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The recovery and transformation of Zimbabwe's communal areas
Dore, United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
July 24, 2009
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This paper is
part of the Comprehensive Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe Working
in 1980 Zimbabwe inherited a dual agrarian structure that had seen
white commercial farmers prosper in good farming areas while hundreds
of thousands of poor black families struggled to subsist on smallholdings
in the communal areas, much of it in semi-arid areas with poor soils.
It was estimated that there were nearly three times more people
living in the communal areas than the land could sustain. The Zimbabwe
Government therefore prioritized the communal areas for development
by intensifying agriculture and initiating a programme of resettlement
and migration to decongest them. The smallholder sector made significant
gains, surpassing the commercial sector in maize and cotton production
in the mid-1980s. Ambitious plans were laid to intensify production
by land-use reorganization and establishing consolidated villages
in which to concentrate physical and social infrastructure. The
resettlement programme aimed to resettle 162,000 families, while
over 300,000 families were expected to migrate to towns and cities.
But these hopes faded by the end of the 1980s. Output declined,
village planning stalled, the rate of resettlement slowed to a trickle,
and the expected migration of households to urban centres failed
to materialize. In the meantime, the communal area population had
swelled to about one million households.
In 1994 the
Land Tenure Commission made far-reaching recommendations for addressing
the underlying problems facing the communal lands, but the government's
attentions had turned to land redistribution. After the government
launched its fast track land resettlement programme in 2000, it
poured huge resources into sustaining newly resettled farmers, but
did little to assist communal smallholders. As the government took
control over domestic food supplies, communal families became increasingly
dependent on international humanitarian and food aid.
Since the formation
of the inclusive government, the emphasis has been on maintaining
the required levels of international humanitarian assistance through
food aid, smallholder cropping packs, seed fairs and vouchers to
improve household food security. As soon as Zimbabwe's government
re-engages fully with the donor community, it should reduce dependence
on such handouts and stimulate smallholder production by opening
up agricultural credit, input and commodity markets. It then needs
to address the underlying and pervasive constraints that make smallholder
agricultural production untenable in most communal areas.
of population, under a traditional farming system that provides
cost-free access to land, results in the continual subdivision of
household plots that are too small to sustain livelihoods based
on agricultural production, especially in the semi-arid regions.
By enabling some farmers to consolidate their holdings into more
viable units, while facilitating the transfer of others into alternative
non-farm livelihoods, both the remaining farmers and those engaged
in higher productivity non-farm activities will benefit significantly.
The basic mechanism for this process of commercialization, migration
and poverty reduction is a land rental and sales market. The second
necessary condition to enable this structural transformation of
the rural economy is rapid economic growth in the manufacturing
and service sectors of the economy. Over time, as development proceeds,
commercialization and transformation will dissolve the existing
dual agrarian structure, intensify agricultural production and decongest
the communal areas.
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