Tag Archives: medium-scale farms

Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (5)

What happened on the A2 medium-scale farms?

Medium-scale A2 farms were established in a very different way to A1 farms in Masvingo. They were not the result of invasion and occupation and later formalisation (or not), but through a process of application at a later stage. These application processes were supposed to take account of the qualifications and resources of the prospective farmer, and the aim was to establish a medium-scale farming sector to spearhead the revival of commercial agriculture, but under new ownership. In practice, the process of application was often manipulated, and political pressure was brought to bear. The result is that the beneficiaries of A2 farms are highly variable – many are former civil servants, including well-qualified agriculturalists amongst them, but they sit alongside those with party posts, military and security positions and others.

Our Masvingo sample of A2 farms is small. This is in part because, when the sample was set up in the mid-2000s, the A2 farms were only just being settled, and access was difficult. The contested nature of land on the A2 farms was such that research in these areas was initially regarded with suspicion, and we had to spend a considerable amount of time getting to know key players in each site. The other problem for any researcher of A2 farms is that the owners are often not present, and in some cases very little is happening.

Our Masvingo sample included dryland sites in each of four districts – Gutu (Northdale), Masvingo (Bompst), Chiredzi (Fair Range) and Mwenezi (Asveld). We also had a sample in the sugar estate of Hippo Valley, where a very different form of irrigated production takes place on smaller plots. Here we report on three of the dryland sites (excluding Northdale) (N=20) and the Hippo Valley site (N= 14), but take them separately. A more comprehensive study has been undertaken of A2 farms both in Masvingo and Mvurwi based on a random sample across all A2 farms, which will be shared on this blog soon.

The overall story of the dryland A2 cases is not positive, although there are a few outlier examples where agriculture has got moving. The Hippo Valley settlers irrigating sugar by contrast have fared much better. The disastrous economic conditions through the 2000s, peaking in 2008 with massive hyperinflation, have returned more recently, and it was only for a short period between 2009 and around 2014-15 when economic stability returned, and business investment of any sort was feasible.

Those with external funds – either through jobs or through forms of patronage – have fared best, but it has been a struggle for everyone. Bank credit has not been available, and outside the support through commercial crop contracts or the corrupt and inefficient command agriculture programme have been limited in Masvingo province, and it has been exceptionally difficult to finance farming. The conventional approach to commercial farming in Zimbabwe had always been to rely on bank loans, which would be paid back on harvest, and capital expenditure was sourced from profit, or further credit. This has simply not been possible over the past 20 years.

Dryland A2 farms

Across our dryland A2 sample, today the farms are more occupied, with men dominating as household heads (90%). Women are often quite isolated in these farms, sometimes left to manage the household and workers, and engaged in small-scale vegetable and poultry production. Men are more mobile, and travel to town, as nearly everyone has a car. In the past, 75% of (mostly male) household heads had jobs, but today it is only 20%, as people have moved to their farms, finding it impossible to maintain a job and farm.

Quite a number have retired, and the average age of household heads is today 52. Given the age profile, 60% have adult children between 21 and 30 years old, and 35% of all households have children in this age group who are farming. Many farmers’ children have taken up plots within the A2 farm allocation, even if subdivision hasn’t been formalised. 35% were previously war veterans, reflecting the numbers of A2 farmers who were previously in the armed or security forces. Educational levels are high, with 65% continuing in education beyond Form II, while 55% have Master Farmer certificates, reflecting the need to show farming qualifications when applying (at least for some).

Even though farm sizes are large (average 160.2 hectares), crop production is relatively limited (on average 11.7 hectares was ploughed), with maize production ranging from only 353 kg to 1462 kg per household between 2017 and 2019, with between 65% and 35% producing over a tonne. This is very low productivity, and although nearly everyone adds fertiliser, this is far from the envisaged commercial farming (although this data comes from farms mostly in dry and marginal Region V, as our Gutu site has not been included). Indeed, while 60% and 20% of farmers employ permanent male and female workers respectively, and 45% employ temporary workers, on-farm wage employment is not universal, indicating again the lack of commercialisation. Although 25% received some form of command agriculture support, it was widely complained about, and was not seen as a route to improvement by most. Production overall is lower than many A1 farms on much smaller land portions. Other crops are combined with maize, but in very small portions, essentially replicating small-scale, peasant farm production on huge farms.

The farms in Chiredzi and Mwenezi, however, are largely focused on livestock production, and the large land areas allow for relatively high herd sizes, averaging 72.3 cattle, at quite intensive stocking rates for such dry ranch areas. But despite this, there is relatively little commercial activity, and only 35% of farmers purchased supplementary feed for cattle. On average 6.9 cattle per household were sold in the past year, and only 2.6 were purchased over the previous five years. Goats complement cattle, but they are not produced commercially in large flocks, and the average household ownership is only 9.1.

To complement crops and livestock, dryland A2 farmers in our sample also produce poultry, and broiler production seems a popular activity, with 30% having broiler units, and 10% having contracts for these. Irrigated vegetables are also grown, but usually on small homestead plots, and 35% of households sell these. Off-farm income remains important, and over half have jobs, while 40% of households receive pensions. Half of all A2 farmers rent out houses in town (having now transferred to their farms), and this is an important source of supplementary income.

The forms of settlement on these farms varies considerably. Some maintain the farm as a business, employing a farm manager and supervising from a distance, with weekend visits. Others live on the property and have intensive involvement in the running of the farm on a day-to-day basis. Still others have retired to the farm, and use other sources of income to survive, it being more a retirement home than a fully productive farm. Others try and farm, but have invited family members to join them, creating small villages with subdivided or jointly-operated plots; essentially multiple small-scale farms. In our wider province-wide surveys we explored these patterns, and rather like our earlier study of the ‘small-scale commercial farms’ set up as African ‘purchase areas’ between the 1930s and 1950s, we see various future trajectories, only some of which could represent ‘commercial farming’, as imagined by the land reform planners.

Certainly many A2 farmers are trying, but it is a tough struggle. In many cases, these farms had to be carved out from the bush from scratch. Mr N from Fair Range near Chiredzi explained his story:

It was virgin land when I came in 2003. I cleared just one hectare in my first year. By 2006, I had a small irrigation plot of 3 ha, and then I continued to clear. I was in hospital for a while, and the bush all grew back. I had to start again. In 2011 I hired a bulldozer, and cleared 8 ha. I tried to hire tractors but it was difficult, as local whites discriminated against us. By 2016 I had 40 hectares cleared, but it was a lot of work, and very expensive. I had hoped to rely on dryland farming largely, but the rainfall pattern has changed. I now must irrigate, but the electricity supply is so variable. Right now I am irrigating only a day a week, and I may lose my crop. It’s so difficult! In the last years I have managed to buy new equipment. I bought tractors in 2014 and 2019, and have bought six pumps, a disc harrow, a ripper and a ridger. I also replaced my car in 2014 to get a jeep for this terrain. I have been investing in the farm, but neglecting my accommodation. I am living in this workers’ house, so I plan to build a big house for my retirement.

The average figures presented from the surveys therefore only tell part of the story. Within our sample, like Mr N, there are examples where farmers have managed to get things moving, but this has been incredibly hard. One farmer in Bompst farm for example invested a huge amount early on in irrigation equipment and for a time was doing well, but his business collapsed as inflation took hold. He then abandoned the farm, renting it out to others, returning to his town-based business operation, and has only just returned after nearly a decade to revamp the farm, having secured support through the command programme. Another farmer again invested from his off-farm job, which was paid in foreign exchange, through the economic crisis and it began to build up, connecting livestock production and vegetable sales to a shop and later a restaurant in Masvingo. But in recent years as the economy nose-dived again, the businesses have faltered and even this tightly managed, locally-based value chain was unable to operate in the chaotic currency environment from 2017.

Our wider, province-wide survey of A2 farms found a similar pattern: most were struggling, but a few prospering due to particular conditions, linked to particular financing opportunities. The period of investment from 2009, when the economy stabilised somewhat and the Zimbabwe dollar currency was abandoned in favour of US dollars, was widely evident. This period showed the potential of the A2 sector, but also the lack of resilience of farm businesses, as gains have been quickly wiped out, and investments made then (in equipment, irrigation facilities and so on) are lying idle.

Irrigated A2 farms: Sugar-growing in Hippo Valley

The largely dismal experiences on the dryland A2 farms contrast with those in the irrigated sugar farms in Hippo Valley. Here farmers were allocated on average 20.6 hectare plots, subdivided from former white and Mauritian outgrowers. There has been very limited turnover in this site. One farm in our sample is currently not being used as the owner died and his wife, who inherited the farm, could not cope with the accumulated debts. A plan to work with a contracting firm to produce animal feed for an abbatoir using the centre pivots has been proposed, but not yet realised. One other farm has been subdivided and allocated to two wives as part of an inheritance, but otherwise the farmers who took over the plots in 2002 – or their wives – are still farming.

The average age of sugar farmers is higher than any other resettlement category, with household heads being 57 on average. Those who gained plots were usually well-established men in jobs. In our sample the most common job was being a teacher or headmaster, followed by a sugar estate worker, followed by working for the ministry of agriculture. Some original farmers have passed on, and wives have inherited, with 28.6% of all farms in our small sample being run by women. When farms were taken over, 71% had jobs, but today this is down to 36% as people have retired or decided to concentrate on sugar farming.

With this pattern of household demography, all households have adult children in the 21-30 age range, but none are involved in farming. This reflects the high educational levels of both household heads (93% having continued in education after Form II) and children, who have largely gone on to professional jobs, like their parents. 29% of households receive remittances, including from these children.

Average production over four years is 1570 kg of raw cane in the Hippo Valley site, and this fluctuates considerably less than in dryland farming. Production levels overall among the new outgrowers has surprised many, including the estate management, as we discovered in our focused study of sugar growing in the lowveld. Today, outgrowers, who are producing yields at level if not higher than the estate, are central to lowveld sugar industry.

Since settlement, the estate has provided inputs – including guaranteed irrigation water, fertiliser, replanting ratoons and so on – on the basis of a contract with the mill. While every outgrower complains (naturally) about the conditions set by the estate and oligopolistic power of the mill, the ability to gain finance and inputs and have a guaranteed market is a major contrast to the conditions faced by dryland farmers (and other sugar growers in the region). Other crops grown include vegetables, with several in our sample producing significant quantities, amounting to between US$2000 and $US5000 annual income, alongside a limited amount of maize. On average 3.6 cattle are kept along with on average 4.4 goats, but the main operation is sugar.

All farmers employ permanent male workers, and 93% employ female workers too, and all farms rely on temporary workers for cane cutting and other jobs. The infrastructure of the former farmers is used by the new farmers, including worker compounds and farm houses, previously used by farm owners and their managers. All households in our sample have piped water and electricity and so the general level of infrastructure is far higher than other resettlement farms as it was taken over at settlement.

Sugar production is certainly hard work, but it is profitable, despite the complaints. And when complemented with vegetable production and some maize and other crops produced for own use, plus other off-farm income from jobs, remittances, house rental (43%) and grinding mill investments (28%), the situation in Hippo Valley at least is much better than the dryland farmers on A2 farms.

But across the A2 sites, we heard again and again complaints about the lack of state support. A sugar farmer in Mkwasine/Fair Range complained:

Our ministers just don’t care about us, they don’t know about growing sugar cane. They know maize and tobacco from the Highveld only. We don’t get any ‘command’ support, we are ignored. We don’t get good deals from the company, and we are heavily taxed. The company is stealing the money, as the bosses were corrupt. But we, the farmers, produce the best sugar in the world. Those who came here and just do dryland cropping are better off. They came through their (political) connections and had cleared fields, they continue to get support.

Asked about the future, he said:

We can’t foretell, we can’t predict, we can’t say because of climate change. We don’t know if the rain will come, and if we have more droughts, everyone will suffer and the nation will not have food. This is why looking after farmers is so important.

The story of A2 farms in Masvingo province is therefore highly variable. There are successes and failures, and much depends on the ability to raise finance – through links to patronage (such as via command agriculture), to off-farm jobs (especially if paid in foreign exchange) or to outgrower arrangements for sugar production on the Hippo Valley and Mkwasine (for some Fair Range farmers) estates. However the wider macro-economic conditions are not conducive, and the prospects for many are poor. A2 farms in Masvingo have a long way to go before they can be the basis of a vibrant, new commercial agriculture, and this in particular will require new forms of secure and reliable finance.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Led by Felix Murimbarimba, the Masvingo team is: Moses Mutoko, Thandiwe Shoko, Tanaka Murimbarimba, Liberty Tavagwisa, Tongai Murimbarimba, Vimbai Museva, Jacob Mahenehene, Tafadzwa Mavedzenge (data entry) and Shingirai, the driver. Thanks to the research team, ministry of agriculture officials and the many farmers who have supported the work over the years.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

NEW PAPER – Medium-scale farms in Africa: history lessons from Zimbabwe

‘Medium-scale’ farms as seen as potential drivers of future agricultural growth in Africa. In Zimbabwe, much hope is vested in A2 farms allocated at land reform becoming productive, with hopes pinned on investment flowing following the election. The A2 farms, averaging around 100 ha in extent, will be a major focus of policy attention in the coming years, as attempts are made to resuscitate the commercial sector. These are also the areas where the political-military elite now firmly in power own land, and there will be multiple political and economic incentives to invest in the A2 land reform areas.

But what will be the future of such medium-scale commercial farms? Can we look to historical experience to suggest possible trajectories? What will happen to the A2 farms several generations on? Will we see a progressive evolution of increasing commercialisation and investment driven by market forces as is sometimes assumed, or will a greater diversity of outcomes arise, as chance, necessity and contingency play their part? A new paper is just out in the journal Africa (open access) that asks these questions.

The paper draws on an historical and contemporary assessment of what were called ‘native purchase areas’ in Zimbabwe. These were medium-scale farms in todays’ parlance, established for black farmers by the colonial government from the 1930s. Through a study of Mushagashe area, we asked what’s happened since, and why?

Structural transformations

A number of recent studies have documented the growth of ‘medium-scale’ farms across Africa, from Ghana to Malawi to Zambia to Kenya. ‘Investor farmers’ – local rural elites, retired civil servants and urbanites wanting a rural base – are creating a new dynamic as land markets – both formal and informal – emerge, and rural traditional leaders, government officials and others get involved in the process, accruing personal benefits along the way.

This redistribution of land towards a new elite results in processes of land dispossession and rural proletarianisation, but also investment, skill development and economic linkage effects between new medium-scale farms and the smallholder plots that surround them. For many, despite the negative consequences for some (perhaps many), this dynamic is seen as the future: a ‘structural transformation’ of the agrarian setting, offering many opportunities for growth and investment.

In Zimbabwe, the land reform of 2000 created a category of medium-scale farms – the A2 schemes. Around 25,000 such farms were allocated, ranging in sizes from around 20 ha (especially with irrigation) to over 500 ha, in dry areas. Like in other neighbouring countries, this has resulted in a new agrarian structure, complemented in Zimbabwe’s case by a massive increase also of smallholder agriculture.

The new A2 farmers have a similar social and economic profile to elsewhere: urban connections, business people, retirees, and they are also often well-connected politically. Unlike elsewhere the new A2 farms did not emerge from a land market, but from direct allocation by the state, subdividing large-scale commercial farms and estates. Although allocations were notionally done on the basis of a formal application process, including the submission of a business plan and a vetting of applicants in terms of qualification, capital availability and investment ideas, this often didn’t happen. Instead, in multiple cases, there was a well-documented pattern of corruption and patronage, especially around election times, when politically- and military-connected elites grabbed farms.

The result has been a mixed set of outcomes for A2 farms. Some have done very well, investing and producing; many though have not, and the farms are languishing. Very often this is due to the lack of capital and finance, which has not been forthcoming due to lack of collateral security. The process of issuing 99 year leases has been painfully slow, and for a variety of reasons the banks have been reluctant until recently to accept them as guarantees. The general lack of liquidity in the economy due to recurrent crises has also hampered investment.

The recent studies of medium-scale farms across Africa have focused on farm structure (in the MSU studies they have taken a huge range of sizes from 5-200 hectares to represent this group) and who owns the farms, and largely not their fortunes as productive enterprises, patterns of investment and long-term viability. Our new studies under the DFID-supported APRA (Agricultural Policy Research in Africa) programme, which is linked to a set of MSU studies led by Thom Jayne, is looking at A2 farms: investigating their sizes, ownership patterns and through some detailed surveys in Mvruwi and Masvingo, investigating both production and investment.

Most post-land reform studies have focused on the A1 smallholder farms (appropriately so, given they are the majority), so this will be the first in-depth assessment of the A2 farms, beyond very selective audits carried out by the state a decade or more ago. This will help us understand whether the dynamic in Zimbabwe, generated by the A2 allocations in land reform, replicate or contrast with, what has been found in other countries in the region.

Native Purchase Areas 80 years on

In addition to this study, our work has been looking at longer-term histories, and a previous allocation of ‘medium-scale’ farms (also averaging 100 ha) from the 1930s in Zimbabwe. These are the Native Purchase Areas and an earlier blog series has highlighted some of the findings already. Our new open access paper in Africa synthesises and extends the analysis, based on Mushagashe small-scale commercial farming area near Masvingo.

Our findings show that unbridled optimism (or indeed pessimism) about the future of medium-scale farms is unwarranted. The MSU studies from across Africa have spotted an important shift in size structure, but they tell us little about the future. The idea that there is a linear evolution of farm systems from smallholder to medium-scale to large-scale commercial, as land areas consolidate and market forces drive comparative advantage needs to be challenged.

The big debates about structural transformation in agriculture currently being revived in agricultural economics are often starkly ahistorical. They assume simple, unidirectional evolutionary change as incentives shift. But there’s a lot else that goes on besides. When we look at history in detail – as we did for Mushagashe, but more impressively Sara Berry did for Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia – we see that commercialisation doesn’t happen like this. There are stops and starts, booms and busts, generational changes, policy shocks and so on. History is about contingency, conjucture and chance, not predictable, linear evolution.

As we found in Mushagashe, 80 years on some farms were thriving; others had been but were languishing now; others had plans for the future, but weren’t getting going; while others had been abandoned, or were in the process of being so. Still others had different views of the land: this was home, somewhere to seek refuge from ‘communal area’ life, or where other family members could be settled, in what, over generations, had become more like villages than conventional farms.

Commercialisation we found wasn’t a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. For some it was the classic pattern of increasing external inputs, greater deployment of labour and higher, more marketed outputs. But for others commercialisation was selective: in projects run by particular family members, or in particular plots, where water was available.

Lessons from history

While history cannot predict the future, it can help us ask questions about what might be. And the Native Purchase Area lessons documented in the new paper suggest that it is unwise to be too gung-ho about the future of medium-scale farms in Africa. The restructuring of farm sizes we are seeing now will have many outcomes, and the sort of processes that unfolded in Mushagashe since the early 1930s will likely play a part in creating a wide diversity, both in the A2 farms and in other medium-scale farms in the region.

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

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The 20 top Zimbabweland blogs of 2017, so far!

It’s the time of year that Zimbabweland takes a break for a few weeks. But it’s also a good time for readers to catch up on what they’ve missed. Here are the posts from this year that have received the most views (and now with all the right links – sorry for those who were browsing earlier in the week). The list starts with a topical one from January, but there are also quite a few from the blog series that have been run this year, based on our on-going research in Masvingo, Mvurwi and Matobo. These have included:

  • A series on the future of medium-sized farms, based on our work in a former ‘purchase area’, and reflecting on the challenges of new A2 land reform farms.
  • A series on young people after land reform, and the challenges of precarious livelihoods, as well as the opportunities presented by the new agrarian structure
  • A series focused on land administration challenges confronting the Zimbabwe Land Commission, including land audits, compensation, dispute resolution and more.

Apart from these, there have been book reviews, summaries of some of our new papers and more.

So far there have been around 35,000 views of the blog this year, covering many posts across the years – and from all over the world. There are now nearly 300 posts to view, so there’s plenty to dig into. Just search! And if you are not one of the 570 people who receive a copy of the post each Monday morning into their inbox, do sign up, or follow me on Twitter @ianscoones, as new blogs are usually highlighted. Happy reading!

  1. View What will the inauguration of President Trump bring to Africa?
  2. View What is the future for medium-sized commercial farms in Zimbabwe?
  3. View Tobacco and contract farming in Zimbabwe
  4. View Zimbabwe’s diamond theft: power and patronage in Marange
  5. View “No condition is permanent”: small-scale commercial farming in Zimbabwe
  6. View Women and land: challenges of empowerment
  7. View How persistent myths distort policy debate on land in Zimbabwe
  8. View Young people and agriculture: implications for post-land reform Zimbabwe
  9. View Medium-scale farming for Africans: The ‘Native Purchase Areas’ in Zimbabwe
  10. View The future of medium-scale commercial farms in Africa: lessons from Zimbabwe
  11. View Beyond the crises: debating Zimbabwe’s future
  12. View How are the children of Zimbabwe’s land reform beneficiaries making a living?
  13. View Underutilised land in Zimbabwe: not a new problem
  14. View What prospects for the next generation of rural Zimbabweans?
  15. View Methods for agrarian political economy: reflecting on Sam Moyo’s contributions
  16. View Compensation following land reform: four big challenges
  17. View Africa must take the lead in addressing global health challenges
  18. View Diverse life courses: difficult choices for young people in rural Zimbabwe
  19. View Land audits: a tricky technical and political challenge
  20. View Land dispute resolution in Zimbabwe

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The future of medium-scale commercial farms in Africa: lessons from Zimbabwe

img_0064

Important changes are afoot in the size structure of farms in Africa. The rise of ‘medium-scale’ farms is often pointed to. From studies in Kenya, Ghana, Zambia and elsewhere, carried out by Michigan State University, a pattern of consolidation of land holdings is observed, with an increasing proportion held in medium-sized farms, owned often by ‘outsiders’ to local peasant farming communities – including retirees, local investors and urbanites wanting a foothold in the countryside.

These people are investing in this new farmland, and sometimes (but far from always) making it more productive, and commercially-oriented. In Ghana and Zambia, for example, such medium-scale farms now account for more land area than small-scale (under 5 ha) farms (see new work by Thom Jayne and colleagues, for example here, here,  here and here). Land concentration in such farms, under new ownership and land tenure arrangements, occurs through different routes – either through accumulation of land by those who earlier had smaller plots via local land markets, or acquisition of land by ‘outsiders’ through political and other connections.

Patterns vary across countries and locations within them, and the MSU studies are rather crude relying as they do on existing datasets, taking a huge range (from 5 to 100 ha) to constitute ‘medium-scale’. Farm size survey data too can only tell us so much. While such data indicate an important shift in overall pattern, the implications for the dynamics of rural class formation, labour regimes, gender relations patterns of dispossession and displacement, markets in land and agricultural commodities, for example, are not revealed. This is why complementary in-depth analysis is required, that probes the implications further.

In our studies in Zimbabwe, we are examining the fate of A2 farms, where allocations of land following the 2000 land reform ranged from 20 ha to upwards of 500 ha in drier parts of the country, with an average of around 70 ha. As discussed in previous blogs, this has resulted in a major restructuring of farm sizes and overall agrarian structure in the country, with this category of ‘medium-scale’ farm being significant, and by comparison to the old dualism of the large-scale and small-scale communal sector a new phenomenon. Although as the previous weeks have discussed, while not on the scale of A2 farming areas (representing now nearly 2 million ha or about 6 percent of the country’s land area), former ‘purchase areas’ or small-scale commercial farm areas (around 1.4 m ha or 4.4 percent of total land area) offer some hints as to some of the future challenges of broadly-defined ‘medium-scale’ commercial farming.

In our studies, highlighted in the case studies covered last week, we found four possible outcomes emerging over time in the former Purchase Areas, highlighted to varying degrees in the case studies presented in the last blog in this series.

  • The ‘villagised farm’. Here the land is seen as belonging to a family, across generations. Children can establish homes, often across several families, and a village area is created. Sometimes these family units operate independently and have their own patches within the farm where they cultivated; in other cases they contribute collectively to what is usually the fathers’ farm. His brothers, sons, and their wives and children, all provide a collective labour force. Some members of these families may not be resident, and may work elsewhere, but they regard the farm as ‘home’ and do not have other residences in the communal areas (although some joined land invasions and gained land through land reform). These villages – formerly seen as ‘squatter’ settlements – may include others, incorporated into the farm over time, such as labourers, or other relatives and their families. Over years, numbers can increase significantly. In our study areas in Mushagashe, we estimated that on one farm of this type there were perhaps nearly 50 living there, including at least 8 ‘households’, and several families of workers. Some sons without jobs stay on the farm with their families, while others who are working away have homes where sometime wives and children stay.
  • The commercial farm. This is the imagined ideal, and sometimes occurs. But often only in certain time periods, linked to generational changes. As mentioned in a previous blog, in the late 50s and early 60s, some Purchase Area farms operated as serious commercial enterprises. Their owners were resident, often retired, but not too old to run and manage a farm. In subsequent years, the commercial orientation died off, as older parents no longer could manage the farms, and sons and other relatives were not around to reinvest. However a generation on, these sons are now moving back to these farms. The economic crisis of the 1990s and accelerating in the 2000s meant that abandoning jobs in town, such as poorly paid civil service employment, and taking up farming was attractive, even if the family farm was remote and often by this stage run down. Limited retrenchment packages may have assisted, but after a period in the doldrums some farms are seeing a revival. Commercial farming in this scenario is not a life-long investment, but something that happens at a certain life stage, and is intimately linked to fortunes in the world of urban work, or patterns of income from remittances, now spread across an increasingly global diaspora.
  • Subdivision. Rather than reinvesting and scaling up, some choose to subdivide and sell off. This may prevent the possibilities of villagisation, and the often troublesome reliance of potentially endless relatives, sometimes with remote connections seeking out a ‘family’ farm as a place of refuge and support – and a place to farm. If sons (usually, rarely daughters in our case studies) are not able to come ‘home’ and farm commercially, then raising income through the land market can provide a source of income. This mirrors the period in the 1950s when fragmentation of farms occurred and squatters were evicted. This also happens today and, although there are often family disputes over whether the farm can be sold (either completely or in part), the use of title deeds (very often not touched for decades, and often formally invalid because not updated in the registry) can provide a route to realise the value of the family asset. Disputes emerge among family members especially if there are some siblings who are resident at the farm, and do not have jobs. Many Purchase Area farmers’ children however are well-educated, and part of the increasingly international Zimbabwean middle class. Like their parents, they were educated in the elite schools of the late colonial/early Independence area, which were as good as any in the region. With such qualifications, access to skilled job markets were plentiful and they ended up comfortably in jobs in Harare, but also Johannesburg, Cape Town, Gabarone, London and Birmingham (with not a few academics amongst their number). While the family farm has an emotional appeal, the idea of going to farm there like their parents did is not on the radar; and their children ion turn may have visited for a few Christmases as kids but have no intention of starting a rural life.
  • Projectising the farm. For those who are absent, and with parents still alive and living on the farm, there is one common option that emerges, as we have seen in the case studies profiled last week. This is to ‘projectise’ the farm. Discrete projects are envisaged, and invested in. These commonly involve livestock, with dairy, piggeries and poultry projects common in our study areas. Sometimes these projects are financed by NGOs and aid projects, as part of ‘development’ activities; more commonly they are self-financed, with funds coming via Western Union from the UK or elsewhere. These remittance investments need some management and if the parents are not up to it, local people are employed as resident farm managers. Some are able to raise external loans and finance by virtue of their jobs, and in a few cases joint venture/partnership arrangements are brokered with external investors. The trouble with most Purchase Areas is that road and market infrastructure is poor, and the costs of marketing is high, making commercial agriculture tough going. The projects that we have seen break even just, but are backstopped by external finance if the going gets tough. This allows sons, but in this case also daughters, to have a stake in the family farm, but without committing to run it. The areas used and the scale of operations invested in are often very small. They provide a small supplement to keep their now ageing parents in groceries and allows for the paying of school fees of some poorer relatives who may be resident at the farm. Most importantly such projects keep a psychological link with ‘home’, and a sense of commitment and belonging, however limited. This is far from the image of the commercial farm, merely a collection of projects, with focused investments, on a farm that otherwise has limited activity – with some mixed farming and some gardens, but little else. Similar in many ways to the Purchase Area farms of the past that were accused of not being the images of modernity that were planned.

There may be other patterns and trajectories that we have not yet picked up, but these four are repeated in varying combinations across the study areas where we have been working in Masvingo Province. Are these potential scenarios for the A2 farms, and for the much touted medium scale farming more broadly across Africa? In many ways, I suspect they offer important glimpses of potential futures. As the diagram below, at least four different scenarios could be envisaged, depending on patterns of financing and farm productivity.

a2-futures

Only one of these is ‘proper’ commercial farming, as envisaged by planners and policymakers. The others respond to changing life cycles and demographic shifts, as well as the inevitable shift to urban and even diaspora life as people become educated, and gain opportunities elsewhere. In many ways these are more realistic, and represent accommodations between farming, life cycles and livelihoods. The Zimbabwe case is of course peculiar as the economic hardships over several decades – from structural adjustment (ESAP) in the 1990s to the economic crisis of the 2000s, returning again today – have meant that urban employment as a focus for accumulation and social reproduction is often not feasible. Many flee the country in search of a better life, but this does not always turn out well. So perhaps unusually the attraction of a farm – a place to live, to call home, to invest in and be part of – is more prominent for Zimbabweans today.

Although the A2 farms have failed to take off in ways that were hoped for, maybe this is because of false expectations and misplaced assumptions about what land is for and what farming entails. Farming has always been part of diversified urban-rural livelihoods, now increasingly internationalised. Of course this applied to so-called ‘white’ farming too, but in different ways. The imagined ideal of the sole owner-operator of an individual farm, always resident and doing nothing but farming was very rare indeed.

My guess is that, if like the SSCFAs, the A2 farms are neglected in policymaking and not made the focus of local and regional economic growth strategies, with secure tenure, finance and basic public good investment (which currently seems likely given the lack of policy imagination in government, the failure of donors to grasp the challenge and so a complete lack of finance), then in 20 years, these scenarios seen today in the former Purchase Areas are quite likely in the A2 areas. If you go to visit the farms in a former Purchase Area today, you could be seeing the future of the A2 farms in a generation’s time.

Indeed, nearly 17 years after land reform, we see many of these patterns already – with small villages of relatives, large under-used areas complemented with small, intensive projects, and informal subdivisions, rentals, and joint ventures/partnerships emerging attempting to get things moving. Perhaps by reversing the policy neglect, and getting the A2 farms moving (and this will require a shake out with a politically-contentious audit process), more vibrant, productive commercial trajectories will be possible, but these too will have to accommodate changing demographics, diverse livelihoods, and shifting aspirations.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized