How the political economy of agriculture holds Africa back
3 months ago, 14 Sep 09:30
Earlier last week, I attended perhaps the largest gathering of people who work on and think about agriculture in Africa.
Organised by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) in collaboration with several partners, the meeting was in Rwanda’s clean and secure capital, Kigali. As one would expect at this sort of gathering, a wide range of topics was discussed. It sometimes wasn’t easy to decide which sessions to attend and which ones to miss.
A highlight of the event was the launch of the 2018 Africa Agriculture Status Report.
The report makes for interesting reading. It shows the progress, albeit limited, that the continent is making, thanks in part to major continental initiatives such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme and other ambitious plans by the African Union and numerous development partners providing much-needed financial and technical assistance.
However, some of the chapters do not make for happy reading. They raise some very uncomfortable questions for the people in charge, the political leaders especially.
A whopping 65pc
It is over half a century since Africans started running their own affairs. Some may argue that this claim is mainly theoretical, but at least all African countries are independent.
A whopping 65 per cent of Africans, of whom the majority are poor, still depend on agriculture as their main, if not sole source of livelihood. In every country, agriculture is the backbone of the economy, a fact that politicians cite in almost every speech they make on economic matters.
Even then, agriculture in Africa is backward. The backwardness explains why the continent has been a net food importer since the 1980s.
While most of Asia transformed its agriculture long ago into an engine of economic growth, in Africa only a few countries have taken or begun to take coherent and consistent action towards achieving that goal. And now think of this: All this sloth and stagnation is despite Africa’s possession of abundant natural endowments.
Africa has more than half of the global total of uncultivated arable land. Its tropical and sub-tropical climates permit long and multiple farming seasons. Its labour force is mostly young and energetic, with large numbers unemployed or underemployed.
The backwardness of agriculture in Africa is visible in such indicators as productivity of both land and labour. Both remain low in comparison with other parts of the world. Yields are rising, but not quickly enough. In many countries, value-addition is more the stuff of politicians’ speechifying making than reality.
Perhaps most sobering is the fact that the value of agricultural imports into Africa is higher than that of exports from it. What can explain all this? Many factors. History and politics are arguably most significant.
To understand the role of these two factors, one ought first of all to agree that the entire development or social transformation endeavour is patently political.
Leaders who seek deliberately to transform their countries are invariably driven by political imperatives.
A hungry majority is an angry majority
By way of a simple illustrative example, in countries that are led by minority groups ...
Category: topnews news oped opinion