Working Papers

This series reports research activities or interim findings and aim to share ideas and elicit feedback. Future Agricultures publishes approximately six to ten Working Papers per year.

We also support a series of LDPI Working Papers through our involvement in the Land Deal Politics Initiative.

Some of our Working Papers are also available in a French translation: see Documents de travail for a full list.


Latest articles

Working Paper 24: Building Livelihoods: Young People and Agricultural Commercialisation: Tanzania Country Study
March 28, 2019 / Working Papers

This paper reports on a study of how young people engage in the rural economy in an area where there is a significant level of agricultural commercialisation. The objective was to develop an understanding of the steps and pathways with which particular groups of young people seek to construct livelihoods in or around these hotspots, and the outcomes associated with these efforts.
Findings reveal that, as a rural commercialisation hotspot, Dumila offers young people a variety of different income-generating activities. Young migrants are attracted to the area by the availability of farmland, and the opportunities for both business and on-farm employment. Education is seen as a key to formal employment. Social networks (family and friends) also played a very important role in providing both financial and land resources to support their economic activities.

Working Paper 23: Mechanised Agriculture and Medium-Scale Farmers in Northern Ghana: a Success of Market Liberalism or a Product of a Longer History?
March 28, 2019 / Working Papers

In recent years, the significant uptake of tractor-ploughing services in Ghana has been heralded as a success of market liberal policies. It has been argued that market reforms have enabled medium-scale farmers to expand their operations and invest in tractors, which they also hire out to smallholders, enabling a significant expansion in agricultural outputs of both categories of farmers. However, this argument is based upon the assumption that, with structural adjustment and the rolling back of state services, past policies on mechanisation disappeared and left no footprints in agrarian production.

This paper explores within a political economy framework, the historical dimensions of mechanisation in Ghana and continuities in the agrarian structure between the period of state-led agriculture and market liberalisation. It rejects simplistic understandings of state policies in neo-patrimonial frameworks that associate the expansion of mechanisation with political patronage and diverting state resources for political support. The existence of expanding private markets in tractors after the imposition of structural adjustment in Ghana suggests otherwise.

Working Paper 22: Tractors in Africa: Looking Behind the Technical Fix
March 11, 2019 / Working Papers

Written by Lidia Cabral.

This paper considers the current policy debate on agricultural mechanisation in Africa, situating this in the context of long-standing disputes on appropriate technology and roles for the state. Present calls for mechanisation, and tractorisation in particular, by national governments and international development agencies emerge in a different context, where there are new sources of technology and where development discourse emphasises sustainability and the role of the private sector. Yet, as before, recipes for agricultural mechanisation remain contentious and alliances between aid and business are once again driving policy. This time, however, Southern powers like China, India and Brazil are competing for space. The paper highlights the contentious nature of mechanisation in scholarly debate, policymaking and international development cooperation between North and South.

In addition to this paper’s focus on the broader politics of mechanisation, the policy study also looks at the experiences with mechanisation in three selected countries – Ghana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe – all of which have been recently supported by SSC with Brazil, China and India. While the country cases undertake an in-depth analysis of the mechanisation trajectories of the three African countries and their domestic political economy, this paper takes a broader view of the history of mechanisation in Africa and its recurrent debates, and situates the return to tractors in the context of the new aid–business nexus.

Working Paper 21: Tractors and Agrarian Transformation in Zimbabwe: Insights from Mvurwi
March 11, 2019 / Working Papers

Written by Toendepi Shonhe.

This paper examines postcolonial agricultural mechanisation in Zimbabwe in the context of recent land reforms. It pays particular attention to the central role played by state-capital relations – with notable links to international finance – in shaping a resurgence in tractor usage following Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP). Moreover, the economy-wide crisis triggered by land reform shaped the emerging agricultural mechanisation.

This study examines the decline in tractor supply by the government, and the growth and dominance of large-scale commercial farms as a source of second-hand tractors for smallholder and medium-scale farmers. This paper relies on archival sources as well as empirical data collected in Mvurwi through surveys, focus group discussions, tracker studies and in-depth interviews. While the tractors imported by the government from Brazil on concessional terms have become a major source of tractor services for the resettled farmers in Mvurwi, resettled farmers are also reinvesting proceeds from the sale of agricultural commodities predominantly in agricultural mechanisation, creating a new source for tractor hiring services and agrarian transformation. Although patronage politics has shaped the distribution of tractors and the establishment of tractor service cooperatives, there is no evidence of concrete political gains resulting from these investments.

Working Paper 20: Building Livelihoods: Young People and Agricultural Commercialisation in Africa: Ghana Country Study
March 11, 2019 / Working Papers

Written by Thomas Yeboah.

This paper is concerned with how rural young people in Ghana engage with or are affected by two processes closely associated with rural and economic transformation – agricultural intensification and agricultural commercialisation. The objective was to develop a better understanding of steps and pathways by which particular groups of young people seek to construct livelihoods in or around agricultural commercialisation hotspots, and the outcomes associated with these efforts. The research reported in this paper draws on in-depth interviews conducted with 35 rural youth in the Tuobodom and Adutwie communities in the Techiman North District of Brong Ahafo Region, Ghana, an area that we define as a ‘commercialisation hotspot’.

The overall conclusion of the study is that, whether or not a young person wants to be there, being in an area of intensive agricultural commercialisation compared to one with limited commercialisation is probably as good as it gets.

Working Paper 19: Zinc Roof of Mango Tree? Tractors, Modernisation and Agrarian Transformation in Mozambique
March 11, 2019 / Working Papers

Written by Lidia Cabral.

This paper analyses the design and implementation of Mozambique’s National Agriculture Mechanisation Programme and wider mechanisation policy, looking at the models devised for service provision, actors involved, their motivations and expectations, and access to machinery by the small-scale ‘family sector’. The paper also discusses the role played by mechanisation in processes of agrarian change and social differentiation in rural Mozambique and, specifically, its part in efforts by the state to nurture a modern agribusiness entrepreneur.

Working Paper 18: A Historical Analysis of Rice Commercialisation in Ethiopia: the Case of the Fogera Plain
January 25, 2019 / Working Papers

This paper presents a historical analysis of rice commercialisation and its impacts on local livelihoods and rural economies in Ethiopia, drawing insights from the experience of the Fogera Plain, a dynamic farming area in Amhara Region to the west of Lake Tana. This background paper begins with a brief overview of the history of rice introduction into the country, assesses the extent of agro-ecological suitability for the production of the crop, and then examines the current status of rice research and development based on a review of relevant literature and secondary data. This is followed by a presentation of the results from a reconnaissance study on rice commercialisation carried out by the authors and local partners in the Fogera Plain during 2017–18, which considered: (1) the changing dynamics of the farming system, trends in rice production, processing, and marketing practices and support services, and (2) rice commercialisation and the observed livelihood outcomes. The conclusion provides a brief summary of the key trends and findings, along with a list of emerging research questions.

Working Paper 17: The Political Economy of Agricultural Commercialisation in Malawi
August 30, 2018 / Working Papers

This paper examines the political economy of agricultural commercialisation in Malawi over the past three or so decades both in a contemporary and historical perspective. Drawing insights from Keeley and Scoones (2003) and Chinsinga and Poulton (2014), the underlying argument of this paper is that the twists and turns in the country’s agricultural commercialisation processes have been shaped and influenced to a very large extent by the changing configurations of political elites and their underlying interests, incentives and motivations, including the influence of donors, especially since the transition to democracy in May 1994.

Working Paper 16: The Political Economy of Agricultural Commercialisation in Africa
August 30, 2018 / Working Papers

Much of the existing literature on the political economy of agricultural policy in Africa, including studies by the Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC) and Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA), adopts a case study approach to explore the dynamics of policymaking and implementation. These studies highlight numerous local, national and international factors that influence policy outcomes, but this raises the question as to whether any consistent patterns can be discerned across cases. This paper focuses on the policy that influences the process of agricultural commercialisation. Poulton (2017a: 4) defines agricultural commercialisation as occurring ‘when agricultural enterprises and/or the agricultural sector as a whole rely increasingly on the market for the sale of produce and for the acquisition of production inputs, including labour’.

Working Paper 15: The Political Economy of Agricultural Commercialisation In Ghana: A Review
August 15, 2018 / Working Papers

This paper examines the political economy of agricultural commercialisation in Ghana from the year 2000 to 2018. Agriculture is a major economic activity in Ghana, contributing about 20 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employing 42 percent of the economically active population (GSS 2016). Over the past three decades, the agricultural sector averagely grew at about 5 percent per annum, making Ghana’s agricultural sector one of the top performers in Africa, and contributing to poverty reduction and food security (Wiggins and Leturque 2011; Sarpong and Anyidoho 2012).The paper is structured into five sections. Section 2 presents the agricultural policy context which highlights features of the agricultural sector, contribution of agriculture to the economy of Ghana and political changes. Section 3 presents theoretical perspectives that will be relied upon for the analysis, while Section 4 discusses the main policies and how they have been shaped by various narratives, actors and interests. Finally, Section 5 presents the main conclusions from the analysis.