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

The role of foreign investment in Ethiopia’s smallholder-focused agricultural development strategy
December 7, 2012 / LDPI Working Papers

LDPI Working Paper 2
by Lavers, T.

Recent foreign agricultural investment in Africa has generated a great deal of interest and criticism, with western media warning of a neo-colonial ‘land grab’. This paper moves beyond this narrow assessment by examining the political and social dynamics of foreign agricultural investment in Ethiopia, a country that has figured prominently in recent debates. The paper links macro-level analysis regarding the types of projects and their role in the Ethiopian economy to case studies of investments at the micro-level, which examine changing patterns of land use and implications for displacement, employment and technology transfer. The paper concludes that the expansion of foreign investment in Ethiopia is part of a government move towards an export-led development strategy. As such, macro-benefits in terms of increased foreign exchange earnings come at the cost of increased micro-level risks to those living near new investments, in particular, politically marginalised pastoral populations in remote regions.

Commercial Biofuel Land Deals & Environment and Social Impact Assessments in Africa
December 7, 2012 / LDPI Working Papers

Full title: Commercial Biofuel Land Deals & Environment and Social Impact Assessments in Africa: Three case studies in Mozambique and Sierra Leone

LDPI Working Paper 1
by Andrew M; van Vlaenderen H

This paper examines three case studies of proposed biofuel developments in Mozambique and Sierra Leone in terms of their social displacement impacts and the extent to which such impacts can be avoided or minimised. The case studies show that even in areas with low population densities and settlements concentrated in villages where it is easier to minimise displacement impacts, livelihood displacement impacts still cannot be entirely avoided due to communal and scattered land use in most rural areas. Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) processes have changed the location, size and boundaries of developments to reduce displacement impacts, but more mitigation measures — such as outgrower schemes and land dedicated to food production — can provide further livelihood restitution and avoid food security impacts. The three biofuel ventures also highlight the influence of tenure security for local land right holders in determining the nature of the land deals and the consultation processes: cases where land leases are made with central government seem to provide fewer incentives for developers to negotiate directly with local communities and provide them with lower levels of compensation.

Evidence-based agricultural policy in Africa: Critical reflection on an emergent discourse
December 1, 2012 / Journal articles

by Stephen Whitfield
Outlook on Agriculture, Volume 41, Number 4, December 2012 , pp. 249-256(8)

Evidence-based policy represents an emergent discourse in African agriculture and is welcomed by many for the emphasis it places on the legitimization of policies and strategies through reference to observed realities. Its intuitive premise places realized results, as opposed to theory or bias, at the foundation of policy making. However, the universal appeal of evidence-based policy, as demonstrated by the geographical and inter-sector spread of the discourse, belies the fact that its legitimacy relies on a set of prerequisites that are by no means universally established. This paper highlights some of the current incompatibilities between a leaning towards evidence-based policy in African agriculture and various issues that currently compromise the quality of national agricultural statistics across the African continent. The case of NERICA rice is used to highlight how ‘success stories’ – which may become an evidence base of their own, justifying scaled-up investments and technology delivery – may be successfully constructed on the basis of weak or incomplete evidence. It is argued that the virtues of evidence-based policy rely critically on the quality of evidence and transparency in the way evidence speaks to policy, such that weaknesses do not become lost in a process that distorts data into policy truths.

FAC media competition
November 29, 2012 / Media

The Future Agricultures Consortium is inviting journalists and media specialists to enter a competition for writing on the politics and processes that influence agricultural investment in Africa.

The entry deadline is 8 February 2013 and the winners will be supported to attend FAC’s major conference on the Political economy of agricultural policy in Africa, which takes place in South Africa in March 2013.

The Green Belt Initiative and Land Grabs in Malawi
November 18, 2012 / Policy Briefs

FAC Policy Brief 55
by Blessings Chinsinga and Michael Chasukwa

There is often a mismatch between the apparent benevolent intents and the practical manifestations of the large scale land deals. The empirical realities of the large-scale land deals call for critical scrutiny and interrogation of the underlying interests of the stakeholders involved to assess the extent to which they genuinely prioritize win-win scenarios. As the experiences of the Green Belt Initiative (GBI) in Malawi demonstrated, the smallholder farmer is almost always the loser.

This raises doubt as to whether the international initiatives such the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) voluntary guidelines on responsible governance of tenure of land and other natural resources; the World Bank’s principles for responsible agricultural investment; and the Africa Union’s (AU) framework and guidelines on land policy shall make any significant difference on the actual outcomes of the large-scale land deals across the continent.


Policy Brief 055 Pdf 273.02 KB 2 downloads


The Politics of Agricultural Carbon Finance: The Case of the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project
November 5, 2012 / Working Papers

STEPS Centre Working Paper 49
by Joanes Atela

In the context of major scientific and policy concern with the causes and implications of climate change, various actors are now keen to demonstrate how agricultural carbon finance can help achieve multiple benefits or ‘triple wins’ for sub-Saharan African agriculture.

The target areas for these demonstrations have complex sociopolitical histories including prior donor interventions seeking to address related problems of poverty and the environment. Agricultural carbon finance, with associated globally framed narratives and interests, arrives on the back of these interventions and intersects with existing socio-cultural contexts and local and national policy processes to reshuffle livelihoods and ecologies.

This paper explores this interplay empirically, drawing on evidence from the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project (KACP). KACP is the first World Bank supported project on agricultural carbon finance in Africa and has worked with groups of smallholders in western Kenya since 2008. Fieldwork, interviews and document analysis show how a powerful donor-science network has established a dominant narrative around ‘triple wins’ which does not resonate well with local circumstances.

Farmers, concerned with food security through maize farming, focus on only one ‘win’- increases in maize production – with little awareness of or attention to climate resilience or carbon income. The Kenyan government, on the other hand, faces an implicit dilemma as to whether to mechanize agriculture as a quick fix for looming hunger or to embrace conservation agriculture for carbon finance.

As more powerful, resource and scientifically endowed global and project development institutions intersect rather messier, informal and complex local institutions, there is not a neat unfolding of a planned ‘agricultural carbon project’ – but a more complex situation from which various actors are nevertheless able to draw benefit, but from which certain farmers lose.

This paper therefore justifies the need to go beyond top-down donor and science-driven projectization of agricultural carbon finance. Approaches and associated capacity-building need to inform farmers more fully of links between sustainable farming practices and carbon; clarify their carbon rights, and attend to wider development issues such as water access and secure land tenure which bear heavily on carbon projects. This is vital if smallholder farmers are to become more empowered to expand their opportunities and wellbeing in the context of climate change and the uncertain promise of carbon money.

This paper was produced jointly by Future Agricultures and the ESRC STEPS Centre

Food security in a transforming system of global environmental change (GEC)
November 2, 2012 / Policy Briefs

FAC Policy Brief 54
by Laura Pereira

The world’s food system is undergoing an unprecedented transformation: not just from the significant impacts of global environmental change (GEC), but also from the rapid expansion of transnational agribusiness. The food system is now a globalised, interconnected socioecological system and the global South is increasingly being integrated into this new, interconnected, efficiency-driven model.

There are three key outcomes of a wellfunctioning food system: food security, social welfare and environmental welfare (see Figure 1) yet, our current system has so far failed to provide these for the planet’s poor. How, then, will the future food system respond to the challenge of providing food security whilst also adapting to issues of rapid environmental and sustainability issues – most notably climate change? Developing a system of adaptive governance to meet these challenges is clearly an important area for research, but it requires an understanding of the complexity and uncertainty inherent in such measures.


Policy Brief 054 Pdf 524.94 KB 5 downloads


Assessing Enablers and Constrainers of Graduation: Evidence from Ethiopia’s Food Security Programme
November 2, 2012 / Working Papers

Assessing Enablers and Constrainers of Graduation: Evidence from the Food Security Programme, Ethiopia

FAC Working Paper 44

Rachel Sabates-Wheeler, Mulugeta Tefera and Girma Bekele
April 2012

The purpose of this report is to identify the main enablers and constrainers of resiliency and graduation from food and cash support provided through the Food Security Programme (FSP) in Ethiopia. Different groups of women and men were interviewed to explore and interrogate the gendered experiences of change in relation to social protection provisions.

The aim was to: identify different pathways to graduation for different participating households; identify indicators of graduation, resilience and sustainability that go beyond simple benchmarks or thresholds; and understand the enablers and constrainers to graduation. The larger objective of this work is to learn from the ways households strengthen their livelihoods in different PSNP scenarios in order to inform policy debates around assessing sustainable graduation from social protection programmes.


FAC Working Paper 044 Pdf 518.67 KB 11 downloads


Public Agronomy: Norman Borlaug as ‘Brand Hero’ for the Green Revolution
November 2, 2012 / Journal articles

by James Sumberg, Dennis Keeney and Benedict Dempsey
The Journal of Development Studies, Volume 48, Issue 11, 2012

This article examines the role played by Norman Borlaug in promoting the notion of Green Revolution as a way to rapidly transform agriculture in the developing world. It develops the argument that Borlaug used his profile as a ‘public agronomist’, gained through his successful breeding of semi-dwarf wheat varieties, to actively and instrumentally bolster the case for Green Revolution style agricultural development. In effect he played and continues to play the role of a ‘brand hero’ for the Green Revolution.

Climate Change and Agricultural Policy Processes in Malawi
October 3, 2012 / Working Papers

FAC Working Paper 46
by Blessings Chinsinga, Michael Chasukwa and Lars Otto Naess

This paper explores climate change – agriculture debates in Malawi in view of the increasing interest and funding pledges for the agricultural sector in a changing climate. While there is increasing evidence of how climate change may affect Malawian agricultural systems, and a growing body of literature on possible response strategies, less is known about how priorities are made, by whom and with what outcomes. This matters because climate-related funding can be a major factor for how the agricultural sector develops, in Malawi as in other countries across Africa. This paper is the first of its kind to analyse policy discussions on climate change and agriculture in the country. The primary focus is the national level, but some of the implications of national debates at sub-national levels, and the questions they raise, are also discussed.


FAC Working Paper 046 Pdf 470.40 KB 5 downloads


Climate Change and Agricultural Policy Processes in Ghana
October 3, 2012 / Working Papers

FAC Working Paper 45
by Daniel Bruce Sarpong and Nana Akua Anyidoho

This paper examines agriculture-climate change policy discussions in Ghana in the context of, on the one hand, increasing international interest and activity around climate change and agriculture, and on the other, concerns over whether climate policy and funding priorities are aligned to domestic development priorities. The paper poses the following questions: What are the contested areas and dividing lines in policy discussions and practices around climate change, which actors are supporting different viewpoints, and what traction do they have in the types of interventions that are being promoted?


FAC Working Paper 045 Pdf 529.44 KB 2 downloads


L’Économie Politique du Succès de la Filière Coton au Burkina Faso: Entre Paradoxes et Incertitudes
September 21, 2012 / Documents de travail / Working Papers in French

FAC document de travail no. 41
par Augustin Loada

Le présent article porte sur l’économie politique de la filière coton au Burkina Faso. Si l’histoire du succès économique de cette filière est bien connue, il n’en va pas de même pour le rôle de l’économie politique jusque là peu étudié.

Pays sahélien enclavé confronté à des conditions climatiques et écologiques peu propices au développement de l’agriculture, le Burkina Faso est pourtant cité comme un exemple de réussite dans la filière coton. Introduite en Afrique l’Ouest sous l’ère coloniale dans les années 20, la culture du coton connaît un succès qui n’est pas seulement dû aux innovations techniques apportées de l’extérieur mais aussi à la capacité d’innovation des producteurs (Thomas J. Basset, 2002). Mais la filière ne prendra son envol qu’au lendemain de l’indépendance en 1960, sous l’impulsion de la Compagnie française pour le développement des fibres textiles (CFDT), une société publique dont le champ d’intervention s’étendait dans la sous-région francophone.

Democratisation and the Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa
August 29, 2012 / Working Papers

FAC Working Paper 43
by Colin Poulton

Theories of policy neglect of, or discrimination against, agriculture in Africa include urban bias (Lipton 1977; Bates 1981) and the narrow self-interest of autonomous elites (van de Walle 2001). Whilst structural adjustment removed much of the previous tax burden on African agriculture (Anderson and Masters 2009), the sector also saw declining investment from international development partners and through national budgets (Fan et al. 2009). Whilst there has been some recovery in public investment in agriculture over the past decade, signalled by the 2003 Maputo Declaration (Assembly of the African Union 2003), investment in the infrastructural and institutional public goods needed to support smallholder-led agricultural growth remains disappointing. As a result, the contribution of the agricultural sector to growth and poverty reduction objectives in Africa is widely believed to have been below potential.

In theory, democratisation, which has proceeded unevenly across Africa during the past two decades, should encourage pro-poor agricultural policy, as the majority of voters in many countries remain rural and poor. This paper draws on case studies of recent policy change (attempted and actual) in eight African countries, plus an analysis of the political systems in these countries, to explore the evolving role of competitive electoral politics in agricultural policy making. An important observation is that politicians are as likely to rely on ethnic allegiances and forms of social or political control to secure votes as they are to engage in policy competition. Moreover, the political incentives facing senior policy makers in the agricultural and rural development sphere may be inimical to the development of strong institutions to promote smallholder agricultural growth. Instead the paper finds that it is exogenous factors – macroeconomic dependence on agriculture and, most strikingly, sustained threats to regime survival – that create positive incentives for agricultural investment, even where social or political control is relied on to secure votes. The implications for participants in agricultural policy processes are briefly explored.


FAC Working Paper 043 Pdf 975.95 KB 4 downloads


The Political Economy of Agricultural Extension in Ethiopia: Economic Growth and Political Control
June 13, 2012 / Working Papers

FAC Working Paper 42
by Kassahun Berhanu

The central argument in this paper is that, for the past two decades, state-led agricultural extension in Ethiopia, implemented by excluding other players in general and non-state actors in particular, has facilitated uncontested control of the public space by the incumbent Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). In addition to its presumed economic ramifications, the ongoing agricultural extension scheme that is a major component of transforming smallholder agriculture is driven by political imperatives aimed at effectively controlling the bulk of the Ethiopian electorate whose votes in periodic elections are crucial to the regime’s perpetuation in power.


FAC Working Paper 042 Pdf 424.57 KB 4 downloads


Politics, Patronage and Projects: The Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Tanzania
June 13, 2012 / Working Papers

FAC Working Paper 40
by Brian Cooksey

The Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa (PEAPA) Programme examines the impact of political competition, patronage, and foreign aid on agricultural policy outcomes across a sample of eight African countries. This report examines the effects of these factors on agricultural policy formulation and implementation in Tanzania through the lens of two initiatives, the Agricultural Sector Development Programme (ASDP) and the National Agricultural Input Voucher Scheme (NAIVS). The report asks whether competitive politics has improved the policy regime for rural voters as political parties compete for their support and the ruling elite responds to increasing electoral pressures to deliver concrete benefits. The broad conclusion is that both vote-seeking and patronage incentivise agricultural policy but that the benefits to voters in terms of private and public goods delivered as a result are limited by the same patronage practiced from national to local levels. On balance, donor aid supports essentially statist policies which serve to marginalise the private sector as the ‘engine of growth.’


FAC Working Paper 040 Pdf 651.47 KB 6 downloads


The Political Economy of Agricultural Policy Processes in Malawi: A Case Study
June 13, 2012 / Working Papers

Full title: The Political Economy of Agricultural Policy Processes in Malawi: A Case Study of the Fertilizer Subsidy Programme

FAC Working Paper 39
by Blessings Chinsinga

This paper examines the political economy of the agricultural policy processes in Malawi through the lenses of the fertilizer subsidy programme that has raised the profile of the country on the international stage since 2006. Malawi is a regular feature in the international agricultural policy debates as a model for the rest of Africa to emulate in order to achieve a uniquely African Green Revolution (Dugger, 2007; Perkins, 2009; AGRA, 2009). Through its subsidy programme, and against fierce resistance by donors as well as some local fiscal conservatives, the argument is that Malawi has pioneered the implementation of smart subsidy that has transformed the country from a perpetual food beggar for close to two successive decades to a self reliant nation.


FAC Working Paper 039 Pdf 719.79 KB 7 downloads


From Subsistence to Smallholder Commercial Farming in Malawi: A Case of NASFAM Commercialisation
May 28, 2012 / Working Papers

Full title: From Subsistence to Smallholder Commercial Farming in Malawi: A Case of NASFAM Commercialisation Initiatives

FAC Working Paper 37
Ephraim W. Chirwa and Mirriam Matita

This paper investigates the relationship between food security and commercialisation using data from a household survey in National Smallholder Farmer Association of Malawi (NASFAM) operated areas. NASFAM promotes commercialisation of agriculture by introducing the principle of farming as a business among its members who are largely smallholder subsistence farmers.

The study finds that households with plenty of family labour are therefore likely to participate in NASFAM commercialisation initiatives. We also find a positive relationship between participation and value of durable assets, suggesting that wealth is an important determinant in the decision to participate in commercialisation. Household food security also increases the probability of participation, suggesting that when food markets are unstable, farmers that are not food secure may be constrained in their attempt to commercialize their farming systems. Furthermore, we find that the degree of commercialisation is negatively associated with age and household size but positively associated with food security, access to fertilizers, NASFAM business orientation and market access benefits.


FAC Working Paper 037 Pdf 616.96 KB 19 downloads


PEAPA: Has CAADP Made a Difference? Conceptual Framework and Hypotheses
May 23, 2012 / Discussion Papers

Conceptual Framework and Hypotheses for Phase 2 of the Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa (PEAPA) project.

This phase will explore how contrasting political incentives have influenced the eight countries’ engagement with the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). Case studies will explore both the nature of a country’s engagement with the CAADP process and the impact (“value added”) of CAADP on agricultural policy and politics.

Small farm commercialisation in Africa: Reviewing the issues
May 16, 2012 / Research Papers

FAC Research Paper 23
by Steve Wiggins, Gem Argwings-Kodhek, Jennifer Leavy & Colin Poulton

Small farmers in Africa have long been engaged with markets. Whenever villages have been connected to urban or overseas markets, smallholders have produced surpluses for them — at times prompting remarkable transformations in rural economies. The opportunities to engage with markets for small farmers are increasing — making questions that arise about smallholder commercialisation all the more important. This review looks at the debates, evidence and policy implications associated with these new opportunities.

Policy for agriculture and horticulture in Rwanda
May 16, 2012 / Working Papers

FAC Working Paper 38
by David Booth and Frederick Golooba-Mutebi

Agricultural development policies in sub-Saharan Africa continue to be weak, and the reasons are to be found in the incentives transmitted to policy makers by countries’ domestic political systems. The enfranchisement of rural voters within multi-party political systems does not seem to have altered the fundamental dynamics, raising the question whether – in Africa as in Asia – successful agricultural transformation will happen first in countries whose rulers are driven by concerns to avert rural-based political threats of a more fundamental sort.

This paper explores this question with reference to Rwanda. It argues that the political incentives are indeed different from those in comparable African countries, but that this did not immediately lead to the adoption of an appropriate agricultural strategy. Today, thanks to a major shock and some serious rethinking, policy has turned a corner and the results are promising. What this experience has revealed is that the political economy of agricultural policy in Rwanda is distinguished by a capacity for learning from errors as well as a seriousness about implementation that are not widely observed elsewhere in the region.


FAC Working Paper 038v2 Pdf 521.73 KB 2 downloads


Farmer-Based Seed Multiplication in the Ethiopian Seed System: Approaches, Priorities & Performance
May 11, 2012 / Working Papers

Working Paper 36
by Dawit Alemu

At the advent of Ethiopia’s new economic development plan, the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) 2010 – 2015, the Farmer-Based Seed Multiplication (FBSM) programme has increased hopes in the strengthening of the country’s national seed system. Although FBSM engages in various strategies and numerous actors across Ethiopia (Dawit and Spielman 2006), the primary function of FBSM involves the organisation of farmer groups at local levels throughout Ethiopia to produce seed that can either be conditioned (cleaned and bagged) or left in raw form, and provided both for sale to the formal sector or for local exchange. The overall goal of FBSM is contributing to the target of doubling agricultural production through improving access to and use of quality seeds of improved crop varieties along with sustaining the availability of germplasm of local varieties.

The principal advantages of FBSM are identified as follows: (i) improved seed production of locally demanded varieties; (ii) production of crop seeds for which there are less commercial interest; (iii) production and marketing of seed within communities for the purpose of reducing seed cost; and (iv) the possibility of serving as seed demonstration sites to encourage the adoption of alternative crop varieties. Although these advantages are appealing, the current implementation of FBSM demands considerable supervision from extension personnel, suffers from low quality seed recovery rates from participating farmers, places local seed supply under exactly the same climatic risks as local grain production, and its financial sustainability is unproven. This study examines FBSM efforts across Ethiopia and critically analyses the roles of its actors. The narratives, priorities, and agenda approaches of the actors promoting FBSM are documented through a series of case studies, all of which reflect a diversified demand for seed that is based on differing agro-ecological and socio-economic contexts and different sets of actor-networks. The study examines the operation of FBSM initiatives, exploring who is involved and who benefits from the programme. Links to the informal (illegal) private sector and the commercial sector are investigated, including FBSM associations with national and regional seed enterprises. The limits of FBSM initiatives are also documented.


FAC Working Paper 036v2 Pdf 519.71 KB 6 downloads


Initial Conditions and Changes in Commercial Fertilizers under the Farm Input Subsidy Programme
May 11, 2012 / Working Papers

Full title: Initial Conditions and Changes in Commercial Fertilizers under the Farm Input Subsidy Programme in Malawi: Implications for Graduation

Working Paper 30
by Ephraim W. Chirwa, Andrew Dorward and Mirriam Matita

The government of Malawi has been implementing agricultural input subsidies since 2005/06 as an intervention aimed at improving food security among resource poor smallholder farmers. Although the issue of graduation is not articulated in the design of the programme, this study investigates the determinants of changes in the demand for commercial fertilizers in the presence of the subsidy programme. The increase in purchase of commercial fertilizers by subsidized households may indicate prospects of graduation from the subsidy programme in future. Using panel data between the 2004/05 and 2008/09 seasons, we find that 6 percent of households that did not purchase commercial fertilizer in 2004/05 could afford to purchase fertilizers commercially in subsidy years. Relative to those that never purchase fertilizers, these households tend to have higher per capita expenditure and higher values of durable assets. The econometric results show that initial conditions matter, with initial household size, per capita expenditure, agricultural output, and existence of business enterprise all playing a positive role in the changes in demand for commercial fertilizer. We also find that commercial fertilizers decreases with initial commercial fertilizers, land holdings and existence of ADMARC. The results suggest that the poor may have low prospects of graduation and less involvement of ADMARC and greater participation of the private sector can help in improving the ‘potential graduation conditions’.


FAC Working Paper 030 Pdf 416.67 KB 2 downloads


Conceptualising Graduation from Agricultural Input Subsidies in Malawi
May 11, 2012 / Working Papers

Working Paper 29
by Ephraim W. Chirwa, Andrew Dorward and Mirriam Matita

The government of Malawi has been implementing a large-scale Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) since 2005/06 as an intervention aimed at improving food security by addressing resource poor smallholder farmers’ affordability constraints in purchasing inorganic fertilizers. However, in the design of the programme, there is lack of articulation on the graduation of some farmers from the subsidy over time. This paper considers ways in which the concept of graduation may be usefully applied to the FISP and sets out a broad conceptualisation of graduation for potential application in programme design and implementation.


FAC Working Paper 029 Pdf 524.26 KB 2 downloads


High and volatile food prices: Supporting farmers and consumers
May 9, 2012 / Policy Briefs

CAADP Policy Brief 08
by Kate Wellard-Dyer

Food prices are critical for African populations and economies and at the top of the agenda for African policy makers. The CAADP Framework for African Food Security promotes action to address food security challenges faced by stakeholders continent-wide – inadequate food supply, widespread and persistent hunger and malnutrition, and inadequate management of food crises. Addressing the problems of high and volatile food prices requires a multi-pronged approach, including actions both to prevent and mitigate crises.  This policy brief draws on latest research by Future Agricultures and asks:

  • What are the main causes of high and volatile food prices?
  • What is the impact of food price spikes on rural households and economies?
  • What can policy-makers do to prevent and mitigate the effects of food prices rises?

Agricultural labour productivity and food prices: Fundamental development impacts and indicators
May 9, 2012 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 53
by Andrew Dorward

This policy brief reviews historical changes in staple food prices (in terms of international grain prices) and highlights increasing agricultural labour productivity and falling food prices as critical drivers of development, food security and poverty reduction. These drivers are, however, challenged by growing threats facing global and local agricultural and food systems. Simple indicators for agricultural labour productivity and food price changes relative to the real incomes of poor people are proposed to focus international and national attention and policy on these issues.


Policy Brief 053v2 Pdf 727.69 KB 2 downloads


The short and medium term impacts of rises in staple food prices
May 9, 2012 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 52
by Andrew Dorward

Recent years have seen increasing average food prices, severe food price shocks (in 2007/8 and 2010/11), and increasing concerns about the impacts of food prices shocks, high food prices and food price volatility on poor and food insecure people. However, while there is general agreement that food price volatility leads to inefficient resource allocations and adjustment costs, and that high prices are bad for the urban poor (with large staple food expenditures), there has been more debate on the impacts of high food prices on the rural poor.

This policy brief

  • draws on basic microeconomic theory on the different meanings and effects of changes in staple food prices to different consumers and producers.
  • reviews empirical evidence of the effects of the 2008 food price spike on different people.

Recent years have seen increasing average food prices, severe food price shocks (in 2007/8 and 2010/11), and increasing concerns about the impacts of food prices shocks, high food prices and food price volatility on poor and food insecure people. However, while there is general agreement that food price volatility leads to inefficient resource allocations and adjustment costs, and that high prices are bad for the urban poor (with large staple food expenditures), there has been more debate on the impacts of high food prices on the rural poor.
This policy brief

draws on basic microeconomic theory on the different meanings and effects of changes in staple food prices to different consumers and producers.
reviews empirical evidence of the effects of the 2008 food price spike on different people.


Policy Brief 052v2 Pdf 456.04 KB 2 downloads


Du transfert de technologie jusqu’aux systèmes d’innovation: soutenir une révolution verte en..
May 3, 2012 / Briefings politiques / Policy briefs in French

Titre complet: Du transfert de technologie jusqu’aux systèmes d’innovation: soutenir une révolution verte en Afrique

CAADP Point Info 07

Les petits agriculteurs sont les principaux acteurs de la production agricole de la plupart des pays africains et les principaux moteurs de la sécurité alimentaire, de la réduction de la pauvreté, et de la croissance. Cependant, la productivité demeure terriblement basse avec une utilisation limitée des intrants améliorés (sauf lorsqu’ils sont soutenus par des subventions) ce qui est aggravé par la volatilité liée au climat et aux marchés.

D’une manière générale, la science et la technologie sont considérées comme étant essentielles pour renverser les tendances de l’agriculture africaine. Le pilier IV du Programme Détaillé de Développement de l’Agriculture Africaine (PDDAA) est chargé de la revitalisation, de l’expansion et de la réforme des études concernant l’agriculture en Afrique et des efforts de développement. Des investissements sont réalisés par les gouvernements nationaux, les donateurs et les organismes de financement privés dans les instituts de recherche (principalement internationaux) en vue de développer des semences améliorées et des technologies visant à accroître la fertilité du sol pour une révolution verte en Afrique. Des systèmes de livraison publics (et, de plus en plus souvent, privés également) se mettent en place pour apporter ces technologies aux agriculteurs. Au sein de la rechercher agricole intégrée pour le développement (IAR4D), les efforts vont à présent au-delà des barrières de l’exploitation agricole et concernent le crédit, les marchés et l’ajout de valeur. Les agriculteurs s’impliquent de manière plus précoce dans le processus de développement: on considère que l’efficacité de la création de technologies agricoles et des organismes de distribution dépend principalement de l’adéquation et de la réactivité aux besoins des agriculteurs.

Cependant les approches « basées sur la technologie » (s’adressant principalement aux espaces agricoles au potentiel élevé) doivent relever des défis considérables afin d’offrir une révolution agricole intégrale et plus large.

Ce document d’orientation s’appuie sur les conclusions des recherches menées par le consortium Future Agricultures et pose des questions essentielles:

  • Existe-t-il des solutions, en dehors des solutions classiques offertes par les institutions, pour bénéficier d’une expertise extérieure, en particulier l’expérience des agriculteurs eux-mêmes en matière d’innovation, concernant les systèmes redynamisés d’innovation qui rationnalisent les processus publics, privés et des agriculteurs?
  • De quelle manière peut-on adapter les systèmes d’innovation agricole pour qu’ils fonctionnent pour les plus pauvres afin d’accéder aux marchés en expansion et que l’innovation rurale soit facilitée?
  • Existe-t-il des modèles différents pour un développement plus durable et plus juste socialement, et quel sont les obstacles (politiques et économiques, ainsi que technocratiques) qu’il faut surmonter pour les mettre en place?

L’économie pastorale dans la Corne de l’Afrique: Diverses voies de moyens de subsistance
May 3, 2012 / Briefings politiques / Policy briefs in French

CAADP Point Info 06
Par Kate Wellard-Dyer

Pendant des siècles, les communautés pastorales de la Corne de l’Afrique ont lutté pour leur subsistance en dépit de la sécheresse, des conflits et de la famine. Ces populations sont inventives, novatrices et elles ont le sens des affaires, simplement par besoin. Malgré les importantes difficultés liées à la mise en place de ressources sûres pour tous, des succès considérables ont été observés.

Le cadre de l’initiative africaine pour les politiques pastorales de l’Union africaine reconnaît les contributions des communautés pastorales dans les économies nationales et régionales : elles fournissent des quantités énormes de bétail et de produits animaux. Les systèmes de production des communautés pastorales sont très flexibles et font face en permanence à l’évolution du marché et du climat. En revanche, les indicateurs de développement humain et de sécurité alimentaire sont parmi les plus bas du continent. Le cadre est conçu pour protéger les vies, les ressources et les droits des communautés pastorales. Il s’agit d’une plateforme permettant de mobiliser et de coordonner l’engagement politique en faveur du développement de l’économie pastorale en Afrique.

Ce document d’orientation, rédigé à partir des dernières études réalisées par le consortium Future agricultures, décrit les bonnes et les mauvaises interprétations des ressources pastorales : l’innovation et le sens des affaires ; les populations ne se limitent pas à faire face aux événements et à s’adapter; elles créent de la coopération et des réseaux transfrontaliers, pas uniquement des conflits et de la violence. Il souligne les modèles multiples de développement futurs des régions pastorales et offre une vision différente de l’économie pastorale, et des solutions pratiques.

Agro-dealers, Subsidies and Rural Market Development in Malawi: A Political Economy Enquiry
April 30, 2012 / Working Papers

Working Paper 31

by Blessings Chinsinga
December 2011

This paper examines the micro-politics of Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) and the roles of agro-dealers as potential anchors or drivers of a ‘uniquely African Green Revolution’. The drive toward the development of a viable network of agro-dealers is a direct consequence of the failure of the liberalization of the agricultural sector to trigger a vibrant private sector-led market. The agro-dealer initiative was introduced to address the question of missing markets for the rural farmer and deal once and for all with the question of pervasive food insecurity in Malawi.

While agro-dealership has tremendous potential to facilitate private sector led agricultural growth and development, the implementation of FISP has substantially altered the operative context for agrodealers. FISP has thrown up considerable challenges that require urgent redress if the agricultural sector is to serve as an engine of sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. The major finding of this study is that instead of functioning as a ‘smart’ subsidy, with huge potential for kick-starting the development of viable private sector-led agricultural growth, FISP has degenerated into an instrument of patronage at various levels. It has been captured by a network of elites who have appropriated it as a cash cow for rapid wealth accumulation rather than as a medium for broadening farmers’ access to productivity-enhancing inputs and technologies. The elite capture of FISP is primarily due to the institutional arrangements that mean that agro-dealers can only participate in FISP if and only if they have contracts with seed companies.

These challenges can be dealt with by the design and enforcement of a robust policy and institutional framework for agro-dealership. Most of the challenges revealed in this study are linked to the absence or weak enforcement of policy and regulatory frameworks for agro-dealers specifically, and the seed industry in general. There is therefore urgent need to develop and implement a policy and institutional framework for the agrodealership that outlines legitimate practices and expectations. Such efforts, however, are likely to face resistance as a consequence of the expansive rentseeking opportunities associated with FISP.


FAC Working Paper 031 Pdf 350.52 KB 46 downloads


Young People and Policy Narratives in sub-Saharan Africa
April 30, 2012 / Working Papers

by Nana Akua Anyidoho, Happy Kayuni, John Ndungu, Jennifer Leavy, Mohamadou Sall, Getnet Tadele and James Sumberg

FAC Working Paper 32

This paper is about the portrayal of youth in policy documentation in sub-Saharan Africa. Historically, young people’s engagement with policy and the array of institutions that affect their lives can be characterised by two broad, interacting themes: marginalisation and mobilisation. Marginalisation is associated with deeply rooted tendencies to defer to age in ‘gerontocratic’ societies (see, for example, Harris 2004), leaving young people outside circles of power, or lacking in ‘voice’ (see also te Lintelo 2011). This can lead to youth disaffection, which may either catalyse young people to mobilise, or make them a fertile recruiting ground for the political projects of others (e.g. Peters et al 2003; Peters and Richards 1998; Richards 1995). Thus, mobilisation can be seen to be, at least in part, a consequence of isolation and disempowerment. These themes are evident, to varying degrees, in each of five study countries we focus on in this paper: Ethiopia; Ghana; Kenya; Malawi; and Senegal. It is based on a review of key national policy documents and other formal policy documentation in the five countries. The review sought to discover how rural youth and youth-related issues are portrayed. Major policy domains were considered including: agriculture and rural development; education; health; employment; economic development; crime and security; natural resource management; and climate change. The analysis focused on the visibility of young people within the policy domain; the content of policy frames and narratives on young people; and linkages between youth and agriculture.


FAC Working Paper 132 Pdf 484.29 KB 30 downloads


Factors Influencing Smallholder Commercial Farming in Malawi: A Case of NASFAM Commercialisation
April 25, 2012 / Policy Briefs

Full title: Factors Influencing Smallholder Commercial Farming in Malawi: A Case of NASFAM Commercialisation Initiatives

Policy Brief 51
by Ephraim Chirwa and Miriam Matita

Most of smallholder farming in Malawi focuses on producing food staples such as maize and rice for own consumption. The dominance of subsistence farming with traditional farming systems in the smallholder sector is one of the concerns in achieving agricultural productivity. The smallholder agriculture sector in Malawi remains unprofitable and is characterised by low uptake of improved farm inputs, weak links to markets, high transport costs, few farmer organizations, poor quality control and lack of information on markets and prices.

There are several initiatives by state and non-state actors that aim at promoting intensification and commercialisation of smallholder farming. One of the organisations spearheading the commercialisation of smallholder farming is the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), a farmer –based organisation.


Policy Brief 051v2 Pdf 230.60 KB 9 downloads


Agro-Dealers and the Political Economy of Agricultural Biotechnology Policy in Kenya
April 25, 2012 / Working Papers

Working Paper 33

Political Economy of Cereal Seed Systems in Africa project

by Hannington Odame and Elijah Muange
December 2011

Public and private actors and their networks are committing substantial resources to support agro-dealers to deliver novel technologies and information in line with the New Green Revolution for Africa. The main point of entry has been the cereal seed system, with a focus on maize seed in particular, which is seen as both a key staple and a politically important crop. In Kenya, the seed system landscape has been changing dramatically in recent years, with the entry of highly influential seed companies, biotechnology research and legislation of the biosafety regulations. Thus, the prospect of genetically modified (GM) crops being pushed through agribusiness networks is an emerging issue, raising the question of whether small-scale, independent stockists or ‘agro-dealers’ have the capacity to deliver these technologies and provide local regulatory control over the new seeds.

This study sought to investigate the policy and institutional environment within which agricultural biotechnology agro-dealers have evolved, as well as the agendas that are being pushed by particular interests in the new pro-GM policy and institutional environment in Kenya and their expected outcomes.


FAC Working Paper 033v2 Pdf 497.27 KB 3 downloads


From Negligence to Populism: An Analysis of Mozambique’s Agricultural Political Economy
April 25, 2012 / Working Papers

By Domingos M. do Rosário
April 2012

FAC Working Paper 34

Produced as part of the FAC Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa (PEAPA) work stream

The paper analyses the changing configuration of the political system since the Rome Peace Agreement of 1992. It discusses how the “political settlement” underlying the Peace Agreement and the outcomes of multiparty elections thereafter have shaped governance, including policy-making concerning the agriculture sector and the rural economy.

The paper argues that private interests and electoral objectives have been important drivers of policy decisions taken by the governing elites concerning the agriculture sector and local governance, with precedence over donor influence. By contrasting the political choices and governance approaches adopted by the two different presidential administrations in office since the first multiparty elections were held in 1994, it is argued that one (led by Joaquim Chissano) is marked by features of “neopatrimonialism”, whereas the other (led by Armando Guebuza) is showing signs of electoral “populism”. The former is characterised by significant rent distribution by the governing elite to a narrow “selectorate”. The latter is manifested by a paternalistic and politically mobilising discourse emanating directly from the President and appealing to the broader electorate, particularly the rural population of the central and Northern region of the country, who has been traditionally opposed to the ruling party.


FAC Working Paper 134 Pdf 428.06 KB 22 downloads


Gender and Intra-Household Use of Fertilizers in the Malawi Farm Input Subsidy Programme
April 20, 2012 / Working Papers

Working Paper 28

by Ephraim W. Chirwa, Peter M. Mvula, Andrew Dorward and Mirriam Matita
December 2011

The Farm Input Subsidy Programme targets households for subsidized farm inputs, and usually it is the head of the household who receives the coupons. Since households tend to have multiple plots which are controlled by different members of the household, there may be intra-household issues that arise in the use of farm inputs available to the household.

We find that while male-headed households are more likely to receive coupons than female-headed households, there seems to be less bias in intra-household use of subsidized fertilizers (or fertilizers in households receiving subsidy) between plots controlled by female and male members. This is despite the fact that, more generally, household incomes from various sources tend to be controlled and allocated by men. It also contrasts with evidence that plots controlled by female members were less likely to be applied with fertilizers when we consider all fertilizers in subsidized and unsubsidized households.


FAC Working Paper 028 Pdf 317.46 KB 5 downloads


Gender Analysis: Engaging with Rural Development and Agricultural Policy Processes
April 18, 2012 / Working Papers

Christine Okali
January 2012

One of the great ironies of the last 40 years is that sub-Saharan Africa, a continent of ‘female farming par excellence’ (Boserup 1970), became populated, at least within much development discourse, by rural women represented as either ‘cardboard victims or heroines’ (Cornwall et al. 2004:1). How did this disjuncture come about? What have been its implications for agricultural development policy and practice? How can more nuanced understandings of gender and social relations be fruitfully brought into agricultural research and policy processes?


FAC Working Paper 026 Pdf 327.74 KB 6 downloads


Factors Influencing Access to Agricultural Input Subsidy Coupons in Malawi
April 18, 2012 / Working Papers

Ephraim W. Chirwa, Mirriam Matita and Andrew Dorward
December 2011

Since the 2005/06 agricultural season, the government of Malawi has been implementing a targeted agricultural input subsidy programme through the provision of fertilizers and maize seeds to smallholder farmers at subsidized prices. This paper analyses the factors that influence access to agricultural input subsidies in Malawi.

The results show that vulnerable households such as the poor and elderly-headed are less likely to receive fertilizer coupons and receive less of the subsidized fertilizers. Households with larger parcels of land and those who sell part of their produce (commercialized) are more likely to receive coupons and also tend to acquire more fertilizers. Use of open meetings in the allocation of coupons tends to favour the poor and the poor receive more fertilizer compared with other alternative ways of allocating coupons. We also find a positive relation between participation in other social safety nets and access to subsidized fertilizer coupons, suggesting that households with multiple access to different types of social protection programmes are not excluded from the input subsidy programme by virtue of benefiting from other social protection programmes.


FAC Working Paper 027 Pdf 327.21 KB 12 downloads


Small farm commercialisation in Africa: A guide to issues and policies
April 18, 2012 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 50
by Steve Wiggins

Small farmers in Africa have long been engaged with markets — for produce, inputs such as fertiliser, credit, labour, land and information. Opportunities to do so are increasing with urbanisation and better roads linking villages to cities, making questions that arise about smallholder commercialisation all the more important. Expectations about process and outcomes differ considerably.

What does the evidence show? How do small farms commercialise? What are the outcomes? Are the fears of undesirable outcomes justified? And what should policy-makers be doing to encourage better outcomes? This briefing reports the highlights of an extensive review of the literature on commercialisation of small farms in Africa.


Policy Brief 050 Pdf 439.64 KB 5 downloads


From technology transfer to innovation systems: sustaining a Green Revolution in Africa
April 13, 2012 / Policy Briefs

CAADP Policy Brief 07

by Kate Wellard-Dyer

Smallholder agriculture is the core contributor to agricultural production in most African countries and the main driver for food security, poverty reduction and growth. But productivity remains desperately low with limited use of improved inputs (except where boosted by subsidies) – compounded by volatility in climate and markets.

Science and technology is widely seen as essential in turning African agriculture round. The Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Pillar IV is leading moves to revitalise, expand and reform Africa’s agricultural research and development effort.  Investments are being made by national governments, donors and private funders in (mainly international) research institutions to develop improved seeds and soil fertility technologies for a Green Revolution in Africa. Public and, increasingly, private sector delivery systems are gearing up to deliver these technologies to farmers. Within integrated agricultural research for development (IAR4D), focus is moving beyond the farm-gate to credit, markets and value-addition. Farmers are being involved earlier in the development process – the effectiveness of agricultural technology generation and dissemination institutions seen as depending crucially on relevance and responsiveness to farmer needs.

Yet ‘market-led technology’ approaches – aimed mainly at high potential agricultural areas – face serious challenges in delivering a broaderbased inclusive agricultural revolution.

This policy brief draws on research findings by Future Agricultures and asks:

  • Are there options outside conventional institutional routes that bring alternative expertise – particularly farmers’ own innovation experience – into revitalised innovation systems that cut across public, private and farmer-led processes?
  • How can agricultural innovation systems be made to work for poor people in expanding market access and enabling rural innovation?
  • Are there alternative pathways for more sustainable and socially-just development, and what obstacles – political-economic as well as technocratic – need to be overcome to pursue these?

Pastoralism in the Horn of Africa: Diverse livelihood pathways
April 13, 2012 / Policy Briefs

CAADP Policy Brief 06

by Kate Wellard-Dyer

Pastoralists in the Horn of Africa have struggled for centuries with drought, conflict and famine. They are resourceful, innovative and entrepreneurial peoples, by necessity. While there are profound difficulties in creating secure livelihoods for all, there are also significant successes.

The African Union’s Policy Framework for Pastoralism in Africa recognises pastoralists’ contributions to national and regional economies – supplying huge numbers of livestock and livestock products. Pastoralists’ production systems are highly adaptive and constantly respond to market and climatic change. At the same time human development and food security indicators are amongst the lowest on the continent. The Framework is designed to secure and protect the lives, livelihoods and rights of pastoral peoples, and is a platform for mobilising and coordinating political commitment to pastoral development in Africa.

This policy brief, based on latest research by Future Agricultures Consortium, reviews understandings and misunderstandings about pastoral livelihoods – innovation and entrepreneurship, not just coping and adapting; and cooperation and networking across borders, not just conflict and violence. It highlights the multiple pathways for future development of pastoral areas and offers an alternative view of pastoralism and practical ways forward.

The Politics of Seed Relief in Zimbabwe
April 11, 2012 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 49
By Charity Mutonodzo-Davies and Douglas Magunda

Over much of the past decade, the Zimbabwean government and donor organisations have implemented agricultural input support programmes, comprised of private suppliers (seed houses and fertiliser manufacturers), wholesalers and rural agro-dealers, bypassing the previously vibrant market chain. This article argues that these ‘seed relief’ programmes contributed to the collapse of the input supply chain, and therefore hastening the decline of agricultural productivity in Zimbabwe today.


Policy Brief 049 V2 Pdf 288.96 KB 2 downloads


The Political Economy of Ethiopian Cereal Seed Systems
April 11, 2012 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 48
by Dawit Alemu

Full title: The Political Economy of Ethiopian Cereal Seed Systems: State Control, Market Liberalisation and Decentralisation

This FAC Policy Brief examines the political and economic processes governing Ethiopian cereal seed systems by analysing the overall policy context, including the main interests driving seed policy formulation and implementation, and the roles and interaction of the different public and private actors. It also investigates how these interests and interactions are related to the actual performance of the system on the ground.

By focusing on three key political economic drivers of change within the seed system – state control, market liberalisation and decentralisation – the article asks: How are seed-related policies and implementation guidelines created? How do ideas about what makes ‘good’ policy and implementation guidelines evolve and change over time? Whose voices and views are taken into account in the policy process? What are the key arguments for the choice of actions? What spaces exist for new ideas, actors and networks, and how can these be opened up? And finally, what urgent national/regional seed policy issues and processes need to be considered for creation of a vibrant seed system within the country?


Policy Brief 048 V2 Pdf 281.00 KB 3 downloads


From Farmer Participation to Pro-poor Seed Markets
April 11, 2012 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 47
by Kojo Amanor

Full title: From Farmer Participation to Pro-poor Seed Markets: The Political Economy of Commercial Cereal Seed Networks in Ghana

Since the 1980s public research systems in seed production in sub-Saharan Africa have increasingly come under pressure to privatise. In Ghana, however, privatisation has been complex and fragmented since farmers are largely dependent upon their own seeds and are reluctant to purchase improved seed. With few large investors willing to approach an industry that has not yet established itself, the development of seed investment is predicated on creating a social infrastructure for improved seeds; this will gradually build demand among farmers and integrate them into improved seed, input and food processing markets. This FAC Policy Brief employs a political economy analysis to examine dominant political interests in the seed industry.


Policy Brief 047 Pdf 197.96 KB 2 downloads


Seeds and Subsidies: The Political Economy of Input Support Programmes in Malawi
April 11, 2012 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 46
by Blessings Chinsinga

This FAC Policy Brief examines the political economy of input programmes and identifies maize and input subsidies as central to agricultural political debates. Subsidy programmes that are centred on the supply of seed and fertiliser to support maize production to boost national food security have created a strong actor network including key government players, major donor aid agencies and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). In recent years, this has created a unique and highly contested political economy of seeds in Malawi. Notwithstanding the strong narratives about national food security or public food aid, the benefits of both national and donor-led subsidy interventions are unevenly distributed, most to the benefit of elites. Moreover, international commercial seed sector players, pushing their patented genetic material, have won out in agricultural policy over local producers and varieties, again to the profit of local elites.


Policy Brief 046 Pdf 202.19 KB 2 downloads


Can Agro-dealers deliver the Green Revolution in Kenya?
April 11, 2012 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 45
by Hannington Odame and Elijah Muange

In a bid to return the country to food self-sufficiency, the Government of Kenya has been spearheading strategies for a new ‘Green Revolution’ in the food producing sector, as spelt out in its Strategy for Revitalizing Agriculture (SRA), a ten-year action plan launched in 2004. The SRA is entrenched in Kenya’s Vision 2030, the country’s framework for long-term investment and development (Republic of Kenya 2007; 2004). Crucial to the SRA is the increased generation, promotion and use of modern farming inputs and technologies, particularly improved seed and fertiliser. Small-scale independent stockists or input distributors, commonly known as ‘agro-dealers’, are seen to have a crucial role to play in distributing these inputs in a liberalised economy. As key actors in the Green Revolution agenda, agro-dealers are thus at the centre of current policy debates about the future of Kenya’s seed system.

This FAC Policy Brief sheds light on the rise of agro-dealers in recent national policy debates as central figures in the delivery of agricultural innovation, improved food security and the potential spark in igniting a smallholder-led revolution. It asks: can agro-dealers really deliver the Green Revolution in Kenya? Drawing on key informant interviews and surveys of agrodealers in two districts, Machakos in Eastern Province and Uasin Gishu in Rift Valley Province, it assesses the different politics and interests at play and the implications these raise for future investments in both formal and informal seed systems and the promotion of agro-dealers as catalysts of change in the agricultural sector.


Policy Brief 045 Pdf 618.46 KB 2 downloads


The Political Economy of Cereal Seed Systems in Africa’s Green Revolution
April 10, 2012 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 44
by John Thompson and Ian Scoones

Drawing on lessons from case studies from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe conducted by the Future Agricultures Consortium during 2009-11, this Policy Brief assesses the political economy of cereal seed system research and development programmes and processes across Sub-Saharan Africa.

By examining the contrasting politics and different configurations of interests affecting the way cereal seeds are produced and delivered in these countries, it identifies opportunities for reshaping the terms of the debate and opening up alternative pathways towards more sustainable and socially just seed systems.


Policy Brief 044 Pdf 247.60 KB 2 downloads


Too many people, too few livestock
January 11, 2012 / Pastoralism in crisis?

Below is an unpublished extract written by Stephen Sandford from the book Development at the Margins: Pathways of Change in the Horn of Africa, ed. Andy Catley, Jeremy Lind and Ian Scoones (2012), Earthscan. It was written in November 2011.

Over the last half-century pastoralists’ wealth and welfare have been in sharp decline in the Horn of Africa and it is becoming increasingly urgent to find other livelihoods for many of them. This chapter is a plea for a rethink about the potential of irrigated agriculture to be a valuable alternative or additional livelihood to pastoralism. The Horn of Africa in this paper refers to the five core countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

For many years the average levels (and the equity of inter-household distribution) of wealth and welfare, among pastoralists in the rangelands of the Horn have been getting worse (Waller, 1999; McPeak, 2006, p45; Desta and Coppock, 2002, p445, Devereux, 2006, pp88-90); and they will continue to worsen. This is a consequence of a growing imbalance between the extent, productivity and sustainability of the rangelands, the number of humans dependent on them for their livelihood, and the number of livestock needed to support these humans. That number is, in turn, determined by the productivity of the land and animals, the proportion of different types of output which are bought and sold, and their relative prices (Dietz et al, 2001; Sandford, 2006; ODI, 2010). Although there has been some switch from natural vegetation to feed based on cropping, livestock herded by pastoralists in the Horn of Africa still depend on the rangelands for most of their diet, typically 70-80 per cent in individual countries (LOG Associates, 2010, pxix). But the extent of the rangelands accessible by pastoralists is declining (Homewood, 2008, p251) and, in spite of the unreliability of demographic data (ODI, 2010), the human population is increasing (Randall, 2008), although becoming less nomadic.

The livestock population, which is already too large for the natural environment to support sustainably (ODI, 2010) is at the same time too small to provide an adequate living for the human population if that remains largely dependent on pastoralism. The burden of the resulting gap between the requirements for livestock (and their products) and their supply falls principally on the already poor. They have herds that are too small to sustain them. Consequently they have to supplement their income in other ways which leads them to neglect their herds. Their herds therefore shrink yet further (Lybbert et al, 2004). The non-viability of the existing pastoral systems, as highlighted by the acute food crisis of 2011, continues to worsen.

If both the growth of the human population and primary dependence on a pastoral livelihood are to continue, then the net value of total pastoral output (i.e. sales and auto-consumption of animals and their products) needs to increase, but without putting further grazing pressure on the rangelands by increasing animal numbers. The best available forecasts (OECD/FAO, 2011) of real world prices (adjusted for inflation) over the next decade do not suggest that this increase in net value will come about by rises in the prices of the animal products produced by pastoralists. Any increase in net value of pastoral output will have to come through changes in quantity.

Although there is some scope for improving secondary productivity (yield of animal products per unit of feed consumed by the herd), for example through improved animal health, this will have little real effect unless the total quantity of feed consumed is also increased (Otchere, 1986). Such an increase in feed consumed will either require the extra feed to be imported from non-pastoral areas or the primary productivity of the rangelands (feed per hectare) to be increased. Although high protein feed supplements can be economically imported and fed, the feed conversion ratios of cattle and small ruminants are such that, as simple back-of-the-envelope modelling of transport costs show, it is normally much more economic to export the pastoral livestock to where the bulky energy-providing feed is grown in the non-pastoral areas rather than the other way round. But in such systems, the value added then accrues to the non-pastoralist feed-growers.

While a modest increase in the quantity of pastoral output might be achieved by an increase in the efficiency with which existing ‘traditional’ technology is used the scope for this is limited. In spite of some claims to the contrary (Breman 1995; Toutain et al, 2009, p186), the ‘improved’ research-based technology available does not seem able substantially to increase the primary productivity of rainfed rangelands.

One issue is that most research focused on rangelands is not intended to maximise income but focuses on sustainability. That emphasis may be appropriate but the focus of this paper is income and how to stop the increasing impoverishment of pastoralists and to strengthen their ability to survive. A proper scientific approach to testing the hypothesis that research-based technology is no better than what pastoralists already do would require statistical testing of considerable sophistication. The data for this does not exist and will not for decades, if ever. In the meantime, one has to rely on unsophisticated comparisons and indirect approaches.

Four such approaches are:

  1. The crude quantitative comparisons that are available show that commercial ranches, which normally claim that their range management techniques are derived from research, have lower values of output per ha than traditional pastoralists in comparable circumstances (Hesse, 2009).
  2. Appropriate range-management techniques and strategies are very ‘site- specific’, depending on local ecological, social and economic factors (Perrier, 1990; Briske et al, 2008). Africa is very heterogeneous and the quantity of research carried out (other than in South Africa) is too small to have produced reliable results even for a few sites.
  3. Although extension services have been advising African pastoralists for the last sixty years to adopt ‘improved range management’ in practice take-up of these recommendations has been minimal (Ndlovu and Mugabe, 2002, p259). This suggests that pastoralists do not find that the recommendations are profitable.
  4. Although range scientists 40-50 years ago were very confident in the power of improved range management, claiming that it could double yields (Sandford, 1980), their recent claims have been much more modest. For example, a senior range scientist in South Africa, where there has been considerable range research done, says ‘In the field of rangeland science we can offer to marginally increase production by improving the use of rangeland’ (Palmer 1999)  [emphasis added]

The need to diversify and its scale

The evidence presented here on the improbability of net pastoral output increasing as a result of either higher prices or of the adoption of new technology indicates that the recent and continuing decline in the welfare of pastoralists will not be halted or reversed by focusing only, or even principally, on livestock-based livelihoods. Diversification of livelihoods is essential.

Successful and sustainable land use in dry areas of the Horn requires a mobile system of land use and often household herds of mixed species, able to exploit different types of vegetation in widely separated locations at different seasons. An efficient mobile land-use system requires an adequate labour force for herding and one able to respond to rainfall and other events rapidly. Households with too small a herd get a living from and who consequently have to divide their attention across several different livelihoods, or with too small a labour force who are unable to devote sufficient attention to the needs of different categories and species of stock, are not economically viable as pastoralists (Barrett and McPeak 2006) and are unable to operate a mobile system of land use. At the same time their herds compete for scarce livestock feed with the herds of those who are potentially viable, and their immobile system of land use puts greater pressure on the environment.

Diversification of livelihoods by the pastoral population as a whole but specialisation by individual households is the key to successful and sustainable land use. The aim should be to reduce the number of people dependent on pastoralism by facilitating the emigration out of a pastoral livelihood of those households who have to diversify if they are to survive at all.

The scale of the effort needed to achieve a satisfactory rate of emigration depends on the present degree of overpopulation, as reflected in various indicators of stress, and in the future rate of growth of the population significantly dependent on pastoralism. Obviously these will differ quite widely between different locations. But we can take as an example the pastoral areas of north Kenya and southern Ethiopia. Two indicators of stress are:

  • In the pastoral areas of southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya, 49 per cent of households wholly or partially dependent on pastoralism were, for four consecutive dry seasons of study (McPeak, 2004), below an income poverty line which was set at a value equivalent to half the level of the UN’s extreme poverty line (US$1 of 1993 purchasing power parity) per person per day.
  • About 80 per cent of family herds in these pastoral areas are now less than the threshold size (about 10-12 head of cattle per household or their equivalent in terms of other categories of livestock) above which household herds are, after a ‘shock’ such as extreme drought, probably able to recover their pre-shock size but below which they gradually dwindle in numbers and are no longer viable pastoralists (Lybbert et al, 2004).

These two indicators show that the proportion of the pastoral population already in acute poverty, no longer able to practise viable pastoralism, and urgently needing an alternative livelihood is large. For this reason I have advocated elsewhere the need to reconsider the option of irrigation-based livelihoods (Sandford 2011).

Stephen Sandford
November 2011


Barrett, C. and McPeak, J. (2006) ‘Poverty traps and safety nets’, Economic Studies in Inequality, Social Exclusion and Well-Being, vol 1, pp131-154

Briske, D.D., Derner, J.D., Brown, J.R., Fuhlendorf, S.D., Teague, W.R., Havstad, K,M., Gillen, R.L., Ash, A.J. and Willms, W.D. (2008) ‘Rotational grazing on rangelands: reconciliation of perception and experimental evidence’, Rangeland Ecology and Management vol 61, pp3-17

Desta, S. and Coppock, D. L. (2002) ‘Cattle population dynamics in the southern Ethiopian rangelands, 1980–97’, Journal of Range Management, vol 55, no 5, pp439-451

Devereux, S. (2006) Vulnerable Livelihoods in Somali Region, Ethiopia, IDS Research Report 57, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton

Dietz, T., Nunow, A. A., Roba A. W. and Zaal, F. (2001) ‘Pastoral Commercialization: On Caloric Terms of Trade and Related Issues’, in M. Salih, T. Dietz and A.G. Mohamed, African Pastoralism, Conflict, Institutions and Government, Pluto Press, London, pp194-234

Hesse, C. (2009) ‘Generating wealth from environmental variability: The economics of pastoralism in East Africa’s drylands’, Indigenous Affairs 3-4

Homewood, K. (ed) (2008) Ecology of African Pastoralist Societies, James Currey Ltd, Oxford

Lybbert, T. J., Barrett, C. B., Desta, S. and Coppock, D. L. (2004) ‘Stochastic wealth dynamics and risk management among a poor population’, The Economic Journal, no 114. pp750–777

LOG Associates (2010) Regional Study on the Sustainable Livestock Development in the Greater Horn of Africa, African Development Bank Group, Abidjan

McPeak, J. (2004) Vulnerability among pastoralists: Evidence from Kenya and Ethiopia. Presentation made at the World Bank,, accessed 4 December 2011

McPeak, J. G. (2006) ‘Livestock marketing in Marsabit District, Kenya, over the past fifty years’, in J. G. McPeak and P. D. Little, Pastoral Livestock Marketing In East Africa: Research And Policy Challenges, Intermediate Technology Publications, Rugby

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ODI (2010) ‘Pastoralism demographics, settlement and service provision in the Horn and East Africa: Transformation and opportunities’, Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute, London

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Le programme de subventions aux intrants agricoles au Malawi: enseignements tirés des études 2005-8
December 7, 2011 / Briefings politiques / Policy briefs in French

Le maïs est la principale culture vivrière de base et reste l’activité dominante parmi les petits agriculteurs du Malawi. Les petits paysans consacrent presque 70 pour cent de leurs terres à la culture du maïs, dont la disponibilité dans le pays définit la situation de sécurité alimentaire nationale. Au Malawi, la petite agriculture est traditionnellement caractérisée par une faible productivité, un faible recours aux technologies et une utilisation intensive de main-d’oeuvre, le maïs étant principalement destiné à une consommation de subsistance. La faible productivité dans l’agriculture paysanne a été attribuée à la perte de fertilité des sols, à la faible application des engrais minéraux et au recours aux techniques rudimentaires des systèmes d’agriculture pluviale.

Limites de la gouvernance décentralisée : le cas de l’agriculture au Malawi
December 7, 2011 / Briefings politiques / Policy briefs in French

Les réformes de décentralisation et la nouvelle politique de vulgarisation au Malawi promettaient un renforcement du rôle des districts et des niveaux administratifs inférieurs en matière de gouvernance agricole, ainsi qu’une amélioration de la pluralité des fournisseurs de services agricoles. Pour l’heure, il ne s’agit encore que d’un potentiel à réaliser. Le processus de décentralisation et la performance des gouvernements locaux se trouvent dans une impasse et l’interaction avec les autres prestataires de services est confrontée à des défis institutionnels et opérationnels considérables. Ces difficultés sont aggravées par la politisation croissante de la question agricole au Malawi. En l’absence de progrès dans la décentralisation ou dans le développement d’une off re diversifiée et compétitive de services agricoles, ce sont (dans certains cas) les chefs traditionnels qui émergent alors comme des acteurs progressistes, capables de mobiliser les gens pour les activités agricoles selon des modalités propices au développement.

Les sept habitudes des organisations paysannes qui réalisent tout ce qu’elles entreprennent
December 7, 2011 / Briefings politiques / Policy briefs in French

Cette note de synthèse FAC présente ce que nous avons intitulée « Les sept habitudes des organisations paysannes qui réalisent tout ce qu’elles entreprennent ». Ce texte vise à proposer un certain éclairage sur ce que l’on pourrait décrire comme les « ingrédients essentiels du succès dans les organisations paysannes performantes en Afrique ». Les sept « habitudes » identifiées sont les suivantes : (1) Clarté de la mission ; (2) bonne gouvernance, (3) leadership fort, réactif et responsable ; (4) inclusion sociale et représentation ; (5) prestation de services axée sur la demande et ciblée ; (6) fortes capacités techniques et managériales ; et (7) engagement effectif auprès des acteurs externes. Ces principes constituent une check-list des principes et pratiques de travail utile pour évaluer la performance d’une organisation paysanne en Afrique et ailleurs.