Future Agricultures blog

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

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compass1The proposition that public policy should be ‘evidence-based’ is now widely accepted (although there is still considerable contestation around the meaning, nature, types, and qualities of evidence, the interpretation of evidence, the politics of evidence etc). The evidence in the phrase ‘evidence-based policy’ is often portrayed as evidence about ‘what works, where and for whom’: the ‘what’ might be a policy or technical intervention, and the ‘works’ is understood as the ability to deliver a particular outcome.

There is a second area of evidence that is less commonly referred to in debates about evidence-based policy. This is evidence about ‘what is, what has been and what is likely to be’, which provides a picture (or more likely multiple, partial and contested pictures) of key structures, institutions, alliances, power relations, drivers, trends, outcomes, dynamics and pathways within a particular sector or policy area. Here there is a critical role for historical evidence as it allows for some understanding of what might be thought of as the ‘baseline of change’.

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In 1999 Delgado et al. published the report Livestock to 2020: The Next Food Revolution. They argued that there would be a quantum jump in demand for livestock products in parts of the developing world, and a shift in the location of livestock production, tied to human population growth, rising incomes, continuing urbanisation and changing food preferences. The notion of the Livestock Revolution – with its promise of diet diversity, better nutrition and health, and also opportunities for small-scale producers – is one of the most powerful ideas to emerge in the areas of food, nutrition and agricultural development over the last decade.

Delgado and his co-authors suggested that the Livestock Revolution is fundamentally different from the earlier Green Revolution because it is ‘demand driven’ while the Green Revolution was ‘supply driven’ (p.1, 59). The language of ‘demand-driven production systems’ looms large in the story of the Livestock Revolution, and is depicted as part-and-parcel of what Delgado et al. suggest is an important shift, with livestock production moving from a ‘local multipurpose activity to a global food activity’ (p.60).

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Momentum for investments and action to promote an African Green Revolution are gaining ground, with African Governments (individually and through CAADP), with international and bilateral donors, with private donors, with farmer organisations, and with the private sector (see: http://www.agra-alliance.org/ and http://www.yara.com/). This is very exciting, and the agenda is moving forward rapidly in many different ways and at different levels – on farmers fields, in agricultural businesses, in national and sectoral programmes and changes, in public private partnerships, and in international policy development and support. Development of African smallholder agriculture and an African Green Revolution is critical for poverty reduction, economic growth and welfare in Africa.
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Ethiopia celebrated the start of its third millennium on 11th of September 2007. This seems an appropriate moment to take stock of the state of smallholder agriculture - the sector in which over 80% of the population derives their livelihood, as they have done for centuries past. Greater agricultural development is the key for reducing high levels of poverty and hunger in Ethiopia, and policy makers have accordingly devoted a high priority to its advancement.
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