Private and State-Led Contract Farming in Zimbabwe: Accumulation, Social Differentiation and Rural Politics
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Contract farming schemes often amplify existing patterns of socio-economic differentiation. In Zimbabwe, processes of differentiation were underway before the current expansion of contract farming and they have deepened through the Fast Track Land Reform process. This article examines how pre-existing dynamics of differentiation shape the forms of contract farming adopted, as well as which groups of farmers gain access and on what terms. Social differentiation partly explains the outcomes of contract farming, even if contract farming in turn results in further differentiation. This article contrasts private sector-led contract farming of tobacco and state-led financing of maize production (the ‘command agriculture’ programme) in two high-potential sites and across different forms of land use. Unlike in many other settings, contract farming in Zimbabwe is highly influenced by the state, through the regulation of private sector arrangements and the establishment of a state-led contracting programme. The state-led programme boosted maize production amongst medium-scale farmers and resulted in an embedding of patronage relations. Meanwhile, the private-led contract farming has supported a widespread boom of tobacco production, mainly amongst smallholders. We find therefore that contract farming is highly dependent on the contingent, politically mediated processes of social differentiation.