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‘The land is the economy, the economy is the land’, but does this include young people? Reflections from Zimbabwe

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.

A similar sense of struggle was highlighted in our study of young people in land reform areas in Masvingo district and Mvurwi farming area (see also earlier blogs here, here, here and here). The ROAPE paper that summarises the findings shows how

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.

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

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Lockdown politics: reflections from Zimbabwe

Last week, the blog looked at the COVID-19 situation in Zimbabwe. The situation continues to get worse. On 9 January, there were 20499 reported cases and 483 deaths – 6000 more cases and over 100 more deaths in just a week. It looks like the South African ‘new variant’ is taking hold. Another very severe lockdown was imposed on 2 January, with strict movement restrictions, many businesses closed and a curfew.  

However, like many other African settings, as discussed last week, so far at least the rural areas in particular seem not to have significant coronavirus incidence, with reported cases concentrated in urban areas. So are widespread, national lockdowns justified? Should governments persist with the harsh lockdowns that are perhaps best designed for different Western, urban settings with different social and economic profiles?

This is a difficult one. We don’t know if the early action by African states – including Zimbabwe – prevented a massive early spread, and it would be foolhardy to experiment with releasing lockdowns to boost the economy if it resulted in a massive transmission of disease during a second wave. And especially so in settings where health systems are deeply inadequate.

The Swedish experiment of a light lockdown has faltered badly in recent months, and the haphazard approach of the UK government to pandemic control measures has resulted in a huge and unnecessary death rate, even with a top quality health service.

Hardships, but innovations and transformations

What then are the downsides of the current approach of strictly following international public health guidelines? As we have documented in the blog series since March last year, the impacts of lockdowns on rural populations across our sites have been harsh. And the new lockdown in Zimbabwe is already biting hard.

This is a pattern seen across Africa as many studies have now shown. Reduced market access, lack of mobility for labour and work, school closures meaning kids don’t get an education… and so on. The story is now familiar. There have been many surveys of the impacts and the considerable costs of lockdowns. Lockdowns particularly hit those reliant on formal markets and those requiring mobility for their livelihoods.

Yet, as our field reports during 2020 have shown, in a largely informal economy, where exchanges are local, there has been an impressive resilience in rural areas and small towns in Zimbabwe so far. Without wanting to dismiss extreme hardships, falling perhaps especially on women and young people, the adaptations and innovations we saw over the past 9-10 months across our sites have been impressive. 

Whether in terms of marketing, health care, off-farm income earning, trading or artisanal mining, a new array of new activities have sprung up so that people can survive during lockdowns. Compared to the formal phone surveys that many researchers are fond of, asking not just about what has changed from the status quo, and so highlighting the costs, we have also been asking what has emerged, highlighting innovations and opportunities too.

Our qualitative work across multiple sites in Zimbabwe shows not just how the existing agro-food and livelihood system suffered, but how it also was transformed – by necessity, and through skill and ingenuity. Reading back across our accounts from March 2020 onwards it is interesting how the tenor of the commentary changed: from negative impacts to positive opportunities, even in very tough circumstances. 

Authoritarian reactions

A common argument about the downsides of lockdowns is that they provide space for authoritarian states to exert control on restive populations under the guise of public health measures. The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition has recently produced a significant report (and video) on the shocking abuses that have occurred in Zimbabwe (and across SADC) over the past year, with heavy lockdowns and restrictions on movement seemingly being used as a pretext for arrests and violence, directed particularly against the opposition.

The ‘closing of civic space’ is very apparent in Zimbabwe, and was heightened especially in the build-up to the proposed 31 July uprising. While this never happened in the ways envisaged, the clamp-down was severe, affecting everyone, but especially journalists (arrested and imprisoned) and opposition leaders (sexually assaulted and imprisoned). This pattern continues, with new arrests during the past week, and some still imprisoned.

The argument in the Crisis Coalition reports is that lockdown measures were ‘excessive and disproportionate’, with state and security services using lockdowns to boost their control against rising opposition and internal faction fighting. It is implied that lockdowns should be released with ‘civic space’ restored. In other words, it is suggested that lockdowns are manipulated, becoming simply a political tool.

Many public health officials would however disagree, and especially now. With great hardship and without resources, they have been implementing the measures in good faith, with the genuine fear that the pandemic will take hold, and that only strict public health measures will hold it at bay. Public freedoms are always curtailed in a health emergency for the greater, longer-term good, they argue. Lockdowns are therefore essential, even if private civic freedoms are curtailed.

Lockdown politics

This of course is a tension seen in many countries, with anti-lockdown protests in favour of ‘freedom’ a common occurrence. However, in Zimbabwe, the context is particular. A more sophisticated reflection on these tensions is necessary.

It is always about politics, and political assessment of trade-offs. In the UK, for example, the discussion has been about opening up to boost the economy and people’s jobs and livelihoods, while protecting health through a complex and confusing set of public health measures. In Zimbabwe, the state had similar concerns, as the already dire state of the economy was made worse by the pandemic, and fears of public unrest and opposition mobilisation were raised.  Yet, actually, those economies with stricter public health measures have actually fared better economically over the pandemic, particularly in east and southeast Asia.

Lockdowns are of course no excuse for human rights abuses and illegal activities. These have been seen in many places, as the ‘emergency’ rhetoric of a pandemic provides the pretext for authoritarian measures, as well as corrupt practices. The rush to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE) at the beginning of the pandemic saw procurement practices abused massively across the world.

In Zimbabwe, media exposes resulted in the sacking of the health minister and fingers pointed to the very top, while in the UK the extent of involvement of senior politicians and associates in the Conservative party in getting favourable government contracts is only now becoming clear. This is now subject to a number of lawsuits, although still remarkably little mainstream media commentary, despite apparently extreme forms of corruption.

Pandemics are windows onto society

A pandemic exposes the worst and best of any society, and Zimbabwe is no exception. The failure of governance, the abuse of power and the authoritarian approach to politics has been laid bare, along with the tragic lack of capacity in the health service and the neglect of key workers, notably doctors and nurses who have been underpaid for years. But, at the same time, the way public health workers have worked tirelessly across the country sharing messages about keeping a distance, washing hands and so on has been impressive; in many cases involving people who are barely paid a living wage. The commitment of medical professionals is also amazing. Despite the terrible working conditions, they have insistently argued for solid public health measures and may have helped offset something worse. And, in response, the extraordinary resilience, as well as the improvisation, ingenuity and innovation, that people have shown over these months continues to impress.

Over the coming months, we will continue to monitor the situation across our Zimbabwe sites and report back via the blog, as the unpredictable life-cycle of a pandemic reveals much about the struggles of daily life and the political, cultural, social and economic responses to adversity in rural settings, which remains the on-going focus of this blog.

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

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Can Zimbabwe survive a second wave of COVID-19?

On January 2nd, Vice-President and Minister of Health, Constantino Chiwenga, announced another strict lockdown on the whole country. As in March, non-essential businesses are shut, travel is restricted and schools are closed. Everyone is urged to stay at home. In the last week, there have been a further 1342 cases, adding to the total of 14084 recorded. There have been a further 29 deaths too, including a number of high profile business people and politicians, adding to a cumulative total of 369.

Zimbabwe seems to be facing a second wave, driven by the new variant coronavirus from South Africa. I caught up with colleagues yesterday to hear about the current situation and to reflect on how has Zimbabwe fared since the first case was identified in March 2020 (see the Zimbabweland COVID-19 blog series).  

On the face of it, Zimbabwe like many other African countries outside South Africa and to some extent Nigeria, has been relatively spared the ravages of COVID-19 to date. The total (reported) cases and deaths remain low. Compared to the US, UK and much of the rest of Europe, where last week’s reported figures are a small fraction of what is happening each day in these countries, the figures seem to portray (relative) good news.

At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a wave of Afro-pessimism: Africa was going to be hard hit, and with poor health services and many co-morbidities the toll would be massive. This did not happen during the first wave of the pandemic. In fact, the richest, supposedly most ‘efficient’ countries on the planet suffered worse. Why is this?

Why so few cases?

There are many theories out there, and no one really knows – uncertainties are everywhere. Some claimed it was the heat, but of course there are cold parts of Africa in some seasons and places, and hot places around the world have suffered terribly too, notably in Latin America. Some said it was because of widespread BCG tuberculosis vaccination, but the comparative data proved dodgy. Some said it was because of a young population demographic. This certainly helped, given the susceptibility of different age groups, but there are plenty of other places where a ‘young’ population was hit hard.

Certainly African countries, including Zimbabwe, responded to the pandemic quickly and effectively in line with WHO recommendations, with national lockdowns, restrictions on movements and health campaigns. This was unlike Western nations where the response was sluggish, with an arrogance that they knew best. Clearly, they didn’t and coronavirus did not turn out to be like ‘flu as all the elaborate preparedness and contingency plans assumed.

The experience of past pandemics/epidemics has also probably helped in Africa. The AIDS pandemic taught African nations and peoples a lot of important lessons: know your epidemic, take it seriously and change behaviour to save lives. The same applied to Ebola in West Africa and of course SARS in southeast Asia. Such experiences shape cultures and practices, and citizens, experts and institutions learn lessons the hard way. In the West, assuming that COVID-19 was ‘flu was fatal – literally, and resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths in the US and Europe – but Western nations had not experienced the ravages of a serious pandemic for many years outside certain communities.

In some ways it may have been that poor health conditions actually helped. Acquired or pre-existing immunity through the frequent attack of multiple pathogens may have made certain people more able to fend off COVID-19. Noone knows this for sure, and plenty of poor and marginalised people have died, but it’s a hypothesis worth exploring, as many of the (recorded) deaths have been among middle class and richer people, where co-morbidities – being overweight, having diabetes etc. – are similar to those in the ‘healthy’ West.

The spatial pattern of cases also gives some clues. Cases in Zimbabwe, for example, are heavily concentrated in the larger urban centres, where poorer people live in crowded places and moving to jobs means travelling on crowded transport. The colonial design of racially-segregated cities has resulted in increased susceptibility to this type of respiratory disease, requiring new thinking in city planning.

The other foci of infection are on the borders, highlighting the impact of migration as a spreader of disease, especially from South Africa. With the new variant extending from the coastal areas of South Africa, the transfer of the virus through migrant populations moving back and forth, especially through the festive period, has already happened. Add to this the crowded conditions and long queues at the borders such as Beitbridge seen over the holidays, it has been a recipe for rapid spread.

Understanding disease contexts in rural areas

However, there still remain very few (recorded) COVID-19 cases in any of our rural study areas, and few stories about people who have died. This is the case across the country – from Mvurwi to Chikombedzi – and the exceptions are in all instances a few imports from returning migrants, most common in Matobo. This is striking and contradicts the national narrative of growing infection.

We have been observing the local situation now for 9-10 months, and the pattern seems clear. Despite massive under-reporting due to an almost complete absence of testing, the rural areas seem to have been spared so far. As colleagues noted, “it may be that we have had the disease, but there are a range of ‘flus’ (respiratory diseases), and we know how to treat them with herbal medicines. Even the local village health workers are encouraging their use.”

We asked people in each of the study sites about why there were so few cases, and they consistently identified the activity patterns of people in rural areas. They live outside, there is ‘plenty of air’, they are not crowded together, as villages and homes are spaced out and people don’t move around so much – certainly compared to the ‘big bosses’ from Harare who seem to be suffering most. The moments when infection might happen included, according to their listing, funerals, markets, tobacco selling points, schools, indoor church services and beer parties where receptacles are shared. They also all pointed out that people are generally good at hygiene as this part of cultural practices for washing and cleaning, especially before eating.

As Paul Richards and Daniel Cohen point out on the African Arguments blog, understanding infection risk in context is essential, and this requires detailed insights into what people do where and why. In Africa it is not meat packing plants or care homes where concentrated transmissions occur, but in other settings. In order to shift behaviours and reduce infection, there is a need to know more about – for example – “the way infection hazard is shaped by key ceremonial activities in private spaces.” This means not just relying on the generic ‘science’ and projections from generalised models, or even the direct experiences of elite policymakers in large urban centres, but engaging with those who are confronting the disease, even if at this stage at very low levels. As they comment, it’s imperative to:

involve at-risk communities of all kinds in debate about how to manage the hazards associated with a second wave of the disease in Africa, based on diligent backward contact tracing undertaken while disease circulation remains relatively low. The time to do this work is now.

Only with such engagement and supported by effective testing – as was the case with Ebola in West Africa – will people shift practices, perhaps in quite subtle ways, to prevent disease spreading. The blunt tool of lockdowns and generic health messaging may be increasingly ineffective in a second wave, and more attuned responses will be needed.

Dangers at the borders

As colleagues said, “people are fed up with lockdowns, they don’t know why they are happening”. In the last period, things had got back to a (sort of) normal. Or at least people had found ways of managing the restrictions. Businesses had been re-established, markets had reopened, people were moving about (even if paying bribes to the police at roadblocks), funerals were being held with numbers way beyond the stipulated number, schools were open and mask wearing had become much more casual. The announcement of a new harsh lockdown has been met with dread. People remember the first major lockdown from late March, and cannot afford to return to that situation of extreme hardship.

But notes of caution also come from the border areas, especially in the last weeks. Over the festive period there have been a huge number of returnees from South Africa wanting to visit their relatives and rural homes. The massive queues at the border posts, with traffic jams of 20km or more have been widely reported. Traffic disruption has also occurred further away as police check for COVID test certificates among motorists and truckers.

As we have observed in previous blogs, migrants have invested in their rural homes during the pandemic, and have opened up fields, moving members of their families to these homes and away from towns in Zimbabwe or South Africa. Some villagers have been complaining that grazing areas are becoming short as so much land once fallow (and so available for grazing) has been ploughed this year, spurred on by the very good rains. There is now more movement and mixing with migrants from elsewhere, and especially around holiday times.

With the main border posts highly congested, others have resorted to illegal crossings. The Limpopo is flowing due to plentiful rains and normal crossings on foot are not passable. Boat operators have sprung up using large inflatables, with crossings costing Rand 200 per head. Huge numbers of people cross each day – around 150 per boat – along with goods and supplies, and sometimes even vehicles. Soldiers and border security forces are paid off, and a lucrative transport business has emerged, alongside other activities including supplying food to travellers. These crossings are taken by those without the full paperwork and who cannot pay for the U$50 cost of a COVID test. No doubt viruses along with people and goods are being imported too.

What next?

To date, the rural areas of Zimbabwe have yet to experience the direct impact of the disease, and only the consequences of lockdowns. This may yet change. In the coming weeks, we will continue to monitor the situation in our study areas. How will they cope with the new lockdowns? Will the second wave hit the rural areas this time? What strategies are being used to respond locally, with they remain effective even with greater transmissibility of the virus? Before the next update report, next week the blog will look more broadly at the debate about lockdowns and their politics.

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

Thanks to the team from Mvurwi, Gutu, Masvingo, Matobo and Mwenezi. Image credit: NewZimbabwe.com

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Zimbabweland’s 2020 wrap-up

2020 has been quite a year in Zimbabwe and across the world. The blog has had two major series of posts, and this wrap-up features both – now with the links all working.

One series has followed the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe, and particularly the consequences of lockdown in rural areas. The blogs are based on discussions with our team based across the country – from Mwenezi to Matobo to Masvingo to Gutu to Mvurwi. The pandemic measures have radically reshaped the rural economy, with diverse impacts on different people. Heavy-handed clamp-downs have combined with (as ever) plenty of innovation and adaptation as people find ways of surviving. Luckily, despite dismal predictions, Zimbabwe has as yet not been heavily affected by the disease, a pattern seen in many parts of Africa. Why this is will be the focus of continuing discussion in the new year when this series will continue.

2020 has also seen the 20th anniversary of the fast-track land reform. Our surveys across Masvingo province have continued throughout the 20 years, documenting how livelihood changed in this turbulent period in Zimbabwe’s history, where economic collapse, political chaos and continuous sanctions preventing investment by Western development agencies have persisted. The other major blog series this year therefore presents of the results of our longitudinal studies looking at what has happened in A2 medium-scale farms, A1 self-contained, villagised and informal settlements across Masvingo. The story is fascinating yet complex, and the blogs present much data to show how there have been both important successes, but also major challenges.

Links to the two blog series are presented below. Additional themes discussed this year include commentary on the important compensation deal signed between former white commercial farmers, yet another blog on land tenure (given the on-going intransigence of the debate) and one on conservation and development in the Lowveld. A new paper on the history of commercial farming in Mvurwi was also highlighted.

As ever the blog has been widely read across the world, with many thousands of views, multiple subscribers and plenty of reposts, notably in The Zimbabwean and Chronicle newspapers. The blog will return in the new year with more evidence-based research and comment on agriculture and rural development in Zimbabwe and beyond. 

COVID-19 in rural Zimbabwe: a blog series

Women and young people in Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 economy, Nov 9

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“Know your epidemic”: Reflections from Zimbabwe, Sep 27

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Innovation in the pandemic: an update from Zimbabwe, Sep 7

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Viral politics and economics in Zimbabwe, Jul 27

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COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe: ‘we are good at surviving, but things are really tough’, Jun 15

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COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe: a disaster for farmers, Apr 27

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Surviving COVID-19 in a fragile state: why social resilience is essential, Mar 30

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Twenty years after Zimbabwe’s land reform: a blog series

20 years after Zimbabwe’s land reform: what does the future hold? Jun 29

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (summary and reflection), Jun 22

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (A2 areas), Jun 8

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (A1 informal settlements), Jun 1

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (A1 villagised areas), May 25

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on (A1 self-contained areas), May 18

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Zimbabwe’s land reform areas twenty years on: Introduction to the blog series,May 11

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

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Unequal land, unequal societies

A really important report from the International Land Coalition and Oxfam is just out calledUneven Ground: Land Inequality at the Heart of Unequal Societies’, along with 17 supporting papers. Through new analysis it shows that land inequality is even larger than previously thought, and that this has dramatic effects on poor people’s livelihoods, particularly those of women and young people.

In the rhetoric around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) there’s lots of talk about rising inequality, and pleas to ‘leave no one behind’, but most discussion barely touches on land, despite land access being vital for so many people’s lives. The corporate-driven concentration of land holding has been well researched around discussions of the ‘land grab’, but this report goes further, digging into the dynamics of inequality and how changes in the agri-food system are driving it.

New analysis, dramatic conclusions

The report adopts a new methodology for exploring land inequalities, taking account not just of patterns of land holding and farm size, but the significance of multiple holdings across a corporate portfolio, land value and the presence of landless people. This shifts the metric dramatically, highlighting levels of hidden inequality so far not exposed.

The report estimates that there are around 608 million farms in the world with most being small family farms. But it is the largest 1% of farm operations that make use of more than 70% of the world’s farmland, and these are linked into global, corporate led food systems that in turn support this inequality. The 80% of farms that are smallholdings of under two hectares are by contrast excluded from the benefits of such markets. The report’s extended analysis of land value shows how, “the wealthiest 10% of rural populations across the sampled countries capture 60% of agricultural land value, while the poorest 50% of rural populations, who are generally more dependent on agriculture, capture only 3% of land value.”

Patterns vary across the world of course, but levels of land inequality are high everywhere and are rising. Not surprisingly, land inequality is particularly high in Latin America, the US and parts of Europe, where smallholder farming has all but disappeared in many farming areas. The UK is of course a stark example, and has been discussed on this blog before (see here and here).

In Asia, the huge numbers of smallholders make inequality measures just of land holdings less high, but when you take account of the equally huge numbers of landless people, then the measure changes quite dramatically. Under any measure, patterns of land inequality are not as high in Africa, but they are rising. And the post 2007-08 land grab documented widely shows how land investments were concentrated in Africa with, according to the Land Matrix, 42% of deals across 10 million hectares over a decade. As countries seek out investment, especially in cash-strapped, debt-ridden post-COVID-19 times, the temptation to allocate notionally ‘empty’ or ‘idle’ land is high. Combine this with corrupt governance practices with deals to be made with politicians and others, the likelihood of the land grab accelerating again is high.

Focusing exclusively on ‘farms’ and ‘holdings’ of course misses key populations making use of land that do not use land in this way. This is a gap in an otherwise good report. Whether shifting cultivators, hunter-gatherers or pastoralists, such populations typically suffer the brunt of land expropriation. The inequality is just as keenly felt, but it is not measured in terms of the metrics used here.

Redistribution and development

The report has a lot of good recommendations, although none of them are that new. Good land governance, land taxation, effective land registries, corporate and investor accountability, protecting the commons and women’s land rights, building sustainable and equitable production and food systems, encouraging inclusive value chains and so on have all long been talked about. But the big question is of course the political economy of inequality: why is that such a pattern is acceptable? Why isn’t redistribution at the centre of the sustainable development agenda? The report unfortunately is rather quiet on this.

The period of the great land reforms in the 1960s and 70s resulted in major decreases in land inequality. As the report shows, these gains have been massively reversed since. Through various examples, cautionary tales are told – for example of Ecuador – where land reforms occurred only to be reversed by land consolidation and the extension of large-scale capitalist farming.

The report however is seemingly rather equivocal on redistribution, saying land reforms can be unsettling, redistributive policies have to be ‘aligned’ to socio-economic goals and that when post-land reform support limited (as is frequently the case), this can undermine the benefits leading to reconcentration subsequently. But land redistribution surely must be a major response to land inequality, even if (of course) inequalities in the wider agro-food systems must be addressed also. So it was a bit disappointing that the report was a little coy on the subject.

There are many possibilities for land redistribution and shifts in its use. And this is not just in the so-called ‘developing world’. For example, the Downland Estate around Brighton in the UK is owned by the city council and is leased out to tenant farmers. They have continued to consolidate land into larger chunks, expanding arable farming and reducing access land through hunting/pheasant enclosures. But moves are afoot, pushed by citizen alliances in the city and beyond, to regulate land use differently, and allow smaller scale farm holdings to be allocated as tenancies, helping to transform the local food system and local livelihoods, widening access, as well as improving environmental care. If rethinking land and its use is possible in the UK, surely it must be possible elsewhere. The report could have been more ambitious in my view.

Missing the Zimbabwe experience

Rather surprisingly, Zimbabwe is not mentioned at all in the report. Still too much of a hot potato even for the ILC and Oxfam maybe? As the most significant land redistribution of the past several decades, it surely offers important lessons. A massively unequal land holding system was redistributed with mixed effects – many positive, some negative – as discussed on this blog multiple times. In many respects, especially through the transfer of land to smallholders, Zimbabwe implemented what the report is arguing for, offering a new trajectory for agrarian development.

In Zimbabwe, as has been seen again and again elsewhere, the failure to provide the needed supportive infrastructure of investment, regulation, taxation, land administration and so on may potentially undermine the gains of land reform, as this blog has long argued. And if the pressures of capital are the same as elsewhere, the process of land grabbing of extensive areas taken by smallholders will be an issue to look out for.

Zimbabwe is broke and claims it is ‘open for business’ and, with a deeply corrupt polity, the conditions are right for a dangerous reversal of land reform in the name of ‘investment’. Indeed, on the margins of the country this is already happening, whether in quasi-privatised national parks or in new investments in commercial agriculture.

Land and power

The report concludes that “reversing land inequality to any significant extent will require a deep transformation in power relations. Solutions will require major changes in political, economic, and legal norms. They will require action that strikes at the root of what makes societies and economies unequal and unsustainable”. Absolutely. But, as the Zimbabwe experience has shown, this will require more than just ‘inclusive processes’ and ‘involving civil society’.

Challenging inequality is a struggle against powerful interests, and redistribution always affects the powerful – which is of course why it often doesn’t happen. Moving beyond the easy rhetoric about inequality being at the heart of the SDGs and central for tackling sustainability and development together, land must be at the centre of this inevitably political struggle.

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

Image credit: International Land Coalition

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“Know your epidemic”: Reflections from Zimbabwe

“Know your epidemic, act on its politics” was a lesson learned in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As Alex De Waal argued back in March, it’s just as important for COVID-19. The pandemic is playing out in very different ways in different places, yet the public health responses tend to be standardised and not adapted to context. What needs to be understood are both local responses and their politics.

Since the end of March (when the lockdown was first imposed in Zimbabwe), we have been tracking the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on diverse rural areas and linked small towns across the country (see our first blog (Surviving COVID-19 in a fragile state: why social resilience is essential) for early reflections from March 27. Since then, and based on reports from colleagues from Chikombedi in Mwenezi district; Matobo district in Matabeleland; Masvingo and Gutu districts and from Mvurwi in Mashonaland Central, we have produced so far four extended blogs based on compilations of field reports.

Through some reflections on the past four blogs (links included below), this piece asks how can we get to ‘know the epidemic’ in Zimbabwe, exploring the implications for the response and wider politics?

April 27 (COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe: a disaster for farmers): Three weeks into the lockdown and the effects on rural livelihoods were already being felt. Movement restrictions and the closing of markets were causing havoc. A heavy-handed response was being led by the police who ‘were everywhere’, stopping people moving. Rumours abounded about the origins of the virus and who it was affecting, and people feared going to health centres. The fear was tangible and the unknown nature of the virus (compared to say HIV) was causing major anxiety. Many had seen on the TV or heard about from relatives the devastating consequences elsewhere, including in the UK and South Africa. The expectation was that this was going to happen in Zimbabwe, in a situation with far fewer resources and an extremely under-resourced health service. The fear galvanised a collective response, and at this stage collaboration between people, the state, churches and others was growing. There was a sense that this was something that had to be addressed together, and for Zimbabwe there was an unusual politics of unity and collaboration.

June 15 (COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe: ‘we are good at surviving, but things are really tough’): By mid-June the lockdown had been in place for about 10 weeks, and people were having to find ways to cope. Things were getting very difficult and consumer products and even food was scarce. By this stage transport of imported goods from South Africa was being facilitated (mostly illegally) by truckers. Traders of all sorts had emerged to supply both rural areas and townships; as someone put it, “we are all vendors now”. Agricultural production had spread – “everyone is a gardener” – including in town. Avoiding reliance on wider value chains had become essential and production, trade and consumption links were increasingly localised across our study sites. With the drying up of remittance flows (as diaspora populations were also affected by COVID-19 job losses and economic contraction), a sense of self-reliance emerged. The large number or returnees from South Africa (who had lost jobs and had been denied social assistance) was by this stage putting a strain on local communities. They also brought the virus and it was from this stage that cases were not just imports from outside but began to be based on local community transmission, although still at a very low rate. Community tensions rose in this period, as concerns over livelihoods and infection increased, with new arrivals from South Africa often shunned and stigmatised. Political scandals around procurement of PPE and equipment reinforced the sense that people were on their own.

July 27 (Viral politics and economics in Zimbabwe): By the end of July, the informal economy – including a substantial growth of smuggling – had expanded further to provide alternatives. A new economy had emerged in order for people to survive. While really tough, people had begun to find ways around restrictions. In this period there had been an growth of movement of people – first back from South Africa and neighbouring countries as people lost their jobs and had no other forms of support, and then from urban areas within Zimbabwe back to the rural areas. The extreme challenges of living in town had hit hard and many felt that the only way to survive was to go ‘home’ to the rural areas, where at least there were family members to offer support, and the opportunity of a small plot of land to do gardening. This pattern continued through August into September, likely resulting in a massive flow of people (and viruses). Meanwhile, the wider political context shifted. With the prospects of opposition protests scheduled for the end of the month, the state and security forces were clamping down, using the COVID-19 regulations to restrict movements and gatherings. Some high-profile arrests had changed the political mood. While at the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was pulling together and the joint COVID committees involved all political parties, the churches, businesses and others, tensions were rising.

September 7 (Innovation in the pandemic: an update from Zimbabwe): The most recent update again showed a shift in responses. The restrictions had relaxed a bit and the political tensions had eased somewhat. Although lockdowns were still being imposed along with movement restrictions, the way local economies had adapted over the previous months had meant that new supply chains had emerged. The shift from formal to informal marketing was complete and mobile shops from cars had become the dominant approach to retail selling. By this stage, people had given up on expectations that the state was going to provide, and many had turned to traditional healers, herbalists and prophets offering health care and support. While cases had not expanded massively, the threat of COVID-19 remained real, but new ways of coping had to be found. The failure of state provision, combined with the series of corruption scandals allegedly linked to those at the top, fed into a disappointment with political leadership and process. People were again on their own having to cope with the virus – and in particular the harsh lockdown measures that had been imposed. Many argued that it was not the virus that was killing them but the lockdown. There were of course always ways around the restrictions as life had to go on, whether involving selling things at night, moving through new routes or paying off police or security forces at road blocks. A sense of disconnection and disillusionment reigned, with a feeling that no-one else – and particularly the state – cared. This has generated a spirit of innovation however, as people have found new ways to get products to market, provide goods and get round the restrictions.

The COVID-19 pandemic – and in particular the lockdown control measures – has resulted in changing economic responses, huge transformations of market arrangements and value chains, there have been large movements of people, and with the rapid expansion of informal economic activity there has been innovation on all fronts. At the same time, politics has shifted from a politics of collaboration to a politics of conflict and dissent to a politics of disillusionment. With the economic struggles for livelihoods deeply entwined with politics, we can expect further changes as the pandemic unfolds. We are continuing our informal monitoring – getting to ‘know the epidemic’ – across the sites, so look out for further updates in the coming weeks.

Many thanks to all the research team from across Zimbabwe for continuing interviews and collecting local information on the COVID-19 situation (and for the photos from different sites).

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

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Innovation in the pandemic: an update from Zimbabwe

I  had the latest long discussion on responses to COVID-19 in our rural study areas across the country on 5 September. Check out the earlier updates from 27 July, 15 June and 27 April The pandemic continues to take a hold in Zimbabwe, and the case numbers are rising (total 6837 reported cases and 206 deaths on September 4), although the rapidity and extent of spread is not as feared – so far at least. As one of my colleagues put it, “we are still the survivors of COVID-19”. That said, the impact of the lockdown measures is far-reaching, but since it’s now gone on for so long, people are (by necessity) adapting, and finding new ways of responding. What was striking about this conversation was the array of innovations happening.

Rural and urban connections

The relationship between town and countryside has been transformed by the lockdown measures. In the past there were frequent visits between rural and urban homes, with people being able to respond immediately to a crisis or just go and visit for a weekend. Now movement requires an exemption letter issued by the police. “You very frequently have to lie”, one of our colleagues noted, “saying you have a sick relative or that there is a funeral; otherwise permission is not granted”. The comedian VaMayaya captured it well in a recent video. The inconvenience and hassle is evident, as villagers try and bluff their way past the police officer.

The restrictions have a big impact when flows of agricultural labour are curtailed. For example, in our sugar-growing site in Hippo Valley, it’s cane cutting season and usually migrant labourers come for short periods, but this year they either haven’t come or they are failing to get back home, causing tensions and family disputes. The lack of labour is also pushing up hiring costs for producers and the resettled farmers are now competing with the estate. Fortunately more resettlement A2 farmers are on their farms these days, especially since lockdown, as the management of labour is increasingly demanding.

The importance of ‘home’

There are large numbers of people who have moved from towns in Zimbabwe back to their rural homes. Some have been away for years and have to find new places to stay. But town has become difficult to live in – there are few jobs and many have lost them since lockdown, prices are high, rents are prohibitive and the lockdown restrictions are harsh. Many are finding sourcing food difficult. Drivers, company workers, civil servants, vendors, sex workers and others who have lost the means to make a livelihood have moved in droves to the rural areas. In all our sites, the population of villages has expanded massively. Added to these local migrations, there are those who have come from abroad, as we have commented on before. ‘Home’ in the rural areas is the social safety net that the state is unable to provide.

Those coming back have to make a living of course, and there has been an expansion of agricultural projects (poultry, horticulture etc.) as well as other farming activities, as land has been subdivided by relatives. In our Mvurwi site some of the returnees have signed up for tobacco contracts for the coming season, acquiring grower numbers through relatives. Teachers no longer working in schools have set up private tuition arrangements in their homes, while mechanics and others are providing services once offered in urban areas. Vending has exploded, as former civil servants and others try and raise money through new businesses and, in some areas such as Matobo and Mvurwi, small-scale artisanal mining provides sources of income for those who once populated offices and factories in town.

Food flows

The last few seasons have been poor in Zimbabwe and there are many areas this year in food deficit. Getting food to the right place when movement is restricted is a challenge. Responding to this has been a massive growth in private transport networks that facilitate the flow of food. There are food relief efforts by government and NGOs, but this is far more significant overall. Relatives with surplus in A1 resettlement farms will often take food to their kin in town in cars, where food is expensive and scarce. Those with significant volumes will sell on maize to traders who will take it to sell to traders in town markets. In local areas where there are patchy food deficits, people must scout around to check out which areas have food so links can be made, and food moved. It’s not like the past when people were always moving; in the COVID time people must actively seek out food and organise to get hold of it.

Some food is transported in larger quantities, with large 20 tonne trucks moving from Gokwe and northern Zimbabwe, for example, where food is plentiful to markets in the south of the country. The larger operations are well capitalised and organised, with ways of dealing with the movement restrictions through connections and payment to officials. Some operators control the whole supply chain, and move food to stores in urban areas where grinding mills are installed and direct sales organised. Other, more informal arrangements must deal with permits and road blocks, often having to pay off the police. Just as with the transport of groceries on trucks from South Africa discussed in an earlier blog, even though there are challenges, food does get through.

Despite the restrictions, the movement back-and-forth between town and the rural areas continues, and is essential for assuring food security and providing much needed goods. Much exchange is in the form of barter, as groceries (cooking oil, sugar, rice) and clothes are brought by people from town are exchanged with maize and other crops. Urban markets for food and other agricultural products are complemented by a huge growth of urban farming and gardening. As noted in a previous blog, nearly everyone is a gardener now.

Within rural areas such as our food insecure sites in the lowveld and Matabeleland South, some can exchange dried mopane worms, for example, with those who have grain nearby. It as a mostly informal system, but complemented increasingly by larger operations. It is far more effective than the cumbersome and politicised food relief systems of government, UN agencies and NGOs. As ever with food supply, even in a drought year like now, it’s about timely supply and access rather than overall availability, as is too often assumed in the ‘food crisis’ narratives about Zimbabwe.

Localising value chains: cars are the new mini-markets

Our team has been visiting local shops and supermarkets from Chikombedzi to Masvingo, Mvurwi and Kezi-Maphisa, and a common pattern is emerging. Retailers are increasingly sourcing locally. They complain that volumes are insufficient, quality is variable and the range of products is limited, but with restrictions on supply, including from South Africa, supermarket buyers are making use of local production. This is good news for horticulture, poultry and other suppliers in the rural areas who are receiving a COVID-19 dividend, despite the other travails.

This applies to other shops too. As stock cannot be sourced, local suppliers are turned to. The trend of South African ‘supermarketisation’ is being reversed due to an informal import substitution policy enforced by a virus. Of course not all products can be substituted and there are shortages of key elements for manufacturing processes. This is having knock-on effects for example in feed supplies, fertiliser manufacture, herbicide provision and spare parts of different sorts. This has definitely having a negative impact on farmers, as prices hike with increasing scarcity.

Shops in town are shifting their focus too. One hardware store in Masvingo, for example, was failing to stock goods and applied for a grocery trading license and is now shifted to supplying locally sourced groceries. But commerce is now not just through shops, as their opening hours are restricted by lockdown measures. The provision of groceries, grain, vegetables and a whole host of products is increasingly being done by local, mobile traders, frequently operating out of their own cars.

Mrs V. lives in Mucheke, a high-density suburb in Masvingo, she formerly has a stand at the KuTrain market in town. But this was closed for renovation due to lockdown and she instead took up trading from her car. “I don’t dream of going back to the kuTrain market”, she says, “I start at 3pm when shops are closing down and park at strategic points in the location and sell until the evening. It’s good business. I source products from local farmers, including those who have plots near Great Zimbabwe, and get groceries from truckers who come from South Africa”. Cars are the new ‘mini-markets’ and business is booming. All this is restructuring the economy towards more localised value chains that a greater diversity of people can benefit from, including farmers.

Working from home

Many formal places of work have closed and to make a living people must now work from home. It’s impossible to travel to work due to movement restrictions and those who are self-employed have shut up shop as rents and rates are high. Moving businesses to home during lockdown made total sense, and they are thriving. There are welding operations happening in living rooms, tailoring businesses in garages, bakeries in people’s kitchens, beer brewing in yards… along with hair salons, photocopy/printing businesses, brick-making and so on. The list is endless.

Working from home takes on a different meaning in Zimbabwe, whether in the townships or in the rural areas. Of course much of this activity is illegal, flouting health and safety rules and avoiding taxes, but as one person running a home business argued, “What can I do? I have to survive! We are learning new skills for survival!”

Finance in the COVID economy

With Zimbabwe’s economy in a mess, and currency swings a daily occurrence, navigating finance in business and agriculture is a challenge. The new Reserve Bank auction system, and the control measures that have limited exchanges, agents and cahs withdrawals has, it seems, brought some more stability of late. The official and parallel exchange rate is now closer, and the queues at shops, fuel stations and so on have reduced, as the opportunity for hoarding and speculation, and gaming the system has reduced. More commodities are now available in large part due to the new supply systems that have evolved in recent months. Instead, as one of my colleagues observed, “the queues you see today are waiting for sanitiser and temperature checks at shops”.

With inflation high and the local currency weak, the economy has by default re-dollarised, but the underlying fragility remains. All this is good for producers and consumers, but not everyone. Our team interviewed a money changer in Mvurwi, once a sight on every street corner: “I used to make US$500 per month, but now I am lucky to get US$80. I used to enjoy good living, drinking every day. Now it’s tough”. As our colleague put it, “rather than see the well- known money changers in the bars braaiing meat, they now go home with a bundle of vegetables like everyone else!”

Alternative health systems

With the near-collapse of the Zimbabwean public health system, and a series of rolling strikes by nurses and doctors who are poorly paid and badly treated, people are more and more reliant on alternative sources of health provision.

Sometimes this is through the family, with particular family members having knowledge about herbal remedies. There is a huge demand for particular herbs, tree roots as well as onions, ginger and lemons, which are seen as important in remedies. Not all of this is directed to COVID-19, but people are very aware of the need to boost immunity, stay healthy and have remedies at hand in case the virus strikes. Those supplying herbs or other agricultural products used as treatments have been experiencing a roaring trade in recent months.

The same is the case for prophets and other religious figures offering spiritual healing of different sorts, through banishing evil spirits and other causes of ailment. Large gatherings led by prophets from a variety of churches have attracted the attention of the authorities and some have been dispersed by the police. These days most are more organised, with effective distancing and requirements to wear masks. COVID-19 has definitely boosted the popularity of particular prophets across our study sites, who now have big followings.

Professional herbalists have also become massively popular. These range from the informal n’anga living in the village to Chinese/Indian herbalists to those African, traditional herbalists who have surgeries and clinics that spread between Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique and Malawi. One such surgery is in Masvingo. One of the herbalists explained: “We have 300-400 customers a day, and sell herbs as far afield as the UK. There is huge demand. The clinics and hospitals don’t look after their patients, but we can – whether you are young or old. We can visit people at home or they come here. For COVID you must build strength to fight it and our herbs really can help”.

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As elsewhere in the world, Zimbabwe’s pandemic experience continues to evolve, reflecting the very particular context of the country. Innovation, adaptation and learning to cope with a fast-changing, challenging setting are all important. We continue to monitor the situation across our sites from all corners of the country, so look out for another update in October.

Many thanks to all the research team from across Zimbabwe for continuing interviews and collecting local information on the COVID-19 situation (and for the photos from different sites).

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

 

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Still debating land tenure reform in Zimbabwe

As part of the on-going discussions about Zimbabwe’s new land policy, land tenure is a central concern. Zimbabwe has a multi-form land tenure system, involving different legal arrangements and different forms of authority. This suits a complex land system with multiple users wanting different things out of holding land. This has been acknowledged time and time again, most prominently by the Presidential Commission on Land led by Mandi Rukuni way back in 1994.

Each time there is a policy review, consultants and commentators line up to make arguments for regularising what is seen as a messy, complex system. Drawing on ideology more than evidence, they argue for a standardised, ordered system based on a singular form of titled private property. There are many examples of this position – and alarmingly I heard them in a number of aid agencies in Harare recently. Eddie Cross is the most consistent and articulate proponent, seemingly having persuaded large sections of the opposition movement and many donors too.

In order to justify an overhaul, a whole series of simplistic narratives are deployed. The most persistent of which is the assumption that freehold private tenure is the desired gold standard, and all reforms should aim to create cadastral uniformity with private, individual plots registered. This is assumed to result in the release of land value as land becomes ‘bankable’, able to be used as collateral for investment credit.

Titling is not always the answer

As so many have shown – and has been discussed on this blog many, many times – this narrative is deeply problematic. I apologise for coming back to this subject yet again, but the argument needs repeating, as it’s vitally important. For a refresher, see the short note (replicated in this blog) I produced with the late, great Sam Moyo years ago in an earlier attempt to address these misplaced arguments.

Bottom-line, there are other routes to delivering security of tenure, facilitating investment and financing of land-based activities than freehold tenure. Leases and permits with the right wording are perfectly good bases for collateral, and mortgaging land is not the only solution to agricultural financing anyway. And of course private titling land is not always a route to tenure security and sustainable management of resources. It depends on the political and institutional context. Just ask any white farmer around 2000 about the limits of security on private titled property. And consult the vast research resources compiled by Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom on the security of forms of common property.

Yet, it’s only particular forms of individualised, private property rights are seen as sacrosanct by right-wing, libertarian think-tanks like the Cato Institute – and their dubious followers in southern Africa. But, we must always remember the aim is not to generate one type of legal property arrangement, but security of tenure on any sort of land through diverse ownership arrangements.

Security emerges from different sources. These are political, social, cultural as well as through formal legal allocations of rights. These sources of authority have to emerge together. Traditional systems of communal land tenure, overseen by chiefs and headman and governed by culturally-accepted rules, can offer tenure security, just as can a piece of paper allocating a title. But this depends on whether the authority overseeing such tenure regimes is legitimate, trusted, transparent and accountable; and this depends on politics. It is the political settlement pertaining to land that provides security – or the opposite.

A political settlement over land

The problem in Zimbabwe is that, despite the repeated proclamations, there remains no finalised political settlement over land, even after 20 long years. This lack of settlement is what produces insecurity, and in its wake the on-going process of politically-motivated land grabbing that continues to plague the sector, especially around elections. Building a political settlement around land is not just high-sounding proclamations from the top, and some performative interventions to show willing, but also it means investing in the administrative and bureaucratic system that offers security and clarity. This may seem tedious – centred on recording, auditing, registering and documenting – and centred on the bureaucratic domain of surveyors and lands offices. But this demanding, long-term building of bureaucratic capacity is essential.

The fact that there are (finally) moves towards agreed compensation settlements with farmers whose land was acquired for land reform is very good news. It appears agreements are close on valuation measures, even if the mechanics over how compensation will be paid are as yet unclear. This is important, as the impasse that has lasted now nearly 20 years has been debilitating. Agreement on this will mean that the land reform areas, now settled for years, can no longer be deemed ‘contested’ by international donors and investors.

This means that donor and private support and investment can flow, without ‘restrictive measures’ (aka ‘sanctions’) getting in the way. With compensation processes agreed, then investment in land administration systems can follow; perhaps with some district level pilots, as I recommended a while back. In any area, this will allow for clarity on who owns what, and in turn audit systems can evaluate how land is used, and whether land is being held outside agreed laws, and with this clear, local negotiations over land use ownership can follow.

Getting an effective land administration system functioning is central to providing tenure security. Under such a such a system a multi-form tenure system is possible. It doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all solution. Donors endlessly push supposedly successful land titling projects, whether in Rwanda or Ethiopia, but rarely mention the pitfalls, or the historical failures such as Kenya, where the consequences – sometimes bloody and violent – are still being felt.

A land tenure system in a multi-form setting just has to accept different approaches for different areas: leases for larger A2 farms, registered permits for new A1 farms, and selective registration for some parts of communal areas, as required (such as protection of village land against aggressive land acquisition by mining concerns or, in peri-urban areas, housing developers). Overall the aim is the same: enhancing tenure security where it’s needed (more in A2, less in communal areas), but not assuming that there is one (legal/administrative) solution. Such a system needn’t be complex and expensive, and the use of satellite technology certainly speeds things up.

Despite the persistent, ideologically-driven arguments, the ideal for Zimbabwe must not a fully titled private land tenure system with every parcel registered in a deeds office. This would take decades to complete and would not take account of the flexible arrangements required, particularly in smallholder and communal settings. I wonder sometimes whether those who push such a line have worked on the ground in such settings where overlapping systems and complex negotiations are the norm, and required. A simplistic form of land titling would also create conflict of massive proportions with boundary disputes endlessly clogging up administrative courts.

The best solution is to go for a parsimonious approach, maintain the multiform tenure system, and enhance tenure security through improving land administration – and avoid an apparently neat titling option that will not work.

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

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Viral politics and economics in Zimbabwe

COVID-19 has taken hold in Zimbabwe with a significant growth in community transmission observed in the past weeks. On July 24th, the total reported cases were 2296, with 32 deaths. This is likely the tip of a much bigger iceberg given under-reporting and limiting testing. President Mnangagwa has re-imposed a strict lockdown in response, including a dawn to dusk curfew, further limits on movements and restrictions on transport and business.

The relative easing of COVID-19 measures over the past weeks was clearly premature given the huge flow of infections from South Africa via returnees coming home. In the last blog on the pandemic in Zimbabwe we discussed this mass migration of those who had lost their jobs or had become ill in what is now one of the major foci of COVID-19 in the world. Zimbabwe’s close proximity to South Africa is proving highly risky.

This is the third update from our field sites across the country, each focusing on how COVID-19 is affecting rural areas (see previous blogs here from 27 April and here from 15 June). Reports from all sites were relayed to me in a long phone conversation over the weekend. As the effects of lockdown have combined with an already deteriorating economy, the situation in Zimbabwe is bad. To survive people are resorting to a range of informal and sometimes illegal activities. The common view is that it’s better to risk COVID-19 in the future than die of hunger now.

The smuggling economy

Our colleagues in Mwenezi, Chiredzi and Matabeleland South in particular highlighted the massive growth in smuggling of goods, cash and people across the border from South Africa, and the implications for the spread of the virus. With restrictions on border crossing and the banning of private transport, the demand for goods has heightened and with this there have been massive hikes in prices.

A widespread network of smugglers, sometimes with the direct involvement of security forces and customs officials on both sides of the border, has emerged. Links are made to shop owners in Musina in South Africa who transport goods to the border, and link up with traders and transporters who move them throughout Zimbabwe. Paying off officials adds to the cost, but the result is that a range of goods – groceries, clothes, agri-chemicals and more – are supplied throughout Zimbabwe.

With some shops closed and others operating with shorter business hours and less stock, suppliers sell on to mobile shops that move around rural areas and locations/townships in urban areas. Much activity happens at night to avoid the authorities who restrict vending or may impose arbitrary fines. These are elaborate value chains, with many connections, and with people at every stage demanding a cut. The consumer inevitably suffers as prices go up and up, inflated further by the collapsing value of the local currency. Government and local councils also lose out as the taxes, customs duties and rates that are normally paid are lost. This huge trade is largely illegal, and many cross at secret points in the highly porous border.

This massive informalisation of the economy extends to how the supply of cash is dealt with. In the past, remittances from relatives in South Africa and elsewhere were usually paid through standard agents – like Mukuru, Western Union and so on – based in towns and cities. While still mostly operating, they no longer can be reached by many due to restrictions on access to town centres. This has become worse with the limitation of opening hours for businesses and the recent curfew.

This means that the lifeline of remittance cash in the absence of jobs has to be sought through new routes. Here the traders who illegally transport goods across the border also assist. Zimbabweans with South African bank accounts can receive and then withdraw large amounts of cash and send it via traders, lorry drivers and others to relatives on the other side of the border. Those moving the cash take a proportion for the service – up to 30% – but ensure that relatives’ money reaches their kin in Zimbabwe to keep them alive.

Mass migrations of people and viruses

The movement of people from South Africa (as well as the UK, Botswana and other neighbouring countries) resulted in the establishment of the virus in Zimbabwe. A month back nearly all cases were imported, but now community transmission exceeds these in the reported statistics. The migration of people with the virus across a region that has long relied on labour migration is one of the major stories of the pandemic in southern Africa.

When the pandemic first struck, the South African government built a massive (and very expensive) new fence along the border with Zimbabwe, notionally aimed at stopping Zimbabweans flooding into South Africa as the economy collapsed further, and so spreading the virus. But it was movement in the other direction that has driven the pandemic, with many Zimbabweans in South Africa losing jobs and fleeing poverty to be with their families back home. Excluded from social security measures, the migrant populations in South Africa not only suffer xenophobic attacks but now viral infection.

Those who return with the virus are often smuggled across the border with goods in lorries and trucks, hiding from the authorities. Illegal crossings are used to dodge the requirements to go to quarantine centres that have become notorious places, rumoured to spread disease through unsanitary conditions. Alongside normal returnees have been criminals who have been deported back to Zimbabwe, often returning to crime in the process. Returnees who arrive back in rural villages across Zimbabwe are often hidden from authorities and neighbours, and are sometimes protected by local officials and traditional leaders if well connected. It is no surprise that the pandemic has established itself in Zimbabwe.

Volatile markets: challenges for agricultural producers

As discussed in previous blogs, agricultural producers have been hit hard by the pandemic, notably through the restriction of movement and constrained access to markets. As the economy continues to implode, demand also drops. The horticultural producers from our research sites that surround Masvingo for example have cut their production by 40% and shifted to local drying and processing of vegetables as contracts with supermarkets and other traders have ceased. This has affected all household economies, as especially in the dry season (which it is now) income from horticultural production is vital.

Farmers are much better off than their counterparts living in the town, however. As our team reports, in all parts of the country those without land and some form of agricultural production are suffering badly. Hunger is really stalking the townships in all parts of the country. Farmers who have reduced production have had to diversify livelihood activities, switching to trading in particular; as our colleagues point out, nearly every household has someone trading in the informal COVID economy.

Due to the loss of value of the Zimbabwe dollar, now trading against the US dollar on the black market at over Z$120 per US dollar, many have adopted barter trade arrangements, informalising exchange yet further. This operates across international borders as well as within the country.

In rural areas, for example, farmers exchange grain, groundnuts, nyimo and other products for groceries supplied by mobile traders. In the sugar-growing areas, workers for the estates or A2 farmers who are able to buy 20kg of sugar per month at a reduced rate as part of their employment package, trade this for a range of goods. Sugar is an especially valuable currency as it holds its value well and is in constant demand. For farmers, agricultural products are fast replacing cash as a medium for exchange in the informalised COVID economy.

It is tobacco marketing season in our site in Mvurwi at the moment, and this is a rare focus of vibrant economic activity. Mvurwi town is a hive of activity with five auction floors now competing for trade. Payments are made half in US dollars and half in local currency, and although not as profitable as in the past, the tobacco sales are providing much-needed income in the area.

However, as our colleague in Mvurwi notes, the crowded scenes in the marketing areas and in the transport hubs do not result in public health compliance. Tobacco marketing, like the increasingly large church gatherings and major funerals, are feared as foci for infection. The police intervene and occasionally arrest people (sometimes in large numbers) for contraventions, but the next day things look much the same. Maintaining public health while continuing with economic activity is a tough balance.

Pandemic politics in a failing state

Zimbabwe in many respects has followed the WHO global recommendations on COVID-19 very assiduously. Interventions were early, movements have been restricted, masks are compulsory in public places and on transport, advice is to wash hands regularly and stay at home and so on. But these regulations just cannot work when people are starving, in desperate need of income. They cannot work either when the health services on which such measures rely are woefully inadequate or when health workers are hugely underpaid. Today nurses are on strike demanding better conditions, and in hospitals it is trainee nurses who are on the frontline, many now contracting the virus.

Without a functioning state that can provide security – through safety nets and support for livelihoods – and pay health workers and guarantee their safety, public health measures are quickly abandoned. Add to this the growing distrust of the state, and the likelihood of people following government edicts declines yet further.

At the beginning of the outbreak, when it seemed that this was a problem for others elsewhere, there was a sense of joint commitment: coming together to address something threatening and unknown. With the virus spreading fast and with the lockdown measures having decimated livelihoods this collective sense of purpose has gone.

Our colleagues report that, across the country, opportunistic crime has risen, along with gender-based violence. In all our sites, there is a palpable sense of frustration and tension; a sense of being left alone, abandoned by the state.

Trust in authority has been undermined too, and this has been massively exacerbated by the way the government and ruling party have acted. The scandal over corrupt procurement of PPE and other COVID-related materials that saw the Health Minister fired, charged (and then given bail) has enraged many. The heavy-handed tactics of the security forces – both the army and police – has generated resentments, as the informal trade that is the Zimbabwean economy has to pay off security officials at every turn, with bribes just adding to costs of an already expensive life. That the state is clamping down on opposition activists and journalists who are exposing corruption and restricting protests against the state is just further justification for a growing disquiet.

Rather than the sense of national collective effort in the face of crisis, it seems that everyone is on their own in the struggle to survive the virus.

What next?

The next weeks will be crucial ones in Zimbabwe. Will the virus continue to spread resulting in the scale of death and suffering now being seen in South Africa? Or will the measures being imposed now contain it? Will the resentments that have built up over the failure of the state – alongside scandals of corruption – result in strikes and protests that some have called for? Or will most Zimbabweans just continue to suffer; just about surviving and innovating continuously in response to the fast-changing economic, political and epidemiological conditions?

Our team will continue to listen to stories from the field and monitor what is happening, so watch out for the next update in a few weeks’ time.

Many thanks to all the research team from across Zimbabwe for continuing interviews and collecting local information on the COVID-19 situation (and for the photos from different sites).

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

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Who are the commercial farmers? A history of Mvurwi area, Zimbabwe

For some the answer to who are the commercial farmers in Zimbabwe is obvious. The image of the rugged, (male) white farmer in shorts, surveying his family’s land carved out through hard labour and skill from the African bush is etched on the popular imagination. But over time, there have been many different types of ‘commercial farmer’ in Zimbabwe, and a new paper from APRA – Agricultural Commercialisation in Northern Zimbabwe: Crises, Conjunctures and Contingencies, 1890–2020 – explores the conditions of their emergence in the Mvurwi area.

Mvurwi town is about 100km to the north of the capital Harare, and from the 1920s until the land reform of 2000 was surrounded by (largely) white-owned large commercial farms and estates. To the east was Chiweshe communal land (formerly reserve and Tribal Trust Land) where Africans farmed. Africans also lived in the labour compounds on the farms and in Mvurwi town, many originally from nearby countries, hired to provide labour for the large (mostly tobacco) farms.

Our paper documents the agrarian history of this area from Cecil Rhodes to Emmerson Mnangagwa, or from around 1890 and the initial colonisation of what became Rhodesia through different phases until today. The paper asks two questions: who are the commercial farmers – those producing surplus and selling it – and what drivers have affected changes in the agrarian setting, making some more or less likely to be able to commercialise production?

We made use of a diverse array of sources, including archival material, biographical interviews, survey data and satellite imagery of environmental changes (this will be the focus of a future blog). Mvurwi’s agrarian history is one of tobacco and maize, of labour shortages and migration, of infrastructure building and urban growth and of government policies that have supported some over others at different times. It’s complex and fascinating.

Establishing white commercial farms, marginalising Africans

In the early years, at least into the 1930s, it was African farmers from Chiweshe who were the commercial farmers, supplying food to the new European settlers who were getting established on their new farms. Before the Land Apportionment Act restricted land access for blacks, Africans and Europeans lived side-by-side, but it was Africans who knew how to farm this environment and produced large surpluses of small grains, and increasingly maize.

Following the establishment of the colonial government in 1923, a huge range of measures were applied that restricted African farming and supported the establishment of European agriculture. This was the time also when tobacco became established as the major crop, providing important revenue for Britain as the colonial power. European agriculture struggled through the depression years, yet was expected to contribute to the war effort from 1939. After the Second World War, the colonial government supported the expansion of European agriculture, and invested considerably in subsidised infrastructure development, as well as the provision of finance. British war veterans were settled, and the land around Mvurwi became a prosperous farming area, on the back of state intervention and African labour, with a new set of white commercial farmers who displacing Africans.

Prosperous white commercial agriculture, challenged by sanctions and war

The period from 1945 until the early 1970s, when the liberation war started in earnest, was the one where the image of the white (male) commercial farmer took hold. These were largely family farms in this period, operating increasingly efficiently with inputs of new technologies (hybrid seeds, fertiliser, tobacco curing facilities and so on, facilitated by state-led R and D), and considerable amounts of cheap African labour, often living and working in appalling conditions. The supply of labour was assisted both through recruitment from the Rhodesian Federation (from 1953), and through local migrant labour; as African farming was squeezed further men increasingly had to seek employment in towns, mines and on the farms.

After the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith’s government, the effect of sanctions hit the white farming community, but all sorts of sanctions-busting measures were used, with the help of apartheid South Africa and others. White commercial farming still prospered, but there was also the beginning of a trend towards consolidation, as the smaller, less capitalised and connected white family farms struggled. With the beginning of the liberation war and the arrival of guerrilla fighters in the Mvurwi area from 1973, farming was hit hard. Remote white farms became targets for liberation fighter attacks, and meanwhile the state restricted the engagement of Africans with the comrades by creating ‘protected villages’ in Chiweshe.

Independence: a smallholder green revolution and economic liberalisation

It was only after Independence in 1980 that farming took off again. The new state, now with support from international aid donors, shifted emphasis towards supporting small-scale communal area farming, while European farming was left largely to continue as before, but with less state support. In the African communal areas, the results were spectacular, ushering in a ‘green revolution’ with increased production and sale of maize, creating a class of African commercial farmers once again. White commercial farmers also benefited from the removal of sanctions, with preferential trade agreements in products such as beef, and they were able to shift to higher value products (horticulture, flowers etc.) as markets opened up.

The liberalisation of the economy from 1991, at the behest of the Bretton Woods institutions, saw further advantages for increasingly consolidated large-scale, white-owned commercial farms; although the withdrawal of state support, the decline of research and extension services and the loss of state-backed credit meant that poorer African farmers suffered, and the green revolution soon fizzled out. By the 1990s, a boom time for white commercial agriculture, many smaller white family farms had gone, and the commercial farmer in this period was more likely to be in a suit in a board-room, negotiating international financing and trade deals. In this period, African farming in the communal areas became increasingly impoverished, reliant on donor projects and frequent food hand-outs due to the recurrent droughts.

Land reform and new commercial farmers

All changed in 2000 with the land invasions and the subsequent Fast Track Land Reform Programme. Most of the white farms in the Mvurwi farming area were taken over, although a few were left initially, along with most of the large Forrester Estate to the north. Land invaders were mostly from land-scarce and poor Chiweshe as well as other communal areas and towns nearby. The land invasions resulted in the creation of smallholder A1 resettlement areas, often on farms with considerable numbers of compound labourers living there. Later, medium-scale A2 farms were established, attracting very often middle class professionals along with political, business and military elites.

Today it is a very different farming landscape, with new commercial farmers. These are largely black (although there are some joint ventures with former white commercial farmers and Chinese companies in the A2 areas) and include both successful A1 farmers (men and women) who have managed to accumulate and invest in their farms through own-production and some A2 farmers who have managed to secure finance through off-farm jobs or through state patronage. Unlike their white counterparts who established farms in the early twentieth century with a huge amount of state support, today’s resettlement farmers suffer a lack of assistance and limited finance. State incapacity, systemic corruption and international sanctions combine to undermine the potentials of commercialisation, as this blog has discussed many times before.

Crises, conjunctures and contingencies: a non-linear agrarian history

So what do we draw from this history (check out the long paper for the detail)? First is that there are very different types of commercial farmers beyond the stereotypical image that have existed over time. This is because different people have had different opportunities in each of the historical periods we have identified. This has been affected by state policy, international relations/sanctions, labour regimes, markets and so on. We see over time not a simple, linear secular trend, driven by relative factor prices, land scarcity, population growth or environmental change, but sudden shifts, as agrarian relations reconfigure.

Such changes may emerge through state policy – Land Apportionment, Maize Control and so on obviously had a huge impact in the 1930s; through the investment in particular infrastructure – the road from Concession to Mvurwi opened up markets massively and facilitated urban growth, as did the arrival of mobile phones decades later; as a result of the emergence of new technologies – the SR52 hybrid maize revolutionised white commercial farming, as did the arrival of the rocket barn for curing tobacco; as a result of a significant environmental event – the droughts of 1947, 1984, 1991 – and many more – meant that some farms went under, others were taken over or African labour migration became necessary; because of changing patterns of labour availability – the challenges of labour recruitment were a continuous refrain among European farmers from the 1930s, as they are among commercial land reform farmers today; as a result of shifts in geopolitics and global markets – sanctions from 1965 and 2000 have had huge impacts, as did the requirements of the Washington consensus loan conditionalities from the 1990s, while the growth in tobacco demand from the 1940s and again from the 1990s into the 2000s (increasingly from China) drove farming economies across Mvurwi. Along with other reasons discussed in the paper.

Like Sara Berry and Tania Li (among others), the paper argues that it is events – crises, conjunctures and contingencies – as inflected by social relations (of race, class, gender and age) and politics that offer a more insightful explanation of the history of farming in Mvurwi. This history is non-linear, uncertain and involves a complex interaction of drivers, and far from the deterministic theories either of classic agrarian Marxism or evolutionary agricultural/institutional economics. For this reason, over 130 years, there have been many different types of Zimbabwean commercial farmer, and there will likely to be others into the future as chance, contingent events and particular crises combine with longer-term drivers of change.

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

 

 

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