Forgotten Farmers

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ments could also bring a return of the “Middle Kingdom”              comparable returns or offer impact at as high a scale.
arrogance that contributed to the demise of the millennia-old        africa-wide biological control efforts against the cas-
Chinese imperial system, with profound direct and indirect           sava mealybug have benefitted 10 to 15 million farm
implications for the world. While 21st century China is too          families and has generated over US$100 in income for
much of a world player to revert to the self-satisfied smugness      every US$1 spent. Public breeding of improved maize
that left it vulnerable to 19th century Western imperialism,         varieties has raised incomes on 5 to 10 million farms
world leaders would do well to remember and respect that             of all sizes. Similarly, cotton research and marketing
Chinese attitudes are based not just on their power today,           programs have provided the impetus of rural develop-
but also on their millennia-old achievements and traditions.         ment for one million farm families in francophone af-
I share nye and Wang’s hope for the reduction in poten-              rica. dairy research in Kenya has raised productivity to
tial for conflict that could accompany a rise in China’s soft        triple that of surrounding countries, raising incomes for
power—a future positive-sum relationship between our two             600,000 smallholder farms and commercial dairies.
countries.                                                                Ill-suited to innovation? as the preceding examples
                                                                     attest, african smallholders have responded and inno-
GUY Salvatore alItto                                                 vated, repeatedly and en masse; when productivity gains
Professor of History, East Asian Languages and                       are stable, favorable market incentives converge.
Civilizations, University of Chicago.                                     Unlikely to be transformative? Historically, major
                                                                     increases in agricultural productivity have preceded
                                                                     industrial revolutions, partly because rising agricultural
Forgotten Farmers                                                    income triggers consumption diversification into non-
                                                                     foods, in part because it stimulates variety in marketing,
                                                                     processing, input supply, and related services, and in
     Seventy percent of africa’s poor live in rural areas
                                                                     part because higher agricultural productivity permits
and work primarily in agriculture. Yet their productiv-
                                                                     the release of labor and savings from agriculture with-
ity remains the lowest in the world, with farm labor
                                                                     out raising food prices or hindering industrial growth.
productivity at one-half and land productivity only
                                                                     Ironically, early investments in agricultural productivity
one-third of the levels attained in developing asia.
                                                                     facilitate economic diversification out of agriculture.
     Paul Collier focuses on the promotion of urban
                                                                          However, many donors have abandoned agriculture
industrialization, the consolidation of agriculture on
Description: Seventy percent of Africa's poor live in rural areas and work primarily in agriculture. Yet their productivity remains the lowest in the world, with farm labor productivity at one-half and land productivity only one-third of the levels attained in developing Asia . Available evidence suggests that over half of African smallholder farmers (operating less than 20 hectares) are typically net buyers of staple cereals, while around one-fourth are net sellers and, on average, less than one-fourth neither buy nor sell staples. Empirical studies find that agriculture-led growth generates roughly double the poverty reduction of comparable industrial growth. As part of a necessarily broad development agenda, public investment boosting smallholder agricultural productivity offers the single most powerful tool available for raising incomes and reducing poverty in Africa.
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