Smallholder farmers response to changes in the farming environment in Gokwe-Kabiyuni, Zimbabwe
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Following Bryceson's article, 'De-agrarianisation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Acknowledging the Inevitable', and other related writings in the volume Farewell to Farms, rural development has become a contested academic and policy domain. One side of the debate is characterized by 'agrarian optimism', mirrored in various state policies and advice from the World Bank; the other side is typified by the de-agrarianisation thesis, which is sceptical regarding the agrarian path to rural development, because it doesn't accord with dominant trends. The main reasons given for the trend of de-agrarianisation are: unfavourable climatic trends, economic adjustments, and population growth. While the de-agrarianisation thesis seems to be a sensible proposition, it has failed to attract many disciples, evidenced by the continuation of current policy directions towards the agrarian optimistic path. The purpose of this study was to assess the applicability of the de-agrarianisation thesis in the Gokwe-Kabiyuni area of Zimbabwe, during a time when the nation went through climatic, economic and political crises. The idea was to assess the influence of such an environment to smallholder farmers in terms of livelihood strategies by observing trends in climate, education, occupation, and crop yields over the period. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used to establish whether the de-agrarianisation process can be noted in two villages over the period 1990-2008. A comparative analysis of the experiences of smallholder farmers in these two villages revealed the existence of a cultivation culture and differential agrarian resilience depending on natural resource endowment and levels of infrastructural development, notwithstanding the involvement of the villagers in non-farm activities to diversify their livelihood portfolios.