Monday, 24 November 2014

Tobacco: driving growth in local economies

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

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

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

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

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

Innovation choices in the face of uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the report and Andy Stirling’s chapter


More resources

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

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

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

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

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


Guest blog by Rupert Read

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

Find out moreResource Pack: GM Food and the Precautionary Principle

Challenging misconceptions: Inclusive agricultural economies already exist in Africa

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

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

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

Where to invest?

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

Have large scale land deals delivered prosperity?

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

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

By Rebecca Pointer, PLAAS

This post first appeared on the PLAAS blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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