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Time to ditch the 'disaster' scenarios
Ben Cousins, Mail & Guardian (SA)
May 21, 2010
view of land reform in Zimbabwe is that farm invasions from 2000
to 2001 were nothing but a corrupt land grab by Zanu-PF and its
cronies. This is said to have initiated a calamitous decline in
agriculture from which it has never recovered.
The story is
that Zimbabwe moved from being the breadbasket of the region to
being a basket case, dependent on humanitarian aid to feed its people.
The media endlessly reproduces the image that commercial farming
has completely collapsed, conjuring up images of empty farms and
a ravaged landscape.
of Zimbabwean land reform is profoundly unhelpful. It is not based
on empirical evidence of the impact of land reform, or an understanding
of underlying complexities and trends over time. Seeing land reform
as a total failure clouds understanding of complex new realities
that farmers, government officials, political parties and other
players are grappling with in trying to chart a way forward.
of a three-year study in Masvingo province will be published in
a book later this year (see www.lalr.org.za). The study collected
survey data on 400 households on redistributed land, from four sites
in the province with contrasting agro-ecological potential. Farmers
were engaged in different types of cropping and livestock production,
including cotton, grains, oilseeds, sugar cane, cattle, goats and
sheep. The sample included medium-size farms (the A2 model) as well
as smallholder farms (the A1 model) in either villages or on self-contained
The study finds
that crop yields and output on the redistributed farms, and particularly
on the A1 schemes, have increased steadily in the past few years.
From 2006 onwards more than two-thirds of households have produced
more maize than they can consume, whenever rainfall is sufficient.
Cotton production has been a notable success in one of the sites,
helped by processing companies providing inputs and a reliable market.
Livestock populations in most sites have increased steadily over
Many of the
new "settlers" are adamant that their livelihoods have
improved considerably after land reform, despite four droughts over
the past decade. In Masvingo former beef ranches or wildlife farms
are now supporting much higher rural populations than they did before
data compiled by the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organisation
clearly demonstrate the misleading nature of images of "collapse".
Trends vary considerably by crop type, showing significant decreases
in yields and total output for maize, tobacco and wheat, but increases
in area planted and total output for smallholder crops such as small
grains, groundnuts and dry beans. Cotton production, dominated by
smallholders since the mid-1980s, has seen increases in area planted,
yields and total output compared with the 1990s. Export crops such
as tea, coffee and sugar have seen significant decreases, but not
their total collapse.
Maize, the national
food staple, has been badly affected by declining fertiliser production
and the disruption of seed production. These problems were compounded
by ineffective (and sometimes corrupt) government programmes to
supply inputs to land-reform beneficiaries. Maize is also sensitive
to rainfall patterns.
the 1990s national average of 1,6-million tons, the past nine years
have seen shortfalls of between 1,1% (in 2004-05) and 65% (in 2007-08),
with the harvest in the good rainfall year of 2008-09 amounting
to 1,2-million tons (25% less than the 1990s average).
in Zimbabwe has indeed experienced significant problems in the years
following radical land reform, but the notion of "total failure"
is inaccurate. A new agrarian structure has come into being, with
a much wider range of farm sizes and farming systems than in the
past, replacing a highly unequal and dualistic structure.
chains for crops and livestock are emerging, with new agribusinesses
supplying inputs and buying produce, as in the tobacco sector. Seed
and fertiliser production capacity is being restored.
How many farms
were seized by the political elite and the securocrats? In the Masvingo
study, very few. Three quarters of redistributed land went to small-scale
farmers on A1 plots. Half of all beneficiaries were ordinary people
from rural areas and another 18% were ordinary people from towns.
Civil servants made up 16% of the total, security-service personnel
and business people about 5% respectively, and farmworkers about
7%. Urban residents and civil servants made up the bulk of the A2
settlers on medium-scale farms.
is undoubtedly different on high-potential farms in the Mashonaland
provinces and around Harare, but other studies in these areas show
that much land went to people with low incomes and few assets. Here
the big losers were clearly farmworkers, some of whom now work for
land-reform beneficiaries, but many of whom have been displaced
to the margins of the economy.
reveals that Zimbabwe's land redistribution has reduced gross racial
and class inequalities in land ownership and has brought into being
a potentially productive agrarian structure.
This is not
to deny that aspects of the land-reform process have been highly
problematic. It is clear from the wider literature that land invasions
in different parts of the country were often accompanied by violence
and human rights abuses. Some members of the Zanu-PF-aligned elite
have grabbed multiple farms, particularly on the Highveld. This
is the key problem to be addressed in a land audit being designed
at present. Many farmworkers were abused and lost their jobs.
that land reform has had positive impacts should not cloud the fact
that some of the ordinary people who benefited from redistribution
have subsequently been kicked off farms by cronies or securocrats.
Large-scale biofuel projects currently being planned by business
interests linked to the state and the security apparatus may lead
to further land dispossession.
What is the
way forward from here? Suggestions that a new Zimbabwean government
should attempt to reconstruct the old dualistic farming sector dominated
by large-scale commercial farming will encounter strong political
resistance from the many ordinary Zimbabweans who have benefited
from land reform. In any event a key component of the Global
Political Agreement is that land reform is irreversible.
challenge of land policy in Zimbabwe is rather to build on the emerging
successes of the new farmers and foster a dynamic and efficient
agrarian economy with strong links to industry and the urban economy.
around land rights and land administration is critically important.
Attempts by the elite to extend their land holdings should be exposed.
These are the issues that media reports, editorials and public debates
on Zimbabwe's land reform should focus on, rather than tired stereotypes
of "disaster and failure".
Ben Cousins holds the DST/NRF research chair in poverty, land and
agrarian studies at the University of the Western Cape
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