Tag Archives: Oxfam

Unequal land, unequal societies

A really important report from the International Land Coalition and Oxfam is just out calledUneven Ground: Land Inequality at the Heart of Unequal Societies’, along with 17 supporting papers. Through new analysis it shows that land inequality is even larger than previously thought, and that this has dramatic effects on poor people’s livelihoods, particularly those of women and young people.

In the rhetoric around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) there’s lots of talk about rising inequality, and pleas to ‘leave no one behind’, but most discussion barely touches on land, despite land access being vital for so many people’s lives. The corporate-driven concentration of land holding has been well researched around discussions of the ‘land grab’, but this report goes further, digging into the dynamics of inequality and how changes in the agri-food system are driving it.

New analysis, dramatic conclusions

The report adopts a new methodology for exploring land inequalities, taking account not just of patterns of land holding and farm size, but the significance of multiple holdings across a corporate portfolio, land value and the presence of landless people. This shifts the metric dramatically, highlighting levels of hidden inequality so far not exposed.

The report estimates that there are around 608 million farms in the world with most being small family farms. But it is the largest 1% of farm operations that make use of more than 70% of the world’s farmland, and these are linked into global, corporate led food systems that in turn support this inequality. The 80% of farms that are smallholdings of under two hectares are by contrast excluded from the benefits of such markets. The report’s extended analysis of land value shows how, “the wealthiest 10% of rural populations across the sampled countries capture 60% of agricultural land value, while the poorest 50% of rural populations, who are generally more dependent on agriculture, capture only 3% of land value.”

Patterns vary across the world of course, but levels of land inequality are high everywhere and are rising. Not surprisingly, land inequality is particularly high in Latin America, the US and parts of Europe, where smallholder farming has all but disappeared in many farming areas. The UK is of course a stark example, and has been discussed on this blog before (see here and here).

In Asia, the huge numbers of smallholders make inequality measures just of land holdings less high, but when you take account of the equally huge numbers of landless people, then the measure changes quite dramatically. Under any measure, patterns of land inequality are not as high in Africa, but they are rising. And the post 2007-08 land grab documented widely shows how land investments were concentrated in Africa with, according to the Land Matrix, 42% of deals across 10 million hectares over a decade. As countries seek out investment, especially in cash-strapped, debt-ridden post-COVID-19 times, the temptation to allocate notionally ‘empty’ or ‘idle’ land is high. Combine this with corrupt governance practices with deals to be made with politicians and others, the likelihood of the land grab accelerating again is high.

Focusing exclusively on ‘farms’ and ‘holdings’ of course misses key populations making use of land that do not use land in this way. This is a gap in an otherwise good report. Whether shifting cultivators, hunter-gatherers or pastoralists, such populations typically suffer the brunt of land expropriation. The inequality is just as keenly felt, but it is not measured in terms of the metrics used here.

Redistribution and development

The report has a lot of good recommendations, although none of them are that new. Good land governance, land taxation, effective land registries, corporate and investor accountability, protecting the commons and women’s land rights, building sustainable and equitable production and food systems, encouraging inclusive value chains and so on have all long been talked about. But the big question is of course the political economy of inequality: why is that such a pattern is acceptable? Why isn’t redistribution at the centre of the sustainable development agenda? The report unfortunately is rather quiet on this.

The period of the great land reforms in the 1960s and 70s resulted in major decreases in land inequality. As the report shows, these gains have been massively reversed since. Through various examples, cautionary tales are told – for example of Ecuador – where land reforms occurred only to be reversed by land consolidation and the extension of large-scale capitalist farming.

The report however is seemingly rather equivocal on redistribution, saying land reforms can be unsettling, redistributive policies have to be ‘aligned’ to socio-economic goals and that when post-land reform support limited (as is frequently the case), this can undermine the benefits leading to reconcentration subsequently. But land redistribution surely must be a major response to land inequality, even if (of course) inequalities in the wider agro-food systems must be addressed also. So it was a bit disappointing that the report was a little coy on the subject.

There are many possibilities for land redistribution and shifts in its use. And this is not just in the so-called ‘developing world’. For example, the Downland Estate around Brighton in the UK is owned by the city council and is leased out to tenant farmers. They have continued to consolidate land into larger chunks, expanding arable farming and reducing access land through hunting/pheasant enclosures. But moves are afoot, pushed by citizen alliances in the city and beyond, to regulate land use differently, and allow smaller scale farm holdings to be allocated as tenancies, helping to transform the local food system and local livelihoods, widening access, as well as improving environmental care. If rethinking land and its use is possible in the UK, surely it must be possible elsewhere. The report could have been more ambitious in my view.

Missing the Zimbabwe experience

Rather surprisingly, Zimbabwe is not mentioned at all in the report. Still too much of a hot potato even for the ILC and Oxfam maybe? As the most significant land redistribution of the past several decades, it surely offers important lessons. A massively unequal land holding system was redistributed with mixed effects – many positive, some negative – as discussed on this blog multiple times. In many respects, especially through the transfer of land to smallholders, Zimbabwe implemented what the report is arguing for, offering a new trajectory for agrarian development.

In Zimbabwe, as has been seen again and again elsewhere, the failure to provide the needed supportive infrastructure of investment, regulation, taxation, land administration and so on may potentially undermine the gains of land reform, as this blog has long argued. And if the pressures of capital are the same as elsewhere, the process of land grabbing of extensive areas taken by smallholders will be an issue to look out for.

Zimbabwe is broke and claims it is ‘open for business’ and, with a deeply corrupt polity, the conditions are right for a dangerous reversal of land reform in the name of ‘investment’. Indeed, on the margins of the country this is already happening, whether in quasi-privatised national parks or in new investments in commercial agriculture.

Land and power

The report concludes that “reversing land inequality to any significant extent will require a deep transformation in power relations. Solutions will require major changes in political, economic, and legal norms. They will require action that strikes at the root of what makes societies and economies unequal and unsustainable”. Absolutely. But, as the Zimbabwe experience has shown, this will require more than just ‘inclusive processes’ and ‘involving civil society’.

Challenging inequality is a struggle against powerful interests, and redistribution always affects the powerful – which is of course why it often doesn’t happen. Moving beyond the easy rhetoric about inequality being at the heart of the SDGs and central for tackling sustainability and development together, land must be at the centre of this inevitably political struggle.

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

Image credit: International Land Coalition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Spurious statistics: why figures on Zimbabwe’s ‘lost growth’ mislead

There is a lot that is written about Zimbabwe that is misleading. But sometimes a piece appears that really beats the field. This week a blog from the Centre for Global Development in Washington joins that category. This claims that ‘misrule’ has cost Zimbabwe US$96 billion.

I would normally ignore such articles, but the CGD regularly produces some quite good material, if a bit close to the Washington view of the world on occasions. I also have been sent this article several times by my regular ‘correspondents’ to show (again) how wrong I am about Zimbabwe. So I thought it deserved a bit more attention, and now a blog, as I think it illustrates rather well a wider problem of the use of statistics in misleading ways.

This is not exclusive to this piece. Far from it. For example, a few weeks back when I was in South Africa I was reading the Cape Times over breakfast and was confronted by a whole page on Zimbabwe (the hook was Mugabe’s birthday) written by Professor Robert Rotberg from the Harvard Kennedy School.  This purported to show how disastrous things were through ten points. I was so flabbergasted by the content that I totted up the ‘facts’ that were presented that could be challenged with real field data that I and others had collected. There were 12 – one for each of the ten points made and two more besides. It was quite extraordinary how an author (nay illustrious ‘expert’) and an editor (of a perfectly respectable paper) could get away with it. But sadly it happens nearly every day, and most such interventions go completely unchallenged.

Anyway, the point is that in writing this blog each week I have plenty of material to reflect on, but most is not worth the time of day. However, I thought I should offer some response to the CGD piece, given its provenance and the way it illustrates a wider problem. The blog is written by Todd Moss who is COO and Senior Fellow at CGD, and was formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and previously advisor to the Chief Economist in the Africa Region at the World Bank. He certainly has impressive credentials, and has written other material on Zimbabwe, but I cannot see from the website whether he has actually done field research in the country.

So where does the $96 billion figure come from? The blog presents the sorry story of Zimbabwe’s collapse in the formal economy from the early 2000s to 2009 and its slow and weak recovery since. The indicator used is the standard GDP measure. This is compared with a ‘what if?’ argument. What if Zimbabwe instead of declining grew at the rate seen in Zambia? The difference between the two scenarios is presented as the ‘loss’ that Zimbabwe has suffered.

The main argument is encapsulated in a graph, with the large deficit highlighted. The blog urges readers to tweet the graph to the world. Here is a very explicit and in some ways quite effective attempt at creating a ‘killer fact’, one that will become a focus for media articles, and a hook in the wider discourse (a phenomenon that Duncan Green from Oxfam has written on).

So why is this ‘fact’, and its wider narrative problematic? There is no denying the catastrophic collapse of the formal economy in the 2000s, and also the weakness of the recovery since, now faltering once again. Equally, the scale of graft and unaccountability was recently illustrated in the media exposes of highly paid parastatal officials, although these have now been capped. But what else needs to be taken into account when making an assessment? Here are four points.

  • First is the problematic statistic of GDP, particularly in African contexts. Morten Jerven has written lucidly about this issue in his fantastic book Poor Numbers; a book I highly recommend to Dr Moss, and anyone else thinking about African economies. GDP numbers are usually fabrications with little basis in reality, and they shift dramatically depending on the assumptions made and the data collection techniques used. They show something about the formal economy, at least in terms of trends (no denying that for Zimbabwe), but they need to be viewed with very large pinches of salt.
  •  Second the official statistics only pick up a fraction of the range of economic activity, especially in economies that have large informal sectors. With the restructuring of the economy since 2000, the informal sector in Zimbabwe has grown massively. Tendai Biti, the former MDC Finance Minister, argued recently that it represented most of the economy, perhaps over 80%. If so then the recent figures in the CGD graph represent only represent a small proportion of total economic activity and should be multiplied many times – in which case the disparity with Zambia would shrink dramatically. Of course this would be equally spurious, as Mr Biti’s guess is just that, and in fact we have no idea what the scale of economic activity is, as the standard statistics do not tell us, as statistical services measure only a fraction of the ‘informal sector’; a point made forcefully by Professor Jerven.
  •  Third, Zambia’s economy has certainly grown but from a low base. In the 1980s and 90s in particular the economy was in dire straits. So the growth rate that has been used in the projection is to some degree a bounce back, driven in large part by the growth of commodity prices internationally. As a resource dependent economy, the dramatic growth is highly dependent on the price of copper, for example. And this has accelerated, in turn driving growth. There are of course other vibrant sectors, including tourism, but Zambia’s economic growth, and its projection into middle income status, is based on quite fragile and narrow foundations, with question marks being raised about job creation.
  • Fourth, we have to ask how economic activity is distributed to make any useful assessment in relation to development. The benefits of growth in Zambia is massively concentrated. The bigger winners are international mining capital and South African retail and services. Of course this generates some jobs and tax revenues, but the distributive effects of such forms of growth have to be questioned. A broader based growth grounded in redistributive policies is perhaps more sustainable, and certainly more equitable in the longer term. Zimbabwe has certainly not got there yet, but the land reform for example has laid the foundations for this in the agricultural sector.

I could go on. If we probe a bit we can see that the ‘killer fact’ loses its shine quite dramatically. Its construction and deployment in an essentially political argument is clearly problematic. It would be just as problematic for example if Professor Jonathan Moyo – Zimbabwe’s Minister of Information and spin doctor extraordinaire – used the same figure to argue that this was the cost of international ‘sanctions’ on the country in the same period. Both Moss and Moyo would be using a spurious statistic to bolster a political narrative that is far too simple an explanation for a complex and evolving process.

So if you hear this figure again, or any other presented in this sort of way, think twice. More likely than not the statistics will have been conjured up to a suit a predefined narrative. Ask about its source, and whether real field research underpins it. More questioning and critique of such statistics and the narratives that they give rise to is essential to pick apart complex realities from dubious myth making.

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


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Two new books on Zimbabwe’s land reform

This month sees the publication of two, long-awaited, books on Zimbabwe’s land reform. Both are excellent. Buy them both if you can!

The first, Zimbabwe’s Fast-Track Land Reform, is by Prosper Matondi, director of the Ruzivo Trust, and a very well-informed commentator on Zimbabwe’s land issues. The book is based on work largely carried out in the mid-2000s in Mazowe, Shamva and Mangwe by a large team of Zimbabwean researchers, supported by Oxfam among others. By offering a broad geographical scope – from highveld Mashonaland to dryland Matabeleland – it offers an excellent overview of the diversity of processes and outcomes. As emphasised many times before in this blog, things are complex and diverse. But there are some important patterns that emerge: A1 smallholder farmers are doing well, while A2 medium scale farmers are struggling; violence and intimidation occurs, but is highly varied, and investment and production is occurring at a scale often not acknowledged. Clearly, as Matondi emphasises, more could be done, and the land reform beneficiaries have not reached their potential. The book lays out a set of challenges for policy which everyone concerned should take note of.

The second book is by Joseph Hanlon, Jeannette Manjengwa and Teresa Smart: Zimbabwe takes back its land. This is more up to date, covering more comprehensively the period since the formation of the GNU and the stabilisation of the economy after 2009. It is based on some new empirical material centred on Mazowe, but its main contribution is to highly offer a readable overview of the land reform experience in Zimbabwe. In so doing it draws extensively on the findings of the three major studies to date – the AIAS district studies, our Masvingo work and the work by Matondi and colleagues. It is an important synthesis, and offers highly pertinent insights which will hopefully find their way into the wider debate.

With these books published, together with the earlier contributions by ourselves and AIAS, plus the JPS special issue, no-one can say that we do not have the evidence base to understand the complex contours of Zimbabwe’s land reform. What is interesting is that, while there are differences in emphasis, there is a remarkable coherence in overall message. And, crucially, this contrasts dramatically with the mainstream commentary in the international media, many policy circles and (still) some academic writing. Maybe now – finally – the myths of Zimbabwe’s land reform will be put to rest, and we can debate more productively the complex realities.

Below are some more details on the two books:

Zimbabwe’s Fast-Track Land Reform

The Fast Track Land Reform Programme in Zimbabwe has emerged as a highly contested reform process both nationally and internationally. The image of it has all too often been that of the widespread displacement and subsequent replacement of various people, agricultural-related production systems, facets and processes. The reality, however, is altogether more complex. Providing new, in-depth and much-needed empirical research, Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform examines how processes such as land acquisition, allocation, transitional production outcomes, social life, gender and tenure, have influenced and been influenced by the forces driving the programme. It also explores the ways in which the land reform programme has created a new agrarian structure based on small- to medium-scale farmers. In attempting to resolve the problematic issues the reforms have raised, the author argues that it is this new agrarian formation which provides the greatest scope for improving Zimbabwe’s agriculture and development.

Table of Contents:

1. Understanding Fast Track Land Reforms in Zimbabwe
2: Land Occupations as the Trigger for Compulsory Land Acquisition
3: Interrogating Land Allocation
4: Juggling Land Ownership Rights in Uncertain Times
5: The Complexities of Production Outcomes
6: Accessing Services and Farm Level Investments
7: ‘Revolutionary Progress’ without Change in Women’s Land Rights
8: Social Organisation and the Reconstruction of Communities
Conclusion: From a ‘Crisis’ to a ‘Prosperous’ Future?

‘More than a decade on, Prosper Matondi provides a comprehensive, evidence based analysis through which surfaces the ’emerging order’ and a future out of the ‘chaos’ of Zimbabwe’s controversial Fast Track Land Reform Programme.’ – Mandivamba Rukuni, Director, The MandiRukuniSeminars

‘Refreshingly measured in its evidence-based analysis, Matondi’s work is scholarly, non-partisan and eschews the entrenched, dogmatic and often vested stances and positions that have been adopted by many of the analysts of the FTLR Programme. This book not only constitutes a valuable addition to the growing literature on the programme, but also is a sound academic addition to the corpus of international land and agrarian reform literature.’ Professor Rudo Gaidzanwa, dean of the Faculty of Social Studies, University of Zimbabwe

‘The study addresses an extraordinarily rich array of issues with economy, nuance and insight. In its attention to the role of the civil servants and in its disaggregation of multiple actors from the centre to the grassroots, it confronts the important question of whether the beneficiaries of land were predominantly political cronies. This is an exceptionally useful and intelligent response to a chaotic and complex moment of history.’ Diana Jeater, professor of African history, University of the West of England, Bristol

Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land

The news from Zimbabwe is usually unremittingly bleak. Perhaps no issue has aroused such ire as the land reforms in 2000, when 170,000 black farmers occupied 4,000 white farms. A decade later, with production returning to former levels, the land reform story is a contrast to the dominant media narratives of oppression and economic stagnation.
Zimbabwe Takes Back it Land offers a more positive and nuanced assessment of land reform in Zimbabwe. It does not minimize the depredations of the Mugabe regime; indeed it stresses that the land reform was organized by liberation war veterans acting against President Mugabe and his cronies and their corruption. The authors show how “ordinary” Zimbabweans have taken charge of their destinies in creative and unacknowledged ways through their use of land holdings obtained through land reform programs.
US and European sanctions are a key political issue today, and the book points out that sanctions are not just against a corrupt and dictatorial elite, but also against 170,000 ordinary farmers who now use more of the land than the white farmers they displaced. <!–

More > –>

Table of Contents:

Abbreviations 1) Veterans and Land 2) Starting Points 3) Land Apartheid 4) Independence and the First Land Reform 5) Adjustment and Occupation 6) The Second Land Reform 7) Tomatoes, Maize, and Tobacco 8) New Smallholders 9) New World of Commercial Farming 10) Women Take Their Land 11 )Cutting Down Trees 12) Workers, Water, and Widows 13) Conclusion: Occupied and Productive Bibliography Index
“Land and farming rights have been the most powerful issue in Zimbabwe for over 100 years, as I discovered when I wrote my MSc thesis on this subject in the 1960s. While white farmers were evicted in a brutal fashion and many of Mugabe’s cronies were the beneficiaries, this is not the whole story. This excellent book describes how agricultural production is now returning to the level of the 1990s. If tens of thousands of poor Zimbabwean farmers are now able to make a livelihood from the land, some significant good will have emerged from a terrible period of Zimbabwe’s history.” – Sir Malcolm Rifkind, MP, Former UK Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary

“This book provides a panoramic assessment of the land question in Zimbabwe over the last century, tracing how European settler land grabbing and farming was built through state subsidies and protection against black peasants and external markets. It examines how land reform since 1980 has reversed this trajectory of land ownership and agrarian development, and provided live narratives on the struggles of various classes of people to secure land and farm inputs, and gain access to markets, while revealing their hopes and pride as new farmers. Although it is critical about various deficiencies of the fast track land reform process and the subsequent agrarian reforms, it represents one of the few comprehensive renditions of the multi-faceted progressive outcomes of these reforms, which bring life to the social transformation underway and the challenges that remain. The authors combine various research approaches in their investigation, with an extensive reading of the relevant literature cutting across the ideological and political divide of the narratives, before independence and since 2000. It is a must read for scholars and lay people alike.” – Professor Sam Moyo, Executive Director of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies (AIAS), Harare
This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland


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