Agrarian Reforms In Southern Africa: Contradictions Of Neo-Liberal Prescriptions


  • 1.0 Introduction and Background
  • 2.0 The Agrarian Question in the Contemporary Period
    • 2.1. Settler land expropriation
    • 2.2. Indigenous elite land concentration and poverty
    • 2.3. Foreign ownership of land; agriculture, mining and natural resources
    • 2.4 Declining land sizes, land scarcities and poverty
    • 2.5 Gender land inequalities
    • 2.6 Land evictions (labour tenants and farm workers) and poverty
  • 3.0 New Land Use Patterns: Agro-Fuel Expansion in the sub-region
  • 4.0 Constrained Agrarian Systems in Southern Africa
  • 5.0 Attempts at Agrarian Reforms
    • 5.1 The Sub-Regional Experience
    • 5.2 The Zimbabwean Experience
  • 6.0 Future of Agrarian Reforms: Resurgence of Rural Movements
  • 7.0 Conclusions
  • 8.0 Annexes
  • 9.0 References

  • 1.0 Introduction and Background

The Southern African region1 is characterized by high poverty levels as indicated by low to medium Human Development Index (HDI), high indebtedness, high mortality rates, malnutrition, and low per capita income. Some of the countries such as South Africa, Angola and Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique have in recent years posted positive economic growth but remain bedeviled by relatively high poverty levels, among the majority poor because of persistent distribution inequalities in wealth, land and natural resources. Global trends indicate that poverty is still predominantly a rural phenomenon, with two thirds of the world’s poor constituted by the rural poor (Borass et al 2006). The majority (approximately 655) of the population in Southern African is rural based and depends primarily on agriculture for social reproduction. Thus, access to land and land based natural resources such as water still remain critical components of poverty alleviation strategies.

In the past two decades the sub-region has experienced an increase in food insecurity and general vulnerability due to a host of factors, prime among them being the imposition of inappropriate models of macro- economic development, skewed ownership of land, declining returns from agriculture and also the impact of HIV/AIDS. This has led to an increasing interest in research and policy debates over Southern Africa’s agrarian question especially as it relates to food insecurity and rural poverty.

Globally land reform has bounced back on the development agenda and there is emerging consensus on the importance of increased access to land and secure rights in order to overcome poverty in many parts of the underdeveloped world. However there is no consensus on other agrarian related reforms such as the terms of international commodity trade, the question of subsidies agriculture and the role of multinationals within the agro-industrial chain and its effect on smallholder reproduction. Furthermore even though the land reform agenda has bounced back on the policy scene the dominant formulations do not emphasise the relationship between structural agrarian reforms (which include land reform and broader policy re-orientation) and poverty reduction. Rather popular formulations insist on the restitution agenda (Ntshebeza, 2007), addressing colonial imbalance, honouring liberation struggles pledges etc. The failure to link land reform to improved livelihoods is partly due to the historical experience with land reform in other parts of the globe where it was not a success (Mexico, Chile etc). Furthermore the sub-region has been dominated by discourse that priorities the large scale commercial farm sector because of their perceived superiority over smaller landholdings in terms of employment capacity, foreign currency generation, land and labour utilisation. The superiority of the sector in land and labour utilisation is no longer easily justifiable in the aftermath of studies which show that the majority of the large scale commercial farms only utilise a third of arable of land on average, they are not efficient in terms of water utilisation. Even though they tend to employ more labour, the conditions of employment (especially remuneration) have left agrarian laborers worse off than their counterparts in the mines or urban wage sector. Furthermore some of the contemporary land reforms (especially the Zimbabwean one) have shown their capacity to improve livelihoods2.

In this context it is important to note that Southern Africa’s agrarian question is closely related to the poverty situation and needs to be examined in the wider context of models of development, the critical broader supporting frameworks to agrarian livelihoods. Despite the apparent inequalities in the rural sector especially in terms of access to land in former settler colonies (Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) there has been minimal policy attention to the agenda of agrarian reforms. Rather the region is dominated by externally driven ‘pro-poor’ ‘poverty reduction strategies’ which have been notably negligent of the fact that diminishing access to land and, inadequate strategies to mobilize financial and human resources to effectively develop land use, are a fundamental constraint to development.

History has shown that poverty can be reduced by increasing access to land of the rural poor, but also it is critical to note although land reform is necessary it is not a sufficient condition to improve livelihoods (Moyo & Yeros, 2005, Sachikonye, 2004) and spur economic growth but rather needs to be complemented by agrarian and structural reforms which will enable the new agrarian participants to effectively produce. Most of the successful land reforms (South Korea, Kerala, Taiwan and China) carried out to date were supported by massive direct and indirect support in the input and output markets of the rural economy as well as in pro-poor social policies such as in health and education (Borass et al 2006). In this discussion we analyses the contemporary nature of the Agrarian Question and the attendant reforms implemented to date. Based on these experiences we attempt to predict the future of agrarian reforms.

  • 2.0 The Agrarian Question in the Contemporary Period

The ‘classic’ Agrarian Question according to Marx was essentially a political question of alliance building between the peasantry and the ‘progressive’ working class to overthrow capitalism and introduce a socialist order. The peasantry was seen as a potential obstacle to the succesful overthrow of the bourgeoisie due to their contradictory nature of being both labour and owners of property. They were also perceived as transitory, they would not be able to compete against capitalist driven agriculture.

However contrary to Marxist theory, the expansion capitalism has been highly uneven especially in the global South and East and failed to completely dismantle the peasant mode of production. The peasantry remains a very visible empirical reality within both the so-called developed world and also the developing world. However the contemporary peasantry differs from the peasantry described by Alavi, Shanin. Despite the high levels of differentiation among the peasantry (earlier discussed by Lenin: To the Rural Poor) it has also been observed that the contemporary peasantry combines a number of rural and non-rural derived incomes with agriculture. Such a diversity of the peasantry has led others to pose a questions whether peasantry is disappearing (Bryecesson et al). Others (O’Laughlin,(2000) Moyo and Yeros, 2005) have coined them as ‘semi-proletariats’ in an attempt to fix the indeterminate socio-economic position of the peasantry. It has been argued that rural livelihood diversification in the absence of a comprehensive industrialisation strategy and the creation of jobs is a symptom of the strain on agrarian systems and their capacity to enable rural social reproduction. Southern Africa has in the past decades been characterised by the shrinking of the formal sector due to structural adjustment programmes which have emphasised liberalisation of the economies thus forcing infant industry to compete against much cheaper products (especially from China).

South Africa’s agrarian question is both a historical product of colonialism and is shaped by global commodity markets especially the role of the colluding multi-national agro-industrial web. Its perpetuation is aided by a comprador elite in government that has been coopted into the neo-liberal agenda and forsaken some of the liberation struggle aspirations. Colonial policy in Southern Africa varied between settler and non-settler type. Settler colonies were characterised by higher levels of land alienations compared to the non-settler. Land alienation through the development of large scale commercial farms (approximately 86% of agricultural land in South Africa) and large estates (approximately 35% of good quality land in Malawi) is one of the most visible strand of the agrarian question. Thus most of the discourse on the agrarian question in the sub-region has tended to focus on the land question. In the post independence era we note that colonially based land alienations are yet to be redressed (except in Zimbabwe) and also that there are new forms of land alienations.

    • 2.1. Settler land expropriation

Land expropriation was extensive in countries such as South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe which are currently experiencing various degrees of land conflicts as they endeavor to address this anomaly. For example the extremely skewed distribution of land ownership is most excessive in South Africa, where 60,000 white South African farmers, who derive from only 5% of the population, own almost 86% of the farmland and 68% of the total surface area (Lahiff, 2002, Thwala and Khosa, 2007; Moyo, 2000a). The mean amount of land held per person in South Africa is slightly more than one hectare for blacks and 1,570 hectares for whites. In Zimbabwe, until very recently, approximately 4 500 white commercial farmers controlled 31% of the country’s prime land, or about 42% of the agricultural land, under freehold tenure, while 1.2 million families subsisted on 41% of the country’s area (Moyo, 2005). In Namibia, some 4 000 white settler freeholders own 6 400 farms, totaling 36.5million hectares with an average size of 5,700 hectares each. On the other hand, smallholder farming covers 34 million hectares and supports 140 000 families (or about 50% of the population).

Table 2.1: Settler Alienation of Land in Southern Africa

CountryLand alienated by settlers (per cent) White settlers (per cent of population) 
  1958 a 2000 1960 a 2000
Angola 6.0 5.4 1.0 0.2
Botswana 0.0 5 0.3 0.5
Lesotho 5.0 5 0.3 0.8
Malawi 43.0 4.3 8.0 0.4
Namibia 43.0 44 19.4 11.1
South Africa 89.0 83 2.8 13.7
Swaziland 49.0 40 0.2 -
Zambia 3.0 3.1 3.0 0.1
Zimbabwe 49.0 41 7.1 0.8

Sources: a Hendricks 2000; World Fact book 2001.

Countries such as Botswana, Malawi, Lesotho, Zambia and Angola had lower percentages of land expropriation. However, the settlers managed to influence the land tenure regimes by annexing significant parts of prime land to freehold tenure system. For example in Malawi most of the prime agricultural land is occupied by privately owned and public estates, which produce the main export goods (tobacco, tea and sugar) of that country. In the 1920s, the decision by colonial authorities to issue legal titles to land resulted in the expansion of estate agriculture. Land alienation, through the granting of freehold and leasehold titles, was most extensive in the southern region of Malawi where tea and tobacco estates were developed (Kanyongolo, 2005). There was also a post-colonial boom in estate development in Malawi in the north-central region, of more moderate sized estates, but they too came at the expense of customary land.

    • 2.2. Indigenous elite land concentration and poverty

The emergence of land distribution problems within the sub-region through rural differentiation processes, suggests that a new generation of land concentration is emerging, highlighting the challenges to poverty alleviation through land redistribution. The accumulation logic of new social forces emanating from the maturation of a southern African petit bourgeoisie two generations after independence drives this new land concentration now seen largely in the hands of retired public servants, professionals, indigenous business people and other urban elites. These social forces and interest groups emerged from earlier nationalist, political and administrative leaderships, traditional chieftaincy elites, and new post-independence middle class elements. They follow an accumulation treadmill of agrarian export markets, which flourishes alongside the widespread variety of poor rural peasantries and semi-proletarian or lumpen elements, which ‘straddle’ both arenas. Such rural differentiation partly explains the growing and in some cases potential demand for land reform policies, which can deliver land rapidly in both urban and rural areas, but largely in favour of elites.

While nationalist movements in the SADC region promised rural development with equity, based on equitable access to land and natural resources, following a philosophy of African egalitarianism, the resulting post independence reality however has been the increased differentiation of rural land ownership accompanied by agrarian capitalist class formation and enclave based rural development (e.g. Mozambique, Zambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, etc). A rural differentiation process based on land monopoly which is a universal phenomenon (Van der Ploeg, 1990), has led to uneven incomes and consumption patterns in rural areas, contradicting the myth that Africa has abundant land and that customary land tenure systems prevent inequitable land structures or landlessness and restrict agrarian differentiation (see also Neocosmos, 2003; Bernstein, 2003). Evidence from Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia reveal that the picture of rural land inequality is rising in SADC with the emergence of capitalist farmers and rural heterogeneity based on accumulation of land control and access.

The causes of land concentrations in non-settler southern Africa (Botswana, Lesotho etc) include: the grabbing and sale of communal land and favouritism in its allocation; partisan roles of security agents in mediating conflicts; the squatting in communal land; the commercialization of cattle rustling and competition over natural resources such as pastures, water and livestock; human and wildlife land use conflicts. In many areas political intimidation including the use of illegal firearms has become common. The land question in southern Africa also takes the peculiar shape of the disruption and marginalisation of the collective land and territorial rights of ‘indigenous’ and ethnic minorities by ethnic majorities, especially in areas remote from central economic enclaves, or where new resource opportunities (oil, diamonds, tourism and ranching) have emerged in recent time. This source of the land question has tended to be underplayed in research, even though it tends to be common in many countries, such as the Basarwa case in Botswana (Molomo, 2007).

Growing concentrations of land control in southern Africa also combines indigenous white and black elites and foreign owners, including multinational firms, towards capital accumulation in agriculture, forestry, tourism and the expanding urban real estate. The recent land concentration among national elites, to the exclusion of the poor and ‘remote’ communities, has tended to generate increased inter-elite conflict for official policies aimed at developing agrarian capitalism and tourism, towards export oriented land uses. Perhaps because foreign land ownership concentration and struggles in countries such as Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique and Malawi, have been less dramatically executed, than has been the case in the Zimbabwe land transfer process in recent times, the processes are largely uncommented upon in African regional and international debates on the land question.

    • 2.3. Foreign ownership of land; agriculture, mining and natural resources

An important emerging land question in the SADC region though less widespread has been the growing tendencies for land to be concessioned and sold to foreign companies and other entities. These are tied to investment agreements and varied enterprises, ranging from agriculture, tourism, forestry, luxury residential investments, in which the majority of nationals might have no shares.

These new land expropriation or concessions to foreign investors serve to reinforce past colonial land expropriation. This tends to be complicated socially and politically by the physical absence of many foreign large-scale landowners. For example in Namibia, corporate ownership of lands hides the influx of foreign landowners, particularly those who are shifting land use from agricultural use to tourism. The rural poor are thus marginalized from their own land and their livelihood systems undermined, contributing to increased rural poverty and provoking increasing land struggles within the SADC region.

The radicalisation of the Zimbabwe land reform in late 1990s saw new waves of migration by the displaced white large farmers into Zambia, Mozambique, Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo. This migration encouraged by neo-liberal investment policies has led to increased foreign land ownership in many SADC countries, and pressures for increased private land tenure property regimes in order to protect investments. The agricultural sector has been the prime target of such investment through lucrative incentives provided for foreign investment especially in export processing zones.

Increased privatisation of state lands in Mozambique, as part of the foreign investment drive has crowded out the poor onto the worst lands and adversely affecting their livelihoods. This has created grounds for incipient racial animosity, as foreigners and white South Africans tend to dominate this investment. Mozambican officials have called for greater social integration of in-coming white farmers to avoid creation of “white islands” where commercial development outpaces that of the indigenous populations who surround these new settlers. Although some specific land policies forbid foreign ownership of land, incentives and other mechanisms have been put in place to allow foreigners access to land for commercial production.

The continued importance of external neo-colonial forces in fostering unequal land and resource control, including exclusion and conflict tends however to be underplayed by dominant discourses which instead focus on “internalist” perspectives. The latter tend to argue that southern African development challenges tendencies are caused by the socio-political implosion and conflict in the region, thus essentialising weak governance systems. While internal mobilisation of land ownership concentration is critical, external and historical factors remain critical to the genesis and reproduction of this trend.

    • 2.4 Declining land sizes, land scarcities and poverty

The current patterns of per capita access to arable land exhibit growing land scarcities and landlessness alongside under-utilised lands, and increasing distributional inequities in southern Africa (Table 2.2). Although a variety of livelihood strategies are pursued by smallholders in southern Africa, the predominant activity is smallholder ‘semi-subsistence’ farming, Most households rely on cash and subsistence incomes from a number of sources that include irrigated and rainfed cultivation, livestock production, tree production, and other miscellaneous activities like honey production. Households also depend on a variety of non-farm livelihoods, such as woodland activities, fisheries, trading, value adding processing, wage incomes, and remittances. The agricultural activities are affected by unfavorable climatic conditions, poor markets and infrastructure services and unfavorable physical conditions (poor soils, land degradation because of cultivation on sloping land, deforestation). Thus access to a diminishing land resource base and insecure land tenure has most profound effects on the livelihoods of the majority, defining the peculiar character of the land question under dryland farming conditions using backward technologies.

Table 2.2: Per Capita Arable Land in the Southern Africa Development Community Region

CountryPer Capita Arable Land  Area(Hectares)
  1965 1980 1987 1990 2000a
Angola 0.53 0.41 0.34 0.31 0.25
Botswana 0.73 0.44 0.35 0.33 0.22
Democratic Republic of Congo 0.36 0.25 0.20 0.18 0.14
Lesotho 0.37 0.22 0.20 0.18 0.16
Malawi 0.28 0.20 0.20 0.18 0.18
Mauritius 0.12 0.10 0.10 0.09 0.08
Mozambique 0.30 0.24 0.21 0.20 0.17
Namibia 0.92 0.64 0.53 0.49 0.47
Seychelles 0.02 0.02 0.01 0.01 0.01
South Africa 0.62 0.45 0.38 0.38 0.28
Swaziland 0.38 0.33 0.23 0.23 0.18
Tanzania 0.17 0.12 0.12 0.12 0.12
Zambia 1.34 0.89 0.73 0.67 0.55
Zimbabwe 0.46 0.35 0.30 0.28 0.24
Sub-Saharan Africa 0.47 0.33 0.28 0.26 0.22

Sources: Cleaver, 1993. ; a World Fact book 2001 (country arable land areas) and US Census Bureau 2001 (population figures year 2000)

Per capita access to arable land ownership per household has been declining due to population growth, including where white and black large-scale farmers own most of the best arable land in farms that are oversized (see table 2.2). In Malawi around 31 percent of parcels of land held by over 80% of the people who hold land under customary tenure are under 0.10 hectares (Kanyongolo, 2007). The mean holding size shifted from 1.53ha in 1968/69 to less than 0.86 hectares in 1996/97. Estimates of future trends suggest that, by the year 2010, 82 percent of smallholder households will have land holdings of less than 0.5 ha (ibid). In Lesotho, a similar situation obtains. The land available per family has declined to below a hectare because of urban encroachment and soil erosion (Kingdom of Lesotho National report, 2006). Thus, landlessness has increased from 13% in the 1970’s to 55% in 1990. Jayne et al. (2002) indicated that the ratio of land under crop cultivation to agricultural population (a rough proxy for farm size per capita) has been shrinking gradually. In countries widely considered to be land abundant, such as Zambia and Mozambique, the data also show a clear trend of declining farm sizes. This trend suggests that increasingly farming alone will not sustain the livelihoods of land-constrained households without substantial shifts in labour from agriculture to non-farm sectors. Indeed, poverty tends to be concentrated in households with farm sizes under 1 hectare and especially under 0.5 hectares.

    • 2.5 Gender land inequalities

The key land question related to poverty reduction remains that of women’s access to and control of land which is currently inadequate and constrained by various customary and generally patriarchal social relations. In general women’s rights to land are extremely insecure. Furthermore women provide labour for farming under severely exploitative relations in production and reproduction. The major forms and sources of this unequal land distribution and tenure problem is its derivation from the dominance of patriarchy and customary land tenure systems and local authority structures. These perverse social relations, also characteristic in different forms of pre-colonial African society, were contrived during colonial and contemporary times by the male dominated central and local state and political power structures found in southern Africa.

Unequal gender relations in land control and use have over time worsened and deprived women of their land rights in many parts of the SADC region, reduced the extent and quality of the land rights that they continue to hold, and failed to cater for the new forms of land rights and growing land needs of women (e.g. Lesotho, Malawi etc). Women’s land rights are insecure and inadequate for their ascribed roles as key agricultural producers and the compelled custodians of reproducing children, as well as of the family livelihoods in rural and urban areas. Unequal gender rights in land must be understood in the context of the discrimination and exploitation of women through the instrumentalisation of land tenure regimes against women’s land and other rights, particularly the manipulation of the means and structures of land use and production. These processes tend to marginalise women from the products of their labour and the benefits of the control of land.

In spite of the strong representation of women in development activism, they have been left out from the benefits of land reform programmes and, when considered at all, they tend to be marginal to the programmes. For instance, women in Zimbabwe contribute about 70% of the agricultural labor force yet they very rarely control land for agriculture. Women have received less than 20% of land in their own right during Zimbabwe’s recent land reforms. In Tanzania, Monela et al. (2000) report that, although men and women work together in the fields, women have an extra load of crops that men are not involved in. As a result, women are more involved in agriculture than men. Yet when the shift of power and decision-making to communities is analysed, it shows that the shift has generally shifted been to men and rarely to women. In Namibia and South Africa, women’s need for land has received less attention, while in Malawi there are concerns that the women’s rights will be undermined under the new land policy (Sachikonye, 2004).

    • 2.6 Land evictions (labour tenants and farm workers) and poverty

Land evictions of labour tenants (in South Africa and Namibia) and farm workers (in Zimbabwe) have also contributed to a limited extent to poverty growth. These groups play an integral role in the rural economies as they remit their incomes and other various inputs critical for agricultural production. Such cash remittances enable rural households attain food security (as there are used to purchase agricultural inputs, hiring labour, etc) and to widen livelihood options.

Settler land expropriation and cheap labour based commercial agriculture have over the last century generated extensive problems for the land rights of migrant workers on a sub-regional scale, alongside the lower racial land inequities. The land rights of migrant full time and seasonal farm workers, in large scale white commercial farming areas in countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe, moving especially from Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique have been seriously abrogated for long. Both the “serf-like” labour tenancy system and poor working conditions upheld by the landlords and the ‘contestation’ of their citizenship rights, given the exclusionary migrant and citizenship laws there, have led to the questioning of their land rights and ‘belonging’ (see also Geschiere and Nyamnjoh, 2000).

The land rights of farm workers in terms of their access to residential land and infrastructures on LSCF land and access to small food security plots have for decades been informal and incidental to their provision of specific labour services to landowners. While a few have been resettled, some were displaced, and many reside on farms without secure land rights. Land reforms should address their demands more effectively, including demand for pieces of agricultural lands and farm worker residential compounds with the social services they contain. A key unaddressed problem remains, there is need to reduce conflicts between settlers and former farm workers and the integration of former farm workers in the farming communities to enhance their ‘belonging’ and land rights.

Formal labour tenants, who have some farming base in South Africa amount to approximately 50,000 (NLC), while about 900,000 are full and part-time farm workers (Sachikonye, 2004). Slow land redistribution has forced most of South Africa’s rural poor including, the black rural landless workers into worsening poverty and frustration over bureaucratic land reforms, as well as worsening working conditions on white commercial farms. Farm workers face continual land evictions, which the state seems unwilling or unable to stem. The re-engineering of labour processes aiming to reduce the status of labour tenants to the even less protected category of “farm workers” (NLC), and the extent to which farmers as employers and landowners can punish farm workers by expulsion as an ultimate sanction or charge them with trespass notices, demolish their homes and close their access to water taps and natural resources (e.g. rivers), bar tenants from rearing livestock emphasizes their insecure or inadequate land rights. This power over labour rests on the constitutional protection of landlordism and the failure of the market assisted land reform approach to redistribute land and recognise migrant labourers’ land rights. A similar situation obtains in Namibia (where 35,000 farm workers are engaged in the agricultural economy) despite government enactment of laws which prohibit land evictions.

  • 3.0 New Land Use Patterns: Agro-Fuel Expansion in the sub-region

Persistent fossil fuel price increases on the global market coupled with potential disruption of supplies and foreign exchange shortages threaten energy security and economic development in developing countries. Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, like many developing countries, face even greater challenges with respect to transport energy due to rising oil prices on the world market which are negatively affecting the countries’ balance of payments. Furthermore the projected impacts of climate change, especially on agriculture, which is regarded as the mainstay of many developing country economies, are compelling SADC governments to take counteractive measures. These factors, along with the prospects for increased rural development, have prompted an agro-fuels ‘rush’, not only in Southern Africa but the world over

Agro-fuel expansion within the sub-region is yet to be systematically analysed, statistics on land devoted towards agro-fuels and the number of displaced smallholders are not readily available. The table (Table 3-1) below analyses agro-fuel expansion in five selected countries within the sub-region. Sponsors of these agro-fuel projects are foreign owned companies. More critically these projects require vast amounts of land which potentially lead to the displacement of smallholder farmers whose livelihoods are already precarious. It is not uncommon for investors to tacitly accept land-grabbing and the displacement of locals, often supported or tolerated by top political officials (BMZ, 2008). This phenomenon is currently particularly apparent in African countries, SADC region included. Rising land and leasehold prices as a result of the increased demand for land are also a threat to smallholders’ access to land

Table 3-1 Profile of Agro-Fuel Projects in the sub-region

Mozambique State land concessions to foreign corps. Jatropha, palm oil, sugar, cassava, copra 3.5 mil ha ‘potential’ Mozambique Bio-fuel Industries managing concessions
South Africa D1 Oils Africa - UK Maize, sugar, jatropha,sunflower 650,000 ha - maize 
3 mil ha ‘former homelands’ available
Govt seeking investments
Govt announcement, May 2007
Swaziland   Cassava several 1000s ha allocated by govt Chronic food deficit country
Tanzania Sun Biofuels UK Jatropha 18,000 ha Lindi
  Sweden (goal of no fossil fuels by 2020) Sugar cane proposed 400,000 ha proposed In the Wami Basin wetlands & will displace rice farmers
  Malaysia, Indonesia Palm oil 8,000 ha Kigoma
  PROKON – Germany Jatropha 10,000 ha Jatropha to expand greatly
Zambia D1 Oils Africa – UK Sugar, jatropha, cassava 45,000 ha now 
500,000 ha ‘available’
Forest reserves available for cultivation

Source: Thomson, 2008

The diversion of grain staples such as maize towards agro-fuel production can directly contribute towards food shortages especially instances where the agriculture is dominated by the large farm model that is driven by profit maximisation. In many instances commodity prices have gone up due to the increased demand for agro-fuels. There have also been cases where farmers have been directly contracted to grow maize for ethanol production and promised more than they would get from the food markets.

The SADC region is said have a comparative advantage for producing agro-fuels in terms of land availability with most member states having large surfaces of suitable rain-fed lands yet to be cultivated but having significant potential for agricultural improvement. This assertion has been made despite the fact that many of these countries, even those with good agricultural potential, are struggling to produce sufficient food for their national requirements. In addition, cases of landlessness are also being reported in some of these countries. Sufficient evidence, however, is lacking to justify the basis for agro-fuels advocacy in developing countries and to ensure that the livelihoods and welfare of the most vulnerable will not be made worse off. For instance, the increased demand for agro-fuels will create competition for agricultural commodities between agro-fuel feedstock and food for human consumption thereby fueling food-based inflation to the extent of impairing the food security of the poor. More importantly the agro-fuel question rekindles neglected debate over the agrarian question (land and agrarian reform; industrialization and development) with specific questions revolving around the following issues: (i) Is it not another avenue for land alienation or concentration and (ii) Is it not a new instrument for smallholder exploitation?

  • 4.0 Constrained Agrarian Systems in Southern Africa

Agrarian development discourse in Southern Africa has in a disjuncture for a while now; whilst globally the logic and efficiency of the small farm model is widely recognized, in the sub-region discourse emphasises the centrality of large scale agriculture (estates and large scale farms) to food production and the economies of the country. The emphasis on the LSCF disregards the fact that commercial agriculture has in the years of structural economic reforms shifted land use towards external markets and in the process the smallholder sector (especially in Zimbabwe and Malawi) has been the main producer of staple grains. The lobbies representing commercial agriculture (especially in South Africa and Namibia) are very influential in agricultural policy making and have played a decisive role in lobbying for market based forms of land redistribution. Their influence goes beyond determining the pace of land reforms but also other agricultural policies; in many instances they have a role in pricing policy and they have an unfair advantage over the smallholder in terms of accessing agricultural credit from private financial.

The sub-region’s Agrarian Question is further complicated by two tendencies; whilst agriculture has thoroughly been inserted into and operates within the logic of international capitalism in terms of input and supply chains the countryside remains on the boundaries of state led capitalism (especially in the post economic reform era), where neither the state nor capital is responsible for the support of reproduction of rural labour and rural production. In essence the countryside produces for a market which has abdicated responsibility for maintenance of the supplier of produce. Contemporary challenges include the deceleration of agricultural technological transformation through reduced per capita utilisation of inputs such as improved seed, fertiliser, etc. Secondly production methods and land use patterns have been changed to service increasingly saturated world commodity markets at the expense of local need. Structural adjustment reforms have also led to the privatization of research and development to service large scale agriculture. Whereas prior to economic reforms research and development was the preserve of the state it has now been removed from the public domain and services the interest of large scale agriculture.

SAP led structural reforms have led to a minimalist state with little input in agricultural subsidies. Most of the smallholders have been abandoned by the state in terms of production support but still have to deal with agricultural pricing policies determined by the local state or global commodity markets. Existing public and private food and inputs markets are weak, alongside the virtual non-existence of financial (credit) markets for small producers. Farm inputs prices in the region have been increasing in sympathy with world prices, although domestic capacities to produce inputs have diminished in countries such as Zimbabwe and have been starved of public or private investments. Dependence on costly imported fertilisers has instead increased. New technologies are not being generated fast enough again because of limited public and private investments, and global markets control. The inadequacy of investments into rural and agricultural infrastructures, such as irrigation facilities (including dams, field equipment, etc), rural transport facilities (such as roads, bridges and ports, vehicles), bulk food storage (and grain reserve) facilities as well as ancillary services such as electricity, have tended to limit the expansion of food production and marketing and thus food distribution and access.

Although weather volatility (which has entailed at least one extreme drought every 5 years over the last three decades) has led to frequent harvest failures, there has been a disproportionate effort in investments to mitigate this problem. The resources required include capacities to: breed more resistant seeds and to divert consumption to more drought tolerant but palatable crops; expanding irrigated areas through ‘efficient’ utilisation of scarce water and financial resources; and more effective food and seed storage systems. Moreover, the region’s preparedness for the anticipated effects of climate change is not convincing. Areas of concern include: the relocation of areas with the agro-ecological potential to produce food alongside the necessary infrastructures; adapting to reduced growing seasons in some areas and their increase elsewhere; adapting to water losses and gains and so forth.

Furthermore women’s access to technological inputs, such as improved seed, fertilisers and pesticides is limited because national legislation and customary law do not allow them to share land property rights with their husbands, or because women heads of household are excluded from land entitlement schemes and, consequently, cannot provide the collateral required by lending institutions. They are frequently not reached by extension services and are rarely members of cooperatives, which often distribute government subsidised inputs and vital market information to small farmers. In addition, they lack the cash income needed to purchase inputs even when they are subsidised.

  • 5.0 Attempts at Agrarian Reforms
    • 5.1 The Sub-Regional Experience

The sub-region has essentially been dominated by the neo-liberal logic of the supremacy of the market in resource allocation. Very little land reform has taken place (except for Zimbabwe). At the end of 2007 South Africa had only redistributed 3% of targeted land for redistribution whilst Namibia’s land reform plans are still at planning stages. Land reform policy implementation has been derailed by: an over reliance on legal and bureaucratic processes of expropriation and resettlement; over reliance on the ability of, often distorted, land markets to correct farm size inequities; and the influence of powerful anti-land-reform lobbies. As an illustration, prior to the ‘fast track resettlement’ in Zimbabwe that started in 2000, the country’s land policy had gone through two decades of a legal process of compulsory acquisition through the amendment of land laws, but this route proved lengthy, costly and unable to achieve substantial redistribution of land .

Recently there have been attempts to reform land tenure systems through donor supported land commissions in Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia and Mozambique. Generally land tenure reforms have tended to be motivated by and directed at promoting or protecting the landed interests of domestic elites and foreign capitalists for expanded access to land for agriculture and natural resource extraction. These land policy trends provide clear evidence that the development strategies of structural adjustment programmes have encouraged alienation of land for foreign investment and the benefit of local elites, leading to increased poverty among the people (Moyo, 2004).

Furthermore the land reform and the forces of modernisation have had a mixed effect on the status of women in southern Africa. Agrarian reform or resettlement programmes use the ‘head of family’ concept, usually identifying a male, as the basis of land reallocation. Few have significant numbers of female beneficiaries or even pay attention to gender as a beneficiary category. New legislation on equality for women is more applicable to the urban-employed class than rural people; agricultural land is even excluded in some new inheritance schemes. Statutory reform of customary law is confusing and open to interpretation; when customary, religious or statutory systems coexist, the law least favourable to women is often selected. Given the traditionally limited role of women in decision-making processes at the household, local and national levels in most cultures, their needs, interests and constraints are often not reflected in the policy-making processes and laws which are important for poverty reduction, food security and environmental sustainability. The causes of women’s exclusion from decision-making processes are closely linked to their additional reproductive roles and their household workload, which account for a significant share of their time.

Agrarian policy reforms have been limited. Recently the Malawi government introduced a new set of bold agricultural subsidies which entailed the provision of free inputs to the smallholder sector. These reforms were initially opposed by the donor community but recently the World Bank endorsed the input support programme. The subsidies have led to a significant boost in production to an extent that Malawi has been exporting staple grains to countries facing a deficit within the sub-region.

    • 5.2 The Zimbabwean Experience

In the late 1990s, a land movement emerged in Zimbabwe whose tactic involved occupation of white owned (and at time state owned) farms. The land occupations and the subsequent government sponsored ‘fast track’ land reform programme (FTLRP) have significantly altered the agrarian landscape. Prior to the land reform programme there were approximately 4500 large scale commercial farms; these have been reduced to around 500 (by the end of 2007). The land redistribution was done on the basis of two models; the A1 and the A2, the A1 is largely an expansion of old communal areas and national figures indicate that ‘fast track’ increased the area under smallholder farming by about 16% (PLRC, 2003; World Bank, 2006). The A2 sector was designed for the continuation of commercial farming albeit on smaller farm sizes than previously prevailing. The A1 sector is mainly composed of smallholders with individual arable lands and common grazing fields. The A2 consists of about 27 000 new farm units (PLRC, 2003) mostly black farmers with middle sized farms with almost evenly distributed landholdings, except for inherited infrastructure. The A1 was designed to cater for the landless from communal, urban and other areas. Generally beneficiaries were given 5-6 ha of arable land for farming and 7-15ha per household for grazing. There are two sub schemes within the A1 model; the ‘villagised’ and ‘self contained’. The villagised is a close replica of earlier Model A resettlement where the planners settle land beneficiaries in a close village and the allocated arable land and grazing land will be outside the village. The self contained farms on other hand are small versions of A2 models, the resettled are given a piece of land and on it they are meant to build the homestead, apportion some land for crop cultivation and grazing land for livestock production. There are close to 130 000 A1 farms in the country (PLRC, 2003).

Fig 1 The New Agrarian Structure

Sources: Moyo and Yeros, 2005, AIAS 2007.

However Zimbabwe’s land reform has been closely associated with a major economic meltdown (the country has the highest rate of inflation). Zimbabwe is currently undergoing a debilitating economic crisis since 1997 with major social and political impacts. A range of causes for the crisis have been identified and discussed in various circles (see for instance Hammar et al, 2003,; Moyo and Yeros, 2005; 2007a and 2007b). Basically there are two polarized groups of thought; the liberal camp cites internal economic mismanagement and the disruptive nature of land reform whilst on the other hand left leaning scholars argue that the economic decline has its roots in the economic reform programmes adopted in 1990 (Moyo, 2001; Yeros, 2002; Moyo and Yeros, 2005;) and worsened due to the isolation of Zimbabwe from the global economy because of the manner in which the government land transfers. The economic decline worsened due to contests around the land reform programme, especially the manner in which land acquisitions were carried out. The factors that contribute to the decline are weak and incoherent macro-economy management frameworks, frequent droughts, an unfavorable policy environment and the disruptive effects of the fast track, and the impact of international isolation (World Bank, 2006). These factors have had a direct impact upon rural livelihoods and potential for agricultural recovery especially in ‘land reform’ areas. While it is accepted that land reforms generally lead to a transitory production decline (see Moyo and Yeros, 2007) the situation has been compounded by the factors listed above.

In the aftermath of ‘fast track’ farmers have experienced intensifying shortages of key agricultural production inputs, such as seeds, fertilisers and agrochemicals. A number of bottlenecks, including inappropriate government intervention and low production capacity in face of expanding demand have been blamed on both the supply and demand sides of the input delivery system. In an attempt to respond to the challenges confronting the agricultural sector the GoZ has proposed and undertook complimentary agrarian reforms aimed at improving agricultural productivity in the country.

A number of public financing schemes have been implemented since the onset of the FTLRP to boost production on old and new farms. Agricultural development programmes that have been more pronounced include the crop and livestock input credit scheme administered through the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), Agricultural Development Bank of Zimbabwe (Agribank) and the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB); the Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Programme administered through the Department of Irrigation; Operation Maguta/Inala (food security) spearheaded by the defence forces; and most recently, the Farm Mechanization Programme. These programmes have been implemented in collaboration with the Department of Agricultural and Technical Extension Services (Agritex), the Division of Livestock and Veterinary Services (DLVS), Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) and the District Development Fund (DDF). The programmes were funded by the Ministry of Finance under the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s Productive Sector Facility and Agricultural Support Productivity Enhancement Facility (ASPEF). These subsidised financing arrangements managed to substantially prop up the agricultural sector, but have also been dogged by misuse of funds resulting in their benefiting a few and generating parallel trading structures (e.g. black market for fuel, fertilizer etc).Generally there has been a significant production decline of major crops (especially tobacco, maize and wheat) but other crops associated with the smallholder sector such as cotton have maintained 1990 averages.

  • 6.0 Future of Agrarian Reforms: Resurgence of Rural Movements

Agrarian reform, entailing the redistribution of land, strengthening of land tenure systems and intervention in agricultural policy making is a highly political and contentious subject within the sub-region. State elites in the sub-region have seemingly been convinced by the logic of capital to de-emphasise the need for such agrarian reforms but to focus on land tenure reforms that emphasise individual tenure and also to work towards market reforms. It is not an accident therefore that SADC has identified lack of access to the market (not the lack of adequate access to land) as the major constraint to smallholders in the sub-region’s agrarian systems.

Historically land and agrarian reforms have never been implemented by a willing elite in the absence of social forces mobilising for policy reform. However experience in the sub-region has been that agrarian reforms, especially land reforms have generally been rarefied into a very technocratic approach with little popular participation. Government based technocrats have worked with multilateral agency based technocrats to determine the amount of land to be redistributed and the different models of resettlement. There has been a notable absence of organised social forces making demands for land reform (with the exception of South Africa in the 1990s). Organised civil society, besides its own contradictions, has essentially been limited to the role of rubber-stamping these processes when called upon to do so. NGOs (the most vocal form of civil society) have not made a strong demand for land reform but have been active in advocating for broader land policy reforms.

It has been argued elsewhere that the peasantry is generally demobilised and weak against the state to mount a meaningful campaign for land and agrarian reforms. In South Africa the Landless People’s Movement has virtually disappeared, the Zimbabwe land movement comprising of war veterans and landless peasants has seemingly been demobilised after attaining land reform and in other countries most of the space for mobilisation is dominated by donor funded formations with no agenda for structural reform to an extent that they serve as willing tools of the civilising role of NGOs. The potential for rural mobilisation and agitation for comprehensive agrarian reforms in the current period has been dismissed by many analysts. However further analysis reveals that in the absence of these larger national movements the peasantry is engaged in various forms of mobilisation at localised levels. In South Africa for example the Trust for Community Outreach Education (TCOE) and Women on Farms have in the past two years been mobilising local organisations in the two Cape provinces and in the Northern provinces. These groups have been at the forefront of the sporadic land occupations in South Africa and possibilities of congealing into a national land movement are very high. Similarly in Zimbabwe, the land movement seems as if it has disappeared but local level structures have been established in almost all the resettlement areas to demand agrarian reforms. Field work undertaken by the AIAS indicates that resettled communities have organised themselves into local farmer groups with varying levels of membership and agendas.

Our intention is not to romanticise peasant action but rather to note that in the absence of a ‘progressive’ workers movement that has managed to combine urban grievances with rural grievances it has been the peasantries who have taken up action to demand land reform. Zimbabwe’s peasantry has a longer history of action than the ‘fast track’ period. Moyo (2001) has historicised the emergence of a land movement from the 1980s and culminating with the ‘fast-track’ period. The labour movement (especially in Zimbabwe and South Africa) is seemingly engrossed with urban based mobilisation and national politics to an extent that possibilities of alliance with rural based formations a broad political formation is certainly a remote possibility unless the peasantry organise themselves and occupy their own space demanding rural reform instead of depending on reformist NGOs. Indeed the future of ‘pro-poor’ agrarian reforms is based on the realignment of social forces (urban and rural) to mount a more pronounced campaign for such reforms. Some of the so called agrarian reforms that have been implemented in the name of the poor have nothing to do with the poor and landless but rather to entrench national and foreign elites.

  • 7.0 Conclusions

Rural poverty trends in the sub-region are strikingly tied to land access and tenure insecurity is strikingly clear, given that more than 45% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population now lives in poverty (Jayne et al. 2002). Although some SADC countries have developed strategic plans for ‘poverty reduction’, most of these plans pay scant attention to land access and distribution in rural poverty reduction. Household survey data from Mozambique and Zambia shows that 70-80% of the rural population derives the bulk of its income from agriculture, poverty reduction typically depends on agricultural productivity growth, and that growth alone is not sufficient for poverty reduction since the initial distribution of assets such as land, affects the poverty-reducing effects of the growth.

Current neo-liberal interpretation of the land question emphasises a liberal political and market framework of land rights, which seeks to protect existing landowners rather than pursue issues of social justice, through which popular land rights can only be secured through extensive redistribution of land and natural resources. This policy reform bias in line with aid-led structural adjustment programme (SAP) prescriptions in southern Africa continue to promote the interests of white business, black middle classes and global capital rather than the survival and economic needs of the landless rural poor and working classes. Neoliberal interpretations of the democratisation process focus on the rule of law rather than restitution issues in land reform discourses. The result of this is to protect minority land rights over those of the indigenous and majority rural poor, thus increasing their food insecurity and poverty. Yet pressures for redistributive land reform however seem to grow as rural differentiation increases and various social classes compete for land. The emergence of rural based social movements is a manifestation of these grievances.

  • 8.0 Annexes

Annex 1-1The New Agrarian Structure

Farm ClassLand TenureFarms/Households Area  
  Numbers% of TotalHectares (million ha)% of TotalFarm Size(ha)
Smallholder Communal 1,100,000   16.400   15
  Old Resettlement 72,000   3.700   51
  A1 140,438   4.200   32
  Sub-total 1,313,000 97.9 24.300 72.9 19
Small to Medium Scale Commercial Old SSCF 8,000   1.400   175
  Small A2 11,056   1.300   87
  Sub-total 22,900 1.7 2.700 8.1 118
Large Scale Commercial Medium-LargeA2 2,500   0.900   600
  Black LSCF 1,440   0.900   625
  White LSCF 500   1.200   871
  Sub-total 4,440 0.3 3.000 9.0 695
Corporate Estates Company 743   1.400   1,884
  Church 64   0.041   641
  Parastatals 153   0.600   3,922
  Sub-total 960 0.1 2.041 6.1 2,126
Transitional Unallocated     1.300    
Total   1,331,177   33.300    

Sources: Moyo and Yeros, 2005, AIAS 2007.

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