Picture 137Future Agricultures Consortium recognises the importance of debates in shaping the future of livelihoods in Africa. In order to raise the profile of important topics surrounding agriculture, the Consortium and its’ partners are increasingly promoting these electronic discussions.

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Latest articles

Big farms or small farms: how to respond to the food crisis?
July 1, 2009 / E-debates

Debates on the scale of farming are back on the agenda. In a number of recentarticles, Professor Paul Collier, author of ‘The Bottom Billion: Why the PoorestCountries are Failing and What Can be Done About It’, made the case (seePosition 1 below) for encouraging large-scale commercial farming as way toget African farming moving. Favouring small farmers, he argues, is romantic butunhelpful.

During 2008 there have been many reports of private companies in the Northand state corporations in the South reacting to the opportunity and threat ofhigher food prices by planning to acquire land in Africa, South-east Asia, Braziland Central Asia to produce food. The most startling of these announcementsis that of the Daewoo Corporation of the Republic of Korea that revealed that itwas acquiring the rights to farm no less than 1.3 million hectares of Madagascar,a position from which the company and the government have now backedaway from following a storm of local and international protest.In many cases the reports suggest that the aim is to farm the land on a largescale, rather than to contract production through existing family smallholdings.

It is now more than three years since IFPRI, Imperial College, and ODI organiseda workshop at Wye for specialists to debate the issues surrounding small farms.It looks to be time to revisit those arguments in the light of higher food prices,the arguments being made for largescalefarming and apparent intent ofcapital-rich investors.

In May 2009, the Future AgriculturesConsortium welcomed a range ofopinions in regard to this debate; thisreport by FAC member Steve Wigginssummarises the contributionsand themes emerging from thediscusisons.Contributions to this deabte andthis report are posted electronicallyon the Future Agricultures‘ web site:www.future-agricultures.org

October 1, 2008 / Soil Fertility

At least in the semi-arid regions of Africa, if within-field soil variability is not taken into account, efforts to increase soil fertility will be less efficient and less likely tobe adopted by farmers. Most of these farmers already practice precision agriculture and take short distance variability into consideration in their management.



One can safely assume that they do so for good reason, given that their management systems have developed over many centuries. Precision agriculture is also relevant for the introduction of modern technologies. For example, the same principles are relevant to the efficient application of manure and the efficient application of compost and mineral fertiliser. For the best solutions, farmer knowledge, extensionist knowledge and researcher knowledge of within-field soil variability need to be combined.

This will lead to an increase in the knowledge of each group regarding the variability-related possibilities and constraints of the other groups. Increased farmer knowledge will lead to better and more efficient farmer management. Increased researcher knowledge of soil variability will lead to better-targeted and more efficient soil fertility research. If the minimum management area for farmers is part of a field,and researchers only analyse at the level of an entire field or experiment, then those researchers ignore information that is very relevant to the farmers.

They should look for variables at the plot level that help explain why, in any one year as well as over the years, different plots with the same treatment react differently. They will find this useful for increasing their agro-ecological knowledge, for improving their scientific publications, and especially for more effective extension to the farmers. Farmers prefer well differentiated advice to blanket advice that turns out not to work part of the time, or in sections of their fields.

African Green Revolution E-Forum Discussion Outline
October 1, 2008 / E-debates

The Salzburg Global Seminar (SGS), in partnership with the Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC) and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), has undertaken a series of events on the theme of an “African Green Revolution”.

The main purpose of these initiatives is to assess the most critical issues and to review, refine and articulate an agenda for a new sustainable “Green Revolution” for Sub-Saharan Africa. The series of events began with a high-level Conference (30 April – 2 May 2008) and subsequent Seminar (3 – 7 May 2008) where delegates were tasked with answering the question: What are the core elements of a “uniquely African Green Revolution”?

Dynamics And Diversity Soil Fertility And Farming Livelihoods In Africa Case studies from Ethiopia,M
September 1, 2008 / E-debates

The reasons for the very significant gap between potential and realized foodproduction in sub-Saharan Africa are multiple and complex. The decline infertility observed for many areas of soil has been described as the single mostimportant factor. Although this is a challengeable statement it undoubtedlyrefers to an ever-present reality for the majority of farmers in the continent -that optimizing the nutrient balance on their farms is one of the most difficultof the many agricultural management challenges they face.

The Politics of Hunger: How Illusion and Greed Fan the Food Crisis
April 16, 2008 / Small Farm / Big Farm

“…reluctant peasants are right: their mode of production is ill suited to modern agricultural production, in which scale is helpful. In modern agriculture, technology is fast-evolving, investment is lumpy, the private provision of transportation infrastructure is necessary to counter the lack of its public provision, consumer food fashions are fast-changing and best met by integrated marketing chains, and regulatory standards are rising toward the holy grail of the traceability of produce back to its source….

Large organizations are better suited to cope with investment, marketing chains, and regulation. Yet for years, global development agencies have been leery of commercial agriculture, basing their agricultural strategies instead on raising peasant production. ….to ignore commercial agriculture as a force for rural development and enhanced food supply is surely ideological

…Over time, African peasant agriculture has fallen further and further behind the advancing commercial productivity frontier, and based on present trends, the region’s food imports are projected to double over the next quarter century. ….There are partial solutions to such problems through subsidies and credit schemes, but it should be noted that large-scale commercial agriculture simply does not face this particular problem: if output prices rise by more than input prices, production will be expanded.

A model of successful commercial agriculture is, indeed, staring the world in the face. In Brazil, large, technologically sophisticated agricultural companies have demonstrated how successfully food can be mass-produced. …..

…There are many areas of the world that have good land that could be used far more productively if properly managed by large companies. Indeed, large companies, some of them Brazilian, are queuing up to manage those lands. Yet over the past 40 years, African governments have worked to scale back large commercial agriculture…….

…Commercial agriculture is not perfect. Global agribusiness is probably overly concentrated, and a sudden switch to an unregulated land market would probably have ugly consequences. But allowing commercial organizations to replace peasant agriculture gradually would raise global food supply in the medium term.” (Full text: The Politics of Hunger: How Illusion and Greed Fan the Food Crisis)

Collier, Paul. “The Politics of Hunger: How Illusion and Greed Fan the Food Crisis.” Foreign AffairsNovember/December 2008

Sabine Homann and Barbara Rischkowsky
April 14, 2008 / Pastoralism in crisis?

This contribution summarizes insights gained from a case study on the applicability of indigenous knowledge (IK) in range management of Borana pastoralists in a changed environment (Homann, 2004). We reflect on implications for future interventions that aim at improving pastoral livelihoods under the existing constraints.

Borana pastoralists were once famous for most effective range management. Based on a deep technical and organizational IK, they have preserved highest grazing potential among East African rangelands. However, within only 30 years, well intended but poorly designed development interventions (poorly-integrated water and rangeland development, imposed formal administration, promotion of crop cultivation and ranching, unfavorable policy directives), aggravated by human population growth, contributed to the destruction of pastoralists’ basic preconditions in range management.

In the current land use scenario, uncontrolled land use is expanding, since indigenous rangeland categories have lost their functionality. The seasonal grazing system is breaking up, including long distance movements associated with a high variability in stocking densities across the landscape. Instead, encampments, permanent grazing and new forms of cultivation and private grazing enter formerly seasonal grazing areas, and herd movements become short-term oriented to follow scattered forage resources where they emerge. Reduced and poorly coordinated mobility impedes the ecologically desirable variability in stocking densities, implying negative effects on rangeland condition. A crucial question is what elements of pastoral range management remain, that can sustain controlled rangeland utilization, and revert rangeland degradation in this process.

The following changes reflect the deterioration of the pastoral system and need to be addressed by interventions that aim at improving the livelihoods for pastoralists:
– Rangeland degradation: Borana pastoralists’ perception of land use changes matched with the results from ecological range condition assessment (Dalle, 2004). According to pastoralists’ observations, an increased grazing pressure in areas that were formerly temporarily used by mobile herds causes shortage of grazing resources particularly at home-based pastures for lactating herds, aggravated by the alienation of rangeland for crop-cultivation and private grazing. Pastoralists’ observed a direct impact of degraded rangelands on reduced milk production and conception rates. They showed awareness that rangeland degradation directly affects livestock production and presents a high risk for food security in the region. Research and Development efforts to prevent rangeland degradation however had a very low impact (Coppock, 1994).
– Human population growth and socio-economic inequality: Human population growth, despite higher stocking densities, contributed to impoverishment of Borana families evident in lower cattle to human ratio. Within the studied areas, 88% of the households did not achieve the human support capacity defined as 3 TLU per AAME, and thus cannot sustain their livelihoods from livestock (Sandford and Habtu, 2000). In addition to that, socio-economic inequality within and between pastoral communities increased. In Dida Hara, site with water development in a former rainy season grazing area, 6% of the households were classified as better-off and owned over 37 times more cattle than the poor. While in Web, traditional dry season grazing area, all households were poor. The insufficient economic capacities restrict herd mobility for the majority of Borana pastoralists. To alleviate their economically disastrous situation, Borana pastoralists have tried to adopt crop cultivation. Poverty induced crop cultivation however undermines the ecologically more appropriate mobility-based land use system. On the other side, wealthy herd-owners started acting against the interests of the community, by over-stocking the communal rangelands, and stabilizing their property through rapid re-investment in herds after a drought. Considering the fact that alternative income options for Borana pastoralists are few, the dependency on livestock is very high and this destroys pastoralists ability to manage their resources sustainably.
– Erosion of indigenous institutions and negotiation procedures: Imposed administration structures have jeopardized the flexible system of natural resource management and therewith the ability to adapt organization and management structures to changing environment, making use of IK. On the other hand, pastoral communities have transferred proven elements in the indigenous management system to regain control over rangeland utilization; e.g. the allocation of water management responsibilities to newly constructed ponds; the re-strengthening of settlement directives to restrict crop cultivation, private grazing and livestock numbers in permanent grazing areas; the initiative to involve the formal administration in the enforcement of decisions at community level, despite strong deficiencies and distrust. These examples demonstrate pastoralists’ institutions that operate effectively, if community-based mechanisms for co-ordination and control are maintained.

The results basically support Sandfords’ pessimistic prognoses, that reinstating pastoral range management is becoming increasingly difficult. The exploitation rate of the Borana rangelands has been heavily increased. A higher number of poor households depend on Borana rangelands, but not in a position to apply pastoral range management, resulting in higher grazing pressure on rangelands that are effectively shrinking. The negative prospects are aggravated by poorly integrated agriculture, not addressing the possibilities in increasing feed and fodder production, and limited livelihood options out of pastoralism. Without substantial support in migration out of pastoralism and to those who can apply herd mobility, Borana rangelands are going to further deteriorate.

Yet, the possibilities of building on herd mobility for more effective utilization of Borana rangelands are not sufficiently exploited. On the positive side, pastoralists have transferred elements of indigenous organization to the changing environmental conditions, and some indigenous networks persisted. Multi-stakeholder discussions at a final stage of the study advocated land use scenarios for restructuring mobile range management, backed up by integrated IK-based and formal institutions. The need for land-use intensification was acknowledged, preserving basic precondition for mobility and also improving access to marginal rangeland resources. The way forward therefore is to invest in herd mobility and related practices, and control over rangeland resource use by those who remain in pastoralism.

Too many people, too few livestock: the crisis affecting pastoralists in the Greater Horn of Africa
January 1, 2007 / E-debates

The crisis in the Horn of Africa

In April 2006 OXFAM, writing of this year’s drought in the pastoral areas of Kenya said, “the recovery process could take 15 years.” Alas, without a substantial change in attitudes and approach, that prediction will prove grossly over-optimistic. There will be no recovery.

For many years the average level of well-being of pastoralists in the Greater Horn of Africa (GHA) and the distribution of individual households around the average have been getting worse, and they will continue to get worse even if all the risks (unfavourable uncertainties such as drought, conflict, disease and further loss of land) commonly cited as afflicting pastoralism are eliminated. This is a consequence of the growing imbalance between humans, livestock, natural environment and the technology available to improve land productivity and of the economies of scale (see PARIMA publications2) that ensure poorer households fare worse than richer.

What is the difference between Archiving and Trashing an Article?
October 11, 2006 / African Green Revolution

How can Africa’s farmers, scientists, development practitioners, private entrepreneurs and public officials spark a “uniquely” Green Revolution in Africa, one that responds to the region’s unique social, political and ecological conditions?

The aim of this moderated e-Discussion is to focus the discussions on action-oriented approaches to address the “how” part of the African Green Revolution discussions.

The Salzburg Global Seminar (SGS), in partnership with the Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC) and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), has undertaken a series of events on the theme of an “African Green Revolution”. The main purpose of these initiatives is to assess the most critical issues and to review, refine and articulate an agenda for a new sustainable “Green Revolution” for Sub-Saharan Africa.  The Salzburg report represents a summary of the week-long deliberations, highlights key points of agreement and divergence, and sets out a number of recommendations for follow-up and future action.

In light of the considerable interest generated by the conference and seminar, SGS, FAC, and IDS are creating a space for people to contribute to and extend this important discussion.

We will be holding a moderated discussion on substantive action-oriented issues over a seven-week period during the months of October and November, 2008. The debate will focus on three central themes raised by the conference/seminar delegates and outlined in the report