Resettlement and contract farming in Zimbabwe: the case of Mushandike
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Until the introduction of the structural adjustment programme, post independent smallholder agriculture in Zimbabwe’s resettlement schemes was dominated by the state (Bratton, 1994). Inspired by the experiences of the socialist countries which had played a key role in the predominantly land based liberation struggle, the state played, for most resettlement schemes, the role of manager, deciding how, when and what was to be grown (Mumbengegwi, 1987). The state could afford to do this because it was the source for all inputs, from seeds fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. This high-handed managerial role was complemented by another sophisticated one: control of marketing. Eager to get as much as possible from the peasants and doubting the ability of peasants to conduct marketing, the state cast itself as the only purchaser of resettlement produce. To capture grain from peasants as well as reduce wastages, the state installed, as everywhere in Africa, marketing depots, filling up these with state functionaries (Bates, 1981; Berry, 1984; Scott, 1998). For various reasons including those relating to the collapse of socialism, the state’s dominant role in resettlement agriculture has, now, been dismantled and from its ruins has emerged a new regime based on partnership with private business. With inputs in hand and assured markets for every crop sown under contract, private business promises a lighter yoke to the smallholder. While these partnerships now mark the landscape and continue to multiply with each new resettlement scheme, there is very little research problematising them. Even though there is a rich corpus of knowledge about contract farming elsewhere (Watts and Little, 1994; Barnett, 1984), we still do not know how these contracts are framed. There remains an agenda to unravel how these contracts are formed as well as to illuminate their nature. Could it be that these contracts are ambiguous on obligations of buyers and clear on obligations of growers? And what has been the impact of these contracts on the growers? These are pertinent questions as those touching on the significance of these contracts on the Zimbabwe’s unfolding resettlement and land reform programme. This paper represents an attempt to understand these new relationships in the context of land resettlement in Zimbabwe. In particular, I seek to understand how these agrarian contracts are framed, and what this framing means for smallholders. But I also seek to understand whether contract farming can complement and enrich the ongoing land reform and resettlement programme, which has tended to be mechanistic and state driven.