African Agriculture Needs Trade Not Aid

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For this to happen, Africa needs to overcome 'the donor-dependency syndrome'. Top-down funding and hand-out donations are short-term solutions with consequences including an inability to establish longer-term planning.

The result is depressingly common and predictable. Such aid creates, encourages and perpetuates a culture tailored to, and indeed expert in, obtaining funding and spending it in dependent fashion.

So it distracts and distorts efforts for self-sufficiency. Donors need to fund initiatives that really support people in achieving independence and self-reliance.

This includes effective agricultural extension services that provide up-to-date, practical information to farmers - especially by women for women. Farmers need information on new seed varieties, how to grow these in local conditions, and how to market the crop.

Farmers need demonstration farms that show advances in plant breeding and agriculture, and networks that reach small-holders. And they need micro-financing and credit unions to buy new seeds, fertiliser plus other necessities.

Donor funding should also be channeled into business advice and capital to help small businesses and 'spin-out' firms from universities and research institutions. This help is crucial for a truly sustainable agricultural economy in which small businesses reach financial profitability that attracts further investment from other sources.

The elephant in the room must lead the big parade out from aid to trade in Africa.

David Bennett is a senior member of St Edmund's College, Cambridge, UK and co-leader of the Biosciences for Farming in Africa programme funded by the independent John Templeton Foundation and two Cambridge University-based foundations. He can be contacted at


[1] Moyo, D. Dead Aid: Why Aid Makes Things Worse and How There Is Another Way for Africa. (Penguin Books, 2010)

[2] Africa Can Feed Itself in a Generation, Experts Say (Science Daily, 3 December 2010)

[3] Free Exchange │No need to dig (The Economist, 2 November 2013)

[4] Karembu, M. Preparing youth for high-tech agriculture in Heap, B. and Bennett, D. (eds.) Insights - Africa's future ... can biosciences contribute? (Banson, Cambridge UK, 2013)

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