Journal articles

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

Latest articles

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.