Conventional wisdom holds that Sub-Saharan African farmers use few modern inputs despite the fact that most growth-inducing and poverty-reducing agricultural growth in the region is expected to come largely from expanded use of inputs that embody improved technologies, particularly improved seed, fertilizers and other agro-chemicals, machinery, and irrigation. Yet following several years of high food prices, concerted policy efforts to intensify fertilizer and hybrid seed use, and increased public and private investment in agriculture, how low is modern input use in Africa really?
Recently, while reviewing a document, I came across a statistic about age dependency* in the Republic of Mauritius. Mauritius already had an age dependency ratio of 10.9 in 2010 and this is projected to rise to 25 by 2030 and 37 by 2050, which is at par with many East Asian economies. Aging issues in Europe and parts of Asia have already become an economic and fiscal policy concern over the last few years and will remain so for the foreseeable future, could it also become a problem for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) sooner than realized?
With 43 percent of the population below the age of 15 and only three percent above the age of 65, Sub-Saharan Africa is a predominantly young continent. The problems emanating from an ageing population, such as rising age dependency ratios and increasing health care costs, are far over the horizon as far as the continent is concerned. However, this may not remain so for long and definitely not for all the countries. Let me explain why.
The quest for development effectiveness has been a learning process, both conceptually and empirically. One of the important outcomes of the process has been the emphasis on the notion that sustainable economic growth must be a precondition for poverty reduction. Structural fiscal policies which aim to shape the supply side of the economy to generate growth and structural transformation are critical. They complement private investment through the provision of public goods such as public infrastructure or the education of the workforce. But the question still remains: will public investment in infrastructure be sufficient for unleashing faster economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa?
The literature on growth convergence and divergence is vast and deep. Some have argued that divergence is persistent. Lant Pritchett in his paper, “Divergence, Big Time” has argued that backwardness appeared to carry severe disadvantages that generated long-term divergence between growth in per capita incomes of developing countries compared to rich countries. Others have found evidence in favor of convergence. Arvind Subramanian, in his paper, “The hyperglobalization of Trade and its Future”, has argued in favor of convergence, since the number of developing countries experiencing catch-up has more than trebled (from 21 to 75 countries) and the rate of average catch-up has doubled from 1.5 percent per year to over 3 percent. However, what has been overlooked in this debate is the role that agriculture, manufacturing and services have played in growth convergence/divergence. Which of these sectors have played a bigger role in growth convergence?
Following the launch of the World Development Report (WDR) 2014, Risk and Opportunity: Managing Risk for Development, various team members have been traveling to different countries to present its findings. I recently joined other team members in a visit to Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Africa, with a stop in the middle in London and Oxford.
One thing that struck me was how relevant the topic of risk management is for many countries. The importance of risk management seemed immediately apparent to many participants in our discussions. Indeed, many participants gave examples of risk management measures that have been practiced in their cultures for generations (such as storing grain in African villages), or linked messages in our Report to common sayings – for example, as Professor Awad from the American University in Cairo told us, our message on the importance of saving in good times for the bad times has a direct parallel in the old Arabic adage, “to keep a white coin for a black day”.
My experiences with field work thus far have been nothing if not adventurous. I seem to attract broken glass – a rock the size of a small coconut crashing through my 3rd floor window in Zanzibar, for instance, or the windows of my taxi being broken with baseball bats by an armed mob in Mali. Just the other day, my boss and I came within inches of dying in a fiery plane crash – we were on our way back to the main island of Zanzibar from Pemba island in a tiny 12-seater Soviet-era plane, and were just about to land in a strong crosswind when the engine on my side failed. We managed to land, somehow, and taxied to a stop right there on the runway to wait for a vehicle (ironically, it ended up being an ambulance) to take us to the terminal.
In a new book released Monday, the World Bank's Africa Region convincingly argued for "Securing Africa's Land for Shared Prosperity" by recording land rights for both individuals and groups. That’s mainly because at a time when vastly-increased commodity demand has led to a series of widely publicized “land grabs” and urban expansion, the potential benefits from securing rights have greatly increased in several ways.
First, equity and efficiency. Poor and traditionally disadvantaged people, including women, have the least access to land rights, so securing their rights can provide them with access to a key productive resource. Also, if land rights are secured, land users will be more likely to invest in land improvement and modern technology to improve the efficiency of land use.
This year’s report card on where the world, the regions, and the developing countries are with regard to attaining the various Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), shows quite a diverse picture. As the Global Monitoring Report 2013 points out, progress toward the MDGs has not been universal and there are many poor countries that are still very far away from the targets where we want them to be by 2015.
If we take a look at progress towards attainment of the MDGs, we can conclude that four out of 21 targets have been met by 2010, well ahead of the 2015 deadline. Note that even though there are 8 Goals, there are 21 targets and about 56 indicators through which the world tries to monitor their progress.
Madame Ngetsi wanted to start a business in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What was her first step was in making her dreams a reality? Did she go to a bank for a loan, a notary to formalize her documentation, or the company registry to register her company? In fact, her first stop was to go to her husband to get legal permission to start her business. By law, Madame Ngetsi has to have written legal permission to register a business, formalize a document, open a bank account, and register land—a requirement that doesn’t apply to her husband.
I never thought I would descend to being the kind of person who read budget speeches for pleasure. I was therefore alarmed when, en route from Washington to Johannesburg, via Dakar last month, I found myself reaching out to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan's Budget Speech that he had just delivered to the South African parliament. Worse, I soon found myself reading it with pleasure. The pleasure came from two sources: the eminent sensibility of the speech, and comfort from the realization that the problems we contend with, wherever we are, are fundamentally similar. South Africa is wrestling with keeping its fiscal deficit under control, its flagging growth rate up and yawning inequities in check. Musing about these problems I dozed off. When I woke up the cabin was dark. Curious about who was going to Dakar I looked around. Of the passengers in my cabin, around 30 percent were Black, 70 percent were White, and 80 percent were watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.