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Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

New directions for African agriculture: IDS Policy Briefing

Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

Issue 24 - July 2005

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Livestock are a central part of the agricultural economy in Africa Most of Africa’s poor are rural, and most rely largely on agriculture for their livelihoods. But African agriculture is slow-growing or stagnating, held back by low yields, poor infrastructure, environmental change, HIV/AIDS and civil conflict. Hhowever, this sweeping picture hides some important success stories. Wwe need to ask why agriculture is contributing to poverty reduction in some places but not all. This IDS Policy Briefing highlights how social, cultural and political relations shape agricultural production, patterns of investment, the uptake of technologies and the functioning of agricultural markets. New solutions for African agriculture will be successful only if they focus on understanding and influencing processes of innovation, intervention and policy, not just their technical content. Such an approach needs to be rooted in context-specific analysis, allowing for scenarios and options to be elaborated and debated by the multiple stakeholders involved in the future of African agriculture.

Following the G8 Summit and the Commission for Africa report, significant sums of money have been pledged in support of Africa’s development. If this is to have any impact on African poverty, then ‘getting agriculture’ moving must be part of the solution.

The standard story-line about African agriculture though is not positive. In most countries, the sector is slow-growing or stagnant, held back by negligible yield growth, poor infrastructure, environmental change, erratic weather, HIV/AIDS and civil conflict.But sweeping, generalised analyses often hide important stories of success. Are these successes exceptional and limited to particular contexts, or are they replicable across wider areas to benefit larger numbers of people? Why is agriculture contributing to poverty reduction and livelihood improvement in some places, but not in many? Identifying ways forward implies moving away from failed past prescriptions, learning from and building on current successes, and encouraging new and innovative thinking about future pathways and opportunities.

This Policy Briefing highlights some of the questions explored in a special issue of the IDS Bulletin which brings together 22 articles that examine the challenges facing African agriculture. There are three possible 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.

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