Tag Archives: university of zimbabwe

Tackling climate change: the contested politics of forest carbon projects in Africa

Tackling climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our age. And this year is a crucial moment with the Conference of the Parties meeting in Paris in December 2015 hopefully to forge a new climate agreement. Forests, carbon and their management are high on the agenda, and a new book has just come out from the STEPS Centre, edited by Melissa Leach and myself. It’s called Carbon Conflicts and Forest Landscapes in Africa (take a peek at some of the content, check out the reviews and chapter listing, and use code DC361 and get 20% off buying it!).

The book dissects the issues, and offers a bunch of case studies from across Africa, including a great chapter on Zimbabwe by Vupenyu Dzingirai and Lindiwe Mangwanya from the Centre for Applied Social Sciences at UZ. This focuses on the Kariba REDD project in Hurungwe, one of a number of districts involved, with the whole project covering to date a massive 1.4 million hectares of land along the Zambezi valley.

Deforestation and land degradation globally contribute significantly to carbon emissions, and addressing these has become a major policy priority. Carbon offset approaches, mediated by carbon markets and facilitated by international accords and global climate finance, have become especially popular. In such schemes carbon emissions in one part of the world (usually the industrialised north) are offset by initiatives that reduce emissions in another part of the world where there are plentiful forests, and opportunities for new carbon sequestration (such as Africa). Such projects can, it is argued, additionally focus on poverty reduction and biodiversity protection, creating a ‘win-win’ scenario, rather than a feared ‘green grabbing’.

This is the theory; but what of the practice? The book is about what happens on the ground when carbon forestry projects – existing in various guises, often under the umbrella of the Reduced Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme – arrive. In this new field of environment and development practice, there are many new players, a whole panoply of models, processes and procedures for verification and monitoring, and a hot politics of authority and control. Understanding what works, and what doesn’t is crucial, and the various chapters offer some salutary lessons on the current fad for market-based offset approaches to carbon mitigation.

The detailed case studies come from seven countries, from west, east and southern Africa, including Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The chapters ask what actually happens when carbon forestry projects unfold in particular places: who wins, and who loses out, and what are the consequences – for carbon sequestration and offsetting, as well as poverty reduction? As all the cases show, carbon projects do not arrive on a blank slate. All sites have long histories of intervention, including a whole array of forestry, environmental protection and development projects. These have shaped and reshaped livelihoods and landscapes, and generated experiences and memories that influence local responses to new interventions.

The chapters cover a huge range of African ecologies, different carbon forestry project types and an array of national political-economic contexts. In all chapters, the authors ask: what difference does carbon make? What political and ecological dynamics are unleashed by these new commodified, marketized approaches, and how are local forest users experiencing and responding to them? Carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected. Multiple conflicts have emerged between land owners, forest users and project developers. Achieving a neat, market-based solution to climate mitigation through forest carbon projects not straightforward.

In the Zimbabwe case, for example, the project developer, Carbon Green Africa, has allied in Hurungwe with local Korekore  farmers and the Rural District Council, offering a range of benefits, including carbon dividends and ‘alternative livelihood’ projects  in exchange for protecting forests, and planting trees. As the notional ‘traditional’ and ‘administrative’ owners of the land, they should have the authority. But they are pitched against powerful forces with other ideas about resource use and economic priorities. These including politically-connected tobacco farmers who migrated to the area through the 1980s and 90s; indeed at the invitation of the same local Korekore leaders now backing carbon. Today, they are making considerable sums of money, and destroying substantial areas of forest when curing. With the land reform in 2000 there was a further wave of in-migration from those displaced from the nearby Karoi farmers, notably farmworkers of diverse origins. They were encouraged to settle on the frontiers, often inside game and safari areas as a buffer to wildlife for the long-standing residents. They too have cleared land and reduced forest cover, and survive through a mix of farming, hunting and gathering, as well as labouring on the tobacco farms. The new social, cultural and economic landscape, evolving through waves of migration, is one where a simple REDD project is immensely difficult to implement, as divisions based on ethnicity, class, gender, economic priority and more divide ‘the community’ that is notionally involved in the project. The assumption that climate mitigation through carbon offsetting in Africa’s forests is going to be easy is thoroughly challenged by the Zimbabwe case – as all the others in the book.

Across the book, we argue that a new politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is emerging, making the noble aims of climate mitigation through carbon forestry very challenging indeed. There’s a need to address conflicts head on, and to develop a more politically sophisticated approach to carbon governance in complex landscapes than has been seen to date. For all those engaged in the debates in the lead up to Paris and beyond, the book points to ways forward that take account of the complex, layered politics of Africa’s forest landscapes. As Jesse Ribot from the University of Illinois says: “Carbon forestry is privatizing, commodifying and financializing the world’s forests, recasting relations between state and market forest landscapes. This book illuminates the fraught political economy of this transformative moment”.

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

 

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Why economists fail in Africa

A great new book is just out by Morten Jerven called Africa: Why Economists Get it Wrong. It is a follow up to his excellent 2013 book, Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It that I featured several times in this blog.

He argues: “There has been a chronic failure among economists to explain growth in Africa. The methods and analytical angles they have used to explain relative failure in Africa were conceived in the 1990s, but these were unsuitable for explaining growth in the 1960s or growth since the 2000s”.

Jerven does not deny that there has been economic failure in Africa. Zimbabwe is of course a case in point. But this was not generic failure, over the whole ‘post-colonial’ period across a whole continent. Rather there have been variations: growth in fits and starts, cycles of successes and failures, often with success being hidden by the aggregate statistics given the informal nature of much economic activity (certainly the case for Zimbabwe, as I’ve argued many times).

But what he calls this “erroneous stylised fact” of generic failure over a long period has been the basis for an ahistorical, decontextualised analysis of African growth patterns, which attempt to explain the African “shortfall” through cross-country or cross-continental comparison. The assumption is that it was a set of “initial conditions” that created the African predicament. Conditions such as environmental factors, ethnic fragmentation and a lack of social capital have all been suggested to have a direct role in the failure of economic growth. Just being African seems to be a problem according to some of this analysis.

However, Jerven argues “the causality story – initial conditions causing slow growth – is wrong and therefore not useful for policy advice”. Moreover, he argues “policy typologies such as the distinction between “closed” and “open” economies, or the related “bad” and “good” policies, do not correlate coherently with episodes of economic growth in African countries”.

The title of this blog is a reference to the much-lauded book, ‘Why Nations Fail’ , that I have reviewed before on this blog’. Jerven also takes this argument to task as it offers a far too simplistic and functionalist a view of institutions and governance, and, he argues, gets causality back-to-front. Effective institutions and ‘good’ governance emerge from development, and are not so much its precursors, he suggests. As he notes: “several decades were wasted putting a lot of effort into curing symptoms that were thought to be causes”.

So what are the key complaints Jerven has against economics as applied to Africa? It’s of course not all economics and economists that his ire is focused on, but a certain style of aggregated economic reasoning derived from comparative cross-country econometrics. Why has this approach been so problematic, and what can be done about it?

The problems Jerven outlines are multiple. The data that are used is often very shaky and patchy. Models derived from such data are inevitably suspect: garbage in, garbage out, as the adage goes. Aggregation across countries, and comparisons with patterns elsewhere miss out on the particularities of different economies and their histories, and so end up offering false or at least highly simplistic explanations. Africa, of course is not a country, but many and diverse nations, regions and economies with complex histories. But simple narratives prevail and are reinforced by aggregate economic analysis. Jerven identifies a few choice media quotes from The Economist over time that regurgitate the narrative that ‘Africa’ is a disaster, or alternatively today, ‘Africa’ is rising; statements that are almost completely meaningless and not supported by solid data.

The consequences of these faulty analyses – and the media tropes that follow on – are of course very real, as the book points out. Decades of structural adjustment policies were pushed across Africa on false premises, and with disastrous consequences. The arguments for institutional reform and good governance as preconditions for development may fail, as these new institutional forms may have to emerge from developmental processes, and be appropriately adapted to contexts (just as happened in Europe or the US). And, of course, the generic prescriptions for a whole continent fail to pay attention to location and specificity, and of course political economy and history.

So what to do? There are clearly a number of important challenges. One of course is to improve the data that analyses are based on. If we are relying only on very poor numbers, then it’s difficult to expect anything other than the garbage that is currently churned out. With better spatial differentiation, improved time series and so on, we can get to grips with variation and pattern, and offer greater nuance in our analyses. Good numbers really do matter. If growth pathways are so much to do with context – of politics, history, and so on – then cross-country econometric comparisons, especially with massively unlike settings (say comparing Asia or Europe with Africa) are really largely a waste of effort. Instead, Jerven argues, we need to move from cross-country econometrics to understanding particular economies in context, and understanding how African economies actually work. This means a focus on real markets, not the abstractions of models; informal and formal economic activity and the interactions between, not just what is in the formal statistics; and the historical and political factors that frame and shape options for the future.

The profession of economics with its current false scientism and its obsession with quantitative method has, over time, distanced itself from the complexities on the ground. The search for grand, universalising explanations for growth, poverty, inequality or whatever, has lost sight of the particular, contingent, conjectural conditions that create change and transformation. This is a profound methodological point. The book hints at the need for a revolution in development economics that brings back the older traditions of political economy and economic history. Such analyses must be focused not on assumed or inferred economic rules or an obsession with initial conditions driving uniform change, but the particular operations of particular economies – of nations, regions in particular settings.

Zimbabwe has a proud history of this type of economics (alongside some of the other more problematic sort). The Department of Economic History at UZ has long been an important source of insight into economic change over time, rooted in particular locations. The Zimbabwe Institute of Development Studies, sadly no more, was a focus for political economy analysis of labour, land, industrial change and more by many key scholars. Today, work at institutes such as the African Institute for Agrarian Studies, the Centre for Applied Social Sciences or the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute continue this work. Sustaining these intellectual traditions – rooted in place, context and history – will be important, as Zimbabwe seeks an alternative growth path into the future. Such analyses should help resist the more simplistic and often dangerous prescriptions from the flawed economics of the mainstream.

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

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Irrigating Zimbabwe: time for some new thinking

In 1952, a major report on large-scale irrigation made the case for a substantial increase in investment in irrigation in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia. The reason was growing concerns about national food security and the need to improve the production of land recently settled by war veterans. Of course 60 years ago, such support was for white war veteran settlers who had come to the colony following the Second World War. Such new settlers often displaced local populations (without compensation) as the Land Apportionment Act was implemented more vigorously. Expanding populations and the failure of agriculture to meet food security needs in periods of drought (notably 1947, but others too), had resulted in concern at the highest policy levels to do something about agricultural investment.

The arguments made then are just as relevant today – and with some intriguing parallels. Back then, the investments that followed, particularly in what were designated ‘European’ farming areas, provided an unparalleled infrastructure, including dams, schemes, river diversions and more. This became the backbone of the commercial farm economy. The report also advocated investments in the ‘African’ ‘native’ areas, but these were limited by comparison, and focused, particularly in the UDI period on schemes linked to a growth point development strategy led by TILCOR.

By Independence, Zimbabwe had about 150,000 hectares under ‘formal’ irrigation schemes; about 3% of the arable area. 68% of this was in the large-scale commercial farming areas, another 20% linked to commercial estates, 7% part of ARDA estates and outgrower schemes and only 3.4% smallholder irrigation schemes. The distribution of irrigation capacity was even more unequal than that of land and other resources.

So is the answer to the challenges of agriculture, especially following land reform, to take a leaf out of the colonial book and invest in irrigation? The answer is yes, in part. But it depends on what type of irrigation, with what type of support.

Irrigation of course has a much longer history in Zimbabwe than the 60 years sketched above. The ancient systems of Inyanga for example have attracted archaeologists’ attention for many years, as they offer an example of highly intensive and sophisticated small-scale systems. Dambo or vlei cultivation dominated the agriculture of the nineteenth century, as farmers farmed intensively in valley bottoms in the hilly areas, often hiding from raids. In the early colonial era, missionaries encouraged irrigation at times of famine and set up a few schemes near mission stations. Early attempts at government support from late 1920s built on local systems, with support to small irrigation plots under farmer control. The famous agricultural extensionist E.D Alvord supported such efforts and was very keen on irrigation as part of his modernisation project (see an interesting article by Mandi Rukuni on this history).

However the approach took a dangerous turn in 1935 when Alvord visited Native American reserves in the US and he came back with ideas for a much more technical, top-down approach. From then on irrigation development in Zimbabwe in the smallholder sector at least has been dominated by a dirigiste approach to management – highly subsidized schemes require farmers to following particular cropping patterns on standard plot sizes under the direction of an irrigation officer. In some settlement schemes, no off-farm work was allowed. In the 1980s, economic analyses showed that 100% of capital costs and 89% of recurrent costs were covered by the government. This provided little incentive for local control and management – aspects that characterised the success of early initiatives, and still do on informal schemes.

Extensive studies by the University of Zimbabwe and colleagues at Wageningen University in the Netherlands through the 1990s showed the variety of experiences of irrigation in Zimbabwe, ranging from the formal Agritex-run communal area schemes, of which there were around 70, to the much more informal set-ups, involving usually fewer people on smaller areas, with less elaborate technology and infrastructure. This research confirmed earlier findings around some of the key requirements for effective collective action, asserting rights over water and land and sustainable economic management, and chimed with international experience.

A key theme through all of these studies was the argument that a standardised one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work, and more flexibility and adaptability is required. Since Independence there have been numerous attempts at reviving irrigation in the smallholder sector. An ambitious irrigation fund was established in the 1980s but it went unused; FAO and GTZ invested in new policy frameworks and some investments; small-scale schemes were supported by the EU, and so on. The impact of all of this, both in terms of policy and impacts on the ground, has been desultory. What study after study has found, is that the formal schemes (with some exceptions) have not worked well. And it very often it is the small-scale informal set-ups – more akin to the traditional dambo irrigation of the past – that work best (a theme that I will pick up in next week’s blog). These can be supported through developments in water harvesting, including small dams, storage tanks and soil pits and contours, and also small-scale drip irrigation kits that allow greater water use efficiency in piped or channel systems.

Under the right conditions in the right places, irrigation pays. By smoothing production variability it addresses challenges of food security, felt increasingly since the 1990s, and especially in the last decade, much as was the case in the 1950s. For high value crops, such as horticulture, irrigation is essential, and much of the private investment by commercial farmers from the early 1990s was in these sort of facilities. Yet irrigation infrastructure and technology cannot just be transferred from one system to another. With a different agrarian structure, with different farmers on different farm sizes the old configurations do not make sense. A massive centre-pivot set up is not much use to small-scale farmers, and few new resettlement farmers could afford sophisticated computer synchronized, satellite-linked drip irrigation systems.

Clearly the investments made from the 1950s in the large-scale commercial sector paid dividends. But any government today would balk at the cost, and especially the long-term subsidies, and a consistent policy for handover to farmer control following establishment is required. Today a rethink in irrigation strategy and policy is urgently needed. Perhaps a new high level task force should be convened, with a similar impetus to that of 1952, but with a rather different political and distributional mandate. What is clear is that in order to get agriculture moving in the new resettlements, up-front government or donor capital investment is needed, but tying irrigators into a standard approach with high recurrent subsidy makes little technical or economic sense.

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

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