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Future Agricultures blog

Opinion and comment from Future Agricultures researchers on agricultural politics, science and society in Africa.

A tribute to Sam Moyo – a giant of agrarian studies

Professor Sam Moyo, director of the African Institute of Agrarian Studies, and a giant of agrarian studies has died tragically as a result of a car accident in New Delhi. This is a terrible loss for Zimbabwe, Africa and the world. Sam had a massive intellect and a deep knowledge of agrarian issues, especially in Zimbabwe. He argued strongly for land reform throughout his career and was always an advocate for radical alternatives that challenged oppression and exploitation in whatever form.


I first got to know Sam in the 1980s, when he was working at the Zimbabwe Institute for Development Studies, then a think tank linked to the President’s office. As a PhD student interested in similar themes, he was always welcoming and encouraging, as he has been to so many others since (see this from Alex Magaisa posted over the weekend). Over the years we have had many, many conversations: always challenging, always inspiring. We did not always agree, but I have always massively respected his commitment, integrity and intellectual depth.


Certainly in the last 15 years, as the debate around Zimbabwe’s controversial land reform has continued, Sam’s contributions – and those of his colleagues at AIAS – have been essential. Their district level study published in 2009 preceded our book, and set the stage for a more mature, empirically-informed debate that (sometimes) has followed. Sam has often been inaccurately pigeon-holed as being on one ‘side’ or another. But his scholarship is far more sophisticated than this. In Zimbabwe’s land debate nearly everyone at different times disagreed with him, but they all listened. Whether inside the state and party, among opposition groups or with the World Bank and other donors, no one could ignore what Sam had to say. And his influence in seeking a more sensible line has been enormous.


But Sam’s scholar activism was not just focused on Zimbabwe. He was frequently invited by governments, social movements and others around the world, and particularly in southern Africa. His experiences in Nigeria, teaching at Calabar and Port Harcourt universities, were influential too, giving him a wider perspective than many. His on-going contributions to South Africa’s land debates have been important also, as he shared Zimbabwe’s lessons. More broadly still, he was central to a wider engagement with agrarian studies from the global South, offering a challenge to those who argued that the classical agrarian question is dead. From the perspective of peasants, social movements and struggles across the global South, it certainly is not. Together with Paris Yeros in Brazil and Praveen Jha in India, and as part of a wider collective of Southern scholars linked to the journal Agrarian South, he has made the case for a revived agrarian studies, in the context of land grabs and intensifying capitalist exploitation across rural areas.


Sam’s intellectual leadership has inspired many. He was recently president of Codesria, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, and was a director of the Southern African Regional Institute for Policy Studies (SARIPS) for a period. Since being established in 2002, AIAS in Harare has become a centre for training and research, with the annual summer schools attracting researchers, activists and others from across Africa. Earlier he was involved with ZERO, the Harare-based regional environment organisation, together with Yemi Katerere; another organisation that attracted young researchers who established their careers under Sam’s guidance. Like all the organisations he has been involved with, ZERO was ahead of the game, set up when few were thinking about the connections between environment and development. And, as with AIAS, Codesria, SARIPS and ZIDS, it mixed solid research, with a deep political commitment to social justice and equality.


With the passing of Sam we have lost a giant. I will miss our intense conversations on his veranda in Borrowdale, as we tested out our ideas and findings on each other, and he smoked furiously. I was always a few steps behind Sam, and it took me days to digest the content of our lengthy exchanges. But they have always been important and formative, even when we disagreed. This is a terribly sad moment and this tribute has been difficult to write. Professor Issa Shivji summed up many people’s feelings well in a post on Sunday: “We have lost one of our great comrades: utterly committed, a most unassuming scholar and an absolutely decent human being”. So thanks Sam for your friendship, inspiration and commitment. You will be very sorely missed.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland



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Africa’s Land Rush: Rural Livelihoods and Agrarian Change – a new book

There is a rush on for African farmland – a phenomenon unmatched since colonial times. Africa’s land rush, and the implications for rural livelihoods and agrarian change, is the subject of a new book that I have edited together with Ruth Hall (from PLAAS at UWC, South Africa) and Dzodzi Tsikata (ISSER, University of Ghana at Legon). It includes a series of cases from Africa, written by researchers associated with the land theme of the Future Agricultures Consortium, and you can get a taste of the content from the introductory chapter, available here. The book is available from James Currey publishers (and for a 25% discount here). You can also buy it in all good bookshops  – and if you must, Amazon. It was launched in Cape Town last week at the Book Lounge.


By some estimates, 70% of the land transacted globally in large-scale deals in recent years has been in Africa, often considered the world’s last reserve of unused and under-utilised fertile and irrigable farmland. This is what has lured investors motivated by rising food prices, by growing demand for ‘green’ energy, and by the allure of cheap land and free water. But governments have often allocated to investors land that is occupied, used, or claimed through custom by local people, resulting in disrupted livelihoods and even conflict.

The case studies in the book show the striking diversity of such deals: white Zimbabwean farmers in northern Nigeria, Dutch and American joint ventures in Ghana, an Indian agricultural company in Ethiopia’s hinterland, European investors in Kenya’s drylands and a Canadian biofuel company on its coast, South African sugar agribusiness in Tanzania’s southern growth corridor, in Malawi’s ‘Greenbelt’ and in southern Mozambique, and white South African farmers venturing onto former state farms in Congo.

In many cases these big international deals were on land that had previously been state farms, and before that colonial estates. In the mainstream narrative of a ‘land grab’, there is little sense of the history of large-scale farming and how this evolved at different moments – and our research shows how recent land deals mimic and even resurrect forms of large-scale farming from the past.

A recurring theme in the book is the pivotal role of African governments – as actors and referees – in large-scale land transactions and how this is influencing change in local agrarian systems. States were willing to make major changes to their economic policies, provide preferential terms and often failed to leverage benefits in their attempts to keep investors coming.

Contrary to the popular depictions of a rampant neo-colonial push, dispossessing local people while investors cashed in, in fact some investors are having a rather hard time of it. New commercial investments are vulnerable to difficult agroecological conditions, changing market trends and local politics. Local people are certainly carrying many of the costs – most commonly, the loss of grazing land, water and forests – but there are also clear local ‘winners’ from the process. The picture is far more complex than has been portrayed in many mainstream accounts.

Many of the book’s case studies document deals that failed. Land was demarcated, people excluded, but in the end investments failed to materialise – or did so only with low levels of production and employment. But despite the African countryside being littered with failed agricultural commercialisation projects (as it has been for decades), there are major changes afoot, as land changes hands, and a new politics of access unfolds.

Such changes in who holds land, how it is farmed, at what scale, with what technologies, and for what value chains are profoundly reshaping rural societies and economies in ways that will have long-lasting impacts. Will farmers become wage workers or move to cities? Will smallholder production persist – or perhaps even thrive – alongside large-scale investments? Will people be incorporated into commercial ventures as outgrowers, and will this enable them to improve their livelihoods, educate their children, and move out of poverty?

While these deals are diverse in their contexts and design, the direction of change is clear: towards commercial production by medium- to large-scale local farmers alongside larger estates, now owned not by colonial powers but by foreign or multinational companies, often in partnership with domestic capital. As with previous moments of enclosure and commercialisation, Africa’s recent land rush is already sparking resistance and counter-movements.

Community responses have varied from enthusiastic support to outright hostility and resistance. In some cases, initial support for investment and the promise of development turned to hostility in the face of disappointments. Within communities, certain groups found new opportunities for employment or for enterprises linked to new commercial operations. But across our studies, many were locked out of these new opportunities and we found people resorting to various acts of resistance including theft, destruction and acts of vandalism.

Since its peak following 2007-08, Africa’s ‘land rush’ has slowed, as the real implications of investment and production have become more apparent, as opportunity costs in other investment destinations have changed, and as drivers such as spiking food and oil prices have abated, even if temporarily. Today, investors are far more cautious in their prognoses for profits: several ‘bubbles’ have burst, not least the hype surrounding biofuels. However, while the land rush may have slowed, it has not stopped. All indications are that global demand for food, fuel and feedstock will continue to drive demand for fertile land and water into the future. Growing African economies and consumer demand in urban centres compound this effect.

As the book shows, the land rush is best seen as one of a number of processes of commercialisation of agriculture, involving financialisation and commodification – not all of which result in the appropriation of land. The story is therefore far more complex than the simplistic caricatures of the ‘land grab’, as either catastrophe or opportunity. While there are both winners and losers in this process, the direction of change is towards large-scale farming linked to global markets. What is certain though is that rural Africa is being transformed in profound ways.

This blog is based on a piece by Ruth Hall for the African Griot, James Currey’s magazine profiling new books

This post first appeared on Zimbabweland

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A call for papers has been issued for the international colloquium on Global governance/politics, climate justice & agrarian/social justice: linkages and challenges on 4-5 February 2016 in The Hague, Netherlands.

The colloquium is organised by the Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS), a community of like-minded scholars, development practitioners and activists from different parts of the world who are working on agrarian issues.

You can download the call for papers from the ISS website. The deadline is 20 December 2015.


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Helen Dancer is a senior lecturer in law at the University of Brighton and consultant for the Future Agricultures Consortium. She is the author of Women, Land and Justice in Tanzania (James Currey 2015).

The ‘land rush’, large-scale agricultural commercialisation and land investment have taken centre stage in policy discourses on land in Africa in recent years.[i] At the same time, in many communities small-scale agriculture and local customary systems of land tenure continue to endure.

These systems are resilient in the face of national policies and laws aimed towards land tenure formalisation and the commoditisation of land. This resilience stems from their nature, as systems which are flexible, evolving and embedded in local social relations. However, these social ties also form the power relations that underpin gender inequalities concerning ownership, access and control over land.[ii]

This is a critical issue from the perspective of women’s interests in land, on a continent where pressure on land is increasing and customary tenure relations are being crystallised through statutory registration schemes.

Experience from Tanzania

In Tanzania, high demand for land in peri-urban and rural fertile agricultural areas has resulted in sharp increases in its commercial value and a great incentive to sell.

In areas of population pressure on land, poverty and the local economic climate have provided a catalyst for land conflicts and legal disputes on various scales. In some areas entire villages have been dispossessed of their land for large-scale land investments and land has been taken without compensation.[iii]

At the individual household level, in areas of land scarcity, widowhood or divorce can lead to some women losing their land to other more powerful family members. Sale of family land without knowledge or consent is also a particular problem. This illustrates the interconnectedness of the wider political economy and household.

Those who are in a vulnerable social position face the greatest risk of losing their land, or having a legal claim to land brought against them. Many such legal claims are brought by or against women.

Women’s claims to land

b2ap3_thumbnail_womenlandcover2.jpgWomen, Land and Justice in Tanzania explores women’s claims to land in practice. The book is based on a year of ethnographic fieldwork, mainly in Arusha, northern Tanzania – a region where there has been a high number of land conflicts and legal disputes throughout the colonial era to the present day. The book traces the progression of claims from their social origins, through legal processes of dispute resolution to judgment.

Taking the social nature of women’s claims to land as the starting-point, it discusses the extent to which women are realising their interests in land through the legal system. The book analyses the obstacles and pathways that women face, and the role of social, legal and political actors in processes of justice.

Land laws in Tanzania

Tanzania’s 1999 Land Acts are widely regarded as among the most progressive land laws in Africa in terms of promoting women’s land rights. Courts are required to give effect to local customary laws, subject to overriding provisions concerning gender equality.

However, in a country where land tenure practices continue to follow patrilineal principles in many areas, an important question is how the apparent tension between customary law and gender equality is being negotiated in social and legal contexts. In the book, I consider how women access justice, how they fare at different levels of court, the evidence that counts, and the kinds of laws and norms that are applied in practice. I also draw wider lessons for women’s access to land and access to justice.


Maasai homestead, Arusha, 2009 (© Helen Dancer)

Families and the law

One of the key findings from the research is the importance of designing laws that address the issues surrounding gender and land tenure as a whole.

The Land Acts of 1999 were an important landmark in the progressive realisation of women’s property rights in Tanzanian law. However, they also represent a missed opportunity for a more fundamental reconfiguration of laws concerning gender equality and land tenure, particularly inheritance of land.[iv]

Instead of focusing on the lived realities of Tanzanian families and the inseparability of marriage, succession and land tenure for many ordinary men and women, the architecture of the legislation was largely based upon the priority of developing land markets and formalising property interests. The relative lack of attention to the issues surrounding the connectedness of family and land in practice has resulted in inconsistencies between various laws and the splitting of family land disputes across different court systems.


Small-scale coffee farm in the foothills of Mount Meru, Arusha 2009 (© Helen Dancer)

Favouring male inheritance

Over the last twenty years all of the East African countries have introduced new land laws and constitutional reforms. The primary focus has been on the formalisation of land rights, strengthening of administrative systems and promotion of land and agricultural investment.

Some countries, notably Rwanda, go further than others in the scope of recognition of women’s land rights. However, customary laws that favour male inheritance still endure in most East African countries, despite gender-progressive reforms in other areas.

Tanzania is the last of the East African countries to reform its constitution, and a referendum on the proposed new constitution is anticipated later this year. The new constitution includes an article enshrining women’s equal rights to land, thereby giving constitutional strength to the statutory provisions that already exist in the 1999 Land Acts.

At the same time, in recent years, the Tanzanian High Court has been unwilling to use the current constitution to strike out gender-discriminatory parts of the written customary laws of inheritance.[v] To date, there has also been a lack of political will to reform such customary laws through statute, despite recommendations from the Law Reform Commission of Tanzania.[vi]

Social tensions

There is considerable social tension, as well as inconsistency between land, marriage and succession laws in Tanzania, particularly concerning female inheritance of land.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has recently declared that such discriminatory laws should be repealed.[vii] This would be a significant step in terms of establishing consistency in gender equality provisions across related areas of law. However, as pressure on land continues to increase, women’s land rights will not be secured by legal change alone.

In my book, I explore the significance of social power relations and the roles that various local and professional actors play in realising women’s interests in land and access to justice in practice.

Equal rights provisions in constitutions and statutes represent an important legal and political commitment. However, their realisation in practice requires social recognition as part of the everyday norms and practices of individuals and their communities.

A special offer discount of 25% is available on the hardback edition of Women, Land and Justice in Tanzania until 31 December 2015 (offer price £33.75/$60 + p&p).

Visit the publisher’s website www.jamescurrey.com and quote 15828 when ordering. An African paperback edition is also available from booksellers within Africa.

[i] Hall, R., I. Scoones and D. Tsikata (eds) (2015). Africa’s Land Rush: Rural Livelihoods and Agrarian Change, (Woodbridge, James Currey).

[ii] Whitehead, A. and D. Tsikata (2003). ‘Policy Discourses on Women's Land Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Implications of the Return to the Customary’, Journal of Agrarian Change 3(1-2): 67-112.

[iii] Askew, K., F. Maganga and R. Odgaard. (2013). ‘Of Land and Legitimacy: A Tale of Two Lawsuits’, Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute 83(1): 120-141; Rwegasira, A. (2012). Land as a Human Right: A History of Land Law and Practice in Tanzania, (Dar es Salaam, Mkuki na Nyota).

[iv] McAuslan, P. (2013). Land Law Reform in Eastern Africa: Traditional or Transformative? (Abingdon: Routledge).

[v] See the Communication by E.S. and S.C. to the UN CEDAW Committee; note vii, below.

[vi] Law Reform Commission of Tanzania (1995). Report of the Commission on the Law of Succession/Inheritance; (2009). Review of Customary Laws in the Legal System of Tanzania.

[vii] Views of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (sixtieth session) concerning Communication No. 48/2013 submitted by E.S. and S.C. State party: United Republic of Tanzania.

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By Rachel Sabates-Wheeler and Stephen Devereux

Enabling people to move out – and stay out – of poverty is a complex process that requires more than just one intervention. Multiple approaches that take in education, social protection, health and agriculture help cater for different contexts and groups of people.

A popular intervention, adopted in many developing countries, from Bangladesh to Ghana to Mexico, is regular and predictable cash and asset transfers to the poor. This small, regular income transfer directly secures basic food needs. It has an indirect benefit of enabling access to health and education. It also enables poor people to make small investments.

No one perfect package for alleviating poverty exists. But there is some agreement on what the elements should be. The most common packages of support include a combination of a micro-credit component, public works, training, agricultural extension services, financial literacy and links to credit unions. A few have also started to facilitate links to early childhood development and childcare services, such as VUP in Rwanda.

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By Guy Jobbins, Naomi Oates and Beatrice Mosello, Overseas Development Institute

After a period of neglect, the international community is showing renewed interest in irrigation in Africa to tackle food insecurity, poverty and climate risk. But capital investments are not enough. Many irrigation projects miss basic, yet vital, ingredients for success.

Here we set out 10 questions that every decision-maker should be asking of the irrigation proposal on their desk. If we get some of these fundamentals right, irrigation can work for Africa.


Irrigation has played an important role in agricultural modernisation around the world and was vital to Asia’s Green Revolution. So why, in Africa, is irrigation coverage so low? FAO statistics show that African countries currently irrigate only 5.4 percent of their cultivated land, compared to a global average of 20 percent, and 40 percent in Asia. Clearly things need to change.

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Zambia has the blessing of attracting growing levels of foreign direct investment. But, while the influx of FDI is bringing much-needed capital into its agricultural, mining and other key sectors, the country’s weak legal and policy framework governing land rights has seen these investments leading to dispossession and displacement of rural communities.


This much became clear at a workshop in Lusaka today, where the NGO network Zambia Land Alliance and PLAAS presented research findings to a diverse audience of government officials from various ministries, the Zambian Law Development Commission, Zambian Human Rights Commission, Zambian Environmental Management Agency, Zambian Development Agency, local government and many more.

The research, conducted at four study sites in Zambia, forms part of a wider five-country study also conducted in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe, on the commercialisation of land, ‘land grabbing’ and impacts on rural people’s land rights and livelihoods. The study was coordinated by PLAAS, as part of the Future Agricultures Consortium, and funded by Austrian Development Cooperation.

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China_brazilflagsThis news roundup has been collected on behalf of the China and Brazil in African Agriculture (CBAA) project.

For regular updates from the
project, sign up to the CBAA newsletter.

News from the CBAA project

New paper: Alcides Costa Vaz on drivers of Brazil’s co-operation with Africa

Our latest working paper in the CBAA series from Future Agricultures is by Alcides Costa Vaz. It focuses on the major drivers of Brazilian agricultural cooperation in Africa as conceived and pursued from 2004 to 2014.

Presentations from our London event

Slides and images from our event ‘China and Brazil in African Agriculture: Co-operation or Culture Clash’ in London on 15 June are now available. Presentations from Henry Tugendhat, Lídia Cabral and Kojo Amanor are available to download. Audio from the event will also be available soon.

View presentations and other resources

OECD report on non-DAC ODA flows

A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has charted Official Development Assistance (ODA) flows from non-DAC countries. They found that by 2013 non-DAC countries had contributed $23.5 billion which is equivalent to 13.4% of total global development cooperation that year. “The paper also explains how the DAC has been engaging with providers of development co‑operation beyond its membership – especially in the field of statistics. Furthermore, it proposes greater collaboration among all bilateral providers to complete the picture of international development finance.”

Zimbabwean adults’ perceptions on corruption and the role of China

An AfroBarometer survey was conducted to assess Zimbabwean adults’ perceptions on corruption. As part of the report, participants were asked questions about China (pp31-36). Respondents generally answered that China’s economic activities have “some” or “a lot” of influence on the country’s economy and there were a plurality of views over China’s influence as “somewhat/very positive” and “somewhat/very negative”.

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Across Southeast Asia, a dramatic reconfiguring of land rights, livelihoods and economies is underway, with profound and disturbing implications for the future.

This was the main take-away message from a conference on Land grabbing Southeast Asia: agrarian-environmental transformations , held at Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand on 5-6 June 2015. It was one a series of international academic conferences on land grabbing: Global Land Grabbing I in 2011 (University of Sussex, UK), Global Land Grabbing II in 2012 (Cornell University, USA), BRICS and agrarian transformations in 2014 (University of Brasilia, Brazil), BRICS and the Agrarian South in 2015 (University of Western Cape, South Africa), organised by the Land Deal Politics Initiative and the BRICS Initiative in Critical Agrarian Studies.

The Chiang Mai conference was impressive in scale, with 240 participants from 62 universities and 59 non-university organisations, and 81 papers presented.

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Gardening has always been part of farming practice in Zimbabwe’s rural areas. Usually a small river bank plot, or an area near the home, has been planted with vegetables for home consumption. Few farmers in the communal areas scale up to more commercial operations, as horticulture requires inputs – notably water – and marketing at scale is always a challenge given the perishability of most vegetables. However in recent years in the new resettlements there has been a growth of small-scale commercial horticulture. This has arisen due to changes in the costs of irrigation technology, the availability of water, and the opportunities that changing markets post-land reform offer.

In the dryland settings of Masvingo, irrigation – particularly for horticultural crops – is essential. Yet state-led irrigation investment in Zimbabwe has been limited in recent years, despite the universally recognised priority. Instead, people have taken things into their own hands and are making use of low cost irrigation technology to set up irrigation systems in their farms and gardens. The expansion of small-scale irrigation has been substantial, and with this a variety of new horticultural production businesses.

In 2014 we undertook a survey of such commercial horticulture enterprises across our sites in Masvingo province. We identified 15 such enterprises of varying scales. Unlike the small ‘womens’ gardens’ that dominated vegetable production before, these were largely run by men, although always with strong involvement of their wives and other family members. There was often a gendered differentiation in roles, with women often engaged in processing of vegetables, including drying, while men oversaw the transport and sales of vegetables to town. There was a cluster of such enterprises discovered in the Wondedzo area, making use of the availability of water in the Muturikwi river and the proximity to Masvingo town for marketing.

One such irrigation entrepreneur has previously been profiled, and appears, along with his wives, in one of our films produced under the Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development project. Below we offer two more case studies, illustrating some of the common patterns and challenges observed.

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This week 200 delegates assemble in Chiang Mai in Thailand for a major conference on land grabbing, conflict and agrarian-environment transformations in southeast Asia. It is co-organised by the Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI), a research network co-founded by the Future Agricultures Consortium. The conference marks the next step in this work, aiming to locate debates about land investment and agricultural commercialisation in regional contexts. Southeast Asia has been a focus of the global land rush in the period since the financial-food-energy crisis of 2008, but as elsewhere the dynamics of transformation have evolved in ways that are more complex than the original ‘land grab’ rhetoric.

Due to changes in commodity prices, challenges of infrastructure and investment and shifts in public and policy opinion, large-scale grabs have been less frequent than the ‘multiple pin pricks’ of changes in land use and ownership that have occurred as the new hubs of capital – in the southeast Asia case dominated by China – assert their influence in agrarian systems.

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A Call for Participation has been issued for an International Conference on 'Geography for the People, Natural Resources and Development', to be held in March 2016 in Dodoma, Tanzania. The conference is organised by the University of Dodoma, and follows last year's successful conference on Green Economy in the South.

The conference calls submission of papers on the following sub-themes:

1.  Conservation and Natural resource management;
2.  Climate  change, disaster and conflict management;
3.  Tourism and development;
4.  Economic geography and livelihoods;
5.  Population, health and disease dynamics;
6.  Communication technology and rural
& urban systems;
7.  Politics, education and culture in the contemporary world;

Completed application forms and abstracts are due by 30 October 2015.

Download the call for participation (pdf)


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By John Thompson and Jim Jackson

On Sunday 17 May, a major update of the single player version of the African Farmer Game was given its first public outing at a workshop run for doctoral and post doc students attending the STEPS Summer School at IDS.

The African Farmer Game immerses players in a simulation where they must confront the challenges and uncertainties of life as a poor farmer in Sub-Saharan Africa. The original single player version of African Farmer was launched in 2014 to complement the multiplayer game. It was developed to provide a more readily accessible version of the game to individuals and institutions for whom running the multiplayer game is problematic. Playing the single player game does not require network access or technical expertise; it can be used in time constrained contexts and the level of complexity and challenge can be increased by the player as his or her expertise grows.

This latest iteration of the game, which will soon be released as version 2.0, introduces major updates to the user interface and many improvements throughout the game. The interfaces for Task Management, the Market, the Village and Game Statistics have all been redesigned and all dropdown menus have been replaced by ‘drag and drop’ or ‘point and click’ selections. There are also numerous other minor changes to the user interface. The ‘Chance Events’ module has been expanded to include election bribes and granary fires and town work now brings greater rewards for educated household members. Game Statistics data has also been expanded and can be saved to file for post-game review.

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On Thursday it’s the UK election. The most open for ages, and no-one knows who will come out on top – and more importantly what configuration any post-election coalition will look like. As a small set of islands and a dwindling economic and political power, elections in the UK should not really matter for the rest of the world. But bizarrely they do; and perhaps especially this one. The tectonic shifts occurring in British politics may have long-run consequences. Depending on the outcome and the political battles that follow, the UK could either split up – with the Scottish Nationalists demanding an early re-run of the referendum – or leave the European Union – with the Tory right and UKIP urging an exit. Any of these scenarios will mean major changes in how Britain (or perhaps a new union of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) interacts with the world.

How then are the various parties addressing ‘international issues’, and African and development issues in particular? On African Arguments, Magnus Taylor and Hetty Bailey have offered a very useful summary of the different manifesto pledges. With the inevitable exception of UKIP, all the parties have committed to maintaining the 0.7 per cent of GDP commitment to international development. The Greens even urge that it be increased to 1 per cent. In the age of austerity this cross-party consensus to ring-fence aid money seems extraordinary. It is however a fragile consensus, continuously attacked by the right-wing press and others. Any post-election wrangling, particularly if UKIP are involved in some type of deal in alliance with the right-wing of the Tory party, will challenge it. But for the time being the view, forged by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown before 2010, that the UK should commit to an internationalist agenda, involving humanitarian and development aid is, amazingly, sticking.

Tagged in: Zimbabwe
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When talking about the BRICS countries and their role in development, there is a lot of hot air surrounding debates on ‘South-South cooperation’ and plenty of warm words offered about ‘mutual learning’ and ‘solidarity’. But it was refreshing to be at a conference last week at PLAAS in Cape Town on the engagement of Brazil, China and South Africa in patterns of agrarian change to start from a different perspective: the influence on development pathways by the BRICS as new hubs of capital.

The proposition of the BICAS group – similar but with different emphases to the CBAA project (also affiliated to the Future Agricultures Consortium) – is that we have to understand the origins, political and economic driving forces and limitations of the new hubs of capital, in order to get to grips with new dynamics of agrarian change across the world.

There was a huge amount discussed at the conference, and the details are only now sinking in, but let me offer a few first thoughts on the emerging debates and their implications.

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Every agronomist or agricultural research institute with an interest in international development, and who has applied for a research grant in the last 15 years, will have had to develop and justify a theory of change, and identify outcomes, anticipated impacts, measurable indicators and impact pathways.

These tasks have become an obligatory part of agricultural research design and planning. The resulting theories, claims, indicators and pathways are supposed to be useful in assessing, monitoring, reporting on and evaluating the research investment.

In this context there are three questions that deserve attention:

  • First, where did research funders’ interest in theory of change and impact pathways come from?
  • Second, what is the evidence that the focus on them has improved the quality (or relevance, productivity, effectiveness, or any other dimension) of agronomic research?
  • And third, what unanticipated consequences might this focus be having on the culture of publically funded, development-oriented agronomic research?

Each of these questions warrants careful consideration, and would provide starting points for fascinating PhD research. While we wait for these PhDs candidates to come forward, some initial thoughts and speculation will have to suffice.

Tagged in: contested agronomy
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China_brazilflagsThis news roundup has been collected on behalf of the China and Brazil in African Agriculture (CBAA) project.

For regular updates from the
project, sign up to the CBAA newsletter.

New CBAA Working Paper: Costa Vaz on the drivers of Brazil's agricultural co-operation in Africa

The Future Agricultures Consortium has just published the China and Brazil in African Agriculture project’s 8th working paper. This paper by Alcides Costa Vaz, of the University of Brasilia, focuses on the major drivers of Brazilian agricultural cooperation in Africa as conceived and pursued from 2004 to 2014. This emphasises the impacts of political and economic international changes that took place in that period, and particularly the impacts of the 2008 economic crisis, in framing Brazil’s foreign policy and development assistance initiatives.
(Future Agricultures)

Mozambique’s Chokué Agri-Industrial Complex Opens

Launched in 2013, this factory received a subsidised loan of $60mil from the China Exim Bank and was officially opened last Monday by President Nyusi. This is located next to a 30,000ha irrigation complex for rice production and the new factory guarantees a processing capacity of at least 60,000 tons per year. In addition to rice, the factory will also process tomatos and cashew nuts and has a storage area for 30,000 tons of vegetables. Until now, producers from Chokué have been forced to travel 130km to the nearest processing unit operated by the Chinese group Wanbao in Xai-Xai. Local officials in Chokué are said to be keen to build links between their farmers and Wanbao for technology and knowledge transfers.
(Macau Hub)

Brazil Attends Social Development Conference in Addis Ababa

23 April - Brazil’s Minister Patrus Ananias of the Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA) will be speaking at the first session of the AU’s Technical Committee on Social Development, Work and Employment. This conference brings together 70 ministers from 54 African countries and Brazil. The Minister will present Brazilian rural initiatives to the group such as the ‘Plano Brasil sem Miséria’, Programa Nacional de Fortalecimento da Agricultura Familiar (Pronaf), and ‘Assistência Técnica e Extensão Rural’ (Ater).
Diário da Manhã (in Portuguese)

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b2ap3_thumbnail_cbaavid.jpgThe first six papers in a new series of over 20 Working Papers from our China & Brazil in African Agriculture project are now published, alongside short video interviews with the researchers explaining the findings.

Our series presents research over the last 4 years on Chinese and Brazilian relationships with farmers, business, civil society and states in Africa. It looks at the implications for agricultural development in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

We’ll post one or more each week, and add it to the series page. To be notified as soon as each paper is published, sign up to our weekly CBAA e-newsletter.

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This week, the Global Soil Week conference takes place in Berlin. It’s part of a series of activities across the globe in the International Year of Soils.

In the past few weeks, Future Agricultures researcher Ian Scoones has been reflecting on this vital resource in a series on his Zimbabweland blog. The articles look at some problems with how global soil statistics are used, the importance of context and difference, the uses of holistic approaches, some policy options and the ways forward for soil management in Africa.

Read the posts:

Soils for life: Some cautionary tales for the International Year of Soils

Homefields and outfields: different sites, different response to soil management

Why an integrated approach to soil management is essential

Policy options for African soils: learning lessons for future action

Soil management in Africa: ways forward

Image: Arid soils in Mauritania by Oxfam on Flickr (cc-by-nc-nd)

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In honour of this year's Earth Day, The Journal of Peasant Studies (JPS) is offering free access to a special virtual issue entitled 'Greening Agrarian Studies'.

As the title suggests, this collection brings together 40 articles on various environmental themes that speak to critical agrarian studies. The articles are available for free until 31 December 2015.

Greening Agrarian Studies (JPS)

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