Africa Must Invest More in Research for Structural Transformation in Agriculture

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African leaders in the ongoing African Economic Conference are requested to invest selectively in policies that interest citizens in order to improve agriculture productivity. During a session titled "Agriculture, Markets and Development", Melanie O'Gorman from the University of Winnipeg in Canada presented a paper arguing that despite the widespread diffusion of productivity-enhancing agricultural technologies theworld over, agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa has typically stagnated.

In her presentation, "Africa's Missed Agricultural Revolution: A Quantitative Study of the Policy Options", O'Gorman said policies aimed at improving rural infrastructure orproductivity in the non-agricultural sectors, or allowing for land transferability, wouldbe most effective for increasing agricultural labour productivity, and would further increase household welfare.

Innocent Matshe from the African Economic Research Consortium was the discussant for the paper and stressed that just investing in agriculture does not matter, but areas and policies of investments matter most.

"A lot of African countries have implemented the Maputo Declaration to increase agriculture budget to 10 per cent, but where is this budget going? Maybe in salaries because it's not translated into extension and improved productivity," said Matshe.

He singled out areas which would contribute to structural transformation in agriculture including, research and development; opening up the model to push for results; productivity; rural infrastructure; research in soil quality and seeds.

"Agricultural stagnation in sub-Saharan Africa stems largely from the poor quality of African soils, in particular due to the lower fertility of tropical soils," a paragraph in O'Gorman's paper reads.

The purpose of the paper was to gain insight into the sources of agricultural stagnation in sub-Saharan Africa over the past few decades.

Meanwhile, it's said that labour productivity in agriculture grew at an average annual rate of three per cent between 1960 and 2000 across the developing countries, while it grew at an average annual rate of only 0.6 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a study published by FAOSTAT in 2004.

O'Gorman's paper illustrated that a lack of expenditure on agricultural research and development, both at the international and national levels, may have reduced high-yielding seed productivity and consequently adoption of such seeds in sub-Saharan Africa relative to other developing regions.

O'Gorman noted that governments in Africa have not investedin road networks sufficiently so as to increase the marginal benefit of modern technologies which in turn improves agricultural productivity.

The presenter suggested that African governments and donor organizations should prioritize investment in rural infrastructure and soil conservation,land titling and the labour productivity of sectors other than agriculture.

In most sub-Saharan African economies, land in the rural areas is either state-owned or ownership is based on customary rights, rather than formal title. Researchers have argued that this has restrained the development of land markets, and has prevented the acquiring of land for the most productive farmers, thus stifling agricultural productivity.

Meanwhile, lack of technology adoption in sub-Saharan Africa means agricultural systems are very much characterized by traditional techniques.

A second presentation delivered by Carolin Mengel of the University of Göttengen examined cereal price transmission from international to domestic markets in Africa.

It is estimated that on average 73 per cent of international price movement is transmitted to local markets and half of it within 2.2 months, more than one month faster than in other regions.

Mengel's study was motivated by the recent peaks in international food prices. Her aim was to improve people's understanding of the extent and speedof transmission of international cereal price changes to domestic retail and wholesale level in developing and emerging countries.

The four-day annual African Economic Conference, which this year focuses on the theme "Inclusive and Sustainable Development in an Age of Economic Uncertainty", brings together approximately 500 participants, including academics, Heads of State, representatives from NGOs, international organizations, think tanks and multilateral development banks. The conference, now in its seventh year, is organized by the African Development Bank, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme and the Economic Commission for Africa.

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