Policy Brief, BIFAD-Commissioned Report, Agricultural Productivity Growth, Resilience, and Economic Transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications for USAID 

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A new BIFAD-commissioned report, Agricultural Productivity Growth, Resilience, and Economic Transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications for USAID, reviews the evidence of evolving economic transformation and progress towards resilience in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and provides a priority agenda for promoting transformation and resilience in the region, recognizing the varying challenges faced by fragile, low-income, lower-middle-income, and resource-rich countries.

Background: Since the launch of the U.S. Government Feed the Future initiative to fight global hunger and malnutrition in 2010, BIFAD has probed deeply into the emerging issues and evidence base surrounding the three main pillars of the initiative: (1) Improving agricultural production and markets; (2) Reducing hunger and improving nutritional status, especially for mothers and children; and (3) Strengthening resilience of communities to shocks.  To look more closely at the core foundational pillar of agricultural transformation, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), BIFAD sought to understand the drivers of economic transformation, the reasons for the varying pace of transformation among different categories of African countries, the role of agricultural growth in regional economic transformation, the extent to which the agricultural growth was resource- or productivity-led, and the key policy instruments enabling that transition—all in the context of emerging new evidence and research on agricultural productivity and the role of research and innovation.  The study also explored linkages among agricultural growth, economic transformation, and resilience, including to shocks such as COVID-19.  BIFAD convened a public meeting in October, 2020 to discuss preliminary findings of the report and to gather public input.

Key Findings:  Mounting evidence points to profound economic transformation in SSA since the early 2000s.  Across a broad range of indicators—health, life expectancy, education, public service delivery, government effectiveness, and public investment in future economic transformation—most African countries have made remarkable progress. While agricultural production growth has been a major driver of SSA’s economic transformation and improvements in living standards, production growth has been achieved mainly through the expansion of cropped area rather than through productivity growth. Those countries in Africa and Asia that have made substantial investments in adaptive agricultural research and development and extension (R&D&E) systems have shown the catalytic role of productivity-led agricultural growth in contributing to employment, resilience, and economic transformation. The challenges from uneven economic growth and development across the low-income, lower-middle-income, fragile, and resource-rich states point to different programmatic responses.  

Recommendations: The report recommends that USAID contribute to economic transformation and resilience by supporting African governments and other partners across the following opportunity areas: 1) Supporting COVID-19 recovery;  2) Accelerating productivity-led agricultural growth; 3) Expanding employment opportunities for young Africans; 4) Achieving economic empowerment for women; 5) Capturing the opportunities for intra-African agricultural trade and supporting the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement; 6) Reducing the rural infrastructural deficit; 7) Leveraging USAID strengths in institutional capacity development; and 8) Leveraging USAID convening power and U.S. global leadership in agricultural innovation. 

Report Authors: T. S. Jayne is University Foundation Professor of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at Michigan State University. Louise Fox is Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Visiting Scholar at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at the University of California Berkeley, and former Chief Economist at USAID. Keith Fuglie is Senior Economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service and formerly Senior Economist in the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, USAID. Adesoji Adelaja is the John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor in Land Policy, Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at Michigan State University.

About BIFAD: The Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD) is a seven-member, presidentially appointed advisory board to USAID established in 1975 to ensure that USAID brings the assets of U.S. universities to bear on development challenges in agriculture and food security.  As the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security revises the U.S. Government Global Food Security Strategy this year, BIFAD hopes that this report and its associated recommendations will provide a useful input to USAID, external partners, and Congress.