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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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Mvurwi: from farm worker settlement to booming business centre

On the back of the tobacco boom, Mvurwi town in Mazowe district is humming. It is a hive of activity, with many new businesses and much new building. Mvurwi town had an estimated 2000 residents before land reform, but by 2012 the ZIMSTAT census report showed the population had gone up to 6500. 7500 residents were reported by Mvurwi council in 2016. Before land reform it had a small business centre, with a selection of shops, service providers and government offices, but mostly it was essentially a farm worker settlement, a dormitory town supplying labour to the surrounding large-scale white farms.

Suwoguru compound settlement was established during the colonial era. In the early days houses were pole and dagga structures, but with time the Mvurwi white business and farming community built better homes in the compound for their supervisors and clerical staff. The white business owners, managerial staff and government workers, lived a distance away, in secure, electrified homes close to what became Mvurwi CBD. Foreigner labourers were the largest group within the compound. They originated from Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. Locals came from surrounding communal areas, such as Chiweshe, Centenary, Muzarabani and Guruve. Social life in the compound centred around the potent ‘kachasu beer’ and entertainment provided by the still popular Malawian Nyau dancers. Diverse religions were catered for including Islam, and a mosque was built.

Before land reform the central business district of Mvurwi was dominated by farm suppliers. Farmec sold farm inputs, while William Bains and KR sold farm machinery. Tractor agencies serviced large-scale farms nearby. Commercial farmers deposited their monies into Standard Bank in Mvurwi, which in turn, extended loans to them.  CABS Bank was also in town before land reform. POSB served a few blacks such as farm supervisors and civil servants, while farm workers did not have bankable income. Mvurwi commercial farmers enjoyed their leisure time at a country club 8 km along the Mvurwi-Centenary road and at another one at Mutorashanga. A police station and hospital were also present.

Mvurwi has long been a centre for government offices. But with increasingly populations there are greater demands for services. Today from the Ministry of Agriculture there are 17 Agritex staff, 15 Vet, 2 Plant Protection and 6 Mechanisation staff.  There were only 8 Agritex staff pre land reform. Health services have also expanded. Mvuri hospital currently employs 120 workers, up from 60 workers in the past. The hospital serves up to 600 patients per month, double earlier numbers. A clinic was registered after land reform and employs 8 workers. There are 36 Ministry of health extension workers covering Mvurwi locations and CBD, up from 16 in the past. In addition there are 5 primary schools (each with around 800 pupils), up from 3 before land reform and 3 secondary schools, up from 2 before land reform.

Tobacco: the core of the economy

Since land reform the economy of Mvurwi has changed, and there has been significant restructuring as well as growth. Money from tobacco has of course been the driver of growth in Mvurwi since its establishment. But in the past profits were shared among relatively few large-scale white commercial farmers. While workers rented accommodation and would buy basic provisions, their presence in Mvurwi did not generate significant growth. This all changed following 2000, and particularly after 2009 with dollarization, and the expansion of tobacco growing in the area.

There are a number of tobacco buyers and agents in Mvurwi. The TIMB has its offices in the town, and has 4 permanent workers based in Mvurwi. The Mashonaland Tobacco Company has an estimated 28,000 tobacco growers with plantings ranging from 1ha to 120 hectares. 85 % of growers are A1 and CA and 15 % in A2 farms. Tobacco is also bought by Tianze, a Chinese company, and by BAT. ZLT is a big American international company led by Phillip Morris. All in all there are 13 tobacco companies in Mvurwi.

Since land reform, there has been a building boom, with funds from local tobacco farmers and business people driving an expansion of housing. Rusununguko Phase 1 was the first initiative of Mvurwi council, involving 900 stands. Tenants included former employees of white businesses and top former commercial farm employees who used their retirement packages to buy residential stands. After land reform local indigenous business owners, A1 farmers and well to do individuals acquired residential stands. Sizes range between 200 square meters and 600 square meters, and cost around USD 4500. Electricity and tower lights were provided, and Mrs C built a guest house in the residential area.

Another high density location Rusununguko Phase 2 was implemented as a cooperative led by local people. So many problems were encountered mainly due to funding constraints. UNDP and UNICEF provided water and constructed sewer systems, and ZINWA is now servicing the area, although electricity and road networks are yet to be put in place. In a further development (Kurai Phase 1), council allocated 1080 stands to low income earners measuring 300 square meters each. Indigenous construction companies were given tenders by council to carry out development of the location. Servicing of stands started in 2014. Water, sewers and road construction are almost complete. Four houses have since been built. The former Mazoe MP earlier on bought around 150 stands in the location which he allocated to his supporters. He was later implicated in externalization of funds and fled the country, but most beneficiaries held on to their stands.

A number of medium-density areas are also being developed (Kurai Phase 2, Mbizi). The council is offering stands, but servicing of these is taking time. Mbizi is a favourite investment destination for successful A1 farmers. 70 % of the 500 plot holders have completed building of their homes, creating many jobs, and local hardware shops have also profited. Land was allocated to 2 churches, 1 school and 2 creches, but nothing is on the ground yet. In the past low density areas were dominated by retired whites, but demand has grown. Pembi view and Dombomaringa are two new suburbs, with 750 stands pegged with costs of USD 5 to USD 7 per square meter. A good number of owners are A2 farmers and local business people.  Land was also allocated to 1 secondary school and 3 creches.

Across all these residential developments, around 85 commercial stands have also been allocated in the hope that business will increase. Most current business activity is however in and around the CBD, and near the original township area. The massive building projects on-going have generated business for hardware stores in particular. There are currently 23 hardware shops in Mvurwi employing 46 workers compared to only four before land reform that employed 28 workers. Tractor, truck and lorry owners made money transporting building materials, and these transport business have also expanded. Today there are also 8 brick moulding groups in Mvurwi compared to none before land reform. There are also 4 sawmills in Suwoguru, owned by local individuals, all established after land reform, and providing materials for new homes. Saw millers buy raw timber from the resettlement farmers, add value and sell the sawn timber to carpenters who made doors, cabinets and roofing materials that they sell to those building houses.

A changing business environment

Following land reform a number of businesses closed as the economy restructured. Farmec and William Bain closed shop around 2008, The four trator agencies closed down, as demand for tractor services in the new farms was being met locally. Delta Beverages also closed in 2015 citing operational losses, and lack of a stable maize supply for brewing with a resulting loss of around 50 jobs. There has been a shift in financial institutions too as the economy restructured, with Standard Chartered and CABS closing, while CBZ and Agribank have established operations, and the government owned POSB continued. The current 3 banks employ 24 people – less than the pre land reform banks when 32 workers were employed. There has been a massive shift to the informal economy, with many people creating livelihoods from new, informal businesses.

In the past a few farm supply shops sold inputs to large-scale commercial farmers. However many such farmers bought wholesale in Harare, and did not frequent local shops. Today, following land reform, business has expanded locally but with a new customer base, and different demands. The old shops – Agricura, Farm and City and Mashco – still continue (in some cases cashing in also on hardware supplies) – but they have been joined by new investors including, Nico Orgo and Omnia, along with many other smaller indigenous businesses. Stock feed and day old chick suppliers have also prospered. There are 5 stockfeeds shops now that sell day old chicks and animal feeds. Profeeds a subsidiary of Irvines sells chicks, point of lay pullets, vets and feeds. Windmill also sells feeds of all farm animals. Other stockfeed shops include Fivet, Farm and City and Northern Supplies.

A multiplicity of enterprises have opened in Suwoguru and Mvurwi CBD following land reform. Expansion has occurred in certain areas. Butcheries have expanded from 3 to 14, with employment growing from 6 to 30. Equally bars and bottle stores are increasing. Today there are 11 registered beer outlets in Suwoguru and CBD that employ 55 workers, compared to 9 beer outlets, employing 45 people, before 2000. General ‘tuck shops’ selling mainly clothes and items from clothing, cellphones, electrical gadgets, to kitchen ware have expanded, with about 70 stalls at Suwoguru market. The Chinese have also set up shops, and also employ locals in their stores.  Eco-cash and airtime vendors are plentiful. There are over 20 registered, but also many more working informally in Mvurwi. There is now one Internet café, and 10 photocopy shops and typing service shops. With increased car ownership there are now 6 service stations and 3 car washes, all opened since land reform.

Such businesses operate at different scales, and often interact. For example, Golis supermarket in Mvurwi is the big wholesaler with cheaper prices, and has been long established. Before land reform there were also 10 other grocery shops employing around 30 workers. By 2015 grocery shops had increased to 32, employing about 96 workers. Market vendors complement the formal shops. The market area has expanded significantly since land reform. MN is a female vendor aged 35:

“I buy and sell various farm produce like vegetables and tomatoes but my main business is buying and selling sweet potatoes. I buy sweet potatoes from farms and hire scotch carts to bring the produce to the tar road. A cart can carry 36 buckets and transport charge is US 3 per trip. At the tar road Kombis charge USD 9 to ferry the 36 buckets to my market stall in Mvurwi township. I buy sweet potatoes at farm gate for USD 3 per bucket and sell at USD 5 per bucket. I manage to buy and sell 36 buckets per week. I am the sole owner of the business which has helped me buy a residential stand and pay school fees”

Agro-dealers bring in produce from as far as Muzarabani and Guruve to Suwoguru and Mvurwi CBD markets. A wide range of products are brought which include masau berries, indigenous chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes, rape, covo, water melons, cabbages, onions, carrots, green mealies, apples and bananas.

Some of this is sold on to food outlets. There are now 11 food outlets in Mvurwi CB and 9 in Suwoguru location. The 20 food outlets employ 60 workers compared to the 6 food outlets pre land reform that employed 20 workers. We interviewed owners of food business outlets in Mvurwi CBD who get their supplies from agro- produce dealers. Mrs G, aged 60, owns Gogo’s Chikenland

“I have two outlets one in Mvurwi CBD and another in the Suwoguru towship. I buy Irish potatoes from local farmers which I process into chips served with chicken. I employ a driver who earns usd 300 per month as well as 6 other permanent workers. Business constraints include load shedding and poor quality potatoes at times. Other income sources include a boarding house in town which accommodates up to 60 school children and a creche which takes 50 children. I have plans to build a primary school. I own 2 private cars and a house in Mvurwi’s low density surburb. I also bought 3 residential stands.”

Transport business is key in and around Mvurwi. Business involves carrying passengers, inputs/ produce and building materials. Buses, kombis, lorries, trucks are readily available. All roads from Harare, Mtorashanga, Guruve, Centerary and Muzarabani pass through Mvurwi.

Local transporters with 30 tonne trucks were given transport contracts by some of the 13 tobacco companies in Mvurwi. We interviewed Mvurwi CBD based transporter, Mr DK:

“I own 3 x 30 ton trucks. I carry tobacco and tobacco fuelwood between April and September. I transport fuelwood to Chiweshe, maize to Mvurwi and tobacco to Harare. The main business challenge is competition from transporters using smaller trucks. Customers prefer them because they fill up quickly and farmers get to the market in time. More and more farmers are also buying their own trucks.”

Brick moulding and transport are linked. About 90% of houses built in Mvurwi used common farm bricks giving livelihood opportunities to the ordinary brick moulder as well as transporters and loaders. Bricks sell at USD 30 per thousand and USD 15 to transport. On a good day a loader can get USD 8 while a transporter can get USD 80 after accounting for fuels. Brick moulders also sell pit sand, river sand and quarry stones.

A fast changing urban centre

Driven by local agricultural activity, there has been growth across a variety of sectors. Opportunities have expanded, particularly in the informal sector.  Tobacco profits are the main driver, although in the last year these have been down, and some are questioning the long-term sustainability of the sector. Farmers are moving to other products, including irrigated horticulture, and this will continue to drive demand for services in Mvurwi, and when profitable will provide the basis for further investment. Unlike in the period before land reform the economy is increasingly localised, with benefits generated in towns like Mvurwi.

Yet despite this growth, there are multiple challenges for small towns in largely rural areas. How should urban policy respond to changes in the agrarian sector, how can local economic growth linked to agriculture be sustained, and what new thinking around physical planning, town development and governance is needed? These policy questions will be the focus for next week’s blog.

 

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

Research was also carried out by Sarai, BZ Mavedzenge and Felix Murimbarimba

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Making a living as a former farm worker: some cases from Zimbabwe

Last week’s blog discussed the livelihoods of former farm workers living in compounds on three farms near Mvurwi in the tobacco growing zone of Mazowe district, now subdivided into multiple A1 plots (see also Zimbabweland blogs here and here). The compounds were established for farm workers on what were previously large-scale commercial farms. They now must sell their labour to several hundred A1 smallholders, mostly growing tobacco and maize. They must supplement this employment, most of it temporary and poorly paid, with other livelihood activities. This week, I offer four very brief profiles of four former farm worker households to give a sense of how livelihoods are composed.

Case 1

Mr K is a farm worker originally employed as a general hand at Forester Estate. He moved with his family to Ruia A compound following the acquisition of a portion of the large estate for resettlement.   A descendant of immigrants from Malawi who came to do farm labour, the 55 year old received limited education and has struggled since fast-track. The family’s housing in the compound consists of a four roomed house with a communal borehole as the main domestic water source. Currently there are two adults and two children resident at the home.

Prior to land reform K was a full-time employee earning Z$35, supplemented by the periodic sale of poultry, vegetables and fish, combined with brick-making and thatching, as well as petty trading. At Ruia A, K and his son, along with Mrs K, participate in casual labour in nearby A1 plots. The three of them supplied 600 work days to the farms in the 2013-14 season at a daily wage rate of US$3 generating US$1800 in household income. The household also has access to 1000 square meters of land near the compound where they grow subsistence crops. They also get remittance income from a son who is employed elsewhere as a security guard.

In the pre-resettlement period the Ks did not have access to land or cattle, goats or sheep. This has not changed much post resettlement. The family has access to one cell phone and has two photo voltaic panels for night lighting. They also keep a few scavenging chickens that they sometimes sell for extra income.

Case 2

A number of farm workers moved from other farms that were occupied under the A2 programme. Mr T who now lives with his family at Ruia A Compound is one of them. A Mozambique national originally, the 45 year old Mr T is one of the more successful former farm workers. Before coming to Ruia A he worked at ADA farm as a general hand. In 2000 he earned Z$30 per month. Currently 3 adults (more than 20 years old) and six children (less than 20 years old) reside at the compound. T did not go beyond Grade 7 in his education. The family resides in a four roomed residence without electricity or running water. The family gets water from a communal borehole. The most precious asset owned by the family is a motor cycle. They have two cell phones for communication and a solar panel for lighting their home at night. The Ruia A committee allocated them 0.3 ha of land, all of which is cropped with maize and a few lines of tobacco. In the 2014 season the family reaped 20 bags of maize and 50 kgs of tobacco. In addition they have access to a small garden in the vlei areas for vegetables.

Three members of the T family – one male and two females – are involved in farm labour in the Ruia A A1 plots. In the 2013-14 growing season the family supplied a total of 500 work days at a wage rate of US$3 per day generating an income of US$1500. Prior to settlement T had access to only 1000 square-meters of land and did not have any large livestock. Currently the family has 6 cattle, 3 of which were acquired in the past five years. They also have a goat. T earns some money from periodic sales of cattle, vegetables, building and carpentry. The T family feels their welfare has improved post Fast Track land reforms.

Case 3

Mr M, is a 45 year old descendent of migrant workers from Malawi. He previously worked at Ruia A farm as a general hand earning Z$30 per month prior to the Fast Track land reforms. Mr M who did not receive any formal schooling remained at the Ruia A worker compound when the farm was parcelled out to A1 scheme farmers. Currently three adults and four children are resident in a four roomed dwelling. Two men and one woman in the household contribute to household income through casual labour supply to maize and tobacco farmers in the surrounding A1 farms. In the 2013-14 season they worked for a total of 400 work-days at a wage rate of US$3 per day or a total household income of US$1200. This income is supplemented by income from poultry sales, vegetable sales, brick-making and thatching.

Prior to land reform the family had no access to allocated or rented land, and very few assets. This was supplemented by income from brick-making, poultry sales and vegetable sales. According to them, the welfare of household has improved post Fast Track with the family having access to 0.4 hectares allocated by Ruia A leadership and they have invested in two cell phones, a bicycle and a couple of solar panels for night lighting. From the 0.4 hectares the family reaped 0.6 MT of maize to supplement the family’s food needs.

Case 4

60 year-old Ms C has no formal schooling, and is resident in Hariana compound. Prior to settling at Hariana she worked at Fia Farm in Centenary as a farm guard earning Z$20 per month. They are now residing in a five roomed Hariana compound house, including six adults and three children. Farm labour is no longer the main source of income for the household, with more income being derived from own farming operations.

The family secured a hectare of land from the Hariana scheme leadership and they rent 0.4 hectares from an A1 farmer in Hariana scheme, where they grow tobacco, maize and sweet potatoes. In the 2013-14 season the family harvested half a tonne of maize all for household consumption, 900 kg of flue-cured tobacco worth about US$2700 and 1000 kg of sweet potatoes sold along the Mvurwi – Harare highway. The family also grows vegetables in a small garden close to the dam that are also marketed to travellers along the Mvurwi-Harare highway. Extra income is also earned from sale of goats (she keeps 5 goats on the plot), poultry and tailoring services, while fishing in the Hariana dams supplements household food.

Only one male member of the family is still involved in farm labour services to Hariana A1 farmers. During the 2013-14 season he supplied 120 labour days at an average wage rate of US$3 per day, bringing in about US$360 over the 2013-14 season. Using proceeds from farming and prior farm labour services the family managed to dig their own well for domestic water supply, purchase a bicycle and a car. Two members of the family also have cell phones.

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These very brief profiles show the fragility of life in the compounds. Farm labour is no longer guaranteed, and other livelihood options have to be sought. Access to small plots of land near the compounds, allocated by the A1 committees, is essential, and those who gain access to a hectare or more are diverting energies to small-scale agriculture and away from labouring. While the A1 farmers are hiring employing people, the number of days hired and the low salary rate means that total incomes are low, especially when spread across often large household groups. Farm compound houses are often of low quality, and without amenities, but may have multiple residents, as many farm workers have been evicted, especially from A2 farms, as new farmers have restructured their work forces. In each of the cases discussed above, representative of the wider sample, the family originally came from Malawi or Mozambique. This means that they do not have connections elsewhere in Zimbabwe, and are only linked to other former farm workers, with limited means. A few manage to get work elsewhere, and benefit from remittances, but not many.

Before land reform, life on the compounds was isolated, overseen by a highly controlled arrangement that allowed limited opportunities, described so well in terms of ‘domestic government’ by Blair Rutherford in Working on the Margins. Before farm workers were wholly dependent on the large-scale commercial farmer for food, housing, income, health care, education and more, but today they have had to carve out new social and political relationships in the post land reform era. This has been tough for many, as the cases above show. However, perhaps surprisingly, with the exception of one case, all the others remarked how life had improved following land reform. While clearly still extremely poor, they liked the flexibility of not having to be behoven to a single employer. They were happy to have small plots of land that were often not allowed before. And they saw the independence to set up small businesses and have a diversified livelihood liberating. The oppressive character of their former employment conditions was commented on again and again in interviews. They clearly would desire a better life, but the life they had before, for many, was worse.

What the longer-term prospects are for former farm workers living in new resettlement areas is not clear. Will they remain and continue to provide an often highly skilled, cheap labour pool? Will they become more integrated with the A1 farmers, and take up farming, acquiring more land? Will they be evicted and resettled themselves, being seen as a difficult legacy of the previous era (as has occurred in some farms), and if so where will they go? Often seen as ‘non-citizens’, discriminated against politically, they have little voice and limited agency. The mainstream narrative of ‘displacement’ does not apply in the way it is often presented, but the reality is certainly tough, and needs some imaginative policy solutions that currently are not even being debated.

Thanks to BZ Mavedzenge and the Mvurwi research team for compiling the cases

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

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What happened to farm workers following Zimbabwe’s land reform?

Previous blogs have discussed the fate of workers who had worked on the large-scale commercial farms that were distributed during land reform, both in relation to the total numbers affected, and the new livelihood strategies that have been pursued. The role of labour in the new farm structure is a crucial and under-studied issue, as it is more generally in agrarian and livelihood studies. However we now have some data from our own fieldwork that sheds light on these issues.

Over the last few years we have been working in the Mvurwi area of Mazowe district as part of the Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development project. We have carried out similar surveys to those that we had done before in Masvingo (and now more recently in Matobo) to find out how similar and different these sites are, and how the experience of land reform has affected different people in different places.

In Mvurwi we have been looking at what has happened on a series of A1 farms (involving a sample of 220 households), as well as a few case studies of A2 farms nearby. We have also been investigating what happened to farm workers who have either got land as part of A1 settlements or are still living in the farm worker compounds.

Across the three farms where our A1 sample is located, there are four farm worker compounds, with around 370 farm worker families currently living in them – half are original workers from those farms, the rest were displaced from about 25 other farms (notably A2 farms), from Mazowe district and beyond, where new owners have expelled former workers, as they have restructured their operations.

Former farm workers are not a uniform category of course. There are some who managed to get land under the fast-track process and since, and are part of our A1 sample. Of this sample 10% were former farm workers, from the farms concerned or from further afield, as many had to move. Others were compound dwellers with small plots where they were growing food, and indeed tobacco, and they were engaged in regular work, being employed by A1 or A2 farmers. Others had carved out new livelihoods, sometimes combining piece work on farms, with other activities such as building, carpentry or fishing (see below). However others have no jobs or other forms of livelihood, and are struggling. Some have gone to communal areas and have reinsterted themselves into social networks there, but many do not have access to these, being ‘foreigners’ originally from Malawi, Mozambique or Zambia for example, and with no rural home, despite having lived in Zimbabwe for generations. It is a diverse experience, and one that deserves more research scrutiny.

Among our sample of A1 farms, on average each household employed 0.8 permanent workers and 4.2 temporary workers, both men and women. Many of the permanent workers are drawn from where the household previously came from, often nearby communal areas, bringing in relatives and others. However, new A1 farmers growing tobacco have also hired in permanent workers from the compounds. These are often the skilled farm managers and others who can help with their new tobacco businesses. Others say they prefer to hire from the compounds as the labour is skilled and disciplined, and they are happy to avoid being tied to relatives. Permanent workers include both men and women, and the same applies to temporary workers. These are nearly all drawn from the compound, and are hired for particular production tasks. Wages are low especially for temporary work, and workers are not organised or unionised, and so have little bargaining power. Not all compound households can find work for all the time, and so must develop more diversified livelihoods. Land reform was 15 years ago, and a whole new generation has grown up in the compounds since. This group of youth have not learned the skills of their parents in tobacco growing, and so are not hired so often. They must seek out other income earning activities to survive.

The table below offers some average household social profiles and backgrounds of A1, A2 and farm worker households. The A1 households are split up into ‘success groups’ (more or less successful according to local informants), while the others are lumped together.

Table: Profiles of A1 (Success Group 1-3), A2 and Farmworker households in terms of characteristics of household head/land, crop outputs, income sources; assets and their accumulation.

  A1-SG1 A1-SG2 A1-SG3 A2 FW
Educational level of household head (% above Form 2) 54 51 58 80 19
Age of household head (% above 50 years) 42 48 33 60 40
Land area allocated [ ha ] 5.4 5.6 5.6 51.9 0.6
Land area cultivated (ha) 3.6 3.7 2.4 7.8 0.6
Maize production (kg), 2014 4805 2931 2232 18400 419
Maize sales (kg), 2014 3279 1384 973 14280 0
Tobacco production (kg), 2014 1338 1460 880 4700 246
Remittance income (percentage receiving) 13 17 16 60 15
Cattle sales (%) 33 39 22 40 1
Local piece work (%) 8 8 14 0 44
Vegetable sales (%) 27 52 49 60 34
Building, thatching, carpentry (%) 12 24 32 0 54
Fishing (%) 8 11 22 0 19
Cattle ownership (N) 9.8 6.9 4.7 10.0 0.5
Car/truck ownership ( %) 47.9 23.2 30.1 20 2
Bicycle ownership (%) 58 60 59 80 35
Cattle purchased (N) in last 5 years 1.2 0.9 2.1 0 0.2
Cars purchased % in last 5 years 27 19 21 0 0
Bicycles purchased % in last 5 years 25 35 44 80 23
Cell phones purchased in last 5 years (N) 3.4 3.2 3.8 6 1.6
Solar panels purchased (N) in last five years 1.1 1.1 0.9 0.8 0.8
Water pumps purchased % in last five years 0.25 0.52 0.34 0.2 0.2

Comparing farm worker households to others, we can see that across variables, farm worker households are badly off. They have very small plots of land (average 0.6ha), all of which is cultivated. They do this intensively although in 2014 only realising 400kg of maize on average, and 250kg of tobacco. Maize is all consumed, while tobacco offers some additional income. This is complemented by a range of other sources of income. Local piece work (including the temporary farm labour discussed above), building/thatching/carpentry and vegetable sales (for women) dominate. Fishing is also important in one of the farm dams for some. Compared to the other sample groups, asset ownership is very limited, although a few have livestock, and some are buying new animals. By contrast to the more successful A1 farmers, the possibilities of accumulation are limited, although farm worker households have bought bicycles, cell phones, solar panels and water pumps.

There is little doubt that former farm workers are extremely poor and often have precarious livelihoods. However, in the absence of alternatives, they are surviving, often through a combination of intensive agriculture on garden sized plots and other work. The compounds across what was the large-scale commercial farming areas of the Highveld are home to many thousands of people. The long-term future of this population remains uncertain, but for now their labour and skill is an important element of the success of some of the new resettlement farmers, and some are managing to find ways of getting their own plots.

Next week, I will share a few case studies of former farm workers from this area to show how different people are making a living.

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

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Why access to energy is crucial for economic growth and poverty reduction

Last week I was in Nairobi for a conference focused on ‘Low Carbon Africa’, discussing the diverse pathways to low carbon energy. Energy access is a key issue across the continent. Recently Kofi Annan launched the ‘Africa Progress Panel’ report that argued for a massive energy revolution in Africa, with the potential for technological leapfrogging to a low carbon future.

But the reality on the ground is less bright, and this imagined pathway to energy security through a universal-access, low carbon system is a way off. Load shedding is frequent even in major cities, and in rural areas off-grid have no access to electricity at all. Indeed, according to Cosmas Ochieng, Executive Director of the African Centre for Technology Studies, across Africa 620 million lack access to grid electricity. This has major impacts. Economic growth is fuelled by energy. In agriculture, electricity supply is crucial for many irrigation systems, and intermittent supply can result in disaster. But more fundamental life and death challenges arise. John Magrath of Oxfam commented in a blog from Zimbabwe, reflecting on these ground realities:

“I was talking to a nurse at a rural health centre who described how the cost of two candles can be a matter of health or hunger, or even life or death. The health centre had no electricity, so expectant mothers were told to bring two candles with them to provide light for their delivery. Two candles cost a dollar, which is the same cost as going to the mill to get your maize ground into meal for a family’s dinner. Lacking a dollar, mothers-to-be naturally prioritised feeding their children over buying candles, and as a result, often left it too late to reach the health centre and gave birth on the road, at night”.

Development agencies are now addressing energy poverty and access. The funding of low cost, decentralized, off-grid sustainable energy solutions – at health centres, in rural growth points, at irrigation schemes and at people’s homes – can make a huge difference. Innovations in technology and finance are crucial. This is driving down costs and making access to low carbon energy sources achievable for a wide number of people. The cost of solar panels, and lighting sources such as solar lanterns, has gone down dramatically in recent years.

Financing models have been revolutionized too. In Nairobi, we heard from Julius Kipng’etich, CEO for the leading and innovative Equity Bank, which now operates across six African countries, and with ten million customers. He talked about how lending needs to be defined by a ‘red line’ that means unsustainable industries will not get finance. Lending instead will be channeled only to sustainable activities. Sustainability is ‘not just CSR’, he says, but ‘the core business’ of the bank. He wants to ‘change the narrative’ about what a corporate does.

In our work in Zimbabwe, we have been amazed at the scale of investment in small-scale solar technologies. When we started tracking investment patterns in the new resettlement areas in the early 2000s, we didn’t even have solar panel purchases on our standard census questionnaire, as they barely existed. In 2012, we asked how many panels had been purchased by 280 A1 households in the five years before in our Masvingo sites, and a total of 170 panels were purchased, across 52% of households. Across 220 A1 households in Mazowe in 2014, 220 panels had been purchased in the past five years, and 74% of households had at least one solar panel. Within a few years, I predict that nearly every household will have access to electricity through low-cost solar technologies.

Access to solar electricity is transforming people’s lives. With lighting, kids can study for school after dark, stored energy can be used to help pump water, and of course mobile phones can be charged to facilitate agricultural marketing.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Regalvanising the state from below: how a road got regraded

Recently we were driving to one of our study sites in Mvurwi area in Mazowe district for a showing of one of our videos on land and markets. We were surprised by the quality of the road. It was recently graded and in good condition; a far cry from when we last struggled to get to the same A1 resettlement area. We arrived at the homestead of Mr and Mrs Nyamarova where a group were gathered for the video showing, and we commented on the quality of the road. Had the government come and improved the road?, we asked.

Mr Nyamarova explained. The road had got progressively worse in the past year or so, and it had become increasingly impassable especially in the rains. This had caused major problems. Minibus taxis (combis) had stopped coming, and people had had to walk several kilometres to the nearest junction in order to get to town. This was not only costly in time and energy, but also meant that cases that those who had to get to hospital fast were at increasing risk. This is a vibrant tobacco growing area, but the contractors for the tobacco complained about the road and charged higher fees. Other traders who once came to buy crops and other products failed to show up, and those who had bought ‘town’ cars from the proceeds of their tobacco were unable to use them. The lack of a road was hitting the community hard, increasing costs and imposing inconvenience and risk.

The roads in the resettlements were all farm roads originally. They were used infrequently and often with heavy vehicles or tractors. They were not constructed for large populations with diverse transport needs. Their locations connected sections of large properties, but were not necessarily geared for the plying of goods and people between homes, farms and town. The resettlement areas across the country have suffered badly from a lack of infrastructure support, the consequence of the lack of post-settlement planning and investment over the past 15 years. This is hitting agricultural potential, as well as people’s livelihoods and well-being, hard.

So why was this road in such good condition? Had the state come to the rescue, and finally prioritised resettlement infrastructure development? Had the old ‘district development fund’ been revived and a new fleet of graders deployed? Now ‘sanctions’ had been relaxed, had a donor provided the funds? Well, no. The state remains as broke and incapacitated as it has been for years, and no magical external donor had arrived on the scene. In this case, an innovative local solution was forged.

Frustrated by the lack of action by the local government services in Mvurwi (the community had petitioned them for months, requesting that the road be repaired and regraded), a group of farmers got together and proposed a solution. Everyone in the A1 scheme would pay US$10 into a fund, and they would approach the council and pay for the job to be done. And indeed this is what happened. A deal was struck that the grader, languishing for years in the CMED compound in Mvurwi would be serviced, and filled with fuel through the community contribution, and the council would deploy the driver and technicians who were equally languishing in their offices – paid a salary with little to do. The $10 a head fund was not enough to cover the costs, so they decided that a surcharge would apply for those with transport businesses and large tobacco crops, and so three such farmers, including Mr Nyamarova, added a further $200 each.

The basic infrastructure, expertise and capacity of the state still exists in Zimbabwe. Unlike in some countries it has not been completely lost. Against all the odds, civil servants – from senior officials to lowly technicians or drivers – still turn up to their jobs. Offices are full of people, but action on the ground is limited because the state financing of recurrent costs has dropped effectively to zero. This means extension workers don’t travel to the farms, schools have teachers but not books, health centres have nurses but no medicines, and roads departments have graders and drivers with no fuel or maintenance budget. Small amounts of funding therefore can go a long way. NGOs often make use of this rather remarkable latent capacity of this languishing state infrastructure and pay government workers to do a range of jobs.

Regalvanising state capacity for investing in public goods is an essential task in the post-land reform era. In the absence of an effective centralised taxation system that can generate significant revenues, and in the context of rampant corruption that removes funds from the state, particularly at higher levels, local solutions must be brokered. This case of local, informal, community-organised taxation from Mvurwi, that meant our Toyota Corolla town car could reach our destination and without the walk we expected, certainly offers some hope for the future.

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

 

 

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Tobacco: driving growth in local economies

The rebound of tobacco production in Zimbabwe is striking. From a low in the mid-2000s of only around 48 million kgs, the last season produced 216 million kgs, almost hitting the levels of historical peak production 236 million kgs. Last season recorded exports of some US$450m, with Belgium and China being the major buyers. For the coming season over 75,000 farmers have registered to sell, mostly from the communal areas, but some around 27,000 from A1 resettlement farms. This is dramatically different to the pre-land reform era when tobacco production was dominated by a about 2000 large scale farms.

How does tobacco production, spread across so many farmers, affect local economies? Our studies under the Space, Markets and Employment in Agricultural Development (SMEAD) project took us to the Mvurwi area in Mazowe district. Here you cannot escape the impacts of tobacco. Those growing, mostly through contracting arrangements (nationally this was about three-quarters of all production) are linked to a number of companies who provide inputs, transport and other support. This has allowed farmers with limited capital to get going. The new farmers are employing labour, including many from the former farm compounds, and are sinking their profits into a variety of businesses, including transport and real estate. They are improving their farms and homes, and buying farm equipment. It is an intensely vibrant local economy, with spin off benefits for those running shops, beer halls, transport busineesses and offering services from hairdressing to tailoring. There are downsides too, as the growing of tobacco, and particularly its curing has negative health and environmental impacts. The destruction of local forests for curing wood has been dramatic.

Our film on tobacco in the ‘Making Markets’ series tried to capture some of this dynamic, with interviews from farmers involved at different scales, both on A1 and A2 farms. Watch it here:

There are clear challenges in the tobacco sector, but the last few years has shown that small-scale farmers, supported by contracting arrangements, can contribute high quality products, and reap the benefits of of a high value export crop. And most significantly the benefits are more widely shared than was the case before, suggesting opportunities for a much more inclusive growth pathway.

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Farm workers: reconstructing lives and livelihoods

There is little doubt that farm workers lost out with the land reform, but what has happened to them since, particularly those who remained on the farms?

Too often commentary on farm workers has portrayed them as passive victims. But new work demonstrates their agency in a variety of ways. They were of course active agents, both before and after the land reform. Based on in-depth ethnographic exploration, this work tries to explore how different farm workers (not after all a uniform category) have reconfigured their lives in response to the new agrarian structure. There is, as ever, a complexity to the story not offered in standard accounts. In particular I can recommend an often overlooked 2009 paper by Andrew Hartnack that offers a particularly nuanced account. He shows how “through local responses to displacement, displaced workers are able to counter the discourses of the powerful by subverting global, national and local representations, using local agency to create their own practical discourse of displacement”.

Farm workers have always been represented in particular ways by public, media and political commentary. In the past, as Blair Rutherford has described, white farmers often related to labour in hierarchical and paternalistic ways, constructing citizenship and identify outside the influence of the state within the confines of the farm. Hartnack argues that the limited earlier research on farm workers often projected a simplistic image of workers as victims of racial discrimination and capitalist agriculture or, in direct contrast, they were characterised by commentators such as R.W. Johnson as having lived under a ‘cosy arrangement’ or ‘protective umbrella’, now disrupted by land reform. In the 2009 paper Hartnack comments: “While undoubtedly well meaning, much of it [the literature] essentially denied farm workers agency or cultural competence, portraying them largely as poverty stricken, illiterate and powerless, giving the impression that they were passive victims of their circumstances”. In the post 2000 discourse, farm workers are again seen as victims, this time of ZANU-PF expulsions, while the nationalistic discourse presents farm workers as ‘foreign’ and stooges of white farmers and the opposition.

Yet in all of these discourses, agency, capacity, innovation and practice is denied. This is why a deeper, ethnographic understanding of farm worker lives and livelihoods is required. Hartnack’s emerging studies offer one among a number of important contributions to this. He highlights for example how:

“…workers used their ingenuity, skills and resourcefulness to manipulate the farm system to their own advantage. Farm workers may have been subordinated within capitalist relations of power, dependent on paternalism for survival, marginalized and stigmatized within society in general and made to feel insecure, but this did not stop them from learning how to benefit from and adapt to their situation”.

And this experience helped farm workers and their families to cope with and respond to displacement when farm invasions took place. The experience of displacement is of course not uniform. Workers living on a farm came from diverse locations, often from outside Zimbabwe, they had formed communities on farms, but with linkages between and outside that differed between families, men and women. In a number of papers Hartnack describes the process of displacement and the living conditions of former farm workers living in a ‘holding camp’ on the outskirts of Harare. The insecurities, the poor health conditions, the oppressive patronage relations and political impositions, not least Operation Murambatsvina, are documented.

Yet the situation was not hopeless. It could not be: people had to survive. And the new farmers needed labour, and particularly skilled labour. Indeed some former farm workers then quite quickly (indeed within the same season) acquired jobs, but again this was not uniform. It was differentiated by levels of skills/education, gender and age. Hartnack explains that the first jobs available were:

“….piecework jobs that required either some measure of skill or experience, such as spraying for the flower-growing companies, or the capacity for heavy manual labour. Some men with experience in the Brylee flower nursery thus got jobs with the three different flower companies in the area. Others became builder’s assistants at the local housing cooperative and on private building sites. Some loaded bricks at the nearby brickfields, while other young men sought jobs as security guards. However, even those who found alternative employment soon after displacement found their wages inadequate to meet their increased need for cash, while their job security was poor in comparison to what they had enjoyed at the farm. Many of the available jobs were not easily accessible to women, being in the traditional realm of men. This meant that women, along with the elderly, struggled to maintain access to an income after displacement. Casual workers (traditionally women) had not had much work in 2002, as the disruption of the farm’s operations in the first three months of the year had reduced the need for their labour. Having had no wages, many casual labourers found themselves with very little cash at the time of displacement, as did retired workers. Female-headed households, which had relied on casual labour for an income, thus suffered badly as they did not have savings, and their members were often not able to find alternative jobs easily”.

Four years later follow up research found a small number of senior, skilled workers had gained employment on their former farm, while others had used skills and connections to get jobs or land elsewhere, and had moved on. Others remained vulnerable, and were reliant on piecework, small-scale gardening, trading and other activities. In the context of new settlements new forms of patronage emerged, with displaced farm workers finding protection by church leaders, war veterans and others. Responses included a range of strategies of the ‘weapons of the weak’ – trickery, foot-dragging, feigning ignorance and more – and farm workers developed representations of themselves as compliant, pious, weak or ignorant in order to get by. All this allowed some room for manoeuvre in nevertheless highly constrained circumstances, allowing them to ‘blend in’ yet ‘remain apart’. Conflicts and jealousies existed between the new arrivals and those residents of the informal settlement to where the farm workers were displaced. This involved a tricky negotiation, especially at the beginning, although as time progressed greater integration took place.

As readers of this blog will know, I have mostly worked in Masvingo province where large numbers of farm workers were not displaced, and there were few compounds of the sort found on the large-scale tobacco or horticulture farms in the Highveld. So it was fascinating for me to learn what had happened on such farms as part of an ongoing study in Mvurwi, Mazowe district. Here large compounds still exist, often housing hundreds of families; these are the ‘in situ’ displaced described by Godfrey Magaramombe, contrasting with those who were forced to move.

But unlike in the early 2000s, a decade on these former workers are carving out new relationships with the farms that surround them, as Walter Chambati and others have shown. This has not been straightforward, and stories of conflict abound, but these farm workers are now finding work in a more flexible way than before. Today they move around between farms looking for work, often able to strike deals to their advantage. Given the skills many possess, they have become valuable resources in the new farm economy, providing useful agronomic and marketing skills. Women and men engage in this new labour economy in different ways. Employment is usually poorly paid and insecure, and the lack of an organised voice is a constraint. Most households based at the compounds also farm. Negotiating small plots of land from the neighbouring farm owners has been a key part of their strategy, and many will survive off such gardens, even marketing surpluses to supplement wages. Some have been lucky to get larger areas, as part of official allocations within the resettlements. We met several former farm workers who were now farming tobacco with great success.

For new farmers with compounds within their farm boundaries, there are challenges too. With residents now incorporated into schools in surrounding areas, there is less of an obligation to provide services, but there are issues of welfare and security. A new farmer must deal with his neighbours well to avoid an escalation of theft or trespass. Thus many have started up relationships with committees within the compounds to negotiate access to land, water, electricity and to discuss issues such as the upkeep of farm buildings. These compounds are of course anomalous inheritances from an earlier agrarian structure, but have to be accommodated, as people, often second or third generation migrants, have nowhere to go.

While not denying hardship and vulnerability, the experience of former farm workers was not simple victimhood, characterised by passivity and lack of agency, but a much more active struggle. However despite this variety of strategies, access to new livelihood opportunities was again highly differentiated. Just as there is no single or simple story for land reform and the successes or otherwise of the ‘new farmers’, there is no standard story for farm workers, as is sometimes suggested. Detailed study of particular places and people, always contextualised, is essential for revealing the highly variegated experiences and outcomes.

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

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The new land frontier in Zimbabwe: urban land for housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Creating communities

I recently examined the Mabel Hungwe’s PhD thesis “In search of community in Zimbabwe’s fast-track resettlement area of Mazowe district” at Lund University in Sweden. A huge amount of fascinating empirical material is encapsulated in a series of case studies collected during 2006-07. This was of course at the peak of the collapse of the economy and in the run-up to the highly contested elections of 2008. It was not an easy time to do fieldwork – especially in Mazowe.

The stories however are incredibly revealing, both about how people coped during this tough period, but also the alliances made as different groups came to form ‘communities’. Of course the term ‘community’ itself is highly contested, and Mabel examines different definitions and interpretations very well. But what comes over very clearly is that in the ‘melting pot’ that is Mazowe district many of the same processes and outcomes we observed in Masvingo were occurring. Some people were doing well, others were dropping out. Some farms were being captured by elites, but others were being well used by new farmers. Former white farmers and farm workers were still present, often seeking new arrangements. It is a complex story, but again not all doom and gloom.

Mazowe is of course different to Masvingo. It is close to Harare, and has high agroecological and market potential. There were fewer small-scale A1 farms overall, with a greater proportion of A2 farms. The contrast between farms which were invaded by people from nearby communal areas, and those which were allocated by administrative and political processes was very apparent. And with such high value farms, often with significant infrastructure, this attracted the attentions of the political-military elite – some of whom did not invest, but some, perhaps surprisingly, did, often with the (hidden) support of former white farmers.

In a such a volatile and contested setting, forming ‘communities’ is of course challenging. Those that succeeded were those who had former ties. Being part of the invasions certainly helped. Those who arrived to new A2 farms with resident farm workers who had not been paid for months had real difficulty. Especially in the A1 sites, the Apostolic church was seen to be really significant, binding people through religion, land access strategies, commerce and marketing.

Of course the thesis covered only a narrow time period, and it will be really interesting to see who has succeeded and who has dropped out 5 or more years on. Contrary to the standard narrative that the land lies abandoned in the Highveld, there is clearly much going on. Fortunately Mabel has returned to Zimbabwe and has taken up a post at the Centre for Applied Social Sciences at UZ. Let’s hope there will be a flurry of new empirical research on these issues as a result.

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