Agrarian change needs knowledge and conducive political environment

The just ended conference: “Rethinking and Reconnecting Academia in Africa’s Agrarian and Rural Development”, in Harare brought together over 70 participants from more than 10 countries in Africa and Europe. 45 papers on agrarian and land issues were discussed.

Permanent Secretary Ngoni Masoka in the Zimbabwean Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development gave the official opening speech. Looking into the future Ngoni Masoka urged: “African academics should fight for significant investments in research in universities and research institutes, as well as greater investment in on-farm research with farmers (…) Africa needs a new generation of scholars and scholarship to move the agrarian revolution to its logical conclusion of empowering the majority.”

The opening platform was also shared by Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza from the University of Cape Town, Professor Sam Moyo, chairperson of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRA) and Professor Emeritus Lionel Cliffe, renowned for his work on African land and agrarian issues. They all made a plea for the need to develop meaningful strategies to lift the poor out of poverty and create alternative paths for development.

Lionel Cliffe called on young scholars to revisit some of the classic texts that could guide their understanding of various issues. Researchers have to accept that as researchers, they are not operating as individuals, but often within an institutional and political context, which can either make work easy or very difficult.

Captivating the audience, inviting interaction and playfully conferring amongst themselves, the three professors also provided new insights such as the need to look at the “surplus populations – those who cannot work the land and are un-skilled for industry”, as expressed by Lungisile Ntzebeza.

All the speakers recognized that Africa is battling the global economic meltdown and at the same time is engaging with the conventional neo-liberal development models.

“Intellectuals are not a homogenous lot, we have our own objectives, politics and it affects our own research. We live in a highly unequal society and we reflect society,” Lungisile Ntsebeza said.

The conference was organised and financed by NAI and the Swedish Interdisciplinary Research Network on Livelihoods and Natural Resource Governance (SERN) together with Ruzivo Trust in Harare.

Speaking on behalf of the organizing team Kjell Havnevik, NAI senior researcher said: “I hope the conference will marry the empirical material and data with the theoretical issues. In this way I hope it can be a deeper knowledge sharing.”

“Rural and agrarian change means that we are all affected in Africa, particularly with food and fuel production. There is a need for us to look at the local, national and international issues,” he said.

Rural development
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