The Zimbabwe research on land reform post 2000 was part of a wider project on Livelihoods after land reform in southern Africa ( The final report to the funding council can be found here. Listen to a debate among research team members and advisors here

This collaborative project, funded by DFID-ESRC, asked: to what extent is land redistribution in southern Africa achieving poverty reduction and livelihood improvement objectives? Despite commitments to land reform, impacts have not been accurately assessed. By collecting empirical data in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia, comparing across sites in three national settings, and synthesising findings, the project provided insights into livelihood impacts and wider patterns of agrarian change in post-land reform settings in southern Africa. It also sought to understand the conditions that result in poverty reduction following land redistribution, advance conceptual thinking about post-settlement livelihood options, and develop replicable methodological approaches for assessing impacts at different scales.

The project had four core objectives. These were to:

  1. Provide empirical data, in a systematic and comparable form, on livelihoods impacts and agrarian structure in post-land reform settings.

  2. Understand what conditions – including appropriate land transfer mechanisms, resettlement models, tenure arrangements and post-settlement support – are likely to result in poverty reduction following redistribution of land.

  3. Advance conceptual thinking about post-transfer livelihood options, interrogating what is meant by ‘viable’ land reform in the southern African context

  4. Develop replicable methodological approaches for assessing impacts at different scales – e.g. household, scheme/project, regional economy – for use as assessment and monitoring and evaluation tools.

A pivotal issue at the centre of the land reform debate is the issue of the ‘viability’ of new land-based livelihoods. Are new settlers capable of using the land in a productive manner? Are they likely to achieve food security in the short term?  Will the scheme be sustainable in the longer term? However, a deeper and conceptually well-informed examination of what is meant by ‘viability’ is often absent: viability for whom? Over what scale/time period? In relation to what criteria? To date the debate about viability has largely focused on the scale and profitability of production, based on conventional farm management planning/business models. Interrogating the notion of viability and exploring methodologies for livelihood impact assessment goes to the core of the land reform debate in the region, exposing deeply contested notions of what constitute appropriate resettlement models, production types and routes to sustainability.

Research focused on livelihood impacts in South Africa (Limpopo Province), Zimbabwe (Masvingo Province) and Namibia (Kunene, Otjozondjupa, Oshikoto and Omaheke regions). Sites were chosen because they are the focus for on-going land redistribution efforts, are broadly comparable in terms of agro-ecology, existing support infrastructure and livelihood profiles and are areas where the applicants have extensive field contacts. Field sites represented a range of different land redistribution settings, such as low-input, dryland agriculture and livestock production; joint venture arrangements for high-value irrigated crops such as horticulture and sugar; and wildlife or tourism-based enterprises.

Within each site, data was collected through qualitative and quantitative methods at both individual household and scheme level. These household and scheme level data were complemented by a district or provincial/regional level assessment of the wider economic and social impacts of land reform. The methodological approach employed was necessarily cross-disciplinary drawing on inter alia dynamic livelihood pathway assessments; agricultural/farm economics; social network analysis; social dynamics and gender analysis and environmental impact appraisal. Data collection techniques will be equally diverse, ranging from household surveys to participatory appraisal, ethnographic observation and crop/farm modelling.

The project unfolded over three phases, involving, first, the establishment of a research and engagement strategy; second the main field research period and, third,  dissemination and policy networking. Engagement objectives included developing a replicable methodology for livelihood impact assessment, monitoring and evaluation; providing inputs into the design of support programmes in post-land reform settings; facilitating exchanges between researchers, government officials, service providers and land reform beneficiaries; and feeding research findings into policy discussions on land reform in southern Africa.

The Zimbabwe work builds on long-term research in Masvingo province dating from work in Chivi from the early 1990s. Most recently a study has focused on changes in the livestock sector culminating in a workshop held in May 2006 involving around 30 local stakeholders. The Masvingo work has been supported in particular by N. Pambirei, Head, AREX Masvingo. The study on livelihoods after land reform in Masvingo province, starting in November 2006, was coordinated by Nelson Marongwe, Centre for Applied Social Sciences, University of Zimbabwe, together with Chrispen Sukume of Dept of Agricultural Economics, UZ. The Zimbabwe field team was led by B.Z. Mavedzenge (AREX, Masvingo), working with Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. The work will continue interactions in four areas within Masvingo province – in Gutu, Masvingo, Mwenezi and Chiredzi districts. The overall regional project was directed by Professor Ben Cousins, director of the Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa and supported by Professor Ian Scoones, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.

The Research Programme