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Future Agricultures blog

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

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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via PAEPARD:

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.

Tagged in: Zimbabwe
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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.

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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)

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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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Agricultural research has not always recognised the knowledge and skills of farmers, particularly those in resource-poor areas, to innovate and adapt. In 1989, the book Farmer First: Farmer Innovation and Agricultural Research launched a movement to encourage farmer participation in agricultural research and development. It argued that farmers in resource-poor areas are innovators and adaptors, and that agricultural research must take farmers' own agendas and priorities into account. Since then, two further volumes – Beyond Farmer First and Farmer First Revisited – have developed these themes, looking at experiences from across the world and forward to the future.

My purpose here is to add my voice to the historic place the Farmer First books hold in development literature, and encourage development practitioners (including myself) to continue documenting farmer innovations.

The three books, Farmer First in particular, have established two things:

  • farmer innovation existed well before ‘modern/scientific’ research and extension came along (Chambers, et. al. 1989). This assertion remains true today. Regardless of the on-going scientific discoveries, farmers continue to innovate on their fields and in their backyards.
  • farmer innovations and ‘modern/scientific’ research and extension are complementary. That means that advances in smallholder agriculture can neither be achieved solely by one nor the other. Therefore, present and future generation of researchers and extensionists have the responsibility to ensure that modern knowledge listens to traditional knowledge and vice versa.

This is not a conventional review. The Farmer First books (what I referred to here as three generations) have received more acclaims than I can ever give them. But in this blogpost, I want to define what I mean by the three ‘generations’ of Farmer First and identify some basic features of the three books to enable readers to get a glimpse.

This leads me to observe who have remained loyal (champions) to Farmer First from its inception until now. I also examine Farmer First from an Ethiopian perspective – a country little served by the three generations of Farmer First, despite practicing agriculture for centuries, and least benefited by modern science. I give indication of focus areas for a possible fourth generation, and conclude with the declaration that transforming African agriculture (Ethiopian agriculture in particular) and eradicating poverty has proven to be more difficult than sending a man to the moon – more than ‘rocket science’.

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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 paper: China and Brazil in Mozambique
The CBAA project has published a new paper by Sérgio Chichava and Natalia Fingermann which compares Chinese and Brazilian agricultural cooperation programmes in Mozambique. Both projects, in the district of Boane, draw on the agricultural development experiences of their respective countries. The authors question how transferable these experiences really are.
(Future Agricultures)

 Tunisia seeks greater ties with Brazilian Agriculture

The CEO of Tunisia’s ‘Agency for Agricultural Investment Promotion’ (APIA) is currently in Sao Paulo where he sought to attract increased engagements from Brazilian agribusiness and cooperation projects. He was cited as saying “We have a lot to learn when it comes to agricultural research and teaching, and developing areas such as grains and meats.” The Tunisian CEO is also in discussions about increasing Tunisian agricultural exports to be sold Brazilian supermarket chains.
(farmlandgrab.org)

Brazilian and Chinese investments in Angola and Mozambique

Victoria Waldersee has published a policy brief at the BRICS Policy Centre that maps out some of Brazil and China’s key investments in Angola and Mozambique. The mapping is based on a mixture of academic papers and news articles and it gives a sense of areas of concentration as well as key commercial interests coming from each country.
(BRICS Policy Center)

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You may not know, but 2015 is the International Year of Soils. Soils are of course vitally important for agriculture and livelihoods, but they often go unsung and are routinely uncared for. The Year of Soils, promoted by the FAO, is aimed to put soils into the spotlight. The Director General of the FAO, Jose Graziano Da Silva, puts it nicely: “”The multiple roles of soils often go unnoticed. Soils don’t have a voice, and few people speak out for them. They are our silent ally in food production”.

The recent high-profile Montpellier Panel report pulls together much of the science, and makes a strong case for taking an integrated and holistic approach to soil management to promote soil health. If we lose soils, then we lose the basis for life, it argues. While climate change, correctly, has gained the international spotlight, making sure the basic substrate for human survival is in a good condition may be equally important.

If you want to learn more about soils you can attend an event virtually every week somewhere in the world this year. A highlight is the ‘Global Soil Week’ in Berlin next month, when soil science and policy will be discussed in a number of sessions. The organisers have produced a ‘Soil Atlas’, a compilation of infographics, which projects the data and the importance of soils.

Yet we must be careful when making the case for soils that we do not simplify and overstate. This is always a temptation when trying to raise the profile of an issue. To generate attention, headline grabbing statistics are always helpful. But they may not actually be useful, as they can distort responses and obscure understandings. Thus, while I agree with virtually everything in the new Montpellier report, I was disappointed to find that the old and much disputed figures of global soil degradation and nutrient loss are trotted out yet again.

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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 paper: the narratives behind Brazil & Mozambique’s co-operation in agriculture

Lidia Cabral has published a new working paper entitled ‘Priests, technicians and traders? The discursive politics of Brazil’s agricultural cooperation in Mozambique.’ This paper asks whose interests drive Brazil into Africa, what development models are carried along and what is in them for African countries have been guiding research and debates about Brazil’s cooperation in Africa. The paper focuses specifically on two large Brazilian projects in Mozambique: ProSAVANA and More Food International.
(Future Agricultures)

Brazilian Banana species in Uganda and Nigeria

Another article has emerged about the EMBRAPA’s programme to transfer 13 cultivars of banana developed in Brazil to Uganda and Nigeria. The cultivars have are more resistant to diseases that affect the crop and as bananas are part of the staple diets in Nigeria and Uganda, the programme hopes to ensure greater food security. Testing will take place over three to five years over four test-sites in each country. How the successful strains will be rolled out is not specifically mentioned in the article, but it alludes to “questions of the market” at the end suggesting that strains would be sold to local farmers. This raises further questions over who would own the intellectual property rights.
(Jornal do Brasil)

Manicaland to twin with Anhui, China

Zimbabwe’s Provincial Affairs Minister, Mandi Chimene, has announced that Manicaland Province will be twinned with China’s Anhui province with a view to export chickens. She is reported as saying: “Manicaland we are twinning you with Anhui Province in China. We have a treaty that we signed to trade with them. We don’t want to continue receiving products from them. Let’s plan what we should supply them so that we brief them during our next visit.” This seems to mark the first time an African country is pro-actively twinning one of its provinces with a part of China in order to boost exports.
(Zimbabwe Situation)

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A series of Working Papers by the China and Brazil in African Agriculture (CBAA) project of Future Agricultures has been launched for 2015. The papers fall broadly into two groups, with many overlaps.

The first is a set of papers looking at the political economy context in Brazil and China. We argue that historical experiences in agriculture and poverty programmes, combine with domestic political economy dynamics, involving different political, commercial and diplomatic interests, to shape development cooperation engagements in Africa. How such narratives of agriculture and development – about for example food security, appropriate technology, policy models and so on - travel to and from Africa is important in our analysis.

b2ap3_thumbnail_cbaavid.jpgThe second, larger set of papers focuses on case studies of development cooperation. They take a broadly-defined ‘ethnographic’ stance, looking at how such engagements unfold in detail, while setting this in an understanding of the wider political economy in the particular African settings. There are, for example, major contrasts between how Brazilian and Chinese engagements unfold in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, dependent on historical experiences with economic reform, agricultural sector restructuring, aid commitments, as well as national political priorities and stances.

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