Panel 6

Agrarian questions and large-scale land investments in Africa: what lessons for the SDG?

Panel organiser: Atakilte Beyene, The Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden

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Agriculture and other natural resources are the main means of livelihoods and source of employment for the majority of the rural people in Africa. The production systems are dominantly small-scaled and managed by households and communities, typically, as sedentary farming, pastoral and other extractive systems. Although these systems continue to be the major sources of food and employment, they also have problems such as failure to meet food and nutrition demands, vulnerability to external (environmental, economic and social) shocks, and weak integration to high-value markets. Hence, change and improvement in the management and structure of the agricultural and other land use systems, as well as in their broader economic and social condition are seen as necessary precondition for African development. Central in these is the land question where the governance regimes of the land continued to be key area of focus to both research and policy.

The recent surge in foreign and domestic investments in land has also raised renewed interest into the prospects and impacts of private/corporate investments on African agriculture. Many African countries are endorsing a more liberal policies in their land and agricultural policies. The policy idea here is that such investments will facilitate both growth and modernization of the agricultural sector at large. The outcomes on these are mixed: while only some investments are performing well, many investments have failed.

This panel aims to address both the unsettled nature of land rights across much of the land resources in the continent, especially on communal lands, on the one hand, and the implication of the current liberal land policies, on the other hand, in contemporary and future African development prospects. How are current agricultural land investment policies impacting the smallholder African farmers? What types of land governance regimes can help in modernizing the State in Africa? What are the major land-related questions for research and policy in light of the sustainable development goals, such as eradicating poverty and hunger in rural Africa?

The purpose of this panel is to provide an opportunity for researchers and practitioners engaged in African natural resources governance to exchange ideas and information about their work.

Approved abstracts panel 6

1. Seeing like a transnational state - investigating the relevance of Scott’s simplified ‘ways of seeing’ to explain the failure of large scale agricultural investment in Tanzania to deliver expected outcomes

Author: Linda Engström (Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences, Sweden)

While reasons behind failure of development interventions to deliver expected outcomes have been subject to much scrutiny, the academic debate is still vivid. This paper will investigate the relevance of James Scott’s contribution to this debate through his book Seeing Like a State (1998). By categorizing scattered observations of ‘simplified ways of seeing’ in Scott’s book into simplification themes, this paper draws attention to a submerged dimension of simplification in Scott’s work, not just on his most evident contribution about homogenization and standardization, but on ‘simplified ways of seeing’. However, there is critique of his argument being outdated in times of modern state-hood, neoliberal development and strong corporate influence. This paper aims to explore his relevance in the light of this critique by relating the simplification themes to empirical data on a large scale agriculture investment in Tanzania. The paper compares the simplified narrative within the state-donor-investor nexus behind large scale agricultural investment as a development strategy and the planning of the investment, with empirical complexities which has stalled the progress of the investment. By drawing attention to a new dimension in Scott’s work, I argue that he is still highly relevant in the debate on failure of development intervention.

2. (Im)possible agricultural futures for Africa

Author: Hans Holmén (Independent researcher Associate Professor in Social and Economic Geography, Sweden)

Sub-Saharan Africa´s persistent inability to feed itself from domestic sources is well documented. A common claim is that SSA’s agriculture ‘under-performs’ relative to its potential. Which this potential is, is a however highly uncertain. Suggestions about how to bridge the yield-gap range from small-scale to large-scale farming, and/or agro-ecological versus Green Revolution approaches. This polarization of then debate oversimplifies the matter and often appears to be motivated more by ideology than concern for Africa. It is questionable whether either of them will solve the African food crisis. Too many aspects of a complex issue are commonly omitted. This paper calls for a more nuanced – and more comprehensive – approach to improve agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa.

3. Local landscapes, global actors: Exploring gendered well-being through land use practices in north-eastern Madagascar

Author: Jorge C. Llopis (University of Bern, Switzerland)

Endowed with a variety of natural resources alongside its globally-praised biodiversity, Madagascar has historically attracted the interest of external actors, whose influence upon socio-economic processes in the country is again on the surge. The north-eastern region of the island constitutes a prime example of how global dynamics have impacted an already complex social and ecological panorama at the local scale over time. While communities growing clove, vanilla and coffee are submitted to the unpredictable fluctuations on prices of these globally-traded commodities, forest-dependent populations have in recent decades experienced a shift in the way they access natural resources due to the implementation of two externally-funded biodiversity conservation schemes.

By exploring how these dynamics affect local land-use decisions in two research sites holding both commonalities and particularities, this PhD research aims to illuminate how the well-being of local communities has been and is currently shaped by the services provided by an evolving mosaic of agroecosystems and relatively undisturbed ecosystems. Particular effort is put on understanding how these services are valued differently by gender, critically looking at the bequest value linking current economic and cultural practices with future generations.

The south-eastern area of the recently created Makira Protected Area revealed the most difficult to manage within the conservation scheme, largely because local populations here rely on shifting cultivation to produce subsistence rice, which directly confronts with forest protection objectives. Furthermore, the increasing exploitation of precious mineral deposits in the area, while attracting the interplay of Chinese middlemen, also drives conflict between local communities and migrant artisanal miners. In the second research site, rural dwellers close to Masoala National Park’s western boundaries are experiencing severe infrastructural and ecological limitations that pose mounting constraints to their traditional cash crops and irrigated rice cultivation practices, thus driving a renewed surge of human pressures upon the forest-frontier.

4. Social dynamics around access to natural resources in Mozambique: The case of Chimanimani National Reserve

Author: Pekka Virtanen (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)

In sub-Saharan Africa many rural communities have lost access to natural resources that are crucial to livelihood due to various external interventions ranging from mining and biofuel production to creation of nature conservation areas. The impacts caused by such interventions have ranged from deportation to reduced access to resources, and have affected community members in different ways depending on their gender, age, wealth and social position. While land grabs for resource extraction industries have received most visibility, another major cause for resource alienation has been expansion of nature conservation areas - often with substantial external inducement - since the 1990s.

While conservation initiatives are usually debated in terms of the intentions and interests of different stakeholders, my focus is on the practices they follow. According to Adler & Pouliot (2011), practices are patterned actions that are embodied in particular organised contexts and, as such, are articulated into specific types of action, and are socially developed through learning and training. Thus they provide a means to investigate the social dynamics that emerge when selected policies of access are implemented.

In the 1990s a new paradigm revolutionised nature conservation, which had relied on exclusion of human communities from conservation areas. According to the new community-based paradigm, benefits to local communities must be paramount, and such benefits can best be achieved by using private sector interventions (e.g. eco-tourism) to replace traditional consumptive use. But this involves a range of stakeholders with different, often incompatible practices. My case study is the Chimanimani National Reserve in Mozambique. I use data from my previous research from the late 1990s, complemented with secondary data (reports and studies) from the subsequent phase and new field data I have collected recently.

5. Making Sub-Saharan Africa’s Growth Inclusive and Green: The way forward

Author: George Adu (The Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden)

Over the past decade, sub-Saharan Africa as a region has recorded significant growth in real GDP compare to other regions (economic blocks) of the world. The African continent ranks second to East Asia as the world’s fastest-growing content and is the home to six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. On top of this is the high level of optimism of maintaining stronger growth into the future.
It remains a question whether this story is an all exciting one about Africa. Is the content truly growing its way out of poverty? It is well noted that part of the growth in Africa is dominated by commodity booms and consequent flow of foreign direct investment into the extractives industries. The implication from this is that the current growth may not be sustainable for at least two reasons. First, commodity driven growth is less inclusive due to the high capital intensive nature of the extractive industries. Second, resource extraction causes environmental disruptions which can have dare implications on human health, livelihoods, ecology and climate.
Sustaining current growth trends in Africa requires taking measures that makes growth inclusive and green. This panel discussion aims to draw experts from Africa and Nordic countries to propose measures to ensure inclusive and green growth in Africa. In particular, the discussions are aim to answer the following questions:
i.    How can African growth be made “contagious” so as to accelerate growth in many African countries and not just a few? How can we reduce cross-country income differences within Africa? Is regional integration the way forward?
ii.    How can we eliminate intra-country inequalities in the distribution of income and expand economic opportunities for all through the tenets of inclusive growth? How do we ensure that the young and the old, men and women, rural and urban are involved in the process driving growth and the benefits from growth? Is it through education, credit access, and infrastructure development, among others?
iii.    How can Africa maintain sustainable and high economic growth while at the same time protecting the environment and sustainable use of essential natural resources? How can we ensure smooth transition to green growth that will protect livelihoods, improve water access, energy and food security, promote sustainable use of natural resources and spur innovation, job creation and economic development?
These discussions and policy proposals thereof will have significant influence on growth and environmental policy in Africa and other development regions of the world.

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