Africa – Agricultural Policies Harm the Poorest

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Research suggests that small-holder farmers are often negatively impacted by agricultural modernisation policies.

According to research by University of East Anglia (UEA) scholars Dr Neil Dawson, Dr Adrian Martin and Professor Thomas Sikor, published in the World Development Journal, ‘green revolution policies’ promoted by the organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), are adversely impacting the poorest.

As much as 90% of the population in Africa are smallholder farmers and are reliant on some form of agriculture; new agricultural innovation poses possible benefits but also great risk.

According to the research, only a minority of wealthy people have been able to keep up agricultural modernisation, as poorer farmers are not able to afford to risk of taking out credit to purchase expensive seeds and fertilisers. Instead, due to pressure from the government, farmers often choose to sell their land.

Specifically the study examined Rwandan agricultural policies and changes to rural inhabitants in eight villages in the west of the country. In this area, high population density and modernising agricultural policies have forced farmers to adopt single crops, in comparison to as many as 60 different types cultivated previously.

Policies in Rwanda posit that agriculture should be focused on specialisation and land management in an efficient and uniform manner, said Dr Dawson, cited by UK-based the Guardian. One farmer commented that ““We have no ability to oppose decisions made by the government. They tell us to plant crops in the wrong season. They’ll say, ‘Grow beans now’ and everyone here knows it’s the wrong time to grow them.”

“The result we saw was that the long-standing knowledge of soils, ecological gradients and associated social as well as economic interactions have, in a flash, been replaced with rules and administrative boundaries”, said Dr Dawson.

“Similar results are emerging from other experiments in Africa. Agricultural development certainly has the potential to help these people, but instead these policies appear to be exacerbating landlessness and inequality for poorer rural inhabitants,” he continued.

The authors of the study recommended green revolution policies be subject to much broader and more rigorous impact assessments, and that poverty mitigating efforts should be incorporated, such as encouraging land access for the poorest and supporting traditional practices in a “gradual and voluntary modernisation”.

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Uganda: CC- 2011

Agriculture is of crucial importance to the well-being and economic stability of many African countries; Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari recently stated that agriculture is the country’s only hope for an economic resurgence, as profits from oil exports continue to decline, reported Ventures Africa.

In South Africa, agriculture is in a precarious position due to an ongoing drought, which has seen five out of nine regions declared disaster zones. Mpumalanga, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and North West provinces have been declared disaster zones. Cattle, sheep and goat farmers have been urged to cut the sizes of their herds, as land has been scorched and the maize harvest is expected to fall by 25%. Food prices are also expected to rise by 20% or more in 2016, reported the Africa Report.

On February 17-18th development leaders, African heads of state and other representatives gathered for the 39th Session of the Governing Council of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

President of Italy Sergio Mattarella said, as has been witnessed in South Africa, one of the greatest threats to food production is climate change. He highlighted the IFAD Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme – which now assists farmers in developing countries around the world adapt to changing climatic conditions.

Investing in smallholder agriculture helps to stabilise communities and countries and reduce conflict. “You achieve the means to feed families, support forms of social organisation, preserve land and biodiversity, fight against climate change, create jobs and prosperity, contribute to stable and just societies and, most importantly, eradicate the root causes that push more people to emigrate, ” Mattarella said in an IFAD Press Release.

The African Transformation Forum (ATF), which is to take place on March 14-15th, in Kigali, Rwanda, is to see wide-ranging discussions on the possibilities of agriculture as the basis for economic transformation across the country.

However with the polarised debates around agricultural modernisation, the evident impacts of climate change, and resurgence of an economic emphasis on agriculture, it is crucial to consider carefully the role of agricultural policies and practices in creating greater inequalities and deepening poverty among the poorest and most agriculture-dependant populations.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

Southern Africa’s Food Crisis – from Bad to Worse
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue. 12, Pp.21097B–21097C

ETHIOPIA: Drought Aid
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.12, Pp.21094C–21095B

Food Security
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.10, Pp.21025A–21025C

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.

 

 

 

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