Journal Article

IDS Bulletin Vol. 36 Nos. 2

Introduction: New Directions for African Agriculture

Published on 1 April 2005

This year’s UN Millennium Report highlights the lack of progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Commission for Africa report (2005) similarly highlights the major challenges of poverty reduction on the continent. What role should agriculture have in this challenge? Most of Africa’s poor are rural, and most rely largely on agriculture for their livelihoods. Inevitably,“getting agriculture moving” must be part of the solution to the seemingly intractable problem of African poverty.

The standard storyline about African agriculture is not positive. Inmost countries, the sector is slowgrowing or stagnant, held back by negligible yield growth, poor infrastructure, degrading environmental resources, erratic weather, HIV/AIDS and civil conflict. But sweeping, generalised analyses often hide important stories of success. As Toulmin and Guèye (in this IDS Bulletin) highlight for West Africa, there have been some notable achievements in the past decade. This is replicated elsewhere, as Wiggins observes (also in this IDS Bulletin), where supplyled successes – including in hybrid maize, horticulture, dairy, cassava (see also Haggblade and Gabre-Madhin 2004) – have combined with new sources of demand, due to improvements in infrastructure, changing market conditions or the opening up of niche opportunities.

Are these successes exceptional and limited to particular settings and times, or are they replicable across wider areas, benefiting larger numbers of people? This IDS Bulletin draws together contributions from a diverse range of researchers and development practitioners working in Africa, with the common goal of exploring why agriculture is contributing to poverty reduction and livelihood improvement in some places, but not in many. Identifying ways forward implies moving away from failed past prescriptions, identifying and building on current successes and encouraging new and innovative thinking about future pathways and opportunities.

This debate comes at a critical time.As theAfrican Union’s Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Economy notes in the foreword to this IDS Bulletin, there is renewed interest in agriculture in Africa and a real commitment to revitalise the sector. This comes fromnumerous sources – whether frominternational initiatives such as theUN Millennium Project’s Task Force onHunger(2005) or theCommission for Africa report (2005); from withinAfrica, such as theAfrican Union and NEPAD’s (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)(NEPAD 2003), from national governments themselves or from the international donor community (USAID 2004; DFID 2003; World Bank 2002). But how to translate these words into reality? How to avoid the recycling and repackaging of old – and often failed – ideas? How to generate new thinking, rooted in African contexts and ground realities, which makes a difference? The aimof this IDS Bulletin is to contribute to this journey.

The central puzzle is: Why is African agriculture (largely) stagnating? This question is not new. Many have commented on the failures of an African “green revolution”, and many explanations have been suggested. The following sections outline three responses: “technical fixes”, “market and institutional fixes” and “policy fixes”. Each approach reflects a different way of looking at the problem, and each implies different ways forward. The IDS Bulletin draws on insights from across sub-Saharan Africa and is organised as follows. Three scene setting articles follow this introductory piece. Then there are clusters of articles focusing on “resources and technologies”, “markets and institutions” and “policies and policy processes”. These sections are followed by a final set of articles on “contexts, pathways and scenarios”, where individual cases examine how resources, technologies, institutions, markets and policies combine to push agriculture and rural livelihoods in different directions.

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This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 36.2 (2005) Introduction: New Directions for African Agriculture

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Scoones, I., Devereux, S. and Haddad, L. (2005) Introduction: New Directions for African Agriculture. IDS Bulletin 36(2): 1-12

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Ian Scoones

Professorial Fellow

Stephen Devereux

Research Fellow

Lawrence Haddad

Honorary Associate

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published by
Institute of Development Studies


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