Opportunities and conflicts in rapid agricultural growth: creating awareness and policy engagement with contract farming in Southern Africa

Lead Research Organisation: School of Oriental & African Studies
Department Name: Development Studies

Abstract

Agricultural sectors in sub-Saharan Africa have historically experienced production booms and periods of accelerated growth. However, at the mercy of global market fluctuations, political or economic crises, the gains obtained during periods of rapid expansion are also rapidly lost. More attentive study of the dynamics that underpin agricultural booms gives us clues for understanding under which set of conditions do producers find solutions to the constraints that otherwise prevent their effective integration to markets. Such bottlenecks include the absence of agricultural credit to finance production; the scarce provision of research and development and technical assistance necessary to enhance both productivity and investible surpluses; and the relative underdevelopment of the infrastructure and logistical services that boost domestic value addition and that guarantee the timely and coordinated arrival of commodities to processors and consumers. This research set out to identify how the transformation produced by periods of accelerated growth can be transferred into other economic sectors in a sustainable manner that can effectively benefit the most deprived segments of the population. In light of these considerations the foundational research conducted as part of this proposal examined the way an agricultural boom in the production of cured tobacco leaf unfolded over a period of two decades in central Mozambique, one of the most deprived areas of the country and the region most harshly affected by the violence and destruction of the Mozambican civil war (1977-1992). The research documented the mechanisms and institutions that helped solve binding constraints during the tobacco boom and examined the positive impact that the expansion of production had on the livelihoods of thousands of tobacco farmers. However, the research also found that, to a great extent, the impressive growth of Mozambique's tobacco sector, now the country's foremost agricultural export, was largely predicated on the contribution of unpaid labour by members of the farming households and in many cases on the work of hired migrant workers in very precarious conditions. The research concluded that the benefits of agricultural growth are highly unevenly distributed and that specific interventions on the part of state institutions and unions are necessary in order to guarantee that economic expansion leads to effective productivity upgrading without being simply based on the exploitative mobilisation of precarious labour. Insights and analysis presented in the research demonstrate this contradiction.
In order for these research insights to reach academic and policy-making audiences and for them to have a transformative impact, a solid dissemination and advocacy strategy is necessary. The proposed fellowship will focus on the preparation of different academic papers and policy briefs adjusted to the diverse languages and requirements of academic and non-academic communication. These documents will help structure a set of meetings with representatives of the Mozambican state and labour unions at national and provincial level and will furnish them with arguments, data and policy proposals in order to support policy makers in the process of adopting a more nuanced approach to the contradictory needs of different social groups intervening in agricultural production. The project will also consolidate the work of setting up a network of scholars working on contract farming and tobacco in the Southern African region with the aim of devising a strategy to invite regional governments to boost coordination and exchanges in the regulation of the tobacco sector.

Publications

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Pérez Niño, H. (2018) General Labour History of Africa

 
Description The research, activities and exchanges supported by this award resulted in the following key findings: 1) Despite growth, dynamism and rapid recovery in tobacco production and exports in Southern Africa, the sector is unlike to provide the conditions for upgrading for domestic firms. The research detailed the entry barriers and monopoly conditions that would prevent Southern African firms from breaking into segments of the chain with higher productivity and added value. The challenge therefore in terms of tobacco sectors in Southern Africa is to, on the one hand, develop the kind of public policy that can guarantee better working conditions and fair pricing for the region's producers (that is, to revert the current arrangement where Southern African tobacco is competitive by virtue of incorporating predominantly unpaid household labour) and, on the other hand to harness and transfer the lessons and solutions devised within the sector to unleash the productive articulation of African producers into other export markets. One key contribution of this research is the more precise identification of the limitations and potential contribution to broad based growth of the tobacco boom in Southern Africa. 2) In spite of the structural limitations for upgrading, the tobacco boom in Southern Africa has produced pockets of productivity enhancement and capital accumulation among small and medium scale producers. The research contributed to ascertaining this paradox. The research also found instances of this in all countries studied. Such producers are reinvesting and diversifying their production portfolio. Future research should provide recommendations about policy initiatives that could ensure that the transfer of resources and capacity away from tobacco results in less exploitative conditions of production. 3) The research found that - in varying degrees - states in the region have failed to integrate their tobacco policy (in those cases where there is one) to their broader industrial strategy. Tobacco is the main agricultural employer and a key source of export revenues. The current neglect for tobacco as a sector led by powerful multinational companies is not conducive to formulating an effective project for the structural transformations of these economies. More, not less involvement of the state in the sector is necessary in all countries of the region. 4) The areas of research that will require future study and other type of expertise are linked to understanding the drivers of price fluctuations, the global price and supply dynamics and their implications for African producers and a more incisive study of the tobacco leaf multinationals and their global corporate strategy.
Exploitation Route In the near future it is necessary to study the interconnections between different tobacco exporting regions and the role of leaf trading multinationals. Considerable work has already been done towards understanding tobacco manufacturing, retail and consumption, but there is an imbalance when it comes to charting tobacco production and leaf sourcing. We expect this to be a new frontier of research in following decade. Similarly, there is emerging research about the dynamics of contract farming expansion in most agricultural chains stemming from very different geographies. A reassessment of the extent to which contract farming may be expansion may be a reflection of the production and trade pressures of the current moment in the globalization of agriculture is similarly urgent.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description My work has contributed to raising the awareness of the prevalence, magnitude and social significance of contract farming as an increasingly dominant form of agricultural production engaging small-scale producers in Southern Africa. Efforts conducted under the auspices of this project allowed scholars and practitioners reckoning with the growth of contract farming in separate national and sub-national cases to realise that contract farming is expressive of structural transformation of agriculture in the region and that governments and civil society organisations should devote resources to thinking about ways in which policy and legislation can help promote the well-being of producers and workers in contract farming schemes, as it has been demonstrated that policy formulated without awareness of the specificity of contract farming will fail to deliver to the growing number of households depending on such contracts for their livelihood (an area of research funded by this project). The present project has raised awareness in international policy circles (and increasingly increasingly among policy makers in the region) about the changing trends in tobacco production and export. This project has contributed to understanding that these dynamics can no longer be studied separately for different countries and that the limits and lack of sustainability of the crop has regional drivers and implications. Efforts supported by this project allowed or the discussion of dynamics in the global tobacco commodity chain in fora dedicated to other commodity chains. This contributed to understanding how tobacco interacts with other commodity chains and why transnational companies exporting tobacco seek Southern Africa as a sourcing geography. Notably, the focus on tobacco helped identify limitations in the way decision makers in the agricultural sector register the obstacles and challenges facing productive upgrading. Tobacco is unique in the regions for its typical use of unpaid household labour (as opposed to hired-in workers) and very small units of production.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Research network on tobacco in Southern Africa 
Organisation Institute of Development Studies
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A group of UK and Southern Africa based scholars working on tobacco met to discuss the best ways to exchange experiences and build a corpus of research, analysis and policy recommendations focused of the regional dynamics. This project covered the costs and logistics of the meetings with other institutions covering part of the transport and accommodation cost for participants.
Collaborator Contribution A group of UK and Southern Africa based scholars working on tobacco met to discuss the best ways to exchange experiences and build a corpus of research, analysis and policy recommendations focused of the regional dynamics. This project covered the costs and logistics of the meetings with other institutions covering part of the transport and accommodation cost for participants.
Impact A special issue on the Tobacco boom in Southern Africa is being prepared and will provide a platform for developing other forms of engagement with practitioners and policy makers in the region.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Research network on tobacco in Southern Africa 
Organisation Lund University
Country Sweden 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A group of UK and Southern Africa based scholars working on tobacco met to discuss the best ways to exchange experiences and build a corpus of research, analysis and policy recommendations focused of the regional dynamics. This project covered the costs and logistics of the meetings with other institutions covering part of the transport and accommodation cost for participants.
Collaborator Contribution A group of UK and Southern Africa based scholars working on tobacco met to discuss the best ways to exchange experiences and build a corpus of research, analysis and policy recommendations focused of the regional dynamics. This project covered the costs and logistics of the meetings with other institutions covering part of the transport and accommodation cost for participants.
Impact A special issue on the Tobacco boom in Southern Africa is being prepared and will provide a platform for developing other forms of engagement with practitioners and policy makers in the region.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Southern Africa - India agrarian research exchange 
Organisation University of the Western Cape
Country South Africa 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As an activity covered by this project a group of early career researchers working on agrarian change in Southern Africa and India met to exchange their field work experiences, present their research and reflect collectively around a core debates in the literature and a shared theoretical framework. This research project funded the accommodation of the researchers during the workshop, with the partner organisation funding travel and subsistence costs.
Collaborator Contribution As an activity covered by this project a group of early career researchers working on agrarian change in Southern Africa and India met to exchange their field work experiences, present their research and reflect collectively around a core debates in the literature and a shared theoretical framework. This research project funded the accommodation of the researchers during the workshop, with the partner organisation funding travel and subsistence costs.
Impact A special issue proposal on comparative agrarian change in India and Southern Africa is currently under preparation
Start Year 2017