Thursday, 3 April 2014

How have the ‘new farmers’ fared? An update on the Masvingo study I

It is now nearly over four years since we finished our book, Zimbabwe's Land Reform: Myths and Realities. Since then we have not been idle. We have continued research in all our study sites and extended our work to new areas, including in the Highveld, as well as in nearby communal areas. We have also continued to publish our results and debate the findings, and this blog has become an important focus for some of this.

Many people have asked how have Zimbabwe's 'new' (not that new anymore) farmers fared in the last few years? In the next four weeks I will offer some updates from our on-going data collection. We now have nearly 14 years of data from our sample of 16 sites and 4oo households in ‘new resettlements’ across Masvingo province. Longitudinal data offers important insights on dynamics and trends not available from snapshot surveys or roadside assessments. We have not fully analysed all the data (there is a lot of it!) and there are some journal articles in the works, but we thought we should share preliminary results now, as the formal publication process can take ages.

So what has happened since 2009-10? In some important respects the conditions have improved since the stabilisation of the economy since 2009, and the ending of hyperinflation. But equally there have been few major investments in agriculture in this period, as the government remains broke, the donors have shied away from supporting the land reform areas, and beyond individual farmers' investments, wider private investment has been limited. Also the weather has been bad, with rainfall below the average in every season from 2008-09 to 2011-13, although of course it has picked up in this last season.

In our 2010 book, we reported a picture of expansion and growth, and significant investment, concentrated in the A1 sites, and particularly the self-contained resettlements. At the same time, A2 farms were struggling with limited investments, and those with sugar plots had suffered badly from low prices, and poor payment systems. It was a mixed picture, but one that showed a significant group of 'accumulators from below', particularly in the A1 schemes who were producing surpluses regularly, selling some of these, and reinvesting in their farms.

Has this pattern persisted in years since? In 2011-12, we conducted a follow up survey to find out. This was carried out across all the sites, and involved the 400 households from our original sample (although with turnover in households, there were both new entrants and replacements in our new sample – more on this in a future blog). In addition, we collected crop production and sales data for the same group in all seasons (up to the 2013 harvest).

What did we find? Overall, we found remarkably similar overall patterns to before. The A1 self-contained farmers were doing by far the best, while those in the A2 sites were still struggling, although by 2012, the sugar farmers were back on track. Meanwhile those in 'informal' sites were doing better than before, partly we suspect because the uncertainties over their land had been reduced, with one group in Uswaushava having been granted 'offer letters' after a long struggle. Tenure it seems does make a difference, but it doesn't have to be the gold-plated freehold version.

Cropped area had not increased in the way it had during the 2000s; indeed in some sites it seemed to have declined a bit, although it's not clear why. The process of land clearance and expansion occurred mostly in the 3-4 years after settlement and the rate of expansion then declined. There is it seems not enough labour or draft power to plough more, hence stability or decline in arable areas (again with some exceptions). This even includes the A2 areas, where capital shortages, and lack of equipment, have constrained agricultural expansion for most.

Why is all this painstakingly collected longitudinal data important, and what does it tell us?
First, it shows that the Masvingo study sites are far from the situation sometimes portrayed in the media. There is a wide array of activities. Not everyone is doing well, but a significant proportion continue to 'accumulate from below' and invest in farms and farming. This is most prominent in the A1 sites, especially the self-contained versions.

Second, despite repeated droughts, a considerable amount of food is being produced, and sold. The mismatch between dire predictions of impending shortage and the reality as it turns out has been commented on before. This is in part due to the production occurring in the new resettlement areas that often goes unaccounted for in general food security assessments.

Third, there is a pattern of differentiation emerging that means only some are doing well while a significant proportion are failing to meet livelihood needs. These differences within and across sites is quite stark and suggests the need for targeted policy responses.

Fourth, the lack of investment and support in the new resettlements continues, and this means that basic improvements are not occurring. Yields for example remain stubbornly low, and this is less to do with seeds and fertilisers (although supplies of both have been a challenge), but more to do with water control in the dry area of Masvingo. Without irrigation there are high variations in crop output between years that has to be compensated for by non-farm activities of various sorts.

The data suggests ways forward for government, donors, NGOs, farmer organisations and others wishing to support the 'new farmers'. It suggests a focus for intervention (irrigation, flexible credit and basic rural infrastructure to reduce costs would be the top three in my view); it highlights a need to rethink food security and livelihood assessment; and it suggests the need to take a differentiated response to policy and support, contrasting for example the 'accumulators' and those who are struggling. None of these are new suggestions; indeed they all appeared in our 2010 book. However, the updated data simply reinforces their importance, and the urgency of doing something on the ground.

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.