A few months ago, as I was walking through the streets of Bissau, the capital of Guinea Bissau, I reflected on what had happened to this country over the last 20 years. It had gone through a number of coups and a civil war; its economy had barely been diversified; electricity and water access was still a major issue. There was the city of Bissau on one side, where a semblance of services where provided, and the rest of the country on the other.
Labor productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa has been garnering attention recently. Development economists focus on labor productivity because it tends to be strongly associated with overall well-being measures, especially for the poor, who are reliably endowed with time, but often little else in the way of productive assets.
Cross-sector gaps in labor productivity are key indicators of structural change, which is the economy-wide process by which labor shifts from low-productivity industries such as agriculture, to those that are higher-productivity, such as industry and services. This process underpins development and is premised on large cross-sector gaps in productivity. Economists expect these gaps to be quite large in the poorest countries, and to get smaller as labor shifts out of agriculture. Recent evidence suggests these forces are indeed at work in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Policies and programs that seek to reduce women’s poverty in sub-Saharan Africa typically assume that women are constrained in improving livelihoods. The belief is that they aren’t the key decision-makers in their households around domains such as budgeting and farming. A Gender Assessment team, led by Cornelia Tesliuc, aimed to tackle these types of assumptions with a focus on Zambia, which informed the design of the Girls’ Education and Women’s Empowerment and Livelihoods (GEWEL) Project.
Inorganic fertilizer use is claimed to be low in sub-Saharan Africa, but it is unclear whether using higher rates of fertilizer would be profitable. My coauthors and I sought to explore the effect of nitrogen on maize in farms across Nigeria to find out. To do this, we took advantage of the recently available Living Standards Measurement Study - Integrated Surveys on Agriculture, or LSMS-ISA, a household survey project working to collect up to date agricultural data for the same household over time.
What did we find?
Low yield response and high transport costs reduce fertilizer profitability
We found that little extra maize production is expected from adding more nitrogen at the margin; that is, the marginal physical product (MPP) of applied nitrogen for maize production in Nigeria is quite low at 8kg. Though within the range found in peer-reviewed published works, often between 7 and 14 kg, it is much lower than the potential yield response from plots on which research management protocols are being followed. These range between 14 to 50 kg maize per kg nitrogen (N) and even higher in some cases (Snapp et al, 2014). This low yield response to nitrogen in Nigeria extends to other cereals such as rice (See figure 1).
Food price volatility remains a pressing challenge for many African countries (FAO, IMF, and UNCTAD, 2011). The vast majority of Africa’s population still derives a substantial share of their income from agriculture and low-income households allocate a large share of their budget to food (often more than 60 percent). As a result, large and unexpected swings in food prices cause substantial losses in welfare, and when adequate coping strategies are absent, it may even trap households permanently into poverty. It should thus not surprise that food price shocks still feature highly among the reported shocks by households in Sub-Saharan (Nikoloski, Christiaensen, Hill, 2015).
Among African policymakers, the main reasons for high food price volatility in the domestic markets is often thought to be external, i.e. “imported” from the world food markets. However, the sources may also be domestic, for example when markets are poorly integrated internally. Under the “Agriculture in Africa – Telling Facts from Myths” project, data collected by the Société Nationale de Gestion du Stock Alimentaire (SONAGESS) on maize prices in 28 markets from Burkina Faso during the 2000s (July 2004-Nov 2013) were analyzed to tease out the extent to which maize price volatility is driven by domestic rather than external factors. Over the past decades, maize has become the most marketed and exported cereal in Burkina Faso. It now accounts for 31% of grain production, against only 7% three decades ago, and represents the second source of income for farmers, after cotton.
Rwanda’s level of financial inclusion is fast increasing, propelled forward by ambitious targets and innovative policy and regulatory approaches. The 2008 and 2012 FinScope surveys showed that financial inclusion had doubled from 21 to 42 percent and the 2015 iteration is expected to show continued progress. But with such a large and rapid movement of adults into the formal financial sector, ensuring that the ‘newly banked’ are able to effectively and responsibly select and use financial products is critical.
En mai, l’Organisation mondiale de la santé a publié les chiffres (a) relatifs au nombre d’agents de santé touchés par Ebola en Guinée, au Libéria et en Sierra Leone. Ces chiffres sont saisissants : pour ces travailleurs héroïques, la probabilité de contracter le virus est 21 à 32 fois supérieure à celle d’un citoyen lambda.
In May, the World Health Organization released numbers on how many health workers in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have been affected by Ebola. The numbers are striking: For these heroic workers, the probability of being infected by Ebola is 21 to 32 times more likely than for a member of the general public.