Friday, 28 June 2013

Irrigation isn’t the only way to achieve food security in Ghana

Farmers attending their livestock in Northern
Ghana (2012) by Ericsson Images / Flickr
By Rachael Taylor, PhD student
SPRU, University of Sussex

Earlier this month, a number of Members of the Ghanaian Parliament presented a statement to the House calling for large investment in irrigation systems throughout Ghana. They advocate the use of irrigation for crop production as the “only way” to ensure national food security. The statement proposes that irrigation would be particularly beneficial for semi-arid Northern Ghana by enabling year-round crop production in a region which only has one wet season and currently depends predominantly on rain-fed agriculture.

The desire to take steps towards more food security in Northern Ghana is understandable. Six percent of the land area of Ghana is currently under irrigation, mostly drawn from small dam and reservoir systems, but in the three regions of Northern Ghana this figure is just 0.6 percent. Over 80 percent of households in Northern Ghana depend on agriculture as their main livelihood, making the population vulnerable to climatic shocks.

There are large socio-economic differences between north and south. Statistics indicate higher levels of poverty (63% in the north and 20% in the south), lower education attainment and literacy levels, and lower access to energy and sanitation infrastructure in the north.

In 2012 the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) completed a Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis in Ghana, focusing on the northern regions. The WFP analysis identified that 16 percent of households in the three northern regions are moderately or severely food insecure, representing over 680,000 people. It will take a great effort to ensure food security for the many smallholder farmers living in poor rural areas of Northern Ghana.

The poorest may miss out

The benefits of irrigation are not evenly spread, however. There is good reason to think that investing in irrigation alone will not achieve food security for the most vulnerable households in the three northern regions. Experience has shown that wealthier farmers with higher educational attainment are most likely to obtain access to land within irrigation development programmes. Few farmers were compensated for displacement during the construction of the Tono Irrigation Dam near Navrongo in Upper East Region[1]. Furthermore, the companies responsible for irrigation development require rent-payments for land serviced by the irrigation system, excluding the poorest farmers.

Though it may be appropriate to expand the national irrigation system in Ghana, this will not increase food security and reduce vulnerability to climatic shocks for the majority of farmers in the north. Irrigation alone will not provide a secure food source for the whole population and it would be potentially damaging to invest in irrigation as the only means for achieving this. Not only will irrigation be inaccessible to the poorest and most vulnerable households, but it will detract resources (land, time, money) from the multiple diverse livelihoods that smallholder farmers in Northern Ghana depend upon.

Farmer innovations – another vital part of the solution

Farmers in the northern regions typically practice multiple livelihoods, a strategy which allows them to adapt somewhat to the annual variability of the wet season. Diversity within agricultural production is increasingly being advocated to provide options to adapt to climatic changes[2]. Through increasing diversity, enhancing adaptive capacity, and encouraging adaptive governance, rural farming communities will be better able to respond to climate variability and uncertainty. This will consequently increase food security for rural farmers - including those without access to irrigation systems.

Aside from irrigation, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) and the national agricultural research system of eight Research Institutes must recognise farmer innovations. Through experimentation, poor rural farmers can diversify their options, develop locally appropriate practices, and enhance their adaptive capacity without the need to invest scarce finances. This kind of experimentation should be encouraged by MoFA, alongside any improvements in irrigation provision.

Ghana has the potential to achieve nation-wide food security, but only through a combination of approaches which include those that are accessible to poor smallholder farmers in the north. Developing irrigation systems is only part of the solution. The government must broaden its efforts to include farmer innovations, alongside outputs from the eight national agricultural research institutes. Of course, physical infrastructure is important, but there is a need to recognise the importance of farmer-based adaptive capacity as a crucial element of achieving food security among the most vulnerable.

References:[1] Burayidi, M.A. (1996) Maximising Irrigation’s Contribution to Sustainable Development in Africa: Lessons from the Tono Irrigation Scheme in Ghana, In: James, V.U. (Ed) (1996) Sustainable Development in Third World Countries: Applied and Theoretical Perspectives, Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT, pp44-61
[2] Speranza, C.I. (2013) Buffer capacity: capturing a dimension of resilience to climate change in African smallholder agriculture, Regional Environmental Change, 13(3), 521-535. Available online (pdf)

This article was originally posted on the The Crossing.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

‘Golden Rice’ and the GM crop debate

Golden Rice grain compared to white rice grain
in screenhouse of Golden Rice plants / IRRI
Guest blog by Sally Brooks, Researcher and Associate Tutor at the University of York, and former STEPS Centre member

In an interview on the Radio 4 Today Programme last week, Owen Paterson, Minister for Environment, outlined his case for a 'new push' by the Government to promote the development and adoption of GM crops in the UK.
Interestingly, Mr Paterson's argument was largely based, not on evidence demonstrating benefits to UK agriculture, but on an account of a project which aims to develop beta carotene-enriched 'Golden Rice' as a way to address malnutrition-induced child blindness and mortality, which is a 'problem mainly in Southeast Asia.'
The decision to back GM crops was presented as a matter of life and death. As Mr Paterson explained: "Over the last 15 years … every attempt to deploy this Golden Rice has been thwarted. And in that time, seven million children have gone blind or died." The implication was clear - those who had 'thwarted' attempts to deploy a life-saving technology bore some responsibility for this tragic outcome. Such people, Paterson suggested, "should really reflect".
This is not the first time that the specific case of the Golden Rice project has been deployed as the lynchpin of an argument for policy and regulatory changes to accelerate the commercialisation on GM crops in general. This is problematic for a number of reasons which I have set out in a new article.
The presentation of Golden Rice as a technology that has been available for 15 years, but whose deployment has been delayed only by excessive regulation, is familiar but misleading. In fact, the first genetic transformation, achieved in a Swiss laboratory in 1999, was just the first step in a complex, interdisciplinary research endeavor that has also included plant breeding (to 'back cross' the modified materials into rice varieties adapted to the tropical environments of Southeast Asia) and nutritional testing (to find out whether the beta carotene in Golden Rice converts to usable vitamin A when consumed by malnourished children and adults).
As well as bringing more heat than light to an already overheated debate, the deployment of Golden Rice as 'poster child' in the GM crop debate has had serious consequences for the way the research has been carried out 'on the ground' over the years. In research stations in Southeast Asia, the pressure cooker environment surrounding the project has not been conducive to the kind of open discussion and debate – among crop scientists, nutritionists, public health experts, and others – that an ambitious research effort such as this warrants and requires. Unfortunately, too much hype 'upstream' has tended to close down opportunities for open scientific enquiry and debate 'downstream', just where it is most needed.
A recent statement issued by the International Rice Research Institute, based in the Philippines (due to be the first country to commercialise Golden Rice) was therefore an important moment in the history of the project. Why was it so important? Because it stated, unambiguously, what is still a key unknown – whether Golden Rice will actually improve the nutritional status of malnourished children and adults. Moreover, it states clearly that the remaining stages of the project, which include both regulatory assessment and nutrition studies to establish whether Golden Rice does indeed have potential to prevent malnutrition-induced child blindness and mortality, will take 'two years or more'.
It is important, therefore, that at this critical stage in the project, the researchers and their partners in the Philippines are able to complete these studies – and, most importantly, openly share their results, whatever the outcome – unencumbered by inflated expectations and claims generated in support of the adoption of agricultural biotechnologies elsewhere. In the meantime, the GM crop debate in the UK would surely be better served by evidence sourced much closer to home.
Further reading:

This article was originally posted on the The Crossing.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Policies for land, agriculture and rural development: some suggestions for Zimbabwe

Last week, I critiqued the framings of policy by the major political parties on land and agriculture. While agreeing with elements of the proposals, there seemed to be some important gaps, misunderstandings, and problematic assumptions. At root was the failure to grasp the implications and opportunities of the new agrarian structure.

Whether positioned around a populist, nationalist narrative or one focused on private investment and individual entrepreneurship, the policies do not focus on the importance of a new group of 'emergent' or 'middle' farmers, as part of a socially and economically differentiated rural population. The new agrarian structure, with a tri-modal pattern (involving large, medium and small scale farms), also has important implications for all areas of policy, whether infrastructure, services, finance and so on.

In our 2010 book, based on a decade of work in Masvingo province, we started from the realities of farmers in A1 and A2 farms acquired through the post 2000 land reform programme. We argued that these new farmers are not like communal farmers, nor larger scale commercial farmers. They are different, with different aptitudes, skills, needs and potentials. We equally argued that we don't have to start from scratch. There is much to build on in terms of initial investments, and the skills and knowledge of the new settlers are significant. These are new people with new production systems engaging in new markets – all with new opportunities and challenges.

What then should the top priorities be now to meet these new demands – and particularly to support those 'new' middle farmers who are already 'accumulating from below'? Here I identify four (drawn from our final chapter):

1.    Infrastructure investment, research and extension support and rural finance
Getting agriculture moving requires investment, and this means private individuals, businesses and the state working together. Yet a vibrant agricultural sector always is reliant on solid state support – to provide basic infrastructure, extension support, and public research. This has been a long-term lesson, both in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere. Following land reform in 2000, there has been vanishingly little support, from government, donors or others. Where subsidies have been offered they have often been misused. With new people on the land, a major investment is required to reconfigure the basic infrastructure for new uses. The old patterns, appropriate to large-scale farms, are no longer appropriate. Investing in roads, schools, health clinics, dams, irrigation schemes, dip tanks and so on is essential. While individual entrepreneurs are making a difference through private investment, these basic public investments are a vital complement. In addition, research and extension is vital. But the new farmers are often highly educated, well-connected. This opens up new opportunities: the old style intensive extension system probably doesn't make sense. For example, support for marketing or input supply via mobile phone updates, or agricultural extension or business planning advice offered via the Internet offer real opportunities. One of the big constraints on agriculture currently is finance. Approaches to loan arrangements with new forms of collateral are required, with state guarantees to private bank loans. Accessible, cheap finance could open up multiple opportunities.

2.    Securing the land
Security of land tenure is an essential prerequisite for successful production and investment in agriculture. Tenure security arises through a variety of means. Existing legislation allows for a wide range of potential tenure types, including freehold title, regulated leases, permits and communal tenure under 'traditional' systems. All have their pros and cons.  Policymakers must ask how tenure security can be achieved within available resources and capacity; how safeguards can be put in place to prevent land grabbing or land concentration; and what assurances must be made to ensure that private credit markets function effectively. Lessons from across the world suggest there is no one-size-fits-all solution centred on freehold tenure. Instead, a flexible system of land administration is required – one that allows for expansion and contraction of farm sizes, as well as entry and exit from farming. While the excesses of elite patronage and land grabbing must be addressed through a land audit, a successful approach, overseen by an independent, decentralised authority, must not be reliant on technocratic diktat.

3.    Fostering local economic development
 Land reform has reconfigured Zimbabwe's rural areas dramatically. No longer are there vast swathes of commercial land separated from the densely-packed communal areas, the inheritance of the colonial Land Apportionment Act. Today, small-scale farms are nearby medium and large-scale farms, sharing labour, technologies, market chains, skills and expertise. This has created 'multiplier effects' in land reform areas – economic linkages from new farms to the wider economy. The land reform has given rise to the growth of new businesses to provide services and consumption goods. Such local economic development potentials are far from fully realised, and to date there has been little support to this wider, new rural economy. To make the most of the new mosaic of land uses and economic activities, an area-based, local economic development approach is required. This would facilitate investment across activities, adding value to farm production. An area-based approach needs to draw in the private sector, farmer groups and government agencies, but with strong leadership from a revived local government, with rethought mandates and rebuilt capacities.

4. Giving farmers a voice
 Reflecting a wide range of interests, the new resettlement farmers are highly diverse in class, gender and generational terms. This diversity has many advantages, adding new skills and experiences, but it is also a weakness. Formal organisation in the new resettlements is limited. There are of course emergent organisations focused on particular activities – a garden, an irrigation scheme, a marketing effort, for example – but these are unlikely to become the basis of political representation and influence. Because politics has been so divisive in recent years, many shy away from seeing political parties as the basis for lobbying for change, and there are few other routes to expressing views. Building a new set of representative farmers' organisations, linked to an influential apex body, will be a long-term task, and will be highly dependent on the unfolding political alliances in rural areas. In contrast to the past when smallholders could easily be marginalised and were courted only at elections for their votes, the new farmers – and particularly the burgeoning group of 'middle farmers' – now control one of the most important economic sectors in the country. Today, this new politics of the countryside cannot be ignored.

A new debate on land and agriculture in Zimbabwe
Many of these four themes do of course chime with policy recommendations that are now appearing in policy documents. However, the real implications of the land reform and capturing the potentials of a new agrarian structure must be front and centre, rather than assuming that the job ahead is only to offset the downsides of the fast-track programme or recapture an assumed ideal past.

The conclusions we offered in 2010 hold today. A new debate on land is required, and this needs to be reflected in policy debates. The challenge for the future is a new one however. As the then head of extension Masvingo province put it back in 2006: "We don't know our new clients: this is a totally new scenario".

If given the right support, the new farmers can drive a vibrant agricultural revolution in Zimbabwe. Of course, this has happened before: with white commercial farmers in the 1950s and with communal area farmers in the 1980s. Both past agricultural revolutions required support and commitment from outside, something that has been starkly absent since 2000. Zimbabwe's green revolution of the 1980s has been much hailed, but this only involved perhaps 20% of farmers, mostly in high potential communal areas and was quickly extinguished following structural adjustment. The nascent green revolution in the new resettlement areas potentially has far wider reach, both geographically and socio-economically, and must not meet the same fate.

A smallholder-based agricultural revolution could indeed be the basis of wider growth and development in Zimbabwe. Now is the time for some strategic policy thinking, not blinkered by ideology or false images of the past, but by a deeper understanding, based on the facts on the ground, of what is going on, and what might if the right investment and support was offered.

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

Exposing the political journey of climate change evidence from Exeter to Africa

The Met Office's modelling IBM supercomputer
Stephen Whitfield, PhD student, Institute of Development Studies (Knowledge, Technology and Society Team) 

For someone more used to the quiet productivity and relative inconspicuousness of the PhD office at the Institute of Development Studies, the headquarters of the UK Meteorological Office in Exeter is impressive and intimidating in equal measure. Mazes of desk separators fill vast open plan offices and obscure a sea of computer screens displaying intriguing and animated maps. It feels very much like the climate modelling hub that it is, as much an industrial factory of climate forecasts as it is a place of intellectual exchange and research. You immediately get a sense of the complexity and scale of the whole operation behind producing climate model projections.

My visit to the Met Office back in January 2012 was the beginning of an exciting year in which I had the opportunity to follow these climate model projections all the way to Kenya, to their use in projects that made predictions of the country's future yields of maize and ultimately in the design of climate change adaptation interventions for smallholder maize farmers.

It was a fascinating process, not just because of the mystery of the sophisticated computer programmes through which vast data sets gradually became simple pictures of the future world, but also because of the way that understandings and meanings became attached to these pictures.

Undoubtedly what went missing along the journey were the uncertainties, assumptions, and methodological choices that were such a big part of the initial modelling endeavour. By the time it came to promoting technologies designed to help farmers adapt to the growing threat of water shortage, for example, the overwhelming outputs of the Exeter's weather forecast factory had been reduced a single supposed truth, that 'climate change will lead to increased drought'.

Of course there is a political motivation captured within this end product, but there is also a politics of knowledge that transcends the whole chain through which it is produced.

In a recent paper published in 'Climatic Change' - Uncertainty, ignorance and ambiguity in crop modelling for African agricultural adaptation - I begin to unpack some of this politics of knowledge, by looking critically at how the growing complexity of climate impact modelling endeavours, and the journey that their outputs go on, are changing the industry of climate impact knowledge and the nature of this knowledge itself.

Exposing this politics is not about fanning the flames of often unreflective climate scepticism, but is rather a call for a more inclusive and transparent process of evidence production and evidence interpretation. I argue that from a more plural 'evidence-base', adaptation programmes, policies and interventions might respond to uncertainty and contextual appropriateness rather than to a reductionist and linear understanding of change.

This article was originally posted on the The Crossing.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Future Earth takes flight with inaugural scientific committee

Global sustainability research programme Future Earth has announced its inaugural science committee, with ESRC STEPS Centre director Melissa Leach serving as vice chair.

Future Earth is major 10-year international research programme which aims to provide the critical knowledge needed to address the challenges of global environmental change and to identify opportunities for a transition to global sustainability.

Dr Mark Stafford Smith, science director of CSIRO's Climate Adaptation Flagship, Australia will chair the science committee with Professor Leach, director of the STEPS Centre and Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies in the UK and Belinda Reyers, a chief scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa, serving as vice chairs.

"In an era of unprecedented environment and development challenges, Future Earth offers the vital opportunity many of us have awaited: to take forward, at global scale, a new paradigm for interdisciplinary, engaged science that will genuinely help build pathways to sustainability, and wellbeing for those who are marginalised," said Prof. Leach.

"I am delighted at the chance to bring engaged social science perspectives to this endeavour, and to work with a fantastic group of committee members and partners around the world to help make this vision a reality," she added.

Future Earth was launched in June 2012, at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). The 18-member science committee – the first Future Earth governance body to be appointed – will make recommendations on projects and priorities for research. It will oversee the transition of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP) and Diversitas activities into Future Earth, secure strong partnership with the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) community and provide guidance on new activities for Future Earth.

The initiative seeks to answer fundamental questions about how and why the global environment is changing, what are likely future changes, what are risks and implications for human development and the diversity of life on Earth, and what the opportunities are to reduce risks and vulnerabilities, enhance resilience and innovation, and implement transformations to prosperous and equitable futures.

It aims to deliver highest quality science across natural and social sciences (including economic, legal and behavioural research), engineering and humanities. Its research will be co-designed and co-produced by academics, governments, business and civil society from across the world, encompassing bottom-up ideas.

Future Earth is jointly supported by the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Social Science Council (ISSC), the Belmont Forum of funding agencies, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UN University (UNU), with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) as an observer.

Dr Stafford Smith said: "Future Earth is going to change the way we do science globally. It represents a unique opportunity to provide the research needed to address the biggest challenges of our time on global sustainability, and to do so in partnership with decision-makers.

"We've assembled an impressive and truly international team for this committee; we are all looking forward to continuing to develop the science agenda and global networks for this innovative programme," he added.

This article was originally posted on the The Crossing.

The MDC-T’s Agenda for Real Transformation (ART): why the land and agriculture sections need more thought

A few weeks back, the MDC-T organised a policy conference to discuss their new 247 page policy document, ART – the Agenda for Real Transformation. There is much to commend in this document, and the commitment of the MDC actually to discuss policy is heartening. There has been a serious dearth of policy discussion across the past decade, and this is a valuable attempt to get to grips with some of the really pressing issues any government will face. In a pair of Hot Seat radio interviews with Violet Gonda, Tendai Biti, the MDC-T's Secretary General and current finance minister in the GNU discussed the contents (listen or review transcripts here and here).

The overall vision is "a modern, healthy, functional, integrated democratic developmental state with a vibrant, socially just green economy that takes pride at leaving no one behind". No complaints with that. Equally, the sections on security sector reform, mining revenues, industrial cluster development, strategic infrastructure investment, social services and more are all good contributions. But sadly the sections on agriculture and land are rather poor, suffering from a combination of inconsistencies, confusions, inaccurate data and poor analysis. Why is it that after so long (the policy has taken apparently two years to produce, based on consultations across the country, page 2), the MDC has not been able to get to grips with the agriculture and land, and come up with a more coherent policy position?

I guess it reflects the lack of capacity and the background of the leading players. Tendai Biti himself is a lawyer, and not versed in issues of agronomy or land administration, while other leading lights, Morgan Tsvangirai included, come from an urban, labour union background. Those with a rural brief include Eddie Cross, whose view on private property is informed by right-wing think tanks such as the Cato Institute with which he has been associated, and Roy Bennett, who comes from a commercial farming background, and does not seem to recognise the potentials of the land reform.

There are of course other lobbyists and funders in the local and international community who continue to be committed to a reversal of the land reform, arguing that it has had few if any benefits. So anyone trying to draft rural policy for the MDC is severely handicapped by these limits and competing pressures.

What then does the policy say? I am not totally clear of the document's status, as it does not appear on the MDC website, so I presume it remains a draft. If the number of typos that are present is anything to go by, I assume this to be the case. So accounting for this provisional basis, what can we glean?

First, and significantly, the document incontrovertibly states (again) that the land reform is not reversible. It also sets out some laudable principles for a land policy, including: equity in access and distribution; efficiency in its utilization; accountability in its management; transparency in the conduct of its governance; legitimacy in the eyes of the Zimbabwean public; participation by Zimbabweans of all classes, gender and ethnic backgrounds and security for all who make their living from the land. Overall, the policy aims to create "a new order of economically viable, market-directed commercial farmers, with the family farm as the basic model". All good, sensible stuff.

However, it then goes on to characterise the process of land reform after 2000 (again) as chaotic, with poor outcomes, using the standard international media narrative, with little acknowledgement of the research that has shown a more complex story. This in turn frames the document. For example, on page 44:

"After 10 years of chaotic land invasions and the illegal dispossession of the majority of commercial farmers, only a tiny proportion of the target of 8 million hectares has been lawfully taken over and the rest lies largely deserted and unproductive. The farms have been taken over by a political elite that has been unable to maintain production and has presided over the decimation of the capital infrastructure that had existed on the farms prior to the FTLRP….As a consequence agricultural production has declined by nearly 80 per cent, exports have plummeted and nearly 70 per cent of all foodstuffs are being imported. Some 400 000 farm workers have been displaced with their families plunging nearly 2 million people into destitution and homelessness".

Here in a few sentences are all the myths we highlighted in our book presented in condensed form: that the reform was 'chaotic' and solely instrumentally led by ZANU-PF, the land lies largely idle and unproductive, that only the elite cronies have taken over, infrastructure has been decimated and that production (in general) has collapsed, with two million people being projected into destitution and homelessness due to farmworker displacement. All of these statements are not based on the accumulating evidence. The pattern is variable, but there are some clear trends, now from numerous studies, and this sort of statement, that frames the overall response, just does not add up.

Having set this (inaccurate) picture up, the policy proceeds to outline what the responsibility of an MDC government should be: essentially to reverse this (bad) situation. There is the usual list of things to do, including infrastructure development (notably irrigation), fertiliser and input supply and new technologies (including genetically modified crops). There is a modernising zeal to the narrative – new technologies and investment will come to the rescue. In a Tony Blair style incantation, Biti in his Hot Seat interview identified a key solution as "research, research, research", and claimed that maize would soon be produced at 12-15 tonnes a hectare (even under a MDC government, somewhat unlikely!) Many of the suggestions (especially small scale irrigation) are sound, but of course this perspective fails to address the past critiques of top-down, technology-driven modernisation of agriculture, from the Native Land Husbandry Act onwards – see for example the work of Jos Alexander or Mike Drinkwater, among many examples.

More importantly, the document fails to develop a vision for land and agriculture that takes the new agrarian structure into account. Framed in terms of righting the wrongs of the Fast Track process and providing a technical solution, rooted in a market oriented approach, it does not examine how small, medium and large scale estate agriculture might operate together and how a territorial, regional approach might contribute to integration, adding value and generating multiplier effects. The AFD/DBSA report of last year offers some sensible pointers that could have been taken on, as does the most recent World Bank report on agriculture, and of course we offered our own suggestions based on a decade of work in Masvingo in the final chapter of our book (for a summary, see the blog next week).

Where the document is accurate in its assessment is in its commentary on wider industry connections and economic linkages. It notes:

The [fast-track land reform] programme failed to support the newly settled farmers with skills, equipment, finance and marketing opportunities….this had serious ramifications for the entire economy as backward and forward linkages ..Consequently, this had multiplier effects on agro-based industries..

The document proceeds to identify the importance of off-farm linkages:

"the MDC government will protect the people on the land, while it develops complementary strategies for non-farm economic activities that tap into agriculture." (p.50)

These are important commentaries, although without much detail of how it will be done in the context of the new agrarian setting. The agriculture section of the document, does not really engage with this at all, simply listing types of intervention, without an overall strategy.

Overall, the policy's framing is very much one centred on macro-economic restructuring, and economic growth. While positioned in terms of a 'developmental state' argument (one of Biti's familiar refrains), the details seem more old-fashioned Washington Consensus – get the market fundamentals right and all will follow (there is much talk of 'market flexibility', 'opening up for business' and so on). That this approach has been so massively discredited seems to have passed the drafters by. It may be appealing to the international community, including potential donors and investors, but will it work, and perhaps even more significantly will it be acceptable to a population already starkly divided by haves and have nots, and having suffered years of financial mismanagement – from ESAP to Gono's casino economy? This contradiction was not lost on the Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Japhet Moyo, who launched an attack on the document at the conference, something that clearly did not please the party hierarchy.

The free market ideology that Moyo objected to also pervades the discussion of land, particularly around tenure. The policy announces a programme of what Biti terms 'giving title' in his Hot Seat interview transcript: "Number three, give title, give title to everyone who owns land right now. Give title, Zanu PF is refusing to give title even long leases because it is using land as a political field". But it's not at all clear what this really means, as while the document refers to the intention "to design and universalize a system of tenure" (p. 48) across all land categories in order to deliver, it argues, security of tenure, opportunities for collateral and so on, in other sections there are commitments to some form of village tenure in communal areas, leases in resettlement lands and freehold tenure elsewhere.

Underlying this all is the familiar argument about the importance of private property rights (title, title, title). This has of course been long challenged, both in Zimbabwe and beyond. There is no strong evidence that there is an automatic causal relation between private property rights and economic growth and investment, despite the influential arguments of de Soto and others. Instead the relationship between property rights, investment and economic growth is much more complex, and is conditioned by wider factors, such as political stability, the investment environment, local institutional arrangements for land access, and so on. Embarking on expensive cadastral surveys and land administration exercises is very often a big mistake, as study after study has shown. There are plenty of other routes to the same end that are more effective and cheaper. As Professor Rukuni (and many, many others) have long argued, a differentiated response is required that accepts multiform tenure, but does not go down the risky route of mass land titling.

In other areas, there is confusion too. The policy position on compensation seems to contradict the newly agreed Constitution, by arguing that compensation must account for not only 'improvements' but the land itself, across all areas, and not just investment areas (BIPPAs). It's not totally clear in the document, but Biti in his Hot Seat interview, seemed to confirm this impression. Equally the policy suggests leases will be issued in A1, A2 and old resettlement areas and "leaseholders will be required to contribute to the payment of compensation to the original owners in order to legalise such arrangements" (p. 54). Despite the very sensible formula propounded by Professor Rukuni again, and largely agreed by key stakeholders, the MDC seem to have backtracked on this, opening themselves up to a long and protracted process that will be difficult to resolve sensibly. This strikes me as a big mistake, as most players want a quick resolution to this crucial issue, with compensation paid swiftly on the basis of a clear formula.

Other areas of land policy repeat existing policy, and the Constitutional provisions, including allowing for land ownership by all Zimbabweans, whatever their racial origins, the requirement for a land audit, the establishment of a Land Commission, a restriction on maximum farm sizes and a limit of one farm owned per person. All of this is at least notionally accepted by all actors. The challenge for an incoming government will be to implement these provisions, and it is good that the MDC-T is committed to doing so.

If the document is a draft and discussions are ongoing, then there is a chance presumably to debate, adapt and change the document. It is good that it is out in the open and can be subject to scrutiny. Indeed it is the only policy prospectus from across the political parties that is available. However, it does need some serious further thought.

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

Is the G8 writing politics out of hunger?

In a blog for the Guardian, Raj Patel argues that the G8's vision for tackling hunger is ignoring the politics of malnutrition - and that the link between hunger and poverty is being written out of public statements.

"One of the things about inadequate nutrition is that it generally affects people who are poor. Although many campaigners and epidemiologists have pointed this out, it was almost impossible to hear the connection between malnutrition and poverty at the summit. This isn't an innocent omission. This is how nutrition becomes what anthropologist James Ferguson calls an anti-political device. It turns a symptom of poverty into the ends of policy."
Earlier this week, Ian Scoones cautioned on this blog against presented hunger as a technical issue, at the expense of wider social and political questions about the food system.

11 June: 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.

World Bank call for increased Global South support in African Agriculture
The Vice-President of the World Bank for Africa gave a speech in Beijing last week entitled ‘Mobilizing Agricultural Science and Technology for Ending Poverty in Africa and Beyond’. In it he called on increasing financial and technical support from Global South countries and highlighted co-operations with EMBRAPA and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences as good examples of that already.
(World Bank website)

Ethiopia invites more Chinese investment
The Ethiopian deputy Prime Minister invites increased investment in the country, particularly in commercial farming. There are currently said to be roughly 400 Chinese companies investing in various sectors in Ethiopia at present.

China welcomes Japanese aid commitment
Following the $32billion aid commitment made by Japan to Africa, the Chinese government has sought to downplay the idea of competition between the two nations. An official spokesperson welcomed the initiative adding that China will improve its cooperation with Africa to encourage the international community to pay more attention to the continent.

Brazil-Africa-LAC Agricultural Innovation Marketplace programme
The Agricultural Innovation MKTPlace has just released a draft programme for its forum in Brasilia this year looking. It will be held from August 6-8 and focus on experience sharing.
(MKTPlace – pdf download)

‘Chinese FDI Stock in Africa Trivial’
Opinion piece on South Africa’s Standard Bank explaining how Chinese FDI amounts are trivial compared with trade and migration flows and should not be used as a reflection of commercial ties. Analysts suggest that part of the misleading attention China’s FDI has received, is because its FDI stock in Africa is often conflated with the estimated $35 billion in concessional loans from China Development Bank and China Exim Bank.
(Southern Times)

Indian Agricultural Training Course for African Farmers
USAID has facilitated an agricultural training programme that has seen three African farmers go to Punjab in India for courses at Zamindara Farm Solutions. The director of the institute hopes this will open new business opportunities for Indian agricultural businesses in Africa, between China and Europe.
(Punjab News Line)

Shuanghui takeover of Smithfield Foods
There have been many articles in the past week about the Chinese Agribusiness, Shuanghui, purchasing the US company Smithfield Foods and below are just two from the Financial Times in Chinese and English. It is reportedly the largest ever Chinese takeover of a US company and has been met with a great deal of suspicion.
(Financial Times – English / Financial Times - Chinese)

Brazilian lessons for African Agriculture
The Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment has drawn on Brazil’s agricultural developments since the 1980s as a viable model for agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. They highlight its sustained attraction of investments into agriculture and agricultural research; better informed farming practices; utilisation of genetically modified crops; balanced large scale and small-scale farming developments, etc.
(Stanford Woods Institute website)

Joseph Stiglitz on East Asian lessons for Africa
In this blog post, Prof Stiglitz suggests Africa would do better to learn from East Asian countries than the West, and expresses the hope that Japan’s renewed commitment will involve opportunities for knowledge transfer. Agriculture and industrialisation are highlighted as the most important focus points throughout the piece.

Ghanaian authorities crack down on illegal gold mining
Ghana has launched its strongest crackdown yet on illegal, small-scale gold mining operations in the South of the country, mainly conducted by Chinese migrants. Images of physical violence against the miners last week were published on Chinese social media websites and have caused consternation in China. 169 miners were arrested under the charge of environmental degradation from their activities, but have subsequently been released.
(Financial Times – in English / – in Chinese)

5 June: 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.

UNAC calls for halt on ProSavana
Leaders of Mozambique’s National Peasants Union (UNAC) have called for a halt in the development of ProSavana plans saying that in its present form it will lead to land grabs and jeopardize the local production system based on family-run agriculture. They were scheduled to meet the Japanese government ahead of the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) this week. The 2nd article below reports that Abe met with Guebuza on the sidelines of the conference to confirm Japan’s ongoing support for the project but does not mention any talks with UNAC.
(Japan Times / Global Post / UNAC declaration - in Portuguese)

Extra Funding Needed for ProSavana
Mozambican Minister for Agriculture, whilst at TICAD has said that they are planning to secure extra funding for the ProSavana project. Currently Japan is the biggest investor in the project with $11 million USD.

Separately, the governments of Japan and Mozambique signed trade and investment agreements at the summit.

China-DAC Study Group Meeting on African Agriculture
The China-DAC Study Group will hold a roundtable discussion on “Effective Development Cooperation: Drawing Lessons from Agricultural Development in Africa” on the 18th June of this year (2013) in Beijing. Prof. Li Xiaoyun of CBAA will give the keynote presentation that will draw from the study group’s main findings on a joint research trip to Zimbabwe in November 2012.
(Meeting Agenda / Study trip)

AgriTT Call for Proposals
AgriTT is a new initiative between the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Ministry of Agriculture, China, and the Forum on Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) to promote transfer of agricultural technologies, knowledge and management innovations from China to low-income countries in Africa and Southeast Asia.
AgriTT website

AU Agricultural Commissioner supports land investments
The AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, Mrs Rhoda Tumusiime, supported the increase of foreign investments in African agriculture on behalf of the AU at the conference in Addis Ababa two weeks ago. She said that problems involved have not necessarily been because of investors, but weak bargaining by African governments which she calls on to be tougher.
(Trade Mark Southern Africa)

African Economic Outlook launch
The All Parliamentary Group on Overseas Development, The Royal Africa Society, and ODI will host the UK launch of the African Economic Outlook (AEO) 2013 in June. The AEO 2013 thematic chapter will analyse the patterns and underlying drivers of structural change in Africa in greater detail and place a special emphasis on the role of natural resources and economic diversification in this process.
(Royal African Society)

Tensions in an “ethical” land investment in Mozambique
"A multi-million dollar “ethical” plantation development in north-western Mozambique - the initiative of a clutch of Scandinavian faith-based organizations - has faced alleged acts of sabotage by the very people it was designed to assist, illustrating the divisions between foreign benefactors and local communities.” The fund was intended to create a 100,000ha pine and eucalyptus plantation that would benefit investors as well as local communities.

Japan’s Abe Pledges $32billion of aid to Africa
Japanese Prime Minister has pledged $32 billion USD in aid to the African continent at the end of the last day of the 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development. The move is seen to be intended to counter China’s growing influence in the region. Other commitments made during the summit include doubling the number of jobs offered by Japanese companies to Africans to 400,000 by the next summit in 2018, and trebling the value of Japanese infrastructure exports to $300 billion USD a year by 2020.
(New Straits Times /

Monday, 10 June 2013

How can the G8 solve hunger?

sweetpot12by Ian Scoones, Future Agricultures

Next weekend the leaders of the G8 gather in Northern Ireland for their annual summit. This year it's hosted by the UK, and Prime Minister David Cameron has been highlighting hunger and malnutrition as a major priority, together with the Enough Food for Everyone If… campaign. Top issues are transparency around tax and land deals, and tackling undernutrition in the developing world. A pre-summit summit and rally in Hyde Park were held in London last weekend to discuss the issues.

Africa and agriculture were at the centre of the debate, and the themes touched on many central to the work of the Future Agricultures Consortium research programme. But questions are being raised about the approaches being taken. Have the wider questions of policy and politics been taken into account? Will the silver bullets of agricultural and nutrition interventions really work in practice? Are the solutions to the scandal of continued hunger and child malnutrition technical, or actually more social and political?

Tim Lang of City University in London was quoted in the UK Sunday newspaper the Observer as commenting: "We've had many summits talking about hunger..., but not enough has happened to change the food system. My worry is that this one is shifting policy focus away from the complex picture of how food connects land, health, power and ecological damage. Technical fixes like food supplements may appear sensible, but they do little to address the systemic problems.... What I want to see is political leaders accepting that their task is to recalibrate the food system entirely. We have to recivilise food capitalism and recalibrate markets."

In other words, we need to tackle unequal policy processes around food systems, North and South. This theme was central to our work on the political economy of seed systems, highlighting that solutions lay less in new technologies, but in institutional and political issues around ensuring access to seed technologies. Equally, Future Agricultures research on land deals shows how large areas of land are being acquired, with little accountability. Making land deals more transparent is definitely a good idea, but exactly what this will mean in practice is unclear, as Anna Locke and Andy Norton describe in a recent blog post for Future Agricultures and ODI. Equally, vitamin enriched sweet potato - a product launched again this past weekend - will help tackle deficiencies, but, as Sally Brooks has shown, biofortification - the breeding of nutrient-enriched crops - may not be the easiest, cheapest or most appropriate solution to undernutrition.

The G8 summit is expected to give more impetus to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, launched at last year's summit by the US. This is an alliance of governments, private sector players and others, committed to delivering new technical and market based agricultural and nutrition interventions, in a number of focus countries. But, as I wrote just over a year ago, there are concerns about the role of large, western agribusiness concerns in the New Alliance, and how these big players may exclude others, including local private sector players, as well as Africa-led policy initiatives, such as the African Union's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). This concern is being raised again by NGOs, activists and others.

Of course the G8 is an exclusive club that does not involve the new emerging powers, all increasingly influential in Africa. Looking at China and Brazil’s role in African agriculture, it is clear that they need to be at the table too.

As the summit nears, a greater emphasis on the politics of policy at global, regional and national levels is needed. This requires attention to the complex, often slow and difficult process of effecting change. Unfortunately, quick fixes and silver bullets never work.

Picture: Waking up to health by Gatesfoundation on Flickr (creative commons)

This article was first posted on the Future Agricultures blog.

What role for large-scale commercial agriculture in post-land reform Zimbabwe: Africa’s experience of alternative models

Much of the debate about the future of Zimbabwe’s agriculture has got stuck in the dualistic trap of contrasting ‘large-scale’ with ‘small-scale’, without thinking about the mix, and the relationships between them. In southern Africa with its colonial inheritance, this dichotomy is deeply entrenched. But with a new agrarian structure, there is a need to escape from this framing and think more creatively about opportunities and constraints.

A recent paper by Rebecca Smalley, published by the Future Agricultures Consortium, and produced as part of the Land and Agricultural Commercialisation in Africa (LACA) programme, led by PLAAS, sheds some light from historical experience from across the continent. This review offers some important pointers for Zimbabwe, when we ask what forms of commercial agriculture makes sense today?

Following land reform in Zimbabwe, there are farms of all sizes, although now dominated by a small-holder sector in the communal, old resettlement and A1 resettlement areas. However in addition there are A2 farms, largely medium scale operations of several hundred hectares in extent, and so-called large-scale A2 farms, that are larger. In addition there are existing estates that were untouched by land reform, including the large sugar estates in the lowveld of Masvingo.

How then should we think of ‘large-scale commercial farming’ in contemporary Zimbabwe? How can a mix of farm types and sizes complement each other? And what lessons can we draw from elsewhere to inform this?

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Should we worry if Africa’s farmers are getting older?

By Jim Sumberg

A ‘fact’ that is commonly used to support the case for doing something about young rural Africans’ apparent lack of interest in agriculture is that ‘the average age of farmers in Africa is increasing’. An aging population of farmers is seen to be undesirable, with the implication being that if nothing is done the agricultural sector will slowly crumble as the remaining farmers progressively work themselves into the grave.

Thus, according to some commentators, an aging farm population should be a wake-up call for policy makers: inaction risks increasing food insecurity, rural poverty, burgeoning urban slums and economic decline. Others see an aging farm population as a sign of a lost opportunity to bring young people into the sector and benefit from their energy and greater openness to innovation.
But these claims, and the evidence on which they are based, need to be looked at more closely.

In African policy debates it is often assumed that rejection of agriculture by rural young people – and their mass migration to urban areas – is the primary cause of the aging farm population. It is further assumed that among rural young people there is lack of awareness of the actual and potential opportunities offered by agriculture, and that they lack necessary skills and access to key productive resources. Another long-standing assumption is that young people are put off by hard, manual labour that is synonymous with much smallholder farming – the ‘primitive hoe’ much derided in the gender and development literature. These assumptions lead to policies and programmes that seek to promote ‘farming as a business’ through awareness raising, business training, credit provision, mechanisation and help to access other resources such as land.

All this is interesting. But what is the real significance of such claims about an ageing farm population in Africa? What is their basis and their policy relevance, and what kinds of action should they engender?
There are some good reasons for caution. First there is the problem of the generally poor quality of official statistics, and especially demographic data, in much of Africa. (For an excellent new book on this important subject see the 2012 book Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It by Morten Jerven.)

Secondly, and more particularly: how is the category ‘farmer’ defined? Who is a farmer? Is the definition based on full-time, part-time and/or occasional engagement? Does it include those who farm on their own account as well as those who work as farm labour; those who ‘own’ land but do not work it; and/or those who work land they do not ‘own’? Does it include all individuals within a single household who have some involvement with their own or others’ farming? Is it the same definition that was used previously (as the claim that the farm population is aging is about change over time)? Without being explicit about how the category is defined and how the data were collected and analysed, any claim that a population of farmers is aging must remain highly suspect.

Demographic trends in rural Africa reflect a complex set of factors extending far beyond the stereotype of a one way, once-and-for-all movement of work-shy young people to urban areas. For example:
  • changes in fertility and mortality rates and their effects on population age structure
  • the historical and continuing effects of HIV/AIDS
  • the movement of retired civil servants to rural areas where they invest in agriculture.
The effects of factors such as these will not be uniform over time or space: any analysis of the relationship between rural demography and agriculture must surely take account of climate, the quality of natural resources, infrastructure and market accessibility.

Are farmers aging equally rapidly in irrigated and dryland areas; in areas with intensive cash crops and areas without; in areas with contract farming and areas without; in areas of high agricultural potential and areas of low agricultural potential? If not, the common suite of policy responses referred to above become even more problematic.

Let’s assume for a moment that something solid underpins the dominant narrative that: (1) farm populations in Africa are indeed aging, (2) a major cause of this is that rural young people are turning their backs on agriculture and (3) an aging farm population is detrimental to society as a whole.

In other situations, observations such as these would lead to questions (and research) about barriers to entry (i.e. the ‘new entrants’ problem that features so prominently in UK agricultural policy discourse); about incentives to undertake the required training and the relevance and quality of these programmes; about remuneration and career progression possibilities; and ultimately about the broader structure of the industry or sector. To date, though, there has been little analysis along these lines for African smallholder agriculture.
Any such analysis must surely take into account the trends and developments that African agriculture has witnessed over the last two decades – from the rise of export horticulture,  the introduction of some GM crops, and continuing ‘rural livelihood diversification’, to the recent wave of large-scale land deals. Other factors such as young people’s changing aspirations and expectations and widening access to ICTs, such as mobile phones and the internet, would also need to be considered.

But first and foremost there is a need for vision: what kind of agrifood sector will provide work opportunities for young people (and others) that allow real incomes and capabilities to be enhanced, and at the same time address social equity and exclusion issues? This is the question that policy makers and development professionals – whether they start with a focus on young people or on agriculture – and citizens more broadly (women and men, rural and urban, producers and consumers, young and old) urgently need to address.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Transforming Zimbabwe’s agrarian economy: why smallholder farming is important

In a recent article in the Cape Times , prompted by Max du Preez’s review of Joe Hanlon and colleague’s book, Tony Hawkins (professor of economics at UZ) and Sholto Cross (research fellow at UEA) make the case that Zimbabwe’s land reform has been a disaster, and that a smallholder, ‘peasant’ farming is not a route to economic growth.

Beyond the wholly inappropriate ad hominem attack on Hanlon (respectable newspapers should not publish such insults I believe – although they have printed a response), what is their actual argument? The views of a neoliberal economist and a one-time communist should be interesting I thought.

The full-page article starts with a slightly bizarre critique of what has become to be known as ‘peasant studies’, a strand of academic work that has built over the years (it’s the 40th anniversary of the Journal of Peasant Studies this year – and you can read 40 of the ‘classics’ in a free virtual issue – just sign in, it’s quick and easy!) that examines the dynamics of change in agrarian societies. They pinpoint the work of Frank Ellis at UEA and those at Sussex, including myself – but probably more appropriately Michael Lipton – who have advocated a smallholder path to economic development.

But it is a very odd caricature of these positions. There are very few who argue for a permanent condition of subsistence peasantry, somehow preserved in aspic. The point is that as a labour intensive, efficient form of production, small-scale agriculture, given the right support, can be an important driver of economic growth and poverty reduction (inclusive, pro-poor growth to use the current jargon). Diversification out of agriculture is an important dynamic too, as Frank Ellis’ work has shown from across Africa. As Michael Lipton argues in his magisterial book (now thankfully available in paperback), based on a mass evidence and experience, land reform can be an important spur to such a transformation. This is the foundation for the so-called East Asian economic miracles – in Korea, Taiwan, Japan and elsewhere.