Opinion & Analysis

Africa knows what is needed for food security

Agricultural development is the most effective driver of broad-based economic growth and poverty alleviation in most Sub-Saharan African countries. 

Consequently, the failure by many African governments to prioritise investments in rural areas is resulting in very low economic growth rates.

Government has to lead and be the catalyst in countries where public investment and public goods are missing. Without government investment, domestic markets do not work, the private sector cannot do its job and farmers who manage to increase productivity with currently available technology cannot sell their output at a reasonable price.

Over the past year, I have been involved in a regional agricultural policy project run by the Global Development Network (GDN).

Five teams of leading African experts have synthesised and summarised multiple studies showing that African farmers can quite easily double their yields.

Their findings and recommendations reveal that the answers are there and provide enough evidence for policy makers and other key actors to act.  

Smallholder farmers need investment in public infrastructure to bring their products to market. Farmers also need improved rural and agricultural institutions such as farmer associations, contract enforcement and the rule of law, without which markets simply cannot function.

None of the research and evidence the GDN researchers reviewed produced findings of negative health or environmental effects from the growing of GM crops anywhere in the world.

There is no other new technology that has been so successful in countries such as China, India, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and the United States and not caused any negative effects.

Expanded investments in agricultural development in countries such as Ethiopia and Ghana are showing the way towards a situation in which African agriculture can meet future food demands in the region and compete in the global markets. But to do this it is necessary for high-income countries to reduce or eliminate subsidies.

So long as these subsidies remain, the evidence shows that direct payments to OECD farmers, rather than commodity-specific subsidies and trade-distorting policies, are less harmful to African producers.

Pinstrup-Andersen is a professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy at Cornell University