Izwi neTarisiro  Zimbabwe's Citizens Jury

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Author: Elijah Rusike
Date: 01 October 2003
Translations: Français
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Elijah Rusike | 01 October 2003 | Seedling - October 2003

Elijah Rusike

As Zimbabwe struggles with economic hard times and land reform problems, its farming sector is in disarray. A citizen's jury was held in a bid to improve the quality and relevance of policies that affect smallholder farmers. At a time when GM crops are being billed as the road to food security for Africa, Zimbabwe's citizen's jury showed that for many farmers, seed of any kind is only one of a large number of factors that affect their ability to feed their families.

In 2002, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and six countries in Southern Africa were faced with a critical food shortage as the result of a drought the previous year. For Zimbabwe, traditionally a regional food basket, this was a particular shock. Here the drought compounded serious problems created by the land reform process (see box opposite) and dramatic economic decline in the 1990s. Zimbabwe's commercial agriculture sector was in tatters and smallholder farmers were facing hard times (see box over page). In the midst of the imminent famine a national debate on genetically modified (GM) crops began. Zimbabwe was the first country in the region to question, and initially reject, genetically modified crops in food aid unless they had been previously milled. One of the things that the debate on GM highlighted was how far removed policy concerns and decisions were from farmers' daily lives and concerns.

In Zimbabwe, like many other countries, policy formulation has remained the preserve of technocrats and politicians. The participation of the primary beneficiaries of these policies has been zero or at most superficial. In the recent past, many policies developed by the technocrats to benefit smallholder-farming communities have fallen far short of their anticipated results. For example, the government recently declared all grains a controlled commodity and people were not allowed to trade it except to the state, which then distributed it. These controls resulted in people refusing to sell to the state and creating acute shortages, making it lucrative to sell on the parallel market - exactly what the policy makers wanted to protect people from.

One of the major reasons for this failure emanates from poorly informed policy formulation processes. Processes that effectively engage the primary beneficiaries have been shown to result in relevant and progressive policies that promote sustainable development. But how can the full participation of the smallholder farming communities be achieved? What framework could guide their participation?

Twenty years of land reform
Land has been a source of political conflict in Zimbabwe since colonisation. Under British colonial rule and the white minority government that in 1965 unilaterally declared its independence from Britain, white farmers seized control of the vast majority of good agricultural land, leaving black farmers to scrape a living from marginal “tribal reserves.” An end to white minority rule came after a protracted war of liberation in which land was a major issue, and elections saw the Zanu-PF party come to power in 1980.
The new government was bound by ‘sunset clauses' in the independence agreement that gave special protections to white Zimbabweans for the first ten years of independence. These prohibited the compulsory acquisition of land for redistribution and resettlement. After 1990 these constraints were lifted and the government introduced new rules that strengthened its powers to acquire land. By the end of what became known as “phase one” of the land reform and resettlement program in 1997, the government had resettled 71,000 families (against a target of 162,000) on almost 3.5 million hectares of land. Only 19 per cent of this was classed as prime land, the rest was either marginal, or unsuitable for grazing or cultivation. There were positive and sustainable results from the resettlement process, though problems beset the resettled communities who lacked infrastructure and support networks, whether governmental or from their previous communities. Moreover, population density in the “communal areas,” the former tribal reserves, actually increased. More than one million families still eked out an existence on sixteen million hectares of poor land. Despite wealth in one sector of the economy, Zimbabwe remained one of the most unequal countries in the world.
By 1999, eleven million hectares of the richest land were still in the hands of about 4,500 commercial farmers, the great majority of them white. Moreover, some farms purchased for redistribution had in fact been given to government ministers and other senior officials rather than to the landless farmers. Most rural black Zimbabweans continued to suffer immense poverty. In the face of government failure to deliver, grassroots land occupations were already taking place in the 1980s and 1990s; in many cases government security forces then removed people from the land with some brutality. But, despite occasional saber-rattling by the government, white farmers were mostly left undisturbed; several became prominent supporters of Zanu-PF.
The conflict over land was related to growing tension between the government and the 60,000 or so veterans of the liberation war, who had been given little support in starting a new life after the war. What support they did receive was subject to abuse and corruption. Exacerbating these problems was a growing economic crisis in the country. The new government had borrowed heavily from the World Bank during the 1980s, and servicing the debt rose to 37 percent of export earnings by 1987. Loan conditions led to food subsidies falling in 1986 to two-thirds of their 1981 level. By 1997, Zimbabwe was in the throes of a serious economic and political crisis. Spiraling food and fuel prices inspired urban strikes and political protests. Inflation topped 100% in 2001.
Under enormous pressure internally and from outside the country, in July 2000 the Zimbabwean government announced “phase two” of its land acquisition programme. This “fast track” resettlement program would acquire 3,000 farms for redistribution (this figure was increased to almost 5,000 in 2002). The acquisition process was hampered by a number of factors, the most significant being the occupation of many commercial farms by settlers led by war veterans. By the end of 2001, 114,830 households were officially recorded as having physically moved and resettled on 4.37 million hectares. But fast track has been chaotic, cumbersome and increasingly harsh. Since the introduction of the fast track process, government policy and stated aims in relation to redistribution and land occupations have repeatedly changed, making it increasingly easy for the government to acquire land, evict ‘squatters' and halt a farm's activities.

*Source: Human Rights Watch, Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe, www.hrw.org/reports/2002/zimbabwe/, March 2002


 

It was with this background that ITDG conducted a citizens jury, locally referred to as Izwi neTarisiro, in Zimbabwe. The aim of the citizens jury was to demonstrate the value of small holder farmer contributions to policy debates, and improve the quality and relevance of policies that affect smallholder agriculture. The purpose of the jury was to locally adapt, test and evaluate a participatory, deliberative and inclusive framework that could encourage smallholder involvement in agricultural policy formulation.

Zimbabwe's struggling farm sector*
The combination of erratic rainfall, the drop in commercial maize production due to the land reform programme, the government monopoly on cereal imports and the HIV/AIDS pandemic have stripped Zimbabwe of its former status as southern Africa's breadbasket. Food security decreased significantly during the 1990s. The supply of maize available through the government's Grain Marketing Board is erratic and scarce. The price of maize on the parallel market has risen by more than 200% over the last year. Many households are resorting to coping mechanisms such as gold-panning, prostitution and selling livestock.
Production on commercial farms has declined dramatically in recent years as the result of the fast track land reform process and occupations by settlers (see land reform box). The Commercial Farmers Union estimated that 31% of farms were experiencing total or partial work stoppages in late September 2001. By January 2002, about 1,000 commercial farms had closed operations completely – either the resident farm owners had left, or were allowed to stay but not allowed to farm by militia occupying the land. The areas particularly affected were Mashonaland East, Central, and West, the most productive arable land in Zimbabwe. The Commercial Farmers' Union estimated that close to 250,000 head of cattle (nearly 20% of the national commercial herd) had been forcibly ‘destocked' by late 2001, and that over 1.6 million hectares of grazing land had been burnt out, while commercial maize planting was down to 45,000 hectares from 150,000 hectares in the 1999/2000 season. Export crops such as tobacco were similarly affected. The shut-down of the commercial sector has added to Zimbabwe's high unemployment levels and food insecurity.
Small farmers have suffered from the failure of the land reform process to provide them with productive, viable farm land, and a loss of productive ability as the result of HIV/AIDs. They also suffered from recurrent drought, a shortage of agricultural inputs (partly because the government procured many of these for the newly resettled farmers) and high prices when they were able to get them. The first consignment of donated maize arrived in Zimbabwe, usually a maize exporter, in January 2002, and the World Food Programme began emergency food distribution to 45% of the population in February. It anticipates having to continue that level of support in the near future.

*Sources: Human Rights Watch, Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe, www.hrw.org/reports/2002/zimbabwe/, March 2002; World Food Programme, Zimbabwe country profile: www.wfp.org/country_brief/index.asp?region=3; Jeffrey Alwang et al, Why Has Poverty Increased in Zimbabwe?, World Bank, March 2003


The citizens jury
There are 1.4 million smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe. The government is in the process of resettling some 750,000 of these, which will leave more than 1.3 million smallholder farmers in the communal areas. Smallholder farmers constitute by far the majority of Zimbabwe's farmers and are the most affected by agricultural policies. Yet they are typically excluded from the policy formulation.

The first part of the citizens jury was a national workshop to scope out the real issues that concern smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe. Partner organisations selected 43 participants from 16 districts in the country to attend the national workshop. Partner institutions included Veco-Zimbabwe, the Biotechnology Trust of Zimbabwe, Rural Development Organisation, the Zvishavane Water Project and the Community Technology Development Trust.

The workshop identified several key issues that directly affect smallholder farmers (see below). These issues included seed issues and intellectual property rights.

Jury selection and criteria
After the workshop, 16 jury members were selected from among the participants. The following criteria were used in their selection:

Ability to speak in front of others

Differing backgrounds and crops grown

One person per district

Equal gender composition

Full time farmer and resident in the rural area

Farmers selected into the jury were drawn from seven of the country's eight provinces: two from Mashonaland East Province, one from Mashonaland West Province, five from Manicaland Province, four from Mashonaland Central Province, one from Matebeleland North Province and one Midlands farmer (see map).

Jury members were separately introduced to the jury process and procedures. This induction was a confidence building measure meant to encourage jury members to allow for better and open discussion that would allow them to work as a team. A mock jury process was conducted and had witnesses, jury members and an oversight panel. All this was to foster closer relations among jurors. A lawyer with experience in public policy formulation processes was invited to discuss how policies are made and where smallholder farmers' voices can contribute in policy formulation.

The witnesses
Seventeen specialist witnesses presented their visions or those of their institutions for smallholder agriculture by the year 2020. The chief criteria for selection were specialist subject knowledge, ability to communicate in Shona, the local language, and willingness to answer questions from the jury. The witnesses comprised four government officials, five NGO representatives, four academics, two farmers' union representatives and two from parastals. Two people were selected to become oversight panel members. One panel member was deputy director in the Ministry of Lands while the other was a renowned regional independent consultant.


Smallholder farmers sharing knowledge on an exchange visit in Nyanga district.

Issues affecting small farmers in Zimbabwe
The following issues were raised by participants of the workshop preceding the Citizens' Jury as the most pressing concerns of small holder farmers:

1.

Farmer representation
Grassroots issues are not represented well at the national level by Farmers' Unions and no feedback is given from national level to grassroot structures. Poor leadership often greatly affects representation of farmers at all levels.

2.

Lack of knowledge and information
Smallholder farmers often lack knowledge and information of how they can increase productivity or improve their livelihoods. This lack of information is compounded by lack of exposure to how farmers in similar circumstances elsewhere are addressing similar issues.

3.

Shortage of inputs/high prices
Input availability and affordability has become a huge challenge for farmers. Inputs such as fertilisers and seed are often unavailable at the local grocer, and when they are they are either too expensive or they are the wrong type.

4.

Seed
The potential benefit and threats of such technologies as genetic modification are often not clearly explained to farmers. Promotional materials often just promote these while the negative effects are not mentioned. Discussions and debates on such issues are often left to academics. Much of the seed on the market is hybrid seed which cannot be reused next season while at the same time seed prices have soared to beyond the reach of many.

5.

Lack of agro-processing
Products from smallholder farmers are usually sold as raw materials rather than processed products. Technology is not available to add value at source, limiting the farmer's profitability.

6.

Machinery/equipment
Smallholder farming is labour intensive and lacks basic implements that can assist farmers to ease operations.

7.

Poor co-ordination among development agencies
Development efforts in smallholder farming issues are often poorly coordinated such that there is a tendency towards duplication and overlap. Institutions are too rigid in their structures and ways of working, making it hard for farmers to work with them.

8.

Lack of participation in policy formulation
Smallholder farmers do not participate directly in any policy making and decision making bodies. Grassroots farmers have valuable knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of their environment which should be valued and included.

9.

Inappropriate farming methods
Extension workers have pressured farmers into following particular farming methods which are assumed to increase farm productivity. Such farming systems have emphasised monoculture and the heavy use of chemicals. Inappropriate tillage systems have often destroyed soils. Farmers own production systems have often been seen as irrelevant and backward.

10.

Piracy of information and resources
Smallholder communities often loose valuable resources because of a lack of knowledge of their value. Medicinal plants or other valuable knowledge is surrendered in faith to outsiders who go on to use this knowledge for their own academic gains or who end up with claims on that knowledge while never acknowledging its source or never paying royalties.

11.

Poor infrastructure: roads and phone
Most smallholder farming areas lack basic necessary infrastructure to fuel economic activity. Roads are either impassable in some seasons or transporters shun such routes because of poor or little business. The lack of adequate information on such things as markets and knowledge militates against smallholder farmers. The high cost of, radios and other communications, and the energy to power them, limits accessibility.

12.

Markets, trust and contract
Smallholder farmers are highly exploited when it comes to marketing. This exploitation is exacerbated by lack of information about markets. The inability to meet quality requirements and production volumes has ruled farmers out of lucrative contract deals. Transport and poor infrastructure have also worsened marketing headaches for the farmers.

13.

Limited or no access to credit
Smallholder farmers often fail to access loans because they fail to raise the required collateral or because they are considered too risky to invest in.

14.

Water for agriculture
The issue of water for agriculture has become a central issue particularly because of the current dry spell that has affected all farmers.

15.

HIV/AIDS and its impact on labour
Diseases, particularly HIV and AIDS, have had devastating impact on smallholder farming as the able bodied have either been infected or are taking care of the infected. This directly affects production as it robs smallholder farmers of labour. Where a leader becomes sick and passes away there results in lack of continuation or even breakdown of the initiatives they were spearheading.

16.

Natural resource management problems
Smallholder farmers are faced with a tough challenge to manage their environment. This is because of the communal tenure system which stipulates that grazing areas are communally owned. The responsibility for conservation therefore becomes everyone's business and in most cases this means nobody's business. Even those areas where there is an element of individual ownership there is no title to the land and as such conservation measures in fields and homestead becomes the individual's own initiative.

17.

Access to research and extension
Because agriculture forms the core of livelihoods for smallholder farmers, access to agricultural research and extension is very important. Research has tended to concentrate on issues that are not relevant to smallholder farmers. Extension has tended to be unavailable or of poor quality.

18.

Limited livelihoods options
There are limited other livelihood opportunities for smallholder farmers. Few income generating activities are available between harvest and the next planting season. A missed harvest often devastates livelihoods because farmers cannot obtain cash for inputs for the following season.

 


Farmers from Chivi had their interest in seed fairs revived in the 1990s through exchange visits
between Zimbabwe and Peru, where seed fairs have great cultural and spiritual value. Seed fairs
are now an annual event in many villages in the region.

The verdict
After hearing evidence and deliberating for four days, the Citizens jury delivered a verdict on a range of issue including water and agriculture, rural livelihood options, HIV/AIDs and labour, and natural resource management. Some of these are shown in the box on p 27. The witnesses achieved consensus on a wide variety of issues, and deonstrated the ability to grasp and form considered opinions and recommendations about complex subjects that were new to many of them (such as GMOs). Farmers raised a number of concerns on the economic, environmental, social and safety of GM crops. They brought up concerns over cross pollination, the contamination of wild relatives, pest resistance, the impact on friendly insects, seed cost, intellectual property rights, biopiracy and many more issues. The issue of food sovereignty was raised by farmers as they recognized that “Zimbabwe has not yet been capable of producing any GM crop seed and as such it would have to rely on external big companies”. A particular concern in the Zimbabwean context was how sanctions might affect the seed supply.

Key points from the verdict

Research and Extension
We desire:

The promotion of extension systems that encourage group approaches

Sufficient knowledge of breeding for both modern and traditional seeds

Committed and dedicated extension workers for backstopping support

Farmer led farm site research driven by the farmer's research agenda

Extension approaches that value the farmer's knowledge

The promotion of farmer to farmer extension approaches

Full cycle farmer training using such training as farmer field schools

Farming Systems
We desire:

Soil fertility systems that are locally available

The formation of strong farmer groups

The promotion of the conservation of traditional crops and livestock

Value addition of farm produce

Crop rotation

Mixed and intercropped farming systems

The promotion of growing a wide range of crops and varieties

The promotion of the use of local plants as pest repellants

Research into the improvement of chemical repellants

The availability of adequate draft animals

Local capacity to make tools and equipment

The promotion of systems that do not harm the local ecosystems




Intellectual Property Rights
We desire:

Laws that protect our seed from being used to develop hybrids and protect the exploitation of our natural resources for corporate gain

That the plight of developing countries be considered in the formulation of international laws and treaties that affect them

Freedom to trade their seed on the local market

Freedom for farmers to exchange and produce their own seed

There should be laws that enforce compensation and consent where our knowledge is to be used for commercial gain

We oppose:

The total surrender of seed production rights to large corporations



Genetically Modified Organisms
We support:

Full awareness and education about GMOs

More research into the assumed pros and cons of GMOs

Mandatory compensation where people are affected by GMOs

Self reliance of smallholder farmers in seed production

We oppose:

The use of genetically modified organisms for food as there is no guarantee about their safety and effect in the future

The use of genetically modified organisms because of the risks they pose to the environment.


 

Through community mobilisation, the revival of traditional
cropping systems (including groundnuts shown in the background
here), seed fairs and water harvesting, food security is
much less of an issue for farmers in Chivi district.


Now the farmers' main concern is how to market the surplus.
Rural transportation and infrastructure is extremely limited.
Beyond local markets, farmers are at the mercy of a few traders,
who tend to exploit them.


The citizens jury was very valuable in bringing together a wider variety of experts from the government level to small holder farmers to share concerns and knowledge, and demonstrate the valuable contribution farmers can make to policy debates. The direct interaction of smallholder farmers with policy makers revealed that there are potential disparities between policy formulation and policy implementation. It was interesting to note that the official government extension policy lists 32 approaches, but only 11 are employed in practice. The extension ‘toolbox' includes farmer field fora, participatory extension approach, farming systems research and other approaches that small farmers felt would be helpful but are not realised on the ground.

A number of citizens juries have been carried out around the world in recent years on the subject of GMOs1, such as the Prajateerpu process in Andhra Pradesh2 and one in the UK3. These examples of ‘deliberative democracy', which aim to give a voice to those who have been historically excluded from decision making, are becoming increasingly popular. They offer an important and effective mechanism of aligning policy decisions with real world situations - in this case, the lives and concerns of small farmers.

Footnotes

[1]

www.peals.ncl.ac.uk/public-ations/leisa.pdf

[2]

www.iied.org/sarl/research/projects/ t5proj01/IIEDcitizenjuryAP1.html

[3]

www.gmpublicdebate.org


Elijah Rusike works for the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), Southern Africa. He is presently facilitating the Nyanga Sustainable Livelihoods Project. ITDG's food production programme in Southern Africa has facilitated a number of seed fairs, farmer-to-farmer exchanges (with some farmers coming from outside the country) and field days, where farmers showcase their farms to other farmers. Elijah can be contacted at ' + user + '@' + domain +' or by mail c/o ITDG, P.O. Box 215, Nyanga, Zimbabwe.

 

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