Between 26 November and 10 December 2014 I was Visiting Professor at the National Agrarian University of Habana (UNAH), Centre for Agrarian and Rural Studies (CEDAR), as guest of Prof. Rafael Ojeda, the Director of CEDAR. During this visit, I gave an intensive series of lectures to a group of more than 30 lecturers and researchers of the University and organized, together with CEDAR, knowledge exchange seminars  on topics such as food security, land grab, agrofuels, inequality, water policy and land reform. Furthermore, I gave lectures to the Masters Programme (around 40 students) in Sustainable Agrarian and Rural Development, and held discussions with the authorities of the University about possible cooperation with ISS, in particular in the field of education and research on Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies /AFES), which will hopefully result into joint research and publications, research stays in Cuba for ISS doctoral students, and CEDAR staff studying at ISS. Finally, there were visits to innovative small farmers and a workshop with members of one of the Municipal University Centres (CUM), in the town of Madruga, which are supported with training and education by CEDAR/UNAH.



From 9-13 June 2014 I was invited at the Institute of Development Economics (ID/JETRO) in Tokyo, Japan, to give some lectures on the topic “Agricultural and Rural Development Policy: Interventions and Institutions”, and to talk about future cooperation..The topics included:

  • Changing global and national institutions, actors and political structures, and policies, focusing on rural and agrarian transformation in developing countries and transition economies.
  • The current environment of global markets and the dominance of private agri-business and global value-chains; the impact of liberalization, deregulation and privatization policies and the role of domestic/international institutions of governance.
  • The increasing rural-urban inequalities (income, access to services, assets and risk), weak social policies for the rural population, but also within growing linkages between rural and urban spaces, expanded peri-urban and peri-rural areas; the  intensified flows of goods, services and information, but also the localized initiatives of ‘food sovereignty’, and new forms of rural institutions and organizations.

The lectures were given especially for a group of officials (from government, but also from private business) who were preparing themselves to study abroad, and had already been accepted at well-known univrsities in th US, UK, and Singapore.


Between 9-20 December 2013 I assisted Joop de Wit from ISS in gving a tailormde course on “Management of Natural Resources”. Our counterpart is already a longstanding one, namely the Ho Chi Minh Academy, which stands for the training and research insitutes of the Party. We had had already some staff members from the academy at ISS in the past years, and we jointly planned the course. This course was given in the premisses of the HCM Academy (see photo participants).


We also planned and executed an intesief 3-days fieldwork visit to the province of Thanh Hoa, where the group studied the various aspects of the pollution of an important canal, which was mainly used for irrigation, but also for household use. We discussed the problems with the people’s committee of the municipality close to the canal, and finally made group reports in order to come to analysis of the actual problems and possible suggestions for solution to diminish the pollution in severeal parts of the canal.

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DSC02668  The polluted canal, close to Thanh Hoa (around`160 km south of Hanoi)

DSC01599 From 19-29 October 2012, we visited a project workshop of the CoCoon/Nebe  research program, me as Chair of the Steering Committee, together with Murat Arsel and Lorenzo Pellegrini, the leaders if this program. The Nebe research projects stands for Nationalisation of Extractive Industries: Conflict and Cooperatopm in Bolivia and Ecuador. The fascination projet visit included a workshop at the University San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador (which is the counterpart in Ecuador) and had representatives of NGOs from Bolivia as well. The long fieldtrop that was included was to the Biodiversity Research Station in the Amazon, Tiputini, which is a consession to the University of around 600 hectares in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, close to the Peruvian border. This visit includes some spectacular walks througthe rainforest, but we started with a so-called “Toxic Tour” in which the destruction of the rainforest by oilexploration (particular crude oil/benzeen spills) is painfully visible (see foto above). DSC01625 Left: on our way to Tiputini, which was around a 4 hour trip (by boats, truck etc) Below: with a guide of CONAIE (Confederacion Nacional de Indigenas de Ecuador. DSC01646 DSC01636

From 20-22 June I was at the IAMO Forum 2012 in the Leibzig-Institute of Agricultural Development in Central and Eastern Europe (IAMO) in Halle (Saale), which was a very interesting conference analysing “land use in transition”. Joined by my colleague Dr. Oane Visser of Radboud University Nijmegen and our PhD student Ms. Natalia Mamonova, we were specially involved in the third day of the conference, in which I presented our recent work in the form of a Keynote speech, entitled “Agroholdings + Finance Capital + Land Grabbing = Global ‘Bread Basket'”?, in which we argued that the current concentration of agricultural land in Russia, amongst others through land grabbing and a growing influence of finance capital in the formation of megafarms and agroholdings, will not lead to Russia expanding very much its grain output and exports, in spite of the current very optimistic expectations of its future role in the global food market. Counter to various papers which were presented at the IAMO Forum about the potential positive contributions of agroholdings and their higher allocative and technical effciency than the much smaller individual (familiy or peasant) farm sector, we argued that agroholdings represent an unsustainable, inefficient model (at least at the production level, but not in the value chain) of agricultural production, which has environmental externalities, various social problems, high monitoring costs, and will not contribute positively to sustain a viable Russian countryside. Furthermore, it is suggested that there are around 40-50 million hectares of fertile agricultural land, of which a substantial part (mainly with coarse grains) were taken out of production in the past two decades, that can be re-cultivated, giving Russia an edge in food production. However, at the Forum 2012, Meyfroidt et al. concluded, taking into account an array of political, social and environmental constraints (such as the carbon sink represented by these lands), that only 8.7-8.9 million hectares can be re-cultivated “with minimal environmental costs”. It seems furthermore that agroholdings are more interested in cultivating sunflower, other oil-bearing crops, and silage for their expanding animal husbandry and dairy production, rather than wheat. 

In the following panel Visser and Mamonova presented new work on land grabbing in Russian and Ukraine, while there were other papers on these countries which were dedicated to “politics from below”, trying to understand the (local) political economy of land grabbing in the transition context of these countries (see IAMO Forum 2012 Program). Finally, in the last conference day there was a very interesting and heated debate with (and between) a panel of experts, which included Dr. Klaus Deininger (World Bank), Dr. Alexej Lissitsa, President of the Ukrainian Agrobusiness Club, Ms. Maren Kneller of the German Ministry of Development Cooperation (BMZ), and a representative of the Russian-German Agroholding EkoNiva, under the Chairmanship of Prof. Czaba Czaki (Corvinus University, Budapest and former World Bank Advisor), in which I also participated. The most interested feature of this debate was that Mr. Lissitsa defended the position that currently Ukrainian agriculture was “efficient and sexy” for investors, while he saw the necessity to have agroholdings to become bigger than even the largest Latin American latifundia, as these were – according to him- more efficient, mainly because of their size. 

Indeed, in my keynote we had already shown that large farm enterprises (LFEs) had remained dominant in the Russian farm sector, and that there seem to be a large degree of continuity in as much that before the sector was dominated by sovkozy and kolkhozy, and now by LFEs and agroholdings (integrating large numbers of LFEs) which could be seen as “Collectives 2.0” in a capitalist system (see McChestney, 2011). I furthermore argued that this “big is beautiful” and “modern means large” argument for the agro-food sector was incorrect, and that sufficient experience exist in Latin America about the inefficiency of the latifundia. Dr. Lissitsa also discarded the possible efficiency of individual farms or any form of sustainable intenfication of farming in that sector. The latter is relatively small (although it produced 20% of Russian wheat), but is in policy terms heavily discriminated, as most fiscal and other policies are developed and implemented in favour of the large agroholdings and megafarms.

 All in all a fascinating and very well organized conference at IAMO, which showed that the issue of land, land grabbing and large-scale agricultural investment is also crucial in Central and Eastern Europe, and not limited to Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America or Asia.

On the 25th and 26th of June the annual CERES Summer School was held at the University of Amsterdam under the title “International Development Studies: A Challenge for the Future?”, which is the main theme of this website and the blogs written on it. CERES is the Netherlands Research School of Resource Dynamics for Development, with its seat in the University of Utrecht. The International Institute is one of its founding members. Prof. Peter van Bergeijk of ISS held a  in which it was made clear that CERES is alive and kicking (and that Development Studies is alive). The PHD students are the core of the Research School and its activities, and it was noted that from the new 2012 cohirt 41% was at ISS/EUR.

NEW Publication…

NEW Publication

Agriculture, Food Security, Inclusive Growth, Edited by Max Spoor and Martha Jane Robbins, The Hague: Society for International Development/International Institute of Social Studies/Food First.

This volume presents the edited texts of the 2011 Public Lecture Series jointly organized by the Society for International Development and the International Institute of Social Studies, in which various key figures in the field of agriculture, food and environment presented state-of-the art interventions. These were Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food; Camilla Toulmin, Executive Director of the International Institute of Environment and Development; Kevin Cleaver, Associate Vice-President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development and Edward Heinemann, the Lead Author of the 2011 Rural Poverty Report; and Andries du Toit, Director of the Institute for Policy, Land and Agrarian Studies, South Africa. Also the fascinating and critical discussant’s contributions are included, namely those by Frances Moore Lappe, Philip Woodhouse, Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, and Frits van der Wal. The contributors address “hot” topics such as food security, land grabbing, rural poverty, the fate of the peasantry, and the quality of growth.

The editors of the volume are Max Spoor, Professor of Development Studies at ISS, and Martha Jane Robbins, MA Student at ISS (Specialization Agriculture and Rural Development).

During the last week of March I participated in the 17th Annual Research Workshop of REPOA, Tanzania’s well-known research organization on poverty issues, which was held in Dar-es-Salaam. The theme of the conference, which was visited by around 200 researchers, practitioners and policy makers, was “Socioeconomic Transformation for Poverty Reduction”. The Annual Workshop of REPOA is used to disseminate research results, to debate these with policy makers, and contribute to research capacity building. I was there as discussant of various papers that were presented at the conference, on the invitation of Prof. Samuel Wangwe, Executive Director of REPOA. It was a fascinating workshop, opened by the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, H.E. Dr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, and, amongst others the Dutch Ambassador Dr. Ad Koekkoek.

President Kikwete pointed in his speech to the very high and constant economic growth rates of around 7%  during the period 2000-2011. However, growth in the agricultural sector was much lower, and poverty reduction over the same period was much less than the overall growth rates. This theme was central in the conference, and many papers presented were looking at the quality of growth, effects of growth on poverty reduction, and on sectoral growth, in particular in the agricultural sector, in which many Tanzanians work.

Dr. Phillip Mpango, Executive Secretary of the Tanzanian Planning Commission, was the keynote speaker. He gave an overview of the Tanzanian policies in this respect and an analysis of the growth model. REPOA had invited Prof. Do Duc Dinh, Head of the Developing Economies Study Department at the Institute of World Economy in Vietnam, and Prof. Li Xiaoyun, Dean of the College of Humanities and Development at the China Agricultural University in Beijing, to discuss the keynote speech and also reflect on the introductory words of President Kikwete. The external discussants made the opening of the conference, normally not the most interesting part of such an event, into a fascinating session. The senior Chinese and Vietnamese scholars were both very critical, and contributed crucial elements of the successful “growth with poverty reduction” models of their respective countries, to juxtapose and compare with the Tanzania experience, emphasizing the leading role of the state in the transformation process and the importance of the smallholder (or peasant) sector.

Following this opening a large number of studies were presented and discussed in parallel panels. The conference was concluded in a session led by Prof. Samuel Wangwe and with final comments of my colleague Prof. Marc Wuyts. Papers can be downloaded from the following site:

My stay in Tanzania was for the rest dedicated to work with REPOA and ESRF, with which we have a joint post-graduate diploma program on “poverty analysis” (ESRF/REPOA/ISS, financed by UNDP Tanzania), already since 2004.