Monday, 31 March 2014

Spurious statistics: why figures on Zimbabwe’s ‘lost growth’ mislead

There is a lot that is written about Zimbabwe that is misleading. But sometimes a piece appears that really beats the field. This week a blog from the Centre for Global Development in Washington joins that category. This claims that 'misrule' has cost Zimbabwe US$96 billion.

I would normally ignore such articles, but the CGD regularly produces some quite good material, if a bit close to the Washington view of the world on occasions. I also have been sent this article several times by my regular 'correspondents' to show (again) how wrong I am about Zimbabwe. So I thought it deserved a bit more attention, and now a blog, as I think it illustrates rather well a wider problem of the use of statistics in misleading ways.

This is not exclusive to this piece. Far from it. For example, a few weeks back when I was in South Africa I was reading the Cape Times over breakfast and was confronted by a whole page on Zimbabwe (the hook was Mugabe's birthday) written by Professor Robert Rotberg from the Harvard Kennedy School. This purported to show how disastrous things were through ten points. I was so flabbergasted by the content that I totted up the 'facts' that were presented that could be challenged with real field data that I and others had collected. There were 12 – one for each of the ten points made and two more besides. It was quite extraordinary how an author (nay illustrious 'expert') and an editor (of a perfectly respectable paper) could get away with it. But sadly it happens nearly every day, and most such interventions go completely unchallenged.

Anyway, the point is that in writing this blog each week I have plenty of material to reflect on, but most is not worth the time of day. However, I thought I should offer some response to the CGD piece, given its provenance and the way it illustrates a wider problem. The blog is written by Todd Moss who is COO and Senior Fellow at CGD, and was formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and previously advisor to the Chief Economist in the Africa Region at the World Bank. He certainly has impressive credentials, and has written other material on Zimbabwe, but I cannot see from the website whether he has actually done field research in the country.

So where does the $96 billion figure come from? The blog presents the sorry story of Zimbabwe's collapse in the formal economy from the early 2000s to 2009 and its slow and weak recovery since. The indicator used is the standard GDP measure. This is compared with a 'what if?' argument. What if Zimbabwe instead of declining grew at the rate seen in Zambia? The difference between the two scenarios is presented as the 'loss' that Zimbabwe has suffered.

The main argument is encapsulated in a graph, with the large deficit highlighted. The blog urges readers to tweet the graph to the world. Here is a very explicit and in some ways quite effective attempt at creating a 'killer fact', one that will become a focus for media articles, and a hook in the wider discourse (a phenomenon that Duncan Green from Oxfam has written on).

So why is this 'fact', and its wider narrative problematic? There is no denying the catastrophic collapse of the formal economy in the 2000s, and also the weakness of the recovery since, now faltering once again. Equally, the scale of graft and unaccountability was recently illustrated in the media exposes of highly paid parastatal officials, although these have now been capped. But what else needs to be taken into account when making an assessment? Here are four points.
  • First is the problematic statistic of GDP, particularly in African contexts. Morten Jerven has written lucidly about this issue in his fantastic book Poor Numbers; a book I highly recommend to Dr Moss, and anyone else thinking about African economies. GDP numbers are usually fabrications with little basis in reality, and they shift dramatically depending on the assumptions made and the data collection techniques used. They show something about the formal economy, at least in terms of trends (no denying that for Zimbabwe), but they need to be viewed with very large pinches of salt.
  • Second the official statistics only pick up a fraction of the range of economic activity, especially in economies that have large informal sectors. With the restructuring of the economy since 2000, the informal sector in Zimbabwe has grown massively. Tendai Biti, the former MDC Finance Minister, argued recently that it represented most of the economy, perhaps over 80%. If so then the recent figures in the CGD graph represent only represent a small proportion of total economic activity and should be multiplied many times – in which case the disparity with Zambia would shrink dramatically. Of course this would be equally spurious, as Mr Biti's guess is just that, and in fact we have no idea what the scale of economic activity is, as the standard statistics do not tell us, as statistical services measure only a fraction of the 'informal sector'; a point made forcefully by Professor Jerven.
  • Third, Zambia's economy has certainly grown but from a low base. In the 1980s and 90s in particular the economy was in dire straits. So the growth rate that has been used in the projection is to some degree a bounce back, driven in large part by the growth of commodity prices internationally. As a resource dependent economy, the dramatic growth is highly dependent on the price of copper, for example. And this has accelerated, in turn driving growth. There are of course other vibrant sectors, including tourism, but Zambia's economic growth, and its projection into middle income status, is based on quite fragile and narrow foundations, with question marks being raised about job creation.
  • Fourth, we have to ask how economic activity is distributed to make any useful assessment in relation to development. The benefits of growth in Zambia is massively concentrated. The bigger winners are international mining capital and South African retail and services. Of course this generates some jobs and tax revenues, but the distributive effects of such forms of growth have to be questioned. A broader based growth grounded in redistributive policies is perhaps more sustainable, and certainly more equitable in the longer term. Zimbabwe has certainly not got there yet, but the land reform for example has laid the foundations for this in the agricultural sector.
I could go on. If we probe a bit we can see that the 'killer fact' loses its shine quite dramatically. Its construction and deployment in an essentially political argument is clearly problematic. It would be just as problematic for example if Professor Jonathan Moyo – Zimbabwe's Minister of Information and spin doctor extraordinaire – used the same figure to argue that this was the cost of international 'sanctions' on the country in the same period. Both Moss and Moyo would be using a spurious statistic to bolster a political narrative that is far too simple an explanation for a complex and evolving process.

So if you hear this figure again, or any other presented in this sort of way, think twice. More likely than not the statistics will have been conjured up to a suit a predefined narrative. Ask about its source, and whether real field research underpins it. More questioning and critique of such statistics and the narratives that they give rise to is essential to pick apart complex realities from dubious myth making.

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

26 March: China and Brazil in African agriculture - news roundup

This news roundup has been collected on behalf of the China and Brazil in African Agriculture (CBAA) project. For regular updates from the project, sign up to the CBAA newsletter.

Ghana negotiating stalled $3bn loan with China
In 2011 a $3bn loan for Ghana was agreed by the China Development Bank (and also possibly involving China’s EXIM Bank). The Chinese government was expected to disburse the full amount in three years, but until now only $600m has arrived for a gas project. Representatives of the Ghanaian government have therefore flown to China last weekend to discuss the release of funds.
(GhanaWeb / Reuters / Modern Ghana)

Ningxia rice project in the Volta Region signed
Ghana’s Volta Region has signed a deal with China’s Ningxia Province to develop rice fields around Wheta in the Ketu-North District. This comes after three years of visits and discussions, and will begin with a 100ha plot. “Front line organizations superintending the project are the Volta Region Development Agency (VRDA), a development group sponsored by the Volta Regional House of Chiefs and the Volta Regional Coordinating Council (VRCC).”
(Vibe Ghana /

Global Agribusiness Forum 2014
 March 24-25: The Global Agribusiness Forum is taking place in São Paulo this year. It involves some high-profile speakers including the director of EMBRAPA, the WTO director general, Roberto de Azevêdo, and Brazil’s representative at the FAO.
(GAF website)

World Bank paper on Chinese land reform
This paper by the World Bank looks at Chinese institutions’ role in the country’s land reform programmes. Based on an 8-year survey of 1200 households, this paper looks at how government land re-allocations and use of formal land certificates had an impact on agricultural growth and rural employment patterns.
(World Bank website / Direct link to the paper)

‘What’s in a number?’
This blog post by Global Witness’ land campaigner, Josie Cohen, looks at the problems of data on land investment statistics. It also discusses some of Global Witness’ work on ensuring open and fair land investments by governments and companies.

INBAR Initiative with Ethiopia and Ghana
Under a project funded by the EU and China Food Company, the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) has been working in Ethiopia and Ghana to reduce deforestation and land degradation. Domestic fuel wood and charcoal production are deemed the highest causes of deforestation, so the project aims to set up test sites for bamboo as an alternative energy source. Bamboo technologies were imported from China and modified to fit local contexts.

Mozambique Democratic Movement prepares for elections
This article looks at the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) as the main contender to Guebuza in the upcoming elections. It describes the party’s history and strengths, and looks at the reasons behind its recent successes in local elections around the country.
(Think Africa Press)

The Political Economy of Agricultural Statistics and Input Subsidies
This 2013 paper by Morten Jerven looks at the political economy of agricultural policies wherein it suggests that the ‘data’ cited in some countries’ agricultural sectors, are really a reflection of the policies themselves.
(Journal of Agrarian Change)

By Henry Tugendhat

Inclusive innovation: learning to listen to the excluded

Last week I spent a fascinating couple of days at the OECD Symposium on Innovation and Inclusive Growth, where discussion kept returning to the challenge of scaling-up inclusive innovation.

Unsurprisingly, given the venue, and with most of the participants coming from economics and business schools, talk has tended to focus on getting the incentives right, and developing appropriate business models that would get innovations to scale. Inclusive innovations were identified in health, ICT, transport, energy and other sectors, and the imperative appeared to be to roll out these solutions to other communities.

Particularly fascinating for me were reactions to the persistent puzzle of how promising business models for innovations that worked at smaller-scale (in a city or even a region) kept failing to reach wider scales such as national markets, or other localities. How, for example, might mobile health diagnostic services be rolled out beyond the pioneering region? Why isn't the market for affordable electrical battery charging being adopted everywhere? How to build on the success of M-PESA cash transfer to provide other innovative services?

An evaluation from the World Bank, for example, noted the kaleidoscope of programmes to boost inclusive innovations that appeared to overlap, reproduce, and build in redundancy, as they came and went over time, and which struggled to scale-up again and again. There was a note of frustration: from this mess, it was rare for a coherent set of institutional designs to emerge that could incentivise inclusive innovations at scale.

3 kinds of exclusion

But is this really so surprising? If we pause to think about inclusive innovation from a slightly different angle, and think about the conditions of exclusion that these innovations are supposed to overcome, then the difficulties of going to scale might appear less surprising. Exclusions are not solely economic, important as that is. Exclusion emerges and reproduces through social and cultural processes too. All three forms of exclusion – economic, social and cultural – manifest in quite particular combinations in localities. Indeed, since multiple exclusions often interact, then these other forms of exclusion may complicate even market-oriented inclusion strategies.

So, for example, one can fix incentives for introducing electricity to poorer households where infrastructure is currently lacking. But the actual use of the possibilities opened up by electricity within the home will depend upon a much more complicated picture of gender, generational, and other cultural, and social relations. Such relations operate not only within the household, but also within the communities where these new possibilities are introduced.

Issues like the best design of, say, a solar PV battery recharging service, or questions about which villagers might become the entrepreneurs implementing the model, and whether the 'marketing' should be directed for customers wanting lighting or wanting to recharge their mobile phones, can all be very specific to localities. For similar reasons, enabling some groups to access particular forms of energy service through electricity provision may require thinking about access away from households where social and cultural relations may prevent those groups getting access.

Invisible problems?

But there is more to it than that. The actual problems experienced by marginalised people in their communities can be invisible to us, precisely because they are excluded and lack the voice to exercise demand-driven innovation. What looks like an inclusive innovation in one setting, may not actually solve the problems experienced in another locality. The excluded need to set the problem agenda before we even begin to think about innovative solutions.

However, while exclusions manifest locally, not all of them are generated locally. Some might derive from much deeper and wider economic and political forces, for example, and that shape access to say, investment, institutions and infrastructures, but also cultural resources and social recognition of issues. These might only really be altered by broad-based activity at that wider scale, and beyond the reach of inclusive innovation programmes.

So the message I take home from this Symposium is that programmes for innovations that overcome exclusions in development have to be complicated, nuanced, and messy. They need to be robust enough to reach out and engage structural forces and enabling contexts, at the same time as being empathetic and nimble enough to listen to and understand local development problems.
In doing this, programmes need to include anthropological, geographic, political, and sociological considerations. Then programmes can begin to listen to people as cultural and social beings, whose relationships cut across the responses anticipated to incentives and problems for people conceived as economic beings.

by Adrian Smith, convenor of the STEPS Centre’s Grassroots innovation: historical and comparative perspectives project.



IPCC: should climate change debates be more political?

Photo: Ethio drought 7 by aheavens on Flickr
The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, focusing on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, makes sobering reading. But it also situates climate change among a range of other challenges and uncertainties faced by society, especially poor people.

IPCC reports always provoke a discussion about trust in climate science. But they should also make us look at the political choices in responding to climate change – choices which cannot be settled by focusing on the science alone. Responding to climate change, as with many other problems where humans and nature interact, involves making decisions on the basis of incomplete knowledge. But politics and uncertainty are an uneasy mix.

The journalist Fred Pearce, a member of the STEPS Centre’s advisory committee, wrote last week in response to a draft of the IPCC report, noting that this time around, the authors are ‘more wary’ of making specific predictions of local impacts.

“The 2007 report was almost all about the impacts of climate change. Most of this report, and in particular most of the summary for policymakers, is about resilience and adaptation to inevitable climate change.

Central to that new take is setting climate change in a context of other risks, uncertainties and mega-trends such as poverty and social inequality, urbanization, and the globalization of food systems.”

Back in February, Prof Mike Hulme (another member of our advisory committee) suggested that the debate about the climate change needs become more political, not more scientific. Attempts to assert the scientific consensus on climate change miss the point – what matters is what we do about it. In his blog for The Conversation, Mike Hulme offers four important questions to be asked about climate change, which all require a political position to be taken.

This article first appeared on the STEPS Centre blog.

Dams, flooding and displacement: the Tokwe Mukorsi dam

Image: Satellite-detected water bodies at the
Tokwe Mukorsi Dam (source:
Reliefweb [pdf])
Zimbabwe's heavy rainfall this season has had its costs. The most dramatic has been the major flooding in Masvingo as the long awaited Tokwe Mukorsi dam filled more rapidly than expected. Rather than filling gradually over four years, with a phased process of relocation of people, it did so over a matter of weeks. There were threats to the dam wall, and a fear a major catastrophe might result.

Dramatic satellite images of the extent of flooding have been shared, and SABC broadcast a short news item on the unfolding drama, showing images of the floods, and the damage caused. The flooding has resulted in over 4500 people having to be evacuated at short notice, and shifted to a number of holding camps in the lowveld.

It has been declared a national emergency, and considerable resources have been deployed in response. Funds from the US as well as China have been offered, and whole fleets of CMED vehicles have been commandeered to move people. Emergency camps have been established, and feeding programmes instituted.

In December, while visiting our research study site along the Ngundu-Chiredzi road, the first phase of relocation was on-going, and we witnessed a string of trucks, tractors and trailors carrying people and their possessions heading to Nuanetsi ranch. They had left their ancestral lands, their homes, fields and grave sites, with the promise of compensation, new homes and access irrigated land and the water that was to cover where they once lived. But in February, as the scale of the massive rainfall and rapid filling of the dam became apparent, this turned from an orderly, planned move, to an emergency.

The Tokwe Mukorsi dam has been long in the planning. From the 1980s it was part of a strategic development of lowveld water resources, essentially to guarantee supply of water to the sugar and citrus estates. It was always political, wrapped up in national and local lowveld wrangles. Funding though has always been a challenge. The project has been on and off for decades. But in recent years, it has moved ahead, and Italian engineers and local companies have been involved. However, the engineers’ plans had discounted a once in 30 year rainfall event and had projected the gradual filling of the dam on the basis of more common rainfall patterns. This risk assessment of course proved incorrect, prompting the current disaster.

To the credit of the authorities, the response has been swift and losses have been minimised. No-one, as far as I can tell, has lost their life directly as a result. Dislocation and misery has resulted, and the make-shift arrangements at the holding camps have been reportedly appalling. But, everyone agrees, it could have been much, much worse.

This event has raised some bigger issues. We must ask, what is the role of such big infrastructure projects in development? Who gains and who loses? And how should displacement, compensation and relocation be managed when wider development priorities trump local concerns or resistance?
These are dilemmas being faced the world over. There is a wide obsession with the big, prestige project. Nehru proclaimed that ‘dams are the temples of modern India’. The Three Gorges dam in China has become a symbol of Chinese modernity. And in Ethiopia, the controversial Ghibe dam was a pet project of the late prime minister, Meles Zenawi. In the Rhodesian era, of course Kariba represented such a vision. And in recent decades, Tokwe Mukorsi has been associated with a similar rhetoric.

In the late 1990s, the World Commission on Dams made the case building on mountains of evidence that very often large scale is not best. A more diverse approach to water management, involving a variety of approaches to capturing, storing and distributing water is more appropriate. This advice however has been rarely heeded. The big project brings money, patronage, backhanders and more. And big projects can be seen as prestige legacies of particular people and politicians. Engineering development has its appeal: one solution, rather than many; and a technical one that needs a particular type of expertise. Yet the argument about big dams continues to rage. A paper out this month by Antif Ansar, Bent Flyvbjerg and colleagues suggests they are mostly economically unviable, bring massive costs of displacement and again a more diverse set of options is preferable. Not a new argument at all, but stated forcefully with recent numbers.

The Oxford study focuses on mega-large hydropower dams which Tokwe Mukorsi is not, but many of the same issues apply. There was repeated and systematic underestimation of costs, and as the flooding has shown the risk assessments have been found wanting. Tokwe Mukorsi was intended to benefit the large-scale sugar estates in the lowveld, not the local community. Resettlement was of course part of the plan, with a view that those displaced would become outgrowers in new sugar plantations. But will these offers be upheld, and what are the other more intangible losses suffered through displacement? Will those in Chivi who remain behind benefit from the new water? Or will it be ‘protected’ as part of ‘watershed management’, so upstream users lose out to the more powerful downstream? A game park has been mooted for the area, but who will benefit from this, as this takes up the banks of the new lake area?

When the immediate challenges of dealing with the flooding and its consequences pass, these are the bigger questions that will have to be dealt with. The minister of state for Masvingo, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, has asked for new ideas on how to make use of the development potential of this new water. This is a welcome move, as past projects – whether Kyle/Mtirikwi or Kariba – have excluded local people from this conversation. Maybe the new Tokwe Mukorsi water can be used to benefit local development through small-scale irrigation, as well as profiting the estates in the lowveld.

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

Monday, 24 March 2014

Scaling-up inclusive innovation: asking the right questions?

This post is based on a contribution I’ll be making in a session on ‘scaling up’ at the OECD Symposium on Innovation and Inclusive Growth in Paris on 20-21 March 2014.

There has always existed an insistent undercurrent of grassroots innovation activity in societies. Whether born of material or economic necessity, or motivated by social issues marginalised by the conventional innovation systems of states and markets, networks of grassroots innovators have worked to find development solutions that meet the aims, interests, and situations of the activists, communities and individuals involved.


Lessons from the grassroots?An emerging agenda for inclusive innovation amongst national and international development agencies has drawn elite attention to grassroots innovation. Grassroots innovation activity attracts interest as both a source of potentially inclusive ideas and practices, worthy of scaling-up, and as a relevant field of experience from which programmes for inclusive innovation might learn.

Research into grassroots innovation movements at the STEPS Centre and in SPRU for over a decade certainly suggests some relevant lessons. But the most important lessons are not as directly instrumental for inclusive innovation as some agencies might hope. Because whilst there is valuable experience in grassroots innovations, the main lessons from studying this field is that questions about scaling-up inclusive innovation might be misguided, or at least too narrow, and what is really required are answers to questions about opening-up and democratising innovation systems.

There are three motivating questions for the OECD Symposium. This contribution addresses the second and third of them:
  1. What are the impacts of innovation and innovation policy on industrial, social and territorial inclusiveness?
  2. How can inclusive innovation initiatives be expanded to improve welfare and facilitate the democratisation of innovation?
  3. What are key implications for policy? What can be done to support the successful implementation of novel approaches to policy to effectively support inclusive growth?
My argument is that inclusive innovation may not automatically facilitate the democratisation of innovation. Indeed, the relationship may need to operate the other way: it is difficult to have deep and meaningful inclusion in innovation (and, by implication, fair and just exclusion) without first democratising innovation systems. Problematising question two in this way means that considerations for policies sought in question three begin to look quite different.

Scaling-up processes not objects?

Even if one approaches grassroots innovation with an interest in scaling-up inclusive innovation, further questions soon become apparent. Evidence from our own research does include attempts to develop promising grassroots innovations into scalable forms. Typically, this proceeds through measures to formalise and commercialise the innovation. The facilities and tools of conventional innovation systems are brought to the services of promising grassroots innovators and their innovations: through the provision of research, development and demonstration; assistance with standards procedures; and help securing intellectual property. Investment and marketing assistance is also provided. Amongst the more advanced examples of this is the National Innovation Foundation in India.

So one can analyse in-depth the processes for developing and marketing goods and services arising from grassroots ingenuity. Models could be developed for inclusive innovations relevant to markets lower down the pyramid. However, this is a view that relates grassroots innovation to inclusion in terms of outputs only. The grassroots furnishes prototypes for the poor; and these are then turned into goods and services for scaling-up, principally by expanding markets. It is also a view that presumes an obvious risk-taking innovator (analogous to a firm or inventor) to support and reward, and an innovation that can be turned into a proprietary object. Of course, the inclusive innovations that result need not be marketed commercially to poorer consumers. Inclusive innovations might become products that are distributed through donor development programmes or social enterprises.

However, one of the key lessons from our research into grassroots innovation movements is that the people involved can be as much concerned about the processes of innovation as they are for the outputs of innovation. Grassroots innovators and their networks want to be involved in prioritising and framing the development issue, making design choices, decisions about evaluative criteria as well as evaluating ‘success’, undertaking further development and production, how investments are made, and any returns distributed or reinvested, as well as other aspects of the innovation process. Grassroots innovators are concerned about the form, depth, and scope of inclusion in innovation; and they are creating spaces for experimenting with new forms of innovation process.

Cisterna family
Family with a Cisterna, Brazil. Photo: ASA Brasil
All of these are concerns that challenge the market-based approach to scaling-up inclusive innovation noted above. A good example here is experience with the Cisterna programme for rainwater harvesting in Brazil. Cisterna involves the provision of household and larger-scale rainwater collection systems that can store sufficient water for families to get through the dry seasons in semi-arid North-Eastern Brazil. The programme emerged originally as a grassroots innovation. Local activists and engineers pioneered an assisted process for households and communities to build their own systems. It proved to be an innovation popular with communities in the region. Wanting to scale-up the use of rainwater harvesting, the government decided to purchase ready-made, plastic systems for more rapid installation locally.

However, these standard units did not work well in all situations – buckling under the intense heat in some cases. Just as significantly, simply installing this technology provided neither the space nor processes for development workers and local community members to address issues that affect how the systems would be used. Unlike the government view on scaling-up, the grassroots initiative was about more than providing families with water. There was a desire to address local power relations that affected not only access to water (and the injustices arising from reliance on water tanked in by vendors) but expand it to other development issues too. In its original form, Cisterna attempted through the organisation of the self-build process to build up capabilities for addressing social change, thereby giving people the confidence and power to organise themselves, articulate demands, do projects, and co-ordinate their maintenance. Protests in the region subsequently reinstated a self-build track into the programme.

grassroots innovationWe found a similar difference in breadths of purpose in studying community energy projects in the UK. Again, the government has noticed grassroots activity and begun developing strategies and support schemes with a view to scaling-up initiatives. Again, however, the schemes are framed quite narrowly, this time around engaging publics in sustainable energy. Our research found the protagonists initiating community energy projects had a wider set of economic, social and political aims. These included building cohesion and solidarity in the community, enhancing the skills and employability of people, asserting ownership and democratic control over local renewable resources, local jobs and economic development, and becoming less reliant on centralised fossil energy. The aims were very context specific and varied project-by-project: contextual sensitivities that the scaling-up of standard community energy models or packages risks losing.

At stake here are differences in framings of grassroots innovation. A more challenging framing sees grassroots innovation as providing a space for people to experiment, and in so doing build up power to do alternative developments in ways that challenge the structural priorities of incumbent innovation systems. An additional benefit to attending to inclusion in this way is that it opens up space to confront the gender, class, ethnicity, age and other relations that can sometimes be sources of exclusion, even in grassroots initiatives, and to figure out how an innovation process might be accompanied by other changes that ensure a more equitable and inclusive outcome. It has to be remembered that the communities within and across which grassroots innovation happens exhibit (and need to address) inequality, exclusions, and hierarchies just like the wider societies in which they are situated.

Innovation: exclusions, resistance and alternatives

Scaling-up is often seen in terms of standardising. However, even where the process of standardisation is trying to result in more inclusive outcomes, the process can also exclude other original features. Organic food, for example, was an early grassroots example where organisations like the Soil Association developed standards principally to assure authenticity and help with scaling-up. But what expanded was a set of standard and specific practices for cultivating crops and livestock. Synthetics-free ingredients scaled-up and were inserted into conventional food systems, rather than the original organic movement vision for local food economies based in mixed farms. Insufficient inclusion of the organic food vision prompted a reaction, in the reappearance of more localised organic food provision through box schemes, markets, and so forth. Practices in agro-ecology represent innovations that resist the encroachment of agricultural innovations based in high-input, capital-intense, industrialising food production and consumption. It is difficult to foresee inclusion operating smoothly across these two different worlds of innovation.

Other grassroots innovations arose similarly as ways of contesting the development pathways implied by incumbent innovation systems. As we see in areas of renewable energy now, such as for the Energiewende in Germany, once innovations grow beyond their grassroots origins, and concerns for ownership, empowerment and democratic control become more assertive, then they can present challenges to incumbent groups, and unsettle prevailing power relations. Sometimes, this leads to the co-option and reinvention of the innovation into forms more palatable to incumbents and their innovation systems. We get utility-scale renewable electricity plants rather than the decentralised electricity systems as envisaged by the pioneers under ownership of local communities. What could become inclusive innovation goes awry as the grassroots gets excluded through a scaling-up based in standardisation, loss of context and insufficient attention to power relations.

Debating the democratisation of innovation

So perhaps scaling-up is the wrong question? Scaling-up tends to frame the issue as one of extent and quantity, which glosses over important points of contestation around directions and qualities of innovation. We need to think more carefully about different kinds of inclusions, various sources of exclusions, plural innovation pathways, and resistance and alternatives to incumbent systems. Moreover, we need to think about inclusion dynamically. Seeing inclusion in terms of correcting an exclusion and bringing (market) access to a service through an innovation, implies quite a settled view on innovation as providing fixes: the situation is ameliorated by a more inclusive provision of goods or service; the included passively welcome the innovation. However, as we see in the case of Cisterna, the intended beneficiaries might not be so pliant, they might demand more, or the innovation experience might reveal further points of contestation and generate new issues relevant to questions of inclusion and exclusion.

The argument made here accords with the symposium identification with supporting the democratisation of innovation, but it suggests such democratisation will not arise automatically through a technical policy framing of the problem in scaling-up inclusive innovations. We need to think about democratising innovation in much more political terms.

How might an agenda based around the democratisation of innovation differ from an inclusive innovation agenda? First and foremost, it would attend to the power relations involved in innovation: the power to do innovation, and power over innovation agendas. The discussion above about scaling-up involves power relations between the grassroots and innovation systems through the way grassroots novelties are selected and developed. Who is in control of these processes? What principles are in play over decisions and selections? Our research finds that grassroots innovators are interested in these questions. In a few cases, they articulate it as a question of democratising innovation, or practicing innovation for social justice. The symposium wants to identify key policy principles for innovation; perhaps they should be democracy and social justice?

Drawing on grassroots debates, then a democratising innovation agenda would address the opening-up of innovation systems. Practically, that means thinking of more democratic arenas for establishing research agendas, funding decisions, universities, research institutes, venture and investment capital, training and skills programmes, prototyping infrastructures, marketing, and so forth. It also means building networks and coalitions between these arenas, where the potential can be demonstrated through acts, amplified by lobbying, and win influence through alliances. These are political challenges about opening-up innovation systems, and making systems accessible to citizens.

The practical challenges are considerable and uncertain. One practical possibility arising from some grassroots initiatives suggests scaling–down innovation systems, and decentralising facilities and institutions to where people live. This has been attempted with science shops and technology networks in the past, for example, and is being explored through fablabs, hackerspaces and similar community-based workshops today. There are other practical steps that could be explored also, but there is not space to develop them here.

Whatever gets considered, experience suggests we need to guard against idealizing grassroots activism in design, experimentation, and development of innovations. People do not respond automatically to the provision of a material facilities and training programmes. The spaces need be in tune with the contexts in which people live: they have to be designed and cultivated carefully, through on-going community development processes. And people have to be supported in gaining confidence within these more structured spaces. Questions of inclusion, exclusion, participation, and so forth are just as pertinent in these grassroots spaces. Issues abound around expertise, knowing how and knowing what, skills, tacit knowledge, and practices that push the scope and flexibility of both high- and low-technological options. The point is that these spaces allow experimentation and learning in democracy itself and what democratising innovation can mean practically.

Some concluding remarks

Words are powerful. They frame thinking and action. Clearly, inclusive innovation is a term motivating a lot of work amongst policy agencies at the moment (responsible innovation and social innovation are other terms keeping agencies busy). The term inclusive innovation provides welcome recognition that the focus and fruits of innovation need to be redirected and redistributed. But it also raises questions about what is being included in innovation.

In this post I have tried to argue that we need to think about alternative terms, such as starting with democratising innovation systems. What might happen if the normative (yet not too threatening) goal of scaling-up inclusive innovation was replaced by aims to open-up innovation systems to more democratic processes? Grassroots innovation experience suggests this is a valid re-framing of the issue.

Arguably, such an opening-up might lead to more diverse, balanced, and distributed innovation systems and economic activity. A wider sense of ownership and empowerment over innovative activity might encourage responsible citizens, whose deliberations could, as some democratic theory argues, generate richer discourses and better decisions about innovation. We’ll only learn whether this is the case or not if we ask the right questions.


21 March 2014: China & Brazil in African Agriculture - news roundup

This news roundup has been collected on behalf of the China and Brazil in African Agriculture (CBAA) project. For regular updates from the project, sign up to the CBAA newsletter.

Brazil innovates for under-financed Mozambican agriculture
This article presents some Brazilian engagements in Mozambique, including the Mozambique Food and Nutrition Security Programme. This combines US and Brazilian initiatives through USAID and Embrapa respectively, and has already introduced seeds originally developed in the USA. Presumably this part of the programme is linked to the partnerships between large US seed companies such as Monsanto or Dupont, and Embrapa that already exist in Brazil.
(Independent European Daily Express)

China urges Zimbabwe government to tackle corruption
The CEO of Industrial Commercial Bank of China has urged Zimbabwean officials to clamp down on corruption. According to the article below, he appears to suggest that Xi Jinping’s new policy agenda on corruption from last year explains China’s economic growth. Meanwhile, a representative from the China Railway Construction Corporation has encouraged Zimbabwean officials to bring down tariff barriers and provide preferential policies to incentivise Foreign Direct Investment.

CAADP conference invites Brazilian observers
The 10th annual conference of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), begins on 18 March 2014, and has invited two representatives from Brazil’s Lula Institute to attend. They will participate as observers to the proceedings for the main part, however there will be a working group within this concerning the food and nutrition security programme launched by the FAO, the AU and the Lula Institute last year.
(Lula Institute)

UK urges trilateral cooperation with Brazil in Africa
Last month, the UK Foreign Minister called for increased UK-Brazilian development cooperation in Africa within a debate entitled: ‘Brazil-UK Cooperation: Prosperity and development in the African continent’. It was attended by Brazilian officials and various African ambassadors to Brazil. The Minister is quoted as calling for cooperation on good governance and economic growth specifically, and the Lula Institute’s cooperation programme with the FAO and AU was also raised in discussions.
(Lula Institute)

Brazil’s South–South Co-operation Strategies: From Foreign Policy to Public Policy (occasional paper)
SAIIA has published a new paper by Prof. Carlos Milani from the State University of Rio de Janeiro. This looks at the role of institutional and non-institutional actors in Brazil’s South-South foreign policy agendas.
(South African Institute of International Affairs)

BRICS Academic Forum takes place in Rio
The BRICS Academic Forum taking place in Rio de Janeiro this week, and will be attended by several members of our CBAA project’s team. Events will be convened by the IDS project on the Rising Powers in International Development, looking at civil society, green transformations and mutual learning among other topics.
(Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada)

Deborah Brautigam on China-Zim aid
China-Africa scholar Deborah Brautigam blogs on reports of China’s aid to Zimbabwe totalling trillions of dollars after the Zimbabwean government failed to secure $30bn in budget support.
(China in Africa – the real story)

By Henry Tugendhat

Competing narratives on sustainable agriculture: what is the future that women want?

While the Multi-Stakeholder Conference on Agricultural Investment, Gender and Land in Africa aimed to explore models of responsible and gender equitable investment, many conference discussions centered on the ideal types of business models, responsible governance and proactive policies to achieve greater gender equality. There was a large elephant lurking in the room, however, that could not be ignored: the definition of sustainable agriculture and its implications for women.

One view sees the expansion of commercial agriculture and high input agricultural value chains as the only way forward — a “green revolution” offering promising opportunities for smallholders to farm as a business. The other side passionately disagrees with this obsession with value chains and emphasises that agriculture is an activity intimately connected with the earth — ecological issues such as the long-term fertility of the soil cannot be ignored.

As this debate continued passed the parallel session where it emerged, what women themselves actually want became a central question. Women may not want to be driven into high value market chains. Women may instead want to achieve greater resiliency in food crop production for their families and communities under principles that preserve the long-term viability of their soil. On the other hand, a woman on poor, flood-prone land may prefer water-hungry sugarcane that will not be unpredictably destroyed, as her staple crops are all to often.

Proponents of opposing views may focus on different evidence and impressions. For example, a recent-meta study of organic compared to conventional yields published in Nature found that organic yields are 5% to 34% lower depending on the crop, management practices and soil (Seufert et al. 2012). Evidence such as this could be pointed to as a trade off between high productivity and environmental stewardship.

Advocates of the alternative stand behind the conclusions of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, a 3-year, multi-stakeholder, collaborative effort. The assessment strongly underscores that we must view “farming communities, farm households, and farmers as producers and managers of ecosystems.” [underlining in the original document] (Synthesis Report Summary, UNEP 2009).

This debate that surfaced calls on delegates to reflect: what is our definition of sustainable agriculture? Are there really two competing views here between maximizing yields and economic objectives versus care for the environment and local food production? Or is there a harmonious way to pursue multiple objectives? How do we listen to the voice small producers themselves, and especially women that provide much of the farm labour? How can people be empowered to make their own informed choices about what vision of agricultural investment suits their needs? These are all questions I would challenge all the sectors represented in this conference to explore honestly and in terms of practical considerations for how we invest in women and agriculture.

By Vera Rocca, Carleton University/Future Agricultures Consortium

From ‘Basket Case’ to ‘One of the Great Mysteries of Global Health’: How did Bangladesh become such a success story?

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the UK launch of the Lancet Special Issue on Bangladesh, Innovation for Universal Health Coverage. In addition to this blog, there is also a complete Storify of the event.

Bangladesh is a fascinating case study for this type of review because, in terms of many health and social status indicators, they outperform many of their neighbouring countries despite having a lower GDP. This is particularly surprising as their health system is weak in many respects and is pluralistic, characterised by a range of health service providers from the for-profit and not-for-profit private sectors. Per capita expenditure on health care is $27 and two thirds of payments for health care are out of pocket – meaning that government investment in the health sector is very low. There are only 0.3 doctors/nurses per 1000 population. Despite this Bangladesh is one of six countries which is on-track to achieve Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 on child and maternal health.

Setting the scene

Dr Mushtaque Chowdhury (Vice-Chairperson and Interim Executive Director, BRAC) set the scene for the meeting, explaining that Bangladesh attained independence in 1971 after a liberation war which had caused millions of people to migrate to India and which destroyed much of the infrastructure of the country. At the time many outsiders were sceptical about the long-term future of the country and suspected that it would remain dependent on outside assistance for many years to come, hence the rather unpleasant label of 'basket case'. However, despite this the country has turned itself around and made great strides in terms of health outcomes.
  • Until the late 1980s Bangladesh was one of the few countries in the world where women lived a shorter life than men, but this has now been rectified
  • There are high rates of girls' enrolment in school at primary level
  • Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) targets are at 82% (as opposed to 44% for India)
  • There is very high use of Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) which has been popularised by BRAC who have taught mothers how to prepare it in the home
  • In terms of sanitation less than 10% defecate openly (it's 50% in India)
  • Bangladesh have already achieved WHO detection and treatment targets related to Directly Observed Therapy Shortcourse (DOTS) for TB
  • Total fertility rate has reduced dramatically

Positive influences

Dr Chowdhury explained that the war of liberation changed the way that society looked at inequity and the role of women, leading to a national commitment to improve the life of the poor and marginalised. Health policies such as the 1982 Drug Policy changed the way that drugs were made available and meant that essential medicines became available at a very cheap price. New health centres and other facilities have extended the reach of the health system. Although the population has doubled in the last 30 years, food production has trebled and there are food for education programmes and targeted programmes for the poor and girls. 80% of the poor have access to micro-finance. Women form the backbone of the front-line health worker programme providing primary health care to the people. The government has created spaces for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to grow and flourish. Finally health research has played a large role in problem solving and there is a history of the implementation of research findings into programmes.

There is still much to do

Despite its successes there are areas of health in Bangladesh which need attention, for example:
  • Skilled attendance at birth and facility delivery rates are low, impacting on maternal health
  • The country is facing an onslaught of Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs)
  • Malnutrition is a major problem, even among richer families
Abbas Bhuiya (Executive Director of ICDDR,B and Co-Director of Research for Future Health Systems) elegantly explained some of the remaining challenges that Bangladesh faces in fixing its health system. The country has a chronic shortage of health care workers, and of the ones that they have only 5% are formally trained and they tend to gravitate to urban areas. Much of the spending on health care and medicines comes from people's pockets rather than from the state or insurance programmes. The country has a weak and inadequate electronic records system, hindering joined up action. Finally, more needs to be done to empower the Ministry of Family Health and Welfare.

But there's a plan

Impressively the authors of the Special Issue are keen that the information that they have shared gets followed up and they have taken proactive steps to see that it happens. The journal contains a Call to Action with the following recommendations:
  1. That a national human resources policy and action plan need to be developed
  2. That out of pocket spending is decreased through the establishment of a national health insurance scheme
  3. That the country build an electronic health information system
  4. That the capacity of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is strengthened so that they have the clout to appropriately influence decision making
  5. That a supra-ministerial council on health is created
A learning platform is being developed to make sure that there is advocacy with non governmental organisations, the media, the government, academia and development partners to operationalise and monitor action.

Let's hope those close-to-community providers of health care who labour at the front lines of delivery are fully and comprehensively involved in this action as it is rolled out. Given Bangladesh's past performance in mobilising a plural and diverse set of health care actors, we have much to be hopeful for.

Blog by Kate Hawkins, who manages communications and research uptake for REACHOUT. The REACHOUT programme is an international research project helping to understand and develop the role of close-to-community providers of health care in preventing, diagnosing, and treating major illnesses and health conditions in rural and urban areas in Africa and Asia. Sabina Rashid, the co-Principle Investigator for the REACHOUT Bangladesh team is an author of one the Lancet papers on child survival.

Friday, 21 March 2014

World Water Day: Time to consider a low water economy

Rethinking the food-energy-water nexus and a low water economy 
In the water sector, the food-energy-water nexus is slowly replacing the concept of Integrated Water Resources Management. The idea of the nexus essentially gained momentum in the business community after the “food and energy crises” in 2007 and 2008. In a very paradoxical way, this was the first time that the business community, essentially through the World Economic Forum, came to realise the limits to growth.

The nexus is therefore about managing the relationship between food, water and energy security. Integrated water resource management was more land and ecosystem-led. Of course, there are different ways of managing this relationship but a number of key actors, including The World Bank, World Economic Forum and most donors and international organisations have been looking at water storage as a site of control for managing food and energy needs. 

Storage is also seen as a way to manage water in the face of climate-related uncertainties.

We need plural systems, we need to provide space for innovation 
Considering the nexus of food, energy and water has helped dam building to come back to the forefront of the political agenda by focusing on water storage, and has driven a new STEPS centre project exploring dams as a pathway to sustainability. 

Big dams were indeed side-lined for a few years following the recommendation of the World Commission on Dams, but are now seen as a ‘clean energy’ option within the green economy paradigm. However, storage solutions should not be limited to dam building: there is a diversity of pathways that exist. Natural wetlands, enhanced soil moisture, groundwater aquifers, ponds and tanks, or small dams or reservoirs; all these make the water storage continuum.

Many specialists, especially in International Water Management Institute, have proposed the idea of the continuum but it has never been applied to concrete projects. There is perhaps a need to move away in the policy world from multipurpose projects - which have largely failed - to multipurpose systems - and this idea of storage continuum. 

The key problem is that aiming for optimal use and project conception does not allow space for more innovative solutions to take place. Dam optimization is about narrowing down to one single solution which does not allow for broad participation. While optimization may lead to one preferred solution, it also creates considerable risks. Diverse spontaneous policy solutions are needed to manage water in a time of risk and uncertainty.

Pathways to sustainability and a low-water economy 
While the food-energy-water nexus needs to consider multiple solutions to storage systems, and while clumsy solutions may provide a risk mitigation strategy compared to optimization, would these provide the way forward to a pathway to sustainability? 

Given that there are underlying tensions between sustainability and growth, it is a time to reflect on the growth issue from a low economy water perspective. 

As Ramaswamy R. Iyer, former Water Resources Secretary in the Government of India, stated at a recent JNU STEPS Symposium: “A ‘low water economy’ may mean a ‘water-efficient economy’ - up to a point. 

But beyond that it will have to mean a ‘low demand economy’ or a ‘low consumption economy”. 

Overall, the nexus masks the bigger debate, which really lies around resource sustainability and growth. World Water Day 2014 provides a timely opportunity to reflect on the need for a ‘low water economy’.  

By Jeremy Allouche. Dr Allouche is an IDS Fellow and member of the IDS Water Justice Programme and the STEPS Centre

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Sustainable energy for whom?

How can we move from “sustainable energy for some” towards “sustainable energy for all”, whilst promoting economic development in some of the world’s poorest nations? In a new blogpost for Politics@Warwick the STEPS Centre’s David Ockwell and Rob Byrne reveal new research that shows capacity building has been more influential than market mechanisms in the Solar Home Systems sector in Kenya.

“There’s a lot of talk about low carbon energy technologies providing clean energy access for poor people in low-income countries. In fact, these technologies could also do a lot to drive new economic opportunities and create sustainable capacity in new, lower carbon technological fields,” they write.

“But this is unlikely to be achieved unless current policy is fundamentally reframed. Our research shows that capacity building solutions are outperforming policies based on market mechanisms. To make use of this knowledge and shift climate change policies onto a path with real impact, we need to rethink the way that we promote sustainable energy investments.”

The research was conducted for the STEPS Centre affliate project Pro-poor low carbon development with partners the African Technolgy Policy Studies Network (ATPS) in Kenya. You can get a more in-depth picture from the project’s new Working Paper: Sustainable energy for whom? Governing pro-poor, low carbon pathways to development: Lessons from solar PV in Kenya.

STEPS-JNU Symposium 2014: Powerful storytelling

The power of simple storytelling to move and inspire is explored in a new post about ‘photovoice’ by Julia Day, STEPS Centre Deputy Director and Head of Communications, written for the WonkComms blog.

Photovoice, a participatory method using photography and people talking about their experiences, is being used to great effect by our partner Shibaji Bose, a communications specialist at the Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR) in Kolkata, for the STEPS Centre’s Uncertainty from Below project.

At the recent Jawaharlal Nehru University-STEPS Centre joint Symposium on Exploring Pathways to Sustainability, Shibaji’s ‘Uncertainty through the Lens’ presentation about people’s experiences of living with climate change in three sites across India caught the imagination of delegates and earned high praise as the most powerful moment of the event.

In her WonkComms blogpost, Julia suggests researchers and research communicators alike might find a powerful focus for their work in back-to-basics storytelling.

Dams, displacement and development

A dam disaster in Zimbabwe prompts STEPS co-director Ian Scoones to reflect on dams, displacement and development more broadly on the Zimbabweland blog. He points to a new paper in Energy Policy that reiterates the advice of the World Commission on Dams, and the need for a more diverse approach to water resources development.

With new data, the paper once again points to the lack of economic viability in most large dam projects, and the way risk appraisals and economic assessment systematically underestimate costs. The cost of large dams has long been a theme of the work of STEPS member, Lyla Mehta who has written extensively about the issues of scarcity, displacement and livelihoods in India, and in particular in Kutch, Gujarat.

Despite their appeal large dams are rarely a good way of dealing with uncertainty in rainfall and water supply. However dams are central to regional hydropolitics, and often are a focus for political tussles over resource access across regions and countries, as shown in another STEPS project led by Jeremy Allouche.

More than just a “clean energy race”? BRICS invesment and innovation could lead the way on green transformation

By Adrian Ely

On the sidelines of the World Cup in Brazil this year, another competition will be the subject of conversation amongst the delegations attending this year’s BRICS summit, also in Brazil. Which of the ‘rising powers’ is winning the ‘clean energy race’?

The sixth summit meeting of the group known as the ‘BRICS’ (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) was recently postponed from March to July, which will have seen the culmination of a month of football, with the world’s eyes on Brazil.

The host nation chose Fuleco (a portmanteau of the words “Futebol” – football – and “Ecologia”) as the name of the tournament’s mascot. And ecological harmony is one of the messages that Brazil wants to present to the world. In line with its leadership at the Rio+20 conference last year, the country is now advocating more inclusive and environmentally-sustainable development.
And Brazil is not alone.

The clean energy race – who is investing more and innovating faster?

Countries across the OECD and the other BRICS are also dedicating significant resources and policy effort to eco-innovation and the transition to a green economy. This includes a move towards forms of energy generation that emit less carbon dioxide. In the green economy, countries theoretically compete on the basis of cheap, clean, low-carbon energy that drives low-impact industrial processes.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, a US-based non-profit research and public policy organisation, recently released an interesting factsheet advocating greater investment in this area (PDF) by the federal government. It argues that in comparison to competitors such as South Korea, Japan, the UK and Germany, the USA is investing a lower proportion of GDP on clean energy R&D.

Previous Pew reports have issued similar warnings, looking more broadly to investment across the G20. In 2012, Pew pointed to rapidly increasing investment in India, and, in 2013, China was reported to have assumed the leading global position as ‘epicenter of clean energy finance’.

BRICS leading the way on both global competitiveness and social experimentation

The focus is on the scale of expenditures on high-tech, capital-intensive approaches to low-carbon energy provision such as solar photovoltaic/ smart grid combinations and large-scale wind power, where intellectual property is a key driver of investment.

Chinese firms made up three of the top five solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturers in a 2013 survey (PDF).

The top turbine manufacturers in India (Suzlon) and China (Goldwind) now compete as leaders in the emerging wind sector. These are fast-becoming the dominant trajectories of energy innovation, creating new leaders in the field and challenging the USA as the incumbent energy power. Innovation of this kind can be seen as an important contribution from the BRICS towards a ‘green economy’.

But beyond these dominant trajectories, BRICS countries are also experimenting with energy technologies that receive less attention by incumbent energy powers. The scale of hydropower in China (now a global leader) is – with wind – reducing its otherwise overwhelming dependence on coal, and two of the world’s three 10GW+ hydroelectricity plants involve BRICS countries.

Likewise, Brazil’s focus on low ‘net carbon’ sugar cane bioethanol (notwithstanding social problems associated with its production) presents an alternative to petroleum, the dominant energy source in transport.Away from these high-tech solutions, other approaches to a green economy are also flourishing. These may not entail the same levels of financial investment or bring similar opportunities for intellectual property licensing fees. But they serve other goals such as social inclusion and poverty alleviation that are high on the political agenda across many of the BRICS.

They include:
  • Social technologies (including small-scale, often community-led projects that serve both energy access and low carbon objectives), funded by – amongst others – Banco do Brasil.
  • Solar thermal technologies in China, supplying affordable water heating without requiring the kinds of complex smart grid infrastructure needed for distributed solar PV generation.
  • Incorporation of local innovations around biomass energy into government-supported programmes (such as those supported under the National Innovation Foundation in India)
The BRICS are therefore home to many more contributions to the green economy than those measured in $ invested (as a proportion of GDP), or by sales or new patents.

Diversity in innovation can lead to a wider, more profound green transformation

It is this diversity of forms of innovation – often neglected in green economy debates – that moves the simplistic idea of a ‘clean energy race’ towards possibilities for a wider and more profound transformation.

Such green transformations will require widespread experimentation, learning and innovation beyond the dominant trajectories, often reinforced by incumbent interests. The STEPS Centre’s New Manifesto on innovation, sustainability and development governments and the international community argues that much more attention should be paid to diversity, not only in strategic investments but also through policies that protect creative experimentation in diverse niches.

The BRICS have a key role to play in the global search for green transformations. They are already producing leading firms in some of the core green economy sectors that are emerging across the world. But, they also provide a wider diversity of technologies, new forms of organisation and new ways of living that together offer opportunities for greener and fairer futures.

Beyond single-track races, the emergence of the BRICS offers the opportunity for a broadening out of potential pathways to sustainability, not only following the trajectories of the leading (Western) multinationals but also fostering wider transformations by enabling important alternatives to flourish.

  • Who is Winning the Clean Energy Race is a series of annual reports published by The Pew Charitable Trusts

Dr Adrian Ely is Head of Impact and Engagement at the STEPS Centre, and is a lecturer with the Science and Technology Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex.

This post was first published on the IDS Globalisation and Development blog

Steps-JNU Symposium 2014 – Storify and videos

We told the story of our 2014 Annual Symposium, ‘Exploring pathways to sustainability’, co-organised with the Centre for Studies in Science Policy at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.Symposium as it happened via Storify. By collating resources and social media from difference sources we hoped to bring the event debates to life

You can also view video clips from the symposium

11 March 2014: China & 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.

ABC sends missions on cotton in AfricaThe Brazilian cooperation agency sent out scoping missions to Burundi, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in November and December of last year (2013). This was with a view to the feasibility of setting up a technical cooperation project on cotton production in the four countries. The project would include: technology transfer; improvement of seed distribution systems; support on legislation regarding hybrid seeds; training for technical staff and extension workers. (Agência Brasileira de Cooperação) (in Portuguese).

Can the World Feed China?
China’s grain imports have been growing enormously in recent years, set to make it one of the world’s leading grain importers. The article mentions the political sensitivity in China surrounding questions raised around food security, and these unrelenting increases may partly explain why soy beans were declassified as one of the “essential foodstuffs/grains” in December. Meat consumption is said to be driving these increased imports, with China said to have consumed half of the world’s pork products in 2013. It concludes that this could lead to rising food prices and political unrest in some areas. ( blog).

China-Africa Agriculture Policy Briefing
New policy briefing by Jean-Jacques Gabas (CIRAD) and Tang Xiaoyang (Qinghua University) in French and English looking at the rationale and policy instruments of Chinese agricultural cooperation. The briefing touches on questions of public-private partnerships, investments, and knowledge sharing. (English); (Français).

Brazil’s Minister of Agriculture to Step Down
Brazil’s Minister of Agriculture, Antônio Andrade, has said that he will remain in his current post until April, at which point he will leave to compete for a seat in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies. The current political secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Neri Geller, is tipped to take the position after his departure, but that has yet to be decided by the president. (Rurabr agricultura) (in Portuguese).

Avian influenza affects Chinese corn markets
Avian influenza among chicken farmers in the South-East of China has dented demand for grain produced in the North-East of the country. Warehouses in the region are said to be too full to take in more corn. Meanwhile, market prices have fallen for corn produced in the north-eastern provinces, which has been said to trigger government stockpiling until prices go up again. (Dim Sums blog) and
( (in Chinese).

Mozambique Famine Fears
Mozambique Agriculture Minister, Jose Pacheco, says that more than 300,000 people in the central and Southern regions of the country are at risk of famine this year due to drought, flooding and insect plagues. They are said to be encouraging farmers to produce more with financial packages and have secured $100 million from Brazil to buy their agricultural machinery. (The Washington Post).

Rumours of Chinese air-base in Zimbabwe
There are unconfirmed reports that amid growing ties with Zimbabwe, China is planning to build a military airbase in the country. This would be its first on the continent.(The Zimbabwean).

Farm workers: reconstructing lives and livelihoods

There is little doubt that farm workers lost out with the land reform, but what has happened to them since, particularly those who remained on the farms?

Too often commentary on farm workers has portrayed them as passive victims. But new work demonstrates their agency in a variety of ways. They were of course active agents, both before and after the land reform. Based on in-depth ethnographic exploration, this work tries to explore how different farm workers (not after all a uniform category) have reconfigured their lives in response to the new agrarian structure. There is, as ever, a complexity to the story not offered in standard accounts. In particular I can recommend an often overlooked 2009 paper by Andrew Hartnack that offers a particularly nuanced account. He shows how "through local responses to displacement, displaced workers are able to counter the discourses of the powerful by subverting global, national and local representations, using local agency to create their own practical discourse of displacement".

Farm workers have always been represented in particular ways by public, media and political commentary. In the past, as Blair Rutherford has described, white farmers often related to labour in hierarchical and paternalistic ways, constructing citizenship and identify outside the influence of the state within the confines of the farm. Hartnack argues that the limited earlier research on farm workers often projected a simplistic image of workers as victims of racial discrimination and capitalist agriculture or, in direct contrast, they were characterised by commentators such as R.W. Johnson as having lived under a ‘cosy arrangement’ or ‘protective umbrella’, now disrupted by land reform. In the 2009 paper Hartnack comments: "While undoubtedly well meaning, much of it [the literature] essentially denied farm workers agency or cultural competence, portraying them largely as poverty stricken, illiterate and powerless, giving the impression that they were passive victims of their circumstances". In the post 2000 discourse, farm workers are again seen as victims, this time of ZANU-PF expulsions, while the nationalistic discourse presents farm workers as 'foreign' and stooges of white farmers and the opposition.

Yet in all of these discourses, agency, capacity, innovation and practice is denied. This is why a deeper, ethnographic understanding of farm worker lives and livelihoods is required. Hartnack's emerging studies offer one among a number of important contributions to this. He highlights for example how:

"…workers used their ingenuity, skills and resourcefulness to manipulate the farm system to their own advantage. Farm workers may have been subordinated within capitalist relations of power, dependent on paternalism for survival, marginalized and stigmatized within society in general and made to feel insecure, but this did not stop them from learning how to benefit from and adapt to their situation".

And this experience helped farm workers and their families to cope with and respond to displacement when farm invasions took place. The experience of displacement is of course not uniform. Workers living on a farm came from diverse locations, often from outside Zimbabwe, they had formed communities on farms, but with linkages between and outside that differed between families, men and women. In a number of papers Hartnack describes the process of displacement and the living conditions of former farm workers living in a 'holding camp' on the outskirts of Harare. The insecurities, the poor health conditions, the oppressive patronage relations and political impositions, not least Operation Murambatsvina, are documented.

Yet the situation was not hopeless. It could not be: people had to survive. And the new farmers needed labour, and particularly skilled labour. Indeed some former farm workers then quite quickly (indeed within the same season) acquired jobs, but again this was not uniform. It was differentiated by levels of skills/education, gender and age. Hartnack explains that the first jobs available were:

"….piecework jobs that required either some measure of skill or experience, such as spraying for the flower-growing companies, or the capacity for heavy manual labour. Some men with experience in the Brylee flower nursery thus got jobs with the three different flower companies in the area. Others became builder's assistants at the local housing cooperative and on private building sites. Some loaded bricks at the nearby brickfields, while other young men sought jobs as security guards. However, even those who found alternative employment soon after displacement found their wages inadequate to meet their increased need for cash, while their job security was poor in comparison to what they had enjoyed at the farm. Many of the available jobs were not easily accessible to women, being in the traditional realm of men. This meant that women, along with the elderly, struggled to maintain access to an income after displacement. Casual workers (traditionally women) had not had much work in 2002, as the disruption of the farm's operations in the first three months of the year had reduced the need for their labour. Having had no wages, many casual labourers found themselves with very little cash at the time of displacement, as did retired workers. Female-headed households, which had relied on casual labour for an income, thus suffered badly as they did not have savings, and their members were often not able to find alternative jobs easily".

Four years later follow up research found a small number of senior, skilled workers had gained employment on their former farm, while others had used skills and connections to get jobs or land elsewhere, and had moved on. Others remained vulnerable, and were reliant on piecework, small-scale gardening, trading and other activities. In the context of new settlements new forms of patronage emerged, with displaced farm workers finding protection by church leaders, war veterans and others. Responses included a range of strategies of the 'weapons of the weak' – trickery, foot-dragging, feigning ignorance and more – and farm workers developed representations of themselves as compliant, pious, weak or ignorant in order to get by. All this allowed some room for manoeuvre in nevertheless highly constrained circumstances, allowing them to 'blend in' yet 'remain apart'. Conflicts and jealousies existed between the new arrivals and those residents of the informal settlement to where the farm workers were displaced. This involved a tricky negotiation, especially at the beginning, although as time progressed greater integration took place.

As readers of this blog will know, I have mostly worked in Masvingo province where large numbers of farm workers were not displaced, and there were few compounds of the sort found on the large-scale tobacco or horticulture farms in the Highveld. So it was fascinating for me to learn what had happened on such farms as part of an ongoing study in Mvurwi, Mazowe district. Here large compounds still exist, often housing hundreds of families; these are the 'in situ' displaced described by Godfrey Magaramombe, contrasting with those who were forced to move.

But unlike in the early 2000s, a decade on these former workers are carving out new relationships with the farms that surround them, as Walter Chambati and others have shown. This has not been straightforward, and stories of conflict abound, but these farm workers are now finding work in a more flexible way than before. Today they move around between farms looking for work, often able to strike deals to their advantage. Given the skills many possess, they have become valuable resources in the new farm economy, providing useful agronomic and marketing skills. Women and men engage in this new labour economy in different ways. Employment is usually poorly paid and insecure, and the lack of an organised voice is a constraint. Most households based at the compounds also farm. Negotiating small plots of land from the neighbouring farm owners has been a key part of their strategy, and many will survive off such gardens, even marketing surpluses to supplement wages. Some have been lucky to get larger areas, as part of official allocations within the resettlements. We met several former farm workers who were now farming tobacco with great success.

For new farmers with compounds within their farm boundaries, there are challenges too. With residents now incorporated into schools in surrounding areas, there is less of an obligation to provide services, but there are issues of welfare and security. A new farmer must deal with his neighbours well to avoid an escalation of theft or trespass. Thus many have started up relationships with committees within the compounds to negotiate access to land, water, electricity and to discuss issues such as the upkeep of farm buildings. These compounds are of course anomalous inheritances from an earlier agrarian structure, but have to be accommodated, as people, often second or third generation migrants, have nowhere to go.

While not denying hardship and vulnerability, the experience of former farm workers was not simple victimhood, characterised by passivity and lack of agency, but a much more active struggle. However despite this variety of strategies, access to new livelihood opportunities was again highly differentiated. Just as there is no single or simple story for land reform and the successes or otherwise of the 'new farmers', there is no standard story for farm workers, as is sometimes suggested. Detailed study of particular places and people, always contextualised, is essential for revealing the highly variegated experiences and outcomes.

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