On Thursday 18th March I attended a lecture by Ian Scoones of the Institute of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Ian’s subject was “New land, new livelihoods: agrarian change in Zimbabwe following land reform.”
I was interested to find out the current situation in Zimbabwe as FYF is involved in a planning exercise with several Zimbabwe NGOs with a view to supporting them in the near future.
Land reform commenced in 1979 with the signing of the Lancaster House agreement and was intended to redistribute land from the minority white to the majority black population. Before this, white people, who formed less than 1% of the population, owned over 70% of the arable land, including the best. Their subsequent eviction has been blamed for famine which left two-thirds of the population of Zimbabwe facing severe food shortages (Wikipedia).
Ian Scoones has conducted detailed research in Masvingo in the south-east of Zimbabwe which challenges a number of myths about the situation in Zimbabwe and found a much more complex and to a certain extent more optimistic situation than is usually portrayed. He agreed that is has been a tough decade with variable rainfall, a decline in GDP per capita, rampant inflation and a reduction in inputs to agriculture. But he challenged the view that agriculture has completely collapsed. What he found was that there had been a massive shift from large scale to small scale production, leading to a reduction in the amounts of the high value crops associated with exports such as wheat, tobacco, tea and coffee. There had been a corresponding increase in crops for consumption, figures for which are often not included in official statistics.
He dispelled another myth – that there has been no investment in agriculture in Zimbabwe in the last decade. In fact he found that investment has averaged $2,000 per household, with some farmers accumulating cattle. This is a good hedge against inflation.
Although there were a significant number of workers displaced from the big estates around Harare, Ian has also found that there has been significant generation of agricultural work, although much of it is temporary, poorly paid and female.
Ian believes that there is great economic potential in agriculture in Zimbabwe, but that a major rethink is required among both policy makers and donors, to shift the policy discourse from the assumptions rooted in the colonial era to the current situation.
FYF’s participatory approach will enable us take up this challenge. Through our participatory planning process we aim to design a project that both draws on the skills and the knowledge that people already have and that responds to the needs they identify. As a result our work will make a lasting difference to their lives.
To read more the fact that we are returning to work in Zimbabwe please visit our website.