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The Economics of Farming and Food Systems

This module provides students with a holistic understanding of the complex linkages between farming and livelihoods. These linkages are highlighted through a comparison of different agro-food systems, taking into account both the predominant nature of primary agriculture, the structure of the rest of the value chain and the implications for labour markets and multiple-livelihood strategies. In the course of drawing these comparisons, the rationale for agrarian reform is explored, as is the related discourse on ‘re-governing’ value chains.

The module has an economic orientation, but is designed for non-economists. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of different farming and food systems requires a certain amount of understanding of the economic principles that influence how these systems function or malfunction, together with how they tend to evolve over time. These concepts include the productivity of land, labour and invested capital, concentration and centralisation and petty commodity production versus capitalist farming. The fact that systems tend to change over time suggests an historical dimension, through which changes in farming methods are intertwined with concurrent changes in legal regimes, demographic structure and gender roles.

The objectives of this module are:

  • to introduce students to different types of farming and food systems and their economic aspects;
  • to build a basic understanding of key concepts and arguments in relation to the agricultural sector and farming systems;
  • to help students understand how different farming and food systems evolve and the advantages and disadvantages of each; and
  • to introduce students to the economic arguments for and against land and agrarian reform, with a focus on the Southern African context.