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PLAAS agricultural researchers partner in major international study

PLAAS agricultural researchers partner in major international study

As student registration kicked off at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), a group of international researchers was also gathering at the University to take stock of an ambitious study looking to determine if greater commercialization of agriculture could improve the lot of women and girls in the sector.

Answering that question is one of the primary objectives of the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) consortium. This five-year research programme seeks to identify and find new evidence on the pathways to agricultural commercialization that would, potentially, be the most effective in “empowering women, reducing rural poverty and improving food and nutrition security in sub-Saharan Africa”.

To this end, researchers from Africa, Europe and the US will work across three work streams in six focal countries in Africa, namely Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Two secondary countries, Kenya and Mozambique, will also form part of the study.

UK government funding

Officially launched in late 2017 and scheduled to run until 2021, APRA is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). It builds, explains Prof John Thompson, research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in the UK, on a decade-long research programme driven by the IDS (and also partly funded by DFID) exploring issues around the political economy of agricultural development in Africa.

“DFID is really interested in knowing how commercial agriculture is driving change in Africa, and who’s benefiting from it,” explains Thompson.

From that initial programme also sprang a think tank known as the Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC). This is an Africa-based alliance of research organizations – hosted at the IDS – conducting research on how to improve agricultural policy and practice in Africa.

An ambitious research agenda

The UWC meeting was the first annual review of progress on APRA, and was attended by research partners from Africa, the US, and the UK and the rest of Europe. The meeting was hosted by UWC’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), which joined the FAC some seven years ago when the Consortium sought to incorporate land issues into its research, and forms the Southern Africa hub of the research consortium.

APRA’s work streams will include in-depth panel studies made up of in-depth interviews with some 600-800 households per country, a longitudinal study, and a set of six multi-country studies covering a range of important policy topics. As a whole, the studies will allow researchers to do side-by-side comparisons of countries as they explore commercialization pathways, with the aim of collecting evidence that could shape policy in participating countries.

PLAAS leadership on growth corridors

PLAAS leads the APRA workstream focused on ‘growth corridors’ (areas with integrated infrastructure) along Africa’s eastern seaboard, linking Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique.

“Growth corridors are one way in which both government and private investors are trying to concentrate resources and planning to develop commercial agriculture,” explains PLAAS’s Professor Ruth Hall.

But in addition to looking at commercialization as a process, adds Hall, APRA will also unpack who benefits from commercialization, whether or not it empowers women and girls, whether it reduces poverty and inequality, and whether it bolsters food security and nutrition.

“Even where commercialization might seem like it’s succeeding, it may only be in the interest of relative elites,” she notes. “So we need to understand what kind of commercialization is poverty-reducing, food security-enhancing and empowering of women and girls.”

New capacity for research and policy advice

In the process, valuable research findings are being generated for smaller countries that may, up to now, not have had the capacity to conduct such expansive studies.

For a largely agrarian nation like Malawi, for instance, successful commercialization can only be founded on the right evidence, notes Professor Blessings Chinsinga of the Department of Political & Administrative Studies at the University of Malawi.

“APRA will allow us to better understand the factors that are enabling, or constraining, agricultural commercialization,” Chinsinga says.

“What we’re trying to do is combine quantitative work with qualitative work, and work on the political economy of these countries, which by bringing all that together gives us a much richer picture,” summarizes Thompson.

APRA will also hold regional, and topic-specific, meetings throughout its duration, and engage with African governments and regional bodies to provide policy advice on the basis of the research.

“This way we can really understand the trends and changes, and the outcomes – both at the household level, and the intra-household level.”


CAPTION: Delegates from Africa, Europe and the US gathered at UWC for the first review meeting of the international APRA project looking at the benefits (and beneficiaries) of greater commercialisation of agriculture.