Farming, Agro-food Systems and Agrarian Reform

Overview

Large-scale capitalist farming systems are dominant in some parts of the world (e.g. the USA, Australia), but not in others (e.g. China, large parts of Africa). A great diversity of farming and agro-food systems continues to exist today. This suggest that a transition from small-scale, labour-intensive and family-based production systems to capital-intensive and technologically sophisticated systems is not inevitable. In addition, the ecologically sustainability of ‘modern commercial farming’, as well as the upstream and downstream industries to which it is connected, is now in question. A key research issue is thus the potential of alternative farming and agro-food systems to meet society’s needs for decent jobs, healthy food, and a variety of non-food products in a manner that is both efficient and sustainable. In Southern Africa, given the region’s history of settler colonialism and support for large-scale farming, the future of farming is closely linked to the land question, which means that agrarian reform must also be on the agenda. Agrarian reform focuses not only on the distribution of land, but also the farming systems to be supported on redistributed farms, and the associated restructuring of systems of input provision, support services and marketing. This raises vexed issues of the’ viability’ of different farming and agro-food systems, and of appropriate methods of assessing their social, economic and ecological characteristics.

PLAAS Research on Farming Systems

PLAAS research on farming and agro-food systems in Southern Africa focuses on small-scale, medium-scale and large-scale systems of production, as well as on the agricultural value chains that farming forms part of. It examines different commodities, technologies and patterns of employment, the diverse markets that are supplied, support systems provided by both the state and the private sector, and the outcomes for farmers, workers and consumers. Key aspects are the dynamics of accumulation and reproduction, and, in relation to black smallholder farmers, the place of farming within multiple livelihood strategies. Much of our research focuses on the poorly understood informal agricultural sector. Livestock production on communal grazing is often neglected by policy, and PLAAS research seeks to develop a rigorous understanding of its potential and limitations. Our research also explores the role of land reform in reconfiguring agrarian structure, and the potential roles of complementary policies such as water reform, the reorientation of extension services, and marketing support in helping land reform to succeed.

Featured Publications

May 13, 2019 in Agriculture Publication

Ben Cousins , Alex Dubb, Donna Hornby & Farai Mtero (2018). Social reproduction of ‘classes of labour’ in the rural areas of South Africa: Contradictions and contestations. (JPS 45:5-6).

Marxist agrarian political economy has focused largely on the problematic of accumulation and its politics, but the dynamics of social reproduction in rural contexts remain somewhat under-theorised. These are explored through consideration of empirical evidence from communal areas and land reform farms in South Africa. Key arguments advanced are that social reproduction in such contexts include the reproduction of distinctive…
Read More
May 10, 2019 in Agriculture Publication

Refiloe Joala (2018). ‘The rise of soya in Zambia and the integration of smallholder farmers’. (PLAAS Policy Brief 50)

After six decades of policy experimentation, and efforts to promote economic diversification and reduce the country’s over-reliance on copper mining, Zambia has failed to fully capitalise on the country’s agricultural potential. Endowed with agricultural land which accounts for 32% of the 75 million hectares of total land area, the landlocked country also boasts abundant water resources and favourable agro-climatic conditions.…
Read More
May 10, 2019 in Agriculture Publication

Ruth Hall and Thembela Kepe (2017). ‘Elite capture and state neglect: new evidence on South Africa’s land reform.’ Review of African Political Economy 44.151: 122-130

The most recent incarnation of South Africa’s land reform is a model of state purchase of farms to be provided on leasehold, rather than transferring title. This briefing presents headline findings from our field research in one district. Read more...
Read More
May 10, 2019 in Agriculture Publication

Alex Dubb (2018) ‘The value components of contract farming in contemporary capitalism’, Journal of Agrarian Change, 18(4); 722-48.

Contract farming (CF) has generally been understood as, essentially, a market institution—by both (approving) “mainstream” and (critical) “radical” perspectives. Analyses of relations of production have, meanwhile, tended towards a problematic “peasantist” frame, where contracts undermine farmer “autonomy” in processes of “flexible” corporate agro‐industrial restructuring. This paper argues that a materialist analysis of CF from within capital–labour relations offers a stronger…
Read More

Current Projects

  • Agribusiness in Africa and the Right to Food: Funded by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, this project seeks to support the help integration of the right to food within broader policy frameworks on growth and development in Southern Africa and embed an understanding of food system change within policy thinking that is key to achieving this goal.   Partners include the Zambian Land Alliance in Zambia, the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA) and the Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) in Malawi, and the Observatório do Meio Rural (OMR) in Mozambique. The project is led by Refiloe Joala.
  • Land and Water Rights in Southern Africa: Entrenching Global and Regional Policy Frameworks: Funded by the Austrian Development Corporation, this project focuses on policies for land and water governance that can create an enabling environment to achieve food security.  Partners include Nkuzi Development Association and Legal Resources Centre (South Africa), Zambia Land Alliance (Zambia) and Acção Académica Para O Desenvolvimento Das Comunidades Rurai, ADECRU (Mozambique). This project is led by Phillan Zamchiya.
  • Agricultural Investment Projects and Joint Ventures in Communal Areas: A project funded by the Millennium Trust, this research focuses exclusively on South Africa’s communal areas and investigates the actors, contractual terms and outcomes of investments on community land. This project is led by Phillan Zamchiya with Nkanyiso Gumede.
  • Agricultural Policy Research in Africa: A project funded by the UK’s Department for International Development and implemented in partnership with the Institute for Development Studies. PLAAS hosts the Southern Africa hub of APRA, and is responsible for supporting researchers in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, and ensuring policy uptake of research findings and recommendations. It is implemented by Cyriaque Hakizimana with Ruth Hall. For more information, visit the website.

Researchers

Emeritus Prof Ben Cousins

Read More

Prof Ruth Hall

Read More

Dr Farai Mtero

Read More

Cyriaque Hakizimana

Read More

Refiloe Joala

Read More

Nkanyiso Gumede

Read More

Katlego Ramantshima

Read More