By Ian Scoones
In this viewpoint piece I want to argue that, as currently organised, R and D systems – both public and private - don’t necessarily respond well to the needs of poor people in developing countries. Despite all the hype about the potentials of science and technology for reducing poverty, there are many missed opportunities. Very often poor and marginalised people across the global south do not end up benefiting from S and T. How then should we rethink R and D so that S and T can help in the important challenge to ‘make poverty history’?
The Political Economy of Ethiopian Cereal Seed Systems: State Control, Market Liberalisation and Decentralisation
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. Centrallydirected, 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.
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.
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.
Participation, Commercialisation and Actor Networks: The Political Economy of Cereal Seed Production
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.
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.
By John Thompson, Amdissa Teshome, David Hughes, Ephraim Chirwa and John OmitiJune 2009
This FAC Policy Brief presents what we have termed ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Farmers’ Organisations’. This seeks to provide some insights into what may be described as the ‘critical elements of success’ in high-performing farmers’ organisations in Africa. The seven ‘habits’ identified are:
(1) Clarity of mission;(2) Sound governance;(3) Strong, responsive and accountable leadership;(4) Social inclusion and raising ‘voice’;(5) Demand-driven and focused service delivery;(6) High technical and managerial capacity; and(7) Effective engagement with external actors.
These habits offer a useful checklist of working principles and practices to assess the performance of farmers’ organisation in Africa and elsewhere.
By John Thompson, Amdissa Teshome, Ephraim Chirwa and John OmitiJune 2009
Farmers’ organisations (FOs) are increasingly being asked to play a central role in driving agricultural transformation processes in Sub-Saharan Africa, despite their mixed record of success. As governments, donors and NGOs rush to promote the scaling up and diversification of FOs’ activities and membership, this policy brief draws on findings of a study of the roles, functions and performance of FOs in Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi to suggest some principles and practices for supporting FOs in Africa.
Policy Brief 46
This FAC Policy Brief examines the political economy of input programmes and identifies maize and input subsidies as central to agricultural political debates. Subsidy programmes that are centred on the supply of seed and fertiliser to support maize production to boost national food security have created a strong actor network including key government players, major donor aid agencies and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). In recent years, this has created a unique and highly contested political economy of seeds in Malawi. Notwithstanding the strong narratives about national food security or public food aid, the benefits of both national and donor-led subsidy interventions are unevenly distributed, most to the benefit of elites. Moreover, international commercial seed sector players, pushing their patented genetic material, have won out in agricultural policy over local producers and varieties, again to the profit of local elites.
Policy Brief 45
In a bid to return the country to food self-sufficiency, the Government of Kenya has been spearheading strategies for a new ‘Green Revolution’ in the food producing sector, as spelt out in its Strategy for Revitalizing Agriculture (SRA), a ten-year action plan launched in 2004. The SRA is entrenched in Kenya’s Vision 2030, the country’s framework for long-term investment and development (Republic of Kenya 2007; 2004). Crucial to the SRA is the increased generation, promotion and use of modern farming inputs and technologies, particularly improved seed and fertiliser. Small-scale independent stockists or input distributors, commonly known as ‘agro-dealers’, are seen to have a crucial role to play in distributing these inputs in a liberalised economy. As key actors in the Green Revolution agenda, agro-dealers are thus at the centre of current policy debates about the future of Kenya’s seed system.
This FAC Policy Brief sheds light on the rise of agro-dealers in recent national policy debates as central figures in the delivery of agricultural innovation, improved food security and the potential spark in igniting a smallholder-led revolution. It asks: can agro-dealers really deliver the Green Revolution in Kenya? Drawing on key informant interviews and surveys of agrodealers in two districts, Machakos in Eastern Province and Uasin Gishu in Rift Valley Province, it assesses the different politics and interests at play and the implications these raise for future investments in both formal and informal seed systems and the promotion of agro-dealers as catalysts of change in the agricultural sector.
Policy Brief 44
Drawing on lessons from case studies from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe conducted by the Future Agricultures Consortium during 2009-11, this Policy Brief assesses the political economy of cereal seed system research and development programmes and processes across Sub-Saharan Africa.
By examining the contrasting politics and different configurations of interests affecting the way cereal seeds are produced and delivered in these countries, it identifies opportunities for reshaping the terms of the debate and opening up alternative pathways towards more sustainable and socially just seed systems.
Working Paper 33
Political Economy of Cereal Seed Systems in Africa project
by Hannington Odame and Elijah MuangeDecember 2011
Public and private actors and their networks are committing substantial resources to support agro-dealers to deliver novel technologies and information in line with the New Green Revolution for Africa. The main point of entry has been the cereal seed system, with a focus on maize seed in particular, which is seen as both a key staple and a politically important crop. In Kenya, the seed system landscape has been changing dramatically in recent years, with the entry of highly influential seed companies, biotechnology research and legislation of the biosafety regulations. Thus, the prospect of genetically modified (GM) crops being pushed through agribusiness networks is an emerging issue, raising the question of whether small-scale, independent stockists or ‘agro-dealers’ have the capacity to deliver these technologies and provide local regulatory control over the new seeds.
This study sought to investigate the policy and institutional environment within which agricultural biotechnology agro-dealers have evolved, as well as the agendas that are being pushed by particular interests in the new pro-GM policy and institutional environment in Kenya and their expected outcomes.
Working Paper 36by Dawit Alemu
At the advent of Ethiopia’s new economic development plan, the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) 2010 - 2015, the Farmer-Based Seed Multiplication (FBSM) programme has increased hopes in the strengthening of the country’s national seed system. Although FBSM engages in various strategies and numerous actors across Ethiopia (Dawit and Spielman 2006), the primary function of FBSM involves the organisation of farmer groups at local levels throughout Ethiopia to produce seed that can either be conditioned (cleaned and bagged) or left in raw form, and provided both for sale to the formal sector or for local exchange. The overall goal of FBSM is contributing to the target of doubling agricultural production through improving access to and use of quality seeds of improved crop varieties along with sustaining the availability of germplasm of local varieties.
The principal advantages of FBSM are identified as follows: (i) improved seed production of locally demanded varieties; (ii) production of crop seeds for which there are less commercial interest; (iii) production and marketing of seed within communities for the purpose of reducing seed cost; and (iv) the possibility of serving as seed demonstration sites to encourage the adoption of alternative crop varieties. Although these advantages are appealing, the current implementation of FBSM demands considerable supervision from extension personnel, suffers from low quality seed recovery rates from participating farmers, places local seed supply under exactly the same climatic risks as local grain production, and its financial sustainability is unproven. This study examines FBSM efforts across Ethiopia and critically analyses the roles of its actors. The narratives, priorities, and agenda approaches of the actors promoting FBSM are documented through a series of case studies, all of which reflect a diversified demand for seed that is based on differing agro-ecological and socio-economic contexts and different sets of actor-networks. The study examines the operation of FBSM initiatives, exploring who is involved and who benefits from the programme. Links to the informal (illegal) private sector and the commercial sector are investigated, including FBSM associations with national and regional seed enterprises. The limits of FBSM initiatives are also documented.
IDS BulletinVol 42 No. 4, 2011
This IDS Bulletin takes one element of a bigger debate - the future of cereal seed systems in Africa - and examines some of the challenges, dilemmas, prospects and possibilities for the future, deploying an explicitly critical analytical lens to look at the political economy of seed systems in Africa's Green Revolution. It asks: ‘What interests frame the dominant narratives driving this policy agenda? What alternatives are excluded as a consequence? Who gains and who loses? And what processes of agrarian change are promoted as a result?'
As calls for a ‘Uniquely African Green Revolution' gain momentum, a focus on seeds and seed systems is rising up the agricultural policy agenda. Much of the debate stresses 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 this misses out the political economy of policy processes behind this agenda: whose interests are being served? This IDS Bulletin, with its central emphasis on cereal seed systems, focuses on the under-addressed political-economic dimensions that have hindered the emergence and spread of lasting improvements in agricultural productivity. It examines how the new Green Revolution in Africa is unfolding in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe, highlighting both the diversity of experiences and the common challenges and pitfalls. Moving beyond the generic hype of much policy discussion, the articles in this collection draw out historical lessons, as well as contemporary experiences from the field.
The issue builds on a collaborative research project carried out during 2009-11 under the auspices of the Future Agricultures Consortium.
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The Politics of Seed in Africa’s Green Revolution: Alternative Narratives and Competing Pathways by Ian Scoones and John Thompson
FAC Policy Brief 54by Laura Pereira
The world’s food system is undergoing an unprecedented transformation: not just from the significant impacts of global environmental change (GEC), but also from the rapid expansion of transnational agribusiness. The food system is now a globalised, interconnected socioecological system and the global South is increasingly being integrated into this new, interconnected, efficiency-driven model.
There are three key outcomes of a wellfunctioning food system: food security, social welfare and environmental welfare (see Figure 1) yet, our current system has so far failed to provide these for the planet’s poor. How, then, will the future food system respond to the challenge of providing food security whilst also adapting to issues of rapid environmental and sustainability issues – most notably climate change? Developing a system of adaptive governance to meet these challenges is clearly an important area for research, but it requires an understanding of the complexity and uncertainty inherent in such measures.
John Baptist D. Jatoe, Damien G. Lankoandé and James SumbergMay 2013
This paper tests the ‘systems of innovation’ hypothesis for a selection of crops in Ghana and Burkina Faso that have shown significant growth in production over an approximately 20-year period. The question is whether such growth can only occur if supported by a system of innovation. Using two indicators (a common understanding on objectives and priorities, and a high level of interactivity) we find little evidence for the existence of anything that might be considered a high functioning system of innovation.
Saturday, May 25th