Friday, 20 December 2013

The modernisation agenda in African agriculture: responding to AGRA’s Africa Agriculture Status Report 2013

This is a guest post by Stephen Greenberg of the African Centre for Biosafety. ACB is a non-governmental organisation based in South Africa which works with farmer support networks across Africa to build a popular movement for food sovereignty and against corporate-industrial agriculture.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) recently published its first annual report on the status of African agriculture. AGRA’s report looks at staple crop production and reviews the status of production support to African farmers.

AGRA believes the biggest problem in African agriculture is low productivity. It identifies two main constraints to increasing productivity:
  • On the input side, African farmers are using old technologies that are not well-suited to increasing productivity. AGRA identifies seed and soil fertility as the two major issues. It proposes the use of ‘improved’ seed and the introduction of synthetic fertilisers as the supply side solution. This requires institutional, infrastructural and legal interventions.
  • On the demand side, AGRA identifies lack of commercial markets as a constraint to increasing productivity. It argues that the slow uptake of new technologies is primarily the result of limited output markets which can allow farmers to earn an income to cover the costs of increased inputs.
AGRA’s proposals are not new in African agriculture debates. In the 1980s the World Bank also sought to ‘modernise’ African agriculture in this way. AGRA and the World Bank share in common the underlying ideology that existing agricultural practices in Africa are backward. The solution proposed is for farmers to adopt a high input - high output model based on the US and European style of agriculture. The focus is on commercial farmers who will produce primarily for the market.

In the 1980s the World Bank was criticised for its ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution that did not take into account the irreducible ecological and social complexity of African farming systems. The logic that sales from increased yields would more than cover the cost of increased input costs proved to be incorrect. The World Bank plan focused on exports as a commercial market. But the value of export crops declined and farmers were unable to cover input costs. As a result, fertiliser use in most of sub-Saharan Africa remains low compared to other parts of the world. There was some adoption of hybrids seed, especially maize, but seed R&D focused on crops with perceived commercial potential at the expense of the wide variety of plants being grown for food in Africa.

In the 1990s support for agriculture in Africa declined severely as countries diverted resources to paying off debts. However, as commodity prices rose in the early 2000s, there was renewed interest in African agriculture as a potential commercial activity. Domestic markets were bigger than in the 1980s and constituted a potential outlet for increased production.

Nevertheless, there has not been a flood of investment in African agriculture. AGRA’s report shows that less than 0.1% of investment in agriculture was from foreign direct investment from 2005-2007. Farmers’ own investments in infrastructure and production, mainly in the form of labour, dwarf other sources of investment.

AGRA is attempting a ‘proof of concept’
AGRA should be understood as a political project, a ‘proof of concept’ to show private owners of capital that there are profitable opportunities for investment in African agriculture. This requires major institutional and infrastructural interventions. AGRA’s aim is to identify and facilitate priority interventions, drawing on philanthropic, state and private sector resources. Its fundamental approach is the public-private partnership (PPP) where the state and private sector contribute to realising common objectives (private profit through increasing productivity). AGRA works closely with the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), the framework for agricultural investment located in the African Union and its member states.

The Status Report includes sections on productivity, growth and competitiveness; soil health; seed systems; financing; output markets; policy environment; farmer organisation; capacity development; women; and extension and advisory services.

Land and soil
The section on land provides a broad overview of the various tenure issues in Africa. The report recognises the importance of customary tenure systems but in many places indicates that for commercial production, private ownership of land is the best model. AGRA surveyed a number of East and Southern African countries and found that average landholdings were less than 3 ha in most countries. AGRA therefore orients its support towards small-scale agriculture, but to a commercial layer who will have larger than average land sizes. AGRA anticipates that higher investments in land will “induce land holdings to adjust” (p.37), meaning greater concentration amongst commercial producers.

The section on soil health reiterates AGRA’s commitment to the Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) approach. ISFM calls for a combination of organic and inorganic fertiliser, “not either or none”. However, AGRA’s emphasis is on supporting the introduction of inorganic fertiliser produced elsewhere rather than building up the quality of farm-produced organic fertilisers. According to AGRA, the main reason for farmers’ failure to use more fertiliser is the high cost, which is not covered by higher yields. AGRA calls for (state) subsidies to increase demand, which will ‘incentivise’ supply through “private sector led fertiliser markets” (pp.45-46). AGRA suggests that initial doses of inorganic fertilisers can be reduced over time as increased yields produce increased biomass that can then be fed into on-farm fertiliser production processes (including better quality livestock feed). AGRA supports conservation farming and mixed farming systems rather than monocropping (p.48-49). One task facing farmer support organisations is to monitor what AGRA is doing and perhaps to put forward an argument in favour of diverting resources to improving existing on-farm fertiliser production systems rather than orienting expenditure to constructing supply chains that rely on external, capital-intensive manufacturing processes.

Seed law harmonisation and the threat to farmers’ rights
The section on seed is highly problematic and of the greatest concern in the whole report. Although there is recognition of diversity and plurality in seed systems on the continent, AGRA’s orientation is towards commercial production. It therefore calls for the introduction of commercial seed systems, with the ‘ideal’ presented as a concentrated system where a few large companies control seed R&D, production and distribution (p.56). Seed system diversity in Africa is seen as a weakness and as an obstacle to be overcome (p.56). According to the report, weak seed production and distribution throughout the continent hinders the uptake of varieties developed through the formal R&D system (p.54).

The catch, as AGRA recognises, is that in order for commercial seed companies to invest in R&D, they first want to protect their ‘intellectual property’. This requires fundamental restructuring of seed laws to allow for certification systems that not only protect certified varieties, but criminalise all non-certified seed. This is a serious threat to African seed systems and agro-biodiversity, as the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), a network of farmer and farmer support organisations, have highlighted in recent publications and releases. AGRA is working with governments and other international and private entities to ‘harmonise’ seed laws across the continent to put in place the institutional systems and structures that will allow private seed companies to control seed. Policy processes in this regard are very advanced through the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and other regional bodies. The immediate threat is that farmers’ rights to save and share seed are being criminalised by the new laws. Farmers’ rights are encapsulated in International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, where they are recognised as an essential component of food systems. The introduction of ‘modernised’ seed systems that protect intellectual property are not merely being introduced alongside existing farmer-based seed systems, but threaten to destroy the latter. Regional seed trade laws are being altered in similar ways, threatening to outlaw farmer-to-farmer seed sharing across national borders.

The AGRA report deals with genetic modification (GM) only in passing. The report defends GM as rigorously tested, citing industry and government bodies which share the modernisation paradigm as evidence. It reduces public opposition to GM to “fear of the unknown” (p.64-65). Although AGRA currently is not directly involved in sponsoring GM activities, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of AGRA’s founders and primary sponsors, invests heavily in GM R&D on the continent and owns shares in Monsanto.

Financing and output markets: part two of the scheme
The section on financing shows that most investment in African agriculture comes from farmers themselves. Despite their own declarations, national governments generally continue to invest less than the 10% of GDP called for in the Maputo Declaration of 2003 (pdf). AGRA’s solution is for the state to guarantee loans made to farmers, i.e. the public sector carries private sector risk.

On output markets, AGRA diverges from the World Bank’s prescriptions in the 1980s by focusing first on domestic and regional markets rather than export markets. This is a step in the right direction. However, AGRA’s focus on commercialising markets means the imposition of mechanisms that externalise control. AGRA reviews the experience with warehouse receipt systems (WRS) and agricultural commodity exchanges as two key commercial market mechanisms. WRS operate by allowing farmers to store their grain in warehouses for a fee but to get paid up front for a portion of the value of the crop. Commodity exchanges allow for hedging which can stabilise prices and reduce risk (although they can also be conduits for speculation and increased volatility if institutional investors trading in derivatives dominate the market). The experience so far is not of great success. AGRA provides a number of reasons for this, most of which relate to regulation and sequencing of interventions. AGRA assigns a major role to the state in regulating and underwriting these systems.

On farmer organisation, AGRA recognises the fundamental importance of farmer organisation, but tends to focus on organisational activities to support commercialisation of production: providing members with services, enhancing collective bargaining power through aggregation and economies of scale, and enhancing farmer participation in processes affecting them (p.114). While these are important issues for farmer organisations to deal with, there may be other issues facing members who are not oriented primarily to commercial production. Organisation therefore needs to deal with a wider range of issues to meet different needs of different categories of farmers. Food sovereignty advocates should focus on working with any farmer organisations that are open to dialogue, with the aim of introducing and elaborating on ecological agriculture/agroecological methodologies together with farmer members and their organisations.

There are small sections on capacity development, extension services and women. These tend to give an overview of the state of affairs (limited reach and limited support which is not always appropriate to context) and make very broad recommendations about the need to increase capacity and numbers, and for women to have more access. To see what AGRA is actually doing about this will require primary research.

Concluding comments
AGRA is carving out its niche in African agriculture, targeting commercial or potentially commercial farmers, i.e. those who produce primarily for the market, with their agricultural operations structured as a business. There can be no argument that commercial African farmers should be supported to sell into markets. But there are many other producers who are critical to food security in Africa who will not receive support from the AGRA/modernisation project. Other forms of support must be provided for these farmers. In addition, some of AGRA’s interventions (e.g. seed law harmonisation) have a directly negative impact on the ability of these marginalised farmers to improve their conditions of existence, by placing regulatory and legal obstacles in the way of farmer innovation and knowledge and resource sharing.

AGRA’s project is heavily reliant on the state to secure the basic institutional and infrastructural frame for commercialisation. The state provides resources to secure the conditions for private extraction of wealth. This orients public resources away from other potential uses, including resources explicitly directed towards ecological agriculture, building up and enhancing farmers’ existing practices.

The ecological agriculture/food sovereignty alternative is very clear from this analysis. First, start from where farmers are, building up existing practices that do not rely so heavily on external capital-intensive production processes. Seed and soil fertility systems as currently practices may not be ideal, but there is a strong base to work from together with farmers. Second, public resources should be channelled into supporting this agenda rather than in securing the conditions for private extraction of value created by African farmers.

For African Centre for Biosafety’s more detailed response to AGRA’s report, read the full report on the ACB website.

The 4Cs of the Health Systems in Asia Conference

By Jeff Knezovich, Policy Influence and Research Uptake Manager, Institute of Development Studies

During the Health Systems in Asia conference last weekend in Singapore, I was able to identify a clear trend. No, not pluralism in Asian health systems, we already knew that one.

But rather, on two of the four days the closing thoughts from different speakers involved 4Cs. JK Lakshmi, in discussing mixed human resources on Saturday suggested that:
(OK I missed capturing one of the ‘Cs’ in that Tweet – I think it was ‘condition’)

And then on Sunday, Dina Balabanova, in describing an analytical framework for analysing new cases for Good Health at Low Cost 25 Years On, described her analytical framework as:
In keeping with this important new trend, I’ve decided to frame my blog similarly. And so I present to you my four takeaways from the conference using the same ‘4C framework’:
  • Confucius: In opening the conference, Professor Tan, the President of NUS, presented on the ‘tangled web of health’, starting with a quote from none other than Confucius. ‘The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name’, he noted. Perhaps Professor Tan himself is very wise, as this proved to be an important theme throughout the conference. Much of the discussions throughout were centred on describing Asian health systems as they actually are: messy, pluralist systems with diverse actors working with diverse aims and intentions. It’s too easy to fall into the trope of considering health systems only from a governmental perspective, but the Bangladesh example, which was trotted out time and again throughout the conference, should serve as a good case against doing so.
  • Context: This ‘C’ was present in both Lakshmi’s and Dina’s frameworks, and I couldn’t leave it out of mine. The winner of my favourite quote from the conference competition definitely goes to T. Mirzoev from the University of Leeds who proclaimed something to the effect of: ‘Too often we social scientists draw a box around everything and call it context. But we need to unpack that to really understand what it is about the context that matters’. Too true! He was presenting on the similarities and differences in health policy processes in Nigeria and India. One finding was that Indian policy-makers relied much more on locally produced evidence than their counterparts in Nigeria. However, they also analysed different types of policies and found little difference in each of the contexts in how the different types of policy were approached. It's a great example where only part of the context matters.
  • Communication: At the previous Health Systems in Asia conference, one of the clear foci at the time was the notion of ‘poly-centric governance’ as a response to pluralistic health systems. And while it was certainly touched upon this time, a very different response to pluralism was foregrounded: Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Part of a pluralist model is a questioning of the overall health knowledge economy. Information asymmetries, where doctors and other health professionals control access to information about health, necessarily start becoming more balanced in pluralist systems. Patients (AKA health consumers) need to be able to navigate the disjointed system, and ICTs are proving an interesting way to do so, though maybe not in the way mHealth experts are imagining. Several studies presented at the conference found that text messages as part of health promotion campaigns were mostly just deleted without being read. Linda Waldman from IDS, who presented on an FHS-related study in Bangladesh, noted that people were using mobile phones for health there not to call health lines, but rather to call several trusted friends or family members who could provide advice on which health approaches and services to use. She even noted an example of calling a cleaner who worked in a hospital for health information – an example that shows just how ripe this area of work is for disruption.
  • Coverage: The closing plenary session took a deeper look at the U, H and C of universal health coverage (UHC) in Asia. Quite frankly, it was one of the most constructive discussions on UHC I’ve seen. Several of the panellists argued that, when it came to coverage, the discussion of ‘breadth’ (i.e. the number of people covered) had totally overshadowed discussions of the ‘height’ of coverage (i.e. the proportion of total costs covered) and the ‘depth’ of coverage (i.e. which services are actually catered for). The latter two are critical in Asia, where an ageing population is increasingly burdened by non-communicable diseases (such as diabetes, hypertension, etc.).

We livetweeted throughout the conference, and have captured a good lot of the discussion (including the live Twitter Q&A for the closing plenary) in a Storify, in case you’d like to explore the conference further.

And after you have a look, I’d be curious – what other ‘Cs’ am I missing?

Monday, 16 December 2013

Storify from Health Systems in Asia Converence

One of the benefits of livetweeting from the conference, is the ability to pull together a blog in relatively short order that highlights some of the key discussion points from the confence into a Storify. See our Storify from the conference below!

Apply now for ESRC Studentship Awards

Apply now for ESRC studentship awards to join our Innovation and Sustainability: Management and Policy course, part-based at the STEPS Centre.

Open to all UK and EU students, the ESRC studentships at the Sussex ESRC Doctoral Training Centre pathways are designed to dovetail with both the University’s Research Themes and the ESRC’s Strategic Challenges in ways that maximise the expertise of Sussex researchers and supervisors to enable doctoral researchers in the DTC to find answers to the world’s problems.
For UK students, funding provides fees and a generous stipend. For EU students funding provides the fees for three years, if you already have your Msc.


The deadline for applications is 17th of January with a start in September 2014
Look at the section Innovation and Sustainability: Management Policy on the Sussex DTC webpage:

Further information

Applicants need to follow the normal PhD application procedure that involves the writing of a proposal, submission of relevant documentation ( and finding suitable supervisors.

If you are interested in PhD studies at the STEPS Centre, you may therefore want to discuss projects with some members of the Centre before submitting.

For further queries, please contact: Jeremy Allouche

Reforming health systems in Asia - the view from Singapore

The Health Systems Reform in Asia conference is taking place
this year at NUS
It's a balmy 30 degrees in Singapore, where a number of members of the Future Health Systems consortium are gearing up for the second Health Systems Reform in Asia conference. The conference was co-organised by Gerry Bloom, an FHS researcher -- and many of the themes and issues that FHS focuses on will be discussed throughout the next few days. We will be livetweeting (follow us on @futurehealthsys or follow the event on #healthsysasia) and blogging throughout.

One of the things we're really excited to see in this conference is that it picks up where the previous conference in Hong Kong left off. As Barun Kanjilal reflected at the time, one of the emerging themes was 'poly-centric governance of health markets' -- or as he put it fighting 'hydras' with 'hydras'. Quite fittingly, this year's conference in Singapore kicks off with an opening plenary on governing 'pluralistic health systems' with Tim Evans from the World Bank. We're excited to see what two years of experience -- especially from Bangladesh -- has added to this strand of thinking.

Another strand of work that FHS has pursued over the years, informal providers, is also getting its moment in the spotlight during this conference. Meenakshi Gautham has convened a special symposium during the conference on the issue, which will feature much FHS work. She recently co-authored a blog on the Lancet Global Health that previews the session, and is well worth the read.

Additionally, we are very pleased to be leading a special symposium on Health, Technology and Society from an FHS-related project, ICTs And The Changing Health Knowledge Economy: How People Find Health Information In Bangladesh. FHS researcher Linda Waldman will be introducing some of the initial findings from how poor people in Bangladesh have been engaging with mobile phones to access health information.

Finally, we'll also be holding a side meeting of the Health Systems Global Private Sector in Health techincal working group. If you're interested in joining, get in touch on

To achieve food security, we need to talk about politics and power in the food system

LP1By Laura Pereira

The AFC Global Conference on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security and Climate Change that took place in Johannesburg from 3–5 December 2013 was the third such global event, with the first being held in The Hague in 2010 and the second in Hanoi in 2012. The conference was organised around three themes:

  1. Food and nutrition security in the face of climate change
  2. Improving food security and poverty alleviation through production systems
  3. Understanding the link between agriculture-related investments, policies, and measures with climate smart agriculture
However, the main rallying point was around Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) – the goal of achieving increased productivity whilst lowering GHG emissions from agriculture and building adaptive capacity for increased resilience to climate change.

I’ve previously written about the focus on agriculture to meet food and nutrition security and the same argument holds for the agenda at the 2013 AFC conference. However, if we take it as given that there was very little discussion on what happens in the food system outside of the agricultural sector and that there was even less discussion on nutrition — even what species it is that farmers are growing/rearing or fishers catching — then there is still much to discuss.


Africa - viewed from outside

As a starting point, having the conference in Africa enabled many more views from the continent’s perspective to be aired, which made for some interesting highlights. Firstly, Prof Rukuni made the poignant remark, “I did not know that I was poor until somebody told me.”This reliance on external appreciation of African agricultural problems combined with external solutions became a common theme that was not necessarily critiqued during the conference, although there was a strong emphasis on Africa proactively taking the agriculture agenda forward and not relying on foreign assistance (especially through CAADP).

Women and agriculture

FANRPAN’s Dr Sisulu also pointed out the looming elephant in the room — gender. Although after her most speakers mentioned the importance of women in agriculture, the structural barriers preventing women from engaging on an equal footing with men across spheres (not just in agriculture) was never, in my view, adequately addressed and requires much further room for discussion at a high level platform such as this.


Farmers and the language of climate change

The next important emphasis that arose from the conference discussions was the critical role that farmers themselves play as the implementers of CSA. It was agreed that there were not enough farmers that were being engaged to share their knowledge and experience. Similarly, when it came to the science of climate change there was the long-held view that scientists do not know how to translate their science into a message that allows farmers to respond. A point raised from the floor and followed through by Dr Sisulu was around the translation of climate change not merely into ‘layman’s’ terms, but into vernacular. This comment resonated with me as earlier in the year a colleague at the Food Futures Networking Conference had mentioned that when returning to his native Nigeria, he was asked to give a presentation only to find out that they wanted it not in English, but in the local vernacular. His struggle to find words in his mother-tongue for the work that he was doing struck him deeply and he emphasised the need for more thought to be put into translating complex phenomena like climate change into terms with which people can identify.

Land tenure and climate

The final important aspect that struck me as an issue that was insufficiently dealt with was that of land tenure for farmers in Africa in particular. Not just from the equity and social justice perspective, which is extremely relevant — especially in a country like South Africa— but the comment from the floor was more about the lack of incentives that farmers have to make investments in CSA when the land that they’re working isn’t even theirs.

Adequately addressing these issues requires not just the mere implementation of a discrete CSA solution — although Dr Campbell shared some hopeful Success Stories — but requires more fundamental engagement with the political economy of power within the food system. This is a much harder conversation to have, but if we are to achieve food security for the 9 billion people we expect to share the planet with by 2050 then it is of utmost necessity. The Roadmap to a Climate Smart Alliance (pdf), expected to be launched in September 2014, is expected to form a platform for dialogue — let us hope that it will also enable us to have these less comfortable discussions where there is not always a win–win.

We have also launched a Youth Platform where we hope to engage with young people around the world on these issues. Please get in contact if you would like further information: email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Video: Melissa Leach on ‘science-governance challenges in the Anthropocene’

Here’s a video of Melissa Leach highlighting the importance of social justice and governance in thinking about planetary boundaries, as part of a seminar on challenges for the Anthropocene hosted by the Stockholm Resilience Centre in November 2013.

(Video credit: SRC)


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

5 December: China and Brazil in African agriculture - news roundup

By Henry TugendhatCBAAnews

This news roundup has been collected on behalf of the China and Brazil in African Agriculture (CBAA) project. For regular updates from the project, sign up to the CBAA newsletter.

Emerging Powers Footprint Study
The researcher Xavi Cirera has just published a footprint study on emerging powers in international development. This paper scrutinises all publically available data on emerging powers’ aid, trade and investments to present key trends so far. This provides a useful background for mapping exercises on Chinese and Brazilian aid.
(Institute of Development Studies)

Japanese civil society call for immediate suspension and review of ProSavana
Japanese civil society organisations have written a joint statement calling for the immediate suspension and review of the ProSavana project in Mozambique. “This statement is based on the gravity of concerns repeatedly expressed by the farmers and civil society organizations of Mozambique, as well as on the findings of our field research conducted between July and August this year in Mozambique.” Their statement contains a list of 7 formal requests to JICA and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

China-Africa roundtable conference and China’s province-level agricultural cooperation
22 Nov: The 4th China-Africa Roundtable Conference was held in Hainan last week. This conference is a subsidiary of the larger FOCAC conferences as means of keeping interactions going. Agriculture and food security were discussed and Hainan province is said to have promoted itself especially as a collaborator in this field. Jiangsu made a similar, if slightly stronger, promotion of cooperation opportunities with its agricultural sector at another conference last month (18th Oct). Ningxia province is further ahead in such collaborations having already sent out delegates to Ghana’s Volta region to discuss a collaborative rice project. Provincial Chinese governments promoting themselves in agricultural cooperation efforts appears to be a growing trend to watch.

Brazil’s agribusiness exports
Brazil’s agribusiness exports to Africa have fallen from $7 billion worth of exports to $ 6.2 billion in the same period this year. Brazil is said to have experienced a drop in demand in most of its export destinations this year, except in Asia. Asia comprised 42.2% of total exports, and its demand for Brazilian agricultural goods grew by 21.3%. Beef and soy were the main two exports.
(Brazil-Arab News Agency)

China-Africa-Europe sustainable agricultural development cooperation
Following the informal ECDPM meeting on sustainable agricultural development cooperation between China, Africa and Europe, a short video of discussions with some of the attendees was released.
(ECDPM video)

BRICS Think Tank Council
11-12 Nov: Think tanks from the 5 BRICS countries held a meeting two weeks ago to share research outputs since their establishment in March 2013. They also discussed their collaborative long-term strategy, which will be finalised at the next BRICS summit.
(Department of International Relations and Cooperation, South Africa)

Chinese ambassador to Kenya promotes China-Africa media ties
18 Nov: China’s ambassador to Kenya has called for a deepening of Chinese and African media ties. These partnerships have been an important part of China’s public diplomacy efforts in Africa, as officials have often felt their operations have suffered from unfair local reporting.
(Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China)

Growth Returning to Zimbabwe’s Agricultural Sector
Ian Scoones wrote in the Zimbabwe Herald last week on Zimbabwe’s land reforms, looking at changes in the country’s agrarian structure and related markets. Bloomberg news also published an article on the same topic last week, including a section on the role of China buying Zimbabwe’s agricultural goods and thereby boosting the agricultural sector.

Property rights and development: Lessons for Zimbabwe

Earlier this year I was involved in a review of the literature on the relationships between property rights and development commissioned by DFID and led by Future Agricultures partners, the Overseas Development Institute, and supported by the FAC land theme. The focus relates to an important and long-running debate in Zimbabwe about what to do about land tenure in both rural and urban areas.

The review was prompted by a concern by DFID to underpin with solid evidence the claims made in the UK government’s narrative about international development, known as the ‘golden thread’. This emphasises secure property rights as a key element in promoting economic growth and development. The British Prime Minister David Cameron states: “A genuine golden thread would tie together economic, social and political progress in countries the world over… Only then will people escape the fear of seeing their homes bulldozed just because they don’t have property rights.” Such rights would be underpinned by mapping and formal cadastre systems “…using satellite photos to map plots of land that will facilitate the creation of property rights”.

This is a familiar argument, resonant of that made by Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto who claimed that many resources in the developing world are ‘dead capital’, and so underutilised because private property rights have not be assigned. Only through titling programmes, he argued, would dead capital be transformed economic prosperity be realised. While extensively critiqued, this argument has captured the imagination of many policymakers in Africa, including in Zimbabwe where the ‘gold standard’ of private freehold tenure is often held up as the approach to follow.

The reviews, focusing on the post-2000 literature on Africa, looked at the broad relationship between property rights and economic growth, as well as specific areas, including rural and urban contexts, as well as the particular case of water rights. In addition, questions of empowerment were addressed. Just as many similar studies before showed that the evidence for a tight relationship between private property rights and economic growth and development is equivocal. Some studies show a positive relationship, others the opposite. And of course many other factors impinge. This is perhaps especially so for the relationship in rural areas, and linked to rights over land.

For those of us who have been immersed in this debate for years, particularly in Africa, this is no surprise. The 1980s for example saw a flurry of studies that looked at the benefits and costs of land titling, and the consequences for investment, including many by the World Bank. These showed again and again that, while improving security of tenure is essential, this does not have to be achieved through asserting private property rights, and indeed other forms of tenure, including common property, but also a range of registration systems can achieve the same end. The costs of cadastres and formal land titling systems are prohibitive, and can generate conflicts, and the processes of exclusion that occur can have significant negative effects. This is the conclusion drawn by many for Zimbabwe, despite the on-going, ideologically-driven debates.

A recent World Bank study looking at urban and peri-urban land in Burkina Faso and Mali came to much the same conclusion. Elsewhere in Africa, Rwanda has gained prominence as a case where land titling works, but there are also knock-on consequences especially for the poor and marginal of such efforts. In Ethiopia, a country with similarly dense populations in the Highlands, more informal registration systems seem to deliver good results.

The review looked at all these cases, and many more. The review was somewhat hampered, as it was obliged to follow a rather odd DFID-prescribed methodology (then in draft, but now formalised as a practice paper – which is admittedly an improvement on the draft) that had the effect of excluding large parts of the literature. This stipulated that ‘evidence’ as only in refereed journal articles, and had to be assessed in terms of empirically evaluated quantitative impacts of a property-growth relationship. This ‘evidence’ in the guidance is therefore privileged over other sources in terms of assessments of evidence ‘quality’ and ‘reliability. This limited the scope, and introduced particular biases of discipline and case study. The work of economists, and material from Ethiopia was thus over-represented and, according to the final report, “as a result, perspectives from some disciplines are not fully represented, notably history, politics, anthropology, cultural studies and sociology”. Given the subject area, rather a shame to say the least!

The focus on journal articles in particular databases also meant that large chunks of the literature were excluded, including all the fantastic books on the subject, both empirical cases and historical overviews, published over the years, not to mention the important project-based and grey material. To undertake a review on land, property and development in Africa and not include the key works of Sara Berry, Louise Fortmann, Pauline Peters, Elinor Ostrom and others was, to me and other advisors on the project, plain bizarre. Fortunately some flexibility was allowed and some elements of these key foundational insights were in the end included, but not without some difficulty, and some serious questioning of the draft DFID guidance.

Despite all these battles over the nature of evidence, the key findings of the rural review were fairly clear. It notes: “Overall, the evidence reviewed does not fully support the expected outcomes of the conventional economic view on the link between stronger property rights and investment gains”. In particular (from the executive summary):
  • “While present in some cases, links between reduced risk of expropriation and greater application of short and long term investments are not universal or unambiguously clear. There are numerous constraints preventing this causal link occurring, and there is some evidence of a reverse causal relationship: in some cases a greater risk of expropriation encourages certain types of investments”
  • “The link between strengthening of tenure and increased access to credit is particularly weak, due to numerous other factors which prevent land from being successfully collateralised. These include issues related to credit supply, as well as borrowers’ willingness to mortgage their major asset, land”.
  • “The evidence on the hypothesis that active land markets result from stronger property rights is mixed. There is some evidence which points to land markets leading to more efficient outcomes where these have not existed before (Ethiopia) but in the majority of cases, (informal) land markets are active under customary systems and there is little evidence to indicate that these are inefficient”
  • “Whether titling or other tenure strengthening initiatives promise more benefits to women compared to existing tenure arrangements is highly context specific and depends on processes under which changes in tenure occur and are managed. The extent to which women’s greater access to land leads to higher agricultural production also does not appear to be supported by the literature”
No surprises there. What is perhaps more surprising is the wider persistence of the narrative about the role of private property, and especially titling, in economic development, including in Zimbabwe. This, as with the UK’s golden thread, is driven more by ideological commitment than an appreciation of the facts on the ground. Thus, with the benefit of evidence, the firm assertions of the golden thread narrative look distinctly frayed. Given its commitment to evidence-based policy, we will have to see if the statements of UK government officials, from the PM down, will be tempered by the results of its own review. I am not holding my breath. Equally in Zimbabwe, let’s hope that evidence prevails over assumption and prior bias in the on-going, fraught debate about property rights and land tenure reform.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

Understanding the Bangladesh 'health miracle'

Last month, FHS partner icddr,b in collaboration with brac and The Lancet launched a six-part special investigation into the health landscape in Bangladesh. The series explores how a country with low spending on health care, a weak health system, and widespread poverty has managed to make some exceptional health gains over the last two decades -- for example in the survival of infants and children under five years of age, life expectancy, immunisation coverage, and tuberculosis control.
The series is available free of charge (though registration with The Lancet is required). An interview with Mushtaque Chowdhury of brac provides a useful overview of the series.

What sets Bangladesh apart, according to the series, is its pluralistic health system in which many stakeholders including the private sector and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been encouraged to thrive and experiment. This has led to rapid improvements in access to essential services such as diarrhoea treatment, family planning, vitamin A supplementation, and vaccination coverage.
FHS Research Co-Director, Professor Abbas Bhuiya notes:
“Promoting an open culture of research-based innovation has made Bangladesh a pioneer in scaling up community-based approaches that have brought key health interventions to every household, making huge inroads into improving maternal and child health and reducing population growth.”
One striking example is tuberculosis treatment. By mass deployment of community health workers, cure rates escalated from less than 50% to more than 90%—among the highest in the world. Another is contraceptive use. By recruiting female health workers to deliver door-to-door family planning services, Bangladesh has achieved high (62%) contraceptive prevalence and a rapid fall in fertility from 6.3 births per woman in 1971 to 2.3 in 2010—a rate unparalleled in other countries with similar levels of development.
Other factors that have had a big impact on the health of Bangladesh’s population include a strong focus on reducing gender inequality through pro-poor and pro-women development programmes (e.g. in education and microfinance), and improvements in natural disaster preparedness and response.
Less successful have been attempted improvements in poverty reduction, maternal and child malnutrition, and access to primary care.
“The stark reality is that prevalence of malnutrition in Bangladesh is among the highest in the world. Nearly half of children have chronic malnutrition. Moreover, over a third the population (more than 47 million) live below the poverty line, and income inequality is widening”, says Professor Bhuiya.
Additionally, more needs to be done to address the poorly-equipped public health sector which, although free to the poor, faces a reported shortage of 800 000 doctors and nurses. They point out that every year 4–5 million people are pushed into poverty because they have to pay for health services directly, partly due to the rapid growth of the unregulated, low-quality, high-cost private sector.
In the first phase of FHS research, icddr,b -- recognising the burgeoning role of the private sector in Bangladesh -- experimented with ways for improving the services of village doctors through a franchise system. In the current phase of work, FHS Bangladesh continues to explore ways of improving these services through the use of mHealth technologies to strengthen links with formal health providers.
Articles in the series that involved FHS researchers include:
Outside of the series, in the current issue of the Lancet also featured the following comment piece by Professor Abbas Bhuiya:

Rural cattle marketing in Zimbabwe

As a result of the changes in the beef value chain, discussed in previous blogs, rural cattle marketing has been transformed in recent years. No longer are abbatoirs able to source animals in large numbers from single ranches, now they must purchase from multiple sources. These include council run sales pens and from networks of cattle buyers employed on contract the abbatoir or from individual cattle buyers. These are quite different arrangements, with contrasting pros and cons.

The main Masvingo based abbatoirs, notably Montana and Carswell, but also some butcheries employ buyers scattered across rural areas, working under area coordinators. When the buyer has sufficient animals in an area, they will call the abbatoir who will send a truck. Usually around 35 animals are required for a trip. Cash is then paid on receipt on the basis of estimated weights. No money is paid for the ‘fifth quarter’ (head, feet, offal etc.), and the transport is presented as ‘free’. For producers unable to trek their animals to an abbatoir (essentially Masvingo or Chiredzi) and pay for feed, transport and so on, this arrangement works well. Prices are not the highest, and some complain that weight estimates are not accurate, but this is one way of getting a reasonable deal. For more immediate sales, however, especially in times of urgency, for example if funeral costs have to be covered, other options may have to looked for, including selling to individual buyers and at council auctions.

Mr Z is an individual cattle buyer based in Chikombedzi. He has a number of businesses including a general store, but in recent years he has taken up cattle buying across the area. He complains that this is not so profitable now. He cites several reasons. Buying from council sales pens has, he complains, has become prohibitive because of the levies they charge. “This is now 10.5% on the sale price of every beast. For nothing!”, he exclaims. He now prefers to buy from individuals, but this means moving door to door and so transport becomes a significant costs. Also, disease outbreaks in an area can wipe out business at stroke as all movement is prevented by the veterinary department. This happened recently with foot-and-mouth disease. This, he explains, is a common disease, with regular outbreaks, but it affects trade, but not the cattle as they are used to it. He used to sell on to large companies like Montana or Bulawayo Grills, but he says they don’t offer good prices, and rip off the cattle buyer. He prefers to transport animals to Chiredzi himself and sell to butcheries directly. Finally he says he has to pay fees to Chiredzi district council every few months to have a licence to buy. “What do they give me in return?” he asks.

Mr V has been a buyer in the area for years. He used to have a farm, but this was taken in land reform. Now he concentrates on cattle buying. He used to attend the public auctions, but because of fees and attempts by officials to extract bribes he only goes along to watch, and check out the prices. Instead he creates his own buying points and alerts people in the area through his contacts, usually village headmen, who he all knows. He has points all over the Chikombedzi and Sengwe area. Mr V employs someone to weigh animals using a belt, and he pays on account, paying farmers once the animal is sold on. He prefers this as he does not want to have thousands of dollars on him on buying day. Since he is able to avoid the council levy his prices are reasonable, and he is well trusted in the area. He involves the police and veterinary department too, and picks them up and feeds them on a buying day. If someone refuses his price, he says” Go and sell at the formal market where the council takes a big cut, and see what the price is there!”. He employs drovers to move cattle from the buying point to an abbatoir or to a holding place which he may rent. Drovers are usually paid $5 per day, for trekking cattle over 10km or so. For longer distances he uses trucks.

Despite the proliferation of informal marketing, the council auctions still go ahead. In Chikombedzi they are a big event, attracting many others selling all sorts of wares at the market. When an animal is sold at the market, a fee is levied, but also the owner must present his/her stock card to have the sale registered by the police and the veterinary department. Both charge fees, around $2 and $10 respectively. However, very often, informal arrangements are struck. Bribes are sometimes paid to avoid registration and permits, and buyers and sellers can informally agree to settle outside the formal auction to avoid the council levy. The council official can be paid off too, and no receipts are logged.

While there is some competition in the cattle market, the levy system on council run auctions and the (semi)illegal nature of other sales operations means that overall sales levels are depressed, and producers and consumers do not necessarily get the best deal. A recent USAID study showed how changing the levy system could result in a massive boost of supply through formal networks, according to an economic model. But it is not just the costs of formal marketing. Lack of market knowledge is another issue, as farmers do not necessarily know the real price of an animal, as auctions are rare, and not competitive. Sometimes distress sales mean that much lower prices are gained, as animals are sold on at knock-down prices just to get the cash.

Market engagement needs more active organisation on the part of producers. As the manager of a leading abbatoir in Masvingo put it: “Rural people need to get together. If they could get together 200 to 300 cattle at one point, they could get really worthwhile prices”. As small herds scattered across the rural areas are now the main suppliers of beef nationally, new ways of organising marketing are needed. The high tax formal system is clearly not effective, and private buying may be undermining producer prices through lack of competition. If Zimbabwe’s meat eaters are to continue to get good, cheap meat, a rethink is clearly required.

For more on wider debates about trade, see the discussion in the comments section on the Retail Revolutions blog in this series.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

MakSPH joins hands with Uganda’s Health ministry to hold symposium on teenage pregnancy

By Kakaire Ayub Kirunda, MakSPH

When the Future Health Systems team at the Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH) approached Uganda’s Ministry of Health, with an idea of a symposium as part of the activities to commemorate the safe motherhood month held every year in October, it was not clear what to expect.

But bingo, the idea was taken on board, seeing the United Nations Population Fund, the World Health Organisation, and Marie Stopes Uganda become co sponsors with MakSPH for the event now being planned to be held annually.

Organised under the theme “Teenage Pregnancy: An Obstacle to Maternal Health, Let’s Stop It Now,” the 2013 inaugural symposium held on November 5 drew the attention of teenage mothers, the academia, policy makers, religious and cultural leaders, legal practitioners, and the media among other stakeholders.

In a speech read for him at the symposium, Uganda’s State Minister for Health Dr Elioda Tumwesigye said there was urgent need for investment in the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people in order to address the underlying factors that give rise to the high rate of teenage pregnancies.
“Although some of the laws and policies in Uganda address this issue of teenage pregnancy some of our laws still have loop holes which promote teenage pregnancy,” said Dr Tumwesigye. “Similarly although the Uganda Ministry of health supports the provision of adolescent friendly services, its provision has been met with some challenges.”
Teenage pregnancy in Uganda is compounded by adolescent girls’ vulnerability to early and sometimes forced marriage, with the country having one of the highest child marriage prevalence rates in the world.

According to the latest Uganda Demographic and Health Survey, among women age 20-49, 15 percent were married by age 15, and 49 percent were married by age 18.

The UNFPA Country Representative for Uganda Ms Cecile Compaore applauded efforts by the symposium organizing partners for efforts aimed at discussing how to strengthen efforts to fight teenage pregnancy using a multi-sectoral approach, saying breaking the cycle of teenage pregnancy required action from all sectors working together and not just the health sector.

She added that the more harmonised the efforts, the better the service delivered to the girls and women of Uganda and interventions help the most vulnerable, especially girls between 10 and 18, who need support that builds their potential and protects their rights.

Also speaking at the symposium, MakSPH Deputy Dean Prof. Christopher Garimoi Orach urged stakeholders to follow up on the recommendations and commitments made by the various stakeholders in relation to mitigating teenage pregnancy in the country.
“We have to put our hands together and this calls for us meeting frequently,” he urged the participants.
The various stakeholders who attended the symposium made recommendations and commitments to be followed up over the following year.

From the religious and cultural leaders, among the many recommendations made was one on the need for networking with other stakeholders especially researchers on the need to come up with practical ways of tackling the spiraling problem of teenage pregnancy.

The legal and ethical issues stakeholders comprising mainly of lawyers pledged to spearhead a campaign on awareness especially on laws relating to children.

Among other things, the academia called for studies to look into the cost effectiveness of the current interventions that are aimed at preventing teenage pregnancy. They also called for studying the best model for parent to child communication to prevent teen pregnancies.

Young people, specifically teenage mothers who attended at the symposium asked Government to inject funds in programs to train personnel to impart positive skills like self-esteem and confidence among girls to say “NO”.

Meanwhile the symposium featured an exhibition of photographs from an FHS funded study at MakSPH that looked at the use of photo voice to involve the youth in identifying maternal health issues in the community and in identifying opportunities to engage in their improvement.
According to the study’s principle investigator Mr. David Musoke, “A lot of interest was shown particularly in the research methodology of using photos, some thinking of incorporating it into their work. The booklet was also very handy as many participants took with them copies.”

Transparency and governance in the land sector: two sides of the same coin?

By Anna Locke, ODI and Future Agricultures Consortium. 
Border fence
Lake Nakuru Lodge by shankaronline on Flickr
This article was originally posted on the ODI website.

Land transparency has been on the public agenda again since the G8 summit in June this year. Two events in the same week in October showcased the issue: the Open Government Partnership annual summit in London (which publicised the recent Open Government Guide on Land), and the Global Soil Week conference in Berlin, which dedicated a session to partnerships for responsible land governance – an issue that is rarely discussed by soil scientists.

A couple of things hit me from these recent discussions. First, the public discussion has broadened from land transparency to land governance. The G8 communique published in June does not refer to a land transparency initiative as such but talks about ‘global activities to improve land tenure governance’.

Transparency served as an immediate umbrella to bring together different initiatives in a very short time in the run-up to the G8 summit 2013 but seems to have been a launch pad rather than the end point. Similarly, the Open Government Guide on Land focuses on land governance while acknowledging the need for transparency, participation and accountability at the heart of open government.
I welcome this broader agenda as it provides more of a framework to see how transparency can effect meaningful change.
However, at the risk of being pedantic on this issue (I have form on this – see my blog on the World Bank conference) once again, I want to pin down the terms of the debate and look at the underlying assumptions. It is important to make sure that we are all talking about the same thing, particularly as we prepare for an ODI Roundtable on the whole issue of Land Transparency in December.
First, definitions
What is land governance? The Open Government Guide on Land defines it as a series of processes, including recognition, registration and enforcement of land tenure rights, land-use administration, management planning and taxation, information provision and dispute resolution.
It then identifies the elements that characterise good governance: governments should help to ensure that these processes are ‘clear, transparent and fair… [with] human rights of citizens protected’; that they include ‘accountable decision-making about how best to use land… improving the openness’ [of those processes, I assume]; and that they ensure ‘consultation with those potentially affected by changes… [which] can help communities and households protect their rights’.
The Guide suggests the Land Governance Assessment Framework (LGAF) mechanism launched by the World Bank as the main reference point for a baseline evaluation of the state of land governance. The LGAF measures governance in five thematic areas: legal and institutional framework; land use planning, management and taxation; management of public land; public provision of land information; and dispute resolution and conflict management. In turn, the main reference point for the LGAF is the World Bank’s definition of governance as the ‘manner in which public officials and institutions acquire and exercise the authority to shape public policy and provide public goods and services’.
I would be more specific on two things. Yes, the discussion of land governance highlights the issue of how institutions can carry out the work of land titling, registration and administration. But it also needs to look at how they take and implement decisions on land – who takes part in decisions on land allocation, use and management, and how different interests in competing social and economic functions of land are reconciled. That goes beyond consultation. Indeed, it goes to the heart of the political economy of decision-making and the power relations that are involved. This is recognised implicitly in the Open Government Guide in its recommendation for participatory land and resource use planning.
And what is the role of the private sector in all of this? Does the shift (back?) from transparency to governance mean a refocusing on governments, instead of the broader private sector actors targeted under pre-G8 discussions? These have been targeted directly through efforts to increase contract disclosure and public provision of information on holdings.
Second, what is the relationship that is assumed between transparency and governance?
The G-8 Communique talks about the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure as ‘providing global policy guidance for good land governance and transparency’. So are they of equal importance or does one feed into the other?  
The Open Government Guide takes the transparency of processes as a central element that feeds into governance (openness and accountability are others). The LGAF recognises the role of transparency in promoting better governance in the land sector, particularly in land-use restrictions, valuations, expropriation, the transfer of public to private land and in levying fees for different services provided by governments. Its emphasis on the provision of information, particularly through registries and cadastres, is the starting point for transparency in any form.
The work of ODI (ADP, PoGo) and others, such as Global Witness, on transparency reveals a growing recognition of the importance of transparency for good governance. But it also shows that transparency is not enough, on its own to achieve the standard of governance in the land sector that we are striving for. This was also acknowledged in the Berlin discussions in October.
So, what can we take away from this? I see three key lessons.
  1. Yes, the shift to a broader perspective on land governance is useful. But we need to acknowledge areas of agreement and difference on what we mean by governance, particularly in the presence of conflicting interests in land processes, and recognise the role of the private sector.
  2. We need to be clear about the role of transparency in promoting good governance – transparency and governance are not two sides of the same coin although progress on one depends on progress in the other.
  3. And finally, let’s carry the debate on the pathways from transparency to accountability to meaningful change into the debate on governance. This means talking about the content, timing and transmission of information; mechanisms and timescales to ensure meaningful participation and consultation; and getting accurate indicators that measure impact, not just processes.
All of these will issues will be on the table at the ODI Roundtable on Land Transparency at ODI on 10 December and we look forward to a rich debate.
Thanks to Giles Henley, ODI Research Officer, who provided useful comments on this blog.

Grassroots innovations: special issue of ‘Global Environmental Change’

The latest issue of the research journal Global Environmental Change is dedicated to the topic of grassroots innovation for sustainability.

The special issue contains six original research articles which focus on the US and Europe, guest edited by Adrian Smith and Gill Seyfang. These articles were selected from papers presented at a research workshop held at Sussex University in May 2012. More information about the workshop and the special issue papers are provided in a research briefing.

The issue also includes an article co-authored by STEPS co-director Andy Stirling on dynamics and diversity in communal growing activities in the UK.

Local organic food systems and community energy are two of the examples covered in the papers, which aim to develop better understanding of the impacts, potential of these initiatives to achieve wider changes for sustainability. Other papers examine the historical development of wind power and car-sharing, community currencies, and community gardening groups.


Read the articles

Global Environmental Change Vol 23 (5): special issue on grassroots innovations for sustainability


Read the briefing

GI briefing 21: Constructing grassroots innovations for sustainability


More on this topic

  • Grassroots innovations: a collection of projects analysing grassroots innovations for sustainable development

When global climate change politics meets African agriculture

Ethio drought 7 by aheavens on Flickr
by Joanes Atela, Political Ecologies of Carbon in Africa project

As nations debate climate change this week at the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19), addressing the urgent questions linking agriculture and climate change is not only politically, but morally the right thing to do. Agriculture tops the list of climate-affected sectors, with complex implications on food security and the economies of countries that depend on rain-fed agriculture.

The IPCC’s fourth assessment report (pdf) warns that if business in the agricultural sector continues as usual, rain-fed agricultural yields in some African countries could decline by as much as 50% by 2020. Prices of staple foods such as maize, wheat and rice could increase by an average of 53%, further exacerbating hunger and malnutrition in vulnerable nations where over a billion people are already reportedly food insecure. Agriculture is also a contributor to climate change – it emits about 14% of greenhouse gas partly through direct emissions and deforestation, according to the IPCC.

The story of agriculture and climate change is not new. However, prescribing solutions that take into account the interests of multiple actors engaged in the debate remains the biggest dilemma for the international community.

To understand why, we need to look at how the politics of agriculture in climate change plays out at a global level and how this results in pressure being put on national policy – a key question being examined by the STEPS project on political ecologies of carbon in Africa.

Unpacking the politics of climate change and agriculture
Considerable politics revolves around negotiating Parties, organizations’ and sectoral interests as played out in past debates under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and national debates. These debates have, however, yielded mixed and unclear prospects for agriculture.

At a global level, the politics revolves around the debates on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), which appears to have stolen the limelight from agriculture.

At the same time, however, the interest in REDD+ may have provided a window of opportunity for concerned actors to push the agriculture agenda at the UNFCCC. While developing country Parties seem to be keen on engaging with REDD+ and benefiting from a range of relatively well institutionalized multilateral and bilateral funds, observer organizations at the UNFCCC’s COPs have coined a plausible narrative around the ‘unavoidable face of agriculture in REDD+’. The narrative argues that agriculture is the main driver of deforestation – so ‘a successful REDD+’ depends more on agricultural development strategies that retain and sustain forests, than it does on forestry strategies themselves.

Despite the logic behind this forest-agriculture nexus, many developing countries – those principally endowed with forest resources – have remained non-committal to supporting a work programme on agriculture, which appears to have been continually put on the back burner at the UNFCCC. These countries consider agricultural systems to be costly and complex to monitor and a challenge to consolidating REDD+ funds.

Mechanized agriculture
Coupled with a dominant narrative of achieving economic development through agriculture, the interests of developing country Parties lie more in mechanized agriculture as outlined in their national strategies and regional policies such as the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme. Such mechanization policies are often viewed as a quick fix to seasonal hunger problems and economic growth, and are not in line with more climate friendly approaches like conservation agriculture.

The global politics further take this sectoral dimension and plays it out in national and global debates. For instance, concerns have been raised that the Forestry departments of certain countries are interested in controlling the REDD+ funds, and so dominate the REDD+ readiness plans with little input from agricultural departments. At the UNFCCC meetings, similar concerns have been raised:
“We acknowledge that REDD+ success depends on action in agriculture, as also stated by Nicholas Stern in Forest Day. ….And yet, despite the strong recognition of linkages and interdependencies between the land based sectors, I note that the press release reporting on Forest Day 4 does not mention agriculture. Clearly, sector silos are still strong.” (Peter Holmgren; Director, Climate Energy and Tenure at FAO, during a plenary session at Forest Day 4 in Cancun in November, 2010)
A policy vacuum?
Given the low commitment among some developing countries to a work programme on agriculture, a policy vacuum has emerged, giving external actors the opportunity to drive the climate change-agriculture agenda.

While these external actors have considerable de facto powers due to their finances and networks, they have very little de jure powers to domesticate such policies into the national agenda – and therein lies the dilemma.

In recent years, the ‘external actors’ have successfully pursued initiatives such as ‘climate smart agriculture’ and have tested their practicality in various African (and other) settings. The Future Agricultures Consortium has attempted to unpack how these initiatives practically play out. A number of case studies across Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia and Malawi, reveal mixed outcomes. Overall, the studies suggest that the promise of external funding often overrides state policy. These initiatives in most cases directly intersect with messier informal and local institutions, where farmers have little knowledge on the content and aims of these initiatives. The result is contested accountability and power relations in which most farmers lose out.

Such policy mismatches are further spaces for land grabbing and intra-state institutional conflicts over donor funds, as revealed in the Malawi case. The Kenya case further details implicit issues such as gender, land rights, water scarcity and poor capacity as impediments to the adoption of such initiatives.

Some ways forward
These concerns point to the need for negotiators at the 19th COP of the UNFCCC to take agricultural debates as a moral rather than a purely political agenda.

There is a particular need for more work linking global and national policy agendas to create a ‘nested’ policy framework.

Within developing countries themselves, the vital areas for attention include more capacity-building on climate change, consultations with local people in the policy process and attention to wider development issues such as water access and gender imbalances. These are vital if farmers are to become more empowered to expand their opportunities and wellbeing in the context of climate change.

Joanes Atela is pursuing a PhD in climate change and sustainability and is part of the STEPS Centre’s project on the political ecologies of carbon in Africa. He is also a researcher in the Climate Change theme of Future Agricultures. This article first appeared on the Future Agricultures blog.

New book: Debating Zimbabwe’s Land Reform

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Blog readers may be interested in the recently published book Debating Zimbabwe’s Land Reform. It’s out now in a low-cost version and available through Amazon.

Its 60 chapters are a compilation of some of the blogs that have been published on Zimbabweland in the last few years. They are clustered around a series of themes, each introduced with a new introductory essay. The themes are agricultural and livestock production, the economy, political dimensions, land, livelihoods and rural development, aid and development, comparative lessons and researching land and agrarian.

This blog has gathered quite a following. Not everyone agrees with what is written, but it certainly has helped catalyse debate and is a forum for sharing new research, from our on-going studies in Masvingo, but also from others’ work elsewhere in the country.

Readers come from Zimbabwe, the UK, South Africa, the US and around 100 other countries, with the blog getting around 3000 views per month. However most of the blog readers are people who are not living in our study areas. Internet connectivity is a constraint to joining the debate. The main reason therefore for producing a ‘hard copy’ version of the blog was to share it with our research participants in the resettlement areas of Masvingo and beyond.

IMGP2752In the last few weeks I have been in Zimbabwe and we handed out some copies of the new book to those we have been working with over the last 13 years. Previous publications have been read, shared and discussed through reading circles and simply by passing around. I hope this book will join the other material in galvanising continued discussion on the challenges and consequences of land reform in Zimbabwe.

So, along with Mr Chidangure of Uswaushava A1 resettlement, you too can get yourself a copy at a very reasonable price for 234 pages…. and a perfect addition to your Christmas shopping list!

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

Friday, 29 November 2013

“AIDS has a woman’s face”, or does it? Beyond the Gender and HIV Dyad

By Elizabeth Mllls, KNOTS fellow

As we approach World AIDS Day, and move into 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, I am prompted again, to reflect on some of the important links between gender-based violence and HIV, and also some of the problematic assumptions that perpetuate uncritical thinking on the gender-HIV dyad.

A Discomfort with Development Categories

Meet Zama, a 33-year old South African woman and an old friend of mine; she has been an AIDS activist and professional HIV treatment literacy practitioner in South Africa since the height of AIDS denial in the early 2000s.  Zama lives in Khayelitsha, which means ‘new home’ in isiXhosa. Its name is rather cynical, given that in this area homes are rarely ever permanently sunk into the earth. Space matters here when the only source of water is a leaky tap, whose muddy veins run down unlit side alleys where women risk rape when they leave their homes at night, or when all adults and children risk electrocution (from illegal wires that wind through the sand) when walking to the single toilet that also serves their 500 – 1000 closest neighbours. Khayelitsha is also the space where women have stood with men, in conjunction with the Treatment Action Campaign and Médecins Sans Frontières, to call on the state to provide essential AIDS medicines; it is the place where these medicines were first made available through the MSF trial in 2001.

Like almost 33% of Khayelitsha’s residents, Zama is also HIV-positive; and like almost two million South Africans, she is on ARVs. She explains,

“It’s like when the skies fight, when the clouds are angry and dark. They crash into each other and lightning flies across the sky. You never know where the lightning is going to hit. That’s what it’s like with HIV” (Zama, 2011).

In this conversation, Zama told me how she had initially found it difficult to negotiate safe sex, or sex at all, when she was a young woman. Zama had been wary of narrating this ‘illness history’ because it colluded with the ‘development category’ of the poor, black HIV-positive woman who was unable to actively navigate her own life. In fact, she eschewed labels like ‘HIV-positive woman’ and considered herself to have substantial personal power to negotiate her current sexual, socio-economic and political relationships.

Looking beyond Victimhood: Between Agency and Structure

While the presence of gender inequality, and its brutal manifestation as sexual violence in girls’ and women’s lives, is a strong feature of my work, I – like Zama – have been confronted by the explanatory limitations of epidemiological assertions that stipulated a correlation between gender inequality and higher rates of HIV infection among women compared to men. I do not dispute this correlation; my research has been informed by the multiple and intersecting inequalities that seemed to drive HIV, in epidemiological terms, into women’s lives and bodies. This was most striking when, in 2008, young women in South Africa were almost four times as likely to be HIV-positive compared to young men of the same age (20 – 24) (Johnson et al., 2013, Dorrington et al., 2006).  Overall prevalence in this age group has subsequently declined, but the characteristics of prevalence according to sex remained the same: young women are still more likely to be HIV-positive than men (UNAIDS, 2012).

Studies link these statistics to sexual violence. Articles with titles like “AIDS has a woman’s face” or “Troubling the angels” proliferated in research that explored this correlation.  Other research suggested that sexual violence and its relationship to HIV occurs against an inflected backdrop of pervasive and entangled inequalities in South Africa, where gender, sexuality, race and class powerfully intersect to reinforce poor Black women’s vulnerability (Dworkin et al., 2012, Jewkes and Morrell, 2012).

Although these studies give texture to the correlation between gender inequality and high rates of HIV incidence among women compared to men, they may also (unwittingly) support a paradigm that has fuelled development interventions to ‘empower’ women by foregrounding women’s relative lack of power compared to men. Ascribing HIV transmission, in epidemiological terms, to entrenched gender inequality does not, in itself, engage with the complex pathways that women navigate between desire and risk in their sexual relationships, and in extremely difficult socio-economic contexts.  In this respect, my research shows that women are subtly, and sometimes with great difficulty, negotiating their intimate relationships with men by forming separate households and by working and establishing their financial independence. This was not a straightforward matter of asserting agency or submitting to intersecting structures of inequality.

The Biopolitics of Violence: Bringing a Global Network of Actors into View

In my research on gender and HIV, and now as I convene the Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme at the Institute of Development Studies, I suggest that we – researchers, policy makers, activists – need to be careful about situating vulnerability in individual bodies and relationships. I propose that we nuance our analyses to look at how people’s bodies and lives are located in a far more complex network of actors. I suggest, then, that the gender-HIV dyad is problematic not only because it positions women as passive victims of men who are, conversely, held to be active perpetrators (or even more unhelpfully, ‘vectors of transmission’). More fundamentally, it is problematic because these discourses direct our attention towards individuals or ‘cultures of inequality’ and away from the biopolitics of violence in which national, regional and global actors are implicated.

While we certainly need to address the manifestation of inequality in people’s lives, the bolts of lightening, we also need to explore the context – the skies that fight – in which women’s lives are located. This includes a recognition: of the subtle ways that women hold agency, albeit fraught and contested; that men are a part of the solution in working towards equality; and that national, regional and global actors need to be held to account for the ways they intimately affect our lives, from a distance, at the most molecular level.

Dorrington, R., Johnson, L., Bradshaw, D. & Daniel, T. (2006) The demographic impact of HIV/AIDS in South Africa: National and provincial indicators for 2006. Cape Town.

Dworkin, S. L., Colvin, C., Hatcher, A. & Peacock, D. (2012) Men’s Perceptions of Women’s Rights and Changing Gender Relations in South Africa Lessons for Working With Men and Boys in HIV and Antiviolence Programs. Gender & Society, 26, 97-120.

Jewkes, R. & Morrell, R. (2012) Sexuality and the limits of agency among South African teenage women: Theorising femininities and their connections to HIV risk practises. Social Science & Medicine, 74, 1729-1737.

Johnson, L. F., Mossong, J., Dorrington, R. E., Schomaker, M., Hoffmann, C. J., Keiser, O., Fox, M. P., Wood, R., Prozesky, H. & Giddy, J. (2013) Life Expectancies of South African Adults Starting Antiretroviral Treatment: Collaborative Analysis of Cohort Studies. PLoS medicine, 10, e1001418.

UNAIDS (2012) World AIDS Day Report - Results 2012. UNAIDS.