Friday, 31 January 2014

29 January 2014: China and Brazil in African Agriculture - news roundup

By Henry TugendhatCBAAnews

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.

Gadco’s rice farming investments in Ghana
Case study of a company making large investments into rice production in Ghana’s Volta region. Wary of being accused of land grabs, they formed a partnership with a local community called Fievie and tied their profits together. This article covers the benefits and critiques of that partnership and could be an interesting point of comparison for those working on Brazilian and Chinese rice-development projects in Ghana.
(Think Africa Press)

Ethiopia prepares 50,000 hectares of land for horticulture
The Ethiopian Horticulture Producers Exporters Association (EHPEA) has readied 50,000ha of land to be leased for horticulture development. Currently there are 120 companies involved in the sector, and with 12,552ha of land developed between 2011-2012. In 2010 China signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ethiopia to work with its horticulture sector.

Chinese company in Mozambique to address labour concerns
The China Road and Bridge Corporation has been given 15 days by the Mozambican General Labour Inspectorate to address labour concerns raised by its workers. Poor health and safety are the greatest concerns.

China wavers over GM crops
Agricultural policy adviser Chen Xi gave a talk on last week’s no.1 Policy Document, saying the Chinese government was still wary to approve the commercialisation of GM foods, although this year’s document again called for investment in research. However, Chinese farmers are said to be very eager to gain access to genetically modified seeds that can resist drought or pests.
(Dim Sums blog)

Chinese Migrants in Africa
This working paper produced by Giles Mohan and Dinar Kale in 2007, looks at a variety of economic activities performed by the Chinese diaspora in Africa, their interactions with local communities, and their links with their families and friends back home.
The invisible hand of South-South globalisation: Chinese migrants in Africa (pdf)

China aid projects’ planning and evaluation
This new paper from the Stellenbosch Center for Chinese Studies looks at China’s aid structure in comparison with the OECD’s. It largely concludes that it is hard to assert decisively whether China really does conduct planning and evaluation practices due to a lack of information. This study is mainly based on secondary materials.
Does China plan and evaluate foreign aid projects like traditional donors? (pdf)

IDS seeks 3 new fellows in environmental change

The Institute of Development Studies is seeking to recruit up to three new researchers with international reputations for innovative interdisciplinary work broadly within the area of ‘Environmental Change’.

A particular concern is to understand the challenges posed by climate change, in interaction with other environmental and social changes, and options for climate resilient pathways in the context of increasingly complex development challenges. All three appointees will have a strong emphasis on the political economy and political ecology of human-environment interactions in developing and emerging economies. These are questions strongly associated with the STEPS Centre’s work.

Applicants should have a PhD in social science with a strong commitment to working across disciplines, including with the natural sciences (or very exceptionally, comparable research and practical experience) and an excellent research and publication record with experience and interest in bridging research with practice and policy.

A demonstrated capacity to work in a multidisciplinary team and highly creative and cutting-edge group of researchers, teachers and communicators and partners from a wide range of backgrounds is essential along with practical experience in the field.

Finally, it is vital that applicants demonstrate a track record of fundraising, obtaining grants, research awards and consultancies to allow them to pursue both independent and collaborative research.

Salary: £33,467 – £54k+ per annum, depending on experience
Closing Date: 19 February 2014 (10am)
Telephone interview: W/C 03 March 2014
Interview date: W/C 17 March 2014

OFFICIAL APPLICATION FORMS ONLY, CVs are not accepted. Please click on the links below for an application form and further information.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Missing politics and food sovereignty

via campesina mural
Por uma vida sem catracas – MPL e Via
Campesina juntos
via desvio on Flickr
By Ian Scoones

Over the last two decades La Via Campesina has grown as a movement campaigning for a change in the global agri-food system. Some claim that it is the world's largest social movement. Its main rallying cry has been a demand for 'food sovereignty', a term, as Marc Edelman notes, that has a longer genealogy but has become very effectively popularised by La Via Campesina in recent years. This is an argument for peasant autonomy, local food systems, fairer more environmentally-sound, agroecological production and trade and much more besides. As a vision and political programme it is one to which many would subscribe.

A major event was held last week at the Institute for Social Studies in the Hague, co-hosted by the Land Deal Politics Initiative. It brought together around 350 academics and activists concerned with food and agriculture in both the global North and South in a critical dialogue about food sovereignty. It followed on from a similar event at Yale University last year that was equally well attended. Over 80 papers have been produced, some of which have already appeared in the Journal of Peasant Studies.

I was intrigued to find out where the food sovereignty debate had got to, what political strategies were emerging and whether, in different and diverse contexts, the ideals were in fact realisable. The ISS event opened with an impressive keynote panel that I chaired. Elizabeth Mpofu, the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina from Zimbabwe opened the proceedings, and this was followed by a panel including Susan George, the famous author and activist and Chair of the Transnational Institute, another of the hosts; Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food; Teodor Shanin, President of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences a leading scholar on peasant issues; and Tania Li, professor at Toronto University and who has done excellent work on agrarian change in southeast Asia. An impressive array of expertise and experience indeed. The subsequent sessions were no less impressive and the discussion was vibrant and challenging. This is a debate that raises passions and differences.

What were my reflections on the day? In many ways I was left rather confused as to what food sovereignty was, and how it was to be translated into a political struggle. As Peter Rosset from ECOSUR in Chiapas explained, the concept has evolved, and the movement has adopted many different angles as more and more elements have been incorporated. These included the move from a focus on small-scale production and markets to concerns with gender, indigenous peoples, environment, workers, consumers, migrants, trade relations and more. All are unquestionably important themes, and each was debated intensively during the conference.

Through accreting issues and agendas, the movement thus offers an all-encompassing vision where nothing is left out it seems. This helps build linkages between different areas of activism, but it also makes it very difficult to get a handle on what the core issues are, and where to focus intellectual and political energies. This is made more challenging by the lack of clarity over the focus of the key concept – sovereignty. There is much focus on 'the local', but this may not be sovereign without addressing the role of the state, or indeed the relationships between states in international trade and global politics. A populist appeal to locality may miss the importance of defining the arenas for political action that necessarily impinge on what happens in local settings.

In my comments, I observed the slightly odd paradox that a clearly intensely political issue, part of an assertive political project, often lacked a solid political analysis, and indeed that a more thorough-going engagement with critical agrarian studies might help address this gap.

Three areas of politics, I felt, were missing.

The first was the politics of peasants. La Via Campesina – the peasant's way – asserts the rights of peasants. But who is the peasantry in the context of a globalising world, with dynamic patterns of differentiation across sites? Classic issues of class formation and differentiation are raised, ones that Henry Bernstein so effectively elaborated in his 'sceptical view' paper for the Yale conference. What is the relationship between the peasantry and workers, or indeed worker-peasants, with one foot in town and another in the countryside? Are petty commodity producers or even emergent commercial farmers part of the peasantry, or separate? What differences of gender, age, race for example cut across these class differences, and what conflicts and tensions arise? These are old questions, but highly pertinent to the formation of the emergent solidarities that must define a movement. Creating an idealised vision of a peasant, seemingly independent of context, makes the political project problematic, as the contradictions and conflicts that arise between and within groups may act to undermine the alliances required for a movement to gain traction.

The second area of missing politics was around the politics of technology and ecology. An important strand of the food sovereignty movement is the advocacy for an agroecological approach to farming. Low external inputs, organic production, rejection of biotechnology and so on are all hallmarks. Yet in the advocacy of agroecology too often there is a resort to an essentialist, technical argument, thus falling into the same trap as the advocates of the technologies that are opposed. As Jack Kloppenberg has put it in respect of agricultural biotechnology, the argument should be less about the particular technology but instead around the terms of access. An open access approach to research and development may generate a range of productivity-enhancing technologies that improve efficiency and reduce production costs, without being at the behest of large-scale corporations. New technologies are of course essential for improving agriculture. Improving the yield of crops through high-tech genetics or the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides may be essential, yet seem to be rejected by agroecology fundamentalisms.

The bottom line is that farmers want good prices, and consumers want cheap food. This structural relation between producers and consumers was discussed many times at the event, while noting that the current agri-food system involves much distortion of prices, and a distribution of value in corporate-controlled value chains that often benefits agribusinesses and retailers, and neither producers nor consumers. Yet too often local food systems can only produce expensive food for elite markets – to the bourgeoisie of Paris' Left Bank shopping in the flourishing bio-organic weekend markets, as noted by one commentator. Clearly internalising the costs to the environment and to labour of the current agri-food system is essential, and this will doubtless produce shorter commodity chains, more localised production and marketing, better conditions for workers and a more equitable distribution of value, as well as more ecologically-sensitive forms of production. Yet, even with such measures, a diversity of innovative, technological responses will be necessary that should not be limited by a technically narrow definition of agroecology.

The third area was the politics of capital, and in particular the relationships between capital and the peasantry. Again, a very old debate. Peasants, however they are defined, are never disengaged from the historical processes of capitalist development. Indeed they are mutually constituted by such processes. The debate is not therefore how to disengage, but how to negotiate the terms of incorporation. There were many examples of adverse incorporation discussed at the conference, where poor, marginalised farmers were disadvantaged. But the solution, as Tania Li showed with her case from Indonesia, is not to go back to earlier forms of production and market relationship, but to organise for a better deal – in her case for small scale cocoa production, produced as a mono-crop in a remote area where few other livelihood opportunities existed. Re-embedding markets in social contexts, following Karl Polanyi, is essential if a more democratic control of the food system is to be realised, and this means a political struggle around the terms of trade, the rejection of monopolistic market behaviours, and the opening up of markets to a wider range of players. In many ways, this is an advocacy for a better functioning capitalism without the distortions of corporate concentration, not its rejection outright. This means developing a more strategic engagement with capital around the terms of incorporation and the relationships between markets and societal values, much as the fair trade, organic certification and other movements have done.

The progressive ambitions and utopian ideals of food sovereignty are clearly evident, and ones that many can easily subscribe to. But how to translate this into a political programme and strategic advocacy around which clear solidarities and alliances can build is less evident. Perhaps with a tighter political economic analysis of the nature of the problem, always necessarily contextualised by history and place, then a more targeted, more effective approach might emerge. I left the conference unsure. I was inspired by the passion and vision of the movement participants and their academic allies, but I was perhaps more sceptical at the end than when I arrived about the practicalities of how, in any setting that I know of, such a vision might be realised in practice. This is of course not a reason to reject trying, but it also suggests the need to think harder about both political possibilities and strategies.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Zimbabwe’s gold rush: livelihoods for the poor or a patronage economy, or both?

One of the features of the post 2000 economy in Zimbabwe has been the growth in small-scale artisanal gold mining. This is sometimes registered with the ministry, but very often not, and remains informal and illegal. The small-scale panners, makorokoza, can be found in very large numbers in the dry season along the main rivers of Zimbabwe. They are mostly men under 35, and so represent a particular, often disenfranchised, demographic. Many were too young to benefit from the land reform in 2000, and although some are resident on the new resettlements, combining farming with off-season panning has become an important livelihood mix.

While much international attention has been focused on diamond mining, and the human rights abuses that have taken place in the Marange fields in the east of the country (see papers by Nyamunda and and Mukwambo and Bond and Sharife), there has been less commentary on gold mining. While the diamond fields have been taken over by a strong-arm alliance of government, the military and foreign investors, removing all small-scale diamond miners, the mining of gold is different.

Small-scale mining peaked in 2008 with the collapse of the formal economy. As formal mining receipts declined, the small-scale operations boomed, with much of the product being traded illegally and smuggled out of the country. The official statistics, like for agriculture, show massive declines, but in fact around 2 million people were involved in small-scale mining in this period. Clifford Mabhena has shown how artisanal mining has complemented land reform, as new farmers seek off-farm opportunities, particularly in times of drought

Another recent paper by Showers Mawowa explores the gold rush phenomenon based on research near KweKwe. He argues that the gold rush in his area should not be seen just as a form of local 'survivalist' strategies of the poor, but as a site of political control and accumulation by elites, part of a 'patronage economy'. In Mawowa's study area in KweKwe, former farm and mine workers rather than resettlement farmers were the new miners. Many gold panners collect tiny quantities, but are reliant on mills owned by registered small-scale mines for processing. There is a mix of alluvial panning in the open near rivers or the exploitation of disused shafts where mining takes place underground. Both types of operation may involve hundreds of individuals often working in highly dangerous conditions. The environmental damage of such intense gold rushes can be immense.

This new form of production creates new social and political relationships. Mawowa characterises this as a process of primitive accumulation by elites who control the processing and marketing operations. They are also able to subvert the regulations, and are often involved in shady, illegal activities. While there are a plethora of laws governing mining, with recent stringent regulations from the Environmental Management Authority for example, they are implemented only sporadically, and often arbitrarily. Raids by the police may happen around election times, when local big-wigs want to assert control, while at other times operations go untouched, with accusations of kick-backs and bribes.

In his fascinating account, Mawowa shows how alliances between miners are formed to control particular areas. They may form 'syndicates' that may be controlled by locally-powerful individuals, including chiefs or party officials. Access to gold resources may result in sometimes violent struggles between such groups, with clashes between 'locals' and 'outsiders' and between different political factions within ZANU-PF.

The story Mawowa and others tell for Zimbabwe is familiar in other areas where artisanal mining has taken off in a big way, whether in Latin America (as in the work of Tony Bebbington and others) or elsewhere in Africa (as in the work of Deborah Bryceson and colleagues). Mawowa interprets this in terms of elite accumulation characterised by corruption, but as he notes new livelihoods have been created too. He does not make the contrast though with what went before. Once controlled by a few companies – in the Kwekwe case a Canadian mining company that owned Empress and Venice mines, closed in the 1980s and 90s – mining activity – and so livelihood opportunities and employment – is now spread among a far wider group.

This reconfiguration of the economy attracts patronage from those in power – and this most certainly includes ZANU-PF officials – but in this case these include village headmen, councillors, bureaucrats in district offices and local politicians. These characters may be connected to others higher up for sure, but the new economy oils many wheels on the way. As Mawowa concedes there are many 'rags to riches' stories in the villages.

Certainly in the period before the Marange diamond field clampdown this is what we found in Masvingo, as youth returned to their villages with fancy consumer goods, but also with cash to invest in farming. He also notes that many of the local beneficiaries of patronage are often 'low ranking' officials and people like headmasters and councillors. Even if there are shadowy figures behind them, further up the chain, it may be difficult to define such people as elites, even if their outward political affiliation is towards ZANU-PF; whether out of belief or very often out of strategic pragmatism (what Grasian Mkodzongi calls 'performing ZANU-PF').

There are perhaps two ways then of thinking about these mining-based 'patronage economies'. One is to condemn the rent-seeking, accumulation and elite control, and seek rational bureaucratic order and the implementation of controls, presumably allowing larger-scale formal operations to take the place of the informal sector. This would presage a return to the past, and a form or regulated and probably even more elite (probably foreign-controlled) capitalism. Alternatively, following the arguments of David Booth, Tim Kelsall and others, an argument could be made that there are developmental advantages of 'working with the grain', accepting that elite capture is somehow inevitable in the operation of capitalism, but that gains may well be shared through such patron-client networks, and there are actually not only survivalist but also developmental benefits of broad-based, distributed, informal economic activity.

These alternatives are of course not either/or, and there are many shades of grey between. However, the focus of so much writing on the corrupt practices of the ZANU-PF connected elite, including many of the contributions to the JSAS special issue that includes Mawowa's paper, often fails to delve further into the practical, distributional consequences of new forms of economic organisation. While I would be the first to condemn much of the practice that Mawowa documents, I think there is probably another side to the story that is also worthy of telling.

Some interviews with some of the successful miners, traders and associated business people would be definitely interesting. It would be fascinating to learn for example how artisanal mining has changed their livelihoods and future prospects, and how such investment has been channelled into the local economy. This could in turn be contrasted with the experience of former mine workers in large-scale mines (perhaps even the same people), and how such enterprises had an impact on local livelihoods and economies. Rather like the contrast between the assumed successful, ordered and regulated commercial farming sector of the past and the assumed disorderly, chaotic and informal land reform farming areas, there may be some surprising, and challenging, findings.

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

Agricultural input subsidies: the recent Malawi experience

In this blog post we set out briefly the main lessons from our recently published book on Malawi’s recent experience with agricultural input subsidies (Chirwa and Dorward, 2013).

Although this was published at the end of October, we actually finished the writing about a year ago. Since then there have been a number of reports on different aspects of the Malawi programme and the completion of another season of subsidy implementation. This blog post therefore also provides a bit of an ‘update’. The book can be purchased from the OUP or downloaded as an open access pdf.

The Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) in Malawi was launched in 2005/6. By offering subsidised fertilisers and other inputs to farmers through a coupon system, it offered a potential way to increase food production and attack long-term national and household food insecurity and poverty. It has been heralded in some quarters (for example, by the New York Times in 2007 and Ban-Ki Moon in 2010), and criticised in others.

The book draws together six years of intensive evaluation work that we have undertaken with others, and documents what the programme did from 2005-2012. It also reviews the wide range of empirical studies on the programme. This is set in the context of changing understandings of agricultural input subsidies in poor agrarian economies and of the challenges they face.

We were also keen to draw on our separate and combined experience of Malawian agriculture to set the FISP in the context of evolving Malawian livelihoods, politics, and agricultural policies – a context that is critical for understanding the design, implementation and impacts of the programme.

What are the impacts of FISP?

Market in Malawi by ifpri, via Flickr
It is clear that production has increased as a result of the FISP, as have food production and household income. However the scale of these increases is not clear because of data quality and availability difficulties.

Indirect programme impacts are a major but often largely ignored justification for subsidies. Again, estimating these indirect impacts – on the agricultural sector, on incomes, and on indicators of nutrition – is difficult. Nevertheless, the agricultural sector grew rapidly in the FISP period. Apparently inconsistent high maize prices from 2007 to 2009 need to be set against evidence for rising nominal and real wages (as measured against maize prices). There is also evidence for rising incomes, and falls in stunting and in the prevalence of underweight children. However, the 2010/11 IHS3 poverty estimates do not suggest any change in poverty incidence (National Statistical Office, 2012).

Impacts on the private input supply sector

The programme has had a mixed impact on the private input supply sector. The private sector has played a major role in the importation and procurement of subsidised fertilizers, and in the production and distribution of subsidized seeds, but its involvement in retailing of subsidized fertilizers has been very limited.

It is well known that subsidised fertiliser can ‘displace’ or ‘crowd out’ unsubsidized commercial sales in the short term, but there is some evidence that they can raise demand for fertilizers and improved seeds in the medium to long term. However, the realisation of clear benefits from expanding the role of the private sector requires mutual trust among stakeholders, systems of transparency and accountability, and policy consistency and credibility.

Costs and benefits

A critical set of questions focus on the economic benefits and costs of FISP. Benefit Cost Analysis needs to be used carefully. Precise estimation of the Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) remains difficult, but it is likely to average around 1.35 after allowing for the effects of multipliers, with a fiscal efficiency (the Net Present Value per unit of government expenditure) of around 0.6.

These estimates are sensitive to yield responses (and hence both programme implementation and weather), and international maize prices. Higher displacement or crowding out of commercial by subsidised sales does not affect the BCR much, but it does have substantial negative effects on fiscal efficiency.

These estimates suggest that the FISP has provided a good return on investment. However, there is scope for much improved efficiency and effectiveness to make future returns much higher.


Woman farmer and baby, Malawi by Swathi
Sridharan (ICRISAT), via Wikimedia commons
The effectiveness of targeting in the FISP and other programmes has been widely studied and discussed. Over the life of the programme, changes in area targeting have resulted in more equitable national distribution of input vouchers per household. There have, however, been only limited changes in targeting criteria and processes at beneficiary level.

Broad criteria for targeting the programme’s beneficiaries have led to wide variations in their application at community level, resulting in biases against poorer people receiving subsidised inputs. Widespread and increasing redistribution and ‘sharing’ of coupons has reduced this bias, but reinforced the likelihood of poorer recipients receiving fewer coupons than less-poor recipients. There have also been gender biases in some years, with female headed households receiving fewer coupons.

Graduation: getting out of dependency

Graduation from subsidies is widely promoted under the bland label of ‘exits’, but there has been little serious consideration of what this means in practice.

Graduation can be thought of as the removal of access to transfers without leaving current beneficiaries unable to pursue sustainable independent livelihoods. This allows graduation to be defined as the withdrawal of subsidy access without reductions in land, labour, and capital productivity in maize production. Putting this into practice is technically challenging and intensely political, and needs to consider the importance of wider programme impacts on individual beneficiary livelihoods.

Recent developments

Since we sent the book to the publisher in January 2012 we are only aware of one significant addition to the literature on the livelihood context of the FISP, a valuable and innovative study by Holden and Lunduka (2013). Using 2008/9 farm survey data, this shows that farmers place a very high value on fertiliser in terms of their unwillingness to sell fertiliser that they own, but are much less willing to buy fertiliser with cash. This suggests significant cash constraints on fertiliser purchases and important evidence of the FISP assisting farmers by addressing their fertiliser affordability problems.

Knowledge on the implementation of the FISP is extended mainly by our 2012/13 programme evaluation (Dorward et al., 2013). There was little that was particularly new about implementation in 2012/13 apart from attempts to improve both transparency in coupon allocations (through public lists of recipients) and management of coupon redemption at input markets. The trend for increased sharing of coupons continued, as did significant discrepancies between total subsidised fertiliser receipts estimated from the household survey and recorded official subsidised fertiliser sales.

Kilic et al. (2013) update information on targeting with a detailed analysis of the 2010/11 Integrated Household Survey (IHS). Their findings largely support previous studies, reporting “the FISP targets exclusively neither the poor nor the rich… (it) reaches all socioeconomic strata of rural Malawi, and if there is any targeting it is in the middle of the distribution” and “a key factor in receiving vouchers is having a relationship with key leaders in the community”. There is no evidence for female headed households being less likely to receive coupons.

A number of 2013 reports and papers contain significant new information on different aspects of programme impact.
  • Indirect impacts and poverty reduction: Arndt et al. (2013), using a Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) model, find that allowance for indirect benefits increases total benefits by about 70% above direct benefits, together with some increases in maize drought-resilience. In another study, Beck et al. (2013) re-estimate poverty incidence from the 2010/11 IHS3 dataset and provide some resolution of the apparent contradiction between estimates of positive FISP impacts and stagnant poverty rates, finding an 8.2 percentage point decrease in national poverty from 2004/5 to 2010/11.
  • Child nutrition: Karamba (2013) also uses IHS3 data to examine the direct impacts of subsidy receipt on child nutrition. She finds some evidence of receipt of subsidise inputs leading to reduced wasting (weight for height) among under five children in beneficiary households, with participation in the subsidy program associated with greater non-food rather than food expenditures. She argues that the programme increases household incomes and improves nutrition through means other than direct food consumption. This is helpful in resolving apparent inconsistencies between estimated programme impacts.
  • Crop diversification: Karamba also examines the direct impacts of the FISP on crop diversification among beneficiaries, reporting that receipt of subsidised inputs ‘leads to a substantial decrease in the share of land allocated to maize’. We also report in the 2012/13 programme evaluation a wider process of crop diversification from 2004/5, with a declining proportion of all holdings under maize.
  • Yield responses: The 2012/13 evaluation also provides new estimates of fertiliser responses, value cost ratios and incremental production. These estimates, derived from maize crop simulation models, are broadly supportive of our previous estimates (further support for these is also provided by Kamanga et al. (2013)).
  • Prices and population: The 2012/13 programme evaluation raises two further and new issues: the impacts of changing regional maize markets and devaluation of the Malawi Kwacha on maize prices and maize affordability, and the impact of rapid population growth on the national food balance. The latter draws attention to the likely importance of the FISP in promoting national food security when the population is estimated to have increased by around 24% from the start of the subsidy programme – it is estimated, for example, that without the FISP Malawi would have suffered chronic maize deficits and imported maize every year.
  • The effects of diversion: Finally, a set of recent papers on the FISP appears in a special issue of Agricultural Economics on agricultural input subsidies in Africa. Two papers provide substantive new information on or potentially relevant to the FISP (Jayne et al., 2013; Jayne and Rashid, 2013). The first of these makes the important point that substantial diversion of subsidised fertilisers in the FISP’s early years (otherwise known as theft) will have substantially affected the returns to government investment and provides estimates of the effects of this on economic benefit cost ratios for the FISP from 2005/6 to 2009/10. The benefit cost ratio estimates are very low, largely as a result of some non-standard calculation methods (most of which lead to under-estimates of returns). The analysis also relies on limited and mixed quality data from the early years of the programme. More nuanced analysis and consideration of data quality and of the effects of subsequent changes in FISP’s implementation are needed to assess the current extent of theft and its effects on investment returns. The effects of theft of subsidised fertilisers on returns to government investment in the programme are, however, very important and need more attention (as, for example, in our economic analysis of the 2012/13 programme).

Overall lessons

Issues raised in these papers reiterate the need and potential for increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the FISP in a number of ways:
  • reducing diversion and theft of fertilisers;
  • better targeting of beneficiaries (although it is difficult to know how to achieve this on the ground) or universal provision of smaller (20 or 25kg) fertiliser bags (with a national ID card system);
  • earlier access to coupons and inputs;
  • complementary investment in roads, research and extension;
  • increased investment in extension services and other means of promoting organic fertilisers and better crop management to raise yields and fertiliser yield responses;
  • the consideration of specific fertiliser formulations for specific areas to address specific soil nutrient deficiencies; and
  • lowering of fertiliser costs by seriously exploring more private sector involvement in fertiliser distribution and sales and by improving systems for efficient and faster purchasing, paying for and distributing inputs to farmers.
These recommendations (some of which are the focus of ongoing attention in programme design and implementation) lead back to themes outlined earlier – the potential for significant direct and indirect benefits from the Malawi FISP, its mixed but overall beneficial impacts, and the potential for much greater favourable impacts with improved implementation.

Although many people have benefited from the FISP, there is still more to be done. Relating Malawi’s experience to the earlier lessons from wider and recent African implementation of subsidy programmes suggests that the critical issue is how to improve governance.

One way of promoting this may be to move beyond exclusive programme responsibility within ministries of agriculture to explicitly locate such programmes within national economic growth and development strategies. This could involve, for example, promotion of shared ownership, commitment, oversight, integration and monitoring and evaluation across ministries of finance, economic growth, local government, and agriculture, together with greater public scrutiny and discussion of the programme’s achievements and failings.


Arndt, C., Pauw, K., Thurlow, J., 2013. The Economywide Impacts and Risks of Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy Program, 4th International Conference of the African Association of Agricultural Economists, Hammamet, Tunisia.

Beck, U., Mussa, R., Pauw, K., 2013. Did rapid smallholder-led agricultural growth fail to reduce rural poverty? Making sense of Malawi’s poverty puzzle, UNU-WIDER Inclusive Growth in Africa: Measurement, Causes, and Consequences, 20–21 September 2013 Helsinki, Finland.

Chirwa, E., Dorward, A.R., 2013. Agricultural input subsidies: the recent Malawi experience Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Dorward, A.R., Chirwa, E.W., Matita, M.M., Mhango, W., Mvula, P.M., Taylor, E.J., Thorne, K., 2013. Evaluation of the 2012/13 farm input subsidy programme, Malawi: Final report. SOAS, University of London, London.

Holden, S., Lunduka, H., 2013. Input subsidies, cash constraints, and timing of input supply. American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

Jayne, T.S., Mather, D., Mason, N., Ricker-Gilbert, J., 2013. How do fertilizer subsidy programs affect total fertilizer use in sub-Saharan Africa? Crowding out, diversion, and benefit/cost assessments. Agricultural Economics 44.

Jayne, T.S., Rashid, S., 2013. Input subsidy programs in sub-Saharan Africa: a synthesis of recent evidence. Agricultural Economics 44.

Kamanga, B.C.G., Waddington, S.R., Whitbread, A., Almekinders, C.J.M., Giller, K.E., 2013. Improving the efficiency of use of small amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser on smallholder maize in central Malawi. Experimental Agriculture.

Karamba, R.W., 2013. Input subsidies and their effect on cropland allocation, agricultural productivity, and child nutrition: evidence from Malawi, Faculty of College of Arts and Sciences. American University.

Kilic, T., Whitney, E., Winters, P., 2013. Decentralized Beneficiary Targeting in Large-Scale Development Programs: Insights from the Malawi Farm Input Subsidy Program, Policy Research Working Paper 6713. World Bank, Washington DC.

National Statistical Office, 2012. Integrated Household Survey 2010-11: Household Socio Economic Characteristics Report. National Statistical Office, Zomba, Malawi.

Andrew Dorward and Ephraim Chirwa are the authors of Agricultural Input Subsidies: the recent Malawi experience (OUP, 2013)

Friday, 24 January 2014

Controlling trypanosomiasis in Africa

Tsetse fly
Image: Tsetsemeyers1880.jpg from
Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
African trypanosomiasis is a devastating disease, both for humans and animals. Over the last hundred years huge efforts have been made to control it.

A working paper by Ian Scoones looks at the scientific and policy debates surrounding control of the disease and its vector, the tsetse fly, in Eastern and Southern Africa. The paper investigates the changing institutional politics related to trypanosomiasis control. The range of control methods includes bush clearance, game culling, baits and traps, sterile insect release, animal breeding, drugs and vaccines, among others.

The focus and controversy around control methods has meant alternative perspectives, including those of livestock keepers living with the disease, have been overlooked. The paper discusses the case for an integrated 'One Health' approach, one that links ecological and disease dynamics with socio-economic conditions.

This paper is published as part of the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium, which investigates the connections between a number of human-to-animal (zoonotic) diseases and the environment in Africa.

The Politics of Trypanosomiasis Control in Africa
STEPS Working Paper 57
by Ian Scoones

Thursday, 23 January 2014

New paper: the Lucas Plan and socially useful production

A new paper by Adrian Smith tells the story of the 'socially useful production' movement in the 1970s and 80s, in particular the Lucas Plan, and its lessons for how we might think about democratising technology today.
Socially Useful Production
STEPS Working Paper 58
by Adrian Smith
An article on the Guardian's Political Science blog introduces the story. A 1978 film about the Lucas Plan is now also available to watch online, thanks to the help of Prof Dave Elliott at the Open University and Prof David Uzzell at the University of Surrey.

More about the Lucas Plan and socially useful production

In 1976, facing the cuts of thousands of jobs, workers at the British company Lucas Aerospace published an Alternative Plan for the future of their corporation. The Lucas Plan is one of the key artefacts of the movement for socially useful production, which flourished for a brief period in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s.
Adrian Smith has also published an article on the Guardian's Political Science blog, reflecting on the wider lessons that can be drawn from this story.
"The [Lucas] Plan became symbolic for a movement of activists committed to innovation for purposes of social use over private profit.
Of course, the world is different now. The spaces and opportunities for democratising technology have altered, and so too have the forms it might take. Nevertheless, remembering older initiatives casts enduring issues about the direction of technological development in society in a different and informative light…
Even though activism dissipated, its ideas did not disappear. Some practices had wider influence, such as in participatory design, albeit it in forms appropriated to the needs of capital rather than the intended interests of labour."

Lucas Plan documentary

This film documents the story of the 1976 Lucas Plan, an unusual episode in British corporate history. Shop stewards from Lucas Aerospace, facing massive redundancies, developed their own plan to safeguard their jobs by moving the business into alternative technologies that would meet social needs, as well as new methods of production.
It was unearthed from the Open University’s archive by the academic consultant on the film, Dr. David Elliott. It has been posted to coincide with STEPS Working Paper 58, Socially Useful Production, which examines the movement for socially useful production which flourished briefly in the UK in the 1970s and 80s.
This research is part of the STEPS Centre's project Grassroots Innovation: historical and comparative perspectives.

22 January 2014: China and Brazil in African Agriculture - news roundup

By Henry TugendhatCBAAnews

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.

China's first policy document of 2014 focuses on agriculture
China’s first policy document of this year focuses on agriculture for the 11th year in a row. The first document of the year is seen as a setting of the key domestic agenda each year, and this year’s focuses on a deepening of the agricultural modernisation policies that were put forward last year. This includes the demarcation of at least 120million hectares of arable land for farming to ensure food security, and the promotion of technical innovations in the seed industry and agricultural mechanisation. Furthermore, environmental concerns and social issues of income inequalities are listed as important challenges.
Reuters / Xinhua (English) / Xinhua (Chinese)

Japan pledges 500m Yen to Ethiopian agriculture
Jan 13: as part of Abe’s week-long tour of Africa, he brought a trade delegation consisting of numerous business-people from the agricultural sector, and pledged 500 million Yen towards agricultural development in Ethiopia.
(NTD Television)

Ethiopian Investment Agency withdraws 3,000 investment permits
The EIA has withdrawn 3,000 permits from foreign and Ethiopian companies that have been too slow in making headway on planned projects. This affects Chinese investors among others. (The article speaks of land investors being affected, but it is unclear whether all 3,000 of these revoked permits pertain to land investments.)(

Napula civil society organisations reject Japan-Mozambique accord
CSOs in Napula, Mozambique, demand an answer to their open letter addressed last year to the heads of state of Mozambique and Japan, and claim that ‘the government of Japan’s “generous support” takes place in a context of continued colonialism’.

Book: ‘A study of China’s Foreign Aid: an Asian perspective’
This new book aims to provide a perspective of China’s aid strategy from the perspective of Asian authors, drawn largely from Japan, but also China and the Philippines. “The chapters offer a thorough examination of data to show how China has created knowledge in its long experiences of aid and how this accumulated knowledge could contribute to other developing countries. The book also examines China's aid philosophy and strategy through an Asian perspective, instead of the Western perspective that is postulated in existing academic literature.”
(Publisher’s website)

South-South Land Grabs
 This article looks at the rise of land investors from a number of emerging economies and argues that we need to look beyond the BRICS. It focuses on an Egyptian firm’s engagements in Sudanese agriculture in times of crisis.
(Pambazuka News)

Ruth Hall: investments in farmers over land
This year is the International Year of Family Farming. In this article for the journal Great Insights, Ruth Hall argues that it does not matter how “responsible” land investments are, they will never be as effective as investing in farmers as means of improving food security for the farmers affected and their countries.
(Great Insights)

Cofco Corp. seeks stake in Dutch grain trader
China’s largest state-owned grain trader, Cofco Corp., has offered to buy a minority stake of $250m in Dutch grain trade Nidera BV. Cofco has a number of units under it involved in the processing and trade of commodities such as rice and oil seeds. This deal would give Cofco access to grain-producing areas in Latin America, and anywhere else Nidera has business.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Going up in smoke: the environmental costs of Zimbabwe’s tobacco boom

The growth of smallholder tobacco production has been an undoubted success story in recent years. In the last season there were around 90,000 registered producers, with 75,000 odd delivering to the auction floors, producing nearly 170m tonnes and around US$630m in revenue. This has been made possible in large part through the land reform. In addition to tobacco profits providing much needed export earnings for the exchequer, the ability to sell a profitable crop has transformed the lives and livelihoods of many farmers in the tobacco growing areas.

But all this success has come at a cost, particularly to the environment. Most of this tobacco is flue-cured on farm. Across the farm landscapes of Marondera, Mazowe, Guruve, Hurungwe and beyond, there are literally hundreds of tobacco barns, all erected in the past few years. These are where tobacco is dried and cured ready for market. The farmers have learned the process quickly and reports suggest that quality is high and increasing. However the technologies used are basic and inefficient, and rely primarily on woodfuel.

One kg of tobacco requires about 9 kg of wood to cure it under traditional curing systems. As new farmers settled on former large-scale farms there was plenty of surplus wood to use as land was cleared. These were often huge properties with only a portion of the area cultivated. From an agronomic viewpoint they were grossly underutilised, but they retained a large reserve of forested land. This was largely not used, although it provided a range of ecosystem services. Now with the land cleared and the farms populated, there are fewer and fewer patches of woodland left. To get fuelwood for tobacco curing, hillsides are being cut, with all sorts of consequences for soil conservation, watershed hydrology and so on.

Because of the growing demand and shrinking supply there has emerged a whole industry of wood supply. In small towns such as Mvurwi in Mazowe where we have been doing some work, there are chainsaw contractors who move around the area cutting wood in large quantities. They seek out wood resources wherever they can be found, often on A2 farms with larger plots. But the resources are unquestionably dwindling. The Forestry Commission estimates that each year 330,000 ha is deforested nationally, with 15% of this due to tobacco production.

At the end of each year there are ritual tree planting ceremonies at schools, council plots and so on. This year in the tobacco areas the officials beseeched people to start planting fast growing trees. They will have to do so in vast numbers. Already farmers have started to establish small eucalyptus woodlots, and many are talking about alternative sources of fuel (coal is more efficient, with 2.5kg curing a kg of tobacco), and improving the efficiencies of their flue-curing system ('rocket barns' for example are being proposed by the Tobacco Board). Innovation is of course the classic response to resource scarcity. The projections of the Forestry Commission suggest that there will be no trees left at all before the end of the decade. But of course this doomsday scenario won't happen. As resources dwindle, alternatives have to be found, especially for a highly profitable enterprise like tobacco farming.

What is being experienced now is of course a repeat of what happened in the white commercial farming areas in the 1950s. The post Second World War boom in tobacco production was driven by the new settler farmers, often war veterans from the UK. They mostly used very similar technologies to those being used by resettlement farmers today. Even though their land areas were somewhat larger, they soon ran out of woodfuel (or it became too expensive to collect) and they switched to alternative fuels (notably coal and gas fired flue systems), planted woodlots and improved the curing technology; later to highly sophisticated and capital intensive systems.

This will certainly happen again. But in the meantime efforts to encourage fuel switching, tree planting and trees on watersheds must intensify. The commercial tobacco farmers of the 1950s and 1960s were encouraged to establish Intensive Conservation Areas (ICAs) across a network of farms, supported by the Natural Resources Board. This was largely a voluntary association, but with significant subsidies for a range of environmental improvements. This provided a bottom-up set of incentives for environmental management. The alternative approach is to impose regulations and try and police them. This was of course the NRB's approach in the African reserves, and was widely hated and resisted, and so largely didn't work.

As the Environmental Management Authority and the Forestry Commission contemplate how to respond to the environmental challenges of tobacco production, these two contrasting experiences are worth reflecting upon.

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

Food Sovereignty: a Critical Dialogue

On 24 January 2014, the event ‘Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue’ will bring together sceptics and advocates of food sovereignty to discuss the future of this controversial idea in critical agrarian studies.

Ian Scoones will be chairing the opening keynote session of this event, held at the International Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands. Video from the event will be streamed live on the ISS website.


The opening session includes a keynote address from Elizabeth Mpofu (Via Campesina), and contributions from Susan George (Transnational Institute), Olivier de Schutter (UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food), Teodor Shanin (Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences) and Tania Li (University of Toronto).

Other speakers include leading scholars and activists including Marc Edelman, Philip McMichael, Annette Desmarais, Jennifer Clapp, Peter Rosset, Eric Holt-Gimenez, Sophia Murphy, Phil Woodhouse, John Hilary, Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Wendy Wolford, Sofia Monsalve and Nora McKeon.


Organisers: ISS-Agrarian, Food & Environmental Studies (AFES), Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS), Transnational Institute (TNI), Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First, Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI), The Journal of Peasant Studies

Funding support: European Research Council (ERC), Ford Foundation, Inter-Church Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), and ISS Research Programme ‘Political Economy of Resources, Population & the Environment’ (PER)

What is food sovereignty?

A fundamentally contested concept, food sovereignty has — as a political project and campaign, an alternative, a social movement, and an analytical framework — barged into global agrarian discourse over the last two decades. Since then, it has inspired and mobilized diverse publics: workers, scholars and public intellectuals, farmers and peasant movements, NGOs and human rights activists in the North and global South.

The term has become a challenging subject for social science research, and has been interpreted and reinterpreted in a variety of ways by various groups and individuals. Indeed, it is a concept that is broadly defined as the right of peoples to democratically control or determine the shape of their food system, and to produce sufficient and healthy food in culturally appropriate and ecologically sustainable ways in and near their territory.

As such it spans issues such as food politics, agroecology, land reform, bio-fuels, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), urban gardening, the patenting of life forms, labor migration, the feeding of volatile cities, ecological sustainability, and subsistence rights.

Yale papers available to download

Some of the papers discussed at the Yale food sovereignty conference in September 2013 are to be published in the Journal of Peasant Studies (JPS) in May and June 2014.

A selection of these have been formally published in advance and are now available online – for free. These include papers by Henry Bernstein, Jack Kloppenburg, Jennifer Clapp, and Madeleine Fairbairn. Access is free of charge from the Journal of Peasant Studies website.

The publication of these papers is part of the contribution of JPS and its publisher to the public debate on food sovereignty, on the occasion of the journal’s 40th anniversary.

More on food sovereignty

This article was first posted on the STEPS Centre blog.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

World 3.0: Reimagining development for a turbulent planet


Jon MorisLast summer, Jon Moris gave a fantastic STEPS seminar entitled Reimagining Development 3.0 for a Changing Planet. Now an IDS and STEPS Working Paper is available that offers his argument in depth. It is a big-picture view of change from someone with an extraordinary overview of a huge range of issues and literatures.
The paper shows Moris' polymath capacities, and his ability to connect, synthesise and analyse in ways that many stuck in disciplinary and institutional silos cannot. Jon has around 50 years of experience of development to draw on, much of it in Africa, and now engages in development issues in the world's richest country from his base in Utah, where he is Professor (Emeritus) of Cultural Anthropology at Utah State University. So this paper comes with much experience and thought.

I am not going to attempt to summarise the argument. It's far too multi-layered and complex, and Moris presents it much more effectively in his typical engaging style. But for those working on themes that the STEPS Centre is concerned with, the paper offers some challenging insights.

Migrants at the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic
Image: Migrants at the border of Haiti and the
Dominican Republic
(Flickr / proimos)
He argues that we are now in 'World 3.0'. This is characterised by rapid change and complex dynamics with inherent deep uncertainties. Climate change, footloose capitalism, massive migration, rising inequalities and changing demographic patterns all radically reconfigure the way we must think and act. This requires, he says, a reimagining of the development enterprise, a 'Development 3.0'.

Unfortunately, he argues, we remain ill-equipped to respond. Our analytical approaches, our institutional arrangements, our professional incentives all prevent us from seeing complexity – and where the 'wild things are'; so far existing beyond our cognitive and organisational boundaries.

We don't therefore seen the big 'elephants in the room' – notably climate change, but many others, including such phenomena as the growth 'conflict entrepreneurs', the illegal shadow economy and more, and bring them centrally into our responses. We thus miss the impacts of 'feral capital', and the way capitalism has restructured itself with dangerous consequences, especially for the poor and marginalised. Speculative investment, resource grabbing and 'leveraged living' are all largely unrecognised threats.

The trouble is that such risks do not come predictably – uncertainty, indeed ignorance, dominates. This means that standard approaches to prediction and planning are out (even with the best of models), and instead we must 'swim with tides', navigating in ways that are always responsive and adaptive, as we don't know what we might meet en route. Apparent stability may suddenly shift, with potentially catastrophic tipping points, 'sandpile events' or unexpected 'mash-ups'. This complex and dynamic World 3.0 therefore requires new ways of thinking about economy and environment, and the ability act upon the 'unthinkable' before it happens.

But the existing development infrastructure is not geared to this, more to the predictable and planned patterns assumed in Worlds 1.0 and 2.0. The paper therefore concludes with a list of 13 challenges ahead. Many of these are familiar, but they exist in new circumstances, and require a new frame of thinking and action. Sustainability, and its politics, is essential, Moris argues, but we – including IDS and the STEPS Centre – need to pay more attention to organisational sustainability: the type of solution focused network arrangements that allow us to embrace and respond to the dynamic complexity of World 3.0.

It is not going to be an easy task, but it is vitally important. This paper will hopefully keep the conversation moving forward.

Reimagining Development 3.0 for a Changing Planet
by Jon Moris
STEPS/IDS Working Paper (IDS WP435)

15 January 2014: China and Brazil in African Agriculture - news roundup

By Henry TugendhatCBAAnews

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.

Brazilian development bank opens branch in Africa
The Brazilian development bank BNDES, has set up its first branch in Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa. This is its third branch internationally after London and Montevideo, and it has the intention of supporting Brazilian companies going into business in the continent. This includes loans for agricultural and biofuels projects, such as a $400 million joint venture currently between Odebrecht, Angola’s national oil company Sonangol and Demer.

Japanese Prime Minister visits Mozambique
11-13 Jan: Shinzo Abe visited Mozambique, and pledged 70 billion yen towards Mozambican development projects over the next five years. Part of this money has been earmarked for the ProSavana project. A memorandum of understanding was also signed for interchanges between the Mozambican Agricultural Research Institute (IIAM), and the Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Sciences. This was the first time in history a Japanese Prime Minister has visited Mozambique.
(All Africa)

In a critical response to news of the visit, the Lusophone group ‘Acção Académica para o Desenvolvimento das Comunidades Rurais’ (Academic Action for the Development of Rural Communities) issued a press release.

Chinese agricultural delegation visits Zimbabwe
A 15-person Chinese delegation visited Zimbabwe for a feasibility study on areas of agricultural cooperation. The delegation includes experts in grain crops, environment, agriculture produce processing and livestock among others from the Ministry of Agriculture in China and the private sector. This is said to include machinery and equipment that relates to mechanisation and irrigation development.

Chery Heavy Industry Stepped into African Market of Agricultural Machinery
At the 2013 China Commodities, Technology and Service Expo in Ethiopia, Chery H.I. signed a trading contract worth $16.37 million with dealers from African countries. A regional operation centre is also said to have been built on the continent. This company is one of China’s most successful, but appeared in the news mid-2013 for having complaints from Chinese farmers over defective machinery.
(Anhui News)

FARA describes its role in Africa-Britain-China project
The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) discusses its participation in the Africa-Britain-China (ABC) project being driven by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). FARA was on the steering committee to decide on proposals made to the Agricultural Technology Transfer (AgriTT) project that forms part of the ABC programme.

China-Africa Development Fund to raise $2bn in 2014
The China-Africa Development Fund is set to raise $2bn in 2014 that is said to be targeted at African steel and agriculture sectors. Agricultural projects already benefiting from the fund include a grain processing plant in Mozambique, a sisal project in Tanzania, cotton planting in Malawi, and grain planting and poultry projects in Zambia. The fund will also work with Shanxi Tianli Enterprise Group Corp to finance a $60 million cotton planting project in Madagascar next year.

Nigerian President calls for more Chinese investment in agriculture
In a speech for the outgoing Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan called for more Chinese investment into its agricultural sector.
(WorldStage News)

Chatham House Africa Programme 2014
The UK-based Royal Institute of International Affairs has released its Africa programme for 2014. This includes looking forward to a series of publications on emerging powers’ engagements in Africa.
(Chatham House e-newsletter)

Press Release: Can Chinese innovation help address the climate crisis?

Low Carbon Innovation in China logoNew research project explores lessons for ‘low carbon innovation' from world's biggest polluter

A unique new UK-China project launches today, investigating the social and political drivers and implications of low-carbon innovation in China, the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter by volume, rather than focusing on technical change alone.

To mitigate climate change worldwide we need to transform the way we power our homes, travel and feed the planet's ever-growing population. And nowhere is the approach to innovation across these sectors more crucial than in China, whose decisions on this will impact the rest of the world.

With China throwing state support behind electric vehicles, solar energy and next-generation agricultural technologies, where bottom-up successes in electric two-wheelers, solar thermal and agro-ecological farming have also emerged, now is the time to understand the crucial impact of social and political issues on the successes and failures of low carbon innovations.

The ESRC-funded project 'Low Carbon Innovation in China – Prospects, Politics and Practice' will offer in-depth academic analysis seeking to inform opportunities for low-carbon transitions in China and beyond, with case studies spanning energy, mobility and agriculture.

Dr David Tyfield, Co-Investigator of the project said: “The success or failure of low carbon innovations rests not on how superior the technology is, but on how people use the technology and the issues of power that surround it.

"This project is exploring these crucial social dynamics where they are arguably of greatest significance for global prospects of a 21st century shift to sustainability: China," Dr Tyfield added.

This new three-year project is an international collaboration between researchers in the UK and at leading institutions in China, led by Professor John Urry at Lancaster University.

Notes to editor:
  • Dr David Tyfield, Co-investigator of this project and Co-director of the Centre for Mobilities Research at Lancaster University, is available for interview
  • Videos explaining more about the project, and other resources are online:
  • The research institutions involved are: UK – Lancaster University, University of Sussex, The School of Oriental and African Studies; China – Tsinghua University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy
For more information:
Julia Day, Communications Manager / +44 (0)7974 209148

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at

Download this press release:
Can Chinese innovation help address the climate crisis? (pdf 374kb)

Monday, 13 January 2014

What should be on a new Zim dollar note? Two nominations

There have been repeated rumours about the return of the Zimbabwe dollar, even ones that they were being printed. There was no hint in the recent budget, and for the time being Zimbabwe's economy is tied to the US dollar exchange rate, and it is the greenback (sometimes rather brown and dirty) that circulates through the economy.

But some time, when the time is right, a separate currency may be desirable, allowing more flexibility in monetary policy, and help ease the near permanent liquidity crisis. When that happens there will have to be a redesign of the notes. What should be on them? Of course there will be all sorts of 'national heroes' and famous places in contention, but what are the real symbols of the Zimbabwean economy today?

I want to nominate two candidates, both of which I believe should be recognised on a redesigned currency. The first is the one tonne truck. Most likely Chinese built, nearly always white, and full of people and produce, trailing the roads of Zimbabwe. I don't know if anyone keeps statistics of how many are manufactured and imported, but it must be a lot.

In the new resettlement areas where we work, they are ubiquitous. They have revolutionised the way farming as a business is done. Marketing is now possible in much more flexible ways. Supply of inputs doesn't have to rely on a NGO or a government delivery. Instead, private entrepreneurs, many of whom are farmers, hire out their trucks, or share deliveries with friends and neighbours. I thought there were lots of them in Masvingo, but it wasn't until I visited Mazowe district at the end of last year that I realised how many had been purchased on the back of the tobacco boom. So, nomination 1: the Chinese (sometimes Japanese) one tonne truck.

The second nomination is the small horsepower water pump, again very often Chinese made. They have become incredibly cheap in the last few years. US$200 or so will get you a pump that can deliver a steady flow of water to a garden from a well or river bed. They are not the most fancy, nor the hardiest of pumps, but they are cheap. A small profit on a garden enterprise can mean you can buy a new one – or a replacement if they break down. Again, no need to wait for an aid agency to come with a 'project' and corral you into a gardening group; instead you can just go to Harare or Bulawayo – or more likely Musina – and buy one (or even two) and do it yourself. No project, no group, no waiting for the NGO. As we have found out in our studies of small scale horticulture in the resettlement areas near Masvingo they too have revolutionised production possibilities, through irrigation, for even the poor, small-scale farmer.

These two pieces of kit, now standard issue for any aspiring farmer, along with the indestructible Nokia classic mobile phone (not on the nomination list as a bit passé now), are definitely my top nominations. They equal the contribution of any national hero in my view, and without government or donor support, they allow farms to be productive, output to be marketed, people to become that bit richer, kids to be sent to school, investment to happen. And none of this would have happened without them.

What are your nominations? Please add to the comments, and I will happily forward to the minister of finance, Mr Chinamasa.

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

Why isn’t Nigeria researching the impact of its protectionist policies for everyday foods?

rice-ibadan2By Jim Sumberg

The recent suggestion by the economist Jim O’Neill that Nigeria might be part of the next group of global economic powerhouses – one of the so-called ‘MINT’ countries, along with Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey – has engendered much comment. With an estimated 20% of the population of Africa south of the Sahara and abundant natural resources, Nigeria certainly has a lot going for it. On the human resource development side, the story is just as compelling, with the National Universities Commission listing 40 federal, 38 state and 51 private universities. If, as is so often suggested, future economic success will be all about navigating the “knowledge economy”, then Nigeria should be well served by this large and diverse university sector.

And yet, at least as far as the politics of agricultural policy in concerned, there would appear to be major gaps in the published research outputs of Nigeria’s universities. This is despite the fact that within these universities are hundreds of highly qualified economists, agricultural development professionals and political scientists.

For example, there can be little doubt about the importance of rice, chicken and tomatoes (and tomato paste) in the everyday diets of both urban and rural Nigerians. In protecting domestic producers of those commodities through import bans and tariffs, the country’s policy makers have actively bucked the trend toward more liberalised agricultural markets.

But who have been the winners and losers from these protectionist policies? What interests, actors and coalitions have supported or resisted them? What effects have they had on the agricultural sector, rural incomes, food security, rural and urban nutrition and health? How does Nigeria’s experience compare to Ghana’s, where there are fewer restrictions on imports of chicken meat, rice and tomato paste?

These are not inconsequential questions, and yet when the Web of Science is used to search for peer reviewed work on the political economy or politics of policy relating to these three commodities, it yields next to nothing. How can this be so, and what does it say about the now popular discourse promoting evidence-based policy? What is hindering Nigeria’s abundant academic talent from contributing to – or indeed leading – the now re-dynamised debates about agriculture and food policy in Africa?

If knowledge is to be a critical element of Nigeria’s emergence as an African and global economic power, then understanding and addressing the constraints to high quality research on the politics of public policy – in agriculture and beyond – must now be given the highest priority.