Inaugural YARA Conference

An international conference forging a strong collaboration among Young African academics for the Transformation of Rural Economies in Africa with the aim of discussing the future of African agriculture was held this month.

The Inaugural Conference of the  Young African Researchers in Agriculture (YARA) network, hosted by the University of the Western Cape (UWC), brought together young and early-career African Masters and PhD level researchers in agriculture from all over the continent.

Professor Ben Cousins, from UWC’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS),  highlighted the importance of having young researchers share their work and perspectives on African agricultural problems.

“This is an extremely important conference as the understanding for these young researchers and their work plays an important part in the future of Africa,” Cousins said. “The understanding they bring to agricultural matters can have important social and economic impacts.”

Food production and food security cannot be delinked from agriculture, and the distribution and security of rights of land, water and other natural resources – particularly in the African context, where more than 60% of the population lives in rural areas – development is necessary for overcoming the twin challenges of poverty and hunger in the continent.

The conference addressed crucial questions such as:

• why the transformation of rural economies in Africa matters; and

• the importance of forging strong collaboration among young African academics to achieve that.

To address these critical questions, the conference was organised around four main themes:

1. Property rights including land governance,

2. Climate change and environment,

3. Food security, and

4. Agro-food systems and rural livelihoods.

Land reform, livelihoods and the implications of bovine liver condemnation on food safety: Agricultural research across Africa

The conference brought together young and early-career African masters and PhD-level researchers in agriculture across Africa to share their findings and discuss the transformation of rural economies in Africa.

UWC’s Phillan Zamchiya examined the myths and realities of land reform in Zimbabwe. One interesting study finding: Zimbabwe’s land redistribution since 2000 included many beneficiaries who were Zimbabwean (government) officials.

“With the small-scale farms, using the Masvingo farm as a case study, 68.2% of beneficiaries were ordinary citizens – the remaining percentage includes governments officials,” he said.

Ishmael Festus Jaja, from the University of Fort Hare, explained his assessment of the causes of bovine liver condemnation in three abattoirs, and its implication for food security and safety in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

“If we can stop food wastage in meat abattoirs, Africa can feed itself,” he said. “We found that in some cases, condemned food in one abattoir came to a total of  R100 000 per month.”

He recommended that animal management, starting with farmers, will help counter food wastage. More farmer education and improving veterinary services will help in providing food for many poor people across Africa, he said.

Gillo Momo Lekane, from the Worker’s College SA, investigated the politics of land and livelihoods, by examining the case of the ‡Khomani.

“In 1931 the San people from the ‡Khomani were evicted from their land, with the sole purpose of establishing the Kalahari Gemsbok National park,” he explained. “This was followed by the criminalisation of hunting – the livelihood of the San people – in the surrounding areas.”

After achieving their land settlement claim in 1999, the title deeds of six farms estimated to 40 000 hectares were redistributed to the rightful owners – but that wasn’t the end of the story.

“Our ongoing project shows us that many of the displaced people from this area lost their identity when being evicted,” he noted. “We will continue investigating this matter and obtain more results.”

The conference also  provided YARA members the opportunity to reflect on and forge short, medium and long-term plans of action and implementation mechanisms. In addition, the conference identified possible gaps for further investigation and identified opportunities for research collaboration and partnership between young African academics.