The gap in current research
As calls for a ‘Uniquely African Green Revolution’ gain momentum, the focus on seeds and seed systems is rising up the policy agenda. Much of the debate emphasises the technological or market dimensions, with substantial investments being made in seed improvement and the development of both public and private sector delivery systems. But there is currently much less emphasis on the wider policy dimensions – and particularly the political economy of policymaking in diverse African contexts.
Experience tells us that it is these factors that often make or break even the best designed and most well intentioned intervention. And since investment in seed improvement and supply was last emphasised as a major development priority (in the 1970s and 80s), contexts have changed. The collapse of national public sector breeding systems has been dramatic, and this has only been selectively compensated for by the entry of the private sector. Large multinational seed and agricultural supply companies are increasingly dominating the global scene, and there are many claims made about the promises of new technologies (notably transgenics) transforming the seed sector through a technological revolution. While informal breeding and seed supply systems continue to exist, and indeed have been extensively supported through NGO and other projects, they are often under pressure, as drought, corruption and conflict take their toll and economic transformation and livelihood change continues apace.
The focus on cereal seed systems allows the research to concentrate on a similar set of crops across the four study countries with a key influence on food security at household and national levels. Given the political reverberations of the ‘food crisis’ of 2007-08, this allows for a timely analysis of the implications of the policy processes shaping the breeding, production, marketing and distribution of cereal seeds. Whether grown for local subsistence or traded commercially, the significance of cereal crops to national politics (and so arguments about food security and sovereignty), commercial interests and local livelihoods – is likely to be profound.
The project will test the hypothesis that contrasting politics and different configurations of interests will make a difference to the way cereal seed systems operate and how a ‘new green revolution’ push in envisaged and ultimately plays out. The underlying implication is that politics matter and engagement with policy processes is important – defining and then deliberating among different framings and interests – i.e. beyond the technical/market fix.
A focus on seed policy processes
• How do seed policies get created, by whom?
• How do ideas about what makes a ‘good’ seed policy evolve and change?
• How are boundaries drawn around seed problems and policy storylines elaborated?
• Whose voices and views are taken into account in the seed policy process? And what/who is excluded?
• What spaces exist for new ideas, actors, networks? How can these be opened up?
Key Questions - and methods
• What is the seed policy framework, and how has it changed (timeline)?
• What are the main narratives about seed, agriculture, food that define policy processes (narrative analysis)?
• Who are the main actors involved in the seed system – and how are they connected (actor network analysis)?
• What are the main interests driving seed policy (and so the framing of narratives and the configuration of actor networks)? (political economy analysis)
• How does all this relate to the situation on the ground (implementation stories and field practices)
More on Methodology
Overall, an historical approach will be necessary to trace changes in the way policies have been framed, looking at the shifts in narratives about what the problem is and what should be done about it over time. Changes in the configuration of actors, their networks and associated interests will also help illuminate how contemporary policies have emerged. A basic mapping of the current situation will take place, involving interviews with key players (from government policymakers to public/private, national/ international researchers to commercial sector seed suppliers and traders to farmers in different parts of the country and with different resource endowments).
This approach will allow the research to elaborate (in largely qualitative terms), first, the set of ‘narratives’ (stories about the problems and the appropriate solutions) being deployed by different people. Second, the way such actors interact and relate will be mapped, highlighting key gaps and connections. Third, the interests of different groupings will be analysed, looking at the competing power relations involved, and asking who wins, and who loses in policy formulation and its implementation. Finally, areas of contention and debate will be identified for each country setting, highlighting areas for institutional and policy development (for example, around issues of regulation, certification, priority setting and so on).
Phase 1 - Broad Scoping Country Studies and Lead Authors (July 2009 - April 2010)
Kenya (Hannigton Odame) – agro-dealers and the market solution: politics, interests and who wins and loses from the new GR?
Malawi (Blessings Chinsinga) – the politics of maize and input subsidy programmes: how diverse interests converge around a particular technical-economic trajectory
Zimbabwe (Charity Mutonhodza) – rebuilding the seed system post ‘collapse’: why top-down government/aid programmes may make things worse
Ghana (Kojo Amanor) – Green revolution narratives and local-level realities: how a technocratic approach overwhelms alternative perspectives on breeds and seeds
Ethiopia (Dawit Alemu) – liberalisation under state control: the politics of the emergent private sector seed industry
This work was developed further at a planning workshop held at IDS in July 2009. A literature review and compilation of documentation is now complete and the results were presented at the FAC Annual Meeting 2010, in Brighton, UK. At this stage plans for follow up on work will be defined based on key areas/themes identified in the first phase studies.
Phase II Focused Country Studies and Lead Authors (April 2010 – December 2011)
Kenya (Hannigton Odame) – Assessing the limits of current Agro-Dealer model to identify different approaches that promote sustainability and equity
Malawi (Blessings Chinsinga) – Relationship between agro-dealers and seed companies and how politics, particularly in relationship to input support programmes, are shaping their fortunes
Zimbabwe (Charity Mutonhodza) – Examine different pilot projects that produce relief seed for different public and private delivery channels and assess their relative merits for the purposes of rebuilding the seed system
Ghana (Kojo Amanor) – Longitudinal analysis of changing patterns of seed and input usage over time in different agro-ecological settings
Ethiopia (Dawit Alemu) – Evaluating Farmer-Based Seed Multiplication. Many actors pushing FBSM, but different narratives are driving their agendas