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FAC Research Themes

Future Agricultures explores what needs to be done to get different forms of agriculture – food/cash crops, livestock/pastoralism, smallholdings/contract farming/large holdings – moving on a track of increasing productivity and competitiveness.

We do this through work in 10 themes, examining how agricultural policy is made and put into practice in different settings, and how this could be improved.

Elections in GhanaTheme 1: Policy processes

  • Understanding the political economy and policy processes surrounding agriculture in specific regional/country settings
  • Critically assessing how food and agriculture is understood in policy circles and what bureaucratic, political, budgetary and other processes either support or constrain investment in the sector

Theme 2: Agricultural commercialisations
  • Investigating what (multiple) pathways of commercialisation of agriculture both promote growth and reduce poverty – and the trade-offs between them
  • Understanding the socially differentiated impacts of various commercialisation processes on livelihoods

Theme 3: Growth and social protection

  • Examining the trade-offs and complementarities between growth and social protection objectives
  • Understanding the role of seasonality in social protection programming and pro-poor agricultural policy

Theme 4: Science, technology and innovation

Governance issues surrounding innovation policy and the politics of policy making in research for development

  • Focusing on ‘the political economy of seed systems’ exploring how contrasting politics and different configurations of interests influence seeds policies.
  • Developing an interactive web-based game to examine the trade-offs and policy challenges of a new green revolution for Africa.

11852-small_thumb250_200Theme 5: Future farmers: young people & agriculture

Exploring the challenges facing young people and the agri-food sector in Africa.

  • Understanding the perceptions and potential roles of youth in the future of African farming.
  • Exploring how demographic change affecting the availability of farmers in the future; asking is de-agrarianisation inevitable?
  • How can agriculture be made more attractive as a livelihood option for future farmers in Africa?

garissa1Theme 6: Pastoralism

  • Understanding the changing context of pastoral systems in Africa: identifying key challenges and opportunities
  • Asking what innovations are being undertaken by pastoralists in response to climate change, decline in resource availability, market pressures and conflict?
  • Exploring pastoral innovation systems, and understanding how they operate and might in turn articulate with more formal systems

plantTheme 7: Climate change and agricultural policy

  • Understanding the policy processes, at national and international levels, that define the links between climate change and agriculture
  • Asking how climate change is understood in the agricultural sector, and what policy processes (actors, interests, narratives) influence how climate change issues are incorporated (or not) in agricultural policy and programmes

landhungerTheme 8: Land and agrarian change

  • The politics of policy underlying transnational commercial land deals in Africa
  • Asking what international and national policy processes influence transnational commercial land deals in Africa and what competing discourses, interests and power relations define struggles over transnational land deals in different places?

Chinese and African people on a farmTheme 9: China and Brazil in African Agriculture

  • What visions and models of development underpin Brazil and China cooperation programmes in agriculture?
  • Is there evidence of emerging new paradigms for development cooperation and for agricultural development?
  • What are the implications for traditional donors and for pro-poor development in Africa?

genderhpTheme 10: Gender and Social Difference

  • Challenging common framings in policy and practice that equate “gender” with “women”, and put women and men in opposition to each other.
  • What circumstances allow structures to either open or limit access to opportunities?
  • What kinds of support do both women and men need if they are to benefit from and/or adapt to change?


  • Gender & Social Difference

    genderhpThis theme aims to challenge some of the accepted notions about gender and social relations in agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our research takes a ‘social relational’ approach - recognising that people operate within different social, economic and political contexts, not as isolated individuals. We are also challenging common framings in policy and practice that equate “gender” with “women”, and put women and men in opposition to each other.

    We aim to demonstrate how a social relational approach can change the problem analysis and therefore the policy solutions to changing the status of disadvantaged groups.

    Our focus is on processes of change - in particular:

    • the circumstances which allow structures to either open or limit access to opportunities
    • what kinds of support both women and men will need if they are to benefit from and/or adapt to change.
  • Young People & Agrifood
  • Land

    land-foe The phrase ‘global land grab’ has become a catch-all phrase to describe and analyze the current explosion of (trans) national commercial land transactions. Around the world, various state, corporate and civil society groups have reacted, albeit in different ways.

    Some see this as a major threat to the lives and livelihoods of the rural poor worldwide, and so opposes such commercial land deals. Others see economic opportunity for the rural poor, although they are wary of corruption and negative consequences, and so calls for the improving land market governance feature prominently. And, of course, between these two extremes for and against large scale land purchases/sales are a range of intermediate positions offered by other groups.

    In this context, in-depth and systematic enquiry is urgently needed in order to have deeper, meaningful and productive debates around causes and implications. FAC research will study the extent, nature and impact of what we define as define as cross-border, large-scale land deals that involve changes in land use and land property relations – through land purchases, land leases, and contract farming.

  • Pastoralism


    Pastoralism is changing. Food crises and a lack of government support are fuelling concerns that pastoralist livelihoods are unviable, both as a way of life and a system of producing food.


    Yet new opportunities are opening up: better communications, transport and large shifts in trade are changing the commercial landscape. And some governments are embracing pastoralism more closely than before as part of their economic strategy.


    The Future Agricultures Consortium is investigating the changing landscape of pastoralism in the Horn of Africa. We are examining who wins and loses from the changes taking place, and why.  We are also looking at the new forms pastoralism is taking, and how pastoralists are responding to change in different ways.

  • Climate Change

    plant Over the last few years there has been a re-emergence of attention to agriculture and food security in the context of a changing climate. Globally, the sector accounts for 13-15% of greenhouse gas emissions. In Africa, there are important concerns over the vulnerability of farmers and farming systems, also given the sector’s key economic importance across the continent.

    It is increasingly clear that the focus on climate change will shape agricultural development in Africa in significant ways over the coming decades. But with the growing attention comes an increasing complexity of actors in the debate both on the nature of the problem and the most appropriate solutions.


    The Climate Change Theme of FAC was set up to analyse this complexity and to open up critical issues for debate through case studies, briefing papers and roundtable discussions. The aim is to help broaden the policy debates on climate change and agriculture to include alternative adaptation and mitigation pathways for the sector.

  • Pathways to Commercialisation
    Onions on sale in a MarketThis theme examines the question of how to raise productivity in the agricultural sector, and how smallholder farmers can participate in markets and improve livelihoods. Recognising that the liberalisation orthodoxy focusing on markets has not worked (or at least only partially), we focus on institutional questions, particularly in conditions where markets are weak, thin and interlocking.

    Questions we are pursuing include:
    • What pathways to which types of commercialisation are open to smallholder producers?
    • What market and institutional innovation in supply chains might help smallholder producers?
    • How do labour markets and institutions affect agricultural growth and poverty reduction?
    • How can coordination failures in finance, input and output supply be remedied?
    • How can agri-business be developed and regulated?
  • Science, Technology and Innovation

    Technology - seeds, breeds, fertility inputs, disease control measures, water management - is clearly key to getting agriculture moving. But the impacts of extensive investment in technology development and transfer in Africa and in some parts of Asia have been patchy. With new technology options coming on-stream (e.g. biotechnologies or various sorts) and important new players in the private sector in particular, there are new challenges for the governance of technology in the agriculture sector. The old research and development extension arrangements of 20-30 years ago are not appropriate, but what is? We want to ask a number of questions:

    • How can agricultural technology be made to work for the poor? What are the implications for technology choice and priority setting mechanisms?
    • How are technology trajectories linked to processes of agrarian/livelihood change in different settings?
    • What should be the roles of public and private sectors (both international and national) in technology development?
    • How is access to technology options constrained? What alternatives exist?
    • How should national/regional innovation systems look to deliver inputs for small farmers?
  • Policy Processes

    Central to the work of the consortium is an understanding of policy processes surrounding agriculture in the regional/country settings where we work. This requires a look at how agriculture and farming is understood in policy circles and what bureaucratic, political, budgetary and other processes either prioritise or downplay agriculture.


    The policy processes theme work will explore the relative influence of domestic politics and external factors (e.g. aid, regional economic/political integration, the CAADP process) on policy outcomes and how these different influences interact. Key questions we are addressing under this theme include: :

    • What are the politics of agricultural policy processes in different national settings? How do regional and international processes impinge?
    • What is the contemporary role for and position of Ministries of Agriculture? How does this affect the organisation and perception of the sector?
    • What is the contemporary role for and position of Ministries of Agriculture? How does this affect the organisation and perception of the sector?
    • How are farmers' perspectives articulated in policy? Through what organisations, forums and political processes?
  • Growth and Social Protection


    The rapidly evolving social protection agenda often targets farming families in Africa, but the linkages between social protection and agricultural growth outcomes are not well conceptualised or understood. For example, social protection often does not take agricultural seasonality into account, leading to poorly timed interventions and sub-optimal outcomes. Conversely, well designed interventions can support farmers to become self-reliant and ‘graduate’ from social protection support.


    The work of this theme aims to highlight the centrality of seasonality in rural livelihood vulnerability, to advocate social protection policies that ameliorate adverse seasonality, and to identify policy approaches that maximise positive synergies and minimise negative trade-offs between social protection and agriculture.

    Questions addressed by this theme include:

    • Can synergies be identified between welfare-protecting and growth-promoting social protection and agricultural policies? Are there combinations of growth and social protection strategies and instruments that can promote both agricultural and non-agricultural growth and social protection?
    • How do changing patterns of agricultural seasonality affect rural livelihoods in Africa? Is climate change making the seasons more unpredictable, and how this has affected patterns of production and growth on the one hand, and vulnerability and social protection needs on the other?
    • Are contemporary social protection measures (such as targeted cash transfers) adequate for addressing the food insecurity and vulnerability to which African governments previously responded with much broader measures (e.g. food subsidies and strategic grain reserves)?
  • China and Brazil in African Agriculture

    Chinese, Brazilian and South African leadersThe question of how Brazil, China and other 'rising powers' may change African agricultural development is critical and timely.

    The rising powers are growing sources of development finance and offer developing countries a combination of private investment, lending, trade and cooperation arrangements that is gradually challenging the rules of the game of the global aid architecture. Africa is a major destination of the rising powers' diplomatic and economic ventures, and agriculture a leading topic for development cooperation activities across the continent.

    Through our research, we are investigating the impacts of these changes on African agriculture.

    Some of the questions for our research are:

    • What investments are China and Brazil making in agricultural production systems in Africa? What is their scale, nature (public and private) and focus?
    • What visions and models of development underpin Brazil and China cooperation programmes in agriculture?
    • How do China and Brazil’s visions and models compare with one another and with traditional donors’ approaches to development?
    • Is there evidence of emerging new paradigms for development cooperation and for agricultural development?
    • What are the implications for traditional donors and for pro-poor development in Africa?
  • Irrigation

    irrigationIrrigation has played an important role in agricultural modernisation around the world. In Africa, however, agricultural production has increased very slowly over the last fifty years, barely keeping pace with population growth. After a period of relative neglect, the international community is showing renewed interest in African irrigation as a means to tackle food insecurity, increasing water scarcity and climate change. This research theme aims to learn from past experiences in order to chart plausible pathways for future development.

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