Discussion Papers

Discussion Papers disseminate research quickly to generate comment and suggestions for revision or improvement. They are often presented at conferences or workshops and often result in FAC Research or Occasional Papers.


Latest articles

Intensification of Smallholder Agriculture in Ethiopia
March 1, 2006 / Discussion Papers

By Samuel Gebreselassie
March 2006

Ethiopia’s inability to feed its population and thus its continued dependence on foreign donations of food to sustain millions of its citizens is a dilemma that triggers a broad economic and sociological debate. The problem of Ethiopian agriculture cannot be primarily explained by natural endowments. By any measure, Ethiopia is well endowed at least in part with a fertile soil, abundant water resources and good climatic conditions until recently. What needs careful analysis is why Ethiopian farmers continue to practice essentially the same farming methods with very little technical or management improvement for so long.

Intensification of Smallholder Agriculture in Ethiopia. Options and Scenarios
March 1, 2006 / Discussion Papers

By Samuel Gebreselassie
March 2006

Ethiopia’s inability to feed its population and thus its continued dependence on foreign donations of food to sustain millions of its citizens is a dilemma that triggers a broad economic and sociological debate. The problem of Ethiopian agriculture cannot be primarily explained by natural endowments. By any measure, Ethiopia is well endowed at least in part with a fertile soil, abundant water resources and good climatic conditions until recently.

What needs careful analysis is why Ethiopian farmers continue to practice essentially the same farming methods with very little technical or management improvement for so long. The prevailing orthodoxy among Ethiopian development practitioners, however, is largely to see the problem of smallholder agriculture in Ethiopia strictly as a technical and resource related problem.

This view identifies the low level of agricultural productivity as the key problem and the solution that follows is to find ways to enhance productivity. Furthermore, productivity is essentially regarded as a technical/technological problem. Since the technology required for enhancing productivity is internationally available, what remains to be done is to widely diffuse this technology(particularly fertilizers and improved seeds) to areas with low productivity (Berhnau Nega, 2003).

The government of Ethiopia has tried to implement this technology-led extension programme particularly since the mid-1990s in a high-profile national program. But has this worked, and what the limitations of such a strategy? The national strategy chimes with a widely held view that poverty reduction in Ethiopia is impossible without significant growth in crop yields for major staples, and this requires improving farmers’ access to fertiliser, improved seeds, agricultural credit and other inputs. However, this view is not new. Indeed, it has dominated development thinking for the past four decades, and some developing countries have implemented it with some success, as part of a ‘green revolution’.

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Food Aid and Small-holder Agriculture in Ethiopia
March 1, 2006 / Discussion Papers

By Samuel Gebreselassie

Ethiopia has been structurally in food deficit since at least 1980. The contribution of agriculture to food security has declined as the growth in food production has failed to keep pace with population growth. The level of chronic food insecurity also increases as the distinction between transitory and chronic food insecurity has become increasingly blurred (Devereux, 2000). Ethiopia is the world’s most food aid dependent country. Official statistics indicate that the country received 795 thousand metric tonnes of food aid annually between 1990 and 1999, which was about 10% of total domestic grain production. Food aid shipments increased to 997 thousand metric tonnes (equivalent to 11.5% of national production) between 2002 and 2032.

Making science and technology work for the poor
March 1, 2005 / Discussion Papers

By Ian Scoones
May 2005

In this viewpoint piece I want to argue that, as currently organised, R and D systems – both public and private – don’t necessarily respond well to the needs of poor people in developing countries. Despite all the hype about the potentials of science and technology for reducing poverty, there are many missed opportunities. Very often poor and marginalised people across the global south do not end up benefiting from S and T. How then should we rethink R and D so that S and T can help in the important challenge to ‘make poverty history’?

I want to suggest three reasons why currently S and T doesn’t always work for the poor, and illustrate these with three examples from developing country agriculture. First – In the context of globalisation, the dynamics of the market and control by large corporations are increasingly important factors governing access to technologies, both new and old. The lion’s share of agricultural R and D globally is controlled by a handful of large corporations. In the developing world this is increasingly the case, especially with the decrease in public sector capacity for R and D.

Take agricultural biotechnology and GM crops. A few years ago there was much made of the potentials of GM crops to solve the problems of world hunger. But today, years later, the only GM crops that are being planted in the developing world at scale are essentially cast-off products, developed for other markets. GM cotton or soya were engineered for the commercial farms of the Americas, not for Africa or Asia. Some of these products have found demand and a market and are clearly benefiting some farmers in some places. But, more generally, GM technologies are not addressing the big challenges of drought, nutrient poor soils and so on.

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