Friday, 31 May 2013

30 May: China and Brazil in African Agriculture - news roundup

By Henry Tugendhat

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.

New Chinese loans and grants for Zimbabwe
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang concluded his trip to Zimbabwe last Friday where he met Robert Mugabe and signed an interest free-loan agreement of $16million USD, payable over 5 years. A $16million grant was also signed off on by Deputy Commerce Minister Li Jinzao with Zimbabwe’s finance ministry for developmental projects. Lastly another $18million grant was said to be signed off for geological explorations related to mining interests. Other sources appear to contradict these reports: other articles (including from the same newspaper cited here) reported that China extended $36million in loans during this visit. No Chinese media sources that discussed the loans or grants could be found.
New Chinese Ginnery in Mozambique
China-Africa Cotton Mozambique Ltd. (CACM) has begun construction of a ginnery in Sofala Province, Mozambique. It is said to cost USD $6 million and will have an initial capacity to process 30,000 tonnes of raw cotton. CACM is one of the three largest planting and processing enterprises in Mozambique.

Brazil signs four cooperation agreements with Ethiopia
Four co-operation agreements have been signed by Brazil and Ethiopian counterparts (including the Minister of Agriculture), covering the areas of Agriculture, Education, Science & Technology, and Aviation. Copies of the memorandums from Brazil’s foreign ministry are below in Portuguese and English.
WFP signs $1.6m deal with Chinese food-company in Ghana
The World Food Programme has signed a $1.6 million deal with Chinese company HNA to provide school meals for children in Ghana. This is part of the government initiated Ghana School Feeding Programme which has a long term goal of reducing poverty and enhancing food security. The programme aims to provide meals on school days to children in public nursery and primary schools.

Brazil to cancel or restructure $900m of African debt
Dilma Rousseff announced at the African Union summit in Ethiopia that $900 million of 12 African countries’ debt with Brazil would be restructured or cancelled. A spokesman for Brazil’s foreign ministry told Efe News that the debt restructuring for some countries would consist of more favourable interest rates and longer repayment terms. The countries involved were: Congo-Brazzaville, Tanzania, Zambia, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, and Sudan.

Ugandan Coffee Exports to China
As the rate of coffee drinkers in China is said to be growing by 10-15% a year, Uganda’s sales to the country have been increasing. Although Ethiopian and Kenyan brands are more widely consumed in China, these are usually packaged and sold to China through established Western brands. Uganda, however, is currently the continent’s leader in selling Arabica and Robusta coffee directly to China and Chinese producers.
(China Daily / Uganda Monitor)

Chatham House Rising Powers Journal
The Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) has focused this month’s journal on the rising powers. It includes an article looking specifically at ‘Africa and the rising powers: bargaining for the "marginalized many"’.
(Chatham House)

OUCAN-APN Conference on Emerging Powers in Africa
June 22: The Oxford University China Africa Network has partnered with the Alpha Professional Network to look at the “New Opportunities for Investment and Development”. Speakers include Vale’s Head of Africa Operations, a number of Chinese and African business leaders and the Head of UNCTAD’s Investment and Enterprise Division is yet to confirm. OUCAN is also hosting a workshop this Thursday (May 30) looking at emerging themes in China-Africa studies; this will include a presentation on ‘China’s new engagement in African agriculture’ by Lu Jiang at the LSE.
China-Africa Development Fund in South Africa
Based on interviews for a research paper, a post on the ‘China in Africa: the real story’ blog presents a detailed table of CADFund’s projects in South Africa to date. One project involves investments into Tractor production. In total CADFund currently manages about 60 projects in 30 countries and more information on its operations is given.
(China in Africa: the real story)

IBSAC cohesion in the WTO
A new paper by the South African Foreign Policy Initiative discusses how cohesive India, Brazil, South Africa and China (IBSAC) can be in WTO negotiations. They conclude that while for the time interests are too diverse to make for any powerful cohesion, their increased levels of interaction through trade and political interests could lead to greater homogeneity in the future.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

The new farm workers: Changing agrarian labour dynamics following land reform in Zimbabwe

Farm labour has been highlighted by many as one of the big losers from land reform. Certainly, the post-2000 land reform in Zimbabwe has resulted in a significant displacement of farm workers from former large-scale commercial farms. However, the scale and implications of this are much disputed, and poorly understood. In assessing the implications for employment, livelihoods and agrarian relations, it is critical to have a proper assessment of what has happened since 2000. Unfortunately, as with so much in the Zimbabwe land debate, this discussion is coloured by inaccurate figures and ideological positions, unsupported by empirical data.

Fortunately, a new paper by Walter Chambati, one of Zimbabwe's leading researchers on agrarian labour, has just been published the Future Agricultures Consortium in association with AIAS. This helps move the debate forward by providing a detailed examination of changing agrarian labour relations based on detailed research from Goromonzi district, one of the high potential farming areas of Zimbabwe influenced by land reform.

One of the big problems with the debate about farm labour since 2000 has been (once again) the lack of data on what happened to farm workers following land reform. The figures regularly trotted out in the media, and by many others too are usually wildly inaccurate. For example the MDC in their recently launched policy paper claimed (p. 44) that "some 400 000 farm workers have been displaced with their families plunging nearly 2 million people into destitution and homelessness" due to what they term the 'chaotic' land reform. This is way off the mark, and inevitably colours the analysis and the policy conclusions reached.

When we were putting together our book in 2010, we searched across the available data and tried to triangulate between sources. Our best estimates (based on CFU, GAPWUZ, CSO/Zimstat and other sources) were that before land reform in the late 1990s, there were around 350000 permanent and temporary farm workers working on large-scale farms and estates. Of these around half were permanent workers, making up a total population of around one million, including any dependents. In the new settlements established after 2000, around 10000 households were established by those who were formerly permanent farm workers, along with others who were temporary farm workers and joined the land invasions. A further 70000 permanent worker households remained in work on estates, state farms and other large-scale farms. There were also substantial numbers of in situ displaced people still on farms living in compounds, seeking work on the new farms and perhaps with access to a small plot – perhaps around 25000 households. These were predominantly in the Highveld areas where significant farm worker populations resided on the farms, many without connections elsewhere and originally migrants from elsewhere in the region. Thus nationally this all means around 45000 permanent farm worker households were displaced and had to move elsewhere – to other rural areas or towns – while others who were temporary workers had to seek new sources of income but remained based at their original homes, some continuing as labourers on the new farms.

These figures suggest a very different pattern to that suggested in many media commentaries, donor reports, and policy documents. It is disappointing that some more thorough cross-checking does not take place before these are published. Of course such patterns of displacement and resettlement vary dramatically across the country. In the Highveld areas where highly capitalised farms required large amounts of labour – for instance for tobacco or horticulture operations – displacements were significant. Outside these areas, the pattern was different. This was the case in Masvingo province, where land reform displaced largely ranch operations which offered limited employment. However, while there has undoubtedly been displacement and associated hardship, the scale and implications are very different to what is often suggested.

And what has replaced the former pattern of farm employment? Again this varies significantly, depending on the intensity of the farm operations, type of crops and the type of labour required. Across the farms in our study sample in Masvingo, we found that in the late 2000s on average 0.5 and 5.1 permanent workers were employed in A1 and A2 farms respectively, while 1.9 and 7.3 temporary workers were employed. This is shown in Chambati's studies of labour in Goromonzi, and his earlier studies in Chikomba and Zvimba , and is confirmed by the AIAS six district study that showed how the average number of permanent workers increased from 1.28 on the smallest farms (up to 5 ha arable area – largely A1) and increased to 4.87 labourers for farms with arable areas of above 40 hectares (largely A2). The number of casual workers increased from 5.43 to 10.69 labourers across these ranges (p.118). Aggregating such figures up across new resettlement farms nationally, this represents a considerable amount of employment generated, including for many women.

When the new farms replaced low employment operations such as ranching as in many of our Masvingo sites, the amount of employment available now far exceeds what was there before. However farms that employed greater amounts of labour before, the opposite may well be true. And in addition to the numbers of jobs, there is of course the question of pay, conditions, and the type of skills required. This again is highly variable.

Chambati explains how the labour regime has continued to evolve, especially following the dollarization of the economy:

"Non-wage labour such as sharecropping and labour tenancies are emerging in response to shortages of finance to hire labour. The integration of farm labour and land beneficiary communities through familial relations and other social networks provides prospects for the improved social reproduction of labour. The new form of social patronage based on kinship ties is being extended as more relatives are brought in for farm work to minimise cash outlays on the dollarized farm wages".

It is important to keep up with these changes, and understand the transformations in labour regimes that are occurring, with their implications for wages, rights, gender access, skill requirements and overall employment levels. With small-scale, medium scale and large-scale farms competing for labour in a particular area, there is a range of new dynamics of play. In the Highveld, the farm compound, although transformed from the past, remains a site of contestation, as Chambati explains for Goromonzi.

The social relations of labour on the new farms are of course a far cry from the exploitative residential tenancy system of the old large-scale commercial farms, with a diversity of new arrangements seen. But this does not mean that exploitation has disappeared. The new farm workers, dispersed over many more farms and often embedded in kinship networks, are poorly organised and unable to articulate demands effectively, and there has been downward pressure on wages. The organisations that once assisted farm workers on large-scale farms have yet to re-orientate their activities towards these new vulnerable groups.

With the debate still focused on the discussion of displacement, and informed by a poor understanding of what happened, a thorough reappraisal of rural labour regimes and their implications following land reform has yet to happen. The paper by Chambati offers a further useful case study to complement others, and suggests some important new directions. Sadly the policies of Zimbabwe's farm worker labour unions and all the political parties remain largely silent on this issue, stuck in old debates informed by poor data. The same is true of much of the policy and media commentary.

Farm labour on the new resettlement farms generates a considerable number of livelihoods. As a source of employment, this sector is underestimated and poorly understood, yet is highly significant in the rural economy. As a group with poor labour rights and in need of organisation and support, the new farm workers are also an important constituency for unions, support groups and others. Hopefully those thinking about future policy frameworks will read Chambati's paper – and indeed all the other studies on the subject – and think harder about rural labour issues, before pronouncing a standard, but now thoroughly disputed, narrative.

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

Friday, 24 May 2013

Public Private Partnerships for agriculture in Kenya: new FAO report

What can public private partnerships (PPPs) in agribusiness do for sustainable and inclusive agricultural development? A report by Future Agricultures members Hannington Odame and Elsie Kangai looks at agribusiness PPPs in Kenya. It is part of a series of case studies commissioned by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to gather evidence on how governments and the private sector can collaborate effectively for agribusiness development.

From the preface:

It is recognized that high levels of investments are required to unleash the potential of agriculture for sustainable development and poverty reduction in developing countries. However, in recent decades, many countries have decreased their relative budget allocations to the agricultural sector, yet at the same time, the expected increase of private sector investments and the associated efficiency improvements have not been forthcoming. The high risk (actual and perceived) of doing business in agriculture often deters private sector participation in agrifood sector investments. Against this backdrop, public private partnerships (PPPs) are being promoted as an important institutional mechanism for gaining access to additional financial resources, sharing risks, and addressing other constraints in pursuit of sustainable and inclusive agricultural development.

FAO website: Agribusiness Public-Private Partnerships: A country report of Kenya

Other publications from the FAO’s Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries Division

22 May: China and Brazil in African Agriculture - news roundup

By Henry Tugendhat

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.

Guebuza visit to China
Mozambican President, Armando Guebuza, flew to China last week to meet with President Xi Jinping and other senior ministers. Agricultural cooperation was mentioned as a topic of conversation between the two after which he visited China’s World Cultural Forum which promotes Chinese culture and cross-cultural communications between China and foreign countries. Mozambique’s Military Chief of Staff also met with Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan this week.
Xinhua (Chinese) story 1
/ Xinhua (Chinese) story 2 / Macauhub (English)

Chinese official visit to Zimbabwe
21 May: Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang landed in Zimbabwe tomorrow. This is the third consecutive year a Chinese Vice Premier visits the country, but there has been no Chinese presidential visit to the country since 1996.

Chinese pressure on Zimbabwean debts
China has insisted that Zimbabwean companies and state institutions settle outstanding arrears before more loans are released for further infrastructure projects. New commitments include the expansion of a dam and the construction of a new runway and tower at Victoria Falls airport. Of those arrears, $27.1 million is said to have been paid out by the government to cover Farmer’s World’s debts for farming equipment and tractors bought for resale from China in 2006, but many others remain.
(The Zimbabwe Independent)

Brazilian funded trade and investment seminar in Addis Ababa
The Embassy of Brazil in Addis Ababa has announced that is organising a trade and investment seminar with Ethiopia, South Sudan and Djibouti for June. Agriculture, agro-processing, sugar and dairy will feature as sectors of focus within the conference and Ethiopian officials from the Ministry of Agriculture are also expected to attend. The article cited below also mentions the opening of a new Ethiopian Airlines direct flight to Brazil from July 1st.
(, Ethiopia)

Zimbabwean criticism of Chinese tobacco MNCs
The Zimbabwe Economic Empowerment Council has advised that multinational firms such as China’s should leave tobacco out-grower schemes to indigenous businesses, if the government’s empowerment scheme is to be meaningful. This comes as purchasing prices are seen to be lower than last year; Chinese firms put this down to lower quality whereas Zimbabwean critics suggest that a cartel is emerging.
(The Standard)

Ghanaian clamp down on illegal mining
The Ghana China Friendship Union has applauded the government’s decision to clamp down on illegal mining which is said to cause environmental damage. It states that it will not stand by Chinese firms found to be violating these laws, but says that this drive should not be used as means to “witch-hunt” Chinese firms.

Agriculture on the WTO agenda
The WTO Director General Elect, Roberto Azevêdo, has said that the subject of Agriculture will remain on the agenda for the organisation’s next ministerial meeting in Doha. Tariffs, food security and subsidies are said to be discussed as part of this. A blogpost by Musab Younis (IDS Rising Powers in International Development programme) examines Azevêdo’s appointment.
(The BRICS Post / IDS Globalisation and Development blog)

New ODI report: how smallholder agriculture contributes to food security and nutrition

Food insecurity and under-nutrition remain pressing problems in the developing world.
A new report addresses the question of how sustainable smallholder agriculture can contribute to improving food security and reducing under-nutrition. Smallholder agriculture’s contribution to better nutrition was co-written by Future Agricultures member Steve Wiggins with Sharada Keats at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and was commissioned by the UK Hunger Alliance.
Some 852 million people were estimated to be undernourished in 2010–12. Micro-nutrient deficiencies, especially of vitamin A, iodine, iron and zinc, are even more widespread, with perhaps as many as two billion persons affected owing to insufficient vitamins and minerals in their diet.
Despite their direct contribution to food production, small-scale farmers and their households are disproportionately vulnerable to these forms of hunger. The paper addresses the question of how smallholder agriculture that is sustainable can contribute to improving food security and reducing under-nutrition.

With a review of the literature and using five country case studies - studies Ghana, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Zambia, and Kerala State, India - we examine the contribution of smallholder agricultural development to attaining improved food security and nutrition, how development policy might strengthen its contribution, what complementary actions are needed, and what the political conditions for better policy may be.
The report sets out 12 recommendations for food security and nutrition-sensitive smallholder agricultural development.

Download the report from the ODI website

Future Health Systems China launch research project on payment system reform at the county level

On 25 March, the China National Health Development Research Center (CNHDRC) hosted a seminar to mark the launch of an FHS research project examining the impact of payment system reform on the delivery of health care services in rural healthcare facilities in China. The seminar took place in Yubei county, Chongqing city. Over 40 delegates attended the meeting, including a number of local and national government officials and grassroots policy makers.

The meeting was opened by Wang Yuxun, the Deputy Director of the Planning and Finance Department of the Ministry of Health, and Xia Yongpeng, the General Secretary of the Health Bureau in Chongqing. Several county-level officials also participated.

The project leader, Professor Zhang Zhenzhong, gave an overview of the project including an outline of each of the study components, the related outcomes and the framework for delivery. This was followed by two presentations; firstly on the prospect of payment system reform by Professor Jiang Qin and secondly on the application of qualitative research in the project by Professor Zhao Kun. Representatives of each case county then gave an introduction to the public health system in their respective regions and described the process of health reform, with a specific focus on the progress of reform, reform outcomes and the challenges they face. This led to an interesting discussion on the existing problems and potential solutions surrounding the implementation of payment system reform. The grassroots policy makers suggested that the excessive rise in medical expense threatens the security provided by the medical insurance fund. With this in mind it was agreed that each region should take “controlling the excessively fast growth of medical insurance expense” as a major aim of payment system reform.

Local stakeholders and other delegates agreed that the reform and supervision measures will not necessarily lead to a decline in quality of service provision. Neither should expense controls necessarily lead to internal restructuring and medication restrictions. Instead reform offers the potential to improve the value of a service, reduce the unreasonable use of consumable items and to transform the hospital’s compensation mechanism, which has not yet been effectively enhanced. The process of reform also hasn’t addressed a lack of support from health workers for reform and this will be crucial moving forward. This will be addressed in greater detail in our future research. CNHDRC concluded the meeting by agreeing to collaborate further with three case counties: Yubei, Changshu and Hanbin.

It is believed that the research into payment system reform will encourage public health policy makers to reconsider current institutional arrangements around health services delivery and to improve their policy making process. Wang Yuxun fully affirmed the importance of payment reform as part of the national health system reform, citing the current fee-for-service mechanism in hospital, distorted pricing and the excessive costs of examination and medicine in hospital treatment as reasons why reform was so important.

Forty years of peasant studies

The  image was designed by Jesse Ribot and painted by the Senegalese
reverse-glass painter Mor Gueye.

by Ian Scoones, IDS Fellow and member of the JPS Editorial Collective

Over the last 40 years the Journal of Peasant Studies has been publishing critical scholarship examining the political economy of peasant systems across the world. To mark the fortieth anniversary of the journal, a virtual special issue of 40 ‘JPS Classics’ has been published with freely available articles (if you sign up - it’s quick and easy!). The ‘classics’ cover the full period: from the 1960s to the present, with contributors analysing changes in all parts of the world.

Earlier contributors, such as Eric Hobsbawm and Theodor Shanin, adopted a fairly classic Marxist analysis that saw peasant production systems in terms of a longer historical process of transformation. Analyses of labour, class and processes of differentiation were the key dimensions of analysis. More recently, the scope of ‘peasant studies’ has been extended to include discussions of gender, livelihoods, migration, environment, resistance and social movements. Reflecting this, there are contributions from Jan Breman, Sam Jackson, Bridget O’Laughlin, Joan Martinez-Alier, James Scott, among many others. This work locates the classic concerns with accumulation, social reproduction and class differentiation in wider analyses, particularly in the context of processes of globalisation, urbanisation and social and environmental change.

Over the last 40 years, researchers associated with IDS at various times have contributed to these discussions. For example, the ‘JPS classics’ include a contribution by Henry Bernstein who was a researcher at IDS in the late 1960s soon after its founding, before moving to Manchester and later SOAS. Another contributor is Cristobal Kay, now Emeritus Professor at ISS, who did his PhD in development studies at Sussex in the early 1970s. Other contributors include Bina Agarwal who was a Visiting Fellow at IDS and a Research Fellow at SPRU in the late 1970s, and is now at Manchester, and was formerly director of the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi. Gordon White was a Fellow at IDS from 1978 until his death in 1998, also has a contribution, based on his pioneering work on the politics of China, focusing on emerging rural inequalities in the 1970s. Recognising the importance of gender analysis, Naila Kabeer, again a former IDS Fellow (from 1985-2009) and soon to be at the Gender Institute at LSE, has an article on rural gender relations in Bangladesh. And finally, Ian Scoones has a piece on livelihoods and rural development, reflecting on much work emanating from IDS, including by Robert Chambers, Susanna Moorehead, Jeremy Swift and others.

As a source of commentary and debate, today the journal is widely read by academics, activists and practitioners across the world, and is currently ranked top in ‘planning and development’, according to the Thomson Impact Factor rating, and has article downloads in excess of 100,000 each year. Under its current editor, Jun Borras of the ISS, the journal has published extensively on the phenomenon of ‘land grabbing’. With special issues on biofuels, ‘green grabs’ and the politics of corporate land deals, these themes link to work undertaken by the IDS-based Future Agricultures Consortium and the STEPS Centre, that have co-sponsored several major conferences on this issue.

As the poor, rural settings across the world are transformed by diverse drivers, detailed theoretical and empirical work to understand such dynamics is essential. Looking back across 40 years of scholarship in this anniversary special issue, it is interesting to see how contexts change, yet some underlying patterns and processes remain remarkably similar.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Difficult lessons from Zimbabwe that some South Africans just don’t want to hear

Respected South African journalist Max du Preez put his head above the parapet a few weeks ago and commented on the new book, Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land. His article opened as follows:

"It is something many South Africans do not want to hear and would probably find hard to believe: Zimbabwe's radical land redistribution has worked and agricultural production is on levels comparable to the time before the process started. What is more meaningful is that the production levels were achieved by 245 000 black farmers on the land previously worked by some 6 000 white farmers".

A huge storm of Facebook, Twitter and newspaper comments resulted (literally thousands!), mostly from angry South Africans outraged at the idea that redistributive land reform involving small farmers could possibly work in any form.

As du Preez comments in a follow up piece: "I was truly astonished at the blind anger and irrationality of many of the reactions, even from otherwise well-informed and balanced people." There was, he said, "so much heart, so little reason" and in their anger people rushed to comment before even reading the piece. This is a familiar pattern. I wonder sometimes if people ever bother to read our book, before launching off into derogatory commentary.

I have looked at some of the comments, and he is right: the irrational vitriol is plain to see. Joe Hanlon and I are attacked in extreme (although sometimes quite amusing) terms, accused of being communists from second-rate universities, bogus allies of Mugabe and more! It is all quite bizarre – and would be upsetting if it wasn't so wild and weird. Having been involved in this debate for over a decade, I am quite immune to the insults and attacks these days, but in this concentrated form it is striking. Perhaps more so because it was from mostly white South Africans, showing beyond doubt that land remains an emotional subject on both sides of the Limpopo. Zimbabweans of course also joined in, including MDC MP Roy Bennett who weighed in with a similar line, tempered with some sensible points about the variation in agricultural production among crops.

As du Preez comments during the long Facebook exchanges following his articles, it is interesting to see how clearly educated people are immune to evidence and argument when they don't want to hear it. The 'evidence' they use for their rebuttals is not further research, but usually some casual observations made while driving through some part of the country. They see it seems nothing but 'destruction' or 'desolation', but clearly don't talk to the new farmers or leave the main road.  Alternatively, evidence is garnered from accumulated anecdotes from Zimbabweans living in South Africa or friends in Harare relayed by phone call; all offering it seems the same dismal narrative. And if the real research evidence is not to their liking they argue it must be biased, fixed or based on inappropriate research and sampling methods, and so is simply dismissed.

If white South Africans remain with their heads so firmly in the sand, the consequences of not dealing with gross, deep inequities will surely confront them at some point. As in Zimbabwe, doing nothing and hoping it will go away is not enough. Political dynamics will at some stage see to that, as discontent mounts. As du Preez notes in his article, South Africa is not the same as Zimbabwe, and only selected lessons can be learned. But if angry denial is the only way of dealing with the issue, there is a clear problem. As he correctly observes: "We urgently need to throw old, conventional thinking overboard and tackle our problem with more vigour."

In summing up his second piece, du Preez argues:

"I think we should accept that, at the very least, the impression we in South Africa had that agriculture in Zimbabwe was still in a state of utter collapse after the land redistribution is wrong. We should accept that a substantial number of new Zimbabwean farmers, big and small, are actually commercially successful. That is significant, especially if one considers that a great historic wrong has been addressed and that hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans are now settled on the land of their ancestors. It still doesn't make the way the redistribution happened right. It still doesn't make it a model for South Africa to copy. It does mean we should make a mind shift around land reform. We should stop seeing it as a threat and start seeing it as a priority to redress past wrongs and further stability. Land reform is about people, not merely about hectares and statistics".

I agree. I hope Mr du Preez continues to report on Zimbabwe, as this sort of debate is going to be essential for the region as a whole. He will have to have a thick skin, but good journalists who unearth uncomfortable stories usually do.

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


Why Africa should listen to how South Africa’s food retailers are responding to environmental and social change

Digital Prices on Shelves (Pick 'n' Pay, South Africa)
by anastaciah on Flickr (cc-by-nc-sa)
The journal Sustainability’s recent special issue on Sustainable Food Chains provided the perfect platform for a paper arising out of my DPhil thesis that looks at how food retailers in South Africa are trying to adapt to social and environmental changes.

I talked to executives in South African food businesses to find out how they are responding to changing conditions in the food system - as climate change, for example, continues to affect environmental, social and economic systems in complex ways, affecting the food system from the global level right down to the local level.

Broadly speaking, companies are focussing on four areas in response to these changes:
  • innovation of new products;
  • an increased focus on customer awareness and marketing;
  • adjusting their procurement policies , and
  • working on building local capacity.
The executives also told me about important barriers, areas where they are uncertain as to how to proceed. Maintaining competitiveness in the face of ‘unsustainable’ consumer demands is one of these; another is how to engage in fruitful discussion with other key stakeholders in the system, most notably the government.

This final point raises the interesting question of perspective. The paper’s scope was limited to the opinions of those working in private sector companies, but there are many other important actors in the food system.

In particular, the role of government is crucial in building a food system that can meet food security needs. The government’s main role as identified in this paper lies in creating an enabling environment for companies to make the necessary changes in their strategies, in response to changing socio-environmental conditions. However, this requires both sides of the table to talk to each other effectively, which often turns out to be easier said than done.

At the other end of the spectrum are the farmers who supply these retailers – in particular, smallholder farmers, who are still extremely under-represented as suppliers.

Over and above issues of capacity building, there are complex power dynamics and path dependencies that make it difficult to transform into a more equitable and sustainable supply chain. These are big issues that companies cannot deal with in isolation. They require attention from a diverse set of stakeholders.

One final point is worth noting. It is in the nature of South African food retailers that many of them operate outside South African borders and are therefore important players in the wider African food system. The issues raised and discussed in this paper therefore have impacts not only for South Africa, but for food and farming systems across Africa – especially as other companies start to move into the food retail space on the continent.

An agricultural revolution in Africa will need to include the retail sector as important players. If this is to be truly transformational, then the lessons learned and questions raised from the South African experience will be vital for creating adequate policies for enabling a sustainable food system on the continent.

Read the paper

Pereira, Laura M. (2013) "The Future of the Food System: Cases Involving the Private Sector in South Africa." Sustainability 5, no. 3: 1234-1255

A prior version of this paper was presented at FAC’s conference on Young people, farming and food in March 2012 as well as the IFSA symposium that took place in Aarhus in June 2012. You can download the final paper free of charge from the Sustainability journal website.

Follow @futureagrics on Twitter here.

STEPS Centre Summer School 2013 begins

Group discussion on transitions and grassroots innovation
The STEPS Centre annual Summer School has hit the ground running, with 40 students from around the world descending on Sussex to hear and challenge the STEPS Centre's ideas on pathways to sustainability.
So far, we've had a mix of lectures and discussions on topics from the global political economy of climate change (with a guest lecture by the LSE's Prof Michael Jacobs on Monday night) to innovation and transitions at grassroots level. 

This morning, Ian Scoones gave a whistlestop tour of thinking on policy processes. Many of us think we would like to change policy - or perhaps make it - but have we thought of what it actually is, and how it is shaped? As policies are developed and evolve, narratives, politics and practices overlap and interact. 

You can see a couple of photos from yesterday's walkshop on the theme of 'uncertainty' through the Sussex countryside here and here. You can also follow highlights on our Storify feed and see participants' comments on Twitter using the hashtag #sss13.

We'll be posting video of Michael Jacobs' climate change lecture soon. There's also a chance to join in with the Summer School next Monday 20 May in Brighton, at a public debate on fuel poverty, climate change and social justice with Doug Parr (Greenpeace), Kirsty Alexander (Nuclear Industry Association), Jim Watson (UKERC) and Alice Bell (SPRU).
This article was originally posted on the The Crossing.

15 May: China and Brazil in African Agriculture - news roundup

By Henry Tugendhat

Brazil candidate to lead WTO
Roberto Azevêdo has been appointed as the new director of the World Trade Organisation, making him the first from Latin America and the second the Global South. His career to date has mainly involved roles in Brazilian economic affairs, most recently based in Geneva as a representative at the WTO and other economic organisations. His first task as director will be convening the WTO’s next ministerial meeting in Bali this December.
(The Guardian / /

Embrapa-CIAT sign new agreement
 Brazil’s agricultural research centre Embrapa has signed a collaborative agreement with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) to widen the scope for joint research to be used primarily in Latin America, the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa. There are currently 29 SSA countries with research centres in CIAT’s network and below is a link describing their activities in the region
(CIAT blog / CIAT SSA activities [pdf download])

Brazil collaboration with Ghana’s Ministry of Chieftaincies and Traditional Affairs
The Brazilian ambassador to Ghana visited the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Traditional Affairs where they discussed land use and agriculture. This is the first time a Brazilian official has visited the ministry. They also discussed increasing cultural exchanges between the two countries.
(Ghana Business news)

Olam to increase investments in Mozambican Cotton
Olam’s Mozambique subsidiary has stated that it plans to make “large investments” in Mozambique’s cotton production. No further details on this are given, but the article highlights that Olam already has production agreements with 70,000 producers in the provinces of Manica, Tete, Nampula and Zambezia and in 2012 exported 15,000 tons of cotton. It is also the biggest distributor of rice in the country.

Ghana to export cassava chips to China
The Ghanaian government has recently signed an agreement for the exportation of more than 1 million tons of cassava chips to China over the next five years. The move has been praised by the Ayensu Cassava Farmers Association (ACFA) and exports are expected to from all ten regions in Ghana.
(Ghana News Agency)

Pre-meeting workshop on hunger eradication
From June 30-July 2, a high level meeting on hunger eradication will take place in Addis Ababa, put together by the FAO, African Union (AU), Lula Institute, and New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Last week (May 7-9) a workshop was held ahead of the conference to agree on the agenda. It was attended by officials from the participating groups and some media outlets suggested that Chinese representatives might also have been present.
China and Latin America establish $50m agriculture fund
Officials from China and more than 20 Latin American countries met in Santiago, Chile to set up a new $50m fund to promote food security on the continent. Money would be channelled towards eight research and development centres in the region and a 500,000-ton joint food reserve for humanitarian aid.
(The BRICS post)

Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway
China has agreed to finance a railway project stretching 750km between Ethiopia and Djibouti with $3.3 billion. The line will be constructed by the China Railway Engineering Corporation and China Civil Engineering Corporation. Brazilian companies are also reported to be involved in other Ethiopian rail projects.
(Bikya news)

Increased use of the RMB in China-Africa trade
HSBC has recently been promoting the use of the RMB for South African transactions with China. The Chinese state has been keen to push for the RMB to be a reserve currency since the crisis and has set 2017 as its target for the internationalisation of the currency. The report highlights increased use already picking up momentum worldwide and Standard Bank has supported this analysis with the prediction that 40% of China-Africa transactions might be conducted in the RMB by 2015.
(Mail & Guardian, SA / Ventures Africa)

Indian agricultural investments in Africa
This article reviews a recent IFPRI paper on Indian land acquisitions in Africa that were supported by the government in a bid to increase food grains production. Countries involved in these deals include Ghana and Ethiopia, the latter of the two being one of the largest recipients of such private investment - an estimated €1.75bn by 80 Indian companies.

China and Brazil in African Agriculture Project webpage

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

What can we learn from history about large-scale commercial farming developments?

Woman with her passion fruit crop (Photo: USAID)
Woman with her passion fruit crop by
usaidkenya on Flickr (cc-by-nc)
by Rebecca Smalley, Land and Commercialisation in Africa project, Future Agricultures

After a period in which African agriculture was seen by many as a rather amorphous sector of subsistence farmers, it is coming to be recognised as a highly dynamic area. New types of farm are appearing on the landscape, including developments that are reminiscent of colonial estates, yet reflective of our globalised food system. Incoming investments are generating land conflicts and sparking resistance.

African agriculture is now presented as a place of commercialisation and entrepreneurship, but also of under-development and out-migration to the cities, to the mines, to any kind of livelihood that can supplement low farming incomes. Donors, policymakers and academics are now asking what forms future agricultural investments should take in sub-Saharan Africa.

Much of the debate is a response to the global land rush. But there is also a wider discussion going on about efforts to commercialise African agriculture and increase productivity: efforts which have brought together African governments in a nexus with agribusiness firms and influential donors such as the African Development Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Initiatives such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and the African Union’s 2009 Sirte Declaration have set the scene for increased investment in African agriculture.

This growing interest connects with some long-standing controversies: among them are the colonial scramble for African resources, and the debate about whether large-scale or small-scale farming is more efficient. In the discussions about the agricultural developments that are currently taking place through large-scale land deals and other avenues, sweeping assumptions are being made about the likely results – be it displacement and impoverishment of local people, or positive economic spillovers.

Researchers and practitioners working on rural issues in Africa have found, though, that there are many dimensions to the impacts of commercial agriculture. A wide range of individuals and groups could stand to lose or gain from agricultural change.

Examining the evidence

The LACA (Land and Agricultural Commercialisation in Africa) project, begun last year, looks at some of those impacts in more detail. This three-year project studies the socio-economic impacts of commercial agricultural developments, including types of development that have been vigorously opposed in the land-grab debate.

It asks the following questions. Can contemporary investments can play a role in reducing poverty and inequality? If so, what influences the outcomes in a positive way? The research team is gathering field-level data on three farming models – contract farming, plantations and commercial farming areas – in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia.

The first stage of the project is to review the existing evidence on these three models. This literature review takes in historical experiences of plantations, contract farming schemes and areas of large- and medium-scale commercial farming throughout sub-Saharan Africa. We also analysed reports from other regions where lessons can be learned, such as South-East Asia (home to the oil-palm boom), and Latin America. The resulting paper, Plantations, Contract Farming and Commercial Farming Areas in Africa: A Comparative Review (pdf), provides a guide to the areas in which commercial agricultural developments have led to particularly significant or contested outcomes.

We were especially interested in how land developments affected social and economic inequality in rural communities. The literature review additionally provides working definitions of the three farming models for the LACA field teams to use as a benchmark in their work, as the project progresses.

The mass of historical literature is a reminder that land grabbing and large-scale commercial agriculture are not new in Africa. But it also provides a basis for comparison with new developments occurring today.

Testing a new model: commercial farming areas

An area of discussion for the LACA team has been our third farming model, which we are calling ‘commercial farming areas’. We came across several cases involving blocks or groups of private, medium or large commercial farms that represent new patterns of investment and land use in a particular area. Some are state-planned farming blocks, others more bottom-up developments.

The literature on commercial farming areas provides insights into farm labour: like plantations, commercial farms have served as sites of employment and exploitation for the rural poor.  It also highlights how agricultural technology has been adopted and how entrepreneurship is changing.

There is some evidence to suggest that mixed commercial farms have offered more opportunity for rural economic linkages and technology transfer than many contract farming schemes, whose potential benefits can be stifled by the monopoly position of contracting firms. In the months ahead, the LACA team will investigate the socio-economic impacts of contemporary commercial farming areas in different settings and test whether ‘commercial farming areas’ is valid as a discrete farming model.

Caution on contracts

It tends to be assumed in the land-grab debate that contract farming, in which farmers grow produce for a buyer through a contract, works well for Sub-Saharan Africa. In their well-known policy brief on large-scale land acquisition, Joachim von Braun and Ruth Meinzen-Dick of IFPRI recommend contract farming as a preferable model of investment. A similar message appears in statements from African policymakers, such as the Nairobi Action Plan and a statement from the African Development Forum (pdf) that advocated “contract farming, out-grower schemes and similar public–private partnerships that form the basis for win–win models”.

Our review of the literature, though, suggests the need for caution. Contract farming is associated with some well-documented negative impacts: indebtedness, loss of land access and women seeing their livelihood domains being taken over by men once contracts are offered. There is also only limited evidence that contract farming leads to broader take-up of agricultural innovations in the rural community, despite claims to the contrary by contract farming cheerleaders. Small-scale contracted farmers who employ workers often pay lower wages and provide worse working conditions than foreign plantations – a factor that should be borne in mind when contract farming is proposed as a way of reducing rural poverty.

Determining factors

Still, when favourable conditions are aligned, contract farming can deliver benefits to participating farmers without bringing serious harm to local businesses, other resource users in the area or members within the farming household.

What we found is that the outcomes of contract farming schemes are highly variable. In total, the paper suggests six key factors that strongly affect the impacts of all three farming models. These include the prosaic matter of which crops or livestock products are involved, as well as intangible factors such as the political economy of the area where the plantation, commercial farming or contract farming scheme is located, and the accompanying legal and policy institutions.

The findings could form the beginnings of a framework for considering how commercial developments might be designed and supported by policies in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for rural people. But they also highlight the complexity of rural change and, perhaps, the limited usefulness of predicting simple ‘cause and effect’ outcomes from the introduction of certain agricultural developments, be it a prediction of negative impacts from a plantation or positive impacts from contract farming. In some cases there may be no good argument to introduce a particular scheme if it is to be done in the name of rural development or poverty reduction.

Historically, government officials have played a major role in encouraging and supporting private agricultural developments through, for example, tax breaks and allocation of cheap land. There have been tensions and contradictions between the imperatives of public welfare and private profit, and between the conflicting interests of large- and small-scale farmers.

The current mainstream discourse on African agriculture would have us believe that these interests can be married through public–private partnerships and well-designed investments that will bring smallholders into the commercial sphere. One objective of the LACA project will be to investigate who is indeed gaining, and who is losing, from the particular forms that contemporary commercial agricultural development in Africa is taking.
This post first appeared on the Future Agricultures blog on 13 May 2013.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Beyond White Settler Capitalism: Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Reform

An important new book – Land and Agrarian Reform in Zimbabwe: Beyond White Settler Capitalism - has just been published by CODESRIA. It is the product of the CODESRIA National Working Group on Zimbabwe, and is edited by Sam Moyo and Walter Chambati of the African Institute of Agrarian Studies. All 372 pages are free to download on the CODESRIA site.

The book is important in a number of respects. First, it sets the story of Zimbabwe's recent land reform in a wider context, examining capitalist relations in historical and regional perspective. Second, it offers an alternative political narrative to the standard analysis focused on neopatrimonial capture by political elites. Third, it offers empirical material and analysis from researchers who have undertaken detailed fieldwork on a range of themes including labour (Chambati), community organisation (Murisa), the media (Chari) and mobilisation (Sadomba, Masuko). Finally, as perhaps the leading scholar on Zimbabwean land issues, having worked on the issue over several decades, Sam Moyo is certainly well-placed to provide an informed, and typically provocative, overarching commentary.

The book argues that most critics of Zimbabwe's land reform programme "continue to underplay the significance of the settler-colonial roots of Zimbabwe's land question and its exacerbation under neoliberal rule after independence, in fomenting the social and political crisis which provoked the popular reclamation of land".

The final chapter by Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros identifies six aspects that they argue make the Zimbabwean experience distinct:
(i) the character of the land movement, which has been multi-class, decentralised and anti-bureaucratic, but also united by radical nationalism;
(ii) its capacity to articulate grievances across the rural-urban divide;
(iii) the radicalisation of its petty bourgeois components;
(iv) the resulting creation of a tri-modal agrarian structure as a matter of state policy;
(v) experimentation with state dirigisme, developmentalism and an emerging popular cooperativism; and
(vi) a new nonalignment policy termed 'Look East'.

Not everyone will agree with this summary. Indeed in our own work we have critiqued the singular notion of a 'land movement', as well as the role and form of state 'dirigisme' in the 2000s and the forms of violent nationalism that became associated with state intervention. However, by offering a frame for debate, some of the lazy assumptions and analyses in other commentaries can be engaged with, with new empirical and theoretical vigour.

The book's conclusion argues that much of such current commentary is "essentially the reincarnation of a liberal form of settler-colonial political compromise". In the opening chapter, Moyo criticises the "dubious intellectual positions" reinforced by a "revisionist historiography" peddled by "structurally-adjusted" intellectuals that have misinformed the debate. His wrath is focused on :

"….a peculiar mix of liberalism and Weberianism peddled by American political science, especially via the notion of 'neopatrimonialism'; a rudderless culturalist theory of 'identity politics', whose post-structuralism has managed to replicate with great success the settler-colonial obsession with fragmented cultures; and, not least, an escapist 'left' critique, which has often sought refuge in pseudo-Gramscian theories of 'hegemony', whereby patrimonialism and culturalism substitute for class analysis. Indeed, some 'Marxists' succumbed to similar imperialistic and antinationalist impulses, to the effect of silencing class analyses which demonstrate the progressive nature of the land reform".

Nor is he happy about what he dubs our liberal perspective on 'livelihoods'. This approach, he argues:

" …eschews the interrogation of class formation processes and exploitative relations of production (especially in the emerging labour relations) and the continued extraction of surplus value (particularly from peasants) through exchange relations driven by monopoly-finance capital. The critical role of state intervention in the overall outcome is also visibly downplayed by its liberal-populist orientation".

While elements of this critique may be appropriate, I would argue that we have offered, on the basis of our Masvingo work, a detailed analysis of social differentiation and class positions, informed by a livelihoods analysis. We argue that the current rural struggle is between 'middle farmers' in alliance with the rural poor and a new rural elite, supported by the party and state. Indeed in Moyo's chapter on the changing structures of rural production he concurs with our analysis from Masvingo, showing how the growth of small-scale capitalist producers through a process of 'repeasantisation' has widened the prospects for accumulation from below, despite the new class struggles observed.

Thus I wholeheartedly agree with the book's central argument that a perspective informed by historically-informed class analysis can be especially revealing. This class analysis, although unevenly applied, is certainly the strong feature of the book, making it an important contribution to the debate.

In particular, Moyo argues that the petty bourgeoisie broke ranks with monopoly capital and became radicalised, and so part of a decentralised, organised land movement, led by the peasantry and mobilised by war veterans. The 'tri-modal' land pattern that emerged from land reform, including large capitalist enterprises, small-medium scale farms and smallholder farms, reflects the accommodations of different class interests, the book argues.

Moyo however is not without his critique of the current regime, noting that: "the nationalist leadership in recent years has come to represent mainly un-accommodated bourgeois interests… which are under the illusion that they can reform monopoly capitalism so as to sustain a 'patriotic bourgeoisie' into the future".

The alignment of the state with capital is examined at various points in the book, including reflections on the 'indigenisation' programme (bolstering the 'patriotic bourgeoisie'), the Look East policy (non-alignment to realign, strategically seeking capital and investment) and focused 'developmental' state intervention post 2000, discussed by Moyo and Nyoni, in the context of a highly polarised political landscape, and the flight of international capital. Thus, Moyo argues "the reconfiguration of domestic agrarian markets and struggles over these, in relation to changing forms of state intervention, in the context of a gradual reorientation of critical commodity and financial markets to the East, have been overlooked".

Overall, Moyo argues that in recent scholarship on Zimbabwe, there has been "a systematic neglect of the continent's subordinate relations to monopoly-finance capital, as well as empirical analyses of class formation, political alliances, emergent social movements under the current crisis and the implications for state intervention and development".

This book attempts to redress this neglect, and fills an important gap in the literature. Not everyone will agree with some of the detail, and some of the political arguments will no doubt be countered. However, the analysis of the class-based nature of Zimbabwe's transformation is most definitely welcome, and the book further enriches our understanding of Zimbabwe's complex agrarian transformation.

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

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The GM debate should not be closed down to what is rational, but opened up to multiple rationalities…. A response to Chris Whitty and colleagues

By Stephen Whitfield, PhD student, Institute of Development Studies (Knowledge, Technology and Society Team)

Genetically modified rice / BASF
In a recent commentary published in Nature, Chris Whitty (chief scientific adviser at the UK Department for International Development) and colleagues rightly argue that the (ever-rich and seemingly-unending) debate over genetically modified crops should be premised on an identification of agricultural and food system priorities. But their suggestion that this would make for a 'rational' debate is problematic.

The authors argue that a GM debate that is based on societal needs in Africa and Asia should result in the emergence of a very different emphasis than that which is currently characterised in the GM policies of Europe, because of their (questionable) presumption that issues of poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition are prioritised within these continents.

Actually, their prescription has long been taken up by the organisations behind on-going GM crop development projects, including those identified in the paper, in both continents. Public crop breeding institutions, pro-GM lobby groups, and private multinationals alike have been vociferously making the case within GM debates that food insecurity, poverty, malnutrition, climate change, etc. are the 'rational' bases on which their technological, 'pro-poor' solutions should be supported.

In the case of the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, the justification for investment in, and development of, the technology is the climate change-driven threat to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and food security of Africans. This statement is taken from a WEMA policy brief

"Persistent incidences of drought in Kenya have continued to threaten the food security situation and subjected millions of Kenyans to starvation… modern biotechnology provides a major opportunity to address perpetual maize shortages that are now being compounded by new threats triggered by climate change."

But the rationality of such arguments belies the denial of the alternative rationalities that it frames out of the debate. Benessia and Barbiero have recognised the tendency for GMOs to be pushed within 'grand narratives of urgency based on the assumption of a morally binding necessity to bypass any delaying post-normal knowledge production and decision-making process, in favour of a silver bullet' (p.84). 

Of course Whitty and his colleagues are not arguing that rationality does, or must, come from the transgenic crop development projects themselves, but rather from 'policy-makers'. But the assumption that there is an arbiter of rationality that presides over the GM debate (singular) and makes a final judgement on it is to grossly misrepresent the politics of GM.  Crop development projects themselves often progress largely on the wind of their own their own rationalisation of the problems and solutions; they are, to some extent, the makers of their own policy, as are non-governmental organisations, lobby groups and (to a certain extent) farmers and consumers.

Policy debates focus on particular issues – biosafety, importation, labelling etc. – and are not about agricultural and food system pathways, but about regulation, and not about weighing up risks and benefits, but about particular risks and/or particular benefits. There are multiple layers and multiple locations to the governance of GM.

Within these locations, attempts by individuals, bodies, or organisations – both pro and anti –  to narrow down the debate to what is 'rational' or not 'emotional' (to adopt an equally problematic term used by the authors) belies the value base for their own position and essentially, and politically, acts to frame out alternative values. Arguments are perpetually made by the governments of GMO exporting countries, for example, that biosafety regulations should be 'science-based' and limited to a concern with issues of health and environmental safety, and yet the motivation behind their position is trade.

But even these environmental and health risks for which there is a conventional, 'scientific evidence' base (and of course the societal risks of GM are not and should not be limited to these alone) should not be void of debate about the completeness of knowledge, underlying assumptions and values, and interpretations.  The decision by the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health to ban the importation of GM foods, which the authors describe as an emotional decision, was in fact underpinned by an interpretation of a widely criticised (but nevertheless peer-reviewed) scientific study; highlighting quite clearly the ambiguities of the concept of 'science-based' regulation and the reality that there is not one objective evidence-based rationality, but multiple evidence-bases and multiple rationalities.

Similarly the relative and absolute benefits of GM crops are negotiable. Metrics of efficacy and preferences for alternative pathways are not easily categorised as 'rational' or 'irrational', but might emerge from different rationalities, experiences and evidences. As Dominic Glover, amongst others, has shown, for example, the idea that a technology is pro-poor is not a 'rational' evaluation, but is actually highly political and based on assumptions.

In considering the GM debate from the problem-based 'end of the telescope', as the authors make a case for, it is important to recognise that not everyone's telescopes are necessarily the same or pointing in the same direction. The risks faced by smallholder farmers may not be limited to food insecurity, poverty, malnutrition and climate change and these risks themselves may be experienced in different ways by different individuals and in different locations. There is a prior set of debates to be had about the priorities for change in agriculture and these must engage with the multiple mechanisms through which contemporary challenges have been created (e.g. opening up beyond the environmental determinism of climate change-driven drought), and the multiple projections of future change (e.g. opening up to multiple directions of climatic change).

I would make the case, therefore, that DFID's role in the GM debates is not simply to invest in the development of those technologies that emerge as appropriate, but to invest in the broader governance of agriculture, food systems, and technologies in both Africa and Asia, such that capacities for deliberation and debate around direction and appropriateness can be built. These debates are necessarily for everyone, not to be narrowed down to what is 'rational' but to be opened-up to multiple rationalities.

This article was originally posted on the The Crossing.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Making friends in London: is a new rapprochement on Zimbabwe occurring?

Recently, the ‘Friends of Zimbabwe’ group of western donors met in London, together with representatives of all of Zimbabwe’s main political parties. The ‘Friends’ group – formerly known as the ‘Fishmongers’ after an expensive restaurant in Harare – is a grouping aimed at the discussion of international donor policy on Zimbabwe, including sanctions. While all the western donors are represented, its positions are firmly influenced by the EU and the US, and perhaps especially by the UK. London was therefore a fitting destination for the latest meeting.
The final communiqué was the usual non-committal diplomatic statement, indicating continuing commitment to Zimbabwe, and recording the actually substantial aid flows that are being offered. But the departure for this meeting was the presence of senior ZANU-PF officials whose travel bans had been removed following the successful Constitutional referendum.
Justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, was among the delegation, and he got a roasting on BBC’s Hard Talk, as he tried to defend the government position on a variety of policies. However, there were also other more civil exchanges, including one at Chatham House when senior officials from all parties, commented on the current situation with a clear tone of compromise and conciliation.
The political context in Zimbabwe remains highly uncertain, but there are unexpected shifts – partly as a result of the relative success of the ‘unity’ government, and partly as a result of failures in the opposition, both to offer a convincing alternative and to develop a clear set of alliances.

Simukai Tinhu offered a useful overview in a recent African Arguments piece. Phillan Zamchiya in a very detailed Crisis in Zimbabwe report reckons ZANU-PF is gearing up to win the election by stealth, stealing votes and fixing the results through a number of tactics. These are well worn tricks of course, but there may be wider political shifts underway too. However, simply blaming a poor result for the MDC on foul play may not be enough. For this reason many see another coalition as an inevitable result, with the big questions being who will occupy the presidency and what the balance of power will be in parliament.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti was also in London recently on his way back from negotiations with the IMF in Washington, and again spoke at Chatham House. Analysis by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum was revealing:

“Judging by the Minister´s tone and the way he addressed some of the key issues, it is our opinion that the gap between ZANU PF and the MDC(T) on key issues appears to be narrowing. Similarly, the Minister was quite diplomatic in trying to demystify the myth that the MDC and pro-democracy civil society organisations are synonymous and are working together towards the so-called regime change agenda. He obviously did not want to alienate pro-democracy civil society organisations which traditionally helped the MDC in its formative years.

However by expanding the definition of civil society organisations beyond the usual narrow definition and stating that there is an operational civil society in Zimbabwe, the Minister sought to, in our view; keep a healthy distance between the MDC as a political party and other pro-democracy groups. This, it appears, was his counterpoint, against the ZANU PF argument that all pro-democracy forces are bent on a western-sponsored regime change agenda.

The view that points to a political convergence is supported by the plea the Minister had made to the USA and the IMF that Zimbabwe ought to be treated equally according to the same measure that has been used on countries with troubled pasts such as Burma. By saying this, he echoed his strong views for the lifting of sanctions by the European Union in July 2013.

On the issue of indigenisation, the Minister again struck a note which doesn´t quite resonate with some of the sentiments from the Western countries.

It would appear that behind closed doors, both the MDC and moderate ZANU PF Ministers agree on key issues than they disagree in public.

That´s how politics work. The current widely held view that President Mugabe hasn´t softened on his legacy ignores anecdotal evidence that indicate that lately he has been softening his clenched fist, so to speak. An example is his calls for peace, which has widely been dismissed by most people as rhetoric which doesn´t match what is happening on the ground. However anecdotal evidence from various sources including Zimbabwean equivalent of Wikileaks appear to suggest that the President´s attempts to soften are negated by some within his party who fear what might happen if ZANU PF softens on its legacy inspired by its liberation war credentials.

Although the Minister spoke about the current issues of concern, he was very measured in his approach. He exhibited every sign of a principled man, who, despite having undergone the vagaries of his difficult job and the incarceration he underwent in 2008, has matured, forgiven his persecutors and might even have undergone a paradigm shift. This shift, which is also reflected in the entire MDC, has seen it move from its widely perceived Eurocentric roots to the moderate pan-African approach. It also appears that there are some within ZANU PF who have softened on their legacy by moving to the centre ground although there are still some still on the far right. Those on the far right are in our view, the ones the Minister referred to when he said there are Ministers within the government who make irrational political statements that affect the economy”.

In light of other pieces of evidence we have gathered, particularly the likelihood that the US is to announce policy shift on Zimbabwe, there is every indication of a national and political consensus on key issues, which might see an unexpected political landscape after the elections.”

The consensus may be surprising to some who have been viewing Zimbabwe’s tortured process of transition from afar. There may be much more consensus on thorny issues of land reform, national ownership of key businesses and the role of civil society than is commonly understood.

Clearly the consensus is not universal and the more progressive elements across all the parties may be out-manoeuvred by those with other agendas, whether the military elite, fearing post-election reprisals, or white capital, seeking a reassertion of power. As Biti, a clear presidential contender in the (maybe not so far off) future, tentatively repositions the MDC, it may not just be the traditional western ‘friends’ of Zimbabwe, but others including China, Brazil and South Africa, who become the important brokers into the future.

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

3 May: China and Brazil in African Agriculture - news roundup

China Africa Cotton to set up cotton processing plant in Mozambique
China Africa Cotton has secured the investment needed to set up a factory for cotton ginning and the production of cotton seed oil in Mozambique, Sofala Province. The project is now waiting for conclusion of an economic feasibility study before beginning and is predicted to boost cotton production in the area, beyond its already fast-paced growth.

New database on Chinese development projects in Africa launched a new database on 29 April that charts Chinese development projects in Africa. It will contain information on 1700 projects in 50 countries on the continent.
Deborah Brautigam challenged the accuracy of the database in a post on her blog, China in Africa: The Real Story. responded: the debate continues.

Nigerian agricultural research council be more like Embrapa
The Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, has said that he wants Nigeria to transform its Agricultural Research Council to be more like Brazil’s equivalent, Embrapa. This comes on the back of the minister’s recent visit to Brazil
(Federal Ministry of Information, Nigeria)

Compelling the Ghanaian government to restrict foreign purchases of Ghanaian land
The registrar of the Knutsford University College, Dr Nana Oppong, has filed a suit at the Ghanaian Supreme Court to obtain a declaration that would compel the government to take greater action against foreigners buying Ghanaian land. He is critical of the speed at which farmlands have been bought up, and lack of support given to poor farmers who are at risk of being taken advantage of.

Zimbabwe’s Deputy Prime Minister on African engagement with China
In this speech, Arthur Mutambara suggests that criticisms of China’s record in Africa are mainly led by Western governments’ political interests, and that African countries cannot blame China for their economic woes. Nonetheless he says that they should be under no illusion that the Chinese are in Africa for “strictly business and not comradeship”. He also stresses that African countries should refrain from bilateral deals with China and negotiate with China through regional blocs.
(Sir Nige blog)

Ethiopians protest against the World Bank
Ethiopians and other supporters led a march against the World Bank in Washington DC last week after Human Rights Watch reported their potential involvement in forcible evictions of smallholder farmers and ethnic cleansing. Later in the week, Prime Minister Hailemariam denied the existence of “land grabbing” in Ethiopia and stated that the government is leading a process to attract investment and create jobs.
( /

Zimbabwe tobacco exports rise
Zimbabwe’s tobacco sector has seen an increase in growers, output, and prices compared with last year. Zimbabwean tobacco is an important sector to watch as it is forms one of China’s largest agricultural interests in Africa.

Rise in Chinese NGOs in Africa
This article discusses the rise of Chinese NGOs in Africa, including dealings with rural communities in Mozambique. The article discusses how they may be more in tune to needs given China’s more recent experiences of poverty, but also their relative inexperience as they are new to the sector and geographical contexts.
(China Daily)

Friday, 3 May 2013

Bird Flu: Panic, Pandemics and Planning

A steady stream of reports about bird flu infection cases in China over the past month has given way in the past couple of days to panicked confirmations of deaths (27 as of today) and doom-laden projections about what may lay ahead. The new H7N9 strain of avian influenza in China is causing much conjecture about animal-to-human and human-to-human infection and how the spread of this deadly disease can be stopped. But, how might we have better planned for this outbreak in the first place?

"Preparing for flu is simply not just about flu; it is just as much - if not more so - about the interventions that we need to implement in order to manage a pandemic," wrote Professors Ian Scoones, Melissa Leach and Stefan Elbe in a recent blog entitled Pandemic Flu Controversies: What have we learned? for the Huffington Post.

Scoones, Leach and Elbe argue that a better understanding of the social, political, institutional and policy dimensions of pandemic control and preparedness planning can help us deal more effectively with new outbreaks.

A recent workshop attended by 50 top pandemic flu experts explored lessons learned from past outbreaks about how the complex controversies surrounding pandemics and preparedness plans could be diminished or even avoided.

The best possible evidence for policies, being open about unclear evidence, insistence on transparency, the inclusion of diverse sources and forms of cross-disciplinary and local knowledge and expertise, and ensuring that risk communication remains measured and proportionate, to avoid backfiring warnings, were among the recommendations.

As the current avian flu crisis in China is revealing, an approach that includes new ways of working and new organizational mechanisms for assuring global health is urgently needed.

A recently-published briefing, Zoonoses: From Panic to Planning, from the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium sets out recommendations for a new, integrated 'One Health' approach to zoonoses (animal-to-human diseases) which moves away from top-down disease-focused interventions to putting people first, advocating collaboration between disciplines and between local, national and global scales.

The STEPS Centre has been working on pandemic flu for several years and a range of resources on the website might be useful to explore this subject, including film and video, papers, briefings and books.

This article was originally posted on the The Crossing.