controversial private schemes. An agricultural boom presents some new challenges, including the question of where the surplus money goes.

Jo McGregor’s paper was based on discussions with MDC councillors and activists, and clearly reflects that standpoint. She concludes that the ZANU-PF driven land acquisition, replanning and housing investments are a clear example of state-directed party-based patronage, geared to electoral gain and personal financial benefit of an party-connected elite, including ministers, senior military officers, and others of high status. In this, she is clearly correct, and the scandals that surround urban land and housing are regularly in the newspapers, particularly in the peri-urban settlements on the edges of the main conurbations, are witness to how this is an important and widespread phenomenon. Deep forms of corruption have become, in Sarah Bracking’s terms, a ‘technology of governance’.

However such accounts do not offer the perspectives of those who benefited. They may well have voted for ZANU-PF, but they are not the elite who are extracting the massive rents from dodgy deals, illegal sales and housing scams. Instead they are a significant group of often younger people, very often female, who have not got land in the rural areas. Some are displaced farmworkers or those whose housing was destroyed by Operation Murambatsvina; neither likely ZANU-PF supporters. Also, the land reform is now 14 years ago, and there are plenty who did not get anything. Equally, many do not wish to make a living solely on the land, regarding it as too much hard work, and would prefer to use their education to get a chance in town. Still others want to maintain a bridge between town and countryside, investing the agricultural profits in housing and urban land, guaranteeing a good return. Those now living in these new (peri)urban settlements are a diverse group, with different interests, affiliations and needs. They are embroiled in a political contest over land, resources and political control, but should be part of the story.

Expanding opportunities for low-cost urban housing in the end must be a good thing. And if this is part of an electoral strategy, then ZANU-PF seem to have followed rather successfully in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher in the UK in the 1980s. Stories of ruthless property developers linked to local political elites making huge profits from the poor in the context of a land and housing bubble is of course not exclusive to Zimbabwe either. Although it is no excuse, the urban politics of the US and Europe can be read in a similar way. However, for Zimbabwe, removing corruption and patronage, and excessive rent-seeking, from such land and housing deals must be a priority, as this offsets the potential redistributive gains to be made. As urban land is transformed from the exclusive preserve of the propertied elite to open up opportunities for land and housing for others, the new peri(urban) land users urgently need a voice.

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

 

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Irrigating Zimbabwe: time for some new thinking

In 1952, a major report on large-scale irrigation made the case for a substantial increase in investment in irrigation in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia. The reason was growing concerns about national food security and the need to improve the production of land recently settled by war veterans. Of course 60 years ago, such support was for white war veteran settlers who had come to the colony following the Second World War. Such new settlers often displaced local populations (without compensation) as the Land Apportionment Act was implemented more vigorously. Expanding populations and the failure of agriculture to meet food security needs in periods of drought (notably 1947, but others too), had resulted in concern at the highest policy levels to do something about agricultural investment.

The arguments made then are just as relevant today – and with some intriguing parallels. Back then, the investments that followed, particularly in what were designated ‘European’ farming areas, provided an unparalleled infrastructure, including dams, schemes, river diversions and more. This became the backbone of the commercial farm economy. The report also advocated investments in the ‘African’ ‘native’ areas, but these were limited by comparison, and focused, particularly in the UDI period on schemes linked to a growth point development strategy led by TILCOR.

By Independence, Zimbabwe had about 150,000 hectares under ‘formal’ irrigation schemes; about 3% of the arable area. 68% of this was in the large-scale commercial farming areas, another 20% linked to commercial estates, 7% part of ARDA estates and outgrower schemes and only 3.4% smallholder irrigation schemes. The distribution of irrigation capacity was even more unequal than that of land and other resources.

So is the answer to the challenges of agriculture, especially following land reform, to take a leaf out of the colonial book and invest in irrigation? The answer is yes, in part. But it depends on what type of irrigation, with what type of support.

Irrigation of course has a much longer history in Zimbabwe than the 60 years sketched above. The ancient systems of Inyanga for example have attracted archaeologists’ attention for many years, as they offer an example of highly intensive and sophisticated small-scale systems. Dambo or vlei cultivation dominated the agriculture of the nineteenth century, as farmers farmed intensively in valley bottoms in the hilly areas, often hiding from raids. In the early colonial era, missionaries encouraged irrigation at times of famine and set up a few schemes near mission stations. Early attempts at government support from late 1920s built on local systems, with support to small irrigation plots under farmer control. The famous agricultural extensionist E.D Alvord supported such efforts and was very keen on irrigation as part of his modernisation project (see an interesting article by Mandi Rukuni on this history).

However the approach took a dangerous turn in 1935 when Alvord visited Native American reserves in the US and he came back with ideas for a much more technical, top-down approach. From then on irrigation development in Zimbabwe in the smallholder sector at least has been dominated by a dirigiste approach to management – highly subsidized schemes require farmers to following particular cropping patterns on standard plot sizes under the direction of an irrigation officer. In some settlement schemes, no off-farm work was allowed. In the 1980s, economic analyses showed that 100% of capital costs and 89% of recurrent costs were covered by the government. This provided little incentive for local control and management – aspects that characterised the success of early initiatives, and still do on informal schemes.

Extensive studies by the University of Zimbabwe and colleagues at Wageningen University in the Netherlands through the 1990s showed the variety of experiences of irrigation in Zimbabwe, ranging from the formal Agritex-run communal area schemes, of which there were around 70, to the much more informal set-ups, involving usually fewer people on smaller areas, with less elaborate technology and infrastructure. This research confirmed earlier findings around some of the key requirements for effective collective action, asserting rights over water and land and sustainable economic management, and chimed with international experience.

A key theme through all of these studies was the argument that a standardised one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work, and more flexibility and adaptability is required. Since Independence there have been numerous attempts at reviving irrigation in the smallholder sector. An ambitious irrigation fund was established in the 1980s but it went unused; FAO and GTZ invested in new policy frameworks and some investments; small-scale schemes were supported by the EU, and so on. The impact of all of this, both in terms of policy and impacts on the ground, has been desultory. What study after study has found, is that the formal schemes (with some exceptions) have not worked well. And it very often it is the small-scale informal set-ups – more akin to the traditional dambo irrigation of the past – that work best (a theme that I will pick up in next week’s blog). These can be supported through developments in water harvesting, including small dams, storage tanks and soil pits and contours, and also small-scale drip irrigation kits that allow greater water use efficiency in piped or channel systems.

Under the right conditions in the right places, irrigation pays. By smoothing production variability it addresses challenges of food security, felt increasingly since the 1990s, and especially in the last decade, much as was the case in the 1950s. For high value crops, such as horticulture, irrigation is essential, and much of the private investment by commercial farmers from the early 1990s was in these sort of facilities. Yet irrigation infrastructure and technology cannot just be transferred from one system to another. With a different agrarian structure, with different farmers on different farm sizes the old configurations do not make sense. A massive centre-pivot set up is not much use to small-scale farmers, and few new resettlement farmers could afford sophisticated computer synchronized, satellite-linked drip irrigation systems.

Clearly the investments made from the 1950s in the large-scale commercial sector paid dividends. But any government today would balk at the cost, and especially the long-term subsidies, and a consistent policy for handover to farmer control following establishment is required. Today a rethink in irrigation strategy and policy is urgently needed. Perhaps a new high level task force should be convened, with a similar impetus to that of 1952, but with a rather different political and distributional mandate. What is clear is that in order to get agriculture moving in the new resettlements, up-front government or donor capital investment is needed, but tying irrigators into a standard approach with high recurrent subsidy makes little technical or economic sense.

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)

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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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The MDC-T’s Agenda for Real Transformation (ART): why the land and agriculture sections need more thought

A few weeks back, the MDC-T organised a policy conference to discuss their new 247 page policy document, ART – the Agenda for Real Transformation. There is much to commend in this document, and the commitment of the MDC actually to discuss policy is heartening. There has been a serious dearth of policy discussion across the past decade, and this is a valuable attempt to get to grips with some of the really pressing issues any government will face. In a pair of Hot Seat radio interviews with Violet Gonda, Tendai Biti, the MDC-T’s Secretary General and current finance minister in the GNU discussed the contents (listen or review transcripts here and here).

The overall vision is “a modern, healthy, functional, integrated democratic developmental state with a vibrant, socially just green economy that takes pride at leaving no one behind”. No complaints with that. Equally, the sections on security sector reform, mining revenues, industrial cluster development, strategic infrastructure investment, social services and more are all good contributions. But sadly the sections on agriculture and land are rather poor, suffering from a combination of inconsistencies, confusions, inaccurate data and poor analysis. Why is it that after so long (the policy has taken apparently two years to produce, based on consultations across the country, page 2), the MDC has not been able to get to grips with the agriculture and land, and come up with a more coherent policy position?

I guess it reflects the lack of capacity and the background of the leading players. Tendai Biti himself is a lawyer, and not versed in issues of agronomy or land administration, while other leading lights, Morgan Tsvangirai included, come from an urban, labour union background. Those with a rural brief include Eddie Cross, whose view on private property is informed by right-wing think tanks such as the Cato Institute with which he has been associated, and Roy Bennett, who comes from a commercial farming background, and does not seem to recognise the potentials of the land reform. There are of course other lobbyists and funders in the local and international community who continue to be committed to a reversal of the land reform, arguing that it has had few if any benefits. So anyone trying to draft rural policy for the MDC is severely handicapped by these limits and competing pressures.

What then does the policy say? I am not totally clear of the document’s status, as it does not appear on the MDC website, so I presume it remains a draft. If the number of typos that are present is anything to go by, I assume this to be the case. So accounting for this provisional basis, what can we glean?

First, and significantly, the document incontrovertibly states (again) that the land reform is not reversible. It also sets out some laudable principles for a land policy, including: equity in access and distribution; efficiency in its utilization; accountability in its management; transparency in the conduct of its governance; legitimacy in the eyes of the Zimbabwean public; participation by Zimbabweans of all classes, gender and ethnic backgrounds and security for all who make their living from the land. Overall, the policy aims to create “a new order of economically viable, market-directed commercial farmers, with the family farm as the basic model”. All good, sensible stuff.

However, it then goes on to characterise the process of land reform after 2000 (again) as chaotic, with poor outcomes, using the standard international media narrative, with little acknowledgement of the research that has shown a more complex story. This in turn frames the document. For example, on page 44:

“After 10 years of chaotic land invasions and the illegal dispossession of the majority of commercial farmers, only a tiny proportion of the target of 8 million hectares has been lawfully taken over and the rest lies largely deserted and unproductive. The farms have been taken over by a political elite that has been unable to maintain production and has presided over the decimation of the capital infrastructure that had existed on the farms prior to the FTLRP….As a consequence agricultural production has declined by nearly 80 per cent, exports have plummeted and nearly 70 per cent of all foodstuffs are being imported. Some 400 000 farm workers have been displaced with their families plunging nearly 2 million people into destitution and homelessness”.

Here in a few sentences are all the myths we highlighted in our book presented in condensed form: that the reform was ‘chaotic’ and solely instrumentally led by ZANU-PF, the land lies largely idle and unproductive, that only the elite cronies have taken over, infrastructure has been decimated and that production (in general) has collapsed, with two million people being projected into destitution and homelessness due to farmworker displacement. All of these statements are not based on the accumulating evidence. The pattern is variable, but there are some clear trends, now from numerous studies, and this sort of statement, that frames the overall response, just does not add up.

Having set this (inaccurate) picture up, the policy proceeds to outline what the responsibility of an MDC government should be: essentially to reverse this (bad) situation. There is the usual list of things to do, including infrastructure development (notably irrigation), fertiliser and input supply and new technologies (including genetically modified crops). There is a modernising zeal to the narrative – new technologies and investment will come to the rescue. In a Tony Blair style incantation, Biti in his Hot Seat interview identified a key solution as “research, research, research”, and claimed that maize would soon be produced at 12-15 tonnes a hectare (even under a MDC government, somewhat unlikely!) Many of the suggestions (especially small scale irrigation) are sound, but of course this perspective fails to address the past critiques of top-down, technology-driven modernisation of agriculture, from the Native Land Husbandry Act onwards – see for example the work of Jos Alexander or Mike Drinkwater, among many examples.

More importantly, the document fails to develop a vision for land and agriculture that takes the new agrarian structure into account. Framed in terms of righting the wrongs of the Fast Track process and providing a technical solution, rooted in a market oriented approach, it does not examine how small, medium and large scale estate agriculture might operate together and how a territorial, regional approach might contribute to integration, adding value and generating multiplier effects. The AFD/DBSA report of last year offers some sensible pointers that could have been taken on, as does the most recent World Bank report on agriculture, and of course we offered our own suggestions based on a decade of work in Masvingo in the final chapter of our book (for a summary, see the blog next week).

Where the document is accurate in its assessment is in its commentary on wider industry connections and economic linkages. It notes:

The [fast-track land reform] programme failed to support the newly settled farmers with skills, equipment, finance and marketing opportunities….this had serious ramifications for the entire economy as backward and forward linkages ..Consequently, this had multiplier effects on agro-based industries..

The document proceeds to identify the importance of off-farm linkages:

“the MDC government will protect the people on the land, while it develops complementary strategies for non-farm economic activities that tap into agriculture.” (p.50)

These are important commentaries, although without much detail of how it will be done in the context of the new agrarian setting. The agriculture section of the document, does not really engage with this at all, simply listing types of intervention, without an overall strategy.

Overall, the policy’s framing is very much one centred on macro-economic restructuring, and economic growth. While positioned in terms of a ‘developmental state’ argument (one of Biti’s familiar refrains), the details seem more old-fashioned Washington Consensus – get the market fundamentals right and all will follow (there is much talk of ‘market flexibility’, ‘opening up for business’ and so on). That this approach has been so massively discredited seems to have passed the drafters by. It may be appealing to the international community, including potential donors and investors, but will it work, and perhaps even more significantly will it be acceptable to a population already starkly divided by haves and have nots, and having suffered years of financial mismanagement – from ESAP to Gono’s casino economy? This contradiction was not lost on the Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Japhet Moyo, who launched an attack on the document at the conference, something that clearly did not please the party hierarchy.

The free market ideology that Moyo objected to also pervades the discussion of land, particularly around tenure. The policy announces a programme of what Biti terms ‘giving title’ in his Hot Seat interview transcript: “Number three, give title, give title to everyone who owns land right now. Give title, Zanu PF is refusing to give title even long leases because it is using land as a political field”. But it’s not at all clear what this really means, as while the document refers to the intention “to design and universalize a system of tenure” (p. 48) across all land categories in order to deliver, it argues, security of tenure, opportunities for collateral and so on, in other sections there are commitments to some form of village tenure in communal areas, leases in resettlement lands and freehold tenure elsewhere.

Underlying this all is the familiar argument about the importance of private property rights (title, title, title). This has of course been long challenged, both in Zimbabwe and beyond. There is no strong evidence that there is an automatic causal relation between private property rights and economic growth and investment, despite the influential arguments of de Soto and others. Instead the relationship between property rights, investment and economic growth is much more complex, and is conditioned by wider factors, such as political stability, the investment environment, local institutional arrangements for land access, and so on. Embarking on expensive cadastral surveys and land administration exercises is very often a big mistake, as study after study has shown. There are plenty of other routes to the same end that are more effective and cheaper. As Professor Rukuni (and many, many others) have long argued, a differentiated response is required that accepts multiform tenure, but does not go down the risky route of mass land titling.

In other areas, there is confusion too. The policy position on compensation seems to contradict the newly agreed Constitution, by arguing that compensation must account for not only ‘improvements’ but the land itself, across all areas, and not just investment areas (BIPPAs). It’s not totally clear in the document, but Biti in his Hot Seat interview, seemed to confirm this impression. Equally the policy suggests leases will be issued in A1, A2 and old resettlement areas and “leaseholders will be required to contribute to the payment of compensation to the original owners in order to legalise such arrangements” (p. 54). Despite the very sensible formula propounded by Professor Rukuni again, and largely agreed by key stakeholders, the MDC seem to have backtracked on this, opening themselves up to a long and protracted process that will be difficult to resolve sensibly. This strikes me as a big mistake, as most players want a quick resolution to this crucial issue, with compensation paid swiftly on the basis of a clear formula.

Other areas of land policy repeat existing policy, and the Constitutional provisions, including allowing for land ownership by all Zimbabweans, whatever their racial origins, the requirement for a land audit, the establishment of a Land Commission, a restriction on maximum farm sizes and a limit of one farm owned per person. All of this is at least notionally accepted by all actors. The challenge for an incoming government will be to implement these provisions, and it is good that the MDC-T is committed to doing so.

If the document is a draft and discussions are ongoing, then there is a chance presumably to debate, adapt and change the document. It is good that it is out in the open and can be subject to scrutiny. Indeed it is the only policy prospectus from across the political parties that is available. However, it does need some serious further thought.

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

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Who took the land? More on the ‘crony’ debate

The debate continues to rage as to who were the beneficiaries of land reform in Zimbabwe. The standard international and Zimbabwe opposition media line is that the land reform is discredited as it was captured by ‘cronies’ – well connected party members linked to ZANU-PF, including politicians, senior security forces personnel, judges and others connected to them.

The main source of evidence is the report produced by a ‘ZimOnline Investigations Team’ in November 2010, coinciding with the launch of our book. The headline figure in this report – that half of the land was taken by top-level cronies – is repeated again and again, in all sorts of reputable places, from the Guardian to the Mail and Guardian to the Zimbabwean. Recently, Professor Roger Southall from the University of Witswatersrand, quoted it at great length (p. 93) in a largely favourable review of Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities for Africa Spectrum. He concludes: “It would seem to offer a very different picture than that provided by Scoones et al”. Arguing that the book may have missed an important political context for land reform, he goes on to ask rhetorically, “If… the major portion of land has gone to the political elite, is it not likely to shape their political behaviour?”

But what is the basis and source of the ZimOnline claims? When the ZimOnline report came out I tried to contact the authors via the website. I got nowhere. No documents were forthcoming. I wrote to the various newspapers who published this data to enquire about their sources, but got no further, and only one published my letter. Someone more cynical than myself commented that I was wasting my time, that this was propaganda and the data made up, and that no report or ‘investigation team’ existed.

Despite making it central to his critique, Southall does concede that “The accuracy of this study needs to be confirmed”. But in practice, as I found out, the data is difficult to cross-check and verify. One set of data based on a decade of research (with all its readily admitted limitations) is thus set against another ‘investigation’ with no report on an online blog. Such data though is really important, as who got what and where is central to any discussion about land reform and the future of the agrarian economy and wider political behaviour and context, as Southall correctly argues.

Certainly some of the information is true, and there has definitely been a capture of land by high ranking officials through a combination of violence and patronage. The ‘large-scale A2’ category of farms that Sam Moyo describes in his detailed analysis of the emerging agrarian structure in Zimbabwe is an important indicator of elite capture. But these are far fewer than claimed by the ZimOnline data, and the overall picture of a land reform dominated by small-scale and medium-scale acquisitions in the A1 and A2 schemes, most of whom are ‘ordinary’ farmers (a problematic category admittedly), still stands.

With the political wrangles over the constitution, the election dates and the ZANU-PF succession, the likelihood of a full-scale land audit happening now is receding. As Professor Mandi Rukuni explained in his recent contribution to the Sokwanele land debate, the technical capacity is in place to carry it out, but the political moment must be right. Earlier land audits by Utete, Buka and the 2006 A2 audit by the Ministry of Lands have shown a complex picture, with much variation between different parts of the country. But the overall picture is not hugely different to what we found, despite the on-going discussion about ‘Masvingo exceptionalism’.

Currently our work in Masvingo is looking at the A2 sector in more detail than we were able to do in our work to 2010, and we want to update the information in the book. It is clear that, unlike the majority in A1 schemes, some A2 farmers gained access through patronage linkages. Application processes were manipulated and so certain people gained land when their qualifications were inadequate or their business plans were poor. These farms often still remain underutilised and undercapitalised, and some are effectively abandoned. But this is not the majority, the rest are building up their farms, slowly but surely, and it is interesting how these are linking into value chains in new ways. We cannot announce a success of the A2 farms yet, but there are more positive signs than a few years ago when the incentives and capacities to invest were so minimal due to the chaos in the economy.

But in addition to the standard A2 farms we also have the ‘large-scale A2’ farms, where whole farms were handed over. These are where the ‘big chefs’ reside, and where political patronage and cronyism of the sort described by ZimOnline is most prevalent. But again, these cases are limited and scattered, and in fact some are thriving – because funds from elsewhere (not always above board I am sure) are being invested. And then there are the conservancies, formally outside the Fast Track Land Reform programme, where an elite take-over has been attempted. However, much of this has stalled, as many such ‘investment partners’ have not been forthcoming.

Our preliminary findings from Masvingo show that our earlier conclusions remain robust: that the vast majority of land reform beneficiaries and land areas are being used by people who could not be classified as ‘cronies’. There are however ‘land grabs’ on the margins which, while still small in overall numerical and area terms, are important politically. These peaked around the contested elections in 2008, and continue. A few remaining ‘white farms’ and wildlife areas have been targeted and taken over by politically and militarily connected elites. This is a pattern that is repeated elsewhere in the country and particularly dramatically in the high value land areas of the Highveld.

These whole farm and conservancy takeovers was a phenomenon, we agree, that was not well covered in the book (as it didn’t exist to such an extent when we set our sample, and only emerged in the most recent period, especially around 2008), but is covered in more detail in our current work, where we are hoping to get the really detailed and accurate numbers on land ownership and distribution across the province, and in some forthcoming articles – on patterns of differentiation and politics, in the Journal of Agrarian Change, and on the land grab in the lowveld, under review with African Affairs. I will alert blog readers when these are out, as these are important complements to our original research. However new work does not reject our core findings, nor support the conclusions of the ZimOnline ‘investigation’.

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