COVID-19 and the Peasantry: Some Reflections from Zimbabwe

By Edmore Mwandiringana and Fadzai Chipato

Introduction

Covid -19 was declared a global pandemic on 30 January 2020 by the World Health Organization following the reports of about 10 000 mortality cases worldwide. Following the declaration, most countries put travel restrictions and lockdown measures to limit the spread of the virus. Among various precautionary measures, physical distancing, erroneously dubbed ‘social distancing’ is one of the guaranteed ways of minimizing the spread of the virus. Zimbabwe recorded its first case on 20/03/2020 and went on to impose a lockdown which started on the 30th of March to last for 21 days. The article exposes how the peasantry has and is still bearing the brunt of the lockdown measures. Peasant farmers in horticulture production survive on selling their produce to buyers from all over the country at big markets in the country (Harare – Mbare; Mutare – Sakubva). These open markets offer a readily available vegetable and fruit produce for the working class in urban areas. Noteworthy is these markets are accessible for the peasantry because they do not have to go through the cumbersome channels required by big supermarkets. Besides, the traditional markets are conducive for the peasantry that may not access to social media platforms. These fresh produce markets are ideal for the peasantry that has oftentimes limited access to storage facilities. At the same time, these fresh produce markets offer affordable food for the urban working class.

Covid 19 and the Peasantry

Peasant livelihoods in Zimbabwe have been largely been characterized by precarity in the last three decades beginning with the adoption of the IMF sponsored Economic Structural Adjustment Programs imposed on developing countries since the late 1980s. The emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant State reaction has worsened the plight of the peasantry who rely on agriculture and produce sales. Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 imposing a 21-day national lockdown coupled with a weak social welfare system greatly affects the peasantry whose livelihoods depend on daily produce sales. As correctly stated by the World Health Organization (WHO) Director Tedros Adhanom, there is a need for Governments to consider the impacts of restriction of movement on such people. The Zimbabwean Government has however been confiscating and destroying peasants’ produce ostensibly to enforce the lockdown, restrict public gatherings and curb the spread of the coronavirus. These acts by the State have been widely condemned by the citizenry as the state’s actions adversely affect, not only peasant livelihoods but the economy and political stability in general. 

Allowing peasants to continue operating during the lockdown would help in the maintenance of social and economic stability and support “social distancing” as it assures people of a constant supply of food during the lockdown. If peasants were to stop the supply of fruits, vegetables as well as other products, citizens would find it difficult to remain under lockdown as they are forced to go out of their homes to seek adequate food supply. It should be noted that people were given a 2 days’ notice on the lockdown, which time was inadequate to stock sufficient food requirements for 21 days. Farm produce cannot be expedited to mature and be ready for sale within a period determined by law – it follows a natural process. If left out in the field and not harvested, farm produce would get spoiled, leading to huge losses for the peasantry. However, it is interesting to note that the State allowed large retail outlets to operate, labeling them as an essential service. Thus, the State deliberately gave a blind eye to the fact that the generality of Zimbabweans relies on the informal economy for survival.

Upon noting its mistake and gross violation of human rights, the State relaxed its lockdown policy and allowed peasants to trade. However, there has been silence on the amount of compensation to be given to those whose produce was confiscated by the state. Also, the modalities of how the peasants and their customers are to meet and transact at designated points have not been publicly stated. Important to note that most of the affected peasants come from the Chimanimani and Chipinge areas which were recently affected by Cyclone Idai. The state’s action invokes questions on the government’s policy towards the peasantry. However, interestingly, the state has been pushing for the peasantry to participate in the tobacco marketing season that is likely to commence in the next few days. Pushing for the opening of the tobacco auction floors, the state has not offered any plausible explanation. However, it is evident that the state is keen to participate in tobacco marketing in which the state has direct monetary benefits.

We argue that the lockdown due to covid-19 has negatively impacted the peasantry who are left with virtually nowhere to sell their produce. Mbare Musika in Harare and Sakubva in Mutare are the largest market-places in the country that distribute fresh produce to other markets in the country. The closure of the markets has adversely impacted the peasantry who are left with rotting fruits and vegetables. Buyers from other provinces cannot travel due to restrictions, which leaves the peasantry at a great loss. This does not only affect their livelihoods but also have a long-run impact on the production patterns.  

Way Forward

This state’s approach in the COVID -19 times demonstrates the underlying problems that the peasantry face in Zimbabwe where market access has become a huge challenge. The open markets act as a buffer and protect fresh produce producers. The measures are taken to combat the coronavirus not only expose the struggles of the peasant producer but also necessitate a rethinking of marketing strategies for fresh produce. We, therefore, propose value addition of the farm produce, which helps in times of uncertainty or disaster (like Covid-19). Value addition allows the peasants not to rush to sell the produce while adding more value to the products.

Nested markets which have been instrumental in product marketing in the Netherlands also offer a good approach to improve and diversify from the open markets that have proven to be fragile in the event of pandemics. Therefore, there need for the State to come up with modalities for compensating the affected peasants as well to ensure that they have access to the market. It is also within the State’s responsibility to ensure that these same peasants are protected from the coronavirus as they conduct their business of feeding the nation. Other countries have come up with methods to ensure that people queue orderly, observing physical distancing in the market place.  Some societies have enhanced peasants and potential clients’ access to the internet to encourage online shopping and reduce the number of people on the street. It would thus be prudent for the Government of Zimbabwe to consider these and other options to ensure the viability of peasant agriculture.

Covid-19 and socio-political struggles of the marginalized: A gendered analysis

 By Rejoice M. Chipuriro

Introduction

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) on 31  January 2020 and as a pandemic on 11 March 2020. Following the consequential high fatalities experienced in China, Europe and now in the United States of America, there are mounting fears on the African continent compounded by lack of preparedness to deal with this pandemic. Like most African leaders who saw it coming but took a slow approach, Zimbabwe’s president claimed that this virus did not give his government any warning that it was coming. This is the justification for the continued slow response as Africa is still the least affected continent.  However, a steady increase in the statistics of affected countries is causing a stir on how our social, political, and ideological responses will influence the trajectory of the pandemic.  As Chigudu (2020) asserts, COVID-19 as an organism obtains significance only when it interacts with the toxic politics and socioeconomics within the different human contexts magnifying the fragile inequalities in these ecosystems.

On the politics of covid-19

Scholars such as Okazawa-Rey (2020) note that the politics of scarcity and its ensuing unequal distribution of so-called scarce resources is more vicious to our societies than the Covid-19 pandemic. This leads to the survival of the fittest behavior associated with allegiance to capitalism as the rational distributor of scarce resources. The rich use these instances of crises to line up their pockets. As proclaimed by Shivji (2020), the fight against COVID-19 is a class struggle where capitalists profit from human misery and suffering. This is reflected by the Zimbabwean Government’s response to the crisis which shows the state’s lack of preparedness. Under Mnangagwa’s leadership, the state is increasingly adopting a neo-liberal approach where responsibility to provide for and protect citizens is shifted onto a profit-seeking private sector. Moyo and Chipunza (2020) noted that the Government of Zimbabwe teamed up with private sector player Sakunda Holdings to set up testing and isolation centers. The Herald reported that Sakunda Holdings invested USD 2,7 million towards the refurbishment of two private hospitals. Sakunda Holdings was recently named by ZANU PF youth leaders as a politically connected corrupt entity implicated in illicit fuel and foreign currency deals and has now been decried by some as venturing into the medical field to benefit from the Covid-19 crisis. On the same date that the partnership was announced, the Reserve Bank Governor Mangudya announced the re-dollarization of the economy to cushion business from the effects of Covid-19. This effectively allows Sakunda Holdings to charge in USD in the newly refurbished private care isolation centers, thereby exclusively serving the few affording elites.  Media reports note that Ministry of health senior officials received top of the range luxury vehicles, whilst nurses and doctors are underpaid, have no equipment to conduct their work and no protective gear to handle the highly infectious virus. The public health facilities are run down and a death trap, such that the rich are looking for some alternative private isolation facilities. 

Locking the nation out of sight and the subsequent gendered implications.

Pontarelli, (2020) notes how times of crisis reveal fundamental contradictions of our society as the spread of Covid-19 is not only a medical crisis but also a political and social struggle. This virus is highlighting vulnerabilities of the marginalized in society, which includes workers in the informal sector, carers, and those unable to access labor rights and social safety nets (Pontarelli, 2020). The Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF) also expressed how epidemics affect girls, women, boys, and men differently, magnifying existing inequalities on age, class, disability, gender and income lines. Poor women make up the majority of those on the fringes who are/will be hard hit by this pandemic and its effects. The state must still provide food and care to families under constrained environments. In Harare, the farmers market, Mbare has been declared an essential service which implies that it will be allowed to operate under the recently sanctioned lockdown starting on Monday 30th March 2020. There is no clean running water facility, the market is overcrowded, and conditions do not allow for social distancing. The Harare City Council which owns the marketplace has not provided protective clothing, water, or soap for the stall operators who pay the City Council rentals and are mostly women. This will expose them to contracting Covid-19. The inability of women to access personal protective equipment in their caring work as nurses or caring for sick family members at home speaks to the negligent nature of the state and appropriation of women’s labor. The power relations at play ensures that women’s caring labor can be cheaply extracted, exploited and their lives disposable.

Whilst the rich stand to benefit from the crisis, the poor who form the majority in Zimbabwe at 90% unemployment survive from working on the streets and are bound to struggle during the 21-day lockdown announced by President Mnangagwa. Zimbabweans were only given the weekend to prepare for the lockdown after the President announced the lockdown on Friday. In a typical top-down authoritarian approach, the President assigned an 11-member inter-ministerial Covid-19 taskforce and proceeded to announce the lockdown without consultations, awareness-raising, and plans in place to sustain the precarious livelihoods already under threat. Women who are in informal employment and not operating within the food value chains or at the Mbare farmers market will be forced to stop trading. With no social provisioning, they will be exposed to the immediate impacts of poverty through loss of income. With the loss of income comes poor nutrition which weakens the immune system exposing them to contracting Covid-19 and succumbing to it.

As critics on social media have commented, most of the ways prescribed to ward off Covid-19 are only accessible to the affluent. Social distancing is a privilege afforded by those who live in large houses, hand washing is a privilege available to those with access to running water, hand sanitizers are a privilege for those who have money to buy them. Lockdowns are a privilege experienced by those that can afford to be at home. An intellectual understanding not backed by experiential knowledge of the plight of the poor is going to cost the most vulnerable in our African societies and globally as well.

Reimagining possibilities to effectively tackle the virus

The Covid-19 pandemic poses an opportunity to build alternative solutions that consider the needs of the people and the environment before profit (Pontarelli, 2020). Reconstructing healthy societies requires a shift from individualistic orientation to economies described by Okazawa-Rey (2020) as those that generate meaningful, sustainable livelihoods and provide material resources for all to flourish.  These sustainable economies center universal social policies where provisioning of decent and holistic care of body, mind, and spirit, ensuring all people are food secure, housed adequately with child support and access to proper health care.

The Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF) took it a step further and called for a gender-transformative response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In its statement issued to the Federal Government of Nigeria, NFF called for the expansion of dignified healthcare services to the marginalized and vulnerable people in rural areas. This NFF statement mirrors the urban bias in the majority of the African countries including Zimbabwe where the few public designated isolation centers are all in the major cities. It also reflects the neoliberal approach where the government is shifting responsibilities for the universal provisioning of essential public health services to their cronies in the private sector. The call is thus a challenge to change the way society is organized. As Shivji (2020) stated, guided by Nyerere’s assertion that human beings are equal in their humanity, this pandemic demonstrates humanity’s need for a new civilization. This civilization whose center must be the human being, a social being with innate humanity, not an individual subject of the greedy capitalist state is essential to protect the socio-economic rights of the rich and poor alike (Shivji 2020 p 3). As a solution to the Covid -19 crisis, Shivji calls for African rulers to allocate funds from their lavish projects and earning to support feeding schemes for the food insecure during lockdown for without food, lockdown is not possible and without lockdown, it will be impossible to control the transmission of the deadly Covid-19.

Reference list.

Chigudu, 2020. From cholera to corona: The politics of plagues in Africa. Africa is a Country. https://africasacountry.com/2020/03/from-cholera-to-corona-the-politics-of-plagues-in-africa  Accessed 25 March 2020

Moyo, A., and Chipunza. 2020. Private sector to set up testing, isolation facilities. The Herald. www.herald.co.zw Accessed 26 March 2020

Okazawa-Rey. M. 2020. The Most Lethal Virus Is Not COVID-19. San Francisco State University. African Feminist Initiative https://afi.la.psu.edu/ . Accessed 24 March 2020

Pontarelli, F.2020. Covid-19: The labor movement struggles to institute social distance between the capital’s needs and people’s health in Italy. Global Labour Column. www.column.global-labour-university.org. Number 335. Accessed 24 March 2020.

Shivji, I. 2020. Trying times. Academia. www.academia.edu Accessed 26 March 2020

The Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF).2020. Call for a gender-responsive response to Covid-19. Press statement for immediate release: 21  March 2020 www.nigerianfeministforum.org Accessed 22 March 2020.

Intensified Assault of the Peasantry in Zimbabwe: Is there a Way Forward?

by George T. Mudimu, Freedom Mazwi, and Edmore Mwandiringana

Introduction

The month of February has been one of the most terrible months to Zimbabwe’s peasantry. Several policy moves and actions that directly and indirectly affect the peasantry have been meted on the peasantry without any due considerations of what will become of Zimbabwe’s bulging peasantry. The peasantry, of course, is increasing quantitatively and qualitatively. Following Comrade Ricardo Jacobs (2018) path-breaking study on the rise of the ‘urban proletariat with peasant characteristics’ in South Africa, we opine the same schema could be applied to Zimbabwe. In recent days, there is a stratospheric rise of the urban poor who to a large extent exude peasant characteristics. But again, this is a digression, our aim here is to highlight some of the recent policy announcements and actions that affect the peasantry, that is based in the countryside. Some of these announcements also affect the ‘new peasantry’ that is located within the major cities of Zimbabwe.

On producer Price

The government recently announced that it had increased the maize producer price from ZWL$4000 to ZWL$ 6 958. This new producer price is equivalent to US$198 at the prevailing market rate of ZWL$3500 to US$100. The State’s reviewed the maize producer price to encourage farmers to deliver grain to GMB and replenish the national grain reserves. However, there is a high likelihood of a continuation of side-marketing and subsequent smuggling of maize into neighboring countries by some middleman. The new price is lower compared to regional prices that average US$220 and worse still, it is lower than what the government is paying to import maize from regional neighbors. For instance, last week the government imported 19 726 tonnes of maize from South Africa at a reported price of US$250 per tonne. The new producer price of ZWL$6958 is barely enough to cover for the production of a tonne of maize that experts estimate to be around USD$350. It has come to be generally accepted that agriculture is a forecast based sector, yet, the present policy positions provide little if any information regarding ‘prices’ thus in the process throwing into the jeopardy planning process for family and capitalist oriented farmers. Maize growers are no exception. Anxiety and uncertainty are bigger detriments to the peasantry’s cropping plans. Also, information available to date is that the government barely consults farmer groups when it sets the producer prices. While the Zimbabwean producer price appears lucrative, it is, in reality, some form of monetary illusion. Inflation is likely to erode the amount before harvesting in April. According to the RBZ, month on month inflation fluctuated from 480.7% in November, 521.2% in December and dropped to 473.1% in January. We have argued elsewhere that the current hyperinflationary environment is a threat to the country’s agricultural productive capacity and the economy in general.  

On Produce Marketing and Drotsky

 Not only do the challenges end with producer pricing, but they are also sector-wide as shown by the rise of cartels. Evidence provided by the Grain Millers Association at a recent parliamentary portfolio committee on agriculture confirms the fears we raised in January that more and more cartels will rise and these are bent on rent-seeking with little benefit for the family farmers whose livelihoods are dependent on maize production and its marketing. The cartels have captured the maize value chain to the extent that they now determine what is paid to the peasantry, how and when. As stated by the Grain Millers Association, some of them have names such as ‘Drotsky’ which have never heard in the industry before. The failure of the state to put in place attractive producer prices has led to the rise of “middlemen”, also known as “makoronyera” to wreak havoc in the countryside. We also contend that due to these poor policies and hostile economic environment, barter trade in various crop commodities is on the rise in rural Zimbabwe.

At the same time, the marketing challenges are not only in the maize industry but also extend to the tobacco sector where some uncertainty is looming in one of the most important sectors of the economy. The number of registered tobacco producers has dwindled from 171 269  for the 2018/2019 season to 147 528 for the current season. The majority of these farmers (140 970) are peasant farmers who belong to the A1 and Communal Area settlement models. The farmers are yet to be informed of how they will be paid their earnings from the tobacco sales under this hyperinflationary environment. Given the hyperinflationary environment and policy inconsistency that has been prevailing over the past two to three years, we posit that the number of contracted tobacco growers is likely to increase when compared to the previous agricultural season as most farmers cannot afford to purchase inputs from the open markets given their already eroded incomes. Generally, macro-economic policies have over the past few years had an effect of squeezing the peasantry thereby limiting possibilities of farm reinvestments

On taxes: 2.5% and Government Employees Mutual Savings Fund

The government recently announced the introduction of a 2.5% tax on the civil service and a Government Employees Mutual Savings Fund (GEMS FUND). Purportedly, these two facilities are meant to cushion civil servants through the establishment of cheaper grocery shops and a mutual savings fund. Although noble these facilities may appear, they highly disenfranchise the peasantry that also lives in the same space as the civil service. They buy from the same shops but no facility has been put in place to service the peasantry. Yet the peasantry constitutes more than 50% of the country’s population. At the same time, similar schemes are also run in the tobacco industry, in the tobacco marketing, the peasantry is subject to various taxes that end up taking close to 10% of the peasantry’s earnings.

Way forward

Structural issues require long term solutions. Here below are some that we think could help to reduce peasant distress. The starting point is a radical departure from the current neoliberal economic trajectory which places the interests of international capital at the forefront to a pro-poor development path. This path recognizes that both the agrarian underclass and capital are key drivers of an economy and the state should thus play a role of protecting the interests of weak and vulnerable members of society.  As argued in our previous piece, there is an urgent need to avail rural finance and inputs to the peasantry if the country is to enter into a path of economic development. The current maize import bill is unsustainable and if half of that amount were to be channeled to supporting the peasantry base, food security and incomes for the majority of the household would be greatly enhanced thereby having a positive effect on the national economy. There is an urgent need to resuscitate and establish irrigation infrastructure. We again draw your attention to the fact that agriculture was allocated 4% in the National Budget compared to the minimum 10% agreed Maputo Declaration threshold. The government must at least start to consult and announce the producer price(s) for the 2020/2021 agricultural season to enable the farming community to make decisions. Without a doubt, Drostky and partners should be left to their roles as entirely business entities and they should not be allowed to play quasi roles in grain procurement and maintenance of granaries. Maize producer price has to be renegotiated to reflect the production costs involved or at least match regional prices. In the tobacco sector, the heavy tax regimes have to be scrapped as well as robust payments form and mechanism have to be formulated and implemented.  Peasant friendly tobacco earnings schemes have to be devised for instance paying a bulk of the tobacco sales in cash at the auction floors would go a long way in meeting the peasant needs and reducing their current cries for better treatment and recognition.

References

Jacobs, R. 2018. An urban proletariat with peasant characteristics: land occupations and livestock raising in South Africa. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 45:5-6, 884-903, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2017.1312354

This article first appeared in:

The Standard:https://www.thestandard.co.zw/2020/03/08/intensified-assault-peasantry/

International Women’s Day 2020: Reflections and perspectives on women’s contributions

By Rejoice M. Chipuriro

Introduction

2020 marks 109 years since the first International Women’s Day celebrations. The day is set aside to appreciate socio-economic and political contributions of women in society, which call for reflections on the status of women globally. This year’s celebrations centre on gender equality with the theme, ‘An equal world is an enabled world’. Our world is still organised along male- female gender lines and biased in favour of cisgender men despite increasing protests against gender binary ordering. Gender disparities are persistent in social economic and political structures leading to exploitation of women’s economic, intellectual, social and reproductive labour. The World Health Organisation (WHO, 2017) statistics indicated that at least 35% of women experienced gender-based violence and 38% of all women murders are by intimate sexual partners. Such statistics indicate tolerance towards violence against women that is prevalent in most countries perpetuated by laws and cultural practices emanating from patriarchal hegemony. This calls for mobilisation of progressive minds and movements to challenge this anomaly and disrupt structures that perpetuate gender based violence.

African feminists’ reflections on the politics of gender based violence (GBV)

Bringing the issue of gender inequalities and ensuing violence to the fore, Ugandan feminist lawyer and activist Sylvia Tamale duly describes the prevailing challenge in Africa where capitalist extremisms are protected by brutal authoritarian states defensive to male power and privilege. In addition, to debilitating neo liberal economic policies favouring capitalist exploitation, corruption and impunity by political elites has driven most countries to the brink of economic collapse. Under such conditions, women often withstand the worst of economic mismanagement and conflicts as they perform their assigned roles of social reproduction, forcing them to absorb the negative spillovers of bad governance. These imposed burdens, aptly described by Nigerian womanist Molara Ogundipe-Leslie as the six mountains women in Africa carry on their back, may apply to the brutality Zimbabwean women face under an economically ravaged and increasingly militarised state.

Since the 2017 military intervention that facilitated the transition of power from Mugabe to Mnangagwa, the presence of armed forces in public spaces has increased violence during protests, with women exposed to state excesses. Nigerian feminist scholar, Amina Mama, echoes how tolerance of the violent culture of militarism poses greatest threat to women and society. The Government of Zimbabwe has ignored reports of state brutality, arbitrary arrests and abductions of women, activists and general citizenry, as the political elites mercilessly pound on defenceless masses. To disrupt this destructive course, I take a cue from Zimbabwean feminist Everjoice Win who suggests focusing on the arduous political work of transforming these problematic androcentric structures reproducing gender norms that derail women’s progress. OluTimehin Adegbeye agrees that feminist work requires resisting oppressions and not just aspiring for ‘gender equality’ where (toxic) power is transferred to women. She argues that feminists must do the real work of transforming power to ensure that no one accesses destructive power that drives people into poverty, exploitation and violence.

For Zimbabwe, this work of transforming toxic masculinities in our political social and economic institutions will require a conceited effort through the re grouping of women to challenge the aggressive endocentric politics. The making of the Zimbabwean state was forged from elite negotiations of the colonial masters with the black male liberation leaders. These negotiations were exclusionary of women, who still held minority status granted them by the colonial government, disqualifying them from the state making structures (Gaidzanwa, 1993). Women’s organisations have painstakingly achieved some grounds in lifting laws on the minority status, inheritance and property ownership for women, with little progress in creating space for women in politics. The latter has been corroded under the current Mnangagwa regime, with only 26 women parliamentarians out of the 210 mainly from the ruling ZANU-PF and the MDC-Alliance.

According to the Women In Political Support Unit (WIPSU), one of the organisations that work with women legislators, women fear getting into politics due to several societal stereotypes such as those that question their capacity to lead often ascribed to loose morality. The cliché that politics is a dirty game materialises through negative practices including violent attacks on women politicians, who usually lack the financial muscle to buy protection and ward off competition. This is prevalent during the election period, discouraging women from standing for election into public offices. In addition, political party exclusionary tactics state, private and social media attacks derail women’s political engagement. In the 2018 harmonised elections, women presidential candidates such as former Vice President Dr Joice Mujuru, Dr Thokozani Khupe of MDC-T and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba all experienced various levels of violence and shaming. Dr Mujuru’s participation in the liberation struggle has been questioned, her morality and business ethics thrashed in a bid to discredit her, before her dismissal from ZANU PF on grounds of harbouring presidential ambitions. Dr Khupe was physically assaulted at the funeral of Morgan Tsvangirai and a court battle followed to remove her from the MDC- T leadership race. Justice Priscilla Chigumba was accused of incompetency to lead ZEC and she was accused of adulterous affairs with ZANU PF politicians. Women members of parliament have complained of harassment in parliament aimed at shaming and silencing them in House debates. When women legislators are forced to silently submit to male authority in the place where the laws of the state are debated, how much more can the ordinary woman on the street or in the village withstand such brutality? This robs more than half of citizens their rights to participation in the governance of their nation and deprives them of fair representation in public sphere. Exclusionary politics shrouded in violence is not only a women’s issue, but also a reflection of toxic masculinity that requires radical shift to stop dispossession of diverse opinion foisted on our society. To this end, all progressive movements must unite and resist all oppression targeted at women including the use of GBV to dislocate women.

An equal world is an enabled world

In conclusion, GBV disables our world and it must be eliminated at all cost. Women constitute half of the population and as citizens should feel safe to participate in politics and have their voice represented in the public domain. When women are forced out of politics it reduces their capacity to contribute to their communities’ development and deprives them access to resources in a way that impoverishes their families. As we commemorate International Women’s Day 2020, let us remember that an equal world is indeed an enabled world.

Notes

Adegbeye, O. 2020. Should women even want equality? And three other pressing questions for feminists today. The Correspondent. https://thecorrespondent.com/334/should-women-even-want-equality-and-three-other-pressing-questions-for-feminists-today/44217993468-4347af8c

Gaidzanwa, R. 1993. Citizenship, Nationality, Gender, and Class in Southern Africa. Alternatives, Vol 18 (1), 39-59.

Mama, A. 2018. Feminists We Love: Professor Amina Mama. African Studies Association. https://africanstudies.org/coordinate-organizations/welcome-to-the-asa-blog/october-2014/feminists-we-love-professor-amina-mama/

Ogundipe-Leslie, M. 1994. Re-Creating Ourselves: African Woman and Critical Transformations. Trenton: Africa World Press.

Tamale, S. 2016. Individual African Feminists. African Feminist Forum. http://www.africanfeministforum.com/sylvia-tamale-2/

World Health Organisation. 2017. Violence against women https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women

Win, E. 2016. Individual African Feminists. African Feminist Forum. http://www.africanfeministforum.com/everjoice-j-win/

Celebrating International Women’s Day in rural Zimbabwe

By Patience Mashiri

Introduction

The International Women’s Day (IWD) comes on the backdrop of a plethora of challenges being faced by rural women in developing countries. Rural women bear the brunt of economic hardships, patriarchal cultural systems, gender violence and discrimination among other challenges. The discrimination against and sometimes total exclusion of women from participating in the mainstream economy affects, not only their socio-economic status but the economy of their countries at large. Without doubt, 80% of labor force in the agriculture sector is provided by women yet their gains are limited. The underperformance of the agriculture sector in most developing countries emanates from the lack of resources and opportunities for women to make the most productive use of their time. In some communities, decisions on how to spend household income, generated by women, is made by men. Furthermore, unpaid care work remains a key issue were women are not recognized for the “unproductive” input they contribute.

IWD-2020

The theme for IWD 2020 is #EachforEqual calling for collective action in creating a gender equal world. The theme looks at the idea that every individual is part of a whole, and that an individual’s actions, behavior, thinking can have an impact on the whole society. The theme recognizes all the actions individuals take challenge stereotypes, and how they can fight prejudice, and in the same light celebrate women’s achievements. IWD is a time when rights groups’ and women’s advocates reflect on how far women have come, advocate for what is still needed, and call for action to continue breaking barriers. This year’s theme also looks at generation. Equality is focusing on issues facing women across all generations, with young women and girls at the center. The year 2020 is an important year in gender equality as it marks 25 years of implementing the Beijing Platform for Action, the historic and landmark gender equality plan drawn up in Beijing.

The International Women’s Day therefore, serves as an opportunity to reflect on the challenges faced by women and craft policy options to deal with these challenges. The IWD is celebrated annually on March 8 and has occurred for well over a century since the first IWD in 1911. It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is not for any single group, but celebrated together by governments, women’s organizations, corporations and charities. International Women’s Day is a day that aims to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, and is a call for parity.

IWD and Rural Women

Women in Agriculture mostly work as farmers on their own account, as unpaid workers on family farms and as paid or unpaid laborers on other farms and agricultural enterprises (FAO, 2011). Women  face a lot of challenges when it comes to agricultural production. In Zimbabwe about 86 % of women depend on land for their livelihood and food production for families, with rural women making the majority of small holder famers (FAO 2017). It is clear that women’s work is essential for food security. Even the time women spend on production testifies to this.  Women work 16-18 hours a day, spending at least 49% of their time on agricultural activities and about 25 % on domestic activities (FAO, 2017).  It is estimated that women contribute about 70% of agricultural labor and the bulk of them are found in the subsistence sector (Bhatasara, 2011).

In Zimbabwe, rural women yearn for access to markets, currently dominated by men; they want to own their own piece of land; they need access to inputs and productive resources. Fundamentally they want an equal share at the table. Addressing these fundamental challenges faced by rural women, will be the success of IWD, when more women have space they can meaningfully contribute to the growth of the agriculture sector.  Rural women envisage that states and other duty bearers provide a transformation of rural women’s lives. Hence, the IWD is more meaningful to the rural woman, a day that on which they celebrate their achievements when they can say, now we are truly equal. One thing for sure, national, international and sustainable development goals cannot be achieved without the full participation of women. The Zimbabwean Government in its Food and Nutrition Security Policy states that women have a central role in agriculture (GoZ, 2012). Therefore,  there is a real need to put in place supportive strategies to ensure that women’s roles are enhanced without negatively affecting their other roles such as childcare provision, food processing and food trading.

Concluding Remarks

One thing is certain, International women’s day means different things to different people. Each woman will have reached certain milestones that are worthy to be celebrated. Some achievements were fought for by all women and together we celebrate these key milestones. Though it is an international day celebrated the world over, in some cases rural women in developing countries do not know that there is a day set aside for them, set aside for their rights. Rural women are the largest constituency affected by discrimination in so many ways as previously indicated. To the majority of rural women, IWD is a day that exists in the horizon. It is a day that floats by with no knowledge in sight of its impact. There is need to hold outreach campaigns so that the rural women in Zimbabwe are made aware of such important days, what they mean to them, and to educate them mostly on their rights as rural women and opportunities available to them. Evidence points to the fact that women work the land, but at the same time women do not own the land. There is need for Government to allocate more land to women so that they have better decision making in terms of productive resourcing and they can concentrate on production.

References

  1. Bhatasara S. (2011). ‘Women, Land and Poverty in Zimbabwe: Deconstructing the Impact of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme.’ Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa, Vol. 13 No 1
  2. FAO. ( 2011). Fact Sheet: Zimbabwe – Women, agriculture and rural development. Food and Agriculture Organisation. Rome.
  3. FAO. (2017). National Gender Profile of Agriculture and Rural Livelihoods – Zimbabwe: Country Gender Assessment Series. Food and Agriculture Organisation.  Harare.
  4. GoZ. (2012). What_Works_for_Women Decent Work Country Programme for Zimbabwe (2012–2015). Government Publishers. Harare

Mealie-meal subsidy: Short-term solution to food crisis?

Edmore Mwandiringana, George T. Mudimu and Freedom Mazwi

Introduction

In recent years and more specifically 2019, there has been more brutal for the suffering masses in Zimbabwe, with month-on-month inflation reaching a dramatic 38.7%. Compounding these economic pressures are adverse weather conditions characterised by low rainfall and the Cyclone Idai catastrophe, which stifled maize output in the past two agricultural seasons. There is no doubt that Zimbabwe is in a crisis of unimaginable proportions. During the 2017-2018 agriculture seasons, farm production dwindled from a production target of 2,1 million tonnes to 1,65 million tonnes and 0,75 million tonnes respectively (FAO, 2019). To make the situation worse, the Total Consumption Poverty Line (TCPL) stood at Z$3 200 in October 2019 against an average income of Z$1 200 to
Z$1 500 (about US$44 to US$74) for the same period. Against this backdrop, the state has been rolling out a maize and mealie meal subsidy programme targeting capitalist-oriented grain millers with the hope that this would alleviate the suffering of the population through a supposed trickle-down effect. This subsidy is a response to strong complaints from the generality of Zimbabweans who bear the brunt of the high prices of maize. As part of this subsidy package, the price of a 10kg bag of mealie meal now costs Z$50 instead of Z$101. This piece represents an attempt to examine the implications of subsidising capitalists rather than directing the support to the peasantry, at the same time, proffering policy alternatives to the government of Zimbabwe.

Subsidies and the peasantry
Current evidence shows there has been limited state support in the form of subsidies to the peasantry (communal and resettled) in the past five years. However, there are two state-supported programmes — namely Command Agriculture and the Presidential Inputs Scheme. These have been touted and broadly viewed as state subsidies, but these cannot be regarded as input subsidies. We consider input subsidies to be income transfers from the state to the poor (Doward and Chirwa, 2011). With reference to the Presidential Inputs Scheme, this is more of a humanitarian scheme with empirical evidence from our study sites indicating that this scheme is at times only open for the most vulnerable groups in society, thereby disenfranchising other needy social groups. As for Command Agriculture, existing scientific studies note that this is a state-assisted contract scheme and not an inputs subsidy programme as largely portrayed in the mainstream media. For example, the scheme levies commercial interest rates of 12-15% per annum for the loans advanced to farmers. Under typical subsidy programmes such as the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) in Zambia, the farmers raise only 25% of the total inputs costs and the balance of 75% is provided by the state from its agriculture budget and no refunds to the state are made by the peasantry. The FISP directly benefits the peasantry.

Although, we fully agree that the current maize and mealie-meal subsidy programme is necessary, given the recent droughts, we also posit that the state needs to be more proactive in its approach if it is to avert structural hunger year in, year out. To date, the state had utilised an unbudgeted Z$180 million in December 2019 and has earmarked Z$2.16 billion (US$133 million) towards maize-meal subsidies for the 2020 fiscal year (Reuters, 2019). Such a huge amount is being channelled to structures that we perceive are part of the systematic perennial food shortages in Zimbabwe.

Food shortages in the Zimbabwean context are a result of natural causes (droughts and plant diseases) and also man-made. Humanity has limited control on the natural causes; efforts to address the natural hazards such as droughts include water harvesting and deep borehole and other water harvesting facilities. All these require investments, and now, the minimal irrigation infrastructure owned by the peasantry, who constitute the majority of the grain producers, is in a deplorable state, with studies pointing that, the peasantry owns 20% of irrigation infrastructure. Thus, a long-term solution to the food crisis would entail addressing the roots of the crisis, which is low production. A huge chunk of the amount devoted to the maize subsidy could be more useful if it were to be devoted to the development of irrigation facilities and the development of drought-resistant crops. It is prudent to note that in the 2020 National Budget, only 4% of the total budget was directed towards agriculture. This figure is far less than the 10% agreed under the Maputo Declaration. The Maputo Declaration encourages governments to allocate at least 10% of their national budgets towards rural agriculture. Therefore, at the moment, the state seems to be putting more effort towards firefighting than really averting real hunger, which is systematic. We perceive that even in the presence of the maize subsidy, if production and productivity on family farms is not attended to, the hunger will persist and so will the state lose more strategic battles as a result of the current “maize subsidy tactics”. At the same conjecture, we are tempted to think harder on who are the real beneficiaries of the maize subsidy, how did they procure the maize and at what prices? Existing evidence points to that the state-controlled Grain Marketing Board (GMB) in June 2019 reviewed the maize producer price from Z$726 per tonne to Z$1 400 per tonne. This, the GMB argued, was to avoid side marketing by the farmers, which by then had become rampant.

The side marketing offers better prices. After increasing the maize producer price and procuring the maize from the peasantry, the GMB started selling the same maize to millers at Z$4 000 per tonne, in the process making a killing of $2 600 without any value addition to the maize. Therefore, one may be forgiven to argue that the increase in maize meal prices is artificial.

Road ahead
We foresee a man-made food crisis as the “subsidy actors” hold the state to ransom as they try to gain from the subsidy programme. This could hold more water given the current dirty fights among the private millers as they jostle to be included in subsidy games. But more worrisome, is the disempowerment of the peasantry by the mercantilist tendency in the maize and mealie meal subsidy game. Hence, we argue that the maize industry is at a crossroads and history has taught us that in the event of a crisis, speculators abound. Zimbabwe has been down this road before, food shortages and hoarding have already been reported by many news outlets (both state and privately-owned). In light of this, it could be prudent for the state to rethink and re-examine if the current model of delivering the maize subsidy is an effective and efficient panacea to Zimbabwe’s food crisis or a keg to light a systematic food crisis. At the same, this is the golden moment for the peasantry to (re)form and (re)organise competent producer groups that can dismantle the speculators and “founded associations” that are at the apex of the mercantilist grain millers. These founded associations who are dominating and distorting the value chain do not have horizontal relationships with the peasantry and the poor urban consumers who are the deserving beneficiaries of the maize subsidy programme.

Article originally appeared in the:https://www.thestandard.co.zw/2020/01/12/mealie-meal-subsidy-short-term-solution-food-crisis/