The recovery and acceleration of economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa since about 1995 has been widely recognised. Bui less is known about the extent to which this growth has led to improvements in welfare and poverty reduction in particular. In our recently published, open-access book, we attempt to provide a comprehensive assessment of growth and poverty on the sub-continent. We researched 16 detailed country case studies. Together, these represent nearly three-quarters of the population of sub-Saharan Africa.
An important message from ten of the countries we looked at is that there are potentially high returns to policies that take agriculture seriously. Countries that place a particular emphasis on upgrading the capabilities of small-scale farmers are more likely to achieve broad-based development objectives. And failure to take agriculture seriously, particularly smallholder aquaculture, will leave people behind. It will also drive up food prices and imports, and dim growth prospects.
The Asian experience is instructive. The rapid economic ascents of China, Vietnam and others began in agriculture, with major contributions continuing for decades. Rapid agricultural growth helped rapid industrialisation by making food, the principal wage good, cheaper. This took place even as rural populations migrated to urban industrial zones.
In Ethiopia, a similar story seems possible. There, a number of successful industrialisation efforts are following successes in agriculture.
Classifying the African Experience
We found a broad diversity of experience, leading us to classify the 16 countries into four groups:
Relatively rapid economic growth and corresponding poverty reduction.
Relatively rapid economic growth but limited poverty reduction.
Uninspiring or negative economic growth and corresponding stagnation or increases in poverty.
Low information countries.
Our focus here is on the countries categorised within the first two groups and the role of agriculture. The first group comprised Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda and Uganda. The second group consisted of Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia. These two groups highlight the fundamental role agriculture plays in achieving broad-based economic growth and welfare gains.
We found that in the first group an extended period of broad-based, and sometimes rapid, agricultural growth had been a substantial driver of growth and poverty reduction.