The Future Agricultures Consortium produces research in a variety of formats.Several key research series are available for download, circulation and citation.

Use the search field below or review our thematically structured research archive.

Latest articles

Key Challenges for Technology Development and Agricultural Research in Africa
June 1, 2005 / Miscellaneous

{jathumbnail off}{jcomments off}Agricultural development is a sine qua non fo improving livelihoods in Africa’s predominantlyrural economies, yet agricultural productivity has hardly improved and African food production percapita continues to decline. This is not because of a lack of planning efforts, but rather because thesehave not been of the scale required to have an impact on such huge problems. Past efforts have also no been sufficiently holistic for advancing comple systems and have not been pursued with thenecessary long-term vision and willingness to take the risks that are inherent in implementinginnovations.

To break the poverty trap experienced by the majority of African smallholders andpastoralists, these issues must be addressed. Targets for African poverty reduction are not being achieved. Many individual programmes and institutions show good returns to investment in agricultural research and development, but the sum of their collective effort falls far short of making a significant impact at the national level on poverty reduction and food security.2 Examples of innovations that have had significant impact Significant impact comes from significanintellectual and financial input. The two billion people – 30 per cent of the world’s total – that depend on the Haber–Bosch process of synthesisings (million Kshs )

New Direction for African Agriculture
June 1, 2005 / Miscellaneous

{jathumbnail off}{jcomments off}This year’s UNMillennium Report highlights the lack of progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in sub-Saharan Africa. The Commission for Africa report (2005) similarly highlights themajor challenges of poverty reduction on the continent.What role should agriculture have in this challenge? Most of Africa’s poor are rural, and most rely largely on agriculture for their livelihoods. Inevitably, “getting agriculture moving” must be part of the solution to the seemingly intractable problem of African poverty.

The standard storyline about African agriculture is not positive. In most countries, the sector is slow growing or stagnant, held back by negligible yield growth, poor infrastructure, degrading environmental resources, erratic weather, HIV/AIDS and civil conflict. But sweeping, generalised analyses often hide important stories of success. As Toulmin and Guèye (in this IDS Bulletin) highlight for West Africa, there have been some notable achievements in the past decade. This is replicated elsewhere, as Wiggins observes (also in this IDS Bulletin), where supplyled successes – including in hybrid maize, horticulture, dairy, cassava (see also Haggblade and Gabre-Madhin 2004) – have combined with new sources of demand, due to improvements in infrastructure, changing market conditions or the opening up of niche opportunities. Are these successes exceptional and limited to particular settings and times, or are they replicable across wider areas, benefiting larger numbers of people?

This IDS Bulletin draws together contributions from a diverse range of researchers and development practitioners working in Africa, with the common goal of exploring why agriculture is contributing to poverty reduction and livelihood improvement in some places, but not in many. Identifying ways forward implies moving away from failed past prescriptions, identifying and building on current successes and encouraging new and innovative thinking about future pathways and opportunities. This debate comes at a critical time. As the African Union’s Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Economy notes in the foreword to this IDS Bulletin, there is renewed interest in agriculture in Africa and a real commitment to revitalise the sector.

This comes fromnumerous sources – whether frominternational initiatives such as the UNMillenniumProject’s Task Force onHunger (2005) or theCommission for Africa report (2005); from within Africa, such as the African Union and NEPAD’s (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme(CAADP) (NEPAD 2003), from national governments themselves or from the international donor community (USAID 2004; DFID 2003; World Bank 2002). But how to translate these words into reality? How to avoid the recycling and repackaging of old – and often failed – ideas? How to generate new thinking, rooted in African contexts and ground realities, whichmakes a difference? The aim of this IDS Bulletin is to contribute to this journey.

The central puzzle is: Why is African agriculture (largely) stagnating? This question is not new. Many have commented on the failures of an African “green revolution”, and many explanations have been suggested. The following sections outline three responses: “technical fixes”, “market and institutional fixes” and “policy fixes”. Each approach reflects a different way of looking at the problem, and each implies different ways forward. The IDS Bulletin draws on insights from across sub-Saharan Africa and is organised as follows. Three scenesetting articles follow this introductory piece. Then there are clusters of articles focusing on “resources and technologies”, “markets and institutions” and“policies and policy processes”.

Governing Technology Development: Challenges for Agricultural Research in Africa
June 1, 2005 / IDS Bulletin

There is little doubt that agricultural research is of critical importance to the future of agriculture in Africa. As an investment, it has been shown again and again to deliver high returns, in terms of both financial benefits (Alston et al. 2000; Evenson and Gollin 2003; although, see Morris and Heisey 2003), and broader livelihood impacts (Meinzen-Dick et al. 2004). Yet agricultural research is in crisis on the continent, its capacity decimated by a combination of government neglect and externally imposed policy conditionalities. This has resulted in a significant loss of key personnel and the undermining of locally based, contextually relevant research efforts. Neither the international system through the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research), nor the private sector has been able to fill the gap.

In its 2005 report, the Commission for Africa rinjeecognises this challenge, and argues for a US$3bnction of funds for technology-focused capacity bofuilding in Africa. Similarly, the Hunger Taskforcethe Millennium Project argued in 2004 that a science and technology-driven agenda – focused on aigreen revolution package of seeds, fertilisers andrrigation – was the route to meeting theMillennium Development Goals (MDG) targets. The 2004 Inter- Academy Council report also highlighted the challenges of technology development and associated capacity building. Everyone seems to agree that the years of neglect have been disastrous.However, large cash injections and calls for improving “capacity” agre one thing; seeing this through to impacts on theround is another.

Making science and technology work for the poor
March 1, 2005 / Discussion Papers

By Ian Scoones
May 2005

In this viewpoint piece I want to argue that, as currently organised, R and D systems – both public and private – don’t necessarily respond well to the needs of poor people in developing countries. Despite all the hype about the potentials of science and technology for reducing poverty, there are many missed opportunities. Very often poor and marginalised people across the global south do not end up benefiting from S and T. How then should we rethink R and D so that S and T can help in the important challenge to ‘make poverty history’?

I want to suggest three reasons why currently S and T doesn’t always work for the poor, and illustrate these with three examples from developing country agriculture. First – In the context of globalisation, the dynamics of the market and control by large corporations are increasingly important factors governing access to technologies, both new and old. The lion’s share of agricultural R and D globally is controlled by a handful of large corporations. In the developing world this is increasingly the case, especially with the decrease in public sector capacity for R and D.

Take agricultural biotechnology and GM crops. A few years ago there was much made of the potentials of GM crops to solve the problems of world hunger. But today, years later, the only GM crops that are being planted in the developing world at scale are essentially cast-off products, developed for other markets. GM cotton or soya were engineered for the commercial farms of the Americas, not for Africa or Asia. Some of these products have found demand and a market and are clearly benefiting some farmers in some places. But, more generally, GM technologies are not addressing the big challenges of drought, nutrient poor soils and so on.

{jathumbnail off}

Dynamics And Diversity Soil Fertility And Farming Livelihoods In Africa Case studies from Ethiopia,Mali And Zimbabwe
January 1, 2001 / Miscellaneous

{jathumbnail off}Dynamics_And_DiversityLocal classification of soil types,

Gororo, southern Chivi Views on inorganic fertilizers and manures from Chivi communal Area Wetlands and gardening Profdes of case study farmers according to four soil-fertilitychange scenarios experimenting farmers in Chivi communal area Rural livelihoods: identifying avenues for intervention forsoil-fertility management Identifying options for policy and practice: examples from the field sites.

The reasons for the very significant gap between potential and realized food production in sub-Saharan Africa are multiple and complex. The decline in fertility observed for many areas of soil has been described as the single most important factor. Although this is a challengeable statement it undoubtedly refers to an ever-present reality for the majority of farmers in the continent – that optimizing the nutrient balance on their farms is one of the most difficult of the many agricultural management challenges they face.

A central feature of this hook is the documentation of the great variety of ways in which farmers have dealt with this problem. More importantly it also gives excellent insight into the ways in which the soil fertility issue interacts with a multiplicity of other factors which impact on farm production – biological, economic, social and political. Scientists, with their strong disciplinary adherences, apply the power of reductive research to these issues and often provide solutions which are valid within their own limits, hut which are difficult to apply because of the lack of attention to these interactive factors.

The work reported in this book helps to resolve this disjunction between formal scientific method and the realities of farm management. Scientificmethods of varying degrees of formality are used to document and analyse the soil fertility ‘prohlem’, the factors which influence it and farmers’ coping strategies. The replication of this across different countries, environments and communities permits the drawing of commonalities as well as distinctions. The major benefit that may be gained from this is to inform scientists -not just with data hut with insights into the realities of the totality of the farming enterprise. The challenge is then to identify those ‘entry points’ where formal scientific knowledge can he employed to enhance the system as a whole.

A strong case can indeed be made that soil fertility management is a very significant entry point because of the many interactions it has with othercomponents and because of the long-term nature of the effects that result from changes in soil nutrient status. This book is thus to be recommended not just for the information and insights it provides with respect to the specific issue of soil fertility management, but also because of the major questions it provokes about the application of scientific research to the challenges of sustainable agriculture under the prevailing conditions in African countries.

Commercialisation of Smallholder Agriculture in Selected Tef-growing Areas of Ethiopia
March 1, 2000 / Miscellaneous

{jathumbnail off}{jcomments off}The poverty-reduction strategy adopted by Ethiopia seeks to achieve growth through the commercialisation of smallholder agriculture. The Plan for Accelerated and Sustainable Development to End Poverty (PASDEP), Ethiopia.s strategic framework for 2005/06 – 2009/10, relies on a massive push to accelerate growth. This is to be achieved by efforts in two directions: commercialisation of agriculture, based on supporting the intensification of marketable farm products (both for domestic and export markets, and by both small and large farmers); and promoting much more rapid non-farm private sector growth (MoFED, 2005).

This study aims to contribute to this plan by identifying factors that can deepen and expand the scope of market participation of smallholders. Commercialisation of agriculture is also a core research theme of the Future Agricultures Consortium.

Future Agricultures. thematic work on agricultural commercialisation has observed that, in various countries, different modes of commercialisation co-exist and interact with each other (Leavy and Poulton 2007:17): hence the plural term, commercialisations. In Ethiopia, we suggest that the following existing categories of farmer could benefit from enhanced commercialisation (or “market-oriented agricultural growth”). These four categories represent four potentially complementary “pathways” for commercialisation policy.

1. Smallholder family farms

  • (Type A) Farmers in remote, drought-prone or low-potential areas, generally regarded as “subsistence-oriented” but in fact interacting with markets both as buyers and as sellers. The policy challenge posed by these farmers is to improve their terms of engagement with markets, as well as raising productivity and diversifying livelihoods.
  • (Type B) Small farmers who are already market-oriented, producing crops partly or
  • wholly for sale alongside crops for their own consumption.
  • Such farmers tend to be in locations with favourable growing and marketing conditions, and tend to focus on specific high-value commodities.

2. Small investor-farmers

  • Individuals or small groups of partners, often educated and urban-based; sometimes agricultural professionals with a background in government or development agencies or former state farms; often investing in farming as a secondary activity. These farmers are referred to in World Bank terminology as “emerging commercial
  • farmers”, suggesting an expected linear trajectory towards larger-scale agri-business. However, we suggest that they are in fact a separate category. In Ethiopia they have started to re-emerge only in the last few years, when access to land for such investments has been made possible.

3. Large-scale “agribusiness”

  • These are generally capital-intensive enterprises (though they also generate employment), and may be either private or state-owned. Examples are the large.