New research on land reform in Zimbabwe

Here is a useful summary of the papers presented by Leila Sinclair-Bright, Gareth James and Grasian Mkodzongi, at the ASAUK conference last week.

To accompany the recording of the discussion, here is a link to my own PowerPoint slides, which should help to further illustrate the points made during my presentation. I’m afraid it doesn’t make much sense without them, so I hope that those who are interested find this additional material both interesting and useful.



As mentioned last week, the University of Sussex hosted the major biennial UK African Studies Association conference. Around 600 delegates were registered, and there was a real buzz, with panels on every conceivable topic from every corner of the continent. Quite a few papers reported on new work from Zimbabwe, and land and politics was a recurrent theme. In the end we had a single panel of three papers (as several panellists had to drop out at the last minute). It was a fascinating session to a standing-room-only audience.

The three panellists all reported on new research in the now not-so-new resettlements, representing different geographic areas, and diverse methodologies. All looked at how new livelihoods are being carved out following land reform in A1 sites. This included in-depth reflections on the relationships between farmers and farmworkers, a quantitative assessment of production outcomes across sites compared to communal and old resettlement…

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ASAUK 2014: New narratives and emerging evidence in the Zimbabwe land debate

The ASAUK biennial conference will be held at the University of Sussex and will run from Tuesday 9th to Thursday 11th of September, 2014. As it’s now fast-approaching, I thought I’d post a quick message to draw your attention to the panel ‘New narratives and emerging evidence in the Zimbabwe land debate’, which takes place on Wednesday 10th from 09:00-10:30 and 11:00-12:30.

The panel will debate the latest research on land, agriculture and rural livelihoods in Zimbabwe. There are 6 papers that each extend, challenge and nuance the findings of earlier studies. In today’s world, where anything over 140 characters is too wordy, I won’t post abstracts, but here is a list of panellists and working titles:

Shiela Chikulo, ‘Emerging market discourses in a changing ‘agrarian economy’? The case of the fresh vegetable markets in Zimbabwe’, Ruzivo Trust, Harare.

Marleen Dekker, ‘Navigating through times of scarcity: the intensification of a gift-giving economy after dollarization in old resettlement areas in Zimbabwe’, African Studies Centre, Leiden.

Gareth James, ‘Fast track land reform: smallholder land use and production outcomes in Shamva, Hwedza and Makoni districts of Zimbabwe’, Centre of African Studies, Edinburgh.

Grasian Mkodzongi, ‘The political economy of mineral resource extraction after Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Programme: The case of Mhondoro Ngezi District’, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Patience Mutopo, ‘Ethnographic reflections on the land reform and rural development in Mwenezi District, Zimbabwe’, African Studies Centre, Cologne.

Leila Sinclair-Bright, ‘Zimbabwean land reform: sympathy and recognition of farmworkers’ claims to belong’, Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh.

The discussion will be chaired by Ian Scoones of the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, and author of Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities. 

So, if you’re going to the conference, look out for us and come join the discussion. Also, keep an eye on the Twitter feed @researchingzim for updates, and I’ll try and post a summary of the discussion here after the conference.


New article: Who got land?

In March 2000, land occupations in Zimbabwe intensified, forcing the government to implement the Fast Track Land Reform Programme, which significantly altered the agrarian structure of the country. Ever since, there have been widespread misconceptions about the nature and character of the land occupations and the identities of new land beneficiaries. Using survey data and in-depth interviews from 166 newly resettled households, this article shows the majority were ‘ordinary’ poor and near-landless people from communal and other rural areas. While there is some significant variation within and between new communities, they are far from what we might call ‘elites’. 

Read the full article online @

New book: Debating Zimbabwe’s Land Reform

A new book from Ian Scoones.


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Blog readers may be interested in the recently published book Debating Zimbabwe’s Land Reform. It’s out now in a low-cost version and available through Amazon.

Its 60 chapters are a compilation of some of the blogs that have been published on Zimbabweland in the last few years. They are clustered around a series of themes, each introduced with a new introductory essay. The themes are agricultural and livestock production, the economy, political dimensions, land, livelihoods and rural development, aid and development, comparative lessons and researching land and agrarian.

This blog has gathered quite a following. Not everyone agrees with what is written, but it certainly has helped catalyse debate and is a forum for sharing new research, from our on-going studies in Masvingo, but also from others’ work elsewhere in the country.

Readers come from Zimbabwe, the UK, South Africa, the US and around 100 other countries, with the blog getting…

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Explaining shortfalls in food production

According to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), 2.2 million Zimbabweans will face food shortages in early 2014, as stocks begin to run low in the period before the new harvest. In a recent article published in the Zimbabwean, Ben Freeth, former commercial farmer and human rights activist, posed the question ‘How can we feed our nation again?’. The question is underpinned by several mistaken assumptions: for example, that Zimbabwe was ever consistently self-sufficient in food production prior to 2000; that it was the commercial farming sector that fed the nation; and that shortfalls in food production are the result of land redistribution. In fact, Zimbabwe was never the ‘breadbasket’ of the region. In the decade to 2000, Zimbabwe imported maize in 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999. What’s more, it was the smallholder farming sector – not the former commercial sector – that was, and continues to be, the main food producing sector. This has been the case ever since the latter became more export-orientated during the 1980s. Structural adjustment in the 1990s also meant that those with capital and access to international markets were able to re-orientate their production from meeting domestic demand to exporting to European markets. The expansion of maize production on to marginal lands has also meant that smallholders have become increasingly vulnerable to variations in rainfall. Therefore, drought – and importantly, recurrent drought – is a hugely important contributing factor to food shortages in Zimbabwe that cannot be easily ignored.

Freeth’s answer, however, is that respect for the rule of law will ‘resurrect agriculture’ and encourage wider industrial and economic growth. When he writes about ‘the rule of law’ what he really means is securing private property rights. He states that ‘Unless Zimbabwean farmers, whether black or white, enjoy fully bankable and transferable property rights, as is the case today, all plans to feed the nation and develop agriculture will fail’. This is nothing new, and I have argued against this simple ’cause and effect’ mentality (perhaps a little too passionately) in an earlier post. Freeth, like Richardson, dismisses, all too easily, the importance of other prior and intervening factors accounting for shortfalls in food production, including: the expansion of maize production on to marginal lands; recurrent drought; the unaffordability and unavailability of agricultural inputs; the lack of available credit; limited public investment in agriculture; high unemployment; the prevalence of HIV/AIDs (which affects labour); and the as yet relatively unexplored question about the extent to which contract farming is diverting agricultural inputs and labour away from food production and into the production of tobacco and other cash crops (stay tuned!).

Food shortages are a reality faced by many rural households in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere, but we must be clear about the reasons and causes behind these shortfalls, which extend far beyond the rule of law and insecure property rights. Private property rights are simply not the silver bullet that Freeth would have us believe. A review of the literature on the association between property rights and (economic) development can be read here.

Transforming Zimbabwe’s agrarian economy: why smallholder farming is important


In a recent article in the Cape Times, prompted by Max du Preez’s review of Joe Hanlon and colleague’s book, Tony Hawkins (professor of economics at UZ) and Sholto Cross (research fellow at UEA) make the case that Zimbabwe’s land reform has been a disaster, and that a smallholder, ‘peasant’ farming is not a route to economic growth.

Beyond the wholly inappropriate ad hominem attack on Hanlon (respectable newspapers should not publish such insults I believe – although they have printed a response), what is their actual argument? The views of a neoliberal economist and a one-time communist should be interesting I thought.

The full-page article starts with a slightly bizarre critique of what has become to be known as ‘peasant studies’, a strand of academic work that has built over the years (it’s the 40th anniversary of the Journal of Peasant Studies this year – and…

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Beyond White Settler Capitalism: Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Reform


An important new book – Land and Agrarian Reform in Zimbabwe: Beyond White Settler Capitalism – has just been published by CODESRIA. It is the product of the CODESRIA National Working Group on Zimbabwe, and is edited by Sam Moyo and Walter Chambati of the African Institute of Agrarian Studies. All 372 pages are free to download on the CODESRIA site.

The book is important in a number of respects. First, it sets the story of Zimbabwe’s recent land reform in a wider context, examining capitalist relations in historical and regional perspective. Second, it offers an alternative political narrative to the standard analysis focused on neopatrimonial capture by political elites. Third, it offers empirical material and analysis from researchers who have undertaken detailed fieldwork on a range of themes including labour (Chambati), community organisation (Murisa), the media (Chari) and mobilisation (Sadomba, Masuko). Finally, as perhaps the leading scholar on…

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