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

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Latest articles

Rethinking Agricultural Input in poor Rural Economies
September 1, 2007 / Discussion Papers

By Andrew Dorward, Peter Hazell and Colin Poulton
September 2007

As part of discussions on the future of pastoral production systems in East Africa there have been a number of recent interventions arguing that something urgently needs to be done to deal with a Malthusian style crisis in pastoral areas. In short, the argument goes, there are too many people which, combined with a declining (or not increasing) productivity of the natural resource base, means that not enough livestock can be kept to sustain a viable pastoral system.

This argument has been most eloquently and effectively argued by Stephen Sandford in “Too many people,too few livestock: the crisis affecting pastoralists in the Greater Horn of Africa”. This is a response to this piece, aimed at sparking a wider discussion.Such a discussion is urgently needed. For at the same time as the pessimistic prognoses about pastoralist futures in the Greater Horn of Africa, there has been, for the first time in several decades, a revival of interest in pastoralism and livestock production.

This takes two forms – one a celebration of the ‘pastoral way of life’ and the importance of indigenous systems of production and management1 and another focusing on the market potentials of a ‘livestock revolution’2. What should we make of these positions? What should the practical and policy responses be? Pastoral pessimism?
The arguments of Sandford (and others) put the more up-beat assessments in doubt. What are some of the major elements of the pastoral pessimists’ argument?

1. That people:livestock ratios have declined in pastoralist households to a levelbelow 3 TLUs/person, deemed to be a ‘viable’ amount for sustainablelivestock production, due to a combination of human population growth anddeclining rainfall.

2. That primary and secondary productivity (through range management,veterinary and other interventions) are not sufficient to make up the gap, andare unlikely to be so in the future.

3. That real prices of livestock products have not increased (and are unlikely to do so, despite growing demand) to compensate for lower numbers per household.

4. That, with small and decreasing herd/flock sizes, sales remain focused on immediate cash needs rather than ‘commercial’ off take.

5. That pastoral economies remain poor, associated with limited circulation of cash, and so have little opportunity for growth through linkages to other income earning activities.

6. That land for grazing and livestock production continues to be removed for cropping, and that this, particularly if supported by irrigation, is probably a better bet for many pastoralists anyway.

7. That for many the best option is exit, but in a way that does not involve destitution and displacement.

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Resurrecting the Vestiges of a Developmental State in Malawi? Reflections and Lessons
August 22, 2007 / Research Papers

Blessings Chinsinga
August 2007

Malawi has experienced two distinct phases of development (although sub-phases can between be distinguished, especially in the second phase). The first phase spanned from the attainment of independence in July 1964 to the end of the 1970s, whilst the second phase began with the adoption of structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) in 1981 (cf. Chipeta, 1993; Chirwa, 1997; Harrigan, 2001; Chinsinga, 2002). The 1964–1979 period saw the country?s economy registering very high growth rates and enjoyed relatively favourable balance of payment positions. Almost every sector experienced tremendously rapid growth to the extent that the country was characterized at one point, alongside the Ivory Coast, as a star performer (cf. Archaya, 1978; World Bank, 1982). In stark contrast, the post-1979 phase witnessed almost every sector of the economy experiencing a stupendous decline, followed by persistently erratic recovery trends of boom-and-bust type patterns (cf. Kaluwa, et al., 1992; Chirwa, 1995; Chilowa, et al., 2000).

Using Social Protection Policies to Reduce Vulnerability and Promote Economic Growth in Kenya
August 1, 2007 / Discussion Papers

Economic_Growth_in_KenyaBy John Omiti and Timothy Nyanamba
August 2007

Vulnerability and human suffering are major challenges facing large sections of Kenyan society who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Policy reforms have failed to adequately address social protection issues afflicting particularly the most vulnerable groups.


This paper discusses ways in which social protection policies can be used to address the key sources or aspects of this vulnerability, and to promote agricultural and economic growth. The paper reviews social protection instruments, maps out actors involved in the provision of social protection, assesses the progress in provision of social protection in Kenya and identifies issues in moving forward to improve social protection, particularly in the agriculture sector.

Broad categories of social protection instruments – including social safety nets and social security are discussed. Issues regarding to targeting as well as instruments that can be used to deliver social protection programmes in agriculture are outlined. This is intended to promote further policy discourse in the area of social protection in Kenya and other comparable countries.

In the existing social protection programmes in the country, weak coordination, overlaps, supervision and monitoring of the multi-sectoral programmes is a recognised cause for concern. To address social protection effectively, policies must embrace both economic growth and its distribution. There is a need to sensitise relevant government functionaries and other stakeholders to basic social protection and propose ways that could contribute to the sustainable financing of some social protection programmes for agricultural and general economic growth.

There is an urgent need for an approach to concentrate resources, to define roles and responsibilities, and facilitate coordination between different parts of government, United Nations agencies, non-governmental and civil society organizations (NGOs and CSOs). Sustainability of the target programmes would be enhanced by participation and ownership by the concerned community.

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Lessons from Malawi’s 2005/2006 Fertilizer Subsidy Programme
July 1, 2007 / Miscellaneous

{jathumbnail off}Lessons_from_MalawiThis paper is based on research work carried out the under auspices of the Politics and Policy Processes theme of the Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC). It demonstrates that political context matters in agricultural development policy issues, using as illustration the case of the fertilizer subsidy programme (FSP) launched in Malawi in the 2005/2006 growing season.

This case study was chosen due to the widely orchestrated narratives of success surrounding the fertilizer subsidy story, particularly from the government and various sections of the society at large. Narratives of success are debited to the government.s determination to implement the programme despite strong resistance from certain donors, private sector captains and a wide array of technical experts which ended the country’s persistent failure to produce adequate food to feed itself for a period close to two decades. The country achieved food self sufficiency without having to take recourse to imports or donations for the first time in many years.

Previous interventions, notably, the Starter Pack (SP) and the Targeted Input Programme (TIP) failed to bring to an end the problem of endemic food insecurity in Malawi. The 2005/2006 maize harvest registered a record high of 2.72 million tones, nearly 0.25 million tones greater that the previous estimated harvest pegged at 2.5 million tones in the 1999/2000 growing season achieved with the combination of good rains and the starter pack programme (cf. Doward, et al. 2007). The success narrative has been further strengthened by the turnaround among several donors in their characterization and perception of the programme.

From totally condemning the programme as non-viable, the majority of the donors are now willing to engage with it provided the government is prepared to refine some elements of the programme.s design and procedures of implementation. The magnitude of success of the 2005/2006 subsidy programme remains, however, a subject of contentious debate. The main argument of the paper is that no matter what the technical arguments for or against (cf. John, 1998; Keeley and Scoones, 2003).

Contrary to the traditional and highly stylized perspective, policymaking does not happen in neat distinct stages except perhaps in a minimal sense that policies have to be proposed, legislated and implemented. Policy processes are instead a complex mesh of interactions and ramifications between a wide range of stakeholders who are driven and constrained by the contexts within which they operate.These developments require a radically different framework for understanding policy processes altogether.

According to the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) (2006) and Oya (2006), understanding the policy processes require:

(1) grasping the narratives that tell the policy stories;

(2) the way policy positions become embedded in networks of various actors; and

(3) the enabling or constraining power dynamics (politics and interests).

This suggests that policy processes, among other things, encapsulate power struggles, ideological contexts, patterns of social mobilization, struggle for political legitimacy, the force of external pressures and changing technical fashions. It is therefore imperative to go beyond the narrowly defined technical expertise and to recognize that policies as well as their implementation must be negotiated outcomes, requiring the involvement of multiple stakeholders with different interests (Scoones, et al., 2005).

This augurs very well with the current case study as it clearly demonstrates that agricultural policy processes are driven essentially by political forces and as such they cannot be fully understood without understanding the political economy surrounding them. Infact, in predominantly agro based economies; the political survival of governments greatly depends on perceptions of the success of agricultural policy processes judged largely on the basis of delivering on food security at whatever cost (cf. Johnston, 1996 and Oya, 2006). It is thus not surprising that the government of Malawi has been politically and not necessarily technically tactful in handling the fertilizer subsidy programme geared at revitalizing the agricultural sector with the view of achieving food security that has eluded successive governments since the turn of the 1990s.

The government implemented the fertilizer subsidy programme in the face of fierce donor resistance who argued that the programme run counter to the ongoing economic liberalization efforts but perhaps more critically the programme was criticized as placing unnecessary fiscal burden on the state to be sustainable in the long-run. The government implemented the programme to the tune of MK 7.1 against the initial budget of MK 4.7 billion without any donor support. This study drew essentially on the review of secondary sources (press reports, academic papers,government and donor documents) and on key informant interviews with officials from government, donor agencies, civil society and the private sector.

The analysis is structured along five sections. After this introduction, Section 2 explains the origins and context for the fertilizer subsidy programme. Section 3 provides details on the programme and the evolution in thinking within government. Section 4 discusses three different donor positions on the fertilizer programme: those totally opposing it, those supporting it and those reluctant but willing to engage with the government.s policy. Section 5 analyses the programme.s impact and adjustments in government and donor positions. Section 6 provides someconcluding reflections.

Bottom Up Policy Process: An agenda for Future Agricultures in Ethiopia
June 23, 2007 / Media

A number of observers have described the policy making process in Ethiopia asstrongly influenced by a long history of centralised, hierarchical systems of control under Imperial rule and nearly two decades of military rule by the Derg. The present government has made efforts to reverse this legacy however,“in spite of significant political, administrative and financialdecentralisation, the centralised and controlling legacy remains an important factor”.

According to this observation, it is not easy to overcome a legacy in a short period of time. Future Agricultures, a learning consortium of local and international academics and researchers, has developed and tested an all inclusive policy consultation process that, if scaled up, could change the top down legacy. In the process of testing the model, indicative ideas for agricultural policy making have been generated.

Bottom Up Policy Process: An agenda for Future Agricultures in Ethiopia
June 23, 2007 / Media

By Amdissa Teshome

A number of observers have described the policy making process in Ethiopia as strongly influenced by a long history of centralised, hierarchical systems of control under Imperial rule and nearly two decades of military rule by the Derg. The present government has made efforts to reverse this legacy however.

Donor Policy Narratives: What Role for Agriculture?
March 3, 2007 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 16
By Lidia Cabral and Ian Scoones

How do international agencies concerned with agricultural development see the role of agriculture? What is the role for the market and the state? This briefing examines four recent statements from major aid agencies, asking how they see the role of agriculture in development.


Policy Brief 016 Pdf 359.96 KB 0 downloads


Politics and the Future of Ministries of Agriculture: Rethinking Roles and Transforming Agendas
March 2, 2007 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 15
By Lidia Cabral and Steve Wiggins

What form should a contemporary Ministry of Agriculture take, and how should it function? The answers to these questions depend on three major issues set within the context of agriculture. The first and foremost is the role assigned to agriculture. Is it an economic activity like any other, or it expected to fulfil roles in, for example, food security, regional equity or providing a buffer against destitution for the rural poor?


Policy Brief 015 Pdf 358.70 KB 0 downloads


The Limits of Success: The Case of the Dairy Sector in Kenya
March 1, 2007 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 14
By Rosemary Atieno

By most accounts the dairy sector in Kenya has been a long-term success story. In many respects it can be viewed as a classic ‘new’ agriculture case. It is smallholder based, integrated with the private sector, commercially oriented, and with wide pro-poor benefits (Leksmono, et al. 2006, Ngigi 2005, Hooton 2004, Republic of Kenya 2005). According to Ngigi (2004), more than 600,000 small-scale farmers produce milk, using dairy cows of improved breeds. Annual net earnings from milk sales are estimated at US $370 per year per household. Those holding between one and three cows produce 80 percent of Kenya’s milk, and the poorest group earn around half of their income from milk sales.


Policy Brief 014 Pdf 348.90 KB 0 downloads


Reclaiming Policy Space: Lessons from Malawi’s Fertiliser Subsidy Programme
February 1, 2007 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief
By Blessings Chinsinga

This case study argues that political context matters in agricultural development issues. No matter what the technical or economic arguments for or against particular policy positions are, it is ultimately the configuration of political interests that influence agricultural policy outcomes on the ground.


Policy Brief 013 Pdf 346.27 KB 0 downloads