Boosting Agricultural and Food Production in Africa: Panel Discussion Marshals Evidence to Inform Policymaking

April 11, 2014


World Bank Senior Economist Florence Kondylis uses examples from Malawi, Rwanda and Mozambique in her work on making extension services more effective in Africa.

  • A high-level panel discussion held during the 2014 IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings focused on the challenge of increasing agricultural productivity in Africa
  • Hallmarking the innovative event were rapid fire presentations marshaling evidence from cutting-edge research to dispel myths and inform policymaking
  • The discussion brought together African Ministers of Finance, Economic Development and Industry, together with researchers and policymakers to chart the way forward

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2014—How can we boost agricultural productivity in Africa? How can evidence gleaned from rigorous research tackle the challenge of low farm productivity in Africa that traps millions of farmers in the vise-like grip of poverty? How can new evidence better inform development of farmer-friendly public policies that help put more food on tables? 

Seeking solutions to these compelling questions, an innovative panel discussion kicked off on April 12th for a deep dive on the topic.

“Agriculture is the foundation of our work in Africa and a huge source for ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity on the continent,” said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region, in his inaugural remarks. “By convening this forum, we want to close knowledge gaps and take African agriculture to the next level of performance.”

" Agriculture is the foundation of our work in Africa and a huge source for ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity on the continent. "
Makhtar Diop

Makhtar Diop

World Bank's Vice President for the Africa Region

H.E. Lucien Bembamba, Minister of Economy and Finance for Burkina Faso, spoke about the challenges his landlocked country faces where women do not have access to land. He said when women organized themselves and formed associations in rice-producing areas, they were able to buy back produce from their husband’s farms, make value-added products and secure better prices.  Noting that fertilizers and high-quality seeds are fundamental to tackling low productivity, local R&D centers were key to providing the right varieties of seed suited to local growing conditions. Women’s associations also influenced government policy by recommending purchase of local produce for use in school-feeding programs.

“The agriculture sector contributes more than 33% of Rwanda’s GDP, 70% of jobs and 50% of poverty reduction efforts,” said H.E. Claver Gatete, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning from Rwanda.  “That’s how crucial it is for us.”  He said Rwanda’s agricultural intensification program focused on land consolidation and provision of land titles and land registration helped to overcome the challenges of small land parcels. On making inputs available to farmers, Rwanda looked to the private sector. For strengthening extension services, engagement of local governments was critical for success, he added.  Rwanda has established a new food commodity exchange that caters to the entire central and east African sub-region.

H.E. Sidi Ould Tah, Minister of Economic Affairs and Development for Mauritania, spoke about the progress his Sahelian country has made in modernizing the agricultural sector and taking a commercial, value-chain approach.  He said that in addition to low productivity, pastoralists faced challenges from poor infrastructure and logistics.

H.E. Jean-Claude Brou, Minister of Industry from Côte d’Ivoire, said that efficient land titling programs were vital for overcoming low productivity. He said that although fertilizer use had improved, it was lagging compared to other countries.  A key part of the solution is effective microfinance institutions that can aid farmers and help them to purchase fertilizers and other inputs at critical times in the growing season.

In an over-arching response to the ministerial presentations, Jamal Saghir, World Bank Director for Sustainable Development in the Africa Region, spoke about the Bank’s efforts to make its lending more effective. He noted that simple interventions such as provision of child care and making fertilizers available in smaller bags for ease of transport could help close the gender gap in agricultural productivity. 

On the issue of women and land rights, he said a strengthened policy dialogue that draws on the latest research findings was vital for achieving positive change.  As 90% of land in Sub-Saharan Africa is undocumented, the seriousness of this challenge cannot be underestimated.  He called attention to the agriculture-energy nexus and said there is a need to take a fresh look at water-use efficiency in agriculture, especially when lack of electricity pushes farmers to use polluting, costly diesel pumps for irrigation.

Earlier, ministers and participants listened with rapt attention to a series of punchy, rapid-fire, timed to-the-minute multimedia presentations delivered by World Bank staff. 

Michael O’Sullivan presented results from a new joint report with the One Campaign, “Levelling the Field: Improving Opportunities for Women Farmers in Africa” which showed that in six African countries, women farmers produce less than men, ranging from 13%in Uganda to 25% in Malawi.

Luc Christiaensen spoke about the striking variations in input use across Africa, and pointed to increased inorganic fertilizer use by smallholder farmers especially for maize and lamented that only 2% of the farmers had access to irrigation.

Christopher Gilbert, from Trento University, spoke about seasonality in African agriculture and the struggles poor farmers face in “hungry months,” noting that while governments will not be able to eliminate food price volatility, they can reduce its extent through sound policies.

Maria Jones showed how insurance and innovations like agriculture-targeted savings accounts can help improve productivity drawing on rich examples from work done in Rwanda.

Florence Kondylis presented evidence from Malawi, Rwanda and Mozambique about the age-old challenge of poor quality extension programs and showed how simple things like giving farmers a log book and offering them the opportunity to offer feedback through cell phones improved outcomes and attendance.

Participants welcomed the innovative and lively format of the panel discussion – first-person narratives, dynamic presentations marshaling evidence from a large body of cutting edge research – which could serve as a model for replication in the future.