Evolving Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa

Agriculture is critical for human welfare and economic growth in developing countries. More than 1 billion people in China and India live on small-scale farms. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 750 million people who live in dire poverty (earning less than US$1 per day) rely on subsistence agriculture as their major source of food and income, and about two-thirds of the people depend on farming for their livelihood (FAO, 2006; Diao et al., 2007; Toenniessen et al., 2008; World Bank, 2008). Yet, compared to India, China, and South America, only sub-Saharan Africa continues to show a decline in food security and agricultural productivity per capita and an increase in undernourishment since 1990 (FAO, 2006). The contribution of agriculture to gross domestic production in African countries varies from 10 to 70 percent (Mendelsohn et al., 2000). In other words, local livelihood of some African countries depends on the agricultural sector.

In general, part of Africa’s poor agricultural performance (and the concomitant pervasive problems of hunger) can be attributed to a wide array of production-limiting constraints faced by resource-poor farmers that include: shrinking farm sizes and inequitable land-distribution patterns, depleted soils and limited use of fertilizer and soil amendments (either organic and inorganic), unreliable rainfall and lack of irrigation capacity, and limited access to improved varieties and seed distribution systems. Other underlying factors that often contribute to or aggravate those constraints include: poorly maintained roads and transportation systems, inefficient markets or lack of access to regional or international markets, lack of credit, labor availability and demands, unstable political systems, poor security, warfare, and underinvestment by national governments and other institutions in the physical, institutional, and human capital needed to support sustainable agricultural intensification (Diao et al., 2007). Challenges to agriculture in Africa are likely to be made more difficult by the effects of global climate change (NRC, 2008). Numerous scientists, international organizations, political bodies, and others have analyzed the complexities associated with the challenging agricultural situation in many parts of Africa; likewise, various organizations have made many efforts to resolve or mitigate agriculture-related problems and to alleviate hunger. A comprehensive review of that literature was beyond the scope of this committee; instead, this chapter provides a brief overview of the issues and highlights what lessons can be drawn from U.S. experiences that, in the committee’s opinion, have relevance to agricultural development in Africa.

Lessons Learned from the Green Revolution

In Asia and Latin America, the introduction of Green Revolution technologies began in the 1960s, including high-yielding varieties, inorganic fertilizers, modern pesticides, irrigation, agricultural machinery, supportive government policies, wide-scale training of scientists, establishment of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Centers, and massive funding for research and development (R&D). These technologies dramatically increased agricultural output, raised farm-level income, and reduced food costs for urban consumers in many countries. The impact has been profound—aggregate world food production grew by 145 percent (140 percent in Africa, nearly 200 percent in Latin America, and 280 percent in Asia). In comparison, and starting at much higher levels of productivity, modern agricultural practices during that time doubled food production in the United States and grew production by 68 percent in Western Europe (FAO,

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