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Poverty dynamics in rural Zimbabwe

the 30 years (lost) 'war against poverty'

Bill Kinsey


practitioners, per-capita income in Zimbabwe was only fractionally higher than at independence 20 years earlier. Thus, in income terms, Zimbabwe’s first two decades were characterized by stagnation. The absence of changes in income was not however mirrored in other spheres. On the contrary, several developments initiated dramatic changes. This paper addresses several of these: a land redistribution programme launched only six months following independence; drought (in the 20 years following 1980, at least six droughts were experienced); and economic reform (an economic adjustment programme began in 1991). The paper does not however address the economic and social consequences of the turmoil that ushered in the millennium decade and has continued ever since. For each of these three factors the question is asked: what can be said about its impact on rural poverty? In the attempt to untangle the various consequences of land redistribution, drought and economic reform, use is made of a unique data set comprising longitudinal information on two groups of households: those who benefited from the earliest phase of Zimbabwe’s land reform programme and those who did not. distinction is made between these two groups. This distinction is of significant policy relevance because land reform was a key instrument in Zimbabwe’s arsenal of anti-poverty measures for the first decade of independence. During the second decade of independence—1991 to 2000—political interest in both land reform and poverty alleviation waned. Beginning in 2000, the forced seizure of thousands of commercial farms—in the name of land reform—has been a major contributor to the dramatic worsening of poverty levels nationally. For several reasons, the paper focuses primarily on the middle decade. The first reason is that this period was supposed to have seen the earliest resettlement schemes, where the data for this paper have been collected, reach their full economic maturity. Second, severe droughts, including the worst of the century, punctuated this period. And, third, an IMF-World-Bank-inspired structural adjustment programme was launched in 1991.

The paper is an empirically based analysis of policy outcomes and employs several approaches. Using expenditure information collected during the 1990s, an update of national poverty estimates for Zimbabwe is provided for these rural households. In an attempt to disentangle the effects of drought and economic reform, both expenditure and income data are used to assess poverty indicators and their response to adjustment.

The analysis is then extended through the use of non-monetary indicators of poverty, in this case simultaneous consideration of nutritional indicators for both children and adults within a household. The validity of nutritional indicators of poverty is assessed against an array of more conventional indicators.

Finally, because a paper of this scope cannot possibly address all the poverty-related issues in a data set spanning 28 years and covering 500+ households—with thousands of variables per household annually, an explicit purpose of the paper is to provide a flavour of what is possible in order to inform potential collaborators in future work.

Publication Type(s)

Conference Paper

Ten Years of War Against Poverty Conference Papers

Conference: Ten Years of War Against Poverty


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