Tag Archives: Sara Berry

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

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

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

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

Structural transformations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Native Purchase Areas 80 years on

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from history

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

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

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“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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