Call for Proposals: BRICS Initiative for Critical Agrarian Studies

bicas-w2 December 2013: The BRICS Initiative for Critical Agrarian Studies (BICAS) invites applications for small grants for research papers on the themes outlined below, and welcomes applications from PhD students or recent PhDs.

The deadline for proposals is 1 February 2014.

About the BICAS Initiative

BICAS is a collective of largely BRICS-based or connected academic researchers concerned with understanding the BRICS countries and their implications for global agrarian transformations. Critical theoretical and empirical questions about the origins, character and significance of complex changes underway need to be investigated more systematically.

In taking forward this research agenda, we are building on and intending to extend the focus of existing knowledge about the BRICS. The rise of BRICS countries has been accompanied by the rise of interest and academic research initiatives in recent years. Most of these initiatives are Africa-centric, tracking the impact of several BRICS countries on Africa. In building our network, our research focus and analytical frameworks differ from other research on the BRICS in some ways, including: (i) we are pursuing research and analysis framed primarily within agrarian political economy; unlike most BRICS research partnerships, we are not conducting strategic studies nor focused on international relations (IR) explanations; (ii) we are scholars rooted in the contexts of the BRICS countries and their neighbours. These are considered the world’s new centres of capital accumulation, but they also need to become hubs for knowledge production, and BICAS is founded on a desire to shape the process and politics of knowledge production about the BRICS, from within them; (iii) we do not focus exclusively on the BRICS countries; rather, we want to examine them in relation to both the older conventional hubs of global capital in the North Atlantic, and the rising MICs.

The BICAS research agenda

BICAS is an ‘engaged research’ initiative founded on a commitment to generating solid evidence and detailed, field-based research that can deepen analysis and inform policy and practice. In BICAS we will aim to connect disciplines across political economy, political ecology and political sociology in a multi-layered analytical framework, to explore agrarian transformations unfolding at national, regional and global levels and the relationships between these levels.

BICAS is founded on a vision for broader, more inclusive and critical knowledge production and knowledge exchange. We are building a joint research agenda based principally on our capacities and expertise in our respective countries and regions, and informed by the needs of our graduate students and faculty, but aiming to scale up in partnership and in dialogue with others. Our initial focus will be on Brazil, China and South Africa.

While we will build on a core coordinating network to facilitate exchange we aim to provide an inclusive space, a platform, a community, hence we invite your participation.

Key themes and questions for the Small Grants Proposals

We are interested in proposals for research papers that address the following broad themes and questions:

  1. BRICS and MICs in their regions: what agrarian transformations are underway in Southeast Asia and Southern Africa, and Latin America and how are the BRICS countries and some MICs in those regions shaping these transformations? What are the dominant directions of change but also any countervailing directions? What endogenous and exogenous forces are driving changes in agrarian structures? What are the outcomes for changes in demographics, settlement and migration; inputs and investments in agriculture and other rural productive sectors; agricultural production and the rise of boom crops; agroprocessing and the rise of manufactured foods; and formal and informal markets? What is the character of investment and trade relations between the BRICS countries and MICs located within their regions? What food systems are emerging at the regional level? How is this manifested spatially? Are there winners and losers, and, if so, who are they?
  2. BRICS and MICs in relation to the old hubs of global capital: What is the role of BRICS countries in the emerging financialization of agriculture? How are the BRICS countries’ roles in global trade in food and agricultural commodities changing? What are their histories of trade and trading partners, what historical processes constituted the current world agro-food system and how is the system changing at present? Through what economic, political, legal and other processes are current changes unfolding?  How is membership of the BRICS group influencing and enabling these changes?  How are other actors responding, and to what effect? What new sites of contestation around food production, circulation, consumption, and forms of accumulation are opening up with possibilities for alternatives to emerge?
  3. China in Focus. For this particular Call for Proposals, there will be a relatively larger allocation of funds to proposals that take China as a key reference point. Illustrative examples include the following:
  • (i) China in relation to the rest of the BRICS countries
  • (ii) China in specific regions: a primary focus on China in Southeast Asia, and a secondary focus on China in Latin America and China in Russia/Siberia (not China in Africa)
  • (iii) China in relation to MICs, especially in Southeast Asia
  • (iv) China/BRICS in relation to the traditional hubs of global capital (e.g. North Atlantic countries)

(These proposals should make reference to China’s ‘extractive sector/investments’ (broadly cast) and the implications of these for global/regional agrarian transformations, with particular attention to questions of poor people’s access to and control over natural resources: including land, water, and forest in these regions.)


Please submit an approx. 1,000 word proposal for research papers on any of three broad themes outlined above. (Note that there will be more funds allocated to the third thematic cluster). Explain why your prospective paper will contribute fresh theoretical and/or empirical insights that help provide answers to the broad questions outlined above. Research papers should be between 8,000 and 12,000 words in length.

Please attach a short CV of no more than three pages.


Each small grant will comprise US$ 3,000.

One-third (US$ 1,000) of the grant will be paid on approval of the proposal, and the remainder (US$ 2,000) on completion of the research paper.


  • 1 February 2014: deadline for proposals
  • 15 February 2014: announcement of successful proposals
  • 15 September 2014: deadline for full draft papers
  • 30 September 2014: feedback from reviewers
  • 31 October 2014: deadline for revised papers for copyediting and publication as BICAS Working Papers

Papers will be published in a BICAS Working Paper Series. Some authors will be invited to an international conference to be held in Beijing in 2015.

Submit your proposal to:

For further queries, get in touch with any of the co-coordinators of BICAS. For more information about BICAS, see:

Who we are

The convening institutions and key contact researchers of BICAS are:

  • Brazil: Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), with Prof. Sergio Schneider, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), with Sergio Schneider
  • Brazil: University of Brasilia (UnB), Planaltina Campus (FUP), with Prof. Sergio Sauer
  • China: College of Humanities and Development Studies (COHD) at the China Agricultural University, Beijing, with Prof. Ye Jingzhong and a group of faculty at the college, and adjunct professors Henry Bernstein, Saturnino (‘Jun’) M. Borras Jr., Jennifer Franco and Jan Douwe van der Ploeg
  • South Africa: Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, with professors Ben Cousins, Andries Du Toit and Ruth Hall

In collaboration with:

Transnational Institute (TNI –

International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, Agrarian, Food & Environmental Studies (AFES) research sub-cluster is part of the Research Program: Political Economy of Research, Environment and Population Studies (PER).

Future Agricultures Consortium


For general email communication, please use:

More information about BICAS

For more about BICAS, see the main BRICS Initiative for Critical Agrarian Studies page.