FAC blog

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

Latest articles

12 April 2013: China and Brazil in African Agriculture – news roundup
April 12, 2013 / FAC blog
Joint Annual Meeting of the African Union The 6th Joint Annual Meeting of the African Union’s ministers of finance, planning and economic development called for a focus on industrialisation and discussed means to bring this about. Agriculture was discussed briefly

When evidence is thin, policy makers should learn from ancient mariners
When evidence is thin, policy makers should learn from ancient mariners
April 4, 2013 / FAC blog
So, the argument is as follows: Evidence-based policy discourse that focuses on ‘what works, where and for whom’ presupposes the existence of evidence about ‘what is, what has been and what is likely to be’. In some key policy domains

Can the BRICS help Africa feed itself?
March 25, 2013 / FAC blog
One example of so-called South-South development co-operation is Brazil’s efforts to support agricultural development and food security in Africa. Brazil, a world-leading trader of a range of agricultural commodities (including beef, poultry, ethanol and soybean), has become known as a

“Donors go home!” Money and politics in African agriculture
March 20, 2013 / FAC blog
African governments have been criticised for their lack of political will in investing more in agriculture, and for a gap between rhetoric and action. Can donors be accused of the same thing? After the food crisis of 2007/8, John Barrett

Extending the extension debate
March 20, 2013 / FAC blog
Blessings Chinsinga questioned the very paradigm of private demand-led extension. In Malawi, he said, most farmers could not afford to ‘demand’ private extension services. And the idea that the private sector would provide its own extension agents has not materialised.

Clash of beliefs
March 19, 2013 / FAC blog
In Uganda, during the process of setting up National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), there was a crucial split between two groups: a ‘radical’ coalition (associated with the World Bank and Ministry of Finance) which advocated radical reform to extension services

Rural communities and politics: not voiceless or docile
March 19, 2013 / FAC blog
Many major changes are shaping the politics of African agriculture. Large scale land deals; food price volatility; large-scale land deals by external countries and companies; a growing urban population; and demographic changes are all having an impact. Despite the challenges,

The FAO Voluntary Guidelines: setting sail?
March 14, 2013 / FAC blog
Regional discussions: what do States make of the guidelines? On 12–14 February 2013, FAO brought together 78 professionals from Anglophone countries to a Technical Awareness Raising Workshop on the Voluntary Guidelines in Kigali, Rwanda. This was the second of 10

How are China and Brazil changing agricultural development in Africa?
March 11, 2013 / FAC blog
These working papers are the first publications from the CBAA project. Other planned outputs are a geo-referenced database of agricultural co-operation projects in the four countries, in-depth case studies comparative analysis, and implications for the future of aid and investment

Contested agronomy: low-level evidence, high-level claims
Contested agronomy: low-level evidence, high-level claims
February 13, 2013 / FAC blog
We can think of both agronomic research results and impact claims as being distributed along a continuum of levels: in Africa, for example, from the level of the trial plot to that of the sub-continent (see picture). The foundational level

The limits of ‘evidence’ in African agriculture
January 24, 2013 / FAC blog
Despite the varied view of evidence in the literature, the idea that policy makers should take more account of ‘evidence’ (e.g. of what worked where, for whom and under what conditions) is now generally accepted. Many governments and donor agencies

Why we should worry about speculation in food markets
January 23, 2013 / FAC blog
2012 saw the worst drought in 50 years in the United States. Other major food producers also experienced an unusually dry year, severely affecting harvests. As prices began to move upwards last summer, many predicted a price ‘spike’ like those

Time for a rethink? Getting smart about politics on climate change and agriculture
December 12, 2012 / FAC blog
In the past few years, the concept of ‘climate-smart agriculture’ has formed a unifying – though also severely contested – concept which has climbed the international development agenda. Defined broadly around the notion of ‘triple wins’, actions that simultaneously increase

Chicken and politics in Ghana
Chicken and politics in Ghana
November 28, 2012 / FAC blog
A post on the STEPS Centre blog by Future Agricultures researchers Jim Sumberg and John Thompson looks at the politics of chicken in Ghana, with elections just around the corner. 70,900 metric tons of frozen chicken were imported into the

Seeing more clearly: new perspectives on the global land grab
October 30, 2012 / FAC blog
Context and theory isn’t just interesting – it’s essential This time round, there was a greater attempt to locate empirical findings in wider conceptual and theoretical debates. The last conference was dominated by case after case, all fresh from the

Global Brazil meets the new Africa: how much of an introduction do they need?
October 25, 2012 / FAC blog
Africa-Brazil connections have a long history, with records dating back to Portuguese colonialism. Ties were strong then. These were built, not least, through transatlantic shipping routes and slave trade which left visible marks on either side of the Atlantic. After

Land-grab or land-give?
October 19, 2012 / FAC blog
Honig’s research shows that, although the vast majority of Zambian chiefs are against the formation of state-owned 100,000-hectare farm blocks, in most cases they consent to the transfer of land title and thus the consolidation of state authority. Her research

Land grabs: how do we know what we know?
October 19, 2012 / FAC blog
Beyond this historical legacy to contend with, Edelman identified contemporary challenges of how we “know” how many hectares are being grabbed.  What are our sources, and how reliable are they?  Who produced them and why? Is this, Edelman asked, a

Land grabbing Q&A: Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South
October 19, 2012 / FAC blog
Q: What kind of role do you think academics and research can play in positively advancing people’s livelihoods, in the land grabbing struggle? What are some strengths, or things that could be changed? Do you think this conference is a

Geographies of hope: resistance and land
October 18, 2012 / FAC blog
Ben Cousins also found that contemporary solutions to colonial land grabs may, in fact, be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In South Africa, the “inclusive business models” approach to land reform is susceptible to the same contradiction between

Land grabs: changing the planet
October 18, 2012 / FAC blog
Land grabs have the strange position of both deriving from and contributing to the Anthropocene, to human domination of ecological processes. Land grabs contribute to the Anthropocene because agriculture contributes to 12% of greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 30%

Land grabs: framing the debate
October 18, 2012 / FAC blog
Farshad Araghi focused on the commodification of land rights from a global historical perspective, using Braudel’s conception of the “longue durée” as a methodological tool. Tania Li went on to examine how land is treated as an abstract alienable object

Land grabs – Governance panel I: from past to present
October 18, 2012 / FAC blog
Meghan Morris presented the case of land restitution in Colombia as a mechanism through which violence and state-organised land titling are changing traditional tenure systems. Her case studies provide the empirical window through which stories emerge that depict the often

10 big questions on land grabs
October 18, 2012 / FAC blog
1.  How are deals initiated upstream? (Melissa Leach) Are deals dreamed up in boardrooms, investment fora, or other closed-door arenas?  How can this process be opened up, for example by investigative journalism or insider observation?  We need to take a

Water grabbing: a slippery business
October 17, 2012 / FAC blog
The issue of water grabs is a particularly slippery one. Unlike land, water flows and moves from one place to another; its availability goes up and down, affected by the seasons, human use, or climate change; it can be visibly

“Land laundering”: how Colombian paramilitaries hijack grassroots development
October 16, 2012 / FAC blog
A major World Bank study last year found that one in five people in the world live in conflict-affected countries, including those with high levels of organized crime. Almost all these countries also appear in a World Bank report on

Global land governance: an idea whose time has come?
October 14, 2012 / FAC blog
Although these governance processes seem very distant from the local, we know from experience in other fields such as human rights, labour, international trade and environmental standards that transnational and global governance can have a major influence on developments on

How pastoralists get a bad press
October 11, 2012 / FAC blog
As Mike explains, simple narratives can help policy-makers make sense of a complex situation, but they can go badly wrong when applied to people ‘at the margins’. The second blog post focuses on the media in Kenya, where pastoralism is

IFPRI: Seminar on ‘Strategies & Priorities for African Agriculture’, 3 October
September 28, 2012 / FAC blog
Speakers: Karen Brooks, Director, CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (CRP 2), IFPRI. Xinshen Diao, Deputy Director, Development Strategy and Governance Division, IFPRI. Jeff Hill, Bureau for Food Security, US Agency for International Development. Chaired by Ousmane Badiane,

Supply or demand: what ‘drives’ modern agricultural revolutions?
Supply or demand: what ‘drives’ modern agricultural revolutions?
September 26, 2012 / FAC blog
This distinction between a supply (Green) and a demand (Livestock) driven agricultural revolution has often been repeated. It’s now inextricably linked to debates and discourse around the Livestock Revolution. However, to say that the Green Revolution was ‘supply driven’ is

“To Di World” – an Olympic effort to tackle hunger?
August 10, 2012 / FAC blog
“The challenge is to avoid the fight against malnutrition being a compelling but periodic curiosity (think the Olympic cycling keirin event). The fight will be unglamorous, constant, and difficult – more like the training for the Olympics than the Games

Rio+20: Women’s rights in reverse gear
August 8, 2012 / FAC blog
The sustainable development challenges we are facing, such as food and nutrition insecurity, climate change, and social inequalities, are all interlinked. They are problems of complexity and of equity – between countries, generations, social groups, between those with power and

Measuring aid to agriculture and food security
August 8, 2012 / FAC blog
There is a prevailing view that aid to agriculture has suffered a steep decline since the 1980s and is only now beginning to recover its share of total aid, following concerns over food price rises and volatility. While this is

Green agriculture: not just for Africa
June 20, 2012 / FAC blog
Historically, changes in agricultural practices to meet rising demand include a shift to industrial production and the ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1960s. However, the reliance on large-scale monoculture dependent on mechanisation, irrigation and inputs like fertilisers and pesticides has had

Green agriculture: interests, politics and narratives at Rio+20
June 20, 2012 / FAC blog
The FAO’s 2011 State of the World food security report shows that since 2006, the world has witnessed an increase in food insecurity. According to the report, one billion people worldwide – mainly Africans – are food-insecure.  This worrying state

Brazil, China and Africa: options for adaptive cooperation in agriculture
May 31, 2012 / FAC blog
Experiences from China and Brazil are also to be shared more with African countries as an alternative to standard bilateral cooperation. For example, following the success of its own food purchasing programme, Brazil will provide 2.37 million dollars for a

What would it take to make Brazil-Africa cooperation work?
May 31, 2012 / FAC blog
There is no doubt that Africa’s agriculture requires immediate transformation, and on the basis of tested and proven technologies, expertise and experiences; but I doubt very much whether, in the light of some of the concerns raised at the conference,

Brazilian provision of cooperation in agriculture: politics and paths
May 24, 2012 / FAC blog
Brazilian success stories are being told at the onset of post-neoliberalism, post-Iraq invasion and the Chinese protagonism in international development cooperation, thus in a setting marked by traditional donors’ search for reconstructing the legitimacy of the cooperation they provide. This

Should traditional donors be interfering in South-South cooperation?
May 24, 2012 / FAC blog
South-South cooperation is now establishing itself as an accepted tool in the development box.  And, we will need every tool in the box – including new kinds of partnerships – if we are collectively to tackle tough global development challenges

After the honeymoon: what would a happy marriage between Brazil and Africa look like?
May 23, 2012 / FAC blog
The myth of success. The narrative about Brazil’s agricultural success is widespread, particularly beyond borders. In less than 30 years the country has moved from being a net food importer to a net food exporter. Brazil is also the world’s

A new alliance for food security, or a two-track Africa?
May 21, 2012 / FAC blog
Although overshadowed by the financial and political crisis in Europe in the international press, it is important that agriculture and food security is once again at the top of the international agenda. Galvanising the private sector for development of the

Measuring women’s empowerment: A retrograde step?
April 27, 2012 / FAC blog
The FAC gender approach (see the discussion paper Gender and Other Social Differences: Implications for FAC?) argues that gender relations are dynamic. Women and men, as spouses, parents, siblings etc, seek both to maintain and change these roles to meet

Actions and gaps: The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change final report
April 18, 2012 / FAC blog
Prof Bruce Campbell, CCAFS program director, opened the launch with an introduction to the report, which aims to synthesise 16 reports that have been produced over the past 3 years. Four report commissioners were also present to introduce the report

The Future of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP): A Political Economy Inquiry
April 11, 2012 / FAC blog
The meeting brought together over 100 participants from Non Governmental Organisations, government agencies and donor community. The main purpose was to chart out the possible future of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) from a political economy perspective, drawing from

Engaging young people in agriculture
April 6, 2012 / FAC blog
If we clarify this from the outset we may have better strategies for engaging with them.  Some examples or strategies of positive engagement from the presentations at the Young People, Farming and Food conference were: Building on viable groups based

What kinds of agricultural research will deliver the (public) goods?
April 5, 2012 / FAC blog
The argument is usually made in terms of market failure: left to the market, we can expect to see less than optimal investment in crop research, and particularly in relation to the food crops on which smallholder farmers depend. From

Aspirations and race relations: young people and livelihoods
April 5, 2012 / FAC blog
Getnet Tadele presented perceptions of farming as a livelihood in Ethiopia where the government in various policies is emphasizing the need to cultivate a new generation of literate farmers. Christine Okali presented a case study of livelihood building in rural

What turns rural young people into migrant workers?
April 5, 2012 / FAC blog
Is poverty the main driver for youth to decide to migrate? In general, lack of investments, to improve decent work prospects for young people in rural areas, often results in lower living standards and the consequent de-population of rural areas.

Education for young people, farming and food: a mismatch?
April 5, 2012 / FAC blog
Even though it can be a way to empower people, education has also been framed as preparing young people for the wrong employers, leading to educated unemployed young people engaged in ‘time-pass’ – waiting, often for long periods, for opportunities