Of the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty, the vast majority resides in rural areas, relying on smallholder agriculture as a source of income and livelihood. Agricultural labor statistics are needed to study some of the most pressing issues in development: how households earn income, the factors driving urbanization, the causes of un- and under-employment, the constraints to growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, and, in the big picture, understanding the potential for structural transformation. And, as climate change continues to impact smallholder farming outcomes, collecting quality data is even more important as we think ahead to interventions that promote climate-resilience for family farmers.
The challenges faced by small farmers are similar across the developing world – pests, diseases and climate change. Yet in Africa the challenges are even greater. If farmers are to survive at current rates (let alone grow), they need to have access to high-yielding seeds, effective fertilizers and irrigation technologies. These issues threaten the region’s ability to feed itself and make business-growth and export markets especially difficult to reach. Other factors include the rise in global food prices and export subsidies for exporters in the developed economies, which leave African farmers struggling to price competitively.
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.