African Agricultural Development: Lessons and Challenges

This paper reviews what has been learned from experiences of African agriculture and hence what policy lessons may be. Views of African agriculture over the last 130 years have changed from optimism to pessimism and at least halfway back again as the performance of the sector has fluctuated. Fortunately it seems the deep pessimism about agricultural prospects expressed in the 1980s and 1990s has receded. The performance of African agriculture since 1990 suggests that neither those who doubt that any significant advances are taking place, nor those who see advances in some remarkable but perhaps isolated cases of rapid transformation of farming and agricultural supply chains, have sufficient evidence – either from national data or small-scale studies – to support their positions. Hence policy has to rely largely on general principles and historic lessons, rather than more clearly proven propositions. Policy debates over African agricultural development may sharply divide on some topics, but there is little debate over the importance of basic conditions for agricultural development of an enabling investment climate and the provision of rural public goods. Beyond these basics, the challenge is to remedy the failings of markets that deny most smallholders access to inputs, financial services and insurance. Here opinion divides between whether to return to public provision, as with fertiliser subsidies, or whether private and collective institutional innovations will be sufficient. Recent initiatives to test and scale up the latter look promising, but most have yet to be evaluated. If agricultural development is first and foremost about establishing the basic conditions for growth, then most countries in Africa may be better placed than they have been in the past. Given the many examples that show African smallholders investing and innovating when they have the chance, then there are reasons to hope that the modest growth of production and productivity seen in the last two decades may accelerate in the future – thereby allowing African countries to make the transition from agrarian to urban economies.

Wiggins, S. (2014), African Agricultural Development: Lessons and Challenges. J Agric Econ, 65: 529–556. doi:10.1111/1477-9552.12075
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Journal Article

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