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Zimbabwe exports agricultural skills and entrepreneurship to South Africa

Recent reports have celebrated five Zimbabweans who have taken over 15 ha of land, part of a farm in Malmesbury near Cape Town in South Africa. The N7 farmers as they call themselves were allowed to use the land – initially 3 ha now expanding – by the farmer. This was initially for free so they could get established, although now they pay a rent of $80 per hectare. The land was not being used intensively – apparently it had a fodder crop, lupins, planted over winter – and the farmer was happy for others to have a go.

Much to the surprise of many South Africans, and now praised by former President Thabo Mbeki, the Zimbabweans were able to transform the land into a vibrant horticultural enterprise, growing spinach, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes and maize. The irrigation equipment on the land was put to work, and they applied manure to the land to improve the quality of the soil. The vegetables are sold at Cape Town’s Epping market.

For many in the media, it was the background of the Zimbabweans that was surprising too. They are all in full time jobs, and are highly qualified. One has a PhD apparently in agriculture, others have degrees in physics, science, engineering and languages. They now have 6 employees, one a Zimbabwean, while others are South African and a Malawian farm manager.

While there have been disputes about the details of the ‘good news’ story, and clearly a bit of a backlash from the South African farming community, the basic take-homes were clear. Zimbabweans – including highly qualified people – can farm, while South Africans had not taken the initiative to use this, or other similar, parcels of land in the same way.

This was rubbed in with Mbeki’s commentary. He linked this to land reform, complaining about the South African land reform and restitution programmes where South Africans preferred to take money rather than invest in actively farming the land. By contrast, he suggested, Zimbabweans were committed to the land and could make good use of it, as he hinted many had done in Zimbabwe’s land reform programme.

The contrasts between Zimbabwe and South Africa’s agricultural sector and land reform efforts have been widely commented upon. South Africa of course does not have the same type of agrarian economy as Zimbabwe, and many people have not had recent experiences of farming, even if living in rural areas. South Africa’s land reform has focused on attempting to emulate ‘commercial’ farming, with inappropriate visions of ‘viability’, often through cooperative group arrangements, and has often failed.

Yet the Malmesbury experience may offer some insights for South African land policy. The opportunities for ‘smallholder’ production does exist, especially when linked to certain value chains, and expecting land reform only to emulate large-scale commercial farming just on a smaller scale is, as so many studies have shown, is bound to fail. But equally this is not simply a land to the people story – as the heightened rhetoric of the Economic Freedom Front and Julius Malema suggests – but an example of where small-scale agriculture can work under certain conditions. And these conditions are quite specific – the N7 farmers have the skills, the market connections and the infrastructure in place to make things work.

South Africa’s land reform debate remains stuck between the government’s formal focus on planned redistribution using inappropriate commercial models and a naïve populist response of handing land out without thinking about how to embed it in a reformed agrarian economy. Malmesbury – and others places around the country from Limpopo to KZN – offer glimpses of what might be if the two false extremes were dropped in favour of something more realistic and appropriate. Maybe Zimbabwe’s lessons from land reform, and the N7 farmers, can indeed export some good ideas and practices to south of the Limpopo.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Chinese engagement in African agriculture is not what it seems

president-xi-jinping

The reality of Chinese investment in African agriculture has yet to catch up with the hype. Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

On Zimbabweland this week, I want to share an article that appeared in The Conversation, and various other outlets, last week. It relates to our work on China and Brazil in African agriculture, mentioned before on this blog.

Chinese engagement in African agriculture is not what it seems…..

In December 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping flew into South Africa for the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation with great fanfare. There were lots of announcements about prospective investments across Africa. Agriculture featured prominently. But what is the real story of China in Africa on the ground, beyond the hype?

As Deborah Brautigam’s investigative research has so effectively shown, the assumptions about China’s role in Africa are often not borne out in reality. The level of investment and linked aid flows are much lower than the high numbers sometimes touted; the numbers of imported Chinese workers are much lower than often suggested; the areas of land “grabbed” for investment are small compared to the vast areas identified by some.

And, as Brautigam’s recent book shows, Africa will not be feeding China or China feeding Africa anytime soon.

Reality on the ground

We set about finding out what was happening on the ground. Working with African, Chinese and European colleagues, our team investigated Chinese engagements in agriculture in four countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. All have featured prominently as priorities for Chinese investment and aid.

Our just-completed project is reported in a new open access special issue of the journal World Development. So what exactly has been going on?

This proved surprisingly difficult to find out. The data on land acquisition, investment flows and aid projects is limited and confusing. It often doesn’t add up. Ghost projects are listed that never happened, and others are missed out.

Our original idea of doing a simple geomapping exercise based on available data was quickly abandoned. Instead, we had to triangulate between multiple sources to find out what was happening where.

Certainly there is a great deal going on, and the Chinese presence in Africa is important. The Chinese role in agriculture – in terms of business investment, technology transfer, demonstration efforts, training and more – is growing, and shaping perceptions.

We chose cases across the four countries to investigate in more detail. The studies aimed to explore the detail of investments, technology projects, training and development encounters more generally.

The central question we asked was: is China reshaping African agriculture?

No singular ‘Chinese model’

The Chinese Agricultural Technology Development Centres are flagship investments. There are now 23 across Africa, funded in their first phase by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce under their aid program. They are run mostly by companies, and are linked to a commercial model for training and technology demonstration and sale.

As Xiuli Xu and colleagues show, the centres’ performance very much depends on who is running them. Different provincial companies have very different characteristics, demonstrating that there is no singular “Chinese model” of development, or state-business partnership.

We also explored a number of cases of business investments in agriculture, primarily led by Chinese state-owned enterprises. Chinese development efforts mix aid with commerce, linking both provincial and central state involvement with different businesses.

For example, as Jing Gu and colleagues explain, in Xai Xai in Mozambique, the Wanbao agricultural development company from Hubei province took over 20,000 hectares on a state farm to farm rice, and develop a contract farming arrangement with surrounding farms.

It has not been easy. There have been a number of changes in company leads, disputes with local communities, and shifting alliances with local elites, as Kojo Amanor and Sergio Chichava set out.

The training of government officials is an important aspect of the Chinese engagement in Africa. More than 10,000 are trained in numerous courses in China each year, many in agriculture. This far exceeds any training initiative of any western aid programme.

Henry Tugendhat and Dawit Alemu explored the impacts of these courses, participating in training in China, and interviewing officials who had returned home to Ghana and Zimbabwe. While there have not been many immediate impacts, the longer-term building of relationships and the exertion of “soft power” diplomacy is important.

The role of informal Chinese migrants

Chinese migrants supply specialist Chinese foods to burgeoning expatriate populations.
Reuters/Noor Khamis

Perhaps the most far-reaching but least understood dimension of Chinese involvement in African agriculture is the growing number of informal migrants getting involved in the agri-food sector, from farming to processing to retail to restaurants.

Seth Cook and colleagues investigated this in Ethiopia and Ghana. They discovered a range of activities: relatively few farmers, but growing investment in supplying specialist Chinese foods to burgeoning expatriate Chinese populations.

Those involved are very often migrants who came as part of Chinese government contracts, and have since established business connections and stayed, encouraging others to join them from China.

Through our work, we were able to gain a snapshot of the early stages of Chinese engagement in African agriculture. Our results show successes as well as failures. But Chinese engagement is certainly not yet at the scale sometimes assumed.

In the longer term, activities may accelerate as more opportunities open up. But China is also changing. As its economy restructures to a “new normal”, there are different demands. Food will certainly remain one, but this is not likely to come from Africa.

As a new global power, China will want to maintain business, aid and diplomatic relations with Africa, and sustaining relationships will be important. China plays the long game, and our studies were observing just the opening stages.

The ConversationIan Scoones, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Back to normal service next week…..

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Drought politics in southern Africa

Why is it that droughts always seem to surprise, despite the warnings? The current El Niño drought is no exception, and the patterns of response (and lack of response) are remarkably familiar when looking back at the 1991-92 El Niño drought. There is a scary sense of déjà vu 25 years on, with important political implications, both in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

In 1991-92 I was working with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Farming Systems Research Unit on a project on risk, livelihoods and dryland farming in Chivi district. We had the opportunity of studying the drought up close. The findings are reported in the book Hazards and Opportunities: Farming Livelihoods in Dryland Africa. Lessons from Zimbabwe. It’s now out of print, but you can still find copies second hand. In the coming three weeks, I will share some of the findings from back then, but also reflect on what’s changed since.

Here is an extract from chapter 10. Sound familiar?

“The national Early Warning Unit first sounded the alarm about impending food shortages in July 1991. At that time they alerted the government that food stocks would run out in early 1992. This proved to be ominously accurate…..[A SADC Food Security Bulletin dated July 1991 noted} “An overall cereal shortfall of 189,000 tonnes is anticipated… Although the country has no exportable maize surplus, the GMB has an export commitment of 228000 tonnes… Imports of 383000 tonnes will be needed. So far, however, no import plans for maize have been formulated”.

Through 1991, the multiple warnings were basically ignored. As we discuss in the book:

”Indeed, no-one appeared to trust them. Even when the situation was obviously critical the government insisted on commissioning its own monitoring exercise to investigate the food situation in the country. Similarly the United Nations World Food Programme and Food and Agricultural Organisation sent their own mission to confirm the results emerging from the early warning system, before committing themselves to food relief activities….

….It was only when the failure of the 1991-92 rains became very clear and the national press started to highlight the issue,that government started to act. In April 1992, The Herald reported the concerns of Syndey Malunga MP: “The government must ensure that its promises to the nation to make food available during the drought are met, otherwise the rift between the Government and the people will cause the failure of the economic reform programme” (Herald, 8.4.92). Stories of how people were driven to extreme lengths by the failures of the relief effort were common. For instance, The Herald reported how Mberengwa villagers forced a train driver to stop and stole over 300 bags of maize and how Masvingo residents were scavenging for food in dustbins (Herald, 5.10.92).

In February 1992 the government announced significant increases in producer prices for white maize… However such incentives were too late to provide the necessary maize for the year. By February the GMB only expected 250,000 tonnes of maize to be delivered from Zimbabwean producers, but demand was likely to rise during the year to around 150,000 tonnes per month because of the near complete failure of the communal area crop. The Chairman of the GMB suggested….that Zimbabwe would have to import up to 2 million tonnes of maize to meet local demand.. (Herald, 21.2.92). A columnist in the Financial Gazette commented:

“This predicament need never have arisen. The primary cause of the problem has been the totally impractical maize price. Droughts do come but the nation has had three reasonable seasons…Stockpiles are a necessity. It is now evident that at least one year’s supply should always be retained rather than selling maize for foreign currency” (Financial Gazette, 13.2.92).

The food import programme started during December 1991. The arrival of food aid in the country was plagued by logistical problems, made worse by the widespread nature of the drought in the region. Hazards and Opportunities recalls:

“Road and rail transport was commandeered in order to bring American grain from South Africa and Mozambique. By March 1992 the country had effectively run out of reserves and people waited expectantly for supplies. By the end of March the President had appointed eight ministers to oversee food relief in the provinces. The first American maize arrived at the ports at the end of March, but by the first week of April there was still none inside the country, although six maize trains a day supplemented by road transport were expected (Herald, 7.4.92). The government committed itself to the feeding of some 4-5 million people during the drought requiring the eventual importation of around 1.7million tonnes. The initial monthly ration allocation of 10kg per person was later reduced to 5kg as supplies became uncertain and costs escalated…

…..However by mid-1992, public and political pressure mounted sufficiently and by most accounts a highly effective and efficient drought relief and food distribution campaign was launched. By this time, the cost of relief was around Z$30 million per month, much of which was paid for by government. During 1992 in Masvingo Province, around 250,000 children were being given regular supplementary feeding rations and around one million people (practically the whole communal area population) were receiving food relief. Churches and NGOs also played an important role in providing distribution facilities. The total costs of the drought relief operation were estimated to be around 2.7% of GDP in 1991-92 and 4.5% of GDP in 1992-93, requiring a significant increase in government borrowing”.

Drought and politics

Those who remember the situation in 1991-92 in Zimbabwe, will recall how things were increasingly desperate. Government seemed unable to respond, and donors were equally silent. But the drought soon became political. In the book, we wrote:

“For a time during 1992 the government had lost control; its food security policy was completely discredited, its maize pricing policy was suddenly drastically revised, the Minister for Agriculture was hurriedly shifted and the highly unpopular economic structural adjustment policy looked to be going off course. The rumblings of discontent had reached even the remotest rural areas, usually the stalwarts of support for the ZANU-PF party and government….

….Politicians did not trust the information emanating from their own civil servants, nor from international sources. Despite the claims of scientific certitude of the early warning bulletins, the government failed to act early on. It was only through a wider political process of lobbying and petitioning, by government officials in the districts, by the press and by churches, NGOs and others that forced action…. Uncertainty over what to do about the drought had resulted in a certain helplessness and a loss of political control and power.”

Indeed it was not until well into 1992, that the state took control of the situation. Indeed President Mugabe himself intervened. The book comments:

“Not until the launch of the food aid programme and the country-wide tours by President Mugabe was some confidence restored. Only then was it realised by rural people that Mugabe and the ZANU-PF government had not broken their post-independence bargain and would not let the people of Zimbabwe starve….”.

Indeed it was this political intervention, and not the early warning statistics, and the dire warnings from the districts, that meant that the 1991-92 drought was not the disaster it might have been (although it was pretty bad). Drought is inevitably political. And failure to act as people are suffering is not looked at kindly. While Mugabe’s intervention was welcome, it was also seen as too little and too late. We commented:

“The politicians did not know what to do. They refused to believe the science of prediction and would not listen, at least initially, to their constituents. The uncertainty surrounding drought resulted in a perilous loss of control and an unnerving loss of power. Power and control were only regained by firm action later on, when political and social processes, and not rational scientific argument, provided the impetus for action…”

Lessons for southern Africa?

Uncertainties around climate always exist. Climate models never can predict exactly, and even shorter-run weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable (how many times have the Met Office predicted imminent rains this year?). This is compounded with our lack of knowledge – and associated poor statistics – on Zimbabwe’s food economy. We simply don’t know how much food is being produced by whom and where, and how much is being sold in local markets, shared through local networks, or being transported to different areas, including towns. As I have mentioned before on this blog, the post 2000 land reform has radically changed the food system, and we don’t down its implications. My best guess, based on the mismatches between our local data and the aggregate statistics, is that the official stats are way off, but I don’t know by how much, and how this varies across the country.

Getting to grips with this, and improving the statistical basis for responses to drought is essential. At the moment huge efforts are based on massive guesswork. So it’s not surprising there’s large dispute about the statistics – some calling an impending catastrophe, others arguing things are not as bad as we thought. Bottom line is we just don’t know, and this is a dangerous situation.

It is dangerous practically, but it is also dangerous politically. We saw from 1991-92 how a late response in Zimbabwe was only salvaged by later decisive action. Famine was averted, and although many hardships were suffered, and a devastation of the livestock population occurred, a major humanitarian disaster did not unfold, despite huge economic losses. This of course was in a setting where politics looked very different. Today with fragmented authority and endless battles for political supremacy and a President who is 25 years older, decisive leadership are not qualities often seen. The government has however declared the drought a ‘national disaster’, although ministerial ineptitude and bungling has been widely condemned, with the opposition highlighting the confusion

It is interesting to contrast Zimbabwe’s experience with that of South Africa. In 1991-92 in South Africa, the drought response was impressive and coordinated, and drew on the incipient state structures of the ANC, impressively led by the Land and Agriculture Desk of the ANC’s Department of Economic Planning. As Coleen Vogel reminded me in a paper presented at a recent workshop, the decentralised network of Drought Forums provided the basis for a focused and effective response, and these in turn became the foundation for the post-1994 development committees, and the basis of the short-lived but radical Reconstruction and Development Programme effort. Fast forward to 2016, the ANC has been unable to respond effectively to the ravaging drought, with President Zuma failing to present a coherent policy, and getting heckled in parliament by opposition groups.

Wherever you are in southern Africa, politics and drought are intimately connected. And in 2016, the conditions for an effective response both in Zimbabwe and South Africa look worse than 25 years ago. And this despite huge amounts of effort invested in drought proofing, livelihood programmes, resilience building and so on in the intervening period; and yet more projects expected on the back of climate adaptation finance.

What has gone wrong?

Why is drought response as bad today, or often worse than before? Several things strike me.

First, despite all the hype about climate change and resilience building, very few such programmes look at the underlying patterns of vulnerability and how these have changed. Vulnerabilities arise very often from social and political factors, and so are less amenable to technical, donor-led interventions. Just adding sticking plaster in the name of climate ‘adaptation’ or ‘resilience’ is not enough. As we argued long back in our Hazards and Opportunities book, responses require tackling the root causes of vulnerability – including as I will show in a blog in a couple of weeks addressing inequalities, including of land.

Second, uncertainties cannot be planned for. By definition we don’t know the probability of the outcome, and very often we don’t know what outcome will result, meaning we are in the realm of ignorance. For administrative, bureaucratic and financing systems to respond in such settings is tough. Such systems are conventionally geared towards certainties, or at least predictable risks. This is why they so often fail. Predictions (based on risk assumptions) very often turn out not to be the case, and so trust is undermined. And administrators may argue for more funds or food reserves, only to be rebuffed. Dealing with what Emery Roe calls ‘mess’ in order to generate reliability in system response is essential, but it requires a radical overhaul of approaches. Governments, UN agencies, NGOs, district administrations and others are just not geared up, and they almost inevitably fail, as they are doing now.

Third, we have to remember drought is always political. The basic ‘contract’ between the state and people has to be renegotiated in drought periods, meaning engaging with rural people. For far too long elite politics in Zimbabwe (and of course in South Africa) has often ignored rural areas. The implicit deal is that rural votes for a ruling party are secured by making basic support available, including food in times of drought. But this dependency relationship cannot persist. People want more, and that means proper investment and support, not just palliative forms of development. As Zimbabwe’s (and South Africa’s) politics fragments, and the liberation parties struggle to maintain power, then people are going to look to others. This makes addressing drought firmly and effectively even more important, yet both ZANU-PF and the ANC are currently failing, as other political issues dominate.

Ignoring the drought, however, may well have long-term political consequences if the current failures continue. Watch out for some big impacts of drought on politics across southern Africa.

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

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BRICS and development: new hubs of agrarian capital

When talking about the BRICS countries and their role in development, there is a lot of hot air surrounding debates on ‘South-South cooperation’ and plenty of warm words offered about ‘mutual learning’ and ‘solidarity’. But it was refreshing to be at a conference last week at PLAAS in Cape Town on the engagement of Brazil, China and South Africa in patterns of agrarian change to start from a different perspective: the influence on development pathways by the BRICS as new hubs of capital. The proposition of the BICAS group – similar but with different emphases to the CBAA project (also affiliated to the Future Agricultures Consortium) – is that we have to understand the origins, political and economic driving forces and limitations of the new hubs of capital, in order to get to grips with new dynamics of agrarian change across the world. There was a huge amount discussed at the conference, and the details are only now sinking in, but let me offer a few first thoughts on the emerging debates and their implications.

Emerging dynamics

Despite the hyperbole often associated with ‘rising powers’, one thing that struck me from across the presentations was the limits to accumulation and the extension and penetration of new forms of capital. There has been much debate about ‘land grabbing’, alongside much misinformation and confusion about its extent, but many of the big investment deals that were profiled soon after the 2007-08 crisis have not materialised, and even very high profile programmes – such as Prosavana in Mozambique, the subject of much debate and a panel at the conference – have not really materialised on the ground.

Capitalist accumulation of course takes many forms, and not always those of violent displacement and dispossession. Instead, a much longer, quieter pattern of accumulation may be happening, driven by a new global configuration of capital. This is what Jun Borras called for southeast Asia, the ‘thousand pin pricks’ of small scale transfers of land and extension of (often) Chinese capital in the region. In Africa too, while land grabs still continue, Ruth Hall emphasised the extension into processing, input supply, agricultural technology including seeds, transport and retail. The multiple ‘value webs’ created are crucial in understanding the impacts of the extension of capital from the new hubs. Compared to dramatic grabs, the slow, cumulative ‘dull compulsion of economic relations’ may have as big an effect in the end. But, participants argued, this requires a different lens to understand its dynamics.

Of course since the financial crisis, the possibilities of accumulation have changed. Africa with its vast land area, and apparent emptiness, was seen as a new frontier. But since then commodity prices have collapsed, and the urgency of seeking new markets via Africa – to Europe and beyond, possibly assisted by aid-funded preferential access and state support from African governments eager for investment – has receded. Africa in particular has proven a tough place to extend business ventures. Red tape, local politics, harsh environments, poor infrastructure plague new capital, just as they have old capital.

Domestic political contexts and economic imperatives in China, Brazil and South Africa have changed too. Talk in China is of the ‘new normal’ where consumption demand stabilises, and growth rates decline from the supercharged levels of a few years ago. As China turns to rebalancing and making the economy more sustainable, the massive commodity demand has tailed off. This of course has a direct impact on Brazil, where the decline in commodity prices, particularly in agriculture, has major consequences. This has combined with the domestic political crisis dominated by corruption scandals and a backlash by the middle classes. Concerns again are more inward looking. South Africa has its own economic and political crises, reflecting its failure to deal with the legacies of apartheid, as discussed on this blog last week. This at one level pushes capital to seek alternatives elsewhere, but also highlights the rather fragile claim to be a ‘rising power’, when perhaps Nigeria will prove its economic might in the region if conflicts in the north can be addressed.

Another theme running through the conference, and now more thoroughly understood thanks to some great new work, is the influence of financialisation. This is transforming land and agrarian change, as new players – be they equity funds, sovereign wealth investments, or banks of different sorts – see land and agriculture as new asset classes and investment opportunities. As Moises Balestro commented, the old landowning rentier class of Brazil has a new ally in financialisation. This transforms the way capital operates – no longer necessarily driven by companies associated with nation states (whether BRICS or not), but often truly globalised flows of finance that upset the notion that new political blocs centred on states rule the roost. Such finance has no particular national character, nor any form of political accountability, yet has enormous power and influence.

The mirror effect

Alongside these changing dynamics of capital and accumulation trajectories, another theme of the conference was how the political economy of the new hubs of capital establish the nature and direction of new investments abroad. This is a strong theme of the CBAA project that argues that the histories of domestic political economies in China and Brazil, and the associated imaginaries and narratives of agriculture and development, strongly influence what forms of agricultural development cooperation arrives in Africa – and so the meanings of agriculture, farming and development, and with this the pathways that emerge through these encounters.

In Brazil the long-running tension and political accommodation of both agribusiness and ‘family farming’ with agrarian reform, that Sergio Sauer and Sergio Schneider both talked of, is exported in various projects and technical assistance programmes. Models appropriate to Brazilian contexts – and reflecting this on-going very Brazilian political struggle – arrive in Africa, resulting in frequent confusion, as various cases under the CBAA project describe.

From China, the tension between ‘filling the rice bowl’ and the need to keep a stable, rural peasantry and the narrative of agricultural modernisation was discussed by Ye Jingzhong. This is also reflected in its ‘going out’ policy, as elaborated in CBAA work by Chinese Agricultural University colleagues led by Li Xiaoyun. Thus in different Chinese Agricultural Technology Centres, emerging from different provinces in China, very different visions of agriculture and development are reflected. There is no one China, and variegated forms of capital, reflected in the range of emphases of Chinese State Owned Enterprises that generally run these centres in Africa.

South African capital as it extends into Africa reflects a more unified vision, with its projection of large-scale commercial farming and vertically integrated value chains. This of course mirrors the historical evolution of South Africa’s agrarian sector, from the apartheid era to today, linked closely to what Ben Fine calls the minerals-energy complex that has historically defined South Africa’s political economy. With the power of large agribusiness even more entrenched by the processes of post-apartheid liberalisation, and now reinforced by financialisation, the extension of South African capital, perhaps especially in retail, processing, transport and logistics, but also technology and input supply is, as Ruth Hall and Ward Anseeuw, described, pushes a very particular logic and vision.

There is thus a striking mirroring of domestic struggles, tensions, accommodations and political-economic dynamics as capital extends from the new hubs. This imposes particular directions for accumulation and investment, and smooths certain paths for capital, and so the nature of investments. For this reason, in order to understand agrarian change, the scope must be cast wider, as much activity is focused on roads, mines and infrastructure development. Across the world, aid and state backed investments in ‘corridors’ and ‘investment zones’ are providing conducive conditions for capital accumulation. New agribusinesses follow on behind, often as the second or third wave of investment. This is a long game, where the quick wins of the speculative post-crash boom have gone, but state-capital alliances are forging longer term patterns, setting in train investments and visions of development framed in very different contexts, as Chinese, Brazilian and South African hubs (as well as Indian, Turkish, Indonesian, Vietnamese and other new hubs) extend their reach.

Beyond the rhetoric of South-South cooperation

To my mind, this is the context in which the high-sounding rhetoric around ‘South South cooperation’ must be set. For Zimbabwe, ‘Looking East’ to China – or to south of the Limpopo to South Africa or across the Atlantic to Brazil – must be seen in this light. While ‘conditionalities’ are not as imposed by the west or the old International Finance Institutions of the World Bank or IMF, there are consequences of engagement. Transfers are not just cash or technology, but much more. They include visions and trajectories of development that were constructed elsewhere, and so carry with them different politics and economic relations.

Talking about the emergence of a class of new entrepreneurial farmer, linked to urban markets, in Tanzania (very similar in many ways to what we see in Zimbabwe today), Marc Wegerif, only half jokingly, commented that being low on the World Bank’s index for doing business may be a good thing, providing some level of protection for smaller, domestic economic players. No-one denies Zimbabwe needs investment, but this conference reemphasised that understanding the wider system of finance and capital accumulation in a regional and global context is essential, so this can be responded to strategically.

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

 

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Xenophobia and inequality: notes from the ‘Rainbow Nation’

I am currently in South Africa where liberal opinion is reeling from the latest wave of xenophobic attacks in Durban and other cities. Flamed by comments from Zulu King Zwelithini and Edward Zuma, the President’s son, the attacks against migrants, mostly from elsewhere in Africa, have left many dead and a large number displaced. Zimbabweans have been caught up in this, with reports of some deaths and hundreds of Zimbabweans having fled to camps for safety. This was not supposed to be what the Rainbow Nation was about.

Yet it has happened before – in 2008, and again in 2013, and continues at a low level in the poor, urban contexts where poverty and inequality are extreme on a daily basis. South Africa has attracted many from across the continent, picking up business opportunities, providing labour and contributing to the economy. They come from Nigeria and across West Africa, from Somalia and across the Horn, and of course from other countries in southern and central Africa, including Zimbabwe.

No-one knows how many migrants are living and working in South Africa. The figures being bandied around again this week don’t add up. Some claim there are a between 2 and 5 million migrants (quite a range), others say there are 3 million Zimbabweans. The truth, as I outlined in an earlier blog, is rather less dramatic. Nevetheless, migration to South Africa, as it has been for a long time, is a crucial part of regional livelihood strategies. In the colonial era, Zimbabweans would come and work in the mines and farms, as part of a pattern of circular migration. This continues today, where ‘border-crossing’ for temporary work or trading is crucial for many Zimbabwean’s livelihoods. Migration is not new in southern Africa – it is in fact essential for the regional economy, and now on a wider scale with new patterns, and added to be many others from across the continent.

A negative, sometimes violent, reaction to foreign migrants in times of economic hardship is of course not just a South African problem. The current UK election campaign at turns blames migrants for all ills, as well as praises them for their contribution to the economy. There is no doubt that vulnerable migrants in Europe are exploited and paid lower than wages that others can claim, and so act to drive wages down. But they also contribute massively in terms of skills, entrepreneurship, business acumen and hard work. The same applies in South Africa.

But the reactions in Europe and South Africa do not look at the larger problem. This at root is a pattern of uneven economic development on a regional scale, and deep inequalities within nations. The great hopes for the Rainbow Nation in 1994 have not been met. The scars of apartheid are obvious for everyone to see. The symbolic removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes  – that xenophobe supreme buried in the Matobo hills – from the University of Cape Town has sparked a wider debate on why it is so long after freedom there are only a handful of black professors of South African origin at this most prestigious of universities. Such inequalities are felt even harder in the townships of Durban and Gauteng, where unemployment is rife, and opportunities are few. Meanwhile great riches are displayed by those living in their protected condominiums in the smarter suburbs of the same city.

Inequality breeds distrust, hate, conflict and violence. Without a state that is able or willing to intervene, address past and current injustices, and embark on realistic redistributions, whether in land, housing, services or economic opportunity more broadly, the only resort is a form of local level violence, where gangs and militia rule. The late action and response from the South African state in this recent wave of violence is shocking, and the complacency of the elite is also palpable.

Last weekend a link was been made between conflicts in other parts of the continent, with the warnings reported that there would be ‘pay back’ from Boko Haram and Al Shabaab on South Africans. Yet these conflicts in Nigeria and in the east African Horn also emerge from local disputes; a sense of injustice and lack of attention from the state. Locals are easy recruits into a wider movement because they offer an alternative, however restrictive and violent, to what is currently on offer; which is either neglect or direct persecution of marginal groups by the state. Sometimes portrayed as part of ‘international terror network’, linked to a ‘global jihad’, as pointed out in an excellent new IDS briefing, such conflicts are actually in their origins and motivations quite local, and based on the consequences of deep and persistent inequalities, including around rights to land and access to services, unaddressed by states.

Zimbabweans are caught up in the current horror in South Africa in large numbers. The Zimbabwean government has sworn to repatriate those who want to come home, while Zimbabwean citizens have protested volubly in a march on Harare’s South African embassy. Regional economic integration is the dream of SADC and the AU, but unless South Africa can address its own inequalities, and provide opportunities for migrants in a safe environment and on a level playing field, this will remain a pipe dream. Just as in Europe, closing the borders and discriminating against migrants is not the answer; it’s the underlying inequalities that must be addressed – something that South Africa over 21 years has patently failed to do.

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

 

 

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A year on from ZANU-PF’s election victory: limits and constraints

On July 31 last year, ZANU-PF were victorious in the elections. The opposition was annihilated. The elections were disputed by many, and many questions were raised about the process, but most commentators agreed that this was a shift of support back to ZANU-PF, with the opposition having run out of steam.

A number of good commentaries were published in the Journal of Southern African Studies that offered views from different perspectives, including from Miles Tendi, Phillan Zamchiya and Brian Raftopolous. Perhaps the most powerful though comes from McDonald Lewanika and Delta Milayo Ndou (formerly of the Zimbabwe Crisis Coalition) in ‘We the People’, a beautifully illustrated edited book of personal testimonies and reflections from Zimbabweans after the elections. Most are urban, educated and opposition supporters, but the sense of melancholy and loss, reflecting on a moment that had so much hope, is tangible and powerful.

Nearly a year ago on September 10 2013, a confident ZANU-PF announced a new cabinet and ambitious plans for the future under the ZimAsset programme. Attempts to rebuild relationships with the west started, while overtures to the Chinese continued. A new minister of lands, Douglas Mombeshora, has stated boldly that no new land invasions would be allowed, and that land administration would be regularised, with those illegally occupying land or underutilising it evicted.

It sounded as if a corner had been turned. But sadly such a transition has not occurred. In the last year, the economy has floundered, as the new investment has failed to arrive; relationships with Europe and the US remain tetchy; the Chinese are playing hardball; and land invasions have continued, despite attempts at audits and new permit systems (see next week’s blog).

Meanwhile, the opposition has imploded. The expected departure of Morgan Tsvangirai has not happened, and he clings on to one faction, with surprisingly wide public support. The MDC-T though has fractured, with Tendai Biti and colleagues declaring a ‘renewal team’, and presumably in time a new party, for a revived opposition. They are actively courting investors and foreign governments, while belatedly accepting that a focus on economic and social rights and redistribution issues – ZANU-PF’s political territory for the 2013 elections – must be central to any revamped approach. The situation is very messy indeed.

The warring factions continue to slug it out within ZANU-PF too, with different groupings being speculated on in the press almost daily. What is clear is that there is no easy resolution of the ‘succession’ issue, and Mugabe is playing the longer game (to the 2018 elections) to see how this will resolve itself.

The consequence is that there is massive uncertainty on the political scene, and this translates itself into challenges for economic regeneration. In May at a SAPES Trust event, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa declared:

Zimbabwe is open to Foreign Direct Investment from all Nations of the World, whether these be in the North, South, East or West… Zimbabwe is ready to re-integrate into the global economy. Zimbabwe is looking for new friendships, new opportunities while consolidating old ones. We are looking for mutually beneficial economic relationships not confrontation. We are too small a country to pursue a policy of confrontation.

This signaled a softening of stance, and a willingness to engage. Equally the purge of corrupt parastatals and their officials led by Jonathan Moyo was clearly aimed at an international audience, with a very visible attempt to deal with corruption – although of course only in one area. Statements on the flagship ‘indigenisation’ policy have been much more tempered since the elections, with senior party officials stating that expropriation and nationalization are not on the agenda, and that there has to be flexibility in the application of the policy.

In a typically perceptive piece for the Solidarity Peace Trust, Brian Raftopolous argues:

The mixed policy messaging of the Mugabe regime can be attributed both to the challenges of seeking fuller international re-engagement while holding on to its empowerment programme, and the tensions within ZANU PF about how to proceed with such a re-engagement. The tropes of sovereignty, liberation history, regional solidarity and empowerment have been integral to ZANU PF’s political imaginary and ‘language of stateness’, in both the party’s ‘practical languages of governance’ and the ‘symbolic languages of authority’. However the exposure of the limits of the state’s capacity to effect its indigenisation programme has led to the dual strategy of seeking a rapprochement with the West, while promising to export the Zimbabwean model to the SADC region.

Such contradictions are the legacy of the past 14 or so years. The radical redistributive policies, most notably the land reform, have presented major challenges in economic terms. The withdrawal of external support and international investment has hampered the rebounding of the economy, and the business-political patronage networks that were established to prop up the regime in this period are certainly not the basis for a prosperous, competitive economy.

There are bright spots though. The informal sector is booming, and providing jobs and livelihoods. While many argue this is not the real economy, it is certainly the main economy. In the restructured agricultural sector, the tobacco boom continues, with a massive 210 million tonnes of tobacco being traded this year. While livelihoods are unquestionably improving especially for those on the land, galvanising new, coherent and sustained economic growth is a big challenge, and the long (often rather sensible) wish-lists in the ZimAsset blueprint will not be realized without sustained investment.

Much of course relies on a rapprochement with the west, and with international capital and finance. Given the bad feeling, abuse and threats that have occurred over time, this will not be easy, especially with Britain. Miles Tendi offers a fascinating analysis of this challenge, based on interviews with some of the key players, on both the UK and the Zimbabwe sides, and how a sustained ‘demonisation’ invective from both has not helped matters.

A fundamental question remains, however: how to balance a commitment to redistribution and economic empowerment with engagement in a globalized economy, and in a context where national debt amounts to a staggering US$6 billion? Is there any way to resist the inevitable reincorporation into a neoliberal world order, and sustain the progressive gains of reform? Despite the socialist solidarity rhetoric, the Chinese are interested in commercial business just as any other western nation or multinational company. And countries in the region are wary of heading down an alternative route, despite the electioneering rhetoric of Julius Malema further south. So ZANU PF is in a bind. As Brian Raftopolous argues, there are clear ‘limits to victory’.

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

 

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Southern African sugar: new trends and opportunities?

Sugar is becoming an increasingly important commodity across the region. New areas are being planted and mills are being commissioned in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Swaziland, Zambia and elsewhere. The implications of the changing sugar (and ethanol) economy were the subject of discussions at the inaugural meeting of the Southern African Sugar Research Network that was held at the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at UWC in Cape Town last week, and we heard fascinating presentations from each of these countries, as well as from South Africa itself.

Most of the regional growth is being driven by the expansion of two South African companies – Illovo and Tongaat Hulett. A review of their turnover and profits shows that significant proportions are being made outside South Africa. For Illovo, a substantial proportion of their profits are generated in their still fairly limited operations in Malawi, while over 40% of Tongaat’s operating profit is derived from Zimbabwe, where revenue increased by 19% and profits by 11% last year. The influence of Southern Africa’s powerful BRICS country, South Africa, is through its corporate sector, and not the grand-sounding government statements full of regional cooperation and integration rhetoric offered at summits.

The region indeed is increasingly important for South African capital. In the agri-food sector, we have seen the expansion of retail, with Pick n Pay or Shoprite nearly ubiquitous, now it’s the turn of the big production players. The availability of land, cheap labour and benefits from state investments in infrastructure (often water supply and irrigation on now defunct state farms) has been important. The EU sugar regime also provides support to sugar industries outside South Africa under the sugar adaptation protocols that exists to support the switch of strategic national sugar industries to new market conditions in Europe. This comes in very handy for South African companies, and helps subsidise operations, and position marketing from a ‘low income country’ base.

Where does this leave the Zimbabwean sugar industry that has since the 1960s been the mainstay of the lowveld’s economy? Since then the industry has produced significant foreign exchange for the national exchequer not to mention employment, ethanol, various industrial products, and of course raw cane sugar which is consumed in large amounts in Zimbabwe. Tongaat Hulett dominates Zimbabwe’s sugar industry owning Triangle and being the majority holder of Hippo Valley. It produces sugar across over 40,000ha of irrigated land, has milling capacity of around 600,000 tonnes and employs around 25,000 people.

In addition, the company deals with the sugar produced by over 800 new outgrowers who were allocated land as part of Zimbabwe’s land reform after 2000. They farm around 15,000 ha, formerly estate and white owned outgrower land, with farm sizes averaging about 25ha. After a disastrous period during the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy, sugar production has increased again, with around 460,000 mt being produced last year. The rehabilitation of sugar land has been assisted by support from the European Union as well as significant investments by Tongaat Hulett and of course by farmers themselves.

Since 2002, we have tracked 38 outgrower sugar farmers in Hippo Valley in the southeast lowveld looking across the years at production levels, input applications, farm investment, labour hiring and so on. Plot sizes now average 24.3 ha, and all are irrigated. In our sample, the average output last year was 1690 mt, produced on 20.5 ha, representing a yield of 83.6 t/ha. This is a very respectable output and yield, and indeed better yielding than much nearby estate land.

As with the other sugar areas, these ‘new’ A2 farmers are relatively elite, mostly men, and come from a variety of backgrounds. In our sample around half were civil servants (47%), while about a third were former estate employees (34%). The rest included NGO workers (3%); politicians (3%), and business persons (8%). 10% were ‘war veterans’, all civil servants at the time of land allocation. Over half were qualified with ‘Master Farmer’ certificates, and their average age is now 53. Today 39% stay at the plot, while the rest commute. 29% remain employed elsewhere, but this has declined over time as more have committed to sugar farming. Many challenges have been faced over the past 12 years, but the farmers are optimistic about the future.

With outgrowers producing a significant proportion of the total output, is this model the likely future for the sugar areas of Zimbabwe? Outgrowing approaches are much touted across the region, but the arrangements differ widely, as we heard in the presentations at the Cape Town meeting. In some areas, local people are offered dividends on land that is farmed by the estate, with their involvement simply receiving a cheque. This approach, exported from some ‘land reform’ schemes in South Africa, is used by Illovo for example in Zambia. In other areas, farmers have very small plots and often receive less than they put in. This massively discourages outgrowers who are forced to grow food to survive in plots elsewhere, as we heard from Tanzania. There are huge variations in the terms of the contract between farmers and the mill. In Zimbabwe, the mill retains 26% of outgrowers’ output to cover costs of milling, transport and so on, while in other countries this proportion is much higher.

The expansion of South African capital through the region is having, it seems, diverse effects. While the ‘logic of capital’ is to seek profit and accumulate wherever it can, it results in different arrangements and different deals – with states, with labour and with outgrower farmers. In some countries this deal seems highly detrimental to local livelihoods and employment conditions, simply resulting in extraction and exploitation. While in others, and this includes Zimbabwe, the deal is more balanced. Tongaat Hulett knows they are on notice in Zimbabwe, given the political pressure for land reform and now ‘indigenisation’. But equally the Zimbabwean state cannot afford to let the sugar estates fail. There are too many people employed, too much valuable infrastructure and too much tax revenue to lose.

Since the estates were first established by Murray MacDougall in the late 1930s, there has been a close interaction between private capital and the state. Sometimes coming in to bail out, sometimes letting the private sector have free reign, the relationship has always been carefully managed, and has always been intensely political. This is true today as it was before. The unspoken deal to spare most of the estates from mass land redistribution has been maintained, and while the estates were initially sceptical at the expansion of the outgrower model with smaller plots that they said were ‘unviable’, they have changed their tune of late. As the success of the outgrowers has grown, the rhetoric has shifted to one of ‘empowerment’ and ‘partnership’, and indeed the company has backed its words with substantial funds for cane rehabilitation.

For the longer term, my guess is that there will be shifts towards more land being released from the estates to new outgrower areas as part of deals with the Zimbabwean state, who will be in need of more high value land for redistribution in the future. Indeed the pressure is already on, with Shangaan leaders from the area demanding that they get a share of the sugar bonanza, while political elites and others have inserted themselves in the outgrower areas; shifting aside others particular around the 2008 election period, including most of the white outgrowers who were originally allocated smaller subdivisions of their farms. Today, the political rhetoric around the sugar estates, as ever, remains high.

For the estate owners, if outgrowers can deliver when given the right support, why not release more land? While outgrowing is often presented as a ‘win-win’ ‘inclusive’ business model for large scale farming, from another perspective it is a perfect solution for the estate and big capital. Trapped in a monopoly controlled supply arrangement, outgrowers take on all the production risks, and have to manage always troublesome labour; and anyway the profits in sugar, many observe, are to be made in milling and processing, not in farming. This is no doubt the logic for the diverse outgrower arrangements being pushed across the region by South African capital. And in Zimbabwe the same, if under rather different political terms, likely applies. Currently, it suits everyone: the company, the state and elite land reform farmers who make reasonable returns. For now at least, it looks like this carefully balanced political-economic deal is the only option for Zimbabwe’s sugar sector.

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

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Retail revolutions: the rise and rise of butcheries and informal food selling in Zimbabwe

In last week’s blog I discussed the new beef production systems supplying meat to consumers in Masvingo province and beyond. A radically reconfigured pattern of land use and ownership has resulted in diverse new value chains. This has had effects across the chain, including in the retail sector.

In our book, and a paper we wrote in 2008, we discussed the situation in the midst of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis. The picture was one of informal markets, illegal trade and the collapse of the mainstream retail sector. What has happened since 2009 and the stabilisation of the economy and the introduction of a multicurrency environment?

Certainly the growth of butcheries has continued, despite challenges. In a survey in 2006-07 we counted 31 butcheries in Masvingo town (20 in Mucheke township alone) and 9 in Ngundu. All businesses suffered badly at the peak of the economic crisis, and many closed in 2008. However since 2009, they have reopened. In 2013 the number of registered butcheries in Masvingo stood at 32 (14 in town, including 8 supermarkets, with a further 18 in the townships). In 2010-11 there were also 13 in Ngundu and 21  in Chiredzi (5 in town, 12 in Tshovani and 4 in Garage). Unlike in 2006, supermarkets are stocking beef, but only the more premium ‘supergrade’ cuts. In Masvingo, for example, OK and TM source from the larger abbatoirs, such as Carswell and Montana who can supply high quality meat regularly. During the economic crisis they would source from wherever, including meat traders, but, as TM’s meat buyer explained, the quality and reliability was poor, and enjoying a vibrant trade. Today meat traders supply other butcheries who undercut the supermarkets in terms of price. Some outlets are directly linked to abbatoirs, and they can cut costs even further.

Clearly demand is buoyant, despite economic difficulties. While red meat consumption has declined according to official statistics, and there has been a switch to pork, chicken and fish, beef remains people’s favoured meat. But with the change in production system, there is a different pattern and quality of supply. Instead of the top cuts, the lower quality ‘nyama’ is more commonly sold, and this can still be marketed at reasonable prices.  In addition to registered butcheries there are number of ‘mobile’ illegal operations. Masvingo’s Chief Health Officer, Mr Munganasa explained they have a ‘running battle’ with such vendors who sell cheap, imported South African chicken and beef from freezer boxes. A leading local butcher, Mrs Foroma, complained: “We are losing business from these vendors. We pay our rent, and comply with the regulations, but they  undercut us. They become very active in the evening after the municipal authority workers knock off. They use illegal ‘under the tree’ slaughter and sell to food sellers”.  But illegal operators say there plenty of business: “there is room enough for everyone”, one argued.

In order to increase profits, and compete with the multiple independent vendors, many butcheries also have a food selling business, sometimes operated as a franchise. For example Hungoidza butchery at Ngundu established a food outlet in 2000 which has continued as a thriving business, relying on truckers who stop on their way to and from Beitbridge. The butchery makes biltong which they buy, and also has a braai (barbecue). “There is always a brisk trade”, the owner explained.

Also with local slaughter arrangements, linked to butcheries, there has been a growth in sales of ‘fifth quarter’ products (offal, head, feet etc.), including sales to small restaurants and street sellers of food. Take Stanford Maringo. He is in his early thirties and comes from Zaka. He got a job about 10 years ago at Chakona’s butchery in Masvingo. He was a meat cutter and cattle buyer. But the pay was poor and he wanted to have his own business. In the end after trying out vegetable selling in the market, he struck a deal with the  butchery owner that he would continue cutting meat, but could use the machine for slicing ‘mazondo‘, and he could put up a braai stand (barbecue) outside the shop. He sells mazondo to the customers at the next door bar, and has a roaring trade. He also generates good business for the butchery, buying about 80 cows’ feet a week, and selling on uncooked but sliced mazondo to other food sellers and restaurants.  Stanford explains his plans:

My business is doing well. I send money home each month to my relatives in Zaka. Last month I bought a digital camera, and I will start a photo business too. My real, long term plan is become a cattle buyer, and enter meat retailing with my own shop. I also married my sweetheart, thanks to the proceeds from selling mazondo. She is also a butchery employee, but wants to start a hair salon. My mazondo business is going to provide the seed funds for this.

So, from selling cattle feet or tripe on the street, big and better things can happen.  The same applies to the food sellers in Chikombedzi market. This is a massive weekly market centred on the cattle trade. Each week hundreds of animals are exchanged, and thousands of people from all around congregate. A number of food selling outlets have sprung up to serve the customers.  The market is tightly regulated however. The local council charges vendors for their stands, and the Ministry of Health also requires certificates, banning those who are HIV positive from selling food. This all adds to the costs, but it is still profitable.

Nyariwe Ngudu has a stall, and she hires someone each month over the two days of the market to fetch water, wash plates and help her with the cooking. She sells pork from her own farm, but also buys in other meat to serve with sadza (mealie meal porridge). Betty Madondo focuses on cooking relish on market days. She has a mix: some goat meat, but also chicken as those coming from town prefer chicken, she says. Others get game meat and fish poached from the park, but the game scouts are always around at the market and demand bribes for selling.  Although she doesn’t deal in game meat, she still has to pay bribes to the council workers and health officials, as the regulations are so strict. She cooks it in the evening before the market, and the food vendors come and buy from her, who sell on when the buses and trucks arrive for the market.

“There are so many people who come to the market”, Betty explains. “It’s great business, and they all want meat relish”. Although this is an intermittent business, with the market happening only once a month she gets a good profit in a few days, She also sometimes travels to other markets in the area to make up her income. She explains her business model: “When I get cash from relish sales, I buy sandals at the market. I then exchange these for goats, chickens, occasionally pigs, in the villages before the next market”.

Meat retailing has been transformed in recent years, as has the whole meat value chain. All these new enterprises are across the chain are connected, and have links to the land reform programme. From the new farms come the livestock, providing the business for the cattle traders, butcheries, abbatoirs and pole slaughterers. Low paid government workers also take a cut, deploying ‘regulations’ strategically, taking fines or bribes. And from there, food sellers, restaurant owners and others can make a living, providing new opportunities to build, expand and extend their livelihood activities.

The current situation represents a highly differentiated scene with room for diverse enterprises fitting different market niches. As South African and local capital reinvests in the Zimbabwean retail sector, will this diversified, employment and livelihood generating sector remain, or will the longer term picture be one of consolidation in a few big players, as has happened in so many other places, with the smaller operators squeezed out? Hopefully policy and consumer choice will mean that the more diverse pattern that has arisen will continue to thrive.

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

 

 

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Old powers and new powers: agriculture and investment in Africa

Last week I chaired a fascinating panel discussion at a conference titled: “Emerging Powers: Going Global”. It was all about the new world order, and the role of China, Brazil, India and others, particularly in Africa. Such powers of course have long emerged and so the title was a bit misleading, but the interesting discussions focused on the changing dynamics of power, and especially in Africa.

The conference was held in the British Academy, in their fine building on Carlton Terrace off the Mall in London, the inside of which is adorned with portraits and busts of the great and the good of years gone by (all men, at least the ones I saw). The establishment of the BA was first proposed in 1899, and it was established in 1902, just before the coronation of Edward VII, following the death of Queen Victoria. It was at the height of the British Empire when Britain ruled the world, or at least large parts of it.

111 years on, Britain’s role in the world has much declined, and the great and the good of today assembled in the conference hall of the Academy (there were lots of Lords, Sirs, OBEs and more in the guest list – and I even wore a tie for the occasion) were having to contemplate a new configuration of power and influence, with Britain as a declining power.

Our panel was on food and agriculture, and included the inevitable discussion about ‘land grabs’, large and small farm models, and how investment in Africa could be increased, but also guided and regulated. The panel included two investors in farm businesses in Africa (including Zimbabwe), a financier from the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group, and researchers from India, Brazil and the UK. We had an excellent debate. Here are some highlights:

  • The pattern of large scale land acquisition (‘land grabbing’) noted post 2007-08 is on the decline. Many investors have had their fingers badly burned. One panellist indicated that he would never touch land acquisitions, and would only invest up the value chain. Another said that you enter ‘green field’ investments with trepidation, and it’s so much easier to go for ‘brown field’ sites, where ownership is clear, infrastructure is available and so on.
  • There was universal support for a smallholder led strategy (this was a surprise given the panel composition), but with linkages to large-scale capital investments in core estates or farms. Outgrower and contract farming arrangements were favoured, allowing for market connections, quality control and upgrading. While there were ‘intermediation’ problems to be addressed, the efficiency and productivity of smallholders was acknowledged, especially if they could be offered capital investment, input support and training.
  • Land tenure and ownership was highlighted as a big issue affecting land based investments in Africa. Lack of clarity of who owns what, and empty land turning out not to be were highlighted. Negotiating at a local level with traditional leaders and local communities was seen as one route, but with its own risks.
  • The ‘Africa rising’ narrative had to be tempered. The massive growth estimates that are sometimes touted are often based on extremely dodgy data; and where growth occurs it tends to be associated with oil discoveries or recovery from conflict. The longer term future is not as bright as the hype. Clearly investments from Brazil, China and others are going to be key, but they will inevitably allied to other investors and finance arrangements as part of multi-partite business arrangements. Unlike geopolitics, business does not differentiate between old or new powers in the same way, and there is much more interconnection.
  • There is far more room for manoeuvre by African states than is sometimes imagined. While everyone is prepared to play on the rhetoric of solidarity and South-South cooperation, everyone also knows where interests lie. And in the end national sovereignty counts. Getting a good deal from investments in a ‘buyers’ market’ is easier than some think; however some states are better than others at the negotiations.

Interestingly Zimbabwe came up a number of times. The new geopolitical configurations in southern Africa mean that China in particular is a key partner, and essential to the support of the Zimbabwe regime. Chinese support for the agricultural sector, notably tobacco, but also cotton, was mentioned several times. One of the investors commented favourably on the potentials of the post-land reform setting, with multiple small farmers offering products to the market. Investment in marketing, product upgrading and processing linked to A1 settlements in particular was seen as somewhere where ‘money could be made’. He had seen firsthand how the Chinese were doing it in tobacco, and thought this could be replicated more widely. As he noted, the international media impression of Zimbabwe doesn’t match the reality on the ground. He was keen to get in there soon, before others got wind of the potential. There was a sense of early entrant advantage in a business opportunity ripe for exploitation.

Commentaries on the business potentials of agriculture in Africa – and particularly smallholder agriculture following land reform – from agribusiness entrepreneurs are not often heard in the hallowed halls of venues like the BA. But these are surely just the discussions going on Sao Paulo, Delhi and Beijing, not to mention Johannesburg, as ’emerging powers’ and their investors plot how to make the most from Africa’s potentials. While investing in agriculture is tough, as the panel confirmed, Zimbabwe may well be a good bet. This is certainly the view of the book, Flight of the Phoenix – Investing in Zimbabwe’s Rise from the Ashes during the Global Debt Crisis, which offers a very positive longer term view of the investment prospects.

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

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Zimbabwe’s elections 2013: more confusion, more uncertainty

Zimbabwe’s trauma continues. The Zimbabwe Election Commission has announced a landslide victory for ZANU-PF. ZANU-PF reportedly took two-thirds of the parliamentary seats and President Mugabe won 61% of the presidential vote, with Morgan Tsvangirai picking up 34%. MDC-T has called the elections ‘a sham’, ‘a farce’, ‘null and void’. GNU education minister, David Coltart, argued that “Zimbabwe has been subjected to electoral fraud on a massive scale”. Tendai Biti called it all a ‘loquacious tragedy’.

Meanwhile, the official observers from SADC and the AU have called the election ‘peaceful, credible and efficient’, ‘free and peaceful’, reflecting ‘the will of the people’, with high turnouts and orderly voting. Some have called for a rejection of the ballot and the staging of mass resistance. Baba Jukwa, the massively popular Facebook avatar with 350k ‘likes’ who claims he is a disaffected ZANU-PF insider, has declared war.

We will never know the ‘true’ results, although as last time there was probably a rural-urban and regional split, with more of a balance overall than any political grouping claims. Both main parties naturally proclaimed before the poll that they were likely to be certain victors. Results of prior opinion polling were mixed, although pointing towards a rehabilitation of ZANU-PF and disillusionment with the MDC’s performance in government. Meanwhile, the MDC and the allied NGO groups long before the elections pointed to the potential for electoral fraud, and the cynical manipulation of the vote.  While unlike 2008 there was thankfully minimal violence during the election period, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network argued that there were major problems with the process, including:

  •  Voters’  roll discrepancies
  • Intimidation
  • Late  opening of polling stations
  • Slow pace of assisting aspiring voters in some urban polling stations
  • High number of assisted voters recorded in rural areas
  • Shortage of ballot papers in some wards
  • First time voters denied the chance to vote as they were not appearing in the      voters’ roll and their registration slips had missing ward details.

A joint statement from the NGOs rejected the election results. The AU observer team also expressed ‘grave concerns’. The UK and the US have also called the elections ‘flawed’. China, India, South Africa and others have remained silent so far, although this is how it was reported in the China Daily and The Hindu.

The scale and implications of the problems remain unclear. Claims and counter claims are being made. In a small country, rigging the vote by over a million is a hell of lot, especially consistently across presidential, parliamentary and council elections. The turnout was high at around 3.5m, making it even more challenging. Maybe they did win as many had expected, but perhaps not by as big a margin as declared.

However, suspicions of foul play are running high. ZANU-PF is a sophisticated and ruthless operation. Such suspicions are increased by bizarre rumours about dodgy security companies, Israeli pens in the voting booths where the ink disappears, special ballot papers with watermarks with crosses against ZANU-PF already inserted and a specially imported Chinese solution for removing the pink ink from voters’ fingers. No-one really knows what happened; and we probably never will.

The final tallies are being published (check here and here for details), but the scale of the ZANU-PF win is clear. What is for sure is that the disputes over the results will run and run, with legal challenges to follow. If the confusion and uncertainty persists, the tentative recovery that had been nurtured since 2009 may be quickly wiped out if a new government does not move quickly to assure investors, donors and others.

What to make of it all? I am unsure, but here are a few quick reflections and some links to some interesting sources and commentaries that I have found over the last few days.

The rehabilitation of the image of ZANU-PF and President Mugabe in particular has been striking. For example on a flight from Addis to London, a colleague of mine was handed a copy of the New African, with a special glossy insert feature on Zimbabwe. It had articles from all the leading presidential candidates, but in the small print you could see that it was produced by the Ministry of Information. The message was clear: Zimbabwe was back on track, and Mugabe was in charge.

The MDC formations meanwhile were floundering. While having some successes in government – notably on the economy (under Tendai Biti) and in education (under David Coltart) – in many people’s eyes they had been tainted by power, lacking ideas and vision, and reverting to the corrupt practices that they had criticised in opposition.

The election manifestos of the main parties (ZANU-PF, MDC-T, MDC and ZAPU) were predictable enough, but none really fired people’s interest. The issue of land was of course ever-present in the electioneering discourse, deployed in particular by ZANU-PF to bolster its nationalist and rural credentials. The MDC groupings, even after over a decade, sadly still failed to offer a convincing alternative narrative on land and rural development.

Of course the elections were not being fought on such policy issues. Those opposed to ZANU-PF however failed to broker a coalition of opposition, and the vote was often divided, particularly in Matabeleland, but also in some urban centres, including Masvingo. David Coltart of MDC-N for example lost his seat to a MDC-T candidate. Political and personal differences, combined with narrow regionalism and factionalism, provided a perfect opportunity for ZANU-PF, despite it also being divided and weak.

This was Zimbabwe’s first electronic, Internet age election. There was hope that these mechanisms – checking voter registration, crowd mapping election violations, posting votes, monitoring election sites and mapping results – would bring greater transparency and accountability. There was an impressive array of engagement, from the 7000 ‘citizen monitors’ deployed by the ZESN to the websites of  Sokwanele, MyVote and Simukai. Twitter and Facebook pages have gone wild, with intensive commentary and debate not least via the Baba Jukwa pages.

But, in the end, it didn’t seem to have an impact on the legitimacy and credibility of the process. Too many questions remained unanswered, and confusion still prevails, as the various ‘independent’ observers and monitored contradicted each other, declaring either the elections broadly free and fair or discredited by foul play.

The international media has as a result of all this also been deeply confused. No-one is quite sure what to make of it all. As Andrew Harding of the BBC commented, there is now a battle over the narrative of the election, not the specific results. Some of the media had decided what the narrative was before it was held, but there has been some thoughtful commentary too. Lydia Polgreen of the NYT was typically nuanced, bringing in the land dimension into one of her pieces. The FT had a good article on the key role of the military. David Smith of the Guardian had a few good pieces too. Also, African Arguments posted several good commentaries in the build up, including by Brian Raftopolous and Simukai Tinhu. And then there were the bloggers and the twitter sphere, with #zimelection carrying all sorts of commentary and links; some sensible and sound, some weird and whacky.

The political uncertainty that these elections have delivered means that, sadly once again, the immediate future is in the balance. Whoever individual Zimbabweans voted for, the final overall outcome may not be what anyone wanted – which was peace and stability. As a friend commented on the phone from Gwanda just now: “It’s trouble again”.  Let’s hope that a spirit of accommodation and compromise prevails.

In the next period at least, ZANU-PF can organise the succession from Mugabe from a position of strength, and the opposition will have to regroup again, probably under new leadership. The political landscape has certainly changed with this election, but the full implications still remain unclear.

UPDATE: Since this blog was published there have been two very good comment pieces in the Guardian by Knox Chitiyo and Blessing Miles Tendi. Both are well worth a read:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/05/zimbabwe-inconvenient-election-truth

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/05/robert-mugabe-zimbabwe-election-zanu-pf

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

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