Ian Scoones

Last week we saw that there are definitely ‘new people’ (with a different demographic, educational and gender profile) on the land, but how have they fared?

First we should ask: have people got more land than they had before? This is an easy one to answer: yes. In the A1 villagised sites land allocations are about double what is found in the nearby communal areas, with the exception of Chikombedzi where the communal area land holdings are marginal higher. The communal area land holdings range from 1.5ha in Gutu to 8.8ha in Chikobmedzi, while the resettlement land holdings range from 3.7ha in Gutu to 7.4ha in the Chikombedzi area.

But more crucially than the land holding, it’s important to ask if a greater land area is being cultivated. The answer is again, yes. Heading north to south, wetter to drier, the A1 villagised sites had the following hectareages cultivated in 2011-12 per household: 2.5ha (Gutu), 3.6ha (Masvingo), 4.3ha (Chiredzi) and 6.2ha (Mwenezi). The comparable hectareages in the communal areas were 1.0, 2.1, 3.2, and 7.4ha, with only the Mwenezi site showing a different pattern, reflecting their pattern of residence (see last week’s blog).

However crop output levels in 2010 and 2011 (the two seasons for which we have the comparator data) were not impressive anywhere, except for a few cases. Average maize production across all the resettlements was barely over a tonne, and in the communal areas it was 555kg in 2010 and 935kg in 2011. And these figures were affected dramatically by a couple of farmers producing a lot. Of course it was a drought year, and there was production from other crops – notably small grains (sorghum and millets) in the drier areas, but production was nothing to shout about (although fortunately things have improved in more recent years).

In terms of overall patterns of food security, we found that in 2010 and 2011, 35% and 24% of households across all resettlement households produced more than a tonne of maize, while in the communal areas the figures were only 16% and 10%. The communal area figures were in turn boosted by the relative success of the Ngundu farmers, where 36% and 20% of households produced more than a tonne of maize. Again, in these years the figures show that up to 90% of households require other sources of food during the year, beyond home produced maize. This is lower in the resettlement areas, but this still means two-thirds to three-quarters of households had food deficits. Compared to the situation in latter part of the 2000s, when there were a string of good harvests, the situation was worse, across all areas in these two seasons.

However, by comparison to the communal areas, the resettlement farmers were better off. In 2010, for example, across the A1 sites, one third of all farmers sold some maize. In the A1 self-contained sites, 28% of farmers sold over a tonne, and 45% something; even in this poor season. It is this group of farmers who produce surpluses and sell regularly that we highlighted in our book in class terms as ‘middle farmers’ who were ‘accumulating from below’. By contrast, in the communal areas, the maize sales levels were paltry, averaging 125kg and 277kg in 2010 and 2011. Across all sites only 14% sold any maize in 2010, and 6% in 2011 – and these figures were boosted by the group of Ngundu farmers who sell regularly (although many no longer as they have been displaced by the flooding of the Tokwe Mukorsi dam). In 2010 there were five individuals who sold more than a tonne (4% of communal area farmers in the sample), three of whom were from Ngundu, while in 2011, there was only one farmer from Ngundu (less than one percent of all communal area farmers)

The crop mixes in all sites are similar, and much the same across the A1/informal resettlement areas and communal areas, with the exception of specialisation in cotton in Uswaushava in the Chiredzi area. In addition to maize, sorghum, pearl and finger millet, cotton, groundnuts and sunflowers are grown. In lowveld areas it is the growing of sorghum that dominates food production, so in both cases maize outputs as an indicator of food security is of course insufficient.

Also, in addition to the main fields people also have gardens. Over the last couple of decades, outside the lowveld where land remains abundant, farming in the densely populated areas means there has been a shift to home fields and gardens away from the outfield production of the past. This allows some level of intensification (including the use of conservation agriculture techniques on these small patches), and a concentration of farming activity around homesteads in home fields, where fertility inputs and labour are concentrated. This is reflected in the comparative data we collected.

In the communal area sites 57% of households have a garden at the homestead, and 40% have a garden elsewhere. In the A1 resettlement sites, the figures are 25% and 40%. Gardens have become popular in the resettlements, but usually are located by the rivers away from the homes, focused on vegetables. By contrast, in the communal areas, the home field may have become the main source of production of core crops, while gardens by rivers are left for vegetable production.

In terms of indicators of intensification, nearly half communal area households have invested in soil conservation measures, while less than a quarter have in the resettlement areas. This reflects the level of extension effort in the past decade, as many communal area structures were built earlier. But according to our data, resettlement farmers have been planting trees (usually fruit trees) in their new homesteads at a greater rate than their communal area counterparts, reflecting a process of home establishment in the new farms.

Across all sites inorganic fertiliser application remains relatively low. In the 2010-11 season around two-thirds of households in both communal and resettlement sites applied fertiliser in the Gutu areas, but this declined to nearly zero in the very dry sites of Mwenezi. This is to be expected, and makes good agronomic sense. In other areas between 50% and 75% of households applied fertilisers, but often with very low application rates. Overall a greater percentage of households in the resettlement sites applied fertiliser, but the difference was not pronounced.

So overall, the settlers have larger areas, apply (marginally) more fertiliser, produce more output and sell more. They have a similar crop mix to their counterparts in the communal areas, but have overall better food security from own farm production. Their improved output though is generated by extensification rather than any major intensification, and conservation measures to protect the land are often lacking. Gardening is important in both sites, but in the communal lands it is often a response to land shortage, with a more intensified production in a home field, while in the both areas vegetable gardens are important away from the home.

In the communal lands there are only a vanishingly few individuals who are producing regular surpluses and selling these. By contrast in the resettlement areas, despite the poor seasons, there are relatively more. A core group of around 30% of households is producing and selling, with the same group having sufficient grain to feed a family for a full year. The relative proportions in each of these categories changes between the seasons, but it is this group of middle farmer ‘accumulators’ in the resettlement areas who we identified in our book from data from the 2000s that is central to the contrast.

This group continues to drive a wider set of economic relations – including employment, input supply, marketing, transport and so on – which the odd individual cannot. While this group was clearly finding the going tough in 2010 and 2011 because of poor rainfall and depressed crop yields, they were still there, associated with the same ‘success groups’ we identified in the mid 2000s. They are still not getting support – whether extension, credit, or wider infrastructural development – but they are still continuing to capitalise on the opportunities created by land reform.

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


This week I am reproducing an interview that appeared on Danielle Nierenberg’s Food Tank blog (well worth signing up to if you are interested in food and agriculture issues). This has an interview with Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean and keen promoter of ‘holistic resource management’ and earlier ‘short duration grazing’.

He claims these approaches can combat desertification and tackle climate change, and radically improve productive potential too. The Savory Institute links a network of hubs across the world. One of the hubs operates from Zimbabwe, including a demonstration farm in Masvingo led by the indefatigable Osmond Mugweni.

Many regard the ideas underlying the approach as unproven, but the passion with which they are promoted is evidence of a commitment and zeal unmatched by most, especially in the field of range management. Just take a look at his prestigious TED talk or his TED e-book (subtitled ‘a radical plan to save the earth’) to get a flavour.

Savory has moved from a focus only on grazing techniques (which work in some circumstances but not others – it of course depends on rainfall patterns, terrain, herd management and grass species composition) to a wider focus on holistic management. This means investment, time and a broad view. While hardly new, it challenges some of the narrow, reductionist tenets of much research and development on the rangelands, and comes with long experience and much enthusiasm and commitment.

Here is the interview with Food Tank:

You began your career as a research biologist and Game Ranger in current-day Zambia with the British Colonial Service before becoming an environmentalist, farmer, and much more. What made you shift your work and focus to environmental issues like desertification?

I never did shift my work or focus. We simply did not have the buzz words – environmentalist, biodiversity loss, desertification, climate change – I was seeing massive scale environmental degradation threatening the future of wildlife. And then gradually expanding this vision to seeing it threatened all life and had been the same thing that had contributed to so many civilizations failing. And very early on I saw the direct evidence in the field that floods and droughts were the result of land degradation rather than any change in rainfall as many scientists were claiming. Over time, my understanding grew to realizing that land could not be managed independent of the culture of the people and their economy – that management needed to be holistic, embracing all science and other sources of knowledge. And that where livestock are involved they are best handled through a long established planning process rather than any prescriptive grazing system, rotation or other form, no matter how flexible. In this manner we could consistently and successfully address the full complexity of society, economy, environment, wildlife, cropping and livestock.

What is the Savory Grazing Method? How did you develop it?

This was one of the names applied to holistically planned grazing. From the outset I developed today’s planned grazing as described in the TED book. Being entirely new I gave it no name. People began calling my work the Savory System. Because it was virtually the opposite of any management system – being a planning process – I was obliged to put a name to the work. I chose short duration high intensity grazing, or short duration grazing (note no use of the word system). Academics added the word system dropping the planning process. This was because a prescribed system could be replicated where a planning process could not be replicated. When I found that others were claiming that the “short duration grazing system” was developed in Texas I had to disassociate entirely from short duration grazing. On advice, I changed to savory grazing method (not system) but was then told that government agencies couldn’t promote something tied to a person’s name. So I changed the name to holistic planned grazing which it has been since.

There has also been some criticism based on scientific research that shows increased grazing and land trampling by livestock leads in the long term to soil degradation, rather than soil enrichment, as your method claims. What have actually been the long-term effects of planned grazing? Is soil degradation a heavy risk of this method?

It is to be anticipated that increased grazing and trampling will lead to soil degradation. In all those studies grazing was equated with grazing of the “land.” Only plants can be grazed, not land. And this distinction is important because plants can be overgrazed while the land, or soil, is overresting. And if the grazing and trampling of the plants is not controlled by timing the movement of the animals to the needs of plants and soils (as holistic planned grazing does), some plants can be overgrazed and some overrested, while at the same time soils are degrading through overrest, overtrampling and compaction. Much of the research allegedly done on holistic planned grazing has eliminated the planning process, and thus the time factor. Holistic planned grazing was developed to ensure that no plants are overgrazed, few if any plants are overrested and the soil is only trampled at any one place for a few days followed by several months of recovery time. The long term effects of planning the grazing (and trampling) holistically have been beneficial, and this has also been documented in a number of papers, articles and case studies and photographically (see the list of references and resources here).

What was your vision in founding the Savory Institute? Has the Institute succeeded in working towards this vision?

The purpose of SI agreed upon by the six of us who co-founded the institute was to “expand the holistic framework into international consciousness to sustain life on earth.” We have since created a vision of what we hope to achieve by 2025: To influence the management and restoration of 1 billion hectares of degraded grasslands worldwide, and to remove barriers that stand in the way of large scale success, mainly flawed policies and lack of market incentives.

Given the Institute’s short life we are making meaningful progress toward that vision, especially given that new paradigm-shifting insights normally take a long time to be accepted, let alone embraced. That management needs to be holistic was strongly resisted by many within the scientific community 30 years ago, as was the need to use properly managed livestock to restore degraded grasslands. Today, however, many scientists accept and even promote these ideas - in their individual capacity. But the institutions they represent do not, and will likely withhold recognition until there is a shift in public opinion, which is now building.

You have also been involved in politics, serving as a Member of the Rhodesian Parliament in the 1970s. What impact do environmental trends like desertification have on the political and economic realms?

The impact is profound and fundamental, although not seen as such in mainstream political or economic thinking. Agriculture is not simply crop production. It is the production of food and fibre from the world’s land and waters. Without agriculture it is simply not possible to have an orchestra, a church, university, army, political party or government. It is the very foundation of civilization, which by definition is city-based and dependent on farmers/livestock producers to feed them. And ultimately the only wealth that can sustain any community, economy or nation, is derived from the photosynthetic process – green plants growing on regenerating soil. Global political stability and good governance is likely to prove elusive as long as agriculture continues to produce more than 10 tons of eroding soil per human alive every year, as it does globally and in the US today.

The Savory Institute is implementing small-scale, local Savory Hubs in various communities around the world that offer consulting and training services, as well financial, network, and material resources to the regions’ farmers. Why is it important to focus on this local level? What unique contribution can small, community farmers make in the effort for food security on a global scale?

Almost all the knowledge required to produce more food than eroding soil is available today - we just need to use that knowledge within a holistic paradigm – managing agriculture holistically, forming the policies that undergird it holistically. Being a new scientific insight, leadership in this quest cannot come from politicians or from any institution, but only from ordinary people. Accordingly, SI is pursuing a strategic vision for empowering others to manage holistically by working with local entrepreneurs and community groups to create Savory Institute-affiliated learning hubs. There is no way we could do this from one centralized organization if we want to reach the whole world. The hubs would be locally led and locally managed. Those running the hubs will always understand the local context better than SI will. Local entrepreneurs will be far more successful than SI could ever be in finding ways for their hub and its programs to become self-sustaining.

Each hub is in charge of training, consulting and implementation support for farmers in its region. It also includes a land base that demonstrates the results that can be achieved through holistic planned grazing and provides a place where farmers, ranchers, pastoralists, scientists, and government and non-government organizations, can collaborate in learning about and documenting the results of managing holistically. Evidence and data can then be leveraged to inform policies and establish market incentives.

Ten hubs have been established in 2013 and are in the process of being accredited by Savory Institute, and we have close to 40 candidates for 2014. We hope to have 100 hubs operating by 2025. Hubs can beget hubs, as the hub already formed in Zimbabwe (the Africa Centre for Holistic Management) has shown over the past two years, having trained people from throughout Africa resulting in hubs forming in South Africa, Kenya and elsewhere. Through these hubs trained facilitators are training community facilitators who in turn can train hundreds of people – all of whom can assist their neighbors and spread the knowledge and practices.

Our target of influencing the management and restoration of 1 billion hectares of land by 2025 will involve billions of people, from producers and consumers, to corporations and policy makers, to researchers and film producers – none of whom is too small to contribute to the increasingly rich global network of learning hubs. We have to remember that it was a relatively small group of organic farmers who kept organic agriculture alive and growing over many years against institutional resistance and opposition.

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Next week, I will continue with the livestock theme, but turn to a different debate, asking of livestock - even under the Savory system - are actually destroying the planet through contributing to climate change.

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


One of the repeated complaints of farmers on the new resettlements is the lack of access to finance. This is holding back commercialisation, particularly for A2 farmers with bigger plots but also for those on A1 farms eager to expand, intensify or diversify. All of this needs money, and it is in short supply.

In our studies of farmers’ fortunes in Masvingo, and more recently in the tobacco growing areas of Mazowe, as part of the Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development project, we identify three standard pathways of agricultural commercialisation, each associated with different sources of finance. All are limiting, and available only to a few, or relate only to particular commodities.

The first route is through regular accumulation, investment and saving. This is tough, given all the other demands on funds, and requires real tenacity. Each year profits have to be sunk back into the farm, and new equipment purchased. This is a route we see in the vegetable farmers of Masvingo who by making use of water resources, investing initially in a small pump, have expanded their production and marketing significantly, and after a few years are able to upgrade, with new irrigation equipment, the purchase of pick-up trucks and so on. The regularity and reliability of income from horticulture (if the water is available and the pests can be kept at bay) helps drive this pathway to commercialisation. Some farmers have been very successful, now with turnovers of tens of thousands of dollars, employing large numbers of people and with transport businesses on the side. And all from an initial outlay of a few hundred dollars.

The second route is investment from external income sources. Getting going in farming is often the hardest part, like many businesses. Basic up-front investment is necessary. For A2 farmers with quite large plots – up to 100 or 200 ha – making productive use of this land really requires substantial capital investment. Most such farms were formerly ranches in our study areas in Masvingo, and had limited infrastructure. Those farmers that inherited dams and irrigation equipment were lucky, but most did not. A2 farmers tended to have jobs in town, or at least good connections. These were crucial in getting going. But in the economic crisis period, standard government jobs were not enough to live on let alone provide additional income for investing in farming. Those who were able to get going usually had NGO jobs paying on foreign exchange, or had connections overseas. This diaspora and employment money was recycled and invested in farms. Such farmers, unlike their neighbours, were able to rebuild or rehabilitate irrigation schemes, build dairies and farm sheds, as well as purchasing transport – the ubiquitous 1 tonne truck – to facilitate marketing.

The third route we have identified is of course via contract farming. This is important for crops such as tobacco, but also cotton, and through a different arrangement, sugar. This means the farmer does not have to pay for inputs up front, and the contracting company will supply seed, fertiliser, pesticides and other inputs and also take care of the marketing. Increasingly cash-strapped farmers are hooking up with contractors for other crops, including maize. I have been amazed how many readers of this blog get in touch, and ask to be put in touch with a contractor for selling their crop. There is clearly a massive demand for this intermediary function, where those with cash and capital can invest in farming without taking on the burden of actually owning or holding land or producing. Former white farmers are heavily involved, as well as the new black business elite, alongside the standard cotton and tobacco companies, and of course the estates. The terms of the contract may be one-sided, with the risk pushed towards the producer, as discussed in earlier blogs, but contract farming does release cash, in the absence of any other source.

It is this absence of any other source of finance that is striking across our case studies. Rural financial institutions simply are unable to respond. Some say this is due to the lack of collateral due to the land tenure system, but this is red herring in my view, given the possibility of loaning with all sorts of other security beyond freehold tenure. Surely the new farmers who are desperate for finance would open up commercial possibilities for banks and other finance providers. But the financial sector is very conservative in Zimbabwe, being used to a very different structure of agriculture and form of finance. They do not know their new client base and have few incentives to offer new financial products.

Rural finance in Zimbabwe thus has a massive missing middle ground – between the miniscule forms of finance offered by savings clubs and rotating loans schemes promoted by church groups and NGOs and the large lumpy finance offered through the conventional routes. While there have been some state-backed attempts at improving the situation, they have often foundered due to complex bureaucracy, absurd conditions and lack of outreach. The type of finance offered by banks is largely irrelevant to most new farmers (see Tables 4 and 7 in this Finmark report from 2012)

While I have little knowledge the type of business models that would work, my bet is that a company, perhaps initially supported by a development organisation, that could offer a US$1000 loan on flexible terms would have massive uptake and success. This is the sort of amount that is needed, sufficient to buy a decent pump and irrigation kit, sufficient for a down-payment on a second-hand pick up, sufficient to get going on a commercial chicken project, sufficient to buy a beast or two, or some basic farm equipment. This would make all the difference (and there are now some examples supported by USAID and others). It is standard in Asia for example, so why not in Zimbabwe?

While the three pathways to commercialisation noted above are great if your crop is contracted, if you have close ties to someone with a well-paid job, or if you farm a commodity that gives quick, reliable returns, and you can manage to save. But this is not everyone, or every type of agriculture. Today commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe is being held back, and rural finance is probably the biggest blockage.

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


In last week’s blog, I looked at farm production, and the difficulties faced in recent drought years, and this was contrasted with patterns across the previous decade. But crop production is only one part of a wider, diversified livelihood portfolio. What other contrasts have we observed in the more recent period compared to the 2000s, the focus of our book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities?

Comparing the survey data between 2007-8 and 2011-12, what is significant is the accumulation of on-farm assets. And this in only a few years. This is most striking in cattle numbers. 281 cattle were purchased across the sample of 400 in the 5 years prior to 2011. This amounts to an outlay of perhaps US$100,000 in total. Interestingly, these purchases were concentrated in ‘success groups’ 2 and 3, the poorer end of our sample, who have shown the capacity, despite the challenges, to accumulate. Goat numbers have remained more stable, but sheep numbers have increased, although totals are not huge. It is cattle where the investment has been concentrated, and this represents a significant commitment to rural production.

In addition, people have bought ox carts, ploughs, cultivators, and a variety of forms of transport in large numbers, all indicating that people are keen to invest in land-based activities, despite disappointments in crop production in certain years. Cell phones and solar panels have featured prominently in assets purchased in recent years too, and house building has continued apace (see next week’s blog). This shows an on-going commitment to staying in the resettlements for most, but with ‘modern’ houses, solar electricity and phone connections assured. I will discuss this pattern of investment and its value in next week’s blog, but the total numbers and values are striking.

Another interesting change is the decline in remittances being sent to households in our sample, especially from the major sources abroad (notably South Africa, but also the UK, Botswana etc.), except in the site close to the South African border in Mwenezi. This reflects perhaps decreases in incomes in diaspora communities due to the post-2008 global financial crisis, but also a sense that in the post 2009 period, new settlers need less support given the ‘recovery’ of the Zimbabwean economy.

However, to counterbalance this, in 2010-11 there were greater percentages of households engaged in local off-farm income earning activities, across all categories (building and carpentry, brickmaking and thatching, fishing, wood carving, tailoring, transport businesses, grinding mills, trading and piecework employment), except pottery and basket-making. This suggests that, with the return of a viable cash economy, off-farm diversification is more feasible. But it also indicates the importance of such diversification, especially for poorer households, when crops fail, as they did in this period.

While there has been turnover in households – through death and inheritance as well as exits – there has also been a continued process of attraction of new household members, and a growth in household size, from 4.0 to 6.5 overall between 2007 and 2011-12. In part this is due to a predictable pattern of cyclical demographic change as younger families become older, and produce more children. But it is also the consequence of attracting relatives and others to work on the farms.

There has however been a slight decline in farm employment on A1/informal farms between 2007 and 2011-12, while on A2 farms permanent farm employment has increased a little, with temporary labourers declining slightly in this season. Across the full sample there were 244 permanent jobs and 384 temporary ones. This is an important source of livelihood for these people, with the permanent employees each with families linked to the farm, in addition to the core household members gaining livelihoods from the new resettlements.

With disappointing crop production overall (although with some doing relatively well nevertheless even in these drought years), but increased on-farm investment and off-farm diversification yet broadly static employment levels, what is going on? Have livelihoods changed since 2009 when we completed fieldwork for the book? The answer is: yes and no.

The broad pattern that we recounted in the book remains similar: a particular pattern of differentiation, with some successfully ‘accumulating ‘from below’. Clearly people remain committed to the land and to an agricultural future, and livestock in particular seem to be a major focus of investment. But people also realise that surviving only on crop production given the vagaries of the weather, is not enough, and other sources of income, especially if remittances decline, are important.

Data from more recent harvest seasons have been collected from the same group of households, along with some more detail on household turnover and exits, but the data has yet to be fully analysed. I will keep blog readers updated on the changing fortunes of our sample farms, as the longitudinal perspective really does give a sense of the peaks and troughs, trials and tribulations, opportunities and disasters of farming as a core livelihood in the land reform areas of Masvingo.

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

The on-going Masvingo study research is conducted by Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene.


Zimbabwe’s agricultural extension service, Agritex, was the pride of Africa in the 1980s, before the ravages of structural adjustment hit in the 1990s. There were extension workers throughout the countryside, and a network of subject matter specialists, most highly experienced and qualified. The quality of the training and advice offered was unparalleled anywhere on the continent, and for a time the service was well resourced with extension workers reasonably paid and with transport and so

Today the extension service is a sorry reflection of past glories. Many qualified staff left or passed away (the ravages of HIV/AIDS hit many government services very badly), posts are unfilled, the transport capacity virtually non-existent and the ability to offer up-to-date advice severely hampered by the parallel decimation of government research services. Most farmers rely on private input suppliers, agrodealers and their neighbours for advice these days. Of course there are extension workers in the field, and they are usually extraordinarily committed and informed, despite the poor conditions of their posts. In the communal areas many get additional incentives from NGO programmes, often diverting their work to projects like conservation agriculture or group gardening.

I had some interesting discussions recently with a number of former Agritex staff and resettlement farmers about what they thought of the service today, and what they thought about its future, particularly in the post land reform era. They reminisced about the past of course, and acknowledged how effective Agritex had been, but they were also sanguine about the future. What do the ‘new farmers’ really need?

The discussion identified three important things: information (and particularly up to the minute market and price data), brokering (between farmers and contractors, suppliers, markets and service providers, to ensure that deals struck are fair and regulated) and business management skills (they were confident about agronomy, but not running a business, even a small one: managing accounts, cash flows, investments and the rest). This is a very far cry from the standard Agritex approach, based as it was on the old World Bank Training and Visit system, and of course with its roots in the colonial era with the post of ‘Chief Instructor of Natives’ held by the famous American missionary, E.D. Alvord for many years. Today the emphasis should be very different, my informants suggested.

This would require a total rethink of Agritex, and agricultural extension in general. Indeed a department in the Ministry of Agriculture may not be the appropriate organisational vehicle at all. My informants pointed out that the new farmers, compared to their compatriots in the communal lands, were younger, better educated, more mobile, and with good access to town. They all had mobile phones, and many had smartphones with Internet access. Many were making money, and had investment, marketing and business planning decisions to make, often juggling an agricultural enterprise with other activities. Many women were independent operators, or took on particular roles within a more complex business than the standard communal area farm.

Of course not all resettlement farms are like this, just as not all communal area farms are classic family smallholder farms focused on subsistence agriculture with some off-farm activities. There is a huge diversity, and tailoring approaches to extension and development more generally to different groups is essential. In our study in Masvingo we identified 15 different livelihood strategies across the sample of 400 households in 16 sites that we clustered into four broad types. In a recent DFID-funded initiative three categories are identified that roughly chime with our livelihood types: market oriented surplus producers, smallholders who are surviving and are in need of livelihood support, and those who are struggling and in need of social protection.

Our discussion focused on the first, and some of the second, group. But this is a big and growing proportion of the new farming population, and the one that is really going to get agriculture moving. While social welfare approaches are clearly necessary, if there are to be long-term transitions out of poverty and onto growth paths that are sustainable backing those who are engaging with markets, developing their farms, and investing should be a priority. And supporting such people with the type of service that meets their needs I would argue is a useful public service. Some of it of course could be paid for in time, but as a strategic government investment it could easily be justified.

The new DFID programme is being implemented by FAO, and appears to be focused on ‘training’ focused on building 'resilience' through 'climate smart agriculture', with a range of high-sounding objectives set. But is this going to be old-style training, rekindling the glory days of 1980s Agritex (although in this case implemented by NGOs) and focused on instruction and demonstration around farming techniques (including conservation agriculture)? Or will it be building capacity around the priorities of information, brokering and business that we identified? There has been a repeated default in new programming by aid agencies as well as government to return to the past, and not rethink for the future. This is $48 million of UK taxpayers' money, so let’s hope it is better focused than previous efforts, and helps to rebuild an agricultural research and extension capacity in Zimbabwe that is fit for its new purposes.

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