Tag Archives: tenure

Beyond the freehold title obsession: generating land tenure security

 

Zimbabwe has a regime of multi-form tenure, with multiple tenure types associated with different areas of land (freehold, lease, permit, communal and state land). This provides a flexibility in tenure arrangements, with each appropriate to different uses. For any form of tenure the overall objective is security but this can be achieved in multiple ways. The form of tenure must balance administrative complexity and cost of establishment (including cadastral survey, registration etc.) with use.

In Zimbabwe the typical post-settler economy pattern persisted following Independence, with large-scale farms retaining freehold, granted to white settlers during colonisation, while former tribal lands became de jure state-owned lands. These communal areas have de facto rights delegated to local communities (including chiefs), under the oversight of rural district councils. Other areas of freehold title were established in the colonial area, such as in ‘purchase areas’, becoming small-scale farming areas after Independence. Other land was designated as state land including parks, forestry areas and state farms. In the 1980s resettlement areas were established under a restrictive permit system, while following 2000, offer letters (later substituted by land permits) and 99 year leases were proposed, with a 25 year concession proposed for wildlife conservancies.

In line with the Land Tenure Commission of 1994, led by Mandi Rukuni, the challenge today is to clarify overlaps and confusions, and to develop a streamlined administrative system with regulatory oversight for all settings. This is a core challenge for the Zimbabwe Land Commission today, 23 years on. The post-2000 land reform has provided this opportunity for A1 and A2 areas, where permit and lease systems are proposed; although for some A2 areas, leases with options to buy and so transfer to freehold title are offered.

In Zimbabwe regulations exist that restrict multiple farm ownership, and stated policy encourages wide distribution of land, avoiding concentration. While issues of multiple farm ownership remain and regulations continue to be flouted, especially by senior politicians (see earlier blog on audits in this series), the principle is well established, and is based on commitments to social justice and the distribution of national productive assets, and is enshrined in the cross-party agreed national Constitution.

In the past, high levels of land concentration have resulted in political tension and inefficient utilisation of land, as well as land speculation. These inequalities, and many of the problems associated with the lack of regulation in ‘white’ freehold tenure areas, were an important impetus for land reform. But redistribution is only one step, ensuring tenure security following land reform is essential. Despite much evidence that investments in land, particularly in small-scale A1 settlements, has not been hampered by lack of clarity on land tenure and those in A1 areas usually regard their land as secure, a more formalised, accepted system is clearly required.

 Seven principles of tenure design

Here are a number of key principles for tenure design drawing on the international literature (and highlighted in an earlier blog). These are:

Democratic accountability to ensure the representation and participation of critical actors (landholders, farmers’ representatives, etc.) in the land administration system tailored to serve the needs of different forms of land tenure. Democratic control of this is afforded through the state having rights to regulate and intervene in land administration in line with national economic development goals.

A flexible market in land – including allowing sales, rentals and leases – to allow trading up and down in land size in line with investment and production capacity and skill (although with regulation by the state – see below), while providing safeguards against land concentration and multiple holdings.

Regulation against capture by elites or speculative investors to avoid inefficient and inequitable consolidation of land holdings and land disenfranchisement, especially of the poor and women. Safeguarding against the danger of mass or distress sales of land and rapid speculative land accumulation by local or foreign elites and companies, in times of economic hardship, and the reversal of redistributive gains is critical in the Zimbabwean context.

Facilitation of credit and investment through the provision of land and other assets as mortgaged collateral and the provision of bank credit guaranteed against land, combined with other credit guarantee mechanisms (for example, linked to farm equipment, livestock, buildings, urban assets etc. – see next section). This entails providing clear rules and regulation of farm investment partnerships, and pooled investment initiatives (e.g. cooperation in irrigation, agro-processing infrastructure etc.); and measures which enhance other forms of cooperation.

Guarantees of women’s access to land, as independent, legally-recognised land holders, with the ability to bequeath, inherit, sell, rent and lease land (for example through clearly defined and enforceable requirements for joint recognition of land holdings in leases, permits and titles, as well as administrative mechanisms to ensure equitable treatment of gender related land issues. Supporting the application of laws against discrimination, safeguarding women’s succession rights; and the division of rights on divorce (see earlier blog in this series)

A low administrative burden – both in terms of technical complexity and overall cost – of cadastral surveys, land registration and land administration more broadly. This also entails enforcing the levying of reasonable service charges for costly land titling services (e.g. surveying, valuation, registration, etc.), especially for ‘formalising’ leasehold property rights.

Revenues through survey, title, lease and permit fees and setting incentives to discourage underutilisation through land taxation is an important condition for an effective land tenure regime.

Multiple routes to land tenure security

Land tenure arrangements can be assessed against these key principles. Drawing on a discussion note I did with Sam Moyo some years ago (see earlier blog), the table below offers this assessment, based on both Zimbabwean and international experience. 

 

Freehold title Regulated leasehold Permit system Communal/traditional tenure
Democratic accountability to state None Yes Yes Limited
Flexible land markets Yes Yes Yes Informal only

 

Credit and collateral Yes

 

Yes Requires additional instruments for collateral guarantee Requires alternative credit/micro-finance support mechanisms
Regulation against capture No, although potentials for statutory restrictions on sales Yes Yes Limited regulatory reach
Preferential women’s access None Potential lease condition Potential permit condition None: traditional patriarchal biases
Administrative cost Very high High Low None
Revenues and incentives

 

Survey, land registration, title fees/Land tax Lease fees/land tax Permit fee/land tax Limited potentials

A key design principle is around administrative cost, and so delivery, management and efficiency. There is no point in designing a ‘gold standard’ solution if it cannot be implemented. The bizarre obsession in Zimbabwe with freehold title as the only route to land security – spouted at regular intervals by otherwise knowledgeable commentators and politicians – flies in the face of evidence from around the world. In Zimbabwe currently there are serious challenges of delivery, and a full cadastral survey and allocation of title to every plot in the country as some propose would be complete madness, resulting in massive cost, and a huge escalation of disputes that there would be no capacity to resolve. For lawyers and politicians (and some who combine the two) this may seem the neat option, but for anyone who works in farming areas (or has experience of attempts at this elsewhere, then the prospects are scary.

With appropriate design, leases and permits can offer the same security as title but via a different and much cheaper route that allows regulatory control, and they can be especially beneficial when combined with new approaches to financing (see next week’s blog). As with any form of property right, such rights of course must be upheld in law, and not removed at whim, dependent on political favours and patronage relations. But this is a general condition for all tenure arrangements, and with secure leases or permits, under conditions of accountable and non-politicised land administration (not something achieved in Zimbabwe at the moment of course), land security across a multi-form tenure systems should be possible.

Despite announcements on lease and permit systems for A2 and A1 areas, realising these ambitions on the ground remains a challenge. There is a need to assess realistically the scale of the surveying requirement and the cost and sources of funding this (along with compensation arrangements, see earlier blog in this series) in a systematic way. This could probably form part of a phased district land administration reform scheme (see blog in a couple of weeks for more on this). With options for A2 farmers at least to pay for surveying, this will speed up the issuing of leases, and so the refinancing of farms, as well as creating revenue streams to the state through rentals for further surveying. Fiscal sustainability is a crucial factor in the design of any system, and international experience shows that elaborate titling systems are very expensive.

LIMS: land information and management systems, a key piece of the jigsaw

A new land tenure system needs to be linked to an effective and appropriate land information and management system. Again the same principles apply: this needs to be designed with the real world challenges in mind, as a low cost rather than high end perfect system. Certainly, current efforts to re-equip and develop cadastral survey and land registration capacity is welcome. Fortunately today low cost GPS systems with automated computer upload and mapping services are feasible, and there is capacity in Zimbabwe on this (at the University of Zimbabwe, and elsewhere). A land registry that provides open access information on A1, A2 and other land holding types will be an invaluable resource. However, this must not be developed in isolation and separate from field level implementation, as the system must be functional and useable, and able to be supported from recurrent budgets.

While external donor funding is welcome, the land upgrading support should be widened, and a system must be designed and tested at district level with fiscal sustainability in mind. It must ultimately be able to be funded from land rentals, combined with self-payment for surveys. Rentals will thus result in tangible land administration benefits, especially for A2 farmers, as this will release opportunities for financing/mortgaging/loans (although see below), if clear tenure arrangements are established.

For A1 farms much of the land survey and registration work must be regarded as a developmental public intervention, and will have to be financed from the fiscus with donor support, at least for the first one-off permit delivery. Support for permit issuance needs to be done alongside a defined plan for paying compensation, and based upon establishing new financing arrangements. This financing should be seen as a core part of investments for re-gearing the economy.

An effective Land Information and Management System is a necessary part of this, but this needs to be designed and tested with real world conditions in mind. It needs to be low cost and able to remain funded under expected flows of recurrent budget generated from land rentals. However upfront investment is essential to get things started, and to do the initial survey and lease/permit allocation, and this can be seen as one public cost of implementing land reform. Without securing tenure, and creating an environment for financing and investment, then the flows of revenue that will sustain a land administration system will not emerge. The Lands Ministry and Surveyor General will be able to generate revenues from charging for services (including in urban areas), and also will need to set up a system for the systematic collection of rents in order to ensure fiscal sustainability.

Beyond the freehold title obsession

Zimbabwe needs to get over the idea that freehold title is the solution to all ills. Tenure security can emerge through many routes. An effective, transparent land administration and information management system is essential. Rebuilding the bureaucratic state and depoliticising land is essential. The Zimbabwe Land Commission has an important role in this, and one of its major challenges is thinking through a low-cost, replicable and sustainable system to support the delivery of leases and permits on a wide scale across a huge array of land types and sizes, from relatively large A2 farms to very small plots, including those in urban and peri-urban areas.

As discussed in other blogs in this series, and pursued further next week, through some phased district level initiatives it will be possible to integrate lease/permit registration and the development of a functioning land administration and information system, at the same time as dealing with compensation, and new financing arrangements. Getting such pilots moving soon is a major imperative for the new Land Commission.

This post was prepared by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland.  It is part of an occasional Zimbabweland blog series on priorities for the new Zimbabwe Land Commission.

 

 

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Land tenure dilemmas in Zimbabwe

A key question for policymakers today is what tenure system makes sense for the new configuration of land, livelihoods and production after land reform? What tenure and land administration arrangements will assure tenure security, encourage investment and boost production?

Unfortunately, much of the debate on this issue starts from ideological assumptions about what is claimed to be the ideal tenure type, rather than the basic principles which should guide the choice of administrative and legal arrangement for ensuring tenure security. Instead it’s better to start from defining key principles and move towards a pragmatic assessment of options and trade-offs.

This blog lays out the argument for a multiform tenure approach for Zimbabwe. This is not a new argument at all. Professor Mandi Rukuni and the Presidential Land Tenure Commission of 1994 presented a similar case. Five years ago I prepared a briefing note on land tenure dilemmas in response to the on-going confusion on this topic, drawing on discussions with Sam Moyo, Prosper Matondi and others. I have linked to this in previous blogs. This blog presents a version of it again, as the debate on land tenure continues today with a similar lack of clarity.

Seven key principles

What should be the key features of a new tenure regime? Here are seven principles, drawn from the wider international discussion on the topic:

Democratic accountability to allow for state intervention to shift the configuration of tenure in line with national economic and development goals, in the face of dynamic change in technology or economic conditions and when market mechanisms are insufficient (for example, to facilitate a shift to a large-scale freehold system under conditions of full industrialisation and urbanisation in order to assure national food security)

A flexible market in land – including sales, rentals and leases – to allow trading up and down in land size in line with investment and production capacity and skill (although with regulation by the state – see 4 and 5, below).

Facilitation of credit and investment through the provision of land as mortgaged collateral and the provision of bank credit guaranteed against land, combined with other credit guarantee mechanisms (for example, linked to farm equipment, livestock, buildings, urban assets etc.)

Regulation against capture by elites or speculative investors to avoid inefficient and inequitable consolidation of land holdings and land disenfranchisement, especially of the poor and women (for example, the danger of mass sales and rapid speculative land accumulation by local or foreign elites/companies in times of economic hardship, and the reversal of redistributive gains).

Guarantees of women’s access to land, as independent, legally-recognised land holders, with the ability to bequeath, inherit, sell, rent and lease land (for example through requirements for joint recognition of land holdings in leases, permits and titles, as well as administrative mechanisms to ensure equitable treatment of land issues).

A low administrative burden – both in terms of technical complexity and overall cost – of cadastral surveys, land registration and land administration more broadly.

Revenues through survey, title, lease and permit fees and setting incentives to discourage underutilisation through land taxation is an important condition for an effective land tenure regime.

There is broad agreement on the desirability of each of these seven principles, and a wider recognition from international experience of their importance. However, there are more questions about their practicality and feasibility, and the pragmatic trade-offs between each given administrative and technical capacities in land administration.

In Zimbabwe existing legislation allows for a wide range of potential tenure types, ranging from freehold title to regulated leases to permits to communal tenure under ‘traditional’ systems. All have their pros and cons. Any one or combination can offer a guarantee of secure property rights under particular conditions. There is thus no ‘gold standard’ or assumed ‘evolution’ towards an ideal, as is sometimes suggested. Instead, the debate about the appropriate tenure regime must start from principles in context, and draw conclusions about the best way forward from an analysis of the trade-offs between options under the particular circumstances currently pertaining.

For example, policymakers must ask, given the available resources and capacity for land administration, can the appropriate level of tenure security be achieved through lower cost means? Or, given the dangers of rapid land appropriation, what minimal safeguards need to be deployed which do not undermine the capacity of credit and land markets to function? Or, what other legal or financial assurances and coordination mechanisms must be added to ensure that private credit markets function effectively? These are very real dilemmas and are encountered the world over, especially in relatively resource poor settings where capacity is underdeveloped. A debate that is constructed around the false promise of an ideal may actually act to undermine opportunities and stall agricultural growth.

Tenure trade-offs

How do different tenure arrangements perform against these key principles? Table 1 offers a preliminary assessment, based on both Zimbabwean and international experience.

Table 1: Trade-offs in tenure design principles

  Freehold title Regulated leasehold Permit system Communal/traditional tenure
Democratic accountability to state None Yes Yes Limited
Flexible land markets Yes Yes Yes Informal only
Credit and collateral Yes Yes Requires additional instruments for collateral guarantee Requires alternative credit/micro-finance support mechanisms
Regulation against capture No, although potentials for statutory restrictions on sales Yes Yes Limited regulatory reach
Preferential women’s access None Potential lease condition Potential permit condition None: traditional patriarchal biases
Administrative cost Very high High Low None
Revenues and incentives Survey, land registration, title fees/Land tax Lease fees/land tax Permit fee/land tax Limited potentials

 

Depending on the legal and administrative regime or the interpretation and practice of ‘customary’ or ‘traditional’ tenure, for example, there are of course large variations in the reality of different tenure types in practice. But despite such variation there are some common features. Freehold tenure for example is always administratively cumbersome, expensive to implement and reliant on market forces with limited opportunities (assuming the rule of law is adhered to) for state intervention to limit consolidation or shape market incentives. On the other hand, communal, customary or traditional systems have advantages of decentralised operation and low cost, but there are limits on the ability to assure security of tenure through legislative means and a limited regulatory reach of the state.

Of course any tenure regime is only a legal/administrative procedure, and must function in a wider political-social-economic context. The lessons of the past decade show vividly that tenure insecurity does not necessarily derive from the nature of the regime, but from the wider political setting, the capacity to administrate land and the ability to assure a rule of law. When these very basic governance conditions are not in place, then no tenure regime can assure security. Indeed, in 2000 was those with freehold tenure that have been the least secure, and those with communal tenure that have been the most secure.

Ways forward

The new Constitution commits to a reestablishment of transparent administrative procedures, the stamping out of corrupt practices and mechanisms for compensation, all in a secure legal framework. With this essential precondition in place, the discussion on land tenure options can take place more effectively – and in relation to a set of clear principles of the sort outlined earlier.

The big question now, is what makes sense given the current situation, and given available administrative resources and capacity constraints? What tenure regime will help get agriculture moving and investment flowing, and support the new agrarian structure?

With the appropriate regulatory conditions attached as part of revisions of legislation and with a land administration streamlined system developed (neither of which exist to date), the above table suggests that the leasehold and permit systems offer considerable promise for the Zimbabwe situation for the A2 and A1 areas respectively. This would allow for the issuing of leases on surveyed A2 farms (perhaps with varying lengths and conditions to incentivise investment and production) and upgrading ‘offer letters’ in the A1 areas as part of a comprehensive, area-based land registration exercise.

Indeed such solutions reflect international thinking on this issue, where low cost land registration and administration approaches based on leases and permits have been shown to be highly effective in relation to the range of principles identified above. This does not mean that freehold tenure is not an option in some instances, particularly in urban/peri-urban settings. But full freehold does not seem to offer the right combination of features for the present situation for most rural agricultural settings. Such a solution to current tenure dilemmas also does not preclude a reform of communal tenure, perhaps extending versions of the approach developed for the A1 areas to the communal lands over time. As the 1994 Land Tenure Commission argued, hybrid approaches that offer the best of customary, communal tenure arrangements, but with new forms of tenure security offered through legally binding arrangements may be of great importance in such areas.

For now, though, the priority must be the A1 and A2 areas. This represents a substantial area of land, and a considerable number of people/land units, and a core national land asset in need of regularisation. Assuring tenure security in these areas must be the first priority (although the prior step remains addressing the compensation issue of course). This must be driven by a discussion based on clear principles, rather an ideological positioning, and an eye to rapid, effective implementation, rather than inappropriate ‘gold standard’ ideals.

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

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Property rights and development: Lessons for Zimbabwe

Earlier this year I was involved in a review of the literature on the relationships between property rights and development commissioned by DFID and led by Future Agricultures partners, the Overseas Development Institute, and supported by the FAC land theme. The focus relates to an important and long-running debate in Zimbabwe about what to do about land tenure in both rural and urban areas.

The review was prompted by a concern by DFID to underpin with solid evidence the claims made in the UK government’s narrative about international development, known as the ‘golden thread’. This emphasises secure property rights as a key element in promoting economic growth and development. The British Prime Minister David Cameron states: “A genuine golden thread would tie together economic, social and political progress in countries the world over… Only then will people escape the fear of seeing their homes bulldozed just because they don’t have property rights.” Such rights would be underpinned by mapping and formal cadastre systems “…using satellite photos to map plots of land that will facilitate the creation of property rights”.

This is a familiar argument, resonant of that made by Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto who claimed that many resources in the developing world are ‘dead capital’, and so underutilised because private property rights have not be assigned. Only through titling programmes, he argued, would dead capital be transformed economic prosperity be realised. While extensively critiqued, this argument has captured the imagination of many policymakers in Africa, including in Zimbabwe where the ‘gold standard’ of private freehold tenure is often held up as the approach to follow.

The reviews, focusing on the post-2000 literature on Africa, looked at the broad relationship between property rights and economic growth, as well as specific areas, including rural and urban contexts, as well as the particular case of water rights. In addition, questions of empowerment were addressed. Just as many similar studies before showed that the evidence for a tight relationship between private property rights and economic growth and development is equivocal. Some studies show a positive relationship, others the opposite. And of course many other factors impinge. This is perhaps especially so for the relationship in rural areas, and linked to rights over land.

For those of us who have been immersed in this debate for years, particularly in Africa, this is no surprise. The 1980s for example saw a flurry of studies that looked at the benefits and costs of land titling, and the consequences for investment, including many by the World Bank. These showed again and again that, while improving security of tenure is essential, this does not have to be achieved through asserting private property rights, and indeed other forms of tenure, including common property, but also a range of registration systems can achieve the same end. The costs of cadastres and formal land titling systems are prohibitive, and can generate conflicts, and the processes of exclusion that occur can have significant negative effects. This is the conclusion drawn by many for Zimbabwe, despite the on-going, ideologically-driven debates.

A recent World Bank study looking at urban and peri-urban land in Burkina Faso and Mali came to much the same conclusion. Elsewhere in Africa, Rwanda has gained prominence as a case where land titling works, but there are also knock-on consequences especially for the poor and marginal of such efforts. In Ethiopia, a country with similarly dense populations in the Highlands, more informal registration systems seem to deliver good results.

The review looked at all these cases, and many more. The review was somewhat hampered, as it was obliged to follow a rather odd DFID-prescribed methodology (then in draft, but now formalised as a practice paper – which is admittedly an improvement on the draft) that had the effect of excluding large parts of the literature. This stipulated that ‘evidence’ as only in refereed journal articles, and had to be assessed in terms of empirically evaluated quantitative impacts of a property-growth relationship. This ‘evidence’ in the guidance is therefore privileged over other sources in terms of assessments of evidence ‘quality’ and ‘reliability. This limited the scope, and introduced particular biases of discipline and case study. The work of economists, and material from Ethiopia was thus over-represented and, according to the final report, “as a result, perspectives from some disciplines are not fully represented, notably history, politics, anthropology, cultural studies and sociology”. Given the subject area, rather a shame to say the least!

The focus on journal articles in particular databases also meant that large chunks of the literature were excluded, including all the fantastic books on the subject, both empirical cases and historical overviews, published over the years, not to mention the important project-based and grey material. To undertake a review on land, property and development in Africa and not include the key works of Sara Berry, Louise Fortmann, Pauline Peters, Elinor Ostrom and others was, to me and other advisors on the project, plain bizarre. Fortunately some flexibility was allowed and some elements of these key foundational insights were in the end included, but not without some difficulty, and some serious questioning of the draft DFID guidance.

Despite all these battles over the nature of evidence, the key findings of the rural review were fairly clear. It notes: “Overall, the evidence reviewed does not fully support the expected outcomes of the conventional economic view on the link between stronger property rights and investment gains”. In particular (from the executive summary):

  • “While present in some cases, links between reduced risk of expropriation and greater application of short and long term investments are not universal or unambiguously clear. There are numerous constraints preventing this causal link occurring, and there is some evidence of a reverse causal relationship: in some cases a greater risk of expropriation encourages certain types of investments”
  •  “The link between strengthening of tenure and increased access to credit is particularly weak, due to numerous other factors which prevent land from being successfully collateralised. These include issues related to credit supply, as well as borrowers’ willingness to mortgage their major asset, land”.
  •  “The evidence on the hypothesis that active land markets result from stronger property rights is mixed. There is some evidence which points to land markets leading to more efficient outcomes where these have not existed before (Ethiopia) but in the majority of cases, (informal) land markets are active under customary systems and there is little evidence to indicate that these are inefficient”
  •  “Whether titling or other tenure strengthening initiatives promise more benefits to women compared to existing tenure arrangements is highly context specific and depends on processes under which changes in tenure occur and are managed. The extent to which women’s greater access to land leads to higher agricultural production also does not appear to be supported by the literature”

No surprises there. What is perhaps more surprising is the wider persistence of the narrative about the role of private property, and especially titling, in economic development, including in Zimbabwe. This, as with the UK’s golden thread, is driven more by ideological commitment than an appreciation of the facts on the ground. Thus, with the benefit of evidence, the firm assertions of the golden thread narrative look distinctly frayed. Given its commitment to evidence-based policy, we will have to see if the statements of UK government officials, from the PM down, will be tempered by the results of its own review. I am not holding my breath. Equally in Zimbabwe, let’s hope that evidence prevails over assumption and prior bias in the on-going, fraught debate about property rights and land tenure reform.

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

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Policies for land, agriculture and rural development: some suggestions for Zimbabwe

Last week, I critiqued the framings of policy by the major political parties on land and agriculture. While agreeing with elements of the proposals, there seemed to be some important gaps, misunderstandings, and problematic assumptions. At root was the failure to grasp the implications and opportunities of the new agrarian structure.

Whether positioned around a populist, nationalist narrative or one focused on private investment and individual entrepreneurship, the policies do not focus on the importance of a new group of ‘emergent’ or ‘middle’ farmers, as part of a socially and economically differentiated rural population. The new agrarian structure, with a tri-modal pattern (involving large, medium and small scale farms), also has important implications for all areas of policy, whether infrastructure, services, finance and so on.

In our 2010 book, based on a decade of work in Masvingo province, we started from the realities of farmers in A1 and A2 farms acquired through the post 2000 land reform programme. We argued that these new farmers are not like communal farmers, nor larger scale commercial farmers. They are different, with different aptitudes, skills, needs and potentials. We equally argued that we don’t have to start from scratch. There is much to build on in terms of initial investments, and the skills and knowledge of the new settlers are significant. These are new people with new production systems engaging in new markets – all with new opportunities and challenges.

What then should the top priorities be now to meet these new demands – and particularly to support those ‘new’ middle farmers who are already ‘accumulating from below’? Here I identify four (drawn from our final chapter):

1.    Infrastructure investment, research and extension support and rural finance

Getting agriculture moving requires investment, and this means private individuals, businesses and the state working together. Yet a vibrant agricultural sector always is reliant on solid state support – to provide basic infrastructure, extension support, and public research. This has been a long-term lesson, both in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere. Following land reform in 2000, there has been vanishingly little support, from government, donors or others. Where subsidies have been offered they have often been misused. With new people on the land, a major investment is required to reconfigure the basic infrastructure for new uses. The old patterns, appropriate to large-scale farms, are no longer appropriate. Investing in roads, schools, health clinics, dams, irrigation schemes, dip tanks and so on is essential. While individual entrepreneurs are making a difference through private investment, these basic public investments are a vital complement. In addition, research and extension is vital. But the new farmers are often highly educated, well-connected. This opens up new opportunities: the old style intensive extension system probably doesn’t make sense. For example, support for marketing or input supply via mobile phone updates, or agricultural extension or business planning advice offered via the Internet offer real opportunities. One of the big constraints on agriculture currently is finance. Approaches to loan arrangements with new forms of collateral are required, with state guarantees to private bank loans. Accessible, cheap finance could open up multiple opportunities.

2.    Securing the land

 Security of land tenure is an essential prerequisite for successful production and investment in agriculture. Tenure security arises through a variety of means. Existing legislation allows for a wide range of potential tenure types, including freehold title, regulated leases, permits and communal tenure under ‘traditional’ systems. All have their pros and cons.  Policymakers must ask how tenure security can be achieved within available resources and capacity; how safeguards can be put in place to prevent land grabbing or land concentration; and what assurances must be made to ensure that private credit markets function effectively. Lessons from across the world suggest there is no one-size-fits-all solution centred on freehold tenure. Instead, a flexible system of land administration is required – one that allows for expansion and contraction of farm sizes, as well as entry and exit from farming. While the excesses of elite patronage and land grabbing must be addressed through a land audit, a successful approach, overseen by an independent, decentralised authority, must not be reliant on technocratic diktat.

3.    Fostering local economic development

 Land reform has reconfigured Zimbabwe’s rural areas dramatically. No longer are there vast swathes of commercial land separated from the densely-packed communal areas, the inheritance of the colonial Land Apportionment Act. Today, small-scale farms are nearby medium and large-scale farms, sharing labour, technologies, market chains, skills and expertise. This has created ‘multiplier effects’ in land reform areas – economic linkages from new farms to the wider economy. The land reform has given rise to the growth of new businesses to provide services and consumption goods. Such local economic development potentials are far from fully realised, and to date there has been little support to this wider, new rural economy. To make the most of the new mosaic of land uses and economic activities, an area-based, local economic development approach is required. This would facilitate investment across activities, adding value to farm production. An area-based approach needs to draw in the private sector, farmer groups and government agencies, but with strong leadership from a revived local government, with rethought mandates and rebuilt capacities.

4. Giving farmers a voice

 Reflecting a wide range of interests, the new resettlement farmers are highly diverse in class, gender and generational terms. This diversity has many advantages, adding new skills and experiences, but it is also a weakness. Formal organisation in the new resettlements is limited. There are of course emergent organisations focused on particular activities – a garden, an irrigation scheme, a marketing effort, for example – but these are unlikely to become the basis of political representation and influence. Because politics has been so divisive in recent years, many shy away from seeing political parties as the basis for lobbying for change, and there are few other routes to expressing views. Building a new set of representative farmers’ organisations, linked to an influential apex body, will be a long-term task, and will be highly dependent on the unfolding political alliances in rural areas. In contrast to the past when smallholders could easily be marginalised and were courted only at elections for their votes, the new farmers – and particularly the burgeoning group of ‘middle farmers’ – now control one of the most important economic sectors in the country. Today, this new politics of the countryside cannot be ignored.

 A new debate on land and agriculture in Zimbabwe

Many of these four themes do of course chime with policy recommendations that are now appearing in policy documents. However, the real implications of the land reform and capturing the potentials of a new agrarian structure must be front and centre, rather than assuming that the job ahead is only to offset the downsides of the fast-track programme or recapture an assumed ideal past.

The conclusions we offered in 2010 hold today. A new debate on land is required, and this needs to be reflected in policy debates. The challenge for the future is a new one however. As the then head of extension Masvingo province put it back in 2006: “We don’t know our new clients: this is a totally new scenario”.

If given the right support, the new farmers can drive a vibrant agricultural revolution in Zimbabwe. Of course, this has happened before: with white commercial farmers in the 1950s and with communal area farmers in the 1980s. Both past agricultural revolutions required support and commitment from outside, something that has been starkly absent since 2000. Zimbabwe’s green revolution of the 1980s has been much hailed, but this only involved perhaps 20% of farmers, mostly in high potential communal areas and was quickly extinguished following structural adjustment. The nascent green revolution in the new resettlement areas potentially has far wider reach, both geographically and socio-economically, and must not meet the same fate.

A smallholder-based agricultural revolution could indeed be the basis of wider growth and development in Zimbabwe. Now is the time for some strategic policy thinking, not blinkered by ideology or false images of the past, but by a deeper understanding, based on the facts on the ground, of what is going on, and what might if the right investment and support was offered.

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

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The MDC-T’s Agenda for Real Transformation (ART): why the land and agriculture sections need more thought

A few weeks back, the MDC-T organised a policy conference to discuss their new 247 page policy document, ART – the Agenda for Real Transformation. There is much to commend in this document, and the commitment of the MDC actually to discuss policy is heartening. There has been a serious dearth of policy discussion across the past decade, and this is a valuable attempt to get to grips with some of the really pressing issues any government will face. In a pair of Hot Seat radio interviews with Violet Gonda, Tendai Biti, the MDC-T’s Secretary General and current finance minister in the GNU discussed the contents (listen or review transcripts here and here).

The overall vision is “a modern, healthy, functional, integrated democratic developmental state with a vibrant, socially just green economy that takes pride at leaving no one behind”. No complaints with that. Equally, the sections on security sector reform, mining revenues, industrial cluster development, strategic infrastructure investment, social services and more are all good contributions. But sadly the sections on agriculture and land are rather poor, suffering from a combination of inconsistencies, confusions, inaccurate data and poor analysis. Why is it that after so long (the policy has taken apparently two years to produce, based on consultations across the country, page 2), the MDC has not been able to get to grips with the agriculture and land, and come up with a more coherent policy position?

I guess it reflects the lack of capacity and the background of the leading players. Tendai Biti himself is a lawyer, and not versed in issues of agronomy or land administration, while other leading lights, Morgan Tsvangirai included, come from an urban, labour union background. Those with a rural brief include Eddie Cross, whose view on private property is informed by right-wing think tanks such as the Cato Institute with which he has been associated, and Roy Bennett, who comes from a commercial farming background, and does not seem to recognise the potentials of the land reform. There are of course other lobbyists and funders in the local and international community who continue to be committed to a reversal of the land reform, arguing that it has had few if any benefits. So anyone trying to draft rural policy for the MDC is severely handicapped by these limits and competing pressures.

What then does the policy say? I am not totally clear of the document’s status, as it does not appear on the MDC website, so I presume it remains a draft. If the number of typos that are present is anything to go by, I assume this to be the case. So accounting for this provisional basis, what can we glean?

First, and significantly, the document incontrovertibly states (again) that the land reform is not reversible. It also sets out some laudable principles for a land policy, including: equity in access and distribution; efficiency in its utilization; accountability in its management; transparency in the conduct of its governance; legitimacy in the eyes of the Zimbabwean public; participation by Zimbabweans of all classes, gender and ethnic backgrounds and security for all who make their living from the land. Overall, the policy aims to create “a new order of economically viable, market-directed commercial farmers, with the family farm as the basic model”. All good, sensible stuff.

However, it then goes on to characterise the process of land reform after 2000 (again) as chaotic, with poor outcomes, using the standard international media narrative, with little acknowledgement of the research that has shown a more complex story. This in turn frames the document. For example, on page 44:

“After 10 years of chaotic land invasions and the illegal dispossession of the majority of commercial farmers, only a tiny proportion of the target of 8 million hectares has been lawfully taken over and the rest lies largely deserted and unproductive. The farms have been taken over by a political elite that has been unable to maintain production and has presided over the decimation of the capital infrastructure that had existed on the farms prior to the FTLRP….As a consequence agricultural production has declined by nearly 80 per cent, exports have plummeted and nearly 70 per cent of all foodstuffs are being imported. Some 400 000 farm workers have been displaced with their families plunging nearly 2 million people into destitution and homelessness”.

Here in a few sentences are all the myths we highlighted in our book presented in condensed form: that the reform was ‘chaotic’ and solely instrumentally led by ZANU-PF, the land lies largely idle and unproductive, that only the elite cronies have taken over, infrastructure has been decimated and that production (in general) has collapsed, with two million people being projected into destitution and homelessness due to farmworker displacement. All of these statements are not based on the accumulating evidence. The pattern is variable, but there are some clear trends, now from numerous studies, and this sort of statement, that frames the overall response, just does not add up.

Having set this (inaccurate) picture up, the policy proceeds to outline what the responsibility of an MDC government should be: essentially to reverse this (bad) situation. There is the usual list of things to do, including infrastructure development (notably irrigation), fertiliser and input supply and new technologies (including genetically modified crops). There is a modernising zeal to the narrative – new technologies and investment will come to the rescue. In a Tony Blair style incantation, Biti in his Hot Seat interview identified a key solution as “research, research, research”, and claimed that maize would soon be produced at 12-15 tonnes a hectare (even under a MDC government, somewhat unlikely!) Many of the suggestions (especially small scale irrigation) are sound, but of course this perspective fails to address the past critiques of top-down, technology-driven modernisation of agriculture, from the Native Land Husbandry Act onwards – see for example the work of Jos Alexander or Mike Drinkwater, among many examples.

More importantly, the document fails to develop a vision for land and agriculture that takes the new agrarian structure into account. Framed in terms of righting the wrongs of the Fast Track process and providing a technical solution, rooted in a market oriented approach, it does not examine how small, medium and large scale estate agriculture might operate together and how a territorial, regional approach might contribute to integration, adding value and generating multiplier effects. The AFD/DBSA report of last year offers some sensible pointers that could have been taken on, as does the most recent World Bank report on agriculture, and of course we offered our own suggestions based on a decade of work in Masvingo in the final chapter of our book (for a summary, see the blog next week).

Where the document is accurate in its assessment is in its commentary on wider industry connections and economic linkages. It notes:

The [fast-track land reform] programme failed to support the newly settled farmers with skills, equipment, finance and marketing opportunities….this had serious ramifications for the entire economy as backward and forward linkages ..Consequently, this had multiplier effects on agro-based industries..

The document proceeds to identify the importance of off-farm linkages:

“the MDC government will protect the people on the land, while it develops complementary strategies for non-farm economic activities that tap into agriculture.” (p.50)

These are important commentaries, although without much detail of how it will be done in the context of the new agrarian setting. The agriculture section of the document, does not really engage with this at all, simply listing types of intervention, without an overall strategy.

Overall, the policy’s framing is very much one centred on macro-economic restructuring, and economic growth. While positioned in terms of a ‘developmental state’ argument (one of Biti’s familiar refrains), the details seem more old-fashioned Washington Consensus – get the market fundamentals right and all will follow (there is much talk of ‘market flexibility’, ‘opening up for business’ and so on). That this approach has been so massively discredited seems to have passed the drafters by. It may be appealing to the international community, including potential donors and investors, but will it work, and perhaps even more significantly will it be acceptable to a population already starkly divided by haves and have nots, and having suffered years of financial mismanagement – from ESAP to Gono’s casino economy? This contradiction was not lost on the Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Japhet Moyo, who launched an attack on the document at the conference, something that clearly did not please the party hierarchy.

The free market ideology that Moyo objected to also pervades the discussion of land, particularly around tenure. The policy announces a programme of what Biti terms ‘giving title’ in his Hot Seat interview transcript: “Number three, give title, give title to everyone who owns land right now. Give title, Zanu PF is refusing to give title even long leases because it is using land as a political field”. But it’s not at all clear what this really means, as while the document refers to the intention “to design and universalize a system of tenure” (p. 48) across all land categories in order to deliver, it argues, security of tenure, opportunities for collateral and so on, in other sections there are commitments to some form of village tenure in communal areas, leases in resettlement lands and freehold tenure elsewhere.

Underlying this all is the familiar argument about the importance of private property rights (title, title, title). This has of course been long challenged, both in Zimbabwe and beyond. There is no strong evidence that there is an automatic causal relation between private property rights and economic growth and investment, despite the influential arguments of de Soto and others. Instead the relationship between property rights, investment and economic growth is much more complex, and is conditioned by wider factors, such as political stability, the investment environment, local institutional arrangements for land access, and so on. Embarking on expensive cadastral surveys and land administration exercises is very often a big mistake, as study after study has shown. There are plenty of other routes to the same end that are more effective and cheaper. As Professor Rukuni (and many, many others) have long argued, a differentiated response is required that accepts multiform tenure, but does not go down the risky route of mass land titling.

In other areas, there is confusion too. The policy position on compensation seems to contradict the newly agreed Constitution, by arguing that compensation must account for not only ‘improvements’ but the land itself, across all areas, and not just investment areas (BIPPAs). It’s not totally clear in the document, but Biti in his Hot Seat interview, seemed to confirm this impression. Equally the policy suggests leases will be issued in A1, A2 and old resettlement areas and “leaseholders will be required to contribute to the payment of compensation to the original owners in order to legalise such arrangements” (p. 54). Despite the very sensible formula propounded by Professor Rukuni again, and largely agreed by key stakeholders, the MDC seem to have backtracked on this, opening themselves up to a long and protracted process that will be difficult to resolve sensibly. This strikes me as a big mistake, as most players want a quick resolution to this crucial issue, with compensation paid swiftly on the basis of a clear formula.

Other areas of land policy repeat existing policy, and the Constitutional provisions, including allowing for land ownership by all Zimbabweans, whatever their racial origins, the requirement for a land audit, the establishment of a Land Commission, a restriction on maximum farm sizes and a limit of one farm owned per person. All of this is at least notionally accepted by all actors. The challenge for an incoming government will be to implement these provisions, and it is good that the MDC-T is committed to doing so.

If the document is a draft and discussions are ongoing, then there is a chance presumably to debate, adapt and change the document. It is good that it is out in the open and can be subject to scrutiny. Indeed it is the only policy prospectus from across the political parties that is available. However, it does need some serious further thought.

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

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