Two increasingly shared perspectives within the international development community are that (a) geography matters, and (b) many government interventions would be more successful if they were better targeted. This paper unites these two notions by exploring the opportunities for, and benefits of, bringing an explicitly spatial dimension to the tasks of formulating and evaluating agricultural development strategies. We first review the lingua franca of land fragility and find it lacking in its capacity to describe the dynamic interface between the biophysical and socioeconomic factors that help shape rural development options. Subsequently, we propose a two-phased approach. First, development strategy options are characterized to identify the desirable ranges of conditions that would most favor successful strategy implementation. Second, those conditions exhibiting important spatial dependency - such as agricultural potential, population density, and access to infrastructure and markets - are matched against a similarly characterized, spatially-referenced (GIS) database. This process generates both spatial (map) and tabular representations of strategy-specific development domains. An important benefit of a spatial (GIS) framework is that it provides a powerful means of organizing and integrating a very diverse range of disciplinary and data inputs. At a more conceptual level we propose that it is the characterization of location, not the narrowly-focused characterization of land, that is more properly the focus of attention from a development perspective. The paper includes appropriate examples of spatial analysis using data from East Africa and Burkina Faso, and concludes with an appendix describing and interpreting regional climate and soil data for Sub-Saharan Africa that was directly relevant to our original goal.
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)