Zimbabwe’s fast track land reforms have commonly been seen as the biggest economic blunder – but emerging perspectives conclude the reforms, in their hurried model, were an important social policy intervention, particularly for the youth.
Incomes have multiplied, poverty halved, food security and diets improved while families have become more stable under permanent shelter. As an essential component of the environment, land, in the context of the reforms, has also been found to be a major adaptive factor to climate change.
Now that’s according to new research by Clement Chipenda, who has recently completed his PhD in sociology with the University of South Africa (Unisa).
“Land reform has shown potential for improving livelihoods for young people and also for bringing about, in rural Zimbabwe, inclusive development, which has been elusive,” said Chipenda, who spent 13 months of fieldwork in parts of Goromonzi, about 40km east of Harare.
“While a lot can still be done for the youth . . . the fast track land reform programme can be seen as having the necessary conditions to protect young people from vulnerabilities and provide them with a safety net in times of challenges,” Chipenda added.
Much of the gain was reported in A1 settlements – smallholder farmlands of average size 5 to 6 hectares.
Between 2016 and 2017, youth farmers in Goromonzi reported average yearly incomes of up to US$3 000 per household, the research said.
Tobacco accounted for the bulk of the earnings, but maize remains the most widely grown crop.
By comparison, the youth in communal areas earned a fraction of the income netted by those in resettled areas.
On average, young communal farmers produced between 1,3 and 1,4 tonnes of maize per hectare – half of what the A1 farmers produced on the same size of land.
Chipenda blamed the low yield in communal farms on inadequate land (about 1-2 hectares arable), poor skills and a lack of inputs, among other issues.
His research tracked 30 youthful farmers from Goromonzi using interviews, questionnaires, group discussions, observations and a review of other secondary data.
The youth have been moved onto five farms, previously large-scale commercial farms.
Chipenda found that only a fifth of the young farmers surveyed benefited directly from the fast track land reforms, with proof of ownership of the land they occupied.
The remainder said they had either inherited the land from their parents, or were waiting to do so when their parents die while continuing to share the farm with their siblings.
Others, about 13 percent, were not allocated land at all and have been forced to rent from reluctant farm owners, which almost always disrupted long-term production.
Generally, the youth feel hard done by the fast track land reform programme. But in his research, Chipenda examined the social policy dimensions — from a youth perspective — of land reform when linked to production, redistribution and social cohesion.
The study found that rising incomes mean the youth have been able to acquire an array of assets, both for the home and the farm.
They include irrigation equipment, tractors, trucks, tobacco barns, houses, hand tools, water pumps and livestock.
“These (assets) have enhanced their (youth farmers) livelihoods and ability to engage further in productive activities,” Chipenda stated.
“From a social policy perspective, the income realised from agricultural activities is a lot, if compared to social welfare initiatives by the Government, for example.”
To illustrate his argument, Chipenda pointed to Zimbabwe’s Harmonised Cash Transfer Scheme, which delivers an average US$300 to families considered vulnerable, each year – which is barely enough to meet everyday needs. “ . . . social policies like land reform . . . empower and enhance the productive capacities of beneficiaries (including the vulnerable and very poor households), unlike the residual social policies that are currently dominant in developing countries,” he said.
Debate on Climate incomplete without land ownership
Through land reform, the youth, who make up more than a third of Zimbabwe’s 13 million population, have gained new skill sets, opened new markets and new sources of income — something that is now inspensebable to coping with climate change.
Indeed, discussions on environment and climate are incomplete without interrogation of issues on land ownership and control, Chipenda highlighted.
Accordingly, environment, including climate change policies are premised on land ownership and control.
All the socio-economic and political activities of societies are based on or relate to the land in one way or the other.
Control of land by indigenous people implies their ownership of the environment.
However, Chipenda explained, “colonial land tenure deliberately sought to decimate traditional ownerships, rights, knowledge and practices on land and other facets of the environment and climate.
The traditional ways of knowing and addressing environment and climate issues were (and are) essentially key components of unwritten social policy intervention in many African cultures.”
In Goromonzi, the study found that food security and dietary diversity have particularly blossomed, with a greater number of familirs in new farming areas eating foods such as beef, pork, chicken, sugar, honey, eggs, milk and other items more regularly than those in communal areas.
Some of these foodstuffs may even be considered luxury in communal regions, that continue to struggle to produce enough food, particularly maize, for household consumption.
Chipenda documented a sharp increase in the provision of permanent shelter, with 60 percent of the youth interviewed saying they have been able to build a home for their families on the resettled land.
The land reform has “helped the youth in different ways, and with the musha it has provided a safety net against vulnerability which family members can fall back on,” the study says.
It highlights a plethora of positives on how Zimbabwe’s fast track land reforms have benefited the youth – even with their misgivings about the process — when looked at from a social policy perspective, something that might not necessarily have been on the minds of those fronting the reforms.
The research shows how young farmers have been using the land productively, whether self-owned, parent-owned or rented.
The reforms have created economic opportunities for tens of thousands of young farmers, opportunities that were previously concentrated into the hands of a few dozen commercial farmers.