Friday, February 24, 2012

on land grabbing again...

This week I just came a cross this interesting article on land grabbing. It is one of the first that also mentions that some of the projects are failing, mainly due to soil fertility. See
I also heart some rumors that one land grabber, in Gambella region in Ethiopia, is thinking of handing back his land to the government, mainly because it is too difficult to get things organised. It is especially difficult to get labor force that can work on farm, in zone where local people are used to pastoralistic life styles.
Nonetheless the land grabbing goes on in Gambella region, as suggested by this article :

Interesting story to follow...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Where does the milk in Nairobi come from?

During my current stay in Nairobi, i joint my friends for a typical Kenyan Sunday. After church, we took off to the suburbs of Nairobi, to visit an old auntie that has just lost her husband. We then took a walk in the surroundings and visited the neighbors.
One of them is a smallholder (my guess is around a hectare) and runs a dairy farm. He has about 20 dairy cows, plus 5 -7 oxen. This is the biggest dairy farm developed by a smallholder that I have seen in Africa.  All the animals were improved breeds and are held in a cut and carry system (the fodder is brought to the cow). Main feed is the napier grass complemented with malt. He was claiming to get about 20 liter milk per cow a a day (which is high for Africa). 
As he has a small area only, he cannot produce sufficient fodder, and so he buys it from the surrounding farms. This implies that there is a market for fodder, which allow him to concentrated on his dairy cows. By the end of the day he sells the milk to Fresha coopertive that will pack it and bring it to the Nairobi supermarkets.

I think this is a very nice example of a smallholder that managed to intensify and compete on the food market. Up until today, science could not yet figure out if there is truly space for smallholders to intensify and compete on the food world market, or if it is only a transition towards bigger commercial farms. 
Let's look at Ethiopia then. I was told that the milk i usually buy in Addis is produced by commercial farms around Debre Zeit, I have not really heart of any cooperative with smallholder bringing their product to market and therefore intensifying smallholders do not look a transition to commercial farming. In the Ethiopian case, it seems that there is not much space for smallholders to enter the world market. Is it just my ignorance about the Ethiopian dairy sector? or do we need to rely on some of the "new institutional economics" concept to understand what makes the fodder and milk transactions in Kenya and Ethiopia so different? 
It definitely shows that there is scope for understanding better if and under which conditions smallholders have a real chance to compete in a world food market. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ambitious plans for Ethiopia

ZDF, the German TV has just brought a documentary on Ethiopia's ambitious plans. A great documentary that shows urban life, in Addis and Nekemte and shows more about the coffee trade.!-Aethiopiens-Plaene
It basically focuses on the fast moving cities, the economic boom, the growing international (coffee) trade, the Chinese... interesting...
But Ethiopia could be so much more that the cheap producing shoes country and a coffee exporting nation as shown in the documentary. In the highland farmers produce about 10% from the full potential, of which 30-50% is lost in post-harvesting. There is a huge potential to become a major player on the world food market, if supply chains are developed, agriculture mechanized, improved varieties and livestock breeds combined with fertility management (fertilizer, and erosion control).
But somehow no one has yet understood how to get there and make use of the potential gains. Nor NGOs, nor extension services (government), nor the foreign investor (land grabbers), have managed to make use of these potential gains...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Informal institutions in rural Ethiopia

The "barefoot hedge-fund manager" as described in the book poor economics ( face a multitude of risk : droughts, health, death both from family member but also animals, income. With the rare exceptions of weather insurances (provided nowadays still on experimental bases), the is no insurance company to take over all these risks. Therefore, many informal institutions have developed in the Ethiopian rural area in order to help smallholder to cope with these different risks. Some institutions support cost of funerals, some help when medicine is needed, some allow to exchange labor. It is a complex issue, as most of the informal institutions address more than one risk. An intern started working on my project, and makes a broad literature review and test some hypothesis on an existing farm household dataset.

During one of my field trip (see, I was invited to a Mehaber meeting. Mehaber is a religious based organisation. Every week farmers meet at the house of one of the members. Each member brings it contribution in food and in money. They share a meal and tela (local beer). They discuss and look for solutions for any emerging problem and conflict. If one farmer faces an individual problem, the Mehaber member can decide to support that member financially. In Adet, where i was invited to the meeting, the Mehaber also organised the collective management on grassland, and the cut and carry system. It suggests that some of these institutions are able to organize collective action around water management : another issue which the intern will try to investigate. 

Mehaber meeting near to Adet

find here a more recent post about informal institutions in Ethiopia  or check the institution tag.