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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 (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: ). 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:

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,

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)

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.  ( 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)

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

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 (, 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

Andrew Catley
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

In response to Stephen Sandford’s paper, I find the analysis rather simplistic and in terms of the quantitative analysis and use of the TLU/AAME ratio, probably invalid. It’s simplistic because it fails to assess the overarching political contexts affecting pastoralism and in particular, the importance of conflict and violence.

While Stephen may argue that questionnaire surveys indicate that pastoralists don’t prioritize conflict as a problem (see comments to the ongoing FAO conference), questionnaire surveys not tend to be used in war zones or areas of high insecurity. I don’t see many researchers with clipboards in southern Somalia, the Ogaden, Darfur or Karamoja at the moment. The keys issues are peace, protection and the political representation of pastoralists. Regarding the use of TLU/AAME ratio, few countries have accurate data on human and livestock populations in pastoral areas. Wearing my epidemiologist’s hat, I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from Stephen’s calculations – the phrase ‘rubbish in – rubbish out’ springs to mind.

Pedro Sanchez
January 22, 2010 / Soil Fertility

Increasing agricultural productivity and achieving caloric food security is a first-year goal in most of the Millennium Villages (MV) sites. Soon after the first harvest, communities in MVP areas should diversify crops both for nutritional diversity, with vegetables, fruits and livestock, and for income generation, with high-value products.

In the short term, a package of technologies, including superior germplasm, agronomic practices, and postharvest handling, must be determined in consultation with the communities and agricultural expertise in each site. In the medium and longer term, a package of services is crucial to the economic viability of agriculture. These services include: timely supply to improved seeds of staple and cash crops as well as improved livestock and vegetables; fertilizers, water, and credit; training; and the establishment and strengthening of village farmer organizations. Initially some of these services must be provided through the project, but a transition to private sector agricultural input dealers and public sector extension agents is essential. This vision will also require putting into place a package of public policies, which include input and output markets, building up grain reserves, and strengthening rural infrastructure.

Broadly, agriculture interventions aim at more robust and diversified agriculture, including nitrogen-fixing trees and cover crops, organic manures, crop rotations, soil conservation practices, livestock, aquaculture, small-scale water management, improved crop storage, and crop insurance. More specifically, soil rehabilitation techniques, which comprise a significant aspect of agriculture interventions, include:

  • Fertilizers and hybrid maize subsidies by the government
  • Joint use of mineral and organic fertilizers, the latter of which include green manures and leguminous tree fallows
  • Financial incentives for N-fixing legumes

The MVP has already seen successes with these interventions, specifically in Mwandama, Malawi, which is in the southern region of Malawi’s Zomba district. Nearly 90% of people in the Mwandama Millennium Village cluster live in extreme poverty, a much higher proportion than the 65% national level. Prior to the MVP interventions, the average maize yield without fertilizer was 0.5 tons per hectare. Most households produced enough food to last through August, meaning that families experience a six-month period of food shortage.

Mwandama suffered a drought in the year preceding the start of MVP operations. But even in good rainy seasons, the shortage of nitrogen in the soil resulted in low maize yields. After MVP initiated agriculture interventions, including those described above, maize yields increased from .8 to 6.5 t-ha-1 in 2005/06. In addition, the area planted almost doubled, and the total maize production increased nearly 15-fold. Maize yields  from farms not using improved seeds and fertilizers averaged 2.2 t-ha-1, illustrating that improved rains were only responsible for half of the yield increases.

Malawi is also seeing improvements in agricultural productivity on a national scale. Decades of intensive cultivation in the absence of significant fertilizer use has resulted in a depletion of nutrients, particularly nitrogen, from smallholder fields. National yields of smallholder maize have averaged 1.2 MT/ ha during the last 20 years, and more than half of the farming households operate below subsistence. A dry spell in 2004 had devastating impacts on maize yields. Total maize production in 2004/5 declined nearly a quarter from the previous year, providing just 57% of the national maize requirement. In response, in June 2005, the Government of Malawi began to import fertilizer and procure improved maize seed for distribution to farmers through a national subsidy scheme.

For the 2005/6 season, the Government allocated 2 million coupons sufficient fertilizer to grow maize in 1 acre (0.4 ha), at the recommended rates (86 kg N ha-1 and 11.5 kg P ha-1). An additional 740,000 coupons were allocated for growing tobacco. For maize, the recommended nutrients were provided by one 50-kg bag of 23-21-0 fertilizer and one 50-kg bag of urea. Coupons enabled farmers to purchase fertilizer at MK 950 per bag ($7.60) compared to the market prices ranging from MK 2,500 ($20) – MK 3,500 ($28).

The 2005/6 season was characterized by good rains. The total maize production more than doubled from the previous year, producing a surplus of 510,000 MT above the national maize requirement. Maize yields averaged 1.59 MT/ha, almost doubling the 0.81 MT/ha of the drought-affected 2004/5 season.  Estimates for the 2006/7 harvest illustrate a 32% increase over the 2005/6, an all-time national record for Malawi, generating a surplus of about 1.34 million MT of maize grain above national requirements.

Pedro Sanchez,
Director, Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment
Director, Millennium Villages Project
The Earth Institute at Columbia University

Mike Mortimore
January 22, 2010 / Soil Fertility

The African soil fertility ‘problem’ (I am thinking of dryland soils) is of course a management problem, as after many decades of expanding cultivation and grazing, the basic characteristics of virgin soils have been significantly altered nearly everywhere, or stand to be altered soon. Management is based on knowledge, which is fragmented. At least three levels can be discerned:

  • Science-based knowledge, drawing on soil science and related natural science disciplines, which has enjoyed dominance since the beginning of the colonial period and has therefore led policy makers to search for technology-driven solutions
  • Policy-makers’ and donors’ perceptions, linked to that of field professionals, which has been marked by top-down and generalist tendencies that result from attitudes obtained from educational institutions, the influence of influential stakeholder groups, and donors’ home constituencies
  • Local peoples’ knowledge, which consists not merely in picturesque representations of the properties and potentials of local soils, inherited from the past (‘indigenous’ knowledge) but also in experiential and adaptive knowledge from project successes or failures as found relevant to their livelihood circumstances

Each of these crude categories has its own social ambiance. The first flourishes in universities and research stations, entangled with institutional structures and priorities and often lacking adequate ‘off-station’ inputs, often for want of resources rather than inclination. The second is driven by political targets and prejudiced in favour of grand scale interventions that attract publicity and funds. The third – insufficiently recognised – positions soil management as one component in a complex livelihood system where natural resources compete with wide-ranging livelihood objectives for the limited labour, skills and finance available.

It is only at the third level that knowledge properly confronts the complexity of local ecosystems, which have recently been characterised as ‘co-evolving human and ecological systems’ in the ‘Drylands Development Paradigm’. This level is also the only level at which the diversity issue is confronted on an everyday basis. It is at this level that well-known ‘success stories’ characterised as ‘area development’ (rather than project successes) have been worked out. There is a great gulf fixed between scientific knowledge patiently acquired from research at this level and the sweeping generalities promoted by the continental surveys and projections, and ruthlessly repeated in support of politically acceptable grand programmes in the soil fertility debate. Divergences between understanding obtained from macro- and micro-scale research should be a cause of concern. And such micro-scale research as has been undertaken is far too limited.

What is ‘success’? Given the current trends in food prices, fuel and other inputs, demographically-driven demand, urbanization, and climate change (or increasing variability), sustainable soil productivity is surely the only acceptable indicator of successful management. As such, it comes quite close to the perspective of a great many small farmers, who only ‘mine’ nutrients when their resources are constrained, and who are acutely aware of their need to pass on a productive asset to their heirs. Provided that the inheritance is assured, they invest – often with labour rather than with finance – in small-scale, intermittent, incremental  inputs over time.

In this context, the search for the ‘right’ policies continues, each with its own proponents. A question worth raising is whether the difficulties faced (so far) in hitting on demonstrably ‘successful’ strategies reflects a failure to come to terms with the fragmented and under-developed state of understanding of African soils management. Beyond the commendable use of participatory methods in projects (which pursue an external agenda) and a new emphasis on knowledge partnerships between farmers (or livestock herders), researchers, professionals and policy makers, two awkward concerns are:

  • The near-universal popularity of a diagnostic-prescriptive framework for designing intervention and promoting change. This mode, inherited from colonial forbears and an unequal exchange between scientific and local knowledge, suggests that every intervention begins afresh, as if no-one had been there before. This cannot be so, after many decades of agricultural policies and interventions affecting most of Africa. It is a consequence of the nature of development projects – nothing yesterday, funded today, impact (and withdrawal) tomorrow. Is this shallowness acceptable, or does the diagnosis need to be positioned beyond expert opinion in a more sophisticated analysis of project precursors, policy impacts, and long-term trends (for example, in rural population densities, markets, technology transformation, ecological or landscape evolution)?  This is how local people see it. Their memories are often longer than those of the institutions that seek to turn their lives upside down! Projects should be positioned through long-term understanding of transition in the countryside, not only in environmental management but also in livelihood circumstances.
  • Livelihoods approaches, although widely acknowledged to be relevant to soil management, are quite difficult to implement. How can development policy or project design deal with the possibility that investment in a bag of fertilizer may have to compete with the cost of taking a sick person to hospital? Agriculture is traditionally managed at national and donor level as a sector, but at the local level, no sector division is made. Investment decisions reflect such variables as education, attitudes, state of health, access to labour and knowledge, markets, social priorities, as well as financial resources. All these are embedded in a slow process of change that may influence how local people evaluate the prospects of technologies being promoted.

This may be a caricature of issues already familiar. But they are not always reflected, it seems, in policy debates leading up to grand programmes. Beyond the local scale, and the inspired action-research project agenda, there are methodological difficulties in scaling up temporal depth and systemic breadth, which remain as outliers in the policy debate, if recognised at all.

Mike Mortimore, Consultant
Drylands Research

Dr. Dan Taylor
January 22, 2010 / Soil Fertility

The debate about policy frameworks for increasing soil fertility is timely given the current food crisis. Now seems an appropriate time for revisiting some of the issues.

First of all I think we need to revisit the concept of soil fertility. When resource poor farmers speak about soil fertility they mean something different to us. They refer to a ‘context’ in which the crop grows rather than a ‘content’ which the soil contains. For example in isiZulu the word umnotho has a dual meeting – it can mean either ‘wealth’ or ‘fertility’. When farmers refer to a fertile soil they say the ‘soil is with fertility or wealth’. Thus fertility provides the context for a successful harvest and the wealth that ensues.

So we might just have something to learn from resource poor farmers. Rather than asking how much N, P or K a soil might need, we might ask how do we ensure the correct context for the crop to grow? Asking the question in this way ensures that we move beyond a polemical argument around the use or non-use of fertilisers to ask how do we make the soil fertile or wealthy.

We have in Malawi started a number of on-farm maize trials and demonstrations to compare the use of fertiliser and compost manures on ‘traditional’ OPV and hybrid maize varieties. Though the results, thus far, are variable and still inconclusive, it appears that compost manures – dependent obviously on their quality – provide a viable alternative to inorganic fertilisers. However one of the main benefits of compost use are attributable to good soil moisture holding capacity but, over the past few seasons, rainfall has been excellent and so we await drier season before drawing final conclusions. Farmers have claimed that, in drier seasons,  their best maize harvest occurred where they had applied compost, but we would like to verify this for ourselves.

Given that water, rather than nutrients, is the limiting factor in African agriculture, an infertile soil may still produce a reasonable harvest. As one farmer once said to me ‘our fertiliser is the rain’. Viewed from this perspective, and in the light of the aforegoing, we can question whether soil health and wealth can be secured by the ever increasing use of  fertilisers. If nothing else, it leads us to the conclusion that farmers, and those who advise farmers, should be more cautious custodians of the land and soil.

To get back to Malawi, the growing reliance of farmers on state subsidies for otherwise unaffordable farming inputs – read fertiliser – does little to convince us that this is  the way forward for Malawian – or African  – agriculture given current predictions of climate change. Likewise the dependence on a single crop, maize, for food security, to the detriment of a range of other well-adapted crops appears to us foolhardy in the extreme given unpredictable weather patterns. Our work on soil fertility accompanies a crop diversification strategy which is designed both to promote the conservation of agricultural biodiversity and offer farmers real and lasting alternatives.

Dr. Dan Taylor, Director
Find Your Feet

Prof. Peter Little
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

I have carefully read both (1) Sandford’s and (2) Devereux and Scoones’ brief papers on the current state of East African/Horn of Africa pastoralism and possible policy scenarios and feel that Sandford’s contribution fails to capture the social and economic complexity of contemporary pastoralism in the region. The policy implications of his contribution also raise some troubling prospects. The notion of a herd ‘threshold’ to sustain pastoralism based strictly on a livestock ‘per capita’ indicator is an important means to assess viability in a relatively undiversified pastoral economy where livestock production is the only source of income.

However, most recent studies of eastern African pastoralism (including several from the 1980s) show multiple household income sources that supplement pastoral production, and in some cases actually subsidize it. Sandford rightfully shows that local income diversification in many pastoral areas is limited because of low levels of demand, urbanization, and job potential, but fails to acknowledge the most important (and rapidly growing) source of non-pastoral income in places like the Horn of Africa—and that is wage and trade-based remittances. In recent studies from northern Kenya, McPeak and Little (2005) and Little et al. (2004) show that placing a household member in waged employment outside pastoralism (and outside the range areas) increasingly is an important livelihood strategy that can enhance local food security and provide capital for reinvesting in the livestock sector. This is a growing trend—along with increased market sales, reliance on non-pastoral diets, and in some cases use of purchased feed supplements—that question the use of relatively high livestock thresholds (around 6.0 TLUs per capita) for estimating pastoral viability (also see Little et al. 2006). In fact, recent work shows that rather than treating pastoral and non-pastoral livelihood sources as competitive and/or contradictory, the latter can be an important reason why some members of families can pursue pastoral livelihoods in dry environments that are unsuitable for alternative uses without very high capital investments (in water and irrigation development, for example), while others work outside the pastoral sector (McPeak and Little 2004).

Another point to keep in mind when discussing ‘notions’ of pastoral viability and thresholds and policy is that of mobility. Mobility remains the key to managing risk in Africa ‘s rangelands but at least in the Horn/East African context it is critical to distinguish human (people) and animal mobility. With few exceptions, most of these systems no longer are nomadic (i.e., where both people and animals are mobile) but, instead, operate on a base camp/settlement and satellite herding camp model (the latter units called fora for Boran and other northern Kenyan/southern Ethiopian groups). In short, the animals remain mobile but only part of the family (often young herders) moves with the animals. Those who remain at base camps pursue a range of different livelihood strategies (milk sales, casual labor, petty trade, farming, schooling/education, etc.) that supplement pastoral incomes and make problematic the notion of ‘pure’ or specialized pastoralism, especially the nomadic version. Contrary to orthodox assumptions based on aggregate data, pastoral dependence on food aid in the region is considerably less widespread than one is led to believe. Other sources of food and income, both among base and satellite camp residents, is significantly more important than food aid (see Lentz and Barrett 2004; Little 2005; and Lind 2005). Thus, food aid dependence is not a good indicator of a ‘pastoral crisis.’

Finally, as Devereux and Scoones point out, it is important to be cognizant of how politicians and policy makers will interpret an assessment that sees mobile pastoralism as a costly, ‘dead end’ livelihood. For many state policy makers it will be used as supporting evidence for pursuing sedentarization, resettlement, and other development interventions that have an extraordinarily poor track record and have been shown to increase livelihood and food security risks for its victims. That many countries in the Horn and elsewhere in Africa have large expanses of dry lands that are unsuitable for agrarian livelihoods other than pastoralism, and investments in livestock still remain the most lucrative way of holding/storing value in these areas (both among pastoralists and non-pastoralists), means that pastoralism will be around for the foreseeable future. And pastoralism in Africa will continue to develop and evolve in response to new constraints, technologies, and opportunities, just as it has in the Middle East and North Africa where feed supplements, ‘modern’ breeding, and motorized transport (for example, trucked water) are common elements of mobile herding. African pastoralism has changed considerably in the past three decades and will continue to do so in the future. It is important, therefore, that governments and donors make the necessary infrastructural (e.g., transport and public security), economic (market infrastructure and policies), and social investments (education and health)—which they have not done to date!—to support and improve mobile pastoralism, while providing social and economic options to those who have been ‘pushed’ or opted out of pastoralism and are unlikely to reenter it.


Prof. Peter Little
Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky

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.

Jennie Barron
January 22, 2010 / Soil Fertility

“Is inorganic fertilizer the best initial ‘entry point’ for an integrated soil fertility mgmt approach? If so what should a programme look like bearing in mind past failures? If not, what should be done first?”

First comment:

The best entry point is fertiliser (organic/inorganic) COUPLED with improved water mgmt at field scale. Multiple approaches (technologies) are available, and no single solution can be used as blanket for the wide variety of farmers ….. The COUPLING of fertiliser with water is more essential the drier the agro-climatic conditions. Water mgmt alone will not diminish the current yield gaps on in-fertile soils with low input/low re-circulation of organic matter. Equally,  the full benefit of fertiliser (organic/in organic) inputs will not be realised without addressing water limitations by recurring dry spells and possibly droughts in semiarid and sub humid climatic zones.

Multiple benefits of increased re-circulation of OM in a crop system will not be sequestered if C/N quota isn’t favourable: Thus, the input of (inorganic) N may be a essential component to increase yields, as it enables a favourable C/N, increase overall biomass, and enables re-circulation of OM back to soils putting a cropping system on positive soil health trajectory.

It is not a matter of doing water or fertiliser ‘first’:  With current available knowledge, the important issue is how to effectively provide knowledge input linking at first water and nutrient management packages, but also soon the use of improved varieties. Only the coupling can achieve substantial yield increases over relatively short time (possibly 5-10 years with effective knowledge/awareness spread??).

To my mind (not with any solid evidence that it works of course)

  • subsidised fertiliser, specifically targeting  macro as well as micro nutrients in the area of distribution: subsidising fertiliser have had fast & positive response in Malawi , partly due to favourable rains enabling the positive response of fertiliser input (any other evidence at national scale in recent times in SSA?)
  • strong emphasis on fertiliser distribution coupled with water management small and large scale investments
  • development and distribution of improved seeds to further boost investment gains in water & fertilizer (evidence??)
  • the current trend of privatising extension service will most likely  not help promote technological sound packages in soil-water-crop mgmt that are diverse enough to address smallholder farmers knowledge gaps. Privatising rural extension service may be more beneficial to specific farmers, and more promote specific use of crops and agro-inputs not necessarily managing negative environmental (and social) externalities very well… It will also only be affordable to certain income strata (evidence?)

‘How should success and impact be defined?’
Second comment:

Raising the yields, i.e. realising the potential with better water and nutrient management will have environmental impacts as well as social. There are no longer any space that are not utilised or provides produce and services necessary for humans and society. Any agricultural development, whether intensifying existing systems through nutrients and water, seeds etc, or expansion will have effects on surrounding landscape. Some of these are positive, and some can be negative. The ‘next’ /first? / ‘triple/ green revolution in Africa must be continuously evaluated for social as well as environmental impact. It cannot be acceptable that the negative environmental (and perhaps social??) impacts of the green revolution in Asia are reproduced. It would create extremely costly avenues to re-tract such negative effects of agricultural development, which can be ill-afforded both from economic (Africa by and large strapped for cash) as well as climate adaptation perspectives (measures in agriculture development needs to be climate change ‘proofed’ to avoid future costs & livelihood losses).

There is globally, and occasionally regional and nationally, awareness, and willingness to consider pro-active measures to avoid negative externalities. However, such measures usually tend to add cost without adding visible (economic) value in short term…

Example: when smallholder farmers in a given area adopted conservation tillage (as desirable), there was a tendency to put more land into production, i.e. area expansion of agriculture, which globally can be ill afforded, although feasible locally.

Example: the use of treadle pumps have at local spots been popular & provided users with much needed cash income, further investment in agriculture production and development opportunities as well as achieved absolute poverty alleviation. However, non-monitored water level has tended to decrease altering downstream seasonality of flows and user opportunities…

Clearly, success and impact are not solely about short term yield increases, not even about poverty alleviation per se. Both these obvious criteria need to be integrated with long term measures of environmental and social sustainability: negotiating  tradeoffs, building resilient systems which can cope better with change/stress, whether climatic, economic or other,. It is crucial in agro-development that the resource base (of which  we have comparatively good basic knowledge ) is maintained and not ‘mined’ whether it refers to land area, soil nutrient, or water management…Thus it is necessary that agro-development is environmentally and socially monitored and evaluated to ensure development takes a desired route, and avoid undermining negative externalities (social and environmental) in the near and far future

Jennie Barron, Research fellow in water management
Stockholm Environment Institute/SEI

Toyin Kolawole
January 22, 2010 / Soil Fertility

Addressing Africa’s soil problems would demand that a critical attention be paid to the fundamentals of the African soil peculiarity itself.  Although inevitable, inorganic mineralisation/fertilisation cannot and will never be an ideal entry point for an integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) in sub-Saharan Africa. The reasons are not far-fetched. One, Africa’s soil, as variously argued, is said to be low in cation exchange capacity (CEC). In other words, soils with low CEC tie up essential nutrients making them unavailable for plant use, even in situations where the soil has been adequately and inorganically fertilised. Studies have shown, too, that releasing these essential nutrients are made possible through the application of organic matter. For me, that is the foundation for resolving the Africa’s soil constraints.

Two, majority of small farmers in Africa, as widely claimed, cannot afford the cost of inorganic fertilisers. Getting the products to buy is also a daunting problem for the few who are willing to adopt the technology! Three, some farmers in certain locality (e.g. some community people in North-central Nigeria) do not even see reasons why they should use imported or foreign products to boost the fertility of their farmland. Using such foreign materials would, according to them, spell doom for bumper harvest! This is factual, albeit strange and hard to believe. This brings me to the fundamental issue of culture in the whole debate on soil improvement in Africa.

ISFM, as it were, has not been conceived to ensure the proper incorporation of the cultural dimension of soil management. Harping on other factors ranging from political to social to environmental to economic, no adequate emphasis has been placed on cultural factors of the small farmer. Regardless of any economic rewards brought about by any form of change amongst them, grassroots farmers respond more quickly to their values and cultural belief systems. Any policy framework that does not take cognisance of this all important aspect is almost destined for a stillbirth either in the short or long run.

That said, appropriate policies on soil revitalisation in Africa would start from good governance. A platform for synchronising resources, governance – as reflected in the political economy and ecology of soil management – will need to prioritise both farmers’ and scientific knowledge in the policy formulation process. Rather than pay too much emphasis on science alone, the two bodies of knowledge need be made to work hand in hand without jeopardising the position of any of them.  In other words, local or indigenous knowledge in soil conservation needs a voice as much as science does in policy formulation processes.

Now to the specifics. As organic mineralisation appears to answer the question, national governments need to pay attention to the development of local/indigenous plants [using local raw materials] for the manufacture of organic fertilisers in Africa. A typical example of this ‘fledgling’ initiative can be found in Ibadan, Nigeria. Public-private partnership seems to be the most ideal in the development of this industry as government may not be able to shoulder the responsibility alone. Doubtlessly, farmers are more likely to have access to this product than inorganic fertiliser in terms of costs and availability. As it is locally sourced, problems of adaptation and utilisation might not arise. Sourcing mineral fertilisers to compliment the organic ones would need a radical approach by Africa’s national governments. Distributions and supply needs to be strongly and directly linked with farmer Cooperatives and organisations in order to circumvent the influence of the rent-seeking elite in the [political] corridor of power.

In addition to ISFM, soil recapitalisation may need some urgent attention at this time, too. Agreed that the use of rock phosphates may have its associated problems such as low reactivity, variability and the likes, addressing it through context-specific approach might be meaningful afterall. For instance, Ogun RockPhosphate in Nigeria has been found to be economically viable. It is said to compete favourably well with mineral fertilisers on acidic soils. Its solubility has been enhanced when tried with soil amendments (such as compost and mycorrhizae). It has, thus, been found to be a better source of phosphorus when applied in mixture with organic waste than using it alone (Adediran et al. 2006). This strategy would succeed where there is the ‘political will’ to make it work.

Going beyond the rhetoric of participatory methodologies in soil fertility research, scientists would need to allow farmers take the lead in the process. This is because farmers are good Pedologists and Soil micro-biologists in their own capacity. They know their farm terrain. They know the trends of their soils usage and how they have performed over the years. They could work with researchers to identify local materials for the production of soil amendments. Given a favourable platform, farmers could devise a more appropriate approach and context-specific strategies on soils sustainability. For me, these are some of the important issues for consideration in the development of a policy framework for a sustainable soil management in the 21st Century and beyond in sub-Saharan Africa.

Adediran, J. A., Adeniyan, J. A., Akande, M. O. and Taiwo, L. B. 2006. Effect of application of Ogun Rock Phosphate with organic waste on yield performance of maize and cassava. Proceedings of the 30th Annual Conference of the Soil Science Society of Nigeria. Markudi. 148 – 154.

Toyin Kolawole, PhD
Institute of Development Studies

Nikola Rass
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

As the moderator of the Alive/LEAD e-conference on Maintaining mobility and managing drought, Policy options for pastoral livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa I would like to use this opportunity to send you the summary of the discussion module 1.2. of the conference (See Annex A attached here to) as this module has lead a similar discussion on the bases of the ten legs thesis of Stephen Sandford. Furthermore I would like to use this opportunity to step out of the role of a moderator and express my personal opinion on the topic.

In my understanding, the criticisms of Scoones and Devreux concerning the TLU/person ratio put forward in the ten legs thesis of Sandford are in fact not contradictory to Sandford’s own opinion. In a recent FAO policy note on pastoral policies in Sub Saharan Africa his opinion concerning TLU/person ratios is presented as follows:
“Sandford (2006 personal communication) points out that the number of livestock needed per pastoral household also depends on the extent to which:
• Pastoralists can make use of trade to buy cheaper food in exchange for livestock and their products;
• Pastoralists have diversified their economic activities and consequently receive remittances, wages or profits.”
I am very much in favour of the ten legs thesis of Stephen Sandford, as it has helped to raise interest in the discussion of policy directions for pastoral development. As Scoones and Devreux say, it comes to show that it is time to realize a more sophisticated approach to pastoral development thinking that recognizes major resource constraints and significant challenges to pastoral livelihoods.

Most of the points Sandford puts forward convince me. However, there are some points and some policy suggestion that I do not fully agree with. I agree that emigration of a substantial proportion of pastoralists from both substantial dependence on livestock and from pastoral areas is an important strategy addressing the fundamental imbalance needs. However, I believe that diversification strategies within the pastoral system are equally important and I understand that those two strategies are not given the same priority in the 10 legs thesis.

As stated in the ten legs thesis, I consider the development of diversified income-earning opportunities not dependent on demand from within pastoral areas (e.g. in the production and gathering of “pharmaceutical” products) as a strategy, which needs to be supported. However, as already questioned in the ALive/LEAD e-conference, I believe that concerning the diversification strategies the leading question is how it can be prevented that complementary income generating activities lead to an increasing exploitation and degradation of non pastoral natural resources. What are the options to condemn the degradation around urban centers, resulting from decreased mobility of settled pastoral households? How can damaging practices like increased firewood collection, hunting and poaching etc. be confined? In this context, I believe pricing of natural resources and ensuring payment for environmental services are policy options leading in the right direction.

Concerning the exit strategies I believe it needs to be discussed whether there are (enough) alternative income generating options for pastoral people and what kind of activities they could engage in. What are the comparative advantages of pastoral people in the labour market? In my view the policy strategies to facilitate the engagement of pastoral people in alternative income generating activities should start from two angles. On the one hand investment opportunities for pastoral people need to be identified followed by the creation of access to credit and training in order to enable pastoral people to pursue the investment opportunity. On the other hand investment of the public sector in labour intensive infrastructure could create additional labour for pastoral people. For the private sector laws might be set up that set incentives to train and hire ethnic minorities including pastoral people.

I believe that the ILO INDISCO project is one of the few organisations taking into account this aspect so far. In co-operation with the Jobs for Africa Programme, the ILO-INDISCO Programme, has developed an initiative in Tanzania Simanjiro District on how to incorporate specific pastoral livelihood and employment promotion issues into the national employment policy and poverty eradication framework. The Programme addresses the current changes in the income generating activities of indigenous people, such as the Maasai, many of which move to urban areas to search for jobs. ILO-INDISCO has recognized the plight and problems of pastoral communities and has the objective to effect that the pastoral community is given more attention in the public employment sector as contemplated in ILO Convention No. 169 (ILO 1989).2

I am hesitant to accept the statement of the ten legs thesis that significant redistribution is not, in practice, feasible and I would like to see further research in this area. I believe that a pivotal point for the investigation of rehabilitation strategies seems to be to get a better understanding of the ongoing transformations of traditional schemes of redistribution and to find answers to the question why contract herding for absentee herd-owners is becoming a new trend. Although the positive records of successful restocking programmes seem small to me, I like the idea to induce the purchase of livestock from destitute pastoralists (with very small herd) to less destitute pastoralists (pastoralists with herd size at the edge of viability), while at the same time establishing programs of alternative income generation for the destitute pastoralists. This would, on the one hand, provide destitute pastoralists with start-up capital and, on the other, ensure that marginalized pastoralists have access to female breeding stock and are not forced to work for absentee herd owners.

The only policy suggestion in the ten legs thesis that I strongly disagree with is the suggestion to develop, more productive and more sustainable rain-fed or irrigated crop-agriculture within or near pastoral areas into which previous pastoralists can switch their livelihoods. As Scoones (1994) and Niamir-Fuller and Turner (Niamir-Fuller and Turner 1999) put forward the areas which offer possibilities for farming are especially important for livestock production. In dry seasons or in dry years, these relatively small patches within a wider dryland landscape are the key resources that sustain animals in times of fodder shortage. The exclusion of pastoralists from these key pastoral resources can lead to significant disruption of the annual transhumance cycle. In line with Scoones (1994) I believe that enhancing or even creating key-resource-areas by investing in these key sites could be a practicable way to improve the primary productivity of rangelands (e.g. investment in fodder management, planting of fodder shrubs and trees, reseeding) by leading to productivity enhancement in good years and offering survival feeding in poor years.

Reading the first responses to the note of Scoones and Devreux and the note of Stephen Sandford, it seems that the latter is always referred to as a pessimistic and the prior as the optimistic perspective. This makes me feel that synthesis of both views would lead us to a somewhat realistic perspective and I hope that the debates lead here and elsewhere will lead us there.

Herment A. Mrema
January 22, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

To me it will be a waste of time to debate on an obvious issue.  Small scale farming in Africa is life, is culture, is political, is survival and is livelihood. Small scale farming in Africa has performed well and what we need to do more, is to make these small holder farms more productive and profitable. To do that we need to support our farmers to embrace the concept of farming is business, which means assuming higher affordable risks and the higher the risk assumed the higher the returns.

In order to embark on commercial agriculture they need volumes and good quality. These farmers can achieve both if they are organized into farmer groups, embrace uniform best agricultural practices (into large farms) and they add as much value to their produce before they sell and move from marketing commodities into marketing complex products. Marketing complex products will avoid price fluctuations associated with selling commodities due to vagaries of demand and supply. This will be achieved through value addition up the chain while retaining ownership by the small scale farmer and it will be possible if these farmers are facilitated to access business facilitation tools such as skills, know how, appropriate technologies, inputs, social and working capital (credit), financial services, market and price information and enabling environment built on values of honesty, integrity, trust, integrated, holistics and comprehensive approaches.  These farmers should be facilitated to access competitive markets for their products where the farmers are able to negotiate for prices (which cover all cost of production, processing, marketing including reasonable profits) instead of being price takers and the farmers should be paid/ or pay (for services received) on performance. To avoid the problems which lead to to the failure of cooperatives, sales proceeds should be channelled directly to farmers individual accounts as we have in a place a technology suitable to manage these kind of transactions. Farmer groups will also be facilitated to establish their own thrift and credit schemes (not SACCOS) which will be used mainly to finance their basic needs such as need for salt, sugar, paraffin, soap, etc. and later evolve into village banks. Managers, and service providers will be required to invest in the process of service provision and be paid after the transaction is completed and based on the value of service provided as it contribute to the generation of incomes.

This means embracing Product and Service Supply Value chains approaches being driven by sense of Farmer ownership as the driver of the chains. The cooperation, alliances, linkages, partnership of stakeholders within the chains will influence the market, price and demand which may cause a paradigm shift.  The consumer demand for quality, food safety that could be traced to the source of origin and willingness to pay a premium price for the product is one of the forces which makes this initiative possible.  Furthermore the technological explosion “the fall of the walls and the rise of windows” has provided affordable technologies and information which can make this initiative possible.

The corporate world has had its gains for too long, have exploited the small holders farmers for too long and its time for “CHANGE”.  Change that we believe in it and sure we can.

We need to capitalize the small scale farmers household with only $ 50 per month as a social capital in terms of a revolving loan and they will be able to access their basic needs which make them vulnerable to middlemen and traders who took away the little they sell at a price set by the middlemen. These farmers are forced to sell without adding value which does not justify them to bargain for a better price. Middle men who play significant roles in all businesses are important and they will be empowered to play different roles and functions such as providing goods and services now being demanded by farmers as their purchasing power is enhanced due to earnings from selling value added products in  competitive markets.

We have simple solutions for these problems, the challenge is hidden agenda because of greedy, selfishness, lack of commitment, determination, lack of desire to develop as “we” instead  we are only thinking for ourselves while we know very well that time has come that no single individual, family, household, village or nation can survive on their own.  We need each other to face the challenges of the world so that we can prosper together equitably according to individual contribution to the process. .

More information on success stories is available on request.

Herment A. Mrema, Executive Director, Africa Rural Development Support Initiative (ARUDESI)

Russell Yost
January 22, 2010 / Soil Fertility

We are deeply interested in improving and assisting address the serious mining of nutrients and carbon in Sub-Saharan Africa. We are just concluding some research into providing ways to address the extremely tenuous supply of nutrients, especially in the Sahel of West Africa where the majority of the inhabitants are living on the brink of famine.

Two types of interventions are needed in our view: one that addresses the inherent problems with the loss of the meagre, irregular rainfall and the other that improves soil properties so that capture and harvesting of water is improved.

A recent paper describing the increased crop yields can be found at:
– Gigou, J., Kalifa Traoré, François Giraudy, Harouna Coulibaly, Bougouna Sogoba, Mamadou Doumbia. 2006. Aménagement paysan des terres et réduction du ruissellement dans les savanes africaines. Cahiers Agricultures vol. 15, n° 1, janvier-février 2006 Vol. 15.

A subsequent paper describing the water-harvesting properties of the technology – the water capture and increased retention of surface water for crops, subsoil water for trees, and deep drainage for groundwater restoration can be found at:
– Kablan, R., R.S. Yost, K. Brannan, M. Doumbia, K. Traore, A. Yorote, Y. Toloba, S. Sissoo, O. Samake, M. Vaksman, L. Dioni, and M. Sissoko.
2008. “Amenagement en courbes de niveau”, increasing rainfall capture, storage, and drainage in soils of Mali. Arid Lands Research and Management 22:62-80.

A third paper is soon to appear in Agronomy for Sustainable Development reports on the C sequestration and build up potential of the ACN technology and the increased fertilizer efficiency is announced at:

In the broadest sense, SFI arguably includes inorganic fertilizers, organic amendments and natural resource management practices.

When I was a student in Agricultural Economics at the University of Nairobi a fellow graduate student from another department once asked me in puzzlement the following question in response to my assertion that many poor farmers lack incentives for fertilizer use: ‘’What other incentive is anyone looking for than the ability to grow enough food for one’s family without having to buy it?’’ The answer that readily came to my mind was: ‘’Yes that is a powerful incentive but at what cost?’’

Russell Yost, Dep. Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences
University of Hawai`i at Manoa

Emmy Simmons
January 22, 2010 / Soil Fertility

Maybe declining soil fertility is a symptom rather than a disease.

Many African governments and donors are trying to treat the symptom without analyzing the causes of the disease: providing technology packages, tinkering with subsidy options, seeing what the private sector can do, and looking for innovative farmers who have figured out how to manage the symptoms.

The Future Agricultures paper is very helpful in reviewing all of these efforts — but it does not get down to highlighting some of the causes of the disease:
— land tenure policies that reduce farmers’ incentives to invest in maintaining land quality;
— population growth rates that outstrip productivity growth rates;
— commodity markets that make investing in soil maintenance uneconomic;
— transport systems that are so inefficient that fertilizer costs are outrageous when compared to the value of output produced;
— inconsistent government policy — just when one course of treatment is beginning to show promise, the diagnosis is changed and a new antibiotic is ordered; and
— lack of technical knowledge/analytical capacity on the part of many producers.

More attention to causal factors would set off a whole new and more policy-oriented discussion that might actually make a difference over the next 20 years.  Otherwise I fear we will be supplying band-aids here, iodine there, vitamins tomorrow, and antibiotics the next day.  Let’s make it worthwhile for farmers to invest in the quality of their soil (tenure, remunerative markets for products), give them the training/information they need to adapt generic recommendations (whether through demonstrations, farmer field schools, or whatever), and cut the costs as much as possible by investing in efficient importing/transport/competitive sales systems.

Emmy Simmons, Board Member
International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)

A final reflection from Stephen Sandford…
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

I am allowed only two pages to respond to all the comments made in this debate on the Too Many People Too Few Livestock (TMPTFL) thesis that I have put forward. My response is, therefore, necessarily brief, eclectic and curt.

The minimum livestock/person ratio
Some contributors to this debate (Devereux/Scoones, Catley, Swift) have criticised my use of figures (numbers) on the grounds that their apparent precision is not justified in the light of the heterogeneity of situations or the quality of the data. But the general TMPTFL thesis is not dependent on, for example, a particular universal value of the minimum livestock/person ratio. Leg 2 of the thesis would be equally effective in supporting the general thrust of the thesis if it were worded. “Many pastoralists in the Horn of Africa, do not currently have enough livestock, given the general pattern of their livelihoods in pastoralism, cropping and other economic activities, to continue, in the long term, in a way of life substantially dependent on range-based livestock production.” Leg 3 would then have to be rephrased in terms of “the maximum feed-limited total size of herd being less than the number of livestock needed to provide enough to enable these pastoralists in the long term to continue in a way of life substantially dependent on range-based livestock production”.

If a person who is averse to any precise value of the ratio would agree to this reformulation of Legs 2 and 3 they could still adhere to the TMPTFL thesis. A precise value of the ratio is, however, useful as an indicator of particular area-based or ethnic groups of pastoralists, or of wealth or gender-based sections within these groups, where the imbalance between people and livestock has reached such a level that a major focus of action should be to reduce the number of people dependent on range-based livestock production.

I have already drawn a distinction between two classes of pastoralists, “pure” (i.e. ones not significantly dependent on cropping) and “agro”-pastoralists and suggested a different value of the minimum ratio for each. One could, as information and analysis improves, draw further distinctions between sub-classes of each of these classes, e.g. by gender of household head or by type of diversification, with a different minimum livestock/person ratio attached to each sub-class, enabling more accurate indication of population pressure.

What the TMPTFL general thesis maintains is that, whatever the sophistication of sub-classification that one uses, a substantial proportion of the pastoralists and pastoral areas of the Horn of Africa will be found to be already in the category where the major focus should be on the reduction of the range-based population. Diversification

The most frequent (Little, Swift, Cullis, Abdi Abdullahi as well as Devereux/Scoones) and fundamental disagreement between me and other contributors to this debate has been about the potential for diversification of economic activity to offset (and more than offset) the loss of income and welfare arising from the declining ability of range-based livestock production to meet the needs of the population wanting to lead a astral life. This disagreement really covers three distinct but related issues. For each I specify the issue and set out my views on it.

(i) Is diversification a practical solution everywhere? While diversification into trading or employment is possible in many pastoral communities, in others it is not. In North East Turkana, for example, “There are no alternative livelihoods. Education and skill levels are very low for employment” (Levine and Crosskey, 2006, p. 19). People live off their livestock, barter-exchange, wild food, and, in the case of the poor (45-65% % of the total), about 50% of their income is made up of aid (mainly cash for work) and social support.
(ii) Is diversification into activities outside pastoral areas feasible for all? While both sides agree that diversification into economic activities outside the pastoral area is a good thing, and may supply “remittances” to parts of households still residing in pastoral areas, access to taking part in these activities, which often offer regular salaries/wages, is much easier for the wealthy than for the poor (Homewood et al. 2006, p.22).
(iii) How much do the poor gain from diversification? The advantaged position of the wealthy in income diversification applies not only to out-of-pastoral-area diversification but to within-area also. The poorest sections of the population find it difficult to be involved in activities except those depending on local natural resources, and primarily on local demand (firewood, basket- and mat-making, charcoal-making). As Devereux (2006, p. 78) notes of Somali Region in Ethiopia: “Selling charcoal and firewood are, in fact, the most common livelihood activities recorded in rural communities, after livestock rearing and crop farming (Table 7.3). However, these ways of generating income should not be seen as chosen or preferred, but instead as “last resort” options adopted by people who are poor and desperate for any income at all. The work is arduous and time-consuming and the returns are tiny”.  Devereux reports that these activities yield household incomes on average less than 25% of the average for all activities carried out by pastoralists, and that, indeed, they yield lower incomes than “begging”.

Similarly Radeny (2006, p. 9) reports, of a pastoral/agro-pastoral area right next door to Nairobi: “With respect to income diversification, poorer households (i.e. in the lowest income quintile) actually have more income sources than the wealthier ones, although off-land earnings are much lower and from less reliable sources (e.g. petty trade). Figure 2 [not reproduced here] shows that households in the higher income quintiles have a larger proportion of their incomes coming from wages and business, for example, while those in the lower ones depend more on petty trading and other informal sector activities to help them diversify their incomes”.

The PARIMA group of researchers has shown how difficult it is for a household whose herd size has fallen below a critical size (e.g. see Lybbert et al. 2004, p. 769) ever to rebuild it again. Instead herd size continues to decrease and sedentarisation, to enable the households better to diversify their livelihoods, is almost inevitable. John McPeak and Peter Little (2004, p. 102) have concluded; “The findings in this chapter corroborate earlier work on pastoralism that suggests sedentarisation attracts both poor and relatively wealthy herders (Barth, 1964; Little, 1985). The latter group appears ‘blessed’ in the kinds of opportunities they can pursue and the degree of support that they can provide the pastoral sector and their mobile relatives and family members. In contrast, the poor appear ‘cursed’ in the kinds of un-remunerative activities they engage in and the extent to which they are caught in a vicious cycle of low incomes, low mobility, and high food insecurity”. Possibly the most detailed location-specific fieldwork yet undertaken on diversification activities among pastoralists and agro-pastoralists is that by the Anthropology Department of University College, London. Some results are reported in Homewood et al. 2006. They basically confirm that the wealthy do much better out of diversification than the poor, who in the process become increasingly vulnerable and undergo a downward spiral of progressive loss of access to land, livestock and labour central to pastoral and agropastoral livelihoods.

I think that the evidence presented on these specific issues should make us very cautious about assuming that spontaneous diversification will, by itself, solve the problem set by increasing population pressure and technological stagnation in pastoralism. It is the poorer pastoralists who are being forced out of pastoralism, but it is they who are, at present, least able to diversify or find new economic activities in which to specialize. Consequently, without prospect of better alternatives, they cling to the forlorn hope that they can once again become independent pastoralists. Their individually diminutive herds nevertheless together constitute a significant proportion of the total herd who compete for scarce livestock feed with the herds of more viable pastoralists but it is a proportion whose driving force is accumulation rather than production and whose fate is often forced sale in poor condition or death by starvation rather providing a real economic return. We need to find ways of enabling those squeezed out of pastoralism to pursue less risky and more rewarding livelihoods. Education and language skills are key issues in this (Tomoya Matsumota et al. 2006; Homewood et al. 2006 (p.23). However in the case of some pastoral groups there are additional constraints to their securing satisfactory livelihood opportunities outside the pastoral areas. Cultural factors, a lack of personal contacts in urban areas to facilitate the transition, and lack of capital may also be serious issues. We need to be better informed about these constraints and about ways to tackle them. We will probably need also substantial specific investments to create employment and livelihoods, e.g. in irrigation, in cases where it seems unlikely that ex-pastoralists will be able to secure adequate opportunities in the general expansion of the national economies.

  1. While some contributors to the debate query whether there is a crisis in Horn of Africa pastoralism at all, most accept that there is and I do not, therefore, present further evidence for its existence.
  2. The original paper by me which started this debate, as published on the Future Agricultures website, referred to eleven “legs”, but then apparently listed only 10. This was due to an error in which I mistakenly merged two Legs (3 and 4) with a consequent renumbering of the remainder. In this “reply” the numbering of the Legs follows that of the paper as it appeared on the website.
  3. It is pertinent to note here that in the last year or so an export market for charcoal from this region has been developed and charcoal burning and selling is no longer the preserve of the poor.

Louis Pautrizel
January 22, 2010 / Small Farm / Big Farm

During the year 2008, GRET worked with several NGOs (on the behalf of Coordination SUD) on a position paper on these issues.

This paper underlines the benefits of family farms for employment, poverty reduction, hunger reduction, environment protection and rural development. It often refers to the efficiency of small farms and family labour while large agribusiness tend to develop at the expense of the population.

The same working group is now concluding a new position paper analyzing policies that promote family farms.

[read: In Defence of Family Famrms.pdf].

[lire: Défendre les agricultures familiales: lesquelles, pourquoi?.pdf]

Louis Pautrizel,