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Future Agricultures blog

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

By Rachel Sabates-Wheeler and Stephen Devereux

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

News from the CBAA project

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

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

Presentations from our London event

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

View presentations and other resources

OECD report on non-DAC ODA flows

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

Zimbabwean adults’ perceptions on corruption and the role of China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the call for participation (pdf)


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By John Thompson and Jim Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged in: brics CBAA
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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)

Tagged in: cbaa-roundup
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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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