Monday, 30 June 2014

Forests for the future? Carbon forestry and climate compatible development in Mozambique

Following the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - Bonn Climate Change Conference in Germany earlier this month, an Institute of Development Studies (IDS)-led project funded by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) examines the recent lessons they have learnt on how ‘climate compatible development’ initiatives are unfolding in Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique. Using a political economy approach (PDF), the case studies focus on:
  • the political, economic and institutional contexts in which initiatives occur
  • the potential competition or conflict between different actors and their goals, and
  • the consequences in terms of who wins and who loses from different aspects of climate compatible development.
This is the third and final in the series of the three blogs, by Julian Quan, Natural Resources Institute (NRI), and Lars Otto Naess, IDS. Julian and Lars Otto are lead researchers for the Mozambique case study, which explores the political economy of carbon forestry in Mozambique.

The first blog and second blog respectively came from Thomas Tanner, Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Pete Newell, University of Sussex.

Challenges and dilemmas of REDD+
How can a developing country like Mozambique build resilience to climate risks such as floods and droughts, while at the same time seizing new economic opportunities and global climate finance? The debate around the global programme for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, known as REDD+, highlights many of the challenges and dilemmas countries face in trying to capture synergies between goals for adaptation, mitigation and development.

REDD+ is an international mechanism which offers incentives to developing countries to reduce carbon emissions from forested lands and increase conservation of forest carbon stocks. While originally set up as a mitigation mechanism, its goals have been expanded to account for development and adaptation goals. In principle, it can be seen as an instrument to promote climate compatible development. Things are as ever more complicated in practice, however.

The REDD+ strategy in Mozambique has been years in the making. In 2012, according to the country’s “REDD readiness proposal”, one third of Mozambique’s entire land area was subject to proposals for forest conservation and carbon forestry from private business and global conservation agencies, which aspire to exploit carbon markets for private gain, or biodiversity conservation.

What are the interests of the diverse stakeholders  in  REDD+ in Mozambique? 
Opinions of REDD+ among local actors vary. For the government and many donors, it is a way of in which Mozambique can contribute to global emissions reduction and simultaneously generate revenue, while also safeguarding forest resources against escalating threats of deforestation, and support livelihoods,. For the private sector, it is a business opportunity, although one that – at least at the moment – looks less promising than a few years ago because of a weak carbon market. NGOs and civil society organisations differ; some are sharply opposed to it, whereas others consider that it  REDD+ and carbon forestry projects offer real potential opportunities, for farmers, rural communities and the nation as a whole: Following a wave of large-scale land acquisitions for commercial food production, biofuels and forestry, REDD+ raises a spectre of “green grabbing”, whereby large areas are dedicated to forest conservation or monoculture plantations, excluding people and usurping land rights.

Is there a viable alternative to REDD+ and what is the way forward?
There are real difficulties in envisioning alternative models which could pay rural communities to help deliver critical global environmental services on the ground. One model seen as promising by many was Envirotrade’s Sofala Carbon Project, which paid farmers for tree planting and improved forest management to earn investors returns from the sale of carbon credits, and create local social benefits. Farmer carbon payments were frontloaded before the trees reached maturity, failing to guarantee long-term carbon values and undermining sustainability. The market value of carbon has fallen, so despite a potential win-win business model, there is little commercial incentive for further investment. In practice the greater share of carbon accumulation came not from tree-planting but better natural forest management activities supported not by the market but by an EU grant, and this is where carbon measurement methodologies are weakest. For REDD+ to succeed without excluding people, it will need to address these problems.

Despite the at times very polarised debate on REDD+ in Mozambique, the study found an extraordinary – and perhaps surprising – willingness amongst local private sector and civil society players to engage with each other, and with local communities and government to implement the programme. However, it is clear that there is a need to deepen and broaden government engagement with sustainable forest management and climate change adaptation, especially at lower levels. So far, the legal and institutional framework developed for REDD+ concentrates on procedures for licensing large scale projects, rather than improving existing forest management and utilisation practices which lead to forest degradation and loss. It is striking how disconnected discussions about REDD+ have become from debates about how livelihoods, agriculture, and vulnerable national regions can adapt to climate change. Resolving forest tenure challenges and broader land governance issues will be key to progress. For REDD+ to work it is also clear that new forms of capital will need to emerge, and promote community enterprise; it will not be possible to rely entirely on the market.

Ultimately, the outcomes of REDD+ for climate compatible development in Mozambique will depend on the existence of strong governance mechanisms and ‘safeguards’ in place to secure tenure rights and benefits from forest resources and carbon stocks for local communities. In order to provide incentives for rural communities to participate and protect them against land alienation as a result of land grants for large scale project investments 

Whatever the view on REDD+: The fact remains that forest management in Mozambique is crucially important for the country’s development and for adaptation strategies, and can offer large potential carbon gains. For REDD+ to work, fundamental forest governance challenges need to be addressed. Questions thus remain:  Is it conceivable that REDD+ can be modified so that these (and other) challenges can be overcome, or is it ‘dead in the water’? If the latter, what other mechanisms for forest governance could be envisaged, taking into account climate compatible development goals? And, how much can be achieved in Mozambique through implementation of current legislation, and what additional challenges does climate change bring?

For more information on the project, contact Lars Otto Naess:

Land administration challenges after land reform: evidence from Masvingo

After a few weeks of commentary on wider issues relating to land and agriculture, this week I return to a focus on our field data, and the lessons this tells us for pressing policy issues in Zimbabwe. In this blog, the focus is on the implications of the complex outcomes of land reform for land administration.

As readers of this blog will know, we have been tracking 400 farms since the early 2000s across Masvingo province. One of the things we have been looking at is how plots change hands over time. This is important for a number of reasons. From this data we can examine the institutional mechanisms that have evolved for land transfer; we can look at patterns of land inheritance and the gender dynamics involved; we can identify emerging informal markets in land; we can identify the role of different authority structures in land allocation; and we can assess the level of turnover and the reasons for plot ownership transfer in the new resettlements.

All of these issues are important in thinking about new land administration and management systems in the new resettlements. With the land reform, such issues were not high on the policy agenda; the imperative was to distribute land and not think too hard about its longer term administration. But 14 years on, these issues are now significant, and ones that need to be addressed, as land administration systems are established. Understanding the existing situation and building on it makes much sense, but also future policies may wish to address anomalies and inequities that have arisen.

So in 2012, we looked at all households across the 16 sites (N=389), including in A2, A1 self-contained and A1 villagised (the former 'informal' sites have since been formalised as villagised A1 schemes), and compared the household listing made in advance of our mid-2000s surveys and the list pertaining in 2012. The period then relates to the time from establishment and 'formalisation' of 'fast-track' areas, including the issuing of 'offer letters', and 2012. This does not include the initial year or two of turmoil following land invasions when there was quite a bit of movement into and out of sites, as we described in our book (pp. 72-6). In this most recent survey, we asked about the reasons for the change in plot holder, what happened to the original holder, what relationships the new holders had to the previous one, the gender of the new plot holder, whether the new ownership arrangement had been confirmed in an 'offer letter', and the mechanism through which the new holder had got the land.

Overall, 19% of plots had changed hands over this period, with A2 sites seeing the highest change (29% of plots), followed by A1 self-contained (22%) and A1 villagised (15%). Across all sites, 57% of these changes were due to the death of the original owner. Exits for other reasons were 30% of transfer cases in the A1 sites and 75% in the A2 sites. In one A2 farm there was a particularly dramatic level of turnover, with a series of politically-motivated evictions occurring around the time of the 2008 elections. Overall though only 8% of all plots in the sample had changed hands during this period for reasons other than death (5% in A1 sites and 22% in A2 sites).

In nearly a decade this level of turnover is quite small, including when compared to previous resettlement experience. In 1983, for example, Bill Kinsey commented on the implementation problems of early post-independence resettlement, with many new settlers abandoning their plots due to inadequate planning and support. By the mid-1980s resettlement area populations had settled down and began attracting people, both kin and labourers, and there was a significant growth in household sizes. But after a long period of relative stability, old resettlement areas studied by Kinsey and colleagues have seen a significant out-migration in the period of economic collapse in the 2000s. In this period, people sought alternative options when agriculture became increasingly challenging, with shortages of inputs and absence of cash markets during hyperinflation, and household sizes shrank. This has included movement to new resettlement areas under the fast-track programme, often together with assets such as cattle which showed significant declines in the old resettlement areas.

In our 'fast track' land reform sites in Masvingo, death of the original plot holder (in all cases men) was the primary reason for change in ownership in 57% of all cases. In the A1 self-contained sites, death was the reason for 78% of changes, while in A1 villagised sites it was 68% and A2 it was 25%. Of the others, 28% left for other rural areas, mostly to original rural homes, although a few got new, better land in the resettlements. The remainder left for town (8%) or were evicted (7% – the A2 cases noted above).

Overall 31% of plots were taken over by women, very often the wife of a deceased husband. This varied between 44% (A1 villagised) and 17% (A2). There has therefore been an increase in women plot holders in the A1 sites. Yet few of these have been recognised in changes in 'offer letters', with only 23% of new holders being named in a new land occupancy registration document. Overall, 63% of all new plot holders were relatives, with 41% being immediate relatives (wife, son or daughter of the former plot holder). The remaining 37% of transfers were to people with no kin relation to the former owner.

49% of transfers were described as through inheritance, mostly to close kin (wife or children). A further 12% were passed to other relatives as 'gifts'. 2% of transfers to relatives were mediated through a church or via the chief. There were a couple of cases in an A2 site where 'purchase' was identified, although no others admitted to money changing hands. However for some of those identified as 'gifts' of land, there were exchanges made for the infrastructure developed, with between one and four cattle being paid for such improvements. The remaining 34% of transfers were through other routes – 19% via the District Land Committee and 15% through Committees of Seven. However these patterns varied across sites with 'inheritance' dominating in the A1 sites (59%), while it was only the mechanism in 25% of cases in the A2 sites. Here the formal District Land Committee process was the most important at 58% of all cases. The local site based Committee of Seven was important in 29% of A1 villagised cases, but much less so in other sites.

So what are the implications of these data?
  • Turnover in plot holding arrangements has been surprisingly low in the A1 areas in particular. This indicates a strong commitment to the new land, with only about 15% of all transfers involving people leaving for their former rural homes, and even fewer back to jobs in town. When a plot holder's death occurs, transfers are usually to close relatives.
  • The A2 sites show a different pattern, with higher turnover. There was a pattern of evictions (in one site, due to politically-motivated grabs), and in others death followed by kin-based inheritance was not the dominant pattern. Instead there were reallocations by the District Land Committee on vacation of the plot.
  • The possibilities of effective transfer of underutilised land to new settlers seems more possible in A2 areas, where some indications of incipient ‘vernacular’ land markets are evident (probably underreporting of this due to illegality). By contrast in A1 areas transfers tend to be within families, and the opportunities for government to reallocate are relatively smaller.
  • Despite the fact that District Land Committees are supposed to have control over land and oversee transfers, this is less important in A1 areas, where 'traditional' inheritance (or 'gifting') arrangements generally apply on the death of plot holder.
  • The 'offer letter' system of land registration is not keeping up with land transfers, partly because so many are outside the formal system. Women are gaining land through inheritance on the death of male plot holders, and through transfers to daughters and aunts (relatively few). However women's new ownership arrangements are largely not recognised in changes in 'offer letters', raising questions about the security of such tenure.
  • The Committees of Seven, established soon after land invasions for local management of new resettlements, seem to be on the wane, particularly outside the A1 villagised areas where they seem to hold some land administration function for transfers outside kin-based arrangements.
  • Chiefs, churches and other institutions for land administration seem to have a limited role, although 'traditional' leadership (sabhukus etc.) are often part of Committees of Seven in many sites, so there is an overlap in both people and roles.
  • Outside the one A2 case where evictions occurred, conflicts over land transfer were very rare, and in most sites none were reported. This is surprising given the intensity of competition over land. We can expect such conflicts to increase over time, however.
  • Across all land transfers identified no subdivisions of plots were recorded, and all were recorded as being handed over in full. This again is surprising given growing land competition and the need to inherit land by the next generation. However subdivisions are occurring in land still held by the original holder who is still present. Sons are allocated portions of a field and have their new homes within or nearby the original home compound. As described for the earlier phase of resettlement, such 'vertically extended' household arrangements are becoming increasingly common as a form of de facto subdivision.
Overall, as the Government of Zimbabwe attempts to define a new land administration system in line with the Constitution, these findings are clearly pertinent. There is a need for more effective registration of land and ownership, and also a need for a mechanism to keep this up to date. Ensuring registration of women as plot holders is essential. To encourage turnover and the making use of underutilised land is key, especially in A2 areas, transfers can potentially be facilitated through introducing some form of land market, assisted by land taxation; although again close monitoring and transparent registration (perhaps through leases) will be vital, especially to avoid the sort of evictions seen in one site.

Subdivision is always a controversial issue, as the thorny question of what is a 'viable' farm is raised. However this varies considerably and as demand for land continues to increase, there are potential subdivision options within sites, and indeed between them, including moving A2 farms to smaller A1 self-contained arrangements. In our sites, as witnessed by the lack of subdivision on transfer, and the limited amount of conflict (outside the particular site that was subjected to external grabbing), this may be a next-generation challenge, but clearly something that must be responded to.

As Marleen Dekker and Bill Kinsey argue in relation to the first round of resettlement, the direct benefits of land reform are significant in the first generation, but as things unfold, there are new challenges requiring different forms of responsive innovation. They note patterns we are already seeing in our sites, including the growth of household size through attracting labour, for example, as well as the de facto subdivision through 'vertical extension'. These result in new land uses associated with new demographic patterns and changing social relations.

Trying to plan everything and imposing a narrow 'straitjacket' of rules and regulations only undermines potentials, they argue. There are, as Thomas Sikor and Daniel Muller note, serious limits to top-down state driven land reform. While new systems for land administration in Zimbabwe are clearly needed, they must be flexible, responsive and adaptable to new circumstances.

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

This work has been carried out together with the Masvingo field team: BZ Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Research in Gender and Ethics (RinGs): A new partnership to build stronger health systems

Gender-sensitive health policy is a feature of international commitments and consensus documents and national-level normative statements and implementation guidance in many countries. However, there are gaps in our knowledge about how gender and ethics interface with health systems. Funded by the UK Department for International Development, this exciting new initiative brings together three health systems focused Research Programme Consortia (RPC): Future Health Systems, ReBUILD and RESYST in a partnership to galvanise gender and ethics analysis in health systems.

Our approach

As the partnership is concerned with ensuring that new approaches get translated into action, we have an interest in embedded approaches; analysis that is relevant and owned by local actors. In addition, an understanding of intersectionality is central to our work. Gender intersects with other axes of inequality, such as age, ethnicity, class, poverty, geography, (dis)ability and sexuality. Finally, in addressing power relations and social exclusion we also call attention to ethics in health systems research, policy and practice. 

What are our aims?

This partnership seeks to understand, and to encourage, a gendered approach to the study of health systems care-seeking; financing and contracting; governance; and human resources for health by:
  1. Synthesising the current evidence base. This will provide tools, case studies and guidelines on gender, ethics and health systems for researchers and decision makers and set the terms of a future research agenda.
  2.  Stimulating new research. Through small grants aimed explicitly at RPC partners and affiliates.
  3. Encouraging mutual learning and research uptake. A learning platform will support grantees, RPC members and a wider stakeholder group (policy makers, implementers and advocates) to share and support one another in defining, conducting and applying this research. Dialogue will engage with research findings and encourage its use in policy and practice.

Who is involved? Find out more

A small team is steering the direction of the project:
  • Asha George, Future Health Systems/Johns Hopkins School of Public Health
  • Sarah Ssali, ReBUILD/School of Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University
  • Sally Theobald, ReBUILD/Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
  • Sassy Molyneux, Resyst/KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme
  • Kate Hawkins, Pamoja Communications
  • Rosemary Morgan, Cross RPC /Johns Hopkins School of Public Health
Our email address is

Over time a broader group of RPC researchers will also join the projects, either as the recipients of research funding from our small grants project or as part of our learning platform. Do get in touch if you would like to learn more.

UK Policy Focus on Health Systems Strengthening

This week, health systems strengthening is all the rage in the UK policy circles. Well, at least among particular UK policy circles.

The main reason for this is that the UK Parliament's International Development Committee heard oral evidence for its inquiry into DFID's approach to health systems strengthening.

If you've got two hours to spare, you can still watch the oral evidence on Parliament TV -- with the exception of one of the MPs suggesting that 'health systems strengthening is all just a bunch of waffle', it's an interesting watch.

But if you haven't got the time on your hands, Pamoja have captured a few of the key moments and lines of enquiry in a Storify (also embedded below). And we here at Future Health Systems developed a useful primer on Buzzfeed: 7 Things To Know About DFID's Approach To Health Systems Strengthening.

Written evidence submitted to the committee is now also available. As we noted before, FHS submitted evidence to the inquiry, as did a number of our sister research programme consortia (RPCs). DFID's own response is well worth a nosey.

And all of that should prove useful background reading and viewing for tomorrow's livechat on Guardian's Development Professional Network on making health systems work in developing countries. FHS CEO, Sara Bennett will be on the panel -- so be on the lookout!

by Jeff Knezovich

New open collection: The Future of Health Markets

Members of the Future Health Systems consortium launched a new open collection in Globalization and Health on the Future of Health Markets today. The special issue follows from an ongoing strand of work in FHS and with partners on health markets, especially a meeting in Bellagio, Italy, in December 2012.

As the editorial highlights:
Health markets are the subject of increasing attention, and there are a number of factors driving this. One such driver is economic growth in some LMICs, which has led to rapid market growth. Other factors include changes in views on the role of the state and markets and the emergence of diverse models of organizing service provision, particularly in emerging economies such as India. The current focus on universal health coverage and the associated expansion of health insurance may also have significant impacts on health markets. In particular, there appears to be increasing consensus that if government can finance quality services for the poor, then it matters less who provides those services. Further the growth of pooled funding for health provides significant opportunities for monitoring and improving quality of care in health markets. Finally technological change is also driving market developments.
The collection is mainly based on some work undertaken to inform the Rockefeller Foundation's strategy for engaging health markets. Papers in the series so far include:
But we hope this is just the beginning. As the editors also note:
This will be an open collection: authors are welcome to submit additional papers on the future of health markets. Papers that build on the themes and issues discussed here in the editorial and accompanying papers would be particularly appreciated, but as would papers that address different perspectives on the future of health markets – perhaps documenting trends in health markets, exploring the nature of new provider networks that are emerging, or ICT innovations to link formal and informal sector providers.
Additional articles will need to go through Globalization and Health's normal editorial processes, but if you have any ideas for further contributions, don't hesitate to get in touch.

IFAMA 2014: Is Africa's future 'upstream' and 'post-farm'?

African agriculture is the next frontier for local and global agricultural services and input companies. Here, we are told, the "underutilised" land and water resources are enormous, and agricultural productivity so low that it translates into massive potential for new markets and scope for profit.

I attended IFAMA's (International Food and Agribusiness Management Association) "Agribusiness & Food World Forum" on 17-19 June 2014 in Cape Town, held for the first time in Africa.
The forum programme states that Africa's agriculture and agribusiness future has "soared to the top of the world's most elite economic growth and development agendas" and that this "heightened attention" on agriculture and agribusiness in Africa is based on the fact that her enormous growth potential, "now tangibly in sight, hinges on expanding the capacity of these industries".

Sessions at the forum had a strong focus on the so-called ‘talent factor’, those bright young students who are being groomed to become the next generation of scientists, technology developers, supply-chain specialists and CEO's of multi-national companies.

The future, it seems, is downstream and upstream from the farm, as the fastest growth in Africa's food system is expected to occur in the supply of inputs and in the "post-farm segments" of the supply chain. David Tschirley of Michigan State University suggested that African universities with agricultural faculties would need to make an institutional "double pivot", which means that they will have to shift from serving public sector to private sector clients and from on-farm technologies to post-farm segments of the food system.

David vs. Goliath
According to Lulama Traub of Stellenbosch University, the mega-trends that shape the African continent include rising global food and energy prices and rising income and urbanisation, though evidence suggests an increasing concentration of wealth. While this will cause a shift in demand for food, the fact that the non-farm sector will not on its own be able to absorb Africa's future work-seeking population, means that there will be pressure on agriculture to create employment.

In the light of such heavy expectations of agriculture, who should be the agricultural producers?

At a session titled "David vs. Goliath: The revolution in Africa's farm structures", aimed at identifying the trends and constraints affecting agriculture, Antoine Ducastel, CIRAD research fellow at Pretoria University's research on large-scale land investments in Africa showed that investments are made by private investors with market-driven strategies from Western countries and countries rich in capital, but with poor land and water resources, who invest in land to secure supplies of agricultural commodities and to get around volatile commodity markets. Contrary to popular perceptions, China remains a small player in land acquisitions in Africa, while investors from South Africa are becoming more engaged, especially in Southern African countries.

Because of a high rate of failures and the difficulty of implementing projects in Africa's "uncertain institutional environment ... [with a] lack of markets and financial services, high settlement and transaction costs", land investments had been slowing down since 2010, but the trend is still upwards. Of all the hectares acquired since 2010, only 1,7% is operational and producing. The only investment models that seem to be successful are "nucleus estate models" (based on small-scale contract or outgrower schemes) and "agribusiness estate models" (where big agro-food companies buy land and farm to secure supplies of commodities and integrate production in their own value chains).

As a consequence, investor strategies and business models are being transformed and increasingly integrated into closed value chains, but few inclusive business models were found. The major impacts on agrarian structures of affected countries have been the corporatisaton of agriculture, concentration and industrialisation in agriculture and the proletarianisation of agricultural societies.

Ducastel said the question that remained unanswered was how local actors and communities could benefit from these transformations and added that he found few cases with a positive social and economic effect. He also found a lack of long-term thinking among policy makers and investors about alternative development trajectories and an increasing shift towards a large-scale development paradigm.

Not just foreigners: the rise of urban business and bureaucratic elites
In the same session, Milu Muyanga of Michigan State University showed an interesting table of the changing structure of small and medium scale farming in Zambia from 2009 to 2012.

(click on image for full size)
Besides the fact that the area of farm land has decreased by about 30% since 2009, the figures show that farms are getting bigger, but that a smaller proportion of the bigger landholdings are cultivated. Muyanga says the medium-scale farmers (owning 10 - 20 ha) are the fastest growing group. He found that most of them were civil servants and professional people who used money made in other sectors to buy more land. The majority of them had higher education and also inherited land from their fathers.

His comparative research found that there were more conflicts taking place over land than in the past, especially in Kenya, probably because the landholdings were becoming smaller because of increases in population. The land that was still available is often remote and there is a lack of infrastructure and services.

African consumer growth and the large-farm model
During a session about the rise of an African consumer class Paula Disberry of the South African retailer, Woolworths, said that retailers needed a value chain that can service their needs for scale, quality and consistency. They have big, powerful brands to protect and cannot risk disappointing customers. At the same session, M.D. Ramesh, Olam International's regional head for South and East Africa, said that African countries annually import $81 billion's worth of products, of which $32 billion is spent on imports of maize, rice, wheat, sugar and edible oils, because the agricultural sector did not received the support it deserved. He reckons it would take 100 companies like Olam (with a market capitalisation of almost $6 billion) and $55 billion to resuscitate small farms and transform agriculture in Africa.He did not say what this transformation would entail, but one of his Olam colleagues suggested that, while the ‘David model’ is an emotive model, it is more expensive and capital-intensive and this multinational at least favours ‘Goliath’.

By Amelia Genis, PhD student, Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS)

Amelia Genis attended Ifama as an agricultural journalist, but wrote this blog in her personal capacity. She is a PhD student at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, which is the Southern Africa hub of Future Agricultures

25 June: China and Brazil in African agriculture - news roundup

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

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

China’s sovereign wealth fund shifts focus to agriculture
“China’s sovereign wealth fund is shifting its focus to invest in agriculture and global food supplies in a significant strategic move that reflects the priorities of the country’s new leadership.” The China Investment Corporation (CIC) will focus on irrigation, land transformation and animal feed production among other areas across value chains. CIC has roughly $650bn of assets under management of $200bn is invested outside the country. Alongside this article in the Financial Times, the Chairman of CIC has had a blog published with his own commentary on the news entitled ‘China will profit from feeding the world’s appetite’.
World Food Programme explains Brazil’s PAA (Purchase from Africans for Africa) Programme in Ethiopia
Further to last week’s mention of the Purchase from Africans for Africa programme in Ethiopia, this article on the World Food Programme’s (WFP) website gives a more detailed report on what is expected. Aiming to benefit 10,000 people, the programme is receiving support from the WFP and the FAO. It is expected that 37,500 metric tons of local grains will be purchased as part of the programme.
(World Food Programme)

‘No to ProSAVANA’ campaign video
The ‘No to ProSAVANA’ campaign has made a video about their protest aimed at recruiting more farmers and supporters to their cause. It accuses the ProSAVANA project of neo-colonialism and portrays the situation as a struggle for farmers to defend their land against what looks to be an impending take over by foreign business.

Zimbabwe-China agricultural machinery corruption case
Joseph Made, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Agriculture, is being accused of corruption having signed off on an agriculture deal with the partly state-owned Chinese telecommunications company, ZTE Corporation without having opened the deal up to tender. It is said to be worth $100mil and the equipment would be released once the Zimbabwean government paid 15% of the total value into ZTE’s account held by the China EXIM bank. The article also raises questions over why the equipment in the deal is for construction rather than agriculture.
(Financial Gazette)

Ghana-China cocoa joint venture under investigation
Ghana’s former first lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, is defending herself in court over a joint venture in cocoa processing signed by an NGO she runs and a Chinese agriculture and fisheries company. The case involves concessionary loans offered by China’s EXIM Bank in 1998 and the Chinese counterparts pulled out of the project due to political interference according to the article.

The Relevance of Chinese Agricultural Technologies for African Smallholder Farmers
This report published by Stellenbosch’s Centre for Chinese studies in 2009 might be of relevance for those working on technology transfer. It breaks down over a dozen different forms of agricultural technology and looks at them in the context of the markets they exist in and future prospects
(Centre for Chinese Studies (pdf download))
‘Chinese Migrants and Africa's Development: New Imperialists or Agents of Change?’
Giles Mohan, Ben Lampert, May Tan-Mullins and Daphne Chang have just published a new book that seeks to “systematically study the motivations, relationships and impact of this [Chinese] migration. It focuses not just on the Chinese migrants but also on the perceptions of, and linkages to, their African 'hosts'. By studying this everyday interaction we get a much richer picture of whether this is South-South cooperation, as political leaders would have us believe, or a more complex relationship that can both compromise and encourage African development.”
(Zed Books)
China’s Second Continent: How a million migrants are building a new empire
The New York Times journalist, Howard French, has just written a book on Chinese engagements in Africa, focusing largely on interviews with economic migrants..
(Random House publishers)

By Henry Tugendhat

Ghana, the ‘Brazil of Africa’: Keeping the lights on…for the World Cup

Black-Stars-told-to-take-the-azonto-dance-to-the-World-CupOver recent years, concerns to "keep the lights on" have featured high on energy policy agendas and in media headlines, especially in the developed world. Competing concerns to ensure energy security - including geopolitical turbulence associated with oil and gas supply, potential terrorist attacks and attempts to mitigate climate change and transition to low carbon societies – have all provided rational for governments' actions to avoid businesses and citizens being left in the dark. In Ghana, where "lights out", a term commonly used by some locals to describe recurring power cuts, have become symptomatic of growing energy security issues, the drive to keep the lights on has recently taken a new turn. Rather than long-term energy planning, the focus has been on temporary measures to help the government fulfil its pledge to ensure reliable and uninterrupted power during the 2014 World Cup, or at least when the infamous Black Stars, Ghana's national football team, are playing.

Ghana’s national electricity access rate of 72%, is considered relatively successful, ranking third in Sub-Saharan Africa after Mauritius and South Africa. Ghana's electrification plan has been implemented mainly through grid extension but disparities remain in electricity access, both between rural and urban areas and the poorer Northern regions and the South. But expectations that many households will watch the World Cup on TV have prompted drastic steps to ensure the grid holds up.

The one-month tournament, which kicked off in Sao Paulo on 12 July and culminates on 13 July in Rio, has provided a momentum for ad-hoc energy policy and patriotic energy conservation measures. Once an electricity exporter, Ghana has struck a deal for neighbouring Ivory Coast to supply 50 megawatts to the country during the Black Stars’ matches. The government has also asked the Volta Aluminium Company (VALCO), Ghana's largest aluminium smelter and largest electricity consumer, to slow down production and reduce consumption to make sure that scheduled blackouts do not interfere with the national team's games. Furthermore, households have been urged to join the national effort to provide equitable access to football viewing by cutting-down electricity consumption during the crucial 90 minutes. Particularly, the Energy Commission's new energy conservation campaign (link), dubbed ‘switch off the freezer', and backed up by Deputy Minister of Energy and Petroleum John Abdulai Jinapor, is seeking to make up for shortfalls in electricity supply by asking to stop their fridges and power-hungry appliances during the football games.

The additional public spending and the need to "ration electricity so that everyone can watch the World Cup" is somewhat at odds with current pressures on the national budget and the on-going load shedding schedule started few months ago. Over the years, inadequate and shrinking supply combined with growing demand has led to numerous problems in the Ghanaian electricity system, characterised by frequent nationwide power disruptions, blackouts and load shedding. Continued economic growth and increased access to grid electricity have both contributed to increased demand, which is expected to rise further at a 12% per annum in the coming years.

Although long-term investments in the energy sector are crucial, load shedding at peak periods by utilities provide temporary solutions to safeguard generating systems. They usually occur when electricity demand exceeds supply to prevent a total blackout of the entire power system. Utilities reduce demand (load) on the generation system by temporarily switching off grid distribution to different geographical areas. According to the Energy Commission's recent figures, energy demand stand at 2000 megawatts while the generation capacity are only 1 600 megawatts.

These energy challenges are not new in Ghana. Energy security, often narrowed down security of supply has been prominent in policy discourse over the years. In 2007, for example, the power crisis, which resulted of poor hydrology in the Volta Lake, lasted for up to 12 months and led to a far-reaching power-rationing regime, whereby all categories of electricity consumer went without electricity for at least 12 hours every other day. But this time, Ghana is going through what the media referred to as "The energy crisis" at a period when people require reliable electricity to watch the World Cup.

The "soccer-crazy nation" has come with high expectations for the Black Stars. In Accra, giant screens have emerged in many corners, local bars display TV sets around which neighbours congregate to follow the match while many decide to follow the games at home with friends and family. Although most of cars have been exhibiting the national red, green yellow flag featuring a black star, long before the start of the World Cup, days when the Black Stars are scheduled to play are special. National flags are waved and horns honked relentlessly as a sense of excitement and celebration pre-empting a national victory builds, adding to the general chaos that characterise the busiest streets of the Ghanaian capital city.

In the "Brazil of Africa", football is a serious matter that agitates even the highest levels of power. Prior to the Black Stars' first match against the USA, president John Dramani Mahama joined the national frenzy to rally Ghanaians, urging both Christians and Muslims to pray for the team to excel at the World Cup. The game against fierce opponent Germany last Saturday, triggered vivid tension and explosive passios, also merited special comment from the President, who congratulated the national team on their "exciting" game.

Commenters have dismissed the Ghanaian's government pledge to keep the lights on during the World Cup as "populist" when energy reforms are needed. But the move also brings to the fore the political dimension of energy decisions. This should not be overlooked in a country where "no power, no vote" resonates strongly and where, I am being told powerless communities in rural areas often get connected to the grid ahead of new elections even if they do not meet specific criteria under the on-going national electrification programme. The word on the street, or at or at least from one of my regular football fan taxi drivers, is that a power cut during a Ghana match, could end up in a civil uproar. While this may or may not be exaggerated, a black-out during the World Cup could have a detrimental impact on voters at a time when ordinary people are already resenting endless power cuts that affect their daily lives.

So far the government appears to have kept its promises to "keep the lights on" during the World Cup. The effectiveness of those ad hoc measures will be tested again this afternoon at 4pm Ghana time (5pm GMT) when the Black Stars face Portugal. Once again, hopes are high. While a qualification to the next round will not address national energy challenges in the long-term, it would certainly, although temporarily, boost the moral of many Ghanaians watching the match on screen. Good luck Black Stars.

By Sandra Pointel in Accra
  • Find out more about the STEPS Centre’s energy and climate change work
  • Sandra Pointel is a doctoral researcher at SPRU – Science Policy Research Unit at the Unniversity of Sussex. Her research focuses on low carbon development and energy access in Africa.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Millions at risk of food insecurity in Zimbabwe? Or not? How the dire predictions were confounded by a good harvest

Last September I critiqued the assumptions behind the prediction that 2.2 million people would be needing food aid. In order to raise funds and galvanise attention, international agencies, local lobby groups and the media were using an extreme worst case scenario figure, based on a variety of assumptions, many of them highly questionable.

As it turned out, the rains arrived and a good season has followed (with some exceptions of course). In the section below, I offer some extracts from the most recent USAID-funded FEWSNET update on the food security situation in Zimbabwe. Good rains have boosted production and the current food security projections to September are largely very positive.

It is amazing what a change in the weather can do. But it also adds to my earlier plea to be cautious about headline figures and assumptions in forward projections. There is no harm in being cautious – this must be the sensible stance – but overblown figures and dramatic proclamations that serve particular interests should be guarded against.

Unlike the portrayals of imminent doom, the relatively good news about a reasonable harvest does not hit the headlines, or raise aid money, and the bad news stories from Zimbabwe persist. So for a change, and in case you are not regular readers of FEWSNET bulletins, I thought you would like an update on a good harvest and a reasonably positive food security situation.

Here is a summary edited from from the May update:

The majority of very poor households across the country including the traditionally food insecure southwestern districts, will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes between May and June owing to the projected above average 2013/14 harvest. Similar outcomes will continue from July through September as most households will still be consuming cereals from own production.

Markets will continue functioning but most of the cereal supplies are likely to be locally procured with a few imports by private traders. As households begin to access cereal from their own production there have been significant reductions in monthly maize grain price trends. Since March, national maize grain prices have dropped by 11 percent, but in comparison to national averages during the same period last year the prices are still 16 percent higher. For maize meal the national average stands at $0.66 and has decreased by 2 percent in comparison to the same time the previous month, but remains 4 percent higher than the national average for same time last year. Month-on-month maize grain prices fell by 26 and 16 percent in Manicaland and Masvingo Provinces, respectively.

Casual labor opportunities are projected to increase by up to 20 percent throughout the outlook period as a result of ongoing harvesting activities. Additional incomes, particularly in the northern areas, will be earned through tobacco preparation, sales and casual labor for poor households. However given cash constraints, most casual labor will likely be paid by in-kind.

The first round results of the Ministry's crop and livestock assessment indicate that there are increased chances of an above average harvest, especially for maize, millet, and sorghum. This assumption is based on an estimated 16 percent increase in cropped area for cereals this season in comparison to the 2012/13 season. Maize alone this season accounts for approximately 1.6 million hectares, which is an 18 percent increase from the previous season. This increase in area planted for cereals is due to fairly well distributed rainfall patterns this season.

Ongoing tobacco curing and sales are boosting household income, particularly in the northern areas, where production levels are projected to have significantly increased. Based on the first round assessment, this year's production levels has surpassed the 2012-13 season by about 21 percent. At the household level, higher than average tobacco production will increase farmer income levels and opportunities for casual labor opportunities (i.e. curing, processing, transportation) for poor households. Households benefiting from this labor will therefore receive additional income for food purchases and other livelihood needs.

Cotton production this season is 16 percent below last year's levels. The processing of cotton is ongoing in cotton growing areas but incomes are likely to remain low. The reduction in the area under cotton is due to marketing price uncertainty given the low marketing prices offered during the previous season.

The increase in the availability of water due to the good rainfall this season will increase gardening activities from May through September. Vegetable production will provide both food and cash to very poor households.

Livestock body conditions in areas including Matebeleland South and Masvingo Provinces have significantly improved and are in good shape. Despite the improved pasture and water access for cattle, the calving rate included in the recent first round crop and livestock assessment report remains low at 49 percent, and only 2 percent higher than last season.

The FEWSNET report provides the assumptions it uses in this analysis, along with some useful graphics. The second assessment report is due shortly and this will update the situation. Certainly the tobacco harvest looks promising, and reports from many parts of the country shows grain production is good.

So, thankfully 2.2 million people in Zimbabwe didn't need food relief assistance, and the agricultural production has prospered in a good season. This however should be no reason for complacency. Droughts strike hard in a system where irrigation is not widespread, and improving resilience to such shocks must be a key part of future investments.

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

The nexus needs research across disciplines – but how?

STEPS co-director Andy Stirling addresses the challenges of working across disciplines in a new blogpost for the Guardian. The ‘nexus’ is the latest buzzword intended to lure researchers out of their disciplinary comfort zones and get them working together on the big challenges of the day. But how easy is it in practice?

There is a crucial distinction between multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. Both seek to transcend narrow agendas, but true interdisciplinary research is designed to go beyond particular theoretical prejudices, privileged methods or favourite solutions – important in the face of big, interconnected challenges like water, energy and food.

The barriers to achieving this include organisational structures within research institutions, the reinforcing power of metrics, citation counts and the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Social science – which examines not only at the ways in which resources and systems are managed and changed, but also the way knowledge is framed and constituted – plays an important role in the search for interdisciplinarity.

Read the full piece:

Friday, 20 June 2014

Is the health system response out of sync with the demands of the islanders in the Indian Sundarbans?

Five years ago, a mid-summer nightmare named Aila crashed on the Sundarbans with murderous fury and wreaked destruction beyond repair. On May 25, 2009 the tropical cyclone hit the Sundarbans in India and Bangladesh with a wind speed of 110 km/hr. Over 8,000 people went missing and more than a million were rendered homeless in the two countries. In India about 300 people were killed in Sagar Island alone in the Indian Sundarbans. Figures can scarcely do justice to record the number of homes destroyed, lives lost and livelihoods decimated.

There was a localised health system collapse in the immediate aftermath of Aila – a fact attested by the islanders loudly and by the state health policy makers privately.
Nearness to the state capital Kolkata has been a boon to doctors sent out to the public health facilities in the Sundarbans and a bane to the islanders. Most of the government doctors take it as a day job for four hours and openly flout the government norms. It was -- and still is -- the best known secret in the islands.

The suddenness of Aila left the state health machinery and the 'day doctors' out of reach of the islanders for close to a week. For seven days after Aila, the medical team camped in the landlocked part of the Sundarbans, leaving the islands at the mercy of a few 'braveheart' state doctors and village 'doctors' (or Rural Medical Practitioners, RMPs). Even traversing all the landlocked areas was difficult as the roads were 'sealed off' by the trees uprooted by the cyclone. And this was for the all-weather metal roads. For the rest they were left to their own peril.

When the state could get the doctors to reach their stations they were confronted with overwhelming numbers of water borne diseases that poured into the government as well as the NGO health facilities. Ironically, the health response saw the RMPs and the state doctors working hand-in-hand to tackle the huge case load.

The state health system response, or the lack of it, has taken a toll on the mind space of the islanders who, as the FHS studies would later suggest, have veered more towards the RMPs.

"Nearly 85 per cent of the children of the region could not be taken to the hospital or to a qualified doctor in the event of sickness and were treated by unqualified and untrained Rural Medical Practitioners (RMPs)."

FHS India's How Healthy are the Children of Indian Sundarbans found out – five years after Aila – that nearly 85 per cent of the children of the region could not be taken to the hospital or to a qualified doctor in the event of sickness and were treated by unqualified and untrained Rural Medical Practitioners (RMPs). Aila has irreparably damaged livelihoods – by rendering farmlands unusable, by contaminating fresh water ponds, by drowning families in debt – to such an extent that many villages are now bereft of men. So when a child falls ill, it falls upon the mother or grandmother to take it to the doctor. And it is well-nigh impossible for a woman to carry an ailing child to the block hospital, which may be a several hours by land and boat away from her home.

Hence the dependence on the RMPs, who, though offering care of a dubious quality, invariably have chambers in the heart of the villages, are always available and willing to provide medicines and treatment on credit. Tellingly, a 2010 study by Future Health Systems revealed a significant switch in people's dependence on RMPs vis-à-vis the Aila – about 83 per cent of ailing children in Patharpratima were treated by the RMPs one year after Aila compared to 67 per cent in the pre-Aila year. The How Healthy are the Children of Indian Sundarbans report not only suggests that the absolute dependence on RMPs is a major factor behind the miserable health condition of the children of the Sunderbans but also that the Aila has contributed greatly to this pernicious dependence.
Many of the fields that were abundant before Aila are now barren due to salinity.
Many of the fields that were abundant before Aila are now barren due to salinity.
The Sundarbans islanders – since the time they have settled down – have been up against two constant disadvantages: a difficult geography and an uncertain climate. Post-Aila, the people had additionally to contend with the uncertainty of the politics born of a regime change. The social and health security schemes are being increasingly marred by politics making the health system of Sundarbans susceptible to any future climate shocks – both big and small.

After the cyclone, five years down the line, as the successive FHS studies reveal, there has been a positive change in the overall health status of the people in the last 10 years. The disturbing peck in this otherwise rosy image is that there has been an increase in climate sensitive diseases like diarrhea and acute respiratory infections (ARI) amongst children. How much of this positive turn in the overall health seeking status can be attributed to the responsive health system and how much it is due to the community's awareness and individual effort to seek care from outside the Sundarbans, though, is a matter of debate and further research.

How indelible is the mark that Aila has left? FHS researchers' interactions with the people, particularly in the course of its study, of the vulnerable groups reveal a different and disturbing picture. Self-reported morbidity of women is significantly on the increase. For the women in the islands, doubly burdened with household chores and stressful livelihood in the absence of their seasonal migrant husbands, the reasons are not hard to imagine. Long periods of wading through waist deep saline water make them more susceptible to vaginal infection and body ache. Mental illness in a phobic situation of uncertain future is now very common in the Sundarbans. Dr. Amitava Chowdhury, the definitive lens which had informed the Amitabh Ghosh's 'Hungry Tide' and who is treating patients for more than 20 years in the islands of the Sundarbans, asserts that the health of islanders is steadily going downhill post Aila:
'I get increasing number of cerebral palsy among children… and also most women seldom weigh more than 40 kg. This, I am sure, is due to lack of nutrition and the general atmosphere of uncertainty and depression post Aila'.
With many of the men having migrated out of the Sundarbans for work, there is a significant burden on local women, who must find safe drinking water, get food, and take care of their own and their family's health. Here a group of women are fishing for their livelihoods.
With many of the men having migrated out of the Sundarbans for work, there is a significant burden
on local women, who must find safe drinking water, get food, and take care of their own and their
family's health. Here a group of women are fishing for their livelihoods.

The situation is compounded by absence of potable water, arsenic contamination and high rate of open defecation in Sundarbans. The availability and acceptability of health schemes have been severely marred by political bias towards selected sections of the population. Political polarisation has complicated the already complex social determinants of accessing health system like physical access, economic access and social access.
In a nutshell, how has the health system responded? If one goes by the WHO guideline of 'a well-functioning health system responds in a balanced way to a population's needs and expectations by: improving the health status of individuals; families and communities defending the population against what threatens its health; protecting people against the financial consequences of ill-health; providing equitable access to people-centered care; making it possible for people to participate in decisions affecting their health and health system' – five years after the fateful Aila equitable access to the health system still remains a distant dream for the majority of the Sundarbans islanders.

By Shibaji Bose, FHS India Policy Influence and Research Uptake Officer

GM crops: what people in the global South really think

maize poster
GMO maiz by nolosabias on Flickr
Durham University has just published an important new research report on the governance of transgenic crops in three of the world’s ‘rising powers’ – Brazil, Mexico and India – looking at how different groups in those countries have reacted to GM crops.

The document, A new approach to governing GM crops? Global lessons from the rising powers, was launched during an interesting discussion workshop at the Royal Society’s premises in London on Friday 13 June.

If you’ve kept half an eye on public debates and media reporting about transgenic crop issues over the last decade, you may well have received the impression that farmers and publics in several ‘developing’ countries have embraced GM crops and foods. After all, transgenic crops such as soybeans, cotton and maize are being grown by numerous farmers, including small-scale cultivators, in populous low- and middle-income nations such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Pakistan, and a handful of others.

More than a few commentators have suggested that these countries’ openness to transgenic crop technologies puts the ‘selfish’ and ‘irrational’ anxieties of affluent European consumers into a shameful perspective. Unlike the well-fed Europeans, goes this argument, impoverished cultivators and hungry consumers in the global South cannot afford to turn up their noses at this vital, safe and productive technology.

Testing the narrative
The Durham University research used an innovative combination of social science research methods to put this narrative to the test. The project was carried out in collaboration with a team of academics from the countries concerned, and funded by the John Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic donor that likes to invest in the study of big social, philosophical and scientific questions.

The researchers spent time observing, interviewing and discussing GM crop issues with national scientists, groups of small-scale farmers and urban consumers in each of the three countries, culminating in deliberative workshops that brought these diverse groups and other stakeholders together.

The researchers found that the spread of GM crop cultivation did not necessarily mean that farmers and consumers were all completely comfortable or satisfied with the technology. In fact, transgenic crop technologies have proved quite controversial, and unpopular with some stakeholders in all three of the focus countries.

Both growers and consumers said that they felt ill-informed about the technology, its environmental and socio-economic implications, and its prevalence in agriculture and the food system. They felt excluded from decision-making and suspected the motives of agribusiness companies, entrepreneurs, large-scale farmers, politicians, and regulators.

Scientific experts were more likely to dismiss public concerns and argued that the development and deployment of transgenic technologies was rightfully an urgent priority for the sake of national prestige, scientific competitiveness, economic development, and food security.

Yet in some cases, younger scientists were more likely to have reservations about the necessity and benefits of genetic modification. They worried about ecological effects and sustainability, and did not necessarily share the confidence of previous generations in the inevitability of achieving social and economic progress through modern technology.

The researchers also identified interesting differences between Brazil, Mexico and India. For instance, it is quite widely known that maize (corn) occupies a central place in the cultural traditions and identity of Mexicans, but soybeans in Brazil are an introduced crop without traditional culinary associations, which is produced largely for animal feed or for export.

Cotton in India is an intermediate case – a non-food crop whose history is, nevertheless, intimately linked with that country’s experience of colonial exploitation. Differences like these help to explain why national controversies over genetic modification have followed different paths.

A breakdown in trust
For me, one of the report’s most troubling observations was of a pervasive breakdown in public trust in institutions of science, governance and regulation. This is especially troubling with regard to small-scale farmers’ lack of confidence in the scientists and technical advisors of the agricultural extension services, agro-dealers and seed companies, who should be helping them to solve their farming problems.

When agricultural technicians and farmers freely blame one another for problems that are beginning to appear in transgenic cropping systems (such as pest resistance and herbicide-tolerant weeds), and neither accepts responsibility for their part, we have evidence of a serious breakdown in a key relationship that should be helping to improve the productivity and sustainability of agriculture around the world.

New forms of governance
The Durham-led research team intends to build on the insights from this research in various ways. One of these ways is towards the practical goal of building better institutions for the governance of controversial technologies, using the ‘AIRR framework’.

AIRR stands for four dimensions of ‘responsible innovation’: anticipation of future developments in science and technology; inclusion of diverse stakeholders; reflexivity among scientists and technology developers; and responsiveness to societal needs and problems.

This framework has a lot in common with elements of the STEPS Centre pathways approach, which calls for the opening up and broadening out of public debates and governance frameworks for new technologies.

If the Durham report achieves the impact it deserves, it will achieve a valuable purpose by internationalising narrow British and European public debates about transgenic crops and foods, and about the relationship between agricultural technoscience and socio-economic development. It will undermine the complacent assumption that the ‘rising powers’ have definitively resolved the controversy over transgenic crops and that the future will see them inevitably race ahead in embracing GM technology.


16 June: China and Brazil in African agriculture - news roundup

CBAAnewsThis 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

‘Estimating China’s Foreign Aid 2001-2013’
A new working paper by Naohiro Kitano and Yuiknori Harada at JICA has published revised estimates of China’s current aid disbursements. However, they have also presented the data in such a way that it allows a direct comparison with ODA net disbursements according to DAC definitions which has not been done before. The results suggest that net aid totalled $7.1bn in 2013 and that if placed within the list of DAC countries, then China moved from being the 16th biggest donor in 2001, to the 6th biggest donor in 2013. The results are based upon mixture of publically available data and informed estimates.
Forthcoming Brazil-Africa agricultural research agenda publishedThe Agricultural Innovation MKTPlace programme that forms research collaborations between African institutions and Brazil (usually EMBRAPA) has published the preliminary list of research projects and partnerships for the coming year.
(Agricultural Innovation MKTPlace)

Brazilian support for small-scale farming in Africa
Brazil’s ambassador to Ethiopia claims that the PAA programme (Purchase from Africans for Africa / Programa de Aquisição de Alimentos) been successful for smallholder farmers in the 5 countries it currently operates in: Ethiopia, Mozambique, Malawi, Niger and Senegal. She announced that there were plans to expand the programme in Ethiopia, which currently operates mainly in the south of the country.

Chinese agricultural engagements in Mozambique
The Chinese news agency Xinhua has published a series of articles on Chinese engagements in Mozambican agriculture. They all report successes of Chinese projects in the region and two of the articles cite Sergio Chichava, a partner on our research project.
China-Africa blog
Li Xiaoyun, Richard Carey and Yunnan Chen have published a blog on ‘China-Africa cooperation and the modernisation of a continent’. It puts forward that China’s planned infrastructure developments on the continent are a form of public entrepreneurship that will serve to modernise the continent. They also argue that China is proving its commitment to Africa’s economic growth by the size of its investments of money and peacekeeping troops but that a convergence of agendas between China and its African partners will be needed for greater success.
(IDS Globalisation and Development blog)

Large-scale vs. Small-scale farming in China
This blog article looks at the debates currently going on in China between those advocating large-scale farming and those highlighting its problems. The blog also presents studies that argue there is relatively little difference in yields and costs between the two sizes of farms. It would be interesting to see whether these debates also take place with respect to the farming models being exported by Chinese institutions to Africa.
(Dim Sums)
Is the World Bank facilitating land grabs?
In a publication called ‘Wilful Blindness’, 180 organisations comprised of unions, farmers and consumer groups, and NGOs have called on the World Bank to stop publishing its ‘Doing Business Rankings’ as they argue this has facilitated foreign land grabs and thereby damaged local communities.
Brazil and China partnerships on Mozambican hydropower plant
Mozambique is planning to build a new hydropower plant on the Zambezi river with transmission lines connecting Tete to the South Africa Power Pool. The project is to be developed as a public-private partnership involving the China Development Bank and the State Grid Company of China as the main shareholders and financiers of the project. Electrobras of Brazil will also be a minority shareholder.
By Henry Tugendhat

Monday, 16 June 2014

Sustainable intensification: a new buzzword to feed the world?

The term 'sustainable intensification' (SI) has entered academic and policy discourse in recent years, including in debates about what to do about agriculture in Zimbabwe. I have been intrigued for some while to find out what it actually means. Is this yet another contradictory hyphenation of two words for political ends, or does it have some substance? Who is driving this debate, and what does it mean for Africa?

A flurry of publications have been produced in the past year or two that use the term, and they provide a good route to finding out a bit more. A high profile article in Science from 2013 offered a definition of SI: "to increase food production from existing farmland in ways that place far less pressure on the environment and that do not undermine our capacity to continue producing food in the future". The major Montpellier Panel report offer a similar one, defining SI as "producing more outputs with more efficient use of all inputs on a durable basis, while reducing environmental damage and building resilience, natural capital and the flow of environmental services". Other similar formulations appear in a recent Royal Society collection of papers. No one could disagree with these it seems. Is SI then just what we used to call sustainable agriculture, or is there something more to it?

To answer this, we have to probe a bit further and ask what analytical frameworks underpin the concept and its definition, and what policy narratives flow from it? The Science article, and the Oxford Martin School report which preceded it, situate the challenge in terms of the familiar argument about resource scarcity – of land, water, and resources – in relation to a growing population of 9 billion needing to be fed. This justifies a 'crisis narrative' argument that pushes towards a productivist response: more food is needed on less land with less water, requiring new technologies to deliver it.

The challenge is often couched in the well-used metaphor of the 'perfect storm', memorably used by the former Chief Scientist in the UK to argue for a global response to impending food shortages, in the build up to the oft-cited 2011 UK Foresight report. In recent years a new version of this narrative, with a new word, has emerged. This is now portrayed as the challenge of 'the nexus', where multiple resource constraints come together requiring a particular style of (usually) technical, top-down response.

While no one would argue against improving resource use efficiency and boosting production in sustainable ways, it is the link between this technical challenge and the wider framing of the problem and solution where issues arise. These have been outlined in a recent paper on land issues that I co-authored, but the same arguments could be applied to other resources, and the challenges of agriculture in Africa more generally.
  • First, we must be careful when proclaiming generic resource scarcity as the driving force for action. My scarcity may be someone else's surplus: scarcities are always relative, and resource access and distribution is a crucial issue that is not addressed by this narrative.
  • Second, because scarcities are constructed in policy arenas, there is a political dimension that must be acknowledged. So-called 'global' scarcities are very often the consequence of high unequal power relations, skewed consumption patterns and poor resource governance.
  • Third, a solely technical response through increasing production or efficiency in ways that conserve the environment – often laden with yet more jargon such as 'climate-smart agriculture' or 'conservation agriculture' – ignores the social and political choices around technology and its direction. A crisis narrative that forces a particular trajectory may restrict debate about alternative choices, and debates about pros, cons, risks and rewards. A good case in point is the promotion of GM crops by certain large corporations in terms of 'sustainable intensification' (see last week’s blog).
The advocates of SI are quick to point out that their approach does not promote any particular technology over another. Various declarations reiterate this, and a recent Royal Society publication offers a huge array of different technological solutions under the SI banner. The Montpellier Panel, a group of well-known agriculture experts, are even more explicit. They point out the potential for capture of the term and its politicisation:

"the term "Sustainable Intensification" –– has come to take on a highly charged and politicised meaning, becoming synonymous with big, industrial agriculture. As we strive to feed a population expected to reach nine billion by 2050 sustainably, the risk is that we may lose sight of the term's scientific value and its potential relevance to all types of agricultural systems, including for smallholder farmers in Africa"

Equally, the Oxford report argues for the need to "deepen and extend understanding of systems interactions", to "consider and define what specific goals societies wish agricultural production to achieve" and to "develop metrics that will enable societies to measure progress in achieving them". All good stuff, resonant with long running debates about sustainable agriculture, and discussions on the politics and direction of innovation outlined in the STEPS New Manifesto on innovation, sustainability and development.

Yet in all this warm-sounding rhetoric there is an absence of social and political analysis that undermines the approach. In the late 1980s I joined the recently formed 'Sustainable Agriculture Group' at the International Institute of Environment and Development, together with Gordon Conway and Jules Pretty. Our approach to agricultural sustainability was in many ways strikingly similar to the current debate about SI. But with one important difference: people and their livelihoods were central. Our work evolved in concert with debates about 'sustainable livelihoods' and participatory approaches to development, and had as a result a very different flavour.

Looking at the long lists of authors of papers and reports on SI there are, beyond a scattering of economists, vanishingly few social scientists involved. This is telling, and reflective of the sometimes naïve perspectives portrayed, about the political and social contexts of these debates. Frequently, a techno-economic determinism dominates, driven of course by a passion and commitment to addressing major challenges, but without the necessary social and policy analysis to make it happen, and avoid it being captured.

Take the diagrammatic representations of the approach by the Montpellier Panel. Here 'farmers' and 'communities' are put at the centre, but all the action happens around them, seemingly disconnected. Agrodealers represent the market, but the process of sustainable intensification seems to be driven by a technical process. It is all well and good arguing that societal goals are defined, as the Oxford report does, but how can this happen, through what political process? In the terms of the New Manifesto, how are innovation directions set, how are the diversity of options defined, and how are the costs and benefits distributed? These are issues that seem not to be on the table, or at least not in ways that are central.

If SI is to have any meaning beyond a seemingly uncontroversial, hyphenated buzzword, then these are the questions that must be put centre stage. For SI to be anything more than a rather odd collection of technical solutions, then questions of socio-technical choice and direction must be put at the forefront. This means having a political debate, and bringing in people more centrally, something that may jar with the rather bland techno-economic prescriptions offered to date. 

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