Tag Archives: masvingo

How persistent myths distort policy debate on land in Zimbabwe

zimbabwe-research-map 

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

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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

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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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Does land reform increase resilience to drought?

The Hazards and Opportunities book, reflecting on the impacts of the 1991-92 El Niño drought, had a few things to say about how to boost resilience to drought shocks. Key features included taking account of changing livelihood systems, reducing vulnerabilities through improving assets, and the urgent need for land redistribution, in particular. Commenting on the increasingly challenging livelihoods in the communal areas, the book commented:

“As production has become more constrained due to declining field areas and reduced land quality and local storage levels have become more limited due to shifts in cropping patterns and greater crop sales, farmers in Chivi are increasingly reliant on off-farm income sources, particularly during drought. In examining drought response policies, the role of local markets, the importance of removing burdening restrictions and the significance of trade and exchange should not be underestimated….

Policies that ensure that markets work effectively and exchange entitlements can be realised are vital….social networks, especially those based on the extended family, remain central to coping strategies in Chivi. Access to remittances, opportunities for food sharing and other linkages appear to be key to survival strategies….

[Yet] the pressures of macro-economic reform were being felt particularly acutely during the 1991-92 drought with high inflation resulting in the reduced buying power of money received from trading, piece work or remittances…..[Therefore] external support – from the state, local networks or rural-urban connections – will almost certainly remain key in sustaining livelihoods…..

….The reduction in people’ asset levels over time has increased vulnerability and added to the ratchet effect of poverty…. A more complete understanding of local responses to risk in drought conditions is clearly essential if more effective drought relief, mitigation and proofing strategies are to be designed. Appropriate policies for coping with drought must therefore take the dynamics of local response into account…..”.

Well, much the same could be said 25 years later. But one thing has changed, and that is the distribution of land. In 1996, Hazards and Opportunities commented:

“The pace of resettlement since Independence has been very slow. It has not really had an impact on places like Chivi. Most people resettled from Chivi have been moved to similar drought-prone areas within Masvingo province. Although settlers have larger land areas than they had before, they often do not have sufficient draft power, labour or inputs to invest in ensuring high productivity. The result has been the disappointing performance of most resettlement schemes. The response has been to change the criteria for selection, with more `qualified’ farmers now being favoured. However without good soils and reliable rainfall, agricultural production will continue to be a risky enterprise…. New models for resettlement are urgently needed that are low cost and flexible…

Back then we asked: “What are the policy alternatives to entering a spiral of poverty and dependency in the communal areas?”. And the answer, we offered? “There is no better way to reduce rural vulnerability and ensure the viability of people’s livelihoods than to increase the productive base. Proofing the system against drought (and other risks) means strategic investments….

First, addressing the land redistribution with more flexible and imaginative approaches than in the past is a major priority…..urgent solutions to the problems of land scarcity will have to be sought in the coming decades. It may now be time to explore a wider range of land redistribution opportunities abandoning the strict adherence to a standardised, packaged settlement model and testing other options. If they are to address the fundamental problems of the communal areas, such options must offer new land of reasonably high potential and in sufficient quantities to begin to satisfy land needs. Such areas must be supported, perhaps through innovative credit schemes, but not constrained by excessive planning and intervention from outside. Settlement areas must have tenure arrangements secure enough to encourage investment. If these conditions are satisfied, evidence suggests that a vibrant small-scale sector can offer Zimbabwe a bright future, both satisfying food needs and entering cash crop production for export. However, if the challenges of land redistribution are not met, then the viability of communal area livelihoods will continue to be undermined with the associated costs of food aid, social disquiet and spontaneous migration”.

It was not until 2000 when Zimbabwe’s major land reform took place. It was radical, allowed opportunities in higher potential areas, and was flexible and pragmatic in its implementation. There have been many downsides, but in many respects it responded to the calls we made some years before. But has the land reform increased livelihood resilience and so provided a form of drought proofing, reducing underlying vulnerabilities, and so exposure to drought risks? Is land reform the best form of ‘social protection’ offsetting the need for even more humanitarian aid?

The answers are mixed. Certainly having access to land has improved production for most, particularly in the A1 resettlements. It means people have more assets to fall back on, and have a pattern of higher crop production that for grains has meant significantly higher storage levels prior to the drought than anything we encountered in Chivi back in the 1990s. The aggregate statistics of food production, as discussed a couple of weeks ago, are so inaccurate, we really don’t know how much food is circulating through informal markets and sharing networks within the rural areas. My guess is quite a lot. We know that people have moved livestock to the resettlement areas, as discussed in last week’s blog. But people are moving too, as households in the resettlements take on relatives from communal area who are in difficulty. This form of ‘moral economy’ is vital to drought coping, and usually massively underestimated. We have known for years that resettlement households are exporting food both to urban areas and to the communal areas, but this has accelerated during the drought. With remittance levels way down on those in the 1990s, reliance on local production and economies is much higher these days, although off-farm work, including illegal mining, hunting and other activities, is widespread. So at one level land reform has enhanced drought coping options, and offers a buffer of production in the food economy that we still know too little about. The details of this remain obscure, and we are currently collecting data on what is happening across our sample in Masvingo to find out more, and offer a more complete comparison with the 1991-92 story (watch this space for reports from the field later in the year).

But there have also been downsides of land reform for drought coping. The decline in irrigated production with the transfer of large-scale farms has had impacts on the larger picture. Large-scale commercial farms never produced huge amounts of food in the 1990s, focused as they were on high value export commodities. But irrigated maize (and wheat) were important, both for food and feed, and without these supplies, there is increasing reliance on imports (although as shown in the blog a couple of weeks back, imports of food were massive in 1991-92, contrary to popular views that food grain imports are just a recent phenomenon). With land being far more utilised than in the past, with many more people on the land in multiple small scale farms (again contrary to some popular opinion that emphasises underutilised land – this was a big issue in the 1990s too), there is now less of a buffer. As discussed last week, livestock would often poach graze in underutilised ranches, and this provided an important source of reserve fodder in times of drought. These options no longer exist, and the system has little slack, making shocks like drought more keenly felt. This makes having national strategic reserves, and a contingency planning policy, all the more important. Ever since the structural adjustment programme got rid of grain reserves, arguing that this was an inefficient and costly approach given the availability of cheap food on world markets, there have been limited centralised reserves. This makes coordination and payment of imports essential – something that plagued the 1991-92 response, and has done again today.

So, as ever, there is not a simple response to the question of whether land reform has improved drought resilience. The important point though is that with land and production reconfigured along with local economies, there is a need to rethink drought response policies, along with the way we monitor food production and livelihood vulnerabilities. With changes in system functioning, resilience has to be constructed in new ways, based on new forms of production, and social and market relations. Resilience planning, has not got to grips with the new situation. Unfortunately in 2016, we have more or less the same (late and poorly targeted) response we had in 1991-92. Partly this is due to lack of capacity, and the form of routinized, sometimes rather panicked responses we are seeing from the state, and partly this is due to the fact that much of the ‘humanitarian’ aid response – by WFP and the western donors – does not really even consider the role of the new resettlement areas, and their integration in the new food and livelihood economy, thanks to the legacy of sanctions. This is hampering sensible thinking and effective responses.

The sooner the post land reform land, livelihood and economic contexts is taken into account in the planning of drought responses, and so-called ‘resilience building’ programmes the better. Currently lessons are not being learned, money is being wasted, and effective responses are lacking.

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

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The El Niño drought hits livestock hard in Zimbabwe

The El Niño drought is hitting hard this year. Livestock in particular are suffering, as grass and water are scarce. Some fear that it could be as bad as 1991-92 when around a million cattle died. To date some 7000 cattle mortalities have been recorded, the majority of which have been in Masvingo province, as well as Matabeleland. Government and aid agencies are encouraging farmers to destock, urging people to buy supplementary feed to save breeding stock. Drought task teams have been established in the affected provinces, and emergency feedlots are being established. It is a very serious situation. As perhaps the most valuable asset that most people have, losing herds can be devastating for livelihoods and recovery takes many years. Some small showers have recently improved grass conditions in some places, but the amount of fodder available is clearly grossly inadequate to see animals through the long dry season across the coming months.

Livestock in the 1991-92 drought

In this blog I again draw on work we carried out in 1991-92 in Chivi communal area, and is reported in the book, Hazards and Opportunities. During 1991-92 overall cattle survival among our sample was only 41%. This was the case for both large and small herd owners, with no significant relationships being shown between pre-drought herd sizes and survival rates. As now, it was a widespread drought, with all areas and all people affected. By the end of the drought 68% of households had no cattle at all, up from 55% before the drought. Drought recovery took years, and it was only by the late 1990s that herds had reached pre drought levels.

Herd composition is also affected by drought, and in turn affects the recovery dynamics. The table below shows the composition in the Chivi sample, pre and post 1991-92 drought. Cows were especially badly affected (particularly those with calves), although heifers survived better, and were the basis of post-drought recovery.

 

Cattle type Pre-drought (N = 583) % Post-drought (N = 247) %

 

Bull 8.1 6.5
Oxen 22.5 17.8
Cow 34.5 21.9
Steer 5.7 8.1
Heifer 20.8 37.7
Male Calf 2.7 2.4
Female Calf 5.8 5.7

 

 

The pattern of response among Chivi herds during 1991-92 is shown in the Table below. This differentiates between two phases of the drought: the early period before December 1992 and the later phase after this time and before the end of 1992.

RESPONSE Period 1 (N=64) % Period 2 (N=48) %
Illegal grazing 9.7 25.0
Movement out 29.0 35.4
Leasing 14.1 10.4
Commercial feed 16.1 14.6
Pods and hay 3.2 4.2
Cut & carry grass 12.5 4.3
Tree products 100.0 100.0
Crop residues 34.4 2.1

Movement out of the area was a vital strategy. However it took on a different form to earlier droughts. Data from the 1982-84 drought and the impact on cattle survival in Mazvihwa, Zvishavane district collected during my PhD studies (Scoones 1992), show how early movement was crucial to overall survival.

Strategy

 

Description of movement % survival N   (herds)
A Out of area (c. November 1982) 40.1 287
B Out of the area in the dry season (Aug-Oct 1993) 22.9 402
C No movement outside area 3.3 181

But by contrast to 1982-84, movement had less of an impact in 1991-92. Cattle were moved from Chivi to a variety of sites during late 1991. In the first part of the drought, 29% of herds were moved out of their home area to another site within the communal lands. By the second part of drought this had risen to over 35%. Illegal grazing outside the communal area (in resettlement areas or commercial farms) represented another type of movement. Nearly 10% of herds had been moved to such sites in the first period of drought and by the second period a quarter of all herds were using illegal grazing. However, the drought’s impact was so extensive and so dramatic that movement within a large radius was pointless. Animals that had been moved earlier got stranded, unable to benefit from the micro-management afforded to cattle resident at home kraals

During 1991-92, the largest cause of mortality was death due to starvation or extreme water shortage (47.7%). A significant number of animals were slaughtered just prior to death through poverty in order to salvage some meat for local consumption or sale (30.3%). Low nutritional status is linked with disease susceptibility and a number of animals died either directly from illness or were slaughtered because of disease (4.5%). Extensive searching for food required animals to wander far. This meant that a number were permanently lost; either they died while out foraging or they were stolen (5.7%). Foraging also had to take place in dangerous places (road edges, mountains, river banks) and a number of cattle died due to accidents (7.2%). Only very few animals (4.5%) were purposefully slaughtered.

The pattern observed during 1991-92 parallels that in previous droughts. Due to the fact that cattle are considerably more valuable live (for draft power, manure, milk etc.) than dead (sale value), there are very strong incentives to try and maintain live stock. Destocking is a risky option as the terms of sale during drought and repurchase following drought are not favourable to the herd owner. The costs of not having animals available to plough in the rainy season (assuming rains came) is so high that most farmers retain their stock as long as possible. No matter how much the government or the NGOs beseeched livestock owners to destock, they didn’t, and the rationale was clear.

The 1991-92 drought mortalities meant that much restocking during the 1990s was with mixed breeds, or animals purchased from commercial ranches. During the land reform, breeds got mixed even more, with the hardy indigenous Shona, Tuli and other breeds being diluted in the nation’s genetic stock. Indigenous breeds are well known to be able to survive off mixed diets of grass and browse and can survive without water for long periods. By contrast the larger, grass-dependent ‘improved’ breeds’ condition quickly deteriorates when grazing and water is scarce. In many respects, Zimbabwe’s cattle herds are less resilient than they were before.

What lessons can be drawn?

First, flexible movement is key, and restrictions imposed by veterinary controls can result in major increases in mortality. However illegal movement to underutilised commercial ranches is now not possible, nor is lease grazing on ranches. Most of these areas are now resettled as part of the land reform. Movement to the new resettlements from the communal areas has been a regular feature of the past 15 years, as have new relationships being struck with A2 farms. Relief grazing on state land is also vital, and so making access to state farms, military land and national partks will be important. These strategies will be crucial for herd survival in the coming months, and need to be encouraged and facilitated.

Second, access to water is almost as important as grazing, and in the past many animals perished from thirst rather than starvation (although usually a combination). A focused public works programme that invested in rehabilitating water sources, including pumping from dry rivers, establishment of mifuku, and so on, could be a highly productive investment.

Third, supplementary feeding is vital, especially for maintaining a core breeding herd. In the early 1990s there were not so many agrodealers, and certainly very few out in the rural areas. This has changed, and means that the purchase of blocks and other supplementary feeds has become much easier. People also have experience of using such sources of feed now, and will likely make much more use of them this year than in the past. Ensuring market supply, and offering subsidised options, may be a good investment.

Fourth, encouraging people to sell animals early as part of a destocking campaign has been a failure in the past, and is likely to be so again. While some richer A2 and A1 farmers, with other sources of income, and no reliance on draft animals for ploughing, may opt for destocking sales, most will only sell when animals are already virtually dead. Those with access to land, water and feed may take advantage of such poverty sales and buy up animals for rehabilitation and later fattening. Here the role of A2 farmers may become important, compared to the past.

The costs of losing herds is devastating as we saw in the early 1990s. The impacts are felt for years, undermining agricultural production and livelihoods. Ensuring that mortalities are reduced, and that animals survive is essential, but it seems the efforts being invested now are too little, too late; and sadly making the same mistakes of the past.

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

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Drought politics in southern Africa

Why is it that droughts always seem to surprise, despite the warnings? The current El Niño drought is no exception, and the patterns of response (and lack of response) are remarkably familiar when looking back at the 1991-92 El Niño drought. There is a scary sense of déjà vu 25 years on, with important political implications, both in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

In 1991-92 I was working with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Farming Systems Research Unit on a project on risk, livelihoods and dryland farming in Chivi district. We had the opportunity of studying the drought up close. The findings are reported in the book Hazards and Opportunities: Farming Livelihoods in Dryland Africa. Lessons from Zimbabwe. It’s now out of print, but you can still find copies second hand. In the coming three weeks, I will share some of the findings from back then, but also reflect on what’s changed since.

Here is an extract from chapter 10. Sound familiar?

“The national Early Warning Unit first sounded the alarm about impending food shortages in July 1991. At that time they alerted the government that food stocks would run out in early 1992. This proved to be ominously accurate…..[A SADC Food Security Bulletin dated July 1991 noted} “An overall cereal shortfall of 189,000 tonnes is anticipated… Although the country has no exportable maize surplus, the GMB has an export commitment of 228000 tonnes… Imports of 383000 tonnes will be needed. So far, however, no import plans for maize have been formulated”.

Through 1991, the multiple warnings were basically ignored. As we discuss in the book:

”Indeed, no-one appeared to trust them. Even when the situation was obviously critical the government insisted on commissioning its own monitoring exercise to investigate the food situation in the country. Similarly the United Nations World Food Programme and Food and Agricultural Organisation sent their own mission to confirm the results emerging from the early warning system, before committing themselves to food relief activities….

….It was only when the failure of the 1991-92 rains became very clear and the national press started to highlight the issue,that government started to act. In April 1992, The Herald reported the concerns of Syndey Malunga MP: “The government must ensure that its promises to the nation to make food available during the drought are met, otherwise the rift between the Government and the people will cause the failure of the economic reform programme” (Herald, 8.4.92). Stories of how people were driven to extreme lengths by the failures of the relief effort were common. For instance, The Herald reported how Mberengwa villagers forced a train driver to stop and stole over 300 bags of maize and how Masvingo residents were scavenging for food in dustbins (Herald, 5.10.92).

In February 1992 the government announced significant increases in producer prices for white maize… However such incentives were too late to provide the necessary maize for the year. By February the GMB only expected 250,000 tonnes of maize to be delivered from Zimbabwean producers, but demand was likely to rise during the year to around 150,000 tonnes per month because of the near complete failure of the communal area crop. The Chairman of the GMB suggested….that Zimbabwe would have to import up to 2 million tonnes of maize to meet local demand.. (Herald, 21.2.92). A columnist in the Financial Gazette commented:

“This predicament need never have arisen. The primary cause of the problem has been the totally impractical maize price. Droughts do come but the nation has had three reasonable seasons…Stockpiles are a necessity. It is now evident that at least one year’s supply should always be retained rather than selling maize for foreign currency” (Financial Gazette, 13.2.92).

The food import programme started during December 1991. The arrival of food aid in the country was plagued by logistical problems, made worse by the widespread nature of the drought in the region. Hazards and Opportunities recalls:

“Road and rail transport was commandeered in order to bring American grain from South Africa and Mozambique. By March 1992 the country had effectively run out of reserves and people waited expectantly for supplies. By the end of March the President had appointed eight ministers to oversee food relief in the provinces. The first American maize arrived at the ports at the end of March, but by the first week of April there was still none inside the country, although six maize trains a day supplemented by road transport were expected (Herald, 7.4.92). The government committed itself to the feeding of some 4-5 million people during the drought requiring the eventual importation of around 1.7million tonnes. The initial monthly ration allocation of 10kg per person was later reduced to 5kg as supplies became uncertain and costs escalated…

…..However by mid-1992, public and political pressure mounted sufficiently and by most accounts a highly effective and efficient drought relief and food distribution campaign was launched. By this time, the cost of relief was around Z$30 million per month, much of which was paid for by government. During 1992 in Masvingo Province, around 250,000 children were being given regular supplementary feeding rations and around one million people (practically the whole communal area population) were receiving food relief. Churches and NGOs also played an important role in providing distribution facilities. The total costs of the drought relief operation were estimated to be around 2.7% of GDP in 1991-92 and 4.5% of GDP in 1992-93, requiring a significant increase in government borrowing”.

Drought and politics

Those who remember the situation in 1991-92 in Zimbabwe, will recall how things were increasingly desperate. Government seemed unable to respond, and donors were equally silent. But the drought soon became political. In the book, we wrote:

“For a time during 1992 the government had lost control; its food security policy was completely discredited, its maize pricing policy was suddenly drastically revised, the Minister for Agriculture was hurriedly shifted and the highly unpopular economic structural adjustment policy looked to be going off course. The rumblings of discontent had reached even the remotest rural areas, usually the stalwarts of support for the ZANU-PF party and government….

….Politicians did not trust the information emanating from their own civil servants, nor from international sources. Despite the claims of scientific certitude of the early warning bulletins, the government failed to act early on. It was only through a wider political process of lobbying and petitioning, by government officials in the districts, by the press and by churches, NGOs and others that forced action…. Uncertainty over what to do about the drought had resulted in a certain helplessness and a loss of political control and power.”

Indeed it was not until well into 1992, that the state took control of the situation. Indeed President Mugabe himself intervened. The book comments:

“Not until the launch of the food aid programme and the country-wide tours by President Mugabe was some confidence restored. Only then was it realised by rural people that Mugabe and the ZANU-PF government had not broken their post-independence bargain and would not let the people of Zimbabwe starve….”.

Indeed it was this political intervention, and not the early warning statistics, and the dire warnings from the districts, that meant that the 1991-92 drought was not the disaster it might have been (although it was pretty bad). Drought is inevitably political. And failure to act as people are suffering is not looked at kindly. While Mugabe’s intervention was welcome, it was also seen as too little and too late. We commented:

“The politicians did not know what to do. They refused to believe the science of prediction and would not listen, at least initially, to their constituents. The uncertainty surrounding drought resulted in a perilous loss of control and an unnerving loss of power. Power and control were only regained by firm action later on, when political and social processes, and not rational scientific argument, provided the impetus for action…”

Lessons for southern Africa?

Uncertainties around climate always exist. Climate models never can predict exactly, and even shorter-run weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable (how many times have the Met Office predicted imminent rains this year?). This is compounded with our lack of knowledge – and associated poor statistics – on Zimbabwe’s food economy. We simply don’t know how much food is being produced by whom and where, and how much is being sold in local markets, shared through local networks, or being transported to different areas, including towns. As I have mentioned before on this blog, the post 2000 land reform has radically changed the food system, and we don’t down its implications. My best guess, based on the mismatches between our local data and the aggregate statistics, is that the official stats are way off, but I don’t know by how much, and how this varies across the country.

Getting to grips with this, and improving the statistical basis for responses to drought is essential. At the moment huge efforts are based on massive guesswork. So it’s not surprising there’s large dispute about the statistics – some calling an impending catastrophe, others arguing things are not as bad as we thought. Bottom line is we just don’t know, and this is a dangerous situation.

It is dangerous practically, but it is also dangerous politically. We saw from 1991-92 how a late response in Zimbabwe was only salvaged by later decisive action. Famine was averted, and although many hardships were suffered, and a devastation of the livestock population occurred, a major humanitarian disaster did not unfold, despite huge economic losses. This of course was in a setting where politics looked very different. Today with fragmented authority and endless battles for political supremacy and a President who is 25 years older, decisive leadership are not qualities often seen. The government has however declared the drought a ‘national disaster’, although ministerial ineptitude and bungling has been widely condemned, with the opposition highlighting the confusion

It is interesting to contrast Zimbabwe’s experience with that of South Africa. In 1991-92 in South Africa, the drought response was impressive and coordinated, and drew on the incipient state structures of the ANC, impressively led by the Land and Agriculture Desk of the ANC’s Department of Economic Planning. As Coleen Vogel reminded me in a paper presented at a recent workshop, the decentralised network of Drought Forums provided the basis for a focused and effective response, and these in turn became the foundation for the post-1994 development committees, and the basis of the short-lived but radical Reconstruction and Development Programme effort. Fast forward to 2016, the ANC has been unable to respond effectively to the ravaging drought, with President Zuma failing to present a coherent policy, and getting heckled in parliament by opposition groups.

Wherever you are in southern Africa, politics and drought are intimately connected. And in 2016, the conditions for an effective response both in Zimbabwe and South Africa look worse than 25 years ago. And this despite huge amounts of effort invested in drought proofing, livelihood programmes, resilience building and so on in the intervening period; and yet more projects expected on the back of climate adaptation finance.

What has gone wrong?

Why is drought response as bad today, or often worse than before? Several things strike me.

First, despite all the hype about climate change and resilience building, very few such programmes look at the underlying patterns of vulnerability and how these have changed. Vulnerabilities arise very often from social and political factors, and so are less amenable to technical, donor-led interventions. Just adding sticking plaster in the name of climate ‘adaptation’ or ‘resilience’ is not enough. As we argued long back in our Hazards and Opportunities book, responses require tackling the root causes of vulnerability – including as I will show in a blog in a couple of weeks addressing inequalities, including of land.

Second, uncertainties cannot be planned for. By definition we don’t know the probability of the outcome, and very often we don’t know what outcome will result, meaning we are in the realm of ignorance. For administrative, bureaucratic and financing systems to respond in such settings is tough. Such systems are conventionally geared towards certainties, or at least predictable risks. This is why they so often fail. Predictions (based on risk assumptions) very often turn out not to be the case, and so trust is undermined. And administrators may argue for more funds or food reserves, only to be rebuffed. Dealing with what Emery Roe calls ‘mess’ in order to generate reliability in system response is essential, but it requires a radical overhaul of approaches. Governments, UN agencies, NGOs, district administrations and others are just not geared up, and they almost inevitably fail, as they are doing now.

Third, we have to remember drought is always political. The basic ‘contract’ between the state and people has to be renegotiated in drought periods, meaning engaging with rural people. For far too long elite politics in Zimbabwe (and of course in South Africa) has often ignored rural areas. The implicit deal is that rural votes for a ruling party are secured by making basic support available, including food in times of drought. But this dependency relationship cannot persist. People want more, and that means proper investment and support, not just palliative forms of development. As Zimbabwe’s (and South Africa’s) politics fragments, and the liberation parties struggle to maintain power, then people are going to look to others. This makes addressing drought firmly and effectively even more important, yet both ZANU-PF and the ANC are currently failing, as other political issues dominate.

Ignoring the drought, however, may well have long-term political consequences if the current failures continue. Watch out for some big impacts of drought on politics across southern Africa.

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

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