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AGRICULTURE: Africa Should Take Lessons from China — IFPRI

Julio Godoy

BERLIN, May 26 2010 (IPS) - The model of agriculture applied by the People’s Republic of China during the last 30 years is an example that the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa should follow in their quest for development and growth and to eradicate poverty, according to agricultural experts.

Dr Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and co-author of the study titled “China’s Agricultural and Rural Development: Implications for Africa”, told IPS that there is consensus on the importance of agriculture and rural development as an engine of growth in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Washington-based IFPRI seeks solutions to hunger and poverty and is supported by governments, private foundations and international and regional organisations.

Agriculture presents “a viable response mechanism to the new challenges for growth and food security such as the global recession, volatile food prices, and climate change,” he said.

The study is a comparative analysis of agricultural development in China and sub-Saharan Africa since 1980. IFPRI researchers presented the study at a recent meeting of the China-Development Assistance Committee (DAC) study group in Bamako, Mali, attended by economic, agriculture, and development experts from all over Africa, the U.S., and China.

The China-DAC Study Group was formed in 2009 by the International Poverty Reduction Centre in China (IPRCC) and the DAC, the OECD’s coordinating committee on issues related to co-operation with developing countries. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development represents the 31 most industrialised countries of the world.

“As national leaders and donors are looking for new strategies towards agricultural growth in Africa, it is useful to examine the experiences of other countries, such as China, that have been successful in agriculture-led broad-based development,” Fan added.

According to World Bank figures, the role of agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa has fallen from 19 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1980 to 14 percent in 2008. At the same time, there has been an expansion of the services sector.

However, official figures show that in some of the poorest countries of the continent, such as the Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, and Liberia, agriculture continues to account for more than half of overall output. Agriculture also provides employment to 86 percent of the working force in Ethiopia, 82 percent in Madagascar, and 76 percent in Tanzania.

In the paper, Fan and his co-authors Bella Nestorova and Tolulope Olofinbiyi, both research analysts at IFPRI, recalled that the recent era of sustained high economic growth in China started in 1980 “from a gross domestic product level slightly lower than the one in sub-Saharan Africa”.

But by 1993, Chinese GDP per capita had surpassed Africa’s. On average, China’s economy grew 10 percent per year between 1980 and 2008, compared with only three percent in sub-Saharan Africa during the same period.

During the same period, agricultural growth in China was also greater and steadier compared to agricultural growth in sub-Saharan Africa. “Agricultural GDP in China was twice as high as the corresponding figure in sub-Saharan Africa in 1980 and more than three times higher by 2008,” according to Fan.

These divergences in economic growth in general, and in agricultural development in particular, have led to noticeably different patterns in poverty reduction in both regions. Between 1980 and 2005, the number of poor people decreased in China by more than four times, from 835 million to 208 million.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, however, poverty has remained deeply entrenched,” Fan said. The share of people in the population living below under one U.S. dollar per day remained virtually unchanged from 1981 (51 percent) to 2005 (50 percent). In the same period, the number of poor people almost doubled, from 202 million to 384 million.

The researchers found that China’s strong initial emphasis on agricultural growth was essential in reducing poverty in that country. Growth in agriculture in China is estimated to have contributed to poverty reduction four times more than growth in manufacturing and services.

The first stage of Chinese agricultural and rural reform focused on de-collectivisation of agriculture, decentralisation of rural production, introduction of a household responsibility system for securing land rights, and launching of a new pricing policy that involved increased procurement prices.

This system helped the state to satisfy growing food demands. At the same time, the system stimulated private initiative and accumulation of wealth.

Fan explained that the Chinese agricultural policy reform “was driven by strong political will and relied on a gradual but consistent trial-and-error process.” In contrast to Africa, where agricultural policy-making was based on foreign paradigms, in China it was based “on evidence much more than on theory or ideology,” he added.

These and other features of the Chinese agricultural policy since 1980 could be applied in sub-Saharan Africa, Fan said. “To sustain high levels of agricultural growth in Africa, reforms need to be designed to increase productivity by providing smallholders with incentives, such as securing land rights and strengthening markets for inputs and outputs.”

In addition, investments in rural infrastructure, such as rural roads and irrigation, need to be scaled up, and investments in agricultural research need to be not only increased but also tailored to Africa’s specific conditions, such as predominant rain-fed agriculture.

In general, total investments in agriculture should at least meet the target of 10 percent of national public budgets.

Such investments must be accompanied by “pro-poor policies”, Fan pointed out.

“Pro-poor policy initiatives in China illustrate that proper scope and targeting of programmes is essential. These programmes should target vulnerable people in both rural and urban areas, and they should not focus strictly on designated poor regions.”

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