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Who We Are


Vision and Mission

PLAAS does researchpolicy engagementteaching and training about the dynamics of chronic poverty and structural inequality in Southern Africa, with a particular emphasis on the key role of restructuring and contesting land holding and agro-food systems in the subcontinent and beyond.

Our mission emphasises the central importance of the agro-food system in creating and perpetuating poverty — and also in eradicating it. For much of our existence, our work has concentrated heavily on issues of production in these systems. But our focus is broadening to consider the upstream and downstream aspects of agro-food commodity chains and systems. Key aspects of social policy affecting the dynamics of poverty and inequality in southern and South Africa are also being taken up in our work.
Within this broad field of investigation, our work focuses on the dynamics of marginalised livelihoods — particularly livelihoods which are vulnerable, structurally excluded or incorporated into broader economic systems on adverse terms.
In this respect, we have considerable expertise in analysing land- and agriculture-based livelihoods of farm workers; small and subsistence farmers; those pertaining to coastal and inland artisanal fisheries and fishing communities; and the informally self-employed in rural as well as urban areas.

Brief History

Our institute was founded in 1995 (initially called ‘Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies’) as a specialist unit in the School of Government, in the Economic and Management Sciences Faculty, at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), Cape Town. The main purpose of the Programme was to undertake policy-oriented research to support the newly elected government in implementing its land reform policies.

Within a short time, it developed a strong international reputation for doing high quality in-depth research on matters related to these policies: the politics of human rights and access to land; the institutions of land governance, tenure and natural resource management; farm workers’ living and working conditions; and so on.

On 20 January 2009, it underwent a name change, officially becoming an Institute of the University, as the University took strides to redefine itself as a research-based institution, setting out an Institutional Operating Plan that emphasised the importance of socially relevant research, and identifying PLAAS as an important component of its strategy.