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Roads, belts and corridors: what is happening along Africa’s eastern seaboard?

The main port at Nacala, Mozambique

The eastern seaboard of Africa from Kenya to Tanzania to Mozambique has become a major focus of attention. The ports – from Bagamoyo to Beira – are seen as the gateway to Africa, a place where great riches can be found. Such ports, and the road and rail links that connect them, are now being redeveloped at a frenzied pace. Much of this is about mineral export, but agriculture is part of the picture too, as a number of the new (or often revived) corridors are seen as ‘agricultural growth corridors’, a term on the lips of many ambitious planners and investors.

Eastern Africa’s ports are also vital staging posts in China’s massively ambitious ‘belt and road’ initiative to connect to the rest of the world. The maritime ‘roads’ across the India Ocean, connect to ‘belts’ that stretch across Asia to China, and through Africa and Europe. The Chinese vision, promoted enthusiastically by President Xi Jinping, is one of an interconnected world, supported by the best of Chinese infrastructure, providing new opportunities for profitable exchange and market-driven export-based development.

For the sceptics this is a replaying of colonial exploitation; imperial ambitions in a new age with new loci of commercial power. An interest in the eastern seaboard of Africa is of course not new. The ports, roads and rail links of played other roles in previous eras – from the slave trade to colonial extraction. For those with strategic geopolitical interests in the region, not least India who sees the Indian Ocean as important militarily and economically, recent developments have major implications.

 

A canon pointing out to sea at the Portuguese colonial slave fort on Ilha de Moçambique

The Nacala corridor: more than coal?

I recently spent a week in Nampula province in northern Mozambique. This is the location of the Nacala corridor, which stretches from the coal mining region of Tete through southern Malawi to the port of Nacala. The visit was part of a project, led in Mozambique by Euclides Gonçalves, on the political economy of agricultural growth corridors in eastern Africa. It is a small component of the new DFID-funded APRA programme, which has just produced its first Working Paper by Rebecca Smalley on this theme.

The Nacala corridor has been the subject of much controversy around the Prosavana project, a trilateral development cooperation project involving Brazil, Japan and Mozambique, discussed in earlier work on China and Brazil in African agriculture. In its early incarnations Prosavana was aiming to roll out massive agricultural investment projects along the corridor, focusing on Brazilian investment and expertise, replicating the much hailed success of the Cerrado in Brazil. These grand plans however unravelled through a combination of organised international opposition, collapsing commodity prices, the Brazilian political crisis and the plain fact that investing in large-scale agriculture in Africa is incredibly difficult, requiring very deep pockets given the risks.

Now things have moved on. The grand plans – at least in their original form – have been put on hold, but there is much happening below the radar. The rail line carrying coal from Tete is fully functional, as is the new port facility at Nacala. There is a new airport at Nacala and the road is in good shape. Land is cheap, good quality and relatively plentiful, and the processes for transfer of ‘DUATs’ from communities to investors is relatively straightforward, as long as some bureaucratic and consultation hoops are jumped through. Locally and nationally there is much political will supporting external investment from the Mozambican party-state, seen as a way of generating growth in a poor part of the country prone to supporting opposition groups. As a source of patronage and backhanders no doubt there are other incentives too.

The Vale coal rail line cutting across the rural Mozambican landscape

At one level the corridor to the new Nacala port facility, established on the other side of the bay to the original Nacala port, is only about exporting coal. Vale, the huge Brazilian conglomerate, has invested millions, now in partnership with Japanese investors. The rail line is increasing freight capacity, although local passengers have limited opportunities to use the railway and local villagers must wait ages for long trains to pass as the rail line cuts through their lands. Others are involved too. For example, Chinese construction companies are also involved in infrastructure development. With improved facilities in the original port, and the potential, as yet unrealised, for the railway to be used for more than coal and the odd passenger train, others are eyeing up the region too.

Agribusiness and development

From established agribusiness operations, such as Rift Valley Corp’s Matanuska banana operation near Manapo, to smaller, more prospective investors in agriculture from Brazil, South Africa, Portugal, India, Jordan, Canada the US and more, the corridor appears to be generating interest, although not at all as part of a coordinated grand plan. Such investments are often supported by international ‘aid’ funds that help to ‘de-risk’ investments or provide opportunities for cutting costs (such as the use of Brazilian tractors supplied through the More Food International programme; again the subject of earlier research being continued under APRA).

A Brazilian tractor in use on a new commercial farm

Local farmers may benefit too. Such operations generate employment opportunities, although the labour conditions are poor, and they may not benefit villagers in the immediate locality. Outgrower arrangements are often mooted as part of improving local relations, a model heavily promoted earlier by AgDevCo in the Beira corridor as part of a UK aid programme, but many fail because generating export quality, regular supplies in sufficient quantities is seriously tough. Local players are also jumping on the corridor bandwagon, with government officials and business people investing in land, and linking up with new external investors.

Who benefits? Political economy questions

It is a highly dynamic situation that the research is only now starting to examine. Corridor investments clearly provide much needed infrastructure in locations that have been marginalised, and remain extremely poor. But who will benefit? An extractivist regime that sees the corridor merely as transport route to export natural resources (in Nacala’s case coal) may see limited local benefits, as the rail line acts more like a ‘tunnel’ connecting mine to port, with little interaction with local people and economies along the way.

A more integrated corridor development may yet emerge, however, as the corridor becomes an attractor for economic activity that spreads out as a network, rather than an isolated, linear connector. For this to happen, as in the old ‘growth pole’ model, other economic activity has to be attracted, and the benefits of infrastructure development shared locally, and also more widely. In this case to the hinterlands of the eastern seaboard, across regions to the landlocked countries of Malawi and Zimbabwe, for example.

But, even if such wider activity happens, some will appropriate the spoils more than others. As in other areas where rapid economic transitions happen through land investments, there is plenty of room for speculation, patronage and deals that create new elites, excluding others. Political economy really matters, and in contrast to much existing research on growth corridors that focuses on the ‘business case’ and the sequencing of infrastructure, this is the emphasis of our research in Mozambique (Nacala/Beira), as well as Kenya (LAPSSET) and Tanzania (SAGCOT).

The longer history of corridors along eastern Africa is one of exploitation and extraction: from slaves to plantation crops to minerals. But how can contemporary investments – which I believe should not be naively rejected – be made to work for the majority, not just the few? This is the underlying challenge, and one our research hopes to investigate, engaging along the way with investors, local villagers and the brokers and intermediaries among state and non-state actors who can make a difference to the way corridor development pathways emerge.

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

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Why tractors are political in Africa

In May last year, the long-awaited tractors from Brazil arrived in Zimbabwe. There was a bizarre handing over ceremony at Harare showgrounds, with the tractors all lined up and the President was there to receive them.

Tractors New Zimbabwe (May 2015)

This has been a long-running saga, reported on earlier in this blog. The tractors are part of Brazil’s international cooperation programme, supported by the Ministry of Agrarian Development in Brazil under their ‘More Food International’ (MFI) programme, and purchased from the Brazilian company, Agrale. Under the first phase of a $98m loan (based on highly concessionary interest rates, spread over a 15 year term), Brazil has supplied Zimbabwe with 320 tractors, 450 disc harrows, 310 planters, 100 fertiliser spreaders and 6 650 knapsack sprayers valued at $39million. A second phase is, according to the Brazilian ambassador to Zimbabwe, expected soon. MFI is based on a Brazilian programme that supports public procurement of agricultural equipment to support small-scale ‘family farmers’. In Brazil tractors and other forms of mechanised farming equipment are a useful addition to what in Zimbabwe would be called medium-scale commercial farms. Run by families, but not often not that small by African standards.

In international development this mismatch of languages causes much confusion, as Lidia Cabral discusses in relation to Brazil-Africa development cooperation. What is small scale in one place (say Brazil – where there are some very, very big farms) is large somewhere else (including Zimbabwe). So approaches – or ‘models’ – generated in one place do not easily travel. The argument of course from Brazil is that they have long experience of successful agriculture, across scales, and that their ‘tropical technology’ is transferrable, as they have the technical and agronomic skills based in similar agroecological settings. Quite how ‘tropical’ the Brazilian tractors prove to be, we will see. And whether they are preferable to the non-tropical Chinese, Iranian, Belarusian, American or British versions.

So where are these tractors supposed to go, and how are they supposed to be used? As I have discussed on this blog before, there is a long history of failed attempts to encourage ‘tractorisation’ of small-scale farming in Zimbabwe. The big problem is that farms are too small and undercapitalised for a single farmer to usefully use one, and collective arrangements have largely failed. That said, there is certainly an increase in tractor usage in the new resettlements. Some have bought second-hand tractors are successfully hiring them out. In our Mvurwi sample for example, about 5 per cent of A1 farmers own tractors, most purchased in the last few years. Ownership is concentrated among the richer farmers, with 17 per cent of farmers in our top ‘success group’ owning them; some coming via government programmes. With larger land areas, and such a premium on timely ploughing with increasingly erratic rainfall (although sadly this year it may be a complete write-off due to the El Nino drought), tractors do make sense. The interaction between (smaller-scale) A1 and (medium-scale) A2 farms becomes important here. With many A2 farmers having tractors, they hire them out to their neighbours on A1 farms, making the new spatial configuration following land reform crucial.

But tractors in Zimbabwe are indelibly associated with corruption and patronage. The Chinese tractors that arrived in numbers in the 2000s at the height of Gideon Gono’s bizarre attempts to salvage the economy were handed out as deals to those in power. Many have ended up as sad memorials of this period, rusting in people’s compounds. I hope this will not be the fate of the Brazilian tractors. They have been handed over in good faith, even if with a certain naivety about the context. But the omens are not good. As symbols of modernity and power, tractors just have this effect.

While I was in Zimbabwe at the end of last year, the Grace Mugabe roadshow was in full swing. This seems to have become an annual event in the build up to the ZANU-PF Congress. Many are bussed to her rallies, and not showing up is certainly noticed. As in all political rallies, these are opportunities for high-flown rhetoric and for handing out goodies. The expense is extraordinary. Newspaper reports of a rally near one of our research sites in Matabeleland South listed the following: 220 tonnes of maize, 120 tonnes of rice, 4440kg of washing powder, 5000kg clothes, 3000kg salt, 2000 pairs of shoes, 5280 bars of washing soap, 3000kg of bath soap, 1800 litres of cooking oil, 220 tonnes of Compound D fertilizer, 20 tonnes cotton seed, 10 soccer kits, 30 netballs and 30 soccer balls. All chiefs who attended received food hampers and 100 litres of fuel each.

And of course there were also tractors. I cannot verify that these were part of the Brazilian shipment, but I assume so – and there have been other accusations in the press, and series of court cases trying to prevent this. It seems the tractors – as many times before – are already being used for exerting patronage in the name of development. Tractors do seem to be so deeply entwined with the practices of patronage, and despite the (somewhat misguided but nevertheless genuine) goodwill of the Brazilians it has it seems to have happened again. It is sad, but perhaps inevitable, and is a warning to any agency that patronage and aid are tightly linked. Well meaning, good governance protocols may not be enough, and resources get wasted.

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

Photo from NewZimbabwe.com

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Tractors, power and development. Mechanising Zimbabwean agriculture

What is it about the allure of tractors? They seem to be the archetypal symbol of development and progress. Everyone needs one. But are they worth it? Tractors can plough fields, pull equipment and even be used to drive around time. But they are expensive, difficult to maintain and not much use on small plots where they often do substantial damage through compacting soil.

Tractors of course are also a symbol of power. And I am not talking of their horsepower ratings. They show status, prestige and access to the places that matter. In the mad-cap mechanisation scheme of the mid-2000s organised by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, they were handed out to all and sundry. With hyperinflation raging, the ‘loans’ could be paid off for as little as US$20. Every chef worth their salt got a shiny new red Chinese tractor. Hundreds of tractors were distributed, representing a considerable amount of generous Chinese loan money. Were these funds really helping to keep the country afloat during a time of austerity due to sanctions?

In the 1980s tractors were all the rage too. A symbol of modernity they could not be missed from the standard development package. A new, modern Zimbabwe had to have agriculture which was mechanised; the ox plough was from the old era when Africans did not have access to resources and the opportunity to practise modern agriculture like whites did.

Joseph Rusike did an important piece of research back then showing how in most circumstances in the communal areas tractor use through individual ownership was far from economic. The tractor hire schemes run through the District Development Fund served some with the cash, and were especially useful in times of drought when cattle were too weak to pull ploughs. And as cattle numbers were hit by drought mortalities in the early 1990s, tractors again became useful as herd numbers were not sufficient to form spans. At a similar time, Rusike’s work was backed up by a major historical survey by then World Bank economist Hans Binswanger.

And now again there is more talk of tractors. This time from the Brazilians, who are offering nearly US$100m worth of farm machinery as part of a solidarity deal with the Zimbabwean government, channelled through the ‘family farming’ and agrarian reform ministry, the MDA. This is supposed to assist in particular the land reform programme, increasing efficiency and reducing the underutilisation of land through the expansion of cropped areas.

The Chinese too are showing off their tractors, and in particular the industrial machines produced by Minoble, the company that runs the new Chinese Agricultural Demonstration Centre at Gwebi College near Harare. There is also apparently a John Deare representative based at the Centre, apparently posted to Zimbabwe from China. Even the Iranians are offering tractor aid too. A large plant, jointly run and built by the Iranian government was being mooted recently.

The Brazilian tractors have not arrived yet, and the Chinese ones remain in the courtyard at Gwebi. Representatives from both country’s agencies genuinely believe that tractors will make a difference to Zimbabwe’s agriculture. After a few news reports, the Iranian initiative has not been much mentioned. So it is not clear what will happen next. Will Zimbabwe be flooded with tractors, of different makes with different spare parts and repair needs? Will this really help Zimbabwe’s agricultural revitalisation? Or will it be another source of patronage, with tractors blessing people’s homesteads as shining, then decaying, examples of misspent development money.

Of course agricultural mechanisation helped transform the large-scale farms of northeast China, and Brazil has pushed agricultural mechanisation to a new peak in the mega farms of the Brazilian cerrado. But these are very different contexts to Zimbabwean agriculture.

Arable area sizes today range from an average of 2-5ha in the communal areas to 10-15ha in the A1 schemes to 70ha and above in the A2 farms (although in many instances only a small fraction is cultivated. Shared tractor arrangements may make sense for A2 schemes, allowing farmers to increase cultivated areas. However it is probably not tillage that is constraining this expansion, but more credit and finance for increasing production.

The RBZ programme in the 2000s was a disaster and was simply an exercise in profligate patronage. But other schemes have failed too. But rather than shun the generosity of the Brazilians, Iranians and Chinese – and no doubt in the future many other donors wanting their farm machinery manufacturers to benefit from aid and investment programmes – it will be important to assess mechanisation needs and the institutional design of such programmes, taking account of the very particular political economy of tractors in Africa. A good starting point for those in the Ministry – currently called the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development – would be to re-read Joe Rusike’s and Hans Binswanger’s papers from the 1980s.

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

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