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PROJECT TOPIC: THE GROWING OPPORTUNITIES FOR AFRICAN AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT

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Despite the continuing economic crisis, a sense of optimism prevails about prospects for Africa’s agricultural and rural development. Economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is expected to reach or exceed 5.5 percent (IMF 2011), and agricultural growth has also been strong—exceeding 3.5 percent, which is well above the population growth rate of about 2 percent. Although the region still ranks at the bottom in terms of its business climate, 27 of SSA’s 47 countries implemented “Doing Business” reforms in 2010 (World Bank–IFC 2011), and SSA also continues to strengthen its regional and sub regional institutions.  Agriculture had returned as a priority on the African development agenda even before the food price spike of 2008, and the second spike in 2011 further intensified interest. The African Union, in conjunction with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), is continuing to develop the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) and is encouraging countries to allocate more fiscal resources to agricultural development. The recent sharp rise in international food prices increased poverty rates and food import bills in the short term, but—when combined with economic growth—higher prices also create opportunities in domestic, regional, and international markets, especially for farmers in regions with significant agricultural potential, such as the East African highlands and the Guinea Savannah zone.  The Guinea Savannah is an enormous expanse of arable land stretching across Africa south of the Sahara, then reaching down from Uganda to Mozambique, and westward into Angola via the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia. Of the zone’s 600 million hectares, some 400 million could potentially be used for crop agriculture. Less than 10 percent of this area is now cultivated, making it one of the largest underused agricultural land reserves in the world.  Two similarly underdeveloped and landlocked agricultural regions elsewhere in the developing world—the Brazilian Cerrado and the northeast region of Thailand—may offer an example of how the agricultural potential of the Guinea Savannah could be realized. These regions have similar agro climatic conditions to those found in the Guinea Savannah, yet they have developed at a rapid pace over the past four decades, conquering important world markets. Their successes defy the many skeptics who asserted that the challenging agro ecological characteristics, remote locations, and high levels of poverty would be impossible to overcome. Similar perceptions fuel pessimism about the prospects for African agriculture in general and the Guinea Savannah in particular.


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