Universiteit Gent Faculteit Landbouwkundige en Toegepaste Biologische Wetenschappen Vakgroep plantaardige productie




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Importance of Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Countries




The question of poverty reduction is one of the major concerns to policy makers in poor Sub-Saharan countries such as Tanzania or Zambia where 50% and 86% respectively of the population is living below the national poverty line (UNDP, 1999). Given that in most Sub-Saharan countries the vast majority of people are based in rural areas, as seen in Table 2.1., promotion of employment and/or income generation for rural households is the key approach for poverty alleviation. An example can be found in the Poverty Reduction Strategy of Tanzania (URT, 2000) where it is stated that the strategy will aim specifically to give the poor access to income generating or gainful employment opportunities and, given the preponderance of poverty in rural areas, particular attention will be paid to strengthen rural economies especially by supporting productivity growth in smallholder agriculture.


Table 2.1. Characteristics of population and national economy of Sub-Saharan Eastern and Southern African countries for 1997

Countrya Total Rural Real Agriculture HDI rankc

population population GDPb/capita as % of

(millions) (%) (US$) GDP

Eritrea (EA)

3.4

82.3

820

9

167




Djibouti (EA)

0.6

17.3

1 266

4

157




Ethiopia (EA)

58.2

83.7

510

55

172




Somaliad (EA)

9.1

74.3

/

/

/




Uganda (EA)

20.0

86.8

1 160

44

158




Kenya (EA)

28.4

69.6

1 190

29

136




Tanzania (EA) (SADC)

31.4

74.3

580

47

156




Comoros (EA)

0.6

68.5

1 530

39

139




Seychelles (EA) (SADC)

0.1

43.9

8 171

4

66




Mauritius (EA) (SADC)

1.1

59.3

9 310

9

59




Madagascar (EA)

14.6

72.4

930

32

147




Malawi (SA) (SADC)

10.1

85.8

710

36

159




Zambia (SA) (SADC)

8.6

56.4

960

16

151




Mozambique (SA) (SADC)

18.4

63.5

740

31

169




Zimbabwe (SA) (SADC)

11.2

66.8

2350

19

130




Angola (SA) (SADC)

11.7

67.7

1 430

9

160




Namibia (SA) (SADC)

1.6

62.0

5 010

11

115




Botswana (SA) (SADC)

1.5

33.9

7 690

3

122




Swaziland (SA) (SADC)

0.9

67.0

3 350

19

113




Lesotho (SA) (SADC)

2.0

74.4

1 860

11

127




South Africa (SA) (SADC)

38.8

50.3

7 380

5

101




Democratic republic of Congo (CA) (SADC)d

48.0

70.8

880

58

141




Rwanda (CA) (SADC)

6.0

94.2

660

37

164




Burundi (CA) (SADC)

6.4

91.9

630

53

170

a: EA= East Africa, SA= Southern Africa, CA= Central Africa, SADC= member of the Southern African Development Community; b: GDP= Gross Domestic Product; c: HDI-rank (Human Development Index): there are 174 countries considered, Canada is ranked 1 and Sierra Leone is ranked 174; d: Somalia/Democratic Republic of Congo data were not available

(Source: UNDP, 1999; unless mentioned)


Agriculture is the mainstay of African economies. In Sub-Saharan Africa it represents between 3 and 58% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), as can been seen in Table 2.1., it employs between 65 and 80% of the labour force, and in more than half the countries it accounts for as much as 60% of export revenue (UNDP, 1999; Kherallah et al., 2000, Whiteside, 1998).


Although the African farm sector characterised by a majority of smallholder producers (as can be seen in Table 2.2.) is considered to be the backbone of the economy of most Sub-Saharan countries and a major source of livelihood for most rural people. Nevertheless, there is growing evidence for the fact that rural households’ incomes are becoming increasingly diversified. Households are thereby driven by shortfalls in cropping and terms of trade. In a review of several field studies on rural household income diversification in Africa, Reardon (1997) showed that non-farm earnings made up an important share of rural household incomes. The major sources of non-farm income for rural households include among others non-farm wages from off-farm employment within rural areas, such as working in agro-processing enterprises, or profits from small-scale/micro enterprises in the non-farm informal sector (Kymenye, 1998; Reardon, 1997; Whiteside, 1998). Although most micro-enterprises tend to supply consumers in towns, it is becoming widely recognized that rurally based and rurally oriented micro-enterprises are gaining considerable importance across much of Africa as sources of employment and incomes (Jaffee and Morton, 1994). Cash cropping does not appear to be a substitute for non-farm activity, but may be strong complements, given a constraint on credit for non-farm activities. However, it should be kept in mind that these income-earning activities depend directly or indirectly on agriculture. Hence, development of non-farm activities should complement the effort to develop agriculture (Reardon et al., 1992).


Table 2.2. Share (in percent) of smallholder farmers in total crop production for 1965-1988

Country Food crops Cash crops

Rice Wheat Maize Other Coffee Cocoa Cotton Sugar-cane Other

Burundi

95




95

95

80













Cameroon







25

25

100

100




100

100

Central African Republic




80

80

90

50




52




80

Democratic Republic of Congo

60




48

60

60




60







Ehtiopia




90

90

90

68













Ghana

60




78

83




6




6




Guinea

80-90




80-90

80-90
















Madagascar

70




60

90

60




60

60




Nigeria

90




90

90




90

90







Sierra Leone

61







63

35

56










Tanzania







80

80

75




75







Zambia

63

6

32

72







11







(Source: Jazairy et al., 1992)


In this respect, we can understand Yumkella et al. (1999) who state that there is a growing consensus that, at the initial stage of development in most African countries, an agro-based industrial strategy, focusing on small and medium industries would promote accelerated economic transformation and address the issues of poverty, unemployment and food insecurity.


The region’s high annual population growth, ranging from 0.6% for South Africa to 3.1% for Uganda and rapid urbanisation require an expansion of value-adding and food processing activities in order to facilitate expansion of non-farm employment and to enhance food availability, and rural and urban industrial growth (UNDP, 1999; Yumkella et al., 1999).


In most African countries, 35% or more of agricultural production is lost as post-harvest loss and only 20 to 25% of production is marketed. In southern Tanzania, up to 90% of the agricultural production in Mtwara, Lindi and Ruvuma, called the ‘food basket of Tanzania’, (see map in Annex II) is wasted each year because bad roads and poor communication prevent buyers to come and purchase the produce. The share of processed agricultural production lies between 10 to 15% of total production in African countries compared to 80% in developed economies. It is estimated that industry adds a value of US$ 40 to each ton of agricultural raw material in developing countries compared to US$ 184 per ton in developed countries. Therefore, there is much room for expanding downstream processing (Yumkella et al. 1999; personal communication from Etukudo, economist UNDP, Tanzania).


As the prospects for rural industrialisation in Sub-Saharan Africa still remain limited, smallholder agriculture will remain the major engine of rural growth and livelihood improvement for some time, until a certain level of rural development is reached. Meeting the challenge of improving rural incomes in Africa will require some form of transformation out of the semi-subsistent, low-input, low-productivity farming systems that currently characterize much of rural Africa. Converting smallholder self-sustaining (non market-oriented) agriculture into a dynamic market-oriented sector can create multiplier effects toward other sectors, as it can stimulate production in the non-farm sector through employment creation and income generation. Types of linkages include backward and forward production linkages, and linkages from expenditure or consumption resulting from increased earnings in both farm and non-farm sector (see Annex VI for the Tanzanian case) (Al-Hassan & Egyir, 1998; Govereh et al., 1999; Poulton et al. 1998, World Bank 2000).


Many of the past poverty alleviation strategies applied in the area have focused on increased commercialisation of smallholder farming (services and products), especially through the promotion of a number of ‘traditional’ export cash crops like e.g. tea, coffee and cotton. Because of declining world prices of most of these traditional export commodities in the 1980s, many African countries are attempting to diversify their agricultural export base and try to locate new (local/regional/national/international) market opportunities for these and new products. Since agrarian structure in most parts of Africa is dominated by smallholder production, crop diversification into high-value non-traditional export or niche commodities, in most cases, will have to be carried out by widely dispersed smallholders, thus increasing costs and risks (of failure) (Al-Hassan & Egyir, 1998; Govereh et al., 1999).


However, smallholders often lack the financial resources to invest properly in production and marketing of both traditional commodities and high-value non-traditional exports. Access to credit is often limited by a lack of collateral or preliminary savings, or through physical or conceptual distance. They also lack the necessary production and marketing information, particularly for new crops and species/varieties, such as non-traditional exports and niche commodities. Uncertain and inefficient markets also undermine the ability of both large-scale producers and smallholders to fully benefit from producing high-value export commodities (raw and/or processed). In addition to a regular flow of reliable market information, coordination of production and marketing activities is also crucial, especially when production is carried out by many dispersed smallholders and products are highly perishable (Kymenye, 1994; Al-Hassan & Egyir, 1998; Govereh et al., 1999).

While liberalization of agricultural marketing in many African countries has opened new opportunities, most small-scale farmers have not yet benefited from the ongoing liberalisation. In fact, many have been greatly hurt by these changes for which they were not prepared. Efficient market linkages and vertical arrangements are generally not (well-)developed, inaccessible or unprofitable for both individual smallholders because of the small quantities they produce, and thus the absence of scale-effects. Yet, there are two important approaches that have potential to deal with many of the production and marketing problems of smallholders (awaiting private sector to fill the void created by liberalisation through the closure of parastatal agencies and withdrawal of subsidised credit and inputs):


  1. contract farming, otherwise known as outgrower schemes; and

  2. cooperation through formal cooperatives, farmer groups or associations, which are henceforth referred to collectively as Farmers Organisations (FOs) (Coulter et al., 1999; Kymenye, 1994).


Contract farming refers to a range of initiatives taken by private agribusiness companies to promote production of and secure access to smallholder produce. Companies provide services to farmers and in return receive access to some or all of the farmers’ produce. Schemes typically involve the provision of inputs (seed, fertilisers and pesticides) on credit, often with extension advice, and may also include a range of other services such as field preparation or crop spraying. Costs are recovered when the produce is sold. Well organised contract farming schemes provide market linkages, and would appear to offer an important way in which smaller producers can farm in a commercial way (Coulter et al., 1999; Eaton & Shepherd, 2001; Stringfellow, 1997).


FOs must be distinguished from the state-controlled cooperatives of the past. These failed to respond adequately to their members and needs of the market, performed poorly and were widely discredited by chairmen through misuse of members’ funds. But now they are gradually being disbanded or transformed into independent, member-run institutions that, as experience has proved, perform much better. By working together, farmers can realise economics of scale for a range of activities such as bulking up in output marketing or storage whereas they can enter into more stable relationships with suppliers or traders (Stringfellow, 1997; Coulter et al., 1999).


Contract farming and farmer cooperation are not mutually exclusive. Their combination has the potential for increasing access to new market opportunities and services required to support smallholder intensification and diversification into more profitable cash crops. When dealing with agri-business, it is also important to have a strong negotiating position which is greater for a FO in comparison with individuals. Agri-business may also favour working with FOs, since group liability for credit enables it to reduce lending risks while scale economics involved may reduce transaction costs (Stringfellow, 1997; Coulter et al., 1999).


However, the extent of production under contract is low in Africa. In Kenya, a country with a long history of contract farming, the proportion of Kenyan smallholders producing under contract is about 15% of all smallholders and this figure far exceeds that of any other African country. Even the literature of contract farming in Kenya alone may equal that of any whole other region of Africa (Kymenye, 1994; Little and Watts, 1994).


Opportunities, problems and solutions of both contract farming and farmers' organisations are discussed in Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 respective
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