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Successes in African agriculture: Lessons for the future

Successes in African agriculture

Edited by Steven Haggblade and Peter B.R.Hazell
Published for IFPRI by The John Hopkins University Press
Website: www.press.jhu.edu
2010, 436pp, ISBN 978 0 80189 503 6(Pb), US$45

To read of widespread and sustained successes in African agriculture is rare indeed yet, as the contributors to this book convincingly describe, not only is success possible but the means of achieving success may be readily identified.

The aim of the book, commissioned by IFPRI, is to demonstrate that the sustained decline in Africa's agricultural productivity over past decades can be arrested; with the current concerns about global food security, the replicable successes analysed deserve to be widely disseminated, boosting morale as well as productivity. As Joachim von Braun, concludes in his foreword, "We believe that the time is ripe to review, reflect, and build upon what has worked well in the past."

Following an editorial overview of the challenges facing African agriculture, six 'success stories' are detailed; cassava transformation in West and Southern Africa; hybrid maize in East and Southern Africa; Mali's cotton revolution; horticultural exports in Kenya and Côte d'Ivoire; smallholder dairying in East Africa; and soil fertility management systems. The book concludes with a summary of lessons and draws out implications for future planning and action.

Soil fertility management is a major challenge facing African agriculture and yet the case studies presented demonstrate how this serious issue may be successfully addressed.

Soil affects every farmer and despite all efforts to maintain fertility, estimates suggest that "African soils have sustained annual losses of 22 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare, 2.5 kilograms of phosphorus, and 15 kilograms of potassium. Given roughly 200 million hectares under cultivation, these nutrient losses amount to about US$4 billion per year, a figure four times the value of donor assistance to African agriculture." Such figures are widely known and contribute to the widespread pessimism about Africa's capacity to feed itself.

Yet several soil fertility management systems developed in recent decades by African farmers show that pessimism is misplaced. All are examples of Conservation Farming (CF). The first system, arising independently in Zambia and Burkina Faso, involves farmer-led development and dissemination of planting basins-minimum-tillage systems emphasising water harvesting, soil organic matter retention, crop rotations and strategic use of manure and mineral fertilisers. The second system involves managed fallows using leguminous shrubs in Eastern Zambia and Western Kenya.

As well as benefiting production and income, these approaches maintained fertility and highlighted "the complementarities between organic and inorganic fertilizer. CF proponents recommend a combination of leguminous nitrogen-fixing crop rotations, soil organic matter build-up, and water harvesting that together improve plant responsiveness to low but strategic doses of mineral fertilizer."

The Malian cotton success story demonstrates how smallholder farmers doubled cotton acreage over a five year period and increased yields from 225 to 322 kilograms per hectare and, despite concerns that this might prejudice production of grain crops, significantly increased production of cereals. Key to this success was that the government did not nationalise cotton production and marketing at independence, instead maintaining the colonial cotton production system, encouraging animal traction, fertiliser use, improved seeds and farmer associations. The results were impressive: "In 2006, roughly 200,000 Malian smallholder farmers produced cotton for sale on the international market. Over the prior 45 years, cotton production had grown at 8.7 per cent per year, providing an average income of US$375 per household for over 25 per cent of Malian rural households."

The cover of the book illustrates the two keys to boosting African agriculture: increased productivity and market incentives, the former responding to the latter. Thereby we have the opportunity for the sub-continent to consign current statistics of poverty to history: more than 40 per cent of all Africans live on less than US$1 per day and only in Africa are the numbers of malnourished children projected to increase over the next two decades.

This insightful book is most definitely recommended reading for administrators, advisers, researchers, practitioners and, not least, policymakers.

Date published: January 2011


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i would just to thank for this book which indeed will be of ... (posted by: Ondobo Lucas)


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