Transformations in African Agriculture: natural resources, livelihoods and markets


Report on ESRC Research Seminar, 2000-2002




Award holder:

Dr. Simon Batterbury,


Now: SAGES, University of Melbourne


22/07/2002  archived at



Rationale for the seminars


The purpose of these workshops was to bring together academics, policymakers, and other interested parties to discuss current trends – and future opportunities – in Africa’s agricultural sector.  The workshops were primarily about discussion and sharing ideas – written outputs varies from workshop summaries, to published papers and other outputs, depending on participant’s wishes in each workshop. This seminar series provided an opportunity for the key debates of concern to aid donors, NGOs and the private sector in and outside Africa – namely support to smallholder agriculture, agrarian food security, trade and marketing, and conservation of natural resources, to be debated in an open forum. Such a linked and sustained series of discussions is not usually permitted in the normal cycle of end-of-project briefings and workshops that accompany funded research projects, or in everyday business and consultancy work.


A particular aim was to engage the British overseas aid agency, DfID, in discussions with scholars in London and Manchester.


Meetings held (see annexes for meeting reports and participant lists)


The first workshop entitled Politics of Land Reform in the ‘New’ South Africawas held in June 2000, jointly convened by Simon Batterbury and Gavin Capps (DESTIN, LSE) and brought together 50 scholars and land activists from Europe and South Africa, to debate the implications of recent changes in South Africa’s land reform programme, with an eye to recent events in Zimbabwe. Key papers were circulated and delivered by Ben Cousins (University of the Western Cape) and Gavin Williams (Oxford), and other comments were received from the participants (see comment by Abie Ditlhake in the annex). Co-funding of £500 was applied for and received from STICERD, LSE to assist with travel costs from South Africa. Given the highly sensitive nature of the topic this was a ‘closed’ meeting (it followed land-grabs in Zimbabwe, and occurred during a period of difficult policy shifts, during which progressive land reform was effectively derailed in South Africa). There were no written outputs from the meeting aside from the report attached, which contains some recommendations for future action and a research agenda. The papers presented have appeared independently of the seminar.


The second was held on Jan 17th 2001, entitled ‘Livelihood transformations in semi-arid Africa 1960-2000: Policy lessons from farmers’ investment choices in Kenya, Senegal, Niger and northern Nigeria’. The workshop was led by two senior figures in the study of African agrarian change, Prof. Mike Mortimore and Mary Tiffen (Drylands Research, Crewkerne) and coordinated by Simon Batterbury. Aside for British academics, researchers from the four African countries attended the meeting, along with representatives from some of Europe’s key development agencies and Africanist researchers (70 participants). The meeting was the culmination of a major research initiative led by Mortimore and Tiffen into agrarian trajectories and farmers’ strategies for attaining sustainable livelihoods in Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria and Niger, from which a very large number of working papers and reports have now been produced. The overall lesson to emerge from the case studies was that rural people have – often in the face of inimical policies – developed innovative ways to fight poverty, extend market opportunities and insure subsistence. The comparative methodology was itself interesting, and the meeting hosted several rewarding working groups on the key findings. A summary paper dealing with this meeting in particular is attached in the annex and available on the seminar website.


The third workshop, ‘Access to Resources: Land Tenure and Governance in Africa’ was led by Phil Woodhouse of the Institute for Development Policy & Management, Manchester University, and took place in Manchester on 5 Mar 2001.  The event was linked to the publication of a new edited volume resulting from joint work funded by ESRC (Woodhouse P, Bernstein H and Hulme, D (Eds) 2000. African Enclosures? The social dynamics of wetlands in drylands, Oxford: James Currey). A fascinating discussion on this and other topic among the 22 participants took place on the day. The key argument was that wetlands are sites of struggle, in which the commoditisation of African resources is often very visible and very rapid. Woodhouse argued that African agrarian systems tend - in the absence of other constraints or processes - towards a ‘default’ of increasing individualization of production, and increasing commoditisation, over time. These processes are particularly marked in wetland areas that have been used for intensive agricultural production or grazing. This commoditisation process is often overlooked in other studies of resource access. Pre-circulated papers by Woodhouse, Christopher Clapham (Lancaster) and Camilla Toulmin (IIED) focussed the discussion. This was a residential meeting at the University of Manchester’s conference centre.


The fourth workshop was held at the University of Lund, Sweden and pursued an ecological theme. It was entitled the ‘The recovery of vegetation in the Sahel following the 1984 drought and took place on 10-11 September 2001. The coordinator was Prof. Andrew Warren (Geography, UCL) with Lennart Olssen, University of Lund (Warren and Batterbury have been working on Sahelian agrarian change in Niger under two ESRC grants since 1995). Fifteen participants, including British, Scandinavian and Sudanese academics, took advantage of an open presentation by the renowned political scientist Elinor Ostrom, and the economist Jean-Philippe Platteau [who lectured together on the 10th on “Managing common resources – what is the solution?”] before using the meeting to analyze the contentious scientific issues surrounding the quantification of land use changes in the West African Sahel since the 1984 drought.  Work at Lund and UCL has identified patches of much greater than predicted increases in vegetation (the NDVI signal) across the Sahel since the 1980s, and this has raise hope that human activity has, contrary to expectations, led to these increases in biomass and vegetation quality. The meeting brought together social and natural scientists to interpret these findings and to provide explanations for their occurrence – a number of hypotheses were raised and tested. Aside from forming the basis for a research programme involving Scandinavian and British researchers (with publications forthcoming), this meeting spawned a further workshop held in Denmark in March 2002, but the date of the latter was too late to be supported by ESRC and funds for it were raised in Denmark.

A fifth meeting, for which funds were not claimed on this grant, again because of the late date, returned to the ‘governance’ theme. ‘Changing scales of governance and their local impacts – tracing the links’ was held as a special session of the Association of American Geographers meetings in Los Angeles, March/April 2002. Fourteen papers by British, Dutch, and American academics examined the effects of changing modes of governance and institutional arrangements - particularly those instigated by the state, and associated with decentralization and local empowerment - upon the inhabitants and the environments of particular places. The contributors use a range of research techniques to understand the local outcomes of models including neoliberal political decentralization, increased local government autonomy, community management of natural resources, and land reform. Papers dealing with Africa included Paul Laris on local forest management in Mali, Simon Batterbury on the conflicts generated by decentralization in Burkina Faso, and Prof. Piers Blaikie on the corruption that occurs under community led conservation policies in four African countries. Phil Woodhouse was to present his ESRC research but had to withdraw. Papers have been accepted for publication in the journal World Development, edited by SB.

A website was set up in 2000 to hold the main findings of the workshops, at (now closed)



Despite cost-sharing and a small amount of co-funding, funds from this grant could only stretch to fully funding four workshops. As per the grant proposal, the entire budget was spent on organizational costs, travel, and accommodation. The first three seminars in particular were large, ambitious, and costly.


The participation of DFID, Britain’s overseas development agency, was less strong than expected. No interest was gained from DfID in publishing papers under their book series. Rather, the outputs from the ESRC series will appear in a variety of formats. This was due to the burden of time on DFID staff, who nonetheless attended some of the workshops. Independently, the Overseas Development Institute in London was working with DfID to run a series of workshops on the theme of the ‘Future of Rural Development’ (see Development Policy Review 19, 4 2001) which ran concurrently to these meetings and had rather similar aims.


In August 2001 the organiser and grant holder, Simon Batterbury, completed a two year lectureship at the LSE. He retains part-time and paid work at the LSE, and was made visiting research fellow until 2004 by the LSE Director, Anthony Giddens. However he now spends most of the academic year at the University of Arizona, USA.  This move, which took place in the middle of the seminar series, meant a promised session on ‘Marketing, fair trade, and producer benefits for Africa could not be held as planned. The issues to be addressed were as follows:

1.      How have changes in the recent political economy of sub-Saharan Africa aided or hindered agricultural growth through crop sales and marketing?

2.      What lessons can be learned about the exploitation of high value-added crops in ways that benefit producers, not just intermediaries and retailers in the distribution chain? What difference, therefore, can producer co-operatives and fair-trade organisations make?

3.      How do these alternative organisations work, and how may they best be supported?


This seminar would have extended the claim by Woodhouse, Bernstein et al on the universality of commoditisation processes, but would have examined the extent to which the alternative agricultural sector offers possibilities to instigate different, more advantageous labour and capital relations.




Deliberative, multi-disciplinary and focussed seminars that involve policymakers and researchers, can help provide clearer messages to take forward into future research and policymaking. Funding for this series of workshops successfully raised awareness of several key issues facing African agriculture.





‘Politics of Land Reform in the ‘New’ South Africa

held at the London School of Economics (LSE) on Wednesday 7th June 2000.

Organised by Gavin Capps and Simon Batterbury

This workshop was hosted by the Development Studies Institute, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, as a discrete session within a broader seminar series on ‘Transformations in African Agriculture: Natural Resources, Livelihoods and Markets’. Its purpose was to explore the wider (national and regional) politics behind recent shifts in land reform policy in South Africa and to provide a forum for land analysts and activists, with South and Southern African connections, to make sense of, and respond to, those changes.

A full outline of the background, aims and objectives and structure of the workshop has been included below, along with discussion notes, a workshop report, and an independent view of the issues.


Ainslie, Andrew Range and Forage Institute, Agricultural Research Council;
Simon Batterbury, LSE,
Prof. William Beinart,
University of Oxford,;
Teddy Brett,
Capps, , LSE,;
Prof. Lionel
Cliffe, Leeds University,,
Prof. Ben Cousins,
Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies, UWC,,
Abie Ditlhake, South African National NGO Coalition;
Prof. Ben Fine, SOAS,;
Liz Francis
, LSE,;
Ruth Hall, Centre for Rural Legal Studies (Stellenbosch),;
Hlatshwayo, National Land Committee (Braamfontein);
Jacobs, Manchester Metropolitan University,;
Deborah James, ,
LSE, ;
Gareth Jones,
LSE, ;
Wayne Jordaan, Transvaal Rural Action Committee and NLC, ;
Moses Jumo, Environment and Development Agency;
Rosalie Kingwill,
Border Rural Committee (Eastern Cape) ;
Najma Mohamed,
Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies, UWC,;
Prof. Colin Murray,
Manchester University,;
Newton, Former Free State DLA,;
Robert van Niekerk,
Oxford University,;
Lungisile Ntsebeza,
Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies, UWC,;
Zolile Ntshona,
Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies, UWC,;
Prof. Bridget O’Laughlin,
Institute of Social Studies,;
Palmer, Robin,
Potts, Debbie,
James Putzel, LSE,;
Ian Scoones,
Dan Taylor,
Find Your Feet, London /UCL,;
Williams, University of Oxford;
Prof. Ben
Wisner, Oberlin College, USA;
Woodhouse, Manchester University;
Rachel Wrangham,;
Ingrid Yngstrom,
Oxford University,

Three documents follow below:

1) Discussion notes prepared by Gavin Capps, 21st April 2000

2) Workshop report, prepared by Simon Batterbury, July 2000.

3) Remarks by Abie Ditlhake, Director of the South African Non Governmental Organisation Coalition (SANGOCO)

1) Outline of Workshop and Discussion Notes

Gavin Capps


The election of South Africa’s first majority government in 1994 appeared to present a historic opportunity to place equitable and pro-poor policies at the centre of the land reform agenda. The process of South African land policy making also held the promise of being uniquely innovative and participatory, in line with the state’s early commitment to place the energy and vision of ‘civil society’ at the heart of its programme for reconstruction and development. For progressive land activists and policy analysts both within and outside of South Africa, the victory of the ANC thus seemed to offer the chance of playing a key role in an internationally significant process of social and political transformation.

The track record of South Africa’s land reform programme since 1994, however, has been mixed. The World Bank’s model of market-assisted land reform has dominated key parts of the policy agenda and it is debatable how far many of the programme’s original equity objectives have, or will be, met. Furthermore, the appointment of Thoko Didiza as Minister for Agriculture and Land Affairs seems to have marked a further shift in land policy, with the official commitment to the bottom-up empowerment of the poor being superseded by an approach that more forthrightly bets on the 'strong'. Symptoms include uncertainty over the long-awaited Land Rights Bill; a new policy of transferring state-land to ‘tribes’; and a new strategy of targeting resources at ‘commercial black farmers’, at the likely expense of the rural poor. There have also been significant personnel changes at the Department of Land Affairs, with former policy advisors side-lined.

This shift in land policy occurred in the context of the state’s increasingly conservative macroeconomic policy stance, the apparent downplaying of its social welfare goals, and the alleged centralisation of political power around its ruling elite. Fundamental and difficult questions are were posed in 2000 about the future direction of land policy formation in South Africa and of the role that analysts and activists can and should play within it.


The workshop aimed to generate debate over the extent and significance of recent changes in South African land reform policy, with particular reference to the wider politics of land policy formation in South Africa. The objectives of the workshop were to:

grasp the political determinants of recent changes in South African land policy, through an analysis of the diverse coalitions who opposed previous policy directions - inside and outside of government - which necessarily raises questions about the character and balance of power in the new dispensation, and of the nature of the ‘transition’ itself

enable activists, advisors and analysts involved in land reform policy in South Africa (previously and currently) to take stock of these changes, share their experiences and discuss possible responses to the new policy environment;

bring in comparative perspectives from the Southern African region and more widely, which are relevant to these aims and objectives.

Discussion Notes

This short set of notes suggests a range of issues for consideration at the workshop and signals some of the connections between them. It does not aim to be a complete statement of the current condition of land reform in South Africa, but rather raises a number of points for fuller discussion.

In the context of the problems currently facing land reform in South Africa, and the changes seemingly underway in the policy arena, it seems that there are at least four sets of inter-related issues that we need to consider, each of which relates to different ways of thinking about ‘development policy’ itself. These are:

1. The ‘technical’ issue of institutional capacity and inertia. A whole series of commissioned studies and reports have pointed to the fact that South Africa’s varied land reform institutions and departments are struggling to respond to tasks set by policy planners. There are insufficient (and declining) resources in the context of GEAR (South Africa’s neo-liberal macro-economic strategy); national and provincial state structures have inherited many of the problems, habits and prejudices of the former apartheid civil service; local government is weak; and new managers often lack the necessary experience or skills to turn key institutions or departments around. Fieldstaff are also often inexperienced and inadequately supported, and tensions have emerged around an alleged ongoing white, male managerial culture in the DLA. In the current climate of cutbacks, everything points to these problems getting worse.

2. The ‘policy as process’ issue of technocratic, top-down policy making coming up against messy and contradictory social realities. Much policy planning is compromised by, on the one hand, political pressures for quick, quantifiable results; and, on the other, social forces and processes which resist, subvert or even co-opt poorly conceived and under-resourced interventions for their own ends. This is as true of black ‘commercial farmers’ being best placed to take the lion’s share of new rural development packages, as it is of ‘traditional authorities’ who have been able to strengthen their local powers through the tenure reform process, or of white farmers reaping new subsidies to labour via housing grants, etc. There is also limited emphasis on building the rural political organisation and capacity to ensure that new legislative rights ‘are made real’ in practice. Policy itself is thus often undermined by the very terms on which it is understood and conducted.

3. The issue of ‘wider politics’, which both links and goes beyond points 1 and 2, by connecting shifts in land policy to broader changes in the balance of power within the state and in the South African political economy as a whole. This issue has four related elements. First, there is the distinct rightward shift within the ANC leadership, that has accelerated throughout the process of the ‘transition’ and culminated in a deeply conservative macro-economic policy stance. The result is a closing down of the spaces that were opened up by the varied social movements that propelled the ANC to power, as the pro-market position is replicated in all policy areas, including land reform. The powerful influence of the World Bank over South African land reform policy has been notable from the onset and the recent, senior personnel changes at the DLA may well reflect a hardening of this trend.

Second, there is the related issue of the varied points of resistance to redistributionist and pro-poor land reform policy. These emanate both from sections of the state and various blocs of economic and political power, such as white farmers, ‘traditional leaders’ and the huge industrial concerns that are linked to, and interested in, maintaining existing patterns of agri-business under conditions of ‘liberalisation’. Coalitions between these interest groups, whether ad hoc or organised, not only shape the outcomes of land reform policy on the ground, but also decisively influence the state, thus setting the parameters within which land policy is formulated and conducted. It would appear that the influence of these lobbies over the current government has become stronger (or at least more open) in recent years, casting doubts on whether the ‘political will’ exists to meaningfully transform the existing pattern of agrarian relations.

Third, there is the question of popular support for land reform and its expression in social movements, which have the potential to pressure the state for change and to ensure that new opportunities from above are realised and defended from below. It is notable that there has been a tailing off of ‘civil society’ activism in rural and urban areas since 1994, although an alliance of land based NGOs has been seeking to counter this trend by organizing rural people and their demands through the Rural Development Initiative. What impact this type of ‘rural centred’ mobilisation, as well as other forms of action, such as land occupations, can have on policy formation is posed all the more sharply by unfolding events in Zimbabwe, which are themselves, of course, much bigger than the land question alone.

Finally, there is the difficult question of the ways in which ‘race’ has become central to the politics of policy making in South Africa (as well as Zimbabwe). On the one hand, there are conflicts over the very real continuities of racism in key parts of the state, as many of the worst features of the old social and economic order continue to be reproduced in the new. According to internal reports, this includes the Department of Land Affairs, which has a pointedly high turnover of black staff . On the other hand, there is evidence that false allegations of ‘racism’ or ‘corruption’ have been levelled against whites with strong liberation movement credentials, in the course of power struggles waged by the new black political elite. The discourse of race thus continues to have material origins and effects as it is appropriated as an idiom through which questions of state and personal power can be contested and secured.

4. The issue of the role of ‘progressive’ land policy advisors and activists. With the official narrowing of the ‘desirable’ and the ‘possible’ in land policy, difficult decisions are now being confronted by policy advisors and activists who previously sought to be involved in, or influence, the land reform programme. In many ways, the current marginalisation of such people by the DLA reflects the experience of the ‘progressive economists’, whose work was increasingly side-lined in favour of neo-liberal orthodoxy as the ANC came closer to power. Thus, as with the ‘progressive economists’, academics and activists concerned with South Africa’s intractably complex land question may have to think more strategically about their relationship to the state and to social movements outside of it, both of which seems to be offering fewer opportunities for promoting radical change at present. The question of ‘which way forward’ is thus a pertinent one that can only be answered effectively with a shared and objective assessment of the changing terrain on which it is being posed.

(These were discussion notes were prepared by Gavin Capps, 21st April 2000).

2) The Politics of Land Reform in the "New" South Africa

Report of a workshop, LSE, 7th June 2000

Simon Batterbury, DESTIN, LSE.

[Speaker's initials given in text - they refer to list above]

Post-apartheid South Africa is enacting a national land reform programme that famously includes three axes:

1) restitution of land to people dispossessed by apartheid,
2) land tenure reform, and
3) land redistribution to the poor

Yet the path to land reform (*) has been far from smooth; the process of restitution has proceeded too slowly; land reform has recently seen significant and disturbing changes of emphasis; and redistribution is mired in controversy. Arguably a policy vacuum now exists in the light of new legislation announced by the new Minister in February 2000. A meeting held in London in June involved some 35 land rights activists, policy advisors, consultants to and former members of the DLA (Department for Land Affairs) at national and provincial level, and academics in a lively and productive debate about the origins, present shape, and future direction of land reform in RSA.

Gavin Williams (paper available from author above) outlined the complex institutional changes that have occurred since the ANC came to power in 1994. He contrasted the relative speed at which the NDA (National Department of Agriculture) has gone about liberalizing agricultural markets since 1994 (through subsidies terminated in the late 1980s, the end of government agriculture boards, and leaving commercial farmers to float in marketplace), with the substantial delays and derailments that have affected the DLA (Department for Land Affairs) responsible for land reform and redistribution. The adoption of a neoliberal macro-economic policy, GEAR (Growth Employment and Distribution) by the ANC soon placed the focus on RSA’s agricultural sector on market led growth rather than redistribution to dispossessed farmers. This trend has been cemented with the merger of the DLA and NDS in 1996 and, importantly, the replacement of Derek Hanekom by Thoko Didiza as Minister for Agriculture in 2000. Didiza’s statements since taking office indicate a strong concern to push commercial agriculture, and the needs of the emergent black commercial farmers, over the calls for land rights for the rural poor. A draft Land Rights Bill has been suspended pending revisions, and this move has been greeted with resignation by its authors and supporters, but with seeming indifference by the DLA management. Williams argued that one vision of modernity in the whole 'actor network’ of land reform players was rapidly replacing another, with market liberalization and privatization currently much higher on the agenda than the former egalitarian commitments to redistributing resources.

Several new initiatives for land reform and the restitution of land to black farmers date from the early 1990s, but by the mid 1990s the World Bank’s proposals to promote commercial agriculture had watered down the welfare objective of land reform as supported by progressive NGOs like the NLC (National Land Commission). The ANC's Reconstruction and Development Plan called for the transfer of 30% of the medium to high-quality white-owned farms to 600,000 people, but this proved an unrealistic hope, and the policy was soon abandoned. The DLA programme attempted to implement redistribution to the poor, by means of Settlement /Land Acquisition Grants of R15000 (£1500) for those falling under an earnings ceiling. Land Reform Pilot Projects went ahead in the 9 provinces since 1994, employing a variety of mechanisms, each with different implementation procedures and personnel. In terms of Land Tenure reform, a major thrust has been to recognize de-facto rights to land, through the formation of Community Trusts and Communal Property Associations. These have been open to abuse by traditional authorities and entrepreneurs, however.

By the early 1999 some 35,000 households had acquired rural land in the former white areas by means of government subsidies. The government has introduced tenure reform primarily on privately held land. Land tenure reform in the communal areas of RSA has lagged behind, partly because of poor administrative capacities and legal/operational confusions. Grants offered are too small for new farmers to make a livelihood in the absence of other income generating opportunities. There is currently (late 2000) a review of the DLA ongoing that recommends a supply-side approach to land allocation, falling back on local authorities to manage the process. This official review would like to see more overall support to medium and some black commercial farmers. Alongside this, grants and payments to new land holders have been restructured. It is envisaged that groups or tribes will now purchase land, using the grant system, and then subdividing blocks for sale to families. Farmers with demonstrable commercial experience will get more assistance, up to R100,000 (£10,000). Williams concluded that these new measures are actually old ones, replicating methods that have tried and failed elsewhere to distinguish between larger commercial and smaller scale, less commercial black farmers.

100 paces back, one step forward?

To some extent the problems and vigorous discussions occurring around property rights and land access in RSA are not unusual; these debates have always preceded major land reforms elsewhere (JP). But with a substantial bureaucracy associated with land issues, some inherited from the apartheid regime, change has been particularly difficult to implement. CM felt that the political regime has actually retreated from aiding the rural poor over the last few decades.

What have been the drivers of change?

1) Williams’ point that the World Bank models have driven the adoption of commercial and market led models of reform, did ring true for some, but it is still the case that as late as the 1980s there was not real discussion of land reform in the Bank, and the models subsequently proposed for RSA by Klaus Deninger, Hans Binswanger and others were at least responsible for a change in policy and the recognition that reforms could usher in greater commercial success in some sectors, by supporting both black and white commercial farmers. The problem again was that the rural poor were marginalised in the mid 1990s WB model and the budget to support them remains small (CM).

2) Several felt that GEAR is the real driver of past and present change in land policy (AD). But 2 caveats; the political left in RSA has yet to develop a really workable set of alternatives that will ensure a modicum of commercial growth coupled to equitable land transfers and reform (GW). Here, BC reminded the meeting of the need to construct such alternatives, actively, possibly through a 'rights-based’ approach to land ownership (**). Secondly as BF pointed out, there is nothing in GEAR as presently formulated, despite its neo-liberal discourse, that would prevent a more progressive land reform happening- macroeconomic policy cannot be blamed in this instance. Indeed the MERG (Macro Economic Research Group) document prepared in 1993 was trying to bolster the 'institutional capacity to deliver’ land reform under the present economic structure, and this could have held out real ways forward (until it was rejected). But AD felt presently, it is unlikely that the economic growth that GEAR promises will support the entire financial burden of wholesale land reform including restitution on white farms and widespread distribution for farming and housing. GC added that under GEAR, the urban labor force is largely demobilized as capital has shifted - leading to further pressures for rural land access.

3) Rather we need to see that a particular coalition of forces was responsible for the changes witnessed in land policy after 1994, with 'popular participation’ in decision making now slimmed back considerably and present directives and decision making at the national level being, unfortunately, mired in secrecy. Partly this has been driven by the fear that 'land reform may spiral out of control’ (BF), although Zimbabwe case should have provided salutary lessons of the consequences of inaction. These moves have to be seen in the broader political context, as JP noted - we should not be surprised that land reform is determined in part by the present coalition of forces in the government coalition, which AD branded as ‘partially corrupt’ and unable to conceive of delivering decent social reforms in the present 'political package’. Here we need to consider the ongoing support to commercial agriculture by the Ministry of Agriculture (a model of technology transfer and commercialization) which might be threatened by greater restitution.

4) Thus land reform, perhaps challenging Gavin William’s analysis further, does not follow entirely its own policy discourse but is imbricated with state, financial, and regional concerns (of which the most important at present is land seizures on white farms in Zimbabwe). The key question to understand is "Who is pressing for land reform?". If this is asked and understood first, effective responses can be targeted better, and alternative policies then formulated. In the discussion of how to respond to the recent disappointing announcements that land will be vested in 'tribal authorities’ rather than restituted to communities or individual black smallholders for houses/farms, we must recognize the vital importance of local or provincial level organs of the DLA and other non governmental groups, who are on the ground trying to implement policies in a situation of uncertainty and fast-changing legislation. Reform and greater capacity is needed at this level too, under the onslaught of claims for land in order to mine the minerals underneath it, and so-on (Bo’L). And de-facto policy is made and interpreted at this level.

5) Institutional capacity and performance will always be a limiting factor in promoting land reform in RSA. We should see that there are significant institutional continuities with the past (AD). We should not see the present policy as any sort of break from the past; neither the present, nor the latter-day apartheid policy really seriously envisaged a radical redistribution of land to the majority of the population. Presently impediments - financial and bureaucratic - disable any widespread land reform. This view was echoed by BO’L, who questioned whether conflicts of personality that have clearly driven some of the recent national level maneuvers and changes really constitute 'policy breaks’ or disjunctures and whether they should be analyzed as 'command driven’ at all. Rather, as AD noted, we see policies as shaped by politics in which opposition politics - not just the politics of those in power (who BC labelled as a black middle class and a bourgeoisie group) - has had an influence. Personality clashes are only one visible facet of power dynamics, but may not be directly related to them.

6) DN, who has experienced local level implementation of DLA policy in the Eastern Cape, echoed AD in suggesting local government in RSA lacks the capacity, the infrastructure and the expertise to implement a complex set of land measures; to deal with claims, to adjudicate, and to orchestrate land transfers when agreed. She went as far as to say that in her experience, local government is 'non viable’ at present, dominated by a class of insecure politicians trying to assist poorly trained potential farmers (some of whom want land primarily for housing, rather than agricultural production). BC echoed this - he noted that under the present regime, almost no land transfers had actually occurred in Northern Province, which is an indication of ineffectiveness. Here, political leaders and traditional leaders were in alliance to ensure land was vested in chefs and local elites or there can even be extortion by ‘warlords’. There was little political will in the ANC to tackle this. The rural peasantry only really have the ability to tackle local level jurisdiction through influencing systems of rural patronage (GW). They themselves cannot influence political or legislative changes a great deal at the national level. Retired civil servants, chiefs etc are therefore vital players, and their role always needs to be understood as key actors in local land struggles.

7) Our conclusion from this first session was that we may need to look to civil society in its multiple forms to provide a credible set of goals and policies to occupy the policy vacuum and to press for sustained land reform in the absence of strong central direction from the government at the present time. In so doing, NGOs and other actors needed to exploit opportunities in the media (since denationalization of broadcasting?) to promote equitable and rights based approach to land reform (ZH).

Elements of this agenda:-

- rural people need other things than land per se. [see also seminar three in this series]. They need the components of livelihoods - jobs, finance, infrastructure, housing, and healthcare (DN). Land reform or even the DLA, will not provide all of this.

The chieftaincy should not be allowed to dominate the present land reform system. Need organized campaigns and new coalitions to fight the 'restitution to tribal authorities’ policy, if this leads to elite capture of the benefits of land restitution and redistribution.

Selling off land in former Bantustans is a seriously worrying thing (Liz Francis)

land reform needs to be swiftly enacted with less prevarication and changes of direction (JP). A lesson from other counties is that slow land reform is always ineffective.

given its enormous financial cost, we need to think of land reform as having goals that lie partially outside the market (BW). Common property resource management regimes provide people with security and resilience to environmental or political-economic shocks, and these cannot be equated with opportunities for substantial financial gain. There is a disjuncture with rest of Africa here. Africans are turning back to traditional forms of CPR management and recognition of customary rights - rangelands, wildlife, communal and part-time farming. RSA need not be so opposed to this, since security of land access connot ever be equated with private ownership. RSA still has a significant subsistence agriculture sector even if the present DA leadership ranks commercial farming enterprise much more highly. Horticulture is on the rise (GW) and could be combined with land for housing (training needed in production and marketing for new farmers though).

devolution of powers over land ‘all the way downwards’ is not necessarily a great thing in RSA since local level capacity does not yet exist to manage it adequately. [see also seminar three in this series].

Politics of land reform

Ben Cousins (University of the Western Cape) presented a perceptive analysis of the land question in South Africa, stressing the networks of actors and their preoccupations that had created a complex set of policy changes, reversals, and conflicts in recent years prior to 1999. RSA has a set of broad political interests in the state, and in society as a whole. It is networks of actors (eg policy experts, state employees, advisors) who create policy 'discourses’ about land.

Political interests in the state include The Presidency and Cabinet, Government Departments; old white bureaucrats and new black bureaucrats; provincial government and local government bodies. In society at large, there are differentiated rural communities, constituencies of farm workers who often live on private farms, a set of emerging black entrepreneurs, white commercial farmers, traditional leaders, and a variety of corporate capitalist interests and foreign investors. There are linkages between many organisations in society at large - eg between the NLC and NAFU.

Actor networks formed since 1990 have included the NLC (National Land Commission), the ANC’s Land Commission (LAPC) which was itself advised by the World Bank, and university economists. The conjunction of these three bodies led to the formulation of the RDP and land reform policy. Implementation initially fell to the Department of Land Affairs (DLA) and Derek Hanekom, but under van Niekerk in the Department of Agriculture, Government policy has essentially fallen into three policy arms

rights based legislation and programmes

Market assisted redistribution via the 16,000 R grants referred to above

deregulation of agriculture and the promotion of small scale farming.

NGO pressure throughout the 1990s has been to resist property clauses in new legislation (thus supporting those without property), to assert 'rights’ based land reform, and to assist in implementation of the new legislation as affiliates of government bodies.

Cousins’ framework for understanding the outcome of three different policy discourses was as follows:


Policy Discourses


"State led but community based"

- challenge inherited framework of property rights

- popular participation

- attack gender bias in land allocation

"Combine state, markets, community and rights"

- rights for dispossessed and vulnerable

- justice and redress through restitution and redistribution

- target 'communities’ and the poor

"Market-led but state assisted"

- deracialise agriculture

- remove discriminatory legislation and by affirmative action


Enhance value of multiple rural livelihoods through expanded land-base and support

R16,0000 grant for land aquisition via the market/business plans and CPAs

Developmental restitution of land

Enhance agricultural production at a variety of scales

Create a lean but efficient state (outsourcing)

Subsidies/grants/support services for emerging black farmers.

Promote efficient operation of markets through deregulation.

Attract foreign investment.

Target rural development in high-potential zones (SDI’s)


Land - ----- tradition ---- African leadership

Policy shifts in 1999-2000 have resulted in some elements of this wider South African discourse proving more powerful than others.

In 1999 and 2000, the terms of debate and the direction of policy have shifted markedly, with new directives and personnel.

·  From the NGO side, there has been criticism that the projected restitution of land has been too slow, that redistribution has been badly planned, that there is a lack of political will behind these measures, and that there is a gender bias against women in the way land reform has been handled.

·  From both internal critics in the DLA and in the Department of Agriculture, came the criticism that the DLA leadership was too ‘white’ and potentially racist. Groups like CONTRALESA, SSAV/Agrisa, and some Provincial politicians were partially responsible for making the call that emerging commercial farmers have been neglected, traditional leaders undermined, and implementation of reform was too centralised.

It was the combination of these two critical thrusts that swept Didiza into office in 1999. Her response has been to

Design a ‘black commercial farmers programme’

To declare an intention to ‘transfer lands to tribes’, where customary law will apply

To go about restitution using cash payouts

to support black leadership in government Departments

to initiate, in Sept 2000, an integrated rural development programme, possibly with links to the FAO, and with unknown operational components.

Given the critiques launched against the DLA in 1999, one can begin to see how these policies have found favour in some quarters (not with the majority at the workshop, largely because of the potential loss of the redistribution agenda for the millions living in former Bantustans or on commercial farms). With major land struggles and seizures now going on in Zimbabwe from April 2000, which many rural South Africans feel are ‘justified’, the whole situation is now uncertain. RP felt the big white landowners in RSA have not yet made enough concessions, for example to their own farmworkers, to avoid potential calls for land seizures or violence. Nonetheless, Cousins argues, the eight months since the Minister’s appointment has seen an improvement in the delivery of restitution (due to the use of cash payouts?), despite the dramatic slowdown and rethink of the redistribution process.

What to do?

The meeting unified people who feel that the process of policy change on land reform in South Africa has been ineffective, and that ‘just’ and ‘morally right’ redistribution of land has effectively been sidelined because it is perceived as too controversial and difficult. We did not successfully identify where organised political pressure for change on land reform could come from, and how linkages/coalitions could be forged. We also were a little unclear about the role of academics in this process. Is their role to come up with better ‘plans’ for the state to imlement, or should we be skeptical about the state’s desire to listen to such ideas in the absence of any real political pressure from below to back them up?

The way forward, we believe, lies in

Facilitating the self-organizing capacities of rural interests – to improve their ability to lobby and to stake claims that are more powerful than those that are currently circulating. This may best be achieved by pilot projects…

Wider alliances must be forged, for example with trade unions and sympathetic state officials, to re-consider the current tenure reform.

for Liz Francis, we need to develop an alternative ‘discourse’ – but also to understand budgetary constraints and the management of money, therefore remaining realist.

pushing a livelihoods approach, that reminds the powers that be that land is just one component in complex and overlapping livelihood systems, and it is therefore hard to expect a) all farmers to become commercially successful, or 2) that land will always be cared for and productive. Land is used to support livelihoods; not to support established commercial interests.

understand and support the work of farm workers.

RH identified that PLASS and NLC has already initiated a campaign voicing concern about present policies. There will be written submission to government on these issues, plus an open letter to all Ministers. Alliances are being forged, for example with SANGOCO (South African Non Governmental Organisation Coalition). A policy summit on these critical concerns will appear at the end of 2000.

Postscript, 2002.

Since the workshop was held, there has been increasing pressure on the ANC from organisations like the NLC, to move from ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ and to exercise its ‘expropriation clause’ in order to speed up land redistribution on white-owned farms, particularly following the Zimbabwe land crisis. See The Namibian, July 5, 2000 : Business Day, 3 Aug 2000 ‘Land Reform in Trouble’, 'ANC explores Land Expropriation’ (Business Day, 15th July 2000). In March 2001, the National Land Committee attacked Land and Agriculture Minister Thoko
Didiza's about-turn on the first major case - the expropriation of a white-owned farm near Lydenburg, Mpumalanga. The NLC claimed she had "betrayed" those claiming the land when bureaucratic problems halted the expropriation. See '
About-turn on land draws fire' Business Day March 23 2001).

See also Zimmerman FJ. 2000. Barriers to Participation of the Poor in South Africa's Land Redistribution. World Development 28(8) 1439-1460 for a strong analysis of the LR programme.


*What is land tenure reform? "Land tenure may be defined as the terms and conditions on which land is held, used and transacted. Land tenure reform refers to a planned change in the terms and conditions (e.g. the adjustment of the terms of contracts between land owners and tenants, or the conversion of more informal tenancy into formal property rights). A fundamental goal is to enhance and to secure people’s land rights. This may be necessary to avoid arbitrary evictions and landlessness; it may also be essential if rights holders are to invest in the land and to use it sustainably. In South Africa, tenure reform is a component of a national land reform programme which also embraces the restitution of land, to people dispossessed by racially discriminatory laws or practices, and land redistribution to the poor." Martin Adams, Sipho Sibanda and Stephen Turner (1999) Land Tenure Reform and Rural Livelihoods in Southern Africa. Natural Resource Perspectives No.39 (Overseas Development Institute)

**Rights based approach includes "..rights to occupy a homestead, to use land for annual and perennial crops, to make permanent improvements, to bury the dead, and to have access for gathering fuel, poles, wild fruit, thatching grass, minerals, etc.; rights to transact, give, mortgage, lease, rent and bequeath areas of exclusive use; rights to exclude others from the above-listed rights, at community and/or individual levels; and linked to the above, rights to enforcement of legal and administrative provisions in order to protect the rights holder." Martin Adams, Sipho Sibanda and Stephen Turner (1999) Land Tenure Reform and Rural Livelihoods in Southern Africa. Natural Resource Perspectives No.39 (Overseas Development Institute

3) Remarks prepared for the meeting.

Abie Ditlhake

Director of the South African Non Governmental Organisation Coalition (SANGOCO)

May, 2000

Before analysing the political determinants of recent developments in land reform in South Africa, it is important to highlight some key issues so that my critical observation is understood in context.

It is thus important to acknowledge that some principles underlying the land reform proposals regarding the following are positive and must be supported:

adoption of a livelihoods approach to development;

having a gradation between subsistence and commercial farmers with a range of products to cater for each;

allowing access to more than one land grant over time;

delinking the food safety net grant from the housing grant, allowing households to access both;

providing some land to a wide range of people in rural areas;

the suggested land use grant as a production support grant for people having acquired land through the food safety net programme.


The problem is that the macro-economic framework within which these proposals are made will mean a very limited intervention in reality. This conclusion is supported by the following analysis:

  • First, if the entire budget for land reform is well below R1 billion a year (as it is currently, perhaps permanently), only limited/insignificant inroads can be made into a demographically proportionate transfer of land to Africans, whether commercially oriented farmers or the landless and unemployed. Hence the limited objective of 30% transfer of farmland in 20 years. These limited goals are already based on the assumption of a sharp increase in the government's budget allocation to land redistribution (R4.7 bn for this programme alone over the next five years). This possibility is clearly unrealistic/rhetorical as it contradicts the government’s stated policy as underpinned by GEAR. Even if the land reform budget is increased as hoped for in the proposals, and if the programme is maintained for the full term and is 100% successful, it is not enough to shift the balance of power in rural areas. The budget for integrated land reform must be increased massively. And this implies fundamental rethinking of the inbult constraints of the macro-economic policy framework. Something unthinkable given the resolve of Minister T. Manuel and President Thabo Mbeki to see through its implementation to `attract’ direct foreign investment.
  • Second, without tackling the issue of market-driven (or "assisted" - and this merely means market-driven but with the state paying for some of the transactions) land reform, too much money goes into paying for the repurchase of natural resources which are the birthright of all people, with subsequently less money available for developing the necessary social and economic infrastructure required to use the land productively and sustainably. The Food Safety Net programme suggests that households use no less than 70% of the grant on buying the land. This is a waste of resources. A programme of orderly expropriation should be considered, whereby organised rural people identify land they want to use, and the state facilitates negotiations with the land owner for the transfer of the land, or a portion of it. The basic principle would be to say that not all land owned by an individual could be taken from them, and that once they have transferred some of the land under their ownership, claims cannot be made on the remaining land by others. Deeds to the land so exchanged should be given to all concerned. This has begun in Zimbabwe (white farmers negotiating the transfer of some of their land), so why not now in South Africa? I think this approach needs to be developed. The issue of conflict does emerge. The question is whether people are organised enough, and the state prepared to defend them against attacks by white farmers. The answer, in general, seems to be no to both. But in a few cases it could work and this could also have a ripple effect (when the public and other farmers see that expropriation is not the end of the world, and that they will not lose everything they own). The point is to convince the government that land transfer needs to take place, and that if this is done on the basis of a demand-driven orderly expropriation programme backed up by the law, current obstacles to land transfer could be removed.

Race and class

The food safety net programme represents a significant aspect of the integrated proposals. One million rural households are targeted to receive almost 19 million hectares of land over 20 years, with more than 75% of the overall programme budget being used to achieve this. However, there doesn't appear to be a vision of a fundamentally transformed structure of rural social relations at the end of the 20 years. The poor may be slightly better off, but will still be deeply mired in poverty. A quote from a Richard Levin article in the mid-1990s (talking about BATAT, but equally relevant to the "new" proposals) says: "This programme runs the risk of 'adding on' petty capitalist black farmers to a largely intact core of white farmers with a monopoly control of agricultural productive and marketing activities. While black farming in all its forms must be supported, there needs to be an alternative capable of eroding the monopoly power which white farmers exert over agriculture." In the proposals, the need to de-racialise agriculture is raised as a reason for state support to black commercial farmers. The question needs to be posed, however, as to the value of a de-racialised agriculture which neither fundamentally alters the class balance of forces in rural areas nor transforms structures which centralise power and control in the hands of those who have resources. Structural change is required in South Africa, otherwise you just end up slotting new people into old hierarchies, with the vast majority who are at the bottom of the hierarchy remaining there forever.


Without integrating land reform with the provision of an adequate water supply, access to cheap inputs or with the development of necessary infrastructure to store and distribute surpluses, even commercial farming is likely to be a failure. Integration of land, water and agricultural interventions is required (DLA/DWAF/NDA). In turn, these need to be linked to programmes that allow for the generation of local economies by supporting the local production of inputs for agriculture and non-farm economic activities, and local distribution and retailing networks (DTI). There should be a concerted effort to develop an understanding and practice of local production for local markets. The IDPs should be built into the centre of development efforts, and popular participation in these plans (with consequent accountability) must be strengthened.

Rural development is a product of access to natural resources (land, water and vegetation) plus the availability of economic infrastructure (production, communication, storage and distribution) plus the deployment of Rural Development Officers (trained in participatory, human-centred and integrated approaches to sustainable development) to stimulate and support the development efforts of the people themselves. (In short, raw materials plus technology plus skills). Currently, access to natural resources is severely restricted for the majority of the African rural population, and is likely to be only slightly less so in the forseeable future given the proposed policy framework. Even where it exists, economic infrastructure in rural areas is decaying. Where new infrastructure is being put in, it is often inappropriate and inserted on the basis of narrow economic cost-recovery principles on a community-by-community basis. Instead of training and deploying a cadre of rural development officers armed with an integrated and participatory approach to development, the only technical support provided to rural people is a collapsing agricultural extension service based on apartheid models of development.

The foregoing analysis indicate that, even if taken in good faith, the `new’ shift in land reform policy , like its `predecesor’, is doomed to fail. This is surprising given the fact that it emerged after an assessment of the failures of the previous approach. Having `correctly ‘ noted some of the reasons for its failure, it went on to address different issues. The question is why?

Political determinants of the `new’ shifts

Key political observations are discernible in answering the above question;

Land reform policy in South Africa was never intended, or designed to fundamentally transform the socio-economic relations or change the agrarian structure, nor was it ever pro-poor in its orientation. The property clause in the constitution (market driven and induced compensation; willing seller - willing buyer) have always been in the interests of the historically advantaged, and necesarily disadvantaging the poor. This approach is contradictory in that you cannot protect existing propoerty realtions and at the same time hope for equitable distribution of agricultural land. This is attested to by dismal performance of the land reform programme over the past six years.

What has happened, instead, is the refining and sharpening of this confusing contradiction. What the ‘new’ shift signify in reality, is the erasing of the pro-poor rhetoric from the government discourse. This rhetoric - poor of the poor - is seen as sending wrong signnal to the potential investors. Therefore, why not use the language that correctly captures the political intention of the Mbeki administration. Here the correct language is that GEAR is here to stay, and has to be consolidated in every important respects, and it should leave no doubt. Coupled with this shift, is the consolidation of the state apparutus to face up to the potential reaction from the public. Consolidating and expanding the office of the President is the most important move in this regard. A sort of imperial presidency, slowly it removes power and initiative from from the parliament, cabinet, ministers and the departments. All policies have to be screened by this empowered office before going to parliament. The objective is to ensure that all policies and acts are GEAR compliant. Both Labour Tenant’s and Extention of the Security of Tenure Act (ESTA), if were to be re-initiated in their current form, would not pass this imperial dragnet.

Therefore, what is happening is what was initially intended, but due to uncertain configuration of social relations of power in the immediate post apartheid period, it was moral to use a language that reseble pro-poor policies, while in fact is not, hence the confusion and erroneous analysis. Because of the unsustainability of the language rhetoric due to `potential’ foreign direct investors, and white farmers, a need has arisen to remove the gloves. In doing this, some obtacles needed to be neutralised. These included, among other things;

  • Policy and political clarity: This explains the emergence of the ‘new’ policy, and the political language accompanying it.
  • Unambiguous loyalty to articulate the `new’ discourse: This explains the confusion and restructring in the DLA, and relats change of staff. This does not mean that those affected are necessarily progressive and pro-poor, but that they cannot be trusted, due to their historical association. It should be noted here that most of them are infect responsible for confusion as to the progressive character of the immediate post-1994 land reform policy. In fact, they have always maintained that the policy framework is correct, the problem is lack of capacity.
  • Political justification and consolation: Three issues are discernible here (I) Balance of forces: that the balance of social forces are such that no significant resistance will emerge. There exist no serious organisation or movement of rural people to mount any significant opposition. That the NGOs articulating their interest are not a political force to reckon with. (2) Historical relations to land: That rural people in South Africa are not emotionally attached to land. That there has been an almost complete proletarianisation of the rural people, and that their historical relations to land is such that potential employment is more important compared to access to land. This is a very strange assessment, especially from the President and the former Managing Director of the Land Bank. It is not clear as to whether it is as a result of the developments in Zimbabwe, or whether it has been part of the thinking behind the recent consolidation of the of the conservative/neo-liberal agenda. However, this conclusion link up with the argument that rural people are moving to the urban centres, and that resources should be pumped there, as more electorate that needs to be attrated are located. In this context, the argument/conclusion predate the Zimbabwean crisis. And finally, (3), and this is specifically designed as a political blackmail, advanced as deracialising agriculture. It is presented as bringing more blacks to the mainstream commercial agriculture which is historically saturated by whites. Black intellectuals and activists will find it difficult to ague against this well-coined argument.


Therefore, the implications of either new or old policy framework are almost the same, albeit varying in degrees and pace. What separates them, in practical terms, is a question of language emphasis, motivated by the analysis of the configuration of the social relation of class forces. They are both influenced by perceptions of what the political economy of globalisation expects of South Africa, that is, leading the way in Africa, though voluntarily, in embracing neo-liberal and conservative macro-economic policy framework. At the end of the day, dichotomisation of the countryside through class and gender polarisation and steep capitalist and racial relations will be defining features. Both will create a small African rural landed gentry. Pauperisation of the landless will be consolidated and sustained through the food safety net as this is in reality a welferist strategy to contain hungry rural masses. At the the political end, few `added on’ African commerical farmers will give the appearance of a deracialised agriculture to contain angry (racially motivated as in Zimbabwe) revolt against continued white stranglehold on land.

Drylands Research Working Paper 40


Proceedings of a workshop arranged by the ODI with Drylands Research and the ESRC, in the series ‘Transformations in African agriculture’


The Old Theatre, London School of Economics, Wednesday 17 January, 2001

Drylands Research, 17 Market Square, Crewkerne, Somerset TA18 7LG

The research reported in this working paper is derived from the two following research projects of the of the United Kingdom Department for International Development: (1) Policy requirements for farmer investment in semi-arid Africa, funded by the Natural Resources Policy Research Programme (NRSP, Project R 7072 CA); and (2) Kano-Maradi study of long-term change, funded by the Committee for Economic and Social Research (ESCOR, Project R7221) and the Leventis Foundation. Go to for details of all publications produced by the research team of this project, and how to order them. Abstracts of all Working Papers are available on the web site.

DFID and the Leventis Foundation can accept no responsibility for any information provided or views expressed.

ISsN 1470-9384    © Drylands Research 2000

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers.


Drylands Research Working Papers present, in preliminary form, research results of studies carried out in association with collaborating researchers and institutions.

This working paper is part of a study which aims to relate long-term environmental change, population growth and technological change, and to identify the policies and institutions which are conducive to sustainable development. The study builds upon an earlier project carried out by the Overseas Development Institute () in Machakos District, Kenya, whose preliminary results were published in a series of ODI Working Papers in 1990-91. This led to a book (Mary Tiffen, Michael Mortimore and Francis Gichuki, More people, less erosion: environmental recovery in Kenya, John Wiley, 1994), which was a synthesis and interpretation of the physical and social development path in Machakos. The book generated a set of hypotheses and policy recommendations which required testing in other African dryland environments. Using compatible methodologies, four linked studies were carried out in:

Kenya Makueni District

Senegal Diourbel Region

Niger Maradi Department (in association with ODI)

Nigeria Kano Region (in association with ODI)

For each of these study areas, there is a series of working papers and a synthesis, reviewed at country workshops. Due to the limited number of working papers on Nigeria, they are included in a combined Niger-Nigeria series.

An overall synthesis was discussed at an international workshop at London on 17 January, 2001. The proceedings of the workshop are published in Drylands Research Working Paper 40.

Enquiries can be addressed to:

Michael Mortimore, Mary Tiffen, Drylands Research, 17 Market Square, Crewkerne, Somerset TA 18 7LG, United Kingdom, Email:,,


Francis Gichuki,

Abdou Fall, Email:,

Yamba Boubacar,

J. Ayodele Ariyo,


  1 Introduction *

2 Presentation of main results *

  2.1 Investment constraints in semi-arid areas *

2.2 Research goals *

2.3 A developmental model for livelihoods *

2.4 Population increase and urbanisation *

2.5 Land-based production over time *

2.6 Intensification and soil fertility indicators *

2.7 Access to land *

2.8 Nature of the rural family and its financial management *

2.9 Relevance of education *

2.10 Policy links: markets *

2.11 Policy links: non-farm *

2.12 Prices *

2.13 Credit *

2.14 Limitations on governments *

3 Farmer investments: presentation by country co-ordinators *

4 Plenary discussions *

  4.1 The role of education *

4.2 The model and diversified incomes *

4.3 Social institutions *

4.4 Discussions following the country co-ordinators’ presentation *

5 Agenda for working groups *

6 Reports of working groups *

Group 1: Conserving natural resources and improving their management *

Group 2: Increasing the value of crop, livestock and other NR-based output *

Group 3: Developing investment capacity and market access *

Group 4: Enhancing human resources and the non-farm sector *

7 Concluding plenary and final remarks by Claude Raynaut *

8 Appendix: Participants *

1 Introduction

The workshop was introduced by Simon Maxwell, Director of Overseas Development Institute (ODI), who referred to the earlier study carried out under the ODI on the Machakos District, Kenya, 1960-90. The current study is a follow-up, in which similar methodologies have been used to examine changes in four different semi-arid areas of Africa – Makueni District, Kenya, Diourbel Region, Senegal, Maradi Department, Niger and the Kano hinterland in Northern Nigeria.

2 Presentation of main results

Michael Mortimore and Mary Tiffen presented the main findings of the study.

2.1 Investment constraints in semi-arid areas

This research is concerned with semi-arid farming areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, where certain natural constraints act on farmer investments:

Rainfall is low, seasonal (4-6 months per year), variable and, in the Sahel, recently in decline;

Bio-productive potential is low, except where water can be concentrated, naturally or artificially, on small areas.

These characteristics were illustrated by graphs of rainfall in the four study districts, and of rainfed plant biomass production.

2.2 Research goals

The research goals are:

  • to obtain a better understanding of the responses of smallholders in semi-arid environments to environmental, economic and demographic change over the past 40 years;
  • to derive policy lessons for enabling measures that will enhance their ability to invest and to develop their natural resources and their livelihoods; and
  • to validate the Machakos hypothesis that there can be positive linkages between population growth and livelihood intensification.

The research design reflected policy makers’ concern for sustainable natural resource management. Donors and development agencies now recognise a need for diversifying livelihood development beyond natural resources. The research findings show that the two objectives are compatible, and that farmers in semi-arid areas have always had multisectoral livelihood strategies.



2.3 A developmental model for livelihoods

The authors’ Machakos model proposed that as land becomes scarce, the options for farmers are:

  • migration to a rural area with vacant land
  • urban migration
  • intensification of the existing farmed area.

Currently, within the study districts, the first option no longer exists, though it was still open in Makueni and Maradi until a few years ago.

A new livelihoods development model reflects this reality. Central to it is the household, which combines producers, managers and consumers. Since we are concerned with farmers, it possesses both land and labour. It is subject to environmental and economic pressures (including those derived from policy), which influence its allocations of labour, capital, and other factors among its economic activities. These may be based on natural resources (crop and livestock production, harvesting of wild products, etc.) and/or on labour (diversifying incomes, migration, education, adapting family and other institutions). This ‘twin-track’ framework of decision-making is reflected in the two sides of the model. Knowledge, skills and capital offer a framework of opportunities and constraints. Where activities are managed on a household basis, capital generated by one activity can often be invested in a different one. Thus, the two sides of the model suggest a dynamic balance whose exact specifications result from the circumstances of a particular household.

The model assumes that a rural household (and, of course, an individual within it) has a capacity to make rational decisions to respond to changing opportunities or constraints, including those offered by markets. The research supports this assumption. Hence, policy should enhance people’s ability to take advantage of opportunities, rather than directing or prescribing what they should do with their assets.

2.4 Population increase and urbanisation

Population increase is a common pressure driving change since it alters land/labour relationships. All four areas have experienced rapid population growth in the past 40 years, but whereas in Makueni and Maradi, farmers could still disperse to vacant, though less attractive, land at the beginning of the period, in Diourbel and Kano the frontier had already closed by 1960 (a point called ‘saturation’ in French literature). This led to rapid urbanisation in both places. The importance of urbanisation for rural livelihoods is that there is:

  • an increasing market for foods that semi-arid areas can produce, if currency management and national subsidy policies allow. In Nigeria, there has been a huge increase in the demand for local foodstuffs; in Senegal policies have long favoured the import of rice;
  • an increasing alternative market for rural labour on either a seasonal or permanent basis.

Non-farm income has always been a component of income in semi-arid areas owing to the long dry season, but it has increased in importance, and in West Africa the element which is due to migratory urban activities, rather than local activities, has increased.

2.5 Land-based production over time

This was illustrated by charts showing:

  • output value/ sq. km, Machakos, 1957-87;
  • groundnut and millet yields/ha, Diourbel 1960-94;
  • groundnut and millet yields/mm rain, Diourbel 1960-94;
  • millet and sorghum yields/ha, Maradi, 1979-98;
  • output value per capita, Machakos 1957-87;
  • groundnut and millet yields/per capita, Diourbel, 1960-96;
  • cereal output per capita, Maradi, 1964-98;
  • livestock population, Diourbel, 1960-96;
  • livestock population, Maradi, 1988-97.

While the West African statistics do not show increases in value-added per ha comparable to those in Machakos up to 1987, they nevertheless provide grounds for cautious optimism about the capacity to sustain farm production against declining rainfall and soil fertility constraints, in the longer term (eliminating trend distortions of climatic or economic shocks). Notable features are the maintenance of millet yields per unit of rainfall in Senegal (while falling per capita and stagnating per ha), the maintenance of millet output per capita in Maradi, with variable but falling yields, and the rising importance of livestock in Maradi and Diourbel.

2.6 Intensification and soil fertility indicators

A model of the transition from degradation to intensification, as population density increases, was presented. The model suggests that a transition occurs from extensive agriculture, associated with soil degradation under increasing population density, to intensification and recovery of soil fertility as labour and technology are applied to increasing output per ha. The research shows that the four study areas are at different stages in this transition, and that intensification and output are influenced by policy, markets, and rainfall. As population densities increase, there is:

  • an advance of cultivation (as a percentage of area);
  • an increase in labour use per ha (most clearly evident in peak labour use in critical farm operations)

As the labour for intensification might not be available if other work options are preferred, it is important to understand the opportunity costs of farm (and of livestock tending) labour.

Soil fertility indicators have been measured in all four study areas. Rather than the overall decline predicted by conventional models, the data show a clear division between sustainable regimes on infields (where integrated or ‘agro-ecological’ practices are applied) and outfields (where the decline of fallowing and the high cost of inorganic fertilisers have created a crisis). This was illustrated in reference to Sob village, Senegal.

2.7 Access to land

Tenure systems are having to adapt increasingly to:

  • scarcity of unclaimed resources;
  • subdivision of claimed resources;
  • consumption needs;
  • market participation; and
  • monetarisation of the factors of production.

The responses were characterised by:

  • adaptation of custom
  • investment;individualisation;
  • inequality;
  • and competition.

In general, the research suggests that tenure insecurity does not inhibit private investment. This weakens the case for state intervention, which has sometimes been ill-informed and even counter-productive.

2.8 Nature of the rural family and its financial management

The rural family remains a strong social unit, united by ties of affection and duty, but its nature is changing. Family residences can be spatially separate – partly in new farm areas, partly in urban areas. While different family units headed by adult children have independent incomes, there are family financial flows between units, to meet:

  • consumption needs, emergency or regular;
  • investment needs, farm or non-farm, including education of young;
  • social networking (ceremonies, festivals, marriage, funerals, religious brotherhoods, etc).

Examples were given for Kenya and Senegal. In both, funds are derived from crops, livestock and non-farm income, with livestock being important as a source of both emergency funds and regular expenses, but there are also strong differences. In Kenya, livestock are exposed to high disease risks and education of children is regarded as a priority investment (in the hope it will lead to a skilled non-farm job). Educated children often provide investment funds for the farm. In Senegal, formal education has a low priority, and unskilled jobs in urban centres and abroad (mainly in marketing and transport) are obtained through religious and family contacts and related social investments in the important Mouride brotherhood. The main investments have been in urban development and overseas petty trade. In so far as there has been investment in farming, it was directed to livestock, disease appearing to be under better control than in Kenya.

2.9 Relevance of education

Parents in Makueni see the education provided by primary schools as essential for communication skills, and relevant to rural life as well as preparation for higher education and jobs. However, some are beginning to doubt the value of Year 8, and the cost-benefit ratio of secondary education. Parents in Diourbel and Maradi, while valuing wisdom for their children, are less likely to see academic education in a French language primary school as relevant, or in accordance with their Islamic social norms.

2.10 Policy links: markets

The studies show farmers’ ability to transform their output in response to market signals, for example:

  • Senegal – from groundnuts in 1960 to livestock and non-farm income in 1999;
  • Niger – from groundnuts to cowpeas and tiger nuts in response to Nigerian demand;
  • Nigeria – from maize as a minor to a major crop, from groundnuts to cowpeas.

Policy on infrastructure is important.

2.11 Policy links: non-farm

Given that in semi-arid areas, rural livelihoods depend on a combination of farm and non-farm incomes, relevant policies embrace those directed towards creating more remunerative non-farm opportunities, for example, the development of rural towns with water and electricity for workshops, and a school curriculum relevant to informal and self-employment.

2.12 Prices

Governments recognised the importance of prices and reacted by attempting to control them, in the belief this would enhance stability and improve the investment climate. Seasonal price fluctuations are well-known to farmers and traders, and provide incentives for storage. But during the study period, uncontrolled millet prices were more stable in Niger than the controlled prices of Senegal. Uncontrolled meat prices in Senegal showed stability or gradual rises, rather than the more violent fluctuations of controlled groundnut prices. In Kano, livestock prices were also stable or rising. In Makueni, prices for labour, bull services, and grazing land rental varied according to demand, quality, marginal output, etc.

What can cause dislocation are sudden changes such as those caused by devaluation (such as that of the CFA franc in 1994), the abrupt removal of subsidies (as in Nigeria after 1986), or an inflationary burst (such as Kenya experienced in 1993, which affected both farm managers and managers of community assets such as water facilities). Monetary policies are important in relation to:

  • avoiding over-valuation of the currency, which leads to food imports as well as eventual devaluation;
  • avoiding acute inflation;
  • tariffs for food imports and agricultural inputs;
  • credit policies.

2.13 Credit

Credit is often seen as a remedy to capital scarcity, but, especially in a risky semi-arid environment, it can bankrupt both borrower and lender. Credit policies must consider the following.

  • Is it repayable by farmers?
  • Is it viable for govrnments?
  • Should its role be restricted to introducing new technologies?

Maradi farmers first bought new farm implements with credit, but have continued buying them since credit stopped, because the Nigerian food market was providing a profitable outlet for the extra production they enabled. This story replicated that of plough-farming in Northern Nigeria, both before and after 1960.

2.14 Limitations on governments

All four countries now have static or falling GDP per capita, leading to limited taxable capacity. For some, aid per capita has been high in the past, but is now falling rapidly. Hence, all policy recommendations have to take account of limited government resources. This justifies our emphasis on policies to enable private household investments, which have played a greater role in the past than has been acknowledged.

3 Farmer investments: presentation by country co-ordinators

Highlights of the research were presented jointly, with examples from each country.

Kenya: Dr Francis Gichuki (University of Nairobi). Huge private investments in farm development have been made over time in Makueni, particularly in water-harvesting and soil conservation, but also by government. Questions in relation to these investments are:

  • Were they timely?
  • Are they effective?
  • Is policy intervention timely?
  • Did policy create an enabling environment?
  • What are the implications of untimely and inefficient investments?
  • What is the way forward?

Examples of supportive policies in Kenya are soil conservation and most education policy. Some government investments had not been timely or efficient, or were too sudden (education and water costs off-loaded on to consumers when incomes were falling, some educational changes, abolition of the cotton parastatal) and this could deter farmers from making their own complementary investments. As chains break at the weakest link, there is a need for government-community-farmer partnerships, with government providing support where needed.

Nigeria: Dr Joseph Ariyo (Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria). In Kano, where the study was more restricted in scope than in the other countries, concentrating on policies and food marketing, the development of the farmers’ investment environment falls into two periods.

(1) c.1950 - mid-1980s:

  • Rainfall was variable, but macro-economic polices were slowly evolving and fairly consistent, providing a farm investment environment with moderate risks which led to large farm investments.
  • Prices were stable except when there was civil unrest (1966) or drought (1972-73).

(2) Mid-1980s - 2000:

  • Rainfall decreased
  • Macro-economic policies changed rapidly and were sometimes contradictory, particularly in the case of the:
  1. massive devaluation of the national currency;
  2. withdrawal of subsidies on fertilisers, and other farm inputs
  3. high fuel prices (which are major costs for traders)
  4. trade liberalisation

The investment environment became very risky, marked by hyper-inflation, crippling industry and its demand for agricultural raw materials, leading to:

  1. competition with imported foods
  2. sharp decline in consumer purchasing power and falling effective demand.

Returns on investments were unsustainable and unpredictable. Suggested policy improvements were:

  • Price stabilisation, with particular reference to inputs such as fuel and fertiliser
  • Creation of diverse opportunities to generate incomes through
  1. improvements in infrastructure;
  2. development of alternative energy sources in rural areas;
  3. improvement of access to education; and
  4. micro-credit for irrigation.

Senegal: Dr Adama Faye (also representing Dr Abdou Fall, Institut Sénégalais de Recherche Agricole). The Diourbel Region was transformed from 1960 to 1999. Farmers reacted to various policies, instituted with the aim of increasing groundnut production for export

  • reducing groundnut domination in the cropping system and putting emphasis on food crops (millet, sorghum, cowpeas);
  • intensifying animal production;
  • developing non-farm enterprise (trade, artisanal production).
  • exporting farm labour to urban areas and other countries

The question now before Senegal is how to build a new paradigm and policy environment for sustainable rural development. This involves:

  • facing the dilemma of groundnuts, hitherto regarded as central to both the rural and national economies;
  • recognising livestock intensification as a key element in a sustainable production and income system;
  • promoting non-agricultural activities to alleviate land pressure;
  • involving all the stakeholders, including the Mouride leaders, to debate these issues and the strategies.

Niger: Dr Boubacar Yamba (University of Niamey). In Maradi Department, there have been three policy periods:

(1) 1960-1974: Modernisation of the economy

  • Development of a groundnut industry
  • Guaranteed producer prices
  • Increases in taxes on producers

Tax and price policy were in contradiction.

(2) 1974-1980: Food self sufficiency

Prompted by food deficiency (the Sahel Drought of 1972-74), and the availability of uranium revenue, the Government launched a variety of rural projects, some loan-financed. Credit was made available for new farm equipment.

(3) 1984 - 2000: Structural adjustment

The state had been omnipresent, but now withdrew, leading to the end of credit and of most projects. While this might be thought unconducive to farm investment, in fact the capacity to adapt had increased, and farmers have continued to invest in new crops and equipment despite the withdrawal of credit. Motivation was provided by the strong influence of Nigeria on Niger’s economy and the increased demand for food products.

4 Plenary discussions

4.1 The role of education

Phil Bradley asked for information on Niger or Nigeria. Camilla Toulmin gave the example of community schools being set up in Mali. Matthew Okai called for more gender analysis. Joseph Ariyo said that Hausa farmers see no obvious returns to formal education, and need their children’s labour on the farm. Kathy Homewood cited Masailand, where income diversification is associated with a leadership position or with education. James Fairhead said Islamic education is very important, and economic gain is not the only motivation for education. Valentina Mazzucato agreed that the social returns are important, and asked how risky educational investment is. Mary Tiffen responded with additional information from the reports. Simon Maxwell said the study was an example of the power of the livelihoods approach and the findings connected with the education debate. Adama Faye said that the Mourides in Senegal reject state provision, having their own definition of education. It is necessary to involve them in the discussion on priorities.

4.2 The model and diversified incomes

Deryke Belshaw said that the model should show international as well as national economic influences. It should be made dynamic, with the household decisions affecting the technical and institutional via feedback loops. Karim Hussein asked for more disaggregation, the poor and the less poor, who may be differently affected by, for example, devaluation of the Franc de la Communauté Financière Africaine (FCFA), access to education, or credit. He also raised the importance of social networking, especially producer organisations. David Niemeijer said there are pressures and opportunities in the model, but the poorest groups may drop out of sight. Matthew Okai asked for more definitions. Claude Raynaut said the model is too general: there are differences by category and region. He asked what the state can do about the increasing inequality referred to in Murton’s study in Kenya, and suggested that poor people can better make labour than money investments. Joos Koster noted the importance of rural-urban linkages. Andrew Dorward said non-farm diversification is increasing and the poor are dropping out of the natural resource sector. Grace Carswell asked when diversification income is substituting for, and when adding to, natural resource based activity. Camilla Toulmin said the model should show that dryland areas are often affected by non-dryland events. Lucy Ambridge said livelihood analysis is useful in seeing what people have and do not have; the issue is the connection to policy changes.

4.3 Social institutions

Mazzucato said that in Burkina Faso, social networks for accessing land and labour affect the ability to intensify, and could benefit the poor. Toulmin emphasised the continued importance of the family.

4.4 Discussions following the country co-ordinators’ presentation

Deryke Belshaw noted that 1979 was a seminal date in Nigeria – an increase in the petroleum price, massive spending, the collapse of agricultural exports, and labour sucked out of farming. Big issues such as these need flagging.

John Pender asked about soil conservation returns to labour. In a staged investment strategy, the first investments are the most profitable. The importance of livestock in livelihoods indicates the importance of giving more attention to grazing land. Matthew Okai noted total factor productivity analysis may not take account of ecological sustainability. Adam Pain commented on the missing meso-link between micro- and macro-priorities. Given the restricted funds, planning is about choosing.

5 Agenda for working groups

Participants were invited to join one of four groups, as follows:

Group 1: Conserving natural resources and improving their management

Group 2: Increasing the value of crop, livestock and other NR-based outputs

Group 3: Developing investment capacity and market access

Group 4: Enhancing human resources and the non-farm sector

Each group was asked to consider the following key questions:

  1. Is a view of rural livelihood transformation as driven by capacities as well as by constraints a practicable basis for policy formation?
  2. What areas are critically important in constructing an enabling policy framework for livelihood development in the drylands?
  3. Recognising that politicians are influenced by interest groups, how can a participatory debate on enabling policy formation be initiated and sustained at the national level?

6 Reports of working groups

Group 1: Conserving natural resources and improving their management


Camilla Toulmin IIED (Chairman/ Rapporteur)

Andrew Warren University College, London, Geography Bill Adams Downing College, Cambridge, Geography Yamba Boubacar University of Niamey David Bourn Environmental Research Group, Oxford Phil Bradley University of Hull, Geography Constance Corbier-Barthaux Agence Française de Developpement Robin Grimble Consultant, ex Natural Resources Institute Hassan Hassan World Bank Kathy Homewood University College, London, Anthropology Adam Manvell University of East Anglia, Development Studies Michael Mortimore Drylands Research David Niemeijer Wageningen University, Environmental Systems Analysis Group Matthew Okai Consultant Henry Osbahr University College, London, Geography John Pender International Food Policy Research Institute Claude Raynaut University of Bordeaux II Beryl Turner Consultant Magatte Ba Centre de Suivi Ecologique, Senegal

More comments on the model:

There needs to be more feedback within the system, rather than it being linear in form. Clearly the natural resources available are not just given but are themselves transformed by human and livestock interaction. Thus additional loops are needed. Also it was felt that the options faced by poorer and better-off groups are substantially different, requiring a range or family of models to suit their different circumstances.

A reminder of the key findings from the studies to date:

  • Farmers play a very active role in pursuit of more sustainable farming systems and improved livelihoods. They are highly competent in assessing the opportunities available and best able to find answers which are appropriate to their circumstances.
  • They are highly responsive to economic conditions and market opportunities.
  • Households remain a critically important social institution within which much diverse economic activity takes place, investments are made and risks and incomes are pooled.
  • There are both winners and losers from the last 40 years of environmental, economic and social change.
  • In general, farming systems have moved towards more sustainable production systems, a finding which is the result of actions by millions of small farmers and very rarely the result of direct government or donor intervention.
  • Customary tenure provides a fluid, negotiated, dynamic set of institutions through which different groups try to gain firmer claims to land, and which has provided no disincentive for investment in agriculture.
  • There have been enormous changes over the last forty years, such as a growing scarcity of land, the privatisation of certain resources (e.g. stubble) and the development of new forms of collective resource management.
  • Natural resources are only one part of a broader livelihood system.

Question 1: Is a view of rural livelihood transformation as driven by capacities as well as by constraints a practicable basis for policy formation?

The group felt it is very important to shift from an approach emphasising constraints to one in which capacities provide the major focus. It was also thought that the term ‘opportunities’ is probably better than ‘capacities’. Such a shift challenges a techno-centred approach, in which constraints are identified from outside and solutions are drawn up, to one in which people are the principal actors. Constraints clearly exist, but they do not necessarily impose a firm cap on what people are able to achieve.

Question 2: What areas are critically important in constructing an enabling policy framework for livelihood development in the drylands?

A lot of time was spent discussing the role of the state – what minimal essential functions should it perform? It cannot be ignored and has a rightful place. A completely laissez-faire approach is not adequate. How can its responsibilities be redefined in ways which support local actors, rather than hindering them? Such responsibilities need to include:

  • providing an enabling environment;
  • negotiating, agreeing and enforcing the rules of the game;
  • providing certain public goods, such as monitoring environmental change and data collection; equally, trying to tackle certain issues where externalities are involved which require higher level action – such as soil erosion. Also, there are certain fundamental issues which need to be addressed at governmental level – such as provision of basic water supplies;
  • ensuring effective long-term management strategies for certain assets whose degradation is irreversible;
  • creating a level playing field by providing an arena for trading off different objectives, e.g., is environmental sustainability the key objective, and what trade-offs are acceptable with meeting poverty eradication targets?;
  • acknowledging the enormous power of markets and prices, and the limited capacity of governments to intervene.

It is a fact that ‘policy’ cannot be defined in some neutral technocratic manner – policy inevitably needs to be linked to desired objectives, which itself needs to be negotiated between the various stakeholders involved. The political system needs to identify and agree objectives and priorities.

What single thing could government do to improve natural resource management (NRM)?

Governments could ensure more effective representation of different interests, help resolve conflicts, act as impartial arbitrator, create a greater sense of security. They could promote processes through which people can express their views and negotiate both with the state and with others.

It was felt that there is no evidence for governments having a longer time horizon than local people regarding NRM. If anything, government and politicians work within much shorter time-frames than local people, whose children and grandchildren will depend on the continued sustainability of certain resources.

Question 3: Recognising that politicians are influenced by interest groups, how can a participatory debate on enabling policy formation be initiated and sustained at national level?

Throughout the region, civil society organisations are playing a more important role, such as producer organisations, decentralised forms of local government, etc. These provide a means by which particular interests can be represented. But how can people in practice get their voices heard? What are the channels through which local people might be able to make their views heard? Participation is often largely cosmetic. Decentralisation equally does not necessarily provide the right structure and channels. People talk of empowerment, but what does this mean?

Is policy well informed? Often not - owing to an unwillingness to go out and seek ideas and views. How much does policy matter? It sets the broader framework within which people negotiate outcomes. Policy makers have a tendency to prefer tidy structures and solutions. In practice, life is rarely so simple. Hence, policy makers need to accept a degree of diversity and nonconformity, which reflects local circumstances. Government and donors need to become more demand-led. Yet their very organisation and structures tend to make this very difficult (spending targets, responsiveness to new initiatives, keeping up to date with the development jargon).

Group 2: Increasing the value of crop, livestock and other NR-based output


Karim Hussein (Chairman) ODI Kate Longley (Rapporteur) ODI Philippe Jouve CNEARC, France Adama Faye Bureau de Cooperation Suisse, Senegal (ex-ISRA) Mamadou Faye Senegalese Embassy, UK Johan Brons Wageningen University, Netherlands Mike Carr Crop Water Management Systems (Int) Ltd Fred Zaal University of Amsterdam, Geography Irene Hoffman Giessen University, Livestock Science

The importance of institutional development, in addition to technical development, for:

  • professional producer organisations;
  • production committees;
  • regional organisations;
  • international co-operation.

Question 1: Is a view of rural livelihood transformation as driven by capacities as well as by constraints a practicable basis for policy formation?

  • Policy outcomes can be unexpected (both beneficial and negative).
  • Overcoming constraints at policy level is often difficult – it is often better to build on local capacities.
  • Information about the significance of certain events or phenomena (e.g. price changes) at local level is needed, to help local people to realise the implications and to evaluate and adapt local strategies.
  • Focus on sedentary production systems makes it much easier to use the rural livelihood transformation approach. Not enough attention is given to migratory/pastoralist production. What about rangeland productivity?
  • It is surprising that the Maradi paper did not address the Fulani pastoralist situation where permanent out-migration is part of a broader livelihood strategy.
  • Rural livelihood transformation analysis allows the analyst to understand how people manage in a crisis and what the livelihood outcomes are. These outcomes can help to formulate policy, e.g. land tenure arrangements based on ‘use’ (valorisation) of land, but with the control of soil and water management on communal land.
  • People want to exploit land but a lack of financial resources prevent this (as in Senegal).
  • In Niger a big difference exists between local and regional levels in terms of agricultural production. Intensive production takes place near the village, but becomes more extensive further away. Farmers know how to practice intensive systems, but in some places they don’t. Why?

Constraints which pre-empt optimal productivity are complex (climatic, political, economic) and vary among different communities. If farmers don’t take up intensive farming practice, it is not because they don’t know how to, but because they lack the means, so we need to promote greater access to means of intensification. Overcoming constraints to access raises difficult and important questions:

  • How can the private sector help?
  • What is the gap left by the state?
  • What is the role of producer organisations?
  • How can the state favour such organisations and promote access to means of intensification?
  • Have liberalisation policies increased the risks to the producer?
  • If you provide better infrastructure, will this overcome technical constraints? Does technology disseminate itself? We need to address technical constraints as well as infrastructural problems.
  • Problem of micro-macro articulation.

Question 2: What areas are critically important in constructing an enabling policy framework for livelihood development in the drylands?

Policies are often seen to be counter-productive, in that they may effectively prevent livelihood transformation, therefore the most effective enabling environment may be one in which the role of the state is reduced.

  • Maybe the best enabling environment is to leave the policy out altogether (i.e. extreme decentralisation/democratisation) – politics can be completely counter-productive to local regulatory functions.
  • In situations of conflict, e.g., at the "point of saturation" (i.e. population increase), when policies are developed there are inevitably winners and losers, and new dynamics and conflicts, e.g. north and south Niger.
  • Current development ideas - e.g., participation, empowerment - do not make good policy in themselves. The local-regional interface must be taken into account and the role of the state.
  • Can we promote regulation without state intervention?
  • Reliability/transparency of the state is important.
  • How can the state allow local processes
  • It can provide a safe environment through the provision of legal systems/security;
  • The state should enable local initiatives to flourish, e.g. communications, transport, infrastructure;
  • The state should provide security and freedom from threat;
  • Rural-urban links should enable rural producers to provide for larger urban populations;
  • Low food prices are a major reason preventing intensification – farmers have no incentive to increase production. Even though the state no longer intervenes in pricing, globalised markets may keep prices low due to cheap imports;
  • Growth in urban demand can lead to an expansion of agricultural activities, e.g., eggs and milk are in growing demand, but this depends on the purchasing power of urban dwellers. (However, in Mali, chicken and egg production remains low, despite demand);
  • Western agricultural investment is often heavily subsidised by government – the same cannot happen in Africa. It is not so much a question of subsidy as of regulation (e.g., guarantees of product quality – fertiliser, etc) which will promote market developments;
  • Credit systems must be sustainable;
  • Privatise input supply services, e.g. artificial insemination (AI)

Mike Carr recounted experience based on tea projects in Tanzania, a long-term technical research programme to increase production with private sector involvement, but with small farmers not necessarily benefiting. Some lessons were that:

  • restructuring government services towards privatisation was possible for cash crops such as tea, coffee, etc., but in practice government may be reluctant to go down a privatisation route even if that is official policy;
  • government bureaucrats/civil servants provided the biggest obstacle to change;
  • an act of Parliament was eventually initiated to privatise the research system;
  • committees that incorporate a local and long-term view are essential;
  • countervailing powers are beneficial; and
  • communicating price information is essential.

Question 3: Recognising that politicians are influenced by interest groups, how can a participatory debate on enabling policy formation be initiated and sustained at national level?

  • Among the institutions at local or national level, civil society, producers’ organisations, farmers’ organisations are the best placed to influence politicians.
  • International co-operation at national level helps a realisation that other countries share the same problems.
  • Regional organisations, e.g. Comité Permanent Inter-Etats de Lutte contre la Sécheresse dans le Sahel (CILSS), provide a forum.

Group 3: Developing investment capacity and market access


John English (Chairman) ex World Bank Polly Gillingham (Rapporteur) HTS Development Ltd. Joseph Ayodele Ariyo (Resource Person) Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria Lucy Ambridge Department for International Development (DFID) Kathy Baker School of Oriental and African Studies Michael Barbour Retired Andrew Dorward Wye College Will Frost DFID, Forestry APO Joos Koster Club du Sahel/OECD Valentina Mazzucato Economics, University of Amsterdam Leen Molenaar Ministry of Foreign Affairs, DGIS, Netherlands John Nelson Drylands Research Remco Oostendorp Free University, Amsterdam, Economics

The discussion was wide-ranging and often diverged from the three key questions. The reported views expressed were not necessarily held unanimously:

Question 1: Is a view of rural livelihood transformation as driven by capacities as well as by constraints a practicable basis for policy formation?

The group agreed with the proposition, but had some discussion about the implications of the morning’s discussion and methodology.

  1. The presentation painted a rosy picture of things not working out too badly for poor people. The analysis needs to be more disturbing/shocking.
  2. In response, the research is showing that government policy is having both a positive and negative impact. For example, the Projet de Développement Rural du Département de Maradi (PDRM) shows that markets are important in rural livelihood transformation, but not everybody has access to markets.
  3. Given the conditions that small-scale farmers operate in, they do their best.
  4. People who live in the four researched areas are not at the bottom of the ladder in terms of poverty. There are areas where people are much worse off, e.g., in the Sudan, with no infrastructure, and a drier climate.
  5. Questions were raised about methodology, particularly how study villages and households were selected. It was explained that selection was not random, but on a basis of agro-ecological zone and available secondary and historical data. Similarly, households were selected in order to get cross-sections of society. The important factor was not the characteristics of the village data alone, but how it varies according to external processes (e.g. devaluation, markets). Not all of the work in Nigeria was at the household level, but at market level – from big urban market centres, through regional markets to village markets.
  6. John English concluded this discussion by saying that the first study (Machakos) had started approximately 10 years ago with a focus on natural resource management issues. Areas were selected on the basis of available data about the different agro-ecological zones. Secondly, the aim was to marry a number of different issues and studies.

Question 2: What areas are critically important in constructing an enabling policy framework for livelihood development in the drylands?

  1. It was generally agreed that markets will develop wherever opportunities develop. The example was given of livestock markets in Burkino Faso. Devaluation of the FCFA saw a huge increase in the number of livestock markets without any external intervention. The group agreed that the important thing is the development of enabling conditions for markets rather than the markets themselves.
  2. There is a need to recognise the broader influence of markets beyond just increasing commodity exchange – they also provide opportunities for paid labour and alternative, non-land based sources of income. In Benin, it was found that in the areas furthest from the markets the most intensification of agriculture had occurred, because closer to the market people had been influenced by the broader opportunities offered by the market. It was agreed that this was an important point as this discussion is concerned with developing broad-based sustainable livelihoods rather than just agricultural intensification alone.
  3. There is a need to support complementary markets. For example, there might be a good market in fertilisers, but it would work even better if finance markets worked so that more people could get credit to afford the investment at the beginning of cropping season.
  4. Finance markets are crucial, in particular the need to build confidence between government and the private sector. The private sector needs a government that will support infrastructural development but not interfere in the development of markets themselves.
  5. There are many micro-level transactions and local-level institutions, and we need to work through these as well as the macro-level. In many areas social exchange is just as important as commodity exchange. If we understand what is happening at the micro-level, it will help us understand the impact of macro-level changes.
  6. It was asked whether we really should ‘rescue these miserable parts of Africa’. This research is tending to focus on the short to medium term. But in 20-30 years time we may find that these areas really have no comparative advantage, and it would be better if people moved to areas that are developing economically and require their labour. Responses to this proposition were argued on the basis that we need to empower people so that they can make choices, including:
  1. Stay put and invest in agriculture
  2. Stay put and diversify
  3. Migrate

It was argued that one of the purposes of this research should be to clarify what we need to do to help farming to remain a functional and viable option, and what policies are needed to achieve this.

Question 3: Recognising that politicians are influenced by interest groups, how can a participatory debate on enabling policy formation be initiated and sustained at the national level?

  1. If we are really to influence policy in terms of its being understood and owned ‘in-country’, African ministers and private sector actors from Africa need to be closely involved in research such as this. They often do not know about such research work, so how can they learn about it, let alone from it? This is why having the African partners that are involved in this research here is important, but we need to go further. There was general agreement to this, with more discussion of the idea of offering choices – which resulted in point 2:
  2. Offering choices requires a profound change in the way we do aid. Lucy Ambridge introduced the example of the Uganda Project for Modernisation of Agriculture. This is a very collaborative process with a chain of discussion and feedback through national government, local government and people themselves. There is ownership at all levels, but it has so far taken more than three years and is still not complete. DFID is changing the way it does aid – untying aid will be important in this.

John English summed up as follows:

  • The societies with which we work are very much market-driven and will respond rapidly to market opportunities.
  • Enabling markets require infrastructure and sound financial markets.
  • Other social mechanisms are also important, and we need to work with these micro-level institutions.

There was some final discussion on the role of local government, which is not addressed specifically in the research papers. No major conclusions were reached, but there was one final passing shot: democracy has been disastrous for poor people as politicians follow populist policies rather than sound policies, and people do not necessarily elect the most competent people.

Group 4: Enhancing human resources and the non-farm sector


Simon Batterbury (Chairman) London School of Economics Pippa Trench (Rapporteur) SOS Sahel Deryke Belshaw School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia Francis Gichuki University of Nairobi Christian Lund University of Roskilde, International Development Mary Tiffen Drylands Research Christian Webersik St Anthony’s, Oxford

Question 1: Is a view of rural livelihood transformation as driven by capacities as well as by constraints a practicable basis for policy formation?

This question represents a false dichotomy and the group did not see a need for an ‘either/or’ approach. Starting with capacity avoids an elitist technocratic approach from dominating from the beginning but we need to look at constraints as well.

  • We need to define where we are from the beginning.
  • There is a need to take into account external factors, such as devaluation, in the region or in international policies.

Deryck Belshaw said that a capacity approach acknowledges and validates indigenous knowledge, and in this respect, is similar to the participatory approach of development agencies, which also has drawbacks if taken alone. For example, communities alone may not be able to solve conflicts or constraints such as few, poor rural roads.

Question 2: What areas are critically important in constructing an enabling policy framework for livelihood development in the drylands?

We need to define what institutions we are talking about: these include private, community- and family-based organisations, NGO, governmental, parastatal institutions and interlinkages between them are fundamental.

Looking at service provision:

Local level institutions (e.g. harambees in Kenya) may be a source of one-off provision such as building a school or clinic, but recurrent funding (teachers, materials) is more problematic as they depend on a surplus coming from somewhere. In resource-rich environments which have the ability to pay from within the community, one could imagine a virtuous cycle. But in poor areas a lack of surplus leads to reductions in services, which in turn leads to less investment in human resources and back to lower surpluses. One could imagine a vicious cycle.

Decentralisation, which is an unstoppable process in West Africa, with its own momentum, is a source of different forms of institutional investment, from local taxes, with what should be greater accountability and investment at meso-level. Belshaw said allocating resources between districts requires a rational, depoliticised basis (such as that provided by the formula for the interstate allocation of federal government block grants used in India).

Looking at the relative advantages of different sources of service provision is to some extent a political debate (e.g. the relative advantages of public-private partnerships), but we can draw lessons all the same:

  • Francis Gichuki said we need to look at where existing models went wrong (e.g. parastatals) before coming up with new ones.
  • Some institutions are inherently more accountable than others. Home-town associations have a massive potential for sourcing finance and information, and their finance is often directed to human resources (e.g., education). But individuals also have an incentive to be accountable, for example so that they can retire as respected members of the community. Should extensionists come from the local area or from elsewhere?
  • "Negative social capital" (or criminality) cannot be ignored. Corruption plays a role in undermining institutions at all levels, and investment. It has also led to a backlash against politicisation of any ‘private’ institution because of the potential for corruption.
  • In Niger, public authority is exercised by people below the lowest recognised level of local government, and this is legitimised by people’s behaviour. "Parallel polity" takes place whether we like it or not. The state has to catch up because these unofficial institutions will not be able to use opportunities for collaboration or make long-term broader policy choices.

So on the question of prioritising policy:

  1. New policy comes in on top of old policy and does not necessarily resolve the old problems.
  2. Policy is for whom, or what? In South Africa, "policy to support rural farmers" did not differentiate between wealthy, black, large-scale farmers and resource-poor, small-scale farmers.
  3. As the studies show, any policy will always be renegotiated according to local needs, priorities, power balances, and interests.

Taking this into account there was a consensus on two areas for policy prioritisation:

  1. Decentralisation to cope with the diversity of environments (ecological, economic, etc.) that exist, and with this the ability to allocate resources in a way which reflects this diversity.
  2. improving governance/accountability through incentives as well as regulations.

Other policy ideas that were put forward but not fully debated included:

  • support for urban and densely populated areas in semi-arid regions, as a cost-effective way of boosting off-farm income through trickle-back effects (but this does not resolve on-farm capacity demands);
  • streamlining costs rather than off-loading the costs of the existing system on to civil society;
  • continued education and adult learning (information and communication).

Question 3 was not discussed

7 Concluding plenary and final remarks by Claude Raynaut

Claude Raynaut said the research has yielded a rich narrative through its historical approach. It shows that farmers are active, and have overcome huge constraints. There is consistency with Boserup’s hypothesis that people innovate and find solutions. People have a good memory of their locality - and of the promises they have heard before.

There is still a question over appropriate policies. External actions have contributed to constraints and vulnerability, which farmers must rectify. As we also are outsiders we should not make a list of priorities. If we want a single narrative it is that local situations are diverse, and the question is how to meet the challenge of this diversity, and give space to the strong dynamics which are at play and which are specific to the locality, and in which local people are the actors.

The important word is negotiation, and how to enhance negotiations between actors at different levels. Under what conditions can policy enhance the capacity of local people to make their voices heard, taking account of the contradictions within communities, and between communities and outsiders. The state has to play a role as guarantor and regulator of the rules of the game. We have to think in terms of processes rather than ready-made solutions.

  8 Appendix: Participants (by 2004 some of these are out of date contacts)




Bill Adams

University of CambridgeDepartment of GeographyDowning PlaceCambridge, CB2 3EN

Lucy Ambridge

NR Policy Research ProgrammeRural Livelihoods Department DFID94 Victoria StreetLondon, SW1E 5JL

Joseph Ayodele Ariyo

Department of GeographyAhmadu Bello UniversityZariaNigeria

Magatte Ba

Centre de Suivi Ecologique (CSE), BP 15 532, Dakar-Fann, Senegal

Kathy Baker

Department of Geography, School of Oriental and African Studies, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG

Professor Michael Barbour

43 Francis Gardens, Abbotts Barton, Winchester SO23 7HD


Dr Hazel Barrett

Department of Geography/ Centre of African studies, University of Coventry, Priory Street, Coventry CV1 5FB

Simon Batterbury

DESTIN, LSE , Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE


Professor Deryke Belshaw

School of Development Studies , University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ

Laurent Bossard

Club du Sahel, OECD

94 rue Chardon Lagache, 75016 Paris France


Yamba Boubacar

Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines, Université Abdoul Moumoumi, BP 10960 Niamey, République du Niger

David Bourn

Environmental Research Group Oxford Limited, Box 346, Oxford, OX1 3QE

Phil Bradley

Department of Geography, Hull University, HU6 7RX

Professor M.K.V. Carr

Research, Training & Consultancy Services

Crop and Water Management Systems (International) Ltd.,Fernbreck, 29, Bedford Road,Clophill Bedford MK45 4AE

Grace Carswell

AFRAS, University of Sussex, Brighton

Constance Corbier-Barthaux

Agence Française de Developpement, 5 Rue Roland Barthers, 75598, Paris Cedex 12, France

Sylvie Cordier

Rural Policy and Environment Group, Overseas Development Institute, 111 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7JD

Andrew Dorward

Wye College/Imperial, Ashford, TN25 5AH

David M. Edwards

Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, 7 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LW

John English

8101 Rayburn Road, Bethesda Maryland MD 20817-3821, USA

James Fairhead

School of Oriental and African Studies, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG (soon moving to Sussex U, Anthropology

Adama Faye

Bureau d’Appui Cooperation Suisse 28 rue Asbane, Ndoye, Dakar, Senegal

Will Frost

Forestry APO, Room V309 , DFID , 94 Victoria Street , London SW1E 5JL

Duncan Fulton

SOS Sahel International UK, 1 Tolpuddle Street , London N1 0XT

Francis N. Gichuki

Soil and Water Management Programme, Department of Agricultural Engineering, University of Nairobi, PO BOX 30197 , Nairobi, Kenya

Polly Gillingham

HTS Development Ltd,Thamesfield House, Boundary Way, Hemel Hempstead HP2 7SR

Robin Grimble


H Hassan

World Bank, 1818H Street, Washington DC 2o433, USA

Irene Hoffman

Dept. of Livestock Ecology, Justus-Liebig-University, Ludwigstr. 21, 35390 Giessen, Germany

Katherine Homewood

Department of Anthropology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

Karim Hussein

Rural Policy and Environment Group, Overseas Development Institute, 111 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7JD

Philippe Jouve

CNEARC , BP 5098, 34033 Montpellier Cedex 01, France

Joos Koster

Club du Sahel/OECD, 94 rue Chardon Lagache, 75016 Paris, France


Sharon Laws

Environment and Policy Department, DFID, 94 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5JL

Melissa Leach

Environment Group, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9RE

Richard Longhurst

Evaluation Manager, Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House, Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5HX

Kate Longley

Overseas Development Institute ,111 Westminster Bridge Road ,London SE1 7JD

Christian Lund

International Development Studies Roskilde University ,4000 Roskilde ,Denmark

Adam Manvell

School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia ,Norwich NR4 7TJ

Simon Maxwell

ODI ,111 Westminster Bridge Road ,London SE1 7JD

Dr Valentina Mazzucato

Economics and Econometrics Faculty ,Development and Agricultural Economics , Free University Amsterdam, 1081 HV Amsterdam ,The Netherlands

Kathleen Meagher

Nuffield College, Oxford OX1 1NF

L. Molenaar

Ministry of Foreign Affairs , The Netherlands DGIS- DRU/RR ,Postbus 20061 ,2500 EB Den Haag ,The Netherlands

Michael Mortimore

Drylands Research ,17 Market Square ,Crewkerne ,Somerset TA18 7LG

James F. Morton

HTS Development Ltd. ,Thamesfield House ,Boundary Way ,Hemel Hempstead HP2 7SR

Dr Abdul Raufu Mustapha

Queen Elizabeth House ,21 St Giles ,Oxford OX1 3LA

John Nelson

34 Weymouth Rd ,Frome ,Somerset BA11 1HH

David Niemeijer

Environmental Systems Analysis Group ,Department of Environmental Sciences ,Wageningen University ,P.O. 9101 ,6700 HB Wageningen ,The Netherlands

Dr Matthew Okai

30 Pelham Road ,South Woodford ,London E18 1PX

Remco Oostendorp

De Boelelaan 1105 ,1081 HV Amsterdam ,The Netherlands

Henny Osbahr

Department of Geography ,University College of London ,Chandler House ,2 Wakefield Street ,London WC1N 1PG

Philippe Ospital

DGCID/DCT/EPS ,20 Rue Monsieur ,75007 PARIS ,France

Adam Pain

School of Development Studies ,University of East Anglia ,122 College Road ,Norwich NR2 3JB

Fred Pearce

40 Crieff Road ,London SW18 2EA


John Pender

International Food Policy Research Institute ,2033 K St, NW ,Washington, DC 20006 ,USA

Claude Raynaut

19 rue Pédroni ,33000, Bordeaux ,France

Ruerd Ruben

Development Economics Group ,Wageningen University and Research Centre ,Hollandsweg 1 ,The Netherlands

HE Mr Gabriel Alexandre Sar

Ambassador of Senegal to the UK ,39 Marloes Road ,London W8 6LA

C.G. Thirtle

T H Huxley School of Environment ,Imperial College ,Prince Consort Road ,London SW7 2BP

Mary Tiffen

Drylands Research ,17 Market Square ,Crewkerne ,Somerset TA18 7LG

Camilla Toulmin

International Institute for Environment and Development ,4 Hanover Street ,Edinburgh EH2 2EN

Pippa Trench

SOS Sahel ,1 Tolpuddle Street ,London N1 0XT

Dr Beryl Turner

The Green , Litton, Skipton, W Yorks BD 23 5QJ

Bruno Vindel

Chef du Bureau des Politiques Agricoles Ministère des Affaires Etrangères 20 Rue Monsieur Paris, France

Professor Andrew Warren

Department of Geography , University College of London 29 Bedford Way London WC1H OAP

Christian Webersik

St Antony’s College, 62 Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6JF

Fred Zaal

Human Geography, University of Amsterdam, Nwe Prinsengracht 130, 1018 VZ AmsterdamThe Netherlands



Access to Resources: Land Tenure and Governance in Africa

5 March 2001

University of Manchester, UK

Conference report by Simon Batterbury,

This workshop was the third in a series of ESRC-funded meetings on ‘Transformations in African Agriculture’ and was convened by Phil Woodhouse of IDPM, University of Manchester, UK. The event was linked to the publication of a new edited volume resulting from joint work funded by ESRC (Woodhouse P, Bernstein H and Hulme, D (eds) 2000. African Enclosures? The social dynamics of wetlands in dry lands, Oxford: James Currey).

The first paper by Phil Woodhouse, ‘African Enclosures - the default mode of development’ issued a challenge in suggesting that African agrarian systems tend - in the absence of other constraints or processes - towards a ‘default’ of increasing individualization of production, and increasing commoditisation, over time. These processes are particularly marked in wetland areas that have been used for intensive agricultural production or grazing. Four wetland environments that have seen rapid change of land use in recent decades were studied in detail.

Phil argues that thee perspectives dominate writing on African land tenure systems

  1. Customary land rights, based on membership of a social unit (family, lineage, or village) do not provide ‘security of tenure’ and thus act as a barrier to investment and hence to increasing productivity, and need to be reformed.
  2. The negotiability and ambiguity of rights is a positive feature of customary systems, because it means there is always some opportunity for the poor to gain resource and land access often through informal mechanisms and derived rights such as sharecropping and loans.
  3. The negotiability and ambiguity of rights is indeed a feature of African systems, but the default mode of privatization of land actually increases inequality across societies, because powerful social actors gain access or resources at the expense of poorer actors. ‘Land to the buyer’ becomes the default mode.

Which of these perspectives was best supported by the case studies? Woodhouse and his team studied an irrigated swamp in Kimana, Kajiado, Kenya; a newly flooded area of the Sourou valley, Mali; the Mutale river valley in Venda, northern Province, South Africa, and dams in Mmutlane village, Shoshong Hills, in the central district of Botswana. In each case, changes in the governance of natural resources has been rapid - generally towards the ‘default mode’ of individualization and commercialization of production and tenure. In Kimana, group ranch, land is being privatised. In Mmutlane, water resources used by livestock are being fenced, and fees are being charged. In Mali, a new downstream dam has permitted rice cultivation, and local chiefs have privileged the allocation of sharecropping contracts on wetland over the continuation of customary use rights for local farmers, some of whom have consequently been squeezed out of rice cultivation. In Venda, a land market has emerged for irrigable land under the control of ‘tribal’ chiefs, and entry costs are high. In each case there have been ambiguous, but generally negative effects on environmental quality in these wetland systems - for example in Kimana indiscriminate pesticide use in irrigated vegetables poses a serious threat to water quality; in Mali, rice growing has involved the clearance of thousands of hectares of forest and perennial weeds have increased to a point that threatens the productivity of rice fields.

The politics of these changing access arrangements differ. Elite capture of the benefits of progressive privatization of resources appears in each case. However the cases exhibit a strong degree of local initiative, and therefore local political bargaining, without too much much involvement from the state or donors.

The four studies showed a diversity of land access mechanisms and variations in the degree of privatization of the resource, but they lead Woodhouse to support perspective 3 above, and to focus on the tendency of individualized or privatised systems to actually increase - rather than diminish - socio-economic differentiation. Clearly customary tenure has not been a barrier to investment in the four cases - however neither has it protected the poor - it has not permitted enhanced livelihoods to develop in an equitable fashion. Most interestingly, in Botswana a system of Land Boards with elected local representatives and political nominees adjudicates land allocation decisions, aided by customary leaders - but even here, equality is not assured.

The authors of African Enclosures argue that processes of socioeconomic differentiation are downplayed in populist writing on African land use systems, and in ‘sustainable livelihoods’ thinking which focuses on the strength of local initiative and local knowledge. In the book, it is suggested that arguments about the power of global discourses to dominate African policymaking (identified in African Enclosures with the IDS Environment group and their revisionist ‘Lie of the Land’ approaches) rightfully identify power inequalities in determining the fate of African landscapes, but fail to adequately explore the political economy of socio-economic differentiation, particularly between members of local communities. We need to better understand the implications of the ‘default mode’ through the tools of political economy and local level investigations - particularly the effects of market based access to land and water.

Comments from Christopher Clapham and the other workshop members reinforces this point, and moved the discussion onwards to consider political and fiscal decentralization programmes in Africa, which are trying to push decisionmaking ‘downwards’ to local bodies and to communities themselves. Would the communities’ studied in ‘African Enclosures’ be suitable targets for decentralized government structures? The participants had their doubts. Decentralization programmes, may - in theory - permit greater local governance of wetlands in dry lands. Yet the case studies showed that de facto local governance was already in place, and this was often exclusionary and conflictual. We cannot assume that poverty reduction or equity will emerge from vesting power with local communities and their leaders - this is a very naive assumption. Clapham stressed that there is a strong reason lying behind decentralisation efforts - the manifest failure of many African central states to govern effectively and to respect human rights. But notions of good governance still take their cue from an erroneous, and western-inspired view of accountability and politics – basically that civil society is worthy of support. What constitutes civil society, however, is rarely fully understood - in fact the range of actors is diverse, and not always separate from the state of from business. So there are ranges of "unintended consequences of well intentioned actions" under the guise of decentralization. Three issues will not go away, and will stymie efforts to vest control in local communities:

  1. Conflicts internal to communities over resources will be exacerbated or repressed by decentralization. Local power structures are unequal, and contain significant age and gender biases that will endure.
  2. Conflict between ‘indigenous’ and ‘immigrant’ or ‘outsider’ communities are widespread. Dissent over land access can be particularly hard to handle in these conditions. Decentralization can vest more power in ’indigenous’ leaders to exclude others. As David Hulme argues, political leaders ‘play’ with ethnicity and social differentiation.
  3. There is also a clash between holders of rights to land – often local people - and a range of ‘providers’ of rights external to communities - particularly governments and NGOs. He argued that the state is always needed to counterbalance local political conflict over land and to manage the activities of NGOs etc. External providers like NGOs act as a magnet for local people, and can create competition.

Clapham proposed that customary authorities are a ‘screen’ behind which other things happen - processes of exploitation, as well as the mediation and resolution of conflicts. We need to penetrate this screen. However we must also be wary - if, under devolved governance, ‘rights’ to land or resources were rendered more transparent and clear cut, would the poor be able to negotiate and retain informal or derived rights? Unlikely. Clapham feels the only option facing us is to abandon western models of equity and good governance, and to ‘go with the flow’ (view 3 of land reform above), even if this means tacit acceptance of the ‘default mode’ as an actually existing model for social and economic change.

In the discussion there was agreement, following Henry Bernstein, that ‘access to land is not enough’ - the studies revealed that access to labour, to materials, to health, and other social and material goods is also paramount in addressing rural poverty. It was also very clear, as he argued, that a national level politics often lies behind land tenure reform and decentralisation of governance - witness the racial and economic disputes that have affected land reform in South Africa in the last three years. Land politics are often the result of other forms of politics.

Camilla Toulmin of IIED presented a paper on ‘Identifying a research agenda for the reform of land tenure’ that bravely proposed some avenues for future research and policy reform, in the light of the realities of politicized land access and tenure struggles. She also suggested that land access conditions have tightened over time for rural people - for example in West Africa, elders will no longer allocate land to young men in the community without question (creating exclusion), and these youth sometimes rebel against working without pay on the family farm for several years (leading to individualisation). In areas of strong immigration, local villagers are trying to reclaim land already given to immigrant farmers. In these conditions, domestic groups are fragmenting (one part of Woodhouse’s 'default mode') with short-term calculation of economic advantage often replacing reciprocity as a driving principle of household decision-making. But people need to negotiate a complex path to ensure land access, sometimes resorting to fictive documents issued by local leaders or personages, that lack legal authority, to ‘claim’ land as theirs. There is therefore a ‘plurality of norms’ for assuring land access.

There is also confusion in several countries about the mechanisms proposed under decentralisation programmes. IIED efforts – which hare sponsored by DFID and other donors, and are some of the most important research and publications programmes currently ongoing in Britain - include a major DANIDA-funded project called Making Decentralisation Work - see . Not only is IIED stressing the varieties of ways in which people actually gain access to resources through derived rights and various forms of loan and ownership, but it is supporting an eclectic ‘Anglo-Saxon empiricist’ view of ways to secure poor peoples access to resources. This includes detailed studies of land policy (Henry Bernstein also called for more ethnographies of land access to register the political terrain in which reform must work), support to land networks linking African researchers with policymakers right across regions of Africa, and engagement with decision makers in land ministries, traditional authorities, and donor agencies. The idea here that inclusive decisionmaking is better than exclusionary policies dominated by established interests.

Andrew Shepherd picked up on the decentralisation theme in Camilla’s paper. He shared many of the participants’ skepticism around ‘devolution of powers over land and other activities’; suggesting devolved powers are often captured by powerful elites. Yet devolution of other powers than over land - for example over health or education - may yield greater success.

A surprising turn to the discussion, and one very important to land tenure policy, is over the new geography of African citizenship. As Camilla noted In Ivory Coast, Ivoriens are ranking their Ivorien identity - often invented - well above that of the long term and short term Burkinabé migrants that provide the majority of labour on the country's plantations, and who fill many urban jobs. In a situation of political turmoil, Burkinabés are being ejected or are leaving the country voluntarily, amidst harassment and loss of livelihood (of course such harrasment has been seen before in Africa - in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and elsewhere since the 1950s). Citizenship is being used to adjudicate claims to land - with Ivoriens winning out, and the two million Burkinabés losing what they once had. These sorts of citizenship debates are clearly influencing land questions more and more - in the Zimbabwe land redistribution crisis, in South Africa, and in the Ivory Coast itself.

In conclusion, the meeting broadly supported Phil Woodhouse's/Henry Bernstein's thesis that the default mode of changing land use in much of Africa is individualization and commercialization of production, and agreed than this posed big problems for social differentiation and therefore for policy that purports to be driven by equity considerations. While it could be argued that some people gain from commercialization and make more money or increase their stability from it, similarly, other people nearly always lose. Recent studies such as Sara Berry's 'Chiefs know their boundaries' (James Currey/Heinemann 2000) illustrate this point very well. African Enclosures – a term not all the workshop participants were happy with - describes sometimes a territorial, and sometimes a social or ethnic exclusion from wetlands in dry lands.

In thinking through future avenues for research and policy formulation, we need to (following David Hulme and Camilla Toulmin):

  1. Develop long-term research and monitoring programmes
  2. WHen thinking through decentralisation: begin with decentralisation of services, before moving to more tricky issues like land allocation later, if appropriate
  3. Conduct political ethnographies of power and institutions
  4. Do not overestimate bureaucratic and administrative capacities at the local level, or their ability to set aside ethnic or historical claims.

There were 20 people at this stimulating and timely event. A partial list:

1.        Phil Woodhouse IDPM, Manchester

2.        David Hulme IDPM, Manchester

3.        Simon Batterbury DESTIN, LSE

4.        Camilla Toulmin, IIED

5.        Judy Longbottom, IIED and DFID land tenure

6.        Henry Bernstein, SOAS

7.        Andrew Clayton, Christian Aid

8.        Ros Duffy, Lancaster Univ

9.        Christopher Clapham, Lancaster Univ

10.     Andrew Shepherd, Univ of Birmingham

11.     Sam Hickey, Univ of Birmingham

12.     Chasca Twyman, Univ of Sheffield

13.     Susie Jacobs, Manchester Metropolitan University

14.     IDPM students and researchers

15.     Henry’s PhD student


Change in the Sahel after the great drought


Lund, 10-11 September 2001.


Simon Batterbury

Lennart Olsson

Andrew Warren


We held a small, 2-day workshop in Lund on the 10th and 11th of September 2001. We took advantage of an open presentation by Elinor Ostrom and Jean-Philippe Platteau in Lund on Managing common resources – what is the solution?  which is on the morning of the 10th.  The workshop was on the afternoon of the 10th and all day on the 11th. 


The workshop was one of a series on agricultural change in the Sahel, organized through Simon Batterbury. [see]


We discussed changes in the Sahel since the 1984 drought.  We focussed the discussion on the enclosed image. It has been created by taking the highest value of the NDVI signal on AVHRR imagery (pixel size 8 km) for each month. The trend of change since 1984 has been plotted and only trends with correlation coefficients stronger than plus/minus 0.5 have been selected.  It can be seen that there are patches of significant increases in the NDVI signal across the Sahel.


We see four hypotheses to explain these increases in vegetation greenness:

1. rainfall

2. change in vegetation composition from trees to grass

3. soil effects (improvements at different rates on sandy or clay soils, for example)

4. land use changes


We are in process of testing the first three of these hypotheses, but believe it unlikely that their influence will be great. Our main concern in the workshop was to assemble a group of experts on land use and population change for the various clusters of significant changes according to the satellite data: southern Mauritania, northern Burkina, north-western Niger, central Chad, western Sudan (west of Jebel Marra) and parts of Kordofan in Sudan and parts of Eritrea.  Our ultimate aim is a publication that attempts to document and explain the changes.


At the meeting we developed three stages to the study:


A. Establishing and verifying the NDVI pattern.


            1. maximum each year (already done by Lennart)

            2. Time-integrated analyses

                        a. 3 weeks - maximum 3 weeks ?+ (Michael)

                        b. July-August September (Michael)

                        c. growing season + zenith corrections (Lars)

                        d. quality control (Michael ???)

            3. timing of changes (already done by Lennart)


B. Biophysical relations of changes


            1. Rainfall (already far advanced by Lennart)

            2. Soil (sandy/non-sandy) (Jonas and Andrew)

            3. IGBP land cover or other land cover comparisons (Jonas)


These are all to be ready for the March meeting


C.        Analyses of the relations of the pattern to readily available social data


            1. population (the WRI data base) (Lennart ?)

            2. settlements, roads etc.  (Lennart ?)


At some later stage


D.        Case studies of areas illustrating particular trajectories, the exact location to be decided in November

Changing modes of governance and their local impacts  - tracing the links".

AAG meeting, March 2002

This set of papers examined the effects of changing modes of governance and institutional arrangements - particularly those instigated by the state, and associated with decentralization and local empowerment - upon the inhabitants and the environments of particular places. The contributors use a range of research techniques to understand the local outcomes of models including neoliberal political decentralization, increased local government autonomy, community management of natural resources, and land reform. We ask, in particular, how such outcomes are locally negotiated/resisted.

Deconcentration, devolution, and hollowing-out of state functions are all on the international development agenda at the present time, and have major implications for localities in the developed and developing worlds. Yet their impacts (material, economic, symbolic, ecological) are difficult to assess since they traverse the 'chain' of scales linking 'state' to 'locality'. Work in various fields - particularly in institutional theory, the new economic and environmental geography, and the political economy of development, have offered new theoretical and methodological insights, and some fascinating empirical material.

The papers here are written by scholars with some links to the academic discipline of geography, and therefore the ‘jumping of scales’ in neo-liberal governance reforms receives particular attention.

Publication plans

1) Introduction: Simon Batterbury and a.n.other

2) Corrupt Decentralization or Decentralized Corruption? Geographies of Rent-Seeking in Rural West Bengal


Rene Véron, Assistant Professor, Geography, University of Guelph, Canada and Stuart Corbridge, Professor, LSE


Based on work carried out with Stuart Corbridge funded by the UK ESRC, 1998-2000.


A common rationale for political decentralization is to increase the state’s accountability to its citizens in order to reduce corruption. For instance, locally elected officials are seen to be ‘closer’ to ordinary people and, therefore, less likely to adopt rent-seeking practices. This paper examines this presumption through the analysis of extensive village studies and interviews with officials and politicians in rural West Bengal, where panchayats (institutions of local self-government) have been functional at local levels for the past two decades. In particular, this paper will look at community-based monitoring of a national poverty-alleviation program, the Employment Assurance Scheme (EAS). In doing so, one finds that it is important for the state to deploy a judicious combination of both horizontal and vertical structures of accountability for curbing leakage. If vertical structures of political and administrative accountability are ineffective, nexuses between local officials and village elites are likely to emerge, thus capturing the scheme and leading to decentralization of corruption itself, rather than its reduction. Furthermore, administrative systems of monitoring without public and political control tend to entail more leakage the longer the chain of checks is. In West Bengal, the role of the centrally organized ruling Communist party proves to be crucial in controlling corruption at lower levels within this process of decentralization.



3) Participation, sustainability and devolution – or kleptocracy, privatisation and degradation? Resource management in four African countries.


Piers M. Blaikie, Professor of Development Studies, University of East Anglia


Based on work carried out for a UK DfID project on conservation policy.


Why do the notions of common property resource (CPR) management, devolution, decentralization and local democracy feature so prominently in the policies and programmes of many east and central African countries, when results are so poor, and the tide of de facto and de jure privatisation, pervasive kleptocracy and resource degradation has been coming in for so many years? How do senior people in national governments react to these policies, and what strategies do they follow in the face of threats to centralized conduits of revenue and inducement?. There are also other political games to be played between aid institutions and national governments, which often have a sort of discursive momentum of their own and run counter to what is actually going on ( e.g. de jure and de facto privatisation of CPRs, increasing usurping control by bureaucratic bourgeoisies and new political entrepreneurs in the countryside; the shifting of aid money out of NGOs into sectoral programmes and back into the so recently discredited state). The paper discussed these trends.

4) "Conflicts over governance: decentralization in Burkina Faso"

Simon Batterbury

Part of work at the LSE – a development research centre funded by DfID

Burkina Faso (West Africa) like many other 'democratizing' developing countries, is currently undergoing political decentralization. The paper examines how the formal decentralization of administrative, fiscal, and political structures - during and since the revolutionary period of the 1980s - has created new local landscapes and altered social relations. Rural areas are highly differentiated in terms of wealth, power, and (in some cases) ethnicity. Has socio-political conflict been generated by, or been diminished, by the imposition of formal, decentralized governance upon particular places and environments? Based on the findings of three field studies conducted in northern Burkina under the ‘Crisis States’ research program, I show that, under the present World Bank-supported model, devolving governance ‘down’ from the state also involves scaling ‘up’ from the village. This has created a new set of conflicts over natural resources and power that render the achievement of 'good governance' problematic. Policymakers need to consider the environmental, social and economic impacts of the decentralization process, since it is ongoing in the majority of developing countries.

5) "State, culture, and  landscape transformation in Mongolia"

Hong Jiang, Assistant professor, Geography, Univ of Wisconsin-Madison

As a centralized state, China provides a strong case of governmental impact in the transformation of landscape. Using Uxin Banner of Inner Mongolia as a case study, this paper examines the impact of Chinese state policies on the regional landscape of Uxin over the past five decades. In particular, it investigates how state affects landscape through changing land-use practices at the local level. It will also explore the relationship among central, regional and local states regarding land use, emphasizing the agencies regional and local states have, although within certain constraints. The goal of the paper is to demonstrate the important role of state policy as well as the existence and importance of culture and local agency in land use and landscape change in Inner Mongolia, China.


6) Indigenous Autonomy and Nature Conservation in Latin America: A Comparative Perspective.


Karl Offen, Assistant Professor, Geography, University of Oklahoma.


Over the course of the last decade, indigenous and black autonomy movements have begun to transform the political and conservation geography of Latin America. In this paper, I outline and hypothesize how changing regimes of nature conservation may be impacted by these unprecedented phenomena of territorial and political decentralization. Focusing on Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Panamá, I examine (a) how the various movements emerged and achieved institutional recognition of political and territorial autonomy; (b) how national and autonomous regimes hope to coordinate environmental governance, and (c) how the advent of autonomy has generated new (and often contradictory) ideas among indigenous and black leaders about the role of natural resources in community development. A preliminary political ecology approach suggests that struggles to achieve autonomy have modified the social aspirations and political-economic linkages of indigenous and black community leaders and members, often pitting autonomy goals against the supportive ideals of nature conservation.


7) Contested Timber: Logging, Traditional Harvest, and the Making of an Indigenous Political Movement.


Michael K. Steinberg, assistant Professor, Geography/Anthropology, University of Southern Maine


This presentation examines the conflict between Maya villagers and logging interests over the remaining stands of old-growth tropical forest in southern Belize and the villagers’ use of “indigenousness” in this conflict. Southern Belize is home to two Maya groups, the Mopan and Kekchì, both of which continue to depend on this reserve for hunting and for the collection of non-timber forest products such as medicinal plants. Threats to this reserve by international logging interests have raised concern among Maya villagers who recognize that once the remaining forest is degraded, certain resources will no longer be accessible around the villages. This paper also discusses the political movement among the Maya largely spawned by the logging issue. This movement has battled the government over logging by appealing to the international community employing issues such as cultural survival and tropical biodiversity conservation and new technologies such as the Internet and electronic mail listserves. Because of some political successes, this movement has started to evolve from a single-issue focus group into a more broadly based indigenous rights movement.


8) Rethinking ‘Neo-Marshallian Nodes in Global Networks’: Governance Dilemmas in the Transborder Euregios.


Olivier T. Kramsch, research fellow, Centre for Borders Research, Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen.


Status: draft written


Since the early 1990s the European Union has invested heavily in the construction of cross-border regions -- alternately referred to as euregios, euregions or euroregions -- running along the dorsal spine of its former national political frontiers. Infused with the continent’s hopes of achieving integration “in miniature”, Europe’s euregios have thus been saddled with the difficult task of reconciling and stabilizing a number of contradictions afflicting the wider European “project”: the improvement of efficiency conditions for transnational regimes of accumulation at the level of the EU; the protection and nurturing of local “cultures”; and the creation of viable democratic institutions at the sub-national scale capable of attenuating the neo-liberal effects of welfare-state retrenchment in the provision of basic public entitlements and services. In this, the drama of governance within the euregios is indistinguishable from that urban and regional devolution dynamics operating within a national European framework.


Yet in this paper I argue that the cross-border dimension of European euregios demands a further reframing of the categories traditionally used to apprehend the possibilities for democratic governance at para-state levels, expanding our conception of political community grounded in notions of citizenship, rights, obligations and the spatial parameters of the moral economy. Precisely because the state cannot be “taken for granted” as the final arbiter of social equity and “voice” in setting territorial development priorities within the multinational euregios, a new socio-spatial imaginary is required to represent effective social relations within transborder regional milieux which in some respects echo those demanded at supra-national and global scales. Revisiting the ideas of T.H. Marshall on the bases of constructive citizenship and a body of critical international relations theory, the author draws on recent fieldwork examining the operations of one of the oldest cross-border parliamentary institutions in Europe -- located within the tri-cultural and tri-lingual Maas-Rhein euregio (encompassing Netherlands, Germany and Belgium) – to develop a conceptual language capable of addressing the possibilities and perils of governance within a territorial frame that is inadequately captured by a recently developed urban-centered literature. In short, it proposes that the “right to the city”, at least in an emergent and expanding Europe, must now be widened to include the “right to the transborder euregio”.


9) "Environmental Institutions and Non-governmental Organizations on the U.S.-Mexico Border."


Diana Liverman, Professor, Department of Geography and Regional Development, University of Arizona, Director, Center for Latin American Studies


In the last decade the U.S.-Mexico border region, particularly on the Mexican side, has experienced dramatic changes in economic and political structure, land and water rights, and levels of local activism. Partly in response to critics of NAFTA, new environmental institutions (BECC, CEC, and Border XXI) and citizens’ organizations were established to monitor and mitigate environmental problems in the border region requiring unprecedented levels of local input and public participation in Mexico, and a more equal role for Mexican federal, state and local governments in negotiations with the United States. In this paper I will examine the extent to which these new institutions and relationships have actually changed everyday practices of governance in the border region using a series of case studies as well as interviews with key actors and activists.


10) Local capacity, village governance and the political economy of rural development in Indonesia


Leni Dharmawan, Social Development Group, World Bank, Jakarta, Indonesia; Anthony Bebbington, University of Colorado at Boulder; Erwin Fahmi; Scott Guggenheim, Social Development Group, World Bank, Jakarta, Indonesia




This paper develops a framework for conceptualizing local capacity to address village level livelihood and governance problems.  The framework is based on an analysis of asset distribution, combined with an explicit analysis of the links between processes of state formation, state-business linkages and local forms of social capital.  The framework is used to discuss findings from recent research on village capacity in rural Indonesia.  The discussion suggests that it is possible to link a political economic approach to rural development with recent conceptualizations of social capital.  Such an analysis can illuminate the forms taken by and the effectiveness of village level collective action in ways that either purely political economic or social capital approaches do not. 


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