Prospects for a sustainable agricultural transformation in Ethiopia : green niche actors navigating a challenging institutional context

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Stockholm Resilience Centre

Abstract: Identifying pathways of agricultural development that enable substantial productivity improvements is of prime importance for food security and human development across Sub-Saharan Africa. To ensure long-term welfare for its people and landscapes, it is imperative that such agricultural transformations are environmentally sustainable. This study explores the case of Ethiopia and aims to assess constraints and opportunities for a sustainable agricultural transformation, by analysing a) the governance context, b) narratives of agricultural development, and c) strategies employed by “green” non-state actors in the agricultural sector to lever change in the direction they perceive as desirable. By assessing the governance structure, the study finds that many non-state actors face significant legal and practical barriers to action, and that the strong government domination and rigid structures provide limited opportunities for influence. Further, the study finds that agricultural policy is dominated by a “Green Revolution”-inspired narrative focused on production and productivity, although food security and environmental rehabilitation narratives exist alongside. Issues of agricultural production and natural resource management are found to be largely decoupled in policy, which constitutes another barrier for green non-state actors working across the divide. Given these challenging conditions, green non-state actors in Ethiopia choose a strategy of close collaboration with government institutions, which, while offering the possibility of large-scale impact, may also reduce the prospects for more radical change. Applying current theories of sustainability transformations to a new type of system, the study concludes with a call for new conceptualisations of endogenous and exogenous change in future research to ensure that the theory fits a broader range of social-ecological realities.

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