Sub-Saharan Africa has struggled to achieve the consistent gains in productivity growth seen is other parts of the world.
Farmers still rely on land expansion as their principal strategy for increasing output, rather than using improved inputs and practices to produce more on the land they already cultivate (Figure 1).
Lack of access to hybrid seed, fertilizer and crop protection products and veterinary medicine makes it difficult for small-scale farmers to cope with drought, crop pests and livestock diseases. Without irrigation, farmers are beholden to the rain and without healthy soils, the rain erodes the land and the nutrients in the soil. Agriculture is labor intensive, particularly for women, and mechanization is expensive and hard to access.
The majority of the continent’s farmers consume most, if not all the crop and livestock products they grow and rely on non-farm labor for their income. They also have limited access to public goods such as training and education, roads, electricity or banking systems.
As a result, farmers struggle to increase their farm’s productivity, accumulate savings for the future or acquire skills to work in a value-added agricultural business or non-agricultural trade.
The challenges are many, but so are the opportunities.
Africa has the potential to be an agricultural breadbasket, and in doing so, make significant progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a one-percent increase in crop productivity reduces the number of poor people by 0.72 percent.1 Smart public policies, increased public-sector investments and public-private-producer partnerships are the foundation of sustained agricultural productivity growth that will benefit producers, consumers and the environment.
The maize sector in Zambia, described below, provides insight into the challenges faced by African farmers. Farmers across Africa share similar obstacles to increasing their productivity.
Also available are stories describing how the public and private sectors are collaborating with farmers across Africa to build agricultural economies that are productive, resilient and sustainable.