Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Don’t believe the hype: Who authors our futures?

By Julia Day, STEPS Centre Communications Manager

A chain of technological developments set into motion by chemist and physicist Gordon Moore more than 45 years ago is still resonating in technological choices being made today, says Justin Pickard, a STEPS Centre PhD student, in a blogpost for The Guardian.

Justin, who is researching the relationship between uncertainty, infrastructure and grassroots innovation and working on our Uncertainty From Below and Above project, asserts that we should investigate whose version of progress is being promoted as the way forward, and why.
“As with all considerations of hype, progress, and the shepherding of technological investment, it is important to ask questions about who is authoring these expectations, whose interests are served, the applications unfolding behind closed doors, and the alternative pathways haemorrhaging support and investment to the IPO of the newest iteration of the status quo.”
How alternative pathways of innovation can be recognised, emphasised and elevated - particularly those fashioned by the marginalised to alleviate poverty and increase social justice - are the chief concerns of our work here at the STEPS Centre.

One of Justin’s PhD supervisors, STEPS Centre co-director Professor Andy Stirling, has written extensively about the direction, distribution and diversity of innovation, or the ’3Ds’. One good place to start discovering more about this body of work, would be Andy’s paper for the New Manifesto project, Direction, Distribution and Diversity! Pluralising Progress in Innovation, Sustainability and Development.

This post was first published on the STEPS Centre blog.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Where branding and sustainability collide

Sign with picture of tortoise and caption saying "Caution"
Sign in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape, South Africa
By Nathan Oxley, Communications Officer, STEPS Centre

Peace Parks sound lovely, don’t they? I mean, who would be against the idea of creating a nature reserve across national borders to promote co-operation, development and conservation?

Bram Büscher (Institute of Social Studies), who gave a STEPS Centre Seminar last week, has been delving into the reality of this global phenomenon, focusing on a series of parks in Southern Africa (he also has a book just out). The basic idea is that you designate a zone across a national boundary (say, South Africa and Lesotho), and put particular effort into nature conservation, community development and tourism in those areas, building links between the countries. For example, the World Cup in 2010 was a golden opportunity for transboundary parks in Southern Africa to be promoted to a global audience – encouraging travel around the whole region.

Despite the good intentions and effort involved, Büscher’s talk showed some of the difficulties of making such projects work for local people. There were a lot of ideas and interesting anecdotes in the talk which I won’t go into – the full audio on the event page is well worth a listen. But a couple of things leapt out at me.

Where interests clash

Throughout the whole story, there is the difficulty of doing conservation and community development at the same time – organising meetings with local people, whose own life experiences – sometimes traumatic or difficult – often intrude into the best-planned agendas.
Local people also don’t always want the golf courses or other ‘developments’ offered by planners; or they might already use the land in ways that clash with the ideas of conservation embedded in the project.


Büscher also offered a nicely-expressed summary of various types of ‘antipolitics’, which he defined as “constructing reality such that it seems not to be debatable but ‘taken for granted’ or the ‘logical choice’”. Beyond the particular scenario of Peace Parks, this idea is uncomfortably familiar, even among well-meaning promoters of ‘sustainable’ solutions and futures who present their agenda as a ‘no-brainer’.

In his talk, Büscher gave two striking examples of antipolitics. First, plans and ‘grids’ (extensive tables in planning documents) are used instrumentally to iron out differences. You can see why this might be desirable, from the project manager’s point of view. The second example is the use of participatory processes. There are cases (though not always) where the ‘inclusion’ begins and ends with a participatory meeting or two.

Marketing and the ‘win-win’

Peace Parks claim to offer a ‘win-win’: one of these wins being for the local people, who are promised better economic links, and another for the plants and animals in the area. Other ‘wins’, like tourism and diplomatic relations, also come into it. You might expect some conflict and contestation between these things.

But even when the planners of the projects Büscher looked at were aware of these conflicts, it sometimes appeared that their response was to take refuge in grand promises and marketing discourse. It’s not that conflict is ignored – rather, it’s swept up in the marketing exercise which promises to address it.

Getting swept up in the brand

Beyond Peace Parks, what does this mean for marketing and sustainability in general? I’m going to offer an idea of how this could work in any big project with a grand plan to change the world. Here’s what can happen: the brand pushes in two directions, internal and external.
  • Internal: the ‘brand’ and the ‘story’ is internalised (it becomes more real, as an idealised vision, for the project’s partners than whatever’s happening on the ground)
  • External: the brand and messages are marketed to the outside world and take on a life of their own, beyond the project’s direct control, as they are taken up and responded to by different audiences. We are in the realm of public expectation, media coverage, even (perhaps) public protest and resistance, and so on.
For anyone involved in the interface between branding and sustainability, this is a cautionary tale. In my limited experience of that world, this is a known problem, even if it’s not expressed in this way. Branding agencies that take sustainability seriously are – to greater or lesser extents – aware of the possibility of getting swept up in the grand narrative, and take action to mitigate against them. For example, they might emphasise the importance of honesty in a project and make extra efforts to keep in touch with what is happening on the ground.

Abandoned ticket office, Earth Centre
The abandoned ticket office at the Earth Centre, UK
Ambition and excitement, so important in big projects, is hard to control. Ironically perhaps, I think this is a particular problem for so-called ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable’ ventures – especially in tourism and other land-based ventures.  But anyone involved in creative communications about sustainability should know the risks here. There are plenty of examples where this has gone wrong, despite good intentions.

Big stories and little stories

What about the rest of us? Grand narratives are all around us like an invisible web. Of course we use stories to make sense of the world, it’s part of being human. One way to deal with this is to shine light on the stories themselves, to dismantle them and refashion them.

Also – to put it simplistically – there are big stories and little stories. People on the margins – what they want, and the different possible futures they see for themselves – are as deserving of our attention as the grand narratives that shape our lives.

Images: Watch out for tortoises by wildlifewanderer on Flickr / Earth Centre ticket office from

"Land belongs to God": stories from Southern Africa

by Ruth Hall, Associate Professor, PLAAS.

Church leaders met last week in Durban at a summit on ‘Land Rights and Land Grabbing in Southern Africa’. The event provided valuable insights on land deals, dispossession and displacement from several African countries.

Land cannot be understood merely as a commodity. Rather, it has a social function as a source of livelihood for the poor – and recognition of this must feature centrally in any development initiatives.

‘Land belongs to God, not to the state’

‘Land belongs to God, it does not belong to the state, not to traditional authorities, the land belongs to God,’ said Pastor Selby Mabwe of the Methodist Church from South Durban. ‘And God is on the side of the oppressed. We must be champions of justice in an unjust world.’

The purpose of the Summit, held in Durban on 16-18 October, was to develop an inter-denominational common understanding of the challenges of land grabbing and landlessness, while developing a joint regional platform among churches to work with civil society to defend against evictions and advocate for land redistribution and land justice.

There are many actors involved in land grabbing in Southern Africa: multinational companies and governments, but also local elites. ‘While poor farmers and landless people in Southern Africa are struggling for land, land grabbing is continuing in the region, depriving many families of their access to land and other resources such as water, grazing land and firewood,’ said the church organisers of the event.

The organisers have also issued a press release summarising the messages from the event (pdf).

Customary land rights: a blind spot

Reverend Sydney Mthethwa of the Rural Network
points to some of the key challenges for realizing
land rights in Southern Africa
Participants agreed that the non-recognition of customary and informal land rights by governments and investors is what underpins problems of land grabbing in the region. This means that the property rights and livelihoods of the poor are rendered invisible and unimportant. All the countries in Southern Africa experience a degree of legal dualism – civil and customary legal codes – which lies at the heart of many land conflicts. Only through legal recognition and provision of political platforms for the poor can there be meaningful engagement between local communities, investors and state authorities.

‘Governments take side with the private sector; we need to call on governments to side with the poor to access land to meet their basic needs’, said Reverend Sydney Mthethwa of the Rural Network in South Africa.

South Africa: ‘Don’t talk for us, without us’

In the context of South Africa’s land redistribution programme, people move from being tenants on private commercial farms, to being tenants of the state. Gcino Shabalala of the Landless People’s Movement explained how the current Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (pdf) allows the state to remove rights from people and to dispossess them, if they are seen as unproductive or non-compliant with state-approved plans. This does not constitute freedom and autonomous land rights, he argued. His organization adheres to the slogan of the peri-urban social movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, which is ‘Don’t talk for us, without us. We are not stupid, we are poor.’

Democratic Republic of Congo: private concessions and mining

Ruth Hall of PLAAS and Future Agricultures
and Placide Mukebo of the Archdiocese of Lubumbashi

Placide Mukebo of the Archdiocese of Lubumbashi presented data showing the extent of private concessions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Here, 48% of the national territory is under mining concessions, 11% under forestry concessions, and a further 10% are protected areas – meaning that corporate and state interests account for at least 69% of the country’s surface. In Katanga Province, 72% of the land area has been allocated to private companies in the form of mining concessions and, because there is a legal hierarchy in the country’s legal code, the mining law allocating such rights trumps the land law that deals with customary land rights.

Contestations over such resources underpin in part the widespread conflict still plaguing that country.

Angola: large-scale modernization

Angola, like many other African states, nationalised colonial estates following independence, and state farms were set up during this period but fell into disrepair during civil war. After economic reforms and liberalization in the 1990s, these entities – artefacts of the colonial and Marxist periods – have been revived in the form of private corporate estates, with multinational companies as well as domestic elites re-establishing this large-farm sector. The cadastre (land register) is largely unchanged.

"We are making the same mistake as the Portuguese", said Paulo Filipe of Land for Integrated Data Analysis, "we are missing the right target group again and again: the small-scale farmers. Instead, all the focus is on modernization through large-scale commercial farming."

Zambia: mining

In Zambia’s north-western region, its ‘new copperbelt’ has seen substantial recent mining expansion for various minerals. One mine in Solwezi had acquired 50,000 square km. The country has no resettlement policy, and while mining companies have resettled those whose land has been taken over, their new homes are in remote areas with poor conditions, and poor water supplies. No compensation has been provided for the land they lost.

These developments are also taking place in the absence of a national Land Law and Land Policy – both have been in draft for the past 14 years.

Comparing Zimbabwe and Mozambique

Following Zimbabwe’s fast track land reform programme in the early 2000s, occupiers have been protected by law, and provided with permits (for smaller A1 plots) and offer letters for 99 year leases (for larger A2 plots). However, the Constitution still allows for compulsory acquisition without compensation, except for improvements.

Participants considered whether the Mozambican model of statutory recognition of informal land rights, while also allowing these to be transacted, was a preferable model.

Botswana: Tribal Land Boards

Botswana’s model of Tribal Land Boards incorporate traditional leaders into the administration of tribal land, while the owner remains the state. Lack of serviced land in urban and peri-urban areas is one of the major flashpoints, as well as growing pressure on tribal land which constitutes over 70% of the country.

Challenges for the church in South Africa

In South Africa, the major challenge is to redistribute land. But even where black people own land under customary systems, inferior forms of tenure, including ‘permission to occupy’ certificates, show that the discrimination against black people’s land rights continues. And where the church holds land in the communal areas, its rights are often unclear.

Cardinal Wilfred Napier, Archbishop of Durban and head of the Catholic Church in South Africa, disputed the view held by some participants that the church has been a land grabber. There was a debate about whether it is fair to see the church in this way, and the extent to which churches acquired land in order to provide sanctuary for people who were dispossessed. ‘The church is not a landowner for its own benefit’, he said. But participants also pointed to cases in KwaZulu-Natal province where local traditional authorities contest the claims of churches to having legitimate rights on land in communal areas.

Jubilee principles

Drawing from the principle of ‘Jubilee’ in the book of Leviticus, the church leaders agreed that while on the one hand land should be returned to its original owners, it should also be given to those that need it. This means that redistributing access to land to meet people’s basic needs must be prioritized ahead of allocation of land for profit. This agenda is central to countering the commodification of land – and of life – in order to restore humanity at the centre of society.

‘Commodification of land is linked with commodification of other sectors of life, and the language of commodification is permeating life’, observed Bishop Mike Vorster, head of the Methodist Church of South Africa.

See also the Mbour Declaration on Land Grabbing Africa (pdf) by church leaders in 2011.

Further reading

All photos by Ruth Hall.

Ruth Hall convenes the Future Agricultures land theme and is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS). She tweets at @RuthHallPLAAS

Influencing CAADP on food and nutrition security

Earlier this month, about 80 participants from policy and research institutions that contribute to the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme assembled on the campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for a three-day (7-9 Oct 2013) high level conference on “Research and Policy Challenges in Food and Nutrition Security in Africa” (conference agenda / roundtable agenda).

These included the review board of the FOODSECURE project; invitees from relevant organizations including African Union Commission and NEPAD Agency, UNECA, UNDP, FAO, Embassy Delegations, Ethiopian Economic Association, IFPRI; African Researchers and Policy Advisors; and members of the FOODSECURE research team.

Future Agricultures was represented at the conference by Sam Asuming-Brempong, who is the organisation's CAADP Coordinator and a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, University of Ghana.

FOODSECURE is an EU-based research program to explore the future of global food and nutrition security (FNS). It aims to have an impact by strengthening the knowledge base to support EU policy makers and other stakeholders in the design of consistent, coherent, long-term policy strategies for improving food and nutrition security worldwide. The objective of the conference in Ethiopia was to engage in a dialogue with research peers and decision makers in Africa on the challenges of formulating FNS policies.

samabIn addition to contributing to the general discussion and emphasizing the role that Future Agricultures can play in improving FNS in Africa, Sam also presented the work he did with two others under the FAC Commercialization Theme last year: “Value chain analysis of smallholder pineapple in the Akuapim South municipality of Ghana” by Samuel Asuming-Brempong, Boahen Atta Oppong and Sampson Osei (Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, University of Ghana), which was well received.

22 October: 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.

Mozambique-Jiangsu Province agricultural cooperation
Last week, China hosted the ‘Third Thematic Summit on Industrial and Commercial Development of Portuguese Speaking Countries, Jiangsu and Macau’. The Mozambican ambassador highlighted the success of Jiangsu Province (PRC) in its agricultural outputs, and proposed increased cooperation with Mozambique’s own agricultural sector. No exact details were given, although the article suggests that Jiangsu officials received this statement with interest.
(Macau Daily Times)

China and India’s rising food prices affect world markets
Food has become the main driver of inflation in both countries, with inflation expected to increase further this year in China. Data drawn from China’s CPI index showed that the pickup in September’s CPI was driven by eggs, vegetables, fruit and pork. In total, food prices climbed 18.4 percent from a year earlier, with onions said to be costing four times more than a year ago. Given the size of these two economies, economists suggest this will hamper the global economic recovery. This also raises questions over the direction of Chinese and Indian demand for agricultural products.
(IOL, South Africa)

Zimbabwe to host conference on Africa-China ties
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of African relations with China, Zimbabwe is hosting a three-day symposium in Harare. It is funded by FOCAC and will be convened by Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC). A new institute on Africa-China studies in Southern Africa is due to be established by the centre soon after with the objective of facilitating academic research and exchange as well as supporting the private sector.
(Sunday Mail)

UNAC convenes 2nd meeting on ProSavana
Mozambique’s National Peasants’ Union (UNAC) convened the second international conference on ProSavana in Maputo last week. The Mozambican government did not send any officials to attend on its behalf. UNAC also put together a (Portuguese language) documentary about ProSavana that compares it with the cerrado development project in Brazil that it seeks to emulate.
UNAC Meeting
(Portuguese) / UNAC’s ProSavana video (Portuguese) - via also carries interview with Calisto Ribeiro, from the Rural Mutual Support Organisation (ORAM) regarding his views on ProSavana.

Old powers and new powers: agriculture and investment in Africa
Last week, CBAA project convenor Ian Scoones wrote about the conference on ‘Emerging Powers Going Global’ that took place in London on October 8-9. At the conference, Prof Scoones chaired a panel on agriculture, consisting of a mixture of academics, policy makers, and private sector investors.
(Future Agricultures blog)

Do property rights protect the poor?
Following an event for Lorenzo Cotula’s new book, ‘The Great African Land Grab?’, Henry Tugendhat has written a blog piece in which he making a short comparison between Cotula’s book and the work of Hernando de Soto.
(Future Agricultures blog)

China to establish its first RMB clearing house outside Asia
The Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch has published a short working paper looking at the implications of China setting up its first RMB clearing house in Africa. Contenders include Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania. As the RMB would become a common settlement currency, advantages would include strengthened trade relationships and a supplanting of the US dollar as the standard currency in the region.
(Centre for Chinese Studies (pdf))

Transparency accusations against Chinese multinationals including Chery
Anti-corruption pressure group, Transparency International, published a report on multinational companies from emerging markets. In it they accused Chinese multinationals as being particularly opaque, with a special mention of Chery Automobile Co., Ltd. It’s sister company, Chery Heavy Industry Co., Ltd. is China’s largest agricultural machinery producer. The company spokesman, said that it was not contacted for this survey and added that “Chery is not publicly traded, so naturally it is not as transparent as those listed companies.”

New film on land grabs: ‘No Land No Food No Life’:
The film ‘No Land No Food No Life’ explores the calls for an end to global land grabs, and for sustainable peasant and community agriculture. It combines personal stories showing how farmers are dealing with losing their land from these grabs, with footage of organizers and community leaders fighting against land grabs.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Living on the edge: Rethinking aid amidst complexity

aid on the edge of chaosBy Melissa Leach, STEPS Centre Director

These days, a remarkably short and convenient flight takes one from Sussex UK -  where among other STEPS Centre activities this week I’ve been contributing to the post-2015 global sustainable development goals process and the international Future Earth Science Committee  – and Sierra Leone. Here, I’m on my way to join Njala University and Kenema Government Hospital colleagues and villagers in the country’s forested east, exploring the ecological and social processes shaping transmission and vulnerability to Lassa fever, a virus carried by rodents that routinely devastates lives and livelihoods here. This is one of the case studies within our Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium, an affiliated programme of the STEPS Centre exploring the interactions between people, environments and zoonotic disease.

This flight has passed particularly quickly as I’ve spent it riveted by a cover-to-cover read of  Ben Ramalingam’s fabulous new book, Aid on the Edge of Chaos. Published this week, it’s about how and why the conventional paradigms that dominate foreign aid aren’t fit for purpose in a world that is hugely dynamic, multiply-interconnected and replete with uncertainties; and how the approaches and tools of complex systems thinking can help trigger much needed transformations in how aid is conceived of, works, and is practised. The accolades on the cover are well-founded; this is a great read, engagingly written, and full of vivid examples, poignantly-funny cartoons and a reflective humility that suits its subject matter.

But it also strikes particular chords on this journey, since one of the book’s opening salvos is towards the Millennium Development Goals process, in its incarnation as a set of narrow targets and indicators that have driven ill-conceived planning approaches. And one of the key areas where it illustrates the power, value and practical application of new approaches is in the social-ecological dynamics of disease, where examples show complex systems thinking within integrated ‘ecohealth’ ’ approaches successfully tackling the challenges of malaria in Kenya, measles in Niger, and avian influenza in Asia.  The book traverses the scales – from the most global to the most local – and range of issues – from macro-economic, environmental, societal and political  concerns, to everyday health, livelihoods and agro-ecologies – that we regularly try to bridge in the STEPS Centre, and that I’m somewhat schizophrenically trying to cover this particular week. And it picks up on some of the self-same examples, albeit with a host more in between, offering insightful analyses of the global financial crisis, the Cuban missile crisis, humanitarianism and its misrepresentations of sexual violence in the Congo, and ‘hole in the wall’ computer technologies in Indian slums – to name but a few of the most memorable.

The book’s central argument, as I read it, is that development – as a broad process and normative project concerned with change towards improved human wellbeing – has been beset by a mismatch between the assumptions and practices of the foreign aid industry, and the way the world actually works. Aid, put simply, has been driven by mechanistic assumptions and planning models that assume predictable processes amenable to linear transformation. Particular modes of thinking, measuring and accounting, bureaucracies and institutions, and field-level action, aligned with such assumptions, tend to dominate, and prove remarkably resistant to challenge even when they lead to manifest failure to bring about the desired change, or even to make things worse. Instead, the reflex tends to be to ascribe problems to ‘implementation difficulties’ – or to blame the so-called beneficiaries. Analysing and exemplifying this self-reinforcing tendency to ‘try to do the wrong things righter’ as a pernicious feature of the ‘aid system’ in part 1, the rest of the book looks to ways to change it.

It looks specifically, and in a wonderfully wide-ranging and thorough sweep, at what the insights and tools of complexity thinking offer. Rather than reify this as a single science, complexity is aptly portrayed as an evolving work in progress, a diversely inhabited set of only partially explored territories. It encompasses perspectives emphasising open, dynamic, non-linear systems; emergence, learning, adaptation, self-organisation and co-evolution amongst multiple elements and agents, an emphasis on social and interpersonal relations and networks, and an understanding of change as non-linear. It involves a colourful cast of characters, thinkers and institutions, and a multiplying array of tools and methods, from agent-based modelling to network analysis. Having laid out this array, the book’s third part illustrates how these alternative understandings – grounded more in ecology than physics, anthropology than economistic rational choice – have underpinned and been mobilised in some very practical examples of different ways of thinking about and doing development, more workable in an intrinsically complex world.

The overall arguments here have much in common with the STEPS Centre’s pathways approach, which as Ben notes, has drawn on aspects of complexity thinking to track, identify and look to building pathways towards multiple, dynamic sustainabilities. This book’s detailed and specific insights into aspects of complexity science offer many points of engagement with and enrichment of STEPS Centre work, not just in relation to health and disease dynamics but also in climate change, energy, agriculture, water and in thinking about ‘green transformations’ more broadly, so I’m particularly delighted that Ben is now with the STEPS Centre as a Visiting Fellow for the next two years. The messages of this book – about the importance of diversity, fostering creativity and innovation at the margins, and humility – resonate very strongly with the STEPS Centre’s analysis and ethos.

In turn, pathways – as we explore them – also implicate questions of power and social (in)justice more fully than Aid on the Edge of Chaos explores. There are important debates to be had about the potential uses and abuses of power in the application of complexity science and its concepts, as well as their distributional implications, and I’m looking forward to these conversations. Equally, a pathways approach, conceived over longer historical timeframes and in relation to diverse and contested futures, might point to ways that narrowly and simplistically defined aid approaches have not just misconceived and thus acted ‘wrongly’ on real-world systems – causing collapses in Balinese rice farming in the 70s, for instance, or  enabling resurgences of malaria as parasites evolved to resist ‘silver bullet’ solutions – but have also become part of pathways, creatively appropriated, subverted or (re)directed by diverse local and national actors to suit their own goals, interests and narratives. These complex interactions between ‘aid’ systems/pathways, and diverse ‘real world’ systems/pathways, are challenging to study but well worth attending to, since they too may be a source of unexpected innovation and transformation.

So plenty of food for further thought, debate, analysis and action fuelled by this book. I’m looking forward to working with Ben and colleagues to thinking through the implications for big global and national development processes such as those around the post-2015 framework, and to working with colleagues on the Future Earth Science Committee to ensure that complexity thinking is properly reflected in the new, integrated, interdisciplinary science for sustainability that we are tasked with developing and promoting over the next decade.

But meanwhile, we’re about to land in Freetown – and the next week will be about seeking to understand complexity as lived and practised by the Mende villagers of Kenema district, as they grapple to secure health and livelihoods in rapidly-changing post-conflict farming and small-scale mining landscapes. Do their ideas, creativity and practices, amidst non-linear interactions between ecologies, rodents, people’s movements and social relations, offer clues as to how to limit Lassa fever and its effects? Might these contribute to forward-looking, integrated ‘one health’ and ‘ecohealth’ approaches, beyond the narrow lab-focused diagnostics and vaccine development that currently dominate? One of this book’s overriding messages – is that to improve development intervention, professionals need to see the world with new eyes. People who have been living and innovating with complexity at the margins all along, like the women and men of Sierra Leone’s forest villages, may turn out to be our best guides in such re-visualisation.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Do property rights protect the poor?

Land Not for Sale - Sign in Entebbe - Uganda
by adam_jones on Flickr
By Henry Tugendhat

Last week on World Food Day, Lorenzo Cotula of IIED spoke at Westminster about land acquisitions in Africa, summarising some key points from his new book, The Great African Land Grab?
In his presentation he stressed three clear messages for the audience to take away:
  1. The history of African land ownership still shapes the present.
  2. Western and emerging power investors’ engagements raise questions on their own populations’ consumption patterns.
  3. “It takes two to tango”: in recent times, African governments have shaped land acquisitions through legislation. If a given government wants to protect the rights of its nation’s farmers more forcefully, then it has the power to do so through revised legislation.
These messages are punchy and well articulated. Reading it from the perspective of the China and Brazil in African Agriculture research project I’m currently working on, it was also interesting to get a sense of where most of these land investments are coming from. A number of rigorous academic studies produced over the last five years show that Chinese and Brazilian investors are actually quite shy about getting involved in the fixed asset of land in Africa. It’s too risky for many of them (with the one notable exception of Brazilian ethanol agribusinesses), and loans or other forms of financial support are often confused with investments; particularly in the case of China. Sure enough, the main actors in today’s land acquisitions are from Europe, the USA, and local African elites.

Law, property rights and security

Cotula’s strong defence of poor African farmers’ access to land reminded me strongly of a similar argument repeated by the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto – but with a few important differences. In his best-known book The Mystery of Capital, de Soto argues that the West has managed to incorporate its poorest citizens into a middle class, because it successfully developed a body of legislation that could translate fixed assets (e.g. land or a factory) into transferable capital (e.g. shares, debt, money, etc.).

De Soto’s theory hinges on the introduction of formalised property titles. Certainly, this does have its advantages in theory.

Exploiting land titles

In practice, however, property titles sometimes lead to more harm than good for the poor. When the poor find themselves sitting on prime real estate, these titles become highly desirable – which is where the “land grab” phenomenon comes into play. Land that was previously unrecorded suddenly has the potential to attract large investments from a private enterprise. But, local peasants have been living and/or working on that land for years or generations already.

This creates an important conflict. So what does a government do? The answer to this varies.  But governments often have more to gain from supporting the investors over the poor locals; and it is governments who have the power to shape the legislation that comes into place around these new land titles.

Recognising this, Cotula is careful not to cast property rights as a panacea, because it is clear from his case studies that property rights law can also often serve to corrupt circumstances against the poor.

As I’ve already mentioned, Cotula sees those forces as a product of history, demand, and local governments (and the legislation they set). He therefore warns against the “growing commoditization of land in rural areas” in Africa; and he calls for revised legislatures that would bolster both the rights and the negotiation potential of the poorest. Among other things, this recognises the potential for the role of local chieftains as brokers for their communities.

Cotula’s book is a refreshing addition to the debate on land rights, drawing from his legal background and socio-political expertise on the issues. Rather than just focusing on opportunities for profits, I think The Great African Land Grab? gives hope to the possibility for more justice over profits. As interest in African agriculture and other land-based resources increases, this study is an important step towards understanding how foreign investors and African legislators can affect these engagements for the benefit of the poorest.

Women and climate change: another special relationship?

By Christine Okali

Fishing community members, Zambia from
theworldfishcenter's Flickr photostream (by-nc-nd)

Agricultural and rural development policy has a problem with gender relations. Despite the prominence of the terms ‘gender’, ‘gender dimension’ and ‘gender sensitive’, it is women – and not the broader suite of gender relations – that most frequently appear in agricultural and rural development policy.

Pushed to become more ‘gender sensitive’, these policies increasingly paint a picture of African women involved in agriculture as isolated economic actors.

According to this stereotype, women are poor, vulnerable subsistence food producers without agency; they’re also selfless, caring and reliable.

It is commonly argued that women undertake the bulk of the work in agriculture, fisheries and livestock keeping, and as a consequence are particularly knowledgeable about the natural resource base. This is the basis of the idea that African rural women have a special relationship with the natural environment. It is often suggested that rural women can act and take decisions independently – and indeed, increase their agricultural productivity and engage with new market opportunities – as long as they are given adequate external support.

Women and climate

After ‘women and agriculture’, ‘women and the environment’, ‘women and biodiversity’ and the like, we should perhaps not be surprised that the spotlight has now moved to ‘women and climate change’.

In general, the suggestion is that women are more vulnerable than men to climate change because of their greater dependence on natural resources, and their (often) indirect and informal claims over these resources. Including women in climate change programmes (e.g. REDD+) is expected to help them to achieve food and nutrition security through increased productivity but also through income gained from sales of environmental credits they may gain from adopting carbon-saving practices.[1]

As a consequence, their status in their families and communities, or at least in their development groups, will be enhanced. The term ‘empowerment’ and (especially more recently) ‘economic empowerment’ is used to describe both their (new?) decision making power, and this improved status.

Where do the narratives come from?

The special relationship between gender (read: women) and climate change is constructed from well-established narratives linking gender and environment on the one hand, and gender and agriculture on the other. These narratives are themselves highly problematic: nevertheless they have proved to be highly resilient and continue to influence policy in these domains.

In compounding these narratives, long and complex chains of explanations that rely on assumptions and claims that can hardly be demonstrated, are created.

We might be inclined to dismiss these as simple political constructs even though they suggest that social and related institutional change is a straightforward, if not linear, process. However, if they fit the agenda of development agencies, they are likely to be repeated, and used to include women instrumentally in agency programmes simply to achieve international, national and internal targets.

Specifically, in terms of the way in which gender issues are defined, and addressed in projects (i.e. project ‘entry points’ determined and used), it is evidence derived from sex-disaggregated data that is used. Invariably these data have shown that women work longer hours on farms than men, and exercise less control over land, labour, credit in addition to other production resources than men, and over the output itself. These differences between individual women and men (frequently referred to as 'gaps') are interpreted as unfair, disadvantage women by limiting their productive capacity.

The problem with gender 'gaps'

But are these conclusions valid? Do they rely on an overly simple interpretation of the data that, taken in isolation from other information about the lives of the men and women concerned, suggests unfairness and inequity? Do they reliably reflect ‘work’ undertaken, or do they ignore other kinds of ‘work’? (Jackson 2007; Jackson and Palmer-Jones[2]) Do individual men have any more ‘control’ over land than individual women? Are we over-stating the level of control that individuals in many situations in rural Africa have over resources? What are the constraints on women and on men that limit their agricultural productivity?

In asking questions such as these, I am suggesting that these sex-disaggregated data in themselves tell us little about reality. They support a focus on individual lives and livelihoods, and take us down pathways that homogenise gender discourse and avenues for transformative change.

A lesson: complex relationships

It is time to re-socialise gender policies. For real progress to be made towards gender equity and transforming gender relations across a range of institutions, policies must build on a more realistic understanding of the lives of women and men and their complex and changing relationships.
In small-scale fisheries, for example, this means acknowledging gender relations between “boat owners, fish processors and sellers who are also wives, husbands, community members, and co-workers”[3], as one FAO report puts it; and looking at the role of social norms and values in constraining (or, in some cases, supporting) behavioural change and limiting the resilience of many women, but also of many men.

Narrowly framed strategies are not ideal starting points for adapting to change. Projects with such strategies are unlikely to enhance the capacity of, for instance, small-scale fishing communities to adapt to climate change. A strategy which promotes gender-aware solutions that are fish-specific, focused especially on women characterised as vulnerable – and which ignores the existing evidence of the capacity of individuals and communities involved in fisheries to deal with livelihood threats – is unlikely to succeed.

What is the alternative?

Strategies will have more chance of success if they take into account both the complexity of livelihoods, and the social and economic dynamics, in small-scale fishing communities. They should also consider some related entry points into policy: for example, livelihood security in fisheries, gender-related vulnerabilities, and the ability of men and women together and/or separately to adapt to changes in their environment.

In relation to placing rural women centrally in climate change policy, two key questions for policy might be:
  1. Given the importance of wider social relations in the lives of individuals, can the focus be on women alone?
  2. What trade-offs are women likely to have to make with others in order to participate in policies designed to meet their needs (not necessarily their interests); and for their participation to benefit them?
Christine Okali convenes the Gender and Social Difference theme of Future Agricultures. This post first appeared on the Future Agricultures blog.

Further reading



[1] The complexity of these arrangements on the ground is detailed by Joanes Atela in a recent study of the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project. The international finance arrangements for these exchanges between local populations and international carbon markets are detailed in the report BioCarbon Fund Experience; Insights from Afforestation and Reforestation Clean Development Mechanism Projects, by the Carbon Finance Unit of the World Bank.
[2] Palmer-Jones, Richard and Jackson, Cecile, 1997. ‘Work Intensity, Gender and Sustainable DevelopmentFood Policy, 22(1): 39-62 and Jackson, Cecile, 2000, 'Men at work', The European Journal o Development Research, 12:2, 1 - 22
[3] FAO. 2006. Gender policies for responsible fisheries – Policies to support gender equity and livelihoods in small-scale fisheries – available from the FAO website

A new way of bringing ‘farms’ and ‘systems’ together

farm system drawing
Image: Mixed farming system. Illustr. By Fernando Funes-Monzote
from leisaworldnet on Flickr
by Jim Sumberg, Stephen Whitfield and Ken Giller

How do we understand farms as systems, and farms as part of systems? The terms and definitions that researchers use affect how we see farming and agriculture in relation to ecology, society and politics.

So is it time for a rethink?

The words ‘farm’ (or ‘farming’) and ‘system’ are used in many combinations, but three of the most common are:
  1. a ‘farm system’: referring to the conceptualisation of an individual farm as a system, a set of inter-related, interacting components or sub-systems
  2. a ‘farming system’: referring to a single category within a broader typology, where the category groups together farms that are ‘similarly structured’ (Ruthenberg, 1976[i], p.3; also Dixon et al., 2001[ii]).
  3. a ‘system of farming’: in the sense of a more or less systematic and consistent way of going about the business of farming; as in: ‘I have my system’ (my way of doing it)
Another important combination is ‘farming systems research’ (FSR) – a more or less formalised approach within applied agricultural research to describing one or more ‘farming systems’ (in the sense of [2] above) in order to identify and address ‘constraints’ to productivity (e.g. see Collinson (2000)[iii] or any of the many FSR training manuals).

There is much current research and analysis in relation to (1) above. The literature is characterised by an analytical focus at the farm level; the use of one or more key ‘systems concepts’ (such as boundary, feedback, complexity, emergent properties, equilibrium, dynamics, resilience etc); and methodological diversity (from participatory methods to complex, integrated models).

Ruthenberg dealt with farms fundamentally as ‘economic units’, but he also had a deep appreciation of their technological basis. At the same time, he recognised that farms are tied to ecological, social and political systems and processes. Over the last four decades, research on ‘farms as systems’ has increasingly sought to grapple with and integrate these other dimensions.

In a new editorial in Outlook on Agriculture, Ken Giller looks again at the terminology of ‘farming systems’. Building on Giller’s piece, we cast the notion of a ‘farming system’ in a new light.
In identifying different farming systems, both Ruthenberg and Dixon et al. emphasise the homogeneity of farms within a particular farming system (i.e. they have ‘similar structure’). This approach may make for a clean typology, but it does not reflect the reality of agrarian economies – or everyday agricultural production – in much of the world.

In reality, a given farm is likely to have links (flows, synergies, dependencies etc) to farms with dissimilar structure, as well as to non-agricultural and non-rural parts of the economy. These links are integral to the farm system and to the broader economy.  In this sense, a ‘farming system’ is conceptualised as a heterogeneous population of interacting 'farm systems' with links to the non-farm and non-rural economies.

In an earlier post on this blog, we suggested that incorporating the STEPS Centre’s 3Ds – directionality, distribution and diversity – could help breathe new life into research on farming systems in the tropics. The expanded conception of a farming system that we suggest above creates a more solid basis for this, and should allow more fruitful analysis of the ecological, social and political dimensions of agricultural sustainability.

About the authors: Jim Sumberg is a researcher with the Future Agricultures Consortium and the ESRC STEPS Centre. Stephen Whitfield is a PhD student at the Institute of Development Studies. Ken Giller is Professor of Plant Production Systems at WaCASA (the Wageningen Centre for Agroecology and Systems Analysis) at Wageningen University.

[i] Ruthenberg, H. (1976) Farm systems and farming systems. Zeitschrift für Ausländische Landwirtschaft 15, 42-55
[ii] Dixon, J., Gulliver, A., and Gibbon, D. (2001), Farming Systems and Poverty: Improving Farmers’ Livelihoods in a Changing World, FAO, Rome.
[iii] Collinson, M. (2000), A History of Farming Systems Research, CABI, Wallingford.

Monday, 21 October 2013

State, land and democracy: reflections on Zimbabwe

Last week I was in Italy at the invitation of the University of Bologna to talk at a day conference on 'State, Land and Democracy in Southern Africa'. The morning was taken up with discussions on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, while the whole afternoon was devoted to Zimbabwe.

It was a great discussion, and it was interesting how many of the themes from the wider region resonate in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe clearly does not have a monopoly on land being used as patronage, uncertainties around tenure regimes, debates about the role of large-scale farms, 'land grabs' and the role of private investors, or even the use of land as a tool in electoral politics. This seems to be standard fare across the region. Yet the fascination with Zimbabwe remains, and the debates framed by extremely polarised narratives and poor understanding of empirical contexts continue.

The Zimbabwe debate however seems to be maturing. There is a recognition that, whatever the fiddling, the elections of 2013 represent a turning point. The future is uncertain, but the land issue, and with this the role of rural electoral politics, is crucial. In my paper I argued (as I have done before in this blog) that the emergence of a new class of 'middle farmers' on the resettlements (both A1 and A2) is important to the understanding of the new political dynamics of the countryside, and any assessment of the 2013 election.

This group represents diverse interests, coming from both 'peasant' (communal area) and urban worker backgrounds, as well as having a fair share of the salaried class of civil servants. Yet, despite their disparate origins and class positions, they are bound together by a continued commitment to rural production, investment and accumulation, as 'petty commodity producers' and 'worker-farmers'; even an emergent 'rural bourgeoisie'.

Pitched against an elite group connected to and benefiting from ZANU-PF party, military and business networks, there is a tussle between different visions of the future, linked to very different patterns of accumulation – from below and from above. These on-going contests over land and styles of production are central to the future of the Zimbabwean state, and wider polity. I discussed two broad case study areas in Masvingo province: the 'core land reform areas', where land was taken from white commercial farms, and where there is a high density of A1 and A2 settlements in relatively better agroecological potential areas, and what I termed the 'peripheral areas' of the lowveld, where land reform was more contested – on the sugar estates, the large state farms and trust lands and in the wildlife areas. Here attempts at elite capture by big 'chefs', connected to capitalist interests in sugar, ethanol and wildlife production for example, are being resisted actively by those who demand land.

The balance of power is uneven, but surprisingly we see repeated victories by those who are seemingly less powerful, and the state and its allies often find it difficult to see through their vision in these areas, given the volatile politics and uncertainty on the margins of state power.

What of the longer term future given this political dynamic? Of course, as discussed so many times before, Masvingo doesn't reflect the situation everywhere, and there are a diversity of contexts and outcomes. However there are some basic patterns that the Masvingo cases give a window on. One scenario for the future sees a capture by the elite, and the extension of patrimonial relations between elites and national/international capital, ultimately excluding the alternative voices and futures, and quashing future resistance. This can be achieved of course only through the persistence of violent, non-democratic and 'obstructive politics' typical of the ZANU-PF regime. Another, more optimistic scenario, sees the emergence of an organised middle farmer group with economic and political clout, and crucially with a key role in feeding urban populations and providing foreign exchange through producing strategic crops (currently of course primarily tobacco). They in turn push the state to respond to their demands resulting in a regearing of state efforts in rural areas. This scenario thus offers the opportunity of rebuilding a responsive, more democratic state from below.

I argued that we should not reject the latter scenario, even if the former remains currently the more likely default. The shifts in electoral fortunes in 2013 might indeed indicate the power of such a voting block. And unlike the rural populace before, such people may not be kept quiet with sops in the form of food aid or subsidised fertiliser. They will demand more and, like the forms of resistance seen in the lowveld for instance to elite grabs, they may become more assertive and act to hold the state, and associated elites, to account.

Ultimately a rebalancing of political forces will be required, and here a revamped opposition will be key, as they may be able to appeal to an entrepreneurial, middle farmer class in the rural areas. To date, without a convincing narrative on land and rural development, the MDC has failed dismally, but hopefully as they lick their wounds from the 2013 defeat, there is some thinking going on about how to engage a still largely rural electorate in issues that matter to them. In particular, this will require thought about the type of constituencies that are emerging now as a result of processes of differentiation and class formation following land reform.
The relationship between state, land and democracy in Zimba
bwe is far from settled, but we may be getting glimpses of the future, beneath the current turmoil that are worth looking at in more depth. Developing this conversation at a regional level, as this conference did, is especially useful.

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

18 October: 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.

CBAAnewsBriefing: Can China and Brazil help Africa feed itself?
The latest in the CAADP policy briefs series from Future Agricultures summarises recent work on China and Brazil’s growing involvement in African agriculture.
(Future Agricultures)

Open letter criticises the Mozambican government & ProSavana
The Nampula Civil Society Provincial Platform (PPOSC-N) in Mozambique have published an open letter calling on the government to hold back implementation of the ProSavana project, and stating it does not recognise the project as a support to small-scale farming. The open letter goes on to make a series of other points, and comes after a television debate last week that hosted Nampula’s director of Agriculture who viewed the project favourably.
Japanese NGOs call for review of ProSavana
Five Japanese NGOs have called for a suspension of ProSavana and review of the project during a press conference in Tokyo. Their appeal was made following a field visit to Mozambique and involved the following organisations: the Africa Japan Forum, Oxfam Japan, the Japan International Volunteer Center and the Japan Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens.

Nigerian praise for Chinese agricultural model and cooperation
Nigeria’s National Programme for Food Security (NPFS) under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, in conjunction with China and the FAO, convened a high level forum aimed at showcasing the achievements of South-South Cooperation in Nigeria and other participating African nations. In it the Nigerian minister for agriculture praised China’s focus on agriculture as a matter of national security and welcomed the suggestion that China might set up a $30m trust fund to support further South-South Cooperation (presumably in agriculture but the article is not clear).
(Vanguard, via AllAfrica)

Zimbabwe to use Brazilian loan for mechanisation and irrigation
Following on from the announcement of a $98.6m loan from Brazil to Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector, it has been confirmed that this will be used primarily for mechanisation and irrigation projects. The loan is due to be disbursed in three tranches with the first batch of $38.6m set to arrive before the end of 2013.
(The Herald: Loan application / Loan agreement)

Seeds of Discontent
A new documentary film has just been released looking at a “land grabbing” case study in Licole, Mozambique involving a forestry company called Chikweti Forests of Niassa. The film was launched just five days before the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) meets for its 40th round of talks and draws attention to the role of foreign investors, in this case: a Swedish investment firm, Dutch pension fund and Norwegian church endowment.

China-Africa Think Tank Conference
Oct. 21-22. Zhejiang Normal University is coordinating the preparations of the 3rd China-Africa 10+10 think tank meeting in Beijing next week.
(Event website)

OECD-DAC Meeting on Responsible Agribusiness
On Wednesday 16 October the OECD-DAC’s Advisory Group on responsible business conduct along agricultural supply chains held its first meeting in Paris. The advisory group is collaborating with the FAO among other relevant institutions to create a guide of ‘Responsible Business Conduct’ for businesses operating within agricultural value chains.

New Book on Small Scale farming in Mozambique
Joseph Hanlon and Teresa Smart are now working on a new book about the possible leading role in agricultural development of small scale commercial farmers. They have already done fieldwork in Gurue, Manica and Nampula and have written a set of three working papers, which have been posted on their website in English and Portuguese. Comments are invited, to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , before the end of October. The book will also draw on Mozambican data and reader comments, as well as international thinking.
(Open University)

Subsidy only for the rich
In current World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations, "developing countries grouped under the G33 are asking that their governments be allowed to buy food from their farmers, stock the food and distribute it to poor households, without this being limited by the WTO's rules on agricultural subsidies." This move is being opposed by the United States and other developed countries, writes Martin Khor, Executive Director of the South Centre, on SUNS (South-North Development Monitor).

In a clearly-written explanation of the WTO subsidy rules, Khor notes that OECD agricultural subsidies in 2011 were $406 billion but that developing countries are not currently allowed similar subsidies. The G33 is asking WTO to allow them to promote food security and rural development in this way, but the US (with one-third of all OECD farm subsidies) is leading the opposition. (Source: Joseph Hanlon’s Mozambique newsletter no. 227, 3 October 2013)
(Third World Network)

Using an ecological approach to tackle the growing burden of chronic non-communicable disease



A man grills sausages in Khayelitsha township outside of Cape Town,
South Africa (photo credit: Jeff Knezovich)
As co-morbidity and the prevalence of chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) continue to rise globally, it is hugely important to examine what this trend tells us about the health systems we have built and how these systems will respond in the future.

The challenge for a person to manage a chronic condition goes beyond the disease and symptoms. At an individual level, living with a chronic condition often means that we move from a state of complete wellbeing to a situation where acute exacerbations, relapses and recurrent events push people to constantly adapt their life according to the course of the disease. Living with, and managing, such a condition also entails finding a balance between the biomedical, functional and social spheres. Traditionally, we tend to focus on disease and care rather than on what people value in terms of autonomy, functionality and social participation.

From a healthcare delivery perspective, long term care for chronic conditions differs significantly from the reactive and episodic model of care that characterises many of the traditional ways health services are delivered for acute conditions. To create a strategy to tackle this growing burden placed on health systems we should therefore adopt a holistic approach that incorporates the various dimensions that shape health seeking behaviour, patient-provider interactions and social participation.


Creating a comprehensive policy strategy to address the increase in the prevalence of CNCDs

CNCDs constitute one of the most challenging global health issues in the coming decades requiring a fundamental shift in the way we look at health, development and global governance. Moving at the macro level entails grasping what the main drivers of chronic, non-communicable diseases are and the policy options to tackle them. While considering this, one needs to keep in mind the following trends of global health policy development:
  • Health strategies tend to be developed outside of countries where health problems exist
  • Approaches to health tend to be selective rather than comprehensive
  • Health programs are linked to economic development but are often serving ideological/political purposes
  • The underlying determinants of health are systematically ignored
The treatment and care of patients with CNCDs require sustained action at all levels of the six World Health Organisation (WHO) building blocks of heath systems: service delivery, health workforce, information, medicines, financing and governance.

Employing an ecological approach

Given the complexity of addressing the burden on CNCDs within a health system, employing an ecological framework would provide a holistic approach that factor in the six WHO building blocks while maintaining the individual’s perspective at the centre. These ecological models have been pervasive in public health history and have a number of added benefits in that they:
  • Address complexity
  • Capture dynamics and interactions
  • See health as shaped by different levels, dimensions or determinants
  • Identify key transitions shaping human health
  • Spot key actors and institutions both making and breaking healthcare
  • Place human health within biological, material, social and psychological processes

The figure below is an example of an ecological model of what could be seen as a comprehensive strategy to tackle CNCDs. The main drivers of NCDs are represented on the left side of the framework. Whilst people suffering from chronic diseases may have been genetically predisposed to diabetes or cardio-vascular disease, biomedical and lifestyle explanations cannot account for, among other things, why so many people around the world are becoming physically inactive and eating unhealthy diets. But as a result socio-economic factors are increasingly shaping the chronic disease epidemic.

Source: Bovet, P., & Paccaud, F. (2012). Cardiovascular disease and the changing face of global public health: a focus on low and middle income countries. Public Health Reviews, 33(2), 397-415.

Urbanisation, mechanisation of work, global marketing influencing social norms and lifestyles are the root causes of the CNCDs burden mediated through biological and behavioural risk factors. Here, the ecological approach has highlighted that focusing on intermediary or distal risk factors without considering the wider environment in which individual choices are made would be counterproductive and ultimately unsustainable.

So, what next?

In a pluralistic – and often under-regulated environment – there is a skewed response toward quick fixes that favour investments in healthcare provision without considering other policy options aimed at tackling the determinants of CNCDs. At the same time, the lack of resources and investments in many low-income countries (LICs) makes it very difficult to envisage how a government would be able to respond to the growing demands placed on a healthcare system, while donor countries still have a tendency to favour options that call for a focus on preventive measures.          
After years of neglect, world leaders recognised the compelling case for action with the declaration at the United Nations meeting on non-communicable diseases in September 2011. Since then, the WHO has been developing a Global Monitoring Framework and a Global Plan of Action that would support member states tackling non-communicable diseases and realise the commitments made by adopting the Political Declaration of the United Nations General Assembly for prevention and control of NCDs.

However, despite growing evidence on what works and identification of cost-effective interventions, political leaders in LICs still face difficult decisions about where to invest resources along the causal chain of disease.  While global prescriptions and normative statements have flourished, the operationalisation and contextualisation of the global CNCD discourse is still a work in progress.

Agricultural commercialisation: who wins and who loses?

by Ruth Hall, Associate Professor, PLAAS,

It depends what kind of agricultural commercialisation!Millennium Challenge Corporation Packhouse

This formed the centre of discussion at the Land and Agricultural Commercialisation in Africa (LACA) project meeting in Ghana from 1-4 October, where country research teams presented their interim findings from 9 case study sites in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia.

Our project asks:
  • What kinds of agricultural commercialisation benefit local small-scale farmers in Africa?
  • Which displace and exclude them?
  • Which create jobs, livelihoods and pathways into markets?
In this post I'll discuss some emerging findings from the project, and our future research plans.


Models of commercialisation

LACA project team
Photo: the LACA project team meet at the
Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana:
Ian Scoones, Dzodzi Tsikata, Paul Goldsmith, Adano Roba,
Vera Rocca, Dzifa Torvike, Joseph Teye,
Ruth Hall, Abdirizak Nunow (back row);
Emmanuel Sulle, Cyriaque Hakizimana, Joseph Yaro,
Chrispin Matenga, Edward (front row)

The LACA project explores the implications of three models of commercialisation in three case study sites in each country. The first year of the project has involved qualitative research in all 9 study sites. While these models have long been used in African agriculture and much is known about them, as Rebecca Smalley’s recent blog explains, the recent spate of large-scale land deals for commercial farming have underscored the urgency of provide evidence on their different impacts on rural livelihoods, gender relations, employment, and agrarian change.

The project aims to answer these and other questions by focusing on three different models of agricultural commercialisation:
  • large plantations and estates based on wage labour and vertically integrated into global markets;
  • areas dominated by medium-scale commercial farmers;
  • and outgrower schemes where small-scale farmers sell on contract to commercial processors.
This week’s meeting saw teams reporting on their qualitative research conducted in the first year of research, and also included a field trip  to visit small- to medium-scale commercial mango farmers selling to Blue Skies, a processing and export company selling pre-packed fresh cut fruit to upmarket supermarkets in the European Union.

The project is grounded in several contextual studies.

LACA project meeting
Photo: Dzodzi Tsikata (Institute for Social, Statistical and
Economic Research, University of Ghana) and Chrispin Matenga
(Development Studies, University of Zambia) during
discussion of the LACA project
A history paper, in draft form, draws on analysis of the evolution of commercial agriculture in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, exploring how these unfolded and were contested through the colonial period; the early post-colonial period of ‘developmentalism’; the liberalisation era from the 1980s; and the transformation era from the early 2000s, combining both reform and growing competition. The paper asks: under what political conditions did these three models emerge, re-emerge or persist? What are their historical antecedents? In what ways do their recent (re-)emergences reflect continuity or transformation?

A review of international development literature critically explores how narratives of scarcity are framing debates within Africa and globally concerning the need for, and character of, agricultural commercialisation. This paper, based on a review of 134 key policy documents, shows how competing framings of scarcity – notions of absolute scarcity, relative scarcity and political scarcity – are being fought over, in debates about food security, population growth, and the role of agricultural intensification in Africa as a response.


Emerging insights

Several important insights emerged at this stage of the research.

Firstly, our typology of models of agricultural commercialisation appears to be vindicated.
In each country, the models resonated with distinct features of commercial farming. Processes of agrarian change are clearly underway: the size distribution of landholdings changes quite rapidly at some of our study sites, farmers become wage workers, and many households straddle different livelihoods.
At the same time, important contextual differences emerged. For example, the term ‘commercial farmer’ means different things across our cases, in terms of wealth, scale of operation, the degree of employment, mechanization, and so on.

Secondly, local people and elite farmers are buying and leasing land - not just foreign 'land grabbers'.
Under both customary and freehold tenure regimes, elite farmers and local people are buying or leasing land and becoming significant actors in agriculture. This suggests a need to nuance the land grab debate, and to pay attention to who are the local investors and accumulators, and what market conditions are they responding to.

Thirdly, while there are clear patterns of capital accumulation within agriculture, it is happening in different ways and with different implications.
For instance, in the case of the commercial mango farmers at Somanya outside Accra, accumulation and commercialisation visible within the farming landscape was largely due to the investment of incomes from urban business and wage incomes (for example, retired civil servants).
This means that any study of commercialisation needs to be cautious about attribution. Policymakers may well be missing the degree to which ‘commercialisation’ is the transfer of capital from one sector to another, rather than endogenous development. So we need to look at the entry points for multipliers, a key focus for our next stage of exploring the impacts of commercialisation on local economies.


Plans: life histories, quantitative surveys, sampling

Photo: Cyriaque Hakizimana (PLAAS) discusses a sampling
strategy for a household survey, while Emmanuel Sulle
(PLAAS) takes notes.

Plans for the project include follow-up qualitative research, including life histories, as well as a quantitative research phase. The project team discussed a research instrument for the second year of the project, which will involve a quantitative household survey to determine impacts on local people, including households now getting jobs and those becoming commercial outgrowers. The stratified random sample will be administered in all nine study sites, with findings becoming available in late 2014.
This post was first published on the PLAAS blog.

(Energy & Climate Change): Citizens and science in a greener China

As China and the UK seek to collaborate more closely in science and innovation, there are lessons they can share about how to govern and debate new technologies, write Adrian Ely and David Tyfield in the Guardian today. A visit to Bejing by UK Chancellor George Osborne and science minister David Willetts this week, bought the nature of Chinese-UK science and innovation partnerships in to focus and on to the news agenda.

Drs Ely and Tyfield look at one such area of partnership, low carbon technologies, where there has been spectacular growth as a result of the targeted policies and investment. But state intervention alone is not enough. The article discusses how, in both countries, political challenges as well as technological ones must be addressed to bring about the necessary shift to a low carbon economy.

Low carbon innovation in China – Prospects, Politics and Practice

The article  links to a new STEPS Centre affiliate project, Low Carbon Innovation in China – Prospects, Politics and Practice, which will be launched in December. The project, led from Lancaster University, is an international collaboration between researchers in the UK and at leading institutions in China to investigate different models of innovation and their role in low carbon transitions.

The project's aim is explore the extent, nature and social implications of low-carbon transitions in China, a key concern for the whole world, and will compare government-led, high-tech 'indigenous innovation' approaches with emergent, lower-tech approaches in the areas of agriculture, energy and mobility.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Good & evil: two articles on closing down the debate on GM crops

Golden Rice grain compared to white rice (3)-19
by ricephotos on Flickr
By Nathan Oxley, STEPS Centre.

Is it right to call opponents of GM crops 'wicked'? In a recent interview, Owen Paterson denounced in starkly moralistic language people whom he sees as holding up progress on Golden Rice and other genetically modified foods.

In a piece for the Guardian’s Political Science blog, Andy Stirling argues in defence of scepticism and democracy in science.

“The issues go far beyond GM. What lies at threat more broadly, are both science and democracy – and their crucial interdependencies. [...] 
Rationality is not a kind of fairy dust that rubs off simply by invoking 'science'. And science itself is not a cargo cult, magicking into being single self-evident 'solutions' that brook no question. The real issues are about choices – both within and beyond science-based innovations. And as any real respect for science must show, the most important factors to explore will always be uncertainty and ambiguity. Here, the greatest assets are scepticism and democracy. 
Choices between technologies are not about 'yes' or 'no' to whatever the loudest voices assert uncompromisingly as 'progress'.”
Meanwhile, in a piece for the New Humanist blog, I've suggested that the rhetoric may close down important debates on how food is produced and consumed.

"Are you in favour of “rolling out” GM crops, or do you want little children in Bangladesh to die? In an interview for the Independent, Owen Paterson, the UK Environment Secretary, has called opponents of GM technology “wicked”, and accused them of “casting a dark shadow over attempts to feed the world”. 
[…] If you join the dots in the way Paterson has done, it's almost impossible to see GM as anything other than a battleground for the life and death of the world's poor, with Paterson on the side of the angels; and anyone who questions this narrative with feet firmly planted among the infernal legions of Satan himself."
Read the full posts here: