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Future Agricultures blog

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

From 6-20 September, 2016, the Land Portal Foundation and the Cadasta Foundation will be jointly holding a debate on Open Data and Land Governance: Increased accountability and transparency as a means to overcoming poverty?

Tagged in: land
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The African Farmer game will be presented at a webinar organised by CORE Group’s Social and Behavior Change Working Group.

Register online to attend this webinar. It will be held from 11am – 12pm Eastern Time on 22 June 2016.

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by Ruth Hall, University of the Western Cape and Ian Scoones, University of Sussex

Four years ago voluntary guidelines on the governance of land and land tenure were agreed at the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome. This was a response to growing concerns about the impacts of “land grabbing” driven by the global rush for investment in the wake of the food, fuel and financial crises of the late 2000s. Getting the guidelines agreed was a long slog, involving many people. In a new report we examine what has happened since – and what challenges lie ahead.

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In December 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping flew into South Africa for the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation with great fanfare. There were lots of announcements about prospective investments across Africa. Agriculture featured prominently. But what is the real story of China in Africa on the ground, beyond the hype?

As Deborah Brautigam’s investigative research has so effectively shown, the assumptions about China’s role in Africa are often not borne out in reality. The level of investment and linked aid flows are much lower than the high numbers sometimes touted; the numbers of imported Chinese workers are much lower than often suggested; the areas of land “grabbed” for investment are small compared to the vast areas identified by some.

And, as Brautigam’s recent book shows, Africa will not be feeding China or China feeding Africa anytime soon.

Reality on the ground

We set about finding out what was happening on the ground. Working with African, Chinese and European colleagues, our team investigated Chinese engagements in agriculture in four countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. All have featured prominently as priorities for Chinese investment and aid.

Our just-completed project is reported in a new open access special issue of the journal World Development. So what exactly has been going on?

This proved surprisingly difficult to find out. The data on land acquisition, investment flows and aid projects is limited and confusing. It often doesn’t add up. Ghost projects are listed that never happened, and others are missed out.

Our original idea of doing a simple geomapping exercise based on available data was quickly abandoned. Instead, we had to triangulate between multiple sources to find out what was happening where.

Certainly there is a great deal going on, and the Chinese presence in Africa is important. The Chinese role in agriculture – in terms of business investment, technology transfer, demonstration efforts, training and more – is growing, and shaping perceptions.

We chose cases across the four countries to investigate in more detail. The studies aimed to explore the detail of investments, technology projects, training and development encounters more generally.

The central question we asked was: is China reshaping African agriculture?

No singular ‘Chinese model’

The Chinese Agricultural Technology Development Centres are flagship investments. There are now 23 across Africa, funded in their first phase by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce under their aid program. They are run mostly by companies, and are linked to a commercial model for training and technology demonstration and sale.

As Xiuli Xu and colleagues show, the centres’ performance very much depends on who is running them. Different provincial companies have very different characteristics, demonstrating that there is no singular “Chinese model” of development, or state-business partnership.

We also explored a number of cases of business investments in agriculture, primarily led by Chinese state-owned enterprises. Chinese development efforts mix aid with commerce, linking both provincial and central state involvement with different businesses.

For example, as Jing Gu and colleagues explain, in Xai Xai in Mozambique, the Wanbao agricultural development company from Hubei province took over 20,000 hectares on a state farm to farm rice, and develop a contract farming arrangement with surrounding farms.

It has not been easy. There have been a number of changes in company leads, disputes with local communities, and shifting alliances with local elites, as Kojo Amanor and Sergio Chichava set out.

The training of government officials is an important aspect of the Chinese engagement in Africa. More than 10,000 are trained in numerous courses in China each year, many in agriculture. This far exceeds any training initiative of any western aid programme.

Henry Tugendhat and Dawit Alemu explored the impacts of these courses, participating in training in China, and interviewing officials who had returned home to Ghana and Zimbabwe. While there have not been many immediate impacts, the longer-term building of relationships and the exertion of “soft power” diplomacy is important.

The role of informal Chinese migrants

Chinese migrants supply specialist Chinese foods to burgeoning expatriate populations. Reuters/Noor Khamis

Perhaps the most far-reaching but least understood dimension of Chinese involvement in African agriculture is the growing number of informal migrants getting involved in the agri-food sector, from farming to processing to retail to restaurants.

Seth Cook and colleagues investigated this in Ethiopia and Ghana. They discovered a range of activities: relatively few farmers, but growing investment in supplying specialist Chinese foods to burgeoning expatriate Chinese populations.

Those involved are very often migrants who came as part of Chinese government contracts, and have since established business connections and stayed, encouraging others to join them from China.

Through our work, we were able to gain a snapshot of the early stages of Chinese engagement in African agriculture. Our results show successes as well as failures. But Chinese engagement is certainly not yet at the scale sometimes assumed.

In the longer term, activities may accelerate as more opportunities open up. But China is also changing. As its economy restructures to a “new normal”, there are different demands. Food will certainly remain one, but this is not likely to come from Africa.

As a new global power, China will want to maintain business, aid and diplomatic relations with Africa, and sustaining relationships will be important. China plays the long game, and our studies were observing just the opening stages.


This blog was originally published on The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/chinese-engagement-in-african-agriculture-is-not-what-it-seems-56779

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Today the Mastercard Foundation and the Institute of Development Studies have launched the Matasa Fellows Network. Jim Sumberg (STEPS Centre member), Seife Ayele and Samir Khan (Mastercard Foundation) have announced the launch and are welcoming applications to join the network.

Read the article: Putting young African researchers at the heart of change

Applications from young African scholars who are interested in the challenge of young people and employment in Africa are being accepted until 16 May.

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In MaliNigeriaSouth Africa and Uganda civil society organisations, together with research institutions, have embarked on ‘action research’ to test how the Committee on World Food Security’s (CFS) Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests can be used by rural people to defend their resource rights. This project is being led by the FIAN International.

We [Sofia Suarez of FIAN International (photo left), Chantal Jacovetti of CNOP in Mali (photo centre), and Ruth Hall of PLAAS (photo right)] presented our project’s emerging findings centering on ten themes at a recent IDRC Workshop on Large-scale Land Acquisitions (LSLAs) and Accountability in Africa, in Dakar, Senegal on 24-25 November 2015; we found:


  1. Loss of resource rights to land, water, forests and inland and marine fish. Sometimes this loss is compensated for but often not, or is compensated at rates below what could provide equivalent livelihoods elsewhere.
  2. surplus labour population is being created in rural areas, who are relatively disconnected from agrarian livelihoods and have no feasible prospects at establishing livelihoods in an urban economy. The impacts of such social upheavals could be profound, we noted, posing new challenges to governance and states.
  3. Loss cannot be understood merely at individual or household level. Loss often spoken of in terms of loss of territory, community and social networks, the web of social relations centered on land (and sea-/lake-/forest-) based livelihoods. To use the terminology of the ‘sustainable livelihoods’ framework, multiple capitals (natural capital, social capital, etc) are undermined when access to resources is removed.
  4. ‘Impacts’ of land deals are spatially and temporally dispersed. While much research focuses on the immediate vicinity of a large land-based investment, on the assumption that this is where the impacts are felt, some are felt elsewhere (for example, by downstream water users). Other impacts will only be fully realised in the future — for example, the failure of inter-generational transfer of land and the challenges this will pose for young people who do not inherit land.
  5. We need to ask about impacts at a wider societal and political level too. And not just LSLA in isolation, but how these connect with other changes underway. For example: In Uganda, we have found that titling initiatives superimposed on common property regimes is what is driving small-scale land grabbing and that in many instances we cannot understand LSLA in isolation from the plethora of SSLA underway, as their impacts compound.
  6. Often a central justification for big land deals — employment — did not emerge as a major factor in our research. In all cases, few if any jobs were created — either because (a) the form of production doesn’t require much labour or (b) because the acquisitions are in process and production is not yet underway. The latter produces a terrible interregnum: when there has been a loss of resources and yet no investment has materialised. But the former suggests that, even if/when it comes, investment doesn’t create employment of the kind or scale that compensates for livelihood losses.
  7. Rather than cases where people are dispossessed entirely to make way for big land deals, we found instead partial and unequal dispossession that nevertheless implies profound structural changes in rural societies. Often the loss is of common property resources like forests and marine resources – rather than cropping fields or homes. The effects of partial dispossessions are gendered and generational. For instance, in our Nigeria case, women have lost access to non-timber forest products as a result of the expansion of oil palm plantations, with negative effects on their livelihoods, while men have been able to harness the benefits of the investment. So the gendered nature of pre-existing tenure and livelihoods compounds the exclusion and livelihood impacts on women. On that, our findings so far confirm much of what has already been documented in the literature.
  8. We also find, though, that the non-recognition of many of women’s livelihood activities as being ‘economic’ means that community responses focus on the loss of the ‘productive’ work of men’s activities. Women in the communities where our partners are working struggle to even recognise and articulate their contributions to their household economies – instead their work is framed as ‘caring for the family’ rather than production. Both for analysis and to inform responses, we need to confront the invisibility of women’s work and resource tenure.
  9. Impacts are structured by the presence of available alternatives. In Uganda, women were able to in part address the depletion of fishing livelihoods with farming — though possibilities for that are curtailed. In South Africa, some women got part-time jobs as domestic workers for holiday makers. So understanding the range of alternatives is important for assessing impacts.

Are the impacts purely negative? No! There are definitely winners — often not due to a dynamic process of growth and diversification in rural economies, but rather due to political ‘cherry-picking’. For example, local intermediaries employed in context of palm oil expansion in Nigeria were the big winners, getting contracts, cornering compensation and reportedly taking bribes. In South Africa, the allocation of commercial fishing rights to some people (usually wealthier men) in a coastal community meant excluding over 90% of small-scale fishers from access to the sea. As should be expected, differentiated impacts give rise to differentiated responses. Large-scale land deals don’t only provoke resistance; rather, divisions within communities are accentuated as some promote these investments, while others oppose them.

- Original blog post at: http://www.plaas.org.za/blog/exploring-impacts-land-deals-four-countries#sthash.WJ0kM4e9.dpuf

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How can governments and investors be held to account for land deals in Africa?

This is the question addressed by researchers and activists at a recent IDRC Workshop on Large-scale Land Acquisitions (LSLAs) and Accountability in Africa, in Dakar, Senegal on 24-25 November 2015.  

The work was prompted by the rise in large-scale land acquisitions or ‘land grabs’ across many countries in sub-Saharan Africa — often dubbed Africa’s Land Rush — over the past seven years. Several international guidelines now exist stipulating how people rights should be secured in the face of such land acquistions, and the responsibilities of states and investors vis-à-vis rural communities.

Starting from a wide consultative meeting with civil society and research organisations in Accra in September 2012, IDRC programme leaders Ramata Thioune and Adrian Di Giovanni have over the past few years built an impressive funded programme to respond to the rush for land and other natural resources in Africa. The current programme that IDRC supports consists of 5 action research projects across 10 countries in West, East and Southern Africa.

The projects investigate how to build accountability over land governance. This is at the core of defending the rights of local people – sometimes against both states and investors – while also enabling them to choose to engage with commercial enterprises that may bring benefits to them. All this was informed by a set of scoping studies on women and land, and how to secure rights in different regions of Africa as well as research legal empowerment as a route to accountability in Africa’s land rush.

Across the countries, there is a combination of evident shortcomings in national laws, but also in their implementation. This much was clear from a synthesis of findings from all 5 projects. Law on paper seldom accords with law in practice, and the disparities disproportionately affect rural women whose tenure rights are often less recognised. For this reason, while having a broad scope, all the partners are focusing specifically on how the laws, their implementation, and local people’s own perspectives and alternatives, are gendered — and how alternatives in terms of land rights and land use can promote women’s access and benefits from land.


Land governance

Partners from across Africa discussed what has been learnt about the state of land governance.

In Mozambique, as in so many countries, laws recognising customary rights are widely violated, in part because people don’t know about them, and because there aren’t accessible institutions that can defend them, said Issufo Tankar of Centro Terra Viva.

It’s difficult to hold governments accountable when there is no transparency over land deals. As Téodyl Tchoudjen of CED in Cameroon reflected, ‘We try to identify all LSLAs. But this is not easy. Take just mining. The ministry does not have a centralised data bank and yet there are several hundred licenses. We need to warn people about these dangers.

‘We have used the Tenure Guidelines to raise awareness of rights among people. It is important for people to know that they are not alone or isolated in their struggle. The Tenure Guidelines give them the sense of being part of a larger movement’, said Chantal Jacovetti of CNOP/CMAT in Mali. The existence of the Guidelines also has enabled peasant movements to open doors to establish dialogue with governments, in some cases.

As Stephan Loroux of COPAGEN in Cote d’Ivoire argued, the state plays a two-pronged role: on the one hand a predatory role (expropriating land from its rural citizens) while also being neglectful (shirking its responsibilities to enforce its own laws). This echoes other work on ‘governing the global land grab’ which argued that not only does state-backed leasing of land to investors confirm state authority — especially in Africa where many states claim state ownership or trusteeship of all land — but that, in doing so, such transactions may well undermine state legitimacy.

Strengthening governance requires a multi-level strategy: at policy level as well as at community level. Philippine Sutz of the International Institute for Environment and Development, who argued for a more optimistic view of both states and investors. A project on Pathways to Accountability in the Global Land Rush: Lessons from West Africa has found that forging more inclusive business models can be game-changer, enabling both investors and local communities to benefit — but, they emphasise, the state is still centrally important if people’s rights are to be defended and concessions leveraged from investors.

Across the studies, there are gaps in terms of procedural rights. Who should be involved in decision-making about land transactions? Mamadou Fall of IED in Senegal argued that here, where municipalities are meant to publish any land transactions, local communities can forge agreements with them about democratic land governance and decision-making — in anticipation of possible future investment deals. Here, as in other countries, ‘consultation’ is in effect diluted to participation in meetings rather than meaningful or open discussions that comply with the principle in international law of ‘free, prior and informed consent’.

There are real risks, though, for those who object to land deals. As a participant from Ghana observed, ‘if demanding your rights would have negative effects on the social equilibrium, people might not be that willing to pursue their rights. There are many structural factors, including belief systems which militate against demands for rights.’ In fact, in this view, the ‘rights’ framing tends to ignore the social relations in which land is embedded and, for this reason, if not likely to gain traction in some social settings.


Valuation, benefit-sharing and compensation

Perhaps the most refreshing and contentious debate in all these discussions was about valuation, benefit-sharing and compensation. Even these terms presuppose that investments should dispossess people — but pay them out in some way, in cash, kind or alternative land. This in itself sparked debate. But Mark Kakraba Ampeh of the Land Resources Management Centre in Ghana recounted cases of people’s land being valued at $1 per acre per year. Acquisitions of community land involve valuations that bear no relation to any notional market value. As Mwenda Makathimo of LDGI in Kenya pointed out, conventional valuation methodologies do not capture the full stream of benefits for users. Community use of public land attracts no compensation for lost land rights and people are often unable to take legal action to challenge this as their rights fall outside of legal categories.

It is no surprise then that compensation for land loss almost always fails to take full account of the real value of natural resources in people’s lives — from growing food for themselves, to free water, grazing land, thatch grass and fuelwood, and numerous other uses which, once taken away, must be paid for.

So, how can communities determine value of their land and resources as a basis to decide whether or not to lease it out — and on what terms?

Namati’s ‘grassroots land and resource valuation exercise’ is one methodology that is being used to demonstrate to communities the full value of their current land and natural resources uses. This is based on estimating the monetary opportunity cost. Communities engage in participatory exercises to identify as many uses as possible, apply a monetary value for the purchase of equivalents, multiply by family members, and scale up to an annual figure in local currency. This shows that common lands and other resources are severely undervalued in general assessments, both by authorities and by communities themselves.

‘We want to use this data in advocacy, and make the case that low compensation rates and leases undermine people’s livelihoods, said Marena Brinkhurst. ‘Our calculations challenge conceptions that common lands have little value. There is all this value that is not in traditional market systems.’

Also discussed were alternatives to once-off compensation such as hybrid forms (cash, alternative land, shareholding) that can provide rural people with more resilient livelihood resources.

But how can one put a monetary value on a whole livelihood and lifestyle? And whose version of ‘value’ prevails when there is no ‘market’ but rather highly asymmetrical negotiations? As IDRC programme officer Adrian di Giovanni observed, our discussions highlighted the reality that land valuation is a political rather than a technical question.

‘There is a criticism that valuations promote land deals, whereas our experience is that having conducted a community resource valuation exercise actually reduces the likelihood of them selling off their land. It also strengthens the position of those in communities who are opposed to selling off land cheaply, and helps them with tools with which to challenge leaders who promote this’, said Brinkhurst.

Further questions arose about the fact that it is often family elders who gain compensation. What are the options for inter-generational benefit-sharing? So that young people and future generations will come to benefit from the proceeds of having transacted land.


Action strategies

In Liberia, SDI developed an ‘early warning system’ – a hotline staffed by trained activists who, when they get a call, obtain basic information about the land deal or land dispute and link communities up with local support organisations. They have also distributed some cellphones to rural community representatives and hosted radio talk shows. From these relatively simple interventions, they have dealt with about 70 calls about 20 different large-scale land acquisitions, mostly relating to oil palm and mining investments.

The US-based organization Namati, working with civil society groups in Mozambique, Liberia and Uganda, has assisted communities to hold leaders accountable by initiating participatory processes of drafting bylaws — before the investors come.

Marena Brinkhurst of Namati explains: ‘We found that it is a very effective way to give community members tools to hold their leaders accountable… It means community members can act as watchdogs of their own leaders. Having gone through this, they feel more empowered to engage in wider consultations.’

But how do local leaders react?

‘We found a lot of willingness from officials to participate in processes in which communities document their lands and land governance processes. The officials want to be involved and to support communities to develop their own bylaws and clarify their landholdings.’

Some of this experience suggests that involving leaders in local land governance early in the process can also strengthen their own legitimacy.


Women’s rights and ‘family land grabbing’

Many organisations supporting rural communities faced with losing their land are challenged with trying to ensure that women’s rights are respected, and their voices heard in the process. They navigate the territory of appealing for the recognition of culture and custom — including customary land rights — while at the same time arguing that customary tenure systems need to be transformed to secure women’s rights. This ‘double act’ is a widespread challenge for those who have political commitments to transforming gender relations even while resisting land grabs.

Land is not only being ‘grabbed’ by outside investors or state authorities. Judy Adoko of Uganda’s Land Equity Movement explained how her organization is focusing not on these big land deals, but on ‘family land grabbing’ which often occurs in cases of conflicts following the death of a family member. Her organisation is often approached by widows who have been evicted from their homes and dispossessed of their land by their in-laws.

Adoko explains: ‘When there are physical barriers (trees) or boundaries it is easier to defend the land. We advise women to plant trees so that it is not easy for the in-laws to take away the land of women after the death of husbands.’

These cases show how weak rights are in practice, and how cultural rather than legal strategies may be more effective. ‘At policy level, when we talk about customs and traditions, lawyers do not listen and refuse to accept evidence from the ground and to find ways to accommodate customary practices with the statutory system. But we are determined to show that the customary system works and can be much efficient and fair than the formal system’ said Adoko.

This was echosed by Irene Sama-Lang of the University of Buea in Cameroon, who observed that, in their study sites, ‘When women lost their land, they could not feed their families. Their social role was eroded. They have to start selling their labor force in plantations. Rural women have become in many places landless.


Collaboration and how to keep up to date with these projects

These diverse research and action projects across African countries provide a basis for information sharing and joint action. Teams agreed to share the tools they have developed and to build thematic clusters around early warning systems, community rights mapping, valuation and women’s rights in customary systems. Outputs from the projects will be shared on a virtual platform hosted by IDRC where videos and other materials will be available, and some plan to collaborate in joint advocacy efforts at national and sub-regional level and in engagements with the African Union and other continental bodies. 

Original blog post: http://www.plaas.org.za/blog/how-can-governments-and-investors-be-held-account-land-deals-africa#sthash.CY7i3tur.dpuf


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Africa’s Land Rush: Rural Livelihoods and Agrarian Change – a new book

There is a rush on for African farmland – a phenomenon unmatched since colonial times. Africa’s land rush, and the implications for rural livelihoods and agrarian change, is the subject of a new book that I have edited together with Ruth Hall (from PLAAS at UWC, South Africa) and Dzodzi Tsikata (ISSER, University of Ghana at Legon). It includes a series of cases from Africa, written by researchers associated with the land theme of the Future Agricultures Consortium, and you can get a taste of the content from the introductory chapter, available here. The book is available from James Currey publishers (and for a 25% discount here). You can also buy it in all good bookshops  – and if you must, Amazon. It was launched in Cape Town last week at the Book Lounge.


By some estimates, 70% of the land transacted globally in large-scale deals in recent years has been in Africa, often considered the world’s last reserve of unused and under-utilised fertile and irrigable farmland. This is what has lured investors motivated by rising food prices, by growing demand for ‘green’ energy, and by the allure of cheap land and free water. But governments have often allocated to investors land that is occupied, used, or claimed through custom by local people, resulting in disrupted livelihoods and even conflict.

The case studies in the book show the striking diversity of such deals: white Zimbabwean farmers in northern Nigeria, Dutch and American joint ventures in Ghana, an Indian agricultural company in Ethiopia’s hinterland, European investors in Kenya’s drylands and a Canadian biofuel company on its coast, South African sugar agribusiness in Tanzania’s southern growth corridor, in Malawi’s ‘Greenbelt’ and in southern Mozambique, and white South African farmers venturing onto former state farms in Congo.

In many cases these big international deals were on land that had previously been state farms, and before that colonial estates. In the mainstream narrative of a ‘land grab’, there is little sense of the history of large-scale farming and how this evolved at different moments – and our research shows how recent land deals mimic and even resurrect forms of large-scale farming from the past.

A recurring theme in the book is the pivotal role of African governments – as actors and referees – in large-scale land transactions and how this is influencing change in local agrarian systems. States were willing to make major changes to their economic policies, provide preferential terms and often failed to leverage benefits in their attempts to keep investors coming.

Contrary to the popular depictions of a rampant neo-colonial push, dispossessing local people while investors cashed in, in fact some investors are having a rather hard time of it. New commercial investments are vulnerable to difficult agroecological conditions, changing market trends and local politics. Local people are certainly carrying many of the costs – most commonly, the loss of grazing land, water and forests – but there are also clear local ‘winners’ from the process. The picture is far more complex than has been portrayed in many mainstream accounts.

Many of the book’s case studies document deals that failed. Land was demarcated, people excluded, but in the end investments failed to materialise – or did so only with low levels of production and employment. But despite the African countryside being littered with failed agricultural commercialisation projects (as it has been for decades), there are major changes afoot, as land changes hands, and a new politics of access unfolds.

Such changes in who holds land, how it is farmed, at what scale, with what technologies, and for what value chains are profoundly reshaping rural societies and economies in ways that will have long-lasting impacts. Will farmers become wage workers or move to cities? Will smallholder production persist – or perhaps even thrive – alongside large-scale investments? Will people be incorporated into commercial ventures as outgrowers, and will this enable them to improve their livelihoods, educate their children, and move out of poverty?

While these deals are diverse in their contexts and design, the direction of change is clear: towards commercial production by medium- to large-scale local farmers alongside larger estates, now owned not by colonial powers but by foreign or multinational companies, often in partnership with domestic capital. As with previous moments of enclosure and commercialisation, Africa’s recent land rush is already sparking resistance and counter-movements.

Community responses have varied from enthusiastic support to outright hostility and resistance. In some cases, initial support for investment and the promise of development turned to hostility in the face of disappointments. Within communities, certain groups found new opportunities for employment or for enterprises linked to new commercial operations. But across our studies, many were locked out of these new opportunities and we found people resorting to various acts of resistance including theft, destruction and acts of vandalism.

Since its peak following 2007-08, Africa’s ‘land rush’ has slowed, as the real implications of investment and production have become more apparent, as opportunity costs in other investment destinations have changed, and as drivers such as spiking food and oil prices have abated, even if temporarily. Today, investors are far more cautious in their prognoses for profits: several ‘bubbles’ have burst, not least the hype surrounding biofuels. However, while the land rush may have slowed, it has not stopped. All indications are that global demand for food, fuel and feedstock will continue to drive demand for fertile land and water into the future. Growing African economies and consumer demand in urban centres compound this effect.

As the book shows, the land rush is best seen as one of a number of processes of commercialisation of agriculture, involving financialisation and commodification – not all of which result in the appropriation of land. The story is therefore far more complex than the simplistic caricatures of the ‘land grab’, as either catastrophe or opportunity. While there are both winners and losers in this process, the direction of change is towards large-scale farming linked to global markets. What is certain though is that rural Africa is being transformed in profound ways.

This blog is based on a piece by Ruth Hall for the African Griot, James Currey’s magazine profiling new books

This post first appeared on Zimbabweland

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A call for papers has been issued for the international colloquium on Global governance/politics, climate justice & agrarian/social justice: linkages and challenges on 4-5 February 2016 in The Hague, Netherlands.

The colloquium is organised by the Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS), a community of like-minded scholars, development practitioners and activists from different parts of the world who are working on agrarian issues.

You can download the call for papers from the ISS website. The deadline is 20 December 2015.


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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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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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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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Posted by on in Hot topic


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)

Tagged in: soil
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Posted by on in Hot topic

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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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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What does it mean to be dispossessed of land? In a very interesting post for the Democracy in Africa blog, Festus Boamah – a contributor to our two international conferences on Land Grabbing – explores the legal arguments around dispossession, looking at cases in Ghana where chiefs have given land over to be used for biofuel investments. The post draws on a recent paper by Festus in the Review of African Political Economy.

You can read his full post at Democracy in Africa, but here’s an extract:

In everyday language, ‘dispossession’ implies the loss of something that was once held, controlled, used or claimed by an entity, individual or group. In legal terms, however, we need to go further to claim that dispossession has occurred: a legitimate actor must confirm the identity of the claimant and the basis of their ownership. Consequently, the legal verdict of dispossession is contingent upon evolving notions of entitlement in a particular polity. Furthermore complications also surround attempts to ascertain the scale and value of the asset that has been lost. In this blog, I illustrate these arguments in the context of large-scale land allocations by Ghanaian chiefs.

During the last decade, many Ghanaian chiefs have allocated large land areas to agricultural investors―mostly from Norway, Italy, and Canada―usually for the cultivation of jatropha for biofuel production. Schoneveld et al. report land allocations of over one million hectares to mostly foreign-owned companies (or companies financed by Ghanaians abroad) as of 2009, which sharply contrasts with the 158,906 hectares of land areas acquired by both the British colonial administration and post-independence governments of Ghana combined between 1850 and 2001. These large land allocations have proceeded apace during the decade partly because the main requirement for a land transfer in Ghana is the consent of the prospective investor and that of either a primordial actor ― chief, family head, land owner ― or the legitimate land grantor. Hence, the involvement of state institutions in the registration of land allocations only emerges in the final stages of the formalisation process is often inconsequential. Whereas Ghanaian governments used to negotiation the allocation of large land areas in the early post-independence era, Ghanaian chiefs have now taken on this role: an indication of the state’s waning authority over land.

Read more of Festus Boamah's post at Democracy in Africa.

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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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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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Agricultural research for development, including the consortium of research centres CGIAR, is regularly assessed to ensure money is being wisely spent on effective measures to promote better lives for rural communities. 2014 is the African Union Year of Agriculture and Food Security and the 10th Year of the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme, CAADP, which is also being reviewed for its success in improving food and nutrition security.

On 15th July, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture & Food for Development debated the impact of CAADP and how to ensure a sustainable future for African agriculture. The event, held at the UK Houses of Parliament, was chaired by Lord Cameron of Dillington and brought together a panel of experts including Dr Yvonne Pinto (Director, Agricultural Learning and Impacts Network (ALINe) and Colin Poulton (SOAS Centre for Development, Environment and Policy), co-authors of ‘African Agriculture: Drivers for Success for CAADP implementation’.

Further information

To find out more about this event, read the background article: CAADP: how can Africa's agricultural development be sustained?

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par Rebecca Pointer (PLAAS) et Marion Girard Cisneros (AWEPA)

Les défenseurs de l’agriculture industrielle affirment que les investissements fonciers à grande échelle améliorent la sécurité alimentaire. Or les activistes et chercheurs assurent que ces investissements ont des conséquences néfastes pour la sécurité alimentaire, spécialement de ceux qui ont été expulsés de leurs terres pour faire place à l’agriculture industrielle.

Lundi, lors d’un séminaire au Parlement panafricain, des parlementaires, des chercheurs et des représentants de la société civile et du secteur agroalimentaire se sont réunis pour discuter de quelle sorte tirer profit des investissements fonciers à grande échelle en Afrique.

Selon Constance Mogale, activiste du Land Access Movement d’Afrique du Sud (LAMOSA, un mouvement de la société civile pour l’accès à la terre), la conséquence de forcer des femmes à se déplacer de leurs terres pour faire place aux investisseurs c’est qu’elles ne sont plus en mesure de produire les aliments qui assuraient leur moyen de vie. En plus, le déplacement les ayant laissées dans le dénuement le plus complet, elles peinent à acheter la nourriture produite par l’entreprise commerciale qui a remplacé leur activité. Ceci souligne que, pour les pauvres et les vulnérables, la sécurité alimentaire n’est pas une question de disponibilité d’aliments, mais plutôt d’accès aux aliments. Accroitre la production à travers l’agriculture industrielle n’aide donc pas ceux qui n’ont pas l’argent pour acheter de la nourriture.

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