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Agriculture and Rural Development

Varieties of African successes

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Tolstoy notwithstanding, the 20 African success stories described in the booklet “Yes, Africa Can” show that success comes in many different forms.  Broadly speaking, the cases fall into three categories:

- Success from removing an existing, major distortion.  The best example is Ghana’s cocoa sector, which was destroyed by the hyperinflation and overvalued exchange rate in the early 1980s.  When the exchange rate regime was liberalized and the economy stabilized, cocoa exports boomed (and continue to grow).  Similar examples include Rwanda’s coffee sector and Kenya’s fertilizer use.  Africa’s mobile phone revolution, too, is an example of the government’s stepping out of the way—in this case by deregulating the telecommunications sector—and letting the private sector jump in. 

More cell phones than toilets

Shanta Devarajan's picture

An article in yesterday’s New York Times observes that, with the number of mobile subscriptions exceeding five billion, more people today have access to a cell phone than to a clean toilet.  Leaving aside the relative value of these two appliances, the surge in cell phones in Africa—some 94 percent of urban Africans are near a GSM signal—is transforming the continent.  Farmers in Niger use cell phones to find out which market is giving the best price; people in Kenya pay their bills and send money home using M-Pesa.

Can better roads reduce poverty?

Gael Raballand's picture

This  question  was on my mind when, in the Meme region of Cameroon, I saw motorcycle passengers come to a full stop, dismount, carry the bags of vegetables they were transporting on their backs, and start pushing the vehicle to the side, over a field--to circumvent the huge pool of water interrupting the rural road in front of us. Soon, they were on their way again.
Meme is a remote region with almost four meters of rain per year.  The state of its roads reflects the very limited investment they have seen in the last decade.

The motorcycle story from Meme shows that, even in extreme climatic conditions, the connectivity of roads is maintained.  A road may be impassable for cars, but motorcycles find their way around.  Therefore, most rural populations are somehow connected to markets, whereas connectivity is usually thought of as either 0 or 1.

This means that investments in roads could have a lower-than-expected impact on economic development since most households are already somehow connected.

Climate Change as a Development Opportunity

Shanta Devarajan's picture

There is considerable evidence that Africa is the continent that will be hit the first, most and worst by climate change. 

Agricultural productivity, already among the world’s lowest, could in several African countries fall by 50 percent in 10 years because of higher and more variable temperatures, which in turn could lead to faster desertification, rising sea levels, and more frequent droughts, floods and typhoons. 

Some (Possibly Heretical) Thoughts on Agriculture

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Since the publication of the 2008 World Development Report, there has been a vigorous discussion in the development community about agriculture; today’s publication of the World Bank’s Agriculture Action Plan is a milestone in that process.  To stimulate further discussion on the subject, here are some thoughts from a garden-variety economist.

1. The oft-quoted statement, “GDP growth originating in agriculture is about four times more effective in raising incomes of extremely poor people than GDP growth originating from other sectors,” is an arithmetical point, not an economic point.  It simply reflects the fact that 75 percent of the world’s poor depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Why We Work in Development

Shanta Devarajan's picture

A visual reminder of why many of us work in development:

The schoolchildren in this picture are first- and second-graders in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They're holding their new textbooks, given to them as part of a project that distributed some 14 million free textbooks to private and public schools across the country. 

After the photo was taken, the teachers tried to take the books back to put them in the classrooms for safekeeping.  The kids refused. For many of them, this was the first time they had held a book in their hands--and they weren't about to let go of them. The Minister of Education (seen in the photo with my colleague Marie-Francoise Mary-Nelly), wanting to give the kids a chance to enjoy their new textbooks, let them keep them.

African Successes

Shanta Devarajan's picture

In recent years, a broad swath of African countries has begun to show a remarkable dynamism.  From Mozambique’s impressive growth rate (averaging 8% p.a. for more than a decade) to Kenya’s emergence as a major global supplier of cut flowers, from M-pesa’s mobile phone-based cash transfers to KickStart’s low-cost irrigation technology for small-holder farmers, and from Rwanda’s gorilla tourism to Lagos City’s Bus Rapid Transit system, Africa is seeing a dramatic transformation.  This favorable trend is spurred by, among other things, stronger leadership, better governance, an improving business climate, innovation, market-based solutions, a more involved citizenry, and an increasing reliance on home-grown solutions.  More and more, Africans are driving African development. 

The global economic crisis of 2008-09 threatens to undermine the optimism that Africa can harness this dynamism for long-lasting development.  In light of this, it might be useful to re-visit recent achievements.  The African Successes study aims to do just that.

The study will identify a wide range of development successes (see list), from which around 20 cases will be selected for in-depth study.  The analysis of each successful experience will evaluate the following: (1) the drivers of success—what has worked and why; (2) the sustainability of the successful outcome(s); and (3) the potential for scaling up successful experiences.  African success stories offer valuable insights and practical lessons to other countries in the region. 

I welcome your comments and suggestions for success stories. Click here to see the list of what we have come up with so far.

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