APRA Brief 6: Agricultural Commercialisation Pathways: Climate Change and Agriculture

Given the highly climate-sensitive character of agricultural production, climate change has obvious and important ramifications for agricultural commercialisation, which in turn has a bearing on poverty, gender empowerment, and food and nutrition security. The nature and extent of climate change implications for agricultural commercialisation will depend on: the magnitude of the climate impacts that farmers have to deal with; and, the extent to which sustainable intensification processes can be pursued in ways which strengthen, rather than weaken, adaptive capacity and resilience in the face of climate change. This brief provides a summary of a longer working paper, which offers a review of recent literature on the implications of climate change for agricultural commercialisation and APRA’s research in this area.

Download: APRA Brief 6 -Agricultural Commercialisation Pathways Climate Change and

Open for Business: What Does Investment Look Like on the Ground?

Last week I was at the at the African Studies Association of the UK (ASA) conference in Birmingham. I was co-hosting, with my colleague Jeremy Lind (whose earlier blog this one draws from), a fantastic stream of five panels and 17 papers. Drawing on rich and recent empirical evidence from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Somaliland, the discussions covered the emergence of investment corridors, investments in oil, minerals and renewable energy and the implications of the rush for land for the dynamics of circulation, accumulation and patterns of social differentiation. Listening to the presentations, I was struck by the potential lessons for Zimbabwe, as the country becomes ‘open for business’.

Across the drylands of eastern Africa, the past ten years have seen the spread of large-scale investments in infrastructure, resources and land. In the past these areas were insignificant to states in the region and large capital from beyond – at least compared to the region’s agrarian highlands and Indian Ocean coast. Yet, the recent rush to construct pipelines, roads, airports, wind farms, and plantations signals a new spatial politics that binds the pastoral margins ever closer to state power and global capital.

Being ‘open for business’ in order to develop infrastructure, resources, and towns as new industrial centres and markets is often seen very positively. State officials and donor agencies view these as part of generating growth; bringing the margins into the core of the national economy. Some see such investments as a precursor to peacebuilding of restive frontiers, ushering in stability through diversification and the creation of new livelihoods.

As Zimbabwe’s new government repeats the mantra of being ‘open for business’, seeking investment from any source is seen as an imperative in order to rescue the economy from the doldrums. The new cabinet is aimed to highlight technocratic competence, banishing the reputation of corrupt neglect. Certainly, President Mnangagwa’s choices have been widely hailed, and the appointment of Prof. Mthuli Ncube as finance minister was a smart move. His credentials and connections signal a new way of doing things. With a training in mathematical finance economics, a post at Oxford and experience with the private sector finance advice and the African Development Bank, he will be central to galvanising much-needed investment across all sectors.

But what investment will emerge? And who will it benefit? Certainly, Zimbabwe’s economy is still seen as high risk, so early investors may seek to strike a hard bargain, and safeguards, whether environmental or social, may get short shrift. As our ASA panels showed, large-scale investments have far-reaching consequences for the future directions of development. Many powerful actors are involved, from international corporations and financiers to states and local elites, but important questions are raised about who gains and who loses out, and whether such large-scale projects do indeed deliver poverty-reducing development as is often claimed.

Early debates on large-scale investments in eastern Africa’s pastoral areas turned on headline grabbing figures of the size of proposed projects, such as the $23 billion price tag for the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor project (LAPSSET), or the scale of proposed land deals for commercial agriculture, such as the 300,000 hectare land lease (since cancelled) to Indian Karuturi Global in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region.

A decade on, the large-scale investments have advanced in a more piecemeal way as challenges of implementation have mounted. LAPSSET’s grand modernist vision has not materialised in a sudden multi-billion dollar bang but rather emerged incrementally, such as through the completion of the Isiolo-Moyale highway and the recent opening of Isiolo’s airport. Mass expropriations to establish large-scale commercial farms have by-and-large not come to pass, as only a small part of an agreed area is actually farmed.

But the focus on ‘opening up’ the frontier through new infrastructure and investments in land and resources has had other consequences. Proposed infrastructure and investments have ignited intense competition for and revaluation of land as local elites, and other domestic and foreign investors, jostle to claim tracts of land. In and around Isiolo, which is being reimagined as an industrial centre and gateway to northern Kenya, proposed investments have set in motion an economy of anticipation as diverse actors rush to collectively and individually lay exclusive claims to land at the town’s edges. A similar dynamic plays out in Lokichar – the base of operations for nascent oil development in Kenya’s Turkana County – where fencing has multiplied around town as area residents race to claim plots to develop housing, shops and guest houses.

Development of oil, wind and geo-thermal reserves has fuelled other competitions around ‘local content’ – the industry term for procuring goods and services from local suppliers and workers. The footprint of these developments, and the arrival of workers and contractors from outside of local areas, sit uncomfortably with the reality of work opportunities that are thinly spread and temporary. Protests by residents and political leaders in south Turkana halted Kenya’s Early Oil Pilot Scheme in June barely days after it was launched to great fanfare by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Operations only resumed in late August after political concessions to address local demands for greater opportunities for work, contracts and tenders.

In this and other instances of protest, local elites have advanced their own interests by playing on the legitimate concerns of residents living adjacent to development sites concerning inclusion, rights and compensation. Various local interlocutors have positioned themselves as key liaisons between investors and communities in and around sites of operational activity, including political aspirants, ward and sub-county administrators, brokers, elders, seers, and young people. Local capital has been the greatest beneficiary of investments in oil in Turkana, or wind in Kenya’s Marsabit County. Wealthier local elites – many with connections in politics or who have worked for international relief or church organisations – have constructed rental housing, guesthouses, bars and restaurants.

Thus, while the impacts and influences of large-scale investments still unfold, the early signs can be seen. New territorialisations, local contestations and struggles, and enrichment of local elites are all part of an emerging picture. Some investments are proposed and never take off, but nevertheless reconfigure land use and local political and social relations.

As we heard in Birmingham, it’s a complex picture, and one that continues to unfold in a very fast-moving setting. Zimbabwe is only now dreaming of such investments, and state efforts will be energised to seek them out. However there are lessons to be learned from eastern Africa. Investments certainly transform, but there are always winners and losers. This is worth remembering as Zimbabwe opens its borders to all-comers with money to invest.

This post was written in part by Ian Scoones and this version first appeared on Zimbabweland. Thanks to Jeremy Lind for the original blog, and to all the presenters at the ‘Precarious Prospects’ stream of the ASA UK conference.

Conducting a Tracker Study: a Tough Nut to Crack

To enjoy a nut, you must first crack open the hard outer shell – the Malawi APRA research team have found one such nut and, as detailed in this blog, hope to have gathered the tools required to crack its shell.

The Malawi team intends to track members of households who were part of a 2007 study in the districts of Mchinji and Ntchisi, in Malawi. The government of Malawi and the UK Department for International Development (DfID) co-funded the study, titled the ‘Agricultural Input Subsidy Program Evaluation’. This study evaluated the impact of farm input subsidies and collected information about households and their members. It listed how many people were in a household, their ages and their main economic activities.

We want to go to the two districts that were involved in the 2007 study, to find the same households and enquire about household members who were listed in the study. If we find the households and their members, we want to ask them questions about their current livelihoods. We are interested in assessing the impact of agricultural commercialisation on the trajectory of their livelihoods. If some of the members have left their ‘original’ households, we will ask for their new addresses in order to ‘track’ them and interview them about their current living situation and economic activity. However, we have identified a number of challenges that will be faced in implementing our tracker study:

  • Data accuracy: the 2007 study made every effort to ensure that the data that was collected in 2007 was accurate. However, we still need to remain conscious of the possibility of errors in the original data, which may well effect the results of our tracker study.
  • Finding the households: we will conduct the study in Malawi where national citizens’ registration was not required until last year (2017). Even then, not many people have acquired national identity cards. People could have moved away from their ‘original’ households (in what we refer to as ‘branching’ households) or passed away. Very few locations in Malawi have easily identifiable addresses, especially in rural areas where there are no road names. In addition, not everyone has access to a phone, so we will need to visit households in person in order to confirm availability. With a substantial population that is illiterate, it is possible a respondent will give us an address or a phone number that is not correct.
  • Consent to conduct the tracker survey: research ethics demand that we conduct a study interview only when a respondent grants us consent. We can only hope that we will be granted consent to conduct studies by the households. It must be noted that over the past ten years, experience shows consistently very good response rates of over 90%.
  • Data collection: being granted consent to conduct the study does not mean that the respondent has to answer all of the questions. Some may even be sceptical or cynical of the motives behind the study. The respondents may therefore not give us any data. However, based on experience, we have not had any situations where a respondent chose not to answer any of the questions, or where an interview was terminated prematurely.
  • The data collectors: the success of the study will depend on how well we communicate the aims and approaches of the study to the data collectors. Failing to follow data collection procedures would compromise the study’s accuracy. Our training and data collection experience has shown, however, that data collectors have been able to grasp the aims of previous studies and we do not anticipate that they will not be able to understand what is expected of them in this exercise. We, the research team, have a pool of data collectors we have worked with for more than ten years and are confident that they will do as trained.

We are interested in assessing the impact of agricultural commercialisation on the trajectory of livelihoods, as defined in APRA’s methodology (stepping-up in agricultural activities, stepping-out of agricultural activities, hanging in to subsistence farming, dropping-out of agriculture). After the quantitative survey, we will identify households in different livelihood trajectories and conduct detailed qualitative interviews. This will involve interviews with ‘original’ households and ‘branching’ households. Where ‘branching’ households are sampled for detailed qualitative interviews, their ‘original’ households will also be interviewed to get a broader understanding of the role of agricultural commercialisation in livelihood development. It will not be easy, but we think by carefully thinking through the procedures, the science, and the context, we will do a good job.

With a thorough assessment of potential barriers to carrying out our study effectively, and identifying the ways in which we can circumvent these barriers, we believe that we can crack this nut.

Written by: Jacob Mazalale

Image credit: Ollivier Girard/EIF

Designs on the range: corridors, grabs and extractions at the pastoral margins

The past ten years have seen the spread of large-scale investments in infrastructure, resources and land across pastoral areas of eastern Africa. In the past these areas were insignificant to states in the region and large capital from beyond – at least compared to the region’s agrarian highlands and Indian Ocean coast. Yet, the recent rush to construct pipelines, roads, airports, wind farms, and plantations – to give a few examples – signals a new spatial politics that binds the pastoral margins ever closer to state power and global capital. These various designs on the range to develop infrastructure, resources, and towns as new industrial centres and markets are often seen benignly. Officials in government and donor agencies tend to view these as part of wider commercialisation and growth dynamics – a sign that the margins are catching up with the rest of the region. Some even go so far as to see them as a precursor to peacebuilding of restive frontiers, ushering in stability through diversification and the creation of new livelihoods outside of livestock-keeping.

What is certain is that large-scale investments will have far-reaching consequences for the future of pastoralism in the region. Many powerful actors are involved, from international corporations and financiers to states and local elites, but important questions are raised about who benefits and who loses out, and whether such large-scale projects do indeed deliver poverty-reducing development as is often claimed. These questions are explored through a stream of five panels and 17 papers organised by researchers from the PASTRES (pastoralism, uncertainty, resilience) project and the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa Programme (APRA) at the upcoming African Studies Association of the UK (ASA) conference.

Early debates on large-scale investments in pastoral areas turned on headline grabbing figures of the size of proposed projects, such as the $23 billion price tag for the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor project (LAPSSET), or the scale of proposed land takes for commercial agriculture, such as the 300,000 hectare land lease (since cancelled) to Indian Karuturi Global in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region. A decade on, the large-scale investments have advanced in a more piecemeal way as challenges of implementation have mounted. LAPSSET’s grand modernist vision has not materialised in a sudden multi-billion dollar bang but rather emerged incrementally, such as through the completion of the Isiolo-Moyale highway and the recent opening of Isiolo’s airport. Mass expropriations to establish large-scale commercial farms have by-and-large not come to pass, as only a small part of an agreed area is actually farmed.

But the focus on ‘opening up’ the frontier through new infrastructure and investments in land and resources has had other consequences. Proposed infrastructure and investments have ignited intense competition for and revaluation of land as local elites, and other domestic and foreign investors, jostle to claim tracts of land. In and around Isiolo, which is being reimagined as an industrial centre and gateway to northern Kenya, proposed investments have set in motion an economy of anticipation as diverse actors rush to collectively and individually lay exclusive claims to land at the town’s edges. A similar dynamic plays out in Lokichar – the base of operations for nascent oil development in Kenya’s Turkana County – where fencing has multiplied around town as area residents race to claim plots to develop housing, shops and guest houses.

Development of oil, wind and geo-thermal reserves has fuelled other competitions around ‘local content’ – the industry term for procuring goods and services from local suppliers and workers. The footprint of these developments, and the arrival of workers and contractors from outside of local areas, sit uncomfortably with the reality of work opportunities that are thinly spread and temporary. Protests by residents and political leaders in south Turkana halted Kenya’s Early Oil Pilot Scheme in June barely days after it was launched to great fanfare by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Operations only resumed in late August after political concessions to address local demands for greater opportunities for work, contracts and tenders.

In this and other instances of protest, local elites have advanced their own interests by playing on the legitimate concerns of residents living adjacent to development sites concerning inclusion, rights and compensation. Various local interlocutors have positioned themselves as key liaisons between investors and communities in and around sites of operational activity, including political aspirants, ward and sub-county administrators, brokers, elders, seers, and young people. Local capital has been the greatest benefactor of investments in oil in Turkana, or wind in Kenya’s Marsabit County. Wealthier local elites – many with connections in politics or who have worked for international relief or church organisations – have constructed rental housing, guesthouses, bars and restaurants – mostly to serve visitors from other parts of Kenya coming in search of work and business, as well as the staff of larger sub-contracting companies.

Thus, while the impacts and influences of large-scale investments on pastoralism still unfold, the early signs can be seen. New territorialisations, local contestations and struggles, and enrichment of local elites are all part of an emerging picture of how the pastoral margins are transforming. These examples also show how large-scale investments enmesh with local political and social relations. Designs on the range by planners and investors are being redrawn and in some cases extraverted by various local interests. The future of pastoralism in eastern Africa is being negotiated now. How it will look is something that involves relationships at all levels, from the headquarters of multi-national investors, to the ministerial corridors in Nairobi and Addis, and all the way down to the elder’s tree, bars and cafes in the region’s growing small towns.

The future of pastoralism in the context of uncertainties generated by new investment will be the central theme of our discussions at the ASA conference in Birmingham. If you are at the conference, following the full stream and attend the panels (starting on Wednesday 12 September at 3.30 pm in Aston Webb – WG12 see here, here, here and here for timings and details of the other four panels on Thursday 13. Note these are correct timings of the panels, but not necessarily the papers). If you are unable to be with us, watch this space for reports on the discussions, and notices of publications emerging.

By Ian Scoones and Jeremy Lind

Image credit: Evans Otieno

Groundnut commercialisation trends in Malawi

According to World Atlas, 2017, Malawi is one of the major exporters of groundnuts in Africa. Malawi has a history of supplying groundnuts to the global market and its yields compete with regional competitors. Groundnut is the most important legume crop produced in Malawi – both in terms of production area and volume – and is produced predominantly by smallholder farmers. It also holds significant economic importance, with approximately 40 percent of total production marketed. However, until the 1990s, groundnuts were only considered an export crop; now, a burgeoning domestic groundnut market has helped to grow the total number of producers.

Reconnaissance study

In January 2018, we conducted a reconnaissance study as part of the APRA work in Malawi to determine the trends in groundnut commercialisation, with a focus on two major groundnut producing districts: Mchinji and Ntchisi. The study was mainly qualitative, involving focus group discussions with community members, those that are members of farmer organisations and non-members; we also conducted key informant interviews with extension workers at Extension Planning Area (EPA) level, local community leaders, and trade officials and agribusiness officers at district level. We also held an in-depth interview with the CEO of National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM), a largest smallholder owned membership organisation in Malawi which is funded by the US government and was originally formed to support and organise smallholder tobacco production but now the focus has diversified to other cash and food crops one of which is groundnuts. The interview was held in order to get an insight into the commercialisation of groundnut production from their perspective.

The aim of the reconnaissance study was to establish a historical timeline for groundnuts – in terms of production, marketing and commercialisation, access to extension services, access to agricultural inputs, and infrastructure changes ­– across each of the past four decades, beginning with the 1980s. The following flowchart presents the broad trends in groundnuts commercialisation in Malawi:

  • 1980s: During this time,  groundnuts were being produced, but on a small scale and primarily involving women; while men concentrated on tobacco production. Groundnuts were sold to the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC). Reasons for groundnut scarcity include: greater incentives in tobacco; the presence of communal labour, which was mainly dedicated to tobacco; prices in the 1980s were lower for groundnuts; there were no improved varieties.
  • 1990s: Groundnut production dropped further due to the low productivity of local varieties (chalimbana). ADMARC collapsed due to structural adjustment policies, but vendors emerged due to market liberalisation. Towards the end of the decade, a new and improved groundnut variety (CG7) was introduced.
  • 2000s: Groundnut production improved. The Ministry of Agriculture promoted a pluralistic and demand-driven extension policy, which helped to establish a number of extension service providers – one of which is NASFAM. Farmers were now being organised in groups, which facilitated production and collected marketing. More improved varieties were introduced, and the introduction of FISP improved farmers’ access to seeds.
  • 2010s: Groundnut production continued to improve. Reasons include: increased tobacco rejection at the auction floors from farmers that are not on contract with tobacco farmers; the availability of groundnut seeds on the market, from FISP and also through support from NGOs such as NASFAM; local-level processing; organisations such as NASFAM establishing processing facilities; One Village One Product (OVOP) helping to establish oil production.

Key lessons

From the above timeline we can see that groundnut commercialisation has evolved from being grown by fewer farmers and mostly women, to being considered one of the most important crops in the commercialisation of agriculture in Malawi. We can also see that there have been several enablers, mediators and constrainers in this process. For example, it was discovered during the study that the importance of tobacco for farmer cash incomes in the 1980s was a significant factor in the neglect of groundnuts; “For us in this area, when it comes to a crop that brings in most money, we prioritise tobacco, then groundnuts [comes] second,” explained one farmer in Mchinji. Farmers in Ntchisi concurred: “We were cultivating groundnuts, but it was in small amounts and was mainly for household consumption, and not for business.”

It can also be noted that in the 1990s groundnut production dropped further, due to the decline in productivity of the local variety (chalimbana) and also due to the collapse of Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC). ADMARC was established as a statutory corporation under the Laws of Malawi. The Act and other laws allowed ADMARC to enjoy the monopoly status in the purchase from smallholder farmers of a range of controlled crops. ADMARC main responsibilities included: procuring and selling of farm inputs to smallholder farmers; buying produce from both traders and smallholder farmers at good prices, add value for sale on both export and domestic markets; ensure easy accessibility of staple food maize through a vast market network in the country; provision of reliable markets for smallholder farmers; and attend to social obligations on behalf of the government through handing of Farm Input Subsidy Programme. During this time, ADMARC, which was the main market for the groundnuts. However, towards the end of this decade, a new improved variety (CG7) was introduced. CG7 is high yielding, drought tolerant and easier to harvest than chalimbana.

The 2000s saw an increase in the production and marketing of groundnuts resulting from a number of factors, the most significant of which was the introduction of NASFAM. The establishment of collective marketing among farmers, thanks to group organisation, also helped to improve their bargaining power, and a farm input subsidy programme, along with NASFAM, provided improved access to better quality groundnut seeds. This latter factor was further buttressed by a greater emphasis   placed on the promotion of improved seed varieties (primarily CG7), which boosted production.

The findings also show that in the 2010s, groundnut production is continuing to improve, as producers move from tobacco production to alternative cash crops – one of which is groundnuts. “There are many…people who use the land they were growing tobacco [on in order to] grow groundnuts. Some have stopped producing tobacco altogether,” says one farmer from Ntchisi district. This can be attributed, in large part, to an increase in the quantity of tobacco rejected at auction floors, coupled with the fact that there are a greater number of organisations promoting groundnut production, such as NASFAM, One Village One Product (OVOP), Afrinut. Further contributing factors include better access to improved seeds, the availability of local processing facilities and a ready market for the groundnuts.

Challenges

Groundnut production in Mchinji and Ntchisi districts of Malawi, then, provides a good example of commercialisation in the country’s agricultural sector – and our recent study goes some way towards uncovering the contributing factors in this process. There are, of course, a number of challenges that continue to hinder the commercialisation of Malawi’s groundnut sector. Key examples include: poor seed storage, inadequate access to good quality groundnuts seed by farmers, poor access to lucrative markets, a lack of national technical response to aflatoxins, the dominance of the informal sector in groundnut marketing, and unregulated informal market.

Written by Loveness Msofi Mgalamadzi, Masautso Chimombo, Blessings Chinsinga, Stevier Kaiyatsa, Mirriam Matita, Jacob Mazalale, and Ephraim Chirwa.

Medium-scale farms in Africa: history lessons from Zimbabwe

‘Medium-scale’ farms are seen as potential drivers of future agricultural growth in Africa. In Zimbabwe, much hope is vested in A2 farms allocated at land reform becoming productive, with hopes pinned on investment following the election. The A2 farms, averaging around 100 ha in extent, will be a major focus of policy attention in the coming years, as attempts are made to resuscitate the commercial sector. These are also the areas where the political-military elite now firmly in power own land, and there will be multiple political and economic incentives to invest in the A2 land reform areas.

But what will be the future of such medium-scale commercial farms? Can we look to historical experience to suggest possible trajectories? What will happen to the A2 farms several generations on? Will we see a progressive evolution of increasing commercialisation and investment driven by market forces as is sometimes assumed, or will a greater diversity of outcomes arise, as chance, necessity and contingency play their part? A new paper is just out in the journal Africa (open access) that asks these questions.

The paper draws on an historical and contemporary assessment of what were called ‘native purchase areas’ in Zimbabwe. These were medium-scale farms in todays’ parlance, established for black farmers by the colonial government from the 1930s. Through a study of Mushagashe area, we asked what’s happened since, and why?

Structural transformations

A number of recent studies have documented the growth of ‘medium-scale’ farms across Africa, from Ghana to Malawi to Zambia to Kenya. ‘Investor farmers’ – local rural elites, retired civil servants and urbanites wanting a rural base – are creating a new dynamic as land markets – both formal and informal – emerge, and rural traditional leaders, government officials and others get involved in the process, accruing personal benefits along the way.

This redistribution of land towards a new elite results in processes of land dispossession and rural proletarianisation, but also investment, skill development and economic linkage effects between new medium-scale farms and the smallholder plots that surround them. Despite the negative consequences for some, many view this dynamic as the future: a ‘structural transformation’ of the agrarian setting, offering opportunities for growth and investment.

In Zimbabwe, the land reform of 2000 created a category of medium-scale farms – the A2 schemes. Around 25,000 such farms were allocated, ranging in sizes from around 20 ha (especially with irrigation) to over 500 ha, in dry areas. Like in other neighbouring countries, this has resulted in a new agrarian structure, complemented in Zimbabwe’s case by a massive increase also of smallholder agriculture.

The new A2 farmers have a similar social and economic profile to elsewhere: urban connections, business people, retirees, and they are also often well-connected politically. Unlike elsewhere, however, the new A2 farms did not emerge from a land market, but from direct allocation by the state, subdividing large-scale commercial farms and estates. Although allocations were notionally done on the basis of a formal application process, including the submission of a business plan and a vetting of applicants in terms of qualification, capital availability and investment ideas, this often didn’t happen. Instead there was a well-documented pattern of corruption and patronage, especially around election times, when politically- and military-connected elites grabbed farms.

The result has been a mixed set of outcomes for A2 farms. Some have done very well, investing and producing; many though have not, and the farms are languishing. Very often this is due to the lack of capital and finance, which has not been forthcoming due to lack of collateral security. The process of issuing 99 year leases has been painfully slow, and for a variety of reasons the banks have been reluctant until recently to accept them as guarantees. The general lack of liquidity in the economy due to recurrent crises has also hampered investment.

The recent studies of medium-scale farms across Africa have focused on farm structure (in the MSU studies they have taken a huge range of sizes from 5-200 hectares to represent this group) and who owns the farms, and largely not their fortunes as productive enterprises, patterns of investment and long-term viability. Our new studies under the DFID-supported APRA (Agricultural Policy Research in Africa) programme, which is linked to a set of MSU studies led by Thom Jayne, is looking at A2 farms: investigating their sizes, ownership patterns and through some detailed surveys in Mvruwi and Masvingo, investigating both production and investment.

Most post-land reform studies have focused on the A1 smallholder farms (appropriately so, given they are the majority), so this will be the first in-depth assessment of the A2 farms, beyond very selective audits carried out by the state a decade or more ago. This will help us understand whether the dynamic in Zimbabwe, generated by the A2 allocations in land reform, replicate or contrast with, what has been found in other countries in the region.

Native Purchase Areas 80 years on

In addition to this study, our work has been looking at longer-term histories, and a previous allocation of ‘medium-scale’ farms (also averaging 100 ha) from the 1930s in Zimbabwe. These are the Native Purchase Areas and an earlier blog series has highlighted some of the findings already. Our new open access paper in Africa synthesises and extends the analysis, based on Mushagashe small-scale commercial farming area near Masvingo.

Our findings show that unbridled optimism (or indeed pessimism) about the future of medium-scale farms is unwarranted. The MSU studies from across Africa have spotted an important shift in size structure, but they tell us little about the future. The idea that there is a linear evolution of farm systems from smallholder to medium-scale to large-scale commercial, as land areas consolidate and market forces drive comparative advantage, needs to be challenged.

The big debates about structural transformation in agriculture currently being revived in agricultural economics are often starkly ahistorical. They assume simple, unidirectional evolutionary change as incentives shift. But there’s a lot else that goes on besides. When we look at history in detail – as we did for Mushagashe, but more impressively Sara Berry did for Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia – we see that commercialisation doesn’t happen like this. There are stops and starts, booms and busts, generational changes, policy shocks and so on. History is about contingency, conjucture and chance, not predictable, linear evolution.

As we found in Mushagashe, 80 years on some farms were thriving; others had been but were languishing now; others had plans for the future, but weren’t getting going; while others had been abandoned, or were in the process of being so. Still others had different views of the land: this was home, somewhere to seek refuge from ‘communal area’ life, or where other family members could be settled, in what, over generations, had become more like villages than conventional farms.

Commercialisation we found wasn’t a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. For some it was the classic pattern of increasing external inputs, greater deployment of labour and higher, more marketed outputs. But for others commercialisation was selective: in projects run by particular family members, or in particular plots, where water was available.

Lessons from history

While history cannot predict the future, it can help us ask questions about what might be. And the Native Purchase Area lessons documented in the new paper suggest that it is unwise to be too gung-ho about the future of medium-scale farms in Africa. The restructuring of farm sizes we are seeing now will have many outcomes, and the sort of processes that unfolded in Mushagashe since the early 1930s will likely play a part in creating a wide diversity, both in the A2 farms and in other medium-scale farms in the region.

*Ian will be presenting at the upcoming ASAUK 2018 Conference, to be held at Birmingham City University from 11-13 September. Read more about about APRA’s participation at this year’s conference here.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

Image credit: Ian Scoones

ASAUK Conference 2018

The University of Birmingham will host the 2018 African Studies Association of the UK (ASAUK) Conference, where a number of APRA researchers will form discussion panels across numerous conference streams.

Running from 11–13 September, the conference will host 202 panels across a breadth of disciplines that encompass the study of Africa, and provides a unique opportunity for scholars working in the field of African studies to connect with other academics, development specialists and policymakers.

APRA members Lídia Cabral, Kojo Amanor, Toendepi Shonhe and Seife Ayele have submitted individual papers to the conference, and will convene in a panel discussion for the conference stream entitled, ‘The Political Economy of Development in Africa: The Politics of Economic and Social Transformation’ – focusing on the political economy of mechanising African agriculture. The discussion will explore recent technology changes in African agriculture, with a specific emphasis on mechanisation as a vehicle for modernisation and structural transformation. Topics of interest will include the role of the state and changing state-business relations in agricultural mechanisation; the emergence of new aid/trade opportunities arising primarily from South-South cooperation; and the creation of new business opportunities that have coincided with structural agrarian change – and the rise of medium-scale farmers in particular. Toendepi Shonhe will also take part in a second stream – Land Policy Transformation, Accumulation and Dispossession in Rural and Peri-Urban Africa, where his focal topic will be ‘The Agrarian Question and the New Agrarian Economy in Zimbabwe’s Countryside’.

Elsewhere, APRA members Jeremy Lind and Ian Scoones are convening a stream of five panels, including 17 papers, titled ‘Precarious Prospects: Corridors, Grabs and Extractions at the Pastoral Margins’, and involving APRA members, Fana Gebresenbet and Ngala Chome. Using case studies from Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, the stream’s sessions will explore the reconfiguration of land ownership and use that has helped to usher in a new politics of land and investment in the pastoral regions of East Africa. In particular, the discussion will focus on the intersections between patterns of elite accumulation, and changing land politics.

Image credit: Damien Walmsley

Ethiopia: commercial farming, investment and policy

Incentivising investment

In contrast to previous government initiatives, Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plan II (GTP II: 2015–2020) clearly promotes the commercialisation of the agricultural sector. In so doing, policymakers have officially recognised the potential for commercial farming to increase agricultural production and create rural employment opportunities. The initiative also aims to promote the development of the sector through close engagement with smallholder farmers, particularly through contract farming and outgrower schemes. Government support for commercial farming in Ethiopia therefore displays three primary objectives: (i) to boost productivity, (ii) to link smallholder farmers with new technologies and markets, and (iii) to create of job opportunities for rural youth.

Various regulatory and investment-oriented policy measures, in the form of both fiscal (tax holidays, tax exemption, etc.) and non-fiscal  (land allocation, one-stop-shop services, etc.) support have been put in place, in order to bolster the government’s capacity to support to medium and large commercial farms. This blog presents the deliberations of a workshop that was held in Addis Ababa on 4 August 2018. The workshop was convened to discuss the status of existing policies promoting commercial farming in particular(including, though not limited to, the GTP II Plan), and agricultural business investment in Ethiopia in general.

The workshop

Participants included agricultural investors, researchers, representatives of agriculture sector associations, policymakers from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Resources and the Ministry of Industry, and experts from donor-funded agricultural development projects.

Though policies in place are very encouraging – with investment interest expressed by both domestic and foreign investors – the contribution of commercial farms in agricultural production, in linking smallholder farmers to technologies and market, and in creating rural employment, is still limited. This is particularly true for the newly emerging large commercial investors operating in vertically integrated value chains. The majority of investors obtain a license to become commercial farmers, which gives them access to loans; however, these loans are often used for non-agriculture-based ventures – building hotels is a common example. The government has not as yet instituted a mechanism to effectively monitor and regulate the use of loans dispersed for farm investment.

So far, large scale farms and investors have been the primary beneficiaries of the policy-driven investment incentives, both fiscal and non-fiscal. Current attempts on the government’s part to crack down on loan misuse has created large bureaucratic obstacles that have mainly affected medium-scale investors.

Challenges

The key challenges identified during the workshop’s discussion can be split into two main areas: those related to public support, and those related to the investors themselves.

Public support-related issues:

  • A distinct lack of coordination among diverse actors, though primarily among the federal and regional governments, financial institutions, investment promotion agencies, and implementing agencies. In this regard, the then Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ aim to meet every three months with investors – to discuss major challenges facing investors – was commendable, though was ultimately not sustained.
  • A lack of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms following the provision of investment licenses. This means there is no database compiling agricultural investments in the country, which creates an information gap in the status of licensed investments and their implementation.
  • Considerable bureaucracy in the provision of investment incentives. In general, approved investment incentives are often improperly implemented. For instance, processing tax-free imports of machinery may take more than a year, which discourages investors to begin operations.
  • Limited availability of required infrastructure – mainly road and electricity – which are often promised during the licensing process. This hinders the operationalisation of investments.
  • The existence of diverse public institutions engaged in promoting agricultural investment and frequent reorganisation, both at regional and federal level. Some of these institutions include: Agricultural Investment Promotion Agency, Horticulture Sector Investment Agency, Land Administration Authority, Ethiopian Investment Agency, Export Promotion Agency, etc, which may or may not have parallel institutions at regional level.
  • Lack of a clear national agricultural trade policy. The country is yet to develop a clear trade policy that will serve as a guiding framework for trade-related issues that are pertinent to agricultural investment.
  • Land policy challenges, primarily related to the lease period, which can be from 25 to 40 years. In addition, lack of information about the quality of land and its use potential during licensing is a serious disincentive to investors.

Investor-related issues

  • In general, very few investors have the knowledge, skill and capacity to establish commercial farms. In many instances, the required staff composition is sufficient to obtain the license – better qualified and therefore higher paid staff are then immediately fired to reduce expenditures. It is reported that most of Ethiopia’s commercial farms do not have qualified farm managers and technicians for operating and maintaining farm machinery; as a result, it is common to see farm machinery out of operation shortly after farming operations are established.
  • Most of Ethiopia’s commercial farms still operate in a traditional way, limiting their expected contributions to (i) productivity, (ii) linking smallholder farmers with technologies and markets,  and (iii) creation of job opportunities for rural youth;
  • The existence of opportunistic investors who snap up the available finance, without putting the land allocated to effective us, has crowded out genuine investors. This makes access to land and finance more difficult.

Opportunities

Despite numerous challenges, trends in agricultural investment and commercial farming in Ethiopia shows steady growth. Recent policies also indicate that the role of commercial farming in transforming the agriculture sector is well-recognised by those with the influence to enact change, especially in relation to the promotion of agro-industries.

The upcoming study, entitled Policy approaches to business investment in agricultural commercialisation in Ethiopia, will present the details of the challenges identified, along with potential policy and development intervention options that aim to improve the contribution of commercial farming to the broader commercialisation of agriculture in Ethiopia.

Written by Dawit Alemu and Gezahegn Ayele

Image credit: Synergos (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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