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Medium-scale commercial farms in Africa: the experience of the ‘native purchase areas’ in Zimbabwe

  • Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge and Felix Murimbarimba

Across Africa there has been a growth in medium-sized farms, including in Zimbabwe following the land reform of 2000. What are the prospects of such farms driving new forms of agricultural commercialization? In this article we seek to learn lessons from the past by examining the experience of ‘native purchase areas’, which were established from the 1930s in Zimbabwe. Through a detailed historical study of Mushagashe small-scale commercial farming area in Masvingo Province, the article explores the changing fortunes of farms over time. Historical information is complemented by a survey of twenty-six randomly selected farms, examining patterns of production, asset ownership and accumulation. In-depth interviews explore life histories and changes in social arrangements that have influenced agrarian change. Four broad farm types are identified, including those that are commercialized, projectized, villagized, and held or abandoned. These categories are not static, however, and the article emphasizes non-linear patterns of change. Following Sara Berry, we show how pathways of commercialization are diverse and unpredictable, influenced by interlocking conjunctures of social dynamics, generational changes and political-economic conditions. Commercialization outcomes are dependent on the intersection of relational dynamics and more structural, political economy factors. Bursts of commercialization on these farms are contingent on access to employment by farm owners, labour (hired, squatters and offspring) and, perhaps above all, money to invest. The much-hyped policy vision of a new medium-scale commercial farm sector emerging in Africa therefore must be qualified, and divergent outcomes recognized.

Partout en Afrique, le nombre d'exploitations agricoles de taille moyenne a augmenté, y compris au Zimbabwe après la réforme agraire de 2000. Ces exploitations ont-elles des chances de stimuler de nouvelles formes de commercialisation agricole ? Dans cet article, les auteurs cherchent à tirer les enseignements du passé en examinant l'expérience des « native purchase areas » [zones réservées à l'accession à la propriété des indigènes] qui furent créées à partir des années 1930 au Zimbabwe. À travers une étude historique détaillée de la région de Mushagashe dans la province de Masvingo, l'article explore les vicissitudes des exploitations agricoles au fil du temps. Ces données historiques sont complétées par une étude portant sur vingt-six exploitations choisies de façon aléatoire qui examine les schémas de production ainsi que la propriété et l'accumulation d'actifs. Des entretiens approfondis explorent des récits de vie et les changements d'organisation sociale qui ont influencé le changement agraire. Quatre grands types d'exploitations sont identifiés, y compris les exploitations commercialisées, projetisées, villagisées, et conservées ou abandonnées. Ces catégories ne sont cependant pas statiques et l'article souligne la non-linéarité des schémas d’évolution. Suivant Sara Berry, les auteurs montrent la diversité et le caractère imprévisible des trajectoires de commercialisation influencés par des conjonctures imbriquées de dynamique sociale, de changements générationnels et de conditions politico-économiques. Les résultats de commercialisation dépendent de l'intersection de dynamiques relationnelles et de facteurs économiques et politiques plus structurels. Les poussées de commercialisation sur ces exploitations sont subordonnées à l'accès à l'emploi par les chefs d'exploitation, à la main-d’œuvre (salariée, squatteurs et progéniture) et peut-être surtout aux moyens financiers pour investir. Il convient donc de qualifier la vision d'orientation, exagérément vantée, d'un nouveau secteur agricole commercial à moyenne échelle émergent en Afrique, et de reconnaître la divergence de résultats.

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