African agriculture: We need detailed thinking in an optimistic picture

African agriculture can certainly advance and, looking at the recent records, there are many reasons to be optimistic. However, while we may know what we should do, actions and solutions need to be tailored to different situations, different regions and different social groups.

These were two major messages from ODI‘s Steve Wiggins who spoke in the first panel on “Advancing African agriculture“.

In his presentation, he argued that the statistics do not necessarily show African agriculture to be in crisis: in the last 15 years, 17 of the 30 fastest growing agricultural sectos come from Africa. Five African countries have outperformed China.

The data also show there is no single way forward for the whole of Africa, each country will have different requirements for intervention.

A first difference lies in the different type of problems confronting African agriculture: market failures; failure in government policies; lack of appropriate technology; and lack of effective demand for input. Each situation has its specificity, and solutions need to be tailored to address this.

A second difference lies at regional level. The degree of market access and the level of resources available will determine which policies are needed in each specific context.

Third, it is important to have different interventions for different groups of farmers. In determining what interventions are appropriate, social groups can be approached with three different type of intervention: “Stepping up” would allow farmers to improve production through intensified farming supported with transport and technologies; “Stepping out” would allow people to move into the non-farm economy; and “Hanging in” could support marginal improvements with low capital technology for food staples and nutrition, aiming to give the next generations a better chance than their parents.

Success is possible, but we need detailed thinking on what to do in each specific situation.

Links:

Presentation

Summary of Presentation (doc format)

See more from the 17 October briefing

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