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Too many people, too few livestock
January 11, 2012 / Pastoralism in crisis?

Below is an unpublished extract written by Stephen Sandford from the book Development at the Margins: Pathways of Change in the Horn of Africa, ed. Andy Catley, Jeremy Lind and Ian Scoones (2012), Earthscan. It was written in November 2011.

Over the last half-century pastoralists’ wealth and welfare have been in sharp decline in the Horn of Africa and it is becoming increasingly urgent to find other livelihoods for many of them. This chapter is a plea for a rethink about the potential of irrigated agriculture to be a valuable alternative or additional livelihood to pastoralism. The Horn of Africa in this paper refers to the five core countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

For many years the average levels (and the equity of inter-household distribution) of wealth and welfare, among pastoralists in the rangelands of the Horn have been getting worse (Waller, 1999; McPeak, 2006, p45; Desta and Coppock, 2002, p445, Devereux, 2006, pp88-90); and they will continue to worsen. This is a consequence of a growing imbalance between the extent, productivity and sustainability of the rangelands, the number of humans dependent on them for their livelihood, and the number of livestock needed to support these humans. That number is, in turn, determined by the productivity of the land and animals, the proportion of different types of output which are bought and sold, and their relative prices (Dietz et al, 2001; Sandford, 2006; ODI, 2010). Although there has been some switch from natural vegetation to feed based on cropping, livestock herded by pastoralists in the Horn of Africa still depend on the rangelands for most of their diet, typically 70-80 per cent in individual countries (LOG Associates, 2010, pxix). But the extent of the rangelands accessible by pastoralists is declining (Homewood, 2008, p251) and, in spite of the unreliability of demographic data (ODI, 2010), the human population is increasing (Randall, 2008), although becoming less nomadic.

The livestock population, which is already too large for the natural environment to support sustainably (ODI, 2010) is at the same time too small to provide an adequate living for the human population if that remains largely dependent on pastoralism. The burden of the resulting gap between the requirements for livestock (and their products) and their supply falls principally on the already poor. They have herds that are too small to sustain them. Consequently they have to supplement their income in other ways which leads them to neglect their herds. Their herds therefore shrink yet further (Lybbert et al, 2004). The non-viability of the existing pastoral systems, as highlighted by the acute food crisis of 2011, continues to worsen.

If both the growth of the human population and primary dependence on a pastoral livelihood are to continue, then the net value of total pastoral output (i.e. sales and auto-consumption of animals and their products) needs to increase, but without putting further grazing pressure on the rangelands by increasing animal numbers. The best available forecasts (OECD/FAO, 2011) of real world prices (adjusted for inflation) over the next decade do not suggest that this increase in net value will come about by rises in the prices of the animal products produced by pastoralists. Any increase in net value of pastoral output will have to come through changes in quantity.

Although there is some scope for improving secondary productivity (yield of animal products per unit of feed consumed by the herd), for example through improved animal health, this will have little real effect unless the total quantity of feed consumed is also increased (Otchere, 1986). Such an increase in feed consumed will either require the extra feed to be imported from non-pastoral areas or the primary productivity of the rangelands (feed per hectare) to be increased. Although high protein feed supplements can be economically imported and fed, the feed conversion ratios of cattle and small ruminants are such that, as simple back-of-the-envelope modelling of transport costs show, it is normally much more economic to export the pastoral livestock to where the bulky energy-providing feed is grown in the non-pastoral areas rather than the other way round. But in such systems, the value added then accrues to the non-pastoralist feed-growers.

While a modest increase in the quantity of pastoral output might be achieved by an increase in the efficiency with which existing ‘traditional’ technology is used the scope for this is limited. In spite of some claims to the contrary (Breman 1995; Toutain et al, 2009, p186), the ‘improved’ research-based technology available does not seem able substantially to increase the primary productivity of rainfed rangelands.

One issue is that most research focused on rangelands is not intended to maximise income but focuses on sustainability. That emphasis may be appropriate but the focus of this paper is income and how to stop the increasing impoverishment of pastoralists and to strengthen their ability to survive. A proper scientific approach to testing the hypothesis that research-based technology is no better than what pastoralists already do would require statistical testing of considerable sophistication. The data for this does not exist and will not for decades, if ever. In the meantime, one has to rely on unsophisticated comparisons and indirect approaches.

Four such approaches are:

  1. The crude quantitative comparisons that are available show that commercial ranches, which normally claim that their range management techniques are derived from research, have lower values of output per ha than traditional pastoralists in comparable circumstances (Hesse, 2009).
  2. Appropriate range-management techniques and strategies are very ‘site- specific’, depending on local ecological, social and economic factors (Perrier, 1990; Briske et al, 2008). Africa is very heterogeneous and the quantity of research carried out (other than in South Africa) is too small to have produced reliable results even for a few sites.
  3. Although extension services have been advising African pastoralists for the last sixty years to adopt ‘improved range management’ in practice take-up of these recommendations has been minimal (Ndlovu and Mugabe, 2002, p259). This suggests that pastoralists do not find that the recommendations are profitable.
  4. Although range scientists 40-50 years ago were very confident in the power of improved range management, claiming that it could double yields (Sandford, 1980), their recent claims have been much more modest. For example, a senior range scientist in South Africa, where there has been considerable range research done, says ‘In the field of rangeland science we can offer to marginally increase production by improving the use of rangeland’ (Palmer 1999)  [emphasis added]

The need to diversify and its scale

The evidence presented here on the improbability of net pastoral output increasing as a result of either higher prices or of the adoption of new technology indicates that the recent and continuing decline in the welfare of pastoralists will not be halted or reversed by focusing only, or even principally, on livestock-based livelihoods. Diversification of livelihoods is essential.

Successful and sustainable land use in dry areas of the Horn requires a mobile system of land use and often household herds of mixed species, able to exploit different types of vegetation in widely separated locations at different seasons. An efficient mobile land-use system requires an adequate labour force for herding and one able to respond to rainfall and other events rapidly. Households with too small a herd get a living from and who consequently have to divide their attention across several different livelihoods, or with too small a labour force who are unable to devote sufficient attention to the needs of different categories and species of stock, are not economically viable as pastoralists (Barrett and McPeak 2006) and are unable to operate a mobile system of land use. At the same time their herds compete for scarce livestock feed with the herds of those who are potentially viable, and their immobile system of land use puts greater pressure on the environment.

Diversification of livelihoods by the pastoral population as a whole but specialisation by individual households is the key to successful and sustainable land use. The aim should be to reduce the number of people dependent on pastoralism by facilitating the emigration out of a pastoral livelihood of those households who have to diversify if they are to survive at all.

The scale of the effort needed to achieve a satisfactory rate of emigration depends on the present degree of overpopulation, as reflected in various indicators of stress, and in the future rate of growth of the population significantly dependent on pastoralism. Obviously these will differ quite widely between different locations. But we can take as an example the pastoral areas of north Kenya and southern Ethiopia. Two indicators of stress are:

  • In the pastoral areas of southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya, 49 per cent of households wholly or partially dependent on pastoralism were, for four consecutive dry seasons of study (McPeak, 2004), below an income poverty line which was set at a value equivalent to half the level of the UN’s extreme poverty line (US$1 of 1993 purchasing power parity) per person per day.
  • About 80 per cent of family herds in these pastoral areas are now less than the threshold size (about 10-12 head of cattle per household or their equivalent in terms of other categories of livestock) above which household herds are, after a ‘shock’ such as extreme drought, probably able to recover their pre-shock size but below which they gradually dwindle in numbers and are no longer viable pastoralists (Lybbert et al, 2004).

These two indicators show that the proportion of the pastoral population already in acute poverty, no longer able to practise viable pastoralism, and urgently needing an alternative livelihood is large. For this reason I have advocated elsewhere the need to reconsider the option of irrigation-based livelihoods (Sandford 2011).

Stephen Sandford
November 2011


Barrett, C. and McPeak, J. (2006) ‘Poverty traps and safety nets’, Economic Studies in Inequality, Social Exclusion and Well-Being, vol 1, pp131-154

Briske, D.D., Derner, J.D., Brown, J.R., Fuhlendorf, S.D., Teague, W.R., Havstad, K,M., Gillen, R.L., Ash, A.J. and Willms, W.D. (2008) ‘Rotational grazing on rangelands: reconciliation of perception and experimental evidence’, Rangeland Ecology and Management vol 61, pp3-17

Desta, S. and Coppock, D. L. (2002) ‘Cattle population dynamics in the southern Ethiopian rangelands, 1980–97’, Journal of Range Management, vol 55, no 5, pp439-451

Devereux, S. (2006) Vulnerable Livelihoods in Somali Region, Ethiopia, IDS Research Report 57, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton

Dietz, T., Nunow, A. A., Roba A. W. and Zaal, F. (2001) ‘Pastoral Commercialization: On Caloric Terms of Trade and Related Issues’, in M. Salih, T. Dietz and A.G. Mohamed, African Pastoralism, Conflict, Institutions and Government, Pluto Press, London, pp194-234

Hesse, C. (2009) ‘Generating wealth from environmental variability: The economics of pastoralism in East Africa’s drylands’, Indigenous Affairs 3-4

Homewood, K. (ed) (2008) Ecology of African Pastoralist Societies, James Currey Ltd, Oxford

Lybbert, T. J., Barrett, C. B., Desta, S. and Coppock, D. L. (2004) ‘Stochastic wealth dynamics and risk management among a poor population’, The Economic Journal, no 114. pp750–777

LOG Associates (2010) Regional Study on the Sustainable Livestock Development in the Greater Horn of Africa, African Development Bank Group, Abidjan

McPeak, J. (2004) Vulnerability among pastoralists: Evidence from Kenya and Ethiopia. Presentation made at the World Bank, www.worldbank.org/afr/padi/Vulnerability_Among_Pastoralists.pdf, accessed 4 December 2011

McPeak, J. G. (2006) ‘Livestock marketing in Marsabit District, Kenya, over the past fifty years’, in J. G. McPeak and P. D. Little, Pastoral Livestock Marketing In East Africa: Research And Policy Challenges, Intermediate Technology Publications, Rugby

Ndlovu, L.R., and Mugabe, P.H. (2002) Nutrient-Cycling in Integrated Plant-Animal Systems in Barret, Place and Aboud. C.B. Barrett, F. Place, A.A. Aboud (eds) Natural Resources Management in African Agriculture: Understanding and Improving Current Practices, CABI Publishing, Oxon

ODI (2010) ‘Pastoralism demographics, settlement and service provision in the Horn and East Africa: Transformation and opportunities’, Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute, London

OECD-FAO (2011) Agricultural Outlook 2011-2020, FAO

Otchere, E.O. (1986) ‘Small ruminant production in tropical Africa’ in V.M. Timon and J.P. Hanrahan (eds) Small Ruminant Production in the Developing Countries, Proceedings of an Expert Consultation held in Sofia, Bulgaria, 8–12 July 1985, FAO, Rome

Palmer, A.R. (1999) ‘Towards a national rangelands policy’, African Journal of Range and Forage Science, vol 16, no 1, pp44–46

Perrier, G.P. (1990) The Contextual Nature Of Range Management, Overseas Development Institute Pastoral Network Paper, 30c, ODI, London

Randall, S. (2008) ‘African pastoralist demography’, in K. Homewood (ed) Ecology of African Pastoralist Societies, James Currey Ltd, Oxford, pp199-226

Sandford, S. (1980) Keeping an eye on TGLP, National Institute for Development and Cultural Reseach Working Paper 31, Gaborone

Sandford, S. (2006) Too Many People, Too Few Livestock: The Crisis Affecting Pastoralists in the Greater Horn of Africa, accessed on 1 December 2011

Sandford, S. (2011) Pastoralists and Irrigation in the Horn of Africa: Time for a Rethink? Paper presented at the International Conference on the Future of Pastoralism 21-23 March 2011, IDS, Brighton

Toutain, B., Ickoiwicz, A., Dutilly-Diane, C., Reid, R.S., Amadou Tamsir Diop, Vijay Kumar Taneja, Gibon, A., Dither Genin, Muhammad Ibrahim, Behnke, R. and Ash, A. (2009) ‘Impacts of Extensive Livestock Systems on Terrestrial Ecosystems’, in H. Steinfeld, H.A. Mooney, F. Schneider and L.E. Neville (eds) Livestock in a Changing Landscape: Volume One: Drivers, Consequences and Responses, Island Press, Washington DC

Waller, R. D. (1999) ‘Pastoral poverty in historical perspective’, in D. M. Anderson and V. Broch-Due (eds) The Poor are not Us: Poverty and Pastoralism in Eastern Africa, James Currey, Oxford

Querstion 4: Linking
July 21, 2011 / Social Relations Analysis E-Debate

What are the pathways for linking outcomes of social relations analysis with the productivity and production outcomes of interest to policy?


  • Margaret MkromaAGRA – ‘This question spotlights the dilemma of social relations analysis; the need for “deeply qualitative data” from specific contexts if it is to point to policies that will address the structural constraints that determine how both women and men, now and in the future, participate in agriculture….’. Pathways could include linking programmes that address practical needs of women to programmes that build strategic capacities among male and female household members to leverage what they own (labour asset, income, etc.) to negotiate in ways that meet individual and household interests.’


  • P Kantor ’The emphasis on contextually specific data leads to a number of now familiar questions: How does one then deal with scale? Can we influence change processes through more than highly localized programmes? What might innovative approaches that address the complexities of social relations in practice, and also operate at scale, actually look like?’


  • Christine Okali – ‘These important scale questions raise the issue of the value of “deeply contextual” evidence. Is this not about learning more about the trade-offs made by individuals and households between different income-earning activities, and other valued outcomes? These data are not intended to be integrated ‘as is’ into policy just as we should not move directly from role data to arriving at conclusions about relations between women and men.’‘What might the policy implications be? Do they not draw attention to the need to accept a range of possible outcomes from say, a programme designed to increase incomes via improved crop production/ productivity for example?’


  • ‘If we accept that policy outcomes will be valued differently by different individuals and groups, where might the current interest in identifying ‘success stories’ (and winners and losers) fit into such a policy outcome?  In our search for successes, have we ourselves defined what success looks like?’ ‘What about flexible policies or policies that leave more room for manoeuvre/ adaptation to specific (local?) circumstances?’


  • Christine Okali – ‘The questions for this debate point to problems of complexity, and even to the nuances in social relations, but possibly these are not the main challenges. Much of the gender literature points to the need to adopt a different starting point for our analysis, and always emphasizes an understanding of the interests of possible policy clients’.
    Certainly there is an issue of commitment – on the part of researchers, their research organisations, and their professional networks – to collect different sets of data, or data that are more disaggregated, and to create a winning alternative narrative for policy makers.


  • Coordinator of Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS) –  ‘With regard to the latest LEGS handbook (Introduction), we include gender and social equity as one of the four cross-cutting issues, and as such we highlight some of the key basics (such as the need to understand gender roles with regard to livestock keeping and management, and the differential impact that emergencies can have on men and women). Each technical chapter also considers briefly each of the cross-cutting issues and particular aspects relating to that intervention. 
    However, I feel that there is much more we should include on gender in future editions of LEGS. In particular, it would be interesting to have more data and analysis of gender relations in emergencies. The data we have at present does not go beyond gender differences in access and control over resources, and in the impact of proposed interventions. I would hope that when we produce the next edition of LEGS (planned for the forthcoming phase over the next 2-3 years) we can get some deeper analysis of gender relations, and their implications for planning both for emergencies, and for long term development. It would be interesting for example to have more information on gender dynamics in emergency situations, and especially in relation to coping strategies. In pastoral households during emergencies there is often a split along gender and age lines between obtaining emergency relief support (by women and young children), and moving extra long distances in search of grazing (by men).  If women are to retain any access to livestock and livestock products in these situations, they may have to take on more responsibility for livestock. We might also expect to see a different dynamic occurring in different pastoral groups.’

Question 3: Land Access
July 21, 2011 / Social Relations Analysis E-Debate

How do different kinds of households and wider kin groups incorporate terms of land access into their short and long term livelihood strategies, and what are the implications of this for land policy?


  • Mohamadou Sall Population Studies, The Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar (Senegal) – In relation to land access and control, it is very important to pay attention to different (and possibly antagonist?) forces about land within the household. Especially In a context of land scarcity, and with the emergence of a land market, men (often the household heads) who traditionally controlled land, are less likely to favour sharing their power over land. Meanwhile, women who are supported by NGOs, do their utmost to access and to control land as they progressively move out of the private into more public spaces.’


  • Christine Okali – I agree that in the context of land scarcity and the growth of land markets, negotiations around land will change. However, I would question the understanding that men will not give up their customary expectations of land control (such as this exists) in this changed context. Of course there remains the question of inheritance. Even customary rights (at least in some social contexts) include compensation or claims to those who have assisted on farms/ fields/ animals by providing labour and/or other inputs. As to the role of NGOs and the response of women to their (the NGO) objectives of ensuring rights for women, in the case of livestock programmes, these NGO initiatives have been contested in various ways by men with interests in the outcomes of the production. In addition, some livestock programmes have shifted from attempting to enforce the creation of individual rights for women, to acknowledging the need of women (and men) to work together in their enterprise. Should we be contesting the notion of joint rights in these important assets?


  • Mamadou Sall – From the technocratic and political view, the pathway for improving the contribution of agriculture to development is to move agriculture from traditional rules to modern rules (including land). However, this political and technocratic shift will come up against local reality: Land, for example, is controlled by local and traditional power holders who are also the political middlemen and stakeholders. In this context, what is the sense of land reform and other policies like “Parity in elective mandates/positions?”


  • Mohamadou Sall – In Senegal, studies conducted on the relations between gender and access to land have shown that one the main hindrances of access to land for women is their absence from some important institutions such as rural councils and other local agencies and structures.


  • A.N. ChibuduFormer National Dairy Development Project (NDDP), Kenya – My practical experience is more on the Zero Grazing Systems of livestock production and my comments relate to issues that are important in this system. These issues have implications for both men and women as livestock producers, Livestock Policy that takes gender issues into consideration should make sure that these concerns are taken into account. In the 90s the gender approach was Women in Livestock Development (WiLD) which I don’t think has changed much to date. The relevant issues for Zero-Grazing Systems are:-
    • Investment – the financial outlay required for this system is very high taking into account the socio-economic situation of smallholder farmers, and especially women farmers. This investment must be undertaken on land which the farmer is confident of his or her ownership rights! The policy environment surrounding this issue is very complicated as several factors come into play once you start talking about land; issues of security of tenure, and inheritance issues which are intertwined with household (family) stability.
    • Labour – zero grazing is a high input high output system, and labour especially is a key input. Many small scale producers in Africa are women who have multiple roles in life and this system of production denies them the time to attend to these other very important facets of their life. It is therefore important that the output is actually high, and translates into cash incomes that can be utilised to take care of the other roles of the women.
    • Technology – any life system instituted must be progressive and dynamic. For any meaningful success, farmers must be given continuous knowledge for them to deal with the ever-increasing challenges. There are several ways of giving this knowledge but the most popular ones are through residential training, tours and workshops which in many instances are biased against women as women can not be away from home for long periods.

Question 2: Trade-offs
July 21, 2011 / Social Relations Analysis E-Debate

What are the likely policy implications of the understanding that men and women take their joint concerns about household survival into consideration when assessing the trade-offs between e.g. investing in land improvements and engaging in off farm opportunities and other interventions?


  • Margaret MkromaAGRA – If indeed joint concerns get considered in assessing such trade-offs, then policies influenced by such understandings should promote and/or support household economic and social wellbeing. It connotes that both men and women enjoy a degree of agency expressed through their individual capacities to influence intra-household decisions. Where such an understanding is wrong or misplaced, then policies influenced by this may risk exacerbating the problems and situations of those with less power to negotiate and or bargain in intra-household decision making.


  • Christine Okali – I wonder if the concern about making matters worse for those with less power if policies are designed with these joint interests in mind is a reflection of poor policy formulation rather than anything else. Is the policy solution always to make separate provisions that somehow (it is not altogether clear how, or the processes involved) will ensure some form of equity?


  • Dr Joyce Otsyina – Programmes focused on women could be said to be underpinned by some understanding that both men and women are interested in the same resources. What is lacking is the fact that the interest of women in these resources is ‘killed’ since they (women) are not offered opportunities that will help them act on these interests. This takes us to the issue of important resources such as land, credit/financial facilities and information in which I think both men and women are interested, and which also programmes know are of interest to both. The problem comes where there is a lack of commitment to implement programmes which seek to improve the supply of these resources among women.

Question 1. Social Construction
July 20, 2011 / Social Relations Analysis E-Debate

How has the social construction of different groups e.g. women as vulnerable, responsible for household food security, and without agency or power, affected their opportunities to contribute to and/or benefit from mainstream agricultural policy?



  • Margaret MkromaAGRA – I think any response to the essentialist framing of women as the vulnerable “other” needs to go beyond a simple response that it has or hasn’t affected their opportunities to benefit from agricultural policy. It seems to me the particular contexts within which women are embedded (social, cultural, political) to a large degree work to either limit or expand the space for women to benefit or contribute to agricultural policy. We need to understand the two “problematiques” (construction of women as a vulnerable category, and the contexts in which they are located) as dynamically intersecting; and in ways that uniquely shape their experiences. We must understand those intersections for us to gain critical insights into women’s experiences and/or their ability to benefit or contribute to policy.


  • P Kantor This construction of women as vulnerable is central to the struggle to identify women as producers within mainstream agricultural policy, such as the USAID Feed the Future initiative. Women are most visibly connected to its nutrition and food security objectives, and not its production/productivity enhancement objectives. They are often labelled as vulnerable without demonstrating how, in relation to what activities or outcomes, and relative to, as well as in relation to men. More context-specific evidence is needed documenting what women and men do in agriculture and how social and institutional institutions, including the household, impinge on these activities, in order to better define areas of intervention that do more than deliver technical inputs without addressing the wider structural factors influencing whether and how women engage in agriculture. Such evidence also needs to be used to define innovative gender-responsive interventions, and to systematically test different approaches that might improve our understanding of how to scale up successes.’


  • Christine Okali Perhaps the question attributes too much influence to the framings themselves, and not enough to the social, cultural and political contexts within which individual women and men are embedded. Is it reasonable to suggest that more analytic research on the contexts within which women (and men?) have benefited or are likely to benefit from mainstream agricultural policy, would provide insight into the way these two “problematiques intersect”? If we take the example of commercial farming activities, there is limited information on women’s independent commercial activities.


Why Integrate the Analysis of Social Relations into Agricultural Policy?
April 28, 2011 / Social Relations Analysis E-Debate


Over the last four decades there has been much emphasis on women and gender in African agriculture and agricultural policy.

There has also been plenty of talk about the importance of integrating social relations analysis into policy to achieve equitable, broad-based development in Africa. However, in large part this has not yet happened. Why?

In a recent FAC paper, Christine Okali, the moderator of this e-debate, argued that a social relations approach leads to more ambiguous interpretations of and expectations around social and technical change. This presents a challenge to research, development and policy actors given that policy narratives need to reign in complexity in order to provide clear guides for decision-making. Nevertheless, unless insights from the analysis of social relations begin to inform policy processes, and are integrated into policy recommendations, the dual goal of agricultural growth and equity will remain unachievable.

There is urgent need for an exchange of ideas and information to address how to make social relations analysis more accessible to and accepted by policy makers. For this reason FAC is inviting you to debate some key issues around the ways forward for achieving this.

Objective: The purpose of this debate is to explore the implications of different insights from and approaches to social analysis for agricultural policy formulation. This is a necessary step in future research planning, especially for the identification of information needs, but also for the translation of research results for policy making at different levels.

Dates: 30 May – 24 June 2011

Questions to be debated:

  • How has the social construction of different groups e.g. women as vulnerable, responsible for household food security, and without agency or power, affected their opportunities to contribute to and/or benefit from mainstream agricultural policy?
  • What are the likely policy implications of the understanding that men and women take their joint concerns about household survival into consideration when assessing the trade-offs between e.g. investing in land improvements and engaging in off farm opportunities and other interventions?
  • How do different kinds of households and wider kin groups incorporate terms of land access into their short and long term livelihood strategies, and what are the implications of this for land policy?
  • What are the pathways for linking outcomes of social relations analysis with the productivity and production outcomes of interest to policy?


Comments should be short, provocative and challenging. Comments should be submitted on our online forum which will be available from 30 May.


Background Reading

Achieving a Uniquely African Green Revolution
March 3, 2010 / E-debates

How can Africa’s farmers, scientists, development practitioners, private entrepreneurs and publicofficials, with the support of the international community, spark a Green Revolution in Africa,one that responds to the region’s unique social, political and ecological conditions? That was thechallenge presented to the over 113 delegates from 29 countries who attended a set of linkeddiscussions at the Salzburg Global Seminar in late April/early May 2008.

The main purpose ofthe deliberations was to assess the most critical issues and to review, refine and articulate anagenda for a new sustainable “Green Revolution” for Sub-Saharan Africa. The delegates weretasked with answering the question: What are the core elements of a “uniquely African GreenRevolution?”

Policy frameworks for increasing soil fertility in Africa
February 25, 2010 / E-debates

Everyone is agreed that one of the central components of achieving an „African Green Revolution? is to tackle the widespread soil fertility constraints in African agriculture. To this end, AGRA – the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa – has launched a major new „Soil Health? programme aimed at 4.1 million farmers across Africa, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committing $198 million.

Soil Frameworks
February 25, 2010 / E-debates

We have had some fantastic – and varied – contributions to the debate. Many thanks to everyone who contributed. This note aims to draw out some themes and emerging conclusions. It is not comprehensive, and I urge everyone to read through the contributions, as there are many rich examples and interesting ideas about ways forward.

Response to Prof Collier
February 25, 2010 / E-debates

To produce the food necessary to reduce high world food prices and meet the future demands of a growing and more affluent population, large-scale commercial farming needs to be encouraged. Any romantic illusions about small-scale farmers should be set aside. Or so Professor Collier writing recently in Foreign Affairs (November/December 2008) argues.

Roland Bunch
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 2

The problem has been, for decades, that the world’s top scientists have not concentrated on the most important problems of small-scale farmers. If someone is dying of thirst, and you give him fried chicken, you are not going to save him, even if he does also happen to be malnourished. You have to respond to people’s most important needs–their limiting factors.

By far the largest problem worldwide with respect to the lack of appropriate agricultural technologies is that the CGIAR system, dominated by plant geneticists, has already decided what small farmers need, without being willing to look at all the indications that their priorities are dead wrong. The limiting factors of the vast majority of smallholder farmers in Africa are NOT genetic. The limiting factors for African smallholders are soil fertility, and more specifically soil nitrogen (and to a lesser extent, phosphorus), and water. But inorganic fertilizer is now priced way beyond smallholders’ reach. This fact is recognized by knowledgeable agronomists, and that is why they talk so much about subsidizing inorganic fertilizers. But subsidized fertilizers will only prolong the agony; they will artificially make green manure/cover crops and soil-enriching agroforestry less attractive, thereby putting off the moment when farmers will switch to the only technologies that can truly and sustainably solve the problem of African soil fertility.

Micro-scale water management is the second very important answer to Africa’s low productivity, and the CGIAR system has done even less along these lines. I know some small NGOs (with budgets in the hundreds of thousands of dollars) in Central America that have developed more small-scale water management technologies than has the entire CGIAR system.

If you are genuinely interested in the well-being of small-scale farmers, you will look into EPAGRI’s work with green manures in Santa Catarina State, Brazil, COSECHA’s work with small-scale water management in southern Honduras, FAO’s previous work in Lempira Dept., Honduras, green manure/cover crop work in Zambia, small farmers’ innovations near Bamenda, Cameroon, and even ICRAF’s work in Kenya and Malawi. The answers–the technologies Africa’s farmers really need–are already out there in the field. I would be happy, together with people like Jules Pretty and Pedro Sanchez, to develop an itinerary for you to go and study these technologies and their rapid adoption by smallholder farmers.

Joost Brouwer
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 2

To make science and technology work for small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa I think it is imperative that account be taken of within-field soil variability.  This is especially true in semi-arid areas, but also in other parts of Africa.

The farmers themselves take variability into account: they often manage different parts of a field in a different manner.  They do this because it is more efficient, and because it reduces production risks. Technology developments and technology transfers that do not connect with this site-specific management by farmers, and with the underlying reasons, risk being ignored or turned down.  Farmer, extension and scientific knowledge about short-distance soil and crop growth variability must be combined for

– improved knowledge, understanding and communication by and for all parties concerned

– better design and analysis of agronomic experiments

– more relevant extension approaches

– better management options for the farmers.It is not difficult to achieve this.

It just needs a change in attitude from seeing variability as a problem to seeing it as an asset and an opportunity for subsistence farmers.  

One simple step is to use an easily assessed environmental parameter as a co-variable in the analysis of agronomic experiments.  A well-chosen parameter will explain a signifcant part of the spatial (and temporal) variability in experimental results.  That same parameter can then be used to extend the experimental results to farmers.  Simple parameters that a farmer can also use include microtopography (high spots and low spots in a field); degree of crusting of the soil; distance from certain termite mounds or from certain trees; wet parts an dry parts of a field; and the presence and absence of certain weeds.

A 12-page brochure on a variability project at ICRISAT Sahelian Center in Niger, that aimed to do just this, was financed by IUCN’s Commission on Ecosystem Management and is available from http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/cem_csd_16_brochure_sahel_hq.pdf (2.6 Mb).  Its pictures tell the story and a number of references are included.  Its main conclusions are given below.  I will be happy to discuss this further with whomever may be interested.

The following practical results from the variability research in Niger can already be extended to farmers and/or researchers:·

  • with-in field variability can play a yield stabilising role; this is especially important in times of uncertainty caused by climate change·
  • over-manuring by many farmers in the Sahel can be reduced by spreading the available manure over a three times larger area;
  • different aeolian sand deposits, often found side by side in a single field, should be managed differently;·
  • nutrient use efficiency by farmers can be increased through microtopography-related site-specific management, such as not applying cattle manure and urine in wet and/or crusted areas;         this is important for the management of local fertility resources (manure, urine, compost, crop residues, domestic refuse), as well as for the management of mineral fertilisers: what can happen to cattle manure can happen to N, K and sometimes also P fertilisers;·
  • with-in field rainfall infiltration may be increased by applying lime or gypsum, especially on older aeolian deposits that crust more easily;
  • Macrotermes termites play an important role in local increases in soil fertility on sandy soils;
  • Faidherbia albida seedlings in agro-forestry projects are much more likely to grow well, and survive to adulthood and full utility, if they are planted near an old Macrotermes mound.
  • short-distance soil- and crop growth variability can be better incorporated into agricultural research through the use of covariables and other statistical techniques.

Shellemiah O. Keya
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 2

Suitable technologies should be developed in a participatory approach with farmers playing a major role. Small scale farmers need technologies that are site specific and tested at the village/community level since there are many farming systems dictated by varying agro ecosystems. In order to ensure that integrated crop management technologies are appropriate for small scale farmers, the emphasis should be on facilitating learning about suitable science and technologies.

This will empower farmers with new ideas that will allow them to experiment and see what works best within a given context and available resources. The underpinning characteristics of the science and technologies should be their sensitivity to resource limitation and capacity to withstand biotic and abiotic stresses. For example water saving technologies is desirable to overcome water deficit under many growing conditions. The technologies developed should aim at mitigating climate change at the same time user friendly to women who are the majority of agricultural producers. It is also important that the technologies can be disseminated by appropriate means and in consideration with the farmer’s level of education, language and easily accessible dissemination tools.

Francis Shaxson
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 2

Sustainability: many factors contribute to sustainability of agriculture: the most important of all is the capacity of soil-inhabiting organisms to thrive, because their activities are vital (literally) to formation and recurrent re-formation of soil structure, maintaining soil porosity.   Its condition affects

  • Proportion of rainfall lost as surface runoff;  thus also soil erosion;
  • Volume of plant-available water in the rooting zone;  thus also with implications for resistance to effects of climatic drought;
  • Volume of water percolating down to the water-table, with implications for irrigation possibilities.

Organic matter: Organic matter is not merely a source of plant nutrients (albeit at low concentrations). It is also the substrate for soil organisms’ activity, so a regular supply is needed, as the organisms’ metabolism results in its transformation.  Tillage is a potent cause of oxidation of organic matter – to atmospheric CO2 – having caused soil organic matter to be lost from soil faster than it is returned from conventional cropping systems, with negative effects on soils’ cation exchange capacities and thus on capture and slow release of plant nutrients from applied fertilizers. 
Tillage can thus have two negative effects:

  • Physical damage to soil structure;
  • Provoking excess oxidation of organic matter.

Floods, water shortage (for plants, for rivers), sub-optimal plant growth, soil erosion are inter-related to sub-optimal conditions of soil porosity, associated with tillage.   Optimum conditions of soil porosity  can only be restored through the biotic activities of soil-inhabiting organisms.

There seems to be a widespread assumption that tillage agriculture is the only way to produce crops, onto which ‘soil management’, ‘erosion control’, ‘water management’ are seen as ‘add-ons’ rather than integral parts of the land-management system(s)..

‘Conservation agriculture’:
is mentioned briefly, apparently as an option, in the paper summarizing the Salzburg Seminar. Its three interlocking component features are:

  • Minimal disturbance of soil once brought to good condition;
  • Maintenance of a permanent cover of organic materials (e.g. crop residues) on the soil surface;
  • Crop rotations/sequences including legumes.

The interactions of the physical, chemical, biologic and hydric components of soil productivity are key to Conservation Agriculture’s success when functioning in good conditions of climate and management.   These aspects of optimum CA, and its outcomes, deserve close study.   These are features which any/all production systems should have in common, though their expression will vary from one situation to another (environmental and/or human). All too commonly their optimum combined expression has been damaged, obscured or unbalanced by inadequate land management in the past. CA, when optimised for a particular situation, is a means of achieving and maintaining the integration of crop (and even pasture and/or silvicultural) production with effective water management, erosion minimisation/avoidance, drought-effect minimisation, biodiversity in the soil, carbon retention in the soil, improvement of  people’s livelihoods, and consequent wider benefits to both society  and to the environment.    

If the soil is kept in good condition (physical characteristics = ‘soil quality’;  biological characteristics = ‘soil health’), all other attempts to improve the lot of farm-families have a better chance of lasting success than if the soil itself continues to degrade.   

In a given situation, we need to be able to characterise the condition of the soil as it is, the condition of the soil as we would like it to be, how to get from the first condition to the second, and how to maintain the latter when we have got there.

The follow-through of these ideas indicate significant implications for research, advisory work, policy, education and training at all levels, and the ways in which AGRA can have fullest effects.

Ralph von Kaufmann
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 2

I agree with the following statement “To empower smallholder farmers to participate in an African Green Revolution, improvements should be made in both: functioning and performance of agricultural input markets so that viable smallholders can access inputs at cost effective prices; and empowering vulnerable smallholders with purchasing power so that they can participate in the market process”. Balu Bumb, Program Leader, Policy, Trade, and Markets Program at the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC)

The so-called subsistence farmer is forced to produce for her family’s subsistence by the huge difference between the low farm-gate prices for what she produces and the high market prices for the same products.  This differential means that she has a comparative advantage in producing all her family needs herself rather than producing some things for sale and relying on the market for things she is not technically best placed to produce.  Only the better off can afford to be irrational in what they choose to produce. The subsistence farmer is operating at the edge so every production and marketing decision has a serious impact on their welfare and improving market efficiency has a major influence on their production options and technologies.
Therefore improving the functioning and performance of agricultural input markets will only be a partial solution. Markets must be improved for inputs, outputs and capital to level the playing field for smallholders and enable them to raise their incomes.  I am deliberately not including the market for land because I am yet to be convinced that there is an effective way of protecting smallholders from speculative buyers which is neither in their long-term interest nor are the buyers likely to be more productive farmers.

Michael Mortimore,
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 2

It appears presumptuous to try to add to the value of the comprehensive discussions at the Salzburg Global Seminar, and the wide-ranging report of its deliberations and recommendations (‘Towards an African Green Revolution’).
In looking for an African paradigm the Seminar did not resolve the fundamental question of relating demand with supply factors in driving ‘agriculture-led growth’. This issue seems to me to be also unresolved in debates about the Asian Green Revolution. In India, was it in essence a technological revolution, solving supply constraints, as popularly represented, or a transformation of the economic system led by growth in demand? Rapid population growth and massive urbanization (including successful industrialization via an Indian, labour-intensive model) were essential components. Can we imagine an Indian green revolution without these?

The slow growth of productivity in African agriculture is nearly always blamed on supply constraints. There is alleged to be a ‘crisis’ in African agriculture summarised by an ‘inability’ to produce enough food and an increasing dependency on imports. In the most extreme case (Zimbabwe) it is obvious that policy not supply constraints is to blame. Has it occurred to anyone that the close correspondence between food commodity production growth and demographic growth over the last 45 years could be explained by poverty (lack of purchasing power and consequently low prices)? Slack world prices for African exports have meanwhile undermined the export-led model promoted by the World Bank.
Incentives are critical determinants of the uptake of new technology, but often neglected. Certainly, markets can be made more efficient, and more accessible. Credit can overcome capital constraints. But a hard look at the structure of agricultural producer incentives in every African country is surely needed urgently.
Since 1960 most countries have at least doubled their population and at the same time urbanised to an extent that should not be ignored by agricultural planners. The leading example is Nigeria. In the last decade, a critical threshold was passed (50% urbanization). Now, less than half the population have the responsibility for feeding more than half of it. While this transition was taking place, there is evidence of dynamism in the agricultural sector (increased production of yams and cassava per capita, decline in per capita food imports, growth in output of niche commodities while there was a long-term consistency (though fluctuating annually) in output of cereal grains and pulses per capita,), during the period since the adoption of a new policy framework in the 1980s. Other countries may follow a similar course, if they are not already doing so, by virtue of demographic realities.
Agricultural revolution takes place in a multi-sectoral economic context. Most of the Salzburg Seminar discussions appear to have concerned themselves with sectoral policies and actions. An implied assumption appears to be that markets can be taken as ‘given’ and are infinite; therefore, supply constraints must be the problem.
The limitation of African urbanization as a driving force for agricultural revolution – through a radical transformation of rural-urban relations – is the failure of classical industrialization strategies to provide new employment and incomes on a sufficient scale. Poverty levels in many cities are only slightly lower than in some rural areas. Poverty reduction strategies are therefore a necessary ingredient of agriculture-led growth.
This suggests that the necessary conditions for agricultural revolution may lie outside the agricultural sector. This seems to have happened in England in the eighteenth century as well as in India in the twentieth. Precolonial African models are also available. For example, the intensification of small-scale farming in the Kano Close-Settled Zone of Nigeria during the nineteenth century was driven by demand growth for a range of commodities in its metropolitan market.
Although the Salzburg report rightly identifies participatory and accountability dimensions of policy as critical, these priorities seem to me to represent pathways rather than goals. In debates on African green revolution the function of consumer demand is frequently left out of the picture. Is this because everybody knows that India achieved its revolution through protecting its farmers (and its industry) from global competition, whereas (by a silent consensus) Africa must struggle to find its way under Doha conditions? The construction of an African paradigm needs to come to grips with these externalities and realities of macro-economic policy.

Patti Kristjanson
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 2

Science and Technology will only work for small-scale farmers if agricultural research is carried out differently than much of it has been in the past. Lessons from research that has successfully linked knowledge with action – changes in policies, practices, institutions and technologies – contributing to sustainable poverty reduction suggest the following principles are key:

Problem Definition.
Projects are more likely to succeed in linking knowledge with action when they use processes and tools that enhance efficient dialogue and cooperation between those who have or produce knowledge and decision-makers who use it, with project members defining the problem they aim to solve in collaborative, user-driven ways.

Program Management. Research is more likely to inform action if it adopts a “project” orientation and organization, with dynamic leaders accountable for meeting use-driven goals and targets and the team managing to avoid letting “study of the problem” displace “creation of solutions” as its research goal.

Boundary Spanning. Initiatives are more likely to link knowledge with action when they include “boundary organizations” or “boundary-spanning actions” that help bridge gaps between research and user communities. This boundary-spanning work often involves constructing informal new arenas, in which project managers can foster user-producer dialogues, joint product definition, and a systems approach free from dominance by groups committed to the status quo. Defining joint ‘rules of engagement’ in the new arena that encourage mutual respect, co-creation and innovation that addresses complex problems improves the prospects for success.

Systems integration. Projects are more likely to be successful in linking knowledge with action when they take a systems approach that recognizes scientific research is just one ‘piece of the puzzle.’ Such systems-oriented strategies aim to identify and engage with key partners who can help turn co-created knowledge generated by the project into action (new strategies, policies, interventions, technologies) leading to better and more sustainable livelihoods.

Learning orientation. Research projects are more likely to be successful in linking knowledge with action when they are designed as much for learning as they are for knowing. Such projects are frankly experimental, expecting and embracing failures so as to learn from them throughout the project’s life. Such orientations towards learning cannot thrive without appropriate reward systems for risk-taking managers, funding mechanisms that enable such risk-taking, and periodic external evaluation.

Continuity with flexibility. Getting research into use generally requires strategies aimed at strengthening linkages and effective patterns of interaction between organizations and individuals operating locally where impact is sought. A key role of boundary spanning work/organizations is the facilitation of processes that create strong networks and build innovation/response capacity of the system. Co-created communication strategies and boundary objects/products are key to the longevity and sustainability of project outcomes and impacts.

Manage asymmetries of power. Efforts linking knowledge with action are more likely to be successful when they come up with empowerment strategies aimed at ‘leveling the playing field’ in order to generate hybrid, co-created knowledge and deal with the often large (and largely hidden) asymmetries of power felt by stakeholders.

Toyin Kolawole
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 2

The current discussion on ‘Making science and technology work for small-scale farmers’ is closely linked with the earlier debate on the appropriateness of farmers’ voices in the African Green Revolution [AGR] initiative. Essentially, the thinking of agricultural scientists and technologists will be more effectively put to use if they align with those of the smallholder farmer. As I had earlier indicated, there is the need to revisit and strengthen Research-Extension-Farmer linkage if the dream of realising a sustainable AGR is to be achieved. There are a lot of lessons to learn [either way] in the process of a 2-way information sharing within the linkage system.

Technologies that are patterned in line with the taste and capability [in terms of finance and usability] of small farmers will undoubtedly work for the purpose for which they are designed. Sincere and thorough farmer consultations by the researcher/technologist will, therefore, be needed in the design and development of any technologies aimed at bringing about an agrarian change amidst the small-holders. Aside some field experience acquired over the years, Everett M. Rogers diffusion studies have shown that innovations that are: feasible; compatible [with farmer’s socio-cultural milieu]; cost effective; socially and economically advantageous; divisible; simple [to use]; and ‘triable'[in bits] are always popular amongst the end-users, all things being equal. Previous investigations conducted by us have also shown that technologies or innovations that are [environmentally and farmer] user-friendly and result effective are an answer to farmers’ yearnings and aspirations.

Considering all the above innovation characteristics in the process of technology development for the small farmer will be worth the effort of the researcher after all.

Kwesi Atta-Krah
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 2

The high contribution of small-scale farmers to Africa’s agriculture is not in doubt. This group produces the lion’s share of Africa’s agricultural productivity, and also contributes significantly to the GDP of several countries. In spite of this, small scale agriculture is inadequately targeted in research interventions, especially in science and technology. This has given rise to a wrongful impression that smallholder agriculture is only about the preservation of ancient methodologies and systems, and does not need to be researched.

The future of smallholder systems is threatened if it cannot be strengthened through science and technology based research. Such research must however be explored, taking into account the key fundamentals of these systems and aim to improve overall productivity without sacrificing the core elements of their sustainability – such as their biodiversity and other elements of their system resilience. The research must also begin from a deep understanding of the smallholder circumstances and realities, and target the kind of interventions that are realistic at the smallholder scale of production. An integrated agricultural research for development approach needs to be used in which the voice of the farmer is heard in the identification of potential realistic outcomes for which S&T research is then targeted. The issue of financing however needs to be addressed as part of an integrated approach, as science and technology products could require initial capital outlay that may not be available to some farmers.

Science and technology research for small-scale farmers need to orient towards efficiency and wealth creation for smallholders. How can research help to strengthen the value of the commodities generated from smallholder systems in a sustainable manner, and how can these be linked to markets? There needs to be more emphasis on agronomic, breeding and biotechnology improvements on indigenous crops of use and importance to local people and markets. Research on integrated pest management, for instance, needs to explore the combination of indigenous knowledge with new science and technology opportunities. Such research should aim at increasing yields and the expression of traits of importance to local people and to markets. This should also include research on neglected and under-utilized species.

The role of science and technology cannot be separated from the issue of public-private partnership. The private sector needs to be supported to get involved in supporting science and technology research that improves smallholder systems and enhances the wealth creation potential of these systems. Perhaps new equity instrument should ne developed by funding agencies such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and other development banks, to support private sector interests and investments in science and technology that is aimed at strengthening the productivity and wealth creation of smallholder farmers.

Solomon Bangali
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 3

African Green Revolution is geared towards making every African hunger free, following a balanced diet and with enough resources to take care of other needs. This objective is in line with AU/NEPAD CAADP objectives. The CAADP Round Table process initiative is an evidence-based and outcome-based policy and implementation framework that encourages collaboration and peer review and learning across countries. It forms an important opportunity platform for exchanging ideas and information between stakeholders, development partners, donors and researchers to map out ways to an increased agricultural productivity in Africa. The food crises coupled with the problem of climate change all have significant implications for our ability to improve and increase agricultural growth. These crises came at a time when Africans had already taken their own destiny into their own hands by their governments committing 10% of their GDP to agricultural development.

Agriculture is often neglected as one of the major factors that have contributed to Africa’s economic growth over the last decade. There is no doubt that the sector has underperformed over the last decade as a consequence of its neglect by governments and development agencies that provide virtually all the funding to the sector.  Public investment in the sector fell from 6.4% in 1980 to 4.5% in 2002 (IFPRI). Donor interest in the sector also fell remarkably from 26% of annual development assistance to 4% presently.  There is a further speculation of donor disengagement.

The cuts in funding to agriculture have adversely affected the level of innovation in the sector in spite of the very high returns on investment in agricultural innovation. An evaluation of 700 agricultural research and development projects in developing countries across the world shows that investment in these projects generated an internal rate of return of 43%. Furthermore, an IFPRI study (Fan, 2008) shows that agricultural research, extension and rural infrastructure are the three most effective public spending items in promoting agricultural growth and poverty reduction. Of these three, agricultural research has the greatest overall impact on poverty in developing countries. What is more, it has been estimated that a 1% increase in crop yield reduces the number of poor people by 0.72 percent in Africa (approximately 2 million people). Thirtle et al. (2003) show that increases in crop yield have greatest impact in Africa.

The decision making process regarding investment in agricultural research and development, and innovation has not been informed by evidence. This is perhaps a consequence of weaknesses in the architecture of institutions responsible for the sector’s advocacy at various levels—national, sub regional and continental.  The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) is responsible for continental level advocacy in support of agricultural innovation, dissemination and adoption in particular CAADP Pillar IV:

(a) increased and better harmonized investment,

(b) human and institutional capacity strengthening,

(c) policies and markets(for example, trade, Biosafety and biotechnology),

(d) tested innovation practices, access to knowledge, information and technologies; and

(e) partnerships to promote innovation.   FARA’s experiences in advocating and facilitating agricultural research on the continent in order to meet the agricultural output targets set by African leaders is critical. CAADP pillar IV together with the other pillars is the response to an increase in productivity, reducing hunger and raising income of Africa’s poor.

Shellemiah O. Keya
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 3

During this last contribution we bear in mind the important recommendations emanating from the conference. Let us also be cognizant of the fact that to realize the green revolution actions on the recommendations can only take place at the national level. This means that effective partnerships must have the national players at the center. In this regard I would like to offer you the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) partnership model that has served the center well.

This partnership brings together the Directors Generals of NARS and they operate under an umbrella called National Experts Committee (NEC). They meet on alternate years to review the research agenda, comment on priorities and the impact being achieved. In turn NEC makes recommendations for better implementation of jointly proposed programs including, monitoring and delivery of products and services appropriate at the geopolitical level.

The NEC plays a major in advising the Council of Ministers (COM) constituted by the 22 member countries. In this way the recommendations made by NEC receives direct attention of the ministers of each country. This linkage brings together a Center, NARS DG and the Ministers of agriculture. It cultivates confidence and trust with national governments. It also ensures the proposed policies are articulated at the appropriate and highest level. Through task force and network mechanisms a wider partnership with universities, foster processes that equip those in the uptake chain with the necessary skills to bring about development impacts, reward capacity-strengthening activities by its scientists, and incorporate capacity strengthening activities that are within approved programs and projects. The goal of WARDA’s partnership is to improve livelihoods in rural and urban populations through strengthened partnerships and capacity, for dissemination of improved technologies. 

In WARDA’s view ppartnerships and coherence can be attained only when all actors in the R&D process are fully engaged in the research planning, priority setting and a transparent joint implementation of programs where the partners enjoy equal mutual respect. Methods of coordination and accountability should be discussed and periodically adjusted to suit local situations. CAADP and FAAP are beginning to provide suitable platforms for coordinating the actors at the national, regional and continental level. However, due to Africa’s heterogeneity,  actions among the key processes and initiatives going on to promote a Green Revolution requires innovative and flexible approaches. To ensure that these processes are transparent and coherent there is a need to involve law makers especially parliamentarians, nationally and across the region. Similarly new alliances are being formed and it is crucial to ensure that these too are rooted in the community where collective actions are taken.

Michael Mortimore
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 3

What is meant by ‘coherence’?  I take it to mean achieving a greater convergence between the following: policies affecting agriculture (including livestock production); crop and livestock producers’ livelihood goals; and supporting research and development efforts. Within this trinity, there is a widespread agreement that producers (and especially small-scale, poor producers) have too often been relegated to third place. The Salzburg report lays a proper emphasis on their full participation, notably in  

  • the Institutions and Innovations Working Group’s first recommendation to set up a farmer-owned, farmer-driven fund to direct research, innovation and development towards farmers’ needs;
  • the Markets, Trade and Investments Working Group’s third recommendation that smallholders and pastoralists should participate more in policy formation on value chains;
  • the Governance and Policy Processes Working Group’s first recommendation for non-state actors to become involved in the policy process;
  • the Equity, Rights and Empowerment Working Group’s first recommendation for collaborative partnerships between producers’ organisations, governments, NGOs, banks microfinance and international organisations.

Often repeated is the familiar expression ‘capacity building’

Achieving coherence must go beyond rhetoric. At the project level, communities and research/development agents can and do achieve coherent partnerships but bridging the gap to policy is more difficult. Policy is formulated at a different scale and the policy process (though not necessarily particular policies) has greater continuity than projects. Bridging research/ development and policy calls for continuity, financial resources, a common language, local ownership of the process, enlightened national leadership and stakeholder-based frameworks for negotiation and advocacy. In particular, scale differentiation between local interests (which may or may not achieve consensus) and national policy processes (which have to take account of interests outside agriculture or the rural sector) is a major challenge in trying to bring rural people into policy formation. The new democratic institutions associated with decentralization policies are addressing natural resource management issues (e.g., community forest management). They need to extend their remit into such areas as market regulation, price policies, and input supply. These and other policies determine the incentive structures for producers to invest in increasing output. 

Agricultural development literature has been understandably sectoral in scope, but it should not be assumed that new technologies or management systems can find their way into use without paying proportionate attention to economic or political considerations. In development practice, outside interventionists cannot directly influence policy. This must be attempted by newly-empowered communities within the existing political framework. But the local community will be listened to less, the ‘higher’ up the ladder they aim. However, the research/ development community is no longer necessarily external in personnel (though in funding, it often is). This creates a new opportunity for co-ownership of development initiatives by national or local research or advocacy institutions. 

Depending on specific conditions, mechanisms, frameworks or protocols are needed to link research, development and policy with communities in ways that avoid condescension or patronage towards local communities while at the same time recognising national versus local interests and longer versus shorter time perspectives. It seems less than ideal for this to be undertaken as a specialism rather than fully integrated with the research and development – but such integration calls for an interdisciplinary approach.

In seeking to create mechanisms for policy dialogue, two strategies suggest themselves:

  • Forums for dialogue can be convened at district or province level  – this being the ‘highest’ level  where contact between the administration and communities is still immediate, based on touring officers’ itineraries, election campaigns, government programmes and service provision, and cultural affinity between the rulers and the ruled.  Advocacy by community organizations may stand a chance of success at this level, and can be supported by indigenous research/ development organizations. Appropriate signals must, however, be passed to the national policy process. What fine-tuning of governmental procedures is necessary for such an exchange to be effective?.
  • Community organizations can combine or aggregate in a hierarchical structure whose top functionaries can press the case for policy priorities directly with the national government. This replicates lobbying by other vested interests, must be resourced and calls for political commitment. To some extent this potential depends on the size and diversity of the country in question. Senegal (for example) is small and well-integrated; Nigeria (for example) is vast and diverse.

Discussions on green revolution seem reluctant to embark on such issues, but both research and developmental experimentation is needed, country by country, to evaluate options for planting structural and institutional frameworks whose continuity can be guaranteed after externally funded projects and researchers withdraw.  The ‘capacity building’ so much favoured in the Salzburg report needs to accomplish a revolution in attitudes among indigenous disciplinary specialists (often trained abroad) who need to assume facilitative or advocacy roles alongside the communities they research or ‘develop’ in the long term.

The case for such institutional frameworks centred on agriculture rests basically in the lack of an alternative, because new democratic processes have not yet proved competence in agricultural issues – more pressing, perhaps, are political negotiations between opposed interests that have hijacked party systems. Rural people still say they feel marginalised; young adults prefer to abandon the village in favour of an insecure but perhaps better rewarded urban life. Agriculture sits uncomfortably on shifting sands of social change. The future performance of the sector, I suggest, is inevitably bound up with political realities and cannot be wholly encapsulated in a world of soil fertility, crop genetics, agronomic technologies, etc. – important though these are;

Much valuable action research has been conducted on new or adapted institutional structures in a context of natural resource management (a significant part of it supported by the Natural Resources Systems Programme of the UK Department for International Development, 1995-2006). A worthwhile objective would be to carry out a synthesis and evaluation of such work, in terms of its applicability to an African Green Revolution.

Kwesi Atta-Krah
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 3

I agree with all the points that Monica has raised. Additionally however, I would wish to make some generic points which in my opinion have great relevance for the process of partnerships and coherence building.

Before we can adequately address the issue of partnership mechanisms and processes, we need to be absolutely clear about the “nature of the beast” that we are eager to tame or to raise. Unless we do that, it will be a case of everything goes, and all forms of partnerships could be generated. The core essence of what constitutes the Green Revolution for Africa (GRA) needs to be adequately postulated and owned by the stakeholders. It needs to be clear what is unique about what an African Green revolution is about. Once that is known, it will be possible to clearly define the elements of what constitutes an activity in this revolution. Different kinds of activities that support the development of this revolution can then be identified and connected as part of the family of GRA initiatives.

I will argue that one of the key elements of the GRA is that it will have multiple dimensions, and will require multiple approaches and the involvement of multiple and diverse partners. It will also have elements of increased productivity and production within a framework of sustainability, resilience, and community involvement and partnerships. The GRA must not be seen as a PROJECT (in other words, it must not be seen as the AGRA project or program) – it is much bigger than a project. The GRA must be seen as a ‘revolution’ driven by a ‘movement’. As a revolution, it needs to have broad appeal and broad involvement of a range of stakeholders. It is in this context that the partnerships and coherence building needs to be seen.

Every revolution also needs a base for the purpose of coordination and consolidation. This is the role that I would see jointly played by AGRA, working in partnership with FARA. The FARA connection would help to link this revolution with the objectives and targets of CAADP and NEPAD. Partnerships within GRA must be seen both at the horizontal level (i.e. partnership among a set kind of stakeholders; for example community groups and farmers; agricultural input suppliers and dealers; researchers; etc), and at the vertical level. Vertical partnerships will involve multi-stakeholder parties, such as along a value chain for a particular commodity, or stakeholders within a targeted production system. Whatever partnerships are designed, they should not be seen as ends in themselves; there needs to be clear goal and expected outputs for any kind of partnership. The emphasis should not be on establishing ‘networks’ but rather on utilizing networking as a concept for achieving set goals. Some organ needs to drive these, and as already suggested, I would mention AGRA and FARA as best placed, along with a vibrant Farmers’ Organization.

In terms of process, I would suggest that we need to begin by having a data base of existing initiatives addressing the Green Revolution goals for each of the sub-regions of the continent. Each of these initiatives could be analysed in relation to their partnerships and functioning. Value-adding dimensions and further partnership links could be explored for each of them in order to strengthen their ability to deliver impact, according to the terms of the GRA. In this context targeted efforts must be made to get support and visibility for locally driven initiatives involving farmers and communities working with researchers and other parties in addressing the productivity and sustainability dimensions of the green revolution.

Best practices in partnerships and impact generation should also be identified and rewarded, and efforts made at up-scaling and out-scaling such success stories. I do hope these few preliminary thoughts are helpful.

Monica Kapiriri
February 2, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 3

Multi-stakeholder group composed of knowledgeable as well as open minded individuals, able to objectively assess, give advice, as well as represent the views of stakeholder groups they represent.  These representatives should be selected by their constituencies, and must be facilitated to ensure that they are linked and regularly informed of initiatives, challenges, issues etc, and link these to the evolution process of the GRA.

The best method to incorporate locally driven initiatives into larger alliances:

1) First there is need for a clear understanding of the local innovators and the alliance what the value addition of the initiative is to the overall alliance.

2) Issues of Intellectual property rights and compensation or award system for the local initiatives if it involves sharing their knowledge with other who may turn it into commercial enterprises…  All these need to be threshed out.

3) Linking will be easy, maintaining the rigour and sustaining the good values or products is often the challenge.  Very many seemingly successful local initiatives have been used to tap international resources by those above, promises to the local people that are not followed through, frustration and disintegration of initiatives. Therefore it is important to build the capacity of local initiators to represent themselves in the alliances, avoid middle-agents and ensure equitable distribution of benefits.

4) So if the other multi-stakeholder overseer group is formed, their role will be to foster and ensure equitable access to resources, as well as distribution to beneficiaries.  The group will also ensure that the local initiative do not lose direction as a result of being integrated in a larger alliance. As such the conditions of the alliances must be the kind that allow initiatives to retain their uniqueness, while at the same time learn and improve.

Toyin Kolawole
February 1, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

The current discussion on ‘Making science and technology work for small-scale farmers’ is closely linked with the earlier debate on the appropriateness of farmers’ voices in the African Green Revolution [AGR] initiative. Essentially, the thinking of agricultural scientists and technologists will be more effectively put to use if they align with those of the smallholder farmer. As I had earlier indicated, there is the need to revisit and strengthen Research-Extension-Farmer linkage if the dream of realising a sustainable AGR is to be achieved. There are a lot of lessons to learn [either way] in the process of a 2-way information sharing within the linkage system.

Technologies that are patterned in line with the taste and capability [in terms of finance and usability] of small farmers will undoubtedly work for the purpose for which they are designed. Sincere and thorough farmer consultations by the researcher/technologist will, therefore, be needed in the design and development of any technologies aimed at bringing about an agrarian change amidst the small-holders. Aside some field experience acquired over the years, Everett M. Rogers diffusion studies have shown that innovations that are: feasible; compatible [with farmer’s socio-cultural milieu]; cost effective; socially and economically advantageous; divisible; simple [to use]; and ‘triable'[in bits] are always popular amongst the end-users, all things being equal. Previous investigations conducted by us have also shown that technologies or innovations that are [environmentally and farmer] user-friendly and result effective are an answer to farmers’ yearnings and aspirations.Considering all the above innovation characteristics in the process of technology development for the small farmer will be worth the effort of the researcher after all.

Pedro Sanchez
February 1, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 1

The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) is a community-based approach to achieving the MDGs. Many rural development programs have hindered their potential for success because local stakeholders did not participate adequately in the development process. A community-based approach is therefore essential for the success and sustainability of the MVP. A community-based approach is embodied in the established and known principles of participation, social and gender inclusion, equity, and local stakeholders’ ownership of the decision-making and development process.

The MVP also undertakes extensive programs to build capacity of farmers and local farmer organization. Capacity of both is strengthened by, among other things, working with farmer-based organizations and providing training to farmers, extension officers, and farmer-based organizations. MVP has also created many agriculture committees in the various clusters, and at least one at least one committee per settlement or community has been formed.

Farmers receive training in improved production and crop management techniques, post-harvest handling, construction of storage facilities, and conflict management prior to receiving agricultural inputs. In addition, learning plots are established to demonstrate agricultural techniques and practices. These plots also serve as place where farmers can engage in innovation and testing. For instance, in Bonsaaso, Ghana, Farmer Field Schools (FFS) were established to facilitate training. FFS is a participatory extension and training approach that focuses on building farmers’ capacity to make well-informed crop management decisions through increased knowledge and understanding of the agro-ecosystem. It encourages farmers to experiment on their own farms and make their own decisions based on their observations and knowledge through regular field visits and observations.

Case Study: Tiby, Mali
The Tiby Millennium Village cluster, which includes 11 villages and approximately 55,000 residents, is located in the southern region of Segou, one of the poorest areas in Mali. Food insecurity is prevalent because of sporadic, unreliable rainfall. The naturally poor soils have been further impoverished through nutrient extraction. The vegetative cover has seriously declined since the early 1970s, resulting in a loss of soil fertility and agricultural productivity.

In Tiby, a fertilizer and seed program was implemented through a program utilizing participative and transparent farmer based management. Relying on local committees composed of elected community members, farmers were given access to microfinance to purchase these inputs. The program, which utilized strong community leadership, had very successful results.

• 1,700 tons of fertilizer distributed to nearly 5,000 households feeding approximately 68,000 people
• Greater than 95% reimbursement rate managed by the community
• USD 445,000 generated and used to procure half of the rice farming fertilizer needs (750 tons)
• Significant political impact through the Government’s Rice Initiative

Steven Were Omamo
February 1, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 1

Question: Which of the recommendations and actions set forth in the Conference Report best achieve the goal of amplifying farmers’ voices in policy debates and decision-making processes?

While most of the recommendations and actions set forth could promote farmers’ voices in policy debate, the following recommendations are especially relevant:

  • Making policy relevant and responsive to smallholder farmers’ needs;
  • Enhancing accountability of state and non-state actors;
  • Improving access to financial resources, especially micro-finance;
  • Building capacity of farmer organizations; and
  • Taking the message to Africa,” with a focus on micro-finance organizations and extension service providers.

Question: How can we ensure that measurable targets are set for gender and equity?

Organizational culture, project and program design are the crucial entry points. The following investments have proven very effective in institutionalizing WFP’s highly successful “Enhanced Commitment to Women” policy:·

  • Ensuring that women benefit at least equally from assets created through program interventions;·
  • Enhancing women’s control of program resources;·
  • Ensuring that women are equally involved in program-related local bodies;·
  • Ensuring that gender is mainstreamed in programming activities;·
  • Conducting baseline studies in order to set realistic targets and establish a benchmark against which to measure results;·
  • Generating and disseminating gender-disaggregated data and information for monitoring and evaluation;·
  • Contributing to an environment that acknowledges the important role women play in rural economies and that encourages both men and women to participate in closing the gender gap; and·
  • Making progress towards gender equality in staffing, opportunities and duties, and ensuring that human resources policies are gender-sensitive and provide possibilities for staff members to combine their personal and professional priorities.

Question: How can we build capacity of grassroots organisations for basic skills (e.g., organisations and business skills) and leadership (to influence policy and negotiations)?

Basic skills and leadership in grassroots organizations can be most effectively enhanced if these organizations have a strong voice in all stages of project and program design and implementation. Their ownership of these processes should be explicitly enshrined in project implementations workplans, for which they should be jointly responsible and accountable. Organizations with deep field presence are well-placed to support such processes.

Question: How do we strengthen horizontal and vertical linkages and partnerships/networks with other organisations?

From WFP’s experience, local needs and constraints are the main drivers of effective horizontal and vertical linkages, partnerships and networks. Areas in which linkages should be enhanced include a range of services and support functions including: raising start-up funds, institution building, business networking and marketing, innovation and knowledge transfer, technical training, research, legal support, infrastructure development and maintenance, and community health and social services. A diverse variety of partners is needed to help satisfy this range of needs.

Question: How can we increase access to resources and services for small-scale farmers and marginalized groups?

It is crucial to integrate provision of supply-side and demand-side (or market) services and investments. Especially crucial is creation of platforms of substantial and stable demand for the crops grown by smallholder farmers, thereby reducing risks and improving incentives they face when investing in productivity-enhancing technologies and practices. WFP’s recently launched Purchase for Progress initiative is an example of the nature of such investments, which have been lacking thus far.

Question: What investments are needed in governance systems and accountability mechanisms to help farmers’ organisations become more effective in informing and influencing public and private policy processes?

WFP has found the following governance principles to be relevant and useful in its work with local organizations:·

  • Personal commitment to accountability and transparency at the head-of-agency and executive-staff levels, which creates a supportive organizational environment;·
  • A corporate policy that outlines how the organization will contribute to major equity-enhancing goals (such as the MDGs to cut poverty and promote gender equality) through standards and commitments that relate to the mission of the organization and that are commonly understood;·
  • Contractual agreements with partner agencies that further specify and concretize the standards and commitments, and the consequences of non-adherence;·
  • Guidelines that specify how to interpret and effectively operationalize the standards and commitments; and· Systematic monitoring-and-evaluation mechanisms of standards and commitments.

Toyin Kolawole
February 1, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 1

Clearly, development is about people. All efforts geared towards realising the potential of human personality are, therefore, encapsulated in one word: Development. Not until knowledge producers/researchers begin to reflect upon what their intentions are, it might be difficult to achieve any meaningful human progress. The African Green Revolution initiative could prove to be a significant platform for this after all. Perhaps, we need to probe ourselves and ask what on earth has become of the sub-Saharan African smallholder farmer in spite of all the scientific breakthroughs [in agricultural production] that have been achieved in the past by both international and national research centres. Perhaps, we need to ask what has been happening to agricultural productivity in Africa for the past decades. Perhaps, we need to find out where we have missed the point in bringing about food security in sub-Saharan Africa despite all the relatively huge investments in agricultural research over the years.

Perhaps, we need to gauge the feelings of small farmers on how scientists and policy makers still go about doing development business in Africa. Perhaps, academics in agriculture and other cognate disciplines [in spite of their various research findings and publications] need to sit down and think of where they have failed humanity in this respect.

That said, I think we need to revisit the modality for Research- Extension-Farmer linkage. Ralph von Kaufmann, in a way, did allude to this all important aspect in his earlier contribution. To make farmers voice heard would entail strengthening the linkage system between research and grassroots farmers. It would entail a complete overhaul of the entire system. It would entail proper funding for extension to enable it reach all the nooks and crannies of farming communities. As earlier noticed by Kwesi Atta-Kra, farmer representation may not be the ideal after all. Experience has shown that representatives have not represented well enough in time past. Majority of them have continued to defend their own interests. What then is the solution?

First, give all farmers the privilege to give feedbacks on research endeavours at all levels. And give legitimacy to this, too. This can only be achieved where the extension agency [both governmental and non-governmental] provides the necessary innovation, goodwill and leadership for this goal. By and large, strengthening farmers’ voices and acknowledging same will, thus, require some degree of humility from the knowledge producer and decision maker.

Second, Universities and colleges would need some re-structuring in the knowledge production process and also in their teaching curricula. It all about democratising knowledge production by incorporating farmers’ views and ‘research’ into formal teaching and mainstream research. This may be a challenge. But some are already starting to reform particularly so in South Africa [where indigenous knowledge is now being emphasised in schools and colleges]. To advance agricultural production and productivity in Africa, farmers and their knowledge systems need to form part of the building blocks for research and teaching in colleges and Universities. Systematising this in teaching and research will, in a way, and automatically become part of the policy processes. This won’t happen immediately but it will surely enhance the entire process in the long-run. In all, not allowing farmers voice to be heard on our path to realising a sustainable African agriculture, nay Green Revolution, is like a frog orchestra without a lead singer!

Ricardo Ramirez
February 1, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 1

Only the well organized, powerful farmers with good market linkages have thus far been able to make their voices heard to the extent that policies and programs are adapted to their needs. For the rest, intermediary individuals or organizations often provide the platform to enable their concerns to be heard.

If these “mediating” organizations have status in policy or research circles, then the voices may have an impact in the form of redirected programs or policies.

As others have already underlined, the active listening phase needs to be followed with action that is tangible in the eyes of farmers – not an easy task.

A recent dissertation by Sarah Parkinson on the progress of the Uganda NAADS program emphasized how farmers perceive the new program offerings on the basis of deep rooted perspectives (archetypes) that respond to their life experiences. No matter what NAADS officials say, it is the farmers’ heritage of experience that shapes what they believe will happen that is concrete and meaningful.

To move forward I can think of (at least) three key conditions that are necessary:

1. organizational culture;
2. duration of engagement, and
3. methodology.

Organizational culture means having individuals and organizations with a commitment to the principles behind “making farmers’ voices heard”. This means engaging those who will enable farmers’ voices at the local level, all the way to the regional and national audiences in research, marketing and policy circles. Identifying a network of dedicated individuals within these organizations (the champions) is a must. Second, the effort cannot be short term as both research, policy or market linkages will take time to respond. The conventional, 2-3 year duration project tradition is not conducive to these conditions – hence funding over the long term is a significant challenge. To keep all parties on track with progress over the longer terms, M&E procedures needs to respond to an adaptive learning approach (Outcome Mapping and Most Significant Change are examples).

Last, but not least is methodology. There is an established track record in the field of participatory communication with a focus on “active listening” (see: for example: http://www.fao.org/sd/dim_kn1/kn1_040602_en.htm ). The methods and media opportunities exist but they do not thrive without conditions 1 and 2 in place. IDRC had developed one such relevant experience that is worth building on or supporting: http://www.allincbnrm.org/

Shellemiah O. Keya
February 1, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 1

Here we are as scientists and others speaking on behalf of farmers – not an ideal situation. The range of these farmers includes fishers, rangers, foresters as well as full time to part time professionals who derive a proportion of income from farming. With urbanization the nature of small holder farmers is changing continuously.

Understanding the typology of an African farmer in the context of the Green revolution is crucial in framing the discussion. This is the farmer with limited access to inputs, technical information, markets and weather data. He/she depend heavily on rain fed agriculture, the social capital of the community for advocacy, representation and on security of tenure from the village to the Central Government. The small holder farmer is vulnerable to variable weather, heterogeneity of the agro ecosystem and multiple and inconsistent policies as he fights against constrained resource base.

The survival basis of the farmer is innovation and diversification. His/her responsiveness to production is influenced by the community, incentives, level of education and the family structure. We often consider them as not organized but paradoxically the small African farmer is resilient and has not disappeared despite their apparent lack of organization, a message to us that we ought to know them better as we argue for more space on their behalf.

Kwesi Atta-Krah
February 1, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 1

The subject of making farmers’ voices heard should be central in the green revolution that we intend to create. The green revolution for Africa can only happen if farmers in different communities are able to take ownership and make contributions in decisions that influence their livelihoods and their agriculture. Often times the feeling is that we the scientists have all the answers and that the farmers only need to take what comes from us.

This model has proven time and time again to be flawed and unworkable, I believe.Making farmers’ voices heard also does not happen necessarily through participation of a couple of Farmer Organization officials at series of workshops and conferences. In other instances such farmer representatives are invited to participate in research planning or project development initiatives. While such levels of participation may be necessary, they do raise the question of “who is representing whom” and what happens after these various events.

In all such instances of representation, there is often a lot of talk, which is never followed through, and the farmers on the ground never even know that these interactions have taken place. Sometimes also, some farmer representatives do find themselves in unfamiliar territory of researchers and scientists, who simply go ahead and do what they have planned to do anyway. In other cases, the farmer representatives may find themselves completely out-gunned by the research and development partners – sometimes even to the point of feeling intimidated. Even when Farmers make contributions at such fora, they are hardly ever taken into account as part of the inputs for developing the solutions. This is a situation where the farmers may speak, but no space has been created for incorporating their concerns. This point was amplified in the contribution made by Ralph von Kauffmann in an earlier contribution to this discussion.

What I believe is needed is a mechanism for creating space for farmers at different levels to meet in a “farmers’ consultation” to deliberate on particular issues, make their key concerns known, and get involved in identifying mechanisms that could lead to a resolution of the challenges. Scientists, researchers and development workers could be invited to participate in such farmer-driven consultation processes, but principally to listen and to learn. Farmers must be empowered and encouraged and capacitated to be in the drivers’ seat, in voicing out the issues and making suggestions on way forward. This would also include identifying challenges for which some resolution is required either through research or through policy changes, etc. Once such capacities and processes have been established, researchers would find it very rewarding in working jointly with the farmer representatives in sharing ideas on possible solutions and planning some joint activities to resolve outstanding challenges and finding solutions.

It is in this respect that I express my support for the process that was highlighted in the contribution of Amdissa Teshome, Chief Consultant, A-Z Consult. He highlighted four steps that need to be fully farmer oriented in implementation:

(i) Community consultations;

(ii) Regional validation workshops;

(iii) National policy dialogue forum- for farmers; and finally, and

(iv) Policy engagement. All these processes are developed with farmers in the driver’s seat, and with farmers empowered to brainstorm and seek to contribute to finding solutions to the problems facing them.

Amdissa Teshome
February 1, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 1

I am very pleased to make a contribution to this theme based on the experience of Future Agricultures work in Ethiopia over the last 2 years. It is well established that policy making in most African countries including Ethiopia has been and continue to be top down. The elite group (the researchers, the politicians) think they know what the farmers want and design policies and programmes with little or no consultation with farmers.

Future Agricultures in Ethiopia has developed an all inclusive policy dialogue process that brings farmers voices to policy makers and make them heard. This process involves four steps:   

Step I:  Community consultations: engage a cross-section of community members in a dialogue on the future of agriculture. These include the elderly, adult farmers and pastoralists, youth and children (future farmers and pastoralists) and private investors.  In all categories women are represented equally.

Step II: Regional validation workshops: findings from Step 1 are validated/enriched at regional workshops with researchers, academics, regional agricultural officers, NGOs and donors, farmer representatives and private investors. Farmers’ voices are being heard at this stage.

Step III:  National policy dialogue forum: a farmers’ voices are brought to the national level and presented at a series of national forum in the presence of senior government officers, donors, NGOs and CSOs and parliamentarians.  

Step IV: Policy engagement: armed with farmers’ voice, policy engagement and influencing has began. Although this is principally a bottom up process, policymakers are consulted/informed at all levels.  

This process has now led to the creation of a Forum on Future Agricultures in which farmers’ voices will be brought to the attention of regional and national policy makers on a continual basis.

Ralph von Kaufmann
January 29, 2010 / African Green Revolution - Theme 1

I am in full accord with the advocates for enhancing the farmer’s voice. But I have to ask the question “And then what?” There will be little point in giving the farmers voice if there is no one ready to listen and respond. I agree with the argument that we must move from being technology driven and simply seeking uses for new information technology to becoming farmer centric. However, I am not convinced that we, including myself, fully understand what that implies.

Empowerment is synonymous with becoming knowledge-able and there are a lot of dedicated people doing good pioneering work in finding ways by which farmers can become be provided with both the information and the learning tools they need to form new knowledge appropriate to their unique situations. Some significant successes can be found in the South Asian and African partnerships of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) in promoting rural lifelong learning. Amongst the many others interesting approaches are the new concepts supported by the WK Kellogg and Bill Melinda Gates Foundations for barefoot universities and learning circles.
If these efforts are successful there will be growing numbers of farmers hungry to learn and who will be equipped with the physical and intellectual tools they need to utilise new information to build on their own funds of knowledge. Supposing that succeeds, as it must, where would they go to for the specific tailored information that they would want? Africa’s extension services are not well equipped or trained to deal with the many and highly varied questions that the farmers would ask by SMS, e-mail, MP3 players etc. The agricultural research institutes and the universities do not have the necessary linkages with rural communities, the agricultural research systems, or the staff incentive to respond on a daily basis to farmers’ questions.
The vision is beginning to clear of an interconnected agricultural knowledge system linking farmers (at rural learning communities, barefoot universities, learning circles, and farmer learning groups etc.) to agricultural information providers which are themselves interconnected so that the farmers will not get advice from whomever they happen to be connected to but from the person best qualified to answer.
The different components such as rural learning facilities, technology mediated distance education (TechMODE), open access training resources, training of facilitators to promote learning, automated FAQs, quality assurance systems, etc. are being advanced.
However, is sufficient thought being given to how it will all be brought together and to the reform and change management needed to develop the new mind sets and the very different incentives that will have to be devised to get all the actors involved in this 21st century way of empowering farmers to drive agricultural and rural development.

Jerome Gefu
January 25, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

Professor Paul Collier’s thesis incriminating poor countries for lack of progress in food production, especially in the wake of the worsening global food crisis (and economic meltdown?) as hinging on the preponderance of small farms raises more questions than proffering feasible and sustainable solutions.   One question is: for whom do large-scale commercial farmers in poorer countries produce?

The argument for big farms as a means of boosting food production does not provide answer for the food shortage experienced in Africa and other poor regions. This is because most (if not all) of the large-scale commercial farmers in these regions produce essentially for Western markets where they are able to recoup their investments faster than they would have if they had targeted their production for domestic markets, where agricultural produce pricing is very erratic and responsive to a variety of environmental, socio-economic and political  uncertainties. These capital rich investors who are often members of the political and economic elite are able to easily deploy resources. However, there are only a handful of such advantaged capital rich investors that are willing to invest in food production for the purpose of alleviating domestic food crisis. Even when large scale farming had been embarked upon in most African countries, monumental failure had repeatedly been bitterly encountered.

The bulk of African farmers are resource-limited residing in remote areas. It was the small farms that dot African communities that feed the various populations in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It is a fact that these countries, like Nigeria , produced in excess of home consumption needs. Indeed, Nigeria (in the years preceding the discovery and exploration of oil) was a net exporter of food and agricultural products, deriving the bulk of her national income from agriculture. Those were the days of groundnut pyramids, cotton, rubber, cocoa, oil palm, grain and vegetable exports. These products came from the numerous small farms even as limited as they were in “modern farming inputs.” What went wrong, one might ask. Several things were amiss including the strong drive to modernize agriculture by employing large-scale production strategies with little or no regard for the prevailing institutional, cultural, environmental, socio-economic and other agricultural production considerations.

The African farmer is vulnerable to the vagaries of weather and is ill-prepared (and, therefore, caught off guard) when disasters come knocking. There are limited facilities and expertise for early warning devices. Conversely, in times of good harvests, producers have great difficulty in marketing excess crop and dairy products. The resulting glut results in depressed farm gate price and often producers are compelled to sell at significant losses. Post-harvest technologies, especially for preserving perishable foods are still being developed, the post-harvest losses are staggering. This could serve as disincentive to produce. Agricultural insurance scheme is almost non-existent for the smallholder. In times of losses, the farmer receives no compensation as every loss is borne by the farmer and his/her household.

Coming from the background of extreme poverty, the productivity of resource-limited farmers has declined steadily over the years. In many instances, land degradation has resulted in declining erosion and/or siltation, deforestation, overgrazing and desertification. The end result is food insecurity, which manifests in de-humanizing experiences (hunger, poverty, disease, etc). This scenario is aggravated by the increasing rate of land alienation to the economic and political elite who appropriate massive expanse of land for speculative purposes. This has resulted in the loss of land by majority of rural poor who are either forced to migrate out of the rural area and constitute themselves into a social menace in already congested cities, or become tenants to land merchants and land speculators. Many farmers and pastoralists who have lost access to land and/or livestock are increasingly converted to contract farmers for national multinational conglomerates.

Some past efforts geared at improving agricultural and food productivity have focused attention primarily on the injection of scientifically proven technologies that have led to substantial increase in crop and livestock production. Many of such introduced varieties have been found unsuitable because they are often not compatible with the agro-ecological conditions and farming systems of many African farming communities. Many of the introduced crop and livestock species required high-level inputs and management, which the poor farmer cannot provide. Where new varieties have been adopted and found to be well suited to the agro-climatic conditions, the resulting high yields have found limited market outlet. The resulting glut, coupled with the cheap imported foods from the West, African producers are faced with serious glut and depressed price and accompanying loss of income. Above scenario calls for a re-thinking and re-engineering of policies and programmes primarily targeted at the smallholder farmers of Africa .  Even where the scientific investments can lead to improved productivity, unless the poor have secure property rights the benefits are often expropriated by the powerful once the often poor quality of land has been restored meaning that the poor not only loose from the technical improvements but they loose on the value of the labour equity that has gone into improving productivity.

To get the African farmer out of the woods and be launched into prosperity, the aforementioned constraints must be meticulously addressed. For the region, the starting point for improved food production and eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is a complete overhauling of the institutional and policy environment. Reforms must be embarked upon by African leaders and peoples with every sincerity of purpose.

For us, the first step is to undertake a comprehensive land reform such that every rural producer shall be guaranteed secure access to crop and grazing land in pursuant of legitimate livelihoods. This calls for a re-thinking and re-engineering of land use and land tenure regulations and policies which would facilitate access to and use of land. Since most African communities access land through customary arrangements, land policies must of necessity include customary land arrangements which can be easily supervised through existing traditional institutional arrangements. Land policy guidelines must of necessity be couched within the socio-cultural milieu of the African society.  This way, customary land-users will have secure right.

Achieving food security will largely be determined by the willingness of African leaders to make a clean break from past business of government and imbibe the principles of good governance, transparency and accountability, rule of law, equity and fairness. It is this “business unusual” that will propel the engine of social and economic growth through the execution of people-oriented programs and institutional reforms. The thrust here is to provide enabling environment for enhancing the productivity and income of the rural poor. If corruption in the public and private sector can be halved by 2015, Africa would have moved some 60% towards attaining food self-sufficiency.

There is need to double development assistance (especially in the wake of the current global economic meltdown) channeled to fight hunger and poverty through community-based projects that target the real producers who often are the vulnerable groups in African countries. Application of aid should be through CBO’s and traditional institutions that are in tune with the local conditions and realities.

Small commercial farms, and not large-scale commercial farms is the answer to the current food crisis in Africa , at least in the foreseeable future.

Jerome Gefu

Small Farms Debate
January 25, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

‘Small farmers can be a driving force in cutting hunger and poverty worldwide’ was a key message to G8 leaders from development specialists at The Future of Small Farms research workshop held in Wye in June 2005. Participants at the workshop, jointly organised by IFPRI, ODI and Imperial College London, concluded that investment in small farm agriculture could help to raise the rural poor out of poverty and catalyse wider economic growth.

However, the challenges small farmers in developing countries face include globalisation – especially the dramatic rise of supermarkets even in poor countries – low world market prices for major agricultural commodities and the expected negative impact of climate change. In Africa, these challenges are compounded by the spread of HIV/AIDS. In addition poor farmers are widely dispersed and have no effective political voice so are usually economically neglected.

But we should not give up on this task according to Dr Peter Hazell, Director of the Development Strategy and Governance Division of IFPRI and workshop organiser. Possibilities for alternative livelihoods within the non-farm sector do not look optimistic for the next decade or so and there are plenty of good investment opportunities within small farms which are good for both growth and poverty reduction.

The workshop participants agreed that:

  • Public investment in rural infrastructure, agricultural research and support services is needed to unleash the inherent power of small farmers.
  • In many African countries such investment is contrained by the capacity and quality of state institutions through which it would be channelled. These institutions have to be reformed to increase their accountability to farmers organisations and the private sector.
  • Donors must think carefully how aid can be used to encourage such reform programmes. The danger is that large increases in aid could remove incentives for recipient governments to undertake real reform.
  • The role of the state in providing key support to small farmers needs to be redefined. Structural adjustment programmes have led to state withdrawal from ensuring that small farmers have fair access to high quality seeds, fertilizers, technical advice and credit and marketing services and have left a vacuum which in most poor African countries has not been filled by the private sector. The state should perform a proactive role in collaboration with farmer organisations and private sector to ‘kick-start’ the markets and increase private sector involvement.

Are large-scale commercial farms the answer to Africa’s agricultural prayers?
January 25, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

To produce the food necessary to reduce high world food prices and meet the future demands of a growing and more affluent population, large-scale commercial farming needs to be encouraged. Any romantic illusions about small-scale farmers should be set aside. Or so Professor Collier writing recently in Foreign Affairs (November/December 2008) argues.

This is particularly important in Africa where:

“African peasant agriculture has fallen further and further behind the advancing commercial productivity frontier, and based on present trends, the region’s food imports are projected to double over the next quarter century.”

Large-scale commercial farms (LSCF) have the advantages of being technically more advanced, able to reap economies of scale, mobilise funds and invest, and to react to evolving market demand:

“In modern agriculture, technology is fast-evolving, investment is lumpy, the private provision of transportation infrastructure is necessary to counter the lack of its public provision, consumer food fashions are fast-changing and best met by integrated marketing chains, and regulatory standards are rising toward the holy grail of the traceability of produce back to its source.”

Small farmers, on the other hand, have had their day:

“… their mode of production is ill suited to modern agricultural production, in which scale is helpful. …”

“Innovation, especially, is hard to generate through peasant farming.”

If we need a model of what can be done, then Brazil provides one:

“In Brazil, large, technologically sophisticated agricultural companies have demonstrated how successfully food can be mass-produced. To give one remarkable example, the time between harvesting one crop and planting the next — the downtime for land — has been reduced to an astounding 30 minutes.”

Is Professor Collier right? Yes, he is correct to emphasise the need for commercial farming. But no, he is wrong to imagine that this requires doing so on a large-scale. His solution is unnecessary, flies in the face of history, and carries important dangers.

Large-scale farms are unnecessary in Africa

Does Africa need to imitate Brazil? Let’s look at the record of Brazilian farm output from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s. During that time the index of production in Brazil rose by 77%, at an annual average rate of just over 4% a year: a good performance, one of the best twenty in the world. But no less than eight African countries — Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Mozambique and Nigeria — did better, while Ethiopia fell short of Brazil by the smallest of margins — see Figure. The African countries concerned all have farm sectors dominated by smallholdings — as applies in the cases of Vietnam and China that also have better records than Brazil. If Africa needs models, then it might be better to look to at its own success stories, or to some Asian experiences, rather than to Brazil.    The history of African farming reveals numerous episodes where there have been remarkable spurts of growth in agricultural output coming from small farms. Coffee farms in Central Kenya in the 1950s and 1960s, cocoa in Ghana in the late C19th, cotton in Francophone Africa in the 1990s, maize in Zimbabwe in the 1980s are just a few examples.

These cases show that when small farmers are given the incentives to produce more and the means to do so, they invest, innovate and respond to opportunity. It is not a lack of large-scale farms that lies behind the disappointments of African agriculture, but a lack of conditions to allow small farmers to fulfil their potential.

Large-scale farming has often failed in Africa

Professor Collier is not the first person to believe that larger-scale farms in Africa would lead to major increases in production. Others have been beguiled by the prospect of rapid transformations. But the record of schemes to introduce large farms has many failures.

Back in the late 1940s Britain saw opportunity in southern Tanzania to grow a crop that would meet the post-war demand for vegetable oil and jump-start agricultural development in a remote colony. Large mechanised farms would be opened in the bush on which groundnuts would be grown. The result was a shambles.

In the 1970s, a US agribusiness took over land in Senegal with the intention of growing vegetables for export. By the end of the 1970s Bud Senegal planned to export 100,000 tonnes of irrigated fruit and vegetables, but the result was failure and bankruptcy.

Ghana promoted large-scale privately-owned rice farms in the Northern Region in the late 1970s with subsidies: they failed once the subsidies were ended. This was not Ghana’s only bad experience of large scale farming: Nkrumah’s ill-starred attempts at large-scale state farms had been earlier failures. Yes, there are successful large-scale farms in Africa, but generally for those relatively few crops where economies of scale exist in production; for example in flowers, horticulture, and sugar cane. When it comes to the main food crops and other export crops, there are few examples of large-scale farms outside of South Africa.

Why is this? The main obstacle to farming on a large scale is the same one that hit Soviet state farms: the management of labour. Small farms have the advantage that family labour is generally self-supervising, prepared to work long and diligently in ways that hired hands are not. When large farms try to minimise the labour problem by mechanising, not only do their costs of production rise, but keeping machinery operating well in rural areas remote from supplies of spares and skilled mechanics is not easy.

Promoting large-scale farming is risky

The obvious danger is that allocating land for commercial farms in large holdings would take land away from the rural poor, or block them off from land that their children may need in the future. Socially unacceptable, any such moves involve high political exposure: expropriation is easy to justify on the basis of historic wrongs. But other less obvious and more insidious risks lurk.

What happens to agricultural policy when a large-scale farm sector is created? With relatively few farmers that can readily be organised, who are rich and politically well-connected as well, large-scale farmers in Africa have a track record of lobbying for special favours. Government is expected to support the large farms with roads, irrigation, and power supplies. Research stations are encouraged to devote their attention to the issues that concern the large farms. The result is that the large farms get these public goods, while any small farms do not. Worse, the large farmers demand subsidies on inputs, guaranteed prices for their outputs, and exclusive rights to grow crops or to market them.

Look at the record of the commercial farming unions of South Africa and Zimbabwe in the recent past. Look today at the large grain farms of Kenya’s Rift Valley. Owned by the political elite, the price paid for maize by the government marketing board is way over the import parity price, conferring substantial rents on the wealthy producers — all in the name of national self-sufficiency.

The record of model Brazil is not so encouraging in this regard either. During the 1980s the commercial farm lobby managed to get the government to offer subsidies on interest rates for farm credit that by 1979–80 were equal to 19–20% of the gross agricultural product, or 2% of GDP. Whilst the majority of Brazil’s farms were of 10 ha or less, only 4% of such smallholders had a bank loan in 1980: 85% of the agricultural portfolio went to the more prosperous South, Southeast and Centre-West regions—with only small amounts going to the needy Nordeste.

Commercial farming, yes; agri-business, yes; but it doesn’t need to be large farms

This is not to deny that large-scale private investors seeking to produce more in Africa should be welcomed. Their capital, their expertise can be put to good use, to the advantage of both the companies and many African (small) farmers as well. But let’s get the economies of scale where they are needed: in the supply chains, in processing, transport and marketing —where lumpy investments and sophisticated know-how count. But let’s leave the farming to the local experts, the family farmers, who have all the incentives to work hard and carefully. This is not romanticism; it is simply a reflection of the empirical record. Small farmers in Africa have repeatedly shown that they can increase production. Let’s give them the chance to do so again.
Steve Wiggins

Derek Byerlee and Alain de Janvry
January 25, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

Paul Collier (November/December 2008 issue) sets out three priorities to overcome the world food crisis—moving to large-scale commercial farms to replace peasant or smallholder farming, promoting genetically modified organisms, and reducing distorting subsidies to biofuels in the US.  We think that Professor Collier got two of these right, but missed the boat with his anti-smallholder bias to modernizing agriculture, especially in Africa.

There are three reasons why a focus on smallholder farming is a proven strategy for accelerating growth, reducing poverty, and overcoming hunger.

First, smallholders have proven to be efficient commercial farmers, when given a chance. This is evident from the Asian Green Revolution experience led by smallholders in the 1960s and continuing until today. In India, cereal yields are now 2.6 times what they were in the 1960s, with nearly 90 percent of farmland controlled by farmers with under 10 hectares. And this was not through organic agriculture — Asian smallholder farmers now consume over half of the world’s fertilizer. Failure to realize a Green Revolution in Africa reflects a consistent policy bias against agriculture and smallholders in particular, by both governments and donors. When given the opportunity, smallholders in Africa have proven to be just as responsive in adopting new technologies as their Asian sisters. Witness the adoption of hybrid maize in much of southern Africa, the smallholder dairy revolution of east Africa, and the cocoa, cassava, and cotton successes of West Africa. And witness also the many failed starts with large-scale farming in Africa, dating from colonial times.

Second, accelerating smallholder productivity is win-win in terms of increasing food production and reducing poverty. From 1991 to 2001, China doubled its cereal yields based on smallholders with an average of 0.4 ha of land, while dramatically reducing rural poverty by 63 percentage points and taking a historically unprecedented 400 million rural people out of poverty. Over the same period, the Brazil model of large-scale farming espoused by Professor Collier nearly matched the Chinese record of productivity growth, but the number of rural poor actually increased.

Finally, Professor Collier equates the global food crisis and the hunger of some 900 million people with food supply alone. Yet increasing food supply is only one side of the solution—generating incomes for the poor to access food is equally if not more important. We should not forget that 75% of the world’s poor are rural, and that they mainly depend on agriculture and related activities for their livelihoods. Since the majority of these rural poor are net buyers of food, raising the productivity of the land they control so they can better feed themselves is essential to gain access to food.

While we recognize that large-scale agriculture has a place in a some land abundant areas of Africa if it is driven by markets rather than subsidies, and the rights of current land users are adequately protected, it would be a huge mistake to forsake the proven power of smallholders to jump start growth, reduce poverty, and solve the hunger crisis in Africa and beyond. Promoting smallholder farming is not “romantic populism”, but sound economic and social policy.

Derek Byerlee and Alain de Janvry, Co-Directors of the World Development Report 2008, Agriculture for Development, www.worldbank.org/wdr2008.

Thomas Lines
January 25, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

It is rather unfortunate that the terms of debate should be framed by a man like Paul Collier.  From his dreaming spire in Oxford, he looks down on the world through the wrong end of a telescope.  Like many unimaginative economists, he starts with the market – and the world market to boot.  Yet he understands neither agriculture nor world markets.  And he does his case no good by patronising his opposition as ‘populist’, ‘ideological’, ‘romantic’ and even ‘romantic populism’.

One such term is the ‘war on science’.  Has he not seen the IAAKSTD report of 2008, in which eminent scientists drew radically different conclusions from his?  At times he shows an awareness of the problems implied by his approach, but then rapidly shifts away from them.  Two examples: ‘Some have criticized the Brazilian model for displacing peoples and destroying rain forest’ and ‘the political coalition against GM foods has only expanded.’  Indeed so, since members of that coalition understand what Collier does not: we have played around with nature for long enough.

He writes that in large-scale commercial agriculture, ‘if output prices rise by more than input prices, production will be expanded.’  But as he also half-concedes, this has not happened.  On the contrary, according to my calculations oil and fertiliser input prices have risen far more than crop prices – so the food crisis is above all a crisis of industrial agriculture.  Between the commodities boom of the late 1970s and the one just ended, prices for maize and rice, deflated by those of developing countries’ manufactured imports, actually declined by 25 and 45 per cent respectively on a three-year moving average.  Meanwhile real oil prices rose by 59 per cent and phosphates by 46 per cent.

Collier asserts that, ‘Where poor farmers are integrated into global markets, they are likely to benefit.’  Wrong again: over the same period, the largest price falls were in crops produced by poor farmers for globally integrated markets.  Real coffee prices fell by 63 per cent, cocoa by 65 per cent and cotton, 57 per cent.

Collier shows no understanding of how commodity markets work.  He writes, ‘global food prices must be brought down’; well, now they have been, as usually happens rapidly after price spikes, especially one so dramatic as this.  But from China to Nigeria to France, the sons and daughters of farmers are leaving the land in droves since it no longer provides a decent livelihood.  With prices low, for how long will big investors want to replace them?

We should start our analysis not with the market but the problems that need to be addressed: poverty and hunger.  First determine who and where poor and hungry people are, then why they are so and how their lives can be improved.  That is what I did in my book, Making Poverty: A History.  This is not romantic or populist but practical good sense.  And it did not lead me to airily dismiss, like Collier, the notion that ‘Peasants, like pandas, are to be preserved.’  The greatest numbers of poor and hungry people are peasants: smallholders and rural landless.  What would the good professor do?  Shoot them?  Expropriate them and hand their land and livestock to big units, like Stalin in 1930?  Stalin’s collectivisation programme was based on much the same faulty reasoning as Collier’s.

He ignores the fact that today’s poorest countries are generally small as well as remote, agrarian and commodity-dependent.  That is why they fare badly under globalisation. The immediate need is not closer integration in world markets but shelter from those markets’  damaging influence.  This applies above all in Africa: build links between African countries rather than between them and the outside world, to enable food surpluses in one area to meet shortages in others.  Surplus farmers will then benefit from a good harvest and not see it frittered away in collapsing prices.  In the long run that will provide the basis of all development, which is domestic accumulation, not external investment.

Collier offers modern Brazil and industrialising England as models.  More relevant perhaps is Denmark, another small country which prospered on the back of small-scale agriculture, exporting food to its neighbours.  That helped it to create an unusually harmonious society – unlike today’s Brazil or 19th-century England.

Thomas Lines
Freelance Consultant and Author of Making Poverty: A History (Zed Books, 2008)

Wolfgang Bayer
January 25, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

One thing that is missing in the contributions I saw thus far, are definitions of large farms or small farms. 25 years ago I was in Australia and found interesting statistics for Australian conditions of course. To gain an income from farming equal to average national income a beef farmer in the North needed 100 km² of land or 1000 head of beef cattle. A sugar cane farmer needed 50 ha and a farmer growing green pepper 1 ha . Things have surely changed in the mean time and Africa is not Australia, yet looking at income potential instead of at size might be a useful way of looking at farming.

Small farms (and smallholding) do have a very important role as safety net in times of crisis – and the size can range from little more than an allotment garden to a few hectares. This safety function in times of crisis was in the past very important in Europe e.g. during and after WW II, and was also important in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the communism (and the economy). And smallholder farming received very little research and development support, because the farm models that research worked for was not a small farm. For outsiders it is tedious to try to understand small holder farming, and it is also tedious to re-orient research (which holds far fewer benefits for agro-industrial  companies than do large farms) to small holder farming. Definitely smallholder farms are not simply large farms at a scale of 1:100 or so,  and therefore large farms ma not be able to provide many services for small holders. We also should look a small holder farms from another angle: in many African countries 60 or more %of the population still rely to a larger or smaller degree on agriculture for their livelihood. Definitely there is nothing romantic about it – smallholder farming can be very hard work, indeed. However, at present it is needed also for social security. What is needed as agricultural revolution in Africa is research and development that is pro smallholders that also takes into account the dynamics of smallholder farming, and this also has to take in institutional and regulatory systems, and at times even concepts such as varieties in plants and breeds in animals, because they may mean something different in smallholder agriculture than for large, so-called commercial farms.

Wolfgang Bayer, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation

Stephen (Esteban) Bartlett
January 25, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

A very important topic and distinction.  It is precisely the scale of production and the respective models that accompany either small or large farms, that determines the social and economic character of agriculture, its ecological sustainability (ie how it maintains soil fertility), and its usefulness as a shield against hunger for the many.

Very simply put, small farms are necessary in order to end hunger.  80% of hungry people worldwide are rural people or rural migrants whose land holdings or economic or social infrastructure are insufficient to produce an income that can feed, clothe and educate their families.  This is a result of land concentration into fewer hands, ie larger farms.

The green revolution may have increased yields in certain grain crops for those able to take advantage, that is, those with capital to spend on seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  But social inequalities widened, and ecological limits came to bear, ie the law of diminishing returns came to bear on increasing uses of pesticides as resistances built up, soil lost its natural fertility (due to lack of organic material being returned), etc… Lands became concentrated into fewer hands due to the industrial model.

Studies have shown that, the world over, on average the smaller the farms are, the more productive they are in overall calories per acre.  We are not talking about the yields of large scale monocultures, but of a diversity of crops and animals raised in given areas.  (www.foodfirst.org Peter Rosset)

Regarding GMO seeds, it is now widely known that their main function is to make large scale monocultures easier (more convenient) to produce, through the use of herbicides sprayed over the crop, that the plant can withstand.  Overall yields of GMOs have been shown to be below those of the best hybrid or even open-pollinated varieties of the major grains and oilseeds.  Conventionally grown hybrid grain crops continue to out-produce GMO crops.

Finally, the argument that large farms of “efficient” monocultures (“efficient only in the sense of how much food each farmer can produce, but not how much can be produced sustainably, or even economically, on a given piece of land) are needed in order to combat hunger is completely false.  If rural peoples are to feed themselves, farms necessarily need to be smaller, so that living wage employment is more widely distributed and small-scale farmers have the means to grow their own foods, plus surpluses to sell.  It is the lack of support on the part of governments and the international financial institutions that imposed harmful conditionalities for decades now (including the de-funding of grain reserves!) for small-scale farming that has marginalized that sector, not any inherent inefficiency in that way of life or that scale of production.

Once small farmers organize themselves into cooperatives, the small scale of their individual farm holdings becomes irrelevant.  Their closer attention to the soil, their use of diverse plantings, their use of animal manures and other green manures, and their attention to micro climate through maintenance of wood lots, etc..for the domestic products forests supply, including medicines, all make small farms more effective in addressing economic impoverishment, in slowing or reversing the rural exodus to the cities, and in providing the community necessary to maintain a resilient rural culture.

It is likely that if you argue otherwise, your bread might very well be buttered in some way by the status quo of corporate, industrial-scale production, or some academic institution that thrives off the spouting of cleverly worded abstractions in the interest of capturing “research”
funding.  The debate over small versus large farms is really a debate about corporate control and profit-taking by producers of industrial inputs versus the survival of independent small-holders, the people that Thomas Jefferson swore were the bedrock of democracy, without whom democratic process would dry up and wither on the vine…

Stephen (Esteban) Bartlett, Agricultural Missions, Inc (AMI)

Colin Poulton
January 25, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

Perhaps predictably, I find it hard to disagree with Steve’s arguments. There is a pro-smallholder and pro-science – even pro-GM! – position, drawing on a strong empirical record, that Paul completely misses in his attempt to slay the giants of romanticism. I will, therefore, confine myself to two main points:

The first augments Steve’s points about the comparative advantage of smallholder vs large-scale commercial agriculture. In low income economies, replacing labour with capital is often not efficient. This is true for many agricultural production tasks. Moreover, smallholder family labour is often better motivated and hence more efficient than the hired labour that large-scale farms have to rely on. In general, therefore, there are few economies of scale in agricultural production in Africa, although there may be in processing and marketing. That said, there are supply chains – most notably, export horticulture – where significant capital investments at farm level are unavoidable.

There are also economies of scale in traceability and other aspects of quality assurance. In such supply chains, the advantages of large farm organisation may outweigh the labour benefits of smallholder production. In a recent review of commercial agriculture in Africa for the World Bank (http://go.worldbank.org/XSRUM2ZXM0), we found that large-scale production had outperformed smallholder systems in export horticulture, sugar and flue-cured tobacco, but that smallholder production systems had outperformed large-scale in cotton and cashew, with strong performance under both forms in tea. The current debate has been prompted by the high food prices observed in 2008. Notably, food crop production in Africa remains dominated by smallholders.

The high costs of accessing and defending large landholdings in much of Africa may contribute to this. However, in a low income economy there are no obvious scale advantages in maize production and poor consumers are a long way from demanding the traceability and food safety assurance that could tip the balance in favour of large producers. Tellingly, where large farms do exist, they often choose to produce higher value crops than maize and other staples. Paul argues that “allowing commercial organizations to replace peasant agriculture gradually would raise global food supply in the medium term”. However, as Prabhu Pingali and others have shown for East Asia, market forces will tend to produce farm consolidation only when real wages in an economy rise well above levels seen in most of Africa today. When this happens, replacing labour with capital will make increasing sense and increasingly large plots will be necessary to generate an income for the owner comparable to that which could be obtained in an (attainable) off-farm job.

My second point augments one of Paul’s points. We can point to plenty of evidence showing that, where smallholders are supported through public or private delivery of support services (accessible input supply, seasonal finance, technical advice etc), they can compete strongly with large-scale farms in low income economies. However, large-scale farms do possess an important advantage: they can access such support services themselves (e.g. direct contact with commercial banks), whereas smallholders are heavily dependent on services being brought close to their farmgate. As Steve notes (not altogether approvingly), large-scale farms can even lobby for public infrastructure provision, something that smallholders have rarely been able to do.

The case for large-scale farms, therefore, looks stronger where states completely fail to provide or to encourage support services to smallholder producers. Without such service provision, smallholders are indeed more likely to be trapped in chronic poverty than to be drivers of agricultural growth. In recent years there have been encouraging commitments from African governments to increase their investment in the agricultural sectors of their countries. This is critical if smallholder production is to supply the ever-rising demand for food on the continent.

Colin Poulton, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Michael Loevinsohn
January 25, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

I’d like to challenge one of Prof. Collier’s key points: small farmers are failing to keep up with the pace of change. “Innovation is hard to generate through peasant farming”, he writes. “Their mode of production is ill-suited to modern agricultural production in which scale is helpful”.  On the contrary, small farmers have shown time and again a capacity to rapidly evolve technologies and systems; in this their greater number and their closer interactions with their land, crops, animals and each other, relative to large farmers, are key advantages. This extends to achieving scale economies – where these are attractive – through cooperation. In a context of rapid change, small farmers’ capacity to evolve is critical. However, it is far more often ignored or suppressed than supported and fed.

An illuminating case comes from the highlands of southern Rwanda, one of the most densely populated parts of the most densely populated country in Africa.
Soon after arriving in the late 1980’s, I took up an initiative to advance sustainable intensification of highland valley bottoms thru farmer-led experimentation. Farmer groups in 3 valleys tried out and modified technical options they or we suggested; they bore all risks, we provided initial seed and advice. Within 2 seasons the valleys were transformed (photos). Rice, previously only grown 200 m lower, spread rapidly. Farmers identified varieties that tolerated cold and developed cropping patterns adapted to their economic orientation and the hydrology of their valleys. By the second season, all the groups had constructed sandbag-reinforced diversion dams and peripheral irrigation canals. Farmers who had never before seen a need to farm cooperatively were now electing coordinators to organize tasks that benefited all, like irrigation maintenance, and, when necessary, to enforce penalties. Appropriate scales of cooperation were quickly found for different tasks: larger for maintaining canals, smaller for managing a seedbed, still smaller for scaring off birds. “Traveling seminars” in which the groups showed and explained what they were trying were crucial for the evolution of these lumpy options. How to maintain functional diversity was a constant topic of conversation.  Rice was proving very productive (appreciated at home and with a ready market) but its spread threatened other elements.  Sweet potato especially: growing it in the valley provided cuttings for the hillsides and made year-round cultivation possible – an enormous boost to food security. One solution was to grow rice in paddies then rebuild raised beds for sweet potato, beans and e.g. out-of-season maize for the market: tremendously labour-demanding but evidently feasible for farmers with a few hundred sq m of land. Innovation was driven by necessity, which was hardly in short supply. But the context was less than supportive: markets functioned poorly, extension was demeaning and the state apparatus hostile to any autonomous initiative. Discussion in policy circles favoured scale and specialization – fewer people, growing one or a few crops, either in the valleys or on the hills. This much of the story was recounted in Agricultural Systems (1994, attached). I left a year before the genocide broke out in 1994. I visited in 1996: despite upheaval and more than 4 years without support of any kind, the groups had survived and rice cultivation had spread up the valleys.  It was more difficult to make out what had happened to other innovations. A few months ago, a colleague visited the area. The groups are all still active, 20 years on, and he found rice dominant over many kilometres of valley (photo).  It’s unclear to what extent farmers have been supported in this by public or private sector institutions (I know some are active in the area) and whether farmer innovation is being recognized. I’d love to find out more. A final thought. New cultivation techniques for familiar crops may prove an important production frontier, particularly as climate change accelerates. The System of Rice Intensification and related approaches are notable examples. The wheel is still very much in spin but evidence suggests a potential for significant gains in production and water use efficiency along with an inescapable need for local innovation and adaptation around the basic principles. Supporting the innovative capacity the Rwandan groups demonstrated would seem essential if that potential is to be captured.  

Michael Loevinsohn, Applied Ecology Associates

Peter Rosset
January 25, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

I am surprised to find this debate starting all over again, and would like to ask readers to look over the following essays I wrote during an earlier iteration of these debates.  In them I challenge the conventional wisdom that small farms are backward and unproductive.

Using evidence from Southern and Northern countries I demonstrate that small farms are “multi-functional” – more productive, more efficient, and contribute more to economic development than large farms. Small farmers can also make better stewards of natural resources, conserving biodiversity and safe-guarding the future sustainability of agricultural production.




Peter Rosset, Associate, Global Alternatives

Layne Coppock
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

I have worked now for 25 years in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. I have been fortunate to be able to follow situations on the ground during much of this time. My role has included applied research, participatory research, outreach facilitation, and local capacity building.

The pastoral dynamics described by Stephen Sandford are already pretty well known by people who have carefully observed these systems over many years. In addition to recent efforts by the PARIMA project, previous work by ILCA in Kajiado Maasailand (ILCA Systems Study No. 4 of 1991) and on the Borana Plateau (ILCA Systems Study No. 5 of 1994) point to similar pastoral system trends.

Upon reviewing the arguments by Sandford and Devereaux/Scoones, I side with the more optimistic views of Devereaux/Scoones. As I look back over the large literature on livestock development, one comment stands out from a book by Hans Jahnke (1982). Jahnke essentially said that while the technical options for livestock development on Africa’s rangelands were slim at best, the scope for development of human potential among rangeland inhabitants was vast. The last few years working in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia have convinced me that this perspective is correct. Livestock development, after all, should be to the benefit of human beings—freeing them from hunger and marginalization. Many of us have made profound errors in our careers by focusing more on the technical aspects of livestock development while discounting the real goals of human development. So, one interesting question is, “Are there multiple pathways to improve the human condition in rangelands, besides just having a sole focus on the livestock component?” The livestock economy is crucial, for sure, but are there other “sustainable, small victories” to be achieved? One of the more interesting aspects I have observed of late is how many rangeland inhabitants can have their lives transformed by observing success of innovative peers, exposing them to new ways of thinking, and providing access to some basic education. In essence, helping people more effectively engage a changing world and have more choices about how they live day-to-day.

The example I have is the creation of 60 dynamic collective-action groups in southern Ethiopia (with over 2,000 members in total, 76% women) over the past five years. This process has been accelerated to a large extent by exposing the Ethiopians to peers from northern Kenya who have made remarkable achievements in a variety of self-help initiatives starting in the 1980s. Thousands have attended cross-border rallies in the past couple of years, and thousands have been trained in a variety of capacity-building efforts focused on micro-finance and entrepreneurial endeavors. People have learned to reconfigure their lives a bit and be a little more informed in terms of how they can better manage themselves and their families in a difficult and changing environment. People who were illiterate and incapable of making simple calculations with a pencil a few years ago now successfully manage small businesses, negotiate with exporters, market livestock, and handle large sums of money. Livelihood diversification happens and interesting local niches are discovered. Human capital, social capital, and financial capital are all being created. Details of this process are forthcoming.

It is therefore tempting to look at the big picture as Sandford has and see little other than calamity and chaos, but in terms of impacting individual lives a considerable scope exists for change, if for no other reason than the baseline condition can be so grim. I also believe there is a bias among some scholars who discount the value of education and capacity building among the rural poor. Pastoralists in particular are often viewed as “all knowing” and inherently capable of coping with considerable change if we just left them alone. My recent experiences tell me this is not true. Many pastoral women have told us that they never dreamed of anything different from the difficult lives they previously lead until they were inspired and awakened by innovative peers to do a few things differently.

Yes, Sandford and others are correct that the challenges are daunting. Several factors must properly line up if major progress is to be achieved and sustained, including improvements in markets and governance that lie far beyond the control of pastoralists and their advocates. But things will be worse if we stand by and do nothing. The larger environment for southern Ethiopia has a few favorable trends underway at the moment. For example, never have the export market opportunities been greater for Borana livestock than they are today. Never have there been greater incentives for pastoralists to improve livestock production practices to take advantage of new market opportunities. Never has the region held the positive attentions from policy makers than what occurs today. I have been impressed by the depth of knowledge that many policy makers posses about pastoralism and the need for multi-faceted, pastoral development approaches. The technical know-how and capacities of NGOs and GOs in southern Ethiopia have never been stronger than they are today. As one case in point, the Oromia Agricultural Research Institute (GO) is ready to embark on a major prescribed fire plan across the region to assist in reclaiming large areas of the Borana Plateau from bush encroachment. This is being done in partnership with local people, a departure from the old, “top-down” ways of doing business. These points illustrate why I have confidence in the value of building human capacity, at multiple levels, to promote pastoral development.

What are the greatest threats to such seemingly small elements of “progress?” Threats, of course, include things like population growth, resource restriction, and drought over the longer term and poor governance and local/regional conflicts in the shorter term. The major problems reported to us concerning the sustainability of collective-action groups are political and managerial, not environmental.

Layne Coppock
Department of Rangeland Resources, Utah State University

Andrew MacMillan and Amir Kassam
January 22, 2010 / Soil Fertility

The overall debate question is: “…. What are the policy frameworks that really will increase soil fertility [in Africa] in ways that will boost production in a sustainable fashion, where the benefits of the interventions are widely distributed, meeting broader aims of equitable, board-based development?”

We suggest the following design principles as a basis for effective policy.

1. Distinguish between increasing national food production and achieving full household level food security.

  1. Raising national food output does not necessarily lead to improved household and individual food security and nutrition: it may, however, contribute to lower food prices and hence increase the amount and possibly quality of food that poor families can afford to buy
  2. If very small-scale farmers, who themselves are food insecure, increase their output, this is likely to improve their food security and nutrition
  3. If increased food production comes mainly from small-scale farmers rather than large-scale farmers, this is likely to contribute indirectly to greater food security in rural communities, because production systems are more labour-intensive and hence more people receive earnings (or, in some cases, payments in food) from food production related activities.
  4. In most situations, higher levels of productivity are attained on small-scale rather than large-scale farms, and hence, where land is scarce, strategies for expanding food output mainly by small-scale farmers are not only more equitable but also likely to be more successful in raising output.

2. There are very few situations in which full household food security can be attained simply by raising national food production: income redistribution measures, especially targeted cash transfers (or other social security programmes) must be part of the solution, even in rural areas.

3. In many areas of Africa, there is unused land with reasonable agricultural potential. As long as labour is amply available and there is easy access to land, growth in production by small farmers in these areas can continue to come from expanding the agricultural frontier, with limited use of external inputs.

4. In other regions, where rural population density is high, intensification offers the only route for expanding food output.

5. In most agricultural land use situations in Africa, avoiding reductions in soil organic matter (OM) content is essential if soils are to be cropped intensively on a sustainable basis. If OM levels are allowed to fall, there will be a progressive decline in soil fertility.

6. Where soils are not already seriously depleted in organic matter, using inorganic fertilizers and soil amendments (including lime) can help to increase vegetative material production and build up soil OM content, provided that crop residues are retained on the land and soils are not disturbed by tillage.

7. Inversion soil tillage, whether by hoe or plough, accelerates the decline in soil OM content and the biotic activity it supports, and destroys soil porosity, and is best avoided or restricted to crop “planting stations”.

8. Use of Conservation Agriculture (CA) principles and practices (minimal or no-till, soil cover with mulch and residues, and crop rotations, especially with legumes) results in an increase in soil OM and nitrogen levels and hence can do much to maintain soil health and fertility.

9. CA is the foundation for a greener revolution that can make intensive farming sustainable, cut energy use (whether human or fuel-derived energy) in food production, decrease agro-chemical contamination in the environment, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, minimize run-off and soil erosion, make a higher proportion of rainfall available for crop growth, and improve the quality and dependability of fresh water supplies.

10. But the CA requirement for retention of crop residues and use of cover crops is difficult to reconcile, especially in low-rainfall areas, with other demands for crop residues – livestock feed, fuel, brick-making. In these situations, CA systems need to incorporate components that provide for animal feed and fuel while at the same time enabling adequate soil surface residue cover.

11. Moreover, where no-till systems have to use herbicides for weed control, this will usually decrease their attractiveness to small-scale farmers who do not have access to herbicides or the equipment to apply them, or want to engage in organic farming.  Manual or non-chemical weed control can be difficult and time-consuming in the first years of practicing a CA system but, after a few years of good weed control and use of cover crops weed populations decline and become more manageable.

12. Best approaches to sustainable soil fertility improvement are likely to be location specific due to diverse agro-ecological and socioeconomic situations: “wholesaling” of standard solutions is unlikely to be feasible. However, mainstreaming of CA principles adapted to these diverse situations over time should form a policy goal for increasing soil fertility and enabling sustainable crop intensification.

13. In most situations, a shift to sustainable practices based on Conservation Agriculture principles requires fundamental changes in the ways in which farming is currently practiced and cannot be induced by top-down “message delivery” type extension services, though these may succeed in promoting greater use of fertilizers.

14. Instead, it is necessary to enable farmers to raise their level of understanding of the underlying causes of declining soil fertility and to engage them in testing CA-based options for improvement. The experiential learning methods practiced in Farmer Field Schools are very relevant to creating local capacities for moving towards more sustainable intensive farming systems with CA, adapted to local situations.

15. To the extent that farmer-facilitated and self-financing field school models are taken up, they have the advantage of imposing only limited demands on highly skilled staff and on recurrent budgets and hence can be scaled up rapidly without running into serious institutional, manpower and funding constraints.

16. Policies (e.g. subsidies) that promote fertilizer uptake or ploughing without linking these to the more complex changes in farming systems that may be needed to mainstream CA practices in Africa will undermine a shift towards sustainable soil fertility management and should therefore be avoided. In contrast, policies that compensate farmers for the enhanced provision of environmental services associated with the application of CA principles could accelerate a move towards more sustainable land use systems.

There is growing evidence of successful management of soil fertility for crop intensification on both large and small-scale farms using Conservation Agriculture practices in Africa from countries as diverse as Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Swaziland, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, covering a range of agro-ecological and socioeconomic conditions. The fact that Conservation Agriculture is now practised on almost 100 million hectares worldwide implies that the principles on which it is based are recognised by farmers as one major potential alternative for enhancing soil fertility and for sustainable agricultural intensification in Africa and internationally.

Andrew MacMillan, former Director
FAO Field Operations Division

Amir Kassam, Senior Agricultural Research Officer
CGIAR Interim Science Council Secretariat

Jeremy Keenan
January 22, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

A colleague at Reading forwarded to me the contribution on big-small farms from Roy Keijzer, saying that I might find the reference to Mali interesting. I cannot contribute much to the main debate, as it is not my field. However, with reference to the Mail Niger inland Delta scheme to which Roy Keijzer refers, I can make the following comment: While his remarks about its present state of development etc may well be valid, its colonial history are interesting, in that it was developed originally by the French to counter the British cotton-growing Gezira scheme.

The Office du Niger scheme was probably one of the very worst forms of colonial development, at least as far as the local people were concerned. They were treated horrendously and suffered appallingly. The scheme was a large blot of shame on colonial development at that time. In fact, the Office du Niger project was one of the first classic social anthropological studies of the late Claude Meillassoux. Not surprisingly, the French did much to cover up his research and findings.

When dealing with such schemes/regions in their present day context, their previous exploitation (it was not development) should not be forgotten.
Jeremy Keenan, School of Oriental and African Studies

Ken Giller
January 22, 2010 / Soil Fertility

  • What are the design principles for effective policy?
  • How can a strategy that operates at scale take account of the diversity of agro-ecological and socio-economic circumstances on the ground?

In southern Africa we were working actively through the SoilFertNet during the 1990s on targeting technologies, and came up with the term ‘best bet’ technologies to try to escape the idea of silver bullets that would work everywhere (see e.g. Waddington et al., 1998). When sitting in a discussion for the Africa Challenge Programme in Blantyre, Malawi, with Paul Mapfumo (UZ-SOFECSA) and John Pender (IFPRI) the suggestion came we should be thinking of ‘best-fit’ technologies (Giller et al., 2009). This was based on work through our NUANCES framework (Giller et al., 2006) that has extended this the idea of targeting to a (hierarchical) systematic analysis of fields, farmers and farming systems in terms of agroecologies, market access and infrastructure, education, resource endowments, local field variability etc to recognise the “socioecological niches” for technologies (Ojiem et al., 2006). John Pender referred to an IFPRI report that called for best fit approaches to information delivery services (Birner et al., 2006).

I think the idea of one policy or one approach is what we have to escape from – we need to move towards a ‘best fit’ policy approach – that can be tailored to the needs and opportunities of different regions. I believe our NUANCES methodology gives us a structured way of revealing the diversity and heterogeneity within farming systems and allows us to analyse trade-offs for technologies, and likely effects of policies in terms of their impact (e.g. Tittonell et al., 2008a; Tittonell et al., 2008b).

BUT – when we start to discuss these ideas, people at the policy end tend to be frightened off – they seem to want to treat Africa as a homogeneous ‘flat earth’ rather than the hugely diverse continent that it is… For me the most important design principle for effective policy is to recognise that – in the same way there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ technology, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy!

Birner, R., Davis, K., Pender, J., Nkonya, E., Ananajayasekeram, P., Ekboir, J., Mbabu, A., Spielman, D., Horna, D., Benin, S., Kisamba-Mugerwa, W., 2006. From “Best Practice” to “Best Fit”: A Framework for Designing and Analyzing Pluralistic Agricultural Advisory Services. IFPRI, Washington.
Giller, K.E., Rowe, E., de Ridder, N., van Keulen, H., 2006. Resource use dynamics and interactions in the tropics: Scaling up in space and time. Agric. Syst. 88, 8-27.
Giller, K.E., Vanlauwe, B., Mapfumo, P., Baijukya, F.P., Ojiem, J.O., Pender, J., Tittonell, P., 2009. Best-fits for diverse and heterogeneous farming systems in Africa: from fields to farms and farming systems. forthcoming.
Ojiem, J.O., de Ridder, N., Vanlauwe, B., Giller, K.E., 2006. Socio-ecological niche: A conceptual framework for integration of legumes in smallholder farming systems. Int. J. Agric. Sust. 4, 79-93.
Tittonell, P., Corbeels, M.C., van Wijk, M., Vanlauwe, B., Giller, K.E., 2008a. Combining organic and mineral fertilizers for integrated soil fertility management in smallholder farming systems of Kenya – explorations using the crop/soil model FIELD. Agron. J. doi: 10.2134agronj2007.0355.
Tittonell, P., van Wijk, M., Herrero, M., Rufino, M.C., de Ridder, N., Giller, K.E., 2008b. Inefficiencies and resource constraints – exploring the physical feasibility of options for the intensification of smallholder crop-livestock systems in Vihiga district, Kenya. Agric. Syst. in press.
Waddington, S.R., Gilbert, R., Giller, K.E., 1998. “Best Bet” technologies for increasing nutrient supply for maize on smallholder farms. In: Waddington, S.R., Murwira, H.K., Kumwenda, J.D.T., Hikwa, D., Tagwira, F. (Eds.), Soil Fertility Research for Maize-based Farming Systems in Malawi and Zimbabwe. SoilFertNet/CIMMYT-Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe, pp. 245-250.

[See additional contributions in Resources]

Ken Giller, University of Wageningen

Small Farms Debate
January 22, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

Small farmers can be a driving force in cutting hunger and poverty worldwide’ was a key message to G8 leaders from development specialists at The Future of Small Farms research workshop held in Wye in June 2005.

Participants at the workshop, jointly organised by IFPRI, ODI and Imperial College London, concluded that investment in small farm agriculture could help to raise the rural poor out of poverty and catalyse wider economic growth.

However, the challenges small farmers in developing countries face include globalisation – especially the dramatic rise of supermarkets even in poor countries – low world market prices for major agricultural commodities and the expected negative impact of climate change. In Africa, these challenges are compounded by the spread of HIV/AIDS. In addition poor farmers are widely dispersed and have no effective political voice so are usually economically neglected.

But we should not give up on this task according to Dr Peter Hazell, Director of the Development Strategy and Governance Division of IFPRI and workshop organiser. Possibilities for alternative livelihoods within the non-farm sector do not look optimistic for the next decade or so and there are plenty of good investment opportunities within small farms which are good for both growth and poverty reduction.

The workshop participants agreed that:

  • Public investment in rural infrastructure, agricultural research and support services is needed to unleash the inherent power of small farmers.
  • In many African countries such investment is contrained by the capacity and quality of state institutions through which it would be channelled. These institutions have to be reformed to increase their accountability to farmers organisations and the private sector.
  • Donors must think carefully how aid can be used to encourage such reform programmes. The danger is that large increases in aid could remove incentives for recipient governments to undertake real reform.
  • The role of the state in providing key support to small farmers needs to be redefined. Structural adjustment programmes have led to state withdrawal from ensuring that small farmers have fair access to high quality seeds, fertilizers, technical advice and credit and marketing services and have left a vacuum which in most poor African countries has not been filled by the private sector. The state should perform a proactive role in collaboration with farmer organisations and private sector to ‘kick-start’ the markets and increase private sector involvement.

Policy frameworks for increasing soil fertility in Africa: debating the alternatives
January 22, 2010 / Soil Fertility

Everyone is agreed that one of the central components of achieving an ‘African Green Revolution’ is to tackle the widespread soil fertility constraints in African agriculture. To this end, AGRA – the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa – has launched a major new ‘Soil Health’ programme aimed at 4.1 million farmers across Africa, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committing $198 million to the effort.

But what are the policy frameworks that really will increase soil fertility in ways that will boost production in a sustainable fashion; where the benefits of the interventions are widely distributed, meeting broader aims of equitable, broad-based development? Here there is much less precision and an urgent need for a concrete debate. For this reason, the Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC) has decided to invite a wide range of participants to debate some key issues around the way forward for policy, and associated institutional arrangements.

C. Devendra
January 22, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

I have read with interest the ongoing exchange of emails concerning above, and cannot resist the opportunity to make a few comments.

Please permit me to present an Asian perspective.

1). Some of the comments made mainly from the ” North ” give the impression of poor understanding of what constitutes small farms. These probably stem from inadequate R and D efforts to appreciate the systems, infinite complexities needs and opportunities.

2). Even the very definition of what are small farms appears to be unclear if not poorly defined  – going from the references to small farms or smallholders in the developing countries to ” family farms ” in the ” North”. probably because of this and the overwhelming reference to globalisation, many in the industrialised countries have mentioned that these small farms are likely to disappear in the future. An important recently published  talked of  “current trends in structural change imply the likely and probably accelerating exit of smallholder livestock producers in developing and developed countries”. In Asia at any rate, this conclusion is  unacceptable.

3). A definition that has been used  in Asia is as follows: “Small farms have been defined as complex interrelationships between animals , crops and farming families , involving small land holdings and minimum resources of labour and capital , from which small farmers may or may not be able to derive a regular and adequate supply of food or an acceptable income and standard of living “.

4). In global terms, small farms in Asia account for an estimated 87 % of all farms below two hectares . Many of these are models of diversification and efficiency in NRM. While globalisation has undoubtedly have had effects- and there have been other crisis as well,  many if not most have survived and are self reliant because of the low input systems, minimum external inputs , and resilience. In animal production, these farms currently contribute significant amounts of milk, ruminant meats, draught power, duck meat and eggs.

5). Two related  issues that have not been addressed concern the links to poverty and type of small farms. Agric. growth in the past has significantly contributed to reducing poverty, but as ESCAP( 2008) has recently reported , waning agriculture has slowed the decline in poverty. Stimulating small farm productivity is thus important. Concerning type of farms in Asia, those in the irrigated areas are the richer due to benefits of the Green Revolution, while those
in the rainfed areas are poorer and were largely by-passed . For various reasons including poverty ,  future development needs to focus on the latter. Results from several countries in the region highlight increased production due to improved technology application.

6). Increasing the contribution from small farms in the future can benefit from increased investments in R and D on small farms ,  accelerated technology application and delivery systems, intensification and commercialisation, improved market access, rural infrastructure and cooperatives, backed by appropriate policy. Focusing on these and other issues  is urgent in the light of the food crisis. Many of these issues will also apply to other parts of the developing world.  Dr. Wiggins is correct in his assessment that given the right conditions, small farms can serve food production in the future.  

C. Devendra, International Livestock Research Institute