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!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

African agricultural growth: who to believe?

In a recent article Prof. Magdoff defines the phenomenon of landgrabbing within the capitalist trajectory that led to the commodification of land which manifested itself in Africa through "dispossession by force" during colonial times and is now continuing through "accumulation by rural dispossession". Considering that 7 out of 10 nations in the list of the first land grabbing targets are African, we can question the rethoric of the African growth that is now prevailing in the media  and is even present in  art exhibits. 

A report by the Rockfeller Foundation, Agra and the Gates foundation depicts the picture of a rising continent where private investors can capitalize on innovations as mobile phones and "move agriculture from a development challenge to a business opportunity" (Rodin, 2). What was a challenge becomes an opportuniy for private investors. Maybe we should ask ourselves who are really these investors? Mostly international corporations that are riding on governments´corruption and capitalizing on "poor and degraded soils, non-existent irrigation systems, crumbling public infrastructures and insufficient access to credit" (Whitehead, 18). The recipe to solve this mess is presented as the good old Green Revolution mantra (improved seeds, fertilizers, mechanization). Yet, who will be reducing the yield gap will not be farmers themselves through government assistance but rather Cargill, Unilever and Nestlé which "have a long and positive tradition in linking their supply chains with African farmers....and....are flowing money into new crop processing zones to leverage private capital for African farming" (Whitehead, 19). 

As this graphic by the WB shows there is a great agricultural potential in Africa because 450m ha are unused and governments, even though they had committed, did not reach the investment target in agriculture: thus, leaving room for private investors.

The current growth paradigm is often produced with questionable metrics that are misused  to create the impression that people´s quality of life is improving while instead inequality is rising. This skewed interpretation of reality is being questioned by a recent survey by Afrobarometer reported on a NYT article today. And inequality is not manifested only between different social classes, but also between genders. Here is a timely special issues of the Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension on women´s access to extension service

Agriculture should be left in the hand of small-holders  "some 2.5 billion people - to maximise yields and invest the savings in their health and education." according to the Oakland Institute. Their research, as our (soon to be published), shows also the knowledgeableness of farmers in using agro-ecological practices conserving soil and water resources for centuries. 

The New Green Revolution and current landgrabs on the other hand, with their industrial mechanized recipe, do not only only use agrochemicals to produce crops for export, but also disposses farmers that are left without an occupation and add to the Planet of the SlumsThere are so many instances that show the negative effects of land grabbing (i.e. Uganda and Papua New Guinea), yet investors keep on claiming that the process of commodifying land should go hands in hands with sustainable development to "assist ah, actually work with local people". 

I am looking forward to a lively - yet facts based - discussion on this at the upcoming Global Land Project conference (Berlin 19-21 March 2014) where we we will have a session on smallholder irrigation agriculture. Browsing through the list of sessions and accepted abstracts it is evident that Africa land management, small and large scale agriculture and land acquisition are on the spot with around 20 abstracts and around 10 abstracts with a focus on irrigation. 

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