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‘Living under contract’: reflections after 25 years

Contract farming in different forms has become increasingly common in farming systems across the world, not least in Zimbabwe, but does it benefit smallholder farmers or exploit them?

Contract farming rose to prominence globally as a proposed solution to ‘market failures’ in the extension of commercial agriculture. Farmers offered their land and labour while contract companies, more often than not linked to multinational capital, provided credit, extension advice and other inputs, as well as direct access to markets. In contexts where finance was short and markets difficult to link to, contract farming seemed like the win-win neoliberal solution to extending capitalist agriculture, without relying on land dispossession to create estates and plantations.

Twenty-five years ago an important book was published – Living under Contract: Contract Farming and Agrarian Transformation in sub-Saharan Africa, edited by Peter Little and Mike Watts. It offered a much more critical political economy perspective on contract farming based on case studies from across Africa (including Zimbabwe, with the chapter written by Jeremy Jackson and Angela Cheater). It proved an enormously influential book, as it countered the simplistic win-win narrative of contract farming advocates. The book argued that contract farming necessarily was embedded in political and social relations, which were often deeply unequal. While providing opportunities for some (mostly relatively wealthy smallholders), the result was the creation of a ‘disguised proletarianisation’ of the countryside, whereby farmers effectively laboured on behalf of the contracting companies on very unequal terms.

The current state of play: insights from a new special issue

With increasing integration into global value chains, smallholder agriculture in Africa and elsewhere has increasingly become reliant on contract farming for a range of commodities. Contract farming is strongly advocated by aid agencies, development banks and private companies as part of an ‘inclusive’, ‘pro-poor’ business agenda for agriculture. The win-win narrative is very much alive, 25 years on.

So what is the current state of play? Has contract farming lived up to the expectations of its advocates or has it resulted in the problems predicted by its critics? A great new special issue of the Journal of Agrarian Change edited by Mark Vicol, Niels Fold, Caroline Hambloch, Sudha Narayanan and Helena Pérez Niño offers some answers. The issue includes diverse cases from China to India, Indonesia, Laos, Mozambique, the Philippines, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

What is striking is the diversity of contract farming arrangements – sometimes large schemes, some very informal, some with very direct state involvement, some without, and across a whole range of crops and livestock. No simple story emerges; the response to both the advocates and critics is that the outcomes are not totally clear-cut. Contract farming clearly generates new relations of power, new labour regimes and very often accelerates existing processes of differentiation. But is this all bad? The answer of course is, it depends, and particularly on the social, economic, political and historical contexts for contracts.

State and private-led contracting in Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwe contribution to the issue – Private and state-led contract farming in Zimbabwe: accumulation, social differentiation and rural politics – by Toendepi Shonhe and myself draws on extensive household surveys in Mazowe and Hwedza districts and looks at private and state-led contract farming, respectively for tobacco and maize. The consequences for social differentiation, accumulation and rural politics are in turn examined. As with other recent studies of contract farming in Zimbabwe by Freedom Mazwi and colleagues (also here and here) and our earlier study from Mvurwi, a complex story emerges. Our new paper clearly shows how contract farming adds to existing patterns of differentiation, building off unequal power relationships – and that a political economy analysis is essential to understanding outcomes.

So in private tobacco contracting, it is those who are neither rich (and can finance and sell their tobacco independently) nor poor (who cannot afford the risk of loans and dependence on a contract) who are involved. And it’s mostly men who have the contracts. Across both sites, and particularly in the A1 resettlement farms, these farmers are benefiting from contracting, and accumulating significantly; but perhaps not as much as their richer counterparts who can go it alone. Poorer farmers are left out, and must engage in tobacco farming through joining others on their contracts, often on very poor terms, while women either join their husbands or opt for other farming activities.

While tobacco contracting clearly fulfils a need for agricultural financing (which is spread beyond tobacco to other crops) in the absence of any bank finance for smallholders, it also reinforces existing patterns of differentiation. Contracting farmers are not completely dependent on the company as in some other schemes, and many wish they could contract more area than the one hectare usually offered for tobacco. On the other areas of the farm, other family members lead the growing of other crops and so overall there is a more diversified approach both to production and market engagement than the vision of ‘labouring for the company’ sometimes portrayed.  

By contrast, state-led contracting (supported by the military) under the ‘command agriculture’ programme, targets the already well-off, very often in the larger A2 farms; again nearly all relatively older men. The programme aims to boost cereal production in particular, including on irrigated plots. Far fewer farmers in our sample were recipients of such loan financing, and those who gained access were often well-connected politically. Recipients certainly produced more and were able to accumulate, benefiting from the very favourable terms, with loans often not paid back. Those who are less well-connected also have benefited, but often from partial packages and many were disgruntled with the programme. Again, while benefiting production, contracting added to patterns of differentiation – including along gender and age lines – and reinforced political differences and allegiances.

In both cases, we see how contract farming is not a simple ‘win-win’ solving ‘market failures’, but it is the wider socio-political context that affects outcomes. Contracting is not just a route to the selective penetration of private capital, but also a route to leveraging state presence and forms of political patronage. Contracting is thus very much bound up with rural politics and the post-land reform landscape of politicised negotiation over resource access. With both tobacco and maize being crucial ‘political’ crops, the state has a keen interest in the terms of contracts and in the case of command agriculture intervenes directly to favour certain producers and political ‘clients’ over others. As we note in the paper, this is not so different to how the Rhodesian government intervened to influence contract terms in favour of (certain) white farmers in the colonial era, but today allegiances to the ruling party become crucial in defining state-led contracting.

Political economies matter

Just as Living under Contract argued 25 years ago, understanding contract farming requires attention to political economy, including gender and age differences, as well as history. While the outcomes of contract farming may not all be negative, and a simple argument for forced but disguised proletarianisation and simple exploitation by capital doesn’t hold up, at least in the Zimbabwe case, the terms of negotiation around contracts are always uneven, power-laden and intensely political.

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

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How is ‘China’ helping to transform ‘Africa’? The need for a more sophisticated debate

How is China helping to transform African economies? There are many different narratives cast around in public and policy debate: China as the new imperial power, China as the radical developmentalist, China as just like any other donor/foreign power. None are very convincing. A report synthesising a number of research projects has been published recently, titled Africa’s economic transformation: the role of Chinese investment, and aims to get beyond the rhetoric and gain a more sophisticated, empirically-based analysis based on substantial UK-funded research efforts over recent years. 

Based on detailed studies from Angola to Zambia, the report covers a range of Chinese investments from infrastructure to technology to manufacturing. Agriculture and land-based investments don’t get much attention, but some wider lessons can be drawn. Overall, the report argues that Chinese investments are not exceptional, but have certain patterns. They generally focus on the productive economic sector and that although most efforts are relatively isolated project investments, they result in increased local employment (but usually initially of lower-grade jobs) with positive impacts on local markets. Investments are not by-and-large focused on extraction of goods for export to China, as some narratives suggest. Limited vertical and horizontal linkages with the wider economy are observed with projects seen as rather isolated, and with limited impacts on the large African informal economy. Training of workforces happens, and may result in skill upgrading, although in the establishment phases of business investments, higher-skilled and management jobs largely remaining Chinese.

A few years ago now, together with colleagues from China, Brazil, Mozambique, Ghana, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, we conducted similar research looking at Chinese (and Brazilian) agriculture investments, both commercial projects and state-backed aid funding – all published open access in World Development. Some of these broader trends highlighted in the report are seen, but not all. Through joint ventures and contract farming efforts – accelerating since our earlier studies in Zimbabwe around tobacco – have resulted in much greater integration of agricultural businesses within the economy, even with smallholders. While tobacco is definitely geared to export to China, the spin-off linkage benefits to rural economies have been huge.

Training has been an important feature in Chinese agricultural investments, with large numbers of Africans trained at Chinese universities in a variety of subjects, along with support for technical upgrading. For example, Chinese investment in the Zimbabwean Tobacco Research Institute has been important, supported by exchange visits and investment in equipment. The Chinese Agricultural Technology Demonstration Centres (ATDCs) have had mixed success, and have turned out very differently in different countries. However at a time when state and Western donor investment in agricultural R&D had shrunk to virtually zero in many countries – certainly in Zimbabwe – the establishment of the ATDC at Gwebi was widely welcomed, even if the technologies on offer did not quite fit the new post-land reform setting.

As Carlos Oya and colleagues’ fascinating study of labour practices in Chinese construction and manufacturing sector investments in Angola and Ethiopia shows, there is no single labour regime observed. It very much depends on the wider political-economic context, and the dynamics of accumulation in the national economy, the nature of the state priorities and political commitments to different policies (foreign investment vs labour rights for example). The origin of the investment firm therefore has less of an impact than the investment context. This conditions what labour is available and hired, and how labourers are treated. Indeed, contrary to popular conceptions Chinese investors have no worse labour practices than others, with increasing integration into the local economy, with a localisation and training of the workforce seen over time. There is therefore no one pattern of Chinese investment, no one predictable outcome. This is part of the problem with the report as, in its search for a generalised prognosis, it frames the whole problematic in terms of ‘China’s investment’ and ‘Africa’s transformation’, as if both China and Africa were singular.

We know from the case studies discussed in the report – and reinforced by our multi-country study on agricultural aid and investment – that patterns of Chinese engagement vary massively between different African countries. This depends on historical legacies (particularly from the liberation wars and independence struggles of the 1960s and 70s), political positioning (for example in respect of alignment with US/Western interests, and especially in relation to Taiwan), and the state of the economy (investing in Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia or Nigeria, where economies have been booming is a very different prospect to investing in Mozambique or Zimbabwe). Not surprisingly, all these factors impinge on what investments happen and how they pan out.

Equally, ‘Chinese’ investments have to be understood in terms of where they come from. Some emanate from the centre, and are part of the Chines aid-investment strategy. But most, even if via State-Owned Enterprises, emerge from particular provinces. These may get central state backing for ‘going out’, but they take on a very particular provincial character. They are ‘Chinese’ in that they come from the People’s Republic of China, but they are more accurately described as from Guangdong or Yunnan. As research on Chinese economic development shows, there is a huge variety of approaches, with quite different provincial styles of business and investment. This important dimension did not come out in the report, resorting as it did to generic characterisations geared perhaps to a simplistic UK aid debate.

However, repeatedly we see in our work the very different provincial characteristics of the host firms of different ATDCs across countries resulting in contrasting priorities and operations on the ground in Africa (Zimbabwe and Ethiopia for example are massively different). ‘Chinese’ firms that take up tobacco joint ventures in our study sites in Mvurwi in Zimbabwe come from very different parts of China (not necessarily tobacco growing regions, as some are expanding from mining or other businesses), again with different business models, labour practices, investment priorities and sources of finance.   

Going beyond the ‘China in Africa’ simplification is long overdue. The individual research studies covered in the report no doubt pick up the particularities and the context (I admit that I haven’t read them all), but these sort of syntheses and associated policy debate too often fail to. We have to understand the particularities of these ‘development encounters’, and nuance the debate. Of course, just as we differentiate between ‘European’ investment from the UK or Sweden, so we must between ‘Chinese’ investment from Hunan or Hubei.

Investment outcomes and development processes are always a complex political negotiation – of knowledge frames, values, cultures, interests and economic priorities – between located firms and particular local political economies. Whether focusing on investments from China, Europe or the Americas, some more sophistication is needed in thinking through the processes, practices and possibilities of such encounters.

Photo credit: NewZimbabwe.com

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COVID-19 and economic transformation in rural Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 situation looks uncertain, with localised outbreaks and a rise in infections south of the Limpopo in South Africa. On June 11 there were 191 new cases (including 82 that were reported late) and 3 deaths reported, making a cumulative total of 39,688 cases and 1,629 deaths and a current seven-day rolling average new case rate of 77 per day, with a discernible upward trend. Vaccination rates are increasing, but very slowly and somewhat chaotically with 691,251 vaccinated so far.

On June 12, Vice-President and health minister, Constantino Chiwenga, imposed new restrictions, with the banning of gatherings, the limiting of business hours, a stipulation that offices should only be half full and the prevention of moving to and from ‘hotspots’. This is a set-back as things had got largely back to ‘normal’ (whatever that is) in the previous weeks. Across our sites people had got back to work. It’s harvest season and markets have been open, with the selling of grains, tobacco, beans and horticulture happening across all sites. Meanwhile in the sugar estates it’s cane cutting season, with much activity and movement of people to provide temporary labour.

With so many people gathering at marketing points and traders, labourers and transporters, the fear was that these could become sites of infection, hence the recent move. Larger gatherings of churches, farmer field days, training events, funerals and so on were previously allowed if not exceeding 50 people, but are now either banned or have a reduction in permitted numbers. While these regulations were sometimes not kept to, as of last week our team report no major COVID-19 problems in any of our rural sites across the country, although the worry is that this may yet change.

The national pattern currently seems to be small, focused outbreaks that are dealt with by Ministry of Health ‘rapid response teams’ that operate in each of the provinces, coordinated through the district COVID-19 taskforces, which has membership from across sectors. The most recent such outbreak near our sites was at Bondolfi teachers’ college where there were a number of cases reported. Isolation and quarantining seem to have stopped further spread fortunately and all are now recovered.

Currently there are concerns in Kariba where the district taskforce has been targeting ‘houseboat gigs’ and shebeens where many gather to drink and are spreading infection. Last Saturday a lockdown was announced for Hurungwe and Kariba districts due to 40 new cases being identified, with movements in and out of the districts restricted and a process of contact tracing is ongoing. The fear of course is that such hotspots will spread.

Variants and vaccines

Like other parts of the world, the concern is with the potential impact of new variants. So far there has been one outbreak of the Indian-origin delta variant in Kwekwe. Someone returning from India had infected a number of people and a local lockdown has occurred and been extended, again hopefully stopping further spread.

However, borders remain open, although restrictions and requirements for testing have been increased this last weekend. There is some testing, but also lots of reports of fake test certificates, with some in Mpilo hospital arrested, so it is difficult to see how the spread of variants, as elsewhere in the world, will be stopped, even if spread can be slowed.

The vaccination programme has run into difficulties with demand exceeding supply in some places, although the opposite in others. The ministry has admitted problems with distribution and administration. The main vaccines remain the Chinese Sinopharm and Sinovac shots (and some Indian ones too). Promises of others from Western aid programmes seem not to have been fulfilled as yet, while the Zimbabwe government has been showing caution around the US/Belgian Johnson and Johnson vaccine, perhaps part of the on-going tussle with Western powers. Meanwhile, as part of the continued frenzied vaccine diplomacy, the president received the first delivery of 25,000 Russian Sputnik V vaccine doses at the end of last week, donated by a diamond mining company. Vaccines clearly have important soft power.

Vaccine hesitancy remains, fuelled by much misinformation through the online media, Whatsapp messages and so on. But the big issue seems to be delivery and the capacity of the over-stretched health service to delivery. The ministry correctly is keeping up with its regular vaccination programmes, and the current polio vaccination drive is occupying staff and taking them away from COVID-19 vaccination.

Our informants noted that they can arrive at a clinic and be turned away as the health staff are busy, even if there are COVID-19 vaccines there. Given the lack of incidence in our study areas, there is little urgency felt and many argue that local remedies – from local herbs and leaves to lemons, garlic and ginger – used for teas and steaming are sufficient. The cost of lemons apparently is soaring, and there are many new businesses packaging teas and juices to combat COVID-19.

Markets are open, business is back

Unlike last year when the harvest season was very difficult, this year there has been much more opportunity. In Mvurwi tobacco marketing has been in full swing across a number of auction floors, and the trading companies are busy. Transporters are moving crops around and there has been a thriving business in the areas where people gather to market their crops, as prepared food is sold and groceries exchanged through a myriad of traders. As of 12 June, this is now banned as vending in and around tobacco auction floors is prohibited and a maximum of two sellers per delivery is allowed.

Maize and soybean marketing is underway too, but the government buyer – the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) – while offering higher prices has distant depots, pays in local currency (RTGS) and the cost of transportation is high. Instead, informal traders come to the farms, exchanging goods, notably groceries, for maize in particular. This means maize goes for USD 3 per bucket not the equivalent of USD 6.

While farmers complain about being ripped off, the provision of goods locally and the ease of marketing/transport is clearly beneficial. And the growth of informal trade provides jobs and sources of income for a whole range of people, especially women and younger people. 

The cold season is traditionally a focus for horticultural production but some producers, particularly in Chatsworth-Gutu area, have been hit by frost, with large amounts of produce destroyed. In the same way, livestock have been affected be tick diseases this year, due to the plentiful rains. Despite it being the dry season now, this continues to be a problem in some of our sites, and owners are selling off sick cattle before they die and so flooding the market and suppressing prices.

Despite these challenges, the marketing difficulties for farmers of the earlier COVID-19 lockdown periods have declined and all value chains for different crops are re-emerging, with vendors, traders, transporters and others all returning to support agriculture and the marketing of products across our sites.

However, the form, composition and location of these value chains are changing. Agricultural markets are now more localised, involve a greater diversity of people with exchange and barter being important and formal sales to outfits like the GMB on the decline. In time it may be that the more formal connections are re-established with the big players returning to dominate and control the market from farm sales to retail, but for now the COVID-19 shock seems to have reconfigured markets in favour of multiple, local players, with important effects on local economies, with value distributed across agricultural marketing chains.

Small towns are benefiting

This explosion of local economic activity is seen especially in small towns. In the two previous blogs (here and here), and in our paper in the European Journal of Development Research, the implications of land reform on small town growth has been emphasised, based on work in Mvruwi, Chatsworth and Maphisa over the past five years or so. This pattern has been accelerated by the effects of the pandemic.

With transport restricted by lockdowns and curfews and endless rent-seeking by the police on the roads, there has been a move to local marketing arrangements, often small-scale and involving informal, sometimes barter, arrangements. Women and young people without land are especially involved, and their improved spending power is seen in the rise of local retail outlets in small towns offering basic goods and groceries. While lockdowns affected the operation of food outlets and many other businesses, as we have discussed many times in our blogs on COVID-19 impacts since March 2020, there has been a rebounding of activity; although with the recent announcement business hours are again restricted to 8am to 6pm, with all markets closing at 6pm and bottle stores two hours earlier.

Unlike larger businesses with a single operation, many of those involved in trade in small towns operate at a small scale and have other activities in play. Many business people in the small towns we’ve been researching had land reform farm plots and could diversify when their businesses were restricted, but now they’re very much back.

There are health restrictions in place – sanitisation and mask wearing is encouraged and large crowds are banned – but in the absence of cases and with the fear of COVID having receded from earlier periods, there is a much more lax attitude to restrictions in all our sites according to our team. This may not last if the spread of COVID-19 continues in South Africa, but for now small town business is thriving again.

The shortening of value chains and the focus on local economic activity is also reflected in investments by larger agricultural businesses. For example, in Mvurwi, an important centre for tobacco growing, tobacco companies have invested in new floors, with impressive new structures being built.

Since people couldn’t move during lockdown, they had to come nearer to the farmers. And the firms have clearly judged that this situation is permanent, with significant benefits for the efficiency of marketing and access to high quality tobacco leaf. There are now eight trading floors operating in the town, up from one earlier, ranging from the big players (ZLT, MTC, Boka) to newer companies (Boost Africa, Sub Sahara etc.). This move to local investment is reflected in the multiplication of banks in the town too. There are now six banks operating, where there were only three before. This allows farmers to gain finance, pay in sales receipts and manage their income much more easily, with the banks benefiting too.

Even in areas that don’t have such an intensive, cash-oriented commercial agriculture, there are other similar developments towards a localisation of the economy. For example near Wondedzo, because people could not travel to Masvingo, Gweru or Harare to get seedlings for horticultural operations, a number of new business have emerged, based in the rural areas. Near Zimuto Mission, for example, Mrs Z has started producing seedlings, including of rape, cabbage, tomato and so on, with a vibrant local market. The same applies to Mr B’s business in Chatsworth, again supplying seedlings to the local horticultural market, replacing the mainstream suppliers, and making serious money by all accounts. 

Localising economies

We are very far from a post-COVID situation in Zimbabwe, and must await a wider vaccination effort, with help from the world beyond China being essential. However, there are glimpses of what this might look like. The growth of informal markets, the localisation of economic activity, the expansion of rural-based businesses and the continued growth of small towns as centres of exchange and trade in rural settings are all central elements.

These are all features that have dominated Zimbabwe’s rural areas since land reform. Sometimes denigrated and dismissed as not the supposed ideal of what existed before, but maybe this transformation has been the basis for survival during the pandemic, and provides the basis for an on-going shift to a more flourishing, localised economy linked to agriculture into the future. 

Thanks to Felix Murimbarimba and the team in Mvurwi, Chatsworth, Wondedzo, Masvingo, Matobo, Hippo Valley and Chikombedzi for continuing to report on the situation on the ground across our field sites, and for providing the photos. This is the 13th blog in this series documenting how the pandemic has affected rural livelihoods in Zimbabwe.

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Who are the commercial farmers? A history of Mvurwi area, Zimbabwe

For some the answer to who are the commercial farmers in Zimbabwe is obvious. The image of the rugged, (male) white farmer in shorts, surveying his family’s land carved out through hard labour and skill from the African bush is etched on the popular imagination. But over time, there have been many different types of ‘commercial farmer’ in Zimbabwe, and a new paper from APRA – Agricultural Commercialisation in Northern Zimbabwe: Crises, Conjunctures and Contingencies, 1890–2020 – explores the conditions of their emergence in the Mvurwi area.

Mvurwi town is about 100km to the north of the capital Harare, and from the 1920s until the land reform of 2000 was surrounded by (largely) white-owned large commercial farms and estates. To the east was Chiweshe communal land (formerly reserve and Tribal Trust Land) where Africans farmed. Africans also lived in the labour compounds on the farms and in Mvurwi town, many originally from nearby countries, hired to provide labour for the large (mostly tobacco) farms.

Our paper documents the agrarian history of this area from Cecil Rhodes to Emmerson Mnangagwa, or from around 1890 and the initial colonisation of what became Rhodesia through different phases until today. The paper asks two questions: who are the commercial farmers – those producing surplus and selling it – and what drivers have affected changes in the agrarian setting, making some more or less likely to be able to commercialise production?

We made use of a diverse array of sources, including archival material, biographical interviews, survey data and satellite imagery of environmental changes (this will be the focus of a future blog). Mvurwi’s agrarian history is one of tobacco and maize, of labour shortages and migration, of infrastructure building and urban growth and of government policies that have supported some over others at different times. It’s complex and fascinating.

Establishing white commercial farms, marginalising Africans

In the early years, at least into the 1930s, it was African farmers from Chiweshe who were the commercial farmers, supplying food to the new European settlers who were getting established on their new farms. Before the Land Apportionment Act restricted land access for blacks, Africans and Europeans lived side-by-side, but it was Africans who knew how to farm this environment and produced large surpluses of small grains, and increasingly maize.

Following the establishment of the colonial government in 1923, a huge range of measures were applied that restricted African farming and supported the establishment of European agriculture. This was the time also when tobacco became established as the major crop, providing important revenue for Britain as the colonial power. European agriculture struggled through the depression years, yet was expected to contribute to the war effort from 1939. After the Second World War, the colonial government supported the expansion of European agriculture, and invested considerably in subsidised infrastructure development, as well as the provision of finance. British war veterans were settled, and the land around Mvurwi became a prosperous farming area, on the back of state intervention and African labour, with a new set of white commercial farmers who displacing Africans.

Prosperous white commercial agriculture, challenged by sanctions and war

The period from 1945 until the early 1970s, when the liberation war started in earnest, was the one where the image of the white (male) commercial farmer took hold. These were largely family farms in this period, operating increasingly efficiently with inputs of new technologies (hybrid seeds, fertiliser, tobacco curing facilities and so on, facilitated by state-led R and D), and considerable amounts of cheap African labour, often living and working in appalling conditions. The supply of labour was assisted both through recruitment from the Rhodesian Federation (from 1953), and through local migrant labour; as African farming was squeezed further men increasingly had to seek employment in towns, mines and on the farms.

After the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith’s government, the effect of sanctions hit the white farming community, but all sorts of sanctions-busting measures were used, with the help of apartheid South Africa and others. White commercial farming still prospered, but there was also the beginning of a trend towards consolidation, as the smaller, less capitalised and connected white family farms struggled. With the beginning of the liberation war and the arrival of guerrilla fighters in the Mvurwi area from 1973, farming was hit hard. Remote white farms became targets for liberation fighter attacks, and meanwhile the state restricted the engagement of Africans with the comrades by creating ‘protected villages’ in Chiweshe.

Independence: a smallholder green revolution and economic liberalisation

It was only after Independence in 1980 that farming took off again. The new state, now with support from international aid donors, shifted emphasis towards supporting small-scale communal area farming, while European farming was left largely to continue as before, but with less state support. In the African communal areas, the results were spectacular, ushering in a ‘green revolution’ with increased production and sale of maize, creating a class of African commercial farmers once again. White commercial farmers also benefited from the removal of sanctions, with preferential trade agreements in products such as beef, and they were able to shift to higher value products (horticulture, flowers etc.) as markets opened up.

The liberalisation of the economy from 1991, at the behest of the Bretton Woods institutions, saw further advantages for increasingly consolidated large-scale, white-owned commercial farms; although the withdrawal of state support, the decline of research and extension services and the loss of state-backed credit meant that poorer African farmers suffered, and the green revolution soon fizzled out. By the 1990s, a boom time for white commercial agriculture, many smaller white family farms had gone, and the commercial farmer in this period was more likely to be in a suit in a board-room, negotiating international financing and trade deals. In this period, African farming in the communal areas became increasingly impoverished, reliant on donor projects and frequent food hand-outs due to the recurrent droughts.

Land reform and new commercial farmers

All changed in 2000 with the land invasions and the subsequent Fast Track Land Reform Programme. Most of the white farms in the Mvurwi farming area were taken over, although a few were left initially, along with most of the large Forrester Estate to the north. Land invaders were mostly from land-scarce and poor Chiweshe as well as other communal areas and towns nearby. The land invasions resulted in the creation of smallholder A1 resettlement areas, often on farms with considerable numbers of compound labourers living there. Later, medium-scale A2 farms were established, attracting very often middle class professionals along with political, business and military elites.

Today it is a very different farming landscape, with new commercial farmers. These are largely black (although there are some joint ventures with former white commercial farmers and Chinese companies in the A2 areas) and include both successful A1 farmers (men and women) who have managed to accumulate and invest in their farms through own-production and some A2 farmers who have managed to secure finance through off-farm jobs or through state patronage. Unlike their white counterparts who established farms in the early twentieth century with a huge amount of state support, today’s resettlement farmers suffer a lack of assistance and limited finance. State incapacity, systemic corruption and international sanctions combine to undermine the potentials of commercialisation, as this blog has discussed many times before.

Crises, conjunctures and contingencies: a non-linear agrarian history

So what do we draw from this history (check out the long paper for the detail)? First is that there are very different types of commercial farmers beyond the stereotypical image that have existed over time. This is because different people have had different opportunities in each of the historical periods we have identified. This has been affected by state policy, international relations/sanctions, labour regimes, markets and so on. We see over time not a simple, linear secular trend, driven by relative factor prices, land scarcity, population growth or environmental change, but sudden shifts, as agrarian relations reconfigure.

Such changes may emerge through state policy – Land Apportionment, Maize Control and so on obviously had a huge impact in the 1930s; through the investment in particular infrastructure – the road from Concession to Mvurwi opened up markets massively and facilitated urban growth, as did the arrival of mobile phones decades later; as a result of the emergence of new technologies – the SR52 hybrid maize revolutionised white commercial farming, as did the arrival of the rocket barn for curing tobacco; as a result of a significant environmental event – the droughts of 1947, 1984, 1991 – and many more – meant that some farms went under, others were taken over or African labour migration became necessary; because of changing patterns of labour availability – the challenges of labour recruitment were a continuous refrain among European farmers from the 1930s, as they are among commercial land reform farmers today; as a result of shifts in geopolitics and global markets – sanctions from 1965 and 2000 have had huge impacts, as did the requirements of the Washington consensus loan conditionalities from the 1990s, while the growth in tobacco demand from the 1940s and again from the 1990s into the 2000s (increasingly from China) drove farming economies across Mvurwi. Along with other reasons discussed in the paper.

Like Sara Berry and Tania Li (among others), the paper argues that it is events – crises, conjunctures and contingencies – as inflected by social relations (of race, class, gender and age) and politics that offer a more insightful explanation of the history of farming in Mvurwi. This history is non-linear, uncertain and involves a complex interaction of drivers, and far from the deterministic theories either of classic agrarian Marxism or evolutionary agricultural/institutional economics. For this reason, over 130 years, there have been many different types of Zimbabwean commercial farmer, and there will likely to be others into the future as chance, contingent events and particular crises combine with longer-term drivers of change.

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

 

 

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

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

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

Restricted movement

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

We rely on the truckers

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

Remittances are no longer coming

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

We are all vendors now

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

Everyone is a gardener

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

Restrictions on agricultural markets persist

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

It’s better in the rural areas

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

Returnees from South Africa are feared and stigmatised

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

Community relations are getting strained

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

Sharing information and countering fake news

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

Political tensions

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

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

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

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The political economy of agricultural commercialisation in Zimbabwe

The Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) programme of the Future Agricultures Consortium has recently produced a series of papers on the political economy of agricultural commercialisation. The paper on Zimbabwe by Toendepi Shonhe argues that “debates on Zimbabwe’s agricultural development have centred on different framings of agricultural viability and land redistribution, which are often antagonistic”. Yet, agricultural commercialisation pathways are “complex and differentiated” across the country.

As discussed a few weeks ago in relation to the thorny concept of ‘viability’, normative–political constructions of farming are at the centre of the debate about agricultural commercialisation pathways, with some arguing that ‘good’, ‘modern’ and ‘progressive’ farming can only be large-scale farms, while others that ‘justice’, ‘poverty reduction’ and ‘equity’ ae best achieved through smallholder agriculture.

The paper – and associated policy brief– explore how these contrasting debates have played out in Zimbabwe over time, and what interests are aligned with different positions. Focusing on the post-2000 period after land reform, the research examines shifts in production and commodity marketing, showing how these have had an impact on commercialisation patterns. This in turn helps to reveal how power, state practice, and capital all influence accumulation for different groups of farmers.

These are the key messages from the briefing:

  • A new agrarian structure, and better access to agricultural financing, are shaping commercialisation patterns in Zimbabwe (although with the current economic crisis, this is again more challenging).
  • New, non-bank financing options are driving the production of food and cash crops in all farming sectors of Zimbabwe. These options include government-mediated command agriculture, independent contract farming and joint ventures.
  • Government support to the agricultural sector has changed over time, primarily as a result of shifting ideologies, and changing state capacity to finance the agricultural sector.
  • Both farmers and the government agree on the need for agricultural commercialisation, though often for different reasons. With links to global markets, cash crops are the main drivers of commercialisation.
  • Political patronage plays a significant role in determining agricultural policy, rendering ordinary farmers disillusioned with the political system, and resigned to merely ‘jump through hoops’ to make a living.
  • Political struggles over the control of the state and its limited resources revolve around land and agriculture as they have always in Zimbabwe, but now with greater confusion and uncertainty.

The on-going work in Mvurwi area shows how, “there is a disconnect between the day-to-day practices of local people trying to negotiate livelihoods by producing and selling crops, and the wider political machinations of Zimbabwe’s fraught political economy”, the paper argues. Patronage politics, subsidy regimes and selective state support certainly support certain elites, most people, the paper shows, must get on with life and engage in business in what is a highly uncertain, often risky context.

As the research shows, the insertion of contract farming and command agriculture support into the agricultural economy is profoundly shaping the directions of pathways of commercialisation, and the opportunities these offer to different people. But contracts and command subsidies are not available to everyone. For many smallholders, the paper notes “Zimbabwe’s wider political economy is irrelevant, and subsidy and support regimes are more symbolic than having any tangible effect”.

A combination of diminished state capacity in rural areas and because the reach of party politics and patronage – outside of election time – is fragmented and poorly coordinated, means only a few benefit from state support and patronage. Instead, in places like Mvurwi, “the local political economy is more about making deals with traders, input suppliers, contractors and others”, the paper argues.

Day-to-day concerns are the priority, rather than the high politics discussed in the media and academic political commentary. Living with the uncertainties of Zimbabwe’s political economy can be harsh: “A disillusioned rural majority therefore merely jump through the hoops of a shifting, disconnected and often corrupt political system, in order just to make a living”, the paper observes.

The policy brief concludes: “Today, commercial farming in Zimbabwe is at a crossroads, where political economy – perhaps more than factors of productivity, technology or labour – influences production and accumulation outcomes…..Political struggles over the control of the state and its limited resources revolve around land as they always have in Zimbabwe, but now with greater confusion and uncertainty”.

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

Photo credit: Toendepi Shonhe

 

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Reconfigured agrarian relations following land reform

A new book is just out titled “Reconfigured Agrarian Relations in Zimbabwe”. It’s by Toendepi Shonhe, and is based on his recently-completed PhD at KZN. It’s published by Langaa publishers, and is available via the African Books Collective.

The book reports on important research carried out in Hwedza district, and compares the fortunes of communal area, A1, A2, small-scale commercial farms and old resettlement areas. It’s a neat opportunity to compare contrasting land use types within one area. Hwedza is a relatively high potential area, although spread across several agroecological regions, and tobacco production is central. So lots of interesting parallels with our work in Mvurwi.

Chapters 5-7 provide a useful overview of the national story, broken up into periods from the 1880s to 2015, but this is contextualised in relation to the study area in Chapter 8, which offers a succinct and interesting agricultural and economic history of the district. This was an important commercial farming district, but always had other land uses nearby, notably in the Svosve reserve. The booms and busts of tobacco and other forms of production are well illustrated with historical data, showing that the past was not always so rosy for the commercial farm sector.

In Chapter 9, the book offers a lot of data on household assets, production, marketing and so on, across a variety of different agricultural activities. This shows patterns of differentiation, with some doing well and some less so. No big surprises there, but the data once again confirm that the resettlement areas are vibrant, happening places, out-performing other areas across a number of criteria.

Appropriately, the book is situated theoretically within a Marxist framework of uneven development and primitive accumulation, introduced in Chapter 2, and explored in relation to theories of class differentiation in agrarian settings in Chapter 3. The book’s novel contributions come in the chapters that explore the relationships between production in the study areas and wider circuits of capital and accumulation (notably Chapters 10 and 11). For, with tobacco in particular, the production on farms is linked via contracting and marketing arrangements to international markets and corporate players.

Chapter 11 offers a useful typology of social differentiation based on a cluster analysis of survey data, with criteria such as the numbers of months harvests last, maize and tobacco output, cattle ownership and labour hiring being identified as key characteristics. These are similar patterns to what we found from our studies, but the contrasts across so many different land use types is especially valuable here.

Shonhe also makes the important argument that understanding patterns and processes of local differentiation must be linked to the wider context of uneven development and capital accumulation. While some accumulation occurs at the local level, with richer farmers emerging in some resettlement sites, accumulation is occurring elsewhere, along commodity value chains, where surpluses are extracted. An important discussion of contract farming is included, questioning the simplistic rush to such approaches as a source of financing of agriculture.

The book contains a welter of data and some interesting and important analyses, but as with many PhDs the focus is on the detail, rather than drawing out the wider story. Frustratingly too the book missed out on a final copy-edit; something Langaa publishers really should have seen to, given the cost of the book. The final concluding chapter was a classic PhD summary of answers to questions posed, rather than drawing out wider implications. I think there is much more in the material here than is presented in the book, and I look forward to further publications from Dr Shonhe as he works to tease out the implications.

As Zimbabwe re-engages with the international community – and international capital in particular – the lessons here for how this is done, and the likely effects, positive and negative, are vitally important. Zimbabwe’s agrarian sector is certainly massively reconfigured following land reform, as the book lays out well, but the implications of this, particularly in relation to the wider dynamics of agrarian capital, require further thought and analysis. This book makes an excellent start.

I have been catching up on my reading. There is a huge amount of new literature coming out, and this book is just one example. In the coming weeks I will be sharing short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity in this field. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

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

 

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Tobacco and contract farming in Zimbabwe

 

How does commercial agriculture – and particularly contract farming – affect agrarian dynamics? We have been looking at this question in work in Mvurwi area in Mazowe district over the last few years. New work under the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa project of the Future Agricultures Consortium will pursue this further.

An open access paper is just out in the Journal of Agrarian Change – “Tobacco, contract farming and agrarian change in Zimbabwe”. (PDF here). This looks at the influence of tobacco farming (both contracted and independently grown) on patterns of social differentiation and class formation within A1 resettlement areas. Tobacco production is one of the big post-land reform stories, but how is this driving different patterns of accumulation, with what implications for livelihoods, labour and politics?

Lots of data are presented in the paper on contrasting production, asset ownership and investment patterns across our sample of 220 households. Towards the end of the paper, we offer a simple typology of different classes of farmer, resulting from differential accumulation due to tobacco production.

Social differentiation and class formation

The Accumulators: This group are those with sufficient resources to grow tobacco and sell it on their own. In the recent past they may have had contracting relationships with companies, but many have found it possible to operate independently because of sufficient resources accumulated. Tobacco income has been invested in tractors and transport vehicles, allowing households to cultivate effectively and transport tobacco to the auction floors. They balance tobacco farming with commercial maize farming, so they spread their risk in terms of agriculture. Many also have other businesses, including tractor hire and transport, but also house rental, as some have invested in real estate in Mvurwi, Mazowe and Harare from tobacco proceeds. This group is generally older, male, more educated, and sometimes with jobs in town, or at least pensions and other resources – sometimes remittances from children abroad – to draw on, which helps the path of accumulation. This group hires permanent labour, and also uses a temporary workforce hired from the locality as well as from the compounds. Links to state officials, agribusinesses and political networks become important for gaining access to some resources, notably fertiliser, and so accumulation from below combines with accumulation from above for this group.

The Aspiring Accumulators: This group includes a number with formal contracting relationships with companies. They do not have enough resources to produce and sell independently, but are prepared to commit significant land areas to tobacco to fulfil contracts, and take on the associated risk. They generally have a larger proportion of their farms allocated to tobacco, and so less to other crops, including maize. However, on average, they still manage to produce more than a tonne of maize per year, and so, even on smaller areas, have enough for self-provisioning. Many also complement tobacco production with small-scale commercial horticulture, often run by women, and so have diverse sources of income. They hire labour, both locally and from the compounds, but have a smaller permanent workforce compared to the accumulator group. In terms of off-farm income sources, this group combines traditional local occupations, such as building or brickmaking, with cattle sales, and some with small transport operations. While aspiring to greater things, this group is certainly ‘accumulating from below’, and shows a significant level of purchase of assets, including cattle, solar panels, cell phones, as well as agricultural and other inputs.

The Peasant Producers: Not everyone is accumulating to the extent of these other groups, and for some a more classic peasant production system is evident. This does not mean ‘subsistence’ production, as all are engaging in the market, but the production system features a dominance of own-family labour (although some hiring in of temporary piece work), and production that is spread across a variety of crops, including tobacco. Most in this group will not be in a contracting relationship with a company. They instead sell tobacco, often as part of a group, independently. There has been a large movement from this group to the other two accumulator groups in the past few years.

The Diversifiers and Strugglers: There are a number of households who are not producing in the way the peasant producers manage, and are clearly struggling. This group does not engage in cropping for sale (or if so very little, and not usually tobacco, but mostly maize), and often produces insufficient maize for self-provisioning. Such farmers have to diversify income earning activities, often with a clear gendered division of labour, across activities including building, carpentry, thatching, fishing and some craft making (for men) and vegetable sales, trading, pottery and basket making (for women). They rarely hire labour, and will often be the ones labouring for others, as temporary labourers on nearby farms.

Dynamic agrarian change in tobacco areas

These categories are far from static, and the drive to accumulate, with contracting seen as an important route to this end, is ever present, both in people’s own commentaries, as well as in observed practices. Everyone can see success around them, and tobacco is the symbol of this, although some are having their doubts about its sustainability and diversifying into other high-value crops. These categorisations of also miss the differential trajectories of accumulation within households, across genders and generations. As seen in the recent blog series, some youth are failing to make it, and often remain within increasingly large accumulator households as dependents, even after marriage. Some women may be tobacco farmers in their own right, but tobacco accumulation is predominantly a male phenomenon, with men often taking on the tobacco business, and associated investments from the proceeds.

What do these patterns tell us about likely longer-term patterns of agrarian change? The tobacco boom has provided a significant group of land reform beneficiaries the opportunity to accumulate. This has had spin-off effects in the rural economy – generating employment, resulting in investments of different sorts, and changes in the local economy as small towns like Mvurwi grow.

It has also generated class-related conflicts and dependencies both in relation to compound-based farm worker households and with others in the A1 areas who are struggling to reproduce. The weak kin-based social relations within new resettlement communities limit the redistributive effects of a ‘traditional’ moral economy, and means that there are genuine losers, as well as winners, from the land reform.

There are inevitable limits to accumulation, set by environmental factors (and especially the supply of wood for curing), market conditions (and changes in the world market, health concerns, the demand for higher quality leaf and price shifts), social-political relations (and the ability to negotiate within markets), and limited land areas.

In the A1 areas, successful households attract others, particularly from the communal areas, and household sizes expand as others are taken in. Surplus income can be invested in basic social reproduction – including maintaining rural homes, investing in education, health care, marriage of children and so on – as well as production – including livestock, farm equipment, inputs, transport and so on – but again there are limits to the herd sizes and capital items and other inputs that can be bought.

A key question will be where the next round of investment will end up. Here the relationship between countryside and towns, especially small towns, becomes important, as accumulators build urban/peri-urban housing for rent, private schools as business ventures, and sink capital into other urban-based businesses, potentially a source of employment for the next generation. This is only beginning now, but the data show that this is a trend to watch.

These economic transformations also feed into and are built upon social and political dynamics. Successful A1 farmers – very often well educated, and with links to urban areas – are important social and political actors, often seen as leaders in local political formations (mostly within the ruling party, ZANU-PF), but also in other groupings, such as churches and business associations. How alliances are struck with farm workers – in all their forms – as well as those A1 farmers who are struggling will be significant, as new forms of agrarian politics emerge on the back of the tobacco boom.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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The changing fortunes of former farm workers in Zimbabwe

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Last week, I offered an overview of our findings on changing livelihoods among former farm workers from three former large-scale farms near Mvurwi in Mazowe district, and focused on broad survey findings, but what about individual’s life stories and perspectives? This week, I share four case examples of around 25 we have collected to date. They offer important glimpses into the life of farmworkers, before and after land reform (see also blogs from last year on this theme).

The first two are women (both single) who have gardens, but must rely on piecework and remittances to survive. The first case fits into the group highlighted last week of households with between zero and 1 ha of land, while the second has no land beyond a very small home garden. The second two are profiles of men and their households, both with 1 ha plots. From these interviews we can see clearly how things have changed, in different ways from different people.

A recurrent theme is the sense of new freedoms, but also extreme challenges and precarity. Reflections on the past focus on control, ordering and disciplining, but also stability and the certainty of a wage. As the testimonies show, farmers were very different in their approach. Different people weigh up the pros and cons of change in different ways. Gaining access to land, as highlighted last week, even if a very small plot is seen as crucial, but this is only available to some, and security of tenure is uncertain, dependant on local patronage relations.

The life histories highlight the multi-generational experience of farm work, and the endless mobility of moving farm to farm in search of work. Several of these cases have family connections with Mozambique or Malawi, but several generations removed. Home has become the farms, although some have communal area links. A fragile existence persists, as we see much mobility in populations living in the compounds in our study areas. Evictions are frequent, and conflicts with settlers common, although, as noted in some of the cases new accommodations, as land is rented, skills hired and former farm workers become incorporated.

Above all, the cases highlight the complex livelihoods of former farm workers, and how, as discussed last week, the single category is insufficient. A process of differentiation is occurring among former farm worker communities, with links to the new settlers and radically changed agrarian landscape influencing what is possible.

Do read four of the interview transcripts collected earlier this year:

“There’s no-one to plan for you”

I was born in Forrester Estate in 1967. My father worked there on irrigation, opening water to the canal. Mango and apple is what they grew mostly. Also wheat and soy bean. My mother worked as a general worker. I came to this farm with my parents. I went to school up to Grade III (Lucknow farm school). My mother became sick so I left school. I looked after the other children, as I was the first born. I was married in 1980. I went with my husband to Mozambique in 1992, and returned here in 2009. My husband married another wife – it didn’t work out. My father is still here, and my mother is late. I have had five children. My first born girl is late, and I also have four boys. Two did Form 4, and other two up to Grade V/VI.

We have a garden for growing tomatoes and vegetables. We go and sell by the road side to raise cash for school fees. It’s about one acre. We dug ponds in the garden. I work with one of my sons in the garden, and do not hire labour. We do maricho (piecework labour) ourselves. One son is here, but the others are in Mozambique, but I don’t get any income from them. In past when working for whites, we had very small gardens near the house only. Now we have extended gardens, and can grow more. My livelihood is better now, as I have the freedom to do gardening, and sell without asking anyone for permission. You can plan to do what you want. There’s no-one to plan for you. Before you were told what to do. Now time is your own. You have to plan. If you work the land you will be OK; if you are lazy and don’t bother, you will starve.

“There is more freedom but it’s a tough life”

I was born in 1977 and went to school up to Grade 7, but I didn’t proceed to secondary, as I had no birth certificate. I was the first born of a family of four. We lived on different farms on Forrester Estate. My father was a cook who moved from place to place, working for the same white man who was a cattle manager. My mother was both a general labourer and a house girl. My father started out as a worker, then became foreman, then house boy then cook. My grandparents were farm workers too, working near Concession, and were originally from Mozambique where they were both born.

We moved to this farm in 1992 when my father’s boss moved. I have never married, but I gave birth to a son in 1992, who is now training to be a lawyer at university. I have two boys and a girl, and live with my parents. We have never had any money. The pay was always poor. The white farm owner here was harsh. If you bought a bicycle or TV he wanted to know where it came from. There was a mindset that workers would always steal. Even if we had extra money, we would not buy things, as the farmer would be suspicious. Here you were not allowed to farm anything. No gardens even. In one year only he gave 3 lines for all the workers, but that was it. As a cook, foreman, driver or clerk you got given second-hand chairs or a TV from the whites.

We have been helped by my brothers. Two were kombi drivers in Banket. My parents helped then get licenses. They helped with the education of my kids, and fund my son at UZ. Today it’s difficult to raise money – it’s only maricho (piecework). Despite being old, my father and mother even go. We have a very small garden, where we grow vegetables and a bit of maize. We do have one cow which gives us milk. We don’t have any other land. Those with connections got 1 hectares, and farmworkers were prevented from getting resettlement land. This is home now. We have nowhere to go. The farm workers have a cemetery. This is where we live, however difficult.

In the past you had a salary. You knew it would come. If the boss had relatives visiting, my father would get extra. Now you don’t know where money will come from. But at least we will not be asked where we got the money to buy things. We now have a TV, sofa and kitchen unit. Each child has a bed. We also have solar. There is more freedom but it’s a tough life.

“Relations are better now”

I was born in 1969 in Muzarabani, was married in 1993 and I have four kids: two girls are now married and did up to Form 4, I have one boy doing Form 3, and one girl in Grade 6. My parents worked on the farms, creating the steam for the boilers for curing. I started working after Form 1, as an assistant spanner boy at Concession, and went to work on tobacco farms in Centenary. In 1995, I was promoted to be a foreman, and later went on a course on curing, planting, reaping at Blackfordby.

I came here in 1997, as my boss was friends with the former owner here. He was a tough guy. You couldn’t buy personal property. I had a small radio only. I would buy goats and sell for school fees, and other money was sent to my parents now retired back in Muzarabani communal. I tried to keep broilers, but was taken to the farmer’s own court, and wasn’t allowed to keep them. He needed people to be dependent. You had to buy at his shop, and couldn’t go to Mvurwi. He would give chikwerete (loans), but would be deducted from the salary. There was a football ground, and we were the ‘Sharp Shooters’, competing between between farms.

I got a 1 ha plot in 2002. Because farmworkers were prevented by the white farmer from the card sorting exercise for allocation of land, 27 of us came together and argued that we needed allocation. We went to the village heads, party officials and the Ministry of Lands. In the end, we were given land set aside for ‘growth’. We don’t have ‘offer letters’, but we went to the District Administrator and our names are there. But without ‘offer letters’, we can’t get any support. We don’t have any help at all. There is still suspicion of us compound workers. During the elections of 2008 it got really bad, and we were thrown out. We camped on the roadside for three days, until the MP and other officials intervened. We came back and relations are better now.

I also have been renting land. One of my relatives has a big field in the A1 settlement. She is a war vet and was married to my late brother, and I rent a plot to grow maize from her. In exchange, I help them out and do the grading and curing of their tobacco. But this year I didn’t get any land, as she used the full six hectares. My son, my wife and I all do piece work. We’ve got a garden (about 30 x 40 m), and grow potatoes for sale in Mvurwi, and at the homestead we grow bananas and sweet potatoes.

I first planted tobacco in 2006, with 7000 plants and got 12 bales. Then in subsequent years, I got 15, 12 (I was disturbed in 2008 by the evictions), 16, 18 and 20 bales. Since 2011 I have got 20 each year, with 25 bales in 2016, the highest ever. I employ workers on piece work from the compounds myself. After harvest I buy inputs in Harare, bulk buying. After land reform, I have bought other goods. We now have a 21” TV, a sofa, two bicycles, a kitchen unit, a wardrobe and a big radio. I built the barn myself, making the bricks. I also have two cows and three goats, and I hire a government tractor (from the Brazilian More Food International programme) for ploughing.

“Life is better now if you have land”

I was born in 1963 on a farm in Concession. Our family originated from Mozambique; my parents came as labourers. My parents separated, and the six kids went with my mother to another farm. We moved to many farms over the years, and came here in 1981. Of my siblings, one of my brothers is also here, and another works on a farm near Harare doing brick moulding. My two sisters live in Epworth.

At first I was a general labourer. I got married in 1984, and it was around that time that I got promoted to deputy foreman on the ranching operation. My now stepfather came here in 1986. He is now late and was a specialised grader. I have five kids: 4 boys and 1 girl. My first born is working and assisting me. My second born is assisting teaching here on the farm paid by the Salvation Army, the others are still at school.

I have a one hectare plot and a garden. The Committee of Seven and sabhuku (headman) allocated plots to 30 people (out of 89 households in the compound). At land reform, we were prevented from getting land. We concentrated on our jobs. We didn’t know if the land reform would happen for long. Now we know it’s a reality, but we missed out. Before the farmer would parcel out lines in different fields for farm workers. This was an alternative to rations, and only maize only allowed. You could get a tonne out of your allocation.

The farmer here wanted everyone to go to school (Lucknow Primary). Four white farmers built the school for farm workers, and school fees were deducted from wages. We did not rely on extra work apart from farm labour. We were busy. We had a revolving savings club to allow us to buy things, but couldn’t buy much. It was a struggle. We didn’t buy livestock as we had nowhere to keep them. We were allowed to buy TVs, radios, bicycles. But the farmer didn’t want noise, so radios had to be quiet! We had enough to survive; hand to mouth.

On my one hectare plot, I generally plant tobacco and maize 50/50. I managed to buy a truck in 2014 from 16 bales of tobacco from ¾ ha. I have five cattle, an ox cart and an ox drawn plough. I also managed to by a bed. I have to pay school fees too. I use the truck to transport tobacco to the floors, and others pay. From 2013, I am no longer going for maricho (piecework). Those with 1 ha plots end up being the employers here. Otherwise if you don’t have land it’s all maricho. Sourcing inputs and tillage is a major challenge. In the past selling was not a problem, you could get a letter from the Councillor. But today they want an offer letter. About eight compound members have TIMB grower numbers. I help others to sell under my number. They say thanks with $20.

One son does it locally on the A1 farms. Family members help in my field, and they get a share. I hire labourers from the compound. About five when doing picking, also planting, weeding, grading. $3-4 per day. My son also now has a one hectare plot, given out by the A2 farmer next door, who lives in the old farm house. There is no payment for the land, but if he asks for some help, we go and help out. It’s all about good relations.

Life is better now if you have land, even though it is small. For those without land, they view the past as better.

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

 

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Mvurwi: from farm worker settlement to booming business centre

On the back of the tobacco boom, Mvurwi town in Mazowe district is humming. It is a hive of activity, with many new businesses and much new building. Mvurwi town had an estimated 2000 residents before land reform, but by 2012 the ZIMSTAT census report showed the population had gone up to 6500. 7500 residents were reported by Mvurwi council in 2016. Before land reform it had a small business centre, with a selection of shops, service providers and government offices, but mostly it was essentially a farm worker settlement, a dormitory town supplying labour to the surrounding large-scale white farms.

Suwoguru compound settlement was established during the colonial era. In the early days houses were pole and dagga structures, but with time the Mvurwi white business and farming community built better homes in the compound for their supervisors and clerical staff. The white business owners, managerial staff and government workers, lived a distance away, in secure, electrified homes close to what became Mvurwi CBD. Foreigner labourers were the largest group within the compound. They originated from Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. Locals came from surrounding communal areas, such as Chiweshe, Centenary, Muzarabani and Guruve. Social life in the compound centred around the potent ‘kachasu beer’ and entertainment provided by the still popular Malawian Nyau dancers. Diverse religions were catered for including Islam, and a mosque was built.

Before land reform the central business district of Mvurwi was dominated by farm suppliers. Farmec sold farm inputs, while William Bains and KR sold farm machinery. Tractor agencies serviced large-scale farms nearby. Commercial farmers deposited their monies into Standard Bank in Mvurwi, which in turn, extended loans to them.  CABS Bank was also in town before land reform. POSB served a few blacks such as farm supervisors and civil servants, while farm workers did not have bankable income. Mvurwi commercial farmers enjoyed their leisure time at a country club 8 km along the Mvurwi-Centenary road and at another one at Mutorashanga. A police station and hospital were also present.

Mvurwi has long been a centre for government offices. But with increasingly populations there are greater demands for services. Today from the Ministry of Agriculture there are 17 Agritex staff, 15 Vet, 2 Plant Protection and 6 Mechanisation staff.  There were only 8 Agritex staff pre land reform. Health services have also expanded. Mvuri hospital currently employs 120 workers, up from 60 workers in the past. The hospital serves up to 600 patients per month, double earlier numbers. A clinic was registered after land reform and employs 8 workers. There are 36 Ministry of health extension workers covering Mvurwi locations and CBD, up from 16 in the past. In addition there are 5 primary schools (each with around 800 pupils), up from 3 before land reform and 3 secondary schools, up from 2 before land reform.

Tobacco: the core of the economy

Since land reform the economy of Mvurwi has changed, and there has been significant restructuring as well as growth. Money from tobacco has of course been the driver of growth in Mvurwi since its establishment. But in the past profits were shared among relatively few large-scale white commercial farmers. While workers rented accommodation and would buy basic provisions, their presence in Mvurwi did not generate significant growth. This all changed following 2000, and particularly after 2009 with dollarization, and the expansion of tobacco growing in the area.

There are a number of tobacco buyers and agents in Mvurwi. The TIMB has its offices in the town, and has 4 permanent workers based in Mvurwi. The Mashonaland Tobacco Company has an estimated 28,000 tobacco growers with plantings ranging from 1ha to 120 hectares. 85 % of growers are A1 and CA and 15 % in A2 farms. Tobacco is also bought by Tianze, a Chinese company, and by BAT. ZLT is a big American international company led by Phillip Morris. All in all there are 13 tobacco companies in Mvurwi.

Since land reform, there has been a building boom, with funds from local tobacco farmers and business people driving an expansion of housing. Rusununguko Phase 1 was the first initiative of Mvurwi council, involving 900 stands. Tenants included former employees of white businesses and top former commercial farm employees who used their retirement packages to buy residential stands. After land reform local indigenous business owners, A1 farmers and well to do individuals acquired residential stands. Sizes range between 200 square meters and 600 square meters, and cost around USD 4500. Electricity and tower lights were provided, and Mrs C built a guest house in the residential area.

Another high density location Rusununguko Phase 2 was implemented as a cooperative led by local people. So many problems were encountered mainly due to funding constraints. UNDP and UNICEF provided water and constructed sewer systems, and ZINWA is now servicing the area, although electricity and road networks are yet to be put in place. In a further development (Kurai Phase 1), council allocated 1080 stands to low income earners measuring 300 square meters each. Indigenous construction companies were given tenders by council to carry out development of the location. Servicing of stands started in 2014. Water, sewers and road construction are almost complete. Four houses have since been built. The former Mazoe MP earlier on bought around 150 stands in the location which he allocated to his supporters. He was later implicated in externalization of funds and fled the country, but most beneficiaries held on to their stands.

A number of medium-density areas are also being developed (Kurai Phase 2, Mbizi). The council is offering stands, but servicing of these is taking time. Mbizi is a favourite investment destination for successful A1 farmers. 70 % of the 500 plot holders have completed building of their homes, creating many jobs, and local hardware shops have also profited. Land was allocated to 2 churches, 1 school and 2 creches, but nothing is on the ground yet. In the past low density areas were dominated by retired whites, but demand has grown. Pembi view and Dombomaringa are two new suburbs, with 750 stands pegged with costs of USD 5 to USD 7 per square meter. A good number of owners are A2 farmers and local business people.  Land was also allocated to 1 secondary school and 3 creches.

Across all these residential developments, around 85 commercial stands have also been allocated in the hope that business will increase. Most current business activity is however in and around the CBD, and near the original township area. The massive building projects on-going have generated business for hardware stores in particular. There are currently 23 hardware shops in Mvurwi employing 46 workers compared to only four before land reform that employed 28 workers. Tractor, truck and lorry owners made money transporting building materials, and these transport business have also expanded. Today there are also 8 brick moulding groups in Mvurwi compared to none before land reform. There are also 4 sawmills in Suwoguru, owned by local individuals, all established after land reform, and providing materials for new homes. Saw millers buy raw timber from the resettlement farmers, add value and sell the sawn timber to carpenters who made doors, cabinets and roofing materials that they sell to those building houses.

A changing business environment

Following land reform a number of businesses closed as the economy restructured. Farmec and William Bain closed shop around 2008, The four trator agencies closed down, as demand for tractor services in the new farms was being met locally. Delta Beverages also closed in 2015 citing operational losses, and lack of a stable maize supply for brewing with a resulting loss of around 50 jobs. There has been a shift in financial institutions too as the economy restructured, with Standard Chartered and CABS closing, while CBZ and Agribank have established operations, and the government owned POSB continued. The current 3 banks employ 24 people – less than the pre land reform banks when 32 workers were employed. There has been a massive shift to the informal economy, with many people creating livelihoods from new, informal businesses.

In the past a few farm supply shops sold inputs to large-scale commercial farmers. However many such farmers bought wholesale in Harare, and did not frequent local shops. Today, following land reform, business has expanded locally but with a new customer base, and different demands. The old shops – Agricura, Farm and City and Mashco – still continue (in some cases cashing in also on hardware supplies) – but they have been joined by new investors including, Nico Orgo and Omnia, along with many other smaller indigenous businesses. Stock feed and day old chick suppliers have also prospered. There are 5 stockfeeds shops now that sell day old chicks and animal feeds. Profeeds a subsidiary of Irvines sells chicks, point of lay pullets, vets and feeds. Windmill also sells feeds of all farm animals. Other stockfeed shops include Fivet, Farm and City and Northern Supplies.

A multiplicity of enterprises have opened in Suwoguru and Mvurwi CBD following land reform. Expansion has occurred in certain areas. Butcheries have expanded from 3 to 14, with employment growing from 6 to 30. Equally bars and bottle stores are increasing. Today there are 11 registered beer outlets in Suwoguru and CBD that employ 55 workers, compared to 9 beer outlets, employing 45 people, before 2000. General ‘tuck shops’ selling mainly clothes and items from clothing, cellphones, electrical gadgets, to kitchen ware have expanded, with about 70 stalls at Suwoguru market. The Chinese have also set up shops, and also employ locals in their stores.  Eco-cash and airtime vendors are plentiful. There are over 20 registered, but also many more working informally in Mvurwi. There is now one Internet café, and 10 photocopy shops and typing service shops. With increased car ownership there are now 6 service stations and 3 car washes, all opened since land reform.

Such businesses operate at different scales, and often interact. For example, Golis supermarket in Mvurwi is the big wholesaler with cheaper prices, and has been long established. Before land reform there were also 10 other grocery shops employing around 30 workers. By 2015 grocery shops had increased to 32, employing about 96 workers. Market vendors complement the formal shops. The market area has expanded significantly since land reform. MN is a female vendor aged 35:

“I buy and sell various farm produce like vegetables and tomatoes but my main business is buying and selling sweet potatoes. I buy sweet potatoes from farms and hire scotch carts to bring the produce to the tar road. A cart can carry 36 buckets and transport charge is US 3 per trip. At the tar road Kombis charge USD 9 to ferry the 36 buckets to my market stall in Mvurwi township. I buy sweet potatoes at farm gate for USD 3 per bucket and sell at USD 5 per bucket. I manage to buy and sell 36 buckets per week. I am the sole owner of the business which has helped me buy a residential stand and pay school fees”

Agro-dealers bring in produce from as far as Muzarabani and Guruve to Suwoguru and Mvurwi CBD markets. A wide range of products are brought which include masau berries, indigenous chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes, rape, covo, water melons, cabbages, onions, carrots, green mealies, apples and bananas.

Some of this is sold on to food outlets. There are now 11 food outlets in Mvurwi CB and 9 in Suwoguru location. The 20 food outlets employ 60 workers compared to the 6 food outlets pre land reform that employed 20 workers. We interviewed owners of food business outlets in Mvurwi CBD who get their supplies from agro- produce dealers. Mrs G, aged 60, owns Gogo’s Chikenland

“I have two outlets one in Mvurwi CBD and another in the Suwoguru towship. I buy Irish potatoes from local farmers which I process into chips served with chicken. I employ a driver who earns usd 300 per month as well as 6 other permanent workers. Business constraints include load shedding and poor quality potatoes at times. Other income sources include a boarding house in town which accommodates up to 60 school children and a creche which takes 50 children. I have plans to build a primary school. I own 2 private cars and a house in Mvurwi’s low density surburb. I also bought 3 residential stands.”

Transport business is key in and around Mvurwi. Business involves carrying passengers, inputs/ produce and building materials. Buses, kombis, lorries, trucks are readily available. All roads from Harare, Mtorashanga, Guruve, Centerary and Muzarabani pass through Mvurwi.

Local transporters with 30 tonne trucks were given transport contracts by some of the 13 tobacco companies in Mvurwi. We interviewed Mvurwi CBD based transporter, Mr DK:

“I own 3 x 30 ton trucks. I carry tobacco and tobacco fuelwood between April and September. I transport fuelwood to Chiweshe, maize to Mvurwi and tobacco to Harare. The main business challenge is competition from transporters using smaller trucks. Customers prefer them because they fill up quickly and farmers get to the market in time. More and more farmers are also buying their own trucks.”

Brick moulding and transport are linked. About 90% of houses built in Mvurwi used common farm bricks giving livelihood opportunities to the ordinary brick moulder as well as transporters and loaders. Bricks sell at USD 30 per thousand and USD 15 to transport. On a good day a loader can get USD 8 while a transporter can get USD 80 after accounting for fuels. Brick moulders also sell pit sand, river sand and quarry stones.

A fast changing urban centre

Driven by local agricultural activity, there has been growth across a variety of sectors. Opportunities have expanded, particularly in the informal sector.  Tobacco profits are the main driver, although in the last year these have been down, and some are questioning the long-term sustainability of the sector. Farmers are moving to other products, including irrigated horticulture, and this will continue to drive demand for services in Mvurwi, and when profitable will provide the basis for further investment. Unlike in the period before land reform the economy is increasingly localised, with benefits generated in towns like Mvurwi.

Yet despite this growth, there are multiple challenges for small towns in largely rural areas. How should urban policy respond to changes in the agrarian sector, how can local economic growth linked to agriculture be sustained, and what new thinking around physical planning, town development and governance is needed? These policy questions will be the focus for next week’s blog.

 

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

Research was also carried out by Sarai, BZ Mavedzenge and Felix Murimbarimba

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