Ian Scoones

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


One of the features of the post 2000 economy in Zimbabwe has been the growth in small-scale artisanal gold mining. This is sometimes registered with the ministry, but very often not, and remains informal and illegal. The small-scale panners, makorokoza, can be found in very large numbers in the dry season along the main rivers of Zimbabwe. They are mostly men under 35, and so represent a particular, often disenfranchised, demographic. Many were too young to benefit from the land reform in 2000,

While much international attention has been focused on diamond mining, and the human rights abuses that have taken place in the Marange fields in the east of the country (see papers by Nyamunda and Mukwambo and Bond and Sharife), there has been less commentary on gold mining. While the diamond fields have been taken over by a strong-arm alliance of government, the military and foreign investors, removing all small-scale diamond miners, the mining of gold is different.

Small-scale mining peaked in 2008 with the collapse of the formal economy. As formal mining receipts declined, the small-scale operations boomed, with much of the product being traded illegally and smuggled out of the country. The official statistics, like for agriculture, show massive declines, but in fact around 2 million people were involved in small-scale mining in this period. Clifford Mabhena has shown how artisanal mining has complemented land reform, as new farmers seek off-farm opportunities, particularly in times of drought

Another recent paper by Showers Mawowa explores the gold rush phenomenon based on research near KweKwe. He argues that the gold rush in his area should not be seen just as a form of local ‘survivalist’ strategies of the poor, but as a site of political control and accumulation by elites, part of a ‘patronage economy’. In Mawowa’s study area in KweKwe, former farm and mine workers rather than resettlement farmers were the new miners. Many gold panners collect tiny quantities, but are reliant on mills owned by registered small-scale mines for processing. There is a mix of alluvial panning in the open near rivers or the exploitation of disused shafts where mining takes place underground. Both types of operation may involve hundreds of individuals often working in highly dangerous conditions. The environmental damage of such intense gold rushes can be immense.

This new form of production creates new social and political relationships. Mawowa characterises this as a process of primitive accumulation by elites who control the processing and marketing operations. They are also able to subvert the regulations, and are often involved in shady, illegal activities. While there are a plethora of laws governing mining, with recent stringent regulations from the Environmental Management Authority for example, they are implemented only sporadically, and often arbitrarily. Raids by the police may happen around election times, when local big-wigs want to assert control, while at other times operations go untouched, with accusations of kick-backs and bribes.

In his fascinating account, Mawowa shows how alliances between miners are formed to control particular areas. They may form ‘syndicates’ that may be controlled by locally-powerful individuals, including chiefs or party officials. Access to gold resources may result in sometimes violent struggles between such groups, with clashes between ‘locals’ and ‘outsiders’ and between different political factions within ZANU-PF.

The story Mawowa and others tell for Zimbabwe is familiar in other areas where artisanal mining has taken off in a big way, whether in Latin America (as in the work of Tony Bebbington and others) or elsewhere in Africa (as in the work of Deborah Bryceson and colleagues). Mawowa interprets this in terms of elite accumulation characterised by corruption, but as he notes new livelihoods have been created too. He does not make the contrast though with what went before. Once controlled by a few companies – in the Kwekwe case a Canadian mining company that owned Empress and Venice mines, closed in the 1980s and 90s – mining activity – and so livelihood opportunities and employment - is now spread among a far wider group.

This reconfiguration of the economy attracts patronage from those in power – and this most certainly includes ZANU-PF officials – but in this case these include village headmen, councillors, bureaucrats in district offices and local politicians. These characters may be connected to others higher up for sure, but the new economy oils many wheels on the way. As Mawowa concedes there are many ‘rags to riches’ stories in the villages.

Certainly in the period before the Marange diamond field clampdown this is what we found in Masvingo, as youth returned to their villages with fancy consumer goods, but also with cash to invest in farming. He also notes that many of the local beneficiaries of patronage are often ‘low ranking’ officials and people like headmasters and councillors. Even if there are shadowy figures behind them, further up the chain, it may be difficult to define such people as elites, even if their outward political affiliation is towards ZANU-PF; whether out of belief or very often out of strategic pragmatism (what Grasian Mkodzongi calls ‘performing ZANU-PF’).

There are perhaps two ways then of thinking about these mining-based ‘patronage economies’. One is to condemn the rent-seeking, accumulation and elite control, and seek rational bureaucratic order and the implementation of controls, presumably allowing larger-scale formal operations to take the place of the informal sector. This would presage a return to the past, and a form or regulated and probably even more elite (probably foreign-controlled) capitalism. Alternatively, following the arguments of David Booth, Tim Kelsall and others, an argument could be made that there are developmental advantages of ‘working with the grain’, accepting that elite capture is somehow inevitable in the operation of capitalism, but that gains may well be shared through such patron-client networks, and there are actually not only survivalist but also developmental benefits of broad-based, distributed, informal economic activity.

These alternatives are of course not either/or, and there are many shades of grey between. However, the focus of so much writing on the corrupt practices of the ZANU-PF connected elite, including many of the contributions to the JSAS special issue that includes Mawowa’s paper, often fails to delve further into the practical, distributional consequences of new forms of economic organisation. While I would be the first to condemn much of the practice that Mawowa documents, I think there is probably another side to the story that is also worthy of telling.

Some interviews with some of the successful miners, traders and associated business people would be definitely interesting. It would be fascinating to learn for example how artisanal mining has changed their livelihoods and future prospects, and how such investment has been channelled into the local economy. This could in turn be contrasted with the experience of former mine workers in large-scale mines (perhaps even the same people), and how such enterprises had an impact on local livelihoods and economies. Rather like the contrast between the assumed successful, ordered and regulated commercial farming sector of the past and the assumed disorderly, chaotic and informal land reform farming areas, there may be some surprising, and challenging, findings.


As a result of the changes in the beef value chain, discussed in previous blogs, rural cattle marketing has been transformed in recent years. No longer are abbatoirs able to source animals in large numbers from single ranches, now they must purchase from multiple sources. These include council run sales pens and from networks of cattle buyers employed on contract the abbatoir or from individual cattle buyers. These are quite different arrangements, with contrasting pros and cons.

The main Masvingo based abbatoirs, notably Montana and Carswell, but also some butcheries employ buyers scattered across rural areas, working under area coordinators. When the buyer has sufficient animals in an area, they will call the abbatoir who will send a truck. Usually around 35 animals are required for a trip. Cash is then paid on receipt on the basis of estimated weights. No money is paid for the ‘fifth quarter’ (head, feet, offal etc.), and the transport is presented as ‘free’. For producers unable to trek their animals to an abbatoir (essentially Masvingo or Chiredzi) and pay for feed, transport and so on, this arrangement works well. Prices are not the highest, and some complain that weight estimates are not accurate, but this is one way of getting a reasonable deal. For more immediate sales, however, especially in times of urgency, for example if funeral costs have to be covered, other options may have to looked for, including selling to individual buyers and at council auctions.

Mr Z is an individual cattle buyer based in Chikombedzi. He has a number of businesses including a general store, but in recent years he has taken up cattle buying across the area. He complains that this is not so profitable now. He cites several reasons. Buying from council sales pens has, he complains, has become prohibitive because of the levies they charge. “This is now 10.5% on the sale price of every beast. For nothing!”, he exclaims. He now prefers to buy from individuals, but this means moving door to door and so transport becomes a significant costs. Also, disease outbreaks in an area can wipe out business at stroke as all movement is prevented by the veterinary department. This happened recently with foot-and-mouth disease. This, he explains, is a common disease, with regular outbreaks, but it affects trade, but not the cattle as they are used to it. He used to sell on to large companies like Montana or Bulawayo Grills, but he says they don’t offer good prices, and rip off the cattle buyer. He prefers to transport animals to Chiredzi himself and sell to butcheries directly. Finally he says he has to pay fees to Chiredzi district council every few months to have a licence to buy. “What do they give me in return?” he asks.

Mr V has been a buyer in the area for years. He used to have a farm, but this was taken in land reform. Now he concentrates on cattle buying. He used to attend the public auctions, but because of fees and attempts by officials to extract bribes he only goes along to watch, and check out the prices. Instead he creates his own buying points and alerts people in the area through his contacts, usually village headmen, who he all knows. He has points all over the Chikombedzi and Sengwe area. Mr V employs someone to weigh animals using a belt, and he pays on account, paying farmers once the animal is sold on. He prefers this as he does not want to have thousands of dollars on him on buying day. Since he is able to avoid the council levy his prices are reasonable, and he is well trusted in the area. He involves the police and veterinary department too, and picks them up and feeds them on a buying day. If someone refuses his price, he says” Go and sell at the formal market where the council takes a big cut, and see what the price is there!”. He employs drovers to move cattle from the buying point to an abbatoir or to a holding place which he may rent. Drovers are usually paid $5 per day, for trekking cattle over 10km or so. For longer distances he uses trucks.

Despite the proliferation of informal marketing, the council auctions still go ahead. In Chikombedzi they are a big event, attracting many others selling all sorts of wares at the market. When an animal is sold at the market, a fee is levied, but also the owner must present his/her stock card to have the sale registered by the police and the veterinary department. Both charge fees, around $2 and $10 respectively. However, very often, informal arrangements are struck. Bribes are sometimes paid to avoid registration and permits, and buyers and sellers can informally agree to settle outside the formal auction to avoid the council levy. The council official can be paid off too, and no receipts are logged.

While there is some competition in the cattle market, the levy system on council run auctions and the (semi)illegal nature of other sales operations means that overall sales levels are depressed, and producers and consumers do not necessarily get the best deal. A recent USAID study showed how changing the levy system could result in a massive boost of supply through formal networks, according to an economic model. But it is not just the costs of formal marketing. Lack of market knowledge is another issue, as farmers do not necessarily know the real price of an animal, as auctions are rare, and not competitive. Sometimes distress sales mean that much lower prices are gained, as animals are sold on at knock-down prices just to get the cash.

Market engagement needs more active organisation on the part of producers. As the manager of a leading abbatoir in Masvingo put it: “Rural people need to get together. If they could get together 200 to 300 cattle at one point, they could get really worthwhile prices”. As small herds scattered across the rural areas are now the main suppliers of beef nationally, new ways of organising marketing are needed. The high tax formal system is clearly not effective, and private buying may be undermining producer prices through lack of competition. If Zimbabwe’s meat eaters are to continue to get good, cheap meat, a rethink is clearly required.

For more on wider debates about trade, see the discussion in the comments section on the Retail Revolutions blog in this series.


In last week’s blog I discussed the new beef production systems supplying meat to consumers in Masvingo province and beyond. A radically reconfigured pattern of land use and ownership has resulted in diverse new value chains. This has had effects across the chain, including in the retail sector.

In our book, and a paper we wrote in 2008, we discussed the situation in the midst of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis. The picture was one of informal markets, illegal trade and the collapse of the mainstream retail sector. What has happened since 2009 and the stabilisation of the economy and the introduction of a multicurrency environment?

Certainly the growth of butcheries has continued, despite challenges. In a survey in 2006-07 we counted 31 butcheries in Masvingo town (20 in Mucheke township alone) and 9 in Ngundu. All businesses suffered badly at the peak of the economic crisis, and many closed in 2008. However since 2009, they have reopened. In 2013 the number of registered butcheries in Masvingo stood at 32 (14 in town, including 8 supermarkets, with a further 18 in the townships). In 2010-11 there were also 13 in Ngundu and 21 in Chiredzi (5 in town, 12 in Tshovani and 4 in Garage). Unlike in 2006, supermarkets are stocking beef, but only the more premium ‘supergrade’ cuts. In Masvingo, for example, OK and TM source from the larger abbatoirs, such as Carswell and Montana who can supply high quality meat regularly. During the economic crisis they would source from wherever, including meat traders, but, as TM’s meat buyer explained, the quality and reliability was poor, and enjoying a vibrant trade. Today meat traders supply other butcheries who undercut the supermarkets in terms of price. Some outlets are directly linked to abbatoirs, and they can cut costs even further.

Clearly demand is buoyant, despite economic difficulties. While red meat consumption has declined according to official statistics, and there has been a switch to pork, chicken and fish, beef remains people’s favoured meat. But with the change in production system, there is a different pattern and quality of supply. Instead of the top cuts, the lower quality ‘nyama’ is more commonly sold, and this can still be marketed at reasonable prices. In addition to registered butcheries there are number of ‘mobile’ illegal operations. Masvingo’s Chief Health Officer, Mr Munganasa explained they have a ‘running battle’ with such vendors who sell cheap, imported South African chicken and beef from freezer boxes. A leading local butcher, Mrs Foroma, complained: “We are losing business from these vendors. We pay our rent, and comply with the regulations, but they undercut us. They become very active in the evening after the municipal authority workers knock off. They use illegal ‘under the tree’ slaughter and sell to food sellers”. But illegal operators say there plenty of business: “there is room enough for everyone”, one argued.

In order to increase profits, and compete with the multiple independent vendors, many butcheries also have a food selling business, sometimes operated as a franchise. For example Hungoidza butchery at Ngundu established a food outlet in 2000 which has continued as a thriving business, relying on truckers who stop on their way to and from Beitbridge. The butchery makes biltong which they buy, and also has a braai (barbecue). “There is always a brisk trade”, the owner explained.

Also with local slaughter arrangements, linked to butcheries, there has been a growth in sales of ‘fifth quarter’ products (offal, head, feet etc.), including sales to small restaurants and street sellers of food. Take Stanford Maringo. He is in his early thirties and comes from Zaka. He got a job about 10 years ago at Chakona’s butchery in Masvingo. He was a meat cutter and cattle buyer. But the pay was poor and he wanted to have his own business. In the end after trying out vegetable selling in the market, he struck a deal with the butchery owner that he would continue cutting meat, but could use the machine for slicing ‘mazondo', and he could put up a braai stand (barbecue) outside the shop. He sells mazondo to the customers at the next door bar, and has a roaring trade. He also generates good business for the butchery, buying about 80 cows’ feet a week, and selling on uncooked but sliced mazondo to other food sellers and restaurants. Stanford explains his plans:

My business is doing well. I send money home each month to my relatives in Zaka. Last month I bought a digital camera, and I will start a photo business too. My real, long term plan is become a cattle buyer, and enter meat retailing with my own shop. I also married my sweetheart, thanks to the proceeds from selling mazondo. She is also a butchery employee, but wants to start a hair salon. My mazondo business is going to provide the seed funds for this.

So, from selling cattle feet or tripe on the street, big and better things can happen. The same applies to the food sellers in Chikombedzi market. This is a massive weekly market centred on the cattle trade. Each week hundreds of animals are exchanged, and thousands of people from all around congregate. A number of food selling outlets have sprung up to serve the customers. The market is tightly regulated however. The local council charges vendors for their stands, and the Ministry of Health also requires certificates, banning those who are HIV positive from selling food. This all adds to the costs, but it is still profitable.

Nyariwe Ngudu has a stall, and she hires someone each month over the two days of the market to fetch water, wash plates and help her with the cooking. She sells pork from her own farm, but also buys in other meat to serve with sadza (mealie meal porridge). Betty Madondo focuses on cooking relish on market days. She has a mix: some goat meat, but also chicken as those coming from town prefer chicken, she says. Others get game meat and fish poached from the park, but the game scouts are always around at the market and demand bribes for selling. Although she doesn’t deal in game meat, she still has to pay bribes to the council workers and health officials, as the regulations are so strict. She cooks it in the evening before the market, and the food vendors come and buy from her, who sell on when the buses and trucks arrive for the market.

“There are so many people who come to the market”, Betty explains. “It’s great business, and they all want meat relish”. Although this is an intermittent business, with the market happening only once a month she gets a good profit in a few days, She also sometimes travels to other markets in the area to make up her income. She explains her business model: “When I get cash from relish sales, I buy sandals at the market. I then exchange these for goats, chickens, occasionally pigs, in the villages before the next market”.

Meat retailing has been transformed in recent years, as has the whole meat value chain. All these new enterprises are across the chain are connected, and have links to the land reform programme. From the new farms come the livestock, providing the business for the cattle traders, butcheries, abbatoirs and pole slaughterers. Low paid government workers also take a cut, deploying ‘regulations’ strategically, taking fines or bribes. And from there, food sellers, restaurant owners and others can make a living, providing new opportunities to build, expand and extend their livelihood activities.

The current situation represents a highly differentiated scene with room for diverse enterprises fitting different market niches. As South African and local capital reinvests in the Zimbabwean retail sector, will this diversified, employment and livelihood generating sector remain, or will the longer term picture be one of consolidation in a few big players, as has happened in so many other places, with the smaller operators squeezed out? Hopefully policy and consum

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