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Zimbabwe and its food hunger and farming communities.

 Masvingo districts discussed in the last blog in this series, and they share many similarities, with a focus on maize production, combined with horticulture. There are fewer who are accumulating significantly, but there are still many who are doing well.

Households in these sites are slightly younger, with the average age of the household head being 43, and there are fewer women who are the main household head (19%), although 41% of households have a de facto female head due to absent husbands. Today, 47% of household heads have off-farm jobs (some quite informal and part-time), such as trading or being builder), down from 67% earlier. 59% of household heads went to school beyond Form II, while 26% have Master Farmer certificates. Many households (58%) have children in the age range 21-30, and 35% of households have adult children who are out of the country earning money, while 27% have children who have established farms, including through a number of subdivisions (only 2% of households had family members who had gone to other resettlements). While overall, these areas have been successful, there were around 10% of the original sample who had left, mostly returning to communal areas, and the farm had been abandoned, or taken over by another settler.

Average maize production across the 99 households in our survey ranged between 1381 kg and 986 kg in the years between 2017 and 2019, with between 26% and 41% producing more than a tonne. Around 85% regularly applied inorganic fertiliser, and nearly everyone used manure. Maize was combined with some other crops, including groundnuts, some millet, and a few starting up cotton production again after a hiatus due to poor prices. However, as in the nearby self-contained areas, the main income-earning in addition to maize was horticulture, with a third of households earning income from selling vegetables. The average figures hide the variations, however, and there is a significant minority (around a quarter) who are struggling to make ends meet.

Some households, through strategic investments, particularly in water management are increasing production significantly. Mr and Mrs MN for example had expanded their home garden plot and had invested in two 5000 litre tanks, and fenced their plot, surrounding their garden and new houses. It looked like a self-contained plot in a village, and intensive horticulture production was being pursued. This combined with maize production in the field around a kilometre away. 

On average households in the villagised A1 areas in Gutu and Masvingo districts owned six head of cattle, and 31% had sold one in the past year, and 23% had sold milk. Informants commented that there was a limit to how many animals could be held because of lack of grazing and most held under ten. Most households balanced cattle sales (for investment, school fees or emergency costs, such as medical fees) with building the herd, and 34% had purchased cattle in the last five years. This meant that 69% used their own cattle for ploughing. However 23% had no cattle at all, and were struggling on all fronts.

On average, because of this more stark differentiation compared to the self-contained areas, the level of farm employment was lower, with 16% employing men permanently and 3% women, and there was more of a focus on temporary employment, with around a third of households regularly employing both men and women for particular tasks. Given that a sizeable group did not have sufficient draft power and did not employ labour, the practice of collective work parties was more evident in these areas, with around 40% of households holding them.

Farm production is combined with a range of off-farm sources, including remittances (48% of households), trading (20%), piece work on others’ farms (27%), welfare payments (35% – for the old, sick, disabled or orphans) and pensions (19%). Quite a few were also making use of natural resources for selling products or making crafts. This was a rather different mix of activities to that seen in the self-contained areas. With a group of perhaps a quarter of households with limited assets and low production, they had to make ends meet across a range of low-skilled and poorly-remunerated activities, including selling labour locally (mostly to other richer A1 farmers). Remittances, pensions and welfare payments featured strongly as complements to agriculture.

Even if not on the scale of those in the self-contained resettlements, around half of the sample were regularly producing surpluses and investing, ‘accumulating from below’. Many were selling food to nearby communal areas, or exchanging for labour. In the past five years, 36% of households had bought ploughs, 26% had dug boreholes (especially for vegetable gardens), 17% had bought cars and 50% had invested in solar panels. In other words, a highly differentiated population is observed – some doing well, others less so. For the next generation, subdivision of land is important, as is education in order to find jobs, often abroad.

Overall though over 20 years, conditions have improved, and life is easier than it was when the land was invaded, with facilities and connections improved. With the villagised set-up on the surface these areas look more like the communal areas – but with larger land areas, production is higher and the possibilities for accumulation and investment are there. Unlike in the communal areas where good houses are the result of jobs and remittances, in the resettlements, investments come from farming, making agricultural marketing crucial. When asked about the next 20 years, most people said that if it rains, things will be fine, but if not then irrigation, zero grazing and fodder feeding of animals will be essential. This they said will make it easier to share small areas of land with the next generation, which is a continual concern a generation on from land reform.


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