The Growing Opportunities for African Agricultural Development

Hans P. Binswanger-Mkhize, Derek Byerlee, Alex McCalla, Michael Morris, and John Staatz

After a decade-long period of stagnating or declining per capita incomes and agricultural output, Africa has entered a period of fairly rapid economic and gricultural growth. Macroeconomic stability, improved investment climates, and agricultural incentives—as well as decentralization of rural governance and greater ommunity participation—have contributed to the improved trends. Rising international agricultural prices and expanding market opportunities within Africa will make farming more profitable and create great opportunities for African agriculture to make up lost ground, especially in domestic and regional markets. Challenges for further acceleration of agricultural growth are remaining discrimination against agricultural exports, the (still) poor investment climate, poorinfrastructure, and inadequate investment in agricultural research and services. A particularly favorable opportunity arises in the enormous and underpopulated Guinea Savannahs that stretch across the continent below the Sahel and down via East Africa to a Southern African belt stretching from Angola to Mozambique. Soils and climate are as favorable as in the Brazilian Cerrado and the Northeast Thailand—two zones that have become major international agricultural competitors over the past 50 years. African smallholders are able to produce commodities at costs as low as these two zones, and able to supply the growing domestic and regional markets, but constraints in the logistics and processing of agricultural commodities have so far prevented countries from becoming major exporters. This paper examines how Africa can harness the enormous potential of its “Sleeping Agricultural Giant,” and how possible adverse social and environmental impacts and obstacles can be mitigated. An approach built on smallholder agriculture, with strong private investment in agro-industry, marketing and logistics, has the highest potential for contributing to social development and poverty reduction.

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