Tag Archives: Teresa Smart

Empowering chickens: why Bill Gates’ plan may be flawed

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Are chickens the route to rural women’s empowerment? Bill Gates thinks so. In a recent Gates Notes comment piece he announced ‘a big bet on chickens’ with an initial distribution of 100,000  to rural women in Africa. With just 5 chickens, he argued a woman could earn $1000 in a year. Melinda Gates meanwhile emphasises the empowerment angle, arguing in a blog that “raising chickens is considered women’s work, and the money from selling chickens and eggs belongs to women to spend as they choose”.

Simply handing out chickens and expecting these to improve livelihoods is of course not so straightforward. That is a big income from an initial 5 chickens! There have been many well-meaning projects that have done the same over many years. The relationship between poultry, disadvantage and empowerment for women is complex.

As Joseph Hanlon and Teresa Smart point out for Mozambique commercial poultry production is a costly business. Successful businesses require basic infrastructure, veterinary care, assured supplies of day-old-chicks and effective markets. Few manage this, and as our profiles of new agricultural entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe, the new poultry producers must rely on established businesses and services for support, and not all the beneficiaries of such enterprises are of course women. Most rural people rely on a few chickens of local breeds that require little maintenance and provide an important source of nutrition and income, but not sufficient for economic empowerment, by any stretch of the imagination.

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In our surveys across the resettlement areas, nearly every household has a few indigenous, village chickens. These are widely used, but do not provide a stable or significant income. Across 400 households in our A1/A2 sample in Masvingo province, we found 16 new broiler operations, but only two of these exceeded the $1000 profit level being suggested by Bill Gates; most made about $500 profit and many much less. These were 50 to 100 bird operations, reliant on significant and expensive inputs, not available to most women, except in the few cases when they were organised in groups.

Hanlon and Smart contrast the Gates NGO model with that of Brazil. In the last few decades, Brazil has become a major producer and exporter of chickens. Frozen chicken cuts from Brazil undercut local production in many parts of the world including Africa. The Brazil model, heavily invested in by the state investment bank, BNDES, relies on large producers of chicks, and a major support network established through contracting arrangements with small-scale producers. This realises massive economies of scope and scale, which are very difficult to replicate in African settings.

In Zimbabwe, large-scale commercial farmers are often crucial links in the value chain in a fast-changing commercial poultry sector. In Masvingo for example, the Mitchells’ farm supplied day-old chicks to many farmers, and continues to do so across the communal and new resettlement areas, despite attempts at land grabbing. The presence of such an operation, with all the infrastructure, skill and market connections that it requires, has been crucial to the success of the medium-scale new entrepreneurs that we profiled. As Hanlon and Smart argue:  “As usual, the aid industry can only see the two extremes and ideas that come from outside – Bill Gates’ five hens or Odebrecht’s [a Brazilian company] millions of chickens. The successes in the middle, and the successes developed locally, are ignored”.

Bill Gates and his team have to understand the changing global political economy of poultry production in their announcement, as well as the range of enterprises that actually exist. As Jim Sumberg and colleagues point out for Ghana there are many competing narratives about the role of poultry production in economic development. Too often the NGO vision – often tied to naïve ambitions of local economic empowerment – dominates but does not match the facts on the ground.

Major evidence gaps exist in the debate, and the Gates proposal has fallen foul of these. In Ghana, as elsewhere, we simply don’t know how many chickens there are, and in what sized flocks they are being kept. There are confusions between a generic ‘chicken’, and different types – broilers, layers, and the ubiquitous ‘road runner’ chicken, seen in villages across the continent. Each require different inputs, feeds, management care, and levels of capitalisation, and they usually operate in very different markets. ‘Indigenous’ chickens are valued for taste, ritual slaughter and other uses; broilers and the ‘improved’ breeds that the Gates Foundation are distributing do not cut it.

Patterns of consumption of meat are changing too, with chicken often favoured over for example beef, due to cost. But it is the very cheap imports (from Brazil in particular, but also Europe and the US) that have driven this in urban areas, along with the opportunities that supermarkets provide for frozen products. This is not the vision of the mini flock of village chickens owned by newly empowered women. In Ghana as elsewhere, policy is confused and conflicting, as different interest groups compete, but often with a poor understanding undermining any pretence at ‘evidence-based’ policy.

Empowerment of course is a political process. It’s about recognition, rights, voice and participation, not just about chickens, and new sources of income. Empowerment must also challenge the wider structural political-economic factors that keep poor people poor, and women disenfranchised. Cheap frozen chicken from Brazil will not go away as long as free trade regimes and cheap oil allow transnational value chains that can often undercut even the most diligent producers in rural Ghana, Mozambique or Zimbabwe. As we’ve long learned, giving women new assets without the requisite changes in gender relations and shifts in power relations in the domestic economy, can result in intra-household struggles, with men often benefiting more than women.

Easy gestures from rich philanthropists are insufficient, and must address these wider issues if the highly commendable focus on poorer rural women and their empowerment is to be addressed. Handing out chickens may not be the simple solution that it first appears.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Guest Blog: Land Reform in Zimbabwe Revisited: Reflections from a book launch in London

At the end of January, the influential London-based think tank, Chatham House, hosted the launch of a new book on Zimbabwe’s land reform – Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land.  It generated some UK media coverage which in turn provoked an outcry from some activists based in London, the Zimbabwe Vigil. Outside Chatham House, they organised a small protest, and handed out leaflets with commentaries from Ben Freeth, Eddie Cross (MDC Policy Coordinator General) and Charles Taffs (President Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union).

Why is it that the debate about Zimbabwe’s land reform continues to generate such heat, perhaps especially in London? Why was it that a protest (admittedly in the end of only a few people) was organised about a book reporting empirical research? Why is it that those who oppose the land reform cannot engage with the empirical data? Why, after so long, can the debate not move on?

I was unable to attend the launch or interact with the protest and find out what they objected to, but I asked Dr Admos Chimhowu, a Zimbabwean scholar working at the University of Manchester, who was offering some comments at the event, to provide a report for this blog which he kindly did. Here are Admos’ reflections:

“Fast Track Land Reform is fast becoming an interesting area of intellectual and policy exchange as more empirical evidence of its outcomes emerges. The most recent event aptly titled Land Reform in Zimbabwe Revisited: A Qualified Success?  took place at Chatham House on the 31st of January 2013. The event focused on the evidence emerging from a recently published book, Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land (Kumarian Press) written by Joe Hanlon, Teresa Smart and Jeanette Manjengwa.

Even on a cold winter evening in London the event had all the elements of intrigue that have come to be associated with the Fast Track Land Reform (FTLR) in Zimbabwe. There was a capacity audience, a highly polarised debate and even a small, spirited but peaceful protest mounted by Zim Vigil outside.

Sir Malcom Rifkind MP was the discussant.  Many may not know that Sir Malcom lived and worked in the Rhodesia in the late 1960s and wrote a very insightful MSc thesis on the Politics of Land in then Rhodesia in the 1960s. His views on the book were very carefully calibrated- recognising the rich historical analysis and the candidly presented empirical evidence. He focused on his own recollection of the polarised discourse in the Rhodesia parliament in the 1960s and also reflected on the post-independence dynamics.  Addressing directly the now infamous 5th November 1997 Clare Short letter (about the British Government not taking responsibility to fund land reforms), Sir Malcom maintained the official UK government line that this should not  be a British responsibility but one for Zimbabwe to prioritise.

Teresa Smart and Jeanette Manjengwa gave insights into the key findings of the book, arguing that notwithstanding all the criticisms of Fast Track, there is evidence that many smallholders who got land are using it to better themselves.  Much of the discussion on the new book focused on its findings and it was clear that the polarisation that has characterised the land reform discourse continues. Some of the early evidence soon after 2000 pointed to a decline in production and productivity but more recent findings are showing a need to relook at what is happening on the land.

The publication in 2010 of Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities marked a turning point in what has become a highly polarised discourse on the FTLR in Zimbabwe. This book was not only a marker of a new counter-narrative, seeking to challenge a generally accepted view that Fast Track Land Reform had been an unmitigated disaster, but it also sought to introduce some academic rigour into what had become a politicised lay and professional media discourse.

Adding new evidence, Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land supports this new narrative. It argues that FTLR in Zimbabwe has worked well for some, but could work better for more people with additional support. There is evidence of beneficiaries investing in and using land to improve their lives.  This should not have been a surprise, because we know from past experiences of self resettlement that eventually people use the land to better themselves with or without state or other support.

At the Chatham House meeting there was a wide-ranging discussion, including on how the FTLR empowered women; lessons from Zimbabwe for South Africa; the need for support services for the beneficiaries; the need for more analysis of those who lost out; issues of employment and labour on the FTLR farms and patterns of emerging social differentiation on the farms. Others raised the contradictions between FTLR as being a success in tobacco production, while the country is still appealing for food aid. There were also challenges from the Commercial Farmers Union representatives who had flown in for the meeting on some of the figures used in the book. Even on a cold evening, Zimbabwe’s land reform still produces some heat.

As evidence accumulates that the FTLR was not an unmitigated disaster, there are, in my view, some new dilemmas to address. There are:

1         How can key actors begin to recognise and accept this growing body of evidence without being seen to endorse the methods used to achieve asset transfer? With South Africa facing similar challenges, any suggestion that massive dispossession undertaken at speed can produce good results in the long term would create problems for some interest groups. But then is dismissing FTL as an unmitigated disaster still tenable in the face of growing and credible evidence? We know that land reform can work to create the basis for long-term development (e.g. from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China), but what conditions need to be put in place now?

2         If it is accepted that the FTLR has worked to improve some (not all) people’s lives should it therefore not be accepted and supported (with all its history and faults)? This is particularly important for donors whose next question would be how to engage with the beneficiaries without being seen as endorsing the process through which these outcomes were achieved Indeed Sir Malcom Rifkind was very clear about his disdain for the methods of Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe. It seems to me that this dilemma can be resolved if the legal issues that remain unresolved are addressed- especially the issue of compensation. This is for the GoZ to work through and can potentially unlock further support for the FTLR beneficiaries.

3         With elections looming in Zimbabwe the various political groups also have a crucial dilemma. Accepting that FTLR has worked for some and is beginning to yield results hands over political advantage to those who led or allowed this to happen. Rejecting the evidence though begins to sound insincere. It seems to me that this one will only be resolved after the elections!

The more I look at the evidence, the more I think we should actually not be surprised that asset transfer programmes will work in the medium to long term. This of course is a very separate question from the methods used to redistribute the land. How well asset transfers work of course will depend on a lot of factors and the book presents stories show cases of why institutional support, recapitalisation, skill and individual drive all matter.”

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