The inaugural Annual Bank Conference on Africa examined strategies for converting economic growth into poverty reduction. Taking an economic historian’s perspective, the prospects are complicated by long-term shifts in fundamental patterns, specifically from land abundance to land scarcity and, relatedly, from labor repression to landlessness as the principal source of poverty.
The southern fringes of the Sahara desert host rugged lands where mankind has thrived for more than a millennium. In this vast panorama, the Inner Niger Delta stands out: In a region where limited rainfall is a fact of life, the Delta is a natural dam and irrigation scheme whose flood plain creates a grazing and cropping perimeter that at its peak can reach 30,000 km2 and sustains about 900,000 people.
You could be forgiven if you found deworming to be something of an enigma. Some have hailed it as one of the most cost effective interventions for improving school participation in developing countries. Yet two recent review papers, drawing together the lessons from many studies, find insignificant effects of deworming on learning specifically and only uncertain evidence on cognition more generally. How could this be?
The short answer is that, until a few months ago, both views could be right. I explain why in this 7-minute talk highlighting my recent research.
But if you prefer to read rather than watch the video, allow me to explain.
A couple years ago I returned to Dovi, my maternal village, for the first time since my middle school years in the mid-1970s. Located in the highly fertile Oueme River Valley, the village at that time was one of the most affluent parts of Central Benin, the breadbasket of Agonlin region. It had the second largest market and one of the best primary schools in the country.
Inequality is of concern for at least three reasons. First, lower inequality per se is an objective for a decent society. Second, lower inequality improves the efficiency of economic growth in achieving poverty reduction. Third, high inequality impedes growth itself, through its impact on social cohesion and the investment climate.
“I am always hungry, as oftentimes my family and I skip meals. I want to go to school like my friends, but my parents always say it is too expensive. If I go to school, then I can’t work to help them buy food, and then I am hungry again. I am helpless when it comes to changing my situation, I have no voice and there are few people that see things the way I do.”
En tant qu’économiste, spécialisé dans le secteur de l’éducation à la Banque mondiale, je passe souvent en revue de nombreuses stratégies pays ou sectorielles dissertant sur la meilleure façon de développer l’Afrique et d’y atteindre une croissance économique élevée.
Et à chaque fois je me demande: mais qui le fera ? Qui apportera de la valeur ajoutée aux exportations africaines ? Qui construira ? Qui inventera ? Qui soignera ?
La réponse est évidente : ce sont les jeunes fraîchement diplômés des universités africaines et des instituts de formation. Certes, mais dans ce cas nous avons un problème : il n’y a tout simplement pas assez de diplômés en sciences, en technologie, en ingénierie et en mathématiques (STIM) à l’heure actuelle sur le continent et la qualité des formations est très inégale.
From my seat as an Education economist at the World Bank, I go through a number of strategies from countries and sectors in Africa outlining how best to achieve economic growth and development. I am repeatedly struck by a key question: Who will do it? Who will add value to African exports? Who will build? Who will invent? Who will cure? The answer is, of course, that graduates from African universities and training institutions should do it. But the problem is one of numbers and quality—there are simply not enough graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and programs are of uneven quality.
History shows that investments in agriculture can be a catalytic force in the fight against hunger, poverty and malnutrition and a well-performing farm economy can be an instrument for achieving sustained structural economic transformation. Agricultural growth was the precursor to industrial growth in Europe and, more recently through the Green Revolution, in large parts of Asia and Latin America. The Green Revolution bypassed Africa.
When I was elected President of the Republic of Ghana in 2000, agriculture was a mainstay of the nation’s economy, accounting for 35% of its GDP, 55% of employment and 75% of export revenues. But it was a lagging, orphan sector, suffering from decades of neglect and lack of investment. Ghana’s agriculture had sadly changed little from the kind practiced generations ago. Farmers were still eking out a living, tilling the land by hand, much like their ancestors.
Agricultural transformation is a priority for Africa. Across the continent, the significant information needs of farmers—accurate local weather forecasts, relevant advice on agricultural practices and input use, real time price information and market logistics—remain largely unmet. To the extent that rural regions are typically sparsely populated with limited infrastructure and dispersed markets, the use of innovative information and communication technologies (ICTs) overcome some of these information asymmetries and connect farmers to opportunities that weren't necessarily available to them earlier. Harnessing the rapid growth of digital technologies holds hope for transformative agricultural development.