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Future Agricultures blog

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


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

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project, sign up to the CBAA newsletter.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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


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

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project, sign up to the CBAA newsletter.

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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As mentioned last week, the University of Sussex hosted the major biennial UK African Studies Association conference. Around 600 delegates were registered, and there was a real buzz, with panels on every conceivable topic from every corner of the continent. Quite a few papers reported on new work from Zimbabwe, and land and politics was a recurrent theme. In the end we had a single panel of three papers (as several panellists had to drop out at the last minute). It was a fascinating session to a standing-room-only audience.

The three panellists all reported on new research in the now not-so-new resettlements, representing different geographic areas, and diverse methodologies. All looked at how new livelihoods are being carved out following land reform in A1 sites. This included in-depth reflections on the relationships between farmers and farmworkers, a quantitative assessment of production outcomes across sites compared to communal and old resettlement areas, and an analysis of how farm and off-farm livelihood opportunities are combined in a mining area.

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Since the emergence of the “land grab” phenomenon in the mid-2000s, alternative approaches to land-based investments have been developed and tested to mitigate the often significant and adverse impacts on rural people of such grabs while still supporting foreign direct investments, particularly in agriculture, for economic development in African countries.

The use of more inclusive business models is one approach. These models aim to ensure that the existing land users do not lose their rights to access, control and own land. They are meant to empower communities to have a voice in business decision making processes and share benefits and risks resulting from the business activities.

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landhungerNew research from Zimbabwe will be shared at a double panel session at the UK African Studies Association conference this week.

This year’s event is at the University of Sussex, and our session is on Wednesday 10 September from 9 to 10.30 and 11 to 12.30. The session has been organised by Gareth James of Edinburgh University, and I am chairing (for full panel & paper details, see below).

Zimbabwe’s land reform that unfolded from 2000 has been intensely controversial, and remain so. But 14 years on there is a wider array of research to draw from in order to make more balanced and informed conclusions on outcomes and implications.

The work by me and colleagues, published in the book Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities, showed how some farmers who gained land through the land reform in Masvingo did remarkably well – accumulating, investing and improving production. Others have pointed to the ‘tobacco boom’ that has brought significant riches to those in the Highveld tobacco areas. Such successes have not universally been the case however. Land in some areas remains poorly utilised, some larger scale farmers have failed to invest, and political elites have captured land but not put it into production.

The panel, ‘New narratives and emerging issues in the Zimbabwe land debate’, will provide an opportunity to reflect on new research conducted by Zimbabwean and European researchers in the last few years in different parts of the country.

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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.

Brazil’s More Food Africa programme funds £38m of farming equipment in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is said to be receiving farming equipment worth $38m in September for the 2014/15 summer cropping, under Brazil’s ‘More Food Africa’ programme. This was announced at the 2nd National Dialogue on Agro-Business, Food and Nutrition Security organised by the National Economic Consultative Forum and the Zimbabwe Agricultural Society. The consignment forms part of the first tranche of a $98mil package signed by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, and Brazilian counterparts.

Sichuan province eyes $300mil investment in Ugandan farming

The Agricultural Department of China's Sichuan province is in talks to invest $300 million in cotton, rice and fruit production in Uganda, a senior Ugandan official said on Wednesday. This is said to require 15,000 acres of land, which the Ugandan government is helping them to acquire. The plan is then to establish an “agricultural production and industrial park which will involve developing the whole value chain of cotton, rice and fruits."

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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.

Agricultura “made in Brazil”

This article argues that Brazil’s agricultural technology model has been a success in Brazil and will be valuable for countries with similar environmental conditions. It focuses on the ProSavana project in Mozambique that embodies such technology transfers and critiques those civil society movements that contest their value.
(Vermelho Portal – in Portuguese)

South Africa wants to sell more agricultural produce to China

South Africa is preparing to plant and harvest 1million hectares of fallow land. As part of this they hope that they will be able to increase agricultural exports to China.

“In China, we have found a growing market for our agricultural produce. The Department of Trade and Industry (dti) has been instrumental in assisting producers in the wine industry with accessing marketing opportunities through international trade fairs in countries like China… We must however, challenge ourselves to translate export gains into opportunities for local economic development and job creation.”
(South African Government News Agency, via AllAfrica)

The developmental implications of Sino-African economic and political relations: A preliminary assessment for the case of Zambia

“This scoping study evaluates the nature, scope, and scale of Chinese trade and investment relations
in the primary sector of mineral-rich Zambia. It details how, despite diplomatic ties dating back to the liberation struggle of the 1960s, economic and political relations between the two countries matured only over the 2000s. This has focused primarily on the mining sector, with Chinese companies, many of which are state owned, investing heavily in mineral prospecting, copper mining and smelting, and associated (service) industries. With most investment activities targeting the mining sector, contrary to popular perception, China’s direct participation in other primary sectors, such as forestry and agriculture, is negligible.”

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Senegalese schoolgirl

In February and March 2013, the Senegalese Afrobarometer team conducted a nationwide Survey on a sample of 1200 young Senegalese people aged 18 and above. The sample is representative of the 18+ population and takes into account the distribution by district, sex and place of residence.

As in previous surveys, the Senegalese team inserted some country-specific questions into the standard questionnaire of the African network. These included a question on the extent to which respondents agreed with the following statements:

  1. Q80A_SEN. Promote economic growth by: support to farmers/rural areas versus prioritize industry/urban areas
  2. Q80B_SEN. Promote economic growth by: technology and agricultural inputs versus access to markets
  3. Q80C_SEN. Promote economic growth by: focus on producing cash crops versus food crops
  4. Q80D_SEN. No foreigners to buy land versus foreigners can purchase land
  5. Q80E_SEN. Work in agriculture; produce for consumption or sale.
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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.

Africa, an emerging ‘green revolution’?

Lidia Cabral is consulted in this article on agricultural development programmes in Africa. She traces some of the key projects that have emerged over the past few years, and introduces some of the research she has been conducting on the ProSavana programme in Mozambique.
(Publico – in Portuguese)

China in Africa: How Sam Pa became the middle man

This op-ed in the Financial Times seeks to unravel a large network of business ventures and connections around a successful Chinese businessman in Africa called Sam Pa (???). The article looks at some of his dealings with government officials and international business colleagues, including his role in a deal he made between Sinopec and Angola’s state oil company Sonangol. It gives an interesting perspective on a high profile Chinese migrant to Africa and the role that brokers may play between the different state and business actors.
(Financial Times)

Brazil to support coffee and soybean projects in Angola

The Brazilian ambassador to Angola has committed Brazilian support to increased agricultural cooperation between the two countries. Embrapa already provides support in Angola’s agronomic and veterinary research institutes, and their mention in this article seems to suggest they would be part of further agricultural cooperation programmes.
(Macau Hub)

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