Tag Archives: water

Water, sanitation and energy supply in Masvingo’s communal areas

When we started our research on the new resettlement areas in the early 2000s, one of the things people frequently said to us was that they were happy about the new land and the opportunities is brought, but found the lack of basic facilities really challenging. Basic infrastructure was absent. There were no roads, and so no transport to town. There were no piped water supplies, wells or dip tanks, or at least only what was left by the former farmer. Electricity connections were few and far between. Toilets and wells had to be dug from scratch. And schools and health clinics were often several hours walk away. It was tough, and for some too much as they moved back to their communal areas. Better to live in poverty with few opportunities but with access to services, they argued. Some houses split, with kids living with grandparents in the communal areas, while the parents established the new homes in difficult circumstances.

Nearly twenty years on, things have changed. The hardships of the early years have not disappeared but the investment in infrastructure has been significant, mostly through private effort. Roads have been built or repaired, sometimes by community groups. Schools have been constructed and health clinics established, again with community input. They are poorly staffed and with limited supplies: but that is the case across Zimbabwe, such is the depth of the sustained economic crisis and the failure of the state to provide.

Today the difference between the new resettlements and the old communal areas is not so stark. Certainly in respect of privately provided services, the resettlements are in better shape, as people have invested surpluses from their agricultural production in well building, toilet construction and so on, as well as solar lights and diesel pumps.

The tables below offer an average picture across three of our communal area sites (Gutu West is missed out because the data was not of sufficient quality).

Domestic water

In terms of domestic water supply, the vast majority (around 80%) of communal area households have access to a protected water supply via a protected well or a hand pump. Piped water remains rare, but getting water from a river or dam is too. This is the consequence of decades of state and project investment in water supplies in the communal areas. Most of these facilities are communal and the original installation was paid for. This was a significant development achievement, particularly in the 1980s. I got typhoid and bilharzia when living in Mazvihwa communal area in the 1980s, when there was no borehole and only the river mifuku and an open well. This would be much less likely now: in these matters development does make a difference.

Although the level of coverage is approaching the same levels in the resettlement areas (unprotected, hand dug wells without a borehole are more common), these are mostly individual, private investments. Many started with a shallow well to get water at the beginning. These have been deepened, and many have had boreholes and sometimes pumps attached. Such private supply is important for domestic provision, but also small scale irrigation, which has really taken off in the resettlement areas (see earlier blog).

Such upgraded investments are expensive however, and not everyone can afford them, so there are some who have nothing and make use of shallow uncovered wells, streams or dams to provide for water. With the absence of the state, and donors and NGOs boycotting investments in the resettlement areas due to ‘sanctions’, the principles of universal provision of water supplies is not evident (the same applies to education). In service provision the dividing line between state (and donor/NGO) provision in the communal areas and private, individual provision in the resettlements is clear, with some left behind.

% households Mwenezi Chivi Gutu North
Piped 1 0 0
Hand pump 6 68 18
Protected well 77 9 72
Unprotected well 16 22 10
River/stream/dam 1 0 0


A similar story can be told around toilet provision. Like protected water supplies there were many donor-funded and state-led programmes around toilet provision in the 1980s and 90s. The famous Blair toilet was built everywhere. This provided a safe, sanitary toilet for everyone, and many households were beneficiaries. I was surprised by our data showing that many still did not have a toilet in the communal areas, although many share in a cluster of homes, which may account for the results. That said, a majority outside Mwenezi have a latrine at their home, and most of these are closed latrines with a roof, usually of the Blair style that prevent the spread of flies, and one in Gutu North even has a flush!

% households Mwenezi Chivi Gutu North
Flush 0 0 1
Latrine with roof, inc Blair toilets 45 43 65
Open latrine 0 16 12
No toilet at household 55 39 17

In the nearby resettlements, toilet coverage ranged from 13% in sparsely-populated Mwenezi A1 areas to 77% in Masvingo district, in sites near Gutu West. Like the wells, these mostly started as open latrines, but many have been upgraded. All again through private investment.


With very few rural electrification schemes, lighting sources are generally privately provided in both the communal and resettlement areas. The availability of cheap solar panels and batteries has revolutionised this. Outside Gutu North, which seems still to be more reliant on candles, lighting for 60-80% of households was electric solar, allowing also for the charging of the ubiquitous cell phone too. When I lived in a communal area in the mid-1980s, it was always candles for writing up PhD notes, or for the kids in our home to do school work by.

% households Mwenezi Chivi Gutu North
Electric 2 1 1
Paraffin 3 13 32
Candles 17 1 37
Solar 31 52 12
Battery/dry cell 29 32 6

Since the 1980s, energy sources for cooking have not changed much, however, and across our sites 100% of households rely on fuelwood for cooking. In the land scarce areas of Gutu this is a challenge, especially for women who often have to travel long distances to search for fuel. In the resettlement areas this is not yet a big problem, and again fuelwood is the near universal source of energy for cooking.

Services and well-being: the costs of state failure

Service provision in rural areas affects health and well-being. Better health through better water and sanitation makes a big difference. Having electric light in the evening, and being able to charge a phone, makes all sorts of things possible. This improves the lives of many. The public investments in the communal areas following Independence made a big difference, and reduced morbidity and mortality as the DHS surveys show over time.

This sort of public support has not been available in the resettlement areas due to lack of government capacity and the ‘sanctions’ (aka ‘restrictive measures’) from donors. Instead, private investments in water supplies, sanitation facilities and energy sources have replaced state/donor provision, although not for everyone. There are some living in the new resettlements who have not made it, and are living in very basic homes with no safe water and no toilet, with kids unable to go to school, as provisions for transport over overnight accommodation are not possible.

While it is good to celebrate the initiative and entrepreneurship of the new settlers, the costs of state failure, exacerbated by persisting resistance by international actors to work in what they deem to be ‘contested areas’, takes its toll on the most marginalised and deprived. Nearly twenty years after land reform, investment in basic infrastructure and services in the resettlement areas is long overdue. The state in particular has failed in its most basic obligations, while international players in the NGO and donor community are not upholding their own commitment to humanitarianism and universal development due to entrenched political positions.

Today, a major post-land reform effort must be combined with the rehabilitation and repair of the neglected communal area infrastructure, where investment has been minimal too over the past 10-20 years, except for the few favoured project islands where NGO and donors land. As the final blog in this series argues, thinking about rural development more broadly than isolated project interventions, and as part of local economic development at a territorial level, across communal areas, resettlements and small towns, is essential. Infrastructure and services, including water, sanitation and energy, must be at the heart of this agenda.

This post is the eighth in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge



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Integrated water resource management: panacea or problem?


Integrated water resource management (IWRM) became the buzzword for water resources policy gurus in the 1990s. The donors poured millions into projects, plans, programmes and many, many workshops and consultancy exercises. The idea was seemingly neat and simple. Water resources had to be managed locally at catchment level through an inclusive process involving all water users. Water as a scarce commodity should in turn be priced and paid for through tariffs charged on level of use. This would pay for the management systems, and also for improvements, as well as investments in environmental sustainability. The ‘Dublin principles’ – a worthy list developed at a big conference in 1992 – guided the approach, and included all the buzzwords of the time: participation, gender, decentralisation, good governance market efficiency, and more.

Zimbabwe became one of the test cases. In the 1990s it too had its share of consultancies and workshops, and eventually an Act of Parliament – the 1992 Water Act. This overturned the old colonial legislation that was based on ‘riparian rights’, or the ability to draw water depending on the location of your land. Water and land were thus separated – different ministries, legislation, administrative units and governance arrangements. The aim was to rid the country of the inequitable distribution of the past, now with all water users potentially having access if they could pay. For those who could not pay or access a permit, such as communal area farmers and small-scale irrigators, allocations of water in government dams were made. A new independent, quasi private authority – the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) was established to oversee all water issues, including the market basis of the new regime. The authority was supposed to be funded from the revenues. Catchment councils, as the new forum for managing water, were planned for seven catchments. Different donors became involved, each supporting a different area. It seemed like a dream solution, perfectly suited to the neoliberal age, but with participation, decentralisation and women’s empowerment thrown into the mix.

And then land reform happened. The rapid, largely unplanned unfolding of the land reform from 2000 quickly unravelled the carefully laid plans for the IWRM revolution in Zimbabwe. The donors who were funding the whole operation all withdrew, and the catchment councils mostly ceased to operate. The mismatch between the original design and the new agrarian reality was stark, requiring some major rethinking. Three new papers in the open access journal Water Alternatives document this story, and examine the consequences for IWRM after land reform. These come from a major Norwegian-funded project on IWRM in Southern Africa. The papers by long-term observers of the water scene in Zimbabwe, including Emmanuel Manzungu and Bill Derman, offer some fascinating insights into the history and some of the contemporary challenges of IWRM in Zimbabwe, echoing earlier findings by Sobona Mtisi, Alan Nicol and others.

Changing land use, changing water use

Only one of the papers offers data for the post-land reform period, and this focuses on some A2 farms in the Middle Manyame sub-catchment area near Harare. This is an area where there were previously massive large-scale commercial tobacco and wheat farms (including irrigated winter wheat). They had impressive infrastructure, with large scale water abstraction and irrigation systems, including massive centre pivots that irrigated the huge fields throughout the year. This was really water-intensive farming, despite efforts at improving irrigation efficiencies in the last few decades.

Following land reform, these farms, with a few exceptions, no longer operate, and nearly all have been subdivided into both A1 and A2 plots of varying sizes. All these are much, much smaller than the original properties. The consequence is that the previous irrigation infrastructure is largely redundant; it is mostly inappropriate for the current land sizes or too expensive to run. Much irrigation equipment was removed or vandalised during the tumultuous land reform period too.

Most ‘new farmers’ on the resettlements have also switched their cropping mix. Summer white maize and soy beans are now common, and tobacco is also grown in increasingly large quantities, through contract farming arrangements. Most of this is not irrigated and the only intensive irrigation tends to be on relatively small horticulture plots, reflecting a growth in small-scale market gardening.   In their study of 18 A2 farms near Mazvikadei dam, Hove and colleagues found that although about 60% were irrigating, the new farmers were reluctant to pay the fees for water use to ZINWA. Many claimed that they were not doing irrigation, or if they were did their own abstraction through boreholes or small-scale river pumps. The result has been a massive decline in officially-recorded water use, especially from ZINWA controlled dams, making the market-based response to water scarcity that IWRM offered largely meaningless.

Ignoring politics: IWRM as a technical-market fix

IWRM was a technical-market fix and (especially in Zimbabwe) explicitly ‘apolitical’. It therefore failed to address the underlying political economy of water use and control. While the Water Act abandoned the riparian rights approach in favour of an open market approach, this made little difference in practice. For access to markets for irrigated agricultural water was directly correlated with ownership of land, and the capital invested in it, especially irrigation equipment. And guess who had the land and the capital before 2000? Just the people who had benefited from the colonial legislation – the (mostly) white large-scale farmers and the commercial estates. The result was that catchment councils were dominated by this group as they had a vested interest in maintaining their access to water, and preventing reallocations elsewhere. Through the assessments that they commissioned, they could also influence water pricing, crucial to the overall commercial viability of their farming operations. Derman and Manzungu document in detail the membership of the Mupfure, Mazowe and Manyame catchment councils and the participation in the meetings in the period 1993-2001. The councils were not inclusive, participatory, decentralised and democratic, but were captured by elite interests, making use of their existing assets to leverage further resources at relatively low cost under a new mechanism, backed substantially by (international) public money. Earlier studies have shown this pattern elsewhere, for example in the Save Catchment. Rather than a model of good development, in many ways it was a scandal. Inequalities of power and control over water, reproduced by a neoliberal technical-market fix, were however overturned by land reform, creating a new rural politics of water.

Reviving the catchment councils or a more radical rethink of water resource governance?

So what is happening today? With some funds trickling back through various routes there are attempts to revive the catchment council system and institute payment systems for the new farmers, as suggested by the World Bank backed 2013 Water Policy. But, as already mentioned, there is resistance. The rhetoric of the land reform that ‘land is for the people’ (and so free) is replicated for water. Why should we pay for water? This is the government’s, or indeed God’s, resource, and part of the heritage that has been reclaimed through the land reform.

With a shift in crop mix, a change in irrigation systems towards small-scale gardening operations, and lack of capital to rehabilitate defunct water supply and irrigation systems on larger farms, the demand for water has dropped, or at least shifted to different sources (see last week’s blog). The consequence is that the incentives to invest in water management are just not there. It is not appropriate to berate the land reform for this outcome. A return to water intensive large-scale agriculture, and with this the IWRM catchment approaches, is not appropriate. With a restructured agricultural sector in terms of farm size, cropping pattern and level of capital investment, a radical rethink of water resource issues is required. This cannot take its cue from the past. The challenges are many, but they are different to the past, and so require new institutional and governance solutions.

Certainly, water resource issues have been largely ignored during land reform – in part due to the organisational, legislative and administrative separation that the 1990s IWRM system instituted. But this is not to say that they are not very significant. In fact, water provisioning for agriculture is one of the most important priorities for investment in the new resettlements, as I have argued many times on this blog. New investments should not be large-scale dams nor centre-pivot irrigation installations, but more of a focus on water harvesting, small dams/tanks, and micro-irrigation and pumping – the farmer-led irrigation systems described last week. This is revolutionising how irrigation is practised on the ground. Unfortunately, this thinking by farmers has yet to permeate through to the planners, consultants and donors.

In our work in Masvingo on new horticulture supply chains, we have observed some new water management challenges emerging. These are of two sorts. The first is the competition for pumped irrigation water from perennial and seasonal rivers and streams. There has been a massive growth in market gardening especially near Masvingo, but also other growth points and towns. This has been spurred by investment in small-scale pumps, as well as market demand. This has resulted in some severe competition between water users in particular areas. There have been the beginnings of some local initiatives to regulate use, but this has not be institutionalised. Indeed, this has been made more difficult by the existence of ZINWA and the fear of control and water charging. The result has been that the new irrigators have continued under-the-radar, but without the ability and encouragement to develop new institutions to manage the resource sustainability. Rather than an elaborate top-down, market-driven catchment council system, some more local water user associations for such areas are clearly needed, and should be allowed to flourish and assisted in doing so.

Where a larger-scale response is required is across the catchments (both Save and Runde) in the region, and in relation to water destined for the sugar and citrus estates in the lowveld. The use of water from Mtirikwe dam as well as Bangala, and now Tokwe Mukorsi, has long been controversial. The financial and political backing of the estate companies has always been important for the politics of water. This was not a resource that was going to be open to inclusive management of any sort. This remains the case. Yet the demands for water in and around these dams is growing, especially as farms expand and demands to improve productivity increase. Some ask, why should it all go to the lowveld when demands are local too? Why should we rely on an old colonial division of water that backs (white, in this case South African) capital against small-scale black farming? Why can’t water reform follow from land reform and we take back ‘our water’?

Here again an IWRM solution will not deal with these high water politics. Indeed such a solution, as before, will likely simply reinforce existing inequalities, but with a market gloss. Instead, a wider political solution is required to the politics of resource access across areas, relating to land for agriculture of different sorts, urban areas, wildlife zones and so on. This requires more than a technical land-use planning exercise based on notionally ideas of land suitability, or simplistic community management solutions, but a political negotiation about equitable access and sustainable productivity.

Water resource challenges are going to increase with growing agricultural intensification combined with climate change in the coming years. New institutions and mechanisms, and likely new legislation, will be required. Outdated and inappropriate technical-market fixes such as IWRM that simply replicate inequality and fail to deal with emerging challenges in the new agrarian system need to be rejected.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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Farmer-led irrigation in Africa: driving a new Green Revolution?


A new open access review paper is just out in the Journal of Peasant Studies on farmer-led irrigation in Africa. The authors, led by Phil Woodhouse, define farmer-led irrigation development as “a process where farmers assume a driving role in improving their water use for agriculture by bringing about changes in knowledge production, technology use, investment patterns and market linkages, and the governance of land and water”. Covering a huge array of literature and many cases (although surprisingly very little from Zimbabwe), the paper offers a fantastically useful overview of the debate about what form of irrigation is most likely to support increases in smallholder production and livelihoods in Africa.

The paper in particular identifies furrow systems in mountainous areas, valley bottom/vlei systems, small-scale pumping from wells/open water, and peri-urban agriculture, as areas where farmer-led irrigation is important. All of these are important in Zimbabwe, whether the famous furrow systems of Inyanga, the ‘wetland in dryland’ vlei or dambo cultivation in the miombo zones, small-scale pump systems everywhere, and the massive growth of cultivation in and around towns and cities. Yet such forms of irrigation are often not acknowledged, nor counted in the statistics or supported by donor investments and government policy. This is of course not a new argument, but it’s one that has become more pertinent given the rise of small-scale, informal irrigation systems, with the decline of state support for formal schemes and the decline in costs of pumps in particular allowing informal systems to expand.

There was one statistic that really struck me in the paper, based on work by Beekman and colleagues in Mozambique. They estimate that over 115,000 ha are irrigated by farmers on a small scale. Accounting for this area, this would nearly double the national total irrigated area. Perhaps not to such an extent, but the total area irrigated in Zimbabwe is surely a gross underestimate too. This is a pattern increasingly seen by more detailed satellite-based estimates of irrigated areas globally. Estimates vary but there are approximately 150,000 hectares of irrigation land in Zimbabwe, mostly in large-scale schemes, including the sugar estates. The irrigation infrastructure in Zimbabwe, however, is in a sorry state, but people are compensating by digging boreholes or pumping from open water bodies directly. Earlier blogs and some of our films profiled ‘irrigation entrepreneurs’ operating small-scale farmer designed and managed irrigation systems, mostly for market-oriented horticultural production.

Our data from Mvurwi area in Mazowe district in 2014-15 showed that 34% of A1 households in our sample of 220 had pumps, with 0.44 on average being bought per household in the five years from 2010. Around 12% of households have irrigated plots on their main fields, while all households have gardens, either at the home or by a nearby river/stream. Even former farm workers living in compounds are buying pumps, as they branch out into farming (see earlier blogs), with 0.2 pumps on average bought per household in the same period. Pumps now cost only around $200 for a cheap Chinese make, and these can irrigate small gardens. Some are upgrading to larger engines, while others are expanding production areas through storage systems, and having a series of pumps. The extent of such irrigated areas is not known, but just taking our study areas in Mazowe, Masvingo and Matobo districts, my estimate is that it’s considerable.

The JPS paper highlights five characteristics of farmers’ investment in irrigation. They all apply in Zimbabwe, and each has important policy implications.

  1. Farmers invest substantially. Whether this is in new pumps or pipes or furrow systems in mountain areas or in vleis, irrigation requires investments of cash and labour. This is significant, and as we saw in our survey data from land reform areas in Zimbabwe, pumps in particular have become a priority investment, across social groups and geographical areas.
  2. Interactions among farmers, external agencies and the rural economy are crucial. Too often studies of irrigation focus just on the technology, but not on the interactions required and generated. In Zimbabwe, most new irrigation is spontaneous, independent of the state, NGOs and projects. But connections with the rural economy are important. There is a whole new set of businesses emerging for selling, maintaining and repairing pumps. And the production generated from new irrigation is transforming markets, as we showed in our earlier work, highlighted in our SMEAD films.
  3. Innovation occurs in broad socio-technical networks and complex agricultural systems. The classic engineering approach to irrigation focuses on flat areas, large water supplies and fixed technology. This is the form of standard irrigation schemes. But farmer-led irrigation manages water in different ways, making use of water within a landscape. Slopes, pits, valley bottoms and so on all become significant in maximising irrigation potential. The late Zephaniah Phiri was perhaps the most famous of Zimbabwe’s farmer irrigators, and was a master of harvesting water in landscapes. Technologies – in Mr Phiri’s case, a combination of pits, check dams, pumps and contour ridges – are constructed in a social context, and must always be seen as ‘socio-technologies’, part of ‘networks’, as the paper suggests.
  4. Formal land tenure is not a prerequisite for irrigation development. As discussed many times on this blog, ‘formal land tenure’ (such as freehold or leasehold) is not a prerequisite for investment in farming, including irrigation. This is especially so with mobile, flexible irrigation. Communal tenure or the permit/offer letter system found in A1 areas is not a constraint, as we have seen. This seems to be the case across Africa too, as the paper shows.
  5. Many benefit, but others are adversely affected. Highlighting the benefits of farmer-led irrigation must be tempered by an assessment of who wins and who loses. As discussed in respect of the new pump based irrigation systems in Masvingo, downstream impacts can be severe, and second-generation challenges of water management are emerging. The investors in these new irrigation systems are usually men (able to buy the pumps) and the losers may be women and other family members, who often have to supply the labour (a theme largely ignored in the review). Gluts of production are common in such systems too, so those surviving along market chains may be affected. As the paper argues, an overall assessment is necessary, but the benefits are significant – and underestimated.

There is a much-repeated narrative about Africa’s agriculture – that it missed out on the ‘Green Revolution’ due to the lack of irrigation. The comparison with Asia is always made, where approximately 20 per cent of land is irrigated, while in Africa it is supposed to be less than 4 per cent. As discussed above, this contrast is probably not accurate, and far more land is already being irrigated in Africa, but through different systems. Because of rainfall, topography, markets and a host of other factors, Africa and Asia are never going to be the same, and such comparisons are often rather futile. But nevertheless, we should learn more about what is happening with water and agriculture on the ground in Africa. This paper identifies farmer-led irrigation as an important trend, and one that may well be driving an unnoticed Green Revolution in Africa.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland


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The El Niño drought hits livestock hard in Zimbabwe

The El Niño drought is hitting hard this year. Livestock in particular are suffering, as grass and water are scarce. Some fear that it could be as bad as 1991-92 when around a million cattle died. To date some 7000 cattle mortalities have been recorded, the majority of which have been in Masvingo province, as well as Matabeleland. Government and aid agencies are encouraging farmers to destock, urging people to buy supplementary feed to save breeding stock. Drought task teams have been established in the affected provinces, and emergency feedlots are being established. It is a very serious situation. As perhaps the most valuable asset that most people have, losing herds can be devastating for livelihoods and recovery takes many years. Some small showers have recently improved grass conditions in some places, but the amount of fodder available is clearly grossly inadequate to see animals through the long dry season across the coming months.

Livestock in the 1991-92 drought

In this blog I again draw on work we carried out in 1991-92 in Chivi communal area, and is reported in the book, Hazards and Opportunities. During 1991-92 overall cattle survival among our sample was only 41%. This was the case for both large and small herd owners, with no significant relationships being shown between pre-drought herd sizes and survival rates. As now, it was a widespread drought, with all areas and all people affected. By the end of the drought 68% of households had no cattle at all, up from 55% before the drought. Drought recovery took years, and it was only by the late 1990s that herds had reached pre drought levels.

Herd composition is also affected by drought, and in turn affects the recovery dynamics. The table below shows the composition in the Chivi sample, pre and post 1991-92 drought. Cows were especially badly affected (particularly those with calves), although heifers survived better, and were the basis of post-drought recovery.


Cattle type Pre-drought (N = 583) % Post-drought (N = 247) %


Bull 8.1 6.5
Oxen 22.5 17.8
Cow 34.5 21.9
Steer 5.7 8.1
Heifer 20.8 37.7
Male Calf 2.7 2.4
Female Calf 5.8 5.7



The pattern of response among Chivi herds during 1991-92 is shown in the Table below. This differentiates between two phases of the drought: the early period before December 1992 and the later phase after this time and before the end of 1992.

RESPONSE Period 1 (N=64) % Period 2 (N=48) %
Illegal grazing 9.7 25.0
Movement out 29.0 35.4
Leasing 14.1 10.4
Commercial feed 16.1 14.6
Pods and hay 3.2 4.2
Cut & carry grass 12.5 4.3
Tree products 100.0 100.0
Crop residues 34.4 2.1

Movement out of the area was a vital strategy. However it took on a different form to earlier droughts. Data from the 1982-84 drought and the impact on cattle survival in Mazvihwa, Zvishavane district collected during my PhD studies (Scoones 1992), show how early movement was crucial to overall survival.



Description of movement % survival N   (herds)
A Out of area (c. November 1982) 40.1 287
B Out of the area in the dry season (Aug-Oct 1993) 22.9 402
C No movement outside area 3.3 181

But by contrast to 1982-84, movement had less of an impact in 1991-92. Cattle were moved from Chivi to a variety of sites during late 1991. In the first part of the drought, 29% of herds were moved out of their home area to another site within the communal lands. By the second part of drought this had risen to over 35%. Illegal grazing outside the communal area (in resettlement areas or commercial farms) represented another type of movement. Nearly 10% of herds had been moved to such sites in the first period of drought and by the second period a quarter of all herds were using illegal grazing. However, the drought’s impact was so extensive and so dramatic that movement within a large radius was pointless. Animals that had been moved earlier got stranded, unable to benefit from the micro-management afforded to cattle resident at home kraals

During 1991-92, the largest cause of mortality was death due to starvation or extreme water shortage (47.7%). A significant number of animals were slaughtered just prior to death through poverty in order to salvage some meat for local consumption or sale (30.3%). Low nutritional status is linked with disease susceptibility and a number of animals died either directly from illness or were slaughtered because of disease (4.5%). Extensive searching for food required animals to wander far. This meant that a number were permanently lost; either they died while out foraging or they were stolen (5.7%). Foraging also had to take place in dangerous places (road edges, mountains, river banks) and a number of cattle died due to accidents (7.2%). Only very few animals (4.5%) were purposefully slaughtered.

The pattern observed during 1991-92 parallels that in previous droughts. Due to the fact that cattle are considerably more valuable live (for draft power, manure, milk etc.) than dead (sale value), there are very strong incentives to try and maintain live stock. Destocking is a risky option as the terms of sale during drought and repurchase following drought are not favourable to the herd owner. The costs of not having animals available to plough in the rainy season (assuming rains came) is so high that most farmers retain their stock as long as possible. No matter how much the government or the NGOs beseeched livestock owners to destock, they didn’t, and the rationale was clear.

The 1991-92 drought mortalities meant that much restocking during the 1990s was with mixed breeds, or animals purchased from commercial ranches. During the land reform, breeds got mixed even more, with the hardy indigenous Shona, Tuli and other breeds being diluted in the nation’s genetic stock. Indigenous breeds are well known to be able to survive off mixed diets of grass and browse and can survive without water for long periods. By contrast the larger, grass-dependent ‘improved’ breeds’ condition quickly deteriorates when grazing and water is scarce. In many respects, Zimbabwe’s cattle herds are less resilient than they were before.

What lessons can be drawn?

First, flexible movement is key, and restrictions imposed by veterinary controls can result in major increases in mortality. However illegal movement to underutilised commercial ranches is now not possible, nor is lease grazing on ranches. Most of these areas are now resettled as part of the land reform. Movement to the new resettlements from the communal areas has been a regular feature of the past 15 years, as have new relationships being struck with A2 farms. Relief grazing on state land is also vital, and so making access to state farms, military land and national partks will be important. These strategies will be crucial for herd survival in the coming months, and need to be encouraged and facilitated.

Second, access to water is almost as important as grazing, and in the past many animals perished from thirst rather than starvation (although usually a combination). A focused public works programme that invested in rehabilitating water sources, including pumping from dry rivers, establishment of mifuku, and so on, could be a highly productive investment.

Third, supplementary feeding is vital, especially for maintaining a core breeding herd. In the early 1990s there were not so many agrodealers, and certainly very few out in the rural areas. This has changed, and means that the purchase of blocks and other supplementary feeds has become much easier. People also have experience of using such sources of feed now, and will likely make much more use of them this year than in the past. Ensuring market supply, and offering subsidised options, may be a good investment.

Fourth, encouraging people to sell animals early as part of a destocking campaign has been a failure in the past, and is likely to be so again. While some richer A2 and A1 farmers, with other sources of income, and no reliance on draft animals for ploughing, may opt for destocking sales, most will only sell when animals are already virtually dead. Those with access to land, water and feed may take advantage of such poverty sales and buy up animals for rehabilitation and later fattening. Here the role of A2 farmers may become important, compared to the past.

The costs of losing herds is devastating as we saw in the early 1990s. The impacts are felt for years, undermining agricultural production and livelihoods. Ensuring that mortalities are reduced, and that animals survive is essential, but it seems the efforts being invested now are too little, too late; and sadly making the same mistakes of the past.

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


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The water harvester, Zephaniah Phiri, has died

The famed ‘water harvester’ of Zvishavane, Zephaniah Phiri, has died aged 88. He was an inspiration to many, and certainly to me. When I was in my 20s he taught me so much about agricultural ecology and rural development – indeed far more than I ever learned from textbooks or university courses. And it has stayed with me as a source of knowledge and guidance. Since then I have always tried to visit him at his home at Msipane when in Zimbabwe, and it has always been a joy to see him and his family. Each time there have been new developments on his farm to share, as well as the usual gossip and stories. He was the true local innovator, always trying out new solutions and sharing them widely. It was wonderful to welcome him to our own home in the UK in 2001, and hear him challenge us about our own extravagant and wasteful water use. It is a terribly sad loss, but his legacy will live on in the huge influence he has had on agriculture and soil and water conversation in Zimbabwe – and indeed much further afield.

zimsept09 029Zephaniah Phiri, 2 February 1927 – 1 September 2015/Photo: Msipane, Sept 2009

Below is an edited extract from his ‘cv’, on the Muonde Trust website, compiled by Ken Wilson. The cv has many other links to videos, testimonies, reports and other research relating to Mr Phiri’s work. See also another Zimbabweland blog here. For a much more detailed account, largely in his own words, see Mary Witoshynsky’s, ‘The Water Harvester: The Inspired Life of Zephaniah Phiri’, published by Weaver.

“Mr. Phiri was educated at Dadaya Mission, for which his father, Amon Phiri (“Bvuma”) was a renowned evangelist who played a lead role under Sir Garfield Todd in the Church of Christ Mission after its Africanization in 1938. Mr. Phiri himself played a leadership role in the Church in the 1960s and 1970s, including in establishing Makiwa Church near his home.

Mr. Phiri’s early career as a fireman on the railways was cut short by his detention in the early 1960s at Gonakudzingwa for his union and other political activities. Following his release in the mid­‐1960s he was blacklisted from formal employment by the Rhodesian Front Government.

Forced to depend upon a small piece of poor land on the edge of a vlei near Msipane in the Runde Communal land, Mr. Phiri experimented with wells, ponds and other water management systems from the late 1960s until Independence. Arrested three times for “farming a waterway” the magistrate eventually demanded to see Mr. Phiri’s land, ultimately ruling against the Government’s L.D.O. (Land Development Officer) and granting Mr. Phiri resource rights to use his conservation farming in his wetland. In 1973 a more progressive L.D.O. brought local farmers to see his drought-­‐beating methods.

In 1973 Mr. Phiri opened his first pond. Ponds enabled holding more water in the vlei, without waterlogging the soils. As the Liberation War expanded he was again detained under house arrest by the Rhodesian authorities in 1976 and severely tortured. His tribulations continued until the end of war, with a long period in leg­‐irons. He never regained his hearing in one ear, but physiotherapy improved the use of his leg.

After Independence his farm became the focus of much interest by local farmer groups and NGOs. Mr. Phiri continued to increase water storage on the farm and to diversify his homestead production system with extensive orchards, including of mango and banana, the sale of reeds for basket making, the adoption of bees, and the development of indigenous permacultural techniques to improve soil and protect areas from run-­‐off.

From 1982-­1986 he served as a Community Liaison Officer for the Lutheran World Federation water programme in the Zvishavane and Mberengwa region. The focus was on protecting wells and on small concrete dams in seasonal streams. Working closely with the District Development Fund and local councillors this revolutionized water and sanitation in the area after Independence. Still active on his land he founded the Vulindhlebe Soil and Water Conservation Project in 1984 and helped many other local gardening groups.

From 1986 to 1988 Dr. K.B. Wilson invited him to join the research team of the University of London/University of Zimbabwe agricultural ecology study in Mazvihwa (Zvishavane) with Mr. Mathou Chakavanda, Mr. Johnson Madyakuseni, Dr. B.B. Mukamuri, Mr. Abraham Mawere Ndhlovu, Dr. Ian Scoones, and others. Mr. Phiri was responsible for action research around soil and water management and again in collaboration with DDF, he assisted Mazvihwans to sink wells, to build more small dams and to improve gardening. His studies also transformed the research team’s understanding of the hydrology of these watersheds and their wetlands.

[Dug out of my archives, a summary of the research projects from that time can be found here, and some excerpts from Mr Phiri’s notebooks, when he was investigating the potentials of water projects in Mazvihwa from 1987 or thereabouts are here].

Stimulated by the experiments with sand filtration using concrete rings, Mr. Phiri discovered in 1987 the concept of “Phiri pits” – holes in contour trenches where water accumulates designed to drive water infiltration deep into the soils up-­‐slope to feed down slope fields later in the season. During the 1980s and 1990s he placed Phiri pits across his land. Efforts to replicate this system were widespread in the region, the most well‐known being by Kuda Murwira and Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) in Chivi.

He founded the Zvishavane Water Project (ZWP) in 1988 and served as its Director until his retirement in 1996. One of the country’s first indigenous NGOs, ZWP secured support from many local and international donors and played a major role in Zvishavane and neighbouring districts with the provision of water for domestic and agricultural uses.

Meanwhile Mr. Phiri continued to receive 25­‐30 visitors a month to his farm. Based upon analysis of his Visitor’s Book, Mr. Phiri officially received close to 10,000 visitors over the last thirty years. These visitors included people from every Government Department, research station, university, district in Zimbabwe and thirty different NGOs; as well as people from 14 African countries and 9 other countries in Asia, Europe and North and South America. The visitors included thousands of farmers who came on their own or with local NGOs, and AGRITEX/AREX officers and spread his ideas, and especially his faith in farmer innovation and responsibility.

As he became more and more well known, he received international recognition through the Ashoka fellowship and National Geographic Society/Buffet Award for Leadership in African Conservation. Proposed at his Lifetime Achievement Award event in 2010, the Phiri Award for Farm & Food Innovators was launched under the chairmanship of Dr. Mandivamba Rukuni and other leading figures in the sustainable agriculture field in Zimbabwe to offer an annual award for indigenous innovation among Zimbabwean farmers. The first awards were presented in 2014, in Mr Phiri’s presence.


The award, the legacy of Zvishavane Water Projects and the work of the Muonde Trust, as well as his homestead in Msipane, will continue the lifetime work of Mr Phiri. He will be sorely missed by all of us, but his work lives on. A remarkable person, a remarkable life.

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








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Recognising farmer innovation: the launch of the Phiri award

On October 24th at Barraza Pavilion in Tynwald in Harare, the Phiri award for farm and food innovators will be launched.


The award is named for Zephaniah Phiri, the renowned water harvester and ecological farmer from Zvishavane district, who is a long-time friend and inspiration to me. His innovations in wetland (vlei) farming over a fifty year period earned him first arrest and then national and international recognition. It’s hoped that the Phiri Award for Farm and Food Innovators will open a new chapter in advancing indigenous innovation in Zimbabwe.

Just as Mr. Phiri discovered new ways to produce food abundantly and sustainably through detailed study and active management of the soils and hydrology of his land, so too are other dedicated Zimbabwean farmers making quiet breakthroughs that advance food sovereignty in their communities.

Just as Mr. Phiri shared his innovations with thousands of visitors from across the country, Africa and the world, so too can other local innovators be recognised and assisted to disseminate their innovations, technologies and sustainable farming practices.   Just as Mr. Phiri’s innovations – such as water infiltration pits in contour ridges and clay-lined ponds in vleis – are now adopted by tens of thousands of dryland farmers, so too can other innovations not yet recognised contribute nationally and beyond to the advancement of agro-ecological approaches to sustainable food systems.

Increasing recognition for local innovation and the creative capacity of food producers to solve deep problems and find new opportunities can help advance a partnership approach to agricultural development in which all knowledge is valued. This has a huge potential to sustain with dignity the central place of women and men who meet the food needs of their communities and the country.

The Phiri Award is a new programme, whose trustees are drawn from leading Zimbabwean institutions. The Trust is chaired by Professor Mandivamba Rukuni. Working with national networks, local government and grassroots groups, the Trust gathers nominations from across the country; coordinates visits to selected farmers and others during their growing and harvesting season; documents their innovations; and organises the annual Award ceremony.

As with Mr Phiri, the award winning innovators will have relied on their own resources and energies to develop their practices, and will often have struggled for many years to gain recognition for their work. They will come from small-scale farming communities or marginalised backgrounds in urban settings. From creativity in the face of hardship, they will have developed proven new approaches that others have now begun to adopt and adapt.

So if you are anywhere near Harare (the venue is 15 mins from town by car) on October 24th, come and meet the 2014 award winners, and of course Mr Phiri himself, along with the Trustees and many others. Just let the organisers know (email below).

Thanks to John Wilson (secretary and acting coordinator of the Trust) and Ken Wilson (trustee) for this information (and most of text for the blog!). To contact the Phiri Award and register your attendance at the launch, please email: phiriaward@gmail.com

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




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How have the ‘new farmers’ fared? An update on the Masvingo study IV

In our 2010 book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities, we described the pattern of on-farm investment across the 16 sites and 400 households in our sample, since settlement to 2007-08 (depending on the site, around 5-7 years). We argued that this was a significant individual and aggregate amount, adding up to US$2161 per household on average across the total sample. If extrapolated to all official fast-track land reform beneficiaries in the province at that time, this adds to a total of $73m. No small sum.

This calculation was based on a number of investments, including land clearance, housing, cattle, farm equipment, transport, toilets, garden fencing and wells. We have been criticised for not having a baseline with which to compare. Well now we have (and in a future blog series, I will be comparing these results with communal area counterparts). In this blog, I want to ask how investment has changed since 2007-08? In 2011-12 we asked the same households about assets acquired in the previous five years. We used the same methodology and have applied the same 2009 US$ replacement values for all items to make the data comparable (see Chapter 4 of the book for details). It’s a rough and ready calculation that is interesting for its patterns and trends rather than the absolute numbers, but I think is nevertheless revealing of an important dynamic on the new resettlements.

What did we find? As noted in last week’s blog, the big story is one of continued accumulation of cattle. In the period from settlement to 2007-08, households had accumulated significant numbers of cattle, then focused in the better off ‘success groups’. In the next five years, this trend continued ever upward with a total of 281 cattle acquired across all households. In percentage terms, growth in herd numbers has been especially concentrated in ‘success group’ 2 and 3 households (the income and asset poor). This is a different pattern from before, suggesting new people are now accumulating cattle as assets. In total at 2009 values, this represents US$247 worth of purchases and US$961 worth of all increases, including births and gifts, per household. Other livestock have not seen such a dramatic change, with goat numbers declining in some sites, although sheep numbers are up but overall the trend is upwards.

Across other assets that we have seen some significant investment too. This includes the increase in the number of buildings and the upgrading of their quality. In 2007-08, there were 371 houses (excluding kitchens and granaries) built across the sample. 16%% were brick with asbestos or tin roofing, 38% were brick and thatch and 46% were pole and mud. Today there are 971 houses, with 27%, 46%, and 24% across these categories, representing a significant increase in number and quality of the main housing structures on the farms. If we take the 2009 costs of construction and all buildings, including kitchens and granaries, this represents additional investment $684 per household. Toilets have been built in large numbers too. In 2007-08 only 38% of households in the survey sample had a dedicated toilet structure, but by 2011-12 this had increased to 60%.

These sites are now thoroughly inhabited with increasingly impressive building stock. The trade in bricks, cement, roofing materials, thatch, windows, doors, and building skills has been significant, adding to the local economy, as well as the main retailers of building equipment.

In terms of water resources, 108 new wells have been dug in the previous five years across the sites, adding to the intensive construction in the previous years, with now around two-thirds of households having access to their own protected borehole/well as a domestic water source. Sometimes farmers dig their own, but in most cases water tables were low, and specialist well diggers and liners had to be hired in. There is good money to be made in this business if you have the skills across the resettlement areas.

In the period since settlement to 2007-08, clearance of arable land for farming was a very significant investment. We estimated that an average of 11 ha (with large variations) was cleared in those farms where farming activities were established, and cost about $50 per ha. Clearing new land has slowed, and indeed in some sites arable areas appear to have declined, as labour, draft power and inputs have not been available to continue extensification. Only in Mwenezi did we observe an increase in area cleared as people moved from the communal areas to establish more permanent farms. But overall this aspect of investment was not significant in this period, and so we have not identified an investment value for it.

Gardens were another facet of investment we looked at in 2007-08. In addition to clearing the land, this involves fencing, either with wire or more commonly brush, and represented an important investment for around 40% of households. However, in the last few years, garden areas have not expanded significantly, except in the A1 villagised sites, as most of the clearance and garden establishment happened earlier, and again we have not included this aspect of investment in our overall assessment for the recent period.

Farm equipment and transport are two other areas of investment that continue to be important, with accelerating levels. In the five years before 2011, 181 ox ploughs, 40 cultivators, and 94 scotch carts were bought. This represents new investments of US$271 per household if the equipment was valued at a 2009 price. Equally, transport has been a focus of investment with bicycles being bought especially in the A1 sites, cars in the A1 self-contained and A2 sites, and a few tractors in the A2 sites. In the five years before 2011, 175 bicycles, 67 cars and 19 tractors had been purchased, representing a total of $320 per household at 2009 prices.

The investment values per household across the subset of categories we have looked at over time is summarised in a table below, which compares the 2011-12 data presented in the book for 2007-08.

Focus of investment 2007-08Average per household (US$) at standardised 2009 prices 2011-12Average per household (US$) at standardised 2009 prices
Land clearance 385
Housing/buildings 631 684
Cattle 612 247 (purchase), all increases 961
Farm equipment 198 271
Transport 150 320 (232 excluding tractors)
Toilets 77 51
Garden fencing 29
Wells 79 57
Total $2161 $1491 to $2293

We can see that investment has continued, particularly in assets linked to farm production (whether in terms of cattle, farm equipment or transport) and resettlement living (especially housing, sanitation and water supplies).

In addition, there has been significant investment in items we didn’t even look at in 2007-08 such as solar panels and cell phones. A few years ago, these were regarded as luxuries, available to only a few, but today, they are widely available. In the five years before 2011, 661 cell phones and 227 solar panels were bought across the sites, representing 1.75 new cell phones per household and 0.6 solar panels. At a current rough average value, the total investment per household in cell phones (at $50 each) was $87 and solar panels (at $150 each) was $90.

While multiple caveats must be attached to all these figures, the point, as noted before, is less the actual number but more the scale and trend of the investment dynamic. This is significant and impressive, and has continued now over many years, generated in large part through the economic activities motivated by land reform. Of course patterns of investment are highly differentiated, and in this short blog I have not been able to drill down into the detail. There are those who are doing well, and those who are not, and patterns of accumulation and differentiation continue to play out with multiple implications for agrarian dynamics.

But at root, as shown in our earlier studies, and again in our follow up data, we can see that the process of ‘accumulation from below’ is widespread, with important implications for longer term trajectories and the type of support that the resettlement areas need as part of a post-land reform rural development policy.

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

The on-going Masvingo study research is conducted by Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene.




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Dams, flooding and displacement: the Tokwe Mukorsi dam

Zimbabwe’s heavy rainfall this season has had its costs. The most dramatic has been the major flooding in Masvingo as the long awaited Tokwe Mukorsi dam filled more rapidly than expected. Rather than filling gradually over four years, with a phased process of relocation of people, it did so over a matter of weeks. There were threats to the dam wall, and a fear a major catastrophe might result.

Dramatic satellite images of the extent of flooding have been shared, and SABC broadcast a short news item on the unfolding drama, showing images of the floods, and the damage caused. The flooding has resulted in over 4500 people having to be evacuated at short notice, and shifted to a number of holding camps in the lowveld. It has been declared a national emergency, and considerable resources have been deployed in response. Funds from the US as well as China have been offered, and whole fleets of CMED vehicles have been commandeered to move people. Emergency camps have been established, and feeding programmes instituted.

In December, while visiting our research study site along the Ngundu-Chiredzi road, the first phase of relocation was on-going, and we witnessed a string of trucks, tractors and trailors carrying people and their possessions heading to Nuanetsi ranch. They had left their ancestral lands, their homes, fields and grave sites, with the promise of compensation, new homes and access irrigated land and the water that was to cover where they once lived. But in February, as the scale of the massive rainfall and rapid filling of the dam became apparent, this turned from an orderly, planned move, to an emergency.

The Tokwe Mukorsi dam has been long in the planning. From the 1980s it was part of a strategic development of lowveld water resources, essentially to guarantee supply of water to the sugar and citrus estates. It was always political, wrapped up in national and local lowveld wrangles. Funding though has always been a challenge. The project has been on and off for decades. But in recent years, it has moved ahead, and Italian engineers and local companies have been involved. However, the engineers’ plans had discounted a once in 30 year rainfall event and had projected the gradual filling of the dam on the basis of more common rainfall patterns. This risk assessment of course proved incorrect, prompting the current disaster.

To the credit of the authorities, the response has been swift and losses have been minimised. No-one, as far as I can tell, has lost their life directly as a result. Dislocation and misery has resulted, and the make-shift arrangements at the holding camps have been reportedly appalling. But, everyone agrees, it could have been much, much worse.

This event has raised some bigger issues. We must ask, what is the role of such big infrastructure projects in development? Who gains and who loses? And how should displacement, compensation and relocation be managed when wider development priorities trump local concerns or resistance?

These are dilemmas being faced the world over. There is a wide obsession with the big, prestige project. Nehru proclaimed that ‘dams are the temples of modern India’. The Three Gorges dam in China has become a symbol of Chinese modernity. And in Ethiopia, the controversial Ghibe dam was a pet project of the late prime minister, Meles Zenawi. In the Rhodesian era, of course Kariba represented such a vision. And in recent decades, Tokwe Mukorsi has been associated with a similar rhetoric.

In the late 1990s, the World Commission on Dams made the case building on mountains of evidence that very often large scale is not best. A more diverse approach to water management, involving a variety of approaches to capturing, storing and distributing water is more appropriate. This advice however has been rarely heeded. The big project brings money, patronage, backhanders and more. And big projects can be seen as prestige legacies of particular people and politicians. Engineering development has its appeal: one solution, rather than many; and a technical one that needs a particular type of expertise. Yet the argument about big dams continues to rage. A paper out this month by Antif Ansar, Bent Flyvbjerg and colleagues suggests they are mostly economically unviable, bring massive costs of displacement and again a more diverse set of options is preferable. Not a new argument at all, but stated forcefully with recent numbers.

The Oxford study focuses on mega-large hydropower dams which Tokwe Mukorsi is not, but many of the same issues apply. There was repeated and systematic underestimation of costs, and as the flooding has shown the risk assessments have been found wanting. Tokwe Mukorsi was intended to benefit the large-scale sugar estates in the lowveld, not the local community. Resettlement was of course part of the plan, with a view that those displaced would become outgrowers in new sugar plantations. But will these offers be upheld, and what are the other more intangible losses suffered through displacement? Will those in Chivi who remain behind benefit from the new water? Or will it be ‘protected’ as part of ‘watershed management’, so upstream users lose out to the more powerful downstream? A game park has been mooted for the area, but who will benefit from this, as this takes up the banks of the new lake area?

When the immediate challenges of dealing with the flooding and its consequences pass, these are the bigger questions that will have to be dealt with. The minister of state for Masvingo, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, has asked for new ideas on how to make use of the development potential of this new water. This is a welcome move, as past projects – whether Kyle/Mtirikwi or Kariba – have excluded local people from this conversation. Maybe the new Tokwe Mukorsi water can be used to benefit local development through small-scale irrigation, as well as profiting the estates in the lowveld.

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


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