Would the future of food security in Africa benefit most from small, or from large-scale farming? How and why does income inequality develop in African countries? These are the subjects of two large scale research projects by FEB researcher Jutta Bolt in cooperation with researchers from our partner University of Lund, in Sweden. The three-year projects, starting this month, received grants of 100.000 euro in total.
s project “Mapping the development of large-scale farming in 20th century Africa: Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe compared” together with Erik Green (Lund) is financed by the Swedish Research Council. The grant for the second project, “Longitudinal Inequality trends” together with Ellen Hillbom (Lund) is financed by the Wallander Foundation (Handelsbanken).
Bolt: “Recently more and more scholars argue that successful agricultural development in Africa needs a focus on the expansion of large-scale production. Previously this sector was perceived as inefficient and only surviving because of state subsidies and state sanctioned practices of exploiting local labour. If we want a solid answer, we first need to map the development trajectories of large-scale farming in Africa’s past and present.”
Bolt and Green’s project will fill this gap. They will create time series that enable researchers to study structural change, development of employment, the role of the state, exploitation of labour, performance, land use and wage shares.
The main focus is on Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe. “These cases differ in terms of economic and political history”, says Bolt, “But what they have in common is the existence of a large-farming sector that has played a significant role for the economies throughout the twentieth century.”
Questions on the why and how of income inequality and the differences between countries have long been puzzling economists and economic historians; from the pioneering work in the 1950s to the recent thought-provoking publication by Piketty in 2014. So far, there’s no consensus.
Bolt: “Most studies have been concerned with analyzing inequality trends in the developed world and now the literature on Asia and Latin America is also growing. The only region that not yet features in the debate on understanding historical roots of inequality is Africa. Our project is a unique and novel effort to conduct such a study.”
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