Tag Archives: underutilised land

New farm size regulations in Zimbabwe: can they encourage land redistribution?

In mid-February, the Government of Zimbabwe issued a new set of farm size regulations, arguing that this would release new land for land reform. This announcement arrived out of the blue and came as a surprise to many. Was this a new attempt to rationalise land holdings following the 2000 land reform? Was this the implementation phase of the national audit starting? Was this a political move to deal with large holdings accumulated by the previous regime? Why now, and what impact would it have?

Despite the press claims that this was a big, bold new move, a closer look at the new regulations suggests that actually things haven’t changed that much. The 1999 regulations were marginally adjusted in 2000, and this was a further minimal, slightly random, adjustment, as the table below shows.

Natural region

2000 regulations

2020 regulations

I 250 250
II 350/400 IIa/b 500
III 500 700
IV 1500 1000
V 2000 2000

 

Within land policy, farm size regulations demonstrate a policy commitment to redistribution, avoiding massive consolidations and huge, under-utilised farms. In theory that is. As an administrative tool they are only as effective as the land administration system; and unfortunately in Zimbabwe this is not very effective.

In practice land allocations since land reform in 2000 have been ad hoc and at the discretion of land officers and committees at the district level. Exceptions are regularly made. In many respects, having such flexibility makes much sense. A simple centralised system cannot deal with local variations and contingencies. It can only be a guide. The problem comes when such flexibilities are exploited by those in power; maintaining large or multiple farms, for example, and so excluding others from access to land.

Prosper Matondi of Ruzivo Trust has provided a useful draft paper on the recent regulations, helpfully facilitating debate. He points out the huge variation in actual allocations as against the formal regulations (Table 4.1 in the paper), based on the government’s own audit data. In our sites, a similar story applies. There are 16 (of 817) A2 farms in Masvingo province that exceed the ceilings (12 in Mwenezi in Region V – all huge livestock/wildlife ranches – and 4 in Gutu/Masvingo districts in Region III/IV) and there are 11 (of 700) A2 farms over 500 ha in Mazowe district. How many might be deemed suitable for subdivision for (small-scale) agriculture is very unclear.

So will the new regulations really have any effect?

Land ceiling regulations are a very blunt instrument in land policy. They have been intensely controversial internationally over many decades. From the 1960s in India they were implemented across the country, aiming to break up the zamindari system of large holdings. Different states took different approaches, and outcomes were varied. Today, there are some who believe they have become a constraint, particularly for smaller farmers aiming to grow. Technological change in irrigation in particular has made the assumptions behind the original reforms problematic too.

In South Africa, an attempt to set land ceilings in 2017 through a new Bill fell by the way-side, and many were extremely critical of the process. Apartheid era legislation preventing farm subdivision extraordinarily is still in force, notionally protecting the ‘viability’ of large-scale farms. The 2019 land panel has argued strongly for a rethink, both on subdivision and a renewed effort to impose ceilings, linked to land taxation – with high levels beyond the ceilings to encourage the market-based release of land. Maybe this a route for Zimbabwe to follow too?

However, there is an even more basic question raised: what are the appropriate sizes for expropriation or taxation legislation? What sizes for what conditions make sense? This is the tricky part. In the colonial era, policy on land sizes also existed, but was racialized. The original assumption was that a white farmer needed land that would produce an income equivalent of a senior (white) civil servant in government. So-called Native Purchase Areas were established in the 1930s to create a yeoman class of African farmer, but were considerably smaller (averaging under 100 ha) than white commercial farms. Other blacks meanwhile were deemed to require less land – indeed land apportionment legislation was geared of course to ensuring that land was sufficiently small and poor in the ‘reserves’ that labour was released for the rest of the (white) economy.

What was deemed ‘viable’ was also influenced by the planning models on optimal production in different agroecological regions. This again linked to a bunch of assumptions, influenced by a particular idea of (white commercial) farming. The famous agroecological ‘Natural Region’ map, produced in 1961 by Vincent and Thomas, identifies what should be produced in each region. In the drier regions it was only extensive livestock, unless there was irrigation, for example. Of course there is plenty of cropping in Masvingo and Matabeleland provinces: it’s not ‘optimal’ as far as the assessment goes, but it’s necessary for the livelihoods of many.

As Ben Cousins and I showed in a paper a while back, ideas of ‘viability’ are therefore highly contested, conditioned by politics and assumptions about production, and (ideologically-inflected) visions of what a farm and farmer should be. What is viable for one type of farmer (say with off-farm income earning options) may not be viable for another. And ideas of what is optimal cannot be generalised either. Much depends on levels of investment (irrigation for example), land formation and topography (large areas with huge granite outcrops are not the same as large areas with levelled, high quality irrigable land), and how the land can be used (including market potential). Just saying that, in a region defined by average rainfall (what is that these days, with such variability anyway?), a maximum land size should be X really doesn’t make sense.

This is why local adaptations of national farm size regulations are essential, but they must be based on a sound and transparent administrative process. This is why building a wider land administration system in Zimbabwe is essential and just issuing edicts through new regulations will change little.

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

 

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Land audits: a tricky technical and political challenge

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A major task of Zimbabwe’s new Land Commission will be to undertake periodic audits of land and its use nationwide. This is a tricky technical and political challenge.

While there have been a number of formal and informal audits since 2000, none have resulted in much change. Under the Zimbabwe Land Commission bill, audits are supposed to ascertain what is ‘proper use’ that is ‘in the national interest’.

While it is obvious that some areas of designated A2 land are underutilised, should this warrant expropriation and transfer to others, the incentivisation of increased rates of use through land taxation, or transfer to A1 schemes through subdivision? Decisions must rest not only on the land’s status, but also a wider strategic consideration of the appropriate mix of land tenure types and uses in a given area, as well as demand for land. Ensuring criteria and processes are clear, transparent, non-political and effective is vitally important.

Theoretically a land tax should be the most straightforward approach to increase the efficiency of use. This was instituted last year, with payments required since 2007 at US$5 per hectare for A2 farms. This has resulted in many being unable to pay, and an outcry about retrospective payments and the gearing of tax according to agroecological potential, and available infrastructure. The neat theory of land taxation has perhaps inevitably proven more complex in practice.

Over many years, there has been a debate about what are appropriate land sizes for ‘viable’ farming in Zimbabwe. This originally emerged in the colonial era for allocation of farms for whites. It was based on technological norms (seed varieties, application of inputs, mechanisation and irrigation) and an ‘acceptable’ minimum level of income for a (white) farmer, pegged then at the salary of a Permanent Secretary in government.

Some elements of these earlier land size recommendations have persisted, but it is now more recognised that farms represent one part of a portfolio of income from many. The idea of the full-time farmer has long been a myth, but one that has been perpetuated in the folklore. Government land officials and surveyors must accept a variety of sizes, influenced by local pressures on land, the demands for redistribution, and the accommodation of different class interests, including the need to create plots for former farm workers within farms. There is now a huge range of farm sizes across and within natural regions, and a clear minimum or maximum, as notionally stipulated, is not evident.

As discussed last week, what is deemed as ‘utilised land’ is also a contentious area. Major surveys undertaken in the 1980s and 90s took the simple criterion of cropped area for dryland farms, and did not assess the value of the crop. There was a provision for fallow, slope and an acceptance that some farms had large areas of non-arable land, but a simple ratio of cropped area to available arable land provided a consistent indicator. These surveys found that considerable areas of land were not being used, as arable production intensified in smaller areas, and often quite large tracts of land were used for free-ranging cattle as farmers made use of EU subsidies and market access for beef production.

Earlier assessments, however, did not take account of yield levels. In the past, even if underutilised in terms of area, large-scale farms were showing high yields in those areas that were cultivated (e.g. an average of five tonnes per ha for maize), compared to an average of around one tonne per ha for maize in the context of twice as much more land under maize today. Utilisation therefore cannot just use area as a metric, but must also look at intensification. This relates of course also to irrigation capacity.

A key aspect of increasing land productivity is water use, and many A2 farms have under-utilised irrigation infrastructure. Any audit will have to address this. A significant proportion of large-scale irrigation infrastructure outside the estates is in a state of disrepair and is not being used effectively. Some claim that it is not economic to rehabilitate, as the financial costs of rehabilitating and running such irrigation facilities are too high, under the existing credit regime, while the unreliable electricity supply disrupts operations. Also, the type of infrastructure was developed for a different scale of production, and so may not be appropriate today. Assessment of ‘under-use’ of irrigation, while a vital part of any audit, must take into account the economics of irrigation and the need to build resilience in the face of climate change.

There are a number of technical and political challenges for the audit process therefore. Currently, the law is interpreted flexibly in practice, and without rigid land use and farm size guidelines. Subdivision and downsizing is occurring in some places as a response to poor use. A local approach has advantages in providing the possibilities of pragmatic, attuned, context-specific responses; however it has downsides given the potential for corruption and political pressure on flexible administrative processes. Any audit will have to address these dilemmas head on. This cannot be resolved simply by recourse to supposed technical farm size/use regulations or land taxation, but has to accommodate local demands and perceptions. For this reason a local district and provincial implementation process is needed, where lessons are learned as audits proceed.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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