Zimbabwes land reform: challenging the myths

During the past decade, Zimbabwe has undergone a tumultuous land redistribution. The way forward on the land issue is a challenge facing us all. In an attempt to stimulate constructive national debate on this vital topic, we are pleased to publish this new series on livelihoods after land reform, based on a comprehensive



Zimbabwes land reform has had a bad press. Images of chaos, destruction and violence have dominated the coverage. Indeed, these have been part of the reality - but there have also been successes, which have thus far gone largely unrecorded. The story is not simply one of collapse and catastrophe. It is much more nuanced and complex. As Zimbabwe moves forward with a new agrarian structure, a more balanced appraisal is needed.

This requires solid, on-the-ground research aimed at finding out what happened to whom and where with what consequences. This was the aim of work carried out in Masvingo province over the past decade. The question posed was simple: what happened to peoples livelihoods once they got land through the fast-track programme from 2000?

Unexpected findings
The answers are extremely complex, and are discussed in detail in the forthcoming book Zimbabwes Land Reform: Myths and Realities. The research involved in-depth field research in 16 land reform sites across the province, involving a sample population of 400 households. The study area stretched from the higher potential areas near Gutu to the dry south in the lowveld. What we found was not what we expected. It contradicted the overwhelmingly negative images of land reform presented in the media, and indeed in much academic and policy commentary. Problems, failures and abuses were identified for sure, but the overarching story was much more positive: the realities on the ground did not match the myths so often perpetuated in wider debate.

Across the country, the land formal re-allocation since 2000 has resulted in the transfer of nearly 8 million hectares of land to over 160,000 households. If the informal settlements, outside the official fast-track programme are added, the totals are even larger. Two main models have been at the centre of the process - one focused on smallholder production (so-called A1 schemes, either as villagised arrangements or small, self-contained farms) and one focused on commercial production at a slightly larger scale (so-called A2 farms). In practice, the distinction between these models varies considerably, and there is much overlap.

Events since 2000 have resulted in a radical change in the nations agrarian structure as the table below shows. At Independence in 1980, over 15m hectares was devoted to large-scale commercial farming, comprising around 6,000 farmers, nearly all of them white. This fell to around 12m hectares by 1999, in part through a modest, but in many ways successful, land reform and resettlement programme, largely funded by the British government under the terms of the Lancaster House agreement.

The Fast Track Land Reform Programme, which began in 2000, allocated to new farmers over 4,500 farms making up7.6m hectares, 20% of the total land area of the country, according to (admittedly rough) official figures. This represents over 145,000 farm households in A1 schemes and around 16.500 further households occupying A2 plots.

Changes in the national distribution of land, 1980-2010

Land category

1980

2000

2010

Area (million ha)

Area (million ha)

Area (million ha)

Communal areas

16.4

16.4

16.4

Old resettlement

0.0

3.5

3.5

New resettlement: A1

0.0

0.0

4.1

New resettlement: A2

0.0

0.0

3.5

Small-scale commercial farms

1.4

1.4

1.4

Large-scale commercial farms

15.5

11.7

3.4*

State farms

0.5

0.7

0.7

Urban land

0.2

0.3

0.3

National parks and forest land

5.1

5.1

5.1

Unallocated land

0.0

0.0

0.7



Source: derived from various government sources and compiled by the African Institute of Agrarian Studies * includes all large commercial farms, agro-industrial estate farms, church/trust farms, BIPPA farms and conservancies.

Overall there has been a significant shift to many more, smaller-scale farms focusing on mixed farming, often with low levels of capitalisation. In Masvingo province, the new resettlements cover 28% of the land area, with 1.2 million hectares being small-scale A1 settlements, while a further 371,500 hectares are devoted to A2 farms. Although there is much variation, the average size of new A2 farms is 318 hectares, while that of A1 family farms is 37 hectares, including crop and grazing land.

A different farming sector
This has resulted in a very different farming sector, but one that is not without considerable entrepreneurial dynamism and productive potential. This is not to say that large-scale commercial units no longer exist. Today, there are still over 4m hectares under large-scale farming, some of it in very large holdings, such as the 350,000 hectare Nuanetsi ranch in Masvingo province. There are, however, perhaps only 200-300 white-owned commercial farmers still operating, with most having been displaced, along with a substantial number of farm workers.

Especially important in Masvingo province is the estate sector, including for example the major sugar estates in the Lowveld, which largely remained intact following land reform, with out-grower areas being transferred to sub-divided A2 plots.

This major restructuring of course has had knock-on consequences for the agricultural sector as a whole. Any radical reform will have a transitional phase as production systems, markets and trading priorities readjust. Thus the transfer of land from the narrowly-controlled, large-scale farm sector has resulted in heavy hits on certain commodities and markets.

Wheat, tobacco, coffee and tea have all suffered, as has the export of beef. For example, on average, across the harvests from 2001 to 2009, wheat production decreased by 27% and tobacco production by 43%, with more dramatic declines from 2006. Equally, national maize production has become more variable, because of the reduction of irrigation facilities and significant droughts have resulted in shortages, with average production over this period down by 31% from 1990s levels. However other crops and markets have weathered the storm and some have boomed. Aggregate production of small grains has exploded, increasing by 163% compared to 1990s averages. Edible dry bean production has expanded even more, up 282%, Cotton production has increased slightly, up 13% on average.The agricultural sector has certainly been transformed, and there are major problems in certain areas, but it certainly has not collapsed.
Yet aggregate figures with all the caveats about accuracy - only tell one part of the story. To get a sense of what is happening in the fields and on the farms, we need a more local focus. Only with such insights can we really begin to understand the impacts of Zimbabwes land reform. Next weeks article will therefore address the reality on the ground in Masvingo province, asking : who received what land and what have they done with it?

Zimbabwes Land Reform: Myths and Realities published in November 2010 by Weaver Press in Zimbabwe (http://www.weaverpresszimbabwe.com/), Jacana Media in South Africa (http://www.jacana.co.za/) and James Currey in the rest fo the world (http://www.jamescurrey.co.uk/store/viewItem.asp?idProduct=13498)
(by Ian Scoones, Nelson Marongwe, Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene)

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