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


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1 August: China and Brazil in African agriculture – news roundup
August 1, 2013 / Our blog
Comparing Chinese aid with Western aid Li Xiaoyun has had an article published in the China Daily’s African edition looking at the differences and complementarities between Chinese and Western aid (attached). On the same page is an article by Zhang

How China and Brazil are engaging in African agriculture deserves a closer look
How China and Brazil are engaging in African agriculture deserves a closer look
July 15, 2013 / Our blog
Much recent work on ‘the BRICS in Africa’ has emphasised the geopolitical scale, as these new players engage in areas dominated in the past by western donors and companies. However, as the IDS Bulletin shows, the countries grouped together under

5 July: China and Brazil in African Agriculture – news roundup
July 5, 2013 / Our blog
Lessons for ProSavana from Mozfoods This FT article looking at ProSavana’s challenges draws on a UK-based company’s experiences in Mozambique to highlight the challenges faced in turning a profit on agricultural developments in the region. The article concludes that finding

Five new articles on the problems of counting and reporting land grabs
July 5, 2013 / Our blog
This ‘land rush’ has been accompanied by a ‘literature rush’, with a fast-growing body of reports, articles, tables and books with varied purposes, metrics and methods. Land grabbing remains a hot political topic around the world, discussed amongst the highest

Rural young people, agriculture and work in Africa: new thinking about an old problem
July 5, 2013 / Our blog
Four types of work The basic idea is that work opportunities can be seen to fall into four categories: Protective work, such as food-for-work and labour intensive public works schemes, provides relief from the immediate effects of deprivation. These opportunities

26 June: China and Brazil in African Agriculture – news roundup
June 26, 2013 / Our blog
Donor conditions on Mozambique and Chinese logging The 19 donors and funding agencies who provide direct financial support to the Mozambique state budget have pledged around $580 mil for 2014, but have warned they want to see progress in corruption

Exposing the political journey of climate change evidence from Exeter to Africa
June 24, 2013 / Our blog
It was a fascinating process, not just because of the mystery of the sophisticated computer programmes through which vast data sets gradually became simple pictures of the future world, but also because of the way that understandings and meanings became

Is the G8 writing politics out of hunger?
June 14, 2013 / Our blog
In a blog for the Guardian, Raj Patel argues that the G8’s vision for tackling hunger is ignoring the politics of malnutrition – and that the link between hunger and poverty is being written out of public statements. “One of

11 June: China and Brazil in African agriculture – news roundup
June 11, 2013 / Our blog
China welcomes Japanese aid commitment Following the $32billion aid commitment made by Japan to Africa, the Chinese government has sought to downplay the idea of competition between the two nations. An official spokesperson welcomed the initiative adding that China will

How can the G8 solve hunger?
June 10, 2013 / Our blog
Tim Lang of City University in London was quoted in the UK Sunday newspaper the Observer as commenting: “We’ve had many summits talking about hunger…, but not enough has happened to change the food system. My worry is that this

5 June: China and Brazil in African Agriculture – news roundup
June 5, 2013 / Our blog
Extra Funding Needed for ProSavana Mozambican Minister for Agriculture, whilst at TICAD has said that they are planning to secure extra funding for the ProSavana project. Currently Japan is the biggest investor in the project with $11 million USD.(Macauhub) Separately,

Should we worry if Africa’s farmers are getting older?
June 4, 2013 / Our blog
In African policy debates it is often assumed that rejection of agriculture by rural young people – and their mass migration to urban areas – is the primary cause of the aging farm population. It is further assumed that among

30 May: China and Brazil in African Agriculture – news roundup
May 30, 2013 / Our blog
WFP signs $1.6m deal with Chinese food-company in Ghana The World Food Programme has signed a $1.6 million deal with Chinese company HNA to provide school meals for children in Ghana. This is part of the government initiated Ghana School

22 May: China and Brazil in African Agriculture – news roundup
May 22, 2013 / Our blog
Chinese pressure on Zimbabwean debts China has insisted that Zimbabwean companies and state institutions settle outstanding arrears before more loans are released for further infrastructure projects. New commitments include the expansion of a dam and the construction of a new

New ODI report: how smallholder agriculture contributes to food security and nutrition
May 21, 2013 / Our blog
Some 852 million people were estimated to be undernourished in 2010–12. Micro-nutrient deficiencies, especially of vitamin A, iodine, iron and zinc, are even more widespread, with perhaps as many as two billion persons affected owing to insufficient vitamins and minerals

Why Africa should listen to how South Africa’s food retailers are responding to environmental and social change
May 15, 2013 / Our blog
This final point raises the interesting question of perspective. The paper’s scope was limited to the opinions of those working in private sector companies, but there are many other important actors in the food system. In particular, the role of

15 May: China and Brazil in African Agriculture – news roundup
May 15, 2013 / Our blog
Olam to increase investments in Mozambican Cotton Olam’s Mozambique subsidiary has stated that it plans to make “large investments” in Mozambique’s cotton production. No further details on this are given, but the article highlights that Olam already has production agreements

What can we learn from history about large-scale commercial farming developments?
May 13, 2013 / Our blog
Examining the evidence The LACA (Land and Agricultural Commercialisation in Africa) project, begun last year, looks at some of those impacts in more detail. This three-year project studies the socio-economic impacts of commercial agricultural developments, including types of development that

3 May: China and Brazil in African Agriculture – news roundup
May 3, 2013 / Our blog
Nigerian agricultural research council be more like Embrapa The Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, has said that he wants Nigeria to transform its Agricultural Research Council to be more like Brazil’s equivalent, Embrapa. This comes

The 3Ds – a new idea for farming systems research?
May 3, 2013 / Our blog
Much of the formalisation of farming systems research took place within the CGIAR centres in Nigeria (IITA), Mexico (CIMMYT) and The Philippines (IRRI). USAID and other funders eventually piled in, spawning farming systems research units, projects and training programmes throughout

Large-scale land acquisition: can we overcome transparency’s ‘dirty secret’?
May 1, 2013 / Our blog
Two main points stood out for us across the different panels. First is the need to pin down what is meant by ‘transparency’. For some, it meant disclosure of information; for others, disclosure plus active participation; in yet other discussions,

3 questions for future food research
April 30, 2013 / Our blog
The following 5 days were jam-packed with activities that stretched our combined mental capacities to the limit. Prof Mary Scholes was the convenor of the conference and, together with a truly stellar group of senior researchers, she set us a

23 April 2013: China and Brazil in African Agriculture – news roundup
April 22, 2013 / Our blog
Chinese Firms Criticised in Zimbabwean Tobacco Out-Grower Schemes Chinese firms are said to be rapidly dominating the Zimbabwean tobacco markets and placing increasingly high demands and costs on locally engaged farmers in out-grower schemes. Chinese tobacco firm Tian Ze is

12 April 2013: China and Brazil in African Agriculture – news roundup
April 12, 2013 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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 / Our 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