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!

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Child labour supports forest cover preservation

The forest in southwestern Ethiopia is a biodiversity hotspot of global importance. Here smallholder farmers produce coffee under the shade of trees. The coffee grown in this region is the main source of cash income for several million people, and also a primary export commodity for the country. Apart from the economic importance, this shade coffee production system has contributed to preserve forest cover and nurture habitats for forest-dwelling mammals. But there is also a negative consequence to this synergy between smallholder cash crop production and biodiversity values. 

A recently published study by Tola Gemechu Ango and co-authors, shows that child labour plays an important role in coffee berry picking and the protection of crops from being eaten by forest-dwelling mammals. Such work caused serious problem of school absenteeism in many children’s formal education. The findings expose how some of the measures taken to mitigate the problem of school absenteeism were also coercive and posed threats to poor households as well as to their school children. The study concludes that child work in coffee production and crop protection is at the cost of school attendance for many children, which represents a critical social justice issue and a trade-off with the economic and environmental values of the forest. It highlights that reducing poverty would likely mitigate the problem of child labour and school absenteeism and promote synergistic development in the region.

A photo (©: TGA, 2019) showing part of the agriculture-forest mosaic landscapes in southwestern Ethiopia. Coffee is produced under the shade of forest trees. 

The article is available here:  

Thursday, October 6, 2022

A new doctoral dissertation: “Accumulation from Below: Smallholders and public irrigation investments in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania”

The dissertation was written by Victor Mbande and was defended on September 23, 2022. 


Smallholders in Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa are increasingly differentiated. This thesis contributes to the empirical and conceptual understanding of the differentiation processes in irrigation by following the internal dynamics among smallholders linked to public investments in improving smallholder initiated small scale irrigation schemes in Kilombero district, Tanzania. The aim of the thesis is to examine the role of public investments in irrigation in transforming rural smallholder farmers and how inclusive these investments are likely to be, specifically, in the current context where policies in irrigation are widely focused on poverty reduction among the smallholders. In this thesis I have used data collected from both irrigating and non-irrigating villages in Kilombero district, Tanzania so as to capture overall transformations in the area and how irrigation contributes to agricultural development and differentiation among smallholders. A combination of methods was used in this thesis, these includes participatory wealth rankings, interviews and walking interviews, focus group discussions, questionnaire survey, and remote sensing data. This thesis consists of four papers and an introductory “kappa”. The study mainly problematizes the general conception within agriculture and irrigation policies that smallholders are homogenous and builds on theories of ‘accumulation from above’ and ‘accumulation from below’ to analyse development and differentiation among the smallholders in irrigation. In following processes of accumulation among the smallholders, the study links public investments in smallholders’ small-scale irrigation with the processes of ‘accumulation from below’.

Findings of this thesis indicate that public investment in smallholders’ small-scale irrigation builds on pre-existing social differences among the smallholders. In all sub-cases in Kilombero, initial development of irrigation was done by farmers through their own initiatives as a form of a ‘farmer-led’ irrigation development. These developments were mainly traced from the late 1970s to early 1980s, and attracted state investments in lining the canals later in the 1990s onwards. However, it was until the late 1990s to early 2000s where there was increased cultivation in the irrigated areas. The increase went hand in hand with neo-liberalisation of the Tanzanian economy since late 1980s and privatisation of agriculture in the area from 1998. As smallholders were responding to market stimuli and increased productivity in both irrigated and rain-fed cultivation, they became increasingly differentiated. The wealthier farmers were cultivating mostly extensively in relatively larger pieces of land, and the less wealthy farmers were combining cultivation in smaller rain-fed fields and providing labour to other wealthier farmers. Most of the middle wealthy farmers were concentrated in irrigation, and therefore investment in irrigation was clearly benefiting the middle wealthier farmers. The thesis argues that expansion of rice irrigation in Kilombero plays a crucial role in the current agricultural transformations in Kilombero as rice is both a food and commercial crop in the area. In conclusion, the thesis argues that the current investments in smallholders’ small-scale irrigation are fueling processes of ‘accumulation from below’ which are more inclusive as they benefit middle smallholders rather than the large wealthier farmers. These findings points to the importance of focusing on smallholders’ in agriculture and irrigation development for a more inclusive agricultural transformation.

The thesis is available here.

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.