Guardian: Don't condemn Zimbabwe

Tony Gosling tony at
Mon Nov 8 11:22:18 GMT 2010

Don't condemn Zimbabwe

Despite the global outrage, Robert Mugabe's land 
reforms have had some successes and are boosting trade

Ian Scoones and Blasio Mavedzenge
The Guardian, Monday 8 November 2010

Ten years ago large areas of Zimbabwe's 
commercial farmland were invaded by land-hungry 
villagers, led by war veterans and backed by 
President Robert Mugabe. The Zimbabwe supreme 
court ruled the land reform programme illegal, 
and since then images of chaos, destruction and 
violence have dominated global coverage.

But as Zimbabwe moves forward with a new agrarian 
system, a more balanced appraisal is now needed 
for the process that overturned a century-old 
pattern of land use dominated by a small group of 
large-scale commercial farmers. This means 
listening to the results of solid, on-the-ground research.

In our 10-year study in Masvingo province, we 
examined what happened to people's livelihoods. 
"We got good yields this year. I filled two 
granaries with sorghum. I hope to buy a grinding 
mill and locate it at my homestead." These are 
the words of Samuel Mafongoya, a Masvingo farmer 
who was one of the many beneficiaries of the 
controversial land reform process. Not every 
story was as positive, of course. The hard 
evidence was complex and nuanced. But it also 
contradicted the overwhelmingly negative images 
of land reform presented in the media.

At independence in 1980, over 15m hectares were 
devoted to large-scale commercial farming by 
about 6,000 farmers, nearly all white. This fell 
to about 12m hectares by 1999, in part through a 
modest land reform and resettlement programme 
largely funded by the UK. Formal land 
reallocation since 2000 has resulted in the 
transfer of nearly 8m hectares to over 160,000 
households, mostly are ordinary people from 
nearby areas. If the "informal" settlements 
outside the official programme are added, the totals are even larger.

This major restructuring has had knock-on 
consequences, and there have been heavy hits on 
certain commodities and markets: wheat, tobacco, 
coffee, tea and beef exports have all suffered. 
However, other crops and markets have weathered 
the storm, and some have boomed. Production of 
small grains and edible beans has increased 
dramatically compared with the 1990s, and cotton 
production too has gone up. True, there are major 
problems in certain areas, but agriculture has not collapsed.

In Masvingo, reform saw more than a quarter of 
the land taken over by around 32,500 households 
on smallholder sites, 1,200 households on 
slightly larger sites, and 8,500 households in 
informal resettlement sites. It has resulted in a 
new composition of people in the rural areas, 
with highly diverse livelihoods, based on mixed 
crop and livestock farming. Another resettlement 
farmer, Petros Chakavanda, told us: "We are not 
employed but we are getting higher incomes than those at work."

In fact, our studies showed that over half of the 
400 households sampled are accumulating and 
investing, often employing labour and increasing 
their farming operations. And their activity is 
having a positive impact on the wider economy, 
stimulating demand for services, consumer goods and labour.

Others were finding the going tough. Joining the 
land invasions and establishing new farms in what 
was often uncleared bush was not easy. It 
required commitment, courage and much hard work. 
It is true that some new farmers have made it due 
to political connections and patronage. Yet, 
despite their disproportionate influence on local 
politics, in Masvingo they make up less than 5% 
of households. Remember too that since 2000 these 
new settlers have received very little external 
support. The government was broke and often 
focused its efforts on a few of the elite. 
Meanwhile, aid organisations shied away from the 
resettlement areas for political reasons.

We do not want to underplay the abuses that took 
place or the challenges that transition brings. 
However, our research has dispelled the 
assumption that Zimbabwe's controversial reform 
was "all bad". Solid empirical evidence has 
challenged the myth that there is no investment, 
that agricultural production has collapsed and 
food insecurity is universal, that the rural 
economy is in precipitous decline, and that farm 
labour has been totally displaced. There are many 
challenges ahead, but we believe it is possible 
to define a positive, forward-looking agenda for the future.

• Some names have been changed. Zimbabwe's Land 
Reform: Myths and Realities, by Ian Scoones, 
Nelson Marongwe, Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix 
Murimbarimba, Jacob Mahenehene and Chrispen 
Sukume, is published by James Currey
+44 (0)7786 952037
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic 
poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung

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