Thursday, 11 December 2014

Knowledge, Technology and Society blog will no longer be updated but you can read all the latest opinions from the IDS community on our website

This will be the last post to be published on this blog. The Institute of Development Studies now publishes all our members’ and guest bloggers’ posts directly onto our website.

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Monday, 8 December 2014

Space, markets and employment: 3 films from Zimbabwe

A new series of films explores the links between land reform and economic activity in Zimbabwe, focusing on three commodities: tobacco, beef and horticulture.

The films are produced for the 'Space, Markets and Employment in Agricultural Development' (SMEAD) project by Pamela Ngwenya, supported by the field team. They are accompanied by an overview film.

Zimbabwe is one of three countries where the SMEAD project has undertaken case studies. The others are Malawi and South Africa.

Watch the films on YouTube (high resolution playlist)
Watch the films on YouTube (low resolution playlist)


Over the last couple of years the SMEAD project has looked at the linkages between agricultural production, employment and other economic activity and the spatial patterns of these interactions. Detailed case studies have explored the different growth pathways linked to agriculture, and how inclusive these are, asking who gains and who loses from agricultural commercialisation.

The study links to well-trodden debates about scale and agriculture, and the linkage and multiplier effects of different types of farming. Do big or small farms create more employment and economic growth, for whom and where? What spatial mix of farm sizes and markets make sense? Can local economic development flourish in an era of globalisation?

The early indications from the SMEAD studies suggest an interesting story, especially for Zimbabwe. This suggests a focus on local economic development, capitalising on and amplifying the linkages already created by entrepreneurial farmers who have benefited from land reform. This will mean a major rethink of rural development policy and planning, but the benefits could be significant if the cases highlighted in these films are anything to go by.

Read more: Making markets: local economic development following land reform (Zimbabweland blog)

Watch this film on YouTube


The rebound of tobacco production in Zimbabwe is striking. From a low in the mid-2000s of only around 48 million kgs, the last season produced 216 million kgs, and exports have soared. For the coming season over 75,000 farmers have registered to sell.

How does tobacco production, spread across so many farmers, affect local economies? In the Mvurwi area in Mazowe district, you cannot escape the impacts of tobacco. The local economy includes companies providing inputs and transport; employment of labour; and farmers using their profits to start businesses and improving their homes and farms. Other local businesses benefit too. The downsides include health problems from tobacco curing, and the destruction of local forests for curing wood.

Read more: Tobacco: driving growth in local economies (Zimbabweland blog)

Watch this film on YouTube

Commercial horticulture

Mr Mahove of Wondedzo extension A1 resettlement area and his wives appear on the video, shot in 2014. He is an example of a new farming entrepreneur, focusing on irrigated horticulture for local markets. He was a pioneer in the area, but many others are now following his example, making often significant money from selling vegetables.

Mr Mahove is one of a number of new irrigation entrepreneurs in the Wondedzo area of Masvingo district. Each has invested in pumps and pipes and are making good use of available water supplies. All have developed market networks linking to Masvingo town and beyond, as well as supplying the local area. They are also employing people for a range of tasks. But there are constraints to this form of production, notably competition for limited supplies of water, which are insufficiently regulated.

Read more: The new irrigation entrepreneurs: commerical horticulture in Masvingo (Zimbabweland blog)

Watch this film on YouTube

Beef in Masvingo

The final film in the ‘Making Markets’ series focuses on the beef sector in Masvingo. In farms that were once large-scale ranches, with high quality animals stocked at very low rates, now a very different cattle production system has emerged on the new resettlements. Here multi-purpose herds are being kept providing multiple functions – draft, transport, milk, manure – and also meat.

The beef market has radically changed, from one focused on high quality cuts and exports to the supply of a growing urban domestic market. New farmers are supplying beef via a range of private abbatoirs, butcheries, supermarkets and informal meat traders. The whole value chain has transformed in ways that has resulted in employment and more locally-based, inclusive growth.

Watch this film on YouTube

About the SMEAD project

The 'Space, Markets and Employment in Agricultural Development' (SMEAD) project is co-ordinated by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies based at UWC in Cape Town under supported by the UK ESRC and DFID growth research programme.

More video

The project has also produced a documentary film, Cultivating Unemployment, looking at jobs and poverty in the rural economy in South Africa.

Mailing list

To receive updates from this project, sign up to the PLAAS mailing list, ticking the "Space, Markets&Employment in AgriDevelopment " box.

Transforming beef markets in Zimbabwe

This week the final film in the ‘Making Markets’ video series is released. This focuses on the transformed beef sector in Masvingo. In farms that were once large-scale ranches, with high quality animals stocked at very low rates, now a very different cattle production system has emerged on the new resettlements. Here multi-purpose herds are being kept providing multiple functions – draft, transport, milk, manure – and also meat. The beef market has radically changed, from one focused on high quality cuts and exports to the supply of a growing urban domestic market. New farmers are supplying beef via a range of private abbatoirs, butcheries, supermarkets and informal meat traders.
The whole value chain has transformed in ways that has resulted in employment and more locally-based, inclusive growth.

The video picks up on themes discussed in earlier blogs, including on:
This work, and the production of the film, has been supported by the Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development (SMEAD) project, looking at changing patterns of local economic activity following land reform.

Watch the video here (as before if you’ve watched others in the series, you can skip the first 1 min and 30 secs. Also if you would prefer a low resolution version, the link is here):

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

COP20: Research from the edge

cop20_logo_text_173The UN Climate Change Conference (COP20) in Lima, Peru (1-12 December 2014) will settle the key elements of a global climate deal to be finalised in Paris next year, when the deadline for a new deal runs out.

The ESRC STEPS Centre and its partners around the world have been working on policy-relevant research in the places at the sharp edge of climate change, where it is having a huge effect on people’s lives and livelihoods. Here are a selection of resources, relevant to the COP20 negotiations, on the impact of climate change on poor and marginalised people, at the intersections of intersections of energy, agriculture, water and health.

Latin American partner:
Centro STEPS America Latina – the new Latin American regional hub for our Global Pathways to Sustainability Consortium, based at CENIT in Buenos Aires, Argentina.


  • Energy and Climate Change domain With increasing access to modern energy services a key international development priority, the STEPS Centre believes a much broader and ambitious approach to energy and development is needed.
  • Political Ecologies of Carbon in Africa New deals and funding mechanisms aim to reduce emissions. One consequence of this is the growth of a market in carbon. This project examines the power, politics and perceptions of carbon in Africa as new schemes are planned and put into action.
  • Uncertainty from Above and Below How do people deal with uncertainty about the climate? Theories, models and diagrams from "above" may have little to do with the way how everyday men and women live with, understand and cope with uncertainty. This project brings together the views of people who study uncertainty, with the perspectives of people who experience it.
  • Pro-poor, low carbon development This project aims to improve the transfer and uptake of low carbon technologies in developing countries, and to do so in ways that can assist in their economic development.
  • Environmental Change and Maize Innovations in Kenya
    In East Africa, maize is an important staple crop, a vital part of food security. This project examined the various options for farmers in the region – from choosing alternative crops, to using new techniques or technology. It looked at how farmers and others see and make these choices in the context of climate change, uncertain markets and changes in land use.
  • Low Carbon Innovation in China This project explores the extent, nature and social implications of low-carbon transitions in China, a key concern for the whole world.
Recent blogposts:
Key People:

Monday, 1 December 2014

Maker culture and sustainability

What are citizen labs and ‘maker’ culture providing to sustainable development? STEPS researcher Adrian Smith was part of a panel discussing this question at an event on 18 November in Madrid. A recording from the event is now available.

Listen to the discussion on the Medialab-Prado website (audio in Spanish)

The debate explored the connections between sustainability and the growing number of participatory spaces, mainly in cities, where people experiment with new ways of producing objects and processes – Fab Labs, hackspaces, makerspaces, urban orchards and the like.

The event was organised by Medialab Prado and itdUPM (Centro de Innovación en Tecnología para el Desarollo Humano). The other participants in the panel were Carlos Mataix (itdUPM director), a representative from Makespace Madrid, Ignacio Prieto (coordinador of the Fablab UPM), and Marcos García (director of Medialab-Prado), and the chair, Xosé Ramil (itdUPM’s communications coordinator).

For more on this topic, see our project Grassroots innovation: historical and comparative perspectives

STEPS America Latina launches new website

The Centro STEPS America Latina – the new Latin American regional hub for our Global Pathways to Sustainability Consortium – has unveiled its own dedicated website.

The new website is now live at


The Centro STEPS website is run by a team at the Centro de Investigaciones para la Transformación (CENIT) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who have been working with the STEPS Centre since 2008 on issues linking science, technology and innovation with environmental sustainability and social justice.

The new website showcases the Latin American hub's research, policy engagement and other activities in the region, featuring publications, multimedia outputs, events and a blog. Research areas highlights include 'innovation movements', 'productive transformations', 'power & knowledge', and 'knowledge networks'.

At the moment, the website is available only in Spanish, but English-language content will be added soon.

Making global connections

Centro STEPS America Latina is the first centre in our Global Consortium to launch its own website following the launch of the hub with a series of debates earlier this year (insert link. The five other hubs in the Consortium are being developed by our partners in South Asia, China, Africa and North America. News from the hubs will be posted here as it happens.

To keep up to date with developments, join our mailing list.

To contact the Latin America team, email

26 November 2014: China and Brazil in African agriculture - news roundup

This news roundup has been collected on behalf of the China and Brazil in African Agriculture (CBAA) project.

For regular updates from the project, sign up to the CBAA newsletter.

New policy brief by Sérgio Chichava on China in Mozambique
Sérgio Chichava’s presentation in Washington DC has just been published as a policy brief. Its title is ‘Chinese Agricultural Investment in Mozambique: the case of the Wanbao rice farm’.
(SAIS (pdf))

Foreign-based Chinese farms face obstacles to selling produce in China
Two officials from China’s Ministry of Agriculture have published a report about the difficulties overseas Chinese farmers and agricultural firms face in exporting their produce back to China. The report found that many agricultural firms had to buy import quotas from other companies, and some were only allowed to export a fraction of what they produced back to China.
(South China Morning Post)

New FAO Credit Line for Mozambican farmers
The FAO is said to have opened a new line of credit to reduce pockets of hunger in 36 districts of Maputo, Beira and Nacal with loans becoming available in the first quarter of 2015. This will mainly be targeting families that grow vegetables and grain.
(Macau Hub: English / Portuguese)
African organic foods in Kunming Agriculture Fair
The 14th Kunming Pan-Asian International Agriculture Fair was hosted last week, and a Chinese news article reports on an African vendor present. This year’s fair was focused around “natural ecological” products and the African stall owner is quoted as saying that because of Chinese perceptions of Africa, Chinese consumers may not have faith in African manufactured products, but may give greater respectability to their “natural ecological” products.

Agência Brasileira de Cooperação sends delegation to Ghana
Brazil’s international co-operation agency sent a delegation to Ghana in May 2014 to look at strengthening nutrition programmes in schools. The seminar convened delegates from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, and Brazil’s National Fund for the Development of Education (FNDE).
(ABC (in Portuguese))

Chinese construction firm plans $5bn investment in Angolan farming
The Chinese consortium, CITIC Construction Co., is reportedly planning to invest $5 billion in 500,000 hectares of land in Angola next year. This will focus on maize, soy and wheat planting. The company also claims to have already developed two 10,000ha farms in the country already.
(China Daily)

What Brazil could learn from Ghana
This article argues that rather than just focusing on Brazil’s agricultural development model, it could also learn something from Ghana. This is interesting, because it raises questions around whether Ghanaian agricultural development lessons could be transferred to Brazil (or China) too.

Zimbabwe: lessons from China
This article by Fay King Chung in the Zimbabwe-based Herald discusses lessons that the country could learn from China. It touches upon how China encouraged its diaspora communities to invest in the rebuilding of the country, and wise economic management. The writer also recommends that the Zimbabwean government should focus on agriculture, and attract Chinese support in the infrastructure sector.
(The Herald)

The new irrigation entrepreneurs: commerical horticulture in Masvingo

This week, we are releasing the next video in the 'Making Markets' series. This time it focuses on vegetable production in Mavingo (if you’ve seen the other ones, you can skip the first 1 min and 30 secs, as it’s the same intro. The total length is 11 mins. Also, if your internet connection is slow, there’s a lower resolution version too).

Mr Mahove of Wondedzo extension A1 resettlement area and his wives appear on the video, shot in 2014. He is an example of a new farming entrepreneur, focusing on irrigated horticulture for local markets. He was a pioneer in the area, but many others are now following his example, making often significant money from selling vegetables. We interviewed him in 2012 as part of the 'Space, Markets and Employment in Agricultural Development' project:

"I am 30 years and originate from Chikombedzi. I am married to six wives and we have a total of 11 children. I belong to John Marange Apostolic church which emphasizes self-reliance. I used to survive using my hands as a tin smith based at Bhuka Irrigation scheme some 20 km south of Masvingo town. While there I was impressed by the fact that people were prospering through irrigation. I am the elder son. My father passed on in 2004 and left behind a large family of 20 on this 28 hectare plot who had to be taken care of. I had no option but to inherit the plot and the responsibility over family.
"In 2006 I decided to practise what I had seen at Bhuka Irrigation scheme in order to make money and cater for family needs. We started irrigating with buckets from a small dam near the homestead from 2006 to 2007, selling vegetables locally and a bit to Masvingo town. The funds allowed me to buy a water foot pump. In 2010 I bought a 5 HP diesel water pump for USD $220. Members of the community who were irrigating using buckets started complaining saying I was finishing the water in the small dam. I was irrigating just 0.4 ha, but they still evicted me in 2010.
"I approached the councilor, also from my same church, who gave me part of his land (0.3 ha) close to Mutirikwe river to do my horticulture pumping water from the river at the start of 2011. The area proved too small to satisfy increasing demand for my produce. I approached the councilor again who allowed me to use part of state land allocated to the cattle dip. My total irrigable area was now 1.5 hectares. All along I was renting irrigation pipes from Mr Madzokere, a plot holder, for USD$ 17 per month. In 2011 I bought 46 irrigation pipes from Mbare/Magaba in Harare at USD$46 per pipe. I was now irrigating full time and making good money which made people jealous.
"The struggle to evict me started again. I was accused of invading the dip area. First I was reported to Vet Department. They came and were impressed by my irrigation and allowed me to continue because I was using only a small part of the dip area. I was reported again to Zimbabwe National Water Authority ZINWA) for abstracting water without a permit. They came and again were impressed and advised me to get a permit which I did. ZINWA gave me a permit for domestic use which means I was not using amounts that warranted payment for water use. I was then reported to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) . The allegation was that I was cutting trees during land clearing which caused deforestation. They came and made assessments and concluded there was no environmental threat in what I was doing. I was then reported e to the Ministry of Lands for using state land without a permit. The District Administrator, chief, councilor, Committee of Seven and other players became involved. They came to the conclusion that I was actually doing the community a service because I am the one who pumps water into the dip using my engine. The people who wanted me evicted had failed and as a last resort they physically confronted me at the irrigation plot. I stood my ground and they left humiliated up to now. I produce rape, tomatoes, cabbages and green mealies. I sell most of my rape and cabbbages to OK supermarket, Tsungai supermarket and the local market also buy rape and cabbages. The bulk of tomatoes is bought by 5 women vendors from the kutrain market in Masvingo. Supermarkets want tomatoes in bulk – the whole of 1 ha. I cannot supply that amount.
"I hope to manage the seasonal pattern of supply. For rape I supply 500 bundles twice per week. January to June is the highest production. It sells at 25-30c per bundle. The main season for cabbage February to September. I sell 300 heads/once per week at 50-65 c per head. I sell green mealies for $1 for 10, sold at Roy Business Centre along the highway. For green leaf vegetables we prepare dried vegetables (mufushwa) from poor quality plants and trimmings. This is sold at Masvingo kutrain market at $5/20 litre bucket.
"For transport I hire Mr Ruchanyu's two-tonne truck. He's a fellow Apostolic farmer nearby. It costs US$25 to town Also Mr Mugabazhi has a smaller 1 tonne truck. He is extension supervisor. He goes to work in town and will carry produce [since 2012, Mahove has bought his own from the proceeds of his sales]".
Mahove is one of a number of new irrigation entrepreneurs in the Wondedzo area of Masvingo district. Each has invested in pumps and pipes and are making good use of available water supplies. All have developed market networks linking to Masvingo town and beyond, as well as supplying the local area. They are also employing people for a range of tasks. With a limited capital investment in irrigation equipment, the returns are significant, and many have, like Mahove, bought vehicles to assist with their marketing, as well as improving their homes, sending kids to school and so on.

But there are clear constraints to this form of production. Water is the key limitation, as the water sources are limited, and under increasing pressure. While extraction is not massive with the small pumps, as more and more join this form of small-scale commercial irrigation, seasonal water scarcities are emerging, along with conflicts over who has access. The authorities have not thought how to regulate such water access, as the Water Act offers only large-scale catchment management solutions geared to large scale irrigation. Policy innovation in this area will be important to ensure that people have equitable access to water, and that the resource is not permanently depleted. The other challenge of course is marketing. Mahove was a new entrant into the market, establishing early connections with supermarkets and traders. But there is intense competition, and major gluts at certain times of year. Tomatoes in particular are a favoured crop, and diversification is essential. This makes managing production in a market-sensitive way essential, as well as expanding out into processing to add value. Mahove and family are involved in drying vegetables, but other options will need to be explored in order to maximize income.

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

Monday, 24 November 2014

Tobacco: driving growth in local economies

The rebound of tobacco production in Zimbabwe is striking. From a low in the mid-2000s of only around 48 million kgs, the last season produced 216 million kgs, almost hitting the levels of historical peak production 236 million kgs. Last season recorded exports of some US$450m, with Belgium and China being the major buyers. For the coming season over 75,000 farmers have registered to sell, mostly from the communal areas, but some around 27,000 from A1 resettlement farms. This is dramatically different to the pre-land reform era when tobacco production was dominated by a about 2000 large scale farms.

How does tobacco production, spread across so many farmers, affect local economies? Our studies under the Space, Markets and Employment in Agricultural Development (SMEAD) project took us to the Mvurwi area in Mazowe district. Here you cannot escape the impacts of tobacco. Those growing, mostly through contracting arrangements (nationally this was about three-quarters of all production) are linked to a number of companies who provide inputs, transport and other support. This has allowed farmers with limited capital to get going. The new farmers are employing labour, including many from the former farm compounds, and are sinking their profits into a variety of businesses, including transport and real estate. They are improving their farms and homes, and buying farm equipment. It is an intensely vibrant local economy, with spin off benefits for those running shops, beer halls, transport busineesses and offering services from hairdressing to tailoring. There are downsides too, as the growing of tobacco, and particularly its curing has negative health and environmental impacts. The destruction of local forests for curing wood has been dramatic.

Our film on tobacco in the ‘Making Markets’ series tried to capture some of this dynamic, with interviews from farmers involved at different scales, both on A1 and A2 farms. Watch it here:

There are clear challenges in the tobacco sector, but the last few years has shown that small-scale farmers, supported by contracting arrangements, can contribute high quality products, and reap the benefits of of a high value export crop. And most significantly the benefits are more widely shared than was the case before, suggesting opportunities for a much more inclusive growth pathway.

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

Innovation choices in the face of uncertainty

Professor Andy Stirling writes chapter in the UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser’s inaugural report

Sir Mark Walport today launches his first ever annual report as UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Innovation: Managing risk not avoiding it, which includes a chapter written by Professor Andy Stirling, Co-Director of the ESRC-funded STEPS Centre, based at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) of the University of Sussex.

In his contributory chapter, Making choices in the face of uncertainty: towards innovation democracy? Professor Stirling criticises the tendency in conventional debates on new technologies, to treat supporters as being simply ‘pro innovation’ and critics generally ‘anti-science’. Such language can be routinely heard being used, for instance, in controversies over GM foods, new chemicals or nuclear power.

According to Prof. Stirling: “The problem is that this misses the single most important point about innovation. Like other areas of policy – the key issues are about choosing between alternatives. To reduce this to simply being ‘for’ or ‘against’ the particular choice favoured by the most powerful interests is both irrational and anti-democratic”.

Referring to torture, weapons of mass destruction and financial fraud, Prof. Stirling points out that not all innovation is necessarily positive. Any particular innovation is typically ambiguous – open to being viewed in different ways. He therefore argues: “Whether any given innovation is preferable to the alternatives is not just a technical issue, but a fundamentally political question. To pretend that this is simply about ‘science based’ evidence – with no room for different social values – is also undermining of democracy”.

Prof. Stirling’s chapter explores the case for more mature debate and more reasoned decision-making. Across a range of areas, if we are to secure a future for all, there is a need to treat alternative priorities, resource allocations and innovation options in much more balanced and transparent ways, he believes.

For Prof. Stirling, the issues are not just about how fast to go, or even what the risks or benefits might be, in pursuing some supposedly single option, like GM foods. The real questions are about how privileged innovations can quickly get ‘locked in’ and alternatives ‘crowded out’. In the case of sustainable global food production, the chapter details a wide range of alternatives that even UK government support suggests often to be preferable to GM in their potential.

Also today, Prof. Stirling and Professor Paul Nightingale, also of SPRU, gave evidence at the fourth session of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee’s inquiry into genetically modified (GM) foods and the way in which these are regulated at European level under the precautionary principle. See resource pack GM food and the precautionary principle.

In both his chapter and his evidence to the committee, Prof. Stirling highlights the importance of more democratic institutions, practices and debates around innovation. Rather than reducing everything simply to ‘risk’, much more attention needs to be given to unquantifiable uncertainties – highlighting the value of more responsible, participatory and precautionary methods for assessing alternative choices.

He also argues for much greater attention to diversity – both in the portfolios of options that can be supported and in the plurality of perspectives to take into account. There exist a range of different practical methods for more effectively addressing these issues, but these also tend to be neglected in simplistic polarizing ‘pro’ / ‘anti’ debates.

The Government Chief Scientific Adviser’s report aims to help improve decision making in regulation and innovation policy. It is hoped the report will promote discussion and a regulatory culture surrounding risk in which robust scientific evidence is openly considered alongside political and other non-scientific issues in shaping policy.

Read the report and Andy Stirling’s chapter


More resources

The precautionary principle must be retained, unless we are willing to be reckless with our common future

rupert-readI recently submitted evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry on GM food and the Precautionary Principle. Unfortunately, as you’ll see intimated at the outset of my remarks there, I have relatively little faith in the inquiry.

It seems to me that the inquiry’s terms have pre-judged the outcome – very ironic, given the Committee’s alleged desire for an ‘evidence-based’ policy! Sadly, I think that they have decided that they want to force GM food on an unwilling British public, and are cynically using the chimera of a solely ‘evidence-based’ policy-process to justify a conclusion that they have pre-judged.

Why do I say use the strong term, “chimera”? My reasons are explained here, in this my main published piece thus far on this matter, co-authored with Nassim N. Taleb (author of The Black Swan) and others.
In very brief (and as set out in a suitably brief form here – scroll forward to page 9): it might be true that the evidence against GM food is weak. Even if that were true, that would in no way license the conclusion that GM food is safe. Absence of evidence of harm is not evidence of absence of harm. One needs to consider the vast unevidenced realm of what else might have happened in the past but didn’t and of what might happen in the future (which by definition hasn’t happened yet), and not just the thin sliver represented by the best available evidence.

Nevertheless, we have to try, and not just give up on the Select Committee process altogether. And so, along with the good people of STEPS and various others, we’ve had and are having a go (jointly-signed written evidence). Perhaps the Select Committee will prove me wrong. Perhaps the Committee and its inquiry are less cynical and pre-judged than I fear.


Guest blog by Rupert Read

About the authorRupert Read is Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, and the Chair of Green House. His recent work includes the first and last essays in The Post-growth project, and his book Wittgenstein among the sciences.

Find out moreResource Pack: GM Food and the Precautionary Principle

Challenging misconceptions: Inclusive agricultural economies already exist in Africa

Eggs by Umma wa Wapanda Baisikeli Dar es Salaam (UWABA)
on Flickr (cc-by-nc-nd)
Often depicted as merely a begging bowl waiting for the munificence of superior westerners, Africa is seriously maligned. Indeed, across Africa citizens have always engaged in vibrant, innovative livelihoods activities, and these activities are ongoing. So when foreigners and Africans themselves imagine that inclusive agricultural growth can only come from foreign investment, they need to check the blind spots which render thriving African economic activity invisible.

For example, as presented by Marc Wegerif of Oxfam at the third day of the inaugural Conference on Land Policy in Africa, in Tanzania rural villages surrounding Dar es Salaam are already supplying the city’s massive food needs. Wegerif described how about 950,000 eggs were delivered daily by bicycle to the city, generating income for chicken farmers, those bringing the eggs to the city on bicycle, and the traders who sell the eggs in Dar es Salaam. People purchasing these eggs pay about half of what they would in a Dar supermarket, yet this route is more lucrative for chicken farmers than supplying to supermarkets. If the chicken farmers instead sold to supermarkets, the produce would not have the diversified multiplier effects that existing processes do, and yet, policy makers and foreign development practitioners often seek to encourage value chains to be geared towards supplying formal markets.

Wegerif went on to highlight how easily this economic activity could be enhanced if the Tanzanian government simply invested in building bicycle paths in and around the city. He told similar stories for milk (45,000 litres of milk delivered daily to Dar es Salaam by just one small producer project) and maize (33 tons of maize trucked to Dar es Salaam every week by one woman, who gathered maize by the barrow and ox car load from small producers). He discussed how these activities were preferable to pushing millions of small producers off the land to make way for large scale land based investments in agriculture. Wegerif emphasized that investment needed to take place in partnership with small producers, who are actually the drivers of African economic activity. If the problems of insecurity and poor infrastructure were solved, these activities would boom. The bottom line is that for African economic development, bigger and more concentrated are unlikely to be better, and in fact are likely to push smaller producers into further livelihoods hardship. He said African farmers are impressive, but are hampered by poor infrastructure and insecurity, including in some countries, harassment by soldiers.

Where to invest?

At the same time, said Madiodio Niasse of the International Land Coalition, African agriculture needs huge investments, but we have a choice whether to invest in existing producers and enhance their abilities, or to put aside existing farmers and take over their land with foreign companies adopting their preferred agricultural, land use, and trade model. Niasse pointed out that if we opened to foreign companies, we were going to lose control of our land and our countries, which would lead to increased inequality. The extent of foreign large scale land based investment in Africa at present meant that foreign land ownership was close to reaching the levels of foreign ownership under colonialism. Such asset loss would be detrimental to Africans. Niasse pointed out that it was easy to simply hand land over to foreigners and hope they would somehow allow Africa to prosper; going the route of securing African farmer’s land rights and building infrastructure was more complex and difficult, but in the end, security and investment would allow African landholders to prosper, while building African economies.

Have large scale land deals delivered prosperity?

Ward Anseeuw of the Land Matrix pointed out that the evidence was overwhelming that large land deals did not deliver on promises, particularly had failed to create jobs and provide livelihoods security for those who lost land through these deals. Indeed, he pointed out that nowhere in the world had large scale farming led to the levels of job creation that Africa needs. At the same time, since large scale agricultural projects cannot deliver on job creation, Anseeuw said rather than focusing on externally-driven, outsourced and hired labour solutions, African countries should focus on enhancing the viability of their many small scale producers. Even when projects created jobs, as Chrispen Matenga from the University of Zambia pointed out, African governments were held hostage against introducing minimum wages by the threat of retrenchments.

Instead of opting for solutions from outside, African countries need to undertake more territorial, inclusive spatial and political economy planning for African development, Anseeuw said. Inclusive agricultural growth in Africa could not be achieved simply by adopting international instruments; local people need to be involved in planning, implementation and monitoring to bring about inclusive growth. This starts with African governments having the guts to negotiate much more lucrative trade deals, rather than simply accepting the prices and terms of international markets.

By Rebecca Pointer, PLAAS

This post first appeared on the PLAAS blog.

Read other blog posts from the Conference on Land Policy in Africa.

19 November 2014: China and Brazil in African agriculture - news roundup

This news roundup has been collected on behalf of the China and Brazil in African Agriculture (CBAA) project.

For regular updates from the project, sign up to the CBAA newsletter.

New briefing explores Chinese agricultural investment in Uganda
A new policy brief has just been published on the China-Africa Research Initiative based at Johns Hopkins, SAIS, regarding ‘The Political Ecology of Chinese Agricultural Investment in Uganda: the case of Hanhe Farm’. This paper was prepared by Josh Maiyo about Hebei Hanhe farm.

China-Africa Agricultural Cooperation Forum held in Hainan
The 5th China-Africa Roundtable Summit in Hainan included a ‘China-Africa Agricultural Cooperation Forum’. This invited representatives from related Chinese ministries, African embassies, the FAO, the WFP, etc. Hainan-Africa cooperation potential was spoken about with senior local officials stressing the climatic similarities between the Chinese island and African environments. They also spoke about building a “21st Century Silk Road of the Sea” and an “agricultural cooperation corridor” between the two regions.
( – in Chinese / Sierra Express media)

Technology sales and trainings were also highlighted at the event by a representative of China’s Ministry of Agriculture.
( – in Chinese)

Inefficient Chinese agribusiness models in Africa?
The blogger Dim Sums argues that China is exporting the most inefficient parts of its own agricultural sector to Africa. The author looks first at investments and the transfer of fertilizer, pesticide and seed-breeding, which he argues have all been big concerns for their excessive use in China this year. Second he looks at the companies involved in producing food for Chinese markets, but argues they are often have no experience of actually producing food and are notoriously inefficient at storing and transporting grain.
(Dim Sums)
ABC interview key figures on South-South cooperation
The Agência Brasileira de Cooperação (ABC) has published a series of interviews with people related to its South-South cooperation programmes. Relevant to African cooperation projects, this has included an interview with the Director of EMBRAPA, Maurício Antônio Lopes, and the Beninese Ambassador to Brasil, Isidore Monsi.
(Interview with Maurício Antônio Lopes / Interview with Isidore Monsi)

Agribusiness Due-Diligence
The French development agency, AFD, along with partners have put together the ‘Guide to due diligence of agribusiness projects that affect land and property rights’. This seeks to guide French investments as “It presents an Analytical Framework and a Guide that each institution can now appropriate and use to change their internal project evaluation procedures.”

Zimbabwe VP accused over Brazilian chicken imports
Zimbabwe’s Vice President Joice Mujuru has been accused of importing Brazilian chickens to Zimbabwe despite the country’s import bans to protect local farmers. However, Joice Mujuru is also taking legal action against the Herald and Sunday Mail newspapers for defamation over claims that she was involved in a plot to assassinate Robert Mugabe.
(AllAfrica / Summary of accusations – BBC / Joice Mujuru’s statement)

Negotiating Investment Contracts for Farmland and Water
The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has released a Guide to Negotiating Investment Contracts for Farmland and Water, developed by its team of lawyers, social scientists and environmentalists. “Based on a more than three-year investigation of 80 agricultural investment contracts, the user-friendly guide provides options for countries to develop rural economies, boost employment, build agricultural processing factories, protect against the impacts of climate change and ensure enough water for all.”

‘Transfers Keep Rural Counties Afloat in China’
Blog article looking at how rural county budgets in China are given regular transfers to remain afloat. Since taxes from farmers’ is often insufficient to cover the costs of the local bureaux, award systems have been set up to discourage local governments to resort to selling off the land for development projects. However, local governments still complain that if the subsidies they give to their farmers are counted with the costs the farmers bear to produce, then it is clear the grain is still being sold for cheaper than it is worth in urban areas.
(Dim Sums)

7 ways to work for better land rights

Beekeepers in Ethiopia, ©Tom Pietrasik / Oxfam
What have we learnt from past efforts to secure land rights in Africa? And how can land rights be secured under different tenure regimes?

These are the questions that were tackled on the second day of the inaugural Conference on Land Policy in Africa, hosted by the Land Policy Initiative of the African Union, African Development Bank and UNECA, taking place currently at African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.

Recognise and strengthen customary rights, starting with statutory recognition

Most of Africa’s land is held under customary land rights, and many of these property regimes are robust and have local legitimacy. Conventional land administration systems often fail in Africa, as they are not appropriately configured to address customary tenure rights.

Across the continent, there has been a move away from formal titling as the only or best way to secure rights. One of the main arguments in favour of titling – the ‘credit effect’ – has been been widely discredited. Customary tenure is the norm in Africa, not an aberration, and should be recognized and supported, not treated as an inferior form of tenure.

Policy, law and land administration need to recognise and secure rights held under diverse tenure systems. Individual land titling is a very limited type of formalization, which often fails to capture the complex and overlapping nature of customary tenure rights.

To what degree can statutory recognition of customary and other informal and unregistered property rights assist? While this provides a defence for local people against intrusions on their land, it does not clarify who holds what, and access to appropriate land governance and dispute resolution institutions. In particular, the inaccessibility of formal legal institutions of the justice system means that strengthening institutions from the local level is a key point of intervention.

Community, rather than individual, titling must be further explored as an option

At the same time, with enormously growing competition for land, and multiple threats of loss of tenure, there is widespread demand for registration or certification of some kind, and policymakers and practitioners need to respond to this.

Experiments with group or community titling of outer boundaries are an important innovation that has been implemented in a number of different ways in different environments, in Africa but also elsewhere, such as in the case of the Mexican ejidos.

Research is urgently needed to determine whether, in the recent cases in Africa, such as Mozambique, securing the outer boundary has provided effective relief against external threats to community land and natural resources and averted conflicts with neighbouring villages. We know that it does not automatically do so. How can community titling work for transhuman societies such as pastoralists, who assert collective rather than individual claims to land and related resources? Research is also needed to assess what impacts registering an external boundary and establishing local land administration committees has had on internal configurations of rights. Are rightsholders more secure?

Women’s land rights remain weak under customary tenure, but formalization is not necessarily the answer

Land grabbing does not only take the form of big corporate land deals – women are subject to having their land grabbed by extended family and local elites. Women who are trying to defend their land are subject to asset stripping, land grabbing and accusations of witchcraft. In these ways, women face the combination of traditional laws of inheritance with new challenges associated with growing urbanization, land demand and land values, as well as large-scale land-based investments.

Certification and commodifying land is not necessarily the answer. Even where statutory recognition is offered, women may be excluded through informal processes from becoming involved in land governance institutions. Land administration committees were established at kebele level to take forward certification, but only 7% of those participating in these committees were women. Men dominate dispute resolution mechanisms, and for these reasons there remain disparities between land policy goals and implementation. And while some policymakers favour the growth of land markets, these do not benefit women, especially poorer grassroots women. We need to understand markets as being gendered institutions.

Custom or rights for women? This is a false dichotomy

African traditional systems are patriarchal, treating women as dependents, despite their central roles in land use. This prevents women from participating in land administration processes and institutions.
A salient message from several sessions, including the plenary and the session on women’s land rights, was that neither statutory nor customary laws adequately protect women. The tensions and contradictions between global frameworks, national laws, and traditions and customs must be resolved through challenging customs to conform with women’s human rights. The challenge is to transfer the issue of women’s property rights from the private domain of the household to the public domain of human rights. This means working with and transforming traditional institutions, as these are the fora to which women turn when seeking justice, rather than the formal legal system.

Supporting women’s collective action is key

There have been positive experiences of women mobilizing to challenge discriminatory practices and institutions. Women can be supported to increase community awareness of gender injustice, even through processes that do not have an explicit gender focus, such as community mapping exercises to identify existing land uses and claims.

Women’s land rights can be strengthened through grassroots mobilization combined with supportive state institutions and wider alliances. Mobilization of women across rural but also urban areas can help to build broader coalitions pursuing their rights. Securing women’s land rights requires capacity building to equip women leadership skills to mobilise more women.

One priority is to design and implement new community justice mechanisms and processes, such as community monitors and community paralegals to intervene in violations of all people’s land rights. Again, interventions to secure rights in general can achieve real benefits for women, if appropriately designed. Women can collectively access services unavailable to individuals – for instance, a revolving loan fund based on women’s own savings and contributions from funding agencies enabled women to access land and engage a surveyor

Political leadership and evidence from research are needed to transform policies and practices
Parliaments have an important role in land governance: they approve, ratify and enact laws, frameworks and policies in their countries and regionally. They represent the communities and can sensitize and mobilize people on land policy issues. They also can approve budgets, and hold governments accountable, for land policy implementation.

They do, though, face constraints and the complexity of land issues requires parliamentarians to forge relationships with a wide variety of stakeholders. Parliaments can enact laws to strengthen transparency in land transactions, and to curb corruption, by requiring that Parliaments must consider and ratify large-scale land acquisitions above a certain size threshold, and all countries must have laws regulating large-scale land-based investments.

At the same time, promoting best practices requires us to have clear examples of positive customary systems – this is the foundation for evidence-based policy making. But evidence by itself does not change policy. Land is a profoundly political issue, and political leadership and support to challenge and transform. This requires working with national political leaders – in collaboration with regional and global bodies – to become champions of ordinary people’s land rights, and especially those of women, young people, and marginalised groups such as pastoralists.

Technical tools to secure land rights require wider policy and institutional support

Land rights tools should be implemented at country level to ensure that policies are implemented – but we need to learn about how multiple tools can be synchronized. There needs to be increased participation in interacting with the tools for in depth understanding of their application and particularly how civil society can make use of them and interrogate them.

The social domain tenure model (STDM), for instance, can be useful as information and planning tool for informal settlements. As a type of barefoot surveying, STDM is a bottom-up approach with a key role for the local community and both requires but can also strengthen partnerships among relevant stakeholders. It is key to include traditional leaders and community leaders and to ensure a mix of technical and social skills among implementing teams, to reduce land-related conflicts and to guard against discrimination, such as against women’s, young people’s and minority rights, in the course of implementation.

The third day of the conference will build on these discussions by focusing on inclusive agricultural growth: investment, productivity and land rights in the context of large-scale investments. Documentation and discussions are underway on twitter at #africalandpolicy and further information is available at

by Ruth Hall, Future Agricultures Consortium Southern Africa Hub convenor and Associate Professor at the Institute of Poverty Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS)

This post originally appeared on the PLAAS blog.

Does land titling work?

b2ap3_thumbnail_hall-lawry.jpgRural land tenure reforms are often justified as a route to improving agricultural productivity and investment. Is there evidence that they do, and to what degree is formalization a worthy intervention for policymakers aiming to improve productivity in agriculture?

A recent systematic review, funded by DFID, addressed these questions, reviewing available literature on titling and other certification initiatives. Its findings reveal important differences in the impact of reforms, depending on where they occur.

Only 20 studies over the past 30 years met the strict inclusion criteria. Very few studies disaggregated positive effects on women, a clear gap in the available research on tenure reforms.

The results showed strong regional variations in the outcomes of tenure interventions. In Latin America and Asia, the studies show strongly positive gains to productivity ranging from 50-100% after tenure recognition, usually in the form of titling. In contrast, in Africa there were zero or modest gains to productivity ranging from 0-10%, and also weak impacts on investment and income.
Across all regions, there was no evidence of discernible credit effects – a significant finding since this is often a key reason for interventions in property rights.

Why would the impacts in Africa be different from Asia and Latin America? The study put forward three hypotheses for further testing through research. First, pre-existing customary institutions could mean that tenure insecurity was not the primary productivity constraint in Africa. Second, the muted impacts could be a wealth effect, in that African farmers are less able to improve investment into production due to constraints in access to inputs. Third, the absence of complementary public investments in infrastructure and services in Africa could explain the contrast with Latin America, where agrarian reform is approached as a package. Titling alone is likely insufficient to unleash greater productivity.

by Steve Lawry (@stevenlawry) and Ruth Hall (@RuthHallPLAAS)

This post first appeared on the PLAAS blog.

China and the new climate deal

“The joint US-China announcement on tackling climate change has been described as "historic", a "turning point" and a "positive signal". It has also been written off as insubstantive or even "hype".
“The reality, perhaps unsurprisingly, lies somewhere in between. What it might represent, however, is a future that pairs economic growth with environmental concerns,” writes STEPS Centre member Sam Geall in a piece entitled What next for China after historic climate deal? published in The Conversation, where you can read the full article.

Earlier this week the President Barack Obama and Xi Jingping announced a deal to reduce their greenhouse gas output, with China agreeing to cap emissions for the first time and the US committing to deep reductions by 2025.

Although there is no formal agreement yet in place, the deal represents a boost to international efforts on reaching a global deal on reducing emissions beyond 2020 at the crunch climate change negotiations in Paris next year.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

GM Food and the precautionary principle

Golden Rice Plants IRRI
“Precaution does not necessarily mean a ban.
It simply urges that time and space be found to get things right.”

Professor Andy Stirling, writing in the Guardian


The UK Parliament Science and Technology Select Committee is carrying out an inquiry into genetically modified (GM) foods and the way in which these are regulated in Europe under the precautionary principle.

STEPS Centre Co-Director Professor Andy Stirling gives oral evidence on 19 November (09.15 GMT) following our written submission to the inquiry, which was signed by 19 academic experts in this area.

The Centre has long-argued that a simplistic ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ stance on GM crops leaves little room for a more informed and balanced debate not only about this technology, but a range of alternative innovations too. There are many advanced non-GM techniques and a multitude of non-technological solutions that tend to be eclipsed by the restrictive focus on GM.

The precautionary principle opens the door to many strategies for coping with these issues. It recognises that even the most confident science rarely compels a single solution. And many uncertainties and ambiguities further underscore the importance of more accountable discussion of contending values and priorities. Too often these open-ended complexities tend to get closed down, as if they were merely about 'risk'.

In these terms, precaution is not about blocking technologies, but steering innovation to more effectively favour of human health, environmental integrity and social well-being, and providing a counterweight to otherwise dominant incumbent interests.

Acknowledging the scope for systematic deliberation over values, priorities and alternatives in the context of uncertainty, precaution broadens out risk regulation to allow greater consideration for a wider plurality of issues, options, perspectives and scenarios. It allows the reshaping of established trajectories and a greater focus on qualities of diversity, flexibility and responsiveness.

In short, pecaution expresses the fundamental principle that — in innovation just as in science itself — reasoned scepticism fosters greater quality.

Innovation: managing risk, not avoiding it

Walport report: On 19 November the UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Mark Walport launches his inaugural annual report, focussing on innovation and risk. Prof. Stirling has contributed a chapter to the report, related to the evidence submitted to this inquiry.

Science and Technology Committee inquiry

The precautionary principle: selected reading from Andy Stirling

GM potato / Photo: BASFA selection of publications from Andy Stirling on the precautionary principle. For a fuller listing, see his publications page.

Key resources: selected reading from other authors


The STEPS Centre’s work on GM and biotechnology around the world
A selection of our work on how science, policy and politics interact around biotechnology.

The Politics of GM Food: Risk, science and public trust
Crop experimentWhy do controversies such as BSE and GM food throw British governments and business off balance? This briefing on how to get out of the GM impasse and how to avoid these problems in future, remains as vital and current today as when it was written by Alister Scott, Frans Berkhout and Ian Scoones (Director of the STEPS Centre) in 1999.

The Politics of GM Food: Risk, science and public trust (PDF) ESRC Global Environmental Change Programme (1999). The Politics of GM Food: Risk, Science &Public Trust, Special Briefing No 5.

Medicine vendor, Central AfricaBiotechnology Research Archive
10+ years of research into GM crops, development and the food crisis, under four themes:
  1. Poverty reduction & food security: impacts of GM crops
  2. Regulating GM crops
  3. The role of the private sector and corporate control
  4. Public participation and the politics of policy

Books, blogs, media, articles

Media enquiries
Julia Day, STEPS Centre Head of Communications
Email: | +44 7974 209148