Agriculture in Africa: Telling Facts from Myths

The “Agriculture in Africa– Telling Facts from Myths” project was initiated by the Chief Economist’s Office of the World Bank Africa Region in partnership with the African Development Bank, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Cornell University, the Food and Agriculture Organization, London School of Economics, Maastricht School of Management, University of Pretoria, University of Rome Tor Vergata, University of Trento, and Yale University. It uses the Living Standards Measurement Study - Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) to update our current understanding of farming in Africa. Rapid economic growth and urbanization, higher food prices, demographic and climatic changes are fundamentally changing the environment in which Africa’s agriculture operates. This tests the validity of much of the common wisdom that is used to describe it. 

The following commonly accepted wisdoms are challenged :

1

Use of modern inputs remains dismally low

9

Seasonality continues to permeate rural livelihoods  

2

Land, labor and capital markets remain largely incomplete

10

The majority of rural households are net food buyers*  

3

Land is abundant and land markets are poorly developed

11

Post harvest losses are large  

4

Access to credit is limited

12

Droughts dominate Africa’s risk environment  

5

Labor productivity in agriculture is low

13

African farmers are increasingly diversifying their incomes  

6

Women perform the bulk of Africa’s agricultural tasks

14

The young are leaving agriculture*  

7

Agroforestry is gaining traction

15

Household enterprises operate mainly in survival mode  

8

African agriculture is intensifying

16

Agricultural commercialization improves nutritional outcomes  

* Work in progress

Related Findings by African Project Scholars

About the Data:

“Agriculture in Africa – Telling Facts from Myths” uses data collected under the Living Standards Measurement Study-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) initiative. The initiative is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other donor agencies. It is implemented by the research department of the World Bank (DECRG) and national statistical agencies.

  • The data are gender disaggregated.
  • The surveys are nationally representative and have been conducted in Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda from 2008 onwards.
  • The data are geo-referenced and contain detailed information on agriculture at the plot level as well as many non-agricultural facets of people’s livelihoods (employment, income, consumption, shocks, assets, nutrition).
  • All individuals have been visited at least twice, and between 2015 and 2020, all individuals will be visited twice again, giving at least 4 observations on each individual in total.

1

Use of modern inputs remains dismally low

2

Land, labor and capital markets remain largely incomplete

3

Land is abundant and land markets are poorly developed

4

Access to credit is limited

5

Labor productivity in agriculture is low

6

Women perform the bulk of Africa’s agricultural tasks

7

Agroforestry is gaining traction 

8

African agriculture is intensifying

9

Seasonality continues to permeate rural livelihoods

10 

The majority of rural households are net food buyers

11

Post harvest losses are large

12

Droughts dominate Africa’s risk environment

13

African farmers are increasingly diversifying their incomes

14

The young are leaving agriculture

15

Household enterprises operate mainly in survival mode

16

Agricultural commercialization improves nutritional outcomes

 

1

Use of modern inputs remains dismally low

2

Land, labor and capital markets remain largely incomplete

3

Land is abundant and land markets are poorly developed

4

Access to credit is limited

5

Labor productivity in agriculture is low

6

Women perform the bulk of Africa’s agricultural tasks

7

Agroforestry is gaining traction 

8

African agriculture is intensifying

9

Seasonality continues to permeate rural livelihoods

10 

The majority of rural households are net food buyers

11

Post harvest losses are large

12

Droughts dominate Africa’s risk environment

13

African farmers are increasingly diversifying their incomes

14

The young are leaving agriculture

15

Household enterprises operate mainly in survival mode

16

Agricultural commercialization improves nutritional outcomes

 


    The Project “Agriculture in Africa: Telling facts from Myths” explores some facts about Agriculture in Africa that many experts and policy makers consider self-evident truths. But the rural landscape of the continent has evolved, as has the African farmer. In the current context, are these conventions about Africa’s agriculture still valid?

     


    • Is the use of modern input still low?

      Wisdom #1
      Inorganic fertilizer use is no longer universally low, though mechanization and the use of water control are.
    • Are Factor markets still largely incomplete and imperfect?

      Wisdom #2
      An empirical study was completed in Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Tanzania, and Uganda supports the common belief that factor market failures are widespread in rural Africa.
    • Do Land Markets Support Structural Change in Africa?

      Wisdom #3
      Institutions facilitating efficiency-enhancing land transfers at low cost can increase the productivity of land use, help diversify the economy, and foster economic development. Yet, the general perception is that land markets are still largely absent in Africa, and that access to land is even more difficult for women.
    • How are Farmers in Africa Financing Modern Input Use?

      Wisdom #4
      Recent evidence indicates that many farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa purchase external inputs such as fertilizer, seeds, and pesticides and herbicides. However, contrary to common belief, farmers mostly finance their credit with cash from crop sales or off-farm employment; almost never with formal or informal credit.
    • Is agricultural labor productivity low?

      Wisdom #5
      National accounts data suggest that nonagricultural labor in Africa is six times more productive than is agricultural labor. However cross-sector productivity gaps disappear almost entirely when they are measured on the basis of hours. This shows that smallholder agriculture is not intrinsically less productive than nonagriculture, but that there is a lot of underemployment in agriculture, possibly because of seasonality.
    • Do women provide the bulk of Africa’s agricultural tasks?

      Wisdom #6
      Analysis of individual labor input data from Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda shows that while it varies across countries, the female share of labor in crop production is on average 40 %, and everywhere consistently lower than the, until recently, oft-quoted 60-80%.
    • Can on-farm tree growing be safely ignored?

      Wisdom #7
      Not really. Across five Sub-Saharan countries, one third of rural smallholders grow trees, for whom they make up 17% of annual gross income. Agroforestry should be an integral part of agricultural policies and landscape management.
    • Is African agriculture intensifying?

      Wisdom #8
      The Boserup-Ruthenberg theory has long been used to explain determinants of agricultural growth. The analysis shows that patterns of intensification observed across countries are not entirely consistent with the theory.
    • Does seasonality continue to permeate African rural livelihoods?

      Wisdom #9
      Food price seasonality remains substantial with seasonality in pre-harvest maize price levels (wholesale) exceeding post-harvest price levels on average by 31 percent. Food consumption, which is lower in pre-harvest months, reflects these price patterns.
    • Is Post Harvest loss large?

      Wisdom #11
      On average, smallholder maize farmers in Malawi, Uganda, and Tanzania do not find post-harvest loss to be high. Only about one fifth of households report a loss, and among those who report a loss, losses are around 20 percent on average, resulting in a total reported loss of the national maize harvest between 1.4 and 5.9 %.
    • Is Drought the Only or main Risk?

      Wisdom #12
      More than 60 percent of households report sudden losses in income and assets. Weather shocks are very common, but price risk is just as prevalent. Death and illness are also frequently reported. Savings are the most widely used coping mechanism, but have a more limited role for poor and rural households, which, as a result, rely more on their assets.
    • Are African farmers diversifying their incomes?

      Wisdom #13
      African households have higher farm-related income than in other regions (63% versus 33%), but not when their level of development is taken into account.
    • Are Non-Farm enterprises operating in survival mode?

      Wisdom #15
      The evidence shows that rural enterprises are “small businesses in a big continent” where large distances, rural isolation, low population density, and farming risks limit productivity and growth.
    • Does the Commercialization of Agriculture Harm Nutrition?

      Wisdom #16
      While agricultural commercialization may not pose a threat to nutrition, it is, on average, also unlikely to suffice on its own to improve nutritional outcomes. Complementary measures will be needed. While agricultural commercialization may not pose a threat to nutrition, it is, on average, also unlikely to suffice on its own to improve nutritional outcomes. Complementary measures will be needed.

    The “Agriculture in Africa – Telling Facts from Myths” project has been initiated by the World Bank’s Office of the Chief Economist for the Africa Region. It is implemented in partnership with the African Development Bank, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Cornell University, Food and Agriculture Organization, the London School of Economics, Maastricht School of Management, University of Pretoria, University of Rome, Tor Vergata, University of Trento, and Yale University.

    Team of Researchers

    Chris Barrett, Hans Binswanger, Gero Carletto, Luc Christiaensen (task team leader), Ben Davis, Klaus Deininger, Brian Dillon, Camila Galindo Pardo, Chris Gilbert, Daniel Zerfu Gurara, Jonathan Kaminski, Talip Kilic, Ellen McCullough, Siobhan Murray, Paula Nagler, Wim Naude, Amparo Palacios-Lopez, Sara Savastano, Megan Sheahan, Abebe Shimeles, Christopher Udry, Alberto Zezza.


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      Chris Barrett

      Cornell University, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics
      Professor of Economics
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      Hans Binswanger

      Institute for Economic Research on Innovation, Tshwane University of Technology, Tshwane, South Africa
      Professor Extraordinaire
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      Gero Carletto

      World Bank
      Lead Economist, Development Research Group
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      Luc Christiaensen

      World Bank
      Senior Economist, World Bank Africa Region, Africa, (Task Team Leader)
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      Paul Corral

      American University
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      Benjamin Davis

      FAO
      Senior Economist
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      Klaus Deininger

      World Bank
      Lead Economist, Development Research Group
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      Brian Dillon

      Evans School of Public Affairs
      Assistant Professor of Public Affairs
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      Camila Galindo Pardo

      World Bank
      Camila is a Research Analyst in the Chief Economist's Office for the Africa Region of the World Bank.
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      Christopher L. Gilbert

      Bologna Institutue for Policy Research
      Adjunct Professor of Econometrics
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      Anita Guelfi

      World Bank
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      Daniel Zerfu Gurara

      Principal Research Economist, Development Research Department.
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      Jonathan Kaminski

      World Bank
      Research Economist, Africa Region
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      Talip Kilic

      World Bank
      Research Economist, Development Research Group
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      Eugenie Maiga

      Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
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      Siobhan Murray

      World Bank
      Technical Specialist, Development Research Group
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      Paula Nagler

      Maastricht University
      PhD fellow
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      Wim Naude

      Maastricht School of Management
      Dean Director / Director Research / Professor of Development Economics and Entrepreneurship
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      Zlatko Nikoloski

      London School of Economics
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      Amparo Palacios-Lopez

      World Bank
      Economist, Development Research Group
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      Sara Savastano

      University of Rome Tor Vergata
      Assistant Professor of Economics, Department of Economics and Finance
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      Megan Sheahan

      Cornell University, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics
      Research Support Specialist
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      Abebe Shimeles

      African Development Bank
      Manager of Development Research Division
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      Alberto Zezza

      World Bank
      Senior Economist, Development Research Group

    Scholars in the Project’s Mentorship Program

    To strengthen build capacity among young African researchers and make maximum use of the data, a mentorship program was initiated. Following an Africa wide call for proposals, 10 young African scholars were selected and paired up with senior team members to work on topics related to the wisdoms revisited under the project.