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Transforming the state: building security from below

Zimbabwe is often held up as the typical ‘fragile state’ in need of wholesale ‘security’ and ‘governance’ reform. Indeed such issues are high on the agenda of those debating Zimbabwe’s transition. While we await the outcome of the vote on the new Constitution held on Saturday (almost certainly an endorsement), thoughts must turn to other aspects of the transition. Building a basis for effective governance and security from below is an essential part of realising the ambitions of the proposed Constitution. Developing a framework for support, including by donors who will now hopefully reengage with Zimbabwe, is essential.

A recent paper from the LSE’s Justice and Security Research Programme by Robin Luckham from IDS and Tom Kirk from LSE offers some interesting perspectives, and challenges some of the core assumptions of a standard, donor-led reform agenda. Its findings are highly relevant to Zimbabwe, and it is well worth reading in full.

It starts from the observation that in many ‘fragile state’ settings, there are ‘hybrid political orders’ operating. Far from a situation of state failure, according to the OECD such societies:

[c]ontinue to function, to form institutions, to negotiate politically, and to set and meet expectations. Traditional forms of authority are not necessarily inimical to the development of rules-based political systems … In fact, the challenge is to understand how traditional and formal systems interact in any particular context, and to look for ways of constructively combining them. (OECD 2011)

This is certainly the case in Zimbabwe where a lack of security is creating vulnerability and risk for many citizens. Yet as the LSE paper notes:

“much mainstream academic and policy thinking that security is an almost self-evident public good unproblematically delivered by states or by the international community in situations of state failure. For the most part, this mainstream has showed little interest in unpeeling security’s multiple layers of meaning; it has not properly investigated the relationship of security to political power; it has not scrutinised security as a politically contested object; and it has not on the whole looked at it from the perspective of end-users, i.e. those who are secured. Whilst new approaches to human and citizen security have challenged the state-centric bias of previous security thinking, they still tend to overlook security’s relationships to political power, including its deeply contested nature in hybrid political orders”.

So what are hybrid political orders? This literature refers to such phenomena as ‘legal pluralism’, ‘twilight institutions’ and ‘mediated’ or ‘negotiated’ states. Public authority is not fixed, and is continuously produced through negotiation across a range of actors. This challenges to rethink the nature of ‘the state’ in such settings, and indeed its assumed functions, including security, which may be delivered through multiple processes.

Even the World Bank, long an advocate of standard, western style governance reforms appears to accept elements of this argument. In its flagship World Development Report publication of 2011 it argued for ‘collaborative, inclusive-enough coalitions’ which ’restore confidence and transform institutions and help create continued momentum for positive change’. This is not an image of standardised, imposed governance and security reform.

But what political processes might help form such coalitions to deliver security? This is far from straightforward. Simplistic reform measures often advocated by donors as part of ‘post-conflict’ reconstruction interventions will not work. The LSE paper argues that “donor policies and programmes aiming to reform the security sectors of fragile and contested states should be viewed with a heavy dose of caution”. The paper notes the extreme mismatch between a policy literature which “tends to assume that states and their security and justice institutions are capable in principle of delivering security if reforms are pushed through” and a critical research literature which “suggests that insecurity and violence may be entrenched in the heart of the state itself and ‘work’ to the benefit of predatory state and other elites”.

The paper goes on “Thus, in countries with corrupt or abusive institutions… those responsible for delivering security and justice are often the perpetrators of insecurity…Conversely the alleged agents of insecurity… may offer alternative forms of protection or even claim to act as liberators”. Thus in Zimbabwe, the state has often been a major source of insecurity, leading violence during election periods, intimidating people not towing the line, and overseeing a security apparatus that has its tentacles spread into every corner. Yet at a local level, it is sometimes war veterans – often seen as agents of disorder and disruption – who keep the peace, negotiating security through pacts with local leaders, traditional, religious and others. Allied at some moments with the central state, but highly disillusioned and resistant at others, such processes are typical of hybrid political orders, perpetually negotiated, always contingent and highly context specific. This is why generalised narratives about violence, insecurity and disorder are always inadequate, and require locating and specifying in better understandings of what happens in particular places, as we have long argued in our work on land reform.

Yet at a moment of potential transition, how can the state be reformed to allow for justice, security and rights for citizens after a period of turmoil, and capture by elites? A locale-specific, negotiated arrangement is clearly not enough, and is always fragile. In terms of the literature surveyed in the LSE paper, Zimbabwe can be characterised as a ‘Contested Leviathan’, a setting where state power is contested, but the apparatus of control is still in place, through the armed forces and the security services in particular, allied to a narrow political elite with waning support.

As the literature shows from numerous cases, “These contested Leviathans seldom give up their claims on power willingly or peacefully. Even when they do start to cede power to democratically elected governments, as in Egypt and Burma, their security apparatus may seek to co-opt the transitions and mould them to their own security-dominated vision of the polity”… “Under hybrid governance systems, security arrangements often protect elites, including security elites, and reinforce inequalities in power and wealth. They tend all too often to be deployed to close political spaces, reduce political participation and resist accountability”….[Formal arrangements] in turn “interconnect with the parallel powers of hybrid political orders, including systems of patronage, and the manipulation of ethnic and religious identities as instruments of security policy” [Such] “regimes and their security apparatuses may sometimes even thrive upon durable disorder and insecurity” Does this sound like Zimbabwe? Certainly it does, as Brian Raftopoulos and others have vividly described.

My colleague Mariz Tadros has shown in the case of Egypt, agents of state security act as parallel powers, intersecting with other corporate and political interests, and with influence deep into civil society. This can help perpetuate the legacies of injustice, even in supposedly democratic or ‘post-conflict’ states. For any country in transition, including Zimbabwe, this is an important lesson, felt acutely in Central America, and most recently in the Middle East.

The LSE paper makes the case that we need to understand what security looks like ‘from below’, i.e. from the perspective of ‘end users’ be these citizens of states, members of local communities or those who are marginalised. It is from here that a rebuilding of security must start, accepting hybrid political orders, but also addressing the political and social inequalities that come with them. A political process for rebuilding security, and with it the state itself, must start the paper argues with asking: “What are their vernacular understandings of security and how do these reflect the hybrid and contested nature of political authority at a local level? What connects their particular and local experiences and understandings to wider conceptions of citizen and of human security?

Only with a view of security from below can a legitimate and accountable state be rebuilt. This is an important set of ideas that has much relevance for the immediate future of Zimbabwe, and begins to put flesh on the idea of ‘rebuilding public authority from below’ we floated in our book. I hope those involved in this debate will learn as much as I did from this impressive paper and review of the literature.

Next week, the blog will reflect on the outcome of the vote on the Constitution, and in particular the implications for the land issue.

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

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Zimbabwe’s poultry industry: rapid recovery, but major challenges

Zimbabwe’s poultry industry has shown massive growth since 2009. A range of sizes of units have sprung up everywhere – from the medium size units of 1000 birds to massive industrial scale operations. Chickens are big business.

Meat consumption has changed significantly in Zimbabwe over the last 20 years. Beef used to be the most consumed, with Zimbabweans eating on average 13kg per annum in the 1980s. According to a recent USAID report (see below), today this has dropped to only 3.3kg, the lowest in the region. Chicken and pork in particular have replaced this, with chicken consumption is now half of all meat consumed. Beef has dropped to only 35%. Meat consumption has rebounded since 2009 as the economy has improved, now estimated to be 11000MT per month, up by 20%. But the pattern of consumption has changed. This has been driven in part by taste, but also austerity as people looked to cheaper sources of protein. According to the USAID report, the retail price of economy beef which has the highest demand is between US$4.60 – US$5.00 per kg compared to the average chicken retail price of about US$3.30 per kg.

After the stabilization of the economy, many invested in poultry as a sure-fire way of making money. The data in the graphs below are from a recent World Bank report, showing the rapid increase in both broilers and layer production of day old chicks, according to Ministry of Agriculture (MAMID) data.

Day old chick production (layers)


 Day old chick production (broilers)


But there are significant challenges to these new producers.  These centre in particular on competition from cheap imports, including illegal dumping. ZIMSTATS shows that in 2011 chicken imports were 25,500 MT at a value of $13.644 million or an average of only $0.53/kg. The low price suggests much of this is offal (including ‘waste’ pieces), which is illegal to import. Additionally the volume exceeds the official quota by over 100%, representing 20% of the total demand for chicken nationally, according to a recent USAID report (see reference below).

In addition the costs of feed have escalated. Soya production has been slow to rebound in Zimbabwe, and imports are costly as only Zambia produced GM-free soya in the region. These imports are expensive as Zambia tries to protect its own growing poultry industry. This really took off when Zimbabwe was suffering outbreaks of avian influenza in the early 2000s, and then subsequently when the Zimbabwe economy collapsed, and along with it its poultry industry.

The 2013 budget statement laid out the challenges for the Zimbabwean industry clearly:

• Stiff competition from cheap imports for both table eggs and meat, threatening viability of producers;

• Rising input costs, particularly maize and soya meal, following poor harvests; and

• High volumes of illegal imports which are being sold in the domestic market at sub-economic prices

The USAID study highlighted the challenge of cheap and illegal poultry imports for the meat industry as a whole. Much of the imported poultry meat comes from Brazil which has a massive poultry industry. Products that cannot be sold in the Brazilian markets are often transported elsewhere in the world. Feet, skin, necks and other ‘offal’ are frozen and packaged and sold at rock bottom prices. Chicken pieces too are packaged and sold, again at highly competitive rates. Go to any Zimbabwean supermarket and you will find 1kg of chicken pieces being sold at $3, sometimes considerably less.

How these prices can be so low is beyond me. Maintaining a cold chain from Brazil to Zimbabwe must cost a fortune, let alone the cost of the product and its processing and packaging. While there are import quotas, many believe these are being exceeded through illegal imports. The import of offal is also illegal due to health and safety concerns. The USAID study recommended tighter import controls and the banning of offal imports, arguing that cheap imports were not only damaging the poultry industry, but also the beef industry as cheap meat alternatives were suppressing demand.

This is not just a Zimbabwean problem. In 2012, the South African government slapped on surcharges, provoking a row with the Brazil. Brazil responded by taking the dispute to the WTO, claiming that the South African’s protectionist actions were threatening the new friendship developed between the nations as a result of the BRICS partnership. It seems the diplomatic heat, and the threat of a WTO case that the South Africans have backed down, at least for now.

Undeterred by this dispute from across the border, Zimbabwe has now responded to the same problem. The 2013 budget statement noted:

“Due to unfair competition from imports of chicken, local breeders are increasingly cancelling orders for day old chicks as they fail to secure customers for their chicken as imports from outside the SADC/COMESA region retail at prices significantly lower than locally produced chicken, notwithstanding the 40% duty levied on imported chicken…. Investigations indicate that chicken imports are either smuggled or are grossly undervalued for duty purposes. In instances of smuggling, the necessary veterinary and health hazard permit controls are undermined….”.

From mid-November, the government introduced a higher customs duty “in order to level the playing field between imported and locally produced chicken”.

This is an important and welcome move. Let’s see if it has the effect it needs to. Hopefully the Brazilians will be less heavy-handed with Zimbabwe where the market is much smaller, and a trade dispute can be avoided.

Unfortunately, the issue is not just about formal trade. As already noted it is perhaps the illegal trade which is most significant, and damaging. This is well embedded in local Zimbabwean business networks, sometimes with high-level connections, and veterinary control and customs enforcement capacity remains weak. While chicken smuggling is perhaps less dramatic than drugs or diamonds, it has just as devastating an effect on the economy, lives and livelihoods.

Sukume, C. and Maleni, D. (2012). Beef CIBER Study. Constraints to Competitiveness. Unpublished report to the Zimbabwe Agricultural Competitiveness Program, DAI/USAID

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



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Small farms, big farms

There is a classic debate in agricultural economics and development policy about the relative efficiencies of small and big farms. It is centred on what is known as the ‘inverse relationships’ which posits that as farms become smaller they become more productive per unit area, as costs – such as the supervision of labour – get reduced (or at least passed on to cheaper family labour arrangements). The argument is that small farms are the ideal, efficient solution to agricultural production.

Of course there are qualifications – and these are important, perhaps increasingly so in a globalised world. Very small farms, fragmented in different ways, are clearly not ideal, and suffer from many inefficiencies. Yet, what is ‘small’ and ‘very small’ is often not clear in the literature. Equally, there may be economies of scale in certain production-marketing systems, making larger farms more efficient. For example, getting high value products into international markets may mean complying with quality standards which small farmers would find difficult to adhere to.

This discussion remains at the centre of the debate about agricultural development in Africa. The African Union’s Comprehensive Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) makes a strong case for smallholders being at the centre of agricultural growth, as does the Gates-funded  Alliance for  a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). In a new book, Gordon Conway, of Imperial College in the UK, argues that smallholders must be at the centre of strategies to feed 9 billion people.

For decades, then, smallholder agricultural production has barely been questioned as the central pillar for agricultural development in Africa. But now there are some dissenting voices; and influential ones too. In a provocative paper for an FAO meeting on African agriculture in 50 years, Paul Collier – author of the best-seller, ‘The Bottom Billion’, and professor at Oxford University – and Stefan Dercon – now Chief Economist at the UK’s Department for International Development, and a well-respected research economist who has worked extensively in Africa – make the case that the advocacy of smallholder farming was sometimes wildly overblown, often inappropriately romanticised. They argue that the inverse relationship debate was misleading, and did not provide the definitive evidence sometimes supposed for smallholder farming, and that large farms are increasingly the way forward, for some commodities and in some places.

The arguments presented certainly have merit and deserve scrutiny, but they are also potentially flawed in important ways. The arguments for large farms are that economies of scale in today’s globalised world are such that smallholder farming can never really be expected to generate sufficient growth to facilitate the necessary transition out of agriculture into industrial-led growth trajectories. In Africa in particular access to global markets, and so positioning of agriculture near road infrastructure and ports is seen as crucial, if comparative advantages in a highly competitive market setting are to be realised.

Yet the argument ignores some key facts. First, smallholders have been very successful at producing a range of key commodities. In a review for a World Bank study on competitive commercial agriculture in Africa, Colin Poulton and colleagues found that “Large-scale agriculture has proven more competitive in export horticulture, sugar and flue-cured tobacco, whilst smallholders dominate in cotton, cashew and food staples. For tea and burley tobacco there are mixed stories. Second, markets are not all global, governed by highly stringent standards. Niche selling into such markets may offer good returns, but the costs of entry are high. Perhaps better is to produce for growing domestic and regional markets, and here the flexible strategies of smallholders in feeding urban Africa have long been seen to be effective. Third, the negative effects of large scale farming on local economies, food security patterns, environmental conditions and labour and employment conditions are not factored into these arguments. Large scale commercial farming does not have a universally good track-record, frequently resulting in enclave economic operations, with poor labour conditions and high externalities, focusing on single export-oriented crops, leading to negative impacts on the local food economy.

What are the implications of this debate for Zimbabwe? Following land reform, Zimbabwe has a radically reconfigured agrarian structure. Gone is the dualism of the past – with tracts of very large scale farming, separated off from the small-scale farming areas in the communal lands and resettlement. The limited ‘Purchase Area’ land was anomalous, fitting neither model, but not integrated either. Today, we have a huge mix of farm sizes, as Sam Moyo has described. Large-scale farms and estates remain, but the majority is now a mix of small and medium scale farms.

Crucially these are much more integrated, both spatially in terms of their proximity and economically in terms of their connections, of labour, marketing, skill and knowledge transfer and so on. The economic apartheid of the past, divided by racialised social and economic barriers, has given way to a more complex, integrated patchwork. While smallholder farming dominates, it is not the only farm type. It is the mix that is important, which is different in different parts of the country, depending on agroecology, market access, infrastructure and, of course, politics.

Getting to grips with this new farm size configuration, and the implications for economic development is an important challenge. Yet it is one that policymakers have yet to get their heads around. So fixated are people on the small vs large dichotomy, often with an implicit assumption that small is backward and big is better, that the potentials of the new agrarian structure are not being grasped. The small farm populists argue for peasant efficiencies, while the big farm advocates claim business and growth opportunities.

In my view neither is correct. But where the gains are to be had is in the mix: in the economic multiplier linkages between farm sizes, in the capturing of the comparative advantages of different farm configurations, in the growth of district level economies, in the sharing between groups of equipment, skills and knowledge, and in the flexible movement of labour in a certain area. None of these opportunities could be realised in the old dualistic agrarian structure, but today there are many potentials.

But it requires a different mindset: rather than thinking about the ‘ideal type’ farm (small or large), and fixed and outdated notions of what is ‘viable’, we should shift to thinking about processes of economic development based on agriculture in an area. A territorial approach to local economic development, as we argued in our book, is the way forward, and will help us shed the often unproductive and diversionary obsession with farm size.

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


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