‘Our Economic Policy will be predicated on our agriculture which is the mainstay…’ said Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa in his inaugural speech in November 2017, setting a new tone for agricultural development in the country. While reiterating that the principles that led to land reform cannot be “challenged” or “reversed,” he called for a “commitment to the utilization of the land for national food security and for the recovery of our economy.”
Agriculture and Rural Development
Is the era of industrialization and manufacturing exports growth miracles – a period of rapid economic growth exceeding expectations, last seen in East Asian countries, most notably in China – over? If you listen to Harvard’s Dani Rodrik, the answer seems to be: pretty much! Does that mean, Africa, the only continent which hasn’t seen rapid export-led manufacturing growth, would not have many growth miracle stories?
Six years after independence, South Sudan remains one of the world’s most fragile states, unable to emerge from cycles of violence. About half the population—that is, about 6 million of 12 million people—are food insecure. A famine was declared in February 2017. And though the famine was contained (thanks to massive humanitarian support), food insecurity remains at extremely high levels.
About 2 million South Sudanese have fled the country and another 1.9 million are internally displaced. The economy is estimated to have contracted by 11 percent in the past fiscal year, due to conflict, low oil production, and disruptions to agriculture. The fiscal deficit, inflation, and parallel market premium have all soared.
This macroeconomic collapse has crushed the livelihoods of many South Sudanese.
At first glance it might seem surprising that the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) has zeroed in on agriculture as the focus for our 2017 flagship report, launched this week at the World Bank’s Annual Meetings in Washington. But that’s precisely the point: this is not primarily about agriculture, it is about how you transform the broader economy, with agriculture as the catalyst.
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.
Climate change and food insecurity could shape Africa’s future.
I already see evidence of this during my travels across Sub-Saharan Africa, where high levels of poverty, highly variable and unpredictable weather, limited livelihood options, weak infrastructure, insufficient access to productive resources, and scarce safety nets all combine to make Africans even more vulnerable to climate risks.