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Zimbabwe's land reform: Myths and realities

Zimbabwe's Land Reform

By Ian Scoones, Nelson Marongwe, and Blasio Mavedzenge et al.
Published by James Currey
Website: www.jamescurrey.co.uk
2010, 304pp, ISBN 978 1 847 01024 7(Pb), £16.99

Land reform and its impact on agricultural productivity have provided Zimbabwe with global publicity beyond its mind numbing economic crunch and political posturing. Now Zimbabwe's land reform pits political rhetoric and emotional debate about the government-instituted land reform programme against academic research, laying bare facts that some will question if not dismiss outright. The book asks that simple but critical question, 'What happened to people's livelihoods once they were given land?' The answer is revealing.

Zimbabwe's land reform refutes what the authors call the five land reform myths: that land reform has been a total failure; that the beneficiaries have been largely political 'cronies'; that there has been no investment in the new resettlements; that agriculture is in complete ruins creating chronic food insecurity; and that the rural economy has collapsed. In fact, the study found that only five per cent of those interviewed can be listed as 'cronies' attached to Zanu PF, even though there are elites who have grabbed land in Zimbabwe. And the new black farmers, who in some quarters are labelled as, 'cell phone farmers', have added new skills, new connections and injected new entrepreneurial abilities in their new resettlements.

The book details a ten year research study at 16 land reform sites in Masvingo province in the central and south east of Zimbabwe involving a sample of 400 households. The province's diverse agricultural contexts range from dry land agriculture and wildlife conservancies to irrigation plots, and the authors write that the emerging 'middle farmers' have invested in farming through a diversity of cropping and livestock production strategies, triggering a boom in the production of small grains and a new resilience among smallholder farmers.

Asked if, in the light of their research, Zimbabwe's land reform has had bad press, lead author Scoones replies, "The media coverage of Zimbabwe's land reform has been very unbalanced. In part this is simply due to the lack of solid information. Now that new research - coming from a number of different Zimbabwean research groups - is emerging, this should be redressed." Security of tenure remains a key issue in Zimbabwe, especially for those settled on land without formal recognition by the fast-track programme. However, this has not undermined people's motivation to invest in the land: clearing fields, digging wells, constructing gardens, and building houses, for example.

The book remains highly critical of some elements of the land reform programme, especially abuses involving violence and corruption, but has taken a balanced view based on the research evidence. Zimbabwe's land reform raises important issues that will trigger a sound land policy in Zimbabwe with talk of a nation-wide land audit. It concludes that since independence, land reform and a major change in agrarian relations and economy have been necessary. Given the right support, Zimbabwe's land reform, based on smallholder production, can provide a firm basis for both poverty reduction and economic growth.

Written by: Busani Bafana

Date published: February 2011


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