Farmlands, or agricultural landscapes, captures the interest of a number of researchers based at the Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University. On this blog we share information about research findings, activities, events and comments related to our work.

Our interest in farmlands has three roots: farming, landscape and society.
Farming as a practice, including farmers knowledge and labour investments
Landscape as society-nature relations, congealed history, and as space and place
Society as a short form for institutions, gender relations, political economy and scientific relevance

Most Welcome to FarmLandS!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Improved livelihoods in rural Tanzania, 1991-2016

Studies of long-term change in rural villages in Africa are comparatively rare. The data required is usually just not there. The project "Long-term livelihood change in Tanzania", coordinated by the University of Dar es Salaam and the University of Sheffield, tackles this problem. It has identified and re-studied 40 villages in Tanzania where records spanning a few decades are available. A couple of papers are already available. The most recent has just been published: "Tracing Improving Livelihoods in Rural Africa Using Local Measures of Wealth: A Case Study from Central Tanzania, 1991–2016" by Wilhelm Östberg, Olivia Howland, Joseph Mduma, and Dan BrockingtonLand 20187(2), 44:1-26. It can be down-loaded free of cost at

The article analysis livelihood changes and poverty dynamics over a 25-year period in two villages in central Tanzania. The villages were, in the early 1990s and 2000s, strikingly poor with between 50% and 55% of families in the poorest wealth groups. 25 years later people had become substantially wealthier, with 64% and 71% in the middle wealth groups. The new wealth had been generated locally, from farming. This goes against a conventional view of small-scale farming in Tanzania as being stagnant or unproductive. The area of land farmed per family has increased, almost doubling in one village. Most villagers can now support themselves from their land, which is a notable change to the early 1990s when 71% and 82% in each village respectively depended on casual labour for their survival. This change has come at a cost to the environment. By 2016, the village forests are largely gone and have been replaced by farms. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Sahel region is becoming greener, but in unexpected ways

The Sahel region is becoming greener, but in unexpected ways
The Sahel region south of the Sahara desert is well known for the disastrous droughts that struck the region in the 1970s and 1980s, which ignited global concerns about a remorselessly advancing desert perpetuated by unsustainable farming practices. New climate data shows, however, that the decline in rainfall during the 1970s and 1980s was, in a global historical perspective, an exceptionally rapid and enduring climatic event. The recovery in rainfall since the crisis period is thus expected to be accompanied by a regreening (returning vegetation) of Sahelian landscapes. Such a regreening is also documented for the region. However, as a recently published study by Hendrik Hänke and co-authors based on a case study from northern Burkina Faso shows, it is not the same trees and bushes that returns in the landscape. Instead, a new mix of more drought tolerant species dominates and many previously common trees are in decline. This is an important, surprising and somehow paradoxical finding, as more rain is not expected to stimulate a shift to trees and bushes that are adapted to a drier climate. Hence, the results works against the logic that more rain will allow more moisture demanding vegetation to grow. How is this possible? The answer is that not only the amount of rainfall, but also human land use practices, has a decisive effect on what trees and bushes thrive in a specific environment. This conclusion challenges the dominant scientific understanding of the Sahelian regreening as almost exclusively driven by returning rainfall, and points at the importance of a better understanding of how changing social-ecological relations may replace traditional agroforestry landscapes with new a new mix of trees and bushes. Such a nuanced understanding provide an important basis for any organization that wishes to design suitable policies for climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation and the sustainable delivery of ecosystem services that benefit local livelihoods in one of the world’s poorest regions.

Graphical abstract
A conceptual model illustrating different tree cover pathways in relation to species composition and rainfall variability. The diagram could be interpreted along any, even small, shifts along these gradients. Wet and dry habitat indicates species thriving under relative wetter to dryer conditions. Brown and green refers to a sparse and dense woody vegetation cover, respectively.
The article is available here:

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A map of agricultural systems in Africa by 1800

This map is the first published result of the project Mapping Global Agricultural History which aims at mapping global agricultural systems at three points of time during the last millennium: 1000 CE, 1500 CE, 1800 CE.

It will be published in
Widgren Mats: Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa by 1800: a map and a gazetteer. In Mercuri, A.M., D'Andrea, A.C., Fornaciari, R., Höhn, A. (eds.): Plants and People in the African Past - Progress in African Archaeobotany (in press), SPRINGER

But the maps, the background references and the GIS-files can already now be downloaded from

By publishing the map  and gis- files on figshare I hope that other researchers will compare with their own material and find the caveats. Needless to say such a work is always preliminary and the revision of this map, has already started. If you have questions, critiques and comments do not hesitate to contact me

The categories used in a regionalization like this are - as always - a difficult compromise between a strict logical system and a pragmatic one based on the sources available. A basis for the classification of global agricultural systems is taken in the works of Whittlesey and Grigg. The following table shows the preliminary global categories and the further refinement that is possible for Africa.

Tab. 1. Classification of agricultural systems
Intensity rank
Global categories
Categories in sub-Saharan Africa

Pastoralism, ranching
Husbandry of non-domesticated plants

Extensive or undifferentiated farming
Grain and roots
Permanent fields
Permanent fields
Flood retreat and other wetland cultivation
Mediterranean complex

Mesoamerican complex

Taro complex

Mixed farming
Mixed farming, general
Mixed farming with terracing
Intensive farming
Banana gardens
Canal irrigation
Irrigated rice
Irrigated rice


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Swedish public costs for failed SEKAB/EcoEnergy more than 200 million SEK

Norwegian based journal Development Today is always well informed about news on Nordic devlopment projects. Two articles in today's issue deal with the failed SEKAB/EcoEnergy sugar plantation in Bagamoyo (see my previous posts on this blog Green economy  and Swedish agrobusiness abroad fails)

From the article IFAD days away from cancellling Bagamoyo sugar loan we learn that Tanzanian government must confirm the status of the Bagamoyo sugar and ethanol project to IFAD before the end of this month. IFAD (The International Fund for Agricultural Development - an agency of the UN) has guaranteed huge loans and grants for the development of outgrower schemes in Bagamoyo together with the African Development Bank.

From the article SEKAB never recovered losses from Bagamoyo we learn that the losses of SEKAB when they sold their Africa-based companies to Per Carstedt for 400 SEK were written off early. The chances of getting small pieces of that back through buying cheap ethanol from Bagamoyo according to the agreement from 2011 now seems to have disappeared into thin air.

So it is now possible to start looking at the losses of public Swedish money..

SEKAB is a public-owned energy company where municipalities (local districts)  in the north of Sweden have put in money for the Africa plans. According Swedish television investigative program Uppdrag granskning 500 million SEK disappeared from taxpayers money into the SEKAB Africa companies. This and other problems with their energy company took a heavy toll on the economy of Örnsköldsvik town according Uppdrag granskning in August 2014 .

According to Development Today the losses from SEKAB when selling the company to EcoEnergy were 158 million SEK that were written off  long time ago.

On top of that Swedish International Development Agency Sida, has a claim of SEK 54 millions on EcoEnergy, according to Development Today.

It seems safe to say that losses of Swedish taxpayers for this land grabbing adventure amounts to much more than 200 million SEK.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Green economy, Scandinavian investments and agricultural modernization in Tanzania

New publication in Journal of Peasant Studies
Here a qoute from the NORAGRIC website:

Abstract: ‘Green economy’ is a broad concept open to different interpretations, definitions and practices ranging from the greening of current neoliberal economies to radical transformations of these economies. In Africa, one emerging and powerful idea in the implementation of the green economy seems to be to use a green agenda to further strengthen development as modernization through capital-intensive land investments. This has again reinvigorated old debates about large-scale versus smallholder agriculture. Influential actors justify large-scale ‘green’ investments by the urgency for economic development as well as to offset carbon emissions and other environmental impacts. In this contribution, we discuss the case of the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) to give examples of how the green economy may materialize in Africa. SAGCOT is presented by the Tanzanian government as well as investors and donors as a leading African example of an ‘investment blueprint’ and as a laboratory to test green growth combining profitable farming with the safeguard of ecosystem services. In particular, we discuss three Scandinavian investments within SAGCOT, their social implications and their discursive representations through the public debates that these investments have generated in Scandinavia.

Read the article

Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania
Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania

Mikael Bergius is a PhD Fellow at Noragric focusing on agricultural development and food sovereignty in Africa (specifically Tanzania).  His doctoral project is: ‘Turning Towards a Corporate Food Regime in Tanzania –  Drivers, Impacts, and Responses’.

Tor Arve Benjaminsen is a Professor at Noragric. His main areas of interest are land tenure; environmental narratives; political ecology and environmental history.

Mats Widgren is a Professor Emeritus in geography, especially human geography, at the University of Stockholm.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Swedish agrobusiness abroad fails - SEKAB and Black Earth Farming

In the last week we have been reached by the final confirming news that two Swedish agro-business ventures abroad have failed totally.

Black Earth Farming, a Swedish owned company that have been operating in the chernozeme black earth region in Russia recently  announced that they are selling the company to a Russian oligarch.
  The Swedish owner Kinnevik will lose about 400 million SEK when they sell the company. I have been following Black Earth Farming since at least 9 years (see my blogpost in Swedish Svartjord på börsen from February 2008) .  Through modest 10 shares which I bought for 800 SEK when they were close to their peak I have been able to follow the general assemblies here in Stockholm. Successively I have got a more and more clear picture of their operations, how they bought the the shares of former kolchos workers, accumulating a "land bank" and more lately trying to make some profits from the agricultural operations. Throughout these meetings the company has tried to convince us shareholders 1) that the shares and the land values were undervalued and 2) that profits from successful farming operations were just around the corner, if not last years weather would have created unforeseen problems... Brian Kuns and co-authors have followed shareholders meetings more systematically and also interviewed key actors. They analyse in detail the performance of different Swedish owned agrobusiness companies in the paper The stock market and the steppe: The challenges faced by stock-market financed, Nordic farming ventures in Russia and Ukraine  . They point to the contradictions between the expectations and the actual operations. In short: far too high expectations from returns to scale, partly fueled by the expectation from the stock market  + a totally unrealistic understanding of the vagaries of farming the steppe seems to explain the failures. My 800 Swedish crowns have boiled down to some 60 or 70 Swedish crowns when I will finally be reached by the offer from Volgo-DonSelkhozInvest to buy my ten shares..... That is a small loss compared to the former kolkhos workers who have once and for all sold their shares of the land to the foreign companies and whose lands will now be in the ownership of a Russian oligarch.

Parallel to this development the Swedish company Agro-Eco-Energy in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, have now finally declared their closing down. They have been criticized for  almost the same time  - at least 9 years now, by Swedish and Norwegian researchers, by Action Aid, scrutinised by Swedish investigative TV Uppdrag granskning etc etc and their grandiose plans for a large sugar cane plantations have not materialised in spite of a decade of planning and misuse of money from Swedish publicly owned energy companies and from Swedish aid through Sida. The land which the Swedish company claimed to have leased has now been confiscated by the Tanzania state -- see my blogpost from November  . Now this has finally also been confirmed from the owner see Sugar project: Swedish investor calls it quits .

It is of course just a mere coincidence that these two total failures of Swedish agro-busíness plans have reached news media the same week. But there is some logic to it. Both projects started druing the financial crisis in 2007-2009 with surging food crop prices in 2007. The expectations for investments in farmlands and for agricultural production were at a peak. It has taken almost ten years for investors and in the case of Agro-Eco-Energy donors to realise that this was an exceptional situation and that realities on the ground were more complicated. Far too high expectations to returns to scale have also played a role. In the case of Tanzania the political realities of the contentious land issues and protest from villagers losing their land have also played a role. .

Friday, November 18, 2016

Has the Tanzanian state confiscated the land of Ecoenergy?

Ever since 2009 we have been a group of concerned Swedish and Norwegian scholars that have followed the plans to establish a Swedish sugar plantation outside Bagamoyo in Tanzania, by the Swedish SEKAB company, later reorganised as Agro Ecoenergy. We wrote an opinion piece in 2009 the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. The involvement of Swedish municipalities and of Swedish aid has one very important reason for raising awareness in Sweden about this case of land grabbing that would force a large amount of smallholders to leave their land. The case has also been the target of Swedish investigative journalism in TV program Uppdrag granskning.

Previous posts on this site are:

june 2016: End of road for Ecoenergy?
March 2016: Sida critised by National Audit for their Ecoenergy support
March 2015: Time running out for Ecoenergy?
April 2014: More iconic farming images
April 2014: Funny pictures about farming
March 2013: Swedish land grab in Tanzania causes protests

On two previous occasions we have almost declared the death of this project first following the withdrawal of Swedish Sida support in 2015 and then in June 2016 following the declaration by the prime minister in Tanzanian parliament that the environmental concerns for wildlife would stop the project.

It will be a future research task to find outwhat has really happened with this project since president Magufuli took over from Kikwete in November 2015. It now seems that the environmental concerns against this project voiced by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa in parliament in June may just have been a smokescreen for other things going on. According to Daily News in August the president offered 10 000 hectares of land in Bagamoyo to Cuba for a sugar plantation. Since then there have been press reports that the president has offered 10,000 hectares of land in Bagamoyo for sugar plantations to the Tanzanian Bakhresa group.

In todays edition of East African Business Times the circumstances around the 10,000 hectares of land in Bagamayo are reported like this:

“The ministry has opened dialogue with existing sugar producers in a bid to address the challenges farmers face in a bid to increase production through government support,” says Mwijage, adding that the ministry is currently implementing a presidential directive to set aside land in Bagamoyo District for local investor Bakhresa Group of companies to set up sugar factory. The plot of land was offered to the company after the government confiscated it from its previous owner who failed to use it for the benefit of the country."

Although Ecoenergy is not mentioned in this article I can only find this to mean that the Tanzanian government has indeed confiscated the land to which SEKAB/Ecoenergy had a long-term lease on the former RAZABA ranch. If this is true it means that the Tanzanian government is not so concerned about neither the wildlife nor the local smallholders, but is ready to give the land to national agrobusiness interests rather than to Swedish.