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


zimbabweland

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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3 thoughts on “Transforming Zimbabwe’s agrarian economy: why smallholder farming is important

  1. Comrade David

    Any comment on: ‘The World Food Programme estimates that up to 1.6 million Zimbabweans will need food aid after a poor harvest by smallholder farmers who contribute about 50 percent of the national maize crop.'(?) … and please don’t say it was due to a drought.

    Reply
    1. Gareth James Post author

      David – thanks for your comment. A few thoughts in response…

      You are right to say that food shortage is not the result of “a drought” but recurrent drought. The smallholder farming sector continues to be the main food producing sector, and has been ever since “commercial” agriculture became more export-orientated during the 1980s. However, the expansion of maize production into marginal lands – driven by population growth, historical land alienation etc. – has meant that smallholders (the main food producers) are increasingly vulnerable to variations in rainfall. Drought is therefore a hugely important contributing factor to food shortage in Zimbabwe, and cannot be so easily brushed aside. Also, you quote WFP figures, but you seem to ignore the fact that they too accept that recurrent drought is an important factor.

      However, drought is not the only factor for consideration. The (un)availability and (un)affordability of agricultural inputs is also important. So too is the lack of available credit; limited investment in agriculture; high unemployment; the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, which affects labour; and, yes, to some extent the land reforms which have resulted in the restructuring of the agrarian economy. There are also some interesting (and, as yet, relatively unexplored) questions about the extent to which contract farming is diverting resources and inputs away from food production and into the production of cash crops, such as tobacco.

      In short, there is no simple explanation for food shortage in Zimbabwe – drought is important but so too are a number of other factors. The point of Scoones’ article, however (which has been reblogged here) is simply to say that smallholders have an important economic role to play in the ‘new’ Zimbabwe. I recommend you visit his blog and read his most recent post on the role of large-scale commercial agriculture in post-land reform Zimbabwe.

      Reply
  2. Dave

    Scoones argues that to a large extent, Zimbabwe’s ‘agrarian revolution’ was a success, but the situation is far more complex than that. In fact the situation is on-going and is far from settled because the former commercial farmers have not been compensated [in particular the farmers who purchased land after 1980] – and the fight for compensation will likely drag out for generations.
    I think in time we will see that there were some successes but also many failures [not least of which were the human rights abuses]. A robust debate means people, like me and many others state quite explicitly the failures – and a central Government that cannot ensure food security is not a successful Government.

    Reply

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