Tag Archives: purchase areas

“No condition is permanent”: small-scale commercial farming in Zimbabwe

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In this week’s blog, I want to present two cross-generational case studies of Purchase Area (now small-scale farming area) farms, based on interviews carried out earlier this year in Mushagashe and Dewure SSCFAs in Masvingo Province. They are not in any way representative, but they do show in particular the generational shifts in patterns of production and accumulation, and the shifting relationship between land, as somewhere to produce and somewhere to live and call home. Questions of identity – and what it means to be a ‘farmer’ – are raised, as are issues around both gender and generation in commercial agriculture. Overall, the lack of a linear process of evolutionary change, and the complex social dynamics of agrarian relations are highlighted.

Case 1: Interview with Mr MM, Mushagashe SSFCA, Masvingo Province

“My father bought the land in 1932. He was working as a cook at Gokomere mission. He had no land in the reserves. He came with some relatives. He used cattle to buy the 132 ha farm from the commercial farm – equivalent to £90. There were three commercial farms subdivided for the Purchase Areas, all owned by whites. I was born here in 1939. We got title deeds later, but they are no use. There was a deed transfer to my older brother when my father passed away.

My father sold crops to European traders. There was a Greek based at Zimuto, and he moved in a huge ox wagon, buying grain, exchanging for sugar. We sold cattle to the whites who had farms near here. Our education came from farming. I was boarded at Gokomere to standard 6 aged 17. I then worked as a policeman in Zambia during the federation. I came back in 72, and worked at Triangle sugar estates in security/loss control.

My father died in 1975. He had two wives, and they all farmed together. My three brothers all stayed here, with their wives and families. I set up home here after I returned, while living in Triangle. I bought cattle then, which were herded with the others’ animals.

Today we grow maize, wheat, groundnuts and have about 20 cattle. One person is employed as a herder. These days we only farm about 3 ha; before it was more like 8 ha. We have a garden area for groundnuts and some vegetables, some of which are sold locally. The rest of the farm is grazing. We sometimes have relatives who leave their animals here, but we also have a lot of problems with neigbours’ cattle and those coming from the research station. We have a boundary fence but no paddocks, but the fence is not well repaired. We have one borehole but there’s limited supply, just enough for drinking water. These days, people are no longer interested in farming. You sell things but get no cash. I sold two tonnes last year, but nothing. We get no loans, and there is no irrigation. We survive off El Nino!

I have 8 kids, and all the sons have land here. All my kids went to Gokomere after going to local primary near here. Some are working away, but they have homes here, and their wives and younger kids are around. It is a large extended family and my wife and my sons’ wives work together. My eldest has a separate homestead and fields as part of the farm, but it is all part of the same community. We all work together. As you see there are many houses in this compound. One of my sons got resettlement land long back as part of the government programme, but it’s nearby and we seem them here too. Around here, people didn’t join the recent land reform (jambanja, land invasions). We are not involved as they are in the communal. There is supposed to be no politics here. They used to ban sabhukus (headmen) in this area. We have to say that government is just not interested in us here; they don’t even come and repair the road. There are no loans, no help. The nearest clinics are at Makoholi and Gokomere, and the schools are far too. We are on our own.”

Case 2: Interview with Mr FM, Dewure East SSCFA, Masvingo Province

“My father and mother acquired the 90 ha farm in 1957. They came from Bikita communal area. Both were teachers and both were successful Master Farmers. My father resigned from teaching soon after getting the farm, and went into building contracting. He later left that business to concentrate on farming. My mother also resigned as a teacher to commit to farming. They worked very closely together; they were both excellent farmers.

In 1957, they came with 3 kids, including myself, aged one. They had a total of 8 children: 2 boys and 6 girls. My eldest sister is married in the farm area, and lives locally; others are teachers (one a lecturer at Masvingo Teachers’ College, another a headmaster in the UK), and two worked on their own businesses (one now late). My late sister and I worked with government in agriculture (extension and research), and we had agricultural diplomas. We were all well-educated at boarding schools. My parents were totally committed to education.

In the past, my father kept a lot of livestock: about 40 cattle and 30-40 goats. There were also donkeys for transport, pigs and lots of poultry. We sold lots of milk, eggs, chickens, pig meat and so on. We used to have around 10 milking cows at any time. Soured milk was prepared, and sold to mission schools. We also had a programme of pen fattening of cattle, and sold 3-4 at a time too. This income from livestock was the big contribution to the education of all of us kids. We all went to boarding schools.

Manure from the cattle on the poor sandy soils in this area was crucial. In the 1960s about 20 ha was cropped, but today it’s only 6 ha. We used to do commercial horticulture, selling far and wide, but now there’s just some gardens around the home. We used to have three permanent employees, and hired lots of people for piece work. We are just by the communal areas, and Bikita is about 20-30 kms away. Yes we have problems from the communal areas, but they are our neighbours, and the source of farm labour.

Back then, we grew a lot of pearl millet. Maybe 15 tonnes in a year. We would spend three weeks threshing and then brewing. The beer would pay for labour. We had lots of humwes (work parties) on the farm, with up to 12 spans rotating between farms. People would come from as far as Chivi for the pearl millet. Rapoko (finger millet) was sold locally. Maize was also grown, and my father won prizes as a maize grower. Later, he moved into cotton growing, selling to Kadoma, until prices dropped. Groundnuts were focused on by my mother. They had a market, and there were approved buyers who came from the townships. This was good cash income for the family.

In those days, we never had a tractor, but had 3-4 ploughs. Because of having plenty of draft animals and collective work parties, a tractor wasn’t needed. We had scotch carts, planters, water carts and so on. My father also never had a car – but we had a donkey cart that went as far as Nyika!

But as time went on, the kids left home and went and did their own thing. My parents became old and could not manage the farm as they did before. The hectarage declined, and my parents relied more and more on cash we sent back. We visited but we all rather forgot the farm. There was no cash reinjected into the farm. People were all over, and had other things to focus on. My elder brother was in the UK; kids had to have university fees paid and so on.

My father is now late, and my mother very old and frail. My older brother has no interest in the farm, but I now want to come back and do something commercial here. I have got a sugar plot in Hippo Valley and a house in Masvingo urban, but I no longer work for government, so can be flexible. I have been looking around for water. We have to move from dryland farming. Irrigation projects are the only solution. But I have not had luck with the boreholes that have been sunk; in all cases the yields have been poor. I now have a decent deep well, and I will put a borehole near the river for a small irrigation plot and watering of livestock.

We now have 10 cattle, and the herd is growing again. I have another three at my sister’s place nearby. Earlier this year, I sold four to buy a kombi. I have employed two permanent workers, who look after the place when I am not here. One works in the fields and one oversees the grinding mill. I want to focus on commercial horticulture, not maize for sale. Nyika is 27 km away on a poor road, so it has to be worth it. Currently we sell groundnuts and nyimo.

Yes, I have plans. But water and markets are key – plus money to invest. But I am hoping to come and live here and make things happen!”

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These two cases show the changing fortunes of commercial agriculture. As Sara Berry commented in the wonderful book, ‘No Condition is Permanent:

“Agricultural intensification has been neither inevitable nor continuous in African farming systems. In some areas, intensification was halted or reversed by changing environmental or political and economic conditions; in others, it has occurred not as an adaptive response to population growth or commercialisation, but in the face of growing labour shortages and declining commercial activity. Such cases underscore the importance of studying farming as a dynamic social process. As farmers contend with social as well as environmental conditions, changes occur not only in what is produced and how much, but also in when work is done and by whom. Thus changes in cropping patters and methods of cultivation are influenced by social factors which govern the timing as well as the mounts of labour devoted to farming, as well as the control of effort and output….Variations in the pace and/or direction of agricultural intensification are occasioned not only be exogenous events, such as war and peace, drought or flood, but also by changes in the production dynamics of particular crops” (Berry 1993: 189, 186).

She was talking about the agricultural histories of Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia, but she could as well have been talking about Zimbabwe’s Purchase Areas. No condition is ever permanent, but understanding the social dynamics of agrarian change is essential. As I discuss next week, these longitudinal insights from the Purchase Areas may reveal something about how policy addresses the A2 medium-scale commercial farms created through land reform, offering notes of risk and caution, as well as hints at new opportunities.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Medium-scale farming for Africans: The ‘Native Purchase Areas’ in Zimbabwe

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The Native Purchase Areas were established as a result of the 1930 Land Apportionment Act, following the recommendations of the 1925 Morris Carter Commission. They were designed as compensation for the fact that Africans were not allowed to purchase land elsewhere. These were areas that had mostly been farmed by early settlers before the colony’s land was carved up into racial designations. Africans were given the option of buying newly demarcated properties, but the land was often in remote areas and of poor quality.

The Purchase Areas were slow to become established, as these were often in remote areas, without infrastructure. At Independence around 10,000 households had settled on around 1.4 m hectares, falling far short of the earlier promises of 50,000 Africans with freehold title. The vast majority of the acquisitions were by men, although some women did manage to buy independently, despite many obstacles. Initially, those living in the ‘native reserves’ were reluctant to shift, as the successful “reserve entrepreneurs” (as Terry Ranger called them for Makoni) had land, labour and markets where they already lived. Urban-based Africans, such as government clerks or messengers, were also encouraged to sign up, but again many sensed the leap into the unknown was too risky, as they after all already had rural homes in the ‘reserves’. The depression of the 1930s, put the squeeze on incomes, and few had the income or cattle to purchase land.

By the 1940s, the Purchase Areas were often criticised for being poor, backward, wasteful and inefficient. Rather than intensified production, extensification of low productivity mixed farms, opportunistic use of wetland ‘patches’ and resource extraction (of wood for timber and fuel) were the main trends, as described for Marirangwe by Allison Shutt. Many Purchase Area land owners were ‘absentee farmers’, and according to officials, were not taking care of their properties. They accumulated, but not in ways that the planners hoped. The commentary on both production efficiency and environmental degradation, peaking with the 1942 Natural Resources Board Inquiry, was damning. These were not the envisaged modern, commercial farming areas. Instead they were second homes of often urban employed Africans, where farming was a side-line. A few relatives and often a lot of cattle from the reserves, and as a source of saving from urban wages, were deposited there, and homes were used during vacations rather than as a permanent base for a farming operation. Today, the ‘cell phone farmers’ of the A2 resettlements are cast in a similar light.

Again – as with the A2 farms today – there were exceptions, including Purchase Area farm owners in Mshagashe near Masvingo hiring labour contractors and engaging in destocking auctions, as Allison Shutt describes. Some farmers later became members of Intensive Conservation Areas, presenting themselves as guardians of the land and conservationists, like white farmers. But the general narrative at the time (very similar to today) was that allocating medium-scale farms to inexperienced, unqualified, often absent, urban-based Africans was not a good move, if agricultural modernisation and production was the aim, and attempts at eviction and control were common (see for example cases from Marirangwe).

After the Second World War, more families acquired farms. The earlier reticence changed to an enthusiasm for social and economic transformation, realised by access to a farm – just like white farmers (although of course not as big, or in such favourable areas). As described by Michael West, this was part of a pattern of (highly selective) “racial uplift” – some educated Africans were favoured by the colonial authorities and given such benefits. Terry Ranger’s fascinating biography of the Samkange family is a case in point, with the purchase of the Mzengezi farm a key moment in the family’s history. Gaining access to purchase area land was a critical aspect of shifting identities of an educated African middle class, straddling urban and rural areas.

As Allison Shutt puts it: “the Purchase Areas offered privacy, a measure of respect from the colonial government, and a symbolic separateness from African cultivators in the reserves and from lower-paid workers”. This was reinforced in the 1950s when, following the Native Land Husbandry Act of 1951, freehold title was offered. Again in the discourse of the time (persisting today in all sorts of unhelpful ways), freehold was the ultimate form of ownership, linked to a certain ideology and pattern of accumulation, as Angela Cheater describes. This was the pinnacle of modernity, otherwise only available to whites; and something allowing independence and autonomy, not feasible in the reserves, or even in most urban settings.

From the mid-1950s, those who acquired farms a few decades before retired to their farms. This was a moment when more commercialisation took place. The areas were now occupied and land extensification and high stocking rates were no longer as feasible. Tobacco and cotton became favoured crops, linked to new commercial value chains. For the first time the freehold titles acquired more than symbolic benefit, and loans were offered against the title as collateral for the first time. Farms were more assertively demarcated, with fences put up to keep out the neighbours from the reserves. The state invested more attention to these areas, improving infrastructure, providing finance and offering technical support. Realising the threats of growing nationalism, perhaps especially among the educated African elite who had been initially attracted to the Purchase Areas, these became a focus for political and administrative attention, after years of neglect.

With title deeds came a period of land sales and fragmentation of farms, as plots were sold off. This provided important revenues for some, securing retirement on their smaller farms. Also, with increasing intensification of production, there came the need for labour. Those designated as ‘squatters’ were crucial. As Angela Cheater describes for Msengezi, these included a wide range of people, including extended family members, peasants from the reserves, migrant labourers and others. Subdivision of land also meant that relatives – usually sons – could be passed on land, and a new generation took ownership. Land rentals also increased, as demand for land – including from ‘squatters’ – grew. The growing population of people and continued land rental and subdivision in the Purchase Areas was however frowned on. These areas were not becoming medium-scale commercial farms, but just ‘like the reserves’, officials complained. Again with echoes of the discourse today around resettlement land, the push was for a modernised vision of agriculture dominated. However, despite the admonishments, the mid-late 1950s and early 1960s, saw a brief period of prosperity in the Purchase Areas. Land sales and rentals, some cash crop production, continued resource extraction, and plentiful cheap labour (from ‘squatters’), ensured farming generated decent returns for the now resident, retired owners of these farms.

By the mid-60s, and especially with the declaration of UDI, this changed again. Shifts in the political climate, intensifying during the liberation war, saw the decline in state support to these areas. They were often seen with suspicion by security forces and intelligence agents, as places of nationalist organising and dissent. With Independence, nothing much changed. The SSCFAs as they were now called were seen as an anomaly of the colonial era, and the state’s efforts were focused on the former reserves, now communal areas, where the majority of poor people lived. Apart from some resettlement the ‘commercial’ farm areas were large-scale and predominantly white-owned, at least until the major land reform of the 2000s.

As mentioned last week, there has been virtually no recent research and very limited policy commentary on the contemporary SSCFAs, but these areas offer some interesting insights into what happens to medium-scale farms, now over multiple generations. The impacts were less in terms of revolutionising African production – production was low and marketing challenging for most – but more in the political and ideological transformation that a particular type of land ownership offered to an emergent rural-urban middle class.

The A2 farms allocated following land reform in the 2000s share many similarities, both in terms of agricultural challenges, as well as their political salience, as discussed last week. They operate at similar scales, are occupied by a similar class of people, they are presented as ‘commercial’ farms, but in many cases accumulation occurs not through intensification but extensification and extraction, and, although on a much larger scale, and in more high potential, prominent areas, they offer the potential for a new class of ‘emergent’, medium-scale farmer, farming private (in the case of A2 farms, leasehold) land.

Next week, through a couple of case studies, I will discuss some of the patterns of change observed in former Purchase Area farms, and ask whether these provide glimpses of the future of A2 farms.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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What is the future for medium-sized commercial farms in Zimbabwe?

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Zimbabwe’s land reform created two ‘models’ for resettlement farms – one relatively small-scale, the A1 schemes, and one medium to large-scale, the A2 farms. A1 farms now cover (very) approximately 4.2 m ha including around 150,000 farms and A2 farms 2.7 m ha across 20,000 farm units (although A2 areas now include a range of other larger-scale commercial farms in addition). The idea was that the small-scale farms would provide a productive base for large numbers of land-hungry people, including those who had invaded the white-owned farms in 2000, while the A2 farms would accommodate demand from the middle classes and elites. The A2 farms were to be the new drivers of commercial agriculture, occupied by qualified, business-savvy farmers, able to invest in new production.

As every observer of Zimbabwean agriculture since land reform knows, the planners’ vision has not come to pass. The A1 farms have done better than many have expected, as documented on this blog many times. Contrary to some commentaries, they have generated livelihoods, employment and production, in often very difficult circumstances. There is a huge range of farm types within the A1 model, ranging from self-contained farms, more similar to A2 holdings, to small-scale village-style set-ups. Numbers of farms under this category has expanded significantly, with some estimating that there are now around 175,000 farm units. As we have documented in Masvingo, Matabeleland South and Mashonaland, not all A1 farmers are the same – a good proportion have done well, but not everyone, and processes of agrarian differentiation continue.

By contrast the A2 farms have been disappointing. In part this has resulted from the failure to invest during the economic crisis of the 2000s, when finance and support were severely lacking. In part a number of A2 farms, particularly those with good infrastructure, whether housing or irrigation systems, were ‘grabbed’ by politically-connected elites. The neat bureaucratic system of application and assessment of candidates against strict criteria of business viability and agricultural expertise was by-passed due to political expediency in such cases.

As discussed on this blog many times before, such ‘cronies’ are not the majority by any means, even in the A2 farms, but they do exist, and perhaps especially so in the high potential areas, near Harare, where commercial agriculture is potentially profitable. Of course some A2 farmers have made a go of it, and invested through private sources – whether from diaspora remittances, NGO jobs or other less straightforward means. These include ‘cronies’ – able to divert state resources – and others. But many have struggled. The failure to create and deliver an effective lease system, and the lack of finance, either from state or private sources has hampered ambitions to invest, rehabilitate infrastructure and increase production. Many A2 farms remain in a sorry state, neglected and failing to produce, while a some are prospering; either through own investment or increasing through various forms of joint venture.

Our studies have been looking at these farms both in Masvingo and Mashonaland Central provinces. We have carried out a number of detailed case studies looking at farm production, labour and the challenges associated. These show a mixed picture of failure and success. But beyond the audit a decade ago, more comprehensive data on patterns of ownership and production are lacking. We are beginning to piece together a broader picture, as finding a route to supporting A2 farm production is essential. We are asking, for example, what are the levels of production and land utilisation in these farms, how is labour organised, and what are the challenges being faced? The aim, in time, will be to come to suggestions as to what might be done to support new forms of commercial agriculture, and what types of financing, technical support, land tenure regimes and other policy arrangements, including joint ventures, make sense.

One way of informing this enquiry has been to look to past experiences, and notably that of the so-called ‘African Purchase Areas’, now known as ‘small-scale commercial farming areas’. These add up to 1.4m ha in total, across approximately 8000 farms scattered across the country. They were established from the 1930s, with more set up in the 1950s to counter nationalist moves among the African population. Colonial policymakers were aimed at creating a ‘yeoman’ class of farmer, accommodating an educated, urban-based middle class in the reform of land use. As with the land reform of 2000, there were explicit political motivations to enlist and incorporate, but also a productionist/modernisation agenda to generate new forms of commercial agriculture based – in the case of Purchase Areas – on offering Africans freehold title to land.

The policy narrative was clearly focused on a ‘civilising’ mission – these were acceptable, English-speaking ‘natives’, educated through the mission school systems, and valued clerks, messengers, native police, teachers and others working for the colonial state. Politically, the colonial regime could not afford for such groups to rebel and join the ranks of the nationalists (although of course many did), and needed to be co-opted, by being given special favours not available to the ‘reserve native’. Others given land were those Africans who did not have land in the ‘reserves’, but were not acceptable in ‘white’ areas, and included South African Basotho migrants, African churches and others.

The allocations of land varied from area to area, but they were in the order of 100 ha, not dissimilar to those offered to most A2 farmers in the 2000s. A2 plots ranged from 20ha in the irrigated sugar estates to several hundred hectares in the dryland ranching country of Matabeleland, but the overall average – typical of the medium-potential largely dryland farming areas where the Purchase Areas were located – was about 70 ha. In our recent research we have been asking, what has happened to the former Purchase Areas several generations on? Do these experiences give hints as to what might happen to the A2 farms in 50 or 60 years? What lessons can be drawn – positive and negative – that planners and policymakers need to take on board now, as the A2 model is assessed and potentially rethought?

In the next few weeks, I will look at some of these questions based on some preliminary research carried out in Mushagashe and Dewure SSCFAs in Masvingo Province. Since the classic work by Angela Cheater carried out in Msengezi Purchase Area, documented in ‘Idioms of Accumulation: rural development and class formation among freeholders in Zimbabwe (Mambo Press, 1984), plus many subsequent articles, and the important historical studies by Allison Shutt focusing on Marirangwe, there has been remarkably little research done on these areas, with the notable exception of Joseph Mujere’s fascinating study of the evangelist Basotho migrants from South Africa to Dewure Purchase Area. In the mid-1990s Vincent Ashworth carried out a study on small-scale farming areas for the World Bank, but I cannot locate it (if anyone has a copy, please, please let me know!), and there is a scattering of data among various Commissions and reports, but little else. But as an experiment in creating a class of medium-scale farmer in Zimbabwe, the Purchase Area story is fascinating, which is why we have returned to it in our Masvingo studies during the last year.

In our current studies we are working with a random sample of 26 farms in Mushagashe SSCFA, near Masvingo. Established in from the early 1930s, the area was transferred to blacks able to purchase the land. The area now has 250 farms, and rather like the A2 farms, these have varying levels of production and investment. As the forthcoming blogs show, many of the challenges relate to cross-generational transfers, inheritance and how subsequent generations make use of family-owned land.

These issues are only beginning to be faced in the A2 farms, but glimpses of the future may be shown by a look to the past. Next week I will offer a very brief historical background to the ‘Native Purchase Areas’, before exploring some detailed case studies, and then concluding the series with a reflection on the future of A2 farms in Zimbabwe, and medium-scale commercial farming more broadly.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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