Given the much needed incentives and realistic policy directives, the physical, biological and social-economic constraints are not factors that the African people are unable to transcend. The much needed “incentives and realistic policy directions” to stimulate Africa’s transformation have not matched the developmental aspirations of the African people. Although the development plans of most countries, for example, often acknowledge the overriding need to increase and diversify agricultural output, the need to achieve food security and self-sufficiency in food production, as well as, the need to raise income and living standards – their approach to agriculture can best be described as exploitative. Many African governments do not see the agricultural sector as an equal partner with the other sectors of development. Rather the sector is seen as a subservient one to be exploited for industrialisation. Leaders and governments throughout Africa generally view agriculture as a sector that should be exploited and controlled in order to provide taxes and labour to finance industrial change as well as urban development. There exists, therefore, a striking similarity between the colonial policy that exploited the resources of colonial territories to develop the metropolis and the current national agricultural policies that exploit the resources of the countryside to develop the urban cities.
The most fundamental causes of Africa’s underdevelopment and retrogression are found in the structural characteristics identifiable with the pattern of production, consumption and exchange of the African economy. These structural characteristics include: (i) The predominance of subsistence production and commercial activities; (ii) The narrow production base with ill-adapted technology; (iii) The neglected informal sector; (iv) The degraded environment; (v) Lopsided development due to urban bias of public policies; (vi) The fragmentation of the African economy; (vii) The openness and excessive dependence of African economies on external factor inputs and influence; (viii) Weak institutional capabilities; and (ix) Inappropriate government policies.
Colonial agricultural policies for example, were such that food production was not given a priority at central level. Food production was not a priority for capital investment during the entire colonial period in most African countries. Land, labour and other resources of the colonies were diverted away into production of industrial raw materials. Infrastructural development that took place in sub-Saharan Africa during this period and for decades after independence, were mainly to service the production, transportation and marketing of industrial crops like cotton, tobacco, coffee, and cocoa.
As if unaware of this discriminatory policy approach to production by colonial governments, most African governments have tended to pay only “lip service” to the agricultural sector and to the production of food in particular. While women, for example, play the most central role in Africa’s agricultural development, particularly in food production, their role as producers and agents of transformation especially in the rural areas has been severely constrained by their lack of access to factors of production – land, capital, credit, technology – and by their marginalisation in production relations. If African countries continue with the agricultural and food policies they have pursued up to now and continue to invest only at the current levels – poverty, food insecurity and child malnutrition will worsen significantly, natural resources will become more degraded, land productivity will further decline in many areas and Africa will become increasingly vulnerable to famine.
A common mistake that many development experts in Africa make is to assume that rural people and peasant farmers are ignorant of modern development and its benefits. Rural farmers know a lot about modern technology and its virtues, but also know very well that yield-increasing technologies can only be adopted as a full package, and not in part or piecemeal. They are well aware that implementing such technologies requires resources – which they lack. Under their circumstances, an obvious requirement is the necessity of fitting technologies together with complementary support systems. Without such complimentary support required to help them change their attitudes and adopt new technologies, the traditional farmers will stick to their tried technologies and farming methods they can afford, in spite of their poor performance.
Africa’s inability to feed itself has led to record levels of foreign aid – especially food aid. Despite the humanitarian role of food aid in “filling the empty stomachs” and “saving dying children”, it has adverse effects on domestic production. Foreign aid and food aid have not only dulled the political will to develop agriculture but have also been sighted as contributing to de-motivating indigenous innovation and production.
The policy centre is the place to visit as we search and seek to redress the policy incentives and directions in all sectors, and reverse the African development dilemma by stimulating accelerated growth and shared prosperity that is inclusive, equitable and sustainable.