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Opinions and comments from Future Agricultures researchers on agricultural politics, science and society in Africa


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Closing the cocoa frontier in western Ghana. Time to intensify?
November 13, 2019 / Our blog
Ever since the 1880s when cocoa began to be planted in southern Ghana, new land has been acquired for cocoa trees. These have expanded westwards from the first lands planted below the Akwapim ridge, just north of Accra, 130 years
Institutions, social relations and rural development in Zimbabwe
November 13, 2019 / Our blog
Social and political relations are central to land and agricultural production. Unlike in the resettlement areas, where new institutions and relations had to be built following land reform, those in the communal areas draw on longer traditions. Like in the resettlements,
The future of cocoa production in south western Nigeria: Stakeholder insights
November 4, 2019 / Our blog
Background Agricultural enterprise in Nigeria’s economy has played a key participatory role by addressing the issues of poverty, food insecurity, unemployment and foreign revenue acquisition. Cocoa has been integral to  championing the agricultural economy as it remains the top most
Off-farm work and diversified livelihoods in Zimbabwe’s communal areas
November 3, 2019 / Our blog
With low agricultural output, off-farm work is an essential complement to agricultural production in Zimbabwe’s communal areas. Working away has always been part and parcel of communal area livelihoods; indeed these were established as ‘labour reserves’ in the colonial era.
Time to reimagine the agrarian system
November 3, 2019 / Our blog
“We are wasting our time talking about living wages and inspectors and new technologies. We need to talk about the fact that our government has sold the livelihoods of ordinary people to big corporates.” These were the words of Constance
Livestock production: the limits of extensive systems in Zimbabwe
October 30, 2019 / Our blog
As the previous blog described, the communal area sites we have been studying in Masvingo rarely produced sufficient crops to cover even subsistence needs, and then if so only very occasionally, as with the Mwenezi experience in 2016-17. So what about livestock
Agriculture in Masvingo’s communal areas: limited prospects
October 24, 2019 / Our blog
We investigated agricultural production across our communal area sites throughout Masvingo province during the 2016 and 2017 harvest seasons. These were relatively good rainfall years, with 690 mm recorded in Masvingo town in 2016-17, for instance. Compared to the past
The farm workers who produce our food are the most vulnerable to hunger
October 14, 2019 / Our blog
For information on the National Conference on the Future of Farm Workers, including live blog posts from the event, please see below this blog. It is tragic and outrageous that the people who produce the food that we eat in
Land and tenure in Zimbabwe’s communal areas: why land reform was needed
October 14, 2019 / Our blog
Access to land is central to the livelihoods of rural people, but in the communal areas this is highly constrained outside the land-extensive Lowveld site of Mwenezi. Even in dryland Chivi average holdings are only 2.1 hectares, while in Gutu
Economic chaos is causing a food security and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe
October 14, 2019 / Our blog
Ian Scoones, University of Sussex Since Zimbabwe’s land reform of 2000 – when around 8 million hectares of formerly large-scale commercial farmland was distributed to about 175,000 households – debates about the consequences for food security have raged. A standard
Livelihoods assets: differentiated development in Zimbabwe
October 14, 2019 / Our blog
The last blog introduced this blog series on communal area development in Zimbabwe, and the comparisons with resettlement areas. This week’s blog continues the series with a look at the distribution of assets people have and their importance in building livelihoods.
It’s a miracle! The worrying rise of faith-based agronomy
October 9, 2019 / Our blog
There is a dark tension at the heart of development-oriented crop and soil science. It pits systematic research, respect for evidence, and incremental improvement, against the imperative to construct and claim success and impact ‘at scale’. This tension can be
Oil Palm Processing in Ghana: Hanging In, Stepping Up and Stepping Out
October 3, 2019 / Our blog
Oil palm production has been a lifelong activity for many farmers in south-western Ghana. Although oil palm could be harvested throughout the year, production peaks from January to May.  Like other crops of this nature, one would expect prices to
Are communal areas in Zimbabwe too poor for development?
October 3, 2019 / Our blog
Communal areas are where the majority of rural people live in Zimbabwe. With an estimated population of 1.1 million households and a land area of 16.4 million hectares, these areas far exceed those allocated land in the resettlements. This blog
The contemporary agrarian question in West Africa
September 25, 2019 / Our blog
The agrarian question in West Africa is dominated by the integration of peasant agriculture or smallholder farming into agribusiness markets, which includes contract farming, but also other mechanisms to encourage uptake of inputs and the incorporation of farmers into corporate
Young people, land and agriculture in Zimbabwe: big challenges ahead
September 25, 2019 / Our blog
A new paper based on our work with young people in post-land land reform resettlement areas is out in the journal, Review of African Political Economy. You can read it in full here. It’s part of a great special issue on Zimbabwe edited by Grasian Mkodzongi
Ethiopia’s incentives to agribusiness investment require a serious rethink
September 19, 2019 / Our blog
Primarily through its investment promotion agency, Ethiopia has been encouraging business investment for decades. It uses incentives such as import, export and income tax reduction or exemption, and provides investors with access to land. In a recent study, we explored
South Africa’s land report: Zimbabwe lessons?
September 19, 2019 / Our blog
South Africa’s land panel finally produced its report at the end of July. At 144 pages it’s an impressive document, making all the right noises. South Africa, like Zimbabwe, left the land issue for too long. 25 years after freedom, at least
Promoting Agribusiness Investment in Ghana: Rethinking Policy Incentives
Promoting Agribusiness Investment in Ghana: Rethinking Policy Incentives
September 12, 2019 / Our blog
Agriculture is a major economic activity in Ghana, contributing 20 per cent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In recognition that increased investment can help transform the largely subsistence-based agricultural sector, the government of Ghana and its development partners have implemented
Robert Mugabe: a complex legacy
Robert Mugabe: a complex legacy
September 10, 2019 / Our blog
Robert Mugabe died on September 6th in Singapore after a long illness, and the press has been full of commentary about his legacy. There is a deep fascination with him in the UK. Despite the drama of Brexit, his death was top news
Value Chain Participants in Smallholder Commercialisation in Mvurwi: Emerging Business Relations
Value Chain Participants in Smallholder Commercialisation in Mvurwi: Emerging Business Relations
September 3, 2019 / APRA Our blog
Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector has experienced radical transformation following a series of land reform programs and an economic meltdown that started in 2000. The implementation of the Fast Track Land Reform Program (FTLRP) led to widespread disruptions in the sophisticated input
Social Dynamics of Agricultural Commercialisation: What are the Community Perceptions?
August 14, 2019 / APRA Our blog
Agricultural commercialisation is seen by smallholder farmers as a potent means of improving their livelihoods and transforming rural communities. However, the commercialisation-induced rural transformation has the potential to alter both social relations and gender-based power dynamics within rural communities. As
A new framework for thinking about technological change
August 7, 2019 / Our blog
Global development is all about creating change for the better.  One thing is certain:  if we want to address the climate breakdown while achieving a high quality of life for all of the Earth’s citizens, it will take a transformation
The Future of Cocoa Production in Nigeria: An Account of Adegeye’s Extensive Research Experiences
August 1, 2019 / Our blog
Cocoa farming is a profitable cash crop due to its economically diverse value chain products, as well as the international acceptance of that. Players and actors in cocoa value chain are the direct beneficiaries of this venture.  Nonetheless, Nigerian cocoa
What are ‘appropriate technologies’? Pathways for mechanising African agriculture.
July 26, 2019 / Our blog
Capital goods are essential for agriculture, whether for tillage, irrigation or threshing. Mechanisation of agriculture is therefore seen as a core aim for agricultural development, and is widely pushed as a route to increasing production and efficiency. But what scale
Can smallholders farm themselves into commercialised agriculture?
July 16, 2019 / Our blog
This blog is based on Working Paper 26. Smallholder farmers form the bulk of agricultural producers in sub-Saharan Africa, constituting more than 90 percent of the farming community in this region, but they are mostly poor and face food insecurity.
Collective Action within Poor Farming Communities in Western Ghana
July 10, 2019 / Our blog
Attempts to improve rural livelihoods tend to emphasise private sector and informal economic arrangements or social protection mechanisms, in the hope that these would spur local self-help initiatives among the poor. Underlying such thinking is the assumption that success in
Why radical land reform is needed in the UK
July 8, 2019 / Our blog
Half of the land is owned by 1% of the people. Getting information on who owns what land it is nigh on impossible. Tax arrangements favour land speculation. Ordinary people cannot get access to land to grow food. Where is
Responding to uncertainty: who are the experts?
July 1, 2019 / Our blog
Uncertainties are everywhere, part of life. But how to respond? Who are the experts? These are questions that we are debating this week at an ESRC STEPS Centre symposium. But they are also questions very pertinent to daily life in Zimbabwe,
Evidence uptake and use to transform Africa: Lessons from the “Utafiti Sera” model
May 29, 2019 / Our blog
APRA members from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria attended a two-day convening meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, which was organised by Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR). The main objective of the meeting was to bring together 120 participants
Youth engagement with commercialisation hotspots in Zimbabwe
May 23, 2019 / Our blog
My interest in youth and agriculture commercialisation stemmed from two pivotal moments in the past decade. One from an ‘accidental finding’ from a 10-year longitudinal study of land beneficiaries of the Fast Track Land Reform (FTLRP) in Sanyati District, Zimbabwe
Are African youth innovative?
May 22, 2019 / Our blog
This is the question that we address in a new article published in the Journal of Rural Studies. Entitled ‘Are African rural youth innovative? Claims, evidence and implications’, the paper is open access and free to download. Our interest in
A lever for agricultural commercialisation? A critical look at the agricultural extension system in Malawi.
May 20, 2019 / Our blog
In this assessment, we ask the question: is the extension services system in Malawi doing enough to facilitate agricultural commercialisation among smallholder farmers? This question arrives amidst concerns that commercial agriculture in Malawi, especially among small-scale farmers, has not really
The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative: what’s in it for Africa?
May 15, 2019 / Our blog
The huge Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum recently concluded in Beijing. 37 heads of state attended, along with droves of policy advisors and numerous thinktanks and research institutes, including IDS where I work. Monica Mutsvanga, Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services,
Challenging desertification myths
May 10, 2019 / Our blog
Tales of desertification across the world’s drylands are a recurrent theme in policy. This week’s blog reviews an excellent book that takes issue with many of the assumptions around desertification – The End of Desertification? Disputing Environmental Change in the Drylands.
It is impossible to commercialise agriculture in Malawi: A quick political economy audit
May 3, 2019 / Our blog
Introduction Agriculture is the mainstay of Malawi’s economy; it contributes between 30 to 40 % of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP); employs 85 % of the workforce; accounts for about 60 % of rural income; and, contributes about 90 %
Cyclone Idai hits Agriculture in Beira Corridor: Preparing for the Future
May 1, 2019 / Our blog
ESA: “This Copernicus Sentinel-1 image indicates where the flood waters are finally beginning to recede west of the port city of Beira in Mozambique. The image merges three separate satellite radar images from before the storm on 13 March, from
Building Livelihoods: Young People and Agricultural Commercialisation – Tanzania Country Study
April 18, 2019 / Our blog
With many African young people living in rural areas, their economies are characterised by small manufacturers and high rates of youth unemployment. Unemployment has been a major concern especially for graduates who seek formal employment in the urban areas. However,
Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)
So Near Yet So Far: Some Reflections on Land Reforms in Southern Africa
April 12, 2019 / Our blog
Land is the most critical productive asset in southern Africa, yet it remains a subject of unending contestations. The protracted land efforts in most of these countries have not yielded acceptable outcomes to all stakeholders. The land question is very
Credit: Milu Muyanga
The Changing Face of African Agriculture: Farm Size Distributions in Sub-Saharan Africa
April 10, 2019 / Our blog
In Jeffrey Herbst’s seminal book, States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control, African states and local traditional authorities are struggling over control of land.  Herbst’s prescient observation, written in 2000, continues to unfold in dramatic ways
Agricultural Commercialisation Pathways and Household Outcomes: The Tale of Four Oil Palm Output Sales Arrangements in South-Western Ghana
April 3, 2019 / Our blog
The availability of well-developed markets for agricultural output is crucial for boosting commercialisation and reducing poverty in rural sub-Saharan Africa. Oil palm, Ghana’s most important traditional export crop besides cocoa is widely produced in south-western Ghana, particularly the Ahanta West
Farmers shelling groundnuts_ Credit Linvell Chirwa
At what level is market participation by smallholder farmers considered commercial farming?
March 27, 2019 / Our blog
There is consensus in literature that smallholder agriculture commercialisation occurs when farmers produce more output per unit of land and labour by using improved technologies, such as improved seed and inorganic fertiliser; produce greater surpluses; and, increase their market participation,
Irrigating Africa: can small-scale farmers lead the way?
Irrigating Africa: can small-scale farmers lead the way?
March 22, 2019 / Our blog
Ian Scoones, University of Sussex We often hear that irrigation in Africa is too limited, and that the key to a “green revolution” on the continent is to expand to levels seen in Asia. But what if there is much
Credit Neil Palmer - CIAT
Youth engagement with commercialisation hotspots in Ghana
March 21, 2019 / Our blog
Youth unemployment and underemployment are key development challenges facing many developing countries, especially in Africa. In working to address these challenges, there is a belief among policymakers and development practitioners that the rural economy – built around agriculture, but encompassing
Models for integrated resource assessment: biases and uncertainties
March 20, 2019 / Our blog
What are the most appropriate ways of understanding changes in natural resource change in rural areas, particularly in the context of climate change? How can we make use of data that is patchy and uncertain? How can models help decision-making
Ruia Tractor
Animal vs tractor power: emerging mechanisation dynamics in Mvurwi
March 15, 2019 / Our blog
Debate on agricultural mechanisation has largely been framed as policy choices between markets versus state intervention. Within the market conceptualization, adoption of tractors is seen as a derivative of changes in the costs within factors of production such as land,
Photo credit: Tapiwa Chatikobo.
The politics of land occupations in Zimbabwe
March 13, 2019 / Our blog
How land was invaded and occupied during Zimbabwe’s land reform in 2000 remains a contentious issue. The lack of detailed empirical work uncovering the histories of occupations has hampered the debate, but this is now changing. To date, there have
An Invisible Sugar Subsidy: Distress Cattle Sales by Bodi Agro-Pastoralists in Southern Ethiopia
March 7, 2019 / Our blog
In South Omo in 2011, the Ethiopian government commenced its flagship sugar industrialisation project – one of the most controversial elements of its broader ambitions to build a developmental state. The plantations were planned to cover about 175,000 hectares of
Ghana, cocoa, farming, agriculture, commercialisation, APRA
Cocoa Commercialisation in Ghana: History and Social Values
March 1, 2019 / Our blog
Agricultural commercialisation is by no means new to Africa and emerged in the early 19th century, with the development of export crops for the European market. Since the cocoa industry has developed across various policy epochs, this history can provide
Injera supplier to restaurants
Injera: Is Rice Commercialisation Changing Traditional Ethiopian Recipes?
February 21, 2019 / Our blog
The most traditional food item commonly found on the table of Ethiopians for breakfast, lunch and dinner is injera, which is made from teff. However, there appears to be a change occurring – and not only in the extent of