Journal articles

A list of articles authored, or co-authored by FAC members and published in peer-reviewed journals.


Latest articles

Journal Article: Basket of options: Unpacking the concept
July 9, 2021 / Journal articles Publications

E Ronner, J Sumberg, D Glover, KKE Descheemaeker, CJM Almekinders, BIG Haussmann, TW Kuyper, H Posthumus, P Ebanyat, KE Giller. 2021.

How to stimulate technological change to enhance agricultural productivity and reduce poverty remains an area of vigorous debate. In the face of heterogeneity among farm households and rural areas, one proposition is to offer potential users a ‘basket of options’ – a range of agricultural technologies from which potential users may select the ones that are best suited to their specific circumstances. While the idea of a basket of options is now generally accepted, it has attracted little critical attention. In this paper, we reflect on outstanding questions: the appropriate dimensions of a basket, its contents and how they are identified, and how a basket might be presented. We conceive a basket of options in terms of its depth (number of options related to a problem or opportunity) and breadth (the number of different problems or opportunities addressed). The dimensions of a basket should reflect the framing of the problem or opportunity at hand and the objective in offering the basket. We recognise that increasing the number of options leads to a trade-off by decreasing the fraction of those options that are relevant to an individual user. Farmers might try out, adapt or use one or more of the options in a basket, possibly leading to a process of technological change. We emphasise that the selection (or not) of specific options from the basket, and potential adaptation of the options, provide important opportunities for learning. Baskets of options can therefore be understood as important boundary concepts that invite critical engagement, comparison and discussion. Significant knowledge gaps remain, however, about the best ways to present the basket and to guide potential users to select the options that are most relevant to them.

Journal Article: Medium-scale commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe: the experience of A2 resettlement farms
June 15, 2021 / Journal articles

Toendepi Shonhe, Ian Scoones and Felix Murimbarimba. 2021.

The emergence of medium-scale farms is having important consequences for agricultural commercialisation across Africa. This article examines the role of medium-scale A2 farms allocated following Zimbabwe’s land reform after 2000. While the existing literature focuses on changing farm size distributions, this article investigates processes of social differentiation across medium-scale farms, based on qualitative-quantitative studies in two contrasting sites (Mvurwi and Masvingo-Gutu). Diverse processes of accumulation are identified across commercial, aspiring and struggling farmers, and linked to contrasting patterns of agricultural production and sale, asset ownership, employment and finance. The ability to mobilise finance, influenced by the state of the macro-economy, as well as forms of political patronage, is identified as a crucial driver. Contrary to assertions that A2 farms are largely occupied by ‘cronies’ and that they are unproductive and under-utilised, a more differentiated picture emerges, with important implications for policy and the wider politics of Zimbabwe’s countryside following land reform.

Regenerative Agriculture: An Agronomic Perspective
March 4, 2021 / Journal articles

Ken Giller, Renske Hijbeek, Jens. Andersson, and James Sumberg.

Outlook on Agriculture

Agriculture is in crisis. Soil health is collapsing. Biodiversity faces the sixth mass extinction. Crop yields are plateauing. Against this crisis narrative swells a clarion call for Regenerative Agriculture. But what is Regenerative Agriculture, and why is it gaining such prominence? Which problems does it solve, and how? Here we address these questions from an agronomic perspective. The term Regenerative Agriculture has actually been in use for some time, but there has been a resurgence of interest over the past 5 years. It is supported from what are often considered opposite poles of the debate on agriculture and food. Regenerative Agriculture has been promoted strongly by civil society and NGOs as well as by many of the major multi-national food companies. Many practices promoted as regenerative, including crop residue retention, cover cropping and reduced tillage are central to the canon of ‘good agricultural practices’, while others are contested and at best niche (e.g. permaculture, holistic grazing). Worryingly, these practices are generally promoted with little regard to context. Practices most often encouraged (such as no tillage, no pesticides or no external nutrient inputs) are unlikely to lead to the benefits claimed in all places. We argue that the resurgence of interest in Regenerative Agriculture represents a re-framing of what have been considered to be two contrasting approaches to agricultural futures, namely agroecology and sustainable intensification, under the same banner. This is more likely to confuse than to clarify the public debate. More importantly, it draws attention away from more fundamental challenges. We conclude by providing guidance for research agronomists who want to engage with Regenerative Agriculture.

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Journal Article: The Agrarian Question in Contemporary Zimbabwe. Africanus: Journal of Development Studies, Vol 49 No 1 (2019)
November 4, 2020 / Journal articles

Toendepi Shonhe. 2019

The reinvestment of rural agrarian surplus is driving capital accumulation in Zimbabwe’s countryside, providing a scope to foster national (re-) industrialisation and job creation. Contrary to Bernstein’s view, the Agrarian Question on capital remains unresolved in Southern Africa. Even though export finance, accessed through contract farming, provides an impetus for export cash crop production, and the government-mediated command agriculture supports food crop production, the reinvestment of proceeds from the sale of agricultural commodities is now driving capital accumulation. Drawing from empirical data, gathered through surveys and in-depth interviews from Hwedza district and Mvurwi farming area in Mazowe district in Zimbabwe, the findings of this study revealed the pre-eminence of the Agrarian Question, linked to an ongoing agrarian transition in Zimbabwe. This agrarian capital elaborates rural-urban interconnections and economic development, following two decades of de-industrialisation in Zimbabwe. 

Journal Article: Young People and Land in Zimbabwe: Livelihood Challenges After Land Reform
October 7, 2020 / Journal articles

Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba. 2019.

This article explores the livelihood challenges and opportunities of young people following Zimbabwe’s land reform in 2000. The article explores the life courses of a cohort of men and women, all children of land reform settlers, in two contrasting smallholder land reform sites. Major challenges to social reproduction are highlighted, reflected in an extended ‘waithood’, while some opportunities for accumulation are observed, notably in intensive agricultural production and agriculture-linked business enterprises. In conclusion, the implications of generational transfer of land, assets and livelihood opportunities are discussed in the context of Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform.

Journal Article: Hard work and hazard: Young people and agricultural commercialisation in Africa
June 16, 2020 / Journal articles

Thomas Yeboah, Easther Chigumira, Innocensia John, Nana Akua Anyidoho, Victor Manyong, Justin Flynn, James Sumberg.

An emerging orthodoxy supports the proposition that the rural economy – built around agriculture but encompassing much more – will serve as sweet spot of employment opportunities for many millions of young people into the foreseeable future. However, our understanding of how rural young people in Africa take advantage of processes of rural transformation or engage with the rural economy is limited. Drawing on qualitative research conducted with 117 rural young people in three country contexts (Ghana, Zimbabwe and Tanzania), this paper reports the findings on the steps and pathways through which young people construct livelihoods in hotspots of agricultural commercialisation. Overall what emerges from a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and pathways is that the commercialised rural economy within which they operate offer them a variety of income earning opportunities. Family and broader social relations are key in enabling young people to access the needed resources in the form of land, capital, and inputs to begin their ventures. Between family and rental markets, there is little evidence that young people’s engagement with crop production is limited by their inability to access land. We also find evidence of asset accumulation by young people in the form of housing, furniture and savings among others, which reflects the combination of relatively dynamic rural economies, enabling social relations, and hard work. However, for many it is a struggle to stay afloat, requiring effort, persistence, and an ability to navigate setbacks and hazards. Our findings challenge a number of assumptions underlying policy and public discourse around rural young people and employment in Africa. We highlight some key implications for policy seeking to promote youth employment in rural Africa.

Journal Article: Agricultural corridors as ‘demonstration fields’: infrastructure, fairs and associations along the Beira and Nacala corridors of Mozambique
June 16, 2020 / Journal articles

Euclides Gonçalves. 2020.

In the past decade, the Mozambican government has been mobilizing international capital to build and renovate transport infrastructure in the central and northern areas of the country, with the aim of creating agricultural corridors. Based on field research conducted in two districts along the Beira and Nacala corridors, I examine those occasions when international capital and national agricultural policy meet smallholders in the implementation of agricultural projects. This article offers a performative analysis of the constitution of agricultural corridors. I argue that agricultural corridors emerge on those occasions when international funders and investors, national elites, local bureaucrats and smallholders overstate the success of agricultural projects and constitute what I have termed ‘demonstration fields’. Regardless of the implementation of blueprints, agricultural corridors gain spatial and temporal materiality from the performance of presenting agricultural projects as successful, such as at the unveiling of agro-related infrastructure, at agricultural fairs and on occasions involving smallholders’ associations.

Journal Article: Land, livelihoods and belonging: negotiating change and anticipating LAPSSET in Kenya’s Lamu county
June 16, 2020 / Journal articles

Ngala Chome. 2020.

To attract investments in mineral extraction, physical infrastructure and agricultural commercialization over a vast swathe of Northern Kenya, national politicians and bureaucrats are casting the area as being both abundant with land and resources, and as, conversely, ‘backward’, ‘unexploited’ and ‘empty’. Drawing on evidence from Lamu County, and focusing on the planned Lamu Port and South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor, this article contends that such high-modernist and ‘new frontier’ discourses are usually complicated by the realities on the ground. Based on common perceptions about land and ethnicity, and how these are intertwined with the politics of belonging and redistribution, these realities exemplify complex economies of anticipation – through which networks of patronage, alliance, and mobilization are being created or entrenched in advance of major investments. This article argues that it is these anticipations – more than official designs – that will determine the future direction of LAPSSET, especially in respect to who will get what, when and how, within its promised prosperous future.

Journal Article: Bureaucrats, investors and smallholders: contesting land rights and agro-commercialisation in the Southern agricultural growth corridor of Tanzania
June 16, 2020 / Journal articles

Emmanuel Sulle. 2020.

Since the triple crises of food, fuel and finance of 2007/8, investments in agricultural growth corridors have taken centre-stage in government, donor and private sector initiatives. This article examines the politics of the multi-billion dollar development of the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT). The corridor’s proponents aim to create an environment in which agribusiness will operate alongside smallholders to improve food security and environmental sustainability, while reducing rural poverty. Based on three case studies, comprising one of a small-scale dairy company and two large-scale sugar companies, all operating with smallholders, this paper interrogates the political dynamics that shape the implementation of SAGCOT on the ground; in particular, the multiple contestations among bureaucrats, investors and smallholders over access to land and other resources, and contending visions for agricultural commercialisation. Despite the widespread support it received from government, donors and investors, the paper argues that SAGCOT’s grand modernist vision of the corridor, centred on the promotion of large-scale estates, has unravelled through contestations and negotiations on the ground.

Journal Article: Demonstration fields’, anticipation, and contestation: agrarian change and the political economy of development corridors in Eastern Africa
June 16, 2020 / Journal articles

Ngala Chome, Euclides Gonçalves, Ian Scoones & Emmanuel Sulle. 2020.

In much of Eastern Africa, the last decade has seen a renewed interest in spatial development plans that link mineral exploitation, transport infrastructure and agricultural commercialisation. While these development corridors have yielded complex results – even in cases where significant investments are yet to happen – much of the existing analysis continues to focus on economic and implementation questions, where failures are attributed to inappropriate incentives or lack of ‘political will’. Taking a different – political economy – approach, this article examines what actually happens when corridors ‘hit the ground’, with a specific interest to the diverse agricultural commercialisation pathways that they induce. Specifically, the article introduces and analyses four corridors – LAPSSET in Kenya, Beira and Nacala in Mozambique, and SAGCOT in Tanzania – which are generating ‘demonstration fields’, economies of anticipation and fields of political contestations respectively, and as a result, creating – or promising to create – diverse pathways for agricultural commercialisation, accumulation and differentiation. In sum, the article shows how top-down grand-modernist plans are shaped by local dynamics, in a process that results in the transformation of corridors, from exclusivist ‘tunnel’ visions, to more networked corridors embedded in local economies, and shaped by the realities of rural Eastern Africa.

Journal Article: Land reform and new meaning of rural development in Zimbabwe
June 15, 2020 / Journal articles

Toendepi Shonhe. 2019.

This paper reveals new meanings of rural development emerging following a dramatic land reform program and changes in the roles of capital in Zimbabwe. The economy-wide crisis wrought by capital flight in response to the fast track land reform program (FTLRP) carried out from 2000 reconfigured the financing and marketing of agricultural produce thereby created new a paradigm of rural development in Zimbabwe. The initial slowdown in agricultural production that caused de-industrialisation in urban areas is currently undergoing a reversal process. However, not much research has been carried out to reveal the emerging meanings of rural development in Zimbabwe. The FTLRP resulted in the reconfiguration of the land ownership patterns that significantly changed land utilisation patterns. In seeking to reveal the new meanings of rural development in Zimbabwe, this paper applies empirical data collected through documentary analysis, two surveys and in-depth interviews carried out in Hwedza and Mvurwi between 2016 and 2019. The article informs the debate on land and rural development in Zimbabwe. In so doing, the paper concludes that rural development has been reshaped in line with the new land use patterns in rural Zimbabwe. Private indigenous agrarian capital and the demands of the smallholder farmers undergird rural development as opposed to public investment and large-scale commercial farming capital of the past.

Journal Article: Irrigating Zimbabwe After Land Reform: The Potential of Farmer-Led Systems
June 15, 2020 / Journal articles

Ian Scoones, Felix Murimbarimba, Jacob Mahenehene. 2019.

Farmer-led irrigation is far more extensive in Zimbabwe than realised by planners and policymakers. This paper explores the pattern of farmer-led irrigation in neighbouring post-land reform smallholder resettlement sites in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo district. Across 49 farmer-led cases, 41.3 hectares of irrigated land was identified, representing two per cent of the total land area. A combination of surveys and in-depth interviews explored uses of different water extraction and distribution technologies, alongside patterns of production, marketing, processing and labour use. In-depth case studies examined the socio-technical practices involved. Based on these data, a simple typology is proposed, differentiating homestead irrigators from aspiring and commercial irrigators. The typology is linked to patterns of investment, accumulation and social differentiation across the sites. The results are contrasted with a formal irrigation scheme and a group garden in the same area. Farmer-led irrigation is more extensive but also more differentiated, suggesting a new dynamic of agrarian change. As Zimbabwe seeks to boost agricultural production following land reform, the paper argues that farmer-led irrigation offers a complementary way forward to the current emphasis on formal schemes, although challenges of water access, environmental management and equity are highlighted.

Journal Article: Revisiting the Farm Size-Productivity Relationship Based on a Relatively Wide Range of Farm Sizes: Evidence from Kenya
January 16, 2020 / Journal articles

Milu Muyanga, T S Jayne. 2019.

This paper revisits the inverse farm size-productivity relationship in Kenya. The study makes two contributions. First, the relationship is examined over a much wider range of farm sizes than most studies, which is particularly relevant in Africa given the recent rise of medium- and large-scale farms. Second, we test the inverse relationship hypothesis using three different measures of productivity including profits per hectare and total factor productivity, which are arguably more meaningful than standard measures of productivity such as yield or gross output per hectare. We find a U-shaped relationship between farm size and all three measures of farm productivity. The inverse relationship hypothesis holds on farms between zero and 3 hectares. The relationship between farm size and productivity is relatively flat between 3 and 5 hectares. A strong positive relationship between farm size and productivity emerges within the 5 to 70 hectare range of farm sizes. Across virtually all measures of productivity, farms between 20 and 70 hectares are found to be substantially more productive than farms under 5 hectares. When the analysis is confined to fields cultivated to maize (Kenya’s main food crop) the productivity advantage of relatively large farms stems at least partially from differences in technical choice related to mechanization, which substantially reduces labor input per hectare, and from input use intensity

Journal Article: Are medium-scale farms driving agricultural transformation in sub-Saharan Africa?
December 16, 2019 / Journal articles

T. S. Jayne, Milu Muyanga, Ayala Wineman, Hosaena Ghebru, Caleb Stevens, Mercedes Stickler, Antony Chapoto, Ward Anseeuw, Divan van der Westhuizen, David Nyang.

This study presents evidence of profound farm-level transformation in parts of sub- Saharan Africa, identifies major sources of dynamism in the sector, and proposes an updated typology of farms that reflects the evolving nature of African agriculture. Repeat waves of national survey data are used to examine changes in crop production and marketed output by farm size. Between the first and most recent surveys (generally covering 6 to 10 years), the share of national marketed crop output value accounted for by medium-scale farms rose in Zambia from 23% to 42%, in Tanzania from 17% to 36%, and in Nigeria from 7% to 18%. The share of land under medium-scale farms is not rising in densely populated countries such as Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, where land scarcity is impeding the pace of medium-scale farm acquisitions. Medium-scale farmers are a diverse group, reflecting distinct entry pathways into agriculture, encouraged by the rapid development of land rental, purchase, and long-term lease markets. The rise of medium-scale farms is affecting the region in diverse ways that are difficult to generalize. Findings indicate that these farms can be a dynamic driver of agricultural transformation but this does not reduce the importance of maintaining a clear commitment to supporting smallholder farms. Strengthening land tenure security of local rural people to maintain land rights and support productivity investments by smallholder households remains crucial

Journal Article: Medium-scale commercial farms in Africa: the experience of the ‘native purchase areas’ in Zimbabwe
December 3, 2018 / Journal articles

Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge and Felix Murimbarimba. 2018.

Across Africa there has been a growth in medium-sized farms, including in Zimbabwe following the land reform of 2000. What are the prospects of such farms driving new forms of agricultural commercialization? In this article we seek to learn lessons from the past by examining the experience of ‘native purchase areas’, which were established from the 1930s in Zimbabwe. Through a detailed historical study of Mushagashe small-scale commercial farming area in Masvingo Province, the article explores the changing fortunes of farms over time. Historical information is complemented by a survey of twenty-six randomly selected farms, examining patterns of production, asset ownership and accumulation. In-depth interviews explore life histories and changes in social arrangements that have influenced agrarian change. Four broad farm types are identified, including those that are commercialized, projectized, villagized, and held or abandoned. These categories are not static, however, and the article emphasizes non-linear patterns of change. Following Sara Berry, we show how pathways of commercialization are diverse and unpredictable, influenced by interlocking conjunctures of social dynamics, generational changes and political-economic conditions. Commercialization outcomes are dependent on the intersection of relational dynamics and more structural, political economy factors. Bursts of commercialization on these farms are contingent on access to employment by farm owners, labour (hired, squatters and offspring) and, perhaps above all, money to invest. The much-hyped policy vision of a new medium-scale commercial farm sector emerging in Africa therefore must be qualified, and divergent outcomes recognized.

Perspectives on Desirable Work: Findings from a Q Study with Students and Parents in Rural Ghana
June 15, 2016 / Journal articles

by Thomas Yeboah, James Sumberg, Justin Flynn, Nana Akua Anyidoho
The European Journal of Development Research

The perspectives of young people and parents are important to policy that seeks to address youth unemployment in Africa. A systematic understanding of these should help to avoid implementation failure caused by incompatible assumptions or world views, and increase the likelihood that policies promoted by officials will be effective. We present results of a series of Q Methodology studies with senior high school students and parents at two rural locations in Ghana. At both sites, the dominant perspective among students and parents was that professional jobs were most desirable and that low-skill or manual jobs were least desirable. There was little indication that respondents saw “being your own boss” as making a job desirable. Students showed a strong social ethos: jobs were desirable if they helped people, made the world a better place or built the nation. These results have important implications for strategies that seek to address youth unemployment primarily by promoting entrepreneurship.

Savannah fires and local resistance to transnational land deals: the case of organic mango farming..
May 29, 2014 / Journal articles

Full title: Savannah fires and local resistance to transnational land deals: the case of organic mango farming in Dipale, northern Ghana

Joseph A. Yaro and Dzodzi Tsikata
African Geographical Review, Volume 32, Issue 1, 2013

Recent interest in investments in land in Africa targets the supposed ‘abundant and wasting’ fire-prone savannah woodlands. Outgrower models are becoming the recommended business model for transnational investments as they are argued to guarantee a win–win outcome for both trans-national companies and local farmers. Using qualitative interviews in the village of Dipale, we investigate one such project, the Integrated Tamale Fruit Company (ITFC). All outgrowers lost their investments to savannah fires and consequently abandoned or converted the mango farms into food crop farms. The political ecology of the area, manifested in the human-environmental conditions and land management practices confounded the business model of land acquisitions thus threatening their profitability for the investors and reducing their contribution to local livelihood outcomes. The savannah fires represent an instrumentalized form of local resistance against the expropriation of their livelihood resources without their full cooperation and consent.

 

Land, Gender, and Food Security
May 29, 2014 / Journal articles

Cheryl Doss, Gale Summerfield and Dzodzi Tsikata
Feminist Economics, volume 20, issue 1, 2014

Since 2008, a surge in large-scale land acquisitions, or land grabs, has been taking place in low- and middle-income countries around the globe. This contribution examines the gendered effects of and responses to these deals, drawing on nine studies, which include conceptual framing essays that bring in debates about human rights, studies that draw on previous waves of land acquisitions globally, and case studies that examine the gendered dimensions of land dispossession and loss of common property. Three key insights emerge: the evolving gender and land tenure literature provides valuable information for understanding the likely effects of land deals; some of the land deal issues transcend gender-equity concerns and relate to broader problems of dispossession and loss of livelihoods; and huge gaps remain in our knowledge of gender and land rights that require urgent attention and systematic integration of gender analysis into mainstream research.

From agricultural research to ‘product development’: What role for user feedback and feedback loops?
February 19, 2014 / Journal articles

James Sumberg, Jonas Heirman, Cara Raboanarielina and Abdoulaye Kaboré
Outlook on Agriculture, December 2013

Agricultural research for development (AR4D) is often discussed in terms of abandoning ‘business as usual’. One important element of the reframing of agricultural research is an emphasis on the development of useful ‘products’, which immediately brings ‘users’ to centre stage. In this paper the authors review the literature on user involvement from the field of new product development (NPD). They then propose a conceptual model of feedback and feedback loops within AR4D and use this model to analyse examples of feedback generation in rice research in West Africa. On the basis of this initial analysis they conclude that, while there are many ongoing activities that could potentially provide useful feedback, in the majority of cases this potential is probably not being realized. Unless feedback is approached much more systematically, the promise of AR4D as a means of generating useful products for farmers and others will probably remain unfulfilled.

When a Good Business Model is Not Enough: Land Transactions and Gendered Livelihood Prospects…
January 22, 2014 / Journal articles

Full title: When a Good Business Model is Not Enough: Land Transactions and Gendered Livelihood Prospects in Rural Ghana

Dzodzi Tsikata and Joseph Awetori Yaro
Feminist Economics,  December 2013

Recent large-scale commercial agriculture projects in developing countries have raised concerns about the effects on natural resource-based livelihood activities of local people. A significant weakness in the emerging literature is the lack of a gender perspective on implications for agrarian livelihoods. This article explores the gendered aspects of land transactions on livelihood prospects in the Northern Region of Ghana. Drawing on qualitative research from two commercial agriculture projects, the article examines how pre-existing gender inequalities in agrarian production systems, as well as gender biases in project design, are implicated in post-project livelihood activities.

The article concludes that a good business model of a land deal, even one that includes local communities in production and profit sharing, is not sufficient to protect women’s livelihood prospects if projects ignore pre-existing gender inequalities and biases, which limit access to opportunities.

Land Grabbing, Large- and Small-scale Farming: what can evidence and policy from 20th C Africa…
December 16, 2013 / Journal articles

Full title: Land Grabbing, Large- and Small-scale Farming: what can evidence and policy from 20th century Africa contribute to the debate?

Elena Baglioni and Peter Gibbon
Third World Quarterly, Vol 34, Issue 9, 2013
Special Issue: Global Land Grabs

This article examines the contemporary phenomenon of ‘land grabbing’ in relation to the history of plantation and large- and small-scale farming (PF, LSF and SSF) in sub-Saharan Africa. It looks at the extent of PF and LSF over the 20th century, as well as the policy narratives that have justified, supported or circumscribed their development.

Many characteristics of the current land rush and its interpretation reveal elements of continuity with some of the general trends marking the history of PF and LSF up to recent years. In particular, the heterogeneity of PF and LSF, subsuming quite different relations to SSF, and the pivotal role played by the combination of private capital (whether foreign, domestic or combined) with the state represent organisational continuities. Meanwhile continuities in supporting narratives centre on the prevalence of generic prescriptions for either LSF/PF or SSF. Refuting these generic prescriptions is a precondition for more nuanced analysis and policy proposals.

Young People, Agriculture, and Transformation in Rural Africa: An “Opportunity Space” Approach
September 9, 2013 / Journal articles

by James Sumberg and Christine Okali
Innovations Journal, Special Edition on Youth Economic Opportunities
September 2013

In this essay we argue that entrepreneurship-based policy and programmes to address the jobs challenge facing young people in rural Africa need to be much more firmly grounded. Specifically, in terms of expectations, design and implementation they must take explicit account of the highly diverse and changing rural and social realities within which young people both find themselves and help to fashion. We will develop this argument through an exploration of the notion of “opportunity space”, and demonstrate the benefit of putting an appreciation of social difference and social relations at centre stage.

The changing politics of agronomy research
August 1, 2013 / Journal articles

Sumberg, James; Thompson, John; Woodhouse, Philip
Outlook on Agriculture (2013) Volume 42, Number 2, June 2013 , pp. 81-83(3)

The context in which agronomy research takes place has changed fundamentally over the last 40 years, with important implications for the discipline. Systematic study of the new politics of agronomy is particularly important in an era when the whole basis of global and sustainable food security is under question. One critical challenge is to analyse the forces driving claims on the universality of technology and approaches.

Determinants of Commercialization of Smallholder Tomato and Pineapple Farms in Ghana
June 26, 2013 / Journal articles

Samuel Asuming-Brempong, John K. Anarfi, Samuel Arthur and Seth Asante
American Journal of Experimental Agriculture (2013), ISSN: 2231-0606,Vol.: 3, Issue.: 3 (July-September)

Smallholder commercialisation may be broadly defined as the situation where farmers of small individual and family farms have greater engagement with markets, either for inputs, outputs, or both. A key premise of commercialization as a development strategy is that markets provide increased incomes to households who are able to maximize the returns to land and labor through market opportunities, using earned income for household consumption in ways that are more efficient than subsistence production. This study assesses the characteristics of smallholder farmers in Ghana using tomato and pineapple production as a case study; analyses the relationship between commercialization and smallholder land holdings; assesses the determinants of commercialization of smallholder agriculture, as well as the benefits or otherwise of smallholder farmers from commercialization; and discusses how commercialization affects household food security among smallholder farmers. Descriptive statistics, correlations and regression analysis are used to describe the characteristics of smallholder farmers and determine the key factors that influence household decision to undertake commercialization among both tomato and pineapple farmers. Based on the study, it was found that 96.3 percent of the respondents in the study communities are farmers; and they fall between the ages of 15 and 59 years (91%), which indicates that they are relatively young. The key determinants of commercialization among tomato farmers are land productivity and labour productivity. Similarly, the main determinants of commercialization among pineapple smallholder farmers are land productivity and savings. The study recommends that both public and private agencies work should together to facilitate the move of smallholder farmers from mainly subsistence to commercialization because it comes with several benefits, including higher household incomes, and improvements in household food security. – See more at: http://www.sciencedomain.org/abstract.php?iid=229&id=2&aid=1384#.UcrBlpwZ_lU

Smallholder commercialisation may be broadly defined as the situation where farmers of small individual and family farms have greater engagement with markets, either for inputs, outputs, or both. A key premise of commercialization as a development strategy is that markets provide increased incomes to households who are able to maximize the returns to land and labor through market opportunities, using earned income for household consumption in ways that are more efficient than subsistence production. This study assesses the characteristics of smallholder farmers in Ghana using tomato and pineapple production as a case study; analyses the relationship between commercialization and smallholder land holdings; assesses the determinants of commercialization of smallholder agriculture, as well as the benefits or otherwise of smallholder farmers from commercialization; and discusses how commercialization affects household food security among smallholder farmers. Descriptive statistics, correlations and regression analysis are used to describe the characteristics of smallholder farmers and determine the key factors that influence household decision to undertake commercialization among both tomato and pineapple farmers. Based on the study, it was found that 96.3 percent of the respondents in the study communities are farmers; and they fall between the ages of 15 and 59 years (91%), which indicates that they are relatively young. The key determinants of commercialization among tomato farmers are land productivity and labour productivity. Similarly, the main determinants of commercialization among pineapple smallholder farmers are land productivity and savings. The study recommends that both public and private agencies work should together to facilitate the move of smallholder farmers from mainly subsistence to commercialization because it comes with several benefits, including higher household incomes, and improvements in household food security.

Smallholder commercialisation may be broadly defined as the situation where farmers of small individual and family farms have greater engagement with markets, either for inputs, outputs, or both. A key premise of commercialization as a development strategy is that markets provide increased incomes to households who are able to maximize the returns to land and labor through market opportunities, using earned income for household consumption in ways that are more efficient than subsistence production. This study assesses the characteristics of smallholder farmers in Ghana using tomato and pineapple production as a case study; analyses the relationship between commercialization and smallholder land holdings; assesses the determinants of commercialization of smallholder agriculture, as well as the benefits or otherwise of smallholder farmers from commercialization; and discusses how commercialization affects household food security among smallholder farmers. Descriptive statistics, correlations and regression analysis are used to describe the characteristics of smallholder farmers and determine the key factors that influence household decision to undertake commercialization among both tomato and pineapple farmers. Based on the study, it was found that 96.3 percent of the respondents in the study communities are farmers; and they fall between the ages of 15 and 59 years (91%), which indicates that they are relatively young. The key determinants of commercialization among tomato farmers are land productivity and labour productivity. Similarly, the main determinants of commercialization among pineapple smallholder farmers are land productivity and savings. The study recommends that both public and private agencies work should together to facilitate the move of smallholder farmers from mainly subsistence to commercialization because it comes with several benefits, including higher household incomes, and improvements in household food security. – See more at: http://www.sciencedomain.org/abstract.php?iid=229&id=2&aid=1384#.UcrBlpwZ_lU

Uncertainty, ignorance and ambiguity in crop modelling for African agricultural adaptation
June 24, 2013 / Journal articles

by Stephen Whitfield
Climatic Change, June 2013

Drawing on social constructivist approaches to interpreting the generation of knowledge, particularly Stirling’s (Local Environ 4(2):111–135, 1999) schema of incomplete knowledge, this paper looks critically at climate-crop modelling, a research discipline of growing importance within African agricultural adaptation policy. A combination of interviews with climate and crop modellers, a meta-analysis survey of crop modelling conducted as part of the CGIAR’s Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) programme in 2010, and peer-reviewed crop and climate modelling literature are analysed. Using case studies from across the crop model production chain as illustrations it is argued that, whilst increases in investment and growth of the modelling endeavour are undoubtedly improving observational data and reducing ignorance, the future of agriculture remains uncertain and ambiguous. The expansion of methodological options, assumptions about system dynamics, and divergence in model outcomes is increasing the space and need for more deliberative approaches to modelling and policy making. Participatory and deliberative approaches to science-policy are advanced in response. The discussion highlights the problem that, uncertainty and ambiguity become hidden within the growing complexity of conventional climate and crop modelling science, as such, achieving the transparency and accessibility required to democratise climate impact assessments represents a significant challenge. Suggestions are made about how these challenges might be responded to within the climate-crop modelling community.

Response to ‘Combining sustainable agricultural production with economic and environmental benefits’
June 4, 2013 / Journal articles

James Sumberg, Jens Andersson, Ken Giller and John Thompson
The Geographical Journal, Vol 179, Issue 2, pages 183-185, June 2013

We suggest that a recent commentary piece in The Geographical Journal on Conservation Agriculture (CA) and the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) (Kassam and Brammer 2012 was misleading because it drew very selectively from the literature, and presented its conclusions as both widely accepted and uncontroversial. Kassam and Brammer’s intervention in the continuing debates around CA and SRI can be understood as a manifestation of the new ‘contested agronomy’. While Kassam and Brammer call on geographers to do research that will promote the spread of CA and SRI, we suggest that this misconstrues and devalues the potential contribution of geography and social science more generally to agricultural development.

SUMBERG, J., ANDERSSON, J., GILLER, K. and THOMPSON, J. (2013), Response to ‘Combining sustainable agricultural production with economic and environmental benefits’. The Geographical Journal, 179: 183–185. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00472.x

Heifer-in-trust, Social Protection and Graduation: Conceptual Issues and Empirical Questions
April 13, 2013 / Journal articles

by James Sumberg and Gountiéni Damien Lankoandé
Development Policy Review, Volume 31, Issue 3, pages 255–271, April 2013

This article examines the ‘heifer-in-trust’ or ‘livestock-in-kind credit’ model through a social-protection lens. Specifically it seeks to engage with debates about the use of asset-based strategies to support graduation from social protection. Drawing on project experience with dairy goats in Ethiopia and dairy cattle in Tanzania, the article concludes that while the asset-ness of livestock may in principle allow them to make a unique contribution to livelihood transformation and thus graduation, the most obvious target group is least likely to be able to handle the demands and risks associated with livestock assets.

The Future of the Food System: Cases Involving the Private Sector in South Africa
March 19, 2013 / Journal articles

by Laura Pereira
Sustainability 2013, 5(3), 1234-1255

The food system is facing unprecedented pressure from environmental change exacerbated by the expansion of agri-food corporations that are consolidating their power in the global food chain. Although Africa missed the Green Revolution and the wave of supermarket expansion that hit the West and then spread to Asia and Latin America, this is unlikely to continue. With a large proportion of sub-Saharan African countries’ GDP still heavily reliant on agriculture, global trends in agri-food business are having an increasing impact on African countries. South Africa, a leader in agribusiness on the continent, has a well-established agri-food sector that is facing increasing pressure from various social and environmental sources.

This paper uses interview data with corporate executives from South African food businesses to explore how they are adapting to the dual pressures of environmental change and globalisation. It shows that companies now have to adapt to macro-trends both within and outside the formal food sector and how this in turn has repercussions for building sustainable farming systems—both small and large-scale. It concludes with the recognition that building a sustainable food system is a complex process involving a diversity of actors, however changes are already being seen. Businesses have strategically recognised the need to align the economic bottom line with social and environmental factors, but real sustainability will only happen when all stakeholders are included in food governance.

Why agronomy in the developing world has become contentious
March 1, 2013 / Journal articles

by James Sumberg, John Thompson and Philip Woodhouse
Agriculture and Human Values
, March 2013, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 71-83

In this paper we argue that over the last 40 years the context of agronomic research in the developing world has changed significantly. Three main changes are identified: the neoliberal turn in economic and social policy and the rise to prominence of the participation and environmental agendas. These changes have opened up new spaces for contestation around the goals, priorities, methods, results and recommendations of agronomic research. We suggest that this dynamic of contestation is having important effects on how agronomic research is planned, managed, implemented, evaluated and used, and is therefore worthy of detailed study. This is particularly so at a time when food security, rising food prices and the potential impacts of climate change on agriculture are in the policy spotlight. We outline a research agenda that should help illuminate the drivers, dynamics and impacts of this new ‘political agronomy’.


Agricultural labour productivity, food prices and sustainable development impacts and indicators
February 4, 2013 / Journal articles

by Andrew Dorward
Food Policy, Volume 39, April 2013, Pages 40–50

In the last few years high and unstable food and agricultural commodity prices and concerns about population growth, increasing per capita food demands and environmental constraints have pushed agriculture and food production up national and international political, policy and research agendas. Drawing on both theory and empirical evidence, this paper argues that fundamental impacts of links between agricultural productivity sustainability and real food price changes are often overlooked in current policy analysis. This is exacerbated by a lack of relevant and accessible indicators for monitoring agricultural productivity sustainability and real food prices. Two relatively simple and widely applicable sets of indicators are proposed for use in policy development and monitoring. Historical series of these indices are estimated for selected countries, regions and the world. Their strengths, weaknesses and potential value are then discussed in the context of the need for better sustainable agricultural development and food security indicators in any post 2015 successors to the current MDGs.

Evidence-based agricultural policy in Africa: Critical reflection on an emergent discourse
December 1, 2012 / Journal articles

by Stephen Whitfield
Outlook on Agriculture, Volume 41, Number 4, December 2012 , pp. 249-256(8)

Evidence-based policy represents an emergent discourse in African agriculture and is welcomed by many for the emphasis it places on the legitimization of policies and strategies through reference to observed realities. Its intuitive premise places realized results, as opposed to theory or bias, at the foundation of policy making. However, the universal appeal of evidence-based policy, as demonstrated by the geographical and inter-sector spread of the discourse, belies the fact that its legitimacy relies on a set of prerequisites that are by no means universally established. This paper highlights some of the current incompatibilities between a leaning towards evidence-based policy in African agriculture and various issues that currently compromise the quality of national agricultural statistics across the African continent. The case of NERICA rice is used to highlight how ‘success stories’ – which may become an evidence base of their own, justifying scaled-up investments and technology delivery – may be successfully constructed on the basis of weak or incomplete evidence. It is argued that the virtues of evidence-based policy rely critically on the quality of evidence and transparency in the way evidence speaks to policy, such that weaknesses do not become lost in a process that distorts data into policy truths.

Public Agronomy: Norman Borlaug as ‘Brand Hero’ for the Green Revolution
November 2, 2012 / Journal articles

by James Sumberg, Dennis Keeney and Benedict Dempsey
The Journal of Development Studies, Volume 48, Issue 11, 2012

This article examines the role played by Norman Borlaug in promoting the notion of Green Revolution as a way to rapidly transform agriculture in the developing world. It develops the argument that Borlaug used his profile as a ‘public agronomist’, gained through his successful breeding of semi-dwarf wheat varieties, to actively and instrumentally bolster the case for Green Revolution style agricultural development. In effect he played and continues to play the role of a ‘brand hero’ for the Green Revolution.