Why Africa Needs an Agricultural Revolution
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Africa’s peasants are migrating to the cities in huge numbers because it is becoming increasingly difficult to survive on their farms.
Farmers are trapped into using inefficient technologies; average cereal yields have barely increased in 40 years and farm sizes are shrinking. Although Africans are leaving the farm, far too few are finding productive jobs in the cities. Most are getting poorer, the cost of safety-net programmes is escalating and Africa’s dependence on concessionary food imports is growing. As the recent world food crisis has demonstrated, these trends can have catastrophic consequences for the continent’s poor.
The situation in Africa today bears some striking similarities with Asia in the early 1960s. Asian countries also wanted to industrialise, but faced with worsening food shortages, slow agricultural growth, and a large agricultural workforce with many peasant farmers, they saw that rapid agricultural growth was a key step along the path to industrialisation.
Asian governments spent 10-15% of their total budget on agriculture each year, investing heavily in agricultural research, irrigation, rural roads and power. They also provided direct policy support to their farmers by shoring up farm credit systems, subsidising vital inputs like fertiliser, power, and water, and intervening in markets to ensure that farmers received adequate and stable prices.
Africa, in contrast, has failed to do the same. African governments and donors have invested relatively little in agriculture. For over 40 years African governments have spent 5-6% of their total budget on agriculture, less than half the share spent in Asia. Donors have also played down agriculture, contributing little more than $1bn per year (in 2004 prices) – a paltry $30 per African farmer – for agricultural development, hardly enough to kickstart an agricultural revolution.