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Agriculture in Africa: Telling Facts from Myths
June 15, 2015Washington, D.C.

Much of what we know about agriculture may no longer be true, given Africa’s rapid economic growth, urbanization, high food prices, and a scarcity of quality data. At this conference, researchers from a partnership project led by the Chief Economist Office of the Africa Region of the World Bank, will separate facts from myths about Africa’s agricultural sector, its farmers and their livelihoods.The goal is to help governments, donors, and the private sector guide their investments to ensure efficiency and greater impact on poverty reduction.

The “Agriculture in Africa– Telling Facts from Myths” project uses the Living Standards Measurement Study - Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) to carry out a bottom up update of the current picture of Africa’s agriculture to guide investments, establish baselines, and ground the agricultural policy dialogues in the latest insights. Rapid growth and urbanization, the new environment of high, and more volatile, world food prices, as well as continuing soil erosion and climate change 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 project was launched by the Chief Economist’s Office of the World Bank Africa Region together with the African Development Bank, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Cornell University, the Food and Agriculture Organization, Maastricht School of Management, University of Pretoria, University of Rome Tor Vergata, University of Trento, and Yale University.

The following commonly accepted facts were challenged:


Use of modern inputs remains dismally low


Land, labor and capital markets remain largely incomplete


Land is abundant and land markets are poorly developed


Access to credit is limited


Labor productivity in agriculture is low


Women perform the bulk of Africa’s agricultural tasks


Agroforestry is gaining traction 


African agriculture is intensifying


Seasonality continues to permeate rural livelihoods


The majority of rural households are net food buyers


Post-harvest losses are large


Droughts dominate Africa’s risk environment


African farmers are increasingly diversifying their incomes


The young are leaving agriculture


Household enterprises operate mainly in survival mode


Agricultural commercialization improves nutritional outcomes


 About the Data

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

  • 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).
  • By 2014, all households will have been visited at least twice, enabling the construction of panel data and in-depth causal analysis.

9:00am: Opening

  • Opening Remarks: Makhtar Diop (WB) and  Shenggen Fan (IFPRI)
  • Introduction to the project: Luc Christiaensen (WB) and  Abebe Shimeles (AfDB, TBC)

9:30am: Myths or Facts Session 1: Production
Moderator: Bekele Shiferaw (PEP)
Discussant: Karen Brooks

  • The use of modern inputs, like chemical fertilizer, remains dismally low  (Megan Sheahan)
  • Women perform the bulk of Africa’s agricultural tasks (Amparo Palacios-Lopez)
  • Trees on farms (Juan Carlos Munoz Mora)
  • Is Increasing Inorganic Fertilizer Use in Sub-Saharan Africa a Profitable Proposition? (Saweda Liverpool-Tasie)
  • Land, labor and capital markets remain largely incomplete and imperfect (Chris Barrett)

11:00am: Coffee Break

11:15am: Myths or Facts Session 2: Structural Transformation
Moderator: Mary C. Hallward-Driemeier (WB)
Discussant: Paul Dorosh

  • African youth is exiting agriculture (Eugenie Maiga)
  • African farmers are increasingly diversifying their incomes (Alberto Zezza) TBC
  • Non-Farm Enterprises operate on survival mode (Wim Naude)
  • Agricultural labor productivity is low (Ellen McCullough)
  • Land is abundant and land markets are poorly developed (Klaus Deininger)
  • Responsibility: Prof. Kwamena Ahwoi

12:45pm: Lunch

1:45pm: Myths or Facts: Inter-temporal Session 3
Moderator: Pablo Fajnzylber (WB)
Discussant: Maximo Torero

  • Post-Harvest Losses are large (Luc Christiaensen)
  • Seasonality continues to permeate rural livelihoods (Chris Gilbert)
  • Maize Price Volatility: Does Market Remoteness Matter? (Moctar Ndiaye)
  • Rural households in SSA are predominant net food buyers (Camila Galindo)
  • Droughts dominate Africa’s risk environment (Zlatko Nikoloski)

3:15pm: Panel Session: Bridging the gap between policy and data in Sub-Saharan Africa
Moderator: Chico Ferreira (WB)

  • Ethel Sennhauser (WB)
  • Shenggen Fan (IFPRI)
  • Stan Wood (BMGF), TBC
  • Chris Barrett (Cornell University)
  • Gero Carletto (WB)

4:45pm-5:00pm: Closing remarks

  • Chico Ferreira (WB)
  • Makhtar Diop, Vice President, World Bank Africa Region
  • Shenggen Fan,  Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute, International Food Policy Research Institute
  • Stanley Wood, Sr. Program Officer, Data and Diagnostics, Agricultural Policy & Global Development Program
    Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (TBC)
  • Chris Barrett, David J. Nolan Director of the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University
  • Gero Carletto, Sr. Economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank and Manager of the Living Standards Measurement Study
  • Luc Christiaensen,Lead Economist,Lead Agricultural Economist, Jobs CCSA, World Bank
  • Date: Monday June 15, 2015
  • Time: 9 am – 5pm
  • Venue: International Food Policy Research Institute
    2033 K Street NW
    Washington, D.C. 20006
  • Agenda: Web Version
  • Join Us: Register
  • Watch Live: 
    Session 1: Agricultural Production
    9:30 – 11 am ET

    Session 3: Inter-temporal Aspects of Agriculture
    1:45-3:15 pm ET