Future Leader Fellows Reflect on the Sub Saharan Africa Agricultural Productivity, Growth, Resilience, and Economic Transformation Roundtable
By Zeynab Jouzi, Emily Pappo, Zilfa Irakoze, Barituka Bekee, and Bryan Farrell
This year’s Virtual AIARD Week was held on June 7-10 with the theme of Cultivating Crisis-Proof Food Systems for a Changing Climate. To explore this theme and promote discussions about how we can build resilience in food systems, attendees had the opportunity to hear from a broad range of practitioners and researchers working on addressing these issues. One of the most engaging sessions came on the second day of the event when roundtable discussions were held around various critical topics such as postharvest losses; youth in agriculture and rural development; and agricultural productivity growth, resilience, and economic transformation. In this event, the roundtable discussion leaders shared their work experiences and research findings and created space for active dialogue from the participants.
Our group of 2021 Future Leaders Fellows (FLFs), had the opportunity to attend the roundtable discussion on agricultural productivity growth, resilience, and economic transformation in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to listen and share our experiences. Although we come from different academic disciplines, we all share an interest in agricultural productivity and building resilience in food systems, so attending this roundtable hosted by Dr. Clara Cohen of USAID and Dr. Louise Fox of the Brookings Institute where Dr. Fox shared her research on agricultural transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa was eye-opening for all of us. Because of our divergent perspectives and experiences, we wanted to individually share our takeaways from this roundtable discussion.
Brief Summary of the Report
The report highlighted two sets of dynamics that determine the outcomes countries face: the nature and pace of economic transformation, and the development of resilience at the micro, meso, and macro levels—noting that growth in agricultural productivity drives these two phenomena in the early stages of development for most countries. It was also pointed out that agriculture’s extensive linkages throughout the economy support growth in other sectors. As a result, growth in agricultural productivity usually leads to sustained economic growth, which is necessary to improve the welfare of the majority of a country’s population.
The report reveals that there was evidence of agricultural transformation in SSA. Over the past two decades, the region had the fastest growing agricultural sector in the world, and in general, a strong correlation between agricultural growth and economic growth was observed. High volatility in these trends was witnessed prior to 2002, but ever since, such fluctuations have significantly reduced, indicating greater resilience in the region. Nevertheless, it was also pointed out that although productivity growth was important in increasing agricultural output in other developing countries, land expansion is playing a more significant role in the agricultural growth scenario of SSA. The report emphasizes that there will be a need to focus on productivity-led growth if SSA is going to compete in the agricultural space. Moreover, evidence suggests productivity-led agricultural growth leads to lower poverty and better nutrition outcomes. Some African countries such as Ethiopia and Ghana are examples of places where the power of productivity-led growth in the agricultural sector has helped to promote inclusive economic transformation.
Furthermore, following a four-country group categorization—i.e. fragile, low-income, lower-middle-income, and resource-rich countries—it was noted that there were important differences in the ability of African countries to transform their economies. So far, lower-middle income countries have been found to deliver better healthcare and public services to their population, and are better positioned for sustained economic development. However, this country group is not always able to adequately cope with shocks.
Please find the full original report at AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTIVITY GROWTH, RESILIENCE, AND ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA: IMPLICATIONS FOR USAID
Attending Future Leader Forum Participants' Reflections
During the roundtable, it has been discussed that the agriculture sector works as the engine of development for the SSA’s countries. However, the production growth in SSA has happened through land expansion instead of improving productivity. From an environmental perspective, this is not a sustainable approach to food production and economic development. Land expansion happens at the cost of natural resources and leads to biodiversity loss. It is important to find a balance between agriculture, food production, and conservation. Increasing productivity can work as a solution to address the people and planetary needs in the long term.
- Zeynab Jouzi, North Carolina State University
As a Ph.D. student studying resilience in tropical agroecosystems, I found the results from Dr. Fox’s study to be really informative. For example, she shared a figure that showed the highly correlated continent-wide GDP growth and agricultural growth over time. Prior to the early 2000s, GDP and agricultural growth were highly variable, fluctuating widely between periods of faster and slower growth. After approximately 2002, the fluctuations became much smaller, showing much more stable growth. As Dr. Fox explained it, this stabilization indicated an improvement in resilience, with agricultural growth and productivity able to remain stable despite shocks or other challenges. I thought this was a very useful way of looking at resilience on a large scale, and it opens up interesting questions (many of which Dr. Fox discusses in her research) about what leads to that stabilization.
- Emily Pappo, University of Florida
This roundtable session was very informative and gave data to some context that I had realized as a student from sub-Saharan African when I got exposed to developed countries’ Agriculture sector. The USAID/BIFAD report did a great job summarizing the sub-Saharan African agriculture productivity and economic resilience progress, shortcomings, and recommendations on growing them. As a Research Assistant passionate about extension education, I related so much to the report about the gap in the agriculture Research and Development’s (R&D) investments, and the lack of rural involvement in the agriculture decision making in Sub Saharan African countries. Investing in Agriculture R&D brings in new knowledge about techniques and practices necessary to move the agriculture sector from being land expansion led to being productivity led. Finally, coming from Rwanda where most of the agriculture activities are happening in rural areas, I particularly believe that involving the people who are practicing agriculture in decision making will help us do relevant/problem-oriented research and focus on creating solutions that will help us close the productivity potential gap and improve our economic resilience.
- Zilfa Irakoze, Masters in Food Science at Kansas State University
The disaggregation into country groups carried out in the study was important as it helped highlight the varied experiences across countries. The implication of this knowledge is that the specific context of countries/regions has to be taken into consideration when trying to further stimulate economic transformation as there is no panacea to the challenges being faced in SSA. While some countries may be ripe for increased investments in agricultural research and development by the private and/or private sectors, others (e.g. fragile countries) will first require peace and stability before subsequent investments can be made.
- Barituka Bekee, University of Missouri – Columbia
The report prepared for BIFAD and the roundtable discussion highlights many elements which are essential both for USAID endeavors and for consideration in my own career development. One key takeaway was the need for higher productivity and technology utilization to drive future improvements in economic and health outcomes. The past reliance on expansion of agricultural lands is considered unsustainable and increased productivity/technology usage becomes even more important as resources/markets experience transitions due to climate change and/or shocks (ex. Covid-19). In both my research on policy approaches to food security and my endeavors as a research administrator at a land-grant university, I find land-grant institutions play a vital role in aiding the development of agricultural production, supporting policymakers and helping align development activities amongst stakeholders. This holistic approach to agricultural development seems appropriate given the reports findings and the suggested path forward in the report. I look forward to continuing to support such endeavors to increase productivity and the drivers of productive technology adaptation.
– Bryan Farrell, Mississippi State University
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