SARChI Chair

Emeritus Prof Ben Cousins
DST/NRF Chair in PLAAS
Senior Professor

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Emeritus Professor Ben Cousins currently holds the DST/NRF Research Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies

Ben Cousins hold a DPhil. in applied social science from the University of Zimbabwe (1997). He was in exile for 19 years, working in agricultural training and extension in Swaziland and Zimbabwe, and undertaking research on communal grazing, livestock production and rural class formation in Zimbabwe. He founded PLAAS in 1995 and was director until 2009. He has held a DST/NRF Research Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies since 2010. He is currently rated by South Africa’s National Research Foundation as a researcher who enjoys ‘considerable international recognition for the high quality and impact of his recent research outputs’ (B1). In 2013, he received an inaugural Elinor Ostrom Award, in the senior scholar category, for his contribution to scholarship on the commons.

His research focuses on the key themes of production, property and power and their interconnections in the context of land and agrarian reform in Southern Africa. His research is strategic and oriented towards use by policy-makers and civil society groups concerned to reduce poverty and inequality through redistributing assets, securing rights and democratizing decision-making. The main body of scholarship that informs his work is the political economy of agrarian change, but he also draws on the anthropology of law and land tenure. His work focuses mainly on three key substantive issues: the politics and economics of land and agrarian reform, and the role of small scale agricultural producers within such reforms; the legal recognition of customary land rights; and on the changing nature of rural social relations and identities.

The SARChI Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies

The Chair’s research programme explores the underlying dynamics of agrarian change in Southern Africa, and assess the implications for policies of land and agrarian reform. Specific themes include the performance of smallholder farmers and farming systems, including livestock production on communal rangeland; tensions between accumulation and social reproduction in rural households engaged in small-scale agriculture; the nature of ‘social tenures’ in rural areas and the impacts of tenure reform policies on rights holders within these tenures;  and the structure and functioning and performance of the commercial agricultural sector in South Africa, including its contributions to employment, incomes and food security.

Specific research projects on these themes are undertaken either by the Chair or by postgraduate and post-doctoral students. The overall aims and objectives of the research programme are to:

  1. conduct rigorous field-based research on agrarian change, land reform and poverty reduction that produces theoretically informed and empirically grounded insights into complex and dynamic social realities;
  2. explore the policy implications of research findings, in order to develop recommendations for policy makers and programme managers from government, civil society and the private sector;
  3. communicate the programme’s research findings and policy recommendations to relevant decision-makers, within a well-designed process of policy dialogue;
  4. publish research findings in internationally recognised and peer-reviewed publication formats, primarily academic journals and books; and
  5. contribute to international scholarship on questions of agrarian change, land reform and poverty reduction.

Over the past nine years, research outputs by the Chair and a research group composed of postgraduate students include: 65 peer-reviewed articles, books and book chapters; 29 research reports, working papers and policy briefs; 34 articles in popular media; 25 keynote or plenary addresses; and 269 presentations in conferences, workshops or seminars. A total of 17 post-graduate students have graduated within this period.

Researchers

Prof Ruth Hall

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Mnqobi Ngubane

Latest publications

Steven Lawry et al (2017). ‘The impact of land property rights interventions on investment and agricultural productivity in developing countries: a systematic review’ (Journal of Development Effectiveness 9:1)

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We conducted a systematic review on the effects of land tenure recognition interventions on agricultural productivity, income, investment and other relevant outcomes. We synthesise findings from 20 quantitative studies and nine qualitative studies that passed a methodological screening. The results indicate substantial productivity and income gains from land tenure recognition, although gains differ markedly by region. We find that these…

Alex Dubb (2018). The value components of contract farming in contemporary capitalism (JAC 18:4).

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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…

Bulisani Ncube (2017). Dynamics of Fresh Produce Marketing in Small-Scale Irrigation Schemes: Challenges and Opportunities for Smallholder Farmers in South Africa (EASSRR 33:2).

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Small-scale irrigation schemes provide a worthwhile livelihood for smallholder farmers, though those farmers struggle to obtain a guaranteed and consistent market for their produce. This article focuses on constraints and opportunities that different types of smallholder irrigation farmers in South Africa have in meeting requirements of fresh produce markets. It draws on findings from 94 household interviews, in-depth life histories,…

Donny Hornby, et.al. (2018). A Slipping Hold? Farm Dweller Precarity in South Africa’s Changing Agrarian Economy and Climate (Land 7:40)

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The paper investigates whether farm dwellers in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province of South Africa are subject to a “double exposure”: vulnerable both to the impacts of post-apartheid agrarian dynamics and to the risks of climate change. The evidence is drawn from a 2017 survey that was undertaken by the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), which is a land rights Non-Governmental…