Based on his 15-year study of rural livelihoods in Zimbabwe, Professor Ian Scoones and team have successfully transformed understanding of the impact of the 2000 land reform, leading to policy shifts within the region and internationally.


  • Professor Ian Scoones' research has changed the terms of debate, encouraged an evidence-based appraisal of the working of land reform in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Southern Africa and inspired a wider public and policy debate - notably through the weekly blog Zimbabweland, which generates over 30,000 views a year.
  • New research has been stimulated in other parts of the country, provoking large numbers of MA and PhD theses by Zimbabwean researchers, in part facilitated by a small-grants programme linked to the project.
  • Research evidence underpins new policy initiatives by government and donors on land, agriculture and livelihoods, including a reappraisal of approaches to food security assessments and livelihood resilience building for smallholder farmers.

"Professor Ian Scoones' work has highlighted the changing impacts of land access on livelihoods and food security. Having high quality data over a long period is essential for picking apart fact from fiction, and encouraging a more rigorous approach to policy making, based on evidence not supposition..." (Blessing Butaumocho, Head of Programmes, Zimbabwe Food and Nutrition Council)

About the research

Fifteen years ago, President Mugabe forcibly removed many of the 4,500 white owners of Zimbabwe's large-scale commercial farms from their land. It was fully expected that the handover of these farms would displace farm workers and devastate agriculture in Zimbabwe, but research led by Professor Ian Scoones of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex offers some surprising insight into the consequences of Zimbabwe's radical land reform.

"The land reform of 2000 has been widely misunderstood, presented as a disastrous and universal failure, with land captured by President Mugabe's 'cronies' and left idle and unproductive,"  Professor Ian Scoones points out. Working in collaboration with the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies in South Africa and colleagues in Zimbabwe, Professor Scoones has challenged these views, countering ill-informed, ideologically-driven debate with solid, field-based evidence.

"Based on a detailed study of 400 households in over 16 sites in Masvingo province and building on my earlier PhD work on livestock and rural economies, my aim was to find out what actually happened to people’s livelihoods when they got land," Professor Scoones explains. "So far, we have tracked these changes over 15 years, and uncovered many surprising and challenging findings."

The research reveals that many smallholders in the post-land reform resettlement areas have actually done rather well: investing in the land, building homes, accumulating cattle, employing workers and producing crops for sale. Surprisingly, perhaps, some of the most productive farmers to emerge after land reform were previously unemployed workers from nearby towns.

"Zimbabwe's land reform has radically reconfigured the agrarian economy" says Scoones. His detailed, evidence-based research, conducted over a long period has challenged myths and misperceptions through investigating what really happened on the ground and influenced top government officials, politicians and donor agencies regarding the need to support emerging small-scale commercial farming.

Professor Scoones' work has not only attracted widespread interest and generated policy debate but also inspired a new cohort of young researchers, both in Zimbabwe and in the wider region, where the inheritances of colonialism and apartheid have meant that the challenge of redistributive land reform remains high on the political agenda.