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BZ Mavedzenge: the loss of a true public servant

Blasio Zivengwa Mavedzenge (better known simply as BZ) has tragically died following a car crash near Mashava. Another terrible loss in the global carnage of road traffic accidents, which claim 1.3 million people each year. And, after Sam Moyo, another brilliant person from our Zimbabwe land research community, robbed from us too early due to others’ reckless driving.

BZ has been a research collaborator and good friend of mine for 30 years. With many others, I am devastated by our loss. A constant source of sage, practical advice, with a deep knowledge of farming contexts, especially in Masvingo, BZ has been an inspiration on many fronts. Over the years, he has taught me so much, not least about how to do sustained, grounded research in rural settings.

I got to know BZ, and his close friend and colleague Felix Murimbarimba, in the mid-80s, when they were leading the Masvingo-based research of the Farming Systems Research Unit (FSRU), then part of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Research and Specialist Services. Since then we have worked on many projects, and produced many publications together:  from early work on the impacts of structural adjustment on agriculture to work on drought and dryland farming (that ended up with the book, Hazards and Opportunities), work on soil fertility management, studies of crop-livestock integration and of course, since 2000, long-term research on the livelihood consequences of land reform. We also produced several film series together, and BZ’s skills extended to film narration, with his deep baritone voice providing the perfect commentary for the ‘voices from the field’ films.

BZ was no ordinary researcher. He did not have a string of qualifications after his name, no academic titles or positions. He was first and foremost a public servant, working for government from 1974 when he took his first job with TILCOR (now ARDA) to work on the Chisumbanje estate. BZ was born in 1947 in the depths of colonial rule. He grew up in Chirumanzu communal area, part of a chiefly family. He was educated, like his children, at the mission school, Gokomere, and later trained at a government agricultural training college, gaining an agricultural diploma.

From Chisumbanje, BZ went to Gokwe and trained as a cotton grader, and then joined the research department and worked at Matopos Research Station as a technician, implementing important research on grazing systems, from the mid-1970s until 1981, when the FSRU was established. Unlike many researchers, BZ knew his agriculture, and he also knew about implementing rural research, and how difficult it is. As a technician, low down in the hierarchy, BZ was often at the receiving end of poorly designed experiments or absurdly long surveys. From long experience, he had an acute sense of what was feasible, and what might be interesting, and our many discussions over the years on research design, methodology and data analysis have massively enriched my own capacities as a researcher.

On-farm research, bringing research from the station to farmers’ own fields, was central to the FSRU’s mission. As the approach evolved from simply replicating experiments in field conditions to more participatory approaches, involving farmers in the design, implementation and analysis of experiments, BZ and the Masvingo team came into their own. Important work on open-pollinated seed varieties radically shifted policy thinking, and later work on soil fertility and nutrient management provided important pointers to a more balanced approach to soil health. In this period, we developed close links with farmers in different sites across Masvingo province, which became crucial in later phases of work.

When the FSRU closed down, BZ moved to a research officer position within Agritex, the extension department. Nyasha Pambirei, then provincial head, knew the value of research and the important insights it could bring on the ground. This capacity was vital as we developed our work on ‘livelihoods after land reform’ from 2000, initially in Masvingo province. This resulted in the 2010 book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities, plus many co-authored papers and reports. BZ was also central to extending our research efforts to Mvurwi and Matobo in recent years, using his extraordinary diplomatic skills to negotiate access to new sites, sometimes in tricky settings.

BZ was also a farmer himself, applying his exceptional knowledge of agriculture in the difficult dryland environment of Mashava. He gained land through the land reform, joining with the late Cosmas Gonese and the AZTREC group in the invasion of Shashe farm. In an interview, BZ recounts this story, and the early establishment of his A1 plot. The farm was his pride and joy. Following his retirement from government service, he moved there permanently with his wife, Mai Tapiwa, who has joined him in making it a wonderful home and productive farm. With the prolific rains this season, BZ was sending me many photos through WhatsApp of the harvest as it came in – maize, sorghum, millet, groundnuts and more.

Despite the sniping of some other researchers and journalists, being a farmer – proudly part of the land reform – did not distort BZ’s perspectives on Zimbabwe’s land issues. Quite the opposite: his engagements on his farm helped us all understand the challenges much better. He could be the harshest critic of some aspects of land reform, and associated policy, but equally recognised the potentials and opportunities it presented, as he tried to realise them himself. Over the last decade, Shashe farm has become a focus for training of others in farming approaches, and a centre for experimentation on agroecology and debate about food sovereignty, with many people coming from across Zimbabwe, and internationally, to learn from the Shashe experience. The Mavedzenge homestead regularly hosted visitors, and many recall the long and intense discussion into the night on all aspects of land, agriculture and livelihoods.

Even in his retirement, BZ was continuing his public service. Quiet and unassuming, BZ’s deep knowledge and commitment was inspiring to everyone who met him. Unlike BZ, his children and grandchildren were able to benefit from the fruits of Independence, and particularly education, which BZ and Mai Tapiwa were passionate about. As a regular visitor to his home in Masvingo over 30 years, I have seen the family grow, regularly reviewing spectacular school reports and hearing about many family achievements, near and far and across generations. I have learned much about parenting from the Mavedzenges, and only wish that the long-planned trip to their home with my own kids had happened before this awful event.

BZ’s passing is a deep loss for everyone who knew him, and for our research community more broadly. We have lost a true public servant; someone with strong values and commitment, deep intelligence and insight, grounded pragmatism and good humour. BZ, we will miss you, your kind advice and generous counsel, and of course that inimitable laugh.

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 This tribute to BZ Mavedzenge, 13 October 1947-27 August 2017, was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. BZ was laid to rest at his farm in Mashava on 30 August. He is survived by his wife, and children – Tapiwa, Kenneth, Terrence, Romualdo, Tunga and Tafadzwa – along with many grandchildren. Please feel free to add your own comments, memories  and reflections below.

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Land and agriculture in Zimbabwe following land reform

In May, I was invited to give a talk on Zimbabwe’s land reform and its aftermath by a great new student initiative at SOAS (School of African and Asia Studies) focused on agriculture and development in Africa. The event was hosted by the Royal African Society and SOAS. I was on a panel with Na Ncube who leads a great initiative in Matabeleland called the Global Native (see an earlier blog).

There is a recording of the event available here. Below I have elaborated my notes a bit, so they are more readable. They should vaguely tally with what I said. The discussion was great too, and worth a listen.

So here’s the talk….

A very brief history

Land and its relationship to agriculture has had a long and fraught history in Zimbabwe. As Robin Palmer said in his brilliant book, Land and Racial Domination in Rhodesia, back in 1977:

The most acute and difficult question confronting the first government of Zimbabwe will be that of land, bedeviled by its past use as a political and economic weapon by the whites and by consequent mythologies to which this has given rise. The problem will not be an easy one to resolve.

Indeed, this has come to pass. A difficult relationship between land, agriculture and livelihoods continues.

Before discussing some of our work on land and livelihoods since the land reform of 2000, I want to offer some brief historical context.

In the 1980s – resettlement was central to the post-Independence effort, and various models, based on a willing seller, willing buyer approach to transfers, were tried out. The so-called Model A schemes – a smallholder approach – was relatively successful as shown by the long-term by Bill Kinsey and others.

By the 1990, resettlement had slowed down, and by late 90s, some 72,000 households on 3.2m ha had been settled. This was way lower than the original targets. In this period there was an acceleration of acquisitions of farms by black elites, and commercial farms prospered in the liberalised economic environment.

But by 2000, 20 years after Independence, there had been no fundamental changes in the agrarian system. It was still based on a dualist arrangement – large-scale commercial farms contrasting with communal areas (and some resettlement schemes) – and was hiding many tensions and much political discontent.

From the early land invasions in late 1990s, accelerating in 2000 following the Constitutional referendum, there were major changes in land use across Zimbabwe, as people took the land. What later became the fast-track land reform programme (FTLRP), resulted in about 10 million hectares being transferred to about 220,000 households, within just a few years, involving both small-scale (A1) and medium scale (A2) farms.

This was a volatile period, sometimes violent, resulting a huge upheaval, and a loss of much of what was white owned large-scale agriculture. It is a highly varied story, and any simple narrative is simply not possible, as I’ve argued many times before.

Post-land reform livelihoods: three themes

Since 2000, we’ve been tracking what has happened – now in three sites in Masvingo, Mazowe and Matobo. Since the land reform, we have argued it is important to have some solid data on economic, social and political changes in the face of often highly ill-informed commentary and policy debate.

I want to highlight three key themes from our findings.

First, there is a new agrarian structure. As Sam Moyo and others have described, it’s now a trimodal system: small-scale (most), medium scale and large-scale and estates (importantly still present and often involving multinational agribusiness).

Second there has been varied performance in production, and so mixed success, across this trimodal system.

The small-scale A1 farms have done surprisingly well (this is consistent across our sites: production has grown; investment has expanded, involving what we refer to as accumulation from below; some economic growth potentials have been generated, especially linked to small towns; and new value chains and linkages have been created. To my mind, this is an important, unsung agricultural transformation, but with vanishingly little external support

By contrast, the A2 medium-scale farms have done less well. Capital constraints, lack of investment, limited finance/credit have hampered production, but some new joint ventures and contracting arrangements have helped. Unlike the European commercial farms established in colonial era in these same areas, there has been virtually no finance and state support.

In the large-scale and estate sector, the story has been varied. But the sugar estates are continuing, and are increasingly reliant on new outgrower arrangements to assure profits.

Third, there have been shifts in politics, as a result of this reconfiguration of land and its uses. Again, this is reflected in different ways across the trimodal system.

Most of the new A1 farmers were from other rural areas, mostly communal areas, and the urban unemployed. Not all are doing well by any means, but many are – and all aspire to accumulate, as many are managing to do. They have varied links with ruling party (and not all are supporters by any means). They are now demanding services and support from the state/party, which has so far been strikingly absent. As a more educated/younger/connected demographic than their immediate communal area counterparts, they are now demanding more, with increasingly louder voices.

The A2 farmers represent a very different class composition. A professional middle class dominates, with many civil servants gaining land, part of the state’s deal with such class interests. In some sites more than others, there are also members of the security services and others with strong political-business-military connections. Many A2 farmers are now seeking alliances with other investors, including former white farmers, Chinese and others, in order to boost production and offset debt.

Finally, the large-scale farms and estates, often with direct links to international agribusiness have negotiated the political uncertainties with brokered deals with the party-state, providing them some cover for their interests (see our work on the sugar estates, for example).

Thus the new trimodal agrarian system has generated new forms of production and economic relations and with this a new political dynamic. These are different across A1, A2 and large-scale/estate sectors, and represent an important new class dynamic in the countryside, with major implications for the future.

A constrained agrarian setting

Overall, though, the potentials of the new agrarian structure is highly constrained: by failures in the wider economy, lack of rural credit and finance, insecure tenure arrangements, poor land administration, patronage and corruption (as I have discussed many times on this blog – for example, a few weeks back). The failure to pay compensation to former white farmers, in line with the Constitution, has hampered political progress too, as various international ‘restrictive measures’ (aka sanctions) persist.

Within these broad categories in the trimodal system, we must also look at other actors – some of whom lost out significantly from the land reform. These include former farm workers, now becoming incorporated into new farm structure, but on poor terms; women who gained early, but are losing out due to reassertion of patriarchal structures; and youth, who nearly a generation on don’t have a chance of getting like their parents did in 2000, with small subdivisions being offered and resentment building.

Over 17 years, there have been winners and losers from the land reform, and the net result of the wider political-economic impasse in Zimbabwe has been stagnation in the key economic sector of agriculture (although with a much vaunted bumper harvest this year of course). Generally, there’s a deep lack of policy vision of what to do about rural development and agriculture in the post-land reform setting.

Unfortunately, the current debate about land and agriculture in Zimbabwe is hopelessly limited. All political parties repeat same tired old rhetoric – whether ZANU-PF’s nationalistic stance or the opposition’s version of neoliberal policy prescriptions – while donors or others seem to have an extraordinarily limited grasp of the realities on the ground. None have got to grips with the big implications – technical, economic and above all political – of the new agrarian structure.

What next? Three scenarios

So what next? Whatever the outcome of next year’s election, and whatever happens in the on-going soap opera of succession struggles and opposition coalitions formation, there are some big questions that are raised.

I want to outline three possible scenarios for the future (see also Toendepi Shonhe’s very thoughtful scenario discussion in Gravitas recently, which has some echoes):

Scenario 1: Status quo, impasse and conflict. Under this scenario, a political stalemate emerges post 2018, and with this a failure to address outstanding compensation issues, address security of tenure challenges, and the refinancing of agriculture doesn’t happen. Under this scenario, A1 smallholders continue as now – they will be doing OK, but not reaching their potential. And discontent with lack of state support will build. Among the A2 farms, a few elite enterprises with external finance will prosper, but little else and the pattern of underutilisation will continue. A long-term demand for land continues from youth, former farm workers and others, in the absence of the growth of the wider economy. But without economic dynamism more broadly, linking the agricultural sector with the wider economy, there will be few prospects for most. This is I am afraid is the default scenario, and currently, sadly the most likely.

Scenario 2. Elite capture. A political change (of some sort – in whatever permutation) results in a flood of capital from outside the country for investment in commercial farming. New joint ventures are established particularly in medium-scale A2 farms and estates (including on parastatal land), adding to a trend that has already begun. Pushed by international finance institutions, donors and global capital, this will lead to a process of consolidation, squeezing out small-scale production. Elite pacts will be struck between the state, connected land reform beneficiaries and external capital (including donors), around a narrative of economic growth and modernisation. Selective accumulation will occur among those with A2 farms, and the result will be a reversion to a large-scale commercial farming trajectory, benefiting a few, but excluding many.

Scenario 3. Smallholder led transformation. This is my favoured, ideal scenario (as you may well guess). In this scenario, A1 accumulators in particular – existing now in large numbers and electorally significant, in alliance with other rural producers – will demand support from the state (under whatever regime), gaining greater political voice. They will push for example for transfers of land from underutilised A2 areas to extend A1 resettlements, accommodating youth and others. They will demand more effective and appropriate rural finance arrangements, and service support, including infrastructural investment (as European farmers did so effectively during the colonial period). Building on an existing dynamic of accumulation from below, a smallholder led agricultural and economic transformation extends, with ripple effects on employment and local economic development. This is made possible by support from new political configurations, but these would require policy vision and commitment, seemingly currently unlikely until a new political settlement is reached, and all parties realise how important rural questions are.

Final thoughts

While land reform happened in a way that was far from ideal, it was certainly necessary. The question is what happens now, rather than harking back to past mistakes and misdeeds. And thinking this through needs evidence-informed policy planning that in my view envisages an agriculture that is productive but also equitable, with the real potentials of land reform – centred on a transformatory smallholder vision – at the core, and rejects both the depressing scenario of the status quo or the scenario of elite capture. Time, as they say, will tell.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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What is the future for medium-sized commercial farms in Zimbabwe?

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Zimbabwe’s land reform created two ‘models’ for resettlement farms – one relatively small-scale, the A1 schemes, and one medium to large-scale, the A2 farms. A1 farms now cover (very) approximately 4.2 m ha including around 150,000 farms and A2 farms 2.7 m ha across 20,000 farm units (although A2 areas now include a range of other larger-scale commercial farms in addition). The idea was that the small-scale farms would provide a productive base for large numbers of land-hungry people, including those who had invaded the white-owned farms in 2000, while the A2 farms would accommodate demand from the middle classes and elites. The A2 farms were to be the new drivers of commercial agriculture, occupied by qualified, business-savvy farmers, able to invest in new production.

As every observer of Zimbabwean agriculture since land reform knows, the planners’ vision has not come to pass. The A1 farms have done better than many have expected, as documented on this blog many times. Contrary to some commentaries, they have generated livelihoods, employment and production, in often very difficult circumstances. There is a huge range of farm types within the A1 model, ranging from self-contained farms, more similar to A2 holdings, to small-scale village-style set-ups. Numbers of farms under this category has expanded significantly, with some estimating that there are now around 175,000 farm units. As we have documented in Masvingo, Matabeleland South and Mashonaland, not all A1 farmers are the same – a good proportion have done well, but not everyone, and processes of agrarian differentiation continue.

By contrast the A2 farms have been disappointing. In part this has resulted from the failure to invest during the economic crisis of the 2000s, when finance and support were severely lacking. In part a number of A2 farms, particularly those with good infrastructure, whether housing or irrigation systems, were ‘grabbed’ by politically-connected elites. The neat bureaucratic system of application and assessment of candidates against strict criteria of business viability and agricultural expertise was by-passed due to political expediency in such cases.

As discussed on this blog many times before, such ‘cronies’ are not the majority by any means, even in the A2 farms, but they do exist, and perhaps especially so in the high potential areas, near Harare, where commercial agriculture is potentially profitable. Of course some A2 farmers have made a go of it, and invested through private sources – whether from diaspora remittances, NGO jobs or other less straightforward means. These include ‘cronies’ – able to divert state resources – and others. But many have struggled. The failure to create and deliver an effective lease system, and the lack of finance, either from state or private sources has hampered ambitions to invest, rehabilitate infrastructure and increase production. Many A2 farms remain in a sorry state, neglected and failing to produce, while a some are prospering; either through own investment or increasing through various forms of joint venture.

Our studies have been looking at these farms both in Masvingo and Mashonaland Central provinces. We have carried out a number of detailed case studies looking at farm production, labour and the challenges associated. These show a mixed picture of failure and success. But beyond the audit a decade ago, more comprehensive data on patterns of ownership and production are lacking. We are beginning to piece together a broader picture, as finding a route to supporting A2 farm production is essential. We are asking, for example, what are the levels of production and land utilisation in these farms, how is labour organised, and what are the challenges being faced? The aim, in time, will be to come to suggestions as to what might be done to support new forms of commercial agriculture, and what types of financing, technical support, land tenure regimes and other policy arrangements, including joint ventures, make sense.

One way of informing this enquiry has been to look to past experiences, and notably that of the so-called ‘African Purchase Areas’, now known as ‘small-scale commercial farming areas’. These add up to 1.4m ha in total, across approximately 8000 farms scattered across the country. They were established from the 1930s, with more set up in the 1950s to counter nationalist moves among the African population. Colonial policymakers were aimed at creating a ‘yeoman’ class of farmer, accommodating an educated, urban-based middle class in the reform of land use. As with the land reform of 2000, there were explicit political motivations to enlist and incorporate, but also a productionist/modernisation agenda to generate new forms of commercial agriculture based – in the case of Purchase Areas – on offering Africans freehold title to land.

The policy narrative was clearly focused on a ‘civilising’ mission – these were acceptable, English-speaking ‘natives’, educated through the mission school systems, and valued clerks, messengers, native police, teachers and others working for the colonial state. Politically, the colonial regime could not afford for such groups to rebel and join the ranks of the nationalists (although of course many did), and needed to be co-opted, by being given special favours not available to the ‘reserve native’. Others given land were those Africans who did not have land in the ‘reserves’, but were not acceptable in ‘white’ areas, and included South African Basotho migrants, African churches and others.

The allocations of land varied from area to area, but they were in the order of 100 ha, not dissimilar to those offered to most A2 farmers in the 2000s. A2 plots ranged from 20ha in the irrigated sugar estates to several hundred hectares in the dryland ranching country of Matabeleland, but the overall average – typical of the medium-potential largely dryland farming areas where the Purchase Areas were located – was about 70 ha. In our recent research we have been asking, what has happened to the former Purchase Areas several generations on? Do these experiences give hints as to what might happen to the A2 farms in 50 or 60 years? What lessons can be drawn – positive and negative – that planners and policymakers need to take on board now, as the A2 model is assessed and potentially rethought?

In the next few weeks, I will look at some of these questions based on some preliminary research carried out in Mushagashe and Dewure SSCFAs in Masvingo Province. Since the classic work by Angela Cheater carried out in Msengezi Purchase Area, documented in ‘Idioms of Accumulation: rural development and class formation among freeholders in Zimbabwe (Mambo Press, 1984), plus many subsequent articles, and the important historical studies by Allison Shutt focusing on Marirangwe, there has been remarkably little research done on these areas, with the notable exception of Joseph Mujere’s fascinating study of the evangelist Basotho migrants from South Africa to Dewure Purchase Area. In the mid-1990s Vincent Ashworth carried out a study on small-scale farming areas for the World Bank, but I cannot locate it (if anyone has a copy, please, please let me know!), and there is a scattering of data among various Commissions and reports, but little else. But as an experiment in creating a class of medium-scale farmer in Zimbabwe, the Purchase Area story is fascinating, which is why we have returned to it in our Masvingo studies during the last year.

In our current studies we are working with a random sample of 26 farms in Mushagashe SSCFA, near Masvingo. Established in from the early 1930s, the area was transferred to blacks able to purchase the land. The area now has 250 farms, and rather like the A2 farms, these have varying levels of production and investment. As the forthcoming blogs show, many of the challenges relate to cross-generational transfers, inheritance and how subsequent generations make use of family-owned land.

These issues are only beginning to be faced in the A2 farms, but glimpses of the future may be shown by a look to the past. Next week I will offer a very brief historical background to the ‘Native Purchase Areas’, before exploring some detailed case studies, and then concluding the series with a reflection on the future of A2 farms in Zimbabwe, and medium-scale commercial farming more broadly.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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How persistent myths distort policy debate on land in Zimbabwe

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In 2010 we published the book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities. In the book, we chose 5 recurrent ‘myths’ often relayed about the post-2000 land reform, both in academic and popular commentary. We interrogated them with very detailed data based on a sample of 400 households across 16 sites in Masvingo province. All were found seriously wanting – although as with all ‘myths’, there were grains of truth, complexities and grey areas in each.

Some argued that our argument was contrived; that the myths were just ‘straw men’, easy to shoot down. We begged to differ, and pointed to the repeated articulation of such arguments. This blog was established in 2011 in order to continue the debate, as the myths persisted to colour sensible discussion, and indeed became more entrenched. In 2017 myths about land reform sadly still dominate much discourse, and policy debate (and unfortunately much ‘academic’ work) is sadly mired in ideological positions rather than grounded in field-level, evidence-based realities.

This is why we continue the research work, and I continue with the blog. Our work has now expanded to multiple sites, both in the Highveld (Mvurwi area of Mazowe district) and in Matabeleland (Matobo district), and complemented by many, many other studies (see the map above from a few years back – I am planning to update this, so please send me links to your studies, and the precise location). This other work continues to challenge the standard myths, but extends, expands and nuances the debate in important ways. Research is led by such organisations as the African Institute for Agrarian Studies and the Ruziwo Trust, and the subject of many theses from students registered across Zimbabwe’s universities and indeed the world, and adds up to a substantial corpus of evidence.

But despite the evidence, there remains much misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Zimbabwe’s land reform. I could take many examples but a section on land in what was otherwise quite a good report by a Harare-based campaign NGO, the Research and Advocacy Unit, is a good example. I choose it not because it is especially problematic (there are many much worse), but it comes from a respectable organisation, is purportedly based on research and was highlighted by the press (and in turn sent to me a dozen or more times).

Under the headline ‘Land reform crippled the economy’, The Zimbabwe Independent, reproduced an excerpt. This stated for example that “The transformations brought about by the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP), led directly to the collapse of commercial farming and the manufacturing sector and the consequent displacement of millions of workers and a man-made humanitarian crisis.” It continued: through “violations of property rights”.. “the land invasions signaled contempt for the most fundamental basis for any investment”. The report claims that the reform distributed “multiple holdings to a small political elite, who for the most part have not used them productively. Many of these new farmers have allowed viable farms to become derelict”. In relation to land reform farmers more generally, the report argues that in 2016 “It is certainly doubtful that these farmers will produce any food surplus during the worst drought in 35 years”. It states that “millions of Zimbabweans, both rural and urban, [are] at risk of extreme hunger and even starvation” and that “informalising of the economy has resulted in deepening poverty and with Zimbabweans now existing on greatly reduced income”. You get the picture: lots of bold statements, big figures (millions) and superlatives (many/extreme/greatly) and emotive language (contempt, violating), and plenty of assumptions (such as understandings of viability, informality), yet limited data, qualifications, case material and so on. And as I say this is a mild offender, and there is much in this particular report with which I agree!

Saying that there is a more complex story, and that this sort of ‘research’ analysis does not add up, does not imply (as some continuously argue on social media, in aggressive emails to me, and in newspaper and blog comment strings) that you are necessarily a lackey of the ruling party, complicit in everything that the regime has done. No, it simply urges everyone to look at the facts, and make a rather more balanced assessment.

Four myths that distort policy debate

Seven years on what myths seem to drive and distort policy debate? Here I choose four – all have featured prominently on this blog, and because there are so many the choice was tough. In different guises all feature in the RAU report mentioned earlier, and many, many news reports, research articles, donor consultancies and other commentaries (just google, and you will see!). Some basic interrogation though suggests some new questions, and in what follows and before signing off, I identify some of the debates that I think would be more productive, and highlight some of the issues we are working on and will feature on the blog this year.

Property rights and investment. This one won’t go away, and remains central to the rhetoric of many, across the political spectrum. The argument is simple: without secure (read: private property, freehold title) tenure, land is ‘dead capital’, and so has no or little value. Without title, the argument continues, it lacks collateral value and so it is impossible to raise finance. The model of ‘success’ is the commercial farm sector pre-2000, which had freehold title, and good relationships with the banking sector. The argument is that this needs to be either returned to or replicated now, and that the ‘failure’ of land reform can be explained in these terms. You’ve all heard it – from the likes of Eddie Cross, Ben Freeth, Craig Richardson, and many others. So what’s wrong with the argument, surely secure tenure is important. Yes, absolutely! But there are many routes to tenure security, and elaborate titling is not often the best; a fact widely substantiated by research across the world, notably, perhaps surprisingly, by the World Bank. Permit and leasehold systems may be just as good, and when the institutional and governance arrangements are right, security emerges from communal tenure too, as Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom and others have showed. The ‘dead capital’ argument pushed by Hernando De Soto, and adopted by many free market ideologues has been found wanting. As we have shown, there is much investment going on in some parts of the new resettlement areas, but also a lack of it in others. The variable explaining the differences is not titling or legal form of tenure, but other factors to do with a range of social, political and institutional factors. The relationship between land, collateral and finance is a complex one too. There are many ways of assuring finance institutions that lending money is a safe bet. Land titles are only one route, but there are other forms of collateral, state guarantee schemes, group lending and so on that have all worked well in other places, including in Zimbabwe. There were undoubtedly issues with the original wording of the 99 year leases in Zimbabwe, but there was also intransigence by the finance sector that preferred to lend to larger enterprises and outside agriculture when money was short. Some headway has been made on this, and we must look forward to some innovations in the financing of agriculture into the future. The old model of large-scale commercial agriculture finance is simply not replicable in a more variegated agricultural sector.

Cronyism, patronage and capture. Most land acquired through fast track land reform was under the A1 ‘smallholder’ scheme, where by far the majority of beneficiaries were formerly land and income poor communal area dwellers or those from town with no or precarious jobs. The land occupations certainly involved those with political connections, notably war veterans, but this was not universally the case. As our and other work showed, farm by farm the process was different. Generalisations that the whole land reform was subject to cronyism, patronage and political capture are simply untenable. While some admit that the beneficiaries were often relatively poor, the next argument is that they were necessarily ZANU-PF members. While resettlement areas are unquestionably ZANU-PF strongholds, and the opposition parties have found it difficult to operate there, especially around election times, the electoral picture shows something more mixed. There are many who will ‘perform ZANU-PF’ but have other allegiances, so it is difficult to assess empirically how party affiliation and control affected land access, and subsequent outcomes. Again across our study areas it is extraordinarily variable, and volatile. The A2 resettlement areas show a different story, however. Here there was much more patronage politics at play, and this remains the case, with faction fights playing out in land access disputes. But again, while land was ‘grabbed’ by party and security officials, both at land reform and at subsequent elections, these were high profile and well publicised cases which while significant politically did not necessarily dominate. Again, it depends where you are talking about – for obvious reasons such political dynamics played out more strongly in Mazowe than in Masvingo and Matobo, where other dynamics, sometimes related to long-running chieftaincy allegiances or church affiliations, played a role. Land is always political, no question, but we do need to be more sophisticated in our assessments. As I have argued, we need to look beyond the links to party (or factional) politics to questions of class positions in order to understand the shifting politics of the Zimbabwean countryside. The successful A1 farmers, ‘accumulating from below’, allied with emerging A2 farmers, and successful communal area entrepreneurs are a political force to be reckoned with. They have diverse political commitments, and no clear position (many who I speak to are crying out for an alternative political leadership from whatever source), but no party – whether ZANU-PF or the MDC and now other opposition parties – has a political and policy stance that in any way speaks to their needs, aspirations and motivations, despite the substantial electoral weight that they can apply. ZANU-PF persists with a tired nationalist rhetoric and assumes that resettlement farmers will follow them as they are the rightful leaders of the land revolution, and if they keep them sweet with subsidies. Meanwhile the opposition seems to have no ideas on land and rural policy, beyond a litany of tired rhetoric about investment and entrepreneurship, which could come from a generic World Bank document from the 1990s. I went to a very disappointing speech by Joice Mujuru in London last year – just look at the transcript for a taste – but all the others are the same I am afraid. As I keep saying to anyone who will listen, the political landscape is crying out for a new stance on land, agriculture and rural development, and there is a ready constituency there to respond.

Agricultural production and food security. As I have discussed in a number of blogs over the last years blaming ‘land reform’ for food insecurity is very problematic, as there are so many variables in play. That said, there is no doubt that the restructuring of the agrarian sector has resulted in major changes. While the former commercial farms did not produce as much food in the 1990s as they did in the previous decades, the associated infrastructure, and the capacity to irrigate was important. Recorded maize production declined dramatically after 2000, resulting in increasingly frequent imports. Add to this the impacts of climate change/El Nino, and the picture is mixed, varying by location, type of land use and crop mix (the growth tobacco and the displacement of maize in some of the high potential areas is part of the story of course). Despite dire prognoses though there has not been widespread famine conditions in Zimbabwe, even if there have been areas of severe food insecurity. The standard line of ‘breadbasket to basket case’ is just so much more complex. Today the food economy is totally different to the 1980s and 90s, with many more producers selling through many more market channels, most of which are not regulated and recorded. The fact is we just don’t know how much is being produced and sold where, despite the attempts of the ZimVac and other assessments. I have a persistent worry that we are not getting it right, and that the politics of food, whether driven by the government, the UN agencies or the relief NGOs, is grossly distorting the picture. Our data, now collected over 16 years from many households across the country, does not match the aggregate picture emerging from the national assessments. There is a disconnect that poses important empirical questions about what is going on. I have not yet been able to persuade anyone to commission work to find out, and to engage properly with the new food economy in the post land reform setting, but this seems an urgent priority. This would be an important precursor to a more effective national statistical system for assessing agricultural production, marketing and food security; a prerequisite for any sensible food and agriculture policy, as well as economic policy more generally.

Land reform and economic collapse. Again suggesting a tight causal link to a complex relationship is misguided. There are of course many factors contributing to Zimbabwe’s economic woes. They include massive financial mismanagement (especially in the mid-2000s), rampant corruption (continuing), ‘sanctions’ (aka restrictive measures), withdrawal of international finance and credit lines, lack of business and investment confidence due to poorly articulated policy positions (notably around ‘indigenisation’), the collapse of commodity prices (for mineral exports), drought/climate change/El Nino, the strength of the US dollar, and of course the major restructuring of a core sector through land reform, with knock-on effects in employment and upstream and downstream industries. Choosing one or other these factors is clearly inadequate, and a more sophisticated analysis is needed. Of course the economy as whole hasn’t collapsed, and in some areas it’s booming. This is where, again, the new realities of a more diverse, informal economy need to be taken account of. This is simply not measured in the formal assessments of GDP, for example, yet represents at least 90% of the economy. Untaxed, unregulated and often based on limited returns and opportunities for accumulation, we should avoid glorifying the informal economy, but we should equally not ignore it – and it’s not all bad. For it is from such small-scale entrepreneurial activities – in agriculture and beyond – that many livelihoods are generated, and from which the wider more formalised economy can be revitalised. With a major restructuring expecting the future to be a replica of the past is the continuous mistake of too many commentators. As our work has shown there are huge potentials of new multiplier effects of a vibrant small-scale agriculture sector centred in the (mostly) A1 resettlement areas, linking to small towns across the country which are becoming new centres for economic activity and employment. The spatial pattern of the new economy is different, as are the actors and networks that drive it. Yet policy engagement remains limited. Due to ongoing ‘restrictive measures’, the western donors continue to focus efforts only on the communal areas, where the prospects of growth – and so wider economic linkages – are limited, as we have known for years. And no-one seems to be thinking about how to make the most of the complementarities of small, medium and large-scale agriculture (don’t forget there still is large-scale agriculture, including very substantial estates – such as sugar in the lowveld), and how agriculture across scales is linked to urban centres and market networks, at a district/regional level, as part of new planning and investment.

Land tenure security, class and patronage politics, food insecurity and linking agriculture to economic growth are all massively important policy priorities. I am the first to admit that there are major challenges. But we must ask the right questions if we are to seek a way forward, and this requires solid, research-based empirical information and a balanced assessment that is not distorted by ideological positions, anger and distress, wishful thinking or attempts to recreate pasts that probably never existed. I am often asked, whether I think land reform was good or bad; whether I am for against it. This is impossible to answer, and journalists get furious by the response (and so often misreport). It’s of course more complex. Land reform was undoubtedly necessary, a long overdue response to the violence and inequality of colonialism, but that does not mean it was implemented well, and with all the ideal outcomes. Our research shows this is not the case – far from it. 17 years on though, we do need a more mature, informed debate on policy options, and I hope this blog provides the forum for some of this.

Second generation challenges: some blog themes for 2017

In the coming weeks and months, many of these issues will continue to be debated in depth, with new data, reflections and commentary on news stories. There are emerging, second-generation challenges that our research is throwing up, and these will in particular be subject to more analysis and comment on the blog. Last year, I posted a series on farm labour and the struggles for livelihoods of former farm workers. The relationship between labour and capital is of course a central theme in any study of agrarian change, and I will return to this theme with more results from the field, exploring how the new class of petty commodity producers on the resettlements interact with classes of labour. ‘Accumulation from below’ results in investment on farms, and the building of assets in the rural areas, but it also results in social differentiation and new relations with labouring classes. This dynamic is perhaps especially important as we see the emergence of next generation of ‘youth’, without land but interested in agriculture-related livelihoods in a depressed economy. Generational conflicts, inflected with important gender dynamics, is a theme that we must understand as we envisage what happens post land reform over the next 20 or more years. A key aspect of this of course is the relationship between rural and urban livelihoods, never as separate as many studies suggest. New forms of migration, remittance flows, on- and off-farm investment and employment are emerging that allow us to imagine a new form of economy, not based on the old, dualist ‘settler’ model, but with new interactions and dynamics, requiring radical new thinking in development policy and planning. As we have documented in the past 17 years, the next period will see changing political configurations, as some win and some lose out from these changes, with impacts on the wider political landscapes as rural politics shift with new forms of production and accumulation.

Debating this endlessly fascinating but still poorly understood agrarian transition following Zimbabwe’s land reform will continue to the focus of this blog. So do come back each Monday, and sign up to get your email or Twitter alerts now! Next week though we must contemplate the momentous events in Washington and the implications of the Trump inauguration.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Food security in Zimbabwe: why a more sophisticated response is needed

food-aid-1

The food security situation in Zimbabwe – and indeed across large swathes of southern Africa – is serious. El Niño has struck hard and production levels this past season were well down. The UN estimates that in Zimbabwe alone 4.1 million people – 42% of the rural population – will be in need of support before the next season. Aid agencies are raising funds and are involved in a major humanitarian operation (see WFP and USAID, for example).

We are now entering the most difficult period. Between September and March, when early ‘green’ crops become available, the food situation will be tough, and many will be reliant on handouts and purchased imported food. Disposal of livelihood assets is already occurring and FEWSNET predicts that large parts of southern Zimbabwe will be in ‘emergency’ conditions, together with parts of Mozambique and Malawi.

There is little doubt that the harvests this year were really poor. And this was on the back of a bad season last year. This means that stocks are low and funds circulating in the local, rural economy limited. I do not want to question for a minute the severity of the situation, but I do want to challenge the way it is being portrayed, and ask whether this allows for the most effective targeting of those really in need.

Data challenges

For Zimbabwe the basic data comes from the annual ZimVac report, complemented by various crop surveys. ZimVac, as discussed on this blog before, is a major survey based on a sample of 14,434 rural households across 60 districts. Enumeration areas are chosen across districts and samples selected based  on population density estimates from the most recent population census. It assesses food production, cash income, livestock and so on, and comes up with a food access estimate, based on a daily 2100 k Calorie intake requirement during the consumption year to 31 March. Those unable to meet food needs through a range of sources are deemed to be in deficit and in need of support. This is where the 4.1 million figure comes from – the number of people estimated to be in this situation at the end of March 2017 (even if just for a day).

But as discussed before on this blog, these estimates may miss out on certain aspects. For example, In April, when visiting field sites in some areas hit badly by drought, I was surprised how much maize was being produced in home gardens and around settlements this year. While the main field crop had failed, more intensive production near the home. Sometimes involving supplementary irrigation, and certainly higher inputs of organic fertiliser, home garden areas were producing maize, including substantial quantities of green mealies. These crops rarely get noticed in the larger censuses as they focus on the main field crop, but added up these can be significant, although of course totals are way down on other years.

The other missing story relates to livestock. This year there were major concerns that the El Niño drought would decimate livestock. There were significant die-offs early on, but thankfully sporadic rains fell in February. This was too late for most crops, but it did replenish grass and water sources in many parts of the country, including those drought prone areas of Masvingo and Matabeleland that were suffering livestock mortalities. This turn-around will have had major impacts on food provisioning in these areas in the absence of harvests. There were entrepreneurs buying up animals in numbers and this was a ready source of cash for many. Many livestock were moved to resettlement areas where there is more plentiful grass due to (currently) lower population densities. The high livestock populations in resettlement areas, particularly in southern districts, adds to their food security resilience.

Livestock and their movement is often forgotten in food security assessments (ZimVac covers elements of this, but it’s complex, and difficult to capture in large surveys). Along with the importance of green mealies, other ‘famine’ crops, and the range of (often illegal) coping strategies that people employ mean that successful food provisioning is far more extensive than the UN agencies suggest.

While the data is broken down by district, it is not differentiated by the type land tenure and use. We do not get a sense of the differential vulnerabilities of, for example, communal area dwellers, those with A1 or A2 farms, villagised or self-contained, nor workers linked to such rural households. We know from extensive research that rural communities are highly differentiated, both within and between sites. At the moment we get a very blunt assessment, district by district. The report lists the ten best-off and worse-off districts, for example. Some of the districts where we work, where there was more land redistribution, both in the Highveld and further south, are in the better-off areas. Does this mean land reform areas are less food insecure? We cannot tell from ZimVac data as presented.

A more complex pattern: why land reform is not to blame

There are hints though that a more complex pattern sits below the aggregate numbers. The ZimVac summary report (p. 150) shows that nationally only 11% of households will be food secure this year based on their own cereal crop production. This is even lower in drought-prone areas, such as Masvingo, for example. On aggregate 58% of the national rural population will be food secure through the consumption season, but this is made up through access to income from a variety of sources, not just food production. How do these aggregate figures match up with data from the new resettlement areas?

We’ve been tracking food production in our study areas in Masvingo for some years. In our sites in Masvingo and Gutu districts for example across the harvest seasons from 2003 to 2013, between 44% and 69% of households produced enough for household consumption (estimated at 1 MT). In the Wondezo extension A1 site in Masvingo, farmers produced on average 2 MT in 2014 and over 6 MT in 2015, with 85% and 89% producing sufficient from maize alone for household consumption in those years. In our A1 resettlement sites in Mazowe, over 5 years between 2010 and 2014 seasons the average household maize production was 3.5 MT, declining over time as tobacco production increased. This means that on average 78% of households produced more than a tonne of maize in each year, and were food secure from own-farm production alone. This of course does not account for the significant cash income from tobacco in Mazowe (realising nearly $3000 per household on average across A1 farms between 2010 and 14), or vegetable production and livestock in Masvingo, along with other sources of income.

In other words, the ZimVac sample must be very different. 11 per cent this year (and higher but still low figures in other years) having sufficient food from own production is way lower than in our admittedly much smaller samples in the resettlements. In our areas, consistently over time and across sites, we do not see the level of food insecurity recorded by the ZimVac surveys – although of course it exists in pockets, among certain vulnerable people. There are of course communal areas nearby our A1 sites where the situation is quite different, and it is probably from here that the ZimVac data derives. Our comparisons with communal areas showed the contrasts, with resettlement areas outperforming communal areas across the board. But without any differentiated national food security data, it is difficult to make sense of the aggregates generated by standard crop assessments and livelihood surveys.

This food security crisis therefore is not the result of land reform as some would have it (as I keep telling journalists who ask; here’s an example from a Dutch daily that offered a more sophisticated take). Other countries in the region have suffered badly from the same drought, and Zimbabwe has before, long before the post 2000 land reform. In fact, land reform areas are an important part of why the actual underlying situation is better than it might be. My hunch – still not tested despite much encouragement – is that ZimVac’s sampling frame (appropriately for a national sample that is proportional to population density) is focused on communal areas. This means that the dynamics of the new resettlements in the food economy are being missed out on.

As reported many times on this blog, we see significant flows of food and other finance coming from the A1 resettlement areas, both to communal areas and to urban centres, through kin networks and labour migrancy. This is unrecorded and therefore not accounted for. My guess is that it is really significant in the overall food security story in the country, and taking account of land reform in the wider assessment would allow a redirection of effort by humanitarian and development agencies to support production for boosting local food security and economies, investing where the potential lies.

There is no reason for complacency though. Things could and should be much better, with proper investment. For example, the lack of irrigation infrastructure (and its state of repair, and its poor functioning due to intermittent electricity supplies) is a cause for major concern, and undermines resilience

The politics of food aid: why a more targeted approach is needed

Food aid is of course is highly political. It always has been, and accusations of partisan allocations have occurred again this year. Many are happy not to rely on the obligations and patronage that food aid implies – whether to the party-state or NGOs – and seek their own way. But there are some who are really destitute, without the networks that provide support. They are really needy and include a lot of people, but it’s certainly not 4.1 million. They include widows or older parents without living children, child-headed households, farm labourers, those with illness and disability, for example.

They all need help, as existing provisioning and coping strategies are insufficient. They are scattered all across the country – including in the high potential, richer areas within communities who are otherwise prospering, and are difficult to find. These are the people who need food, and would be a better focus for a more sophisticated, targeted approach to relief, which could combine with a more strategic developmental approach to increase production and market led economic development across communal, resettlement and urban areas.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Empowering chickens: why Bill Gates’ plan may be flawed

gates chicken3

Are chickens the route to rural women’s empowerment? Bill Gates thinks so. In a recent Gates Notes comment piece he announced ‘a big bet on chickens’ with an initial distribution of 100,000  to rural women in Africa. With just 5 chickens, he argued a woman could earn $1000 in a year. Melinda Gates meanwhile emphasises the empowerment angle, arguing in a blog that “raising chickens is considered women’s work, and the money from selling chickens and eggs belongs to women to spend as they choose”.

Simply handing out chickens and expecting these to improve livelihoods is of course not so straightforward. That is a big income from an initial 5 chickens! There have been many well-meaning projects that have done the same over many years. The relationship between poultry, disadvantage and empowerment for women is complex.

As Joseph Hanlon and Teresa Smart point out for Mozambique commercial poultry production is a costly business. Successful businesses require basic infrastructure, veterinary care, assured supplies of day-old-chicks and effective markets. Few manage this, and as our profiles of new agricultural entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe, the new poultry producers must rely on established businesses and services for support, and not all the beneficiaries of such enterprises are of course women. Most rural people rely on a few chickens of local breeds that require little maintenance and provide an important source of nutrition and income, but not sufficient for economic empowerment, by any stretch of the imagination.

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In our surveys across the resettlement areas, nearly every household has a few indigenous, village chickens. These are widely used, but do not provide a stable or significant income. Across 400 households in our A1/A2 sample in Masvingo province, we found 16 new broiler operations, but only two of these exceeded the $1000 profit level being suggested by Bill Gates; most made about $500 profit and many much less. These were 50 to 100 bird operations, reliant on significant and expensive inputs, not available to most women, except in the few cases when they were organised in groups.

Hanlon and Smart contrast the Gates NGO model with that of Brazil. In the last few decades, Brazil has become a major producer and exporter of chickens. Frozen chicken cuts from Brazil undercut local production in many parts of the world including Africa. The Brazil model, heavily invested in by the state investment bank, BNDES, relies on large producers of chicks, and a major support network established through contracting arrangements with small-scale producers. This realises massive economies of scope and scale, which are very difficult to replicate in African settings.

In Zimbabwe, large-scale commercial farmers are often crucial links in the value chain in a fast-changing commercial poultry sector. In Masvingo for example, the Mitchells’ farm supplied day-old chicks to many farmers, and continues to do so across the communal and new resettlement areas, despite attempts at land grabbing. The presence of such an operation, with all the infrastructure, skill and market connections that it requires, has been crucial to the success of the medium-scale new entrepreneurs that we profiled. As Hanlon and Smart argue:  “As usual, the aid industry can only see the two extremes and ideas that come from outside – Bill Gates’ five hens or Odebrecht’s [a Brazilian company] millions of chickens. The successes in the middle, and the successes developed locally, are ignored”.

Bill Gates and his team have to understand the changing global political economy of poultry production in their announcement, as well as the range of enterprises that actually exist. As Jim Sumberg and colleagues point out for Ghana there are many competing narratives about the role of poultry production in economic development. Too often the NGO vision – often tied to naïve ambitions of local economic empowerment – dominates but does not match the facts on the ground.

Major evidence gaps exist in the debate, and the Gates proposal has fallen foul of these. In Ghana, as elsewhere, we simply don’t know how many chickens there are, and in what sized flocks they are being kept. There are confusions between a generic ‘chicken’, and different types – broilers, layers, and the ubiquitous ‘road runner’ chicken, seen in villages across the continent. Each require different inputs, feeds, management care, and levels of capitalisation, and they usually operate in very different markets. ‘Indigenous’ chickens are valued for taste, ritual slaughter and other uses; broilers and the ‘improved’ breeds that the Gates Foundation are distributing do not cut it.

Patterns of consumption of meat are changing too, with chicken often favoured over for example beef, due to cost. But it is the very cheap imports (from Brazil in particular, but also Europe and the US) that have driven this in urban areas, along with the opportunities that supermarkets provide for frozen products. This is not the vision of the mini flock of village chickens owned by newly empowered women. In Ghana as elsewhere, policy is confused and conflicting, as different interest groups compete, but often with a poor understanding undermining any pretence at ‘evidence-based’ policy.

Empowerment of course is a political process. It’s about recognition, rights, voice and participation, not just about chickens, and new sources of income. Empowerment must also challenge the wider structural political-economic factors that keep poor people poor, and women disenfranchised. Cheap frozen chicken from Brazil will not go away as long as free trade regimes and cheap oil allow transnational value chains that can often undercut even the most diligent producers in rural Ghana, Mozambique or Zimbabwe. As we’ve long learned, giving women new assets without the requisite changes in gender relations and shifts in power relations in the domestic economy, can result in intra-household struggles, with men often benefiting more than women.

Easy gestures from rich philanthropists are insufficient, and must address these wider issues if the highly commendable focus on poorer rural women and their empowerment is to be addressed. Handing out chickens may not be the simple solution that it first appears.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Chatsworth: from railway siding to growing small town

Chatsworth is in Gutu district in Masvingo province. Before land reform it was important as a cattle loading siding run by the national railways. Surrounded by around 100 large-scale farms, mostly owned by whites, it was a centre for the ranching business. Cattle were loaded onto trucks and taken to the Cold Storage Commission in Masvingo, a government parastatal. The Erasmus and Odendaal families were key ranchers in the area, owning many thousands of beef cattle between them on multiple farms. Today, with the exception of one large ranch, all the other farms have been resettled, with a mix of A1 and A2 schemes. This has transformed rural production and livelihoods, but it has also transformed Chatsworth.

Before Independence in 1980, Chatsworth was a small outpost with a scattering of shops, some railway employees and a whites-only primary school. There were few businesses, and racial differences were stark. FV recalls: ’Greeks and Indians owned the shops in Chatsworth. I got employed at Tackey’s hardware on 7 January 1977. There was a colour bar. Shops had two entrances, one for blacks and another for whites. Even at the Post Office there were two entrances”.

Chatsworth became more established after 1980. Government offices were established, and the school grew and allowed all races. Chatsworth now has 8 Ministry of Health employees at the clinic, 7 Ministry of Agriculture extension officers, 2 officers representing the Registrar General, 3 officers for the Ministry of Youth, 1 officer Women’s Affairs, 1 worker at Zimpost, and 2 Chatsworth Rural Council officers. But the growth of state presence from 1980 did not change much in terms of business opportunities. This only changed in 2000, with land reform.

Over the last 16 years, Chatsworth has grown very fast as a rural business and service centre. From a small settlement with 50 location and 50 railway stands, which were home to about 300 residents pre-land reform, residential stands have now increased to 300. Chatsworth is home to more than 1000 residents, and there are another 200 pegged stands await Council servicing.

In the past, the railway dominated the town. But today the National Railways employs just 2 workers in Chatsworth. The train still runs (erratically) and has become an important transport route for vegetable traders from the areas going to Masvingo to the ‘kutrain’ market by the railway tracks in town. According to ward councillor, Mr B, “Traders board the train to Masvingo town every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and sell tomatoes, vegetables, green mealies and grain bought at cheaper prices, from surrounding land reform farms. They have established relations with land reform farmers selling their labour, doing piece jobs [maricho] and sourcing agricultural produce for resale and consumption”

Indeed, many of the new homes in Chatsworth have been built by these new agro-vendors, along with resettlement farmers and their children who are working elsewhere. Some rent out spare rooms at their residences to tenants who include civil servants. Some vendors have become part of a new business elite and invested in transport business, owning kombis and small trucks, while others rent shops. Civil servants – the formally employed class – do not have houses, as they do not have disposable income to buy stands, and must rent from the new landlords.

Chatsworth has also become a focus for religious activity in the region. Mrs C explained: “Many churches are active here. The international centre of the AFM is located here. AFM holds an annual prayer meeting attended by thousands of worshipers from all over the world. There are other numerous churches, Roman Catholic, Dutch Reformed, Zion and others. This creates a big demand for accommodation, but also other business”.

Mrs C migrated to Chatsworth in 1988 with her late husband and opened one of three black-owned shops. She complained about the Chatsworth Growth Point status which she claims was imposed by the council as a ruse to hike stand prices. “Today high density stands cost USD 900, medium density USD 1400 and low density USD 4000’”, she complained. But despite the prices, there remains demand, and more stands are due for pegging.

Business activity has increased in Chatsworth since land reform. Today farmers on nearby resettled farms and their workers visit Chatsworth each day. In the past, Chatsworth had no supermarket, but today there is Mhakayaora supermarket, which employs two shop workers and a guard. Just before land reform, there were 4 grocery shops, employing one employee each. Today there are 12 grocery shops employing a total of 13 workers. Many grocery stores are also agrodealers.

Mr M commented: ’I usually sell grocery in my shop but sell fertilisers and seed from August to October. Business is good. I started this business in 2010 after noticing that farmers spend time and money purchasing seed and fertilisers in Masvingo and Mupandawana. I am contracted to Pannar and Pioneer who deliver seed only to my shop. My main problem is transporting fertilisers which is not covered by the contract from Gutu-Mupandawana or Masvingo”. Currently there is no shop solely devoted to farm supplies, although the former white-owned shop that closed in the mid-2000s, is being renovated by a new owner.

In addition to larger grocery stores, there are smaller ‘tuck shops’, selling take-away food. Pre-land reform there was only one near the filling station, but today there are 4 tuck shops at present employing 4 workers. Tuckshops gross USD 25 to USD 35 per day and pay licence fees amounting to USD 47 to Chatsworth Council every quarter. In the past there were 2 white owned butcheries, each employing 4 workers. White owned butcheries used to slaughter up to 4 cows per month. Today there are 4 butcheries, employing one worker each who does all the work. In the past there was one hardware store supplying nearby communal area farmers. White farmers travelled to Masvingo as they had transport and did not frequent the local shop. Today there are 2 hardware shops, which employ one worker each. The current hardware shops gross about USD 300 per day each selling building materials to residents developing their stands. Hardware shops also sell ploughs, harrows and cultivators. A worker at one of the stores commented:

“I sell business materials such as doors, door frames, window frames, and other building materials. My boss has a 3 tonne truck to carry hardware from Gutu-Mupandawana. The only constraint is USD 87 truck license per quarter which is high. Business is good. We are selling most building materials to increasing number of people constructing homes in Chatsworth. Resettled farmers are also our clients. It is expensive for people without own transport to buy building materials from Masvingo town and load it on the train or public transport. Expenses of buying from afar forces them to buy from us ’.

As with any small rural town there are of course in addition bottle stores. Before land reform, there were 3, each employing one worker. Currently Chatsworth has 6 bottle stores also employing one worker each. Bottle stores gross up to USD 250O per month.

In addition to the formal stores, there is now an open market selling vegetables. It is operated by four local women. Open market vendors gross only around USD 10 per day. The vegetable market faces steep competition from resettled farmers. ‘We order cheaper vegetables from the resettlement farmers for resale but they follow us here and compete with us for customers selling door to door to Chatsworth residents and schools’, complained PM.

Other businesses in Chatsworth include: 2 grinding mills, 2 carpentry shops, 4 welding shops, 1 tailoring shop and 1 hair salon. At one time illegal vendors selling fuel from jerry cans used to do thriving business, although this was brought to a halt by the opening of Petrol trade Service Station.

As a small town between Masvingo and Gutu-Mpandawanda, both much larger settlements, businesses in Chatsworth must compete. Ease of transport benefits many but not local businesses. In addition to the train to Masvingo that costs only a dollar, there are more than 15 Chatsworth based kombis making access to other towns very easy these days. Mr RT commented:

‘I started a transport business in 2010 when there were few vehicles on the road. I have a 20 seater kombi and charge USD 2 to Mpandawana. Nowadays competition is stiff, we are too many plying my Chatsworth – Mpandawana route. Another big problem is police road blocks. Each and every day you should pay a ticket of USD 15–USD 20 for operating illegally. Even if you use short cuts to try and detour them some traffic police will be waiting to nail you. These days Gutu Council requires us to enter the Mupandawana Terminus to offload passengers paying USD 2 for each entry. The off – tar roads I use are very poor but I have no option, because I am forced to pick and offload customers door to door or at farm gate to remain popular and sustain business’.

Since land reform Chatsworth has nearly doubled in size, with an expansion of all businesses. Not all have prospered, as competition with nearby towns is harsh, only increased with the massive expansion of transport access. Nevertheless there is a local economic dynamic linked to agricultural production nearby on the new resettlements. Such farmers and their workers, have boosted demand for basic groceries, hardware, agricultural inputs and of course beer. They also sell their produce locally, either directly to Chatsworth residents or via agro-dealers. It is the agro-vendors, mostly women without land but living in Chatsworth, who have really amplified the economic effect. Making use of the good transport connection to Masvingo they have made significant profits, and are the new landlords in the town, and are investing intensively in new building projects. The Chatsworth boom prompted the transfer of status to ‘growth point’, a move that did not go down well with everyone, as it resulted in hikes of rates, stand and service costs by the council. As the council seeks to gain revenues, undermining the tight margins of local businesses will be a challenge, especially as access to Masvingo and Mupandawanda increases.

Chatsworth today is a long, long way from the white-owned farm town of 50 years ago, but it faces many challenges similar to other small towns that have emerged post land reform, and for which no strategic growth and development policy exists.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland. Research was also carried out by BZ Mavedzenge and Felix Murimbarimba

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