Sub-Saharan Africa needs to develop in order to escape the trap of poverty and continuing population growth. African agriculture can drive this development – even if the continent is currently unable to feed its own populations.
For this to happen, farmers must use modernmethods to achieve better yields, and they must avoid repeating the mistakes that were madeelsewhere as agricultural production intensified. If the region can then succeed in creating jobs inthe agricultural processing sector in rural areas and gaining access to markets, an importantdevelopment step will have been taken.
Although the agriculture of sub-Saharan Africa currently cannot feed the continent’s own populations,it has the potential to become the driving force for development in Africa. This may sound rather farfetchedgiven that the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa – the focus of this study – have the lowest levelof development and the highest population growth of any region in the world. In theory, however, theregion has what it takes: enough land suitable for crop farming and animal husbandry, favourableclimatic conditions and a large workforce. In addition, the governments of the 49 countries betweenthe Sahel and the Cape of Good Hope as well as international donors have realised that the urgentlyneeded development leap must begin in agriculture, a sector that has long been neglected.
However, there are major practical challenges to be overcome. The family smallholdings, whichaccount for most agricultural production, are generally not very efficient, above all because they lackaccess to know-how and capital and do not have secure land rights. Food security is worsening amidclimate change and conflicts. In addition, the facilities are lacking to process crops and livestock intocommercial-grade, profitable food products and thereby create rural jobs.
Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa need to become more productive, and they need to do so as soon aspossible. At the same time, they must take care to avoid making the mistakes that occurred whenagricultural production in Europe and elsewhere intensified – from the over-use of fertiliser to thereduction in biodiversity. The employment of modern means together with the renouncement ofoutdated intermediate steps is referred to as “leapfrogging”. A classic example of leapfrogging is theuse of the mobile phone. Africa was able to do without the costly and complex construction of alandline network and instead introduced modern means of communication straightaway. Mobilephones are now so widespread that they are in turn contributing to leapfrogging in African agriculture,with the result that experience and knowledge about new, intelligent farming methods and data-basedinformation reach smallholders even in remote areas of the continent.
“Africa’s agriculture must first be able to supply its populations using its own resources,” ReinerKlingholz, director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, explains. “But if it becomespossible to intensify agriculture sustainably and to build local value chains, sub-Saharan Africa, whichis currently lagging significantly behind in terms of development, could catch up, not only inagriculture but in all economic and social areas.”
As the study shows, an increase in agricultural yields always took place at the beginning ofdevelopment in both industrial and emerging countries. Through more efficient farming methods andmachinery, fewer and fewer workers were needed over time to feed growing populations, while theemerging sectors of the economy in food production and industry increasingly offered employment. Asoverall economic development advanced, fertility rates declined. Sub-Saharan Africa must embark onthis path as soon as possible if the progress made to date is not to be offset by continuing populationgrowth.
The study not only describes ideas and approaches but also offers examples of good practice andpromising projects. In Senegal, for example, a veterinarian has built a value chain for domestic milk. InCôte d’Ivoire, a women’s cooperative is refining raw cocoa to produce the finest chocolate. In Nigeria,a company is developing high-tech agricultural aids that even farmers with less capital can afford. InZambia, a project is using fish breeding and the cultivation of soybeans to diversify agriculture andmake it more attractive for young people. In Malawi, maize farmers are once again learning toappreciate the advantages of crop rotation.
The study was funded by the Bayer Foundation and the Friends of the Berlin Institute.