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Future Agricultures blog

Opinion and comment from Future Agricultures researchers on agricultural politics, science and society in Africa.

Important changes are afoot in the size structure of farms in Africa. The rise of ‘medium-scale’ farms is often pointed to. From studies in Kenya, Ghana, Zambia and elsewhere, carried out by Michigan State University, a pattern of consolidation of land holdings is observed, with an increasing proportion held in medium-sized farms, owned often by ‘outsiders’ to local peasant farming communities – including retirees, local investors and urbanites wanting a foothold in the countryside.


These people are investing in this new farmland, and sometimes (but far from always) making it more productive, and commercially-oriented. In Ghana and Zambia, for example, such medium-scale farms now account for more land area than small-scale (under 5 ha) farms (see new work by Thom Jayne and colleagues, for example here, here,  here and here). Land concentration in such farms, under new ownership and land tenure arrangements, occurs through different routes – either through accumulation of land by those who earlier had smaller plots via local land markets, or acquisition of land by ‘outsiders’ through political and other connections.


Patterns vary across countries and locations within them, and the MSU studies are rather crude relying as they do on existing datasets, taking a huge range (from 5 to 100 ha) to constitute ‘medium-scale’. Farm size survey data too can only tell us so much. While such data indicate an important shift in overall pattern, the implications for the dynamics of rural class formation, labour regimes, gender relations patterns of dispossession and displacement, markets in land and agricultural commodities, for example, are not revealed. This is why complementary in-depth analysis is required, that probes the implications further.


In our studies in Zimbabwe, we are examining the fate of A2 farms, where allocations of land following the 2000 land reform ranged from 20 ha to upwards of 500 ha in drier parts of the country, with an average of around 70 ha. As discussed in previous blogs, this has resulted in a major restructuring of farm sizes and overall agrarian structure in the country, with this category of ‘medium-scale’ farm being significant, and by comparison to the old dualism of the large-scale and small-scale communal sector a new phenomenon. Although as the previous weeks have discussed, while not on the scale of A2 farming areas (representing now nearly 2 million ha or about 6 percent of the country’s land area), former ‘purchase areas’ or small-scale commercial farm areas (around 1.4 m ha or 4.4 percent of total land area) offer some hints as to some of the future challenges of broadly-defined ‘medium-scale’ commercial farming.


In our studies, highlighted in the case studies covered last week, we found four possible outcomes emerging over time in the former Purchase Areas, highlighted to varying degrees in the case studies presented in the last blog in this series.

◾The ‘villagised farm’. Here the land is seen as belonging to a family, across generations. Children can establish homes, often across several families, and a village area is created. Sometimes these family units operate independently and have their own patches within the farm where they cultivated; in other cases they contribute collectively to what is usually the fathers’ farm. His brothers, sons, and their wives and children, all provide a collective labour force. Some members of these families may not be resident, and may work elsewhere, but they regard the farm as ‘home’ and do not have other residences in the communal areas (although some joined land invasions and gained land through land reform). These villages – formerly seen as ‘squatter’ settlements – may include others, incorporated into the farm over time, such as labourers, or other relatives and their families. Over years, numbers can increase significantly. In our study areas in Mushagashe, we estimated that on one farm of this type there were perhaps nearly 50 living there, including at least 8 ‘households’, and several families of workers. Some sons without jobs stay on the farm with their families, while others who are working away have homes where sometime wives and children stay.

◾The commercial farm. This is the imagined ideal, and sometimes occurs. But often only in certain time periods, linked to generational changes. As mentioned in a previous blog, in the late 50s and early 60s, some Purchase Area farms operated as serious commercial enterprises. Their owners were resident, often retired, but not too old to run and manage a farm. In subsequent years, the commercial orientation died off, as older parents no longer could manage the farms, and sons and other relatives were not around to reinvest. However a generation on, these sons are now moving back to these farms. The economic crisis of the 1990s and accelerating in the 2000s meant that abandoning jobs in town, such as poorly paid civil service employment, and taking up farming was attractive, even if the family farm was remote and often by this stage run down. Limited retrenchment packages may have assisted, but after a period in the doldrums some farms are seeing a revival. Commercial farming in this scenario is not a life-long investment, but something that happens at a certain life stage, and is intimately linked to fortunes in the world of urban work, or patterns of income from remittances, now spread across an increasingly global diaspora.

◾Subdivision. Rather than reinvesting and scaling up, some choose to subdivide and sell off. This may prevent the possibilities of villagisation, and the often troublesome reliance of potentially endless relatives, sometimes with remote connections seeking out a ‘family’ farm as a place of refuge and support – and a place to farm. If sons (usually, rarely daughters in our case studies) are not able to come ‘home’ and farm commercially, then raising income through the land market can provide a source of income. This mirrors the period in the 1950s when fragmentation of farms occurred and squatters were evicted. This also happens today and, although there are often family disputes over whether the farm can be sold (either completely or in part), the use of title deeds (very often not touched for decades, and often formally invalid because not updated in the registry) can provide a route to realise the value of the family asset. Disputes emerge among family members especially if there are some siblings who are resident at the farm, and do not have jobs. Many Purchase Area farmers’ children however are well-educated, and part of the increasingly international Zimbabwean middle class. Like their parents, they were educated in the elite schools of the late colonial/early Independence area, which were as good as any in the region. With such qualifications, access to skilled job markets were plentiful and they ended up comfortably in jobs in Harare, but also Johannesburg, Cape Town, Gabarone, London and Birmingham (with not a few academics amongst their number). While the family farm has an emotional appeal, the idea of going to farm there like their parents did is not on the radar; and their children ion turn may have visited for a few Christmases as kids but have no intention of starting a rural life.

◾Projectising the farm. For those who are absent, and with parents still alive and living on the farm, there is one common option that emerges, as we have seen in the case studies profiled last week. This is to ‘projectise’ the farm. Discrete projects are envisaged, and invested in. These commonly involve livestock, with dairy, piggeries and poultry projects common in our study areas. Sometimes these projects are financed by NGOs and aid projects, as part of ‘development’ activities; more commonly they are self-financed, with funds coming via Western Union from the UK or elsewhere. These remittance investments need some management and if the parents are not up to it, local people are employed as resident farm managers. Some are able to raise external loans and finance by virtue of their jobs, and in a few cases joint venture/partnership arrangements are brokered with external investors. The trouble with most Purchase Areas is that road and market infrastructure is poor, and the costs of marketing is high, making commercial agriculture tough going. The projects that we have seen break even just, but are backstopped by external finance if the going gets tough. This allows sons, but in this case also daughters, to have a stake in the family farm, but without committing to run it. The areas used and the scale of operations invested in are often very small. They provide a small supplement to keep their now ageing parents in groceries and allows for the paying of school fees of some poorer relatives who may be resident at the farm. Most importantly such projects keep a psychological link with ‘home’, and a sense of commitment and belonging, however limited. This is far from the image of the commercial farm, merely a collection of projects, with focused investments, on a farm that otherwise has limited activity – with some mixed farming and some gardens, but little else. Similar in many ways to the Purchase Area farms of the past that were accused of not being the images of modernity that were planned.


There may be other patterns and trajectories that we have not yet picked up, but these four are repeated in varying combinations across the study areas where we have been working in Masvingo Province. Are these potential scenarios for the A2 farms, and for the much touted medium scale farming more broadly across Africa? In many ways, I suspect they offer important glimpses of potential futures. As the diagram below, at least four different scenarios could be envisaged, depending on patterns of financing and farm productivity.




Only one of these is ‘proper’ commercial farming, as envisaged by planners and policymakers. The others respond to changing life cycles and demographic shifts, as well as the inevitable shift to urban and even diaspora life as people become educated, and gain opportunities elsewhere. In many ways these are more realistic, and represent accommodations between farming, life cycles and livelihoods. The Zimbabwe case is of course peculiar as the economic hardships over several decades – from structural adjustment (ESAP) in the 1990s to the economic crisis of the 2000s, returning again today – have meant that urban employment as a focus for accumulation and social reproduction is often not feasible. Many flee the country in search of a better life, but this does not always turn out well. So perhaps unusually the attraction of a farm – a place to live, to call home, to invest in and be part of – is more prominent for Zimbabweans today.


Although the A2 farms have failed to take off in ways that were hoped for, maybe this is because of false expectations and misplaced assumptions about what land is for and what farming entails. Farming has always been part of diversified urban-rural livelihoods, now increasingly internationalised. Of course this applied to so-called ‘white’ farming too, but in different ways. The imagined ideal of the sole owner-operator of an individual farm, always resident and doing nothing but farming was very rare indeed.


My guess is that, if like the SSCFAs, the A2 farms are neglected in policymaking and not made the focus of local and regional economic growth strategies, with secure tenure, finance and basic public good investment (which currently seems likely given the lack of policy imagination in government, the failure of donors to grasp the challenge and so a complete lack of finance), then in 20 years, these scenarios seen today in the former Purchase Areas are quite likely in the A2 areas. If you go to visit the farms in a former Purchase Area today, you could be seeing the future of the A2 farms in a generation’s time.


Indeed, nearly 17 years after land reform, we see many of these patterns already – with small villages of relatives, large under-used areas complemented with small, intensive projects, and informal subdivisions, rentals, and joint ventures/partnerships emerging attempting to get things moving. Perhaps by reversing the policy neglect, and getting the A2 farms moving (and this will require a shake out with a politically-contentious audit process), more vibrant, productive commercial trajectories will be possible, but these too will have to accommodate changing demographics, diverse livelihoods, and shifting aspirations.


This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

Find out more information relating to Agriculture Policy Research in Africa (APRA)

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In this week’s blog, I want to present two cross-generational case studies of Purchase Area (now small-scale farming area) farms, based on interviews carried out earlier this year in Mushagashe and Dewure SSCFAs in Masvingo Province. They are not in any way representative, but they do show in particular the generational shifts in patterns of production and accumulation, and the shifting relationship between land, as somewhere to produce and somewhere to live and call home. Questions of identity – and what it means to be a ‘farmer’ – are raised, as are issues around both gender and generation in commercial agriculture. Overall, the lack of a linear process of evolutionary change, and the complex social dynamics of agrarian relations are highlighted.


Case 1: Interview with Mr MM, Mushagashe SSFCA, Masvingo Province


“My father bought the land in 1932. He was working as a cook at Gokomere mission. He had no land in the reserves. He came with some relatives. He used cattle to buy the 132 ha farm from the commercial farm – equivalent to £90. There were three commercial farms subdivided for the Purchase Areas, all owned by whites. I was born here in 1939. We got title deeds later, but they are no use. There was a deed transfer to my older brother when my father passed away.


My father sold crops to European traders. There was a Greek based at Zimuto, and he moved in a huge ox wagon, buying grain, exchanging for sugar. We sold cattle to the whites who had farms near here. Our education came from farming. I was boarded at Gokomere to standard 6 aged 17. I then worked as a policeman in Zambia during the federation. I came back in 72, and worked at Triangle sugar estates in security/loss control.


My father died in 1975. He had two wives, and they all farmed together. My three brothers all stayed here, with their wives and families. I set up home here after I returned, while living in Triangle. I bought cattle then, which were herded with the others’ animals.


Today we grow maize, wheat, groundnuts and have about 20 cattle. One person is employed as a herder. These days we only farm about 3 ha; before it was more like 8 ha. We have a garden area for groundnuts and some vegetables, some of which are sold locally. The rest of the farm is grazing. We sometimes have relatives who leave their animals here, but we also have a lot of problems with neigbours’ cattle and those coming from the research station. We have a boundary fence but no paddocks, but the fence is not well repaired. We have one borehole but there’s limited supply, just enough for drinking water. These days, people are no longer interested in farming. You sell things but get no cash. I sold two tonnes last year, but nothing. We get no loans, and there is no irrigation. We survive off El Nino!


I have 8 kids, and all the sons have land here. All my kids went to Gokomere after going to local primary near here. Some are working away, but they have homes here, and their wives and younger kids are around. It is a large extended family and my wife and my sons’ wives work together. My eldest has a separate homestead and fields as part of the farm, but it is all part of the same community. We all work together. As you see there are many houses in this compound. One of my sons got resettlement land long back as part of the government programme, but it’s nearby and we seem them here too. Around here, people didn’t join the recent land reform (jambanja, land invasions). We are not involved as they are in the communal. There is supposed to be no politics here. They used to ban sabhukus (headmen) in this area. We have to say that government is just not interested in us here; they don’t even come and repair the road. There are no loans, no help. The nearest clinics are at Makoholi and Gokomere, and the schools are far too. We are on our own.”


Case 2: Interview with Mr FM, Dewure East SSCFA, Masvingo Province


“My father and mother acquired the 90 ha farm in 1957. They came from Bikita communal area. Both were teachers and both were successful Master Farmers. My father resigned from teaching soon after getting the farm, and went into building contracting. He later left that business to concentrate on farming. My mother also resigned as a teacher to commit to farming. They worked very closely together; they were both excellent farmers.


In 1957, they came with 3 kids, including myself, aged one. They had a total of 8 children: 2 boys and 6 girls. My eldest sister is married in the farm area, and lives locally; others are teachers (one a lecturer at Masvingo Teachers’ College, another a headmaster in the UK), and two worked on their own businesses (one now late). My late sister and I worked with government in agriculture (extension and research), and we had agricultural diplomas. We were all well-educated at boarding schools. My parents were totally committed to education.


In the past, my father kept a lot of livestock: about 40 cattle and 30-40 goats. There were also donkeys for transport, pigs and lots of poultry. We sold lots of milk, eggs, chickens, pig meat and so on. We used to have around 10 milking cows at any time. Soured milk was prepared, and sold to mission schools. We also had a programme of pen fattening of cattle, and sold 3-4 at a time too. This income from livestock was the big contribution to the education of all of us kids. We all went to boarding schools.


Manure from the cattle on the poor sandy soils in this area was crucial. In the 1960s about 20 ha was cropped, but today it’s only 6 ha. We used to do commercial horticulture, selling far and wide, but now there’s just some gardens around the home. We used to have three permanent employees, and hired lots of people for piece work. We are just by the communal areas, and Bikita is about 20-30 kms away. Yes we have problems from the communal areas, but they are our neighbours, and the source of farm labour.


Back then, we grew a lot of pearl millet. Maybe 15 tonnes in a year. We would spend three weeks threshing and then brewing. The beer would pay for labour. We had lots of humwes (work parties) on the farm, with up to 12 spans rotating between farms. People would come from as far as Chivi for the pearl millet. Rapoko (finger millet) was sold locally. Maize was also grown, and my father won prizes as a maize grower. Later, he moved into cotton growing, selling to Kadoma, until prices dropped. Groundnuts were focused on by my mother. They had a market, and there were approved buyers who came from the townships. This was good cash income for the family.


In those days, we never had a tractor, but had 3-4 ploughs. Because of having plenty of draft animals and collective work parties, a tractor wasn’t needed. We had scotch carts, planters, water carts and so on. My father also never had a car – but we had a donkey cart that went as far as Nyika!


But as time went on, the kids left home and went and did their own thing. My parents became old and could not manage the farm as they did before. The hectarage declined, and my parents relied more and more on cash we sent back. We visited but we all rather forgot the farm. There was no cash reinjected into the farm. People were all over, and had other things to focus on. My elder brother was in the UK; kids had to have university fees paid and so on.


My father is now late, and my mother very old and frail. My older brother has no interest in the farm, but I now want to come back and do something commercial here. I have got a sugar plot in Hippo Valley and a house in Masvingo urban, but I no longer work for government, so can be flexible. I have been looking around for water. We have to move from dryland farming. Irrigation projects are the only solution. But I have not had luck with the boreholes that have been sunk; in all cases the yields have been poor. I now have a decent deep well, and I will put a borehole near the river for a small irrigation plot and watering of livestock.


We now have 10 cattle, and the herd is growing again. I have another three at my sister’s place nearby. Earlier this year, I sold four to buy a kombi. I have employed two permanent workers, who look after the place when I am not here. One works in the fields and one oversees the grinding mill. I want to focus on commercial horticulture, not maize for sale. Nyika is 27 km away on a poor road, so it has to be worth it. Currently we sell groundnuts and nyimo.


Yes, I have plans. But water and markets are key – plus money to invest. But I am hoping to come and live here and make things happen!”




These two cases show the changing fortunes of commercial agriculture. As Sara Berry commented in the wonderful book, ‘No Condition is Permanent’:


“Agricultural intensification has been neither inevitable nor continuous in African farming systems. In some areas, intensification was halted or reversed by changing environmental or political and economic conditions; in others, it has occurred not as an adaptive response to population growth or commercialisation, but in the face of growing labour shortages and declining commercial activity. Such cases underscore the importance of studying farming as a dynamic social process. As farmers contend with social as well as environmental conditions, changes occur not only in what is produced and how much, but also in when work is done and by whom. Thus changes in cropping patters and methods of cultivation are influenced by social factors which govern the timing as well as the mounts of labour devoted to farming, as well as the control of effort and output….Variations in the pace and/or direction of agricultural intensification are occasioned not only be exogenous events, such as war and peace, drought or flood, but also by changes in the production dynamics of particular crops” (Berry 1993: 189, 186).


She was talking about the agricultural histories of Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia, but she could as well have been talking about Zimbabwe’s Purchase Areas. No condition is ever permanent, but understanding the social dynamics of agrarian change is essential. As I discuss next week, these longitudinal insights from the Purchase Areas may reveal something about how policy addresses the A2 medium-scale commercial farms created through land reform, offering notes of risk and caution, as well as hints at new opportunities.


This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

Find out more information relating to Agriculture Policy Research in Africa (APRA)

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The Native Purchase Areas were established as a result of the 1930 Land Apportionment Act, following the recommendations of the 1925 Morris Carter Commission. They were designed as compensation for the fact that Africans were not allowed to purchase land elsewhere. These were areas that had mostly been farmed by early settlers before the colony’s land was carved up into racial designations. Africans were given the option of buying newly demarcated properties, but the land was often in remote areas and of poor quality.


The Purchase Areas were slow to become established, as these were often in remote areas, without infrastructure. At Independence around 10,000 households had settled on around 1.4 m hectares, falling far short of the earlier promises of 50,000 Africans with freehold title. The vast majority of the acquisitions were by men, although some women did manage to buy independently, despite many obstacles. Initially, those living in the ‘native reserves’ were reluctant to shift, as the successful “reserve entrepreneurs” (as Terry Ranger called them for Makoni) had land, labour and markets where they already lived. Urban-based Africans, such as government clerks or messengers, were also encouraged to sign up, but again many sensed the leap into the unknown was too risky, as they after all already had rural homes in the ‘reserves’. The depression of the 1930s, put the squeeze on incomes, and few had the income or cattle to purchase land.


By the 1940s, the Purchase Areas were often criticised for being poor, backward, wasteful and inefficient. Rather than intensified production, extensification of low productivity mixed farms, opportunistic use of wetland ‘patches’ and resource extraction (of wood for timber and fuel) were the main trends, as described for Marirangwe by Allison Shutt. Many Purchase Area land owners were ‘absentee farmers’, and according to officials, were not taking care of their properties. They accumulated, but not in ways that the planners hoped. The commentary on both production efficiency and environmental degradation, peaking with the 1942 Natural Resources Board Inquiry, was damning. These were not the envisaged modern, commercial farming areas. Instead they were second homes of often urban employed Africans, where farming was a side-line. A few relatives and often a lot of cattle from the reserves, and as a source of saving from urban wages, were deposited there, and homes were used during vacations rather than as a permanent base for a farming operation. Today, the ‘cell phone farmers’ of the A2 resettlements are cast in a similar light.


Again – as with the A2 farms today – there were exceptions, including Purchase Area farm owners in Mshagashe near Masvingo hiring labour contractors and engaging in destocking auctions, as Allison Shutt describes. Some farmers later became members of Intensive Conservation Areas, presenting themselves as guardians of the land and conservationists, like white farmers. But the general narrative at the time (very similar to today) was that allocating medium-scale farms to inexperienced, unqualified, often absent, urban-based Africans was not a good move, if agricultural modernisation and production was the aim, and attempts at eviction and control were common (see for example cases from Marirangwe).


After the Second World War, more families acquired farms. The earlier reticence changed to an enthusiasm for social and economic transformation, realised by access to a farm – just like white farmers (although of course not as big, or in such favourable areas). As described by Michael West, this was part of a pattern of (highly selective) “racial uplift” – some educated Africans were favoured by the colonial authorities and given such benefits. Terry Ranger’s fascinating biography of the Samkange family is a case in point, with the purchase of the Mzengezi farm a key moment in the family’s history. Gaining access to purchase area land was a critical aspect of shifting identities of an educated African middle class, straddling urban and rural areas.


As Allison Shutt puts it: “the Purchase Areas offered privacy, a measure of respect from the colonial government, and a symbolic separateness from African cultivators in the reserves and from lower-paid workers”. This was reinforced in the 1950s when, following the Native Land Husbandry Act of 1951, freehold title was offered. Again in the discourse of the time (persisting today in all sorts of unhelpful ways), freehold was the ultimate form of ownership, linked to a certain ideology and pattern of accumulation, as Angela Cheater describes. This was the pinnacle of modernity, otherwise only available to whites; and something allowing independence and autonomy, not feasible in the reserves, or even in most urban settings.


From the mid-1950s, those who acquired farms a few decades before retired to their farms. This was a moment when more commercialisation took place. The areas were now occupied and land extensification and high stocking rates were no longer as feasible. Tobacco and cotton became favoured crops, linked to new commercial value chains. For the first time the freehold titles acquired more than symbolic benefit, and loans were offered against the title as collateral for the first time. Farms were more assertively demarcated, with fences put up to keep out the neighbours from the reserves. The state invested more attention to these areas, improving infrastructure, providing finance and offering technical support. Realising the threats of growing nationalism, perhaps especially among the educated African elite who had been initially attracted to the Purchase Areas, these became a focus for political and administrative attention, after years of neglect.


With title deeds came a period of land sales and fragmentation of farms, as plots were sold off. This provided important revenues for some, securing retirement on their smaller farms. Also, with increasing intensification of production, there came the need for labour. Those designated as ‘squatters’ were crucial. As Angela Cheater describes for Msengezi, these included a wide range of people, including extended family members, peasants from the reserves, migrant labourers and others. Subdivision of land also meant that relatives – usually sons – could be passed on land, and a new generation took ownership. Land rentals also increased, as demand for land – including from ‘squatters’ – grew. The growing population of people and continued land rental and subdivision in the Purchase Areas was however frowned on. These areas were not becoming medium-scale commercial farms, but just ‘like the reserves’, officials complained. Again with echoes of the discourse today around resettlement land, the push was for a modernised vision of agriculture dominated. However, despite the admonishments, the mid-late 1950s and early 1960s, saw a brief period of prosperity in the Purchase Areas. Land sales and rentals, some cash crop production, continued resource extraction, and plentiful cheap labour (from ‘squatters’), ensured farming generated decent returns for the now resident, retired owners of these farms.


By the mid-60s, and especially with the declaration of UDI, this changed again. Shifts in the political climate, intensifying during the liberation war, saw the decline in state support to these areas. They were often seen with suspicion by security forces and intelligence agents, as places of nationalist organising and dissent. With Independence, nothing much changed. The SSCFAs as they were now called were seen as an anomaly of the colonial era, and the state’s efforts were focused on the former reserves, now communal areas, where the majority of poor people lived. Apart from some resettlement the ‘commercial’ farm areas were large-scale and predominantly white-owned, at least until the major land reform of the 2000s.


As mentioned last week, there has been virtually no recent research and very limited policy commentary on the contemporary SSCFAs, but these areas offer some interesting insights into what happens to medium-scale farms, now over multiple generations. The impacts were less in terms of revolutionising African production – production was low and marketing challenging for most – but more in the political and ideological transformation that a particular type of land ownership offered to an emergent rural-urban middle class.


The A2 farms allocated following land reform in the 2000s share many similarities, both in terms of agricultural challenges, as well as their political salience, as discussed last week. They operate at similar scales, are occupied by a similar class of people, they are presented as ‘commercial’ farms, but in many cases accumulation occurs not through intensification but extensification and extraction, and, although on a much larger scale, and in more high potential, prominent areas, they offer the potential for a new class of ‘emergent’, medium-scale farmer, farming private (in the case of A2 farms, leasehold) land.


Next week, through a couple of case studies, I will discuss some of the patterns of change observed in former Purchase Area farms, and ask whether these provide glimpses of the future of A2 farms.


This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland.

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What is the future for medium-sized commercial farms in Zimbabwe?

 Zimbabwe’s land reform created two ‘models’ for resettlement farms – one relatively small-scale, the A1 schemes, and one medium to large-scale, the A2 farms. A1 farms now cover (very) approximately 4.2 m ha including around 150,000 farms and A2 farms 2.7 m ha across 20,000 farm units (although A2 areas now include a range of other larger-scale commercial farms in addition). The idea was that the small-scale farms would provide a productive base for large numbers of land-hungry people, including those who had invaded the white-owned farms in 2000, while the A2 farms would accommodate demand from the middle classes and elites. The A2 farms were to be the new drivers of commercial agriculture, occupied by qualified, business-savvy farmers, able to invest in new production.


As every observer of Zimbabwean agriculture since land reform knows, the planners’ vision has not come to pass. The A1 farms have done better than many have expected, as documented on this blog many times. Contrary to some commentaries, they have generated livelihoods, employment and production, in often very difficult circumstances. There is a huge range of farm types within the A1 model, ranging from self-contained farms, more similar to A2 holdings, to small-scale village-style set-ups. Numbers of farms under this category has expanded significantly, with some estimating that there are now around 175,000 farm units. As we have documented in Masvingo, Matabeleland South and Mashonaland, not all A1 farmers are the same – a good proportion have done well, but not everyone, and processes of agrarian differentiation continue.


By contrast the A2 farms have been disappointing. In part this has resulted from the failure to invest during the economic crisis of the 2000s, when finance and support were severely lacking. In part a number of A2 farms, particularly those with good infrastructure, whether housing or irrigation systems, were ‘grabbed’ by politically-connected elites. The neat bureaucratic system of application and assessment of candidates against strict criteria of business viability and agricultural expertise was by-passed due to political expediency in such cases.


As discussed on this blog many times before, such ‘cronies’ are not the majority by any means, even in the A2 farms, but they do exist, and perhaps especially so in the high potential areas, near Harare, where commercial agriculture is potentially profitable. Of course some A2 farmers have made a go of it, and invested through private sources – whether from diaspora remittances, NGO jobs or other less straightforward means. These include ‘cronies’ – able to divert state resources – and others. But many have struggled. The failure to create and deliver an effective lease system, and the lack of finance, either from state or private sources has hampered ambitions to invest, rehabilitate infrastructure and increase production. Many A2 farms remain in a sorry state, neglected and failing to produce, while a some are prospering; either through own investment or increasing through various forms of joint venture.


Our studies have been looking at these farms both in Masvingo and Mashonaland Central provinces. We have carried out a number of detailed case studies looking at farm production, labour and the challenges associated. These show a mixed picture of failure and success. But beyond the audit a decade ago, more comprehensive data on patterns of ownership and production are lacking. We are beginning to piece together a broader picture, as finding a route to supporting A2 farm production is essential. We are asking, for example, what are the levels of production and land utilisation in these farms, how is labour organised, and what are the challenges being faced? The aim, in time, will be to come to suggestions as to what might be done to support new forms of commercial agriculture, and what types of financing, technical support, land tenure regimes and other policy arrangements, including joint ventures, make sense.


One way of informing this enquiry has been to look to past experiences, and notably that of the so-called ‘African Purchase Areas’, now known as ‘small-scale commercial farming areas’. These add up to 1.4m ha in total, across approximately 8000 farms scattered across the country. They were established from the 1930s, with more set up in the 1950s to counter nationalist moves among the African population. Colonial policymakers were aimed at creating a ‘yeoman’ class of farmer, accommodating an educated, urban-based middle class in the reform of land use. As with the land reform of 2000, there were explicit political motivations to enlist and incorporate, but also a productionist/modernisation agenda to generate new forms of commercial agriculture based – in the case of Purchase Areas – on offering Africans freehold title to land.


The policy narrative was clearly focused on a ‘civilising’ mission – these were acceptable, English-speaking ‘natives’, educated through the mission school systems, and valued clerks, messengers, native police, teachers and others working for the colonial state. Politically, the colonial regime could not afford for such groups to rebel and join the ranks of the nationalists (although of course many did), and needed to be co-opted, by being given special favours not available to the ‘reserve native’. Others given land were those Africans who did not have land in the ‘reserves’, but were not acceptable in ‘white’ areas, and included South African Basotho migrants, African churches and others.


The allocations of land varied from area to area, but they were in the order of 100 ha, not dissimilar to those offered to most A2 farmers in the 2000s. A2 plots ranged from 20ha in the irrigated sugar estates to several hundred hectares in the dryland ranching country of Matabeleland, but the overall average – typical of the medium-potential largely dryland farming areas where the Purchase Areas were located – was about 70 ha. In our recent research we have been asking, what has happened to the former Purchase Areas several generations on? Do these experiences give hints as to what might happen to the A2 farms in 50 or 60 years? What lessons can be drawn – positive and negative – that planners and policymakers need to take on board now, as the A2 model is assessed and potentially rethought?


In the next few weeks, I will look at some of these questions based on some preliminary research carried out in Mushagashe and Dewure SSCFAs in Masvingo Province. Since the classic work by Angela Cheater carried out in Msengezi Purchase Area, documented in ‘Idioms of Accumulation: rural development and class formation among freeholders in Zimbabwe (Mambo Press, 1984), plus many subsequent articles, and the important historical studies by Allison Shutt focusing on Marirangwe, there has been remarkably little research done on these areas, with the notable exception of Joseph Mujere’s fascinating study of the evangelist Basotho migrants from South Africa to Dewure Purchase Area. In the mid-1990s Vincent Ashworth carried out a study on small-scale farming areas for the World Bank, but I cannot locate it (if anyone has a copy, please, please let me know!), and there is a scattering of data among various Commissions and reports, but little else. But as an experiment in creating a class of medium-scale farmer in Zimbabwe, the Purchase Area story is fascinating, which is why we have returned to it in our Masvingo studies during the last year.


In our current studies we are working with a random sample of 26 farms in Mushagashe SSCFA, near Masvingo. Established in from the early 1930s, the area was transferred to blacks able to purchase the land. The area now has 250 farms, and rather like the A2 farms, these have varying levels of production and investment. As the forthcoming blogs show, many of the challenges relate to cross-generational transfers, inheritance and how subsequent generations make use of family-owned land.


These issues are only beginning to be faced in the A2 farms, but glimpses of the future may be shown by a look to the past. Next week I will offer a very brief historical background to the ‘Native Purchase Areas’, before exploring some detailed case studies, and then concluding the series with a reflection on the future of A2 farms in Zimbabwe, and medium-scale commercial farming more broadly.


This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

Find out more information relating to Agriculture Policy Research in Africa (APRA)


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 Last week, I offered an overview of our findings on changing livelihoods among former farm workers from three former large-scale farms near Mvurwi in Mazowe district, and focused on broad survey findings, but what about individual’s life stories and perspectives? This week, I share four case examples of around 25 we have collected to date. They offer important glimpses into the life of farm workers, before and after land reform (see also blogs from last year on this theme).

The first two are women (both single) who have gardens, but must rely on piecework and remittances to survive. The first case fits into the group highlighted last week of households with between zero and 1 ha of land, while the second has no land beyond a very small home garden. The second two are profiles of men and their households, both with 1 ha plots. From these interviews we can see clearly how things have changed, in different ways from different people.

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There has been much debate about the fate of ‘farm workers’ following land reform, with discussion focused on displacement and dispossession but relatively little about what has happened to this group since. In this blog, Ian Scoones asks if the term farm worker’ now irrelevant, and whether we need a more nuanced characterisation.

Ian Scoones: What are former farm workers doing 16 years after land reform?

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From 6-20 September, 2016, the Land Portal Foundation and the Cadasta Foundation will be jointly holding a debate on Open Data and Land Governance: Increased accountability and transparency as a means to overcoming poverty?

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The African Farmer game will be presented at a webinar organised by CORE Group’s Social and Behavior Change Working Group.

Register online to attend this webinar. It will be held from 11am – 12pm Eastern Time on 22 June 2016.

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by Ruth Hall, University of the Western Cape and Ian Scoones, University of Sussex

Four years ago voluntary guidelines on the governance of land and land tenure were agreed at the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome. This was a response to growing concerns about the impacts of “land grabbing” driven by the global rush for investment in the wake of the food, fuel and financial crises of the late 2000s. Getting the guidelines agreed was a long slog, involving many people. In a new report we examine what has happened since – and what challenges lie ahead.

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In December 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping flew into South Africa for the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation with great fanfare. There were lots of announcements about prospective investments across Africa. Agriculture featured prominently. But what is the real story of China in Africa on the ground, beyond the hype?

As Deborah Brautigam’s investigative research has so effectively shown, the assumptions about China’s role in Africa are often not borne out in reality. The level of investment and linked aid flows are much lower than the high numbers sometimes touted; the numbers of imported Chinese workers are much lower than often suggested; the areas of land “grabbed” for investment are small compared to the vast areas identified by some.

And, as Brautigam’s recent book shows, Africa will not be feeding China or China feeding Africa anytime soon.

Reality on the ground

We set about finding out what was happening on the ground. Working with African, Chinese and European colleagues, our team investigated Chinese engagements in agriculture in four countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. All have featured prominently as priorities for Chinese investment and aid.

Our just-completed project is reported in a new open access special issue of the journal World Development. So what exactly has been going on?

This proved surprisingly difficult to find out. The data on land acquisition, investment flows and aid projects is limited and confusing. It often doesn’t add up. Ghost projects are listed that never happened, and others are missed out.

Our original idea of doing a simple geomapping exercise based on available data was quickly abandoned. Instead, we had to triangulate between multiple sources to find out what was happening where.

Certainly there is a great deal going on, and the Chinese presence in Africa is important. The Chinese role in agriculture – in terms of business investment, technology transfer, demonstration efforts, training and more – is growing, and shaping perceptions.

We chose cases across the four countries to investigate in more detail. The studies aimed to explore the detail of investments, technology projects, training and development encounters more generally.

The central question we asked was: is China reshaping African agriculture?

No singular ‘Chinese model’

The Chinese Agricultural Technology Development Centres are flagship investments. There are now 23 across Africa, funded in their first phase by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce under their aid program. They are run mostly by companies, and are linked to a commercial model for training and technology demonstration and sale.

As Xiuli Xu and colleagues show, the centres’ performance very much depends on who is running them. Different provincial companies have very different characteristics, demonstrating that there is no singular “Chinese model” of development, or state-business partnership.

We also explored a number of cases of business investments in agriculture, primarily led by Chinese state-owned enterprises. Chinese development efforts mix aid with commerce, linking both provincial and central state involvement with different businesses.

For example, as Jing Gu and colleagues explain, in Xai Xai in Mozambique, the Wanbao agricultural development company from Hubei province took over 20,000 hectares on a state farm to farm rice, and develop a contract farming arrangement with surrounding farms.

It has not been easy. There have been a number of changes in company leads, disputes with local communities, and shifting alliances with local elites, as Kojo Amanor and Sergio Chichava set out.

The training of government officials is an important aspect of the Chinese engagement in Africa. More than 10,000 are trained in numerous courses in China each year, many in agriculture. This far exceeds any training initiative of any western aid programme.

Henry Tugendhat and Dawit Alemu explored the impacts of these courses, participating in training in China, and interviewing officials who had returned home to Ghana and Zimbabwe. While there have not been many immediate impacts, the longer-term building of relationships and the exertion of “soft power” diplomacy is important.

The role of informal Chinese migrants

Chinese migrants supply specialist Chinese foods to burgeoning expatriate populations. Reuters/Noor Khamis

Perhaps the most far-reaching but least understood dimension of Chinese involvement in African agriculture is the growing number of informal migrants getting involved in the agri-food sector, from farming to processing to retail to restaurants.

Seth Cook and colleagues investigated this in Ethiopia and Ghana. They discovered a range of activities: relatively few farmers, but growing investment in supplying specialist Chinese foods to burgeoning expatriate Chinese populations.

Those involved are very often migrants who came as part of Chinese government contracts, and have since established business connections and stayed, encouraging others to join them from China.

Through our work, we were able to gain a snapshot of the early stages of Chinese engagement in African agriculture. Our results show successes as well as failures. But Chinese engagement is certainly not yet at the scale sometimes assumed.

In the longer term, activities may accelerate as more opportunities open up. But China is also changing. As its economy restructures to a “new normal”, there are different demands. Food will certainly remain one, but this is not likely to come from Africa.

As a new global power, China will want to maintain business, aid and diplomatic relations with Africa, and sustaining relationships will be important. China plays the long game, and our studies were observing just the opening stages.


This blog was originally published on The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/chinese-engagement-in-african-agriculture-is-not-what-it-seems-56779

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Today the Mastercard Foundation and the Institute of Development Studies have launched the Matasa Fellows Network. Jim Sumberg (STEPS Centre member), Seife Ayele and Samir Khan (Mastercard Foundation) have announced the launch and are welcoming applications to join the network.

Read the article: Putting young African researchers at the heart of change

Applications from young African scholars who are interested in the challenge of young people and employment in Africa are being accepted until 16 May.

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china brazilA new Open Access Special Issue in World Development based on our work on the changing role of China and Brazil in Africa’s agriculture is now available (links to individual articles are below, and also via here).

The work was developed under the ‘China and Brazil in African Agriculture’ project of the Future Agricultures Consortium. The project was supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (grant: ES/J013420/1) under the Rising Powers and Interdependent Futures programme.

The research involved studies in Ghana, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, as well as China and Brazil. There were over 20 research collaborators involved, from Africa, China, Brazil and Europe, and it was a massively rich, if sometimes challenging, experience. Our research looked at 16 different case studies, involving a mix of agricultural investments by private and state owned enterprises, tri-lateral development cooperation efforts, technology demonstration initiatives, training programmes, as well as ‘under-the-radar’ involvement in agriculture by Chinese migrants.

There was no single story emerging, but a complex set of engagements, which contrast in important ways with existing patterns of western-led development and investment, and offer important opportunities for reflection and learning. These 8 papers (along with over 20 other Working Papers on the project website) are the result. Do download, read and send us feedback! It’s been a lot of work putting them together!

Ian Scoones, Kojo Amanor, Arilson Favareto and Gubo Qi A new politics of development cooperation? Chinese and Brazilian engagements in African agriculture
Kojo Amanor and Sérgio Chichava South-South cooperation, agribusiness and African agricultural development: Brazil and China in Ghana and Mozambique
Jing Gu, Zhang Chuanhong, Alcides Vaz and Langton Mukwereza Chinese state capitalism? Rethinking the role of the state and business in Chinese development cooperation in Africa
Alex Shankland and Euclides Gonçalves Imagining agricultural development in South-South Cooperation: the contestation and transformation of ProSAVANA
Lídia Cabral, Arilson Favareto, Langton Mukwereza and Kojo Amanor Brazil’s agricultural politics in Africa: More Food International and the disputed meanings of ‘family farming’
Seth Cook, Jixia Lu, Henry Tugendhat and Dawit Alemu Chinese migrants in Africa: Facts and fictions from the agri-food sector in Ethiopia and Ghana
Henry Tugendhat and Dawit Alemu Chinese agricultural training courses for African officials: between power and partnerships
Xiuli Xu, Xiaoyun Li, Gubo Qi, Lixia Tang and Langton Mukwereza Science, technology and the politics of knowledge: the case of China’s Agricultural Technology Demonstration Centres in Africa

The papers examine how agricultural technologies, practices and policies travel across the world as part of investment and development cooperation. Technologies and policies always have histories, and emerge in particular social and political contexts. Yet China and Brazil both argue that theirs are perhaps especially relevant to Africa, given common agroecological conditions, and similar histories of agricultural development. We were interested in finding out how things travelled, and what happened during the journey.

Of course the transfer of technologies and policies, as we’ve long known, is not simple or linear. Assumptions are often deeply embedded (such as what a farmer is, what scale is appropriate, and how different sorts of technology are important), but they do not always translate into new contexts. Not surprisingly, despite the claims, not everything generated in Brazil and China has landed easily in Africa. There have been rejections, resistances, and so revisions and recastings; all of which highlight the importance of ‘development encounters’ and the negotiations about knowledge (and technology, practice, policy) that must go on during development cooperation – whether with a western aid agency or with Brazilian and Chinese actors.

Together, the papers show how historical experiences in Brazil and China, as well as domestic political and economic debates, affect how interventions are framed, and by whom, and so influence what technologies are chosen, which investments are funded, and who gets trained. The papers argue for a focus on the encounters on the ground, moving beyond the broader rhetoric and generic policy statements about South-South cooperation. For example, a key feature of Brazilian and Chinese engagements in African agriculture is the role of state-business relations in shaping and steering development; something that other agencies such as DFID interested in the role of the private sector, and public-private partnerships, might usefully learn from.

The special issue asks if a new paradigm for development cooperation is emerging, and argues that we must move beyond the simplistic narratives of either mutual benefit and ‘South-South’ collaboration or ‘neo-imperial’ expansion of ‘rising powers’. As the introductory paper argues, we need a more sophisticated account than this simplistic binary, and to “look at the dynamic and contested politics of engagement, as new forms of capital and technology enter African contexts”.

Do read, share and comment on the papers. We hope they will generate a debate about the role of the ‘rising powers’ in African development, and help us move towards a more nuanced appreciation and away from the rather simplistic frames that have dominated the debate to date.

 This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

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Women show their agricultural products

Africa’s farmers need quality seeds but the seed sector in Africa has often struggled to meet this need. The continent’s share in the global seed trade is very low, seed markets often aren’t supported, and the supply of quality seeds and improved crop varieties is weak. Poor seed supply threatens agriculture’s ability to play its part in economic development, food security and poverty alleviation in Africa.

In the face of these challenges, African countries are working together across the continent to improve seed systems. One promising source of help may be India. That country’s generic pharmaceuticals industry is seen as a success story for international development and cooperation. It has brought affordable drugs to many people not only in India but across the developing world, including in Africa. Could India’s thriving seed sector play a similar role in delivering affordable, high-quality seeds to African farmers?

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In MaliNigeriaSouth Africa and Uganda civil society organisations, together with research institutions, have embarked on ‘action research’ to test how the Committee on World Food Security’s (CFS) Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests can be used by rural people to defend their resource rights. This project is being led by the FIAN International.

We [Sofia Suarez of FIAN International (photo left), Chantal Jacovetti of CNOP in Mali (photo centre), and Ruth Hall of PLAAS (photo right)] presented our project’s emerging findings centering on ten themes at a recent IDRC Workshop on Large-scale Land Acquisitions (LSLAs) and Accountability in Africa, in Dakar, Senegal on 24-25 November 2015; we found:


  1. Loss of resource rights to land, water, forests and inland and marine fish. Sometimes this loss is compensated for but often not, or is compensated at rates below what could provide equivalent livelihoods elsewhere.
  2. surplus labour population is being created in rural areas, who are relatively disconnected from agrarian livelihoods and have no feasible prospects at establishing livelihoods in an urban economy. The impacts of such social upheavals could be profound, we noted, posing new challenges to governance and states.
  3. Loss cannot be understood merely at individual or household level. Loss often spoken of in terms of loss of territory, community and social networks, the web of social relations centered on land (and sea-/lake-/forest-) based livelihoods. To use the terminology of the ‘sustainable livelihoods’ framework, multiple capitals (natural capital, social capital, etc) are undermined when access to resources is removed.
  4. ‘Impacts’ of land deals are spatially and temporally dispersed. While much research focuses on the immediate vicinity of a large land-based investment, on the assumption that this is where the impacts are felt, some are felt elsewhere (for example, by downstream water users). Other impacts will only be fully realised in the future — for example, the failure of inter-generational transfer of land and the challenges this will pose for young people who do not inherit land.
  5. We need to ask about impacts at a wider societal and political level too. And not just LSLA in isolation, but how these connect with other changes underway. For example: In Uganda, we have found that titling initiatives superimposed on common property regimes is what is driving small-scale land grabbing and that in many instances we cannot understand LSLA in isolation from the plethora of SSLA underway, as their impacts compound.
  6. Often a central justification for big land deals — employment — did not emerge as a major factor in our research. In all cases, few if any jobs were created — either because (a) the form of production doesn’t require much labour or (b) because the acquisitions are in process and production is not yet underway. The latter produces a terrible interregnum: when there has been a loss of resources and yet no investment has materialised. But the former suggests that, even if/when it comes, investment doesn’t create employment of the kind or scale that compensates for livelihood losses.
  7. Rather than cases where people are dispossessed entirely to make way for big land deals, we found instead partial and unequal dispossession that nevertheless implies profound structural changes in rural societies. Often the loss is of common property resources like forests and marine resources – rather than cropping fields or homes. The effects of partial dispossessions are gendered and generational. For instance, in our Nigeria case, women have lost access to non-timber forest products as a result of the expansion of oil palm plantations, with negative effects on their livelihoods, while men have been able to harness the benefits of the investment. So the gendered nature of pre-existing tenure and livelihoods compounds the exclusion and livelihood impacts on women. On that, our findings so far confirm much of what has already been documented in the literature.
  8. We also find, though, that the non-recognition of many of women’s livelihood activities as being ‘economic’ means that community responses focus on the loss of the ‘productive’ work of men’s activities. Women in the communities where our partners are working struggle to even recognise and articulate their contributions to their household economies – instead their work is framed as ‘caring for the family’ rather than production. Both for analysis and to inform responses, we need to confront the invisibility of women’s work and resource tenure.
  9. Impacts are structured by the presence of available alternatives. In Uganda, women were able to in part address the depletion of fishing livelihoods with farming — though possibilities for that are curtailed. In South Africa, some women got part-time jobs as domestic workers for holiday makers. So understanding the range of alternatives is important for assessing impacts.

Are the impacts purely negative? No! There are definitely winners — often not due to a dynamic process of growth and diversification in rural economies, but rather due to political ‘cherry-picking’. For example, local intermediaries employed in context of palm oil expansion in Nigeria were the big winners, getting contracts, cornering compensation and reportedly taking bribes. In South Africa, the allocation of commercial fishing rights to some people (usually wealthier men) in a coastal community meant excluding over 90% of small-scale fishers from access to the sea. As should be expected, differentiated impacts give rise to differentiated responses. Large-scale land deals don’t only provoke resistance; rather, divisions within communities are accentuated as some promote these investments, while others oppose them.

- Original blog post at: http://www.plaas.org.za/blog/exploring-impacts-land-deals-four-countries#sthash.WJ0kM4e9.dpuf

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How can governments and investors be held to account for land deals in Africa?

This is the question addressed by researchers and activists at a recent IDRC Workshop on Large-scale Land Acquisitions (LSLAs) and Accountability in Africa, in Dakar, Senegal on 24-25 November 2015.  

The work was prompted by the rise in large-scale land acquisitions or ‘land grabs’ across many countries in sub-Saharan Africa — often dubbed Africa’s Land Rush — over the past seven years. Several international guidelines now exist stipulating how people rights should be secured in the face of such land acquistions, and the responsibilities of states and investors vis-à-vis rural communities.

Starting from a wide consultative meeting with civil society and research organisations in Accra in September 2012, IDRC programme leaders Ramata Thioune and Adrian Di Giovanni have over the past few years built an impressive funded programme to respond to the rush for land and other natural resources in Africa. The current programme that IDRC supports consists of 5 action research projects across 10 countries in West, East and Southern Africa.

The projects investigate how to build accountability over land governance. This is at the core of defending the rights of local people – sometimes against both states and investors – while also enabling them to choose to engage with commercial enterprises that may bring benefits to them. All this was informed by a set of scoping studies on women and land, and how to secure rights in different regions of Africa as well as research legal empowerment as a route to accountability in Africa’s land rush.

Across the countries, there is a combination of evident shortcomings in national laws, but also in their implementation. This much was clear from a synthesis of findings from all 5 projects. Law on paper seldom accords with law in practice, and the disparities disproportionately affect rural women whose tenure rights are often less recognised. For this reason, while having a broad scope, all the partners are focusing specifically on how the laws, their implementation, and local people’s own perspectives and alternatives, are gendered — and how alternatives in terms of land rights and land use can promote women’s access and benefits from land.


Land governance

Partners from across Africa discussed what has been learnt about the state of land governance.

In Mozambique, as in so many countries, laws recognising customary rights are widely violated, in part because people don’t know about them, and because there aren’t accessible institutions that can defend them, said Issufo Tankar of Centro Terra Viva.

It’s difficult to hold governments accountable when there is no transparency over land deals. As Téodyl Tchoudjen of CED in Cameroon reflected, ‘We try to identify all LSLAs. But this is not easy. Take just mining. The ministry does not have a centralised data bank and yet there are several hundred licenses. We need to warn people about these dangers.

‘We have used the Tenure Guidelines to raise awareness of rights among people. It is important for people to know that they are not alone or isolated in their struggle. The Tenure Guidelines give them the sense of being part of a larger movement’, said Chantal Jacovetti of CNOP/CMAT in Mali. The existence of the Guidelines also has enabled peasant movements to open doors to establish dialogue with governments, in some cases.

As Stephan Loroux of COPAGEN in Cote d’Ivoire argued, the state plays a two-pronged role: on the one hand a predatory role (expropriating land from its rural citizens) while also being neglectful (shirking its responsibilities to enforce its own laws). This echoes other work on ‘governing the global land grab’ which argued that not only does state-backed leasing of land to investors confirm state authority — especially in Africa where many states claim state ownership or trusteeship of all land — but that, in doing so, such transactions may well undermine state legitimacy.

Strengthening governance requires a multi-level strategy: at policy level as well as at community level. Philippine Sutz of the International Institute for Environment and Development, who argued for a more optimistic view of both states and investors. A project on Pathways to Accountability in the Global Land Rush: Lessons from West Africa has found that forging more inclusive business models can be game-changer, enabling both investors and local communities to benefit — but, they emphasise, the state is still centrally important if people’s rights are to be defended and concessions leveraged from investors.

Across the studies, there are gaps in terms of procedural rights. Who should be involved in decision-making about land transactions? Mamadou Fall of IED in Senegal argued that here, where municipalities are meant to publish any land transactions, local communities can forge agreements with them about democratic land governance and decision-making — in anticipation of possible future investment deals. Here, as in other countries, ‘consultation’ is in effect diluted to participation in meetings rather than meaningful or open discussions that comply with the principle in international law of ‘free, prior and informed consent’.

There are real risks, though, for those who object to land deals. As a participant from Ghana observed, ‘if demanding your rights would have negative effects on the social equilibrium, people might not be that willing to pursue their rights. There are many structural factors, including belief systems which militate against demands for rights.’ In fact, in this view, the ‘rights’ framing tends to ignore the social relations in which land is embedded and, for this reason, if not likely to gain traction in some social settings.


Valuation, benefit-sharing and compensation

Perhaps the most refreshing and contentious debate in all these discussions was about valuation, benefit-sharing and compensation. Even these terms presuppose that investments should dispossess people — but pay them out in some way, in cash, kind or alternative land. This in itself sparked debate. But Mark Kakraba Ampeh of the Land Resources Management Centre in Ghana recounted cases of people’s land being valued at $1 per acre per year. Acquisitions of community land involve valuations that bear no relation to any notional market value. As Mwenda Makathimo of LDGI in Kenya pointed out, conventional valuation methodologies do not capture the full stream of benefits for users. Community use of public land attracts no compensation for lost land rights and people are often unable to take legal action to challenge this as their rights fall outside of legal categories.

It is no surprise then that compensation for land loss almost always fails to take full account of the real value of natural resources in people’s lives — from growing food for themselves, to free water, grazing land, thatch grass and fuelwood, and numerous other uses which, once taken away, must be paid for.

So, how can communities determine value of their land and resources as a basis to decide whether or not to lease it out — and on what terms?

Namati’s ‘grassroots land and resource valuation exercise’ is one methodology that is being used to demonstrate to communities the full value of their current land and natural resources uses. This is based on estimating the monetary opportunity cost. Communities engage in participatory exercises to identify as many uses as possible, apply a monetary value for the purchase of equivalents, multiply by family members, and scale up to an annual figure in local currency. This shows that common lands and other resources are severely undervalued in general assessments, both by authorities and by communities themselves.

‘We want to use this data in advocacy, and make the case that low compensation rates and leases undermine people’s livelihoods, said Marena Brinkhurst. ‘Our calculations challenge conceptions that common lands have little value. There is all this value that is not in traditional market systems.’

Also discussed were alternatives to once-off compensation such as hybrid forms (cash, alternative land, shareholding) that can provide rural people with more resilient livelihood resources.

But how can one put a monetary value on a whole livelihood and lifestyle? And whose version of ‘value’ prevails when there is no ‘market’ but rather highly asymmetrical negotiations? As IDRC programme officer Adrian di Giovanni observed, our discussions highlighted the reality that land valuation is a political rather than a technical question.

‘There is a criticism that valuations promote land deals, whereas our experience is that having conducted a community resource valuation exercise actually reduces the likelihood of them selling off their land. It also strengthens the position of those in communities who are opposed to selling off land cheaply, and helps them with tools with which to challenge leaders who promote this’, said Brinkhurst.

Further questions arose about the fact that it is often family elders who gain compensation. What are the options for inter-generational benefit-sharing? So that young people and future generations will come to benefit from the proceeds of having transacted land.


Action strategies

In Liberia, SDI developed an ‘early warning system’ – a hotline staffed by trained activists who, when they get a call, obtain basic information about the land deal or land dispute and link communities up with local support organisations. They have also distributed some cellphones to rural community representatives and hosted radio talk shows. From these relatively simple interventions, they have dealt with about 70 calls about 20 different large-scale land acquisitions, mostly relating to oil palm and mining investments.

The US-based organization Namati, working with civil society groups in Mozambique, Liberia and Uganda, has assisted communities to hold leaders accountable by initiating participatory processes of drafting bylaws — before the investors come.

Marena Brinkhurst of Namati explains: ‘We found that it is a very effective way to give community members tools to hold their leaders accountable… It means community members can act as watchdogs of their own leaders. Having gone through this, they feel more empowered to engage in wider consultations.’

But how do local leaders react?

‘We found a lot of willingness from officials to participate in processes in which communities document their lands and land governance processes. The officials want to be involved and to support communities to develop their own bylaws and clarify their landholdings.’

Some of this experience suggests that involving leaders in local land governance early in the process can also strengthen their own legitimacy.


Women’s rights and ‘family land grabbing’

Many organisations supporting rural communities faced with losing their land are challenged with trying to ensure that women’s rights are respected, and their voices heard in the process. They navigate the territory of appealing for the recognition of culture and custom — including customary land rights — while at the same time arguing that customary tenure systems need to be transformed to secure women’s rights. This ‘double act’ is a widespread challenge for those who have political commitments to transforming gender relations even while resisting land grabs.

Land is not only being ‘grabbed’ by outside investors or state authorities. Judy Adoko of Uganda’s Land Equity Movement explained how her organization is focusing not on these big land deals, but on ‘family land grabbing’ which often occurs in cases of conflicts following the death of a family member. Her organisation is often approached by widows who have been evicted from their homes and dispossessed of their land by their in-laws.

Adoko explains: ‘When there are physical barriers (trees) or boundaries it is easier to defend the land. We advise women to plant trees so that it is not easy for the in-laws to take away the land of women after the death of husbands.’

These cases show how weak rights are in practice, and how cultural rather than legal strategies may be more effective. ‘At policy level, when we talk about customs and traditions, lawyers do not listen and refuse to accept evidence from the ground and to find ways to accommodate customary practices with the statutory system. But we are determined to show that the customary system works and can be much efficient and fair than the formal system’ said Adoko.

This was echosed by Irene Sama-Lang of the University of Buea in Cameroon, who observed that, in their study sites, ‘When women lost their land, they could not feed their families. Their social role was eroded. They have to start selling their labor force in plantations. Rural women have become in many places landless.


Collaboration and how to keep up to date with these projects

These diverse research and action projects across African countries provide a basis for information sharing and joint action. Teams agreed to share the tools they have developed and to build thematic clusters around early warning systems, community rights mapping, valuation and women’s rights in customary systems. Outputs from the projects will be shared on a virtual platform hosted by IDRC where videos and other materials will be available, and some plan to collaborate in joint advocacy efforts at national and sub-regional level and in engagements with the African Union and other continental bodies. 

Original blog post: http://www.plaas.org.za/blog/how-can-governments-and-investors-be-held-account-land-deals-africa#sthash.CY7i3tur.dpuf


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A tribute to Sam Moyo – a giant of agrarian studies

Professor Sam Moyo, director of the African Institute of Agrarian Studies, and a giant of agrarian studies has died tragically as a result of a car accident in New Delhi. This is a terrible loss for Zimbabwe, Africa and the world. Sam had a massive intellect and a deep knowledge of agrarian issues, especially in Zimbabwe. He argued strongly for land reform throughout his career and was always an advocate for radical alternatives that challenged oppression and exploitation in whatever form.


I first got to know Sam in the 1980s, when he was working at the Zimbabwe Institute for Development Studies, then a think tank linked to the President’s office. As a PhD student interested in similar themes, he was always welcoming and encouraging, as he has been to so many others since (see this from Alex Magaisa posted over the weekend). Over the years we have had many, many conversations: always challenging, always inspiring. We did not always agree, but I have always massively respected his commitment, integrity and intellectual depth.


Certainly in the last 15 years, as the debate around Zimbabwe’s controversial land reform has continued, Sam’s contributions – and those of his colleagues at AIAS – have been essential. Their district level study published in 2009 preceded our book, and set the stage for a more mature, empirically-informed debate that (sometimes) has followed. Sam has often been inaccurately pigeon-holed as being on one ‘side’ or another. But his scholarship is far more sophisticated than this. In Zimbabwe’s land debate nearly everyone at different times disagreed with him, but they all listened. Whether inside the state and party, among opposition groups or with the World Bank and other donors, no one could ignore what Sam had to say. And his influence in seeking a more sensible line has been enormous.


But Sam’s scholar activism was not just focused on Zimbabwe. He was frequently invited by governments, social movements and others around the world, and particularly in southern Africa. His experiences in Nigeria, teaching at Calabar and Port Harcourt universities, were influential too, giving him a wider perspective than many. His on-going contributions to South Africa’s land debates have been important also, as he shared Zimbabwe’s lessons. More broadly still, he was central to a wider engagement with agrarian studies from the global South, offering a challenge to those who argued that the classical agrarian question is dead. From the perspective of peasants, social movements and struggles across the global South, it certainly is not. Together with Paris Yeros in Brazil and Praveen Jha in India, and as part of a wider collective of Southern scholars linked to the journal Agrarian South, he has made the case for a revived agrarian studies, in the context of land grabs and intensifying capitalist exploitation across rural areas.


Sam’s intellectual leadership has inspired many. He was recently president of Codesria, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, and was a director of the Southern African Regional Institute for Policy Studies (SARIPS) for a period. Since being established in 2002, AIAS in Harare has become a centre for training and research, with the annual summer schools attracting researchers, activists and others from across Africa. Earlier he was involved with ZERO, the Harare-based regional environment organisation, together with Yemi Katerere; another organisation that attracted young researchers who established their careers under Sam’s guidance. Like all the organisations he has been involved with, ZERO was ahead of the game, set up when few were thinking about the connections between environment and development. And, as with AIAS, Codesria, SARIPS and ZIDS, it mixed solid research, with a deep political commitment to social justice and equality.


With the passing of Sam we have lost a giant. I will miss our intense conversations on his veranda in Borrowdale, as we tested out our ideas and findings on each other, and he smoked furiously. I was always a few steps behind Sam, and it took me days to digest the content of our lengthy exchanges. But they have always been important and formative, even when we disagreed. This is a terribly sad moment and this tribute has been difficult to write. Professor Issa Shivji summed up many people’s feelings well in a post on Sunday: “We have lost one of our great comrades: utterly committed, a most unassuming scholar and an absolutely decent human being”. So thanks Sam for your friendship, inspiration and commitment. You will be very sorely missed.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland



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Africa’s Land Rush: Rural Livelihoods and Agrarian Change – a new book

There is a rush on for African farmland – a phenomenon unmatched since colonial times. Africa’s land rush, and the implications for rural livelihoods and agrarian change, is the subject of a new book that I have edited together with Ruth Hall (from PLAAS at UWC, South Africa) and Dzodzi Tsikata (ISSER, University of Ghana at Legon). It includes a series of cases from Africa, written by researchers associated with the land theme of the Future Agricultures Consortium, and you can get a taste of the content from the introductory chapter, available here. The book is available from James Currey publishers (and for a 25% discount here). You can also buy it in all good bookshops  – and if you must, Amazon. It was launched in Cape Town last week at the Book Lounge.


By some estimates, 70% of the land transacted globally in large-scale deals in recent years has been in Africa, often considered the world’s last reserve of unused and under-utilised fertile and irrigable farmland. This is what has lured investors motivated by rising food prices, by growing demand for ‘green’ energy, and by the allure of cheap land and free water. But governments have often allocated to investors land that is occupied, used, or claimed through custom by local people, resulting in disrupted livelihoods and even conflict.

The case studies in the book show the striking diversity of such deals: white Zimbabwean farmers in northern Nigeria, Dutch and American joint ventures in Ghana, an Indian agricultural company in Ethiopia’s hinterland, European investors in Kenya’s drylands and a Canadian biofuel company on its coast, South African sugar agribusiness in Tanzania’s southern growth corridor, in Malawi’s ‘Greenbelt’ and in southern Mozambique, and white South African farmers venturing onto former state farms in Congo.

In many cases these big international deals were on land that had previously been state farms, and before that colonial estates. In the mainstream narrative of a ‘land grab’, there is little sense of the history of large-scale farming and how this evolved at different moments – and our research shows how recent land deals mimic and even resurrect forms of large-scale farming from the past.

A recurring theme in the book is the pivotal role of African governments – as actors and referees – in large-scale land transactions and how this is influencing change in local agrarian systems. States were willing to make major changes to their economic policies, provide preferential terms and often failed to leverage benefits in their attempts to keep investors coming.

Contrary to the popular depictions of a rampant neo-colonial push, dispossessing local people while investors cashed in, in fact some investors are having a rather hard time of it. New commercial investments are vulnerable to difficult agroecological conditions, changing market trends and local politics. Local people are certainly carrying many of the costs – most commonly, the loss of grazing land, water and forests – but there are also clear local ‘winners’ from the process. The picture is far more complex than has been portrayed in many mainstream accounts.

Many of the book’s case studies document deals that failed. Land was demarcated, people excluded, but in the end investments failed to materialise – or did so only with low levels of production and employment. But despite the African countryside being littered with failed agricultural commercialisation projects (as it has been for decades), there are major changes afoot, as land changes hands, and a new politics of access unfolds.

Such changes in who holds land, how it is farmed, at what scale, with what technologies, and for what value chains are profoundly reshaping rural societies and economies in ways that will have long-lasting impacts. Will farmers become wage workers or move to cities? Will smallholder production persist – or perhaps even thrive – alongside large-scale investments? Will people be incorporated into commercial ventures as outgrowers, and will this enable them to improve their livelihoods, educate their children, and move out of poverty?

While these deals are diverse in their contexts and design, the direction of change is clear: towards commercial production by medium- to large-scale local farmers alongside larger estates, now owned not by colonial powers but by foreign or multinational companies, often in partnership with domestic capital. As with previous moments of enclosure and commercialisation, Africa’s recent land rush is already sparking resistance and counter-movements.

Community responses have varied from enthusiastic support to outright hostility and resistance. In some cases, initial support for investment and the promise of development turned to hostility in the face of disappointments. Within communities, certain groups found new opportunities for employment or for enterprises linked to new commercial operations. But across our studies, many were locked out of these new opportunities and we found people resorting to various acts of resistance including theft, destruction and acts of vandalism.

Since its peak following 2007-08, Africa’s ‘land rush’ has slowed, as the real implications of investment and production have become more apparent, as opportunity costs in other investment destinations have changed, and as drivers such as spiking food and oil prices have abated, even if temporarily. Today, investors are far more cautious in their prognoses for profits: several ‘bubbles’ have burst, not least the hype surrounding biofuels. However, while the land rush may have slowed, it has not stopped. All indications are that global demand for food, fuel and feedstock will continue to drive demand for fertile land and water into the future. Growing African economies and consumer demand in urban centres compound this effect.

As the book shows, the land rush is best seen as one of a number of processes of commercialisation of agriculture, involving financialisation and commodification – not all of which result in the appropriation of land. The story is therefore far more complex than the simplistic caricatures of the ‘land grab’, as either catastrophe or opportunity. While there are both winners and losers in this process, the direction of change is towards large-scale farming linked to global markets. What is certain though is that rural Africa is being transformed in profound ways.

This blog is based on a piece by Ruth Hall for the African Griot, James Currey’s magazine profiling new books

This post first appeared on Zimbabweland

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A call for papers has been issued for the international colloquium on Global governance/politics, climate justice & agrarian/social justice: linkages and challenges on 4-5 February 2016 in The Hague, Netherlands.

The colloquium is organised by the Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS), a community of like-minded scholars, development practitioners and activists from different parts of the world who are working on agrarian issues.

You can download the call for papers from the ISS website. The deadline is 20 December 2015.


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Helen Dancer is a senior lecturer in law at the University of Brighton and consultant for the Future Agricultures Consortium. She is the author of Women, Land and Justice in Tanzania (James Currey 2015).

The ‘land rush’, large-scale agricultural commercialisation and land investment have taken centre stage in policy discourses on land in Africa in recent years.[i] At the same time, in many communities small-scale agriculture and local customary systems of land tenure continue to endure.

These systems are resilient in the face of national policies and laws aimed towards land tenure formalisation and the commoditisation of land. This resilience stems from their nature, as systems which are flexible, evolving and embedded in local social relations. However, these social ties also form the power relations that underpin gender inequalities concerning ownership, access and control over land.[ii]

This is a critical issue from the perspective of women’s interests in land, on a continent where pressure on land is increasing and customary tenure relations are being crystallised through statutory registration schemes.

Experience from Tanzania

In Tanzania, high demand for land in peri-urban and rural fertile agricultural areas has resulted in sharp increases in its commercial value and a great incentive to sell.

In areas of population pressure on land, poverty and the local economic climate have provided a catalyst for land conflicts and legal disputes on various scales. In some areas entire villages have been dispossessed of their land for large-scale land investments and land has been taken without compensation.[iii]

At the individual household level, in areas of land scarcity, widowhood or divorce can lead to some women losing their land to other more powerful family members. Sale of family land without knowledge or consent is also a particular problem. This illustrates the interconnectedness of the wider political economy and household.

Those who are in a vulnerable social position face the greatest risk of losing their land, or having a legal claim to land brought against them. Many such legal claims are brought by or against women.

Women’s claims to land

b2ap3_thumbnail_womenlandcover2.jpgWomen, Land and Justice in Tanzania explores women’s claims to land in practice. The book is based on a year of ethnographic fieldwork, mainly in Arusha, northern Tanzania – a region where there has been a high number of land conflicts and legal disputes throughout the colonial era to the present day. The book traces the progression of claims from their social origins, through legal processes of dispute resolution to judgment.

Taking the social nature of women’s claims to land as the starting-point, it discusses the extent to which women are realising their interests in land through the legal system. The book analyses the obstacles and pathways that women face, and the role of social, legal and political actors in processes of justice.

Land laws in Tanzania

Tanzania’s 1999 Land Acts are widely regarded as among the most progressive land laws in Africa in terms of promoting women’s land rights. Courts are required to give effect to local customary laws, subject to overriding provisions concerning gender equality.

However, in a country where land tenure practices continue to follow patrilineal principles in many areas, an important question is how the apparent tension between customary law and gender equality is being negotiated in social and legal contexts. In the book, I consider how women access justice, how they fare at different levels of court, the evidence that counts, and the kinds of laws and norms that are applied in practice. I also draw wider lessons for women’s access to land and access to justice.


Maasai homestead, Arusha, 2009 (© Helen Dancer)

Families and the law

One of the key findings from the research is the importance of designing laws that address the issues surrounding gender and land tenure as a whole.

The Land Acts of 1999 were an important landmark in the progressive realisation of women’s property rights in Tanzanian law. However, they also represent a missed opportunity for a more fundamental reconfiguration of laws concerning gender equality and land tenure, particularly inheritance of land.[iv]

Instead of focusing on the lived realities of Tanzanian families and the inseparability of marriage, succession and land tenure for many ordinary men and women, the architecture of the legislation was largely based upon the priority of developing land markets and formalising property interests. The relative lack of attention to the issues surrounding the connectedness of family and land in practice has resulted in inconsistencies between various laws and the splitting of family land disputes across different court systems.


Small-scale coffee farm in the foothills of Mount Meru, Arusha 2009 (© Helen Dancer)

Favouring male inheritance

Over the last twenty years all of the East African countries have introduced new land laws and constitutional reforms. The primary focus has been on the formalisation of land rights, strengthening of administrative systems and promotion of land and agricultural investment.

Some countries, notably Rwanda, go further than others in the scope of recognition of women’s land rights. However, customary laws that favour male inheritance still endure in most East African countries, despite gender-progressive reforms in other areas.

Tanzania is the last of the East African countries to reform its constitution, and a referendum on the proposed new constitution is anticipated later this year. The new constitution includes an article enshrining women’s equal rights to land, thereby giving constitutional strength to the statutory provisions that already exist in the 1999 Land Acts.

At the same time, in recent years, the Tanzanian High Court has been unwilling to use the current constitution to strike out gender-discriminatory parts of the written customary laws of inheritance.[v] To date, there has also been a lack of political will to reform such customary laws through statute, despite recommendations from the Law Reform Commission of Tanzania.[vi]

Social tensions

There is considerable social tension, as well as inconsistency between land, marriage and succession laws in Tanzania, particularly concerning female inheritance of land.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has recently declared that such discriminatory laws should be repealed.[vii] This would be a significant step in terms of establishing consistency in gender equality provisions across related areas of law. However, as pressure on land continues to increase, women’s land rights will not be secured by legal change alone.

In my book, I explore the significance of social power relations and the roles that various local and professional actors play in realising women’s interests in land and access to justice in practice.

Equal rights provisions in constitutions and statutes represent an important legal and political commitment. However, their realisation in practice requires social recognition as part of the everyday norms and practices of individuals and their communities.

A special offer discount of 25% is available on the hardback edition of Women, Land and Justice in Tanzania until 31 December 2015 (offer price £33.75/$60 + p&p).

Visit the publisher’s website www.jamescurrey.com and quote 15828 when ordering. An African paperback edition is also available from booksellers within Africa.

[i] Hall, R., I. Scoones and D. Tsikata (eds) (2015). Africa’s Land Rush: Rural Livelihoods and Agrarian Change, (Woodbridge, James Currey).

[ii] Whitehead, A. and D. Tsikata (2003). ‘Policy Discourses on Women's Land Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Implications of the Return to the Customary’, Journal of Agrarian Change 3(1-2): 67-112.

[iii] Askew, K., F. Maganga and R. Odgaard. (2013). ‘Of Land and Legitimacy: A Tale of Two Lawsuits’, Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute 83(1): 120-141; Rwegasira, A. (2012). Land as a Human Right: A History of Land Law and Practice in Tanzania, (Dar es Salaam, Mkuki na Nyota).

[iv] McAuslan, P. (2013). Land Law Reform in Eastern Africa: Traditional or Transformative? (Abingdon: Routledge).

[v] See the Communication by E.S. and S.C. to the UN CEDAW Committee; note vii, below.

[vi] Law Reform Commission of Tanzania (1995). Report of the Commission on the Law of Succession/Inheritance; (2009). Review of Customary Laws in the Legal System of Tanzania.

[vii] Views of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (sixtieth session) concerning Communication No. 48/2013 submitted by E.S. and S.C. State party: United Republic of Tanzania.

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By Rachel Sabates-Wheeler and Stephen Devereux

Enabling people to move out – and stay out – of poverty is a complex process that requires more than just one intervention. Multiple approaches that take in education, social protection, health and agriculture help cater for different contexts and groups of people.

A popular intervention, adopted in many developing countries, from Bangladesh to Ghana to Mexico, is regular and predictable cash and asset transfers to the poor. This small, regular income transfer directly secures basic food needs. It has an indirect benefit of enabling access to health and education. It also enables poor people to make small investments.

No one perfect package for alleviating poverty exists. But there is some agreement on what the elements should be. The most common packages of support include a combination of a micro-credit component, public works, training, agricultural extension services, financial literacy and links to credit unions. A few have also started to facilitate links to early childhood development and childcare services, such as VUP in Rwanda.

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