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Future Agricultures blog

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

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for Task Management, the Market, the Village and Game Statistics have all been redesigned and all dropdown menus have been replaced by ‘drag and drop’ or ‘point and click’ selections.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.

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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.

Tagged in: Brazil CBAA China
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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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by Jim Sumberg, Justin Flynn, Nana Akua Anyidoho and Thomas Yeboah

Gaps are all the rage in international development. Researchers justify their funding applications by identifying knowledge gaps; agronomists in Africa are preoccupied with the yield gap; and the gender gap is widely used to frame systematic differences between men and women in education and health outcomes, in labour markets and in agricultural productivity.

Our recent work with secondary school students in rural Ghana highlights another important gap, but before we introduce it some background is in order. 

Development challenges of our time 

It is increasingly acknowledged that the creation of employment opportunities for young people is among the major development challenges of our time. Youth unemployment and underemployment are associated first and foremost with wasted human potential; but also exclusion and entrenched inequality, unsustainability, and in some cases civil and political strife.

There is clearly no magic wand, a few waves of which will create jobs. Young people’s engagement with the world of work cuts across a number of policy areas and ministry domains beyond simply employment, including education and skills, economic development, and youth. Policy coherence is critically important; as is the realisation that most new jobs will be created by private sector actors. 

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To mark World Food Day, on 16th October 2014, IIED with ODI and IDS launched seven papers addressing agricultural and rural development debates in sub-Saharan Africa. The papers feature many themes and authors closely associated with Future Agricultures.

Today, three more working papers in the series have been released:

Ruth Hall’s “Rural resource grabs or necessary inward investment? The politics of land and water in Africa” reviews changes in rights to land and water in Africa, the growing demand for these resources, and their development outcomes – above all for poor people who depend on these resources for their livelihoods – and analyses the implications for governance and policy.

In “The Social Relations of Agrarian Change”, Dzodzi Tsikata investigates how the changes in agrarian political economy have affected agrarian social relations – a topic that has not been given full consideration in the literature on land grabbing and agricultural commercialization. The paper identifies agreements and contestations about the implications of agrarian change for social relations, particularly those of class, gender and kinship, which are key to the production and reproduction of the agrarian political economy.

The purpose of “Financing Agriculture and Rural Areas in Sub-Saharan Africa: Progress, challenges and the way forward”, by Richard Meyer, is to summarise innovations, along with their strengths and limitations, used to improve access to sustainable financial services for agriculture and rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa, with a special focus on smallholders. The paper examines several examples of new products, delivery channels, and partnerships in the provision of financial services, with special attention to developments with savings groups and financial innovations with mobile phones and ICT.

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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: Zimbabwe and ‘More Food Africa'

A new CBAA Working Paper by Langton Mukwereza looks at ‘Zimbabwe-Brazil cooperation through the more food Africa programme’. The programme in question is based on a successful programme in Brazil that supports family farming through credit lines and links to local markets. In the agreement with Zimbabwe, Brazil has provided a loan for Zimbabwe to buy Brazilian farm machinery. With the first batches of this equipments having just arrived in October 2014 and January 2015, this paper takes an early look at how the cooperation programme is rolling out.
(Future Agricultures)

Chinese interventions in fragile states in Africa

Jing Gu and Rhiannon McCluskey have just published a 4-page policy briefing looking at Chinese interventions in fragile states in Africa. With Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo as case studies, the briefing concludes with four policy implications around Chinese drivers, and the role of the African governments in shaping how those engagements develop.
(Institute of Development Studies)

Brazil-Angola Cooperation

A new paper by the BRICS Policy Center in Rio de Janeiro has just been published looking at ‘Brazilian Health and Agricultural Cooperation in Angola’. This work draws predominantly on secondary sources to ascertain what is currently known about Brazilian cooperation engagements with the country. This looks at development cooperation as well as political and economic links between the two countries.
(Brics Policy Center) 

China-Cameroon Relations

A new article by Jean Pierre Cabestan at the Hong Kong Baptist University has just been published in the South African Journal of International Affairs, looking at ‘China-Cameroon Relations: Fortunes and limits of an old political complicity’. The paper charts the history of economic and political relations between the two countries from 1971, arguing that the relationship really deepened in 2000. This also touches on two agricultural investments (one in rubber and one in food crops) and a Chinese Agricultural Technology Demonstration Centre. He concludes that while Chinese influence has grown, there is a desire among Cameroon’s political elite not to let this overcome relations with traditional powers such as France and the US.
(South African Journal of International Affairs)

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ITOCA in collaboration with Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell University, is inviting applications from eligible institutions for acquiring Essential Electronic Agricultural Library (TEEAL) sets. TEEAL is a digital collection of research journals for agriculture and related sciences. Researchers, students, faculty and librarians can discover and access thousands of full-text PDF articles without the use of the internet.

A total of 132 sets will be awarded to institutions in six African countries (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda).

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Some years ago, as part of the e-debate hosted by the Future Agricultures Consortium we had a discussion on ways forward on soil fertility management policy. The conclusions are just as relevant today. In reviewing the excellent contributions to the debate (well worth a read), I highlighted 6 themes.

Context matters. Contexts – social, economic and ecological – must be taken into account in policy. Simple, blanket solutions do not work. They have been tried before and failed; and we should avoid making the same mistakes, no matter how urgent the situation is or who much money there is to be disbursed.

The argument against continent-wide (or even national) blueprint programmes has of course been long made. That is not new. Which contexts matter and what implications does this have for what should be done on the ground? This relates to the question about the merits of using inorganic fertilizers as the entry point to an integrated soil fertility management approach. There are contrasting, often ideologically-charged views on this. But there may be more consensus if we get specific about context.

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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 Papers published

Chinese Agricultural Expertise Support in Ethiopia: Approaches, Motives and Perspectives by Dawit Alemu, Seth Cook and Qi Gubo

Situating Tian Ze’s role in reviving Zimbabwe’s Flue-Cured Tobacco sector in the wider discourse on Zimbabwe-China cooperation: Will the scorecard remain Win-Win? by Langton Mukwereza

The Visible and Invisible Battles in Brazil’s Agricultural Cooperation

CBAA researcher Lidia Cabral's blogpost highlights some of the key points in her research on Brazilian agricultural engagements in Mozambique. This looks at i) the diversity of actors currently present in Brazilian agricultural cooperation programmes (“priests”, technicians and traders); ii) the visible battle between agribusiness and family farming models emanating from Brazil’s own agricultural background, and iii) the invisible battle between productivist modernisation and ‘territories of life’ models.
(Future Agricultures blog)

Brazil reduces its cooperation projects in Africa

Brazil’s budget for cooperation programmes with African countries has been reduced by 25% between 2012 (R$36.9 mil) and 2014 (R$27.8 mil). Furthermore, Brazilian companies such as Vale and Petrobras have downgraded their operations on the continent and Brazilian exports to the region have fallen. All projects are said to be delayed and facing difficulties, such as a Brazilian research centre that was due to be built for the ProSAVANA project in Mozambique but has yet to receive the USD$1.5mil needed. As a result, the Brazilian government has tried to renegotiate a number of its existing projects in a bid to share costs with the host country, or else scale-down the project.
(Folha.com.br - in Portuguese)

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Everyone is agreed that one of the central components of achieving an ‘African Green Revolution’ is to tackle the widespread soil fertility constraints in African agriculture. To this end, AGRA – the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa – launched a major ‘Soil Health’ programme aimed at 4.1 million farmers across Africa, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committing $198 million to the effort. The Abuja declaration, following on from the African Fertilizer Summit of 2006 set the scene for major investments in boosting fertilizer supplies. CAADP – the Comprehensive African Agricultural Developent Programme – has been active in supporting the follow up to the summit, particularly through it work on improving markets and trade. Other initiatives abound – the Millennium Villages programme, Sasakawa-Global 2000, the activities of the Association for Better Land Husbandry, among many others. All see soil fertility as central, although the suggested solutions and policy requirements are very different.

But what are the policy frameworks that really will increase soil fertility in ways that will boost production in sustainable ways; where the benefits of the interventions are widely distributed, meeting broader aims of equitable, broad-based development? Here there is much less precision and an urgent need for a concrete debate.

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How can people’s rights to land be secured on a continent in which an estimated 90% of land is untitled and held under informal and customary tenure systems that are often not recognized as constituting real property rights? This remains a profound challenge, and there are no easy answers.

African states have in recent years taken several initiatives to secure land rights, and specifically to improve land governance, in the face of large-scale land-based investments (the term ‘land grab’ does not appear).

Key among these is the African Union’s Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges in Africa (PDF) of 2009, which committed members states to ‘ensure that land laws provide for equitable access to land and related resources among all land users including the youth and other landless and vulnerable groups such as displaced persons’ and ‘strengthen security of land tenure for women which requires special attention.’

The key coordinating body that is meant to help to deliver on this mandate is the Land Policy Initiative, a secretariat established jointly by the African Union, African Development Bank and UN Economic Commission for Africa, and based in Addis Ababa.

At the same time that the land rights agenda is bearing fruit, African states are being called on to commercialise their farming sectors, to speed up agricultural growth, and attract external investment. The Malabo declaration of June 2014 includes the commitment to ending hunger, halving poverty, and achieving 6% agricultural growth in Africa by 2025, by at least doubling productivity through access to inputs. It remains to be seen how the tensions among these goals – especially between equity and growth – will be resolved in practice.

It is in this context that the LPI hosted a side event during the 11th Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) Partnership Platform Meeting held in Johannesburg this week. Entitled ‘Improving Land Governance for Inclusive and Sustainable Agricultural Transformation’, the purpose was to brief policy makers from across the continent, mostly from agricultural ministries, about the policy processes underway and how the LPI will work (and monitor) the required land reforms at country level, together with governments but also with other stakeholders.

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Brazilian agriculture is famous for its modern farms growing soybeans in the cerrado and for Embrapa, a world leading public research agency on tropical crop science that played a central role in the cerrado transformation. Its agricultural cooperation with African countries has not, however, been a simple matter of replicating the ‘miracle of the cerrado’ in the African savannah. In fact, it presents a rather more fragmented picture than the caricature of orderly lined up soya harvesters might suggest.

Over the last decade, the scope of Brazil’s agricultural cooperation projects has expanded from training courses and sporadic technical exchanges, carried out mainly by Embrapa researchers, to include joint research, regional development planning, public policy advocacy, pilot interventions and the selling of Brazil-made tractors and other agricultural equipment. Brazil’s portfolio in Mozambique, the focus of my own research, is an example of such diversity.

In a recent Future Agricultures working paper, I explored these different approaches and looked at the debates shaping them.

Tagged in: Brazil CBAA
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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.

CIDRN International Development Policy Briefings

The China International Development Research Network, based at China Agricultural University, has published 7 new policy briefs in Mandarin and English. These succinct 2-page briefings offer a range of policy recommendations concerning China’s growing development industry. These include such topics as the importance for China to play a bigger role in international development negotiations, how Chinese NGO’s (or CCO’s) should move forward in African cooperation projects, and proposals for the Post-2015 agenda.
RCID (English / Chinese)

Launching ‘O Informativo Setorial’

The ‘Observatório Brasil e o Sul’ has begun publishing a regular newsletter that looks at key issues within Brazil’s South-South Cooperation programmes. This involves surveys on primary data and analysis of reports from key government agencies. This first edition looks specifically at Brazil’s South-South cooperation in the area of Social Protection, involving a look at the role of the Ministry of Agrarian Development within these programmes.
(OBS (in Portuguese)

US critical of UK joining AIIB

The US has reprimanded the UK for its decision to be a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, describing it as part of “constant accommodation” of China. The AIIB is an initiative that seeks to operate with strong Chinese influence, as compared with World Bank and Asian Development Bank that operate with strong US and Japanese influences in the region. US pressure is said to have prevented Japan, South Korea, and Australia from also becoming part of the 21 founding members of AIIB.
(Financial Times)

Tagged in: cbaa-roundup
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Debates on soils and their management have too often been unnecessarily polarised between promoters of ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘agroecological’ agriculture and those who argue that only large supplies of mineral fertiliser are the answer. These are often pitched in ideological terms, with little reference to technical understandings of soils. What can we learn from the decades of technical research on soils in Africa about what makes sense, where and for whom?

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There is a long and distinguished history of soils research in Zimbabwe, led by the Department of Research and Specialist Services and the University of Zimbabwe (see a review of some of this in the Zimbabwe chapter of the Dynamics and Diversity: Soil Fertility and Farming Livelihoods in Africa book (download here). We know an enormous amount about soils of different types and their responsiveness to different combinations of inputs. This is vital information to support the post-settlement agrarian reform programme, but is barely used.

Farmers who gained land in 2000 have often profited from a short window of high soil fertility on land clearance, but now the soils need more intensive management. But there is no available soil testing service, no extension support, and they are having to find their own way, often in challenging circumstances where input supplies are variable (and politicised), and availability of manure and other biomass is limited.

The basic challenges are best illustrated by a dramatic graph based on long-term research at Harare research station. The decline of soil fertility and so yields on land clearance is massive and quick, and the ability to increase responses due to input application is important but marginal.

Tagged in: Zimbabwe
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