There has been a flurry of studies on young people and agriculture in recent years, including in Zimbabwe. The wider critical literature has challenged the standard narratives around youth specific policy measures – such as narratives that youth are innovative, entrepreneurial, tech-savvy and so the future of agriculture that we see in report after report. Instead, much of this work makes the case that broad, fairly standard development policies – improved infrastructure, better education, agricultural R and D, labour policies and so on – are what is needed to expand “landscapes of opportunity” for everyone, including younger people.
A recent comparative study using survey data from six African countries showed (rather obviously) that opportunities expanded when people were near markets (for off-farm work) and when agricultural potential was higher (for farming). More interestingly, the patterns were not much different between different age groups, although those in their 20s reported ‘no activity’ most frequently and those in their 30s were more likely to engage in off-farm work.
Large surveys such as this reveal very little however about the relational dynamics of generational change and the ways life courses are adapted. This is an important point made by a paper on youth and food systems, which eschews an age-based categorisation beloved of surveys and argues that youth is a “transitional phase within a life cycle”. It’s this transition (often including considerable periods of ‘waithood’) – of establishing a home, gaining access to land, investing in agriculture or starting up a business – that is crucial. Of course, as the paper argues, such processes of generational change intersect with gender, class, wealth, location and other dimensions.
In this sense, there are particular challenges faced by young people – across a variety of ages depending on their life course. This comes out in the more empirically-grounded, qualitative studies, which are increasingly coming out on this theme with work on Zimbabwe.
For example, a comparative assessment of young people’s experiences in commercial farming ‘hotspots’ in Ghana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe highlights the many challenges people face in first gaining access to land, capital and markets for agriculture as a young person. As the paper highlights, social relations – amongst family and beyond – are crucial, but overall it’s very hard work and challenging, according to the testimonies collected.
Successes can quickly be reversed, as ‘hazards’ strike – both misfortune and mistakes. The paper’s conclusions that it is not land or credit that is needed are slightly contradicted by the data, as it’s clear that in Ghana and Zimbabwe land constraints are very real, and access to finance is a challenge across sites for young people. The paper concludes that what young people need is an insurance or form of protection from sudden, unexpected shocks, adding to the array of policy measures on offer.
More in-depth studies are offered from different parts of Zimbabwe that reinforce some of these themes. For example, based on in-depth life histories from Matabelaland (Lupane and Umguza districts), Vusilizwe Thebe argues that challenges of young people are very contextual. In the A1 resettlement area many young people who occupied land or joined parents who did so are disconnected from the sort of deep networks that provide access to resources and help transitions in life courses as in nearby communal areas. Nevertheless, young, independent, single women have been able to make a go of agriculture in the resettlement areas, whereas patriarchal institutions would have constrained such opportunities elsewhere.
A study from Goromonzi in Mashonaland East by Clement Chipenda and Tom Tom focused on the challenges of social reproduction in the new resettlements, and pointed to the complaints of young people feeling left out of the land distribution. This has resulted in generational conflicts between young people and their parents, as those without land and employment have to resort to highly precarious work, such as gold panning or temporary hired labour. Young people in Henry Bernstein’s terms are a new fragmented class of labour. These class tensions and implications for social reproduction are important themes raised.
“Opportunities for young people following land reform are severely constrained. The precariousness of work, the challenges schooling and getting qualifications, family disputes and illnesses, the lack of land, the poor productivity of dryland farming, and the difficulties of establishing businesses without capital, are all recurrent themes. While a few have found their way into reasonably remunerated jobs, the routes to accumulation, and getting established as independent adults, are limited for others, with very small-scale irrigated farming seemingly by the far the best option.”
The wider politics of young people and land reform is picked up by another recent paper by Fadzai Chipato and colleagues, which focuses on youth struggles. The paper documents the long association between youth, the liberation war and ruling party politics and the particular position of young people in the struggle over land. However, the paper highlights the real problems of the conflation of state and party politics and the use of land as patronage resource. This has resulted in an increasing disenfranchisement of young people, as they next generation does not feel it is being provided for, with land not available and the economy in ruins. However, the cross-generational struggles for livelihoods are being revived, often outside party control, as young people exert their agency and organise to take land through informal invasions as well as upsetting land use laws and claiming land and water for their farming.
‘The land is the economy, the economy is the land’ is a well-known ZANU-PF rallying cry. The centring of land in the politics of the country means that questions are always raised about who gets land and through what means? The land reform undoubtedly benefited a large number of people, many of whom are doing well, but this was a particular generation, and others who were children or even not born in 2000 are now seeking out livelihoods in rural areas. The generational dimensions of the agrarian challenge does not go away through a redistribution; in some ways the conflicts intensify, but between different people.
I had another catch-up with colleagues in Zimbabwe recently, reflecting on the COVID-19 situation and its consequences across our sites in Masvingo, Gutu, Mwenezi, Matobo and Mvurwi. This is now the fifth update since March/April (see summary so far here).
The pandemic has not proceeded as some feared in Zimbabwe, and recorded case numbers (at 8471 on November 6) and deaths (at 250) are still low. There is much speculation about how and why the pandemic took a different course across Africa, and in future blogs we will explore some of these hypotheses in relation to the Zimbabwe setting.
As colleagues mentioned during the call, “We really don’t know any cases where we live, even in the hospitals and clinics. We don’t see people sick with the virus so far”. What is feared is the return of migrants from South Africa plus visitors from Europe and the UK during the holiday season. “We hope the government will be strict. There are requirements for test certificates, but you know they can always be cheated.” The importance of flows of people from outside the country is certainly central to the COVID-19 story in Zimbabwe, as we have discussed in previous blogs.
Zimbabwe is still under partial lockdown, with road blocks and movement restrictions in place, even though curfews and business opening hour regulations have been relaxed. The police are very present, and particularly engaged in checking permits especially of cross-border traffic in towns like Masvingo. With the weather being very hot last week before the rains, it was commented that “many had given up wearing masks, and relied on the heat as a ‘natural sanitiser’”. As one colleague observed, “It’s difficult to continue protecting ourselves when we don’t see the impacts of the virus”.
This blog focuses on the situation in the period since the last update on September 27, with a particular focus on the livelihood impacts of lockdown on women and young people. The standard approaches to raising funds to support families by women and young people have been insufficient, as COVID-19 restrictions have hit hard. Diversification beyond agriculture is key, offering new livelihood options. Below are some examples of occupations taken up during the pandemic in our sites, especially by women and young people, to support their livelihoods.
Fruit and veg. Diversification of livelihoods has been vital, since traditional occupations for women and young people have been constrained during lockdown. For example, while vending remains important for women, cross-border trade that used to be a mainstay in the border areas such as Mwenezi and Matobo is no longer feasible. Some have diversified, so for example dry season sales of wild fruits has expanded along the roads near Gutu, as women and children harvest matamba and mushuku, both selling for a US dollar for a handful of fruit.
Similarly, gardening continues as a vital source of self-provisioning with major nutritional benefits. As we have reported before, nearly everyone is a gardener now, whether in town or the rural areas, although women and youth are the dominant gardeners it seems. However, the expansion of gardening, combined with restrictions on market (again discussed in earlier blogs) has resulted in local gluts, particularly during the recent dry season – which is the traditional focus for gardening activities. The result is that women in particular have had to innovate, and develop new ways of processing and storing vegetables and fruits to sustain income over a longer period across seasons, and through variable market conditions.
Gold and amethyst. Small-scale mining is an essential activity for young people, mostly men. However, over the past few months a surprising development has been the movement of women into mining activities. Our colleague in Matobo reckons perhaps a fifth of miners are now women. While the mining claim owners of course are by-and-large well-connected older men, who manage the claim through a system of sharing with a group of contractors, women and young people join syndicates and provide labour. Most mining is of gold and in these cases half is shared with the owner, while the rest is divided amongst the group who did the mining.
Gold mining has expanded massively in all sites, including a recent huge expansion around Masvingo town. One young man, RB, relayed his story:
“I had been a driver for three years, but I lost my job because of lockdown. The transport businesses just collapsed. My wife and kids went back to the rural home as I could not support them in town. But in the last six months I have started mining outside town. I work with a group of five and we share the ore, milling it locally. If you work hard you can earn US$1400 per month, even when giving half to the claim owner. I have bought a car and I have plans to buy a stand. My family came back two weeks ago and are with me now. Life is now good!”
In Chikombedzi area in Mwenezi there has been a massive rush to mining sites where purple amethyst deposits have been found. Around a thousand people are living there, with markets developing for food, as well as services including transport, machinery hire and sex work. With amethyst quartz rocks being sold for about R1800 per kg, it has become a lucrative business.
Brick-making and building. With the flood of migrants coming back from South Africa and neighbouring countries, as well as from urban areas across Zimbabwe, during the pandemic due to the loss of jobs, the demand for building in the rural areas has sky-rocketed. These dispersed COVID-19 ‘refugees’ have returned home, but need somewhere to live. This, in turn, has generated a big demand for local ‘farm bricks’, which are cured and sold on to builders. In Wondedzo, a thousand bricks were being sold for around US$25. Brick-making has become an important source of income during this past dry season for both women and youth, who take on different roles between digging, moulding and firing in kilns, with each kiln producing 5-10,000 bricks each time.
Chickens and pigs. Poultry is another area where women and youth have invested considerably in recent months as there has been a growth in demand for local supplies of poultry. In part this is because of the closure of butcheries and the difficulty of getting to town, and in part because local sources of meat have been hit hard by the mass mortalities of cattle due to ‘January disease’ during the past wet season. The abbatoirs are also closed too; indeed one near Masvingo has been converted into a gold milling plant reflecting the switch in livelihood activities.
Mrs C. based in Masvingo explains how she moved from having under 30 chickens to over 300:
“I am a teacher, but my salary doesn’t pay. My husband who used to work on cross-border buses also lost his job due to COVID. I decided to expand my flock, buying up ‘road-runner’ indigenous chickens. I now have three breeds, two from a supplier of day-old chicks in Bulawayo and one from Mr M who supplies from a nearby growth point. I buy these for between 55 and 80 US cents per chick, along with some feed. These breeds though don’t need expensive feed and medicine, so I don’t have to go to town. I now make US$200 per month and am planning to expand further. I have already started a small piggery project to complement. I am thinking of quitting teaching, as this really pays”.
Bread and buns. With access to town restricted and movement difficult, baking has become another big cottage industry in rural areas and urban locations, and an important income source for women. In Chatsworth in Gutu for example a government training course encouraged women to take this up, and baking at home of bread and buns has expanded massively since. Across our sites you can buy bread, buns and cakes from people’s homes, as local people have taken on the supply.
Piece-work employment. While conventional jobs are scarce, there have been other sources of employment emerging, even in the dry season when agricultural piece-work options are generally limited. In particular, hiring of labour for digging holes for the Pfumvudza programme (a major government-led initiative with donor support on conservation agriculture – watch out for blogs on the experience of this in the coming weeks) has become important in all our sites.
Young people in particular have been able to benefit, with digging pits in one plot (39m x 16m) being charged at between US$5 at US$20 depending on the soil type and location, with payment in cash or kind (mostly soap and sugar). It is young men in particular who are benefiting from this, as older people often prefer to pay for the labour in order to get the free seeds and fertilisers.
Saving and circulating money is a big challenges, as access to towns has reduced. There has therefore been a big growth in various forms of ‘savings clubs’ in the past months across all sites, which particularly involve women. For example in Wondedzo area near Masvingo, 20 women pooled cash and members draw funds to finance projects, paying interest on the amount of around 20%. In Masvingo town meanwhile there are lots of such clubs, some church-based, some just amongst a group of individuals. One group involves six female civil servants, mostly teachers, who save 150 Rand every two weeks, and one member takes out the full amount each fortnight to fund activities.
Money for new activities is crucial; without employment and with banks closed or difficult to get to from rural areas or townships, then new forms of managing money becomes important. New regulations that restrict the amount of phone lines for mobile ecocash money transactions and the electronic transfer tax also dissuades people from using electronic means. Instead very localised systems for saving and circulating cash – all in foreign exchange, either Rands or US dollars depending on the location – is the alternative.
And it’s women in particular who are the key players in this new savings and credit economy, as they in particular need funds for new projects to enhance their livelihoods.
As we have discussed in earlier blogs, lockdown has not all been plain-sailing. Not everyone is able to innovate, earn money and do better than before, as with RM the young miner and Mrs C the poultry producer introduced above.
Our colleagues report in particular the many tensions that have arisen within families. With relatives coming back from South Africa and elsewhere they have to be accommodated and supported. Extra mouths to feed and people to house in a time a crisis. While the COVID-19 migrant-return situation has not been widely reported, as people have dispersed to multiple homes across many locations, the absorption of many thousands of people into a poor, local, mostly rural economy has had a big impact economically and socially.
Those returning, used to working in big cities south of the Limpopo may not be happy with a new rural existence, something they escaped before. Among (mostly male) youth, both returnees and local residents, our colleagues reported a rise in drug taking, drinking and general depression. This has led to arguments and sometimes violence. A rise in pregnancies among young women and teenage marriages have also been reported. Boredom and lack of opportunity, along with an inability to travel, even move to the local town, play into a negative, potentially destructive, social dynamic affecting many young people.
Not all migrants have been able to return, however, and some have been trapped in South Africa, unable to move. In our study areas near the borders – Matobo and Mwenezi – in the past men would move back and forth between often temporary jobs in farms and mines in South Africa, or to Mozambique or Botswana. Today this flexible movement is no longer feasible. Men are locked in South Africa in particular, while women are locked down at home. Adulterous affairs among both men and women have expanded, resulting in arguments, occasional violence and many reported divorces.
Unlocking opportunities during lockdown
Despite the very clear lockdown challenges, the pattern seen across sites is one of innovative survival, and sometimes more. As one informant from Masvingo explained: “Lockdown has unlocked the entrepreneurial spirit! We can now earn good cash. I am not looking back!”
The transformations precipitated by COVID-19 lockdown have therefore not all been negative. As people have innovated to survive, new options have emerged, focused on new markets – whether building for returning migrants, supplying chickens or vegetables in the rural areas. With a shift to local production, short market/value chains and extending the range of activities – from mining to baking – the rural economy, and its connections to urban areas, has shifted significantly over the past seven months.
There is therefore a new COVID economy – and with this new social relations, with both opportunities and challenges. We will keep an eye on these developments over the coming months as the dry season moves (hopefully) into a rainy agricultural season, exploring whether these changes are temporary – a response to a crisis – or more long-term, shifting the terms, roles and incentives in economic activities over time, with new opportunities, especially for women and young people.
In the last blog I looked at what young people aged 16-18, studying at three schools in land reform areas in Zimbabwe, imagined they would be doing in 20 years. This blog focuses on their perceptions of constraints to getting there. Many of these constraints relate to ‘governance’.
As explained before, we used a Q sort methodology – a qual-quant approach for looking at subjective perceptions – with 61 participants, 22 female and 39 male; all Form IV students in schools in our study sites in Mvurwi, Wondedzo (near Masvingo) and Chikombedzi in the Lowveld, and coming from families with A1 plots or from families of former farmworkers resident in the same areas.
Francis Rwodzi, recently a Chevening scholar and now based at the Australian Embassy in Harare, has just completed a really excellent MA thesis at IDS at the University of Sussex, analysing this data. I was lucky enough to supervise him, and we both learned a lot from the discussions that went into the writing of the thesis (which you can read in full here). The rest of this blog summarises the findings of Francis’ work. It has important implications, which I come to at the end.
Last week’s blog explained the Q sort methodology; here I will focus on the results of the factor analysis. Four factors emerged for both male and female sorters, and these are summarised below, with the statements (see full list here) referred to by number and the ranked score (ranging from +5 to -5) following.
For male students, the following were the factors highlighted by the analysis, along with the associated narratives that Francis drew out.
Lack of support from parents and local leaders. Young people have been unable to gain support from kin networks and local leaders. Parents fail to pay school fees (S29, +5), and do not hand on land to their children (S35, +3). This makes it difficult to earn a living independently as farmers and constrains the capacity to establish one’s own home and start families, confining young people to working for their parents. Networks and connections are vital; if parents don’t have these connections this has a huge bearing on opportunities. Chiefs and local leaders do not support the youth (S8, +3), and do not redistribute land to young people.
A non-functioning state. Lack of state support is a major constraint. Corruption of officials makes business difficult (S32, +5). This is a big problem and limits the ability to pursue desired livelihoods. Clientelistic systems, and lack of support from local leaders and the local state (S8, +3), including failure to distribute land (S16, +3), constrains youth from attaining livelihoods. The lack of state facilitation of markets (S7, +2) further hinders agricultural opportunities. Expensive university education (S30, +4) and lack of training in farming business (S3, +3, combined with poor English (S36, +2), all link to lack of state support in training and education.
Absence of social networks and relations. As with Factor 1, this viewpoint emphasises how parents do not have good connections to get jobs for children (S10, +3) and there is an absence of rich relatives to help out (S14, +3). Social connections are all, but these can be seriously undermined through early marriage (S9, +5), and the general dismal state of the economy and lack of investment (S17, +4) limits opportunities, made worse by the high taxes paid by the local state (S26, +4), which makes businesses fail.
Lack of access to assets and skills. The lack of land redistribution for youth (S16, +5) prevents farming livelihoods. Alternative off-farm options are constrained by lack of a driving licence (S5, +4), no access to the Internet or a computer ( (S6, +3). An incompetent and corrupt state is often blamed (S32), as well as lack of market opportunities in a crisis economy (S7).
For female sorters, a different set of factor narratives emerged, but with some important overlaps:
Poverty. Underlying poverty and disadvantage is highlighted, linked to lack of jobs in the country (S27, +5), lack of land (S33, +3). Lack of support from rich relatives (S14, +1) is also a constraint, linked to poor educational qualifications (S28, +1), as school fees are not paid . Lack of opportunity may end up with early marriage (S9, +4).
Lack of educational opportunities. Lack of education, because parents cannot pay school fees (S29) and going to university is expensive (S30, +4) is seen as central in this narrative. Educational opportunities for young women is also constrained by lack of childcare (S21,+3). And if you are not educated, then you fail to get jobs (S27, +5). In contrast to the first factor, this narrative does not refer to land access and farming, and indeed all such statements are ranked low.
Absence of social networks and relations. In this narrative the focus is on relationships, or the lack of them. For example, the lack of links to the political party in power (S24, +5) for youth is a significant factor, as is lack of support from church (S2, +4). As in other factors, complaints are made about lack of support from families or local leaders.
Asset inequality. In this narrative, the lack of access to land is highlighted (S16, +3), with complaints in particular that women are discriminated against in land allocations (S25, +4). Parents’ reluctance to hand on land to their children (S35, +3), and particularly women is emphasised. However the constraints to farming are recognised, including lack of markets, high taxes and so on.
So what? How can young people’s livelihoods be improved?
Standard approaches to ‘youth programming’ by NGOs, donors and governments alike tend to focus on training and capacity building for skills that are assumed to be lacking among youth for use in an economic landscape that may not exist. The optimistic picture of tech-savvy young people becoming new entrepreneurs, opening businesses along value chains and engaging in agriculture as ‘private sector’ players is often promoted.
But looking across these factor arrays, the constraints identified are not ones of skills and training potentially unleashing a new private sector dynamism; they are much more fundamental. They are about a basic lack of access to resources (including land), and structural constraints, including gross economic mismanagement and political corruption, all adding up to create deep-seated poverty and disadvantage. These are much less ‘youth’ questions, but more ones about development priorities as a whole. As Francis argues in his thesis (following many others), youth-focused projects may be missing their mark.
In the thesis Francis argues that attention to ‘governance’ is central to understanding constraints on youth’s future livelihoods. He identifies the importance of four different types of ‘governance’ as constraining young people’s imagined futures. Governance is often rather narrowly defined in relation to formal state actions, including laws, policies, regulations and so on, but in these narratives, governance needs to be framed much more widely to encompass the diversity of both formal and informal, state and non-state hybrid social and political relations that affect access to livelihood opportunities.
The four governance themes highlighted in the thesis include: ‘Governance as state provisioning, functioning and capacity’ (the more conventional approach to governance, more linked to government provisioning)., ‘Governance as leadership and political control’ (again a more conventional frame, linking to discussions of clientelism, corruption and patronage); ‘Governance as institutional arrangements for gaining access to livelihood resources’ (cross-cutting formal processes, such as land allocation regulations, and informal social relationships around access) and, finally, ‘Governance as kin, family networks and relations’ (where social relationships at the local level are seen as central to who gains what and how).
All of these repeatedly appear in the factor narratives briefly outlined above, and the latter two, focusing on informal governance arrangements at the local level, are perhaps especially evident. Yet, standard approaches to governance reform focus on the first two – making governments work better. But this is not enough, Francis argues, as governance has to encompass other relationships influencing access to livelihood resources and opportunities. This is an argument for taking ‘hybrid’ governance seriously and getting beyond the formal to look at informal social and political relations.
The thesis concludes that “youth livelihoods programming should not be a one-size fits all approach”. Indeed, in a small group exercise eight narratives emerge, differentiated by gender, and governance – broadly defined – is central to all. Therefore, “standard approaches based on training or youth empowerment through small businesses are highly constrained by governance factors”.
It’s an important conclusion, with big implications, explored further in a recent IDS Bulletin. Let’s hope this sort of analysis can be pushed further, in explorations of what next for land reform areas and helps influence programming and policy in Zimbabwe, and beyond.
The informalisation of the economy means the route to a standard job, perhaps open to their parents, is not often an option for most youth today. In Masvingo, everyone seems to struggle to get their O levels, but often to no avail. Interestingly in the tobacco areas of Mvurwi, where agriculture is more of an option, education seems less of a priority. In the past, the route to becoming established as an independent adult was often marriage and getting a piece of land. Men would be allocated plots by a local traditional leader, while women would marry and move to their husband’s area, farming on the plot. Today, the certainty of marriage or gaining land is not there. Many must just wait, in a limbo living with parents, maybe having a ‘project’ on their farm, doing piecework locally, or migrating elsewhere in search of temporary jobs.
The ‘waithood’ – an intermediate stage between childhood and adulthood – has been commented on in a number of settings, including in the global North, where austerity, a changing jobs market and economic decline have meant that transitions to a working life are more challenging. Reliance on parents for housing and support into adulthood is common. Through different circumstances, this pheonomenon is common in Zimbabwe too.
The stress of waiting, not getting a job, not having land, not being able to set up an independent home, not being able to afford to marry (for men) or being pushed into early marriage (for women) is a common theme in young people’s testimonies. For many this is a challenge to self-esteem, to identity and personhood. Without recognition according to the norms of society (and the elder generation), a feeling of failure, generating stress, is apparent. I was surprised how many male youth reflected on their drink and drug habits.
Support networks become important, and beyond immediate family and kin networks, the new evangelical churches especially are important according to young people’s reflections. Embedded social relations therefore become key, not only for gaining access to assets (notably land), but also for moving on via marriage, as well as providing a sense of safety and support, improving wellbeing. But these are fragile too. Not everyone is born into a family that can offer such help.
The emerging ‘communities’ in the resettlement areas often are riven with conflicts, as people came from different places and the sense of kin-based solidarity found in the communal areas is often not found. Those born in the resettlement areas, or who moved there when very young, do not have associations with the places that their parents call ‘home’ in the communal areas. These new areas are home, and often quite challenging places in terms of community cohesion.
As young people recount, making a living in today’s harsh economic climate in Zimbabwe is tough. The kukiya kiya, zig-zag economy is one that offers few opportunities, and they are always short-term. Moving between trading, migrating for farm work (sometimes to South Africa), small-scale mining, and so on requires ingenuity, persistence and hard work. Some of these options can be dangerous too: many returned with tales of violence, police intimidation and fights at small-scale mining sites; although the money was good temporarily, this was not seen as worth it. Reliance on the informal economy also requires moving. I was struck by the mobility of young people, particularly men: spending a month or so in Harare, then to a mining area, then to South Africa, and back home in short periods in between. Women are heavily involved in cross-border trading, particularly in Masvingo, and this can mean many weeks camping out, and on the road. Lives are harsh, sometimes dangerous, and never offering much more than survival incomes.
Today’s youth are part of what Henry Bernstein calls the ‘fragmented classes of labour’, making a living on the margins, and across a wide diversity of livelihoods that belie standard descriptions of class and identity. Such livelihoods present real challenges for basic social reproduction. These are not conditions that allow for a successful bringing up of a family. Stability in relationships are threatened, and children are often looked after by parents or other relatives in rural areas, as the domestic care economy is restructured. It is no surprise that many of our informants argued that it was better to return home and farm, even if this meant just getting a small plot on their father’s farm. This was seen by many as the only route to a better life, and the stable bringing up of a family.
As the testimonies from Masvingo show, the main focus is starting an irrigation project, for maize and vegetables. Engagement with agriculture may be across the value chain, and involve intensive production, but also running poultry projects, selling inputs at an agrodealer shop, providing marketing services, and so on. In the tobacco growing areas of Mvurwi, young people know that a well managed 1 ha plot of tobacco can yield some serious income, far outstripping what is available from informal work, except perhaps from occasional, risky and illegal mining forays for gold or diamonds. Thus from small beginnings, usually with reliance on land from parents, young people can begin to accumulate, establishing homes and families from a rural, agrarian base.
Getting land independently though is more of a challenge. The resettlement areas are ‘full’, and getting new plots requires close connections and reliance on patronage from local leaders, party officials and others. Most therefore rely on their parents’ land, clearing new areas, extending plots illegally into grazing land, or intensifying through digging wells, creating irrigation dams or buying pumps. The pattern of subdivision of allocated resettlement plots is a phenomenon we have only just begun to look at, but as with the Purchase Areas discussed in earlier blogs, the process of ‘villagisation’ of plots is a phenomenon we see widely, both in A1 and A2 schemes. Land inheritance in the resettlement areas is contested. Very often the expectation is that multiple sons, sometimes daughters, will inherit, causing family wrangles. As parents pass on, the next generation must enter caring relationships for surviving relatives living on the farm, adding further burdens to a stressed domestic economy.
Thus the imagined futures of those still at school, many of whom saw a possibility of a professional job (lawyer, teacher, nurse, extension worker), or at least a self-employed business, have not been realized by their immediate seniors. In part this is because this age group (now 20-31) have lived through the worst economic crisis in living memory, when the formal economy collapsed, the state ran out of resources, and the options for waged employment shrank to almost zero. But while Zimbabwe’s economic crisis has an extreme character, jobless growth, declining opportunities for employment by the state and austerity economics are features in richer, more stable economies, whether South Africa or the UK. Thus even migration abroad, a feature of recent life trajectories for many especially from the late 1990s, is not an option. For this generation, educated in the last 20 years, the premium of the post-Independence Zimbabwean education no longer exists. While many scraped a few O levels, the competition elsewhere is today much more intense, combined with the closing of borders and anti-immigrant policies in Europe or the US.
Our studies on ‘youth’ in the resettlement areas in Zimbabwe have revealed some important dynamics, and pointed to some real challenges. The standard support mechanisms are clearly insufficient, and interventions need to take account of the wider processes of agrarian transition, attending to issues of land access, agricultural support, and so on. They must also take more account of the real stresses of life for young people today. We sensed a loss of identity, confidence and esteem among many we talked to, with genuine stress-related illness and behaviours affecting wellbeing. While the overall picture was far from positive, we also had in some ways a biased sample. We talked to young people who were living in the resettlements or visiting between spells of work. We didn’t talk to their brothers and sisters who were elsewhere, which as the data highlights includes quite a number.
Therefore, in new work we will trace some of them, tracking the courses they have taken. A number are living in nearby towns – such as Mvurwi, Masvingo and Chiredzi – and engaging in new businesses linked to agriculture. The resettlement areas have resulted, as we have shown through our work, have generated local economic growth and possibilities for accumulation, not only among farmers as producers, but in small towns and among entrepreneurs of different sorts. Young people without access to land have seized this opportunity, and many are making a go of it. Future blogs will cover such stories, and we will continue to explore the generational implications of agrarian reform as we look at how land is subdivided and elements of farms intensified, with young people taking the lead.
To get a sense of how livelihoods are composed, we must look over time, and get a picture of emerging life courses. Across the 25 detailed interviews we undertook there is huge variety, just among the 20-31 year olds who were sons and daughters of those whose parents had gained land in the Wondedzo A1 resettlement areas. The in-depth interviews were of necessity biased towards those who were around, but included resident and non-resident individuals, as they were interviewed when they came home. As mentioned last week, the lives of many of these young adults is incredibly mobile, with movement between places continuous.
Across the cases, I have tried to draw out some major themes, and illustrate these below with excerpts from the life course interviews. I start with three themes linked to men, and continue with a further theme more linked with women.
From rural to urban and back again
My name is PM and I was born in 1985 in Charumbira Communal lands before we moved into Wares farm in 2002. I am the second born out of six children. I went to Wondedzo secondary school up to form 4, but I failed to get all the needed ‘O’ levels, and my parents, could not manage to raise funds for retakes. I then left home for Harare to look for a job. Sometimes I got a job just for a short time but most of the time I was not employed. Sometimes I get a job welding, next I can work on construction and so on. I have no fixed job, and I am always looking. Jobs are so scarce. Life after school is so painful if you are in a big city like Harare where industries are not functioning. I always think of getting back to school, but there is a challenge of school fees. I am thinking of coming home to till the land, but again without irrigation, farming is not all that attractive. Mid-season droughts are common in our area.Without irrigation I am not interested in farming.
My name is WM and I was born at Mt Selinda Hospital. I am the second born in a family of two boys and two girls. I grew up in Masvingo urban where I stayed with grandmother as my mother had passed away in 2003. I did my primary at 4.1 Infantry Battalion where my father worked as a soldier before his death. I did my secondary education at Nyamhuri High School from Form 1 to 4. After O level I looked for a job in Masvingo but could not manage to secure one. My father had by then acquired land in Wondedzo extension farm, so I opted to leave the urban life for farming. In 2003 my father passed on, but then conflicts started to develop amongst ourselves with family squabbles centered on inheritance of the cattle and the plot. I have my small piece of land but it is still not secured, but I want to drill a borehole and start irrigation for year-round production. In the last few years I did broiler keeping with my brother, but it didn’t work out. We had a few hundred birds, but the project failed. Earlier this year, I decided to leave this place and look for work again in town.
Precarious lives in the kukiya kiya economy, and return to irrigated farming
My name is PC and I was born at Nemwanwa near Great Zimbabwe National Museums and Monuments in 1986. I am the sixth born in a family of 9. I did my primary education at Nemanwa Primary school (grade 1 to 7). I stopped schooling in 2002 at Form 2 as my father could not afford to pay fees for my secondary education. To assist my parents I had to be independent from 2004. I was doing piece work. Kiya kiya, vending and tin smithing (the family trade – although destroyed by cheap Chinese imports. I belong to the Johane Marange apostolic church, and I got married in 2006. By 2010 I had 2 wives, and I thought the best thing was to return to farming. It’s a better way of making a living. My father got a self-contained plot at Wondedzo Extension farm in 2000, where I am staying with my brothers and mother (he is now late). Currently I have four wives and 7 children. I am now a farmer practising intensive market gardening. My mother allocated me a piece of land (1 ha) in her dryland field which I can use. But you don’t get much from dryland farming. The Councillor had also allocated my family a small garden near the dam on state land. I irrigate 1.5 ha, growing cucumber, maize, vegetables (rape) and tomatoes. I sell in Masvingo at kuTrain market. My whole life is now centred on farming. I started in 2010 by using buckets, then in 2012 I bought a 5.5 HP irrigation pump which I use to irrigate my crops all year round. With my four wives, we grow tomatoes, green mealies, cabbages and butternut. But there are uncertainties about the land. It’s state land, so I don’t know how long I can stay. I must move to my own field and get a borehole for the pump to irrigate there. The soils are good. I want to enlarge my business supplies by growing vegetables for export, and I want to buy a delivery truck so that we can deliver of produce to the market in a timely way.
My name is IM and I was born at Rarangwe village 17, in Mushagashe in the year 1989. My parents came here in 2001 as part of jambanja. I did grade 7 at Wondedzo primary school. After grade 7, I failed to go further with education; in fact I did not want to continue with education eventhough my parents had the capacity and were willing to pay all the fees. In 2004, I snipped out of the country for South Africa as an illegal immigrant. I had no legal documents. I evaded the police and border control as I went through the notorious Limpopo River. We were five on that pursuit, and fortunately we all survived the jaws of the crocodiles in the river. I stayed in South Africa for 6 months, and did piece work on the farms. I started on 300 R per month, rising to 1000 R when I left, but the job was not secure. I found work through my uncle who went there in 2002. Hunger was a menace as I survived on handouts from fellow Zimbabweans who were employed. I then decided to go back to Zimbabwe where I started farming. I helped my parents for two years doing all the farming activities. Thereafter I again tried my luck, now in Zimbabwe. I went to Chiadzwa diamond mine in Manicaland and later Shurugwi to do gold panning. I also worked in Nema mine near Bulawayo. It was processing mine dumps, but there were disputes and the place was closed down. In many ways, life was rosy as I could manage to buy what I wanted. However I encountered a lot of fighting with fellow gold panners. The police were also a menace since they used to lock us up. I was later engaged in some vices which were against my religion like beer drinking. Having realized the disaster ahead in my life, I decide to go back home to do farming. In 2010 I got married and am now blessed with two children. I am now a full time farmer doing market gardening alongside my father. I started with 0.1 ha, given by a relative, and I worked together with my father, in 2015 1 ha allocated by the village head, and I have 5.5 HP pump, and can work independently. I do cabbages, tomatoes and green mealies all year round and sell in Masvingo. I hire a motor car from one of the local farmers, including my brother. I also have 1 ha dryland, given by my father in 2011 after I got married in 2010. The challenges are petrol costs. When you don’t irrigate, the crops get burned and fail. I saw the possibilities of farming in SA. There’s plenty of land, good soils and water here.
Waiting at home, engaging in projects
I am EM and I was born in Zaka district -Bvukururu area under Chief Muroyi in 1989. I am a third born in a family of 5 girls and one boy. I was born and bred in a family that do peasant farming in the rural areas of Zaka. My parents got land here in 2000, and I was enrolled at Wondedzo to finish my primary and complete my secondary education to Form 4. In 2014, came out with three “O’ level subjects passed at grade C or better. Currently I am staying at home studying ‘O’ level supplements that I am intending you write in 2017. I am helping my parents to till the land and do some household chores. I also do part time jobs like moulding cement brinks with one of my neighbours. Life after school is tougher than being at school. After leaving school my parents are no longer paying particular attention to my needs especially in clothing as they are looking for those children behind me. They are also saying that I should work for my supplementary subject fees, so I have to run around looking for piece work. I want to train as a nurse after completing the ‘O’ levels with success. I want to be a commercial farmer as basic/ primary occupation and nursing being a secondary job.
I am TC and was born at Masvingo General Hospital in 1989. I am born into a farming community in Nerupiri-Madzivadondo in Gutu South constituency. My parents got a piece of land here at Wares farm in 2001 when I was still very young. I completed “O” level in 2013, but I dismally failed the examinations. Ever since I had been at home helping my mother to till the land. Last year, my father bought me a water pump to do market gardening. There is a small garden on his plot, near the home. I also run my father’s grnding mill. My father works in town, but I live with my mother, and we do dryland farming together as a family. I have not married up to now, and am not thinking of that now till I am completely self-dependant. I spend most of my time in the garden where I grow tomatoes, cabbages, butternuts and leafy vegetables. In future, farming should be my source of livelihood in my life.
The importance of education
I am RK and was born in 1995 at Morgenster Mission Hospital, when my parents were staying in near Nemanwa growth point. Since we were staying in already resettled farm as illegal settlers (squatters) our family was forcibly evicted from Longdale farm in 2003. Fortunately, my father had already been allocated a piece of land in our present site in Wondedzo extension. I had to restart grade 1 all the way to grade 7 at our new school Wondedzo primary school, which was then a satellite school of Rufaro school. Later, I did up to Form 4 up to 2013, but I did not make it at “O” level. Hence I had to repeat form 4 in 2015, where I came with 3 subjects passed with C or better. This year I am again attempting more subjects. My wish is to get the entire needed subjects before I qualify to enroll at a teachers’ training college. Meanwhile out of study I assist my parents on the farm. I don’t have any plot of my own. I’m interested in working with cattle, doing ploughing, planting, cultivating and craftwork. I even train draught animals. At times I drive cattle to the dip tank and on to grazing lands. I also help my mother to process grain, millet and oil seeds after harvesting. I never thought that when one is at school life is so rosy. I now have the experience that staying at home while others are at work or school is so boring. You become loaded with all the house chores. At times I can think of getting someone to marry but again I think other ways. Getting a job is very difficult more so when you do not have qualifications. My ambition is to marry someone who loves farming. I have been raised up to this age by parents who are both farmers. All the family income is raised from farming and our livelihood again is based on farming. This has inspired me to become a farmer by practice, supplemented by teaching.
I am DM and a second born in a family of 8. I was born at Masvingo General Hospital in 1996. Our family is composed of 5 boys and 3 girls and is the eldest daughter. I grew up in resettlement areas of Mushandike and Victoria East Respectively. The family left Mushandike as we had acquired a piece of land at Wondedzo extension farm. I did secondary education at Wondedzo secondary and came out with seven subjects after two sittings. I had to repeat form 3 and then form 4. My parents faied to pay fees in time and it was so embarrassing, especially when teachers sent me hopping. At this time, my mother became ill – almost for 4 years – and this also affected my performance at school. After “O’ level I worked as a domestic worker at Chikarudzo Primary school for 1 year (2015). In 2016 I enrolled for ZESA training centre as a trainee Electrical Engineer, where I am now for the first hear out of a 3 year training programme. I wish to become a class 1 Journeyman in Electrical Engineering, and later develop my own engineering company to employ at least 20 people with relevant qualifications.
Marrying into a resettlement household
I am NM and was born in Zaka District, Nyika Village under Chief Nhema in 1996. I am the first born in family of two girls. I grew up under the care of different relatives, as both my parents had passed away in 2001 and 2002 respectively. I had been staying with different relatives but mostly with my grandmother, mother to my father. I did my education at Rusere Primary school in Zaka from 2002-2009, but I could not go further as my grandmother could not pay. I used to assist her in farming and all other household chores like washing, cooking and field work. I also did manual work in the neighborhood in order to feed my grandmother and myself. In never enjoyed my life then, it was hard. In 2012 I got married here in Wares farm when I was only just 17. We are staying with my husband’s mother. In 2015, we got a portion of my in-laws’ field, about 1.5 ha. Here there are better crop yields compared to Zaka. I also am involved in a women’s coop garden project. I am a mother of one boy. My husband is here too, and he concentrates on farming, although does some occasional gold panning in the dry season. We look forward to having our own land in the future, and to be good farmers.
Remittance income and off-farm businesses
I was born at Masvingo General Hospital in 1991. I originated from Madzivanyika village, under Chief Mutema in Gutu district. We are 11 in our family (5 boys and 6 girls) and I am the tenth born. I grew up in the rural areas of Madzivanyika near Masvingise Business Centre, Nerupiri in Gutu District. I did my primary education at Mundondo School. I later enrolled for secondary education at Mundondo High School up to 2008. I was staying with my parents till I completed form 4. I tried luck for a job in South Africa, but the following year after schooling I got pregnant and so had to marry in 2009. Currently, I am a farmer as well as business woman running a shop at Wondedzo Business centre. Together with my husband who is working in South Africa, we managed to invest and build our own shop. I am the manager and the operator of the shop, and I go there to supply the shop. My husband’s mother is sick, and we cultivate the land together. Dryland farming though is failing to pay back investments. In the future I want to be a large scale commercial farmer if I could get a bigger piece of land. I also want to drill borehole for irrigation purposes at the farm, so as to intensify farming.
Life has been challenging for all these young people. These stories, with many variations, are repeated across the in-depth interviews we carried out. The precariousness of work, the challenges schooling and getting qualifications, family disputes and illnesses, the lack of land, the poor productivity of dryland farming, and the difficulties of establishing businesses without capital, are all recurrent themes. Routes to accumulation, and establishing themselves as independent adults, are limited, and irrigated farming seems by the far the best option given the challenges elsewhere.
In the concluding blog in this series, next week I will discuss some of the emerging themes, and their implications, as well as the proposed next phases of our work.
How have young people who grew up on farms allocated to their parents as part of the ‘fast-track’ land reform fared in the period after leaving school? In our studies, we have explored the life courses of those who are now aged between 20 and 31, and whose parents were in our study sample on A1 farms in Mvurwi, Wonedzo and Chikombedzi areas.
I want to share some of the results from one site – Wondedzo, a set of A1 land reform farms in Masvingo district, not far from the provincial market town of Masvingo. We are working in two resettlement sites – Wondedzo Extension (a ‘self-contained’ A1 model, where plots are 20-30 hectares) and Wondedzo Wares (an A1 villagised model, where original arable allocations were around 6 hectares, and where grazing areas are communal).Across these, we had a sample of 57 women and 65 men for a survey, and subsequently we carried out in-depth biographical interviews with 25 of them. This week, I want to share some of the findings, mostly from the survey data; next week I will explore some emerging themes and share some of the life histories interviews.
Where are people living?
As the table below shows, around half are living at home, mostly with parents, although some (see below) with independent homes. Others are living elsewhere in Zimbabwe. Most women in this category are married, and living with their husbands; most men are in towns trying to find jobs in the informal economy, often working for a few months, coming home, then returning. There are very few in stable employment or training in Zimbabwe. Some have left the country, mostly to South Africa, where they are working, again in often temporary jobs on farms or in towns; unlike in the past this involves both men and women.
Elsewhere in Zimbabwe
Education, education, education
In Wondedzo, education is seen as key to successfully leaving home and getting employment. This is especially so for girls. In our sample, 65% of women and 78% of men had continued to Form 4, with many doing multiple re-takes. 16% of women identified education (i.e. retakes) as their primary occupation (see below). The commitment to education, both among young people and adults, is tangible, but it’s costly. Many poorer parents cannot afford the fees, and kids drop out, either to seek local jobs in the informal economy (mostly men), or help with farming (men and women) or to get married (mostly women).
What are people doing?
In answer to the question of what individuals were doing now, the primary and secondary activities are listed below (secondary percentage in brackets). Most identify themselves as being ‘at home’, and helping parents or farming on their own. Very few are employed ‘in a job’ in Zimbabwe or overseas (although slightly more of the latter). For women the most common is various forms of domestic work, while for men it is more varied, but in our sample mostly low paid, manual jobs. More are ‘self-employed’, being a secondary activity to farming or hanging around at home. This is characterized as informal, temporary, low paid and insufficient to sustain a livelihood. Some will leave home to do this, but many try their luck at a range of activities in the area, ranging from piece work laboring to gold panning to vending and trading.
At home, unemployed, helping parents
Employed in a job
Employed overseas in a job
Farming on own
Following a period in the kukiya kiya (zig-zag, informal) economy, many return home following getting married. It’s easier to make a go of it at home, with the support of family, especially when there are kids to look after. Overall, 63% women and 57% men in our sample are married. Women tend to get married earlier (average age 19.7 years, compared to men at 23.2 years). Earlier marriage among women is common, especially when alternative livelihoods are scarce. Most move to live with their in-laws, so for girls in our sample out of the area; but interestingly there are some cases where husbands come to live with their wives’ parents in the resettlement areas, as there is land available for farming unlike in the communal areas. Men delay marriage in order to try to find jobs to establish themselves, and only later come home. In our sample, a quarter of women and 15 % of men are both married and farming independently with an established home. Compared to earlier generations this is a relatively low proportion, showing how many are struggling to become independent, existing in an intermediate state between dependent childhood and independent adulthood.
The average number of children is 1.5 for women and 1.2 for men; and of those with children, the average is 2.1. First children are born at the age of 19.7 (women) and 23.2 (men), average, 21.7 years, although 34% of individuals in the sample have yet to have children, showing how ‘waiting’ affects reproductive careers too. As people establish families, priorities change. The informal economy in town is difficult to navigate with a family involved, so as a result for those with children, ‘farming’ as a primary occupation doubles (from 14% to 30%), while being ‘self-employed’ triples (mostly complemented with farming at home), while overseas work nearly halves.
And what about farming?
Just over half of the women in our sample were farming (usually with parents, until they married) and 58% of men were farming, nearly all with allocations in parents’ plots. Land allocations usually move from sharing with parents to allocation of 1-1.5 ha plot within the A1 farm (a few inheriting the whole farm on the death of parents/grandparents). Inheritance of land results in the sharing among brothers (and sometimes daughters); rarely is land handed only to eldest son as is ‘custom’. Some of our sample of young people had grown up with grandparents, and were in turn sharing land/inheriting from them. With relatively large amounts of land in the resettlement areas, those who benefited were often asked by other poorer relatives from the communal areas to take on children. This ‘magnet effect’, seen both in the 1980s resettlements and in the post-2000 scenario, has resulted in a particular demographic composition in these areas, which we are now seeing the consequences of. The net result is lots of subdivision across these A1 farms as the next generation makes claims, especially as many of those who acquired the land in 2000 are now passing on. The implications for land ownership and livelihoods of the next generation are only just now becoming apparent
In the survey we asked men and women to identify the main challenge they faced.
Lack of jobs
Family tensions/disputes, illness
Cash/finance for inputs, etc.
Food insecurity/drought/climate change
The lack of jobs and finance is the dominant theme, especially for men (43% as against 23% for women). The absence of any job or other source of finance restricts access to inputs for agriculture or other businesses. Educational access and quality and failure in exams was repeatedly mentioned, particularly for women (26%), as passing O levels was seen as a route to a better life. Despite many emphasizing the importance of farming as a source of livelihood (and particularly irrigated agriculture), it was perhaps surprising that land and water access was not highlighted as the primary issue by most (only 9% identified it as the major challenge). Some however highlighted drought and climate change, and the consequences for household food security, which was emphasized in particular by women (12%). Most individuals managed to secure some land and/or water, even if borrowed from a parent/in-law. The key constraint is capital and inputs for on-farm investment (14% for women, 18% for men), rather than underlying natural resources it seems.
As young people emphasized in discussion, they don’t want large areas, just small irrigation plots. As people move between work and home, often failing to get a job that sustains them for long, or in the period when young people are retaking school subjects, stresses at home are frequently mentioned. As young adults being dependent on parents and living in close proximity can create tensions. Those marrying into homes where the husband does not have a separate residence can also result in difficulties and conflicts. Combined with other illnesses, deaths and other personal issues, these less tangible, but nevertheless very real experiences were identified as the major challenge by 14% of both men and women.
Limited opportunities and the importance of land
With work in the wider economy, and even in South Africa, highly risky, challenging and precarious, carving out options at home is a choice made by many, particularly after marriage and having kids. As the life histories show, there is much moving back and forth from home to places of work, often with very short-term contracts, coming back to help parents on farms in between. This is very far from the old migrant labour economy of the past. Without stability and ‘proper’ jobs, this is stressful, unrewarding and a perceived as a challenge to self-respect and identity.
Those who are resident in Wondedzo thus combine farm production, mixing some risky dryland maize growing with a more secure focus on small-scale horticulture, on a combination of land allocated by parents or accessed through various routes, sometimes illegally, along riverbanks and by dams. This is combined with what many refer to as ‘projects’. The life histories show a huge array of examples, including running a: shop, doing local hairdressing, running a grinding mill, brick moulding and selling, vending of everything from clothes to mobile phone juice cards’ to vegetables etc.
Across all the options that people are trying, there are vanishingly few opportunities for accumulation, and, with a few exceptions, full-time wage employment in a stable job (as imagined by so many of our Form IV school leavers) is simply not an option, given limited means, poor education and lack of access to key networks. This means in practice, small-scale irrigated agriculture is seen as the most viable option by many, and the one that many – men and women – are trying in Wondedzo, making use of their (grand)parents’ land.
What do young people imagine they will be doing in the future and what obstacles lie in their way? These were questions we posed to a total of 84 Form IV students in 3 schools in or very near to A1 resettlement areas across the country, from high potential Mvurwi to medium potential Wonedzo in Masvingo to low potential Chikombedzi, as part of a series of Q sort exercises, a quant-qual technique for extracting ‘viewpoints’ from participants’ sorting of a range of options.
Through a series of informal focus group discussions with Form IV school goers living in each area, we came up with a long list of activities that could be imagined as potential future livelihood options for both boys and girls. After much debate, and quite a few changes (some activities combined, others split, some removed, others added), we ended up with 49, with some linked to farming (as different types of farmers, others linked to professional and formal jobs, others in the informal economy, and others focused on reproductive/care work). The basic criterion was that could they imagine themselves in these jobs (astronauts and others were thus excluded), but they included a massive range from maricho piece work to lawyers.
Next we turned to the potential constraints to realizing these imagined futures. For this list, we ended up with 36 for sorting. These included macro factors (from climate change to sanctions) to relationships with the state (corruption featured prominently), to personal and family matters (including illness, family disputes and so on) to education/training qualifications, to social relations and connections (via family, church, political parties).
In each of the schools, students sorted these options on cards on a grid. We haven’t analysed all the results yet of the many individual sorts (with a mix of boys and girls, aged between 16 and 19), but we convened discussions at the end of each session to review results and think about implications. Students discussed in small groups and reported back. The discussions were fascinating, with a number of themes emerging:
Alongside imagined futures as professionals, service providers, self-employed business people and wage workers, engagement with agriculture featured surprisingly prominently, running counter to some of the literature that assumes that young people are just not interested in agriculture and don’t see it as a future. For example, perhaps surprisingly from one of the lowest potential agriculture areas in the country: If you are a farmer you are rich. Growing own food is like growing money (Alpha Mpapa). There are of course particular circumstances pertaining to Zimbabwe, with its depressed economy and opportunities opened up due to land reform, but jobless growth in the context of relative land abundance is not after all completely unusual in Africa. However, the young people didn’t emphasis just any old farming, but they had a clear focus on intensive irrigated agriculture, notably horticulture, but also tobacco in Mvurwi. Both were seen as a route to accumulation and future prosperity. Engagement with farming was also seen in other ways: farm management as a job was emphasized, and farming as a business, with engagement across value chains via markets. Across discussion groups, there was lots of enthusiasm for these trajectory, from both boys and girls. For example, from a Wondedzo report back: Youths do not have land. If they access land they lack inputs to buy agricultural inputs – fertilisers and machinery. Youths are poor and lack funds to carry out farming projects.
Gaining access to irrigable land – even initially as very small plots – was seen as essential, combined with a small pump and access to markets. Discussions, for example, emphasized: Youths should be considered for resettlement – especially in irrigation schemes. Bank loans should be extended to youths to engage in farming projects (Wondedzo). Old people were seen to be holding on to land and being wasteful and unproductive. So there is demand for land for youth, but less interest in extensive dryland farming it seems. For example, unproductive land in the hands of old people who cannot use it should be given to youths, and there’s need for dam construction and expansion of irrigation land (Lucknow) They’ve seen their parents fail too often. Drought, climate change and poor soils were mentioned frequently in all sites (it was after all in the midst of an El Nino year). For example, on discussion group at Alpha Mpapa commented: Most young people do not have land. Those with land lack capital to set up farming business. They also lack farming knowledge and skills. Land should be availed to youths. They should have access to agrobank loans.
Education was seen as vital all discussion groups concurred. They were after all at school – and getting O level results crucial (they were going to sit in a few months, and there were a few teachers present perhaps influencing the discussion!). Especially in the two schools in Masvingo province, there was a real sense this is the route to getting a ‘proper job’, while in Mvurwi the focus was on making money through tobacco, in a setting where accumulation from agriculture has been highly successful in recent years. I wonder if the views from Masvingo are perhaps a bit of a throwback to the past, and the influence of parents views, where post-independence education, or colonial mission education before that, really did deliver jobs, whereas now the number of those with O levels in the ranks of the unemployed is huge. In Mvurwi the pattern of early marriages of girls was highlighted. Failure at school, with parents unable to support, and the need to find an independent income, often results in young women marrying older man. While only mentioned in more private conversations, the ‘compound culture’ of the farms was also mentioned. In the former labour compounds, but also seemingly in the nearby A1 areas, there is a pattern of multiple divorces and fragile relationships, bearing heavily on young women, making seeking a secure independent income essential after school.
In terms of constraints, many were listed in the discussions. For example, from Lucknow: Farming is hard work, no farming resources, climate change, land degradation, low commodity prices, expensive farm machinery, limited land, deforestation, siltation, soil leaching – soils become infertile. It’s low profile work, no loans for youths, no land for youths, corruption at the market place, poor roads, no capital, few extension workers. There was the continual refrain that there are no jobs (with multiple people to blame, but mostly politicians), and they have all seen their parents, older siblings and others struggle. Many themselves do small jobs, such as piece work, panning etc., and so are well aware of the limited opportunities for accumulation. However, many saw themselves leaving home and trying their luck in the job market, at least while still young, gaining as they saw it the ‘freedom’ to be away from school and parents. Those in Chikombedzi saw the opportunities of South Africa beckoning, despite plenty of experience that it is not always such a land of plenty across the Limpopo.
Reports from these discussions demonstrate a mix of naivety, hope, aspiration, but also an impressive realism and groundedness. While some aimed high (I will go to the UK, will become a lawyer etc.), there was also a realization that farming is a genuine option, if intensified and capitalized (even at a very small scale, with a $200 pump), and that there are many ways of engaging in agriculture beyond tilling the land (marketing, being employed in input supply businesses, farm management, all featured prominently). They know there’s land in the A1 smallholder resettlement areas where they livre, and it could be used better. Ambitions are relatively low – a hectare or less to get going, they will then market the produce, invest in better pumps for irrigation and later by a truck to take produce to market. Just as they’ve seen their parents doing on the A1 resettlement areas.
These are the perceptions of school leavers about how they imagine the future, and what constraints they think will impinge on their ambitions, but what actually happened to those slightly older than them, who left school 5-10 years before? Next week I will share some of the results of our youth cohort study from one site from the A1 resettlement areas of Wondedzo, Masvingo.
A central policy concern, in Zimbabwe and beyond, is who will be the next generation of small-scale farmers. This is particularly important in relation to land reform. With a major redistribution to one generation, what happens to the next? Are they going to do what their parents and grandparents did? Or will they leave agriculture for other livelihood options? Or are they going to transform agri-food systems, in ways unimagined by their parents?
In this hot policy debate, narratives compete with each other, depending on the positioning of the commentator. A doom-and-gloom narrative of exit is a frequent one articulated in policy debates. Admonished for not being committed to agriculture, young people are seen as a problem – creating a demographic ‘threat’, a ‘youth bulge’ of the unemployed, migrating to towns or abroad, and becoming a burden on society, and in some cases a potential source of disruption through civil upheaval or even terrorism. Other narratives present youth as victims of accelerating scarcities – of land and livelihood options – prevented from getting on by ‘tradition’, ‘elders’ or state policy that is failing to provide for them. This in turn leads to a ‘wasted generation’; often of educated youth, unable to contribute, limited by structural constraints of society, economy or politics.
Contrasting these pessimistic narratives are others that offer a positive spin. Here the ‘entrepreneurial’ youth is celebrated. Tech-savvy, business-oriented, educated young people can, so goes the argument, contribute to agriculture in new ways, across value chains. Rather than their peasant parents, enslaved to a life of drudgery in agriculture, the new generation can make agriculture a business, and unleash the economic value of land and agriculture, especially in areas where land is abundant. As a route to modernization and technological transformation, youth are seen, in these narratives, as the vanguard.
Many influential organisations supporting agriculture in Africa – as in the reports highlighted earlier – adopt the positive, young person as entrepreneur narrative, while at the same threatening the worst (migration, civil strife and more) if nothing is done. As with all narratives – possible stories about the world and its future – there are grains of truth in each. However, too often in the current policy debates they are not located in context, and so broad, high-flown policy proclamations are too often floated without grounding.
In Zimbabwe the ‘youth’ debate is especially heated, but also conditioned by a particular context. What will happen to the next generation post land reform? Will they demand their rights to land as their parents did in the land invasions of 2000? Or can they find off-farm employment in a highly depressed economy? Which farming areas and what types of farming – and linked activity – can support more people, and how will youth be involved? These are the sort of questions that have been exercising us in our work in Mvurwi, Masvingo and Matobo over the last few years, as we seek to explore the consequences of land reform on people’s livelihoods across the country. There are some major changes afoot, and our understandings of livelihoods after land reform must certainly take generational questions into account.
Past patterns of demographic transition, linked to a classic southern African pattern of circular migration, have changed. In the past, a young man would leave home (often after marriage following the establishment of an independent home, but still economically reliant on parents); they would send remittances home to their wife/parents, and build up assets (notably cattle); and then return home later, following a period of stable employment in towns, in the mines or on the farms. Some women would follow the same route, but patrilocal marriage arrangements, and a highly gendered labour economy would restrict options, and women would move on marriage to their husband’s home, often remaining in the rural communal area, committing to social reproduction and farming.
Today, things are totally different. Patterns of migration have changed, both in terms of destination and who goes when. Men and women migrate, but often only to temporary, more fragile employment, with just a few gaining access to stable employment, often abroad. This is highly dependent on education, and so the resources of parents, restricting social mobility. Otherwise, the local economy, at least since the mid-1990s, has been precarious, offering only short-term work. The so-called kukiya kiya economy involves trading, panning, vending, and overall dealing and hustling. This is the new form of jobless work of the informal economy, as described by James Ferguson for South Africa, with multiple, fragmented classes of labour, as observed by Henry Bernstein. Such work is for survival. It creates vulnerability and precarity, and so little opportunity of accumulation. In the last 20 years, and particularly recently, this is the alternative to farming and land-based livelihoods for most.
In our on-going study across our sites, we have been interested in exploring how young people have been responding to these conditions, and asking what difference land reform makes. Those who were born at the time of land reform in 2000 are now in secondary school, approaching ‘Form IV’, when the majority leave. What are they thinking about what the future holds? Those who were at school at land reform, between around 5 and 16, are now in their 20s and early 30s. How have they fared after school in practice?
We have been looking at these two groups of ‘youth’ in A1 resettlement areas in three sites across country – Mvurwi (an high potential commercial hotspot), Wondedzo (in Masvingo district, but with reasonable rainfall and not far from a medium-sized town) and Chikombedzi (a remote location on the border of South Africa, in the marginal, dry far south of the country). These are areas we have been working in for a while, so we know the areas, and have been researching the lives and livelihoods of those who gained land through land reform.
So what have we done so far? First, we explored the perceptions of today’s Form IVs – nearly all aged between 16 and 19 – in three schools in or close to A1 resettlement areas, asking about what they imagined they would be doing in 20 years, and what constraints they thought were in the way. This was done through a combination of a ‘Q sort’ exercise and focus group discussions. Second, we sampled a cohort of those now between 20 and 31, who were kids of people in our long-standing sample. This group has (mostly) left school, and allowed us to explore what actually happened to a group of people (half men, half women) in the age group immediately above those we discussed with at school settings. Through a simple questionnaire we examined what happened to all children in this age cohort in the sample households, and pursued in detail their experiences, perceptions and life stories through a series of in-depth interviews, mostly of those who were resident or visiting their parental homes.
Aiming to go beyond the simplistic narratives, with this data we have an opportunity to explore not only imaginaries of the future but also emerging life courses, and examine how outcomes related to, for example, gender, location (high to low potential areas), the wealth status (including asset ownership) of their parents and the educational qualifications, both of the young people and their parents. In turn, we explored what our sample of young people were doing, how they had been surviving, and how they were establishing homes and families, and how they were striking up relationships with land and agriculture, including what opportunities for accumulation existed, and how the prospects for and experiences of entering adulthood appeared.
The analysis is on-going but in the coming weeks, I will share some of the emerging findings, and begin to explore some of the implications. Feedback on our emerging in analysis will be much appreciated.
The Future Agricultures Consortium has just finished its annual conference, and the focus on was on youth and agri-food systems. The big question is how is the next generation going to engage in agriculture? Will they repeat what their forefathers did and take over (part of) the family farm? Or will they abandon farming, seeing a brighter future in the city, working in industries or the civil service? Or will they engage in farming and food systems in new ways, not replicating what their parents did, but using their improved education, their technological skills and their business acumen?
There were no clear answers to these questions across the papers presented. Of course, it all depends. But the debates did highlight some important issues for the Zimbabwe context.
– How does education help young people gain skills for engaging with agriculture?
– What type of technology development will allow for added value creation?
– How can agriculture maintain a labour-absorbing role in growing economies?
– Will the consolidation of farms in large scale units create more opportunities for skilled labour for young people, compared to small scale farming?
– How can young people gain access to land in settings where land is scarce and controlled by the older generation?
– How are gender relations changing in the next generation, and how is this affecting demand for land and engagement in agriculture.
– If agriculture does not provide gainful employment/livelihoods what are the risks of conflict?
Examples from across Africa highlighted the dangers of not addressing youth employment. The consequences can be dire, including mass violence exacerbated by ethnic and political conflict. We have seen this in Sierra Leone, where the youth joined armed gangs which helped foment a civil war. The election violence in Kenya many agree was also linked to youth dissatisfaction and land issues. Yet also the conference highlighted the opportunities unleashed by young people, with new skills and capacities, getting engaged in agriculture.
A review of policy issues from across Africa shows that, while everyone is happy to talk about ‘youth’ as a category, there are virtually no policies directed to the relationship between agriculture and food systems. The wider social, economic and political dimensions are simply not addressed. And young people’s own views, perceptions and aspirations are rarely taken into account.
What of Zimbabwe? In our Masvingo study, we found that younger people were critical in the land invasions of 2000. They were the people that were able to leave home, join the ‘jambanja’, set up camp at the bases, and endure the hardships that the land occupations entailed. The result was that the A1 farms had overall a younger, better educated profile than the nearby communal areas. The A1 small-scale farms contrasted too with the A2 farms which tended to have older households, as they gained land through application (and patronage) and were not involved in the invasions.
The A1 farmers demonstrate that there was certainly a demand for land among younger people living in the communal areas. Many had inherited vanishingly small plots from their parents, and were finding it difficult to make a living. Many talked of the difficulty of continuing to be reliant on parents, only having a hectare or less to farm, and the challenges of establishing a family (or even getting married). With the economy in decline, and options for jobs in town or in the mines shrinking, joining the land invasions made much sense. A new, if uncertain and risky, opportunity opened up, and they grabbed it in large numbers. And it was not just young men who joined the invasions. Younger women were also part of the invaders, eager to stake their claim to land as independent farmers. In the communal areas, the patriarchal institutions of land allocation and inheritance often only allowed them land through marriage. But those who sought greater independence, or who had separated or divorced, could seek opportunities in the new resettlements with their young families.
However, A1 farmers who established homes in 2000 may have been in their 20s, but now are in their 30s. With many ‘accumulating from below’ they have invested in social reproduction and accumulated assets. There is now a further generation wanting land. New land invasions in the past years have often involved younger people, eager to gain land before it is too late. Sometimes, it is reported, their parents have invaded land on their behalf, staking a claim for the next generation. With the youth absent, perhaps border jumping to South Africa or in a temporary job in town, those who are resident can grab the opportunity and join a new invasion.
But there are clear limits to this process. There are fewer and fewer opportunities for further redistribution of land, and the government keeps insisting that the process of land invasion must cease (although larger scale land grabs continue). The police are sent and evictions occur. So what hope is there for the new post-land reform generation, and the generations that will follow them? Are there new opportunities as new value chains are created, and new linkages between farm enterprises are made.
In our book, we argue that in the new rural economy, there has been a radical reshaping not only of land ownership and use but economic relations. This offers many opportunities for value addition, marketing, transport and service support for the new agriculture. Also, with a new rural economic geography, there are real additionalities to be gained by the connections between A1 and A2 and the new resettlements and the old communal areas. Trade, exchange and business opportunities can open up if a territorial approach to economic development takes place. This is happening at the margins, but needs greater support and impetus.
Perhaps it is in this context of a reconfigured pattern of economic growth that in the longer term ‘youth’ will make the greatest contribution. For, even if they do not own land, they can engage in a revitalised agricultural economy that is not controlled by large farms and enterprises and where value chains exist where new entrepreneurs with new skills can enter. To make this happen, not only must investment in economic planning and growth occur at territory level, but education and support systems for youth must be fundamentally regeared.