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Young people and agriculture: implications for post-land reform Zimbabwe

‘Youth’ have recently become the centre of development debates, particularly around African agriculture. A poorly defined category of young people – maybe adults, sometimes children – youth are presented in relation to a dizzying array of policy narratives. To get a sense, just dip into recent reports by AGRA (the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), FAO and IFAD (the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Fund for Agricultural Development), the ILO (International Labour Organisation), the World Bank or IFPRI (International Food Policy Institute). Building on earlier commentary, in this series of five blogs I want to unpick some of these, and reflect on them in relation to new data from Zimbabwe, grounding the often very generic debate in context.

A central policy concern, in Zimbabwe and beyond, is who will be the next generation of small-scale farmers. This is particularly important in relation to land reform. With a major redistribution to one generation, what happens to the next? Are they going to do what their parents and grandparents did? Or will they leave agriculture for other livelihood options? Or are they going to transform agri-food systems, in ways unimagined by their parents?

Competing narratives

In this hot policy debate, narratives compete with each other, depending on the positioning of the commentator. A doom-and-gloom narrative of exit is a frequent one articulated in policy debates. Admonished for not being committed to agriculture, young people are seen as a problem – creating a demographic ‘threat’, a ‘youth bulge’ of the unemployed, migrating to towns or abroad, and becoming a burden on society, and in some cases a potential source of disruption through civil upheaval or even terrorism. Other narratives present youth as victims of accelerating scarcities – of land and livelihood options – prevented from getting on by ‘tradition’, ‘elders’ or state policy that is failing to provide for them. This in turn leads to a ‘wasted generation’; often of educated youth, unable to contribute, limited by structural constraints of society, economy or politics.

Contrasting these pessimistic narratives are others that offer a positive spin. Here the ‘entrepreneurial’ youth is celebrated. Tech-savvy, business-oriented, educated young people can, so goes the argument, contribute to agriculture in new ways, across value chains. Rather than their peasant parents, enslaved to a life of drudgery in agriculture, the new generation can make agriculture a business, and unleash the economic value of land and agriculture, especially in areas where land is abundant. As a route to modernization and technological transformation, youth are seen, in these narratives, as the vanguard.

Many influential organisations supporting agriculture in Africa – as in the reports highlighted earlier – adopt the positive, young person as entrepreneur narrative, while at the same threatening the worst (migration, civil strife and more) if nothing is done. As with all narratives – possible stories about the world and its future – there are grains of truth in each. However, too often in the current policy debates they are not located in context, and so broad, high-flown policy proclamations are too often floated without grounding.

In a number of important interventions, colleagues at IDS and across the Future Agricultures Consortium have critiqued and nuanced these positions, offering a more sophisticated perspective on youth and agriculture, including foci on youth aspirations, perspectives, opportunity spaces and imagined futures. Other work has looked at the ‘life courses’ of young people, showing how varied and non-linear young people’s life trajectories are. Still other work has tried to locate a rather narrow ‘youth’ debate within a bigger picture of economic and demographic transition, with changing opportunities for accumulation influenced by shifts in the political economy of rural, agrarian spaces and wider economies.

Changing life courses in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe the ‘youth’ debate is especially heated, but also conditioned by a particular context. What will happen to the next generation post land reform? Will they demand their rights to land as their parents did in the land invasions of 2000? Or can they find off-farm employment in a highly depressed economy? Which farming areas and what types of farming – and linked activity – can support more people, and how will youth be involved? These are the sort of questions that have been exercising us in our work in Mvurwi, Masvingo and Matobo over the last few years, as we seek to explore the consequences of land reform on people’s livelihoods across the country. There are some major changes afoot, and our understandings of livelihoods after land reform must certainly take generational questions into account.

Past patterns of demographic transition, linked to a classic southern African pattern of circular migration, have changed. In the past, a young man would leave home (often after marriage following the establishment of an independent home, but still economically reliant on parents); they would send remittances home to their wife/parents, and build up assets (notably cattle); and then return home later, following a period of stable employment in towns, in the mines or on the farms. Some women would follow the same route, but patrilocal marriage arrangements, and a highly gendered labour economy would restrict options, and women would move on marriage to their husband’s home, often remaining in the rural communal area, committing to social reproduction and farming.

Today, things are totally different. Patterns of migration have changed, both in terms of destination and who goes when. Men and women migrate, but often only to temporary, more fragile employment, with just a few gaining access to stable employment, often abroad. This is highly dependent on education, and so the resources of parents, restricting social mobility. Otherwise, the local economy, at least since the mid-1990s, has been precarious, offering only short-term work. The so-called kukiya kiya economy involves trading, panning, vending, and overall dealing and hustling. This is the new form of jobless work of the informal economy, as described by James Ferguson for South Africa, with multiple, fragmented classes of labour, as observed by Henry Bernstein. Such work is for survival. It creates vulnerability and precarity, and so little opportunity of accumulation. In the last 20 years, and particularly recently, this is the alternative to farming and land-based livelihoods for most.

New questions

In our on-going study across our sites, we have been interested in exploring how young people have been responding to these conditions, and asking what difference land reform makes. Those who were born at the time of land reform in 2000 are now in secondary school, approaching ‘Form IV’, when the majority leave. What are they thinking about what the future holds? Those who were at school at land reform, between around 5 and 16, are now in their 20s and early 30s. How have they fared after school in practice?

We have been looking at these two groups of ‘youth’ in A1 resettlement areas in three sites across country – Mvurwi (an high potential commercial hotspot), Wondedzo (in Masvingo district, but with reasonable rainfall and not far from a medium-sized town) and Chikombedzi (a remote location on the border of South Africa, in the marginal, dry far south of the country). These are areas we have been working in for a while, so we know the areas, and have been researching the lives and livelihoods of those who gained land through land reform.

So what have we done so far? First, we explored the perceptions of today’s Form IVs – nearly all aged between 16 and 19 – in three schools in or close to A1 resettlement areas, asking about what they imagined they would be doing in 20 years, and what constraints they thought were in the way. This was done through a combination of a ‘Q sort’ exercise and focus group discussions. Second, we sampled a cohort of those now between 20 and 31, who were kids of people in our long-standing sample. This group has (mostly) left school, and allowed us to explore what actually happened to a group of people (half men, half women) in the age group immediately above those we discussed with at school settings. Through a simple questionnaire we examined what happened to all children in this age cohort in the sample households, and pursued in detail their experiences, perceptions and life stories through a series of in-depth interviews, mostly of those who were resident or visiting their parental homes.

Aiming to go beyond the simplistic narratives, with this data we have an opportunity to explore not only imaginaries of the future but also emerging life courses, and examine how outcomes related to, for example, gender, location (high to low potential areas), the wealth status (including asset ownership) of their parents and the educational qualifications, both of the young people and their parents. In turn, we explored what our sample of young people were doing, how they had been surviving, and how they were establishing homes and families, and how they were striking up relationships with land and agriculture, including what opportunities for accumulation existed, and how the prospects for and experiences of entering adulthood appeared.

The analysis is on-going but in the coming weeks, I will share some of the emerging findings, and begin to explore some of the implications. Feedback on our emerging in analysis will be much appreciated.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Land audits: a tricky technical and political challenge

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A major task of Zimbabwe’s new Land Commission will be to undertake periodic audits of land and its use nationwide. This is a tricky technical and political challenge.

While there have been a number of formal and informal audits since 2000, none have resulted in much change. Under the Zimbabwe Land Commission bill, audits are supposed to ascertain what is ‘proper use’ that is ‘in the national interest’.

While it is obvious that some areas of designated A2 land are underutilised, should this warrant expropriation and transfer to others, the incentivisation of increased rates of use through land taxation, or transfer to A1 schemes through subdivision? Decisions must rest not only on the land’s status, but also a wider strategic consideration of the appropriate mix of land tenure types and uses in a given area, as well as demand for land. Ensuring criteria and processes are clear, transparent, non-political and effective is vitally important.

Theoretically a land tax should be the most straightforward approach to increase the efficiency of use. This was instituted last year, with payments required since 2007 at US$5 per hectare for A2 farms. This has resulted in many being unable to pay, and an outcry about retrospective payments and the gearing of tax according to agroecological potential, and available infrastructure. The neat theory of land taxation has perhaps inevitably proven more complex in practice.

Over many years, there has been a debate about what are appropriate land sizes for ‘viable’ farming in Zimbabwe. This originally emerged in the colonial era for allocation of farms for whites. It was based on technological norms (seed varieties, application of inputs, mechanisation and irrigation) and an ‘acceptable’ minimum level of income for a (white) farmer, pegged then at the salary of a Permanent Secretary in government.

Some elements of these earlier land size recommendations have persisted, but it is now more recognised that farms represent one part of a portfolio of income from many. The idea of the full-time farmer has long been a myth, but one that has been perpetuated in the folklore. Government land officials and surveyors must accept a variety of sizes, influenced by local pressures on land, the demands for redistribution, and the accommodation of different class interests, including the need to create plots for former farm workers within farms. There is now a huge range of farm sizes across and within natural regions, and a clear minimum or maximum, as notionally stipulated, is not evident.

As discussed last week, what is deemed as ‘utilised land’ is also a contentious area. Major surveys undertaken in the 1980s and 90s took the simple criterion of cropped area for dryland farms, and did not assess the value of the crop. There was a provision for fallow, slope and an acceptance that some farms had large areas of non-arable land, but a simple ratio of cropped area to available arable land provided a consistent indicator. These surveys found that considerable areas of land were not being used, as arable production intensified in smaller areas, and often quite large tracts of land were used for free-ranging cattle as farmers made use of EU subsidies and market access for beef production.

Earlier assessments, however, did not take account of yield levels. In the past, even if underutilised in terms of area, large-scale farms were showing high yields in those areas that were cultivated (e.g. an average of five tonnes per ha for maize), compared to an average of around one tonne per ha for maize in the context of twice as much more land under maize today. Utilisation therefore cannot just use area as a metric, but must also look at intensification. This relates of course also to irrigation capacity.

A key aspect of increasing land productivity is water use, and many A2 farms have under-utilised irrigation infrastructure. Any audit will have to address this. A significant proportion of large-scale irrigation infrastructure outside the estates is in a state of disrepair and is not being used effectively. Some claim that it is not economic to rehabilitate, as the financial costs of rehabilitating and running such irrigation facilities are too high, under the existing credit regime, while the unreliable electricity supply disrupts operations. Also, the type of infrastructure was developed for a different scale of production, and so may not be appropriate today. Assessment of ‘under-use’ of irrigation, while a vital part of any audit, must take into account the economics of irrigation and the need to build resilience in the face of climate change.

There are a number of technical and political challenges for the audit process therefore. Currently, the law is interpreted flexibly in practice, and without rigid land use and farm size guidelines. Subdivision and downsizing is occurring in some places as a response to poor use. A local approach has advantages in providing the possibilities of pragmatic, attuned, context-specific responses; however it has downsides given the potential for corruption and political pressure on flexible administrative processes. Any audit will have to address these dilemmas head on. This cannot be resolved simply by recourse to supposed technical farm size/use regulations or land taxation, but has to accommodate local demands and perceptions. For this reason a local district and provincial implementation process is needed, where lessons are learned as audits proceed.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Underutilised land in Zimbabwe: not a new problem

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There has been a long debate in Zimbabwe about whether the nation’s arable land is being properly used. After land reform, this has reached fever pitch, but it has a much longer history.

In the early colonial era, as European farming was being established, there were many complaints about the poor use of land by colonial officials. Methods of cultivation were deemed ‘inefficient’, and there was major concern that too many farmers were going under, supported as they were by substantial loans backed by the government. Protectionist legislation tried to prop up European agriculture, most notably the Maize Control Act, in order to get more land used.

The Colony’s governor, Cecil Hunter-Rodwell, commented in 1930 that European farmers were “at last awakening to the necessity of proper methods of fertility, rotation, and green manuring, but awakening has come too late. Thousands of acres of the best soil in the Colony have been robbed of their productivity and the owners cannot face the expenditure necessary to restore it”. Many farmers he observed “are at the end of their resources and are being carried by the banks” (Letter from Hunter-Rodwell to Thomas, quoted by Robin Palmer in his book, Land and Racial Domination in Rhodesia, 1977: 235).

In the economic crisis precipitated by the global depression in the early 1930s, tobacco farming took a hit too. A farmer’s memoir, Rhodesian Mosaic, published in 1934 commented on his journey from Salisbury (Harare) to Umtali (Mutare):

On either side stretched abandoned lands, cultivated and prosperous before the tobacco slump four years before. Here and there among the kopjes stood houses, fallen and decayed, once homes of planters who had left them to the mercy of the elements. No sounds of life could be heard, the gay prattle of native labourers having long since departed those melancholy fields (Rawdon Hoare, quoted again by Robin Palmer, 1977: 234).

So extreme was the problem that in 1936 the Native Commissioner for Insiza rather heretically argued for land reform: “large tracts of land are held by Europeans but nothing is being done with it… It seems to me….that some of the land now held by Europeans should be given to the natives who will use it, whereas the Europeans have held the land for years without making any use of it” (also quoted by Robin Palmer, 1977: 236). As Ian Phimister described in his 1988 book, An Economic and Social History of Rhodesia, a lot of this land was held by large land barons, often as part of land speculation, with a highly skewed distribution emerging amongst ‘white’ commercial farming, ranging from smaller individuals farms to massive estates; a pattern that persisted through the next decades to Independence. As Colin Stoneman pointed out in Zimbabwe’s Inheritance, at Independence in 1980, only 736 farms represented 60 percent of all white-owned land.

Even with the revival of the fortunes of European large-scale agriculture, especially after the Second World War, according to a major survey carried out by the university-based agricultural economist, Dunlop, the area under cultivation was just 17 percent of the total arable area of ‘European’ farms in the higher potential regions of the country (regions I-III) by 1965. This was causing major concern about under-utilisation, as well as about the concentration of land among relatively few owners who could afford to let large land areas lie idle. Dunlop noted that in 1965, 42 percent of the nation’s farm area was concentrated in just 246 farms, including a number of absolutely massive ranches in the south.

With some minor changes at the margins, this pattern persisted. Roger Riddell argued in the 1978 book, The Land Problem in Rhodesia, that only 15 percent of total arable area in large-scale commercial farm areas was being used in 1976. In the early 1980s, following Independence, an important analysis of land-use by Dan Weiner, Sam Moyo and others showed how 10.2% of the area large-scale farms in Mashonaland was cultivated, or 22.9 percent of arable land in 1981-82. This rose to 33.7 percent when a net arable area was calculated, assuming square fields (for mechanised use), conservation-protected areas, roads and settlement. In other words, in the highest potential area of the country two-thirds of prime arable land is not being was not being used for cropping.

A decade on, in 1990/91 the World Bank undertook a major review of agriculture in Zimbabwe and again came to similar conclusions, with a background report by Michael Roth, Analysis of Agrarian Structure and Land Use Patterns in Zimbabwe, arguing that 65 percent of large-scale commercial land was underutilised. Many in the white commercial farming community took umbrage, and assumptions were challenged, and counter-claims presented.  As Angus Selby describes in his excellent thesis on European farming in Mazowe, land productivity varied by scale, with many of the smaller, family-run farms showing greater levels of utilisation, compared to the large farms and estates.  Yet, things varied across the country, and in some parts, as described by Jos Alexander in Manicaland, many moved onto underutilised land as ‘squatters’, often staying there for many years.

Certainly by the 1990s, much large-scale commercial agriculture was more efficient and profitable, but it was not necessarily using large areas. In the context of more globalised markets, and change cost structures and a decline in state subsidies, farmers had to up their game. Profitable horticulture/floriculture enterprises boomed, for example, but these were reliant on small land areas, and very intensive greenhouse production. Other crops were also intensified, with investments in centre-pivot irrigation systems, including maize and tobacco, again boosting yields but also requiring smaller areas. Across the high potential cropping areas of the Highveld, other parts of farms, designated as arable, were left for wildlife (an increasingly lucrative business by the 1990s) and beef ranching (made profitable by the EU preferential trade arrangements). For example, in Mazowe district, a prime agricultural area, only 20 percent of total farm area was being cultivated, based on a survey of 275 farms in 1996-97, although of course much of this very intensively with tobacco and maize (see SMEAD report: p 12).

As the demands for land reform grew through the 1990s, a policy and political focus on land utilisation intensified. In November 1997, the government published a list of 1471 farms targeted for redistribution, based largely on assessments of utilisation. Reflecting the size structure of large-scale farms, inherited from the colonial era, much of the area was concentrated in relatively few farms. About 200 owners had more than two farms, while farming companies, including multinationals, held many farms in consolidated holdings, representing 1.6m hectares, 40 percent of the identified area. As Sam Moyo pointed out in his SAPES/UNDP report on The Land Acquisition Process in Zimbabwe, 1997/98, the government could acquire 60 percent of the proposed five million hectares from less than 300 owners, or three million hectares from only 10 companies and 100 farmers. Indeed, by the time of the 1998 land conference, the Commercial Farmers’ Union, recognising the issue of under-utilisation of land offered, rather belatedly, 1.5 million hectares for redistribution.

The 1997 listing of farms was not surprisingly highly controversial. Debates raged on the economic impacts (via declines in tobacco production), on food production (and production of maize, although much was feed maize for the cattle industry by that time), and as to whether wildlife ranches and conservancies were legitimate use in higher potential areas, for example. There were multiple tussles over what and was not listed, and a process of delisting proceeded, resulting in 625 farms and 1.65m hectares being removed from the proposed acquisition.

Of course the events since 2000 have overturned this attempt at planned transfer and rationalisation of land use to enhance utilisation – as well as spread ownership and reduce multiple holdings. But the issue of land utilisation has not gone away. Some of the descriptions of A2 farms today recall earlier admonishments of the white farming community in the early colonial period. While overall land is being used more extensively today, particularly via the A1 resettlement model, this does not mean that land and agricultural resources, notably irrigable land and water supplies, are being used optimally, especially in the A2 areas. Issues of multiple ownership and underutilisation persist, just as they did in the past.

Today, a significant policy challenge is the provision of incentives to improve use and productivity, while at the same time preventing multiple ownership in line with the law. This debate, as we’ve seen is not new. As Selby argued in relation to the debates in the 1990s, “debates about utilisation and productivity were clouded and misinformed on both sides, squandering opportunities for consensual or practical solutions” (p. 219). Let’s hope such solutions emerge today. This will require a comprehensive audit process, under the newly established Zimbabwe Land Commission, but, discussed next week, this presents some major technical and political challenges.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Beyond the crises: debating Zimbabwe’s future

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News from Zimbabwe is dominated by crisis: economic, political, social, environmental and more. But what lies beyond? It is good news that people are thinking about this. A blog/website has been launched, centred on the book edited by Tendai Murisa and Tendai Chikweche, called ‘Beyond the crises: Zimbabwe’s prospect for transformation’. A blog that appeared a few weeks back offered a useful analysis of the current predicament, arguing following Brian Raftopolous, for the need to go beyond the polarised divide between a politics of redistribution and a politics of rights; and that in fact both are needed.

Tendai Murisa, currently executive director of Trust Africa, formerly a PhD student at Rhodes, and a researcher at the African Institute of Agrarian Studies, working with the late Sam Moyo, is one of the key drivers. The book and the various blogs are important reading for anyone concerned with the future of Zimbabwe. The book contains chapters on changing policy regimes (Murisa and Nyaguse), microfinance, business and small-scale enterprises (Chikweche and others), agrarian issues (Murisa and Mujyei), including gender dynamics, accumulation and land reform (Mutopo); and biodiversity, climate and environmental change (Ndebele-Murisa, Mubaya, Mutasa). All are worth a read. I however want to concentrate on the beginning and end of the book, and the discussion of the need for a transformation in Zimbabwe. They even offer a manifesto.

What is refreshing about this discussion is that it is non-partisan and barely mentions the internecine wars of party politics. It discusses politics in its broader sense, as the modes of governance required for a successful, prosperous, inclusive society. That Zimbabwe is far from this ideal is very plain, and is discussed across the book. Murisa in particular makes the case that a new politics needs to be built from the ground up, generated from the energies, innovations and solidarities of local communities. Only then will the corrupt, patronage-based politics of the centre – emanating from all sides – be challenged.

This argument picks up from Murisa’s own research that documented the emergence of forms of associational life on new resettlements following land reform. It is an important piece of work that points to the importance of mutualism, social connection and relationship building for any new activity – in this case new forms of production on the land. Extending this argument to wider society, the book makes the case that this has been lost, captured by a venal politics of greed and corruption, and that any transformation must instead emerge from a base, one rooted in solidarity, trust, and mutual cooperation, developing a civic pact that goes beyond shallow, performative participation.

Now of course in the face of the power of the party-business-security state, this may seem somewhat hopeful. But in order to get away from the obsession about leadership succession, pacts and alliances across parties, and how to make an electoral system less open to manipulation, a wider look at politics in its broader sense is important.

In his commentary at the launch of the book, Lloyd Sachikonye made some important points of gentle critique, however. There are dangers in imagining an ideal ‘community’ led response without thinking about class, identity, and power – and the array of differences that divide as well as bring together. He asked: What constellation of classes, groups and alliances should form its vanguard and base?”  Murisa and colleagues, coming from a different generation of scholars less influenced by Marx perhaps, do not throw much light on the intersections of class, capital and the state in their analysis. This is a gap. But it is not incompatible with arguing for a new form of politics in my view.

As Nancy Fraser has long argued, an emancipatory politics that takes democracy seriously must address redistribution (and questions of equity and class difference), recognition (and issues of identity politics) and representation (but not just through occasional elections) together, rethinking the ‘public sphere’, and creating a ‘triple movement’ for an emancipatory politics. A revitalised politics in the face of globalised neoliberal capitalism and nationalist, populist politics (and Zimbabwe has its own particular version, but with striking echoes of what has emerged elsewhere), building new forms of political practice is essential. Whether this is the much-hyped hashtag activism of recent times or a more grounded building of new forms of action in particular places – or ideally interactions of the two through new forms of mobilisation – such moves must focus not just on unsettling existing forms of incumbent power, but also creating alternatives that, following Polanyi, re-embed market relations, socialising production in new ways.

At the same time, a new politics must allow for the recognition of diverse identities, including men, women, different ethnicities, creating a new voice for rural people, many of whom benefited from land reform. How this builds to new forms of representation is the big question, with political parties being so bereft of policy ideas and presenting a narrow, blinkered democratic imagination. As Sachikonye argues, this does not mean rejecting electoral democracy but reshaping it with a more vibrant engagement.

Having an intellectual debate about these issues in a non-partisan forum, based on scholarship from Zimbabwe, is really refreshing, and timely. Only with such input will Zimbabwe ever find a space beyond the seemingly endless crises.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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The future of medium-scale commercial farms in Africa: lessons from Zimbabwe

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Important changes are afoot in the size structure of farms in Africa. The rise of ‘medium-scale’ farms is often pointed to. From studies in Kenya, Ghana, Zambia and elsewhere, carried out by Michigan State University, a pattern of consolidation of land holdings is observed, with an increasing proportion held in medium-sized farms, owned often by ‘outsiders’ to local peasant farming communities – including retirees, local investors and urbanites wanting a foothold in the countryside.

These people are investing in this new farmland, and sometimes (but far from always) making it more productive, and commercially-oriented. In Ghana and Zambia, for example, such medium-scale farms now account for more land area than small-scale (under 5 ha) farms (see new work by Thom Jayne and colleagues, for example here, here,  here and here). Land concentration in such farms, under new ownership and land tenure arrangements, occurs through different routes – either through accumulation of land by those who earlier had smaller plots via local land markets, or acquisition of land by ‘outsiders’ through political and other connections.

Patterns vary across countries and locations within them, and the MSU studies are rather crude relying as they do on existing datasets, taking a huge range (from 5 to 100 ha) to constitute ‘medium-scale’. Farm size survey data too can only tell us so much. While such data indicate an important shift in overall pattern, the implications for the dynamics of rural class formation, labour regimes, gender relations patterns of dispossession and displacement, markets in land and agricultural commodities, for example, are not revealed. This is why complementary in-depth analysis is required, that probes the implications further.

In our studies in Zimbabwe, we are examining the fate of A2 farms, where allocations of land following the 2000 land reform ranged from 20 ha to upwards of 500 ha in drier parts of the country, with an average of around 70 ha. As discussed in previous blogs, this has resulted in a major restructuring of farm sizes and overall agrarian structure in the country, with this category of ‘medium-scale’ farm being significant, and by comparison to the old dualism of the large-scale and small-scale communal sector a new phenomenon. Although as the previous weeks have discussed, while not on the scale of A2 farming areas (representing now nearly 2 million ha or about 6 percent of the country’s land area), former ‘purchase areas’ or small-scale commercial farm areas (around 1.4 m ha or 4.4 percent of total land area) offer some hints as to some of the future challenges of broadly-defined ‘medium-scale’ commercial farming.

In our studies, highlighted in the case studies covered last week, we found four possible outcomes emerging over time in the former Purchase Areas, highlighted to varying degrees in the case studies presented in the last blog in this series.

  • The ‘villagised farm’. Here the land is seen as belonging to a family, across generations. Children can establish homes, often across several families, and a village area is created. Sometimes these family units operate independently and have their own patches within the farm where they cultivated; in other cases they contribute collectively to what is usually the fathers’ farm. His brothers, sons, and their wives and children, all provide a collective labour force. Some members of these families may not be resident, and may work elsewhere, but they regard the farm as ‘home’ and do not have other residences in the communal areas (although some joined land invasions and gained land through land reform). These villages – formerly seen as ‘squatter’ settlements – may include others, incorporated into the farm over time, such as labourers, or other relatives and their families. Over years, numbers can increase significantly. In our study areas in Mushagashe, we estimated that on one farm of this type there were perhaps nearly 50 living there, including at least 8 ‘households’, and several families of workers. Some sons without jobs stay on the farm with their families, while others who are working away have homes where sometime wives and children stay.
  • The commercial farm. This is the imagined ideal, and sometimes occurs. But often only in certain time periods, linked to generational changes. As mentioned in a previous blog, in the late 50s and early 60s, some Purchase Area farms operated as serious commercial enterprises. Their owners were resident, often retired, but not too old to run and manage a farm. In subsequent years, the commercial orientation died off, as older parents no longer could manage the farms, and sons and other relatives were not around to reinvest. However a generation on, these sons are now moving back to these farms. The economic crisis of the 1990s and accelerating in the 2000s meant that abandoning jobs in town, such as poorly paid civil service employment, and taking up farming was attractive, even if the family farm was remote and often by this stage run down. Limited retrenchment packages may have assisted, but after a period in the doldrums some farms are seeing a revival. Commercial farming in this scenario is not a life-long investment, but something that happens at a certain life stage, and is intimately linked to fortunes in the world of urban work, or patterns of income from remittances, now spread across an increasingly global diaspora.
  • Subdivision. Rather than reinvesting and scaling up, some choose to subdivide and sell off. This may prevent the possibilities of villagisation, and the often troublesome reliance of potentially endless relatives, sometimes with remote connections seeking out a ‘family’ farm as a place of refuge and support – and a place to farm. If sons (usually, rarely daughters in our case studies) are not able to come ‘home’ and farm commercially, then raising income through the land market can provide a source of income. This mirrors the period in the 1950s when fragmentation of farms occurred and squatters were evicted. This also happens today and, although there are often family disputes over whether the farm can be sold (either completely or in part), the use of title deeds (very often not touched for decades, and often formally invalid because not updated in the registry) can provide a route to realise the value of the family asset. Disputes emerge among family members especially if there are some siblings who are resident at the farm, and do not have jobs. Many Purchase Area farmers’ children however are well-educated, and part of the increasingly international Zimbabwean middle class. Like their parents, they were educated in the elite schools of the late colonial/early Independence area, which were as good as any in the region. With such qualifications, access to skilled job markets were plentiful and they ended up comfortably in jobs in Harare, but also Johannesburg, Cape Town, Gabarone, London and Birmingham (with not a few academics amongst their number). While the family farm has an emotional appeal, the idea of going to farm there like their parents did is not on the radar; and their children ion turn may have visited for a few Christmases as kids but have no intention of starting a rural life.
  • Projectising the farm. For those who are absent, and with parents still alive and living on the farm, there is one common option that emerges, as we have seen in the case studies profiled last week. This is to ‘projectise’ the farm. Discrete projects are envisaged, and invested in. These commonly involve livestock, with dairy, piggeries and poultry projects common in our study areas. Sometimes these projects are financed by NGOs and aid projects, as part of ‘development’ activities; more commonly they are self-financed, with funds coming via Western Union from the UK or elsewhere. These remittance investments need some management and if the parents are not up to it, local people are employed as resident farm managers. Some are able to raise external loans and finance by virtue of their jobs, and in a few cases joint venture/partnership arrangements are brokered with external investors. The trouble with most Purchase Areas is that road and market infrastructure is poor, and the costs of marketing is high, making commercial agriculture tough going. The projects that we have seen break even just, but are backstopped by external finance if the going gets tough. This allows sons, but in this case also daughters, to have a stake in the family farm, but without committing to run it. The areas used and the scale of operations invested in are often very small. They provide a small supplement to keep their now ageing parents in groceries and allows for the paying of school fees of some poorer relatives who may be resident at the farm. Most importantly such projects keep a psychological link with ‘home’, and a sense of commitment and belonging, however limited. This is far from the image of the commercial farm, merely a collection of projects, with focused investments, on a farm that otherwise has limited activity – with some mixed farming and some gardens, but little else. Similar in many ways to the Purchase Area farms of the past that were accused of not being the images of modernity that were planned.

There may be other patterns and trajectories that we have not yet picked up, but these four are repeated in varying combinations across the study areas where we have been working in Masvingo Province. Are these potential scenarios for the A2 farms, and for the much touted medium scale farming more broadly across Africa? In many ways, I suspect they offer important glimpses of potential futures. As the diagram below, at least four different scenarios could be envisaged, depending on patterns of financing and farm productivity.

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Only one of these is ‘proper’ commercial farming, as envisaged by planners and policymakers. The others respond to changing life cycles and demographic shifts, as well as the inevitable shift to urban and even diaspora life as people become educated, and gain opportunities elsewhere. In many ways these are more realistic, and represent accommodations between farming, life cycles and livelihoods. The Zimbabwe case is of course peculiar as the economic hardships over several decades – from structural adjustment (ESAP) in the 1990s to the economic crisis of the 2000s, returning again today – have meant that urban employment as a focus for accumulation and social reproduction is often not feasible. Many flee the country in search of a better life, but this does not always turn out well. So perhaps unusually the attraction of a farm – a place to live, to call home, to invest in and be part of – is more prominent for Zimbabweans today.

Although the A2 farms have failed to take off in ways that were hoped for, maybe this is because of false expectations and misplaced assumptions about what land is for and what farming entails. Farming has always been part of diversified urban-rural livelihoods, now increasingly internationalised. Of course this applied to so-called ‘white’ farming too, but in different ways. The imagined ideal of the sole owner-operator of an individual farm, always resident and doing nothing but farming was very rare indeed.

My guess is that, if like the SSCFAs, the A2 farms are neglected in policymaking and not made the focus of local and regional economic growth strategies, with secure tenure, finance and basic public good investment (which currently seems likely given the lack of policy imagination in government, the failure of donors to grasp the challenge and so a complete lack of finance), then in 20 years, these scenarios seen today in the former Purchase Areas are quite likely in the A2 areas. If you go to visit the farms in a former Purchase Area today, you could be seeing the future of the A2 farms in a generation’s time.

Indeed, nearly 17 years after land reform, we see many of these patterns already – with small villages of relatives, large under-used areas complemented with small, intensive projects, and informal subdivisions, rentals, and joint ventures/partnerships emerging attempting to get things moving. Perhaps by reversing the policy neglect, and getting the A2 farms moving (and this will require a shake out with a politically-contentious audit process), more vibrant, productive commercial trajectories will be possible, but these too will have to accommodate changing demographics, diverse livelihoods, and shifting aspirations.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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“No condition is permanent”: small-scale commercial farming in Zimbabwe

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In this week’s blog, I want to present two cross-generational case studies of Purchase Area (now small-scale farming area) farms, based on interviews carried out earlier this year in Mushagashe and Dewure SSCFAs in Masvingo Province. They are not in any way representative, but they do show in particular the generational shifts in patterns of production and accumulation, and the shifting relationship between land, as somewhere to produce and somewhere to live and call home. Questions of identity – and what it means to be a ‘farmer’ – are raised, as are issues around both gender and generation in commercial agriculture. Overall, the lack of a linear process of evolutionary change, and the complex social dynamics of agrarian relations are highlighted.

Case 1: Interview with Mr MM, Mushagashe SSFCA, Masvingo Province

“My father bought the land in 1932. He was working as a cook at Gokomere mission. He had no land in the reserves. He came with some relatives. He used cattle to buy the 132 ha farm from the commercial farm – equivalent to £90. There were three commercial farms subdivided for the Purchase Areas, all owned by whites. I was born here in 1939. We got title deeds later, but they are no use. There was a deed transfer to my older brother when my father passed away.

My father sold crops to European traders. There was a Greek based at Zimuto, and he moved in a huge ox wagon, buying grain, exchanging for sugar. We sold cattle to the whites who had farms near here. Our education came from farming. I was boarded at Gokomere to standard 6 aged 17. I then worked as a policeman in Zambia during the federation. I came back in 72, and worked at Triangle sugar estates in security/loss control.

My father died in 1975. He had two wives, and they all farmed together. My three brothers all stayed here, with their wives and families. I set up home here after I returned, while living in Triangle. I bought cattle then, which were herded with the others’ animals.

Today we grow maize, wheat, groundnuts and have about 20 cattle. One person is employed as a herder. These days we only farm about 3 ha; before it was more like 8 ha. We have a garden area for groundnuts and some vegetables, some of which are sold locally. The rest of the farm is grazing. We sometimes have relatives who leave their animals here, but we also have a lot of problems with neigbours’ cattle and those coming from the research station. We have a boundary fence but no paddocks, but the fence is not well repaired. We have one borehole but there’s limited supply, just enough for drinking water. These days, people are no longer interested in farming. You sell things but get no cash. I sold two tonnes last year, but nothing. We get no loans, and there is no irrigation. We survive off El Nino!

I have 8 kids, and all the sons have land here. All my kids went to Gokomere after going to local primary near here. Some are working away, but they have homes here, and their wives and younger kids are around. It is a large extended family and my wife and my sons’ wives work together. My eldest has a separate homestead and fields as part of the farm, but it is all part of the same community. We all work together. As you see there are many houses in this compound. One of my sons got resettlement land long back as part of the government programme, but it’s nearby and we seem them here too. Around here, people didn’t join the recent land reform (jambanja, land invasions). We are not involved as they are in the communal. There is supposed to be no politics here. They used to ban sabhukus (headmen) in this area. We have to say that government is just not interested in us here; they don’t even come and repair the road. There are no loans, no help. The nearest clinics are at Makoholi and Gokomere, and the schools are far too. We are on our own.”

Case 2: Interview with Mr FM, Dewure East SSCFA, Masvingo Province

“My father and mother acquired the 90 ha farm in 1957. They came from Bikita communal area. Both were teachers and both were successful Master Farmers. My father resigned from teaching soon after getting the farm, and went into building contracting. He later left that business to concentrate on farming. My mother also resigned as a teacher to commit to farming. They worked very closely together; they were both excellent farmers.

In 1957, they came with 3 kids, including myself, aged one. They had a total of 8 children: 2 boys and 6 girls. My eldest sister is married in the farm area, and lives locally; others are teachers (one a lecturer at Masvingo Teachers’ College, another a headmaster in the UK), and two worked on their own businesses (one now late). My late sister and I worked with government in agriculture (extension and research), and we had agricultural diplomas. We were all well-educated at boarding schools. My parents were totally committed to education.

In the past, my father kept a lot of livestock: about 40 cattle and 30-40 goats. There were also donkeys for transport, pigs and lots of poultry. We sold lots of milk, eggs, chickens, pig meat and so on. We used to have around 10 milking cows at any time. Soured milk was prepared, and sold to mission schools. We also had a programme of pen fattening of cattle, and sold 3-4 at a time too. This income from livestock was the big contribution to the education of all of us kids. We all went to boarding schools.

Manure from the cattle on the poor sandy soils in this area was crucial. In the 1960s about 20 ha was cropped, but today it’s only 6 ha. We used to do commercial horticulture, selling far and wide, but now there’s just some gardens around the home. We used to have three permanent employees, and hired lots of people for piece work. We are just by the communal areas, and Bikita is about 20-30 kms away. Yes we have problems from the communal areas, but they are our neighbours, and the source of farm labour.

Back then, we grew a lot of pearl millet. Maybe 15 tonnes in a year. We would spend three weeks threshing and then brewing. The beer would pay for labour. We had lots of humwes (work parties) on the farm, with up to 12 spans rotating between farms. People would come from as far as Chivi for the pearl millet. Rapoko (finger millet) was sold locally. Maize was also grown, and my father won prizes as a maize grower. Later, he moved into cotton growing, selling to Kadoma, until prices dropped. Groundnuts were focused on by my mother. They had a market, and there were approved buyers who came from the townships. This was good cash income for the family.

In those days, we never had a tractor, but had 3-4 ploughs. Because of having plenty of draft animals and collective work parties, a tractor wasn’t needed. We had scotch carts, planters, water carts and so on. My father also never had a car – but we had a donkey cart that went as far as Nyika!

But as time went on, the kids left home and went and did their own thing. My parents became old and could not manage the farm as they did before. The hectarage declined, and my parents relied more and more on cash we sent back. We visited but we all rather forgot the farm. There was no cash reinjected into the farm. People were all over, and had other things to focus on. My elder brother was in the UK; kids had to have university fees paid and so on.

My father is now late, and my mother very old and frail. My older brother has no interest in the farm, but I now want to come back and do something commercial here. I have got a sugar plot in Hippo Valley and a house in Masvingo urban, but I no longer work for government, so can be flexible. I have been looking around for water. We have to move from dryland farming. Irrigation projects are the only solution. But I have not had luck with the boreholes that have been sunk; in all cases the yields have been poor. I now have a decent deep well, and I will put a borehole near the river for a small irrigation plot and watering of livestock.

We now have 10 cattle, and the herd is growing again. I have another three at my sister’s place nearby. Earlier this year, I sold four to buy a kombi. I have employed two permanent workers, who look after the place when I am not here. One works in the fields and one oversees the grinding mill. I want to focus on commercial horticulture, not maize for sale. Nyika is 27 km away on a poor road, so it has to be worth it. Currently we sell groundnuts and nyimo.

Yes, I have plans. But water and markets are key – plus money to invest. But I am hoping to come and live here and make things happen!”

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These two cases show the changing fortunes of commercial agriculture. As Sara Berry commented in the wonderful book, ‘No Condition is Permanent:

“Agricultural intensification has been neither inevitable nor continuous in African farming systems. In some areas, intensification was halted or reversed by changing environmental or political and economic conditions; in others, it has occurred not as an adaptive response to population growth or commercialisation, but in the face of growing labour shortages and declining commercial activity. Such cases underscore the importance of studying farming as a dynamic social process. As farmers contend with social as well as environmental conditions, changes occur not only in what is produced and how much, but also in when work is done and by whom. Thus changes in cropping patters and methods of cultivation are influenced by social factors which govern the timing as well as the mounts of labour devoted to farming, as well as the control of effort and output….Variations in the pace and/or direction of agricultural intensification are occasioned not only be exogenous events, such as war and peace, drought or flood, but also by changes in the production dynamics of particular crops” (Berry 1993: 189, 186).

She was talking about the agricultural histories of Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia, but she could as well have been talking about Zimbabwe’s Purchase Areas. No condition is ever permanent, but understanding the social dynamics of agrarian change is essential. As I discuss next week, these longitudinal insights from the Purchase Areas may reveal something about how policy addresses the A2 medium-scale commercial farms created through land reform, offering notes of risk and caution, as well as hints at new opportunities.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Medium-scale farming for Africans: The ‘Native Purchase Areas’ in Zimbabwe

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The Native Purchase Areas were established as a result of the 1930 Land Apportionment Act, following the recommendations of the 1925 Morris Carter Commission. They were designed as compensation for the fact that Africans were not allowed to purchase land elsewhere. These were areas that had mostly been farmed by early settlers before the colony’s land was carved up into racial designations. Africans were given the option of buying newly demarcated properties, but the land was often in remote areas and of poor quality.

The Purchase Areas were slow to become established, as these were often in remote areas, without infrastructure. At Independence around 10,000 households had settled on around 1.4 m hectares, falling far short of the earlier promises of 50,000 Africans with freehold title. The vast majority of the acquisitions were by men, although some women did manage to buy independently, despite many obstacles. Initially, those living in the ‘native reserves’ were reluctant to shift, as the successful “reserve entrepreneurs” (as Terry Ranger called them for Makoni) had land, labour and markets where they already lived. Urban-based Africans, such as government clerks or messengers, were also encouraged to sign up, but again many sensed the leap into the unknown was too risky, as they after all already had rural homes in the ‘reserves’. The depression of the 1930s, put the squeeze on incomes, and few had the income or cattle to purchase land.

By the 1940s, the Purchase Areas were often criticised for being poor, backward, wasteful and inefficient. Rather than intensified production, extensification of low productivity mixed farms, opportunistic use of wetland ‘patches’ and resource extraction (of wood for timber and fuel) were the main trends, as described for Marirangwe by Allison Shutt. Many Purchase Area land owners were ‘absentee farmers’, and according to officials, were not taking care of their properties. They accumulated, but not in ways that the planners hoped. The commentary on both production efficiency and environmental degradation, peaking with the 1942 Natural Resources Board Inquiry, was damning. These were not the envisaged modern, commercial farming areas. Instead they were second homes of often urban employed Africans, where farming was a side-line. A few relatives and often a lot of cattle from the reserves, and as a source of saving from urban wages, were deposited there, and homes were used during vacations rather than as a permanent base for a farming operation. Today, the ‘cell phone farmers’ of the A2 resettlements are cast in a similar light.

Again – as with the A2 farms today – there were exceptions, including Purchase Area farm owners in Mshagashe near Masvingo hiring labour contractors and engaging in destocking auctions, as Allison Shutt describes. Some farmers later became members of Intensive Conservation Areas, presenting themselves as guardians of the land and conservationists, like white farmers. But the general narrative at the time (very similar to today) was that allocating medium-scale farms to inexperienced, unqualified, often absent, urban-based Africans was not a good move, if agricultural modernisation and production was the aim, and attempts at eviction and control were common (see for example cases from Marirangwe).

After the Second World War, more families acquired farms. The earlier reticence changed to an enthusiasm for social and economic transformation, realised by access to a farm – just like white farmers (although of course not as big, or in such favourable areas). As described by Michael West, this was part of a pattern of (highly selective) “racial uplift” – some educated Africans were favoured by the colonial authorities and given such benefits. Terry Ranger’s fascinating biography of the Samkange family is a case in point, with the purchase of the Mzengezi farm a key moment in the family’s history. Gaining access to purchase area land was a critical aspect of shifting identities of an educated African middle class, straddling urban and rural areas.

As Allison Shutt puts it: “the Purchase Areas offered privacy, a measure of respect from the colonial government, and a symbolic separateness from African cultivators in the reserves and from lower-paid workers”. This was reinforced in the 1950s when, following the Native Land Husbandry Act of 1951, freehold title was offered. Again in the discourse of the time (persisting today in all sorts of unhelpful ways), freehold was the ultimate form of ownership, linked to a certain ideology and pattern of accumulation, as Angela Cheater describes. This was the pinnacle of modernity, otherwise only available to whites; and something allowing independence and autonomy, not feasible in the reserves, or even in most urban settings.

From the mid-1950s, those who acquired farms a few decades before retired to their farms. This was a moment when more commercialisation took place. The areas were now occupied and land extensification and high stocking rates were no longer as feasible. Tobacco and cotton became favoured crops, linked to new commercial value chains. For the first time the freehold titles acquired more than symbolic benefit, and loans were offered against the title as collateral for the first time. Farms were more assertively demarcated, with fences put up to keep out the neighbours from the reserves. The state invested more attention to these areas, improving infrastructure, providing finance and offering technical support. Realising the threats of growing nationalism, perhaps especially among the educated African elite who had been initially attracted to the Purchase Areas, these became a focus for political and administrative attention, after years of neglect.

With title deeds came a period of land sales and fragmentation of farms, as plots were sold off. This provided important revenues for some, securing retirement on their smaller farms. Also, with increasing intensification of production, there came the need for labour. Those designated as ‘squatters’ were crucial. As Angela Cheater describes for Msengezi, these included a wide range of people, including extended family members, peasants from the reserves, migrant labourers and others. Subdivision of land also meant that relatives – usually sons – could be passed on land, and a new generation took ownership. Land rentals also increased, as demand for land – including from ‘squatters’ – grew. The growing population of people and continued land rental and subdivision in the Purchase Areas was however frowned on. These areas were not becoming medium-scale commercial farms, but just ‘like the reserves’, officials complained. Again with echoes of the discourse today around resettlement land, the push was for a modernised vision of agriculture dominated. However, despite the admonishments, the mid-late 1950s and early 1960s, saw a brief period of prosperity in the Purchase Areas. Land sales and rentals, some cash crop production, continued resource extraction, and plentiful cheap labour (from ‘squatters’), ensured farming generated decent returns for the now resident, retired owners of these farms.

By the mid-60s, and especially with the declaration of UDI, this changed again. Shifts in the political climate, intensifying during the liberation war, saw the decline in state support to these areas. They were often seen with suspicion by security forces and intelligence agents, as places of nationalist organising and dissent. With Independence, nothing much changed. The SSCFAs as they were now called were seen as an anomaly of the colonial era, and the state’s efforts were focused on the former reserves, now communal areas, where the majority of poor people lived. Apart from some resettlement the ‘commercial’ farm areas were large-scale and predominantly white-owned, at least until the major land reform of the 2000s.

As mentioned last week, there has been virtually no recent research and very limited policy commentary on the contemporary SSCFAs, but these areas offer some interesting insights into what happens to medium-scale farms, now over multiple generations. The impacts were less in terms of revolutionising African production – production was low and marketing challenging for most – but more in the political and ideological transformation that a particular type of land ownership offered to an emergent rural-urban middle class.

The A2 farms allocated following land reform in the 2000s share many similarities, both in terms of agricultural challenges, as well as their political salience, as discussed last week. They operate at similar scales, are occupied by a similar class of people, they are presented as ‘commercial’ farms, but in many cases accumulation occurs not through intensification but extensification and extraction, and, although on a much larger scale, and in more high potential, prominent areas, they offer the potential for a new class of ‘emergent’, medium-scale farmer, farming private (in the case of A2 farms, leasehold) land.

Next week, through a couple of case studies, I will discuss some of the patterns of change observed in former Purchase Area farms, and ask whether these provide glimpses of the future of A2 farms.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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