Working Papers

This series reports research activities or interim findings and aim to share ideas and elicit feedback. Future Agricultures publishes approximately six to ten Working Papers per year.

We also support a series of LDPI Working Papers through our involvement in the Land Deal Politics Initiative.

Some of our Working Papers are also available in a French translation: see Documents de travail for a full list.

Latest articles

The Political Economy of Ethiopian Cereal Seed Systems
September 23, 2010 / Working Papers

The Political Economy of Ethiopian Cereal Seed Systems: State Control, Market Liberalisation and Decentralisation

Dawit Alemu

August 2010

This paper presents the political and economic processes governing Ethiopian cereal seed systems by analysing the overall policy context, as well as the main interests driving seed policy formulation and implementation and the roles and interaction of the different public and private actors. It also examines how these interests and interactions are related to the performance of the system on the ground.

The nature of the Ethiopian agricultural sector, the historical evolution of the seed system and the seed specificities for each cereal crops has resulted in a wide range of actors with diverse linkages and policy processes. The analysis of these processes has identified a number of constraints faced by the Ethiopian cereal seed system. These constraints are a result of a economic and political drivers, including top-down state driven initiatives, agricultural liberalisation and the private sector and political-administrative decentralisation, all of which pull in different directions. While contrasting interests in federal and decentralised state level activities exist, ultimately it is the state-driven imperatives that define what private sector activity is possible. Centrally directed, state-supported efforts, including numerous campaigns, special projects and programmes along with ad hoc crash programmes, create numerous blockages in the supply and distribution of seed. These ‘pull-push’ factors have brought about severe strains within the system. Thus, it is important that the technocrats, politicians, international donors and supporters understand these political economic drivers of change in the Ethiopian cereal seed system.

By addressing these conflicts and contradictions, they may improve their chances of designing and implementing more technically effective and socially appropriate policies. This in turn will help establish a vibrant seed system which offers real choices for farmers in terms of seed type, quantity, and quality and delivery time at reasonable prices.


FAC Working Paper 017 Pdf 2.83 MB 1 downloads


Seeds and Subsidies: The Political Economy of Input Programmes in Malawi
September 23, 2010 / Working Papers

Blessings Chinsinga
August 2010

This paper provides a critical account of the cereal seed systems in Malawi both in a historical and contemporary context with particular reference to the three input support programmes implemented since the late 1990s to date. The main argument of this paper is that the centrality of the question of food security in the country’s electoral politics in a post liberalisation context has created a seed industry dominated by multinational seed companies, offering farmers a narrow range of products mainly hybrid maize, and in which alternative cereal seed systems such as millet and sorghum are at the verge of extinction. The commercial interests of the multinational seed companies are propped by donors who are obsessed with promoting a vibrant private sector input supply system as an engine of a sustainable green revolution through input support programmes. This has invariably privileged the genetic material supplied by the multinational seed companies at the expense of the national breeding programme whose main client are the local seed companies controlling only 10 percent of the seed market. The government’s fixation on food security has also contributed to privileging the genetic material from multinational seed companies since they are deemed to be high yielding even though at the expense of the seed supply variety to the farmer. The interests of seed companies, donors and government have, even though for different reasons, coincided to create a seed industry that has a very narrow product portfolio, distributes benefits to a very small proportion of the population through various forms of commercial ventures and schemes of political patronage buoyed by excessive weaknesses in the regulatory framework for the seed industry. This paper therefore demonstrates that policy processes are predominantly characterised by the clash of competing and conflicting interests and viewpoints rather than impartial, disinterested or objective search for correct solutions for policy issues. However, the voices and views of the dominant coalitions almost always shape the major policy directions. The major recommendations for revitalising the seed industry include:

1. improving the efficiency and implementation of regulatory frameworks;

2. enhancing public sector breeding and dissemination of improved varieties; and

3. creating an enabling environment to stimulate local seed enterprises that can deliver products with the needs of the smallholder farmer in mind.


FAC Working Paper 013 Pdf 641.41 KB 0 downloads


Can Agro-Dealers Deliver the Green Revolution in Kenya?
September 23, 2010 / Working Papers

Hannington Odame and Elijah Muange
August 2010

The Government of Kenya, with the backing of development and charitable organisations, has been implementing programmes to increase agricultural productivity and rural incomes and trigger a new Green Revolution (GR). These activities focus on increasing farmers’ access to and application of modern farming inputs, particularly improved seeds and fertilisers, delivered mainly through agro-dealers. Given that Kenyan farmers operate in a highly heterogeneous environment, this study was motivated to ask: Can agro-dealers deliver the Green Revolution in Kenya? In answering this question, the study examined the evolution and characteristics of agrodealers in the cereals subsector and explored how they command a central position in policy narratives put forward by key actors in the policy arena, each advocating a new GR for Kenya.

Several key findings emanate from this study. First, both formal and informal seed systems are important channels for delivering cereal seeds to Kenyan farmers. The informal systems (which do not involve agro-dealers) provide seeds of local maize and other cereals to farmers in low rainfall areas in the greater Eastern region of the country. Conversely, the formal systems use agro-dealers in providing mainly improved maize seed to farmers in high rainfall areas of the greater Western and Central regions of the country. Notwithstanding the importance of the informal systems to many smallholder farmers, the legal, regulatory and policy frameworks, which are informed by international seed policies and conventions, tend to favour the formal systems. As a result, agrodealers may only spur a GR for a select group of privileged producers, mainly maize farmers operating in higher rainfall areas.

Second, while actors in the seed industry employ different approaches in their activities, they are driven by narratives put forward by particular key actors, all converging on the notion of the ‘agro-dealer’ as the carrier of improved seeds to farmers. Interestingly, while the actors promote the agro-dealer agenda, due to different politics and interests, they also support parallel activities that seem to undermine development and expansion of the agro-dealer network in some places.

Third, Kenyan agro-dealers engage in the sale and promotion of diverse commodities as a risk coping mechanism for business survival. Therefore, initiatives aimed at supporting agro-dealers ought to focus on the totality of the business instead of only seeds and fertilisers. As well, if agro-dealers are to deliver a GR in Kenya, capacity training programmes for agro-dealers should not only target the business owners but also ‘managers’ (i.e., those who actually serve customers and are responsible for dispensing advice and information as well as products).

Fourth, the universalising of agro-dealer narrative in GR programmes overlooks the heterogeneity of the ‘poor smallholder farmers’ and agro-dealers themselves. This has resulted in biased beneficiary targeting and disproportionate ‘wins’ for farmers and agro-dealers in high rainfall areas and large agro-dealers in low rainfall areas. Therefore, greater attention must be paid to meeting the needs of farmers in lower potential areas by developing innovative alternative business models. Such models might include sale of complementary non-agricultural products or services or the establishment of group-based agro which might operate part-time or on a not-for-profit basis as a service to their community. Alternatively, mobile agro-dealers might provide regular or periodic services to more remote areas that cannot sustain permanent agro-dealerships. In short, efforts must be made to move away from the ‘one-size-fits-all’ agro-dealer model as it is currently construed.

Finally, the GR programmes have been viewed by critics as a ‘Trojan horse’ for genetically modified (GM) seeds or simply a strategy to ‘roll out a gene revolution’ in Africa. As these new seeds have yet to be released widely, the extent to which agro-dealers have the knowledge and ability to coordinate local-level implementation of national biosafety regulations has yet to be determined and it therefore remains an area requiring further investigation. Given their limited capacity to provide timely advice and information on non-GM technologies to the majority of Kenya’s farmers, however, it is clear that careful consideration is needed before loading agro-dealers with even greater responsibilities and expectations.


FAC Working Paper 014 Pdf 1.41 MB 1 downloads


The Political Economy of Cereal Seed Systems in Zimbabwe
September 23, 2010 / Working Papers

The Political Economy of Cereal Seed Systems in Zimbabwe: Rebuilding the Seed System in a Post-Crisis

Charity Mutonodzo-Davies
August 2010

A decade of economic and political turmoil in Zimbabwe, as well as a period of radical land reform which reconfigured the country’s agricultural sector, dramatically affected its seed system, reducing supply of quality seeds and undermining regulatory control. This paper aims to understand how Zimbabwe can rebuild a seed system appropriate to the post-land reform context by asking questions about the underlying political economy of this process, exploring the important but often overlooked angle of politics of policymaking and identifying the broader political, economic and institutional factors that affect the way the seed system is structured. As Zimbabwe tries to re-establish its formerly vibrant agricultural sector following land reform, perspectives focus on technical and market solutions, with an absence of concrete analysis and debate about political economic aspects. Yet it is these wider dimensions of policy processes, and particularly the politics underlying these, which inevitably carry the day. Therefore, this study maps the national seed system, examines its historical origins and identifies key policy narratives, actors and networks and political interests shaping the Zimbabwean seed system. It highlights how a number of competing narratives co-exist in the current national policy debate, each suggesting a different route to revitalising the seed system. The dominant narrative, supported by powerful national and international actors and associated interests, has been excluding, obscuring and silencing two important alternative narratives.

These alternatives highlight the need to rebuild the private sector with all its ancillary structures for input distribution and the importance of agricultural diversification, non-maize pathways and the need to build from the grassroots. The suppressing of alternatives was done through different political economic processes, justified by particular technical arguments that were supported by clear interests. This potentially undermines longer term recovery based on rebuilding the seed system through the private sector and strengthening formal and informal farmer-based seed systems.


FAC Working Paper 015 Pdf 805.57 KB 0 downloads


Participation, Commercialisation and Actor Networks: The Political Economy of Cereal Seed Production
September 23, 2010 / Working Papers

Kojo Sebastian Amanor
August 2010

This paper examines the changing framework of cereal seed policy in Ghana from a state-led public sector service in the 1960s to a commercial sector activity in the 2000s, and the implications of these changes. The work argues that attempts to privatise seeds during the 1980s and 1990s under structural adjustment were not very successful, since private sector investors were unwilling to invest in the poorly developed seed sector. Subsequent interventions have built networks of civil society organisations working in conjunction with private and public partnerships to create a social, economic and knowledge infrastructure for the emergence of private seed markets. The paper examines the narratives about seeds that inform and mobilise these networks for the development of commercial seed. It is argued that there is an inherent tension within seed development between the participatory networks of plant breeding and the commercial networks of seed certification and distribution. Participatory breeding is based on farmers’ evaluation of new varieties, incorporation of farmers’ varieties and knowledge into breeding and open access relations between breeders and farmers. Through these relations, farmers also gain access to unreleased varieties, which they experiment with and distribute through their own networks.

In contrast with this, commercial networks are concerned with ‘manufacturing’ markets for seeds, where low demand exists and farmers usually multiply their own seeds. This results in strategies that see seeds as objects in themselves that can be appropriated, rather than as products of a largely public process of development. This results in narratives that portray commercial seeds as the panacea for the problems of farmers and depict the main constraints in agriculture as resulting from the lack of reach of commercial seed and agodealers into the rural areas. Thus a commercial Green Revolution is portrayed as the solution to food security issues in Africa. This approach, with its appeals to agricultural modernisation, is effective in mobilising support in the state, since state agricultural organisations are often embedded in agricultural modernisation paradigms. By stressing the importance of the private sector, these approaches appeal to the dominant neoliberal concerns in macroeconomic policy and the increasing power of agribusiness. However, the support of donors and new private foundations for building commercial markets and subsidising commercial seeds and the transaction costs of seed and input markets tends to lock farmers into agribusiness interests and contracts.

The assumptions about markets and improved seed serve to marginalise and undermine both the participatory basis on which breeding was organised during the seventies, and the search for more creative and critical solutions to the constraints of agricultural modernisation in the diverse, risky and uncertain environments that characterise much of Africa. The paper examines the new narratives about seeds, the impact of neoliberal reforms on the seed sector, and the interactions and conflicts that characterise the various actor networks that constitute seed development in a case study of the Northern Region of Ghana.


FAC Working Paper 016 Pdf 860.06 KB 1 downloads


Social Protection for Agricultural Growth in Africa
July 13, 2010 / Working Papers

Stephen Devereux
January 2009

Various explanations have been advanced for the persistent under?performance of agriculture in many African countries, where smallholder farming is still the dominant livelihood activity and the main source of employment, food and income. Some of the oldest arguments remain the most compelling. African farmers face harsh agro?ecologies and erratic weather, characterised by low soil fertility, recurrent droughts and/or floods, and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns associated with climate change. Vulnerability to shocks is compounded by infrastructure deficits (roads and transport networks, telecommunications, potable water and irrigation) that keep poor communities poor and vulnerable, as testified by the phenomenon observed during livelihood crises of steep food price gradients from isolated rural villages to densely settled urban centres. African farmers have also been inadequately protected against the forces of globalisation and adverse international terms of trade – for instance, Western farmers and markets are heavily protected in ways that African farmers and markets are not.


FAC Working Paper 010 Pdf 356.53 KB 1 downloads


Linking Agricultural Development to School Feeding
July 5, 2010 / Working Papers

James Sumberg & Rachel Sabates-Wheeler
June 2010

This paper is an output from the initial phase of the Home-Grown School Feeding (HGSF) Project which is funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and implemented by the Partnership for Child Development at Imperial College. The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex is a project partner and part of the project’s agricultural technical consortium. As such IDS is charged with providing expertise across three areas: agricultural development, food security and social protection. IDS also play a central role in the evaluation component of the project.

Over the last five years HGSF – essentially an attempt to actively and explicitly link agricultural development with school feeding – has received increasing attention from international agencies (Sanchez et al. 2005), policy makers (e.g. CAADP4), national governments, academics (Morgan et al. 2007) and practitioners (Espejo et al. 2009). BMGF has funded or co-funded some of these activities as well as other closely related initiatives such as WFP’s Purchase-for-Progress (P4P) programme.


FAC Working Paper 012 Pdf 499.11 KB 0 downloads


Can the smallholder model deliver poverty reduction and food security
May 27, 2010 / Working Papers

By Steve Wiggins
July 2009

Despite the achievements of smallholders in Asia during the green revolution, there is scepticism that Africa’s smallholders — who dominate the farm area in most countries — can imitate this model and deliver agricultural growth. This paper assesses whether such pessimism is justified.

Given the high transactions costs of hiring labour of farms, diseconomies of scale can be expected when labour is relatively cheap and abundant compared to other factors of production: which may explain the survey evidence that small farms often produce more per hectare than larger farms. In conditions of low development with relatively cheap labour, small units may have advantages over larger ones.

Reforming Agricultural Policy: Lessons from Four Countries
May 27, 2010 / Working Papers

Lídia Cabral, Colin Poulton, Steve Wiggins and Linxiu Zhang
July 2006

Comparing reform of agricultural policy in Bangladesh, Chile, China and New Zealand, this paper derives lessons for countries contemplating reform.

In all cases reforms to farm policy were undertaken as part of overall reforms across the whole economy, started in response to a perceived national crisis and usually implemented by new governments with a mandate to make major changes. Political will is, not surprisingly, a necessary condition.

In designing reforms and their implementation, much depends on context, including external conditions such as world market prices. The scope for change, and certainly the sequence and pace of reform, may be as much a matter of administrative feasibility as choice. Where outcomes are uncertain and state capacity limited, gradual approaches to reform that allow for learning may be better than swift and comprehensive -‘big bang’ – packages.

This working paper presents the first stage of a review of agricultural reform experiences within African countries, specifically Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi. It aims to draw out issues for would-be reformers by examining the experience of four cases of agricultural reform, purposely selected as often being seen as successful.


FAC Working Paper 002 Pdf 2.56 MB 0 downloads


Commercialisations in Agriculture
May 15, 2010 / Working Papers

By Jennifer Leavy and Colin Poulton
September 2007
Accelerated growth in agriculture is seen by many as critical if the MDGs are to be met inAfrica. Although there are debates about the future viability of small farms (Hazell et al.2007), the official policies of many national governments and international development agencies accord a central role to the intensification and commercialisation of smallholder agriculture as a means of achieving poverty reduction.

According to this thinking,smallholder agriculture is uniquely positioned to deliver broad-based growth in rural areas(where the vast majority of the world.s poor still live). However, others fear that strategiesfor commercialising agriculture will not bring benefits to the majority of rural households, either directly or (in the view of some) at all. Instead, they fear that efforts to promote a morecommercial agriculture will benefit primarily large-scale farms.

At best, the top minority ofsmallholders will be able to benefit.In this paper, therefore, we discuss what is meant by the commercialisation of agriculture,emphasising the different pathways that commercialisation can take. We also examine whatneeds to be done if agricultural commercialisation is to be inclusive, bringing benefits to alarge proportion of rural households.The potential benefits of commercialisation and engaging in trade are well documented.These include stimulating rural growth, which poor people can gain from directly, forexample through: improving employment opportunities (depending on the labour intensity ofcrops grown); increasing agricultural labour productivity; direct income benefits foremployees and employers; expanding food supply and potentially improving nutritionalstatus. Multiplier effects encompass increased demand for food and services in the local area (von Braun and Kennedy, 1994).