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World Bank Calls For Agricultural Renewal, Focus On Productivity Growth In Sub-Saharan Africa

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Press Release No:2008/081/DEC


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WASHINGTON, DC, October 19, 2007 – The latest World Development Report calls for greater investment in agriculture in Africa and warns that the sector must be placed at the center of the Region’s development agenda if the goals of halving extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 are to be realized.


Titled ‘Agriculture for Development,’ the report says the need for action is especially urgent in Sub- Saharan Africa, where agricultural productivity growth has lagged behind other regions. Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa employs 65 percent of the labor force and generates 32 percent of GDP growth.  


“In Sub-Saharan Africa, home to 229 million extremely poor rural people, agriculture is about much more than simple food security,” said Robert B. Zoellick, World Bank Group President.  “A greater focus on agriculture will help boost overall economic growth and can offer multiple pathways out of poverty.”


According to the report, the share of official development assistance going to agriculture in developing countries is a mere 4 percent. This is also the same insufficient share that governments in Sub-Saharan Africa spend from their budgets on agriculture—far short of the 11-14 percent share of national budgets invested in agriculture that fueled the Asian green revolutions.  


The report calls for an ‘agriculture for development’ agenda for Africa that will improve the investment climate as well as make optimal use of markets, technology, sustainable water and soil management, and institutional services. In addition, countries must deliver on issues such as a level playing field for trade, while farmer organizations and other local groups need more say in setting policies.


According to the WDR, for the poorest people, GDP growth originating in agriculture is about four times more effective in reducing poverty than GDP growth originating outside the sector .


It cites the example of smallholders successfully producing crops for export markets, such as coffee, cotton and green beans. With rapid population growth and urbanization, it says demand for local food staples and livestock products is growing fast, offering expanding market opportunities.   


"African agricultural growth increased from 2.3 percent in the 1980s, to 3.3 percent on average in the 1990s, to 3.8 percent annually from 2000 to 2005. Rural poverty rates have started to decline in 10 of the 13 countries for which data were analyzed,” said Francois Bourguignon, World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice President, Development Economics. “Further accelerating and sustaining this growth is needed if key development goals are to be met.”


The report says demand for food in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to double by 2015 from its level in 2000. But food markets in the region already do not serve millions of people adequately, especially those in remote areas with poor infrastructure: More needs to be done.


For its part, the World Bank is committed to increasing its support for agriculture and rural development, following a decline in lending in the 1980s and 1990s.  Commitments averaged $2.9 billion per annum during FY05-07, equivalent to 12 percent of overall Bank commitments during that period. In FY07 total commitments reached $3.1 billion, of which $580.5 million were directed to Sub-Saharan Africa.




While agriculture in Africa holds promise, the report says current challenges are daunting and require new roles for the state, the private sector, and civil society; a new mix of centralized and decentralized services to serve rural people; and improved coordination among such entities as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank, a wide range of development partners and non-governmental organizations, regional organizations and national governments.


The agriculture for development agenda also requires rich countries to amend policies that harm the poor.  For example, it is vital that the rich countries reduce subsidies that hinder African cotton exports. And the report says rich countries that have been the major contributors to global warming urgently need to do more to help poor farmers to adapt to climate change.


 “Africa’s own agricultural revolution must cater to very diverse rainfed farming systems and simultaneously improve technologies, institutions, and markets,” said Alain de Janvry, Co-Team leader of the report and professor of agricultural economics at UC Berkeley. He cited irrigation in Nigeria (small scale) and Mali (large scale), multiple uses for cassava in West Africa, cotton in Zambia, and horticulture and dairy in Kenya as good examples of local successes which can be scaled up.


“Today, environmentally friendly technologies like conservation tillage, integrated pest management, and new varieties such as ‘Nerica’ rice (known as New Rice for Africa) hold promise. Science and technology are a lynchpin to Africa’s future productivity growth” said Derek Byerlee, Co-Team leader of the report.  


According to the authors, beyond agriculture, greater geographic mobility and improved skills are central to reducing rural poverty in Africa. Because of HIV/AIDS and malaria, better health care and education must be an integral part of a broader set of safety nets that protect the assets of poor people.



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