Thursday, 15 August 2013

Invest in African farmers, don’t take their land (Pan African Land Hearings day 1)

PALH1sThe Pan African Land Hearings got underway yesterday in Johannesburg, South Africa, with a day of preparations as people from 12 countries gathered to prepare their testimonies of how their communities had been affected by ‘land grabs’.
Their stories detail cases of private sector investment, usually with state sanction, in which community land held under customary tenure has been acquired, often against the will of local people, and without adequate compensation.

The hearings are being co-hosted by Oxfam, ActionAid, the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) and the Future Agricultures Consortium.

The testimonies are to be presented today to a panel of eminent persons, including the Pan African Parliament, at the hearings, held at Constitution Hill, home of South Africa’s Constitutional Court.
"We are here to tell our story of people directly impacted by land grabs", said Lamine Ndiaye of Oxfam GB in Senegal, one of the event's co-organisers.

The majority of land in Africa is not titled, yet this does not mean it is not the property of the people who hold it.

Lamine said, "We want to see consultation with communities, fairness and equity" whenever there are land transactions. Examples from Oxfam’s work in Ethiopia, Zambia and Tanzania showed how land grabs had disproportionately affected women, whose food crops were displaced by ‘male crops’ like sugarcane, and that industrial farming created few jobs, mostly for men, and was often poorly-paid and insecure. While governments often call this ‘development’, small-scale farmers who feed their families and market their surplus become workers on their own land, experiencing growing food insecurity.

Communities’ fighting for their land is part of a global phenomenon, explained Ruth Hall of PLAAS and Future Agricultures. Presenting an overview of the drivers and patterns of land grabbing in Africa, she showed how the convergence of food, fuel and financial crises from 2007 onwards had produced growing investor interest in accessing African farmland cheaply.

"The land is presented as unused and available", she said, and Africa has been described as a "vast under-utilised land reserve" – yet this ‘vacant land’ discourse is fundamentally flawed. "Land is a basis for people’s livelihood, not just a commodity for trade and speculation." Africa has been at the centre of the ‘global land grab’ precisely because most land is held under customary tenure, which states and investors do not recognise as constituting a real property right. For transactions to not be ‘grabs’, a basic first step is for customary rights to be recognised in law and in practice as holders of real property rights.

Such basic standards are already contained in the African Union’s Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa, as well as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. These frameworks establish norms and principles for land governance and recognition of rights, but steps towards their implementation are still in the early stages in Africa.

Delegates agreed that the non-recognition of unregistered rights enables land grabs, pointing out also the problems about who is consulted in communities, the roles of domestic business and political elites, and local traditional authorities, in facilitating deals without securing permission from landholders who stand to lose their land.

"We have companies that come and say they want to help us and invest in our land," said Emily Tjale, who is from South Africa’s northernmost province of Limpopo, and is an activist with the Land Access Movement of South Africa. "We don’t know what happened with tribal authorities that made decisions and agreements on our behalf. They gave our small farms, mine of about 10 hectares, to the company for reducing those carbon emissions, and suddenly we find we do not own our own land anymore."

Jesinta Kunda of Zambia spoke from the perspective of a community threatened with eviction, insisting that foreign investors are not the only ones at fault. "Our leaders suffer the same sickness. They go and proudly say how much land they have acquired." Because politicians have their own interests in accumulating land, they are not ready to enact policies and laws that can protect customary rights, she argued. Zambia’s land policy has been in draft for the past 14 years, since 1999.

These concerns were echoed from West Africa. Mariam Sow-Enda from Senegal confirmed: "we know that these things are happening not only because of the international community but also because of our governments... How will we convince our governments [to secure land rights]?" she asked. "It is a question of will of our governments."

Responses from participants quickly moved from the need to secure customary tenure rights to the need to provide alternative forms of investment. "African agriculture does need investment," said Marc Wegerif of Oxfam GB in Tanzania, but external private investors should "invest in African farmers without taking their land."
This article was first posted on the Future Agricultures blog.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Can 'value chains' and 'innovation platforms' boost African agriculture? 11 reasons to be sceptical

This post was co-written by Toni Darbas and Jim Sumberg. Toni Darbas is a social scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia. Jim Sumberg is the Youth theme convenor of Future Agricultures and KNOTS fellow.

(Picture: chain by pratanti on Flickr)
Over the last decade the notion of ‘the value chain’ has come to dominate agricultural development discourse and intervention in Africa. Indeed, this domination is now so complete that it is only with reference to ‘the value chain’ and/or ‘the value chain approach’ that research and interventions are legitimised (and funded). This has occurred against the backdrop of economic liberalisation, and the associated interest in the promotion of non-traditional agricultural exports.

A new focus on ‘the value chain’ is also associated with discourses around ‘markets for development’, entrepreneurship and institutional and technical change. These discourses converge upon the idea that policy makers, development professionals and smallholder farmers must all see agriculture as a ‘business’ that must be ‘professionalised’. But this focus on the value chain is open to critique.

What are innovation platforms?

In practice, value chain approaches often include the creation of ‘multi-stakeholder platforms’ (also called Inter-Professional Bodies). The idea is that these platforms re-group the various actors in a particular value chain (i.e. everyone from producers through to retailers), and can be used to analyse and coordinate actions across the chain for the benefit of all. An ‘innovation platform’ is a multi-stakeholder platform which is meant to stimulate or promote innovation within a particular value chain.

While there may well be some value chains in Africa where multi-stakeholder platforms and innovations platforms in particular can be valuable, we believe that there are good reasons to be sceptical about their ability to deliver on the high expectations that are being laid at their door.

Reasons to be sceptical

These reasons include:
  1. There is little direct evidence of their positive impact in relation to poor farmers in Africa.
  2. In the rush to promote the establishment of such platforms, little account is taken of the implications of different kinds of commodities, or the structure, form or characteristics of different value chains.
  3. The framing of ‘the value chain’ as an arena of consensual action where everyone (all ‘stakeholders’) can win – as opposed to an arena of intense contestation and struggle for advantage – is highly problematic.
  4. The assumption that consensus is possible and desirable is likely to gloss over differences and invite formulaic development responses.
  5. The focus on achieving consensus may act to inhibit radical or disruptive innovation in existing value chains and/or the development of innovative new value chains.
  6. Agency is bounded by tradition and pressing material interests, so the scope for creative and adaptive decision-making is often over-played. Community leaders can be authoritarian, private sector actors disinterested in small players and the participation of women limited by cultural and time constraints.
  7. The single-minded focus on multi-stakeholder innovation platforms may lead to a new round of ‘blueprint development’ that is insensitive to varied contexts.
  8. Multi-stakeholder innovation platforms cannot include everyone. They may have negative exclusionary effects on some actors: there is no reason to believe they will necessarily achieve more than the ‘islands of progress’ that resulted from working with, say, ‘lead farmers’.
  9. Private sector actors will not necessarily be interested in providing the public goods – e.g. roads, market infrastructure, and electricity – required for value chains to function to the advantage of small-scale producers. Over-emphasising coordination of private sector players ignores the need for better coordination of private AND public actors and resources.
  10. There is little knowledge about the new transaction costs involved with engagement in innovation platforms: how do they compare to existing transaction costs and how do they evolve over time? Does an innovation platform offer sustainable financial incentives to cooperate or merely exhortation?
  11. There is often too little attention to potential feedback across scales: sudden policy shifts at the national scale (e.g. driven by rising world food prices) could easily derail the efforts of an innovation platform that is locally or regionally organised.

Avoid formulas, be sensitive to context

Agriculture is now at the top of the policy agenda in Africa. There is a genuine window of opportunity to demonstrate how a focus on agriculture can promote broad-based rural poverty alleviation, food security and employment generation.

However, there is the constant danger of slipping into uncritical, formulaic and context insensitive responses. Now, more than ever, this must be avoided.

A much more critical and realistic approach to the potential contribution and applicability of both value chain approaches and innovation platforms would likely pay large dividends for the future of African agriculture.

(Picture: chain by pratanti on Flickr)
This article was first posted on the Future Agricultures blog.

First Sundarbans Health Watch asks 'How healthy are the children of the Indian Sundarbans?'

Professors Barun Kanjilal and Rabindranath Bhattacharya
present a copy of the Sundarbans Health Watch - Series 1
KOLKATA, INDIA - On 1 August 2013, researchers, practitioners, policy makers and media represnetatives gathered to gain a better understanding of the key trends in child health in the Sundarbans region of West Bengal, India. In addition to presenting findings from the first Sundarbans Health Watch, various local and international NGOs -- such as Terre des Hommes, Child in Need, CRY, Save the Children and the Riddhi Foundation -- discussed their current activities in the region.The introductory address by FHS India leader, Professor Barun Kanjilal of IIHMR, presented the Sundarbans Health Watch, which asks 'how healthy are the children of the Indian Sundarbans?'. The study is based on intensive surveys conducted in the Patharpratima Block of the Sunderbans and throws light on some alarming – and largely ignored – facts about the health status of the children of the Sundarbans. It also attempts to explore the 'structural holes' in the service delivery of public health care system and the role of informal providers in filling the gaps.

While the vigorous reproductive and child health care initiatives of the state have been able to protect the rights of children and their mothers to obtain preventive health care (such as, immunisations, ante-natal care, etc.), there are glaring gaps in addressing their rights to easily access quality-assured basic curative care and nutritional services. Repeated climatic shocks and geographical adversities, especially in the remote islands, add to the complexities and make it imperative for the local policy actors to adopt a special child-focused lens to fill in the gaps and reach the hard-to-reach children.

Key findings (which can also be viewed as an infographic) of the study include:
  • More than one-third of the children are chronically malnourished. More than one-third of the mothers are also malnourished.
  • Children of the Sundarbans face an extra burden of morbidity, with data suggesting that 0.3 million children will be ill in a month and 26,000 children will need hospitalisation in one year in the Sundarbans.
  • Prevalence of respiratory infection or gastrointestinal disorders among children is much higher in the Sundarbans than the district or state average.
  • A quarter of the children (of surveyed households) aged 0-12 months took birth and spent the first week of their lives without any medical supervision from any health worker.
  • The available public health care system is grossly inadequate to maintain child health. Primary Health Centres (PHCs) are not only less available, but many of them run ineffectively with shortage of critical inputs.
  • Given the failure of the public health care system to cater to child health care needs, a parallel market has cropped up to bridge the huge gap in the curative care market. Unqualified RMPs dominate this parallel market, which is, obviously, a potential threat to child health. But this scenario also offers an opportunity for the government to challenges these sector through training and other innovative strategies.
  • 85 per cent of the outpatient treatment for ailing children is provided by the Rural Medical Practitioners (RMPs) of questionable quality.
  • There are many NGO initiatives but too few focusing on child health.
Following the report launch, Terres des Hommes presented on their efforts to combat child malnutrition in disaster prone blocks and convergence with state led Integrated Child Development Services. The Child in Need Institute, a national level implementation NGO, also put forth their initiatives for addressing malnutrition. CRY argued for a child rights approach in addressing child health, while Save the Children called for linking up livelihood and health initiatives especially in climatically challenged zones. The Riddhi Foundation called for an effective and judicious usage of information and communication technologies (ICTs) both in ascertaining the demand and supply of health services in disadvantaged regions for betterment of child health.
Based on these presentations, the former Additional Chief Secretary, M. N Roy, called for close collaboration of the panchayat and the health system for effective delivery of the health services to the children of the poor families in the Sundarbans islands. Additionally, Dr Abhijeet Choudhur, the founder of the Kolkata chapter of Liver Foundation, called for training of the rural medical practitioners (RMPs).

Participants in the meeting agreed that, to improve the lives of children in the Sundarbans, a series of initiatives engaging all types of service providers and innovatively putting pieces of interventions together was required. These initiatives need to come together to create a big push and reach a sustainable, equitable and high level of delivery system. Participants insisted that the time has come to acknowledge the uniqueness of the health care needs of the complex, climatically vulnerable, topographically challenged and economically underperforming region called the Sundarbans and focus on them with special attention.

There have been numerous media reports of the event. The Hindu, for example, notes that 'Sunderbans children highly susceptible to diseases, says study'. And several news organisations, including the Business Standard, carried the story 'Climate change affecting health in Sundarbans'.

Originally posted on the Future Health Systems blog

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

6 August: 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.

Mozambican civil society groups unite against the privatisation of land
More than 30 civil society organisations in Mozambique have united to launch a campaign this year against the privatisation of land. Organisations include the Human Rights League, Fó­rum Mulher, União Nacional de Camponeses (UNAC), Justiça Ambiental, and the Centro de Estudos Sociais and the campaign will involve marches, educational seminars and forms of resistance to the “invasion of land”. Prosavana has been identified as a main target of the campaign, however focus will also be placed on the extractive sectors in Tete and forestry exploration in the North of the country.
( / press release in Portuguese (pdf))

African orders of Chinese tractors
The article looks at increasing Chinese tractor sales in Africa, including their after-sales support and regular adaptation of technology to African environments. Of interest to the CBAA Ethiopia team, they cite a $100mil deal signed in March between YTO Group Corp and Ethiopia, for the eport of 1480 tractors. More generally figures from China’s General Administration of Customs are quoted showing an 8.57% growth in farm machinery exports to Africa last year.
(China Daily)

Brazil & Ghana work together on cowpea yields
SciDev.Net also carries an article looking at a Brazil-Ghana joint-research project focused on boosting cowpea yields.

Bamboo charcoal technology introduced to Ghana
The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) is promoting bamboo charcoal technologies as a form of environmentally friendly renewable energy. They also aim for this to serve as an incentive to develop business opportunities around the growing of bamboo and other bio-energies in the future. China is a global leader in the production and use of bamboo charcoal and will be playing a leading role on this work through the Nanjing Forestry University and WENZHAO Bamboo Charcoal Co.
(Ghana Business News)

Calestous Juma on agricultural innovation in Africa
Faculty chair of Harvard Kennedy School and the author of ‘New Harvest: Agricultural innovation in Africa’, Prof. Calestous Juma, gives an interview on the need and opportunities for the innovation of agricultural technology in Africa. He gives specific mention to EMBRAPA as a model worth emulating with concern to small scale farmers and rural enterprises.
(IPP media)

China and the Zimbabwe elections
China was invited to send a five-person election observation team to monitor Zimbabwe’s elections last week, headed by Liu Guijin, the former Chinese government special envoy on African Affairs. China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, later said on Saturday (3 August) that she hoped Zimbabwean parties would accept the election results that Liu’s election monitoring team had termed “peaceful, orderly and credible”. However, there were also accusations that Mr Mugabe had secured $800m in funding for his campaign from mining companies controlled by Chinese investors and senior Zimbabwean military officials.
(Global Times / XinhuaNet /

Forbes - Chinese State-Owned Enterprises in Africa
 This op-ed aims to break down myths surrounding Chinese SOEs’ activities in Africa. It touches on investment patterns and effects, environmental and labour concerns, and the development of corporate governance standards.
(Forbes India)

BRICS Bank could be ready next year
After a recent meeting with his South African counterpart, Brazil’s foreign minister announced that the statutes of the BRICS bank could be concluded in 2014. How projects would be distributed and where the bank would be based remain key sticking points however.
(The Jakarta Globe)

For food security to work, women and men in Africa need more open and flexible policies, not stereotypes

Siera Vercillo, Institute of Development Studies
Future Agricultures Gender and Social Difference theme

Interest in linking smallholder crop production, food security and nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa has surged recently, along with renewed calls to place women at the center of agriculture and food security policies. But who are these women? Are they likely to fulfil these (unreasonable?) expectations, and under what circumstances?

At the same time, there have been parallel – if not conflicting - calls for women to engage in ‘new’, often regional and even global markets, or at least to commercialise their farm production. But longstanding, well-documented concerns about women’s workloads, their comparatively poor asset base, and gender bias across a range of institutions and organisations are yet to be addressed.

To address these problems, it is useful to separate out the day-to-day provision of food for the table (for which women are in large part responsible in many cultures) from other aspects of food security.

It is within the context of food production for own consumption rather than for sale, frequently referred to as ‘subsistence production’, that the link between women and food security (including nutrition) is probably most often made, and used to place women centrally within programmes.

According to this discourse, women prefer to protect their own subsistence production rather than seek attractive alternatives that could help them ‘move up and out’ and contribute to food security in various ways.

'Add women and stir'?

FAO’s Food Security Framework (see Table 1) permits this separation between day-to-day food provision and other goals. The Framework is divided into four inter-related but separate dimensions of food ‘availability’, ‘access’, ‘utilization’ and ‘stability’ - each of which can be linked to policy priorities. It also highlights the fact that achieving food security requires more than just to ‘add women and stir’. Rather, it requires a wide range of policy actors - state, commercial, and non-commercial - to move beyond simply thinking about food production.

Table 1: Gender analysis of the FAO, 2006 Food Security Framework
Food availability
Definition: Sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality available nationally through home production or imports, and at domestic/ household level through own production or purchase.
Comment: Enabling women to access productive capacities (land, technical and other inputs, and markets) so that they are not disadvantaged in food production, and can commercialise/ intensify their production, is logical but has not occurred. Enabling their alternative earning capacity – possibly engaging in work outside the household is a practical and potentially transformative strategy since it involves a renegotiation of roles and a re-evaluation of women’s work.
Food Access
Definition: Individuals and groups having adequate claims to tangible and intangible assets (such as social relations and human capital) for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet.
Comment: The ability to make claims over food allocations within households and states (e.g. social protection programmes) is critical for food access and depends substantially on accepted notions of rights to make claims. This requires examining gendered dynamics, power dimensions and control both within and outside the household or domestic domain.
Food utilization
Definition: The means by which individuals reach a state of nutritional well being where all physiological needs (clean water, sanitation, health care) are met.
Comment: This broader dimension of food security implies the engagement of a wide range of actors working towards greater overall equity in the distribution of benefits required for meeting all physiological needs i.e. creating the environment which enables women to ‘grow’.
Stable food supplies
Definition: Access to food at all times without loss of assets to sudden shocks.
Comment: Over the long term, stable supplies depend on the ability of individuals and groups to build assets. However, strategies designed to meet present consumption patterns leave no room for growth.

Most crucially, action on any of these dimensions must be transformative for women. It must focus on creating or supporting institutions that allow women and men jointly or separately to work towards food security in different ways. Rather than conflating social, but especially gender, relations in a view of women as victims and men as aggressors, we need a paradigm which acknowledges the often complex social inter-dependencies and negotiations that are actually involved in feeding households and communities.

Within such a paradigm, transformative policies would be those that seek to change the scope and value of women’s work - offering a wide range of opportunities for women and men as active agents able to negotiate for change in their lives. This would also avoid embedding women further in stereotypical, often disempowering roles, in the hope and expectation that they will meet the international development community’s own interests.

Flexible roles

Women and men engage in the agricultural sector in flexible ways, as illustrated by ethnographic studies from sub-Saharan Africa (see Table 2).

For example, women frequently play significant roles in food processing and marketing, and/or engage in commercial production when the opportunity arises. Men play various roles in providing for the food security of households. And, while there are likely to be some gendered commonalities in the ways that women and men contribute to food security, these are not fixed.

Table 2: Challenging gender narratives through learning from ethnology
Reliance on women’s labour Calls on women’s labour are not open-ended, and observed sex differences are underpinned by a set of norms and complex negotiations and bargaining between the women and men involved. These processes relate to local norms about the legitimacy of the calls that depends on the context within which labour is provided. Under certain circumstances both women and men will demand legitimate payment for labour provided (Guyer 1995)
Diversifying livelihoods and family farms Investment in agricultural livelihoods is more complex than the ‘family farm for food model’ suggests. What is being grown as food for consumption, and for sale, and by whom, where, involves diverse responsibilities and a range of decision makers (Whitehead 2002)
Relying on the community Individuals may rely on spouses, offspring, grandparents and other kin and non kin for support when they are under pressure to secure food (Guyer 1995)
Women's agency to access landThe implications of land being owned by ‘foreigners’ arouse accusations of land ‘grabbing’, yet we are willing to engage in a process of disinheriting rural communities in the name of women’s rights (Berry 1993)

We argue that knowing more about how these roles are constantly negotiated and re-negotiated is essential for arriving at the socially transformative policies that are a necessary part of ‘providing sufficient quantities of nutritious foods at all times for everyone’, rather than an elective add-on.

We are not arguing that pushing for increased production at a time of massive food insecurity should be dismissed. But simply adding women to existing policies is both impractical and unjust.
Instead, it is time to open up the way we think about food security. This means creating policies that provide a framework within which women and men can choose to meet their needs and responsibilities from a wide range of different possible options.


 Berry, S. (1993) No Condition is Permanent: The Social Dynamics of Agrarian Change in Sub-Saharan Africa. University of Wisconsin Press.

Guyer, J. 1995. ‘Women’s Farming and Present Ethnography. Perspectives on a Nigerian Restudy’. In Bryceson, D. F. (1995) Women Wielding the Hoe: Lessons from Rural Africa for Feminist Theory and Development Practice. Oxford: Berg Publishers: 25-46.

FAO. (2006) “Food Security” FAO Policy Brief, Issue 2. Rome, FAO.

Whitehead, A. (2002) ‘Tracking Livelihood Change: Theoretical, Methodological and Empirical Perspectives from North-East Ghana’, Journal of Southern African Studies. 28, (3):576-598.

This post first appeared on the Future Agricultures blog.

Private Sector in Health Symposium Review

The beginning of July marked the Third Private Sector in Health Symposium in Sydney, Australia. The one-day event has taken place before the biannual International Health Economics Association World Congress since 2009. Although a broad scientific committee oversees the stewardship of the Symposium, the organisational roles rotate among members of the Scientific Committee. For this Symposium, Future Health Systems partners at the Institute of Development Studies and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shared the responsibility.

Before the Symposium kicked off, FHS member and co-organiser David Bishai reminded the participants that:
The symposium attracts a broad spectrum of scholars from multiple disciplines. It won’t just be economists, and it won’t be a love-fest for unleashing free market economics in health care systems. The private sector in health is problematic, but we are going to have to live with it for quite some time -- so it’s a good thing so many intrepid scholars have joined forces to find ways to get the private sector to effectively deliver high quality services, to reach the poor, and to reduce the financial jeopardy for patients who access it.
The Symposium itself explored issues such as equity in health provision and difference in quality of care between public and private providers. And some of the results challenged traditional notions of the role of the private sector. For example, results of a study in Sri Lanka suggested that "public sector performs as well/better, than the private sector in many areas of quality, with much less money".

But Keynote presentations from the Symposium also reminded participants of the important role that the private sector can play. Bruce Bonyhady discussed the establishment of Australia's new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the role of the private sector in driving that forward. Noting that insurance companies had helped spur changes in building regulations to address fire safety, a coalition worked to make disability insurance an economic question, not just a question of rights. And Musthaque Chowdhury of BRAC in Bangladesh, one of the world's largest NGOs, challenged participants to re-consider what was meant by the term 'private sector'. BRAC is a not-for-profit, but it takes a comprehensive approach to poverty alleviation, stepping in to provide certain health services, for example, but also working to develop a wide range of markets to provide greater opportunities for poor people to support themselves.

Ultimately, this led to a persistant question throughout the day: what do we mean by the private sector anyway? But in a recent blog by Gerry Bloom, and FHS member and co-organiser of the symposium, he questions whether this is the right question. He notes:
A recent paper by David Leonard et al in World Development argues that there is little point in trying to draw a clear boundary between the categories of public and private. Rather, the authors suggest it is better to frame the question in terms of an analysis of the functioning of health markets and of measures to improve their performance in providing safe, effective and affordable services. They conclude that “improvements in the quality of services offered to the poor in LMICs are most likely to be found by using, extending, and reforming the particular institutions a country already has, rather than attempting to import some allegedly universal best practice”. 
As organisers of this Symposium, we would like to thank all who participated -- not only in the symposium itself but also in the webinar series running up to the day. The baton has been passed now to Freddie Ssengooba and Kara Hanson to organise the next iteration of the Symposium, and we look very much forward to seeing what emerges.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Zimbabwe’s elections 2013: more confusion, more uncertainty

Zimbabwe's trauma continues. The Zimbabwe Election Commission has announced a landslide victory for ZANU-PF. ZANU-PF reportedly took two-thirds of the parliamentary seats and President Mugabe won 61 per cent of the presidential vote, with Morgan Tsvangirai picking up 34 per cent. MDC-T has called the elections 'a sham', 'a farce', 'null and void'. GNU education minister, David Coltart, argued that “Zimbabwe has been subjected to electoral fraud on a massive scale”. Tendai Biti called it all a 'loquacious tragedy'.

Meanwhile, the official observers from SADC and the AU have called the election 'peaceful, credible and efficient', 'free and peaceful', reflecting 'the will of the people', with high turnouts and orderly voting. Some have called for a rejection of the ballot and the staging of mass resistance. Baba Jukwa, the massively popular Facebook avatar with 350k 'likes' who claims he is a disaffected ZANU-PF insider, has declared war.

We will never know the 'true' results, although as last time there was probably a rural-urban and regional split, with more of a balance overall than any political grouping claims. Both main parties naturally proclaimed before the poll that they were likely to be certain victors. Results of prior opinion polling were mixed, although pointing towards a rehabilitation of ZANU-PF and disillusionment with the MDC's performance in government. Meanwhile, the MDC and the allied NGO groups long before the elections pointed to the potential for electoral fraud, and the cynical manipulation of the vote.  While unlike 2008 there was thankfully minimal violence during the election period, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network argued that there were major problems with the process, including:
  •  Voters'  roll discrepancies
  • Intimidation
  • Late  opening of polling stations
  • Slow pace of assisting aspiring voters in some urban polling stations
  • High number of assisted voters recorded in rural areas
  • Shortage of ballot papers in some wards
  • First time voters denied the chance to vote as they were not appearing in the      voters' roll and their registration slips had missing ward details.
A joint statement from the NGOs rejected the election results. The AU observer team also expressed 'grave concerns'. The UK and the US have also called the elections 'flawed'. China, India, South Africa and others have remained silent so far, although this is how it was reported in the China Daily and The Hindu.

The scale and implications of the problems remain unclear. Claims and counter claims are being made. In a small country, rigging the vote by over a million is a hell of lot, especially consistently across presidential, parliamentary and council elections. The turnout was high at around 3.5m, making it even more challenging. Maybe they did win as many had expected, but perhaps not by as big a margin as declared.

However, suspicions of foul play are running high. ZANU-PF is a sophisticated and ruthless operation. Such suspicions are increased by bizarre rumours about dodgy security companies, Israeli pens in the voting booths where the ink disappears, special ballot papers with watermarks with crosses against ZANU-PF already inserted and a specially imported Chinese solution for removing the pink ink from voters' fingers. No-one really knows what happened; and we probably never will.

The final tallies are being published (check here and here for details), but the scale of the ZANU-PF win is clear. What is for sure is that the disputes over the results will run and run, with legal challenges to follow. If the confusion and uncertainty persists, the tentative recovery that had been nurtured since 2009 may be quickly wiped out if a new government does not move quickly to assure investors, donors and others.

What to make of it all? I am unsure, but here are a few quick reflections and some links to some interesting sources and commentaries that I have found over the last few days.
The rehabilitation of the image of ZANU-PF and President Mugabe in particular has been striking. For example on a flight from Addis to London, a colleague of mine was handed a copy of the New African, with a special glossy insert feature on Zimbabwe. It had articles from all the leading presidential candidates, but in the small print you could see that it was produced by the Ministry of Information. The message was clear: Zimbabwe was back on track, and Mugabe was in charge.

The MDC formations meanwhile were floundering. While having some successes in government – notably on the economy (under Tendai Biti) and in education (under David Coltart) – in many people's eyes they had been tainted by power, lacking ideas and vision, and reverting to the corrupt practices that they had criticised in opposition.

The election manifestos of the main parties (ZANU-PF, MDC-T, MDC and ZAPU) were predictable enough, but none really fired people's interest. The issue of land was of course ever-present in the electioneering discourse, deployed in particular by ZANU-PF to bolster its nationalist and rural credentials. The MDC groupings, even after over a decade, sadly still failed to offer a convincing alternative narrative on land and rural development.

Of course the elections were not being fought on such policy issues. Those opposed to ZANU-PF however failed to broker a coalition of opposition, and the vote was often divided, particularly in Matabeleland, but also in some urban centres, including Masvingo. David Coltart of MDC-N for example lost his seat to a MDC-T candidate. Political and personal differences, combined with narrow regionalism and factionalism, provided a perfect opportunity for ZANU-PF, despite it also being divided and weak.

This was Zimbabwe's first electronic, Internet age election. There was hope that these mechanisms – checking voter registration, crowd mapping election violations, posting votes, monitoring election sites and mapping results – would bring greater transparency and accountability. There was an impressive array of engagement, from the 7000 'citizen monitors' deployed by the ZESN to the websites of  Sokwanele, MyVote and Simukai. Twitter and Facebook pages have gone wild, with intensive commentary and debate not least via the Baba Jukwa pages.

But, in the end, it didn't seem to have an impact on the legitimacy and credibility of the process. Too many questions remained unanswered, and confusion still prevails, as the various 'independent' observers and monitored contradicted each other, declaring either the elections broadly free and fair or discredited by foul play.

The international media has as a result of all this also been deeply confused. No-one is quite sure what to make of it all. As Andrew Harding of the BBC commented, there is now a battle over the narrative of the election, not the specific results. Some of the media had decided what the narrative was before it was held, but there has been some thoughtful commentary too. Lydia Polgreen of the NYT was typically nuanced, bringing in the land dimension into one of her pieces. The FT had a good article on the key role of the military. David Smith of the Guardian had a few good pieces too. Also, African Arguments posted several good commentaries in the build up, including by Brian Raftopolous and Simukai Tinhu. And then there were the bloggers and the twitter sphere, with #zimelection carrying all sorts of commentary and links; some sensible and sound, some weird and whacky.

The political uncertainty that these elections have delivered means that, sadly once again, the immediate future is in the balance. Whoever individual Zimbabweans voted for, the final overall outcome may not be what anyone wanted – which was peace and stability. As a friend commented on the phone from Gwanda just now: "It's trouble again".  Let's hope that a spirit of accommodation and compromise prevails.

In the next period at least, ZANU-PF can organise the succession from Mugabe from a position of strength, and the opposition will have to regroup again, probably under new leadership. The political landscape has certainly changed with this election, but the full implications still remain unclear. 

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

Thursday, 1 August 2013

1 August: 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.

Anhui Province increases investment projects in Zimbabwe
The Anhui Provincial State Farms Group is said to be involved in a three-phase project that aims to cultivate 500,000ha of land in Zimbabwe. The project is a collaboration with the Zimbabwean Ministry of Defence under the title of ‘Anhui-Zimbabwean Agricultural Co-operative Program’. 5,000ha were cultivated in the first phase, and 50,000ha were added in the second involving wheat, corn, soybeans and tobacco. So far, roughly 600 local jobs are said to have been brought about by the programme and one farm involved has become a teaching and practice base for the Zimbabwean Chinhoyi University of Technology.
(People Daily)

ProSavana data findings to be analysed by Senar in Brasilia
Brazil’s National Rural Learning Service (Senar) has announced that it has been collecting data related to the ProSavana project and will hold a conference at the end of July (2013) to analyse the findings. The conference will involve representatives from IIAM, DNEA and the Brazilian Government in a bid to establish “new forms of cooperation” on the project.
(O Pais – in Portuguese)

Comparing Chinese aid with Western aid
Li Xiaoyun has had an article published in the China Daily’s African edition looking at the differences and complementarities between Chinese and Western aid (attached). On the same page is an article by Zhang Qizuo from Chengdu University looking at the benefits of China’s investments in Africa.
(China Daily)

Brazil’s rising interest in science ties to Africa
Lidia Cabral (Future Agricultures) is quoted in this SciDev.Net article about scientific co-operation in health and agriculture between Brazil and Africa. Both have much to learn from each other, the article suggests.

Brazil develops new ‘superfoods’ to combat nutrient deficiencies that can cause blindness and anaemia
Embrapa has launched a programme in 11 of Brazil’s states developing new ‘superfoods’ to combat nutrient deficiencies that can cause health problems such as blindness and anaemia. Brazil is the only country to be currently working on the biofortification of 8 crops at the same time, and they include: rice, beans, cowpeas (black-eyed peas), cassava, sweet potatoes, corn, squash and wheat. The project is supported by HarvestPlus and AgroSalud, research programmes that are operating in Latin America, Africa and Asia, and results are due to be ready within 10 years.
(The Guardian)

World Bank report on African land rights
The World Bank has just published a report called ‘Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity’ claiming that Africa’s current land rights system has been holding it back from economic growth. In it they show that more than 90% of Africa’s rural land is undocumented, “making it highly vulnerable to land grabbing and expropriation with poor compensation.” The report also makes proposals based on country pilots in Ghana, Ethiopia, Mozambique and others.

Revising regulations and support for Chinese family farms
Following stipulations made for ‘Family Farms’ in China’s no.1 document earlier this year, a number of farms have been found to be abusing its provisions to claim subsidies. Furthermore, family farms are not strictly bound to limits on the size of their farming operations, however they should not employ labour outside of the family unit. As a result, family farms that have access to technology and capital have a much greater advantage over those that do not. The government is now working with Chinese agricultural institutes, including CAU, to address these issues and find a means to provide support where necessary from across relevant state institutions.
(China news
- in Chinese)

Volta region’s agriculture at risk from climate change
A report has just been published, showing the risk of climate change on the Volta region’s water supplies for irrigation and hydro-electricity. The report is authored by specialists at: the International Water Management Institute, Ghana's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. The region is home to 24 million people across 6 countries and has a strong dependence on agriculture.
‘The Great Deceleration’
The Economist’s headline article in this week’s edition of their magazine looks at the deceleration of economic growth in the BRIC countries. They claim that the first phase of these emerging economies is coming to close and that we are currently witnessing the beginning of a second phase of growth rates that are half those of the past decade.
(The Economist)