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by Ian Scoones, Rebecca Smalley, Ruth Hall, Dzodzi Tsikata in 2018

Global resource scarcity has become a central policy concern, with predictions of rising populations, natural resource depletion and hunger. The narratives of scarcity that arise as a result justify actions to harness resources considered ‘underutilised’, leading to contestations over rights and entitlements and producing new scarcities. Yet scarcity is contingent, contextual, relational and above all political. We present an analysis of three framings – absolute, relative and political scarcity – associated with the intellectual traditions of Malthus, Ricardo and Marx, respectively. A review of 134 global and Africa-specific policy and related sources demonstrates how diverse framings of scarcity – what it is, its causes and what is to be done – are evident in competing narratives that animate debates about the future of food and farming in Africa and globally. We argue that current mainstream narratives emphasise absolute and relative scarcity, while ignoring political scarcity. Opening up this debate, with a more explicit focus on political scarcities is, we argue, important; emphasising how resources are distributed between different needs and uses, and so different people and social classes. For African settings, seen as both a source of abundant resources and a site where global scarcities may be resolved, as well as where local scarcities are being experienced most acutely, a political scarcity framing on the global land rush, and resource questions more broadly, is, we suggest, essential. 

Keywords: scarcity, resources, land rush, narratives, politics 


by Barbara van Koppen, Barbara Nompumelelo Tapela, Everisto Mapedza in 2018

In the global debates on the modes of farming, including irrigated farming, that are viable for the majority of rural people, three models prevail: (i) smallholder family farming; (ii) farming led by agribusiness’ capital, technologies, and forward and backward linkages in an estate mode; and (iii) agribusiness-led farming in an out-grower mode. In South Africa, these three and more modes of irrigated agriculture have been implemented. In the colonial era, in most of the country, the state supported a white-dominated estate mode of farming based on wage labor. Smallholder family farming remained confined to black people in the former homelands. Smallholder irrigation schemes in the former homelands were out-grower schemes, managed by the colluding apartheid state, white agribusiness and irrigation industry. Since independence in 1994, the search for viable modes of farming and irrigation is high on the policy agenda. This is part of the envisaged transition of the state into a tripartite constellation of citizens, state and service providers that delivers accountable, outcome-based services. 

Smallholder irrigation schemes in former homelands face particular challenges in this transition. One of the piloted solutions is a blend of the estate and out-grower mode of farming: the joint venture. Smallholders pool their plots and hand over the land for management by a strategic partner from the agribusiness with capital for inputs, technologies, and linkages to input and output markets. The government ensures the construction of irrigation infrastructure. However, the results of this option were mixed. As a contribution to the search for viable modes of smallholder irrigated farming, this report analyzes the events and outcomes of smallholder irrigation schemes in former homelands where joint ventures were piloted. The method used is an in-depth historical case study (or ‘biography’) applied to the Flag Boshielo irrigation scheme in Limpopo Province. Situated on the riparian strips along the Olifants River, the overall scheme consists of a row of 13 smallholder sub-schemes (or ‘farms’) of about 100 hectares (ha) each on the right bank and one smallholder sub-scheme on the left bank. Six joint ventures have been implemented since 2001; three, which had started in 2009, had discontinued by 2012. The report starts by tracing the early dispossession and later resettlement of black smallholders under the gendered apartheid policies of forced removals, divide and rule to break resistance, food security, and white agribusiness and irrigation development. In these out-grower arrangements, smallholders were food secure, but not more than laborers on their own fields, while subsidized parastatal development corporations managed inputs, production, irrigation, storage and sale of the produce.

The report concludes with recommendations on how to further operationalize these policies. For joint ventures, recommendations include a robust bilateral contract between the strategic partner and smallholders with clear goals and enforcement of employment generation, production and marketing skills transfer and contacts, risk management and internal governance. Support to exchange among peers is also recommended. Further, smallholders in joint ventures and other public smallholder irrigation schemes would benefit from stronger land tenure arrangements backed by the government. Government support is also key to diversify irrigation technologies for women and men smallholders. Lastly, further comparison of different joint ventures and between joint ventures, smallholder schemes, and the continuing spontaneous initiatives in the Flag Boshielo irrigation scheme and elsewhere, will shed more light on viable modes of irrigated farming that achieve job creation, food security, poverty alleviation and skills development.

by Emmanuel Sulle in 2017

This paper analyses the configuration of land rights among different users of land at various levels of land administration. It discusses the implementation of Tanzania’s land policy reform. The key rights explored in the paper include the rights of both small-scale producers (farmers and pastoralists) and large-scale investors to agricultural land. The paper explores how the state defines, allocates, protects and compensates for land when it appropriates such rights. At the heart of this paper are the formal, informal and procedural rights that provide for and protect the rights of small-scale producers and investors, and the compensation offered to those who give up their land for investment purposes. The paper also discusses how these formal, informal and procedural rights are configured during the investment negotiation and implementation phases of land deals. It argues that, while the proposed draft National Land Policy of 2016 tries to address the core problems related to the poor coordination and implementation of the earlier Land Policy of 1995 due to a lack of political will, which derailed its performance, the current draft also has significant shortcomings. The ongoing land policy reform provides an opportunity to address the current challenges in the land sector, but it is only likely to be successful if the process becomes more inclusive, prioritizes small-scale local producers, and addresses issues of inequality and ethnic and class-based struggles over land in the country.

by Mafaniso Hara, Stephen Greenberg, Anne-Marie Thow, Sloans Chimatiro, Andries du Toit in 2017

This paper looks at the dynamics of intra-regional trade and investment in fish and fish products between South Africa and the rest of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region, and the implications of this trade for food and nutrition security. It is based on key informant interviews with people in the food industry in South Africa and Africa regional economic bodies. Imports and exports of fish in South Africa are driven by import substitution, shortfalls in local production, and meeting growing local and regional demand. Most South African fish and food processors prefer to export, rather than establish plants in other African countries, mainly due to factors of economic efficiency and the challenges of doing business in these countries. Currently, however, increasing volumes of fish are being imported into South Africa to meet demand from the African migrant community. While self-sufficiency and food sovereignty are acknowledged priorities for the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), imports to meet local shortfalls and specific demand ought to be acceptable options for ensuring fish food availability and affordability. The reduction or removal of tariffs, through regional free trade agreements, promotes increased intra-regional trade. Overall, imports and exports provide for demand-led exchange of fish between SADC states, which promotes increased availability and affordability of fish; thereby contributing towards food and nutrition security. However, despite regional free trade agreements that have stipulated the removal of both technical and non-technical barriers, most small-scale traders still experience problems in conducting cross-border trade. The majority of people in both South Africa and the SADC still rely heavily on the informal sector for conduct business and buying food provisions. This includes cross-border fish trade, which is dominated by small scale-traders, the majority of whom are women. The informal sector ensures that food reaches most people in an acceptable state, form and price. In order to promote and facilitate improved and efficient fish trade delivery systems and positive benefits for food security and livelihoods, governance of cross-border trade ought to be based on flexible regulations and improved implementation of these.


by Steven Lawry, Cyrus Samii, Ruth Hall, Aaron Leopold, Donna Hornby, Farai Mtero in 2017

Land property rights interventions increase investment, agricultural productivity and farmer incomes in Latin America and Asia but have weaker effects in Africa. Farmers who have secure land rights can invest in long-term improvements to their farms without worrying that their land will be confiscated. Formalizing property rights may improve agricultural productivity, increase farmer income and improve access to credit. The most common approach to strengthening land rights in Latin America and Asia is to convert communal or non-demarcated rural land to freehold title, then register rights to the land in an official registry. In Africa, the more common approach is to demarcate and register existing customary rights. Underlying ownership remains with the state, and land sales are often restricted. This review examines the evidence on the impacts of such interventions on agricultural and livelihood outcomes in rural areas in low and middle-income countries. Findings from this paper confirm that land property rights interventions are promising in terms of economic outcomes but the context should be considered carefully, because benefits may not outweigh negative social consequences, especially in areas with strong existing customary land rights. More research is needed on social outcomes.