FAC blog

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


Latest articles

The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative: what’s in it for Africa?
May 15, 2019 / APRA blog FAC 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 / FAC 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 / APRA blog FAC 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 / APRA blog FAC 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 / APRA blog FAC 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 / FAC 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 / APRA blog FAC 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 / APRA blog FAC 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 / FAC 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 / FAC 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 / APRA blog FAC 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 / FAC 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 / APRA blog FAC 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 / FAC 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 / APRA blog FAC 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 / APRA blog FAC 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 / APRA blog FAC 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

Corridors Mini-Series: Agricultural Commercialisation along Mozambique’s Growth Corridors
February 14, 2019 / FAC blog
People cannot eat gas, oil or coal Since he took office in 2015, president Filipe Nyusi has sought to redirect the attention of Mozambicans, from the prospect of wealth associated with the exploration of natural resources, to increasing agricultural production

Corridors Mini-Series: Accumulation and Contested Commercialisation in Tanzania
February 13, 2019 / APRA blog FAC blog
Tanzania, like many other African countries, needs significant investment in agriculture to achieve key development goals – poverty alleviation, economic growth and industrialisation, food security and improved nutrition. Since the late 2000s, the Tanzanian government, in partnership with donor agencies

Corridors Mini-Series: Anticipating Lamu’s New Corridor on Kenya’s Coast
February 12, 2019 / APRA blog FAC blog
The day starts early in Lamu, an ancient archipelago on Kenya’s northern coast. Fishermen, sailors and boat makers can be seen striding towards the sea, where moon-powered tides and sea waves are the undisputed masters. Hours later, their skiffs return

Corridors Mini-Series: The Political Economy of Agricultural Growth Corridors in Eastern Africa
February 11, 2019 / APRA blog FAC blog
A new wave of agricultural commercialisation is being promoted across Africa’s eastern seaboard, by a broad range of influential actors – from international corporations to domestic political and business elites. Growth corridors, linking infrastructure development, mining and agriculture for export,
Shortages and Price Distortions in Zimbabwe
February 7, 2019 / FAC blog
The commercialisation of agriculture is a function of state policy and the macro-economic conditions of the country. Interviews with Zimbabwe’s medium-scale farmers, held in January 2019, revealed that economic conditions in the country are negatively affecting the viability of agricultural
Malnutrition Amidst Flourishing Farming: What is the Way-Out?
February 4, 2019 / FAC blog
Traditionally, farming provides foods, money and shelter to several rural households and enables support for other members of the society – subsistence farming provided this support for a long time before the advent of commercial farming. Traditional farming focused on
Tanzania, rice, SRI, system of rice intensification, agriculture, farming, farm
‘SRI’ in Kilombero Valley: Potential, Misconception and Reality
January 25, 2019 / FAC blog
The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has been promoted in rice growing areas worldwide – including Tanzania’s Kilombero district – aiming to reduce the cost of production while improving farm-level productivity, and thereby increasing household income and food security. Kilombero
Waste to Wealth: Indigenous Cocoa Farmers in Nigeria
January 17, 2019 / APRA blog FAC blog
The subject of poverty, particularly among rural households, has been a dominant discourse among academics in Nigeria for over three decades – despite the economic potential that abounds in the country’s agricultural sector, and the cocoa sector in particular. Often,

APRA Annual Review Workshop 2018
January 7, 2019 / FAC blog
It has successfully happened again! Following Cape Town in 2017, the APRA Annual Review Workshop train landed in Accra, Ghana from 3–6 December 2018. This year, the City Escape Hotel in Prampram (an eastern suburb town located 34 kilometres from
Zimbabweland’s top 20 posts of 2018
December 18, 2018 / FAC blog
The most popular blogposts published in 2018 are listed below. Debates in Zimbabwe have been dominated by the July election and their aftermath, and several popular blogs covered this period, both before and after the elections. The deepening economic crisis and

Should Aid Subsidise Foreign Business to Invest in African Agriculture
December 11, 2018 / FAC blog
Promoting private sector investment in order to achieve global development goals is a persistent (if controversial) theme in the 21st century. From Paul Collier’s recent anti-NGO polemic (“If you want to help Africa, let business lead the way”) to DFID’s
Can Rice Commercialisation Transform Agrarian Society in Ethiopia?
November 27, 2018 / APRA blog FAC blog
Driving through the Fogera Plain on a sunny September morning, lush paddy fields strewn out in front of us, it is hard to imagine we are in Ethiopia – the land of teff, a native grain crop which has been

Nigeria: Vieiwing Iwara’s Cocoa Sector Through a Gendered Lens
November 22, 2018 / APRA blog FAC blog
The commercialisation of agriculture is pivotal in the development of rural economies, and ultimately helping farmers to escape poverty. In Nigeria, cocoa production is paramount for raising farmers’ income and economic status. The commercialisation of subsistence agriculture can help to

When Pastoralism Meets Oil: Learning From Oil Finds in Turkana, Kenya
November 16, 2018 / FAC blog
Eastern Africa is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies. Foreign capital has streamed into this region over the past ten to fifteen years – into large infrastructure programmes consisting of roads, railways, ports and pipelines, and into

The Political Economy of Agricultural Commercialisation in Zimbabwe
November 15, 2018 / FAC blog
The Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) programme of the Future Agricultures Consortium has recently produced a series of papers on the political economy of agricultural commercialisation. The paper on Zimbabwe by Toendepi Shonhe argues that “debates on Zimbabwe’s agricultural

Isene Village, Tanzania: A Story of Sunflowers and Empowerment
November 12, 2018 / APRA blog FAC blog
It is often the case that when crops or enterprises become commercialised, women lose out as men step in and take control of resources as well as selling produce. Unless such practices are addressed, emerging opportunities for female empowerment will

APRA at the 19th NAAE Conference
November 5, 2018 / FAC blog
It is an accepted fact that agriculture in Nigeria has suffered as a result of the oil ‘resource curse effect’ and inappropriate policies and institutions, such as weak market institutions. Although the discovery of crude oil has lessened the country’s
Zimbabwe: Farm Labour After Land Reform
October 29, 2018 / FAC blog
A paper by myself, the late BZ Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba and Chrispen Sukume is just out in Development and Change (available open access). We asked, “What happens to labour when redistributive land reform restructures a system of settler colonial agriculture?” The

Malawi Tracker Study: Experiences from the Field
October 22, 2018 / APRA blog FAC blog
The APRA Malawi team is finally in the field after months of meticulous preparations to get the ‘tracker’ study going. The subject of this tracker is groundnut commercialisation in Malawi’s central districts of Ntchisi and Mchinji. The goal is to

Zimbabwe’s latest crisis: it’s the economy – and politics, stupid!
October 15, 2018 / FAC blog
The images of economic crisis in Zimbabwe are all too familiar. Queues for petrol and cash, commodity hoarding, parallel markets in currency, rising inflation and so on. It all seems reminiscent of the dark days of the mid 2000s, in

The Cult of the African Youth Entrepreneur
October 12, 2018 / FAC blog
What image does the phrase ‘Africa’s youth employment challenge’ bring to mind? Is it, for example, an image of social unrest and violence; or of young migrants risking everything to get to Europe? Or an image of family and personal
Ethiopia: enriching livelihoods with rice research
October 5, 2018 / APRA blog FAC blog
The history of rice in Ethiopia Beginning in the 1970s, the production of rice in Ethiopian agriculture has expanded steadily across the country, with the total land area under rice cultivation rising from about 10,000 ha in 2006, to over

Failed Promises: the Decline of Cooperative Membership in Malawi
September 27, 2018 / APRA blog FAC blog
Most smallholder farmers in Malawi are seeing their livelihoods and overall social-economic status getting worse. The reasons for this regrettable trend are many and are well documented. However, one of the main reasons that has been given more attention is

Open for Business: What Does Investment Look Like on the Ground?
September 18, 2018 / FAC blog
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
Conducting a Tracker Study: a Tough Nut to Crack
September 17, 2018 / FAC blog
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
Designs on the range: corridors, grabs and extractions at the pastoral margins
September 10, 2018 / FAC blog
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 –

Groundnut commercialisation trends in Malawi
September 6, 2018 / APRA blog FAC blog
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

Medium-scale farms in Africa: history lessons from Zimbabwe
September 5, 2018 / FAC blog
‘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

Ethiopia: commercial farming, investment and policy
August 31, 2018 / FAC blog
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
Streamlining the communication of research for agricultural commercialisation
August 21, 2018 / FAC blog
On 16 and 17 July 2018, the Bankers Association of Malawi conducted the first agri-business conference of its kind to be held in Malawi, at the Bingu International Convention Centre in Lilongwe. The theme of the conference was agricultural commercialisation
Zimbabweland blog catch up
August 17, 2018 / FAC blog
Zimbabweland is taking a break for the next few weeks. By the end of this time we will know the outcome of the Constitutional court case brought by the MDC Alliance disputing the presidential (not parliamentary) election results. Maybe there

Advocating policy based on evidence
August 15, 2018 / FAC blog
I recently attended a fascinating conference aimed at strengthening the use of evidence in policymaking. Dubbed ‘Evidence to Action 2018’, the conference was organised by the International Centre for Evaluation and Development (ICED) between 26 and 27 July 2018 at
Recipes for success?
August 3, 2018 / FAC blog
What is a cookbook full of recipes – a collection of rigid instructions, or a source of guidance and inspiration? The answer depends largely on the skill, experience and confidence of the cook. Agricultural research and extension should find different