Journal Article


The Politics of Seed in Africa’s Green Revolution

Published on 13 June 2011

This IDS Bulletin takes one element of a bigger debate – the future of cereal seed systems in Africa – and examines some of the challenges, dilemmas, prospects and possibilities for the future, deploying an explicitly critical analytical lens to look at the political economy of seed systems in Africa’s Green Revolution.

It asks: ‘What interests frame the dominant narratives driving this policy agenda? What alternatives are excluded as a consequence? Who gains and who loses? And what processes of agrarian change are promoted as a result?’

As calls for a ‘Uniquely African Green Revolution’ gain momentum, a focus on seeds and seed systems is rising up the agricultural policy agenda. Much of the debate stresses the technological or market dimensions, with substantial investments being made in seed improvement and the development of both public and private sector delivery systems. But this misses out the political economy of policy processes behind this agenda: whose interests are being served?

This IDS Bulletin, with its central emphasis on cereal seed systems, focuses on the under-addressed political-economic dimensions that have hindered the emergence and spread of lasting improvements in agricultural productivity. It examines how the new Green Revolution in Africa is unfolding in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe, highlighting both the diversity of experiences and the common challenges and pitfalls. Moving beyond the generic hype of much policy discussion, the articles in this collection draw out historical lessons, as well as contemporary experiences from the field.

The issue builds on a collaborative research project carried out during 2009-11 under the auspices of the Future Agricultures Consortium, a partnership of African and UK researchers working on African agricultural policy issues.

Full abstracts and how to subscribe

Order this Bulletin

Table of contents

The Politics of Seed in Africa’s Green Revolution: Alternative Narratives and Competing Pathways Ian Scoones and John Thompson

The Political Ecology of Cereal Seed Development in Africa: A History of Selection James C. McCann

Plant-breeding in Sub-Saharan Africa in an Era of Donor Dependence John Lynam

From Farmer Participation to Pro-poor Seed Markets: The Political Economy of Commercial Cereal Seed Networks in Ghana Kojo Sebastian Amanor

Seeds and Subsidies: The Political Economy of Input Programmes in Malawi Blessings Chinsinga

The Political Economy of Ethiopian Cereal Seed Systems: State Control, Market Liberalisation and Decentralisation Dawit Alemu

Can Agro-dealers Deliver the Green Revolution in Kenya? Hannington Odame and Elijah Muange

The Politics of Seed Relief in Zimbabwe Charity Mutonodzo-Davies and Douglas Magunda

Crowdsourcing Crop Improvement in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Proposal for a Scalable and Inclusive Approach to Food Security Jacob van Etten

Whose Power to Control? Some Reflections on Seed Systems and Food Security in a Changing World Geoff Tansey


Ian Scoones

Professorial Fellow

John Thompson

Research Fellow

Publication details

published by
Scoones, I. and Thompson, J.
IDS Bulletin, volume 42, issue 4


About this publication

Related content