Agriculture investment is the answer to sub-Saharan Africa in crisis

March 19, 2004

Greater investment in smallholder agriculture could offer a route out of the deepening poverty facing many African nations, a study by Imperial College London economists has concluded.

Reporting today in the journal Oxford Development Studies they outline five key policy themes that must be embraced by the international community if sub-Saharan Africa is to have any chance of meeting two of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals - halving both the number of people living on less than $1 a day and the number suffering from hunger.

With the World Bank already forecasting that these two objectives will not be met by the target year of 2015, the study argues economic recovery must focus on expansion and intensification of smallholder agriculture backed up by manufacturing exports.

The researchers challenge the current dominant policy thinking, which under emphasises the role of agriculture, arguing instead for a return to a more farm-centred approach supported by improved service to farmers such as research, marketing and improved access to credit.

Dr Andrew Dorward of the Department of Agricultural Sciences says:

"75 per cent of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa are located in rural areas. While there are many factors that contribute to the high levels of poverty, such as bad governance or the spread of HIV, we cannot get away from the fundamental problem that agricultural growth in this region has stagnated for 30 years.

"Agricultural policies in sub-Saharan Africa have increasingly relied on the private sector to support and drive development, but haven't addressed the many practical difficulties facing private investors and farmers. New policies and action are needed to help farmers access marketing, financial, technical and information services and to help make it profitable for businesses to provide these services. There are many difficult challenges in this, but this is how smallholder development has grown and driven growth elsewhere in the world, and we cannot sit on our hands while poverty in Africa continues to grow."

The researchers argue that it is possible to expand income opportunities and reduce income vulnerability by increasing the productivity of assets.

They consider the many challenges that face agricultural development such as water control, reversing soil deterioration and the effect of the free market on competitiveness, and suggest a commitment to five policy themes: Economist and Research Fellow, Colin Poulton of the Department of Agricultural Sciences added:

"Many poverty reduction strategy papers recognise the importance of smallholder agriculture to the national economy, but there are few credible sector development or investment strategies to turn this into progress on the ground.

"A credible sector development strategy also requires that government agencies learn to work in partnership with NGOs, businesses and farmer organisations. In order for that to happen, mechanisms must be devised by which government agencies can be held accountable by these other stakeholders for their performance. Governance is a key theme in African development discourses at the moment and more attention needs to be paid to governance issues within the agricultural sector."
-end-
For further information, please contact:
Judith H Moore
Imperial College London Press Office
Tel: 44-207-594-6702
Mobile: 44-780-388-6248
E-mail:j.h.moore@imperial.ac.uk

Notes to editor
Journal: Oxford Development Studies
Title: 'Agricultural development and pro-poor economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa: potential and policy
Authors: Jonathan Kydd (1), Andrew Dorward (1), Jamie Morrison (1) and Georg Cadich (1)
(1) Centre for Development and Poverty Reduction, Department of Agricultural Sciences, Imperial College London, Wye, Ashford, Kent, TN25 5AH, UK.

About Imperial College London
Consistently rated in the top three UK university institutions, Imperial College London is a world leading science-based university whose reputation for excellence in teaching and research attracts students (11,000) and staff (6,000) of the highest international quality.

Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and management and delivers practical solutions that enhance the quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture. Website: www.imperial.ac.uk.

Imperial College London

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