Agriculture’s Critical Role in Africa’s Development

Media briefing on GM Crops for African Farmers, May 19, 2009

  • In most African countries, agriculture is the engine of economic growth, and agricultural growth is the cornerstone of poverty reduction. Approximately sixty-five percent of Africans rely on agriculture as their primary source of livelihood. Small-scale farmers are responsible for more than ninety percent of Africa’s agricultural production.
  • Agriculture accounts for 30 to 40 percent of Africa’s total gross domestic product (GDP), and almost 60 percent of its total export earnings.
  • By raising productivity, investments in agriculture contribute to growth and poverty reduction both directly and indirectly. Higher farm wages and lower food prices lead to powerful real income effects. The welfare benefits are large when spread across all consumers, even if some producers end up being worse off.
  • Agricultural growth rates in Africa have increased modestly from about 2.4 percent a year in 1980–89 to 2.7 percent in 1990–99 and 3.3 percent a year since 2000.
  • African governments have agreed to increase public investment in agriculture by a minimum of 10 per cent of their national budgets and to raise agricultural productivity by at least 6 per cent. Only a handful of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa—Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, and The Gambia—have surpassed the threshold of six percent agricultural growth in recent years.
  • African governments spend much less on agriculture relative to other developing countries. In aggregate, African public spending on agriculture accounted for five to seven percent of the total national budget from 1980 to 2005. In Asia, the equivalent figure has been 6–15 percent.
  • Only a few African countries—Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Malawi, and Mali—have surpassed the threshold of 10 percent of budgetary spending on agriculture in recent years. Nearly half of African countries reduced their spending on agriculture during the period 1980 to 2005.

Sources: S, Fan, et al. 2009. Policy Brief 12, Setting Priorities for Public Spending for Agricultural and Rural Development in AfricaIFPRI.

World Bank. 2008. The World Development Report, Agriculture for Development.

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