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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
by James Sumberg and Christine Okali
Innovations Journal, Special Edition on Youth Economic Opportunities
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.