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Bimodal agrarian system to trimodal agrarian system

Main Contributors:

Nyasha Magadzire

Other Contributors:

Therezah Achieng, Linda Luvuno


In 2000 the Zimbabwean government initiated the Fast Track Land Reform program which sought to address historical injustices and racial imbalances in the ownership of land stemming from the colonial era (Moyo, 2011a). Under the Fast Track Land Reform program, over 10 million hectares of land were redistributed amongst 146 000 smallholder farm families and 23 000 medium-scale farms (Scoones, Mavedzenge, Murimbarimba & Sukume, 2018), with the small holder farms (A1 resettlements) and medium scale farms (A2 resettlements), averaging a size of 6ha and 10-300ha, respectively (Muchetu, 2019).  The Land Reform Program resulted in a dramatic shift in agrarian structure where a bi-modal system of 6000 large scale commercial farms and over one million communal small-scale peasant farms were transformed into a trimodal agrarian structure of small, medium and large farms (Moyo, 2009; Scoones et al., 2018). This restructuring of the Zimbabwean agrarian system presents ongoing socio-economic and ecological implication. The reconfiguration of Zimbabwe`s agrarian structure shifted agricultural production from exports to diverse food crops. The shift in agrarian structure enhanced the livelihoods of the resettled farmers as they now had access to quality land and opportunities to engage in off-farm activities. The establishment of new farmers on redistributed land had ecological implications such as deforestation and decreased land for wild carnivores.

Type of regime shift

  • Bimodal agrarian system to trimodal agrarian system

Ecosystem type

  • Agro-ecosystems

Land uses

  • Small-scale subsistence crop cultivation
  • Large-scale commercial crop cultivation

Spatial scale of the case study

  • Sub-continental/regional (e.g. southern Africa, Amazon basin)

Continent or Ocean

  • Africa


  • Southern Africa


  • Zimbabwe

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Land use

  • Small-scale subsistence crop cultivation
  • Large-scale commercial crop cultivation


Ecosystem type

  • Agro-ecosystems

Key Ecosystem Processes

  • Soil formation
  • Primary production


  • Biodiversity

Provisioning services

  • Food crops
  • Wild animal and plant products
  • Woodfuel

Regulating services

  • Regulation of soil erosion

Cultural services

  • Spiritual and religious

Human Well-being

  • Food and nutrition
  • Livelihoods and economic activity
  • Security of housing & infrastructure

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

  • No poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Industry, innovation & infrastructure
  • Reduced inequalities

Key Attributes

Spatial scale of RS

  • National (country)

Time scale of RS

  • Years


  • Unknown


  • Contemporary observations

Confidence: Existence of RS

  • Well established – Wide agreement in the literature that the RS exists

Confidence: Mechanism underlying RS

  • Contested – Multiple proposed mechanisms, reasonable evidence both for and against different mechanisms

Alternate regimes

Bi-modal agrarian structure:

Before 2000, two major classes of farmers existed in Zimbabwe: 4500-6000 large-scale commercial farmers (LSCF) who were mostly white, owning an average of 1754ha of land each, and one million black small-scale peasant farmers on communal lands with an average farm size of 18ha (Moyo, 2011b; Scoones et al., 2018). The LSCFs were largely located on prime agricultural land and devoted to growing crops for export (e.g. tobacco), while the small communal farms, mostly located in low productivity regions, produced cheap foods (e.g. maize, beans and groundnuts) for subsistence and domestic markets (Chambati, 2011; Moyo, 2011a). The success of large-scale commercial farming in Zimbabwe hinged on the ability to access finance from local and foreign institutions; heavy investments into electrification, irrigation systems and road infrastructure and well-established links to export markets.

Tri-modal agrarian structure:

As a result of the FTLRP, Zimbabwe`s pre-2000 agrarian structure was transformed in a broader based trimodal system. This new structure consisted of smallholder/peasant farms, medium-scale farms and large-scale farms (Moyo, Chambati, Siziba, Dangwa, Mujeyi & Nyoni, 2009; Scoones et al., 2018). Smallholder farms account for over 70% of Zimbabwe`s agricultural land and consist of communal area households, old resettlement households and A1 households (Moyo, 2011c; Scoones, Marongwe, Mavedzenge, Murimbarimba, Mahenehene & Sukume, 2011). The A1 households are small plots that were set aside for landless and poor families, for subsistence cropping and grazing (Moyo, 2011b). The medium-scale farms cover 13% of the land and are made up of small-scale commercial farms and A2 farms (Moyo, 2011c). These A2 farms were designed for beneficiaries who possess the  farming skills and/or resources required to engage in commercial farming (Moyo, 2011b). Large scale farms and estates now only account for 11% of Zimbabwe`s agricultural land.

Drivers and causes of the regime shift

Political expediency is commonly cited as the main driver behind the implementation of the FTLRP which led to the swift and radical transformation of Zimbabwe`s agrarian structure (Logan, 2007; Sachikonye, 2003; Shonhe, 2019). In the years leading up to the initiation of the FTLRP in 2000, the ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), was losing popularity as supporters began to agitate for the acceleration of the redistribution of land (Murisa, 2011; Sadomba, 2008). In addition, the rise of the opposition party, Movement of Democratic Change (MDC), furthered ZANU-PF`s concerns over losing favor with its supporters. Seeking to maintain power, the government initiated the FTLRP (Sachikonye, 2003). By 2009, 10 million hectares of land previously owned by large scale farmers had been acquired for redistribution, and less than 400 white LSCF were left in Zimbabwe (Moyo, 2011c).

However, the core issues that necessitated the redistribution of land in Zimbabwe cannot be overlooked. There was a great need for dismantling the racially skewed distribution of land in Zimbabwe, not only for the purposes of equity and righting colonial injustices, but also for addressing land shortages and poverty (Mutopo, Manjengwa & Chiweshe, 2014). The legacy of the Land Act of 1969, which assigned black people to subsist on infertile and overcrowded communal lands, while a minority of LSCF held large tracts of fertile land, still existed 20 years after Zimbabwe`s independence. Redistributing land offered a means by which a more equitable agrarian structure could be achieved.

How the regime shift worked

Preceding the implementation of the FTLRP in 2000, land reform in Zimbabwe had been taking place in accordance to the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979. The LHA stipulated that: 1) for the next 10 years land could not be forcibly taken from LSCF, 2) land could only be acquired on a ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ basis, and 3) Britain would provide funds and arrange donor support to finance the redistribution of land in Zimbabwe (Logan, 2007). The aim of land reform at this stage was to redistribute 8,3 million hectares of land to 162 000 households (Shonhe, 2019). However, the realisation of this aim was met with challenges as the land parcels offered by the white farmers were expensive, small and fragmented, and mostly located in infertile agroecological regions (Logan, 2007). Added to that, was the lack of political will from the government and the absence of organised pressure from the peasants and landless to ensure that the targets of the land reform were achieved (Sachikonye, 2003). As of 1998 only 3,5 million hectares out of the targeted 8,3 million hectares had been redistributed to 71 000 households (Government of Zimbabwe, 2002).

A combination of mounting pressure from the ground up, and the emergence of the Movement for Democratic Change spurred the government into accelerating the process of land redistribution. Overcrowding and growing poverty in the communal areas, juxtapositioned against the growth of a state-supported black elite class, led to a more concerted agitation for land by war veterans, traditional leaders and peasants (Murisa, 2011; Sachikonye, 2003; Sadomba, 2008). Concerned with losing its stronghold of electoral support (i.e. the rural community and war veterans) and the growing popularity of MDC, the ruling party hastily implemented the FTLRP in July 2000 (Shonhe, 2019). Within a year, 11,200 black families were resettled on to 3.2 million hectares of acquired land (Logan, 2007). By 2009, the Zimbabwean government had redistributed 10 million hectares of land amongst 146 000 households under the FTLRP, marking the final transition of Zimbabwe`s dualistic agrarian system into a broad-based tri-modal system (Logan, 2007; Moyo, 2011c).

Impacts on ecosystem services and human well-being

As expected, the radical reconfiguration of Zimbabwe`s agrarian structure led to a transitional decline in agricultural production. Between 2001 and 2009 there was a decline in commercially grown crops such as tobacco, tea, coffee and wheat (Moyo, 2011b; Scoones et al., 2011). Tobacco , for example, had fallen from 200 million kilograms per annum to 48,7 million kilograms per annum by 2008 (Scoones et al., 2018). On the other hand, maize production, largely driven by peasant farmers, decreased as a result of recurrent droughts and inconsistent supply of seed and fertilizer. However, due to the expansion of food grain producers (i.e. the peasantry), the output and cropped area of sorghum and millet increased. The production of other food crops such as groundnuts and beans also increased. Ultimately, the reconfiguration of Zimbabwe`s agrarian structure shifted agricultural production from exports to diverse food crops (Moyo, 2011b).

The shift in agrarian structure enhanced the livelihoods of the resettled farmers as they now had access to quality land and opportunities to engage in off-farm activities (e.g. mining and fishing) for income (Chambati, 2011). Furthermore, some were able to access their ancestral lands and graves as well as other locations of spiritual significance (Mkodzongi, 2013). With regards to gender, the FTLRP enabled women to gain direct access to land, rather than through patriarchal structures such as male relatives and village heads (Mkodzongi & Lawrence, 2019). Land tenure, however, has proven to be a major stumbling block in accessing agro-finance and export markets for the resettled farmers. In place of title deeds, the Zimbabwean government awarded offer letters to A1 farmers and 99-year lease agreements to A2 farmers for their newly acquired land (World Bank, 2019). Banks and other finance institutions are reluctant to accept this form of tenure as collateral and therefore decline applications for finance from resettled farmers (Munangagwa, 2011). This has given rise to contract farming whereby international or domestic merchants provide inputs and management services to farmers to grow a crop. The merchant will then buy the produce from the farmer and deduct the cost of the inputs supplied (Shonhe, 2019). In contract farming the risk of crop failure is transferred to the farmer which tends to trap the farmer in a cycle of debt (Mkodzongi & Lawrence, 2019).

The establishment of new farmers on redistributed land also has ecological implications. The extraction of woody vegetation for energy, building and cultivation, is leading to deforestation in resettlement areas (Moyo et al., 2009). Meanwhile, a study by Williams, (2011) highlights the case of human-wildlife conflicts in resettlement areas that has led to a 70% decline in cheetah population in Zimbabwe, this decline was attributed to habitat loss and fragmentation, and poaching. In Gutu District, Zembe, Mbokochena, Mudzengerere & Chikwiri (2014) observed severe soil erosion as a result of overgrazing and river siltation stemming from poor farming practices.

Management options

Going forward, revising the land tenure rights of resettled farmers will be essential for boosting agricultural output through access to agro-finance and stimulating their participation in growing for export. Clear, well defined property rights have also been found to be correlated with good farming practices and environmental stewardship. Investments into electrification and housing infrastructure for resettlement areas may also reduce the exploitation of natural resources.

Key References

  1. Magadzire N, Achieng T & Luvuno L. 2020. Changing agrarian structure in Zimbabwe.


Nyasha Magadzire, Therezah Achieng, Linda Luvuno. Bimodal agrarian system to trimodal agrarian system. In: Regime Shifts Database, Last revised 2021-03-19 12:47:29 GMT.
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