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COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe: ‘we are good at surviving, but things are really tough’

 On the 13th June I had a follow up conversation on how people are coping with the COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe. As with the previous discussion on April 23rd it was based on a compilation of insights and reflections from across our rural field sites – from Chikombedzi, to Masvingo district, Gutu, Matobo and Mvurwi. It was a long and fascinating call, and this blog offers only some highlights.

Compared to when we first talked, there are now more recorded cases in Zimbabwe (currently 356), although no more deaths (still at four recorded). The country is in ‘indefinite’ lockdown, but in Level 2 mode, which allows some more flexibility. However, things remain tough for all those in our study areas. Below are some themes that emerged from the discussion:

Restricted movement

Movement restrictions are very strict. You have to get a permit to travel, and it can take days for these to be issued. The police are everywhere, and the army. They will stop you at roadblocks and turn you back if you don’t have the paperwork. It’s a real challenge as farmers need to get to town to sell things or buy inputs. It’s really impossible. Shops are now open longer, but if you cannot travel, what can you do? It’s even difficult to get to hospital or the clinic. Those with conditions like HIV/AIDS or TB are suffering as they are not getting the medicines on time. If there’s a complication with a pregnancy there’s nothing you can do. You have to rely on local herbalists and others. The same is for livestock – they are dying of diseases as we can’t travel to town to get the dip chemicals or treatments. Movement is essential for life. People will always find a way though. They have to in order to survive. We have had 20 or more years of practice of living under hardship, we are good at surviving, but things are really tough.

We rely on the truckers

For supplies, we now rely on the truckers. Traders are not allowed to go to South Africa anymore (although some sneak through unregulated border crossings), and the buses that used to bring things from down South are not moving. So the truckers who are allowed to move bring things. It’s illegal, but there is a well-established network these days. And those who used to buy and sell from South Africa have set up tuck-shops in the locations (high density suburbs in town) and in the rural areas, and things are supplied. You can buy agri-inputs, groceries, phone credit, and much more. But it’s expensive. They are buying in Rand, and the Zimbabwe dollar is fast losing strength. The black market rate is three times the official rate, so buying goods these days is seriously expensive.

Remittances are no longer coming

People used to rely a lot on remittances. Either in kind – usually sent by bus from South Africa – or in cash – through transfer services like Mukuru, World Remit or Western Union. But relatives outside the country – even in the UK – have lost their jobs. They no longer send remittances. This is a big problem as these funds used to pay for labour or for agricultural inputs, or for fees or groceries. It’s a big gap. For example, the tobacco harvest in Mvurwi is being delayed as there’s no money to pay for labour.

We are all vendors now

To survive, everyone must become a vendor. It seems something is being sold from every house in the location, and even in the rural areas too. People stock some small things and sell. Some deal in groceries, others sell farm or garden produce (vegetables, peanut butter etc.), others do sewing and repairs, others sell clothes. There are so many shebeens (informal drinking places), and beer brewing is a massive business particularly in the locations. There are hair and beauty salons – all informal – in people’s houses, along with electrical repair shops, tailors – you name it, you can find it. It’s all illegal and the police can always close things down, so people wait until they knock off. It’s the evenings when there is so much activity. Some sell from their cars, as they can quickly move if the police come. Others use wheelbarrows, push carts, large dishes. Markets are everywhere, despite the older ones being closed. The government has destroyed the old informal markets and is building new ones, but these are not complete, so people must improvise. Some have even started online trading, but this is only feasible in the towns, given the cost of (phone) bundles. The action is all in the locations, and farmers must link with relatives and others there. In town, some buildings are registered for trade, and people can then set up tables there, but they will pay the tax. The government doesn’t like the informal traders and is trying to formalise everything. Although they are building new hygienic structures for people to trade from, much of this is just to control people and collect taxes. Right now, we need to live.

Everyone is a gardener

Gardening is essential too. Every bit of ground near people’s houses is now a garden. It’s vital to stay alive, and with the markets closed it’s difficult to buy things. You have to grow your own. It’s good as people stay healthy, and some can also sell as part of vending from their homes. In an area you know who has what. Wider markets are coming back too, as schools, universities and other institutions begin to open. The demand is not as it was, but there is business to be done if you are a farmer or gardener.

Restrictions on agricultural markets persist

Moving produce to markets is difficult. The police will stop you, ask for permits. It’s a total hassle. So some farmers will move early in the morning, offloading produce in the locations where others sell. Others move in the evening and sell from their pick-up trucks. There’s always a way, even if it’s more difficult. For more formal marketing there are so many regulations. For example in Mvurwi, people can come together and sell at a single point to a company representative who comes to the area. A farmer representative can travel with the crop to the auction floors, but the selling is not transparent. You cannot see how it’s weighed and graded because of the coronavirus restrictions, so farmers are easily ripped off. This is disastrous as these days payments are only in part in forex, so you don’t get much for your crop. Alternatively, you can take your tobacco to the auction floors yourself if you’ve got a truck, but you may have to queue for days, and they will not let you on the floor because of the virus. So there is always cheating, and you get a bad deal. Marketing for farmers is a big challenge due to COVID-19.

It’s better in the rural areas

There is massive urban to rural migration right now. Many people in town are really suffering. They have lost jobs, there’s no food, rents are getting hiked and there is huge inflation on everything. Some say it’s 700 percent! Many have come home to the rural areas. This is particularly those who were relying on informal activities, including vendors, sex workers and other informal jobs in town. The rural areas are now full of those coming back to their rural homes. Here rent is free, and you can grow food, even if only a small garden. And relatives know them, and will help out. It’s a much better situation. Some are wondering if they will ever go back to town.

Returnees from South Africa are feared and stigmatised

There are thousands coming back from other countries – mostly from South Africa, but also other countries in the region, such as Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and so on. And also from the UK, Australia, parts of Asia. There are so many. People are saying why did you leave if you come back when things are tough out there? They left because of Zimbabwe’s problems, but now they’re running away from hunger and disease in South Africa. The rise in reported cases has almost all been from returnees from South Africa and other countries. They have lost jobs and have no means of survival, as the ‘social protection’ measures in those places do not cover migrants, especially if you don’t have the right papers. When they cross the border into Zimbabwe, they are supposed to be put in a quarantine centre, but some may escape. These places are not good, and if you don’t have the virus you might catch it there! People are complaining seriously about these centres, as they are not well run. If you escape the police can chase you, and now they are confiscating passports and ID cards. If you don’t have the virus after eight days you can be transferred to an isolation centre, which are better. Less like prison. You can even pay for something better, as hotels are being used. Or you are sometimes allowed to self-isolate at a rural home under the supervision of a kraalhead. Those returnees from South Africa are seen as diseased and dangerous in the villages. People run away from them. There is so much stigma and fear. Those who dodged the quarantine camps, perhaps coming over an illegal crossing, are sometimes smoked out by locals, and reported. People really fear the returnees. We see this unknown virus in them.

Community relations are getting strained

COVID-19 is really straining relations. Social gatherings are restricted, and you have to get a permit. You can have up to 50 people for a church service or a funeral for example. But people cannot travel far to weddings, funerals and so on, so families are not keeping in touch at these important moments. With returnees coming back, they may be hidden from others for fear of them being exposed. This is causing problems within villages, where everyone knows everyone. But there are ways of bringing people together too. There has been a big rise in savings clubs to assist with people buying groceries. People now realise that saving is important so as to cushion you from a shock like this that just comes from nowhere. There’s also been a growth of burial societies, as the main funeral companies are no longer working. So people do help each other out in the villages particularly, making the rural a better place to stay right now. There are also quite a few projects and forms of assistance, which seems to be more common in the rural areas. This can come from government – including the First Lady’s projects – or through churches, NGOs, even companies. But the lockdown is certainly causing many frustrations for sure. You can see this especially in the locations but also in the rural areas. People want to socialise; they want to go for a drink and meet people. So you see lots of people hanging around in the urban and rural townships, especially where there are illegal bottle stores and shebeens. Drugs are a problem too, and this is causing conflicts between people, and sometimes the outbreak of fights. The police will round people up, hand out fines, but people will not obey; they are frustrated with lockdown life.

Sharing information and countering fake news

There’s so much fake news circulating about COVID-19, especially on social media, WhatsApp groups and so on. Some are now saying that after so many months it doesn’t kill Africans. Some say that there is a cure already found. Others argue that it is all a plot by foreigners. Some of us look at the international media and know that these things are not true, but gossip and rumour travel fast, and it’s amazing what people believe! The government is publishing official information. They’ve printed booklets in all 16 local languages, and they also use radio, TV and the state newspapers. There are phone and text messages from the government too. And they publish the data by province each day, so you can find out how things are changing. The rise in cases from returnees especially from South Africa is certainly worrying people, and adding to the stigmatisation of those who come back. So yes people know it’s dangerous. They see it next door in South Africa. Relatives tell them how bad it is in the UK and Europe too. Although we haven’t seen deaths, we realise that controlling it is important, so overall people still back the government, as we don’t want it here like it is in South Africa.

Political tensions

We hear that there are some in power who are benefiting from tenders due to COVID-19. We know the chefs are corrupt. There are others profiting too, but that’s not bad. For example, there are business people who are making and selling PPE and sanitisers. There are lots of small COVID businesses around. Farmers are even buying this stuff, including face masks and sanitiser so they can move around and trade safely. Some shop owners are even buying temperature testing kits costing US$100 or more. Emergencies always provide opportunities for some. However, some of the police and security forces are taking advantage. There were rumours of mass mobilisation by the opposition recently, and then the road blocks became harsher. Some were targeted, and there was reportedly some violence in some places. We heard the news of the shocking attacks on MDC people too. We don’t know how bad things are elsewhere, as where we stay in the rural areas there is less conflict. This seems to be in Harare and places like that. But we can see the tensions and we see the results in the movement restrictions and the massive presence of security people everywhere. But the police were more heavy-handed in the earlier lockdown period, and it’s eased a bit now, although if you are found in the wrong place at the wrong time, you will be in big trouble. It is lockdown with force, but people must violate the rules because they are starving. They see the rationale for the lockdown, but they just cannot always comply.

Many thanks to all the research team from across Zimbabwe for continuing interviews and collecting local information on the COVID-19 situation (and for the photos from Mucheke). In a few weeks we will have a further update on this blog. In the next two weeks the blog series looking at what happened 20 years after land reform will conclude, wrapping up the five previous blog with two summary/synthesis pieces.

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

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Comparing communal areas and new resettlements in Zimbabwe V: farm employment, off-farm income earning and livelihood diversification

Growth and development does not just derive from agriculture, but the wider economic linkages that are generated. Successful agriculture generates employment opportunities, it results in multiplier effects in the service industries, and it boosts consumption as people buy more things. Equally, in dryland agricultural settings few can rely on just agriculture for their livelihoods. They must seek piece work jobs in the dry season, sell their skills as builders, carpenters, tailors or hairdressers. And they can make use of local resources for making craft items or agricultural equipment and tools.

In other words, in order to assess the success of the wider economy and individual livelihoods, we need to look at the rural economy in the round, and look at things going on on-farm as well as off, and the flows of resources that come to the area from outside, as well as those that leave. Too often there are narrow assessments of economies and livelihoods that miss these wider dimensions. There are multiple livelihood opportunities in the communal and resettlement areas, as well as flows of labour, remittances and trade. How then do these patterns compare?

A1 farmers employ considerable numbers of labourers. 42% of A1 self-contained and 12% of A1 villagised farm households employ temporary labour, while 16% and 17% employ permanent labour. By contrast in the communal area sites only 2% of households employ permanent and temporary in the sites outside Chikobmedzi, where a few farmers employ significant numbers, although concentrated among the more successful farmers for piecework on larger farm areas. On average though across the A1 sites, households employ 0.53 temporary workers and 0.2 permanent workers, while those employed in the communal areas are vanishingly few. The employment opportunities, although often temporary and low paid, are important for many, and attract hundreds of people to live and work in these areas. This is an important part of the wider economy, and many of these people come from the nearby communal areas, with labour being recruited through family, church and other networks.

Collective work is also important in the new resettlements. As farm sizes have declined in the communal areas the institution of the ‘work party’ (humwe) has declined. Some have put this down to the decline in tradition, but actually it more reflects the lack of need for recruiting labour for farming small plots. This changed in the resettlement areas with larger areas to plough, weed and harvest. Thus across the resettlement sites 37% of households held work parties in the 2010 season, and 36% in 2011, while only 18% and 14% held them in the communal areas.

Off-farm income has always been important as part of livelihood portfolios in rural Zimbabwe. Such income allows people to earn money in the dry season, or offset the consequences of low yields. As part of a diversified livelihood strategy such income sources reduce risk, and spread gains, often to women and children as income earners. We looked at the patterns of off-farm income earning across resettlement and communal area sites, and the pattern was remarkably similar.

In order of importance (in terms of percentage of households engaged) it was trading, building/carpentry, brickmaking/thatching, pottery/basket-making, fishing, wood carving, tailoring, transport businesses and grinding mill operation in both sites, with similar proportions of households involved. Farm-related income earning was also similar, with the rank order being sale of vegetables, poultry, cattle, goat/sheep and fish in both sites. The only contrast was that vegetable sales at 45% of all households was significantly higher in the communal areas, with only 28% of resettlement households selling vegetables regularly.

Perhaps the biggest difference in income sources was in the proportion of households receiving remittances from relatives resident outside the home. The highest level of remittances was in the Chikombedzi area, near the South African border, with 67% of households receiving some remittances in the communal areas and 52% in the A1 villagised resettlements. The biggest difference was in the Gutu area, where the only 7% of A1 villagised resettlement households received remittances, while 33% in the communal areas did so. A similar pattern was observed in the Chiredzi cluster sites, with 10% and 23% receiving remittance. The only area with a different pattern was Masvingo, where a higher percentage of resettlement households received remittances (28% vs 17%).

There are several issues to note here. First, outside Chikombedzi, the level of remittances is low compared to historical studies that showed around two-thirds or more of households receiving such support. Second, with the Masvingo exception, the A1 villagised households were more independent, and less reliant on relatives’ support. This is partly due to the age profile of such households, with fewer older children sending remittances, but also the sense that the new land reform beneficiaries did not need looking after, as they had the land. Indeed, there is plentiful evidence of flows of remittances (in both cash and food) flowing from the resettlements to the communal areas. However the main source of remittances was household members working in Zimbabwe, sending money home. With the collapse of the economy, and the decline in employment opportunities, this flow of income has declined in the last decade, and there has been more reliance on income from outside the country, notably South Africa. But outside Chikombedzi area, this was not a significant source, and there were only a few others who received income from further afield, including the UK.

Both the new resettlement areas and the communal areas have diversified economies, where off-farm work is important. But the resettlement areas are more self-reliant, relying less on remittance flows, labour migration, and instead are generating employment on the farms, and also other business for entrepreneurs, service providers, traders and others. These could not be regarded as either booming or resilient economies, and on the face of it there are considerable similarities between the sites, particularly around off-farm income earning activities. But the overall opportunities offered in the resettlement areas seem to be more substantial, reflecting the greater underlying potential from agriculture, and the presence of a core group of farmers who are accumulating, spending, employing and generating economic activity.

A more detailed look at these diversified economies and patterns of livelihoods, as has been attempted in this short blog series, therefore shows that the resettlements are not simply an extension of the communal lands, but are different on a variety of fronts, with important implications for the future.

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

The on-going Masvingo study research is conducted by Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge,

Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene.

 

 

 

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Diaspora direct investment: funding farming in Zimbabwe

Breaking out of the rut of donor or government dependence in development has long been a mantra, but how to do it? Of course remittances provide huge resources but these tend to be channelled to support individuals and households rather than collective investments. How to mobilise funds at a wider scale for broader projects is a challenge.

A new initiative is trying to do this, focusing on farming projects in Matabeleland. Mobilising the resources of Zimbabweans and others in the diaspora is the aim. The project is run from an organisation called ‘The Global Native’ based in Leeds in the UK. It has partnerships in Zimbabwe with Foundations for Farming that supports conservation agriculture, and a business venture focused on a tomato canning plant.

They are urging people to invest in ‘community shares’ that offer a 5% return. These funds are being put towards capital investment, notably trucks for transport. The overall narrative is that supporting farmers – turning Matabeleland green – is an important development investment that can bring sufficient returns for savers in the diaspora, at the same time as them gaining better links with their home and contributed to much-needed development in a neglected part of the country.

The initiative is linked to various church groups, NGOs as well as private businesses in Zimbabwe, including a game ranching operation and a provident society. A new network is being created between local farm businesses and the diaspora in towns such as Leeds. Fundraising events are being held in the UK to support the effort.

I cannot vouch for the initiative, nor for the projects that the organisation is involved in. I have expressed my doubts about the gardening technique ‘conservation agriculture’ on anything but the smallest plots before on this blog. It is unlikely to produce the type of agricultural transformation that is claimed, although may be useful for certain people with small garden areas that can benefit for labour based intensification. Equally the expansion of greenhouses for tomato production in Matabeleland at the scale envisaged may be a long-shot, given the challenges with this sort of horticulture, and its marketing.

But my interest was sparked less by the projects themselves but the overall vision of raising finance for wider development activities. There has been a tradition of ‘diaspora direct investment’ in Latin America, and the home town associations of West Africa, and indeed many other parts of the world, are well known sources of development finance. Zimbabwe’s rural economies have long been supported by remittances, increasingly from diaspora sources. During the crisis period, diaspora financial flows to Zimbabwe amounted to around $900m per annum. This continues, but is shifting to a wider array of investments. As part of the ‘long haul’ to recovery that the excellent recent Chatham House report outlines, diaspora remittance and investment flows are going to be crucial.

In Zimbabwe because of the different relationships between the diaspora and those in Zimbabwe, and the shorter time these interactions have evolved, these sort of interactions are not so common. More frequent have been the usual Western Union mediated remittance flows to elderly relatives or for the payment of school fees, the purchase of fertiliser and seeds or the buying of animals. Alternatively support has existed for opposition groups and other political activism, but wider collective development has not been a big theme.

Perhaps this initiative signals a change, involving both the maturing of the diaspora community, and a recognition that the relationship with Zimbabwe must shift to a longer term local developmental investment rather than the expectation that political change will deliver this. And of course as time passes, the diaspora communities have a different age profile (see some of the excellent ‘diaspora studies’ focusing on Zimbabwe, for example here and here). Some of those in their twenties involved in the Leeds-based group were small kids when they left Zimbabwe, and their experiences and associations are more in the UK than ‘home’. They thus link with others from the UK and other diaspora communities in churches, community groups and UK-based development charities to work on such efforts.

For Zimbabwe such initiatives may offer a next generation alternative after the crisis and isolation of the 2000s, and the aid and state dependence of the post-Independence period.

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

 

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Migration myths. Why you shouldn’t always believe the figures for Zimbabwe

How many times have you heard that over 3 million people have fled Zimbabwe, migrating to South Africa or elsewhere? The figure varies, but it’s always big. But where does it come from and is it true?

This is a question asked by Jonathan Crush and Daniel Tevera in their edited book, Zimbabwe’s Exodus: Crisis, Migration, Survival published in 2010. They trace the earliest use of the 3 million figure to South African media reports in 2003, and to comments made by Thabo Mbeki who claimed there were this number of Zimbabweans in South Africa. The figure has been repeated since, yet the media reports keep presenting a picture of people continuously ‘flooding’ across the border to South Africa. The figures just do not add up. You would think that there would be nobody left, beyond Mugabe and his cronies, if you believed everything you read!

Crush and Tevera point to the political nature of these figures. The argue that “The South African media and officialdom have a history of making up numbers about migration to the country. These numbers, often highly exaggerated for alarmist effect, acquire a life of their own once they enter the public realm. Tracking down their source usually reveals that they have no sound statistical basis”. They are, in other words, myths, and ones repeated by many who should know better.

Indeed the book shows there is no way of knowing the actual facts. No-one on either side of the border keeps proper records, people move back and forward between countries in the region with a high frequency and much movement is illegal in any case. The book offers some clues, however, and usefully compiles what statistics there are, but the authors are at pains to point out the difficulties of precise numbers particularly in the context of circular migration patterns. Circular migration – to places of work and back to home – has been part of southern Africans livelihoods for the best part of a century, as Debbie Potts points out in her recent book focusing on Harare. Yet, as Crush and Tevera point out, this history is often forgotten in contemporary policy discussions, framing current events as new, dramatic and with movement in need of containment. It is of course a familiar story for those of us who live in ‘fortress Europe’.

But have things changed as a result of the crisis in Zimbabwe? Has there been a greater movement of people and have patterns changed? The answer is of course, yes. There are some excellent new works on the Zimbabwean diaspora which tell us lots about who the diaspora are, where they come from and how they relate to ‘home’. Crush and Tevera concentrate on South Africa, while Joann McGregor and Ranka Primorac focus on the UK, for example, and the chapters in these books contain plenty of fascinating cases. As we show from data from Masvingo, patterns of migration have changed significantly in the last couple of decades, particularly from 1990s and the period of structural adjustment. The ‘classic’ movement to the farms or mines within Zimbabwe for a period followed by return to the communal areas on retirement has shifted. There are now new migrants, including youth without land or the prospect of land, the border jumpers; there are more women migrants, tapping into regional trade networks, and there is greater transnational migration, to other countries in the SADC region, but also significantly to the UK.

Each of these migrant groups (and there are of course others) link to home in different ways, sending remittances in different amounts and forms. In the 2000s, when Zimbabwe’s economy was in meltdown, these flows of remittances were crucial, especially if they could get into the country in foreign exchange. Work by Sarah Bracking and Llloyd Sachikonye for the Brooks Institute at Manchester offers some insights into these relationships, but a deeper understanding of how such external players interact with local economies is always difficult to grasp.

In a review of the Crush and Tevera book, Terry Ranger asks: “Perhaps the most important question is not why so many Zimbabweans have left, but why – and how – so many have stayed”. This is an intriguing question because if as Crush and Tevera point out ‘a few hundred thousand’ have left, then most people have remained, even if they leave for periods and return. Given the crisis at home, why? We know much about the push factors, but what about the factors that keep people at home? There are of course the natural bonds of family and home that are valued, the importance of familiarity and the support networks that exist. These are big factors especially when contrasting with the xenophobia experienced by migrants in South Africa, for example.

But there is also one hypothesis that is not explored in these works, one perhaps too difficult to contemplate. Perhaps for some things were not so bad at home; at least not as extreme as sometimes portrayed. The Zimbabwean economic crisis hit the still relatively small middle classes much harder than others. Others gained land, and some returned from abroad to gain access during the land reform. With no jobs at home and few in South Africa or elsewhere except for the connected and skilled, farming at home was perhaps a better option in this period. Certainly remittances have, as they have always done, offset the worst of the crisis, but perhaps land reform, although precipitating some migration from those dispossessed, including farm workers and white farmers, acted to provide a cushion for others. And, for significant proportion of new farmers in Masvingo province, particularly on the A1 plots, they actually fared rather well, and would not dream of leaving, and heading off to the uncertainties and vulnerabilities of the diaspora.

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

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