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Land, livelihoods and small towns

In early June, I was invited by the Africa Research Institute in London to a panel discussion held to launch a new ARI Counterpoints piece by Beacon Mbiba on ‘missing urbanisation’ in Zimbabwe. Beacon’s piece raised some important questions about how urban areas are defined, and how many urban people there are. As part of a wider debate about the dynamics of urbanisation in Africa – which Debbie Potts has provocatively contributed in a number of articles, including another ARI Counterpoints issue – the question of numbers and geographic boundaries is important – and has significant implications for planning and politics.

In my talk, I focused instead on the underlying processes of livelihood change that might reveal rather different numbers – if they could be counted accurately. I argued that the conception and the role of ‘the urban’ in people’s lives is changing following land reform, especially in rural areas.

The session was chaired by Edward Paice, and involved Beacon Mbiba (Oxford Brookes), Jo McGregor (Sussex) and myself. An audio version is available online if you want to have a listen. This is my presentation – slightly elaborated from my notes – picking up from the earlier Zimbabweland blog series on small towns in particular.

Land reform and small towns

Following land reform in 2000, there were major changes in production, economic activity and settlement – and with these largely rural changes there have been big changes in urban centres – very often small towns – near new resettlements. This I would argue has gone largely unresearched and unnoticed – partly because of the ways urban areas and people are demarcated, classified and counted.

Over last few years, we have been studying three such small towns (all featured in earlier blogs):

  • Mvurwi (in Mazowe district, formerly servicing large-scale white farming, a farm labour settlement, now at the centre of a booming smallholder led tobacco growing area),
  • Chatsworth (in Gutu, a railway siding, and again in the centre of what was large-scale farms, now surrounding by land reform areas producing maize, vegetables and other ag commodities) and
  • Maphisa (in Matabeleland South, Matobo district, again in a reconfigured rural area, including resettlements and an ARDA farm with a recent JV investment).

According to very outdated hierarchical urban planning classifications, of these, only Mvurwi is classified as ‘urban’ according to ZIMSTATS. Chatsworth and Maphisa (formerly a TILCOR town) are ‘growth points’.

All these small towns in rural areas have some common features in the 17 years since land reform:

  • Significantly increased resident populations (Mvurwi was up by 6,000 to the 2012 census)
  • A massive increase in stands, a building boom (tripled high and medium density stands in all towns, with many more pegged)
  • A rapid growth in business activity, especially of small enterprises – many linked to agriculture (market vendors, grocery stores, butcheries, hardware stores – as well as grinding mills, carpentry/building, welding, tailoring, hair salons, photocopy shops, phone card vendors, and, and, and….)
  • Many more transport connections and operators (kombis, small trucks)

And, on the negative side, there has been the closing down of some large businesses (some banks and companies formerly servicing large-scale farms, for example), and a serious decline in public services and state investment in urban infrastructure in all three cases.

Big changes in small towns: four themes

Noting these changes, and the links to land reform resettlement areas, we have asked, what shifts are important in understanding the changing role of rural small towns? I want to highlight four themes:

    1. Business opportunities. There is now money in the rural economy from agriculture on land reform farms (mostly A1). This includes cash from sales of tobacco (Mvurwi), horticulture (Chatsworth), and livestock (Maphisa). The dynamism of many local economies linked to A1 resettlements is there for anyone to see. Many of these flows of cash are seasonal – and today seriously affected by cash crisis, although the shift to e-commerce has been swift – but the overall volumes are significant. The result is what economists call linkage and multiplier effects: demand for services, inputs etc., especially agriculture related business, including transport, equipment, seed, fertiliser and so on.
    2. New people in town. In the past such commercial activity in such towns was dominated by large businesses. They were places where you might get a job or they were residential areas for farm workers or civil servants. Workers on farms would come to shop after being paid. Today, there are multiple small businesses. These are especially important for youth and women, and those who didn’t get land through land reform. Such activities are fragile, informal and risky, but offering a livelihood, and employing one or two others, generating overall considerable economic activity. For example: across our three cases, since land reform in 2000 up to 2016, there are five times as many hardware stores, 4 x grocery stores, 4 x food outlets, 3 x butcheries, 2 x bottle stores, 5 x numbers of market vendors and so on. And there are also new outside investors, including ‘black’ capital, as well as Indian, Chinese, and other investors, not seen in these towns before.
    3. Housing. There has been a massive expansion of low and medium density housing. There’s been a huge building boom (and yes, with this, opportunities for corruption and patronage, but not quite like Harare peripheries described by Jo McGregor’s research). In Mvurwi, 2000 low density and 750 medium density stands have been established since 2000. Many investors are land reform farmers and traders in agricultural commodities. Those linked to land reform sites are the new landlords, putting up the teachers, nurses and other civil servants. The period therefore has seen shifts in economic and class relations, and patterns of accumulation, as people invest in real estate from farming.
    4.  Infrastructure and planning. Basic services, infrastructure and planning is not keeping up with this rapid pace of change. Lack of state capacity and investment really shows in all our sites. Sewage, electrical supply and roads, for example, are all in a poor state. Local government is in a mess, but there is a new rural-urban politics emerging, as people demand that the state responds.

Rethinking rural-urban relations

Overall, I see a changing role of ‘town’. In the past, the classic pattern of southern African circular migration existed. Men went to work, usually somewhere distant; they remitted funds home, and then later retired to the rural communal home. This no longer happens, at least not in the same way.

Now ‘town’ is closer to the rural (small towns are where the action is, with better transport costs driving down local prices), people shuttle between houses in town and on the farms and families are split and mobile (seasonally, but also even daily – there are always full kombis coming to and from the farms).

To my mind, this makes the question of residence on a snapshot census almost meaningless! In my view, then, instead of worrying about the numbers or the classification of what is and isn’t a town, it’s better to invest in understanding the changing spatial dynamics of livelihoods – patterns of settlement, production, investment, accumulation – and so the changing relationships between urban and rural.

This requires a radical rethink of local government, service provision, infrastructure investment and economic and spatial planning. Throw out old colonial planning models, and redesign statistical data collection to fit new contexts.

I have long argued for a more regional spatial perspective to planning and development, incorporating the reconfigured rural areas and linking to urban areas, of all types. Local economic development is happening, but is not coordinated, supported and made the most of, due to the fragmented, dysfunctional nature of state (and private, NGO, and donor) support. Making this happen will of course require a functioning bureaucratic state, along with economic and political stability. This sadly still seems far off.

In the meantime, people will get on with their lives, refashioning urban and rural spaces, and the relationships between in ways that the planning textbooks and the census data just simply do not reveal.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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Tobacco and contract farming in Zimbabwe


How does commercial agriculture – and particularly contract farming – affect agrarian dynamics? We have been looking at this question in work in Mvurwi area in Mazowe district over the last few years. New work under the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa project of the Future Agricultures Consortium will pursue this further.

An open access paper is just out in the Journal of Agrarian Change – “Tobacco, contract farming and agrarian change in Zimbabwe”. (PDF here). This looks at the influence of tobacco farming (both contracted and independently grown) on patterns of social differentiation and class formation within A1 resettlement areas. Tobacco production is one of the big post-land reform stories, but how is this driving different patterns of accumulation, with what implications for livelihoods, labour and politics?

Lots of data are presented in the paper on contrasting production, asset ownership and investment patterns across our sample of 220 households. Towards the end of the paper, we offer a simple typology of different classes of farmer, resulting from differential accumulation due to tobacco production.

Social differentiation and class formation

The Accumulators: This group are those with sufficient resources to grow tobacco and sell it on their own. In the recent past they may have had contracting relationships with companies, but many have found it possible to operate independently because of sufficient resources accumulated. Tobacco income has been invested in tractors and transport vehicles, allowing households to cultivate effectively and transport tobacco to the auction floors. They balance tobacco farming with commercial maize farming, so they spread their risk in terms of agriculture. Many also have other businesses, including tractor hire and transport, but also house rental, as some have invested in real estate in Mvurwi, Mazowe and Harare from tobacco proceeds. This group is generally older, male, more educated, and sometimes with jobs in town, or at least pensions and other resources – sometimes remittances from children abroad – to draw on, which helps the path of accumulation. This group hires permanent labour, and also uses a temporary workforce hired from the locality as well as from the compounds. Links to state officials, agribusinesses and political networks become important for gaining access to some resources, notably fertiliser, and so accumulation from below combines with accumulation from above for this group.

The Aspiring Accumulators: This group includes a number with formal contracting relationships with companies. They do not have enough resources to produce and sell independently, but are prepared to commit significant land areas to tobacco to fulfil contracts, and take on the associated risk. They generally have a larger proportion of their farms allocated to tobacco, and so less to other crops, including maize. However, on average, they still manage to produce more than a tonne of maize per year, and so, even on smaller areas, have enough for self-provisioning. Many also complement tobacco production with small-scale commercial horticulture, often run by women, and so have diverse sources of income. They hire labour, both locally and from the compounds, but have a smaller permanent workforce compared to the accumulator group. In terms of off-farm income sources, this group combines traditional local occupations, such as building or brickmaking, with cattle sales, and some with small transport operations. While aspiring to greater things, this group is certainly ‘accumulating from below’, and shows a significant level of purchase of assets, including cattle, solar panels, cell phones, as well as agricultural and other inputs.

The Peasant Producers: Not everyone is accumulating to the extent of these other groups, and for some a more classic peasant production system is evident. This does not mean ‘subsistence’ production, as all are engaging in the market, but the production system features a dominance of own-family labour (although some hiring in of temporary piece work), and production that is spread across a variety of crops, including tobacco. Most in this group will not be in a contracting relationship with a company. They instead sell tobacco, often as part of a group, independently. There has been a large movement from this group to the other two accumulator groups in the past few years.

The Diversifiers and Strugglers: There are a number of households who are not producing in the way the peasant producers manage, and are clearly struggling. This group does not engage in cropping for sale (or if so very little, and not usually tobacco, but mostly maize), and often produces insufficient maize for self-provisioning. Such farmers have to diversify income earning activities, often with a clear gendered division of labour, across activities including building, carpentry, thatching, fishing and some craft making (for men) and vegetable sales, trading, pottery and basket making (for women). They rarely hire labour, and will often be the ones labouring for others, as temporary labourers on nearby farms.

Dynamic agrarian change in tobacco areas

These categories are far from static, and the drive to accumulate, with contracting seen as an important route to this end, is ever present, both in people’s own commentaries, as well as in observed practices. Everyone can see success around them, and tobacco is the symbol of this, although some are having their doubts about its sustainability and diversifying into other high-value crops. These categorisations of also miss the differential trajectories of accumulation within households, across genders and generations. As seen in the recent blog series, some youth are failing to make it, and often remain within increasingly large accumulator households as dependents, even after marriage. Some women may be tobacco farmers in their own right, but tobacco accumulation is predominantly a male phenomenon, with men often taking on the tobacco business, and associated investments from the proceeds.

What do these patterns tell us about likely longer-term patterns of agrarian change? The tobacco boom has provided a significant group of land reform beneficiaries the opportunity to accumulate. This has had spin-off effects in the rural economy – generating employment, resulting in investments of different sorts, and changes in the local economy as small towns like Mvurwi grow.

It has also generated class-related conflicts and dependencies both in relation to compound-based farm worker households and with others in the A1 areas who are struggling to reproduce. The weak kin-based social relations within new resettlement communities limit the redistributive effects of a ‘traditional’ moral economy, and means that there are genuine losers, as well as winners, from the land reform.

There are inevitable limits to accumulation, set by environmental factors (and especially the supply of wood for curing), market conditions (and changes in the world market, health concerns, the demand for higher quality leaf and price shifts), social-political relations (and the ability to negotiate within markets), and limited land areas.

In the A1 areas, successful households attract others, particularly from the communal areas, and household sizes expand as others are taken in. Surplus income can be invested in basic social reproduction – including maintaining rural homes, investing in education, health care, marriage of children and so on – as well as production – including livestock, farm equipment, inputs, transport and so on – but again there are limits to the herd sizes and capital items and other inputs that can be bought.

A key question will be where the next round of investment will end up. Here the relationship between countryside and towns, especially small towns, becomes important, as accumulators build urban/peri-urban housing for rent, private schools as business ventures, and sink capital into other urban-based businesses, potentially a source of employment for the next generation. This is only beginning now, but the data show that this is a trend to watch.

These economic transformations also feed into and are built upon social and political dynamics. Successful A1 farmers – very often well educated, and with links to urban areas – are important social and political actors, often seen as leaders in local political formations (mostly within the ruling party, ZANU-PF), but also in other groupings, such as churches and business associations. How alliances are struck with farm workers – in all their forms – as well as those A1 farmers who are struggling will be significant, as new forms of agrarian politics emerge on the back of the tobacco boom.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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From ‘ordered estates’ to ‘crooked times’: farmworker welfare in Zimbabwe

farm mvurwi

A new book is just out – Ordered Estates: Welfare, Power and Maternalism on Zimbabwe’s (Once White) Highveld – by Andrew Hartnack, and published by Weaver and UKZN Press. It addresses many of the themes highlighted in the blogs of the past two weeks, and is based on research carried out over the last decade on a number of Highveld farms, as well as with farm worker welfare NGOs. Once you peel away the layering of sometimes unnecessary theory (it was originally an anthropology PhD so that’s the excuse!), the empirical stories shared in the book’s pages have much to offer our emerging understandings of post-land reform Zimbabwe (see also earlier blogs on his work).

The book fills an important gap in the literature, as it offers a nuanced account of the history of farm workers’ rights, as well as a reflection on changing fortunes since 2000. The ‘ordered estates’ of the colonial era have been much described. Blair Rutherford’s classic work from Karoi/Hurungwe told this story well, describing the constrained ‘domestic government’ that disciplined and controlled in the narrow, paternalistic world of white farms. Post-independence this reformed somewhat, and the limited sovereignties of the farms were extended as the state insisted on labour laws and other regulations, and NGOs took up the plight of farmworkers, creating new, more technical-bureaucratic, ‘practices of rule’.

This book deepens this analysis, particularly with a focus on ‘farmers’ wives’ and their role in welfare organisations – hence the reference to ‘maternalism’ in the title. It also shows of course that there was not one single approach to labour in white farming areas; not surprisingly all farms were different, depending on characters and contexts. The post-independence developmental attempts to modernise, civilise and improve resulted in a range of initiatives on the farms from schooling programmes to orphanages, often with heavy involvement of ‘farmers’ wives’. But by ‘rendering technical’ the inequalities of land and labour regimes, such welfare efforts did not address the underlying challenges, and welfare was more sticking plaster rather than fundamental reform. Following land reform in 2000, such NGOs have not found a new role, focusing on displacement, but not on the new lives and livelihoods of their former ‘beneficiaries’.

However, it is in the examination of the post-land reform period that this book cuts new ground. Building on, but also critiquing (as with some other recent literature somewhat gratuitously and inaccurately in my view), the important work of Walter Chambati, Sam Moyo and others, the book paints a detailed ethnographic picture of how farm workers carve out new opportunities in an highly challenging economic, social and political environment. This is the period of ‘crooked times’, where a ‘zig-zag’ approach to the kukiya-kiya economy is vital to survive. This is the world where there are no standard jobs – in the form of regular wage work – and where entrepreneurial informality emerges, with new forms of distribution, dependence and personhood, as James Ferguson describes for South Africa.  Whether in the case of the Harare peri-urban settlement described in Chapter 5 (discussed previously in this blog) or the biographies of former farm workers profiled in Chapter 7, mixing new farm work with urban living, the new precarities of life in the post land reform age are well described. New ‘modes of belonging’ must be generated, very different to the ordered safety, if extreme exploitation, of what went before.

What was missing from the book I felt was more detailed information who moved to what new occupations and where they ended up to provide the bigger-picture context to make sense of the fascinating detail. The book acknowledges the problems with the existing statistics, quoting both the CFU and other sources, and (somewhat bizarrely) just takes an average number, as a ‘middle way’. Getting a national picture may be impossible, but it would have been good to know what happened on those on the farms studied, and get a sense of how outcomes for farm workers were differentiated and why, in order to locate the few, if fascinating, individual cases.

There are hints though at wider patterns. Those few white farms that have persisted have often maintained a network of loyal farm workers, some who provide protection and support through their links, and the book offered an interesting case of this dynamic in Chapter 7. At various points, the book suggests (I think very accurately) that turnover on A2 farms was particularly damaging to farmworkers, as production collapsed and some A2 farmers did not maintain their operations. But it also suggests that ‘successful’ A2 farms nearby took on workers, and so there is often a regional labour economy that is important to understand on the new farms. The book did not however get into any detail on what happened post land reform to groups of farmworkers in farm labour compounds, and especially on the A1 farms (after all the largest areas), as we have been trying to do in Mvurwi. It therefore missed out on the dynamic described in the blogs over the last two weeks, of farmworkers becoming farmers – along with much else – in the new ‘crooked times’ of the last 16 years.

Despite shortcomings (this was after all a single researcher doing a research degree, so no blame there), this is a most valuable contribution, and coming from a white Zimbabwean (as he admits not from a farming background) perhaps especially powerful. When you next hear misinformed statements about Zimbabwe’s former farmworkers, please turn to this book for an informed, nuanced account that sets an important agenda for future research and policy debate.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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The changing fortunes of former farm workers in Zimbabwe


Last week, I offered an overview of our findings on changing livelihoods among former farm workers from three former large-scale farms near Mvurwi in Mazowe district, and focused on broad survey findings, but what about individual’s life stories and perspectives? This week, I share four case examples of around 25 we have collected to date. They offer important glimpses into the life of farmworkers, before and after land reform (see also blogs from last year on this theme).

The first two are women (both single) who have gardens, but must rely on piecework and remittances to survive. The first case fits into the group highlighted last week of households with between zero and 1 ha of land, while the second has no land beyond a very small home garden. The second two are profiles of men and their households, both with 1 ha plots. From these interviews we can see clearly how things have changed, in different ways from different people.

A recurrent theme is the sense of new freedoms, but also extreme challenges and precarity. Reflections on the past focus on control, ordering and disciplining, but also stability and the certainty of a wage. As the testimonies show, farmers were very different in their approach. Different people weigh up the pros and cons of change in different ways. Gaining access to land, as highlighted last week, even if a very small plot is seen as crucial, but this is only available to some, and security of tenure is uncertain, dependant on local patronage relations.

The life histories highlight the multi-generational experience of farm work, and the endless mobility of moving farm to farm in search of work. Several of these cases have family connections with Mozambique or Malawi, but several generations removed. Home has become the farms, although some have communal area links. A fragile existence persists, as we see much mobility in populations living in the compounds in our study areas. Evictions are frequent, and conflicts with settlers common, although, as noted in some of the cases new accommodations, as land is rented, skills hired and former farm workers become incorporated.

Above all, the cases highlight the complex livelihoods of former farm workers, and how, as discussed last week, the single category is insufficient. A process of differentiation is occurring among former farm worker communities, with links to the new settlers and radically changed agrarian landscape influencing what is possible.

Do read four of the interview transcripts collected earlier this year:

“There’s no-one to plan for you”

I was born in Forrester Estate in 1967. My father worked there on irrigation, opening water to the canal. Mango and apple is what they grew mostly. Also wheat and soy bean. My mother worked as a general worker. I came to this farm with my parents. I went to school up to Grade III (Lucknow farm school). My mother became sick so I left school. I looked after the other children, as I was the first born. I was married in 1980. I went with my husband to Mozambique in 1992, and returned here in 2009. My husband married another wife – it didn’t work out. My father is still here, and my mother is late. I have had five children. My first born girl is late, and I also have four boys. Two did Form 4, and other two up to Grade V/VI.

We have a garden for growing tomatoes and vegetables. We go and sell by the road side to raise cash for school fees. It’s about one acre. We dug ponds in the garden. I work with one of my sons in the garden, and do not hire labour. We do maricho (piecework labour) ourselves. One son is here, but the others are in Mozambique, but I don’t get any income from them. In past when working for whites, we had very small gardens near the house only. Now we have extended gardens, and can grow more. My livelihood is better now, as I have the freedom to do gardening, and sell without asking anyone for permission. You can plan to do what you want. There’s no-one to plan for you. Before you were told what to do. Now time is your own. You have to plan. If you work the land you will be OK; if you are lazy and don’t bother, you will starve.

“There is more freedom but it’s a tough life”

I was born in 1977 and went to school up to Grade 7, but I didn’t proceed to secondary, as I had no birth certificate. I was the first born of a family of four. We lived on different farms on Forrester Estate. My father was a cook who moved from place to place, working for the same white man who was a cattle manager. My mother was both a general labourer and a house girl. My father started out as a worker, then became foreman, then house boy then cook. My grandparents were farm workers too, working near Concession, and were originally from Mozambique where they were both born.

We moved to this farm in 1992 when my father’s boss moved. I have never married, but I gave birth to a son in 1992, who is now training to be a lawyer at university. I have two boys and a girl, and live with my parents. We have never had any money. The pay was always poor. The white farm owner here was harsh. If you bought a bicycle or TV he wanted to know where it came from. There was a mindset that workers would always steal. Even if we had extra money, we would not buy things, as the farmer would be suspicious. Here you were not allowed to farm anything. No gardens even. In one year only he gave 3 lines for all the workers, but that was it. As a cook, foreman, driver or clerk you got given second-hand chairs or a TV from the whites.

We have been helped by my brothers. Two were kombi drivers in Banket. My parents helped then get licenses. They helped with the education of my kids, and fund my son at UZ. Today it’s difficult to raise money – it’s only maricho (piecework). Despite being old, my father and mother even go. We have a very small garden, where we grow vegetables and a bit of maize. We do have one cow which gives us milk. We don’t have any other land. Those with connections got 1 hectares, and farmworkers were prevented from getting resettlement land. This is home now. We have nowhere to go. The farm workers have a cemetery. This is where we live, however difficult.

In the past you had a salary. You knew it would come. If the boss had relatives visiting, my father would get extra. Now you don’t know where money will come from. But at least we will not be asked where we got the money to buy things. We now have a TV, sofa and kitchen unit. Each child has a bed. We also have solar. There is more freedom but it’s a tough life.

“Relations are better now”

I was born in 1969 in Muzarabani, was married in 1993 and I have four kids: two girls are now married and did up to Form 4, I have one boy doing Form 3, and one girl in Grade 6. My parents worked on the farms, creating the steam for the boilers for curing. I started working after Form 1, as an assistant spanner boy at Concession, and went to work on tobacco farms in Centenary. In 1995, I was promoted to be a foreman, and later went on a course on curing, planting, reaping at Blackfordby.

I came here in 1997, as my boss was friends with the former owner here. He was a tough guy. You couldn’t buy personal property. I had a small radio only. I would buy goats and sell for school fees, and other money was sent to my parents now retired back in Muzarabani communal. I tried to keep broilers, but was taken to the farmer’s own court, and wasn’t allowed to keep them. He needed people to be dependent. You had to buy at his shop, and couldn’t go to Mvurwi. He would give chikwerete (loans), but would be deducted from the salary. There was a football ground, and we were the ‘Sharp Shooters’, competing between between farms.

I got a 1 ha plot in 2002. Because farmworkers were prevented by the white farmer from the card sorting exercise for allocation of land, 27 of us came together and argued that we needed allocation. We went to the village heads, party officials and the Ministry of Lands. In the end, we were given land set aside for ‘growth’. We don’t have ‘offer letters’, but we went to the District Administrator and our names are there. But without ‘offer letters’, we can’t get any support. We don’t have any help at all. There is still suspicion of us compound workers. During the elections of 2008 it got really bad, and we were thrown out. We camped on the roadside for three days, until the MP and other officials intervened. We came back and relations are better now.

I also have been renting land. One of my relatives has a big field in the A1 settlement. She is a war vet and was married to my late brother, and I rent a plot to grow maize from her. In exchange, I help them out and do the grading and curing of their tobacco. But this year I didn’t get any land, as she used the full six hectares. My son, my wife and I all do piece work. We’ve got a garden (about 30 x 40 m), and grow potatoes for sale in Mvurwi, and at the homestead we grow bananas and sweet potatoes.

I first planted tobacco in 2006, with 7000 plants and got 12 bales. Then in subsequent years, I got 15, 12 (I was disturbed in 2008 by the evictions), 16, 18 and 20 bales. Since 2011 I have got 20 each year, with 25 bales in 2016, the highest ever. I employ workers on piece work from the compounds myself. After harvest I buy inputs in Harare, bulk buying. After land reform, I have bought other goods. We now have a 21” TV, a sofa, two bicycles, a kitchen unit, a wardrobe and a big radio. I built the barn myself, making the bricks. I also have two cows and three goats, and I hire a government tractor (from the Brazilian More Food International programme) for ploughing.

“Life is better now if you have land”

I was born in 1963 on a farm in Concession. Our family originated from Mozambique; my parents came as labourers. My parents separated, and the six kids went with my mother to another farm. We moved to many farms over the years, and came here in 1981. Of my siblings, one of my brothers is also here, and another works on a farm near Harare doing brick moulding. My two sisters live in Epworth.

At first I was a general labourer. I got married in 1984, and it was around that time that I got promoted to deputy foreman on the ranching operation. My now stepfather came here in 1986. He is now late and was a specialised grader. I have five kids: 4 boys and 1 girl. My first born is working and assisting me. My second born is assisting teaching here on the farm paid by the Salvation Army, the others are still at school.

I have a one hectare plot and a garden. The Committee of Seven and sabhuku (headman) allocated plots to 30 people (out of 89 households in the compound). At land reform, we were prevented from getting land. We concentrated on our jobs. We didn’t know if the land reform would happen for long. Now we know it’s a reality, but we missed out. Before the farmer would parcel out lines in different fields for farm workers. This was an alternative to rations, and only maize only allowed. You could get a tonne out of your allocation.

The farmer here wanted everyone to go to school (Lucknow Primary). Four white farmers built the school for farm workers, and school fees were deducted from wages. We did not rely on extra work apart from farm labour. We were busy. We had a revolving savings club to allow us to buy things, but couldn’t buy much. It was a struggle. We didn’t buy livestock as we had nowhere to keep them. We were allowed to buy TVs, radios, bicycles. But the farmer didn’t want noise, so radios had to be quiet! We had enough to survive; hand to mouth.

On my one hectare plot, I generally plant tobacco and maize 50/50. I managed to buy a truck in 2014 from 16 bales of tobacco from ¾ ha. I have five cattle, an ox cart and an ox drawn plough. I also managed to by a bed. I have to pay school fees too. I use the truck to transport tobacco to the floors, and others pay. From 2013, I am no longer going for maricho (piecework). Those with 1 ha plots end up being the employers here. Otherwise if you don’t have land it’s all maricho. Sourcing inputs and tillage is a major challenge. In the past selling was not a problem, you could get a letter from the Councillor. But today they want an offer letter. About eight compound members have TIMB grower numbers. I help others to sell under my number. They say thanks with $20.

One son does it locally on the A1 farms. Family members help in my field, and they get a share. I hire labourers from the compound. About five when doing picking, also planting, weeding, grading. $3-4 per day. My son also now has a one hectare plot, given out by the A2 farmer next door, who lives in the old farm house. There is no payment for the land, but if he asks for some help, we go and help out. It’s all about good relations.

Life is better now if you have land, even though it is small. For those without land, they view the past as better.

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


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What are former farm workers doing 16 years after land reform?

farm worker Mvurwi

There has been much debate about the fate of ‘farm workers’ following land reform, with discussion focused on displacement and dispossession (and many dodgy numbers touted around),  but relatively little about what has happened to this group since (although this blog has tried). Today we must ask,  is the term ‘farm worker’ now irrelevant, and do we need a more nuanced characterisation? Our research in Mvurwi area in Mazowe district suggests the answer is yes.

Those who were once workers on white commercial farms are now carving out new livelihoods on the margins of the resettlement programme, often under very harsh conditions. Their challenges are barely represented in wider debates on future rural policy, with the focus being on the new settlers. How they are surviving, and how they are integrating within new farming communities following land reform, remains poorly understood, and under-researched.

Fortunately there is new research emerging which paints a complex picture across the Highveld farming communities. In a couple of weeks I will review Andrew Hartnack’s excellent new book, Ordered Estates, for example. Our own research shows some similar patterns. On the three former large scale commercial farms where we are working near Mvurwi, now each subdivided into multiple A1 resettlement farms (a total of 220), there are three farm worker compounds, housing 370 families. Before land reform these families worked on farms across the district and beyond. Around half formerly worked on one of the three farms where we are working, the others came from 23 other farms, displaced by the land reform as compounds were closed and new farmers, particularly A2 farmers taking over larger farms, dismissed workers, and replaced or downsized their workforce.

In the last 15 years, these families – and now their descendants – have had to carve out a living on the margins. The old system of employment, under the paternalistic ‘domestic government’, so well described by Blair Rutherford, has gone. In its place is a much more precarious existence, based on a range of unstable sources of income. Many work for the new settlers, others farm their own land, others do a range of off-farm activities, from brickmaking to mining to fishing. We interviewed 100 household heads, sampled randomly across the compounds, and asked whether they thought their life had improved, stayed the same or got worse since land reform. Contrary to the standard narrative about former farmer workers, we were surprised to find 56% of informants saying that things had improved. IM commented: “Life in the past was very hard. It’s definitely an improvement today. I didn’t even have bicycle then, no cattle. Now I farm a bit, and have both”.

Three farms near Mvurwi

How are people improving their livelihoods, and what is happening to those who see a deterioration in their livelihoods? Our studies have aimed to find out. What is clear is that a single designation of former farm worker is insufficient. Today, this is a much more differentiated group. In the past there were grades of different jobs, with drivers, cooks, foremen and others with managerial posts getting better conditions and pay than field workers. But today, the differentiation is not based on jobs, but on a range of livelihood options being followed. Access to land in particular is crucial. In many ways, the people living in the compounds are not so much workers in the classic sense, but more represent the ‘fractured classes of labour’ that Henry Bernstein has described, mixed in with aspiring peasants and petty commodity producers.

Across our three farms there is a clear difference between those with plots of land, and those without – or with only small gardens. Some former farm workers gained land during the land reform. Across our sample 19 A1 households are headed by former farm workers or their sons, representing 8.6 per cent of plots. For those who remained in the compounds in two of the farms, access to 1 ha plots was negotiated following land reform, with the approval of local politicians, the District Administrator and the Department of Lands. This arose out of major disputes, particularly around the 2008 election, between the A1 settler farmers and those living in the compounds. For others small garden plots are available, and these can be vital for household survival. In addition, there is a growing rental market in land, as A1 farmers unable to use their full allocation of land, rent out small plots (usually 0.1-0.2 hectares) to compound residents. This helps hook them into labour relations, and means that often highly skilled workers are on hand.

Before land reform farming was not possible for those living in the compounds. The white farmers on these 3 farms sometimes offered ‘lines’ within their fields as an alternative to rations, but farm workers were not allowed independent incomes. This was a highly controlled setting, with paternalistic, sometimes violent and brutal, control creating a system of dependence and fear. Of course former farm owners were very different, and some were better than others, as the testimonies of farm workers clearly show (see next week’s blog for some extended case studies), but the expectation was that those living in the compounds were under the control of the farmer, and expected to work in return for pay, housing and some amenities. Today the housing has to be maintained by the residents, there is no regular pay (except for a few who have been employed permanently by the new settlers) and school or clinic fees must be paid for.

Differentiated livelihoods

The table below offers some basic data, contrasting four different groups: those who got land under land reform and are now A1 settlers but were formerly farm workers (or their sons); those living in the compounds with plots of more than 1 ha; those with plots/gardens of up to 1 ha; and those without land (or just small gardens by their houses).

A1 farmers, who were former farm workers Compound dwellers with more 1 ha or more of land Compound dwellers with land areas less than 1 ha Compound dwellers with only small home gardens
Land owned (ha) 3.5 1.5, plus 0.3 rental 0.4, plus 0.3 rental A few sq metres, plus 0.2 ha rental
Cattle (nos) 2.1 0.7 0.5 0.1
Maize (kg in 2014) 1569 735 418 66
Tobacco (kg in 2014) 1045 470 232 27
Cattle purchased in last 5 years 0.9 0.3 0.2 0.0


The contrasts are stark. Those who managed to get land during the land reform are doing relatively well (21 households of the 220 settlers across the farms). Their skills learned on the commercial farms are paying off. Even though they have much lower land areas than others in the A1 settlements, they have reasonable production and on average cultivated 2.5 ha in 2014. This resulted in a surplus of maize being sold, and tobacco being marketed. As a result, they are accumulating cattle and other goods, building homes and employing people themselves from the compounds.

But those living in the compounds are not all the same. There are some (26 per cent of our compound sample) who are more akin to the poorer settlers, or those in the communal areas, who have on average 1.5 ha, renting in a further 0.3 ha. They produce about three-quarters of annual family food requirements from maize, while also selling tobacco and engaging in other work. Their reliance on selling labour is limited, although at the peak of the farming, curing or grading season they may be hired. Many had higher grade jobs before, and may be sought out for advice. They have started accumulating and are investing in cattle in particular (but also a whole range of other goods, including solar panels, water pumps, bicycles, and a few have bought cars).

Then there are those with some land but under a hectare, although also renting in land (52 per cent). This group is more reliant on labouring and other off-farm activities. Many are engaged in trades, including building, carpentry and so on, servicing the A1 areas, but on their own terms.

And finally there are those who have only home gardens, although some are renting in land (average 0.2 ha, hence some maize/tobacco production), and are highly reliant on selling labour to land reform farmers (22 per cent). Labour organisation may involve farmers turning up with a pick-up and recruiting on the day, or may be mediated by a local broker (often a compound member) who is in mobile phone connection with a number of farmers, both A1 and A2, and directs people to work openings, again by mobile phone.

The proportions in these categories of compound dwellers is not fixed, however. Proportions change season by season and over time. What we see is an emerging class differentiation among former farmer workers, driven in particular by access to land. In discussions around whether lives have improved or deteriorated, everyone mentions land, as well as employment conditions. Land access is however limited, and political gatekeeping means that not everyone can benefit. Allocations of land since the land reform within the three farms we have studied have depended on complex negotiations between those in the compounds and local political leaders. New settlers are suspicious of those in the compounds. Cheats, thieves, foreigners, MDC supporters and worse are the descriptors often used.

This antagonism is not universal however, as settlers are well aware they need the labour and skills of those living there for their tobacco production. Good relations in the end are necessary, and accommodations have to be found. Brokering by local politicians and traditional leaders resulted in the concessions of the 1 ha plots; and land deals with nearby A2 farms to avoid antagonism have also occurred. Compound leaders, usually with connections in ZANU PF, have been able to create opportunities, but only for some. Usually it is the older, male, better educated, previously higher grade employees have benefitted, while the youth, single women and others with fewer connections have not, as profiles in next week’s blog will show.

New questions for research and policy

While the policy discourse continues to focus on displacement and farm worker rights amongst the NGOs and human rights community, those who used to be farm workers themselves have had by necessity to get on with life. They know the situation has changed and have to negotiate the new reality. As discussed, some have benefited, others not. But right now, there is an urgent need for a more informed policy discussion about what next, and move the policy debate on. Tobacco production, now the mainstay of Zimbabwe’s fragile agricultural economy, is being grown by a large number of new land reform settlers (amongst others). This production is reliant on labour, yet its organisation is very different to what went before. This suggests new challenges and priorities for policy and advocacy.

Some important new questions arise. What labour rights do those living in the compounds have? What land is required as part of a national redistribution to sustain their livelihoods? What is the future of the compounds, sitting as an anomaly in the new resettlements, a reminder of a now long-gone past? These questions are barely being discussed, and much more research and informed debate is urgently needed. The next couple of blogs will offer some more on this theme, with the aim of raising the debate.

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.


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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