Thursday, 13 February 2014

When Love Is Not Love: The Politics of Sexuality and Digital Activism in Azerbaijan

by Jake Winn

Valentine’s Day is traditionally an occasion to celebrate love, but for far too many worldwide, this is just another reminder of the daily repression they face, the secrets they hold and the love they cannot express.

The LGBTQ community in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan is currently mourning the loss of one of its bright, young leaders, Isa Sahmarli. Sahmarli, the co-founder of Azad LGBT took his own life on 22 January 2014. Although only 20 years of age, Sahmarli was one of the country’s most prominent and openly gay activists, and as such, his death sparked debate about LGBTQ rights in Azerbaijan. These debates run alongside a deeper critique among those affected by Shamarli’s death, both within and beyond Azerbaijan’s borders.

This critique, as explored through the Sexuality, Poverty and Law (SPL) Programme at IDS, centres on the powerful ways that policies reach into the most intimate and everyday spaces of people’s lives and their relationships – through laws and policies, for example, that regulate people’s bodies along sex binaries, that limit people’s capacity to exert autonomy in their sexual relationships, that criminalise certain expressions of sexuality and restrict the kind of education or employment opportunities available. These issues are brought together in the most recent publication from the SPL Programme, which offers a synthesis of five legal case studies.

In addition to looking at how policies and the law regulate people’s bodies and sexualities and the material implications for their livelihoods, it is important to consider the strategies that people draw on to raise awareness and challenge the spaces in which they experience social, economic and political marginalisation.

In Azerbaijan it is primarily through online digital spaces that people and organisations are safely able to offer support and resources to those who experience these multiple and intersecting forms of marginalisation in their home, workplace, or school, for example.

It is Sahmarli’s death, in particular, that has prompted those closest to him to turn to online digital spaces in order to seek support and begin a dialogue about the repression faced by LGBTQ people and allies in Azerbaijan. As part of this process, they have launched an online photo campaign entitled ‘SevgiElə Sevgidir’, translated into English as ‘Love Is Love’, to pay tribute to their friend and leader and send a message to other LGBTQ individuals in the country and abroad to say, ‘You are not alone’. On Valentines Day, this online photo campaign will release hundreds of photographs of people from all over the world, all saying ‘Love is Love’, through online activist sites in solidarity with LGBTQ people in Azerbaijan.

When considering sexuality through the lens of the law, historic and contemporary geopolitics become salient: in order to join the Soviet Union, in 1920, Azerbaijan was required to introduce Soviet laws criminalizing homosexuality.  It was only when seeking to join the Council of the European Union in 2000, that Azerbaijan finally repealed this law (Article 121). In practice, however, the historic policy infrastructure that flowed from Article 121 remains firmly in place. Although same-sex relationships are not legally punishable, social stigma persists and economic discrimination is entrenched in policies that do not offer the same legal protections to same-sex partners - or their families, as heterosexual partners.

Looking out from Azerbaijan to its neighbouring countries, homosexuality is illegal in adjacent Iran, is likely to become illegal in fellow ex-Soviet state Kazakhstan, and as noted previously in the KNOTS blog on the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, queer rights in neighboring Russia have been undermined by the anti-propaganda law.

Despite the absence of these official, draconian laws in Azerbaijan, LGBTQ people lack political recognition and legal protection against abuses such as public harassment and workplace discrimination (for example, see this local study done by Nefes, an LGBT group in Azerbaijan). Social stigma is deeply entrenched and treatment of LGBTQ people remains severely oppressive, especially outside of the capital city of Baku where confidential spaces for support are almost nonexistent. Many in the country still believe that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured. Sahmarli himself revealed last year that,“though psychologists explained it to my family, they still call it an illness.” His family disowned him after coming out. He had to move out and his mother and sister only ever talked to him in attempts to “cure” him.

The dangers of being open given these high levels of stigmatization are not the only reason that Azerbaijan’s LGBTQ community has turned towards the web for support and mobilization. Eerily reminiscent of the recent restrictions Russia imposed on NGOs, the electoral authoritarian state of Azerbaijan recently signed into law an amendment that provides the authorities with various triggers for temporarily suspending and permanently banning national and foreign NGOs working in the country. Already one of the most corrupt and politically repressive regimes in the world according to Freedom House, such legislation serves as further motivation for rights groups to get off the streets and turn to the web.

In a recent publication, Katy Pearce explored the opportunities in Azerbaijan for digital political activism, claiming that such groups are ‘leveraging social media to build audiences and engage in [connective] action’. These become virtual spaces to build support and share information. Despite still being in the public domain and thus vulnerable to resistance, she asserts that these ‘networks are light on their feet’ and ‘create a web that is more difficult to destroy’. Such networking is not limited to the LGBTQ community. Youth activist groups like NIDA, themselves the victims of harsh political censuring, have been using social media for some time to voice dissatisfaction with the ruling government. So, when it comes to future implications for this burgeoning medium of activism, Sebastián Valenzuela‘ found that social media use for political opinion expression and activism were significant predictors of protest behavior’.

Virtual campaigns like ‘Love is Love’ may be a sign of things to come.

Hidden and invisible powers, fueled by government heavy-handedness and social mistrust stemming back to the Soviet era, are currently dictating popular opinion regarding LGBTQ rights. But Azerbaijan’s LGBTQ community and its supporters are fighting back, claiming the digital world as its space to provide support and campaign for equality.

It is through these social media outlets that the true difference between law and policy in Azerbaijan is being revealed. Global pressure and a national desire for inclusion into the Council of Europe led to a change in Azerbaijan’s law in 2000, decriminalizing homosexuality. To an outsider, this was progress. In reality, more inclusive policies never followed; it was all smoke and mirrors. Now, the potential success of international campaigns like ‘Love Is Love’ bring hope and makes us ask: How much longer will the LGBTQ community of Azerbaijan, and countries like it, have to live in the shadows? When will we all be able to celebrate Valentine’s Day, together?

In memory of Isa Sahmarli (30/4/1993-22/1/14)
The author, Jacob Winn, is currently studying for a Masters in Gender and Development at IDS. Prior to joining IDS, he served in the United States Peace Corps in Azerbaijan.

Mike Raybourne also contributed to this article.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

11 February 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 solar power engagements in Zimbabwe
Last week, China donated 525 solar systems to power rural institutions that are not connected to the national grid. This included schools, clinics and agricultural extension offices. This comes as Chinese company Powerway has announced plans to invest in a $160million solar power plant in Zimbabwe that would put out 100MW.

China’s New Food Security Strategy
This blog post picks up on a paper recently put together by the State Council’s Development Research Center, explaining the Chinese government’s new strategy on food security. The paper itself highlights four key changes, including: omitting soybeans from the calculations of China’s self-dependency on foodstuffs; equally promote quality and quantities of outputs whilst maintaining a focus on agricultural sustainability; protect and boost its food security interests amid increasingly open markets; and shared responsibility on food security between central and local authorities. This blog does a very good job of analysing and summarising the key points in the paper.
China solar power engagements in Zimbabwe
Last week, China donated 525 solar systems to power rural institutions that are not connected to the national grid. This included schools, clinics and agricultural extension offices. This comes as Chinese company Powerway has announced plans to invest in a $160million solar power plant in Zimbabwe that would put out 100MW.
China’s New Food Security Strategy
This blog post picks up on a paper recently put together by the State Council’s Development Research Center, explaining the Chinese government’s new strategy on food security. The paper itself highlights four key changes, including: omitting soybeans from the calculations of China’s self-dependency on foodstuffs; equally promote quality and quantities of outputs whilst maintaining a focus on agricultural sustainability; protect and boost its food security interests amid increasingly open markets; and shared responsibility on food security between central and local authorities. This blog does a very good job of analysing and summarising the key points in the paper.
· English-language blog (Dimsums)
The Environmental Costs of Zimbabwe’s Tobacco Boom
This blog by Ian Scoones looks at the environmental impacts of Zimbabwe’s recent tobacco boom. It looks at how the flue-cured drying method has led to a noticeable degree of deforestation in the country, and calls for greater environmental management and fuel switching.
(Think Africa Press)

Transformation in African Agriculture?
This blog post by Steve Wiggins looks at the recent growth of labour productivity in African agricultural sectors and the need for ongoing research into understanding what drives transformations within the sector. The argument is placed within a wider call for a focus on agriculture if countries really do want to move towards industrialisation in the medium to long term.
(Future Agricultures blog)

Land Grabbing, Agribusiness and the Peasantry in Brazil and Mozambique
This article by Elizabeth Alice Clements and Bernardo Mançano Fernandes looks at Mozambique’s ProSavana project in the context of Brazil’s development of the Cerrado region, and the links between these two projects.
(Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy)

Agriculture Innovation Marketplace final call for pre-proposals
Pre-proposals to the agricultural innovation marketplace for research projects concerning Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean need to be submitted by February 18th (2014). The thematic areas include: technology for higher-yields and climate change mitigation; natural resource management; support for markets or institutions; technologies for smallholder farming.

Why do we need ‘Myth-Busting’ in the study of Sino-African relations?
This new paper looks at why and how a literature of ‘myth-busting’ on China-Africa relations emerged in the first place. The focus is on Western states’ policy interests, and calls for a move away from Western viewpoints on the subject.
(Journal of Contemporary China)

India-Africa research ties
Last October (2013), a meeting between Indian and African officials, scientists and representatives from various parts of the agricultural sector took place to discuss possible collaborations. Research collaboration and knowledge sharing feature prominently, and other areas of cooperation include: “developing technological and professional competence; upgrading technology infrastructure; stimulating collaborative innovation and entrepreneurship; and providing an enabling science, technology and innovation environment.”

STEPS-JNU SYMPOSIUM: Nexus narratives – water politics in Asia

7By Ian Scoones, Co-Director, STEPS Centre
The fourth panel at the STEPS-JNU Symposium focused on the highly contested narratives around how water is stored and accessed in Asia, with cases from Nepal, Laos, and Thailand. As Uttam Sinha from The Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi, commented, Asia is facing a “hydrological moment” that is redefining the politics of water and the relations between nation states in the region. New connections between epistemic and policy communities with a regional basis are being forged that suggest a fundamental rethinking of transboundary and riparian policy and politics.

It is in this context that the STEPS project team has set about interrogating and unpacking the increasingly popular idea of the resource ‘nexus’. The intersection of food, water and energy has been popularised in policy discourse, as a focus for intervention in recent years. In the region and internationally the nexus discourse has been building over time to reach fever pitch. As Jeremy Allouche from the STEPS Centre observed, this is accompanied by metaphors such as the ‘perfect storm’, as well as operational frames such as the ‘green economy’. This is very much associated with international donor-led efforts and increasingly framing research. As Carl Middleton from Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, pondered, is the nexus idea in fact just a rediscovery of what communities already knew? Why is it only now that such integrative ideas are becoming central to a mainstream narrative? Is this the moment that experts emerge from their silos, as they realise that sustainability questions are highly complex?

However, how ideas around the food-water-energy nexus play out is highly dependent on the national and regional political context and is deeply influenced by framing and interest politics, as the case studies showed. In the Laos Mekong case, a detailed analysis of policy documents across different institutions showed how framings of scarcity, security and nexus intersections differ. Carl showed how the Asian Development Bank highlighted economic and physical scarcity and therefore prioritised infrastructure interventions, particularly by the private sector. This contrasted with the International Water Management Institute that highlighted local production practices, and solutions were connected global and local projects, while conservation organisations such as IUCN focused on natural resource scarcity and the need for protection measures. While adopting the nexus discourse, very different perspectives on what is scarce, what needs to be secured, and what to do about it are shown.

The session asked is ‘the nexus’ a useful concept? Currently, as the cases showed vividly, the framing is very top down, often linked to external interests, and outsider-generated managerial solutions. In addition, in identifying a particular crisis at the nexus, a space for appropriation is opened up, often linked to a partial enclosure of previously shared, regional commons (a form of ‘green grabbing’). Investment imperatives linked to notions of food, energy, or water ‘security’ drive such appropriations by the private sector, supported by national political interests. As Jayanta Bandyopadhyay, formerly Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIMC), Kolkata, pointed out such a politics of knowledge has dominated by investment intervention and engineering design results in formerly public goods being captured and sold, resulting in an adaptation of a popular saying: “Rivers should flow uninterrupted, but only through my tunnels”.

As Dipak Gyawali, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, former Minister of Water Resources, Nepal, pointed out this has resulted in a contested regional politics between ‘landlord’ countries and the ‘battery’ countries that supply the water. As he observed: “Age old questions are coming back to haunt us. Issues of security are being recast”. Whose security are we talking about? What is the most effective locus for resource governance? How do can multiple uses and users be accommodated? What institutions can respond? Is a river a source of energy for hydropower, food through fisheries or water for domestic use and agricultural irrigation? And who is responsible and accountable?

The challenge, as Dipak pointed out, is that each of the potential multiple institutions involved come with their own framings, different definitions of the problem, and particular histories and proclivities. There is, it was argued, a need for space for different providers to provide diverse options, and for negotiation between them across different groups. “The imagination of plural pathways can only become a reality if a diversity of users and their practices are involved”, as Lawrence Surendra, University of Mysore, observed. “Plural pathways and clumsy solutions” are needed, the panel contributors argued. Only a diversity of responses – “many ten percent solutions” – can, Dipak argued, can create pathways to sustainability more effectively and securely

STEPS-JNU SYMPOSIUM: Making climate change visible

Devastation wrought by Cyclone Aila in the Sundarbans | Photo: IIHMR-STEPS CentreBy Ian Scoones, Co-Director, STEPS Centre
The second session at the JNU-STEPS Symposium focused on how uncertainties generated by climate change are appreciated both ‘from above’ and ‘from below’ – and indeed by those in the middle. Three highly contrasting rural and urban case studies from Delhi and Mumbai, presented by Alankar of Sarai, Kutch in Gujarat, presented by V. Vijay Kumar of the Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology (GUIDE), Bhuj, and the Sunderbans in West Bengal, presented by Upasona Ghosh, Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR), Kolkata, were discussed. Each showed how local understandings of uncertainties are attuned to “the contexts of the lived practices and rhythms of everyday life”, as Sheila Jasanoff has put it.

A particularly evocative ‘Photo-Voice’ story, offered by project team member Shibaji Bose from IIHMR, combined words and images from the three sites. Uncertainties are deeply embedded in the struggles of daily life, often in the contexts of extreme marginality and poverty. Perceptions, emotions, personal experiences, social relations were brought to the fore. This helped move our understandings beyond more technical perspectives on uncertainty, and made the invisible visible in an immensely powerful way. The next step in the research involves providing cameras to research participants to document their own visual narratives about uncertainty and the challenges they face. As a route to exposing alternative pathways from a local perspectives this is potentially a fascinating and powerful response, one that simultaneously allows voice and representation, as well as the ability to translate and communicate with those in power, very often imposing a view ‘from above’.

While the simple heuristic contrasting ‘above’ with ‘below’ offered a good hook, discussion also focused on how such a dichotomisation is also too simplistic. A greater theorisation of the networks of power that exist in such different spaces was urged. This of course recalls the older debate about ‘indigenous knowledge’, and how ‘modern’ and ‘local’ knowledges should not be seen as distinct, but more significant are the relations of power that exist in the constructions of knowledge, and the encounters that exist between different knowledges. When negotiating climate change responses, encounters take place between formalised, accredited knowledge in the form of climate models that often tame uncertainties through statistical procedures and informal, often hidden, knowledges rooted in field practices and embedded experiences.

Too often knowledges are not negotiated and the encounters are wholly one-sided. Yet as the presentations pointed out there is increasingly a role for mediation by a variety of ‘brokers’, intermediaries might include front line, field-level bureaucrats, researcher-activists, projects and community organisations. However such roles are often not recognised, nor rewarded, as discussed in the advocacy of the idea of ‘sustainability brokers’ in the Slow Race.

How can such conversations emerge? Mike Hulme from King’s College London argued that we need to abandon some of the baggage associated with the policy debate on ‘climate change’, and “develop a new narrative on climate change, focusing climate and its changes”. Sue Hartley from York University argued that scientific practice needs to change too, commenting that “natural scientists need to get more relaxed about variability… outliers are often the more interesting data points”. But such shifts need political pressure. Mariano Fressoli from the Institute of Studies on Science and Technology – National University of Quilmes (IESCT_UNQ), Buenos Aires, asked how does invisible, decentred expertise, rooted in place-based citizens’ knowledge get articulated politically – what is the role of social movements in creating bridges, fostering translation, and building alternatives?

As highlighted by Lyla Mehta from the STEPS Centre observed, if perspectives ‘from below’ are to generate truly sustainable pathways, they must move beyond simply reification of poverty driven coping strategies to ones that challenge power relations, and provide space for subaltern alternatives. This means challenging power relations and shifting patterns of control. For those living in the flood-prone Sunderbans, a wider political economy must be made central – it is not just a matter of how embankments are constructed, but also who has control of these, and how wider patterns of global consumption influence flooding through climate change.

Thus sustainability must encompass a politics that is both local and global, bringing perspectives from above to engage with those from below, mediated and facilitated by new players and new methods and media such as the photo story that allow new conversations to emerge, new actions to unfold and a new politics of sustainability to flourish.

STEPS-JNU SYMPOSIUM: Every case is its own study? Every movement has its own goals?

Map of grassroots innovation movementsBy Adrian Smith, Researcher, STEPS Centre / SPRU
Learning with and across diverse grassroots innovation movements

Here in Delhi, first at the Grassroots Innovation Movements Workshop, and then at the STEPS-JNU Symposium, participants were interested in the commitments and positions taken in STEPS Centre research projects. Our project on Grassroots Innovation Movements in Historical and Comparative Perspectives is investigating six grassroots innovation movements whose diverse histories arise in very different geographies, and whose activities, participants and sectors are similarly varied:

- Honey Bee Network in India - Peoples Science Movement in India - Social Technology Network / Technologies for Social Inclusion in South America - Appropriate Technology Movement in South America - Movement for Socially Useful Production in the UK - Grassroots Digital Fabrication in Europe.

Not only does this raise questions about research methodology, but also what the project expects to achieve practically in engaging with these movements. At root, this is a question of motivations for the research: why study such a collection of disparate movements? I tried providing my own, personal answers to this question when introducing both the workshop and the session on grassroots innovation at the symposium.

My answer had three aspects to it: each engaging with different communities. The first relates to activists and practitioners. The second relates to the research community. And the third aspect relates to the world of policy-making.

At any time, in many places around the world, if we look carefully enough we can find networks of activists and communities generating bottom up solutions to the challenges, opportunities and aspirations for development as they view it. Ingenious grassroots activity produces a variety of innovations, and which activists, engineers, scientists, and others (including investors and entrepreneurs) sometimes try to develop further and help scale-up and spread in some form. This activity can involve improvisation as well as knowledge, and both of which can be elusive for formalisation and dissemination. Conversely, activists concerned for the problems of often marginal or disadvantaged communities, and overlooked by many innovation institutions, try to bring science, engineering, and project development into dialogue with the grassroots, and to develop solutions in which communities are empowered to shape the design and execution of projects that make use of appropriate innovations (even if they did not originate within the particular grassroots setting).

What we see repeatedly over time is participants in these varied grassroots innovation initiatives looking to those involved in similar activities elsewhere. Networks are formed, experiences shared, reflections are made, and discourses and practices emerge around how to help deepen and spread this mix of grassroots innovation activity and grassroots activism making use of innovations. We call these developments grassroots innovation movements.

The first aspect to our research motivation is to engage with these movement processes, and to try and contribute to the dialogues involved by making connections with other movements elsewhere. Even where movements appear to have little in common at face value, such as the Honey Bee Network in India today and the movement for socially useful production in the UK in the 1970s, bringing them together and contrasting them can still have its uses. Looking carefully at a contrasting case can help activists step outside their day to day activity, and in thinking about grassroots innovation experiences in very different times and places, reflection can help reveal, recast, and rethink the processes they are engaged in, and which daily pressures may obscure. Just as foreign travel can enrich how we think about our home countries, so we hope dialogue between contrasting grassroots movements will enrich the reflections of activists in each. Contact such as these may even help processes of international solidarity. As we’ll see below, policy for inclusive innovation has an international dimension, and so it might make sense for movements to engage internationally too.

The second aspect to our research motivation relates to how we study these movements, and how we engage others in our analysis. There exists already considerable research into grassroots movements. However, much of this research attends to either protest movements, movements for rights, or movements for cultural identification. Studies of grassroots movements that innovate, and that are doing alternative development, are fewer. Some exist, such as the work of David Hess. But few have looked across a diversity of grassroots innovation movements in the way we are trying in our project. Elsewhere, we have also argued how the field of innovation studies gives insufficient attention to the particularities of grassroots innovation. Innovation studies have tended to focus on systems of innovation based around firms, markets and research institutes, and if they turn to questions of alternative innovation, then they tend to apply the same conceptual apparatus developed for market-oriented settings. So a second motivation for the project is to contribute an empirically-grounded, theoretically-informed understanding of grassroots movements involved in innovative solutions for alternative developments.

The third and final motivation for our project is to engage with renewed policy interest in grassroots innovation. The activities of grassroots innovation movements are attracting attention in the context of elite policy interest in inclusive innovation. The OECD and other international bodies are interested in inclusive innovation. They are conducting studies and developing programmes. A common feature for the discussions is the search for models of inclusive innovation, and how to scale-up the use of these models. Understandably, these discussions often draw on conventional innovation terms and concepts familiar to these organisations. So, for example, grassroots innovation is seen in terms of the development of innovative devices, which can be developed into products through processes for cultivating entrepreneurship and marketing. These approaches do make sense to some in grassroots innovation movements. But they do not make sense for all participants. Terms like inclusion, scaling-up, and even innovation itself, need to be interrogated in the context of grassroots attempts to democratise innovations for alternative modes of production and consumption.
There is much more to grassroots innovation than an overlooked reservoir of appropriable ideas and devices, open for selection, inclusion, and commercialisation. Grassroots innovation movements are also about mobilisation around different visions for development and alternative ways of innovating. In the process of developing solutions for alternative development problem frames, grassroots innovation movements generate new subjectivities, discourses, agendas, and visions for innovation in development, and not just devices, capabilities, and infrastructure. Some grassroots innovators become protagonists in a different kind of development. Some even present alternative innovation as a tool to resist being included, or subsumed as they might term it, into conventional innovation agendas. This is a position that asserts a right to innovation in a way that poses discomfiting challenges to the fundamental notions held by elite innovation institutions. It is a position that speaks to knowledge politics and relations of political and economic power. It is a position we were reminded about in the discussions in our workshop and Symposium in Delhi. It is important to pressure policy-makers also to recognise this more radical and transformational aspect in grassroots innovation movement.

STEPS-JNU SYMPOSIUM: Transformative innovation from the grassroots

By Ian Scoones, Co-Director, STEPS Centre
Session three at the JNU-STEPS Symposium focused on ‘grassroots innovation’. The panel emphasised the transformative possibilities of innovation, and the need to go beyond a narrow definition of innovation as focused only on technology. Rooted in movements, Adrian Smith from the STEPS Centre, argued that innovation is also about inventing new subjectivities as innovators, developing new social relations, linking technology to services, and fostering interconnections with conventional innovation systems.

The session confronted some major challenges in building new pathways. Can you scale up without losing sight of the origins of and contexts for innovation? How can incumbent systems be confronted, even disrupted? How can wider structural changes be challenged, without cooptation by the mainstream be resisted? What forms of accountability are required so that transformative innovation is made possible?

During the session cases from Brazil and India were presented; two of six cases in the project that have looked across geography and over time to draw comparative insights into the link between grassroots innovation and social movements. The case studies presented took an historical perspective showing how movements that link to technological innovation have longer histories, rooted in particular social, political and historical contexts.

As Mariano Fressoli from the Institute of Studies on Science and Technology – National University of Quilmes (IESCT_UNQ) showed, for the social technologies network in Brazil that had roots in the democratic struggles in Latin America has spawned a range of activities. Yet they have failed to negotiate a relationship with incumbent institutions and policies. Mariano pointed to a massive gap between elite policies focused on neoliberal modes of growth and grassroots visions, imaginations and frames.

Reflecting on movements in India, Dinesh Abrol from the Centre for Studies in Science Policy (CSSP) at JNU argued that a greater accommodation has been possible, as the Ghandian Khadi movement, as well as the Nehruvian vision of autonomous transformation with small-scale enterprise, both allowed for local level innovation. Through various forms of institutionalisation in the post-Independence period, such activities have persisted.

Dinesh in turn highlighted two grassroots innovation initiatives. First the People’s Science Movement that helped generate “new social careers of innovation, new relations between primary, secondary production, new socio-technical systems and new brokerage institutions link that have helped scale up beyond the ties and trust of the locality towards wider political alliances between workers, peasants, product-makers”. Examples of tanners, biogas, stove making, vegetable production and more were discussed. This, he argued, is one of transformation, and scaling up happens through wider structural change. This experience was contrasted with a second case: the Honey Bee Network that emerged in the 1980s, at a moment when concerns around intellectual property, market development and social entrepreneurship were more dominant. As an innovation network this has scaled up through entering the mainstream, with support from government, linking a movement, with a network to a formal institution as Anil Gupta has described.

How do these cases relate to wider debates about ‘inclusive’ or ‘responsible’ innovation? Here the rhetoric identifies grassroots innovation as an opportunity for ‘insertion’ into the innovation system, and therefore to ‘roll out’ and ‘scale up’. Some saw this as cooptation, others as a route towards greater impact. Through this marketised approach, it was argued, the origins and politics of innovation may be lost, and the principles of protecting a knowledge commons, generating open source technologies, as well as commitments to sharing, inclusivity and democratisation. And in turn the wider challenge to visions of development that these suggest. As Suhas Paranjape from the Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM), Pune, argued in discussion, grassroots innovation movements must not aim for inclusion and incorporation, but movements need to be “challenging, disruptive and subversive”, fundamentally focusing on “a resistance to subversion to capital”. There exists an uneasy coexistence between these strands that suggest very different pathways.

Deliberation and reflection on different options for innovation pathways was seen as an important challenge. The session reflected in particular on how researchers, innovators and movements interact. The STEPS project several commented has provided a useful space for reflection by both academics and activists, and the many hybrids that exist between. This allows people to “look up from their locality”, encouraging reflection, networking and debate between actors. It will be out of these interactions that pathways to sustainability will emerge.

STEPS-JNU SYMPOSIUM: Turning urban sustainability on its head

Waste pickers Delhi_Shishir Basant_Flickr CCBy Ian Scoones, Co-Director, STEPS Centre

At the STEPS-JNU Symposium on ‘Exploring Pathways to Sustainability’ organised with the Centre for Studies in Science Policy (CSSP) at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, the first session explored the contexts and consequences of rapid urban growth in India through some in-depth case studies on urban waste management and agriculture. Rapid economic growth and growing inequality have created a growing informality, where hidden interactions, innovative activity and complex dynamics unfold. As Fiona Marshall from the STEPS Centre explained, this is a context that is poorly understood, and beyond the reach of formal institutions and policy.

Yet informality is central to economy and society in India. As panel discussant Kaveri Gill from Think Tank Initiative, International Development Research Centre, New Delhi, pointed out the ‘stylised fact’ that the informal sector disappears through development is a myth. As she argued: “This is not a transition. The informal sector is here to stay”, and that 80-90% of the economy of India really needs to be taken seriously. Yet most urban planning and policy efforts are focused on attempting to plan, control and regularise such activities – sometimes through state controls, at other times through liberalisation and handing over to the private sector.

The questions posed were: What is sustainability in this context? Should responses involve drawing such areas into the formal system or should such informality be built on? Among stakeholders the STEPS-JNU team had been engaging with there were clearly very diverse visions and pathways for development. Fiona Marshall urged the “recasting of the urban sustainability agenda, turning it on its head”.

Debates about the future of cities come together, she argued, in certain places: on the urban fringe, in peri-urban spaces – and around particular issues, notably those that cross-cut sectoral concerns, funding flows and policy domains, including issues of environmental health. The team’s research has pointed to what they term ‘flows of risk and opportunity’. Environmental and health issues are displaced from richer to poorer groups and from urban centres to peri-urban areas, yet the impacts often return in unseen and unexpected ways. Thus waste disposal is transferred to the urban fringe in massive landfill sites, yet the pollutants affect milk or vegetables produced in the same areas, imported to feed richer urban dwellers. These are hidden interactions around which there is little formal policy knowledge, and ones that are often invisible as they are carried on outside regulated frameworks, always informal and sometimes illegal. These flows are deeply affected by politics: of space and place, of class and social differences.

This is revealed perhaps most starkly in the case of solid waste management, a massive challenge in growing cities like Delhi. Pritpal Randhawa and Pravin Kushawaha from CSSP at JNU explained how certain powerful political and economic interests had constructed a particular pathway centred on the commericalisation of waste management and linking it energy production, especially through the construction of waste to energy plants. These are constructed as clean, efficient and environmentally sound. Yet these solutions exclude others, not least those who make their livelihoods from waste. Without recognition and official sanction wastepickers in Delhi are not seen as part of the solution. Ravi Agarwal of Toxics Link explained how in Delhi practices of recycling are barely mentioned and municipal authorities control waste management. The parallel informal system is almost completely overlooked. Dharmendra, a representative of wastepickers in Delhi, demanded access to waste in door to door collection, and explained how they are experimenting with collaborating with private sector operators.

As we heard in discussion, innovations in other Indian cities have begun to challenge this pattern, recognising the informal sector in the municipal response, as well as taking recycling seriously. As Chetan Vaidya from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, pointed out this went to the heart of urban governance challenges, particularly in the context of moves to decentralisation. In Bangalore change was brought about by a crisis, and the mobilisation of diverse actors that challenged the city authorities through the courts. This story is covered in a STEPS film – Bangalore: From Garden City to Garbage City -produced last year and supported by UKIERI.

Pathways to sustainability are thus generated by challenging structural power and interests – whether waste-to-energy investors, municipal authority laws or urban planning schemes – or by generating new discursive frames, bringing in knowledges and experiences of others outside the mainstream formal system. In discussion, Brian Wynne emphasised the importance of both dismantling and destruction of knowledge in creating new pathways, as well as building new knowledge through engagement with informal knowledges from those interstitial spaces outside the mainstream. As Lawrence Surendra, University of Mysore, argued, we need a new way of thinking about sustainability. “Things are happening on the ground, loops and exchanges are happening. Problems are being solved. Long before the formal institutions respond, before research can deliver”.

Monday, 10 February 2014

The new land frontier in Zimbabwe: urban land for housing

In recent years urban, and perhaps especially peri-urban, land has become the centre of major political struggles for control in Zimbabwe. There is huge demand for housing in urban and peri-urban areas, very often from people with a foot in the rural areas but a need for an urban base. The costs of plots has sky-rocketed, and there are many, including those with resettlement farms making profits from farming, investing. As with any valuable resource, this attracts those who want to control it.

The control of urban land has become intensely political. Notionally controlled by municipal councils, urban land use and house building is supposed to be highly regulated. Indeed the building regulations in Zimbabwe are some of the strictest in the world. However in areas of the urban periphery there is more ambiguity. Former farm land that is being bought and sold illegally for new housing developments, creating often massive new settlements around Harare in particular. These areas are becoming a site of major conflict as chiefs or other local officials sell of land parcels to developers disenfranchising local people. This land market boomed particularly during Zimbabwe's economic crisis, when land was privatised, and deregulation occurred. Those able to exploit the ambiguities of the system, and make gains on currency deals profited massively. The result has been significant accumulation by certain elites, along with invasions of land for new quasi-urban settlements. Mandi Rukuni has called for new regulations to manage such land, and for a more effective land use planning and zoning system.

However a technocratic land use planning system may not be enough, as such areas are also sites of political contest and patronage. Electoral politics have had a big influence. ZANU-PF's electoral strategy in 2013 was focused on such areas, with enticements being offered to people joining 'housing cooperatives' that were controlled by individuals with close ties to the party. These new urban voters, often poor and in need of housing, duly repaid their debt, and voted in ZANU-PF in areas previously controlled by the opposition. Some housing coops turned out to be bogus and people were enticed there without legal rights often to stands with multiple claimants. Some were later evicted to make way for big-time developers with political connections, while others remained living in appalling conditions in unserviced shacks with limited facilities. After the election, ZANU-PF again announced its intentions to consolidate its gains by 'regularising' illegal settlements, including proposed demolition of informal settlements. With land consolidated in the hands of well-connected developers, their aim is to again hand out plots and assure electoral support in 2018.

Focusing on Ruwa and Norton near Harare, as well as Harare's central markets, Jo McGregor shows in a recent paper how MDC councillors and municipal officials were intimidated, often violently, and were unable to fulfil their duties, and an alternative system of authority was established through party officials, youth militia and housing cooperative functionaries, supported by surveillance and control by the Central Intelligence Organisation. This was all allegedly coordinated from the highest levels, with key individuals, most notably the Minister of Local Government, Ignatius Chombo, being implicated. Some party-connected elites reputedly made huge amounts of money.

Rudo Gaidzanwa in a recent presentation retold the same story, but also asked who these new urban residents were, and what their aspirations and motivations were. While the political machinations around land and votes in urban areas drove a lot of the process, there were people who benefited from this. Gaidzanwa identified women as prime beneficiaries. She argued that due to lack of rural land rights due to 'customary' law, and lack of inheritance rights in practice, many wanted urban land and housing for alternative livelihoods. These included widows, divorcees, single women with families as well as entrepreneurial women with a rural base but in need of a stable urban home to raise their families, and gain access to schooling and health care absent in the rural areas, particularly the new resettlements. A diversity of such people were happy to join the coops and play along with the political game in order to gain much needed security of housing and land, unavailable to them elsewhere. Others were looking for sources of investment from the profits of farming. In our work in Mvurwi in Mazowe district, the high profits from tobacco are fuelling investment in land and housing in towns and cities, including in the politically-run housing coops, but also in other less controversial private schemes. An agricultural boom presents some new challenges, including the question of where the surplus money goes.

Jo McGregor's paper was based on discussions with MDC councillors and activists, and clearly reflects that standpoint. She concludes that the ZANU-PF driven land acquisition, replanning and housing investments are a clear example of state-directed party-based patronage, geared to electoral gain and personal financial benefit of an party-connected elite, including ministers, senior military officers, and others of high status. In this, she is clearly correct, and the scandals that surround urban land and housing are regularly in the newspapers, particularly in the peri-urban settlements on the edges of the main conurbations, are witness to how this is an important and widespread phenomenon. Deep forms of corruption have become, in Sarah Bracking's terms, a 'technology of governance'.

However such accounts do not offer the perspectives of those who benefited. They may well have voted for ZANU-PF, but they are not the elite who are extracting the massive rents from dodgy deals, illegal sales and housing scams. Instead they are a significant group of often younger people, very often female, who have not got land in the rural areas. Some are displaced farmworkers or those whose housing was destroyed by Operation Murambatsvina; neither likely ZANU-PF supporters. Also, the land reform is now 14 years ago, and there are plenty who did not get anything. Equally, many do not wish to make a living solely on the land, regarding it as too much hard work, and would prefer to use their education to get a chance in town. Still others want to maintain a bridge between town and countryside, investing the agricultural profits in housing and urban land, guaranteeing a good return. Those now living in these new (peri)urban settlements are a diverse group, with different interests, affiliations and needs. They are embroiled in a political contest over land, resources and political control, but should be part of the story.

Expanding opportunities for low-cost urban housing in the end must be a good thing. And if this is part of an electoral strategy, then ZANU-PF seem to have followed rather successfully in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher in the UK in the 1980s. Stories of ruthless property developers linked to local political elites making huge profits from the poor in the context of a land and housing bubble is of course not exclusive to Zimbabwe either. Although it is no excuse, the urban politics of the US and Europe can be read in a similar way. However, for Zimbabwe, removing corruption and patronage, and excessive rent-seeking, from such land and housing deals must be a priority, as this offsets the potential redistributive gains to be made. As urban land is transformed from the exclusive preserve of the propertied elite to open up opportunities for land and housing for others, the new peri(urban) land users urgently need a voice.

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

Call for participation: Engineering, social justice & peace, Argentina

The Network on Engineering, Social Justice and Peace (ESJP) has issued a call for participation ahead of its Annual Meeting in Buenos Aires in August 2014. STEPS Centre member Adrian Smith is among the speakers.

Conference themes include:
  1. How can engineering and engineers contribute to community development?
  2. How can engineering and engineers contribute to the production of Social Justice and Peace when historically and currently many forms of institutionalized engineering have been at the service of social injustice and war?
  3. How should engineers capable of producing positive impacts in terms of Social Justice and Peace be educated?
  4. How can/should engineers from the global north work with engineers from the global south (e.g., projects? organizations? academic programs?) to produce social justice?
Full details in English and Spanish (ESCYT website)

Friday, 7 February 2014

An Eye on Sochi: A Sporting Chance for Challenging Sexual Rights Violations in Russia?

By Elizabeth Mills and Alison Carney

This is the first of a series of blogs that we will publish on the topic of sexuality and the law through the lens of the Olympics, as we keep an eye on the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Russia.

With the opening of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics tonight, we explore how the Olympics have brought to centre stage the growing number of repressive laws and acts of violence in Russia against individuals on the basis of their sexuality. While the world watches Russia, we will also look to the world and ask: as these issues are brought to centre stage, what might this mean for people in countries across the Global North and South who – like those in Russia – continue to struggle to access essential and equitable resources and who continue to be denied these rights on the basis of their sexuality?

Why are we keeping an eye on Sochi? 

On 30 June 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into a law Article 6.21 of the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offence. This law bans the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors," condemning “non-traditional” sexual relationships, which it places in opposition to “traditional family values.” As we go onto discuss in our upcoming blog post, the notion of a “traditional family” is connected to Putin’s project for “expanding the Russian nation”, and points to a range of problematic assumptions around reproduction and rights for all people, irrespective of their gender identity and sexual orientation.

The anti-propaganda law has drawn international condemnation, particularly in light of its confluence with the 2014 Winter Olympics. In a speech to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), just before the opening of the Games today, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticized the escalation of violence against the LGBT community following the implementation of this bill, saying "many professional athletes, gay and straight, are speaking out against prejudice." Google pinned its colours to the mast this morning on its homepage, with a rainbow doodle featuring winter sports and the Olympic charter supporting equality.

Sexuality and the Law: Looking at Russia in Context

Although the ‘anti-propaganda’ law itself has drawn international condemnation, it cannot be considered in isolation from the increasingly repressive political environment that has, also very recently, been highlighted by the imprisonment of two (former) members of the Russian feminist punk rock protest group, Pussy Riot.

While the imprisonment of Pussy Riot and the Russian President’s support of homophobic policies like the anti-propaganda law may seem rather disparate, they do in fact have much in common.

Pussy Riot’s political ideology, which raised in part the struggle for women to access safe abortions, and the national and international mobilization against Russia’s anti-propaganda law both highlight the extent to which the Russian Parliament and President are introducing laws that place restrictions on people’s autonomy over their body.

It is this intersection – between the law and people’s ability to exercise autonomy in an environment that upholds equality – that lies at the core of IDS’s Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme.

Not only do we see linkages across the struggle for rights linked to sexuality in Russia more broadly, but we also need to keep in mind that the most recent introduction of the ‘anti-propaganda’ law has a long history in which the Russian government and legal system has sought to close down the constitutionally enshrined rights of its citizens on the basis of their sexuality. For example, in 2011, the European court fined Russia for violating articles 11, 13, and 14 of the European Convention by banning 164 pride events and marches between 2006 and 2008. Asserting its national sovereignty, however, in 2012 Moscow went on to ban gay pride marches in the capital for the next century.

It is in this increasingly restrictive political and legal environment that Russian citizens – of all sexual orientations and gender identities – have expressed a corresponding concern around the rise of social stigma particularly against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people.

“Leave the children in peace”: Putin’s dangerous defiance

When challenged about the anti-propaganda law, Putin said, “people can feel free and at ease but please leave the children in peace”. In doing so, he made public his views on what the homophobic right have often erroneously called the ‘slippery slope of sexual rights’ by linking homosexuality with practices that threaten children’s wellbeing, like incest and paedophilia.

Just two days before the opening of the Winter Olympics, however, a UN children’s rights panel condemned this law, showing that it has serious and negative implications for the rights of children who may themselves be transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer, or who come from families that are not narrowly defined as ‘traditional.'

This new law has been accompanied by other fundamental violations of the human rights of LGBTQI persons in Russia, including – as described above – the banning of gay rights parades, fines for LGBTQI rights groups, intimidation and incarceration of LGBTQI activists.

Although the Russian government has claimed that athletes competing in the Olympics will not be affected by the legislation, the Russian Sports Minister has stated that if athletes of “non-traditional sexual orientation” go out in the streets and propagate their sexuality, they will be “held accountable.”

What role can sport play in challenging, or even changing, repressive laws?

The international community, including the IOC have publicly condemned the law, initiated LGBTQI rights awareness campaigns and clearly stated their support for athletes of any sexual orientation. In addition, the Russian LGBT Network asked that athletes and spectators not boycott the Olympics and stated that such action would “risk to transform the powerful potential of the Games in a less powerful gesture that would prevent the rest of the world from joining LGBT people, their families and allies in Russia in solidarity and taking a firm stance against the disgraceful human rights record in this country.”

As the largest international sporting event in the world, the Olympics brings attention to the host country in a multitude of ways, in this case providing the platform to showcase Russia’s increasingly repressive laws and policies that shut down a multiplicity of rights linked to sexuality.

As the World looks to Sochi, we also need to look out at the World

Without an Olympics bringing other governments repressive policies into the public spotlight – like Nigeria and India’s recent (re)criminalisation homosexuality – there’s a risk that we might forget that this issue is far more pervasive and uncontested than one would believe from the global mobilization seen in the media against Russia’s policies.

It is against this geopolitical background that the Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme seeks to highlight the implications of laws and policies on the lives of those who hold myriad gender identities and sexualities, and who may be discriminated against as a result.

In the next few weeks, as we keep an eye on Sochi, we will be asking: what role does this global sporting event play in the debate around human rights, sexuality, national sovereignty and transnational activism? And what role should, and can, athletes play in taking this debate forward? Importantly, we will consider, too, the longevity of the campaigns and media storm surrounding this Olympics. For those people living in and beyond Russia who continue to be marginalised on the basis of their sexuality, we ask: what will happen when the world’s gaze shifts, and the storm around the Olympics subsides?

Elizabeth Mills is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), and convenes the Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme at IDS.

Alison Carney is a sports and development consultant, with extensive experience on the role of sport for supporting the realisation of gender equality and sexual rights. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

What’s sex got to do with it? A Synthesis of Sexuality and the Law

by Linda Waldman

For many people, sexuality is something private and personal, and something that should have nothing to do with the state.  Yet sexuality is intimately woven into questions of law, legitimacy and regulation.  Various dimensions of our sexuality are moulded by the law through the ways in which media is controlled, schools are regulated and through considerations by social services for instance.  Law also regulates our own sexuality and relationships, by defining in criminal and civil law what a family is and how it should behave, through defining childhood and adulthood, by granting – or denying – access to condoms, abortions or legalising and by criminalising particular sexual practices including sex work.

The Sexuality, Poverty and Law  Programme at IDS started in 2012 and together with our partners around the world we have witnessed significant changes to the law and its intimate relationship with sexuality in the last two years. For example, just two months time, same-sex marriage will be legal in the UK; earlier this year, in January 2014, Morocco amended its Penal Code to criminalise marital rape; last year, in November 2013, Germany became the first country in Europe to legally recognise a third sex outside of the male/female binary; and in August, 2013, New Zealand legalised same sex marriage.

But it has not all been good news.  The high profile cases of Nigeria, Jamaica, Uganda, India, and Ghana – to name a few  – demonstrate the ongoing challenges for those who risk persecution and criminalisation on the basis of their sexuality. These examples are vivid reminders that, as Kapur reminds us, ‘culture and sexuality are not uncontested categories in law’ (1999: 362). 

Law is an ambivalent source of power. On the one hand, it acts as an arbitrator of justice allowing citizens to demand their rights and secure the benefits of citizenship. On the other hand, for many people marginalised because of their sexuality, the law can be extremely restrictive - both powerful and difficult to challenge.

Following Susan Boyd, we believe that ‘it is crucial to bring the political economy of sexuality and gender more firmly into our analyses of law’s contradictory role in emancipatory politics’ (1999: 370).  With this in mind, the Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme has sought to uncover the dynamics of law and sexuality through in-depth country case studies which make apparent the struggles and contestations taking place over sexuality and law and ask what comparative lessons can be learnt.  Five countries – Cambodia, South Africa, Nepal, Uganda and Egypt- served as case studies to explore these struggles.

Each country was selected as it was uniquely positioned in relation to the rule of law and, in each, a different issue relating to sexuality was examined:
  • In Egypt, Mariz Tadros explored the public and sexual harassment of politicised men and women before the fall of President Mohamed Morsi;
  • Cheryl Overs examined Cambodia’s recent changes to the laws on sex work and human trafficking and their implications;
  • In Nepal, Paul Boyce and Daniel Coyle explored the introduction of progressive legislation around sexuality in light of the country’s complex social context and contested and multiple sexual subjectivities;
  • Adrian Jjuuko and Francis Tumwesige analyse the implications of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill on its legal system; and 
  • In South Africa, Alex Muller and Hayley MacGregor provide an examination of the undermining of HIV-positive women’s sexual and reproductive health rights in relation to sexuality, contraception, HIV testing and fertility; while Tessa Lewin, Kerry Williams and Kylie Thomas explore criminal violence, and the associated legal processes, as experienced by lesbian women and gay men.

These diverse studies offer rich and detailed descriptions of what is happening in particular countries in relation to sexuality and law. In Uganda and Cambodia, the cases provide shockingly vivid illustrations of how citizens can be denied basic rights because their sexuality is different to that prescribed by law.  Cases from Egypt and Cambodia show complex relationships between national and international law which can be used both as a driver for repressive law or policy and as a tool to help communities and activists resist the law.  In South Africa and Nepal, the cases demonstrate the challenges of implementation despite progressive legal frameworks. 

Looking across the case studies, the synthesis (by Linda Waldman and Cheryl Overs) highlights a number of key challenges and tensions. It clarifies the need for legal training amongst activists’ and NGOs’ and for increasing their capacity to take on legal cases. It illustrates the dangers of engaging with and challenging the law; including the risks attached to strategic litigation and of dealing with corrupt law enforcement agencies. With limited resources and little capacity, these tasks are even more challenging. 

The synthesis also lays bare the ways in which law puts pressure on people to conform to societal expectations of how men and women should behave (within this binary construct) within a framework that idealises particular forms of citizenship. This creates a particular form of vulnerability and fragility that, for some, results in marginalisation from mainstream society and exclusion from opportunities to benefit from economic and social development. Assumptions about conventional gendered behaviours are, in turn, often reinforced in law making it difficult for people to stand apart from the norm.

The synthesis highlights tensions in the use of specific sexual identities – such as LGBT or gay.  These provide entry points and modalities for legal recognition and for accessing funding, but in ways that can be restrictive and exclusionary.  As such, these terms and categories are simultaneously both useful and problematic.  For this reason we argue that it is necessary for donors and others to provide opportunities to draw on international LGBT discourse, but also to recognise times when this language is inappropriate.

And yet, despite potent obstacles, there are many stories of success. The synthesis also illustrates that opportunities and spaces have opened up and provided platforms for activism and community intervention to challenge the law and to support victims of violence and discrimination. But most of all, the use of a comparative case study approach has made us realise how significant the law is for any discussion of rights in relation to sexuality.  While law is positioned as a means through which to protect people by upholding neutrality, we have found that it simultaneously regulates and intervenes in our lives at the most intimate level; and in ways that are not entirely neutral nor in ways that uphold each individual’s rights irrespective of sexuality.  In showing how the political economy of sexuality is embedded in law, we hope this work exposes law’s contradictory role in the politics of sexuality and contributes towards greater emancipation for all, regardless of their sexuality. 

African agriculture is growing, but is it transforming?

Harvesting a cereal crop in Ethiopia
Photo: Harvesting a cereal crop in Ethiopia (ILRI / Flickr)
By Steve Wiggins , Future Agricultures member and ODI researcher

Economic development is not just about growth. It’s about transformation. Development should see changes in structures as countries move from being agrarian and rural to industrial and urban, while productivity should rise — especially for sectors such as agriculture that lag behind national averages. This has long been appreciated, but the ideas have come back into debates over African development with a vengeance in recent years. It is not for nothing that K Y Amoako called his highly active think tank the African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET).

Africa is growing again, so much so that a new wave of Afro-optimism has emerged. But is Africa transforming? Too often behind the impressive growth the motors seem to be oil and mineral extraction, higher prices for farm exports, and property booms. It is far from clear that productivity is rising in ways that promise sustained growth, still less growth spread broadly that will deliver reductions in poverty.

The concerns were discussed last month in Nairobi at a meeting convened jointly by ACET and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). A strong driver of growth and development is manufacturing, according to evidence (pdf) from OECD countries and emerging Asia. Manufacturing, it seems, is the sector where learning takes place and where labour productivity can rise rapidly. Indeed, factories in low income countries typically show faster growth in labour productivity than similar plants in richer countries with higher labour productivity. So productivity tends to converge in industry, whereas similar convergence is notably absent when economies as a whole are considered. Not for nothing, then, do influential thinkers like Dani Rodrik see manufacturing as the escalator that raises up economies in developing countries.

For Africa, the bad news is that investment in manufacturing has been low for decades and productivity may actually have fallen over the last few decades (pdf). This is not the place to discuss Africa’s travails with manufacturing, still less to rehearse the exaggerated pessimism that China might have blocked every other country’s chance of getting into assembly — although the Jeremiahs have to explain why China’s shoe factories are moving to Addis.

Transformation and agriculture

So what does this mean for Africa’s agriculture? It is easy to be seduced by the ladder of manufacturing, by dreams of structural change, so that serious consideration of agriculture gets ditched. Yes, it is true that both empirically and normatively agriculture will get smaller and less important with development — relative to other sectors, and smaller absolutely in employment — but that doesn’t mean that this will be achieved by ignoring farming. On the contrary, one of development’s great paradoxes is that the quickest way to get out of agriculture is to raise agricultural productivity. That this will almost certainly produce the most equitable and benign transformation — it remains the case that agricultural growth reduces poverty more than any other sector in most low income countries — is a massive bonus.

A longstanding misunderstanding is that smallholder agriculture — African agriculture is overwhelmingly carried out on small family farms — is marked by stagnation in yields per hectare and returns to labour, if not outright involution, as increasing numbers of farmers try to support themselves on ever-smaller patches of overworked soil so that productivity actually falls. This simply isn’t true. Not for agriculture: it is two decades since Martin & Mitra found that total factor productivity in most countries across the world grew faster in agriculture than in other sectors. Taking the partial measure of labour productivity —arguably the most important measure since it so closely relates to incomes and wages — productivity of farm labour has typically been faster in agriculture than in other sectors over the last half-century.

graph - growth of labour productivity 1960-2003
Source: Compiled from Table 2 of Christiaensen, Luc, Lionel Demery & and Jesper Kuhl, 2010, ‘The (Evolving) Role of Agriculture in Poverty Reduction. An Empirical Perspective’, Working Paper No. 2010/36, Helsinki: UNU Wider

So what do we know abou the growth of productivity in African agriculture in the last two decades? A lot less than we might, since the data are so sketchy. But to the extent that official statistics on agricultural output, area cultivated and the economically active population can be trusted — give or take some generous margins of error — productivity in African agriculture is rising, and by more than the graph above might suggest. Cereal yields have risen, albeit from low levels. Here is what the numbers show for the ten New Alliance countries, plus the main (UN) regions and the continent as a whole.

Graph - cereal yields, average, Africa, 1990 and 2011
Source: Compiled from FAOSTAT data

Over the last two decades, cereals yields are up by around 30% for the continent as a whole and for most regions: moreover, in half the New Alliance countries, the gains have been 50% or more.
Similar increases have been seen for labour productivity:

Graph - growth of agricultural labour productivity, Africa, 1990/92 to 2009/11
Source: Compiled from FAOSTAT data


So what? Implications for future study

We know too little about what drives such increases, where they take place, for which crops, in which regions, and for which farmers. The national stats, still less the continental aggregates, hide as much as they reveal. We know from studies of districts and villages that local booms in production take place. What we don’t know is how generalised these are, how much they are either islands of success in an otherwise little-changing sea, or harbingers of dynamism that will transmit increasingly across the countryside.

So we need to be able to track such change better. Studies are constantly made, but the challenge is draw their insights together in narratives that will be both more reliable and influential with policy-makers.

If our understanding of change on the farm is sketchy, then all the more so for changes in supply chains. What do we know of labour productivity in trading, processing, transport and storage? Next to nothing, other than case studies and anecdotal accounts that suggest some very large changes in the few chains where there has been some observation.

Getting better understanding is shackled by the enormous diversity seen across the continent, and indeed, within any given country. Geographical diversity has long been appreciated, with distinctions typically made by the quality and abundance of land and water, and physical access to cities and ports. Returning to debates is an awareness of the diversity within communities of small farmers; where great differences can be seen across smallholders in their circumstances — above all the land and water they command, and the labour, skills and capital they can deploy.

Geographical and social distinctions make it that much more difficult to build a sharp narrative about agricultural development; but the variations do at least help explain why experiences differ so markedly.

We need to understand these changes better, and their development implications, if in the debates over transformation, smallholder agriculture is not be marginalised. It may not take that much to accelerate higher productivity on small farms. If in the last two decades, some smallholders have made progress in the teeth of discouraging rural investment climates, under-investment in rural public goods, and low farm prices; then what might be achieved in an environment that is more supportive and with better prices for output? Not only will that deliver direct development benefits, but also it will make possible the long-awaited structural transformations to an urban and industrial Africa.

4 February 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.

Brazil, Angola and FAO sign South-South cooperation agreement
Angola, Brazil and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have signed a South-South cooperation agreement that seeks to strengthen Angolan food security by boosting its agricultural and veterinary research. Training and technical assistance for 105 Angolan staff will be provided by EMBRAPA.
(UN Food and Agriculture Organisation)

Zimbabwe adopts the Renmibi
Last week, Zimbabwe’s central bank listed the Chinese Renminbi as one of several foreign currencies that would officially be allowed to trade in the country. Zimbabwe dropped its own currency in 2009 after it soared to 231,000,000 percent in hyperinflation, and has since been using a number of other currencies such as the US dollar and the South African Rand.
(The Africa Report)

President Mugabe voted deputy chair of the AU
Zimbabwe President, Robert Mugabe, has been elected as first deputy chair of the African Union, thereby implying that he will be attending the EU-AU summit in April. The EU had not invited President Mugabe to attend. The Zimbabwe Herald sees this election as a show of strength from the AU, demonstrating that their internal governance will not be dictated from outside.
(Zimbabwe Herald)

Vale compensates displaced farmers in Mozambique
Vale agrees new compensation for residents of Moatize who lost farmland. On 23 December 290 families blocked access to the Vale mine to complain they had never been given land promised in a 2008 resettlement agreement.
(Joseph Hanlon’s newsletter 239, 28 January 2014)

Globalization with Chinese Characteristics
A special issue of the journal Development and Change was published just before Christmas on the subject of ‘Globalization with Chinese Characteristics’. It looks at the new waves of culture, capital and influence coming from China out onto the global sphere and its variations with current forms of globalisation. There are good pieces by Giles Mohan and Raphael Kaplinsky on China-Africa engagements, and I would particularly recommend the last two articles for anyone working on Chinese ethnographic studies:

Is Africa about to lose the right to her seed?
Last year, Via Campesina published a report on seeds, which included a chapter on knowledge sharing initiatives between Brazilian and Mozambican farmers’ movements. The aim of the partnership was to push forward informal seed markets in the face of mounting pressure from multinational seed companies. The website Grain features an interesting article surrounding its publication.
Chinese investments in African Agriculture
The SAIS China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC will hold a conference and research workshop on 16-17 May 2014 on the theme of: “Researching China’s Agricultural Investment in Africa: ‘Land Grabs’ or ‘Friendship Farms’?” Those interested in submitting an application to present a paper should do so before the deadline on 14 Feb 2014.
(China in Africa: the Real Story)

Should the UK government promote UK businesses in developing countries?
Last week, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, gave a speech at the London Stock Exchange where she spoke of increased involvement of UK businesses in development projects. UK companies such as the department store Marks & Spencer, and the supermarkets Tesco and Asda, will be working with African farm workers under this scheme. Although different in form to Brazil or China’s mixtures of aid and business, it is interesting to see how the UK’s synthesis of the two develops. The ODI blog also features a piece commenting on Greening’s speech.