ICDD's Research Agenda 2015-2019

While the ICDD encompasses various disciplines, among them agricultural science, political science, sociology and economics, it is strongly committed to promoting multidisciplinary research approaches to specific decent work issues. In the first phase of the ICDD (2009-14), the center made a committed contribution to the attainment of Millennium Development Goal 1 Target 2 (full employment and decent work for all) by focusing its research on three thematic clusters (Sustainable Value Creation for Decent Work, Instruments for Promoting Decent Work, Strategies of Empowerment for Decent Work): Alongside the setting of the United Nation's post-MDG agenda and particularlySustainable Development Goal #8 to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all, the ICDD modifies and widens its research focus to five thematic areas in the period 2015-19:

Decent Work along the Agricultural Value Chains

The concept of value chains (or production networks) in relationship to decent work has gained increasing attention in international political economy (Gereffi, 1994; Herr/Muzira, 2009), management studies (Porter 1985), and agricultural sciences (Swinnen/Maertens, 2007; Trienekens/Jacques, 2011). Recently it has been picked up in a collaborative report by the OECD, WTO and UNCTAD (2013). According to Neilson et al. (2014) it has become a mature concept which nevertheless leaves a number of issues unresolved. In particular the social dimension has received little attention up to now. Most of the research has dealt with the issue of economic upgrading, which is defined as “the process by which economic actors – nations, firms and workers – move from low-value to relatively high-value activities in global production networks” (Gereffi, 2005: 171). Economic upgrading has been differentiated (Barrientos et al., 2010) into product and process upgrading as well as functional upgrading (taking on more functions such as finishing and packaging) and chain upgrading (moving to a different, more technologically advanced production chain). Given that commodity producers such as cocoa farmers in Ghana capture only about 4% of the final value of a chocolate bar (Gilbert, 2008), designing and implementing economic upgrading strategies will likely contribute to higher returns and improved income for farmers in the Global South. Despite many studies on the best ways for economic upgrading, few countries in the developing world have succeeded in implementing effective strategies. The role of the state at the local and national level and especially the question of how to enhance state capacity in support of upgrading strategies remain unresolved issues (Neilson et al., 2014). In addition, the social and political obstacles to innovations are little understood so far (Altenburg, 2009).

However, economic upgrading is not sufficient to guarantee decent work. Returning to the cocoa example of Ghana, increased efficiency in the production of cocoa may actually lead to fewer jobs in the cocoa producing areas. The new jobs in the cities created by functional upgrading may not fulfill the decent work criteria because the added value captured in Ghana may not be distributed to the workers. Therefore, economic upgrading has to be complemented by social upgrading (Barrientos and Smith 2007). Social upgrading is about enhancing the protection and rights of workers with positive spillover effects for their dependents and communities. Social upgrading can be measured with the help of the Decent Work indicators.

The ICDD network can add value to this research agenda by making use of its multidisciplinary character, bringing together the different strands of the global value chain analysis. In addition to the sociological approach of the pioneer in social upgrading, Stefanie Barrientos, to the issue of social upgrading (two ICDD members have collaborated with her: Webster and Fakier from WITS), the network can mobilize expertise concerning the production process from the perspective of agricultural science as well as mechanical engineering for agriculture, the power dimensions at the nodal points of the commodity chain (political science), the management of supply chains (management science), and the international political and market conditions (international political economy).

Some members of the ICDD have already analyzed local value chains, especially in the dairy sector of Kenya and Pakistan. This research shall be enhanced through a comparative framework and a stronger interdisciplinary approach. As the ICDD network is located in a number of countries with different agricultural commodities, ICDD sponsored research will look at various commodity chains. It will thereby differentiate between commodity chains starting with smallholders and with plantations and it will not just analyze already established commodity chains (such as cocoa and palm oil), but will also look at the possibilities for poor rural areas to link with global commodity chains. A case in point could be the smallholder production of dates in Pakistan, but also of native fruits and vegetables that, though largely forgotten by city dwellers, could enrich their diet while at the same time preserve bio-diversity and provide income opportunities for rural communities - which is a research focus at the ICDD partner Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Mexico.

Related Research Projects

  • Global Agricultural Production Systems (G.A.P.S) with 6 subprojects:
    • Supply Chain Governance: A Decent Work Approach to Optimize the Mango Value Chain System
    • Income Generation Using Solar Based Food Processing Technologies for Rural Community
    • Mapping the Global Value Chain of Cashew Nut Processing Units
    • Agrodiversity, Agricultural Value Chains and Decent Work in Rural Areas of Yucatan
    • Structural Aspects of the Melon Production Chain Produced in Brazilian Northeastern Semiarid Region
    • Pilot Study of Small Tea Growers in India: Issues of the Value Chain & Decent Work

Organizing the Informal Economy

The informal economy is marked by acute decent work deficits and a disproportionate share of the working poor. According to the ILO, the informal economy encompasses own-account workers, employers employed in their own informal sector enterprises, contributing family workers, workers in unregistered businesses, and workers who are excluded from standard employment benefits and protection such as pension coverage and medical insurance (ILO, 2014). The persistence of a large number of workers in the agricultural sector with low levels of productivity and income is linked to limited governmental or social resources to make possible the inclusion of those workers in any kind of social protection schemes (Guha-Khasnobis et al., 2006).

An element that plays an important role in the strength and extension of social protection nets for specific industries and types of labor (home based workers, agricultural workers, and small holders) are member-based organizations akin to unions. For the particular case of home-based garment workers, this has been examined in a cross country perspective by a research team with ICDD members from Brazil and South Africa (Tilly et al., 2013). Government interventions, unions and self-organization all play a role in making possible for these workers to have access to social and labor protection.

In agriculture, the General Agricultural Workers Union of Ghana (GAWU) has initiated an Outgrowers Association which tries to unite informal farmers by taking up issues of cultivation, sales, prices and women empowerment. As a number of GAWU officials are alumni of the ICDD programs and as other alumni at the last ICDD Alumni Applied Research School have come up with a plan for cross-country comparative research on organizing informal sector workers, the ICDD will support research on the possibilities for trade unions to support the organization of informal workers and smallholders. The case studies by the alumni will be guided by other alumni who have obtained a PhD and are now working at universities or research institutions. Their work will be complemented by a group of ICDD faculty members from Brazil, Ghana, India, and South Africa. The research can build on previous ICDD studies on organizing domestic workers (Azzarello et al., 2014).

Extractivism and Rural Welfare

Rising commodity prices brought resource-led development strategies back on the political agenda. Whereas until recently the resource curse thesis was common in development studies (e.g. Ross, 2012), currently a new resource optimism is spreading among both academics and international organizations. They argue that the export of cash crop and raw materials does not necessarily lead to development failures, but can promote economic growth and social improvements under certain conditions such as strong institutions. In this view, natural resources are not a curse but a special challenge (Brunnschweiler/Bulte, 2008; Heinrich/Pleines, 2012). Indeed, this position is backed by recent trends of major developmental indicators. During the last decade high economic growth was combined with an expansion of (innovative) social policies in Latin America (CEPAL, 2013). But also regions rich in natural resources in Central Africa or Central Asia achieved high economic growth rates.

However, there is no doubt that the extractivist development model is confronted with ecological, economic, and social problems (Burchardt/Dietz, 2014). Ecologically, the model is based on the exploitation of nature and due to its impact on the environment the intensity of socio-ecological conflicts is rising. Economically, it tends to hamper the diversification of the economy and the volatility of the commodity prices renders the model highly prone to crises. As the expansion of social policies depends on the income from natural resources, the social improvements are highly fragile. However, little is known about (neo)-extractivism’s impact on labor conditions and productivity gains. Extractivist economies are usually characterized by having a small, highly productive extraction sector and a large service sector with low productivity as well as a rather limited diversification of the economy. Therefore, resource abundance is converted into resource dependence and the large sector of the economy with limited productivity becomes a central barrier for further economic progress as well as for the transformation into a post-extractive economy.

In order to contribute to the academic analysis of extractivist development models and to formulate policy recommendations for successful diversification of the economy, the research project’s objective is to analyze in a transregional perspective with different ICDD partner organizations the following research questions: What is the impact of the extractivist development model on social relations and working conditions? In what way do (neo-)extractivist regimes promote or hinder productivity gains and progress in decent work? How are extractivist policies decided, implemented and regulated by state and non-state actors (“governance of extractivism”)? Which best-practice policy reforms in extractivist economies can promote the diversification of the economies and the transformation towards post-extractivist economies? What regulations and regulatory mechanisms are necessary to achieve economic and in particular social upgrading in the extractivist sector?

Extractivism is found in all countries of the ICDD partner universities. In some of these countries oil production and mining of minerals, in other countries land use for agricultural plantations or access to water play a major role. The issue has therefore engendered great interest among all campuses of the international network. Some research has already been carried out by ICDD members for Latin America (Burchardt/Dietz, 2014) and South Africa (Mohammed, 2011).

Rural-Urban Linkages: Transformation Processes, Livelihoods and Social Protection

In recent years rapid urbanization processes combined with massive rural-to-urban migration has attracted much interdisciplinary research that aimed at identifying key drivers of these transition and transformation processes and their environmental, economic and social influences in the sprawling cities and the depopulating hinterlands. In the majority of these studies, urban-centered perspectives prevailed that focused on economic, social, and political indicators and the methodological inventory of city planning (Ghelfi/Parker, 2001). Related agricultural research (Graefe et al., 2008; Predotova et al., 2010) perceived the urban and adjacent peri-urban space - which gradually becomes urban as well - primarily as a specific production environment in which large income opportunities for poorer strata of the (in-migrating) population are accompanied by considerable negative externalities. Ernstson et al. (2010) suggested addressing the reciprocal relationship between cities and their often vast (agricultural) hinterlands rather than taking the city as the starting and focus point of transformations of the bio-physical and socio-economic environment around it. The strong dependence of cities on their surroundings in ecological terms (food provision, waste disposal and other ecosystem services), social aspects (labor, skills, and knowledge) and economic terms (flows of goods and services) has long been neglected and little research has explicitly addressed the changes in agricultural land use and agricultural households’ livelihoods associated with urban expansion and their consequences for the surrounding rural agro-ecosystems.

Research aims within Phase 2 of the ICDD are to analyze how poor people’s livelihoods are affected by spatial, ecological, agronomic, economic, and social transition processes along the interface spanning from the city to its remote rural hinterland using the example of cities in Asia, Africa and Latin America where ICDD partners have an established research infrastructure (e.g. Faisalabad and Multan in Pakistan, Bangalore in India, Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa, Nairobi in Kenya and Sao Paolo in Brazil). Here ICDD’s interdisciplinary approach aims at disentangling the interconnectedness of agricultural land use, production, and marketing along value chains, and their effects on people’s livelihoods (such as determined by food security and income) in specific regions or systems. Based on these insights we hope to contribute to identifying effective policy options that are suited to trigger pro-poor changes in food production and marketing, employment security and overall human welfare.

Among ICDD-relevant issues a few stand out:

1. (In-) Efficiencies of Resource Use and their Effects on Household Productivity along Rural-Urban Production Chains. Addressing the use efficiencies of key agricultural resources such as water, nutrients, land, labour, technology and capital may guide field research at all ICDD partner sites as long as it is stakeholder focused (taking into account farmers and retailers as well as municipal and consumer representatives). Research may comprise testing of improved management strategies to enhance nutrient and water use efficiency, fodder conversion in the animal husbandry sector, and the reduction of nutrient losses and maintenance of soil and water quality. Additional topics to be covered are food production and use, access to food (food sovereignty), produce safety and the effective use of plant biodiversity to sustain food and income security of urban and peri-urban households as long as they are addressed with a framework that takes account of the bi-polar rural-urban context.

2. Social Protection in Rural Areas: In many developing countries rural areas are providing an important informal form of social protection for urban workers. Rural subsistence production including the care labor of women (Apusigah 2009) subsidises the daily and intergenerational costs of waged labor largely concentrated in urban communities (Roberts 1982). Scholars of labor now debate the increasing precariousness of urban wage work, while those looking at rural and agrarian households are concerned with finding ways to provide livelihoods for rural dwellers now that the urban wage market seems to hold little promise as a source of mass labor absorption. A comparison between rural-urban ties in Africa and Asia can be especially useful in addressing some of these questions: How do fluctuations in the urban wage market affect the livelihoods of rural households? How can rural households' urban connections be taken into account when constructing policy for rural social protection? What impact do these “shared livelihood” strategies have to union policy and organizing strategies?

This project area can build on the previous collaborative ICDD research project on innovative social protection programs in Brazil, India and South Africa (Fakier/Ehmke, 2014) and on rural livelihoods (Raza et al., 2014).

3. Access to credit in rural and peri-urban areas: Credit stimulates growth because it bridges the time until investments bear fruits. However, a large body of literature on agricultural lending has highlighted the challenges for providing especially smallholders with financial services (Satyasai, 2008; Klein et al., 1999). Micro-finance institutions have overcome some of the obstacles but their loans are mainly used for micro-scale activities (such as buying one goat) or family needs and not so much for agricultural machinery (Morvan-Roux, 2011). Will communication technology and the ever expanding cities change this situation? The internet and the mobile telephone reduce the transaction costs for financial services. But does better access to credit translate into productive investments? Loans are frequently not used for productive investments. Consumptive uses prevail because of extreme poverty, but also because opportunities for investments are re-strained due to a lack of support services for gaining profitable market access (Sriram, 2007). In recent years, the Indian Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is credited for its successful empowerment strategies for urban as well as rural women (Blaxall, 2004). The example of SEWA, whose services extend beyond banking facilities, raises the question to what extent access to credit is also dependent on collective efforts to strengthen smallholders’ and other micro-entrepreneurs’ position in product markets.

In Phase 2 of the ICDD issues of changing conditions of access to credit, the uses of credits and the role of financial governance modes and technologies will be analyzed in a comparative perspective. Research along those lines will closely collaborate with agronomic projects on land-use patterns and farmers’ upgrading strategies. This research can build on the ICDD collaborative projects on the governance of the financial sector (Bhattacharjee/Rajeev, 2013) and on migrants' remittances (Bürkert/Knerr/Orsornio) as well as on two ICDD funded PhD thesis on street vendors (Saha) and on micro-finance (Hussein).

4. Scaling issues in development Competition for vital resources in agriculture and rural livelihoods occurs at different scales. Understanding of what happens as one moves from the household to the village and to the regional scale is of importance for development workers and policy makers alike. Examples for such development relevant scaling problems are water use at the household / field, village or watershed level, labor exchange versus labour migration and allocation of capital. The development of GIS-based decision management tools for development planning and definition of recommendation domains is thus an interesting additional research area within ICDD.

Rethinking Development Cooperation

Many faculty members of the ICDD network are  interested in collaborating across their own research activities under the heading of ‘rethinking development cooperation’. While development cooperation can be an instrument for promoting decent work, it is in danger of overlooking conflicts of interest. Therefore, a more sensitive perspective is necessary which includes strategies of empowerment. Apparently easy solutions – more market access, more investments, more technology – overlook complex social realities. A rise in productivity for one group may leave the working conditions of another group unaffected or even lead to a deterioration in living standards for this group. The principle that development cooperation should be ‘people-centered’ requires that their different positions, needs, and interests be taken into account – and that they have the right to articulate them and be heard. Yet, organized interventions in collective affairs according to a standard of improvement (which is how Nederveen Pieterse, 2010: 3, defines development) have always benefitted some groups more than others, and these others have often complained and protested. It is time to reflect this fact and rethink and modify development cooperation accordingly. If our aim is improving the livelihoods and working conditions of the poor, we need to recognize the different social groups, their interests and their political conflicts. What is beneficial for the working conditions of middle-class farmers may not be beneficial for smallholder farmers, what is beneficial for them may not be beneficial for landless male labourers, and what is beneficial for the latter group may not be beneficial for their wives and daughters.

So, an agenda for development cooperation in rural areas which attempts to improve livelihoods and create decent working conditions needs not only perceive different socio-economic positions and address conflicts of interests between different social groups (‘political interventions’), but also engage farmers’ voices (‘people-centered’) and devise strategies of empowerment for weaker political groups.