Agrarian Change and Political Ecology

Ending extreme poverty and hunger requires a transformation of agricultural production systems and the linkages between agriculture and the rest of the economy.


While migration and urban development are important, the Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved without major agrarian change.

There are three acute contemporary challenges.

The first is competition for water between different forms of agricultural production, industry, hydropower and urban consumers. This is exacerbated by the uncertainty created by climate change and often involves competition across national borders.


Secondly, agriculture is a major source of pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, yet it’s highly vulnerable to processes of climate change. Conversely, it’s potentially also as part of the solution — as a source of biofuels, increased food production and carbon sequestration.

Finally, the feasibility (and environmental desirability) of mass industrialisation across the Global South raises major questions regarding the role of the agricultural sector and its labour force within the economy and future patterns of structural transformation.

Our research


  • Agricultural production systems, including alternative production systems, cooperatives and agricultural production within value chains, in relation to environmental and social sustainability and the implications for workers’ rights.
  • Systems of resource governance (land, water and forests), focusing on the political implications of state, neo-customary and alternative governance models and the political economy drivers of institutional change.
  • The growing use of ICT in agricultural production and marketing systems and the implications this has for productivity and equality.


  • Farm scale and viability - An assessment of black economic empowerment in sugar production in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa.
  • FutureDAMS - The FutureDAMS consortium is working to improve the design, selection and operation of dams to support sustainable development.
  • Mining and corporate social responsibility - Tomas Frederiksen's research into global governance and development impacts of the extractive sector in Africa.
  • Studying African farmer-led irrigation - This research project, funded by ESRC–DFID, brings together a team of social science researchers and irrigation scientists from the UK, Europe and Africa.

Our teaching

Our people