Tag Archives: Toendepi Shonhe

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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