International and Rural Development

The Darwin Congo Truck

We apply social science theory and methods to analyse human and social dimensions of economic and technological change. Staff and postgraduate students are currently engaged in research in the UK and over 20 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, using a wide range of conceptual and methodological frameworks. Our research is structured around six broad themes and often involves collaboration in interdisciplinary teams with researchers in other units, within and outside the University.

Dr Andrew Ainslie

PhD admissions lead: Dr Andrew Ainslie
B.Soc Sci (Hons), M.Soc Sci (Rhodes); PhD (UCL)

Andrew trained as a social anthropologist. He has twenty years of experience in development research and policy work in the government, NGO and university sectors. His research interests are centred on understanding both system-wide and locally specific drivers of agrarian and global environmental change.

Much of Andrew's research involves working at the interface between different knowledge systems. His current research focuses on governance, including the resurgence of 'traditional' institutions in post-colonial African states. Andrew is interested in technology-enhanced learning and has recently co-led on developing an open online course on global food security. 

PhD Profile: Sarrok TalhadaSarrok Talhada (resized)

Research title: Understanding Innovation: Exploring Interactions between Large-Scale Land Investments and Small-Scale Farmers in Mozambique

Research description: I wrote my thesis on innovation in small-scale farming. More specifically, the study explored interactions between small-scale farmers and large-scale agricultural investments in central Mozambique. Using an innovation system framework, the study has contributed to understanding how and to what extent the large-scale land investments influence innovations by small-scale farmers.

Career aspirations: I would like to follow a career in academia and to be able to contribute in relevant debates in the area of Development. For this reason, after completing my PhD studies, I have returned to my country and continue to work as a lecturer in higher education. I intend to stay in touch with the teachers and researchers that I met during my stay in the UK.

Completion date: 31 May 2018

Supervisor/s: Dr Alex Arnall; Dr Henny Osbahr

Funding: Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP)

Country of origin: Mozambique

Why did you choose Reading?
I chose the University of Reading for two reasons. Firstly, a few months after I had finished my Master's degree, I had the opportunity to meet a lecturer from the University who was a potential supervisor for my PhD. I met Dr Alex Arnall in one of his research travels to Mozambique and we kept in contact. Dr Arnall has research interests and experience working in Mozambique where I conducted the fieldwork.

Secondly, as a result of my interaction with Dr Alex, I started investigating the research and PhD programmes offered by the University. I learnt that Reading ranks amongst the world's best universities in various fields, agriculture in particular. Hence, I realized that I would benefit from the University's longstanding experience in research, in the areas of agriculture and rural development.

Therefore, the availability of a potential supervisor and the quality of education provided by the University of Reading contributed to the choice of Reading.

PhD Profile: Samuel PoskittSam Poskitt (resized)

Research Title: Investigating the benefits of participatory scenario planning for tackling social-ecological problems

Research Description: Exploring how imagining alternative, plausible future events, conditions and trajectories in groups could help stakeholders learn about and develop responses to complex 'social-ecological problems' that encompass both human and environmental systems.

Career Aspirations: I am interested in continuing to work in research, especially applied research that focuses on tackling complex social and environmental challenges. Ultimately, I would like to work in academia, but I also plan to develop practical experience working with participatory and transdisciplinary processes for managing complex problems. I'm enjoying my current postdoctoral position, here at the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, connecting farmers with climate data in developing countries using the Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture (PICSA) approach.

Completion Date: April 2018

Supervisor/s: Andrew Ainslie, Kerry Waylen (James Hutton Institute)

Funding: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) & James Hutton Institute

Country of Origin: UK

How do you think this qualification will help you in the future?
My PhD has equipped me with valuable skills including critical thinking, reading and writing, project management, as well as research-specific skills such as interviewing, ethnography, data management and analysis. These skills are proving highly beneficial in my current role as a postdoctoral researcher, but would also be applicable to roles in government and not-for-profit organisations, which I am interested in for the future.

PhD profile: Rieko Shibata

Rieko Shibata

Research Title: "Understanding dynamics and diversity of smallholder farmers' innovation characteristics and processes in Agricultural Innovation System in Uganda"

Research Description: I am researching the dynamics and diversity of smallholder farmers' innovation characteristics and processes in Agricultural Innovation System (AIS) in Uganda.

The focus is on how different socioeconomic groups of farmers, such as gender and wealth, make or adopt new farming practices by utilising knowledge and information from different sets of AIS actors.

Associated/Relevant Research Groups/Centres:My research will look at rural communities in Western and Northern regions in Uganda as a case study. A mixed research method (both qualitative and quantitative approaches) will be used in my fieldwork. This includes focus group, household survey and interviews, targeting various stratified categories of farmers based on gender, age, and wealth. I will spend my second year of PhD on data collection and analysis in Uganda.

Career Aspirations:I want to be involved in developing better policies and practices to support farmers' innovation processes at international organisations or consultancy firms. This work would enable me to contribute to economic development and poverty alleviation of smallholder farmers particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In my previous development work in Sub-Saharan Africa, I often questioned myself as to why technologies or enterprises are well-adopted by certain categories of farmers but not by all, and why some seemingly profitable innovations are not adopted by all farmers.

Furthermore, I often questioned how knowledge and information about innovations spread in communities, and how limited budget of governments and the private sector in developing countries effectively support such local innovation processes. As a result, such questions raised by the constraints I encountered daily motivated me to study farmers' perceptions on innovations and how innovation support systems should be reorganised accordingly.

I would like to specialise in social science aspects of agricultural innovations. This includes appropriate approach to capture farmers' perceptions in agricultural and rural development, as well as some analytical tools such as participatory tools, social network analysis, and statistical analysis.

Funding: Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO)

Supervisor/s: Dr Sarah Cardey and Dr Peter Dorward

Expected Completion Date: September 2018

Country of Origin: Japan

Why did you choose Reading?
I chose Reading because of its international reputation in agricultural and rural development, especially focusing on developing countries. Some of my former colleagues who are alumni of Reading talked positively about the master courses.

Mostly, I have benefited through meetings with my supervisors who have conducted similar innovation research in Eastern Africa a few years ago and are involved in various research projects in the same region. Moreover, networking with fellow students at Reading who are in the similar field of study has enhanced my learning. Attending PhD students' seminars at a university in Uganda where I do my fieldwork gave me an opportunity to learn from students who know the local context very well.

Aaron Alerigesane

PhD profile: Aaron Alerigesane

Research Title: "Participation in Microfinance and Poverty Reduction through client's livelihoods"

Research Description: My research explores how microfinance products and services design is able to meet the needs of clients by looking into their livelihoods. Financially poor household may require different product features, payment and delivery structures in order to help them cope with the risks associated with irregular cash flow - I want to see just how institutions adapt to this and how that impacts those households. By doing so I hope to throw more light onto how markets and institutions serving the financial needs of clients interact within existing livelisystem transitions.

I will be combining survey research using in-depth interviews with participatory approaches, such as focus group discussions and individual case studies. The project will be set in Northern Ghana as there are marginal declining poverty levels there, despite a number of Financial Non-Governmental Organisations and other Microfinance institutions opening up there in the last few decades.

Despite empirical data commonly stating that participation in microfinance programmes is helping to reduce poverty, I have witnessed otherwise. Therefore I wish to seek out how those who struggle financially strategize the use of the various Microfinance from the mix of institutional types to accomplish personal objectives, such as risk mitigation and taking advantage of opportunities. In addition to this, I will also look at the producer side to see how they are able to match these objectives and life cycle events effectively at price points that reflect affordability and product value to the consumer.

Career Aspirations: I would like to pursue a career in academia either home or abroad. I believe that I have some useful stories and knowledge around third world development issues that would open up a lot of students' and colleagues' eyes. I would also enjoy working in Development Practice UN Agencies and INGOs, as these are the areas that would best suit my work experiences and expertise.

Associated/Relevant Research Groups/Centres: Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest (CGAP)
Global Financial Inclusion Index (Findex)
Microfinance Market Information Exchange (MIX)

Funding: Commonwealth scholarship funding

Supervisors: Dr Henny Osbahr and Dr Chittur Srinivasan

Expected Completion Date: January 2019

Country of Origin: Ghana

Why did you choose Reading?
The University's ranking speaks for itself, being in the top 200 universities worldwide (QS World University Rankings 2018) as well as many of the academic staff being leading authorities in their field and being engaged in international research which is what I am carrying out myself.

Since coming to Reading I can see why the staff become leaders in their field, with the world-class research intensive nature of the University and the state-of-the-art facilities providing everything you need to further your studies.

The main reason I opted for Reading was the opportunities they provided that would help me get the best possible start to my career. With workshops in career training and part-time work easily attainable really do make the university an ideal international learning destination.

Louise Abongu

PhD profile: Louise Abongu

Research Title: PhD in Livelihoods (International and Rural Development)

Research Description:
My research is centred on smallholder farmers' adaptation to climate change. I would like to understand how smallholder farmers' perceptions of climate change and climate variability are constructed and how their perceptions lead to action or inaction.

My PhD is directly related to my previous academic background, and work experience in Agriculture. I had been supporting smallholder farmers found in the semi-arid zone of Cameroon in the domain of food security. I quickly came to realise that climate variability was one of the main challenges faced by these farmers along other complex developmental issues. This pushes me to do research in the area of smallholder farmers' adaptation to climate change and climate variability in other to contribute towards development policy taking into account practical adaptation.

Career Aspirations: I would like to become an International development expert, rising to management level in International non-governmental organisations and other International development agencies which address complex international development issues related to agriculture, food security and climate change.

This would involve shaping international development policies related to the agriculture, food security and climate change both at international and national level.

Associated/Relevant Research Groups/Centres: International Development Research Group

Funding: Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK

Supervisor/s: Dr Henny Osbahr and Alex Arnall

Expected Completion Date: 21 September 2017

Country of Origin: Cameroon

Why did you choose Reading?
The University of Reading and most especially the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development is one of the leading Universities in the UK for International Development.

I developed an interest to study at Reading right from the time I was making a choice for a University for my MSc programme. After going through postgraduate in UK prospectus I realised the Programme and course outline at the School was the perfect choice for me as it would help me to build on my previous academic and work experience and lead me through to the realisation of my career plan.

As undergraduate I studied agronomy specialising in rural sociology and agricultural economics. Before Reading I had worked in both national and international NGOs supporting smallholder farmers' in Cameroon. I studied my MSc in Environment and Development during the 2012/2013 academic year, and thanks to the Marshal Papworth Scholarship I got a place with the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development.

On coming to Reading for the first time I had great expectations and I think at the end of the year I was able to meet all my awaited results with the help of the staff who are experienced in International rural Development.

This helped me to achieve good grades at MSc level and acquire the skill to be awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship for a PhD program from Oct 2014. While making my choice for University for the PhD program, Reading University and more particularly the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development turned out to still be the ideal place. Firstly I could get the supervisors doing research in my area of focus (climate change research). Secondly climate change research is done in the University using a multidisciplinary approach. Thirdly the Walker institute which is one of the leading UK research institutes on climate change is found in the University of Reading permitting PhD student to get on the spot support from different disciplines.

PhD profile: Mark NeuseMark Neuse PhD profile

Research Title: Unintended Outcomes of Ethiopia's State-led Development

Research Description: My research investigated the unintended adverse social and political impacts of successful development, using Ethiopia as the case study. Chief among my findings, was an over-reliance by the government on university education to quickly modernize the nation. The second and third order effect of its policy decisions has resulted in a highly educated though under-employed, or unemployed, youth cohort whose own economic progress is inhibited by insufficient state investment in industry and manufacturing. At the same time a growing, though narrow, band of middle-class workers are using their new found prosperity to seek better housing accommodations outside of the urban core. This is resulting in the gentrification of rural areas that are contiguous to the capital city, displacing tens of thousands of subsistence farmers and their families. Those farmers often resettle in already poor urban areas but, with few marketable skills, their in-migration results in pervasive poverty among a group who had not previously experienced it. My thesis concludes with policy recommendations to mitigate these affects.

Career Aspirations:My intent is to work in or near government development agencies, helping to craft policy.

Start date: January 2014

Supervisor(s) name: Dr. Henny Osbahr / Dr. Alex Arnall

Associated/Relevant Research Groups/Centres: None

Funding: Self-funded

Expected Completion Date: PhD awarded 30 April 2019

Country of Origin: United States

What have you enjoyed most about your research?
The most enjoyable and enlightening experience during my time at the University of Reading was meeting and working with fellow candidates who come from African nations that are the recipient of developmental interventions. Their experiences helped to inform my thoughts regarding the efficacy of programs initiated by northern governments and non-governmental organizations, many of which are not what African nations appear to need or want.

Would you recommend a PhD to other students?
PhDs can be used to obtain employment and to conduct research in the private/government sectors or to conduct research and teach at university. It depends upon your own goals and aspirations whether you choose to pursue one avenue or the other. Despite there being people around you all day (and night), the pursuit of a doctorate is a very solitary process with few victories along the way. Candidates need to be prepared for that.

Why did you choose Reading?
I chose the University of Reading over other schools after I'd found the Agricultural Policy and Development supervisors regularly do their own field work. Their on-going experiences in the practical mechanics of development, in addition to their own academic credentials, were key for me.

PhD Profile: Daniela Salitedanielasalite

Research Title: The role of cultural beliefs in shaping farmers' behavioural decisions to adapt to drought risks in Gaza Province- Southern Mozambique.

Research Description: My research explores the role of cultural factors, particularly beliefs, in the way small-scale farmers perceive the causes, consequences and potential solutions to drought events and how their perception affects their behavioural decisions to adapt to drought. The study also examines how and why, given the existence of diverse factors influencing small-scale farmers adaptation to drought, cultural beliefs are important factors in the adaptation process. The study focuses on the case of Mozambique where drought is the most common natural disaster, causing harsh impacts on rain-fed agriculture, which constitutes the main economic activity in the country.

Career Aspirations: I aspire to undertake a career in academia, allowing me to share my knowledge with others and learn from them every day. To be an active researcher and publish several papers related to my research. Also, to design and implement development projects that will make great impact to the target population.

Start date: 21 September 2015

Supervisor(s) name: Dr. Alex Arnall / Prof Peter Dorward

Associated/Relevant Research Groups/Centres:

Funding: Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC) in the UK

Expected Completion Date: PhD awarded on 31st May 2019

Country of Origin: Mozambique

Why did you choose Reading?
I chose to study at Reading because it has a good reputation, and I had a friend that was already studying a PhD here. That made my decision much easier as I was able to ask him everything that I needed to know, and get confirmation about what I had already read.

PhD Profile: Emmanuelle BryantEmmaAE3

Research Title: 'Exploring the micro-politics of citizen engagement within oil-catchment areas in Turkana County, Kenya.'

Research Description: My research explores the micro-politics of citizen engagement in the context of oil extraction in Kenya and how grassroot activism, although legally authorised, is biased against many people. From historical legacies to gender inequality, it stresses the unequal level playing field that citizens in the same country encounter and experience.

Career Aspirations: I am interested in undertaking a career in academia, I look forward to the possibility of teaching and supervising students at both an undergraduate and postgraduate level. This will allow me to also pursue my research interests in exploring processes that lead to citizen conscientization and action towards societal changes indispensable to tackle the challenges of the Anthropocene.

Start date: October 2016

Supervisor(s) name: Dr Alex Arnall and Gavin Hilson

Funding: ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council)

Expected Completion Date: March/April 2020

Country of Origin: France

Why did you choose Reading?
During my Masters in Food Security and Development in 2014/2015 at the School of Agriculture, policy and Development, I particularly enjoyed my lecturers' knowledge and practical experience in their respective fields; from crop science to the politics of development, so I found that undertaking a PhD in such environment could be greatly beneficial. My masters also gave me an opportunity to connect with PhD students, with whom I was able to seek advice from during the first year of my PhD. Lastly, a pivotal element in directing my choice was establishing a working relationship with my supervisor, Alex Arnall. He has always been a great support throughout my Masters and his positive attitude gave me the strength to pursue my academic training towards the completion of a PhD.

How do you think this qualification will help you in the future?
Obtaining a PhD is in line with my ambition to become an academic. Beyond this, the pursuit of a PhD has given me the opportunity to acquire key transferable skills such as research skills e.g. designing a study, collecting and analysing data and synthesising findings.

Would you recommend a PhD to other students, if so why?
There are so many reasons to embark on a PhD. If you have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, a will to reach new grounds of understanding on a specific topic, then a PhD is for you. Completing a PhD requires certain skills such as tenacity, a positive attitude and openness. However, a PhD programme of study also involves numerous sacrifices, whether personal or financial.

Atenchong Nkobou

PhD Blog

Name: Atenchong Nkobou

Research title: "Political Economy of Large-scale Land Deals and the Human Right to Adequate Food in Tanzania: A Socio-legal perspective"

Annual Conference of the Socio-Legal Studies Association
The Commonwealth Scholarship sets aside a proportion of funds for travel purposes such as conferences and workshops, and so as a Commonwealth Scholar, this gave me the opportunity to attend the Annual Conference of the Socio-Legal Studies Association (SLDA), held at the University of Newcastle from the 5-7 April 2017.

The aim of the conference was to advance education and learning, and in particular, the dissemination of knowledge to promote research and teaching in the interdisciplinary field of socio-legal studies. The theme of this year's conference was 'Visions of Law'. On the Wednesday evening, the conference's panel addressed the theme, with Thomas Giddens (St Mary's), Linda Mulcahy (LSE), Amanda Perry-Kessaris (Kent), and Leonora Saunders (photographer) providing their own distinct perspectives on the topic.

My PhD, "Political Economy of Large-scale Land Deals and the Human Right to Adequate Food in Tanzania: A Socio-legal perspective", is aimed at understanding the agrarian political economy of large-scale of large-scale land deals in Tanzania, with special emphasis on the human right to adequate food. Given my focus on the rule of law and human rights principles in large-scale land deals, my research will use socio-legal research methods to understand political and economic processes, between state, non-state actors and citizens. Hence, as a PhD research student, attending a conference like the SLSA gave me a great opportunity to meet likeminded people, and share my research interests with, and learn from renowned scholars, peers and practitioners in the field of law and social sciences.

The SLSA conference was an enriching experience, with over 140 breakout sessions which covered various topics and presentations. I found the session on, 'How to apply for funding for socio-legal research' particularly interesting because it helped me to understand how applications for grants are judged, and how to improve on my writing skills. I am searching for small grants to support my 10 months of fieldwork later this year, so this session was a great help! Attending the conference gave me the chance to expand my network and research contacts, particularly those appropriate to my doctoral research. I thoroughly recommend that fellow students sign up to attend conferences relevant to their studies due to the opportunities they provide.

Conference website -

Next conference 27-29 March 2018, Bristol University

SLSA blog -

Yoshie YagentaPhD Profile: Yoshie Yagenta

Programme undertaken: PhD in Livelihoods Research

Title: 'Understanding plurality in soil fertility knowledge for enhanced science-farmer communication'.

Please give a brief outline and explanation of the work involved and where it's taking place:

I am studying synergies and differences of knowledge of soil fertility between soil scientists and among farmers. I conducted 10 months of field work which included interview data collection with farmers and soil sampling and analysis in Kitui Country, Kenya.

Career Aspirations: To develop my career for improving both soil fertility in farms and farmers livelihoods through Agricultural development work.

Start date: 21st September 2014 Completion date: 30th April 2020

Supervisor(s) name: Dr Henny Osbahr and Dr Joanna Clark

Funding: Japan Student Services Organisation

Country of Origin: Japan

Why did you choose Reading?

I chose the University of Reading because of the supervisors as well as having the ability to attend Master's lectures which allowed me to change speciality and learn new topics.

What interested you in your chosen area of study/research?

Soil fertility supports our lives, but its role is hidden under the ground. It was interesting for me to understand farmers perceptions of soil fertility not only from a soil science perspective.

What work experience have you undertaken to-date?

1. Agricultural extension programme as a NGO (Champaign for the Children of Palestine) staff member in the Gaza Strip, Palestine for a year.

2. I was in the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) team in Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as an intern and creating communication materials for farmers about soils in 2018.

3. Currently, I am an instructor of JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) Training Course 'Rainfed Rice Cultivation, Seed Production and Variety Selection Techniques'

Do you feel that such placements have benefited your study and future development?

Yes, the work experience as part of the extension programme taught me the importance of communicating with farmers for the success of extension. I learnt the global trends of soil threats during my time at FAO and in my current role, I have trained rice researchers in Africa and Asia. It has been a great opportunity to study the effects of soil fertility for rice production with them.

Please outline the different kinds of learning experience that you feel you have most benefited from.

In general, learning about social science has had a lot of benefits when understanding the differences and similarities with natural science, which had been my speciality until my Master's.

What are your key achievements since starting your PhD?

One of my key achievements during my PhD was being able to feel the deepness of academia. By constructing my own philosophy based on study results and a literature review, I was able to understand the meaning of 'stand on the shoulders of giants'.

What have you enjoyed most about your research?

The most enjoyable part has been learning about soil from farmers. They have their own soil knowledge which comes from their life and history. In addition, before my field research, majority of farmers on my study site has no consideration about soil science but they increased their interest throughout my PhD study, which was a great pleasure to me.

How do you think this qualification will help you in the future?

Absolutely yes. I would like to develop my career as a 'knowledge broker' among various stakeholders in the field of sustainable soil management. The dissonances between farmers and other stakeholders including scientists, extensionists and project staff is one of the big barriers for the success of the programmes. The experience and results of my study is a good initial step towards enhancing the mutual understanding of these stakeholders.

Is there a particular element associated with your research that you would like to specialise in later in your career?

My PhD research is interdisciplinary between soil science and development study. I would like to be a specialist of interdisciplinary activities to accelerate communication of different stakeholders including farmers, scientists, government and international organization.

Would you recommend a PhD to other students, if so why?

Yes, if you have something you want to study then a PhD programme will give you the opportunity to understand it in a deeper and more logical way.


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