Ungovernable? Biotech and its xerophytic challenges

Ungovernable? Biotech and its xerophytic challenges

Xerophytes are known to ‘rise from the dead’. They are families of plants that are adapted to living under arid desert conditions, sometimes appearing dead and good for writing-off. Yet, through their multiple anatomical and morphological adaptations to their environments, they are able to survive and continue their life cycle when conditions improve. Policies, ideas, practices and indeed innovations do too. In my research and practice experience, I have observed a number of issues coming back to the fore and making unexpected and expected impacts alike on contemporary practice, not least in the unpredictable African journey towards development and implementation of mechanisms to govern the adoption and use of genetically modified crops.

Participating in a southern African conference on biotechnology and biosafety from the 3rd to 5th of March in Pretoria, South Africa was a de javu moment. It brought me face to face again with the persistence of pro- and anti-biotechnology battle lines two decades and several billion investment-dollars into a technology that is meant to be as good for farmers and consumers as it is for seed and agro-chemical companies. A lot of the realities surrounding how countries have been attempting to develop and/or harness and deploy GM-based biotechnologies in their agricultural systems came back to the fore. In fact, most of the realities have not gone away at all … issues of legitimacy when it comes to who leads harmonisation processes; issues of varied and varying institutional custodians of biotech in countries;  issues of how to harness and embed regulatory lessons into national and regional systems; the contentious roles of multinational agrochemical and seed companies in championing adoption and governance of biotech in the region; the neglected role of history in shaping current agendas … it’s a complex and dynamic mix of realities that need recognition and taking on board in shaping and directing policy agendas. But how this happens in practice is an entirely different challenge altogether. It’s a path that has been walked and it appears players new and old all walk the same path. For theory, policy and practice, there is a challenge to interrogate the origins and ‘hiding places’ for the pockets of policy and practice tensions, how to ameliorate them, and what impact they have on policy and practice hindsight and foresight. Is it possible for there to be innovative and adaptive engagement mechanisms, linked intricately to all voices ‘loud and quiet’, and for policy stagnation and gridlocks resulting from ‘resurrecting’ issues to be minimized? Or is modern ag-biotech simply ungovernable in Africa??

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Helping Africa to thrive in a changing global economy

Helping Africa to thrive in a changing global economy

The burgeoning economies of some rapidly developing countries, notably China, India and Brazil, are shifting the global balance of power dramatically.

Nowhere has the impact of these so-called ‘rising powers’ been greater than in Africa, where Chinese trade and investment now outstrips that of the West.

But while China has a coherent Africa policy, Africa lacks a coherent response to China’s growing involvement in the continent’s development.

Now a team of researchers at The Open University (OU) is helping close this policy gap. The team is working closely with African partners on a series of projects enabling governments and private sector and development organisations to better understand the opportunities and challenges presented by the rising powers, and devise strategies which benefit Africa.

Initiated by Professor Raphael Kaplinsky and currently led by Professor Giles Mohan, the team broke new ground in 2008 when it launched the first rigorous academic research into the rising powers’ impact in Africa.

This research was carried out in collaboration with the African Economic Research Consortium, the leading Africa-based research network for economic analysis and policy support to African governments and regional bodies. 

It resulted in the pioneering African Drivers programme which analysed the rising powers’ impact in 22 individual African countries.

The team has further collaborated with UN Office of the Special Adviser to Africa, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African Union, NEPAD and the African Development Bank, to increase the scope and reach of their work.

Their reports have, according to the UN Industrial Development Organisation, provided a ‘template for industrial policy in both the public and private sector’, and a ‘practical and constructive road map to push forward the industrialisation agenda’.

The research has also identified new opportunities for small-scale producers in African countries to cater for the Chinese demand for African commodities. In South Africa, it has inspired and guided a number of major development programmes to raise standards and increase competitiveness in key industries such as textiles, clothing and automotive components.

The research has been used by the Judge President of South Africa’s Appeal Court to increase his understanding of the global economy and inform his judgments in a number of competition law cases.

It has also been used to shape the strategies of firms in Britain with links to Africa. The director of one Northants-based firm said that being involved in working with the research team “has helped me think more strategically about how I do business in East Africa”, and has enabled his main client in East Africa to persuade its client, an international mining firm, to source far more of its supplies locally.

“The research has overturned a prevailing assumption that Africa has no say in shaping its own destiny,” said Professor Kaplinsky.

“The Open University team has moved the analytical and policy debate on from a crude ‘impact of China on Africa’ perspective, to explore the role of African agents.”

“This research provides evidence that Africa’s private sector is playing a proactive role in in deepening links with China.”

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Let’s not be impatient, there is hope for South Africa’s future

Let’s not be impatient, there is hope for South Africa’s future

South Africa is not the most comfortable country to live in. Unemployment levels dwarf those in the troubled economies of Europe. The unemployed survive because families redistribute income internally, through occasional and generally informal employment, and often by living off the proceeds of crime.

The very poor have risen in number despite 20 years of democratic rule. The rich elite flourish, often because of inherited privilege (the white population), because of their early access to higher education (the black elite) or as a consequence of an alarming rise in corruption (the kleptocratic, or thieving, elite). Violence is endemic, not just in the crime statistics, but often within families, in assaults on women and in everyday social contact.

Black empowerment policies have struck a chord with a formerly disadvantaged population. But often they were implemented too rapidly, leading to services becoming less efficient. Empowerment has also too often masked the pillaging of resources by the new elite in the name of redressing past inequities.

This is not the South Africa that we dreamed of at the transition to democracy in 1994. It is not the South Africa that Nelson Mandela envisioned when he strode out of prison in 1990. So, what went wrong?

The first thing to point out is that it did not go “all wrong”. In some respects, the new South Africa is not as bad as it seems. Despite poor delivery of policies, access to electricity, water and decent housing have improved for many. While the management of the economy has rightly been criticised for its failure to redress past inequities (merely adding a black elite to the formerly almost exclusively white privileged class), it did pursue macroeconomic policies which provided for stability.

However South Africa, blessed with gold, diamonds and many other minerals, singularly failed to take advantage of the recent commodity boom. Its growth has lagged behind that of many of its neighbouring African economies. Most damagingly, the rate and direction of current economic growth will do little to absorb the large number of unemployed.

South Africa does have a thriving civil society. Its population knows its rights, and is not scared to demand that they be satisfied. There is opposition to corruption, and signs that the kleptocratic elements in the ANC may lead it to pay a costly electoral price in next years elections.

It is often said that the real miracle of Mandela was that he made us believe that history does not count, as if we could wipe away the damage of decades of apartheid. But history does count.

The brutality of apartheid ingrained violence in the lives of much of South Africa’s population. The iniquitous system of migrant labour forced fathers to leave their families in the rural areas for 48 weeks a year to work on the mines which enriched the elite. This led to a breakdown in social skills and commonly accepted norms among the young, and sewed the seeds of omnipresent violence.

The outlawing of civilised political processes undermined the growth of a democratic culture which allows differences to flourish and to be tolerated.

And, finally, the failure of the apartheid system to invest in education and training meant that many of those who moved into highly skilled jobs after transition lacked the experience and skills required to perform their new roles efficiently.

Many of these historical legacies were evident in other African nations which had been decolonised after the 1960s. It took two generations before a highly competent, educated and hardworking generation emerged to challenge the corruption and incompetence of their forebears.

Today, South Africa faces these same challenges. But if countries elsewhere on the continent are managing to overcome the legacy of colonialism, then there is hope for the future.

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DPP 30-year anniversary event: Opening up Development

DPP 30-year anniversary event

Tuesday 24 June 2014, 10.30am – 6.30pm

‘Opening up development: 30 years of Development Policy and Practice (DPP)’

Venue: Berrill Building, Walton Hall Campus, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA

Since its establishment in 1984, DPP has elaborated a broad perspective on international development in our teaching and research activities, linking these with policy and practice.  We focus on:
•        Links between global historical processes and development interventions
•        Research that aims to shape policy and practice
•        Teaching that empowers students to engage with the contemporary challenges of development.

On 24 June we will celebrate our 30th anniversary with a special event.  Everyone is invited to attend.  Save the date!

Closer to the time this site will include more information and please register so that we can prepare name-badges and plan the catering.

The event will be web-streamed for those who are unable to attend.

Timetable (preliminary)

10.30: Registration & coffee

11.00:  Brief introduction to the day

11.15: DPP’s Origins
Why was DPP created?  Why ‘Development Policy and Practice’?

12.30: lunch

1.30:  DPP’s Legacy
What legacy from DPP activities has continuing importance and relevance?

3.00: DPP’s Engagement Activities
How has DPP engaged with various stakeholders and policy processes?

4.40:  Professor Hazel Johnson’s inaugural lecture

Engaging with International Development

5.30    Reception

This event is supported by:

  • OU Communications Unit
  • Engineering and Innovation (E&I) Department
  • Maths Computing & Technology (MCT) Faculty
  • Innovation Knowledge Development (IKD) Research Centre
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Blogpost: ‘Good will’: a tale of two countries by A.Borda-Rodriguez

In this blog Alexander Borda Rodriguez reflects on the concept of 'good will' emerging from recent fieldwork and data collected in 2008.

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