A number of interesting findings are emerging and have been documented in the field rural development and rural livelihoods. However, the communicative aspect of the research findings is limited due to a number of reasons; (1) Research in rural dynamics is very complex and involves social, economic and environmental dimensions. Often there are limitations to include all these dimensions in a single study. Hence, most researchers in the field tend to be selective in terms of emphases given. (2) Contextualisation of research is a typical characteristic of rural studies and it is common that similar research themes are interpreted differently. Therefore, it is crucial that rural studies are able to communicate their findings in order to quality them and to establish dialogues with other interpretations and perspectives. This research network aims at initiating a framework/platform for communication and reflection on theories, concepts, methods and interpretations related to rural development research with particular emphasis on livelihoods, land and natural resources. The network will also help to disseminate the findings to reach a wider public, NGOs and as well to inform policy makers.
The research network will address three major themes:
1. Rural poverty is deepening in East and Southern Africa in a context of low levels of agricultural productivity and resource degradation. The average annual growth in GDP in sub-Saharan Africa during the period 1980–2000 was negative 1.1 per cent. Important responses by rural households are to diversify their economic activities and more intensively utilise available land and natural resources. Today more than half of rural incomes in sub-Saharan Africa are non-farm, but much of this diversification is related to survival rather than investments and accumulation. The network will specifically focus on the relationship between livelihood diversification and land issues, natural resource access and governance in East and Southern Africa. Scarcity induced conflicts over land and natural resources are on the rise. The pressure on these resources as well is on the increase due to rise in commercial investments and exports. E.g. Chinese sourcing for external resources, including timber, is now felt strongly in the region, due to ban on further exploitation in China itself. Hence there is both a subsistence and survival pressure as well as a commercial and export pressure on land and natural resources building up in East and Southern Africa.
2. The research network will as well analyse historical trajectories of different countries in the region, notably Ethiopia, Eastern and Southern Africa and inquire about the colonial legacy on institutions and law and their implications for post-colonial land and natural resource managements. The evolution of the more recent policy and legal processes regarding land and natural resources in most countries will be addressed with a particular view to how they promote poverty reduction, address gender issues and sustainability aspects.
3. Gender issues are central to management of land and natural resources, productivity development and food security. Analysis of indigenous institutions as regards the rights and role of women in agricultural production and natural resource use and management will be important. The implications of more secure property rights arrangements for productivity increase and food security will also be a major focus.
The co-operating institutions are of very different character, some are university institutions, some are centres or independent research institutions. The institutions involved are funded through the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Agriculture. The co-ordinating institution, the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI) is funded by the Swedish Foreign Ministry and Sida and as well by the foreign ministries of other Nordic countries. NAI has a particular mandate to promote African related research in the Nordic countries, establish research networks and co-operate with African research institutions and universities. The co-operating institutions will engage actively with the Swedish network and extend co-operation with the East- and Southern co-operating network as well as Nordic and other institutions. We envisage at this state that we need around SEK 300 000 annually to run the planned activities, including website, seminars, publication of policy briefs, reports and articles as well as funding of joint seminars with the co-operating Africa research network. We envisage to run this network for at least five years, and if funding allow, even further.
Sida's comments to the project (in Swedish) (pdf).