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Social differentiation across medium-scale Zim farms




THE emergence of medium-scale farms is having important consequences for agricultural commercialisation across Africa. This article examines the role of medium-scale A2 farms allocated following Zimbabwe’s land reform after 2000.

While the existing literature focuses on changing farm size distributions, this article investigates processes of social differentiation across medium-scale farms, based on qualitative-quantitative studies in two contrasting sites (Mvurwi and Masvingo-Gutu).

Diverse processes of accumulation are identified across commercial, aspiring and struggling farmers, and linked to contrasting patterns of agricultural production and sale, asset ownership, employment and finance.

The ability to mobilise finance, influenced by the state of the macro-economy, as well as forms of political patronage, is identified as a crucial driver.

Contrary to assertions that A2 farms are largely occupied by “cronies” and that they are unproductive and under-utilised, a more differentiated picture emerges, with important implications for policy and the wider politics of Zimbabwe’s countryside following land reform.

Across Africa, the size structure of farms is changing, with an increasing proportion of medium-scale farms (Jayne et al. 2016). This is having profound implications for the patterns of agrarian accumulation and the possibilities of commercialisation. In Ghana and Zambia, for example, medium-scale farms now account for more land area than small-scale farms, defined as cultivating under five hectares (Sitko & Chamberlin 2015; Jayne et al. 2016).

Land concentration in medium-scale 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.

In Zimbabwe, the emergence of a medium-scale farm sector is linked to land reform after 2000, which created around 23,000 additional medium-scale farms (ranging in size from c. 10 ha to over a thousand hectares, averaging 153 ha).

These land reform resettlement farms (denoted A2) account for 3.5 million hectares, nearly 9% of the area of all agricultural landholdings (Moyo 2011: 498).

This paper explores the origins and implications of these medium-scale farms in Zimbabwe, asking how they fit into the post-land reform agrarian structure, who the owners are, what they produce and sell and how they are differentiated.

As a now major, but poorly understood, part of the agricultural economy, the aim is evaluate the A2 farm experience against the wider story of the rise of medium-scale farms in Africa more broadly, examining in particular the processes of differentiation among such farms, and so the diverse trajectories of change observed.

Farm size distributions in agrarian economies matter, as they influence overall patterns of inequality, the opportunities for accumulation and the potential linkage effects between farm sectors in regional economies (Sitko & Jayne 2012).

Agrarian structure also often reflects rural political settlements, with different agrarian classes linked to farms of different sizes (Moyo 2011; Scoones 2015). In former settler economies, land reforms have been focused on overturning a highly unequal land distribution, creating new opportunities for both smallholders and ‘emergent’ commercial farmers.

In Zimbabwe, land reform was aimed at transforming the former dualistic structure, creating a ‘tri-modal’ structure (Moyo & Chambati 2013).

This involves small-scale farms, including communal areas, as well as old and new (A1) resettlement areas (total 1.3 million farms, over 25.8 million ha), medium-scale farms (A2 farms, plus older small-scale commercial farming areas, total 31,200 farms, over 4.4 million ha) and large commercial farms and estates (total 1,618 farms, over 2.6 million ha) (Moyo 2011: 512).

Medium-scale farms are crucial in this new agrarian structure. They are neither small-scale, often subsistence-oriented peasant farms, nor are they large-scale, highly capitalised farms and estates, sometimes owned by multinational capital.

Previously, black-owned, medium-scale farms were created as ‘Purchase Areas’ from the 1930s (Cheater 1984), but the extent was limited.

Today, medium-scale farms in Zimbabwe, as defined by the A2 ‘model’, are mostly sufficiently large that they offer the opportunities for commercialised agriculture, involving mechanisation, the employment of a permanent workforce, the use of high levels of ‘modern’ inputs and the generation of substantial market offtake.

All this requires capitalisation and regular flows of finance, as well as considerable skill in both production and marketing.

Of intermediate scale, embedded in regions where smallholder farming dominates, they take on a new role in regional economies, potentially offering support for equipment sharing, labour employment and market assistance.

This is the theory at least and was the driving inspiration behind Zimbabwe’s resettlement planning from the 1990s.

This paper explores the practice, nearly 20 years after the land reform of 2000, asking whether such medium-scale farms offer a vision of the future of commercial agriculture, as some claim based on studies elsewhere in Africa, or whether in fact there are more diverse trajectories of change emerging, with some succeeding, while others struggle. – First published online by Cambridge University Press on 3 February 2021.