Twenty-five years on from the last World Development Report on agriculture in 1982, the 2008 WDR, launched on 19th October, provides a long overdue focus on ‘Agriculture and Development’.
Agriculture is crucial to the sustained growth of Africa’s economies and improving the lives of millions of poor people – over 70% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa works in this sector. The question of how to raise productivity in a continent where population growth still outstrips food production is key.
The WDR is right in stating that agriculture is a private sector activity. But to talk about agriculture in Africa in any broad-brush way is dangerous, and the WDR’s recognition of this is welcome. Agriculture an extremely heterogeneous sector; from subsistence and smallholder farmers, to cooperatives and large-scale plantations. In this regard, broad-brush policies to stimulate the agricultural sector will also be dangerous. Policies need enough flexibility to enable the diverse business of agriculture to flourish at every level of the supply chain.
The challenges to agriculture presented by the changing geography in many African countries must not be underestimated. Urbanisation is happening at an unprecedented scale in many contexts, creating new urban market opportunities for agricultural products. Linking farmers to these markets through efficient value chains and enhanced competitiveness is crucial.
If agriculture is seriously back on the international development agenda, there is an important window of opportunity not to be missed. Many African governments have made agriculture a national priority, the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) is finalising its strategic framework, and the private sector is recognising the huge potential of investing in African agriculture (with Business Action for Africa, for example, recently setting out its position on the issue).