Land reform programme fuels asset accumulation

Op2Ian Scoones
IN our 2010 book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities, we described the pattern of on-farm investment across the 16 sites and 400 households in our sample, since settlement to 2007-08 (depending on the site, around 5-7 years). We argued that this was a significant individual and aggregate amount, adding up to $2,161 per household on average across the total sample. If extrapolated to all official fast-track land reform beneficiaries in the province at that time, this adds to a total of $73 million. No small sum.

This calculation was based on a number of investments, including land clearance, housing, cattle, farm equipment, transport, toilets, garden fencing and wells. We have been criticised for not having a baseline with which to compare. Well now we have (and in a future blog series, I will be comparing these results with communal area counterparts).

In this blog, I want to ask how investment has this changed since 2007-08? In 2011-12 we asked the same households about assets acquired in the previous five years. We used the same methodology and have applied the same 2009 US$ replacement values for all items to make the data comparable (see Chapter 4 of the  book for details). It’s a rough and ready calculation that is interesting for its patterns and trends rather than the absolute numbers, but I think is nevertheless revealing of an important dynamic on the new resettlements.

What did we find? As noted in last week’s blog, the big story is one of continued accumulation of cattle. In the period from settlement to 2007-08, households had accumulated significant numbers of cattle, then focused in the better off “success groups”. In the next five years, this trend continued ever upward with a total of 281 cattle acquired across all households. In percentage terms, growth in herd numbers has been especially concentrated in “success group” 2 and 3 households (the income and asset poor).

This is a different pattern from before, suggesting new people are now accumulating cattle as assets. In total at 2009 values, this represents $247 worth of purchases and $961 worth of all increases, including births and gifts, per household. Other livestock have not seen such a dramatic change, with goat numbers declining in some sites, although sheep numbers are up but overall the trend is upwards.

Across other assets that we have seen some significant investment too. This includes the increase in the number of buildings and the upgrading of their quality. In 2007-08, there were 371 houses (excluding kitchens and granaries) built across the sample. 16 percent were brick with asbestos or tin roofing, 38 percent were brick and thatch and 46 percent were pole and mud. Today there are 971 houses, with 27 percent, 46 percent, and 24 percent across these categories, representing a significant increase in number and quality of the main housing structures on the farms.

If we take the 2009 costs of construction and all buildings, including kitchens and granaries, this represents additional investment $684 per household. Toilets have been built in large numbers too. In 2007-08 only 38 percent of households in the survey sample had a dedicated toilet structure, but by 2011-12 this had increased to 60 percent.

These sites are now thoroughly inhabited with increasingly impressive building stock. The trade in bricks, cement, roofing materials, thatch, windows, doors, and building skills has been significant, adding to the local economy, as well as the main retailers of building equipment.

In terms of water resources, 108 new wells have been dug in the previous five years across the sites, adding to the intensive construction in the previous years, with now around two-thirds of households having access to their own protected borehole/well as a domestic water source. Sometimes farmers dig their own, but in most cases water tables were low, and specialist well diggers and liners had to be hired in.

There is good money to be made in this business if you have the skills across the resettlement areas.

In the period since settlement to 2007-08, clearance of arable land for farming was a very significant investment. We estimated that an average of 11 ha (with large variations) was cleared in those farms where farming activities were established, and cost about $50 per ha.

Clearing new land has slowed, and indeed in some sites arable areas appear to have declined, as labour, draught power and inputs have not been available to continue extensification. Only in Mwenezi did we observe an increase in area cleared as people moved from the communal areas to establish more permanent farms. But overall this aspect of investment was not significant in this period,  and so we have not identified an investment value for it.

Gardens were another facet of investment we  looked at in 2007-08. In addition to clearing the land, this involves fencing, either with wire or more commonly brush, and represented an important investment for around 40 percent of households. However, in the last few years, garden areas have not expanded significantly, except in the A1 villagised sites, as most of the clearance and garden establishment happened earlier, and again we have not included this aspect of investment in our overall assessment for the recent period.

Farm equipment and transport are two other areas of investment that continue to be important, with accelerating levels. In the five years before 2011, 181 ox ploughs, 40 cultivators, and 94 scotch carts were bought. This represents new investments of $271 per household if the equipment was valued at a 2009 price. Equally, transport has been a focus of investment with bicycles being bought especially in the A1 sites, cars in the A1 self-contained and A2 sites, and a few tractors in the A2 sites. In the five years before 2011, 175 bicycles, 67 cars and 19 tractors had been purchased, representing a total of $320 per household at 2009 prices.

The investment values per household across the subset of categories we have looked at over time is summarised in a table below, which compares the 2011-12 data presented in the book for 2007-08.

We can see that investment has continued, particularly in assets linked to farm production (whether in terms of cattle, farm equipment or transport) and resettlement living (especially housing, sanitation and water supplies).

In addition, there has been significant  investment in items we didn’t even look at  in 2007-08 such as solar panels and cellphones. A few years ago, these were regarded as luxuries, available to only a few, but today, they are widely available.

In the five years before 2011, 661 cell phones and 227 solar panels were bought across the sites, representing 1.75 new cellphones per household and 0.6 solar panels. At a current rough average value,  the total investment per household in cell phones (at $50 each) was $87 and solar panels (at $150 each) was $90.

While multiple caveats must be attached to  all these figures, the point, as noted before, is  less the actual number but more the scale and  trend of the investment dynamic. This is significant and impressive, and has continued now over many years, generated in large part through the economic activities motivated by land reform.

Of course patterns of investment are highly differentiated, and in this short blog I have not been able to drill down into the detail. There  are  those  who are doing well, and those who are not, and  patterns of accumulation and differentiation continue to play out with multiple implications for agrarian dynamics.

But at root, as shown in our earlier studies, and again in our follow up data, we can see that the process of “accumulation from below” is widespread, with important implications for longer term trajectories and the type of support that the resettlement areas need as part of a post-land reform rural development policy.

 Ian Scoones is a research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, Britain. The professor lead-authored a book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities. He maintains a blog on Zimbabwe’s land reform.

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