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Future Agricultures blog

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

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The past decade has witnessed global outcry over a new era of ‘land grabbing’ and, in response, there have been numerous efforts to halt and reverse the corporate takeover of community land.

Initially presented as investors grabbing land from rural people, it has since become clear that most such ‘grabs’ involve national governments selling or leasing out land to private companies, often by dispossessing rural communities of their rights.

Though such moves may flout international law and human rights, they are mostly legal under national law. It's the result of a longstanding failure to recognize that customary and informal land rights constitute real property rights. This failure effectively renders invisible the tenure of millions of people across the world, and privileges only the minority of those in developing countries who hold private title to property.

The conundrum then is how to address the deficiencies of national statutes that render land grabs – which are illegitimate and flout human rights – nominally legal under national law. On a recent trip to Lake Victoria, I heard fishing communities talk about the effects of land acquisitions on their lives and livelihoods. In this post, I'll explore the issues and share some of their reflections.

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How Mozambique’s journalists see China

CBAA project member Sérgio Chichava, and colleagues Lara Côrtes and Aslak Orre, have published a paper on Mozambican press coverage of Chinese engagements in the country. The piece looks at Chinese engagements with the African media, and the representation of Chinese engagements in the Mozambican media with a case study on illegal logging.
(Academia.edu)

Brazilian Bananas tested in Nigeria and Uganda

As part of the Brazil-Africa marketplace programme, EMBRAPA has begun working on a programme of improving the genetic strains of bananas and plantains in Africa. This work is taking place specifically in Nigeria and Uganda for the time being as they are some of the largest producers of these crops. They will test the improved strains across four separate environments within the two countries.
(O Documento)

China puts pressure on Zimbabwean parastatals over loans

There are reports that the Chinese government wants to second officials to key Zimbabwean parastatals to ensure that Chinese loans for government projects are not lost due to “leakages”. The article cites concerns over allowing the foreign officials into their key parastatals and says that negotiations over “the Chinese demands, including transparency, accountability and the stamping out of corruption in parastatals” will take some time. China is also said to have put pressure on the country in repaying its original loans, and it is articulated that Mugabe was ultimately unsuccessful in a bid to secure a further $4billion in loans from China late last year.
(Mail and Guardian)

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For several years Future Agricultures has worked on pastoralism within African settings. For comparison, this post looks at a case from theTibetan Plateau, where pastoralists are facing similar challenges to those investigated by our Pastoralism theme.

In the last few weeks of 2014, IDS hosted a visiting fellow, Gongbuzeren, a researcher from Tibet who himself grew up in a nomadic community. Gongbuzeren has been researching rangeland management and pastoral development in pastoral regions around Tibet since 2007, with fieldwork in the provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai. We asked him a few questions about his emerging findings.

1. The Chinese authorities recently introduced a market-based system of rangeland management in the Tibetan Plateau, which contrasts with some of the existing collective and community-based practices. Why do you think they did this, and what have they done to achieve it?

The pastoral reforms were part of a wider programme. In the late 1980s, China initiated economic reforms to move towards market-based economic development, in order to improve its gross industrial and agricultural output. In the late 1990s, China implemented the ‘Great West Development’ programme. This tried to speed up economic growth through marketisation and modernisation in the west – including the six main pastoral provinces (Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet Autonomous Region(TAR), Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu).

To integrate the rural pastoral communities in these areas into this larger market-based economic development, China made some rapid institutional reforms in how rangelands were managed, and accompanied these reforms with some centralised market-based policy interventions.

A policy in the early 90s moved the management of rangelands from a community-based system, to being based around household contracts, with individual privatized rangeland user-rights. This was called the Rangeland Household Contract Policy (RHCP). Then, in 2008, China introduced a market-based rangeland transfer system, which aimed to re-aggregate rangeland resources, and promote more optimal animal husbandry.

All of these market-based institutional reforms are underpinned by the belief that the older community-based system – which is based around community collective use of rangelands, with traditionally-inherited customary institutions and cultural norms – is irrational. According to this view, the old system leads to open access and the degradation of rangelands.

Market-based arrangements aim to correct this by ‘re-aggregating’ the household-based rangeland resources and allocating them more efficiently. They also support intensive animal husbandry and a rotational grazing system, which is meant to improve herder livelihoods and promote sustainable rangeland management.

The pastoralists in these areas have taken these reforms and adapted them to find systems that work for them.

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

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Chinese Foreign Ministry official encourages investments in African Agriculture

The head of the Africa Department in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lin Songtian, has encouraged Chinese companies to invest in African agriculture: “Opening up local (African) land, using local labour and meeting the needs of local markets would be an excellent investment”. He is cited as having spoken about the capital, technical expertise, and experience China can bring to countries in the form of mutual cooperation. The article goes on to draw out his points on the mutual economic benefits of China-Africa engagements and the need for Chinese investors to respect local regulations.
(Tianong.cn (in Chinese))

What is Brazil Really Doing in Africa?

This op-ed by Robert Muggah gives an overview of Brazil-African engagements from an international relations perspective. It looks at the developmental and commercial engagements, as well as flashpoints in the relationships so far.
(Huffpo)

Ethiopian dam to start power generation

A much-delayed $1.8 billion dam project under construction along Ethiopia's Omo river could begin generating power by June and be fully operational by early 2016, an official said on Thursday. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China stepped in four years ago with a loan of $500 million to pay for turbines and upon completion the project will generate 1,870 MW of power.
(Reuters)

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Chinese Agribusiness CSR in Africa

Xu Xiuli, Li Xiaoyun and Qi Gubo have just published a new paper on the Corporate Social Responsibility activities of Chinese agribusinesses. The paper argues that this should not be just a case of ‘gilding the lily’ of companies’ business activities, but rather, agribusinesses in Africa need to integrate sustainable practices into their business models according to local needs.
Read the paper (in Chinese)

Chinese training courses for African officials

A policy brief by Henry Tugendhat about ‘Chinese training courses for African Officials’ was published by the China Africa Research Initiative at SAIS. This looks at the scale and mechanisms of China’s programme that currently trains 10,000 African government officials per year. It draws on fieldwork on agricultural training courses as the lens through which to analyse this topic.
(SAIS-CARI (pdf))

AGROMOZ’s ProSavana engagements

An article claims that Brazilian soybean agribusiness AGROMOZ has displaced more than 1000 people from their land in Lioma with improper compensation. This is said to cover an area of 1000 hectares under the broader ProSavana project. Presumably more news will follow on this soon. Joseph Hanlon and Teresa Smart also produced a piece on this field site in 2012 (PDF) that provides a good background.
(AllAfrica)

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We've just launched a new series of films on the relationships between land reform and economic activity in Zimbabwe, focusing on three commodities: tobacco, beef and horticulture.

The series, entitled ‘Making Markets’, is produced by our Space, Markets and Employment in Agricultural Development (SMEAD) project. The project, which also works on case studies in Malawi and South Africa, looks at the linkages between agricultural production, employment and other economic activity, and how these relate to spatial patterns and movement.

Watch the overview:

You can watch a playlist on YouTube, or read more about each film by following the link below:

Space, markets and employment: 3 films from Zimbabwe

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New policy brief by Sérgio Chichava on China in Mozambique

Sérgio Chichava’s presentation in Washington DC has just been published as a policy brief. Its title is ‘Chinese Agricultural Investment in Mozambique: the case of the Wanbao rice farm’.
(SAIS (pdf))

Foreign-based Chinese farms face obstacles to selling produce in China

Two officials from China’s Ministry of Agriculture have published a report about the difficulties overseas Chinese farmers and agricultural firms face in exporting their produce back to China. The report found that many agricultural firms had to buy import quotas from other companies, and some were only allowed to export a fraction of what they produced back to China.
(South China Morning Post)

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Often depicted as merely a begging bowl waiting for the munificence of superior westerners, Africa is seriously maligned. Indeed, across Africa citizens have always engaged in vibrant, innovative livelihoods activities, and these activities are ongoing. So when foreigners and Africans themselves imagine that inclusive agricultural growth can only come from foreign investment, they need to check the blind spots which render thriving African economic activity invisible.

For example, as presented by Marc Wegerif of Oxfam at the third day of the inaugural Conference on Land Policy in Africa, in Tanzania rural villages surrounding Dar es Salaam are already supplying the city’s massive food needs. Wegerif described how about 950,000 eggs were delivered daily by bicycle to the city, generating income for chicken farmers, those bringing the eggs to the city on bicycle, and the traders who sell the eggs in Dar es Salaam. People purchasing these eggs pay about half of what they would in a Dar supermarket, yet this route is more lucrative for chicken farmers than supplying to supermarkets. If the chicken farmers instead sold to supermarkets, the produce would not have the diversified multiplier effects that existing processes do, and yet, policy makers and foreign development practitioners often seek to encourage value chains to be geared towards supplying formal markets.

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New briefing explores Chinese agricultural investment in Uganda

A new policy brief has just been published on the China-Africa Research Initiative based at Johns Hopkins, SAIS, regarding ‘The Political Ecology of Chinese Agricultural Investment in Uganda: the case of Hanhe Farm’. This paper was prepared by Josh Maiyo about Hebei Hanhe farm.
(SAIS)

China-Africa Agricultural Cooperation Forum held in Hainan

The 5th China-Africa Roundtable Summit in Hainan included a ‘China-Africa Agricultural Cooperation Forum’. This invited representatives from related Chinese ministries, African embassies, the FAO, the WFP, etc. Hainan-Africa cooperation potential was spoken about with senior local officials stressing the climatic similarities between the Chinese island and African environments. They also spoke about building a “21st Century Silk Road of the Sea” and an “agricultural cooperation corridor” between the two regions.
(Tianong.cn – in Chinese / Sierra Express media)

Technology sales and trainings were also highlighted at the event by a representative of China’s Ministry of Agriculture.
(Aweb.com.cn – in Chinese)

Inefficient Chinese agribusiness models in Africa?

The blogger Dim Sums argues that China is exporting the most inefficient parts of its own agricultural sector to Africa. The author looks first at investments and the transfer of fertilizer, pesticide and seed-breeding, which he argues have all been big concerns for their excessive use in China this year. Second he looks at the companies involved in producing food for Chinese markets, but argues they are often have no experience of actually producing food and are notoriously inefficient at storing and transporting grain.
(Dim Sums)

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What have we learnt from past efforts to secure land rights in Africa? And how can land rights be secured under different tenure regimes?

These are the questions that were tackled on the second day of the inaugural Conference on Land Policy in Africa, hosted by the Land Policy Initiative of the African Union, African Development Bank and UNECA, taking place currently at African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.

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by Steve Lawry (@stevenlawry) and Ruth Hall (@RuthHallPLAAS)

Rural land tenure reforms are often justified as a route to improving agricultural productivity and investment. Is there evidence that they do, and to what degree is formalization a worthy intervention for policymakers aiming to improve productivity in agriculture?

A recent systematic review, funded by DFID, addressed these questions, reviewing available literature on titling and other certification initiatives. Its findings reveal important differences in the impact of reforms, depending on where they occur.

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Across the world, access to land and related resources are probably our most hotly contested political issues: who does the land belong to, who has the right to access the land, who gets to make decisions about land use, and who is barred from the land are tied to people’s history, culture and ability to pursue decent livelihoods.

In an effort to reduce contestation, most countries have developed complex systems of laws to govern land, some with more success than others. But for many African countries these are still open questions — with different systems of land governance, chosen and imposed, clashing, as countries try to keep space for traditional, customary land practices, grapple with the land legacies of the colonial era, while trying to make land systems that are legible to and compatible with globalised capital.

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The inaugural Conference on Land Policy in Africa got off to an energetic start on Tuesday 11 November 2014 at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, with a panel of eminent speakers issuing a clarion call for action to secure the land rights of rural residents across the continent. Dr Abebe Haile Mariam, Director of Rural Economy and Agriculture in the African Union Commission, chaired this first plenary session and opening ceremony.

Land and agriculture are central to our future

Her Excellency Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, officially opened the conference, declaring: ‘We are proud that Africa is the only continent that has defined its own agenda for land policy.’

‘This conference is timely and allows us to track progress in the implementation of the AU declaration on land,’ she said.

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

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Video: Europe-China-Africa Business & Agriculture

This video summarises some of the discussions at a conference at the European Centre for Development Policy Management in Brussels last year. It includes a short discussion with CBAA project member Prof. Li Xiaoyun, among other participants.
(TagLoom.com)

China-Africa agricultural machinery symposium held in Wuhan

At the ‘China-Africa Trade of Agricultural Machinery Cooperation Symposium’, delegates from Chinese machinery companies, research institutes and policy-making bodies met with agricultural representatives from African embassies and members of AU bodies such as the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). They invited investments in Chinese agricultural machinery companies setting up in Africa, and discussed how to develop trade links.
(CCStock)

How China supports its agricultural investors abroad

Chinese overseas investments are picking up pace. 300 companies have taken on overseas investments in 46 countries in recent years. This blog post highlights the Chinese government’s role in supporting overseas investments, including a potential “special fund for overseas agricultural investment, subsidized loans, training for personnel, and setting up information exchange platforms.” The article includes a case study of Jilin Province’s promotion of agricultural companies abroad.
(Dim Sums)

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project, sign up to the CBAA newsletter.

Mozambique opens consulate in Macau

Based on the growing commercial relations between China and Mozambique, the latter has committed to opening a new consulate in Macau. Last year Chinese companies invested $1.6bn into Mozambique, and it is hoped that this figure will surpass $2bn this year.
(Macauhub.com)

Agricultural Innovation Marketplace Bids Open

The Agricultural Innovation Marketplace is an initiative that brings together research organisations from Brazil’s EMBRAPA and partner countries in Africa, Latin America and Caribbean. Funded by organisations such as DFID, the FAO, and the Gates Foundation it seeks to drive forward innovation and development of agriculture and animal husbandry in those regions. Submission of pre-proposals for this year is now open, and examples of past projects are mentioned in this article.
(Post Online / ANBA – in Portuguese)

Rice production grows in Sub-Saharan Africa

Rice has become a bigger part of African diets over the past three decades, and it has been predicted that rice-imports to Sub-Saharan Africa will increase faster than anywhere else in the world. It is said to be popular because it takes much less time to prepare than traditional African staples such as cassava, but local production is not keeping up with demand. This means that of 21 million tonnes consumed annually, about 6.5 million tonnes are imported from Asia at a cost of $1.7m. African countries are hoping to cover this shortfall themselves in the coming years.
(Nature)

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What is China’s “model”?

In an article for the Chinese periodical Global Times, Prof. Li Xiaoyun reflects on the idea of sharing China’s model with Africa, and argues that the real model is that China followed its own path. The problem with trying to find the Chinese “model” is that explanations may be based in Western discourses that cannot properly reflect China’s experiences, or they highlight elements that were relatively unimportant from China’s own perspective.
(Global Times: Chinese version / English version)

China’s ambassador to Ghana visits Wynca Sunshine group

The Chinese ambassador to Ghana has visited Wynca Sunshine’s new rural headquarters outside of Kumasi. It is notable that the embassy is now taking an interest in the company, as interviews last year suggested that the company in Ghana had grown independently of Chinese embassy support.
Sohu.com (in Chinese)

Ramos-Horta on relations between Africa and Latin-American

Former Timor-Leste president, José Ramos-Horta, said at a recent conference that Africa-Latin American relations were really an academic dialogue as the trade element is lacking. He stressed that their commercial relations are largely intra-African or with the EU and USA. However, he drew attention to Brazil as the only real exception to this trend, based on its financial and technological engagements.
(RTP – in Portuguese)

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A new special issue on ‘Critical perspectives on food sovereignty’ from the Journal of Peasant Studies has been released, with free articles available for a limited period. The guest editors are Marc Edelman, James C. Scott, Amita Baviskar, Saturnino M. Borras Jr., Deniz Kandiyoti, Eric Holt-Gimenez, Tony Weis and Wendy Wolford.

The issue is volume 2 in a series on Global Agrarian Transformations (Volume 1 is also still accessible for free from the Taylor and Francis website).

As JPS’s contribution to the ongoing food sovereignty debate, the journal is also making available for free for a limited time three commentary articles:

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by Barbara Adolph and Laura Silici, IIED

To mark World Food Day, IIED, ODI and IDS have launched the first seven of 12 new papers addressing agricultural and rural development debates in sub-Saharan Africa.

World Food Day celebrates the anniversary of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's creation on 16 October 1945, and is a good occasion to reflect on the challenges of achieving food security worldwide. This year’s theme, 'Family Farming: Feeding the world, caring for the earth', was chosen to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farmers.

There is general agreement that family farming plays important roles in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment, and achieving sustainable development. However, the debates around the specific policies and investments needed for this are as heated as ever.

In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, the challenges of feeding a growing and increasingly urbanised population, while increasing household incomes for rural producers, have given rise to fierce debate and contested recommendations.

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By Gareth Borman, Centre for Development Innovation, Wageningen UR

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Despite huge investment from governments and donors in seed sector development in Africa over the better half of a century, access to quality seed remains a great challenge for smallholder farmers across the continent.

Addressing this challenge is a complex task, and requires an integrated, multidisciplinary and innovation systems approach. Certain aspects of the greater challenge may be best addressed at regional level, through the collaboration of countries, experts, seed programmes, and their associated organizations and institutions in the public and private domains.

A select number of challenge areas have been prioritised for deeper exploration and intervention through an action-oriented research and learning approach during the Piloting Phase of the Comprehensive Programme on Integrated Seed Sector Development in Africa.

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Book Review of ‘Agricultural Development and Food Security in Africa’

A book review by Lídia Cabral has been published in the Journal of Agrarian Change. It covers the book ‘Agricultural Development and Food Security in Africa: The Impact of Chinese, Indian and Brazilian Investments, edited by Fantu Cheru and Renu Modi. London: Zed Books. 2013’
(Journal of Agrarian Change)

Brazil’s strategy in Africa: business, security and defence

CEBRI, a Brazilian think-tank, has released a Special Edition discussing Brazilian strategy in Africa. This Edition is composed of five articles. Two articles analyse the role of Brazilian companies, while the others look at security and defence.  
(CEBRI – in Portuguese)

China formalises foreign aid law – and consults public

In April, 2014, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) published a draft of its ‘Measures for the Administration of Foreign Aid’. Marina Rudyak is a PhD student from the University of Heidelberg and has done a translation of the document with a short blog analysing the draft: “Consisting of 51 articles, the Measures are the first comprehensive legal document with the character of a law to regulate Chinese government's foreign aid. Interestingly, following a practice already applied in preparation to the last Five Year Plan, MOFCOM was seeking comments and suggestions from the Chinese public.”
(China Aid Blog)

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