The world’s richest man, Bill Gates, has acknowledged that Zimbabwe could be on the right track as land redistribution may be the engine that Africa needs to achieve sustained, high growth and turn into a development success.
In his blog entitled: Can the Asian Miracle Happen in Africa? in which he reviews Joe Studwell’s book: How Asia Works, Gates says: “To date, I haven’t focused as much on the land ownership piece as I have on the role of better seeds, fertilizers, and farming practices. This book made me to want to learn more about the land ownership picture in countries where our foundation funds work.”
Studwell has a three-step formula.
- Create conditions for small farmers to thrive.
- Use the proceeds from agricultural surpluses to build a manufacturing base that is tooled from the start to produce exports.
- Nurture both these sectors (small farming and export-oriented manufacturing) with financial institutions closely controlled by the government.
“The first intervention-and the most overlooked- is to maximise output from agriculture, which employs the vast majority of people in poor countries. Successful East Asian states have shown that the way to do this is to restructure agriculture as a highly labour-intensive household farming- a slightly larger-scale form of gardening. This makes use of all available labour in a poor economy and pushes up yields and output to the highest possible levels, albeit on the basis of tiny gains per person employed. The overall result is an initial productive surplus that primes demand for goods and services,” Studwell says.
“Studwell’s book does a better job than anything else I’ve read of articulating the key role of agriculture in development,” Gates writes. “He explains that the one thing that all poor countries have in abundance is farm labor—typically three quarters of their population. Unfortunately, most poor countries have feudal land policies that favor wealthy landowners, with masses of poor farmers working for them.
“Studwell argues that these policies not only produce huge inequities; they also guarantee lousy crop yields. Conversely, he says, when you give farmers ownership of modest plots and allow them to profit from the fruits of their labor, farm yields are much higher per hectare. And rising yields help countries generate the surpluses and savings they need to power up their manufacturing engine.”
“I came away from the book with many take-home messages that apply to our foundation’s work. I’ll highlight two.
“First, I appreciated Studwell’s thinking about agriculture economics. Drawing on data on crop yields and overall agricultural output, he argues that rapid agricultural development requires redistributing land more equitably among the farming population. To date, I haven’t focused as much on the land ownership piece as I have on the role of better seeds, fertilizers, and farming practices. This book made me to want to learn more about the land ownership picture in countries where our foundation funds work.
“Second, Studwell provoked me to think hard about whether his three-part formula is as applicable to Africa as it is to Asia. Certainly, the agricultural piece applies well—and has many economic and health benefits. The big question for me is: Can African countries become successful export-oriented manufacturing hubs? ….”
Zimbabwe’s land reform has been blamed for the economic collapse of the country though recent studies have shown that it is beginning to bear fruit.
Tomorrow, Ian Scones, who has studied Zimbabwe’s land reform, responds to Bill Gates.