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Special Issue of Food Policy Debunks Myths about African Agriculture

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In this era of alternative facts, the use of high-quality data to set the record straight is more important than ever. In Africa, there has been a pressing need to revisit the conventional wisdom on the region’s agriculture. However, relevant data—where available—have long been outdated and inadequate.

With this in mind, the World Bank’s Africa Chief Economist Office and its partners initiated the Agriculture in Africa– Telling Facts from Myths project. It explores the validity of the conventions surrounding Africa’s agriculture and its farmers’ livelihoods that experts and policymakers considered as self-evident truths. The impact of such stylized facts cannot be underestimated. They shape the policy debates and drive research agendas

Now, a Special Issue of Food Policy brings together 12 open-access articles based on the project, drawing mainly on data from the first rounds (2009–2012) of the nationally representative Living Standards Measurement Study-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA). Four innovative features of the LSMS-ISA data—integration, individualization, ICT use, and intertemporal tracking—allowed for a more refined insight into African agriculture and rural livelihoods.

The articles in the special issue speak to the prevailing, overarching notions that 1) Africa’s agricultural technology is backward; 2) that smallholder engagement with input, factor, and product markets remains limited; and 3) that Africa and its citizens are behind in the structural transformation of their economies, occupations, and incomes. The findings reveal that:

  • African farmers do in fact use modern inputs, even though not always efficiently
  • Agriculture intensification remains below what increased population pressure and market access would suggest
  • Returns to fertilizer use are not always favorable—at least in Nigeria
  • Women do not provide the bulk of labor in African agriculture
  • Factor markets in general don’t function well
  • Land markets already perform a useful role
  • Market participation is widespread, but the extent of agricultural commercialization remains limited, without clear benefits for nutritional outcomes
  • There is substantial excess seasonality in food prices
  • African households are not unduly tied to agriculture
  • Households in rural Africa diversify into non-farm activities mainly for survival

Together, these findings provide a broad picture of an emerging new reality. They reiterate the need for nationally representative data and cross-country standardization and comparison, and highlight the importance of regularly revisiting and updating stylized facts.

To access the papers, visit:

Want to test your beliefs about agriculture in Africa? Click here to take a short quiz!


Vini Vaid

Communications Consultant

Gwendolyn Stansbury

Senior Communications Strategist

Luc Christiaensen

Senior Economist, World Bank Africa Region, Africa

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