STEPS Director Ian Scoones wins ESRC Impact Award

STEPS Director Ian Scoones was a winner of the Outstanding International Impact Award at the ESRC’s 50th anniversary Celebrating Impact Award ceremony, for his work on rural livelihoods in Zimbabwe.

ESRC Blog: Building impact over time: experiences from Zimbabwe by Ian Scoones

The awards recognise and reward the successes of ESRC-funded researchers who are achieving outstanding impacts. The prize celebrates exceptional ESRC research and success in collaborative working, partnerships, engagement and knowledge exchange that have led to significant impact.

This award recognises ongoing contributions to research and debate following the Zimbabwe land reform in 2000. The research by Ian and his Zimbabwean colleagues builds on work in Zimbabwe on land and agrarian change, starting in 1985.

Professor Scoones commented: “It’s a great honour to receive this award. Impact only emerges through long-term research and engagement, and sustained ESRC funding across a number of projects over many years has been essential for our work”. 

Using research to separate fact from fiction

In a period when the consequences of President Mugabe’s notorious land reform have been subject to much debate and speculation, Ian and his colleagues conducted a study involving 400 households in the southeast of the country. They uncovered a more complex story to the one presented in the media: where land was assumed to be captured by ‘political cronies’, left idle and unproductive. ESRC funding has allowed sustained research to track livelihood change, and build evidence. There have been many challenging and surprising findings.

Contrary to media portrayals and other commentary, the research found that many smallholders in the post-land reform resettlement areas have actually done rather well. These successes can be seen through investments in the land, building of homes, accumulation of cattle, employing workers and producing crops for sale and household food security. This is in turn has driven changes in the local economy and created new business, employment and livelihood opportunities.

Going beyond Zimbabwe, Blessing Butaumocho, Head of Programmes of the Zimbabwe Food and Nutrition Council, spoke of the wider impact that the research will have: “This work will have an impact on food security programming in Zimbabwe and the region, generating wider international impact.”

Turning research into action

To achieve this level of impact, Professor Ben Cousins, DST/NRF Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (South African Department of Science and Technology (DST), through the National Research Foundation (NRF)) explained that “it requires solid empirical research sustained over a long period and communicated in a clear and convincing way, without prejudice and political bias. In this regard, this work has been exemplary, and is a model for impact and engagement.”

Embedding communications, engagement and capacity building into the research has been integral to its high impact. With a wide group of stakeholders, Ian and his colleagues have produced books, journal articles, a weekly blog (Zimbabweland), booklets translated into the local language, and several video series.

They have also built research capacity with their Zimbabwean colleagues and students, stimulating new research. Alongside all these activities they have influenced policy around such issues as food security assessment and resilience building in smallholder farming areas.

The extent and breadth of the work was highlighted by Professor Cousins: “It is not often that solid, well-researched empirical evidence has an impact on policy with such far-reaching effects. This is certainly one clear and dramatic case.”

The contributions of the research have been significant within the Zimbabwe land debate. Ian and colleagues have built up a detailed picture of the consequences and implications of land reform with evidence-based research. It has helped inform debate, and challenge myths and misperceptions through an engagement with the realities on the ground.

More about the Zimbabwe land reform research

More about impact

The STEPS Centre makes active links between its research, engagement, communications and impact. Our approach to impact has been developed using participatory methods, which are adapted and tested through projects worldwide.

We are seeking to spread the learning from these approaches more widely, including among other researchers, research programmes and funders, including the ESRC.

Read about STEPS Centre Impact