Interview with Prof. Dzodzi Tsikata on 3 September 2015 at the University of Ghana, Legon. – Part 2 

Prof. Tsikata, recently you have edited the special issue of the Feminist Economics. Can you tell us a little bit about what you learned from that experience? What main message you carried away from that task.

Tsikata: The special issue was conceived by the journal Feminist Economics (FE), one of the leading feminist journals in the world. They noticed a gap in the literature on large scale land acquisitions, which was not giving much attention to the gender dimensions of agricultural commercialization, land concentration and what people were referring to as “land grabbing”. The special issue therefore provided the opportunity to review and critique the existing literature and bring together this work in one place. It was also to disseminate unpublished material. Another concern we had was that much of the discussions about land grabbing had focused on Africa. So FE were also seeking to provide comparative perspectives, by also paying some attention to the situation in other regions, particularly in South Asia and Latin America, to see whether this could form a basis for some learning about the different experiences of land grabbing. For example there were some ideas about what makes a country vulnerable to land grabbing, which FE wanted to explore. Scholars believed that one of the reasons why African countries were so vulnerable to land grabbing was their weak land governance institutions. Although institutions in Latin American countries were stronger, they were also experiencing land grabbing so the idea was to see in what sense you could make that argument about weak institutions. One of FEs ambitions was also to bring the most relevant dimensions of food security into the discussion about large-scale land acquisitions, their politics and impacts.
FE invited three of us, to co edit the special issue. Together we produced a concept note and put out a call. Each year, there is an annual meeting of the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE), which owns FE. These annual meetings are an opportunity to bring together people working on special issues for the journal. We had our workshop at the IAFFE conference. We had the privilege to invite people, some who already had drafts under review, others had already been reviewed, to participate in the two day workshop. They presented their papers; they received comments, not just from the editors but other scholars in the field who were invited. For me, that was a very interesting exercise of peer reviewing and engagement which allowed us to come to a more global picture of large-scale land acquisitions, but also to begin to understand the specificities of various countries and continents.
Also interesting in this exercise was the sheer range of perspectives on how to look at this issue. For example one of the contributions was using human rights instruments to examine European policies on large-scale land acquisitions, to see whether these policies were violating human rights. There were also studies which were comparing and contrasting the experiences of large- scale land acquisitions for gender relations in several African and Asian countries. Again, that was interesting. People were also interested in pastoralists because often when we think about agriculture we think about crops and don’t focus on pastoralism. So one paper compared and contrasted the experiences of farmers and pastoralists. In so far as this was the first kind of consolidation of what was known thus far about large-scale land acquisitions from a gender perspective, this was a really important special issue. It also gave us more insights into the complexities of the issues. Further it enabled us to critique the mainstream literature and offer some insights into what kinds of methodologies and concepts and frameworks were best for studying large scale land acquisitions. I thought it was a very worthwhile experience. It was something that I was very happy to be part of, just for the sheer scale of learning.

How can the DEMETER work contribute to the issues you discussed in the special issue? For example the relations of land grabs and institutions, cross-continents, and between countries? How do you think can the DEMETER work contribute to progress in Ghana in the policy making?

Tsikata: Definitely the DEMETER project holds the promise of taking forward some of the insights from the special issue. First of all the DEMETER project has three interconnected components: the legal component which is looking at the right to food issues and examining the extent to which duty bearers in Cambodia and Ghana, and beyond, pay attention to right to food issues and how influenced they are by global legal regimes, regional legal regimes and national legal regimes. Then there is the policy focus which is looking at the politics of policy making, policy processes, how agricultural, food and gender equity policies are made and how they influence livelihood and right to food outcomes from a gender perspective within communities.

The third part focuses on local arrangements around agrarian livelihoods and looks at how these arrangements and resource issues influence livelihood outcomes for men and women, and how this affects their right to food and also gender equality.
So you can see that the DEMETER project elaborates some of the elements that came out of the special issue of feminist economics. None of the studies presented in the special issue had this kind of ambition, scope and time we have under the Demeter project. Further, the DEMETER project, as you know is part of a research for development programme, so it has an interest in how research feeds into policy and influences policy. The project has ambitions not only to do research but to have a robust engagement with policy processes and policy makers. To see whether one can influence them with the findings of research; so that the research will make a difference. It is not just research for research.
The length of the project, the fact that it is a three year project, label to renewal means that if we really want to see the progression from research to policy change it is possible. It allows us to even make mistakes and correct them inside the project circle. As you know these processes are human, unluckily there will be weaknesses you need to pay attention too. Often you have a one year project and by the time you have finished your research it is over and there is no space to go back and find out to write things and to strengthen different elements. I am very excited by that. To me that is the best way of doing research for development, that you learn and do and learn and do.
In keeping with that there are PhD students on the project, there is an intergenerational collection of researchers, some are very experienced, some are mid-career, and some are just starting now. At the end of it there will definitely be a good network of people committed to these issues, committed to take them forward.
I am also very excited by the fact that one is allowed to pay serious attention to food security issues, because one of the things we discovered in the special issue of feminist economics is that everybody is concerned about food security and the right to food issues but nobody had done enough research to say this is how you bring about change. Or this is how the problem manifests itself in different places, that food security is not necessarily about production but distribution of food, the consumption of food, and all these things are questions of access and rights etc.
The opportunity to test progressive ideas about food security and the right to food in the laboratory of research, the engagement with policy makers, and law makers is exciting.
The fact that the project is doing research in Cambodia and Ghana is also very interesting because these are two countries which are, in a sense, mid-size countries, of course their population dynamics are quite different, the way the countries are structured, their political systems are quite different but they are both agrarian countries, so there are interesting commonalities and specificities in the two cases. The research insights from each country are sure to influence the other country and you can already see it in the questions that we are asking. Sometimes we ask questions from different vantage points, but by the time we finish this research there will be enough to learn from each other, even about policy processes. I imagine that when we go to Cambodia, and we see how they engage with policy makers we will learn quite a few things from them, which we are definitely likely to apply in Ghanaian processes, and they will also come here so again another opportunity for learning and growing together and doing things more effectively. Whilst it might be seen as an arbitrary comparison, there is enough there to make it a very worthwhile exercise.

The  research team at at our hotel in Techiman just before travelling to the Kwaebibrem District in the Eastern Region.

The research team at at our hotel in Techiman just before travelling to the Kwaebibrem District in the Eastern Region.