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Livelihoods after Land Reform in Zimbabwe Working Paper 2: The Fast Track Land Reform Programme and Livelihoods in Zimbabwe: A Case Study of Households at Athlone Farm in Murehwa District

by Shingirai Mandizadza in 2010

When Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, it was faced with the challenge of addressing the colonial legacy of disparities in access to education, health, income, employment among others. This was coupled with other discrepancies in access to production resources, including land which was controlled by a minority of white farmers in commercial agriculture. In contrast, the majority of the black population eked an almost subsistent life in overcrowded and infertile communal areas. Whilst the need for redistribution of land and other productive resources was obvious, the government had to face the challenges of how to implement large scale reforms that would address these discrepancies whilst maintaining earnings from crop production as the commercial crop production sector contributed to the country’s Gross Domestic Product earnings.

Government policy from 1980 to 2000 was informed by global and national debates about the efficiency, effectiveness and economic rationale of promoting large scale commercial production, compared to redistributive programmes that would provide smaller farming land to a larger number of beneficiaries for small holder production. The issue of the scope and potential of providing land to the poor to ensure household food self-provisioning had only been dealt with marginally until the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) between 2000 and 2002. This was despite global and national debates and empirical evidence that pointed to the potential that lay in land redistribution to improve the livelihoods of the majority of the Zimbabwean people. The FTLRP, which led to the redistribution of large scale commercial land, resulted in a lot of negative impacts that have been well documented. It also, however, opened up debates and renewed academic interest to interrogate the role of smallholder agriculture to livelihoods enhancement and poverty alleviation.

The study used a case study of households that were settled at Athlone farm under the FTLRP to contribute to this debate. Its main aim was to explore how far, and, in what ways, the beneficiaries’ lives had changed since they were resettled at Athlone. Emphasis in the study was placed on capturing the livelihood activities of resettled households. The study finds tentative results that point to improved livelihoods for Athlone households, particularly as far as household food self-sufficiency is concerned. It finds that beneficiary households have been able to meet their own food and grain needs and the needs of families and friends amidst the poverty and grain shortages that Zimbabwe has experienced since the FTLRP started. However, Athlone households’ livelihoods are considerably vulnerable as they have only managed to survive at a subsistence level. The study concludes that whilst the FTLRP provided land as an asset, land on its own has not been sufficient as a livelihood resource without access to other capital assets. The redistribution of land has not been integrated into a wider agrarian and development strategy in a way that would reflect the full potential for livelihoods enhancement. A lot of potential, as shown in the finding of the study, thus remains untapped.