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The Political Economy of Food System Industrialisation

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A conference addressing critical issues in food systems in Africa drawing, in particular, on the IIAP project in South Africa and Tanzania

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The conference examines food system industrialization in Africa. Food systems are undergoing rapid change due to urbanisation, shifts in consumer demands for more highly-processed foods, and technological changes along value chains. These patterns are driving the expansion of agro-processing, the value-adding activities between harvest and retail. The conference is hosted by the Innovation and Inclusive Industrialisation in Agro-processing research project.

Food system industrialization is often assumed to provide opportunities for small, rural firms and marginalized groups in a process of ‘inclusive’ industrialisation. However, there are forces including technological change, scale economies and the application of standards which have often underpinned greater concentration and vertical integration in value chains with the expansion of large firms such as multinational food manufacturing conglomerates and supermarket chains. Even what would conventionally be seen as ‘fresh’ produce requires increasingly sophisticated industrial-style processes between farmers and end consumers. These trends are typically referred to as the industrialisation of food, a process which creates formidable challenges for small enterprises and marginalized producers.

The issues concerning inclusion in and control of the food system are political as well as economic, in particular concerning the role of government policies in shaping trajectories of change and the complex inter-relations between states and powerful interest groups in the production of food. The conference will present original research on Tanzania, South Africa and other African countries, and draw out wider policy implications. The contrastive comparative approach provides deep insights into how differing historical and institutional factors shape the evolution of food systems, and the prospects for inclusive growth. The conference will promote reflections on a range of related political economy issues related to food systems industrialization including contrasts between distinct types of market economies, the role of power and institutions, competition policy as well as industrial and agricultural policies. These features are crucial for shaping more inclusive development trajectories as well as responding to the climate emergency challenges.


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Organiser University of Edinburgh, University of Johannesburg, ESRF Tanzania

Organiser of The Political Economy of Food System Industrialisation

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