However, the statistical foundations of Africa’s economic growth and poverty reduction narratives are increasingly being questioned. Shantayanan Devarajan, the World Bank’s former Chief Economist for the Africa Region, spoke of “Africa’s statistical tragedy” (after its growth tragedy of the 1990s), while Morten Jerven drew our attention to the challenges Africa faces in producing reliable national accounts.
When it comes to agriculture, the problems only multiply, with maize yield estimates, for example, varying substantially depending on the data source (by about 1 ton per ha between 1.7 and 2.6 ton/ha in Malawi in 2006/7). Clearly, tracking progress, even on some of the most elementary statistics for agricultural policymaking, is a challenge. So, what about the reliability of our common wisdom and policy direction which is often supported by references to the type of statistical factoids quoted above? Are we flying blind or vision impaired?