New pathways out of poverty in Africa: the promise of sustainable and inclusive agricultural transformation

You may have heard buzz words like ‘economic transformation’ and ‘agricultural transformation’ in government speeches, the media or (if you’re a bit of a policy wonk) if you follow some of the discussions at the AU, UNECA or regional bodies like SADC.

These are two key priorities for many African governments (and donor organisations) who are desperate for the continent to get on a new development path with greater levels of industrialisation and more job opportunities. This  new discourse  is therefore important for civil society organisations  to understand when we are designing and seeking to fund agriculture programmes.

Agriculture transformation is a term used to describe the movement of self-employed subsistence producers (as well as capital and land assets) to more commercially-oriented agricultural production. Not only does this lead to higher incomes for the producers, but the extra money circulates to enterprises and workers in the wider economy. Importantly, decision makers see this shift as the first step away from African countries’ continued dependence on raw commodity exports (minerals, agricultural products etc) and towards diversified economies that provide sufficient employment opportunities for their young and growing populations.

Based on the economic history of industrialised countries, this is the only known permanent pathway out of poverty which explains why agricultural transformation has become a development priority for both governments and the international development community.

There are, however, also real risks about this model of development: both for the environment and for the poorest and most vulnerable people.

CAFOD and Christian Aid have just published a policy briefing which shows that some of the agricultural plans, strategies and projects currently in place in a number of African countries can increase inequality and further degrade the environment.  The report also showcases examples of agricultural transformation strategies that restore the environment and have the potential to spread the benefits of agricultural growth equally. To achieve these twin goals, which  are also reflected in the global sustainable development goals, the report recommends that governments and donors:

  1. protect and promote local, national, and regional agri-food market systems.
  2. protect the rights of vulnerable land users.
  3. switch to environmentally sustainable production systems.
  4. empower women, agricultural producers and workers.

These recommendations aren’t just for policymakers. They can also guide the practice and policy choices of livelihood practitioners. In this series of blogs we’ll be looking at this in more detail. In the next blog, we will examine the links between agricultural transformation policy and livelihoods. After that, we’ll explore each of the four findings of the policy paper and highlight what they could mean for development practitioners in CAFOD and other development NGOs. We will also reflect on what Pope Francis calls ‘integral ecology’ and show how faith-based international development NGOs can operationalise integral ecology and mainstream resilience in our development programmes.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment in the section below and follow this blog to stay involved in the conversation.