Poor policy planning to blame for Africa's perennial food shortage: report

Maize on a farm in Matuu, Machakos County. A new study says that agricultural policies in Sub-Saharan Africa are to blame for the perennial food shortage and poverty in the continent. PHOEBE OKALL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Researchers from the University of East Anglia in the UK say some of these programmes are contributing to economic disparities.
  • The researchers led by Dr Neil Dawson studied two agricultural policies in Rwanda.
  • Study found that these policies were unpopular among rural farmers who felt they had no say on what they thought about food security.

Africa’s agricultural policies are to blame for continuing food shortage and poverty in the continent, a new study published Monday reveals.

The study indicates that agricultural programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa are failing because they leave out poor rural farmers, benefiting only a rich minority. 

In a paper published in the journal World Development, researchers from the University of East Anglia in the UK say some of these programmes, usually donor funded and endorsed by global financial institutions, are contributing to economic disparities.

“The policies appear to be contributing to increased landlessness, poverty, food insecurity and inequality,” they said in a paper titled ‘Green Revolution in sub-Saharan Africa.’

The researchers led by Dr Neil Dawson, a senior research associate in the University’s School of International Development, studied two agricultural policies in Rwanda: the Rwandan Land Policy and the Crop Intensification Programme.

Rwanda launched the programmes a decade ago to improve land productivity, encourage specialized farming and meet the country’s food demands.

The researchers found a “disconnect” between what policymakers plan and what rural farmers think about food security.

This, they observe, resonates across the sub Sahara region where governments have been launching programmes to combat hunger and improve household incomes, to mimic the Asian tigers’ story of ‘green revolution.’

“It appears from our study that the logic which defines Green Revolution policies as strategies to combat poverty and hunger may be flawed. The conditions facing African nations now are different to the Asian examples of past Green Revolutions,” Dr Dawson told the Nation on Monday.

“Similar results are emerging from other experiments in Africa. Agricultural development certainly has the potential to help these people, but instead these policies appear to be exacerbating landlessness and inequality for poorer rural inhabitants.”

The Rwandan land policy for instance meant that the government owned the land, leased it to the public and restricted any unauthorised subdivision. The policy further provided for cancellation of leasehold if farmers failed to adhere to conditions set.

The Crop Intensification Programme, on the other hand, was meant to designate regions where certain crops could be planted and farmers were encouraged to adopt latest technology, use certified seed and receive subsidised fertilisers on condition that production be on specified timescales.

These programmes generally improved farming production in Rwanda with fertilizer use rising from 8kgs per hectare to 23 which in turn increased food production by nearly 30 per cent, according to the IMF.


However, the study found that these policies were unpopular among rural farmers who felt they had no say on what they thought about food security. Farming had become expensive for them.

“In addition to changing the types of food they grow, the majority of households had changed the times of food they buy or eat. Many types of food were reported to have become unaffordable.

“Increased costs of living made inputs more difficult and also increased the likelihood that households focus on subsistence production,” they write in their report.

The findings, coming on the backdrop of a devastating drought in Ethiopia, could be a wake-up call to Kenya which in 2013 promised to revolutionise technology farming including putting an initial 2.5 million acres under irrigation by 2017.

The Kenya Rural Development Strategy (KRDS) 2002-2017 for example was a long-term plan for the improvement of rural Kenya over the next 15 years. It emphasised food security as the initial step towards poverty alleviation and rural development.

This did not materialise as rural farmers could not afford to buy fertiliser and certified seed.

In Rwanda’s case, researchers found that farmers prefer to continue with some of their traditional crop, keep livestock and adopt the new technologies slowly, yet the government set them specified timelines.

Dr Dawson added: “Innovation and support which listens to, targets their needs and involves their participation in some form is needed and has potential to help the poorest.

“Ultimately, to reduce poverty and hunger through farming innovation in Africa requires working with the poor farmers, not against them.”


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