Agriculture is the backbone of the economies of most sub-Saharan African countries. By the 1990s, 69 percent of the economically active population in sub-Saharan Africa were engaged in agriculture, as compared with 84 percent in the 60s or 70s.
No process of growth can be sustained without capital accumulation. While considerable productivity gains could be attained by more intensive and efficient use of existing resources, such gains would be one-off and unlikely to lead to rapid and sustained growth unless translated into investment in productive capacity, including physical and human infrastructure.
The difficulties in raising savings to support rapid capital accumulation and growth in low-income households unable to provide the basic needs of the farmer are well known. While appropriate policies may help raise the savings rate once sustained growth is under way, sizeable increases in domestic savings cannot be expected to take place as a pre-condition for acceleration of investment and growth.
The problem of inadequate resources for accumulation and growth is further aggravated by the adverse terms of trade movements that the region has been suffering in the past two decades.
Declines in real commodity prices, particularly for agricultural commodities, and terms of trade not only syphon off the resources needed for investment and growth, but also constitute disincentives for private capital accumulation, particularly where government intervention in agricultural pricing and marketing boards have been dismantled and producers are left to face constantly falling real prices. Under such conditions, attaining rapid and sustained growth would depend on the provision of external financing, not only to compensate for the resource drain through terms of trade losses but also to supplement domestic savings.
The degeneration of agricultural systems, whether traditional or recently introduced, has frequently also caused serious environmental and social- economic impact. From as early as 1970s, ecologists and environmentalists studying development related problems in the tropics have called for “Eco-development” to go hand in hand with agricultural development.
Combating environmental deterioration and improving agricultural production are very important and are closely related issues and often a key factor in achieving either can also be linked to water resources management. Although there may be broad similarities between developing countries there nevertheless remain tremendous differences in environmental conditions and agricultural practises.
The understanding of markets is critical to the development of an efficient and equitable food strategy, it grows out of the belief that in a global economic environment under going rapid change in price and relative scarcity in production and commodities. A food policy that deals with this basic dilemma by keeping the food prices low and providing food security.
Food security may have different meanings for different people. The International Conference on Nutrition (ICN), held in Rome in 1992, defined food security as "access by all people at all times to the food needed for a healthy life." Essentially, in order to achieve food security a country must achieve three basic aims. It must:
- ensure adequacy of food supplies in terms of quantity, quality and variety of food;
- optimize stability in the flow of supplies;
- secure sustainable access to available supplies by all who need them.
Adequate food availability at the national, regional and household levels, obtained through markets and other channels, is the cornerstone of nutritional well-being. At the household level, food security implies physical and economic access to foods that are adequate in terms of quantity, nutritional quality, safety and cultural acceptability to meet each person's needs. Household food security depends on an adequate income and assets, including land and other productive resources owned.
Food security is ultimately associated with access to nutritionally adequate food at household level, i.e. the ability of households or individuals to acquire a nutritionally adequate diet at all times.
Agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa could benefit from the wealth of successful sector-wide or commodity-based development strategies implemented within and outside. Africa, if properly adapted to the specific situation of sub-Saharan countries.
Although lessons could also be usefully drawn from failures, the importance of efficient marketing and market access for both inputs and outputs to guarantee sustainable agricultural development and food security cannot be overemphasized.
Addressing the constraints and exploiting opportunities for agriculture and rural development still requires considerable public support, both in terms of additional resources and policy reform. The challenge is considerable, but it is possible to overcome them. There are considerable opportunities for expanding land under cultivation, increasing yields, through better management of water and soil resources and use of improved and modern technology. Tapping this potential will depend on the ability of governments to create the right conditions for farmers to take initiative, invest and trust in the functioning of markets that will remunerate fairly their efforts.
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