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Science, Technology and Innovation in Agriculture is Pivotal for Africa’s Overdue Transformation

John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor's picture
The persistence of poverty and food insecurity on the African continent is a major developmental challenge, both for Africans and the international development community. 
 
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.  
 
The World Bank’s new Agriculture Global Practice hosted President Kufuor and his colleagues from the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).  Here, Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director, argues that science has unbounded potential to contribute to Africa’s agricultural transformation for the benefit of all Africans and the environment.
 
Photo credit: A’Melody Lee


You Asked: What's Going on With Food Prices?

Karin Rives's picture

Read this post in Español, Français, 中文

Photo: © Michael Morris / World Bank

When the World Bank’s Food Price Watch reported last week that severe drought pushed prices of staples such as maize and soybean to an all-time high this summer, people everywhere took notice. What will it mean for the poor in regions most affected by rising prices? What will it mean for us? 

Economist José Cuesta, who authors the Bank’s quarterly Food Price Watch, asked readers of our last blog entry to submit their own questions about food prices. Here are his answers to a few of them.

After the holidays, a time to reflect on the state of food in Africa

Ian Gillson's picture

As we gather in kitchens and dining rooms during this season of eating and charity, let us pause for a moment to review the state of food trade in Africa: how does cross-border commerce in key crops fare on a continent with pockets of harsh weather and unpredictable politics? How is the traffic in grains and tubers?

It’s clear that prices are high, following the February 2011 peak worldwide. The price of maize in Nairobi has tripled this year alone, while the price of a 50 kg bag of rice in Dakar has risen from $36 to $43.50. These spikes can be blamed partly on increased demand for food crops – including for biofuel production in Europe and the United States. They are also due to supply-side factors, such as higher energy prices which impact transportation and fertilizer costs, and weak harvests in large exporting countries.

But on a global scale there is no food shortage. In 2010, the world produced 2.2 billion tons of cereals, up from 820 million tons 50 years ago (a 268 percent increase). Over the same period, the world’s population has grown from three billion to seven billion people: an increase of 233 percent. In Africa, food staple production is abundant in some areas even though the continent is a net importer of food. Mali grows enough excess sorghum to supply its neighbors, and Uganda, the bread basket of East Africa, makes regular shipments of maize to Kenya, Southern Sudan and Rwanda. The problem is that the surplus food does not always get to those in need. Often shipments of perishable goods are stopped at the border and excessive inspections frequently cause delays.

The Little State that Could

Muthukumara Mani's picture

It is not often that you find forest officers sitting face to face with mining officials to discuss environmental sustainability—especially in a state which is rich in both minerals and forest resources. Nor do you often see fishermen walking toe to toe with farmers in sweltering 48° C heat to be heard alongside tribal chiefs and industrialists. And it is not often that a state, dubbed as the disaster capital of India, and which lags behind on every conceivable development indicator, comes out on top by being the first to consult with its people on how to tackle the onslaught of climate change.

Well, this happened last week in India’s coastal state of Orissa, one of the poorest states in the country. While the richer states - Maharashtra and Gujarat - were busy building fancy climate models to predict temperature and rainfall changes fifty years from now, Orissa focused on what it can do today.

Food Prices and the Inflation Tax

Eliana Cardoso's picture

Oscar Wilde, suspecting that the relationship between price and value hides reasons that reason itself ignores, observes in the Lady Windermere’s Fan that a cynic is “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. The economist will laugh at Wilde’s one-liner. But after a brief moment, she would protest. Theory tells her that value and price is one and the same thing. And she will insist that what matters for South Asians today is the difference between an increase in the price level and an increase in the inflation rate.

The price level increases when there is a supply shock, such as an increase in food and fuel prices. The initial increase in the price level tends to transmit itself to other prices when the economy operates close to capacity. If the price increase is accommodated by monetary policy, the supply shock transforms itself in a spiral of prices and wages and inflation goes up. Monetary authorities do right by not tightening monetary policy in response to the primary impact of supply shocks, but have to be attentive in case the increase in food prices begins to encourage secondary inflationary effects.

Pacific Islands could benefit from cooperative approach to farming

Evelyn Ng's picture

One thing villages in Pacific Island countries can do is to organize the farmers to cultivate the land of participating farmers collectively, increasing manpower and thus improving productivity.
In some Pacific Island countries, such as Fiji, Solomon Islands, Samoa, and Vanuatu, land is fertile and suitable for growing a variety of tropical fruit, vegetable, and root crops. The majority of these populations rely on subsistence agriculture and fishing as their economic mainstay. In some islands, the women and children work the farm while the men fish for the day’s catch. In other islands, the men tend the farm while the women sell the surplus crops in nearby markets.

Land development for commercial agriculture is limited in most of these islands due to issues surrounding communal ownership of land. Take an example of a small farming village in the rural areas near the capital city of Fiji. This village consists of seventy households, of which sixty live below the national poverty line. The head of each household has the right to cultivate a portion of the communal land to feed his family.

Rice prices - Viewed from Vietnamese fields

Flore de Préneuf's picture

I just returned from the Mekong Delta – Vietnam’s “rice basket” – to look at the results of development projects partly financed by the World Bank. With rice prices going through the roof, I expected to see farmers enjoying a financial boom. But, reality was more nuanced and underscored how difficult it is to grow more rice at the drop of a bamboo hat.