Policy Briefs

The Policy Brief series was launched by Future Agricultures in 2005 to provide a forum for the analysis of important agriculture policy issues by leading researchers. The series aims to identify key issues, apply the best and most up-to-date research to help understand these issues, and explore the implications of this research for the design and conduct of policy. We typically publish between 8 to 10 Policy Briefs each year.

A significant number of our policy briefs are also translated into French.


Latest articles

Agriculture and climate change – politics behind the policies
May 29, 2014 / Policy Briefs

CAADP Policy Brief 13

Policy-makers are increasingly focusing on the linkages between agriculture and climate change. Since 2009 African Union members have committed to embracing climate change mitigation and adaptation as integral components of agricultural development. While a number of pilot initiatives are under way, we know little about what this kind of focus on climate change and agriculture will mean in practice. Realising the potentials of agricultural systems for adaption and mitigation is about more than technological choices and farming practices; it is also about politics and power.

This Brief draws on recent research by the Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC) which examines how the agenda for climate-smart agriculture is playing out in practice in Africa, and asks:

  • Who participates in national agriculture and climate change policy processes?
  • Whose knowledge counts in defining climate-smart agriculture?
  • On whose terms and in whose interests are particular approaches and technologies favoured?

Women’s economic empowerment and collective action in agriculture: new evidence and measurement…
May 23, 2014 / Policy Briefs

Full title: Women’s economic empowerment and collective action in agriculture: new evidence and measurement challenges

Policy Brief 68
Sally Baden

Development actors increasingly claim that their interventions are contributing to women’s economic empowerment, and donors require that monitoring and evaluation systems capture these empowerment outcomes. However, there are divergent views and perspectives among both development policy makers and among grassroots women themselves on what constitutes ‘women’s economic empowerment’. Differences relate to whether empowerment is seen as an end in itself, or a means to broader developmental goals; how broadly or narrowly economic the definition is; and whether empowerment is primarily seen as having the ability to ‘compete’ in the market, or encompasses the capacity to challenge structural inequalities in the market and beyond. Related to this, there is also considerable debate on what measures constitute rigorous or comparable evidence of economic empowerment, and whether it is even possible to ‘measure’ empowerment across different contexts.


Policy Brief 068 Pdf 833.20 KB 3 downloads


Lessons for the New Alliance and Land Transparency Initiative: Gender Impacts of Tanzania’s…
April 15, 2014 / Policy Briefs

Full title: Lessons for the New Alliance and Land Transparency Initiative: Gender Impacts of Tanzania’s Land Investment Policy

Policy brief 67
Helen Dancer

There are gender-differentiated impacts when land is harnessed for commercial investment. Land policy needs to address the gendered nature of power relations within families and land tenure systems, and the implications of rural social relations on processes of community consultation, land management and dispute settlement. Without this, land investment policies will not reach their goals of tenure security for all, agricultural productivity and increased revenue. From the outset the full participation of women as well as men, good local leadership and gender-sensitive business practices at the local level are needed, to ensure that the fruits of land-based investment deals in the countryside are gender-equitable.


Policy Brief 067 Pdf 365.08 KB 0 downloads


Inclusive business models in agriculture? Learning from smallholder cane growers in Mozambique
April 14, 2014 / Policy Briefs

Future Agricultures / PLAAS Policy Brief 66
Emmanuel Sulle, Ruth Hall and Gaynor Paradza

Amidst the increasing corporate investment in African farmland the term ‘inclusive business model’ has become a catchphrase touted as an opportunity for incorporating smallholder farmers alongside large-scale commercial farming projects. Inclusive business models require an enabling institutional and regulatory framework. Such frameworks now exist at the international level: the African Union Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa and FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance on the Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forest in the Context of National Food Security provide a starting point. If translated and implemented, these guidelines can help develop transparent and accountable mechanisms that enable and strengthen the participation of smallholder farmers in the process of commercialisation, such as in the sugar industry in Mozambique.

To enable equitable partnerships between corporate investors and small-scale farmers, governments need to prioritise public investment in agriculture, including research and development, that helps smallholder farmers increase and diversify their agricultural produce. Smallholders’ access to, ownership of and control over land and other resources should be secured. Based on our analysis of current large-scale sugar estates and milling companies, as well as smallholder involvement as outgrowers in the Mozambican sugar industry, this policy brief interrogates policy and suggests mechanisms for enabling and strengthening smallholder farmers’ participation in and securing returns from large scale investments.


Policy Brief 066 Pdf 504.04 KB 1 downloads


Large-scale Commercial Agriculture in Africa: Lessons from the Past
March 26, 2014 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 65
by Rebecca Smalley

African agriculture is in a phase of rapid commercialisation. Planners and investors in sub-Saharan Africa urgently need to consider how the choice of business model, the local context and the political environment affect outcomes of commercial ventures. A review of past experiences with three commercial farming models reveals the conditions that have provided the most stable environment for investors but also protected the most vulnerable in society and created the best chance for technology transfer and local economic linkages. These lessons from history have contemporary relevance.


Policy Brief 065 Pdf 188.23 KB 1 downloads


Collective Action, Gender Relations and Social Inclusion in African Agricultural Markets
March 25, 2014 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 64
by Sally Baden

Concerns expressed since the 1970s about women being excluded from mainstream rural development activities in Africa have fostered numerous women-specific activities designed to address this gender inequality. These actions have, more recently, been supported by arguments and evidence linking gender inequality with adverse agricultural productivity and welfare outcomes (FAO 2011). Views are divided on this approach: feminists such as Razavi (2009) have described such arguments as static and ahistorical, because as argued by O’Laughlin (2007) they ignore the larger processes of accumulation and impoverishment that have occurred in the context of capitalist transformation in the countryside. Meanwhile, recent reports suggest that, to varying degrees, rural women have benefitted from their involvement in certain types of women-specific development programmes (Buvinic et al. 2013).

This Policy Brief takes a critical look at one such activity – the engagement of women farmers in formal groups (referred to here as ‘collective action’) that are organised principally for economic purposes, including for acquiring finance, inputs and new technologies; for the bulking of produce for sale; for sharing marketing information and collective sales; and for developing linkages to more distant or remunerative markets (Thompson et al. 2012). The literature on smallholder collective agricultural marketing is large but relatively few studies address gender dimensions of group organisation in this context. The Brief draws on the findings of primary research undertaken by Oxfam between 2010 and 2012 on women’s collective action in agricultural markets in Ethiopia, Mali and Tanzania, as well as other sources, to address this knowledge gap.


Policy Brief 064 Pdf 193.98 KB 0 downloads


New Paradigms of Agricultural Development Cooperation in Africa: Lessons from Brazil and China
February 21, 2014 / Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 63
by Henry Tugendhat

As Africa attempts to boost agricultural productivity, many countries are turning to Brazil and China for the possibility of alternative approaches and technologies. Both countries have boasted numerous agricultural achievements, and both are increasing their engagements with African partners. The G8/African Union’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition bears some similarities with China and Brazil’s efforts, particularly with its aims to “increase responsible domestic and foreign private investments in African agriculture, take innovations that can enhance agricultural productivity to scale, and reduce the risk borne by vulnerable economies and communities”. The UK Department for International Development (DFID) describes this initiative as targeting the creation of “new jobs and market opportunities for small and large farms in African agriculture,” albeit, with a greater discussion of the importance of smallholders. Brazil and China’s ‘cooperation’ efforts in trade, aid and investments provide some key lessons for the New Alliance.


Policy Brief 063 Pdf 423.18 KB 2 downloads


Can China and Brazil help Africa feed itself?
October 16, 2013 / Policy Briefs

CAADP Policy Brief 12

The questions of how Africa can feed itself, and how the agricultural sector can be a more effective engine for growth and development, have long been targets of national governments. Western donors have increased assistance following the 2007/8 food price crisis. But the emergence of China and Brazil as major players has raised hopes that innovative agricultural models from the ‘rising powers’ can be transferred or adapted to African countries.

This policy brief draws on latest research findings by Future Agricultures, focusing on engagement in four African countries, and asks:

  • What are the realities of the different routes and models in China and Brazil’s agricultural development?
  • How are China and Brazil engaging with Africa in agricultural development?
  • How should Africa approach these new engagements – with open arms or cautiously, looking at likely winners and losers?

Supporting small farmers to commercialise
October 16, 2013 / Policy Briefs

CAADP Policy Brief 11

Accelerating growth in the agricultural sector by raising the capacities of private entrepreneurs – smallholder and commercial farmers – to meet the increasingly complex requirements of domestic, regional and international markets, is the central aim of CAADP Pillar II.

Commercialisation is about increasing engagement with markets. Smallholder farmers have long been engaged with markets for produce, inputs and information. Urbanisation, better communications and globalisation make understanding smallholder commercialisation all the more important. This policy brief draws on recent research by Future Agricultures and asks:

  • How do small farmers commercialise?
  • What have been the outcomes of small farmer commercialisation?
  • How can policies support smallholder commercialisation and encourage good outcomes?

The Struggle over the Commons: Annual Savanna Fires and Transnational Mango Outgrower Schemes
August 20, 2013 / Policy Briefs

Full title:The Struggle over the Commons: Annual Savanna Fires and Transnational Mango Outgrower Schemes in Northern Ghana

FAC Policy Brief 62
by Joseph A. Yaro and Dzodzi Tsikata
July 2013

Northern Ghana is characterised by rain fed agriculture, poor infrastructure, food crop production and poor export-oriented agriculture. Large-scale agriculture producing export crops has been one of the many suggestions made to reduce poverty in the region. However, annual savanna fires destroy investments in commercial and food crop agriculture due to a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of these fires. The underlying causes of fires and their control cannot merely be attributed to overt reasons; they result from socio-political causes such as dissatisfaction with processes of disenfranchisement and social exclusion. This raises many questions regarding the plausibility and efficacy of introducing a modern export-oriented organic mango farming project in improving the local economy of northern Ghana.

This brief examines the Integrated Tamale Fruit Company (ITFC) outgrower farm model, which fits well into the government’s value chain approach to agricultural commercialisation with an export focus. Savanna fires are not necessarily destructive as the current policy formulations prescribe, but an understanding of the varied uses of these fires, the timings and a negotiated management of natural resources including land, is important in regulating the use of fires in ways beneficial to all land users.


Policy Brief 062 Pdf 310.84 KB 0 downloads