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Helping Africa’s poor farmers. What works?

Posted by Richard D North in Food / Green / Money on 11 June 2008

Why we posted this: Here we post some wonderful (and mercifully concise) ways into issues like feeding the world and African agriculture.

The original story:
Alternative views on how to encourage African agriculture 
Martin Wolf
Financial Times  
Summary of the story:
The FT has been running an important series of articles and blogs on:

Malawi cultivates cash gains for its impoverished farmers
(by Alan Beattie)
Subsidising inputs for small-scale farmers in Africa was out of fashion for a while. Jeffrey Sachs (a world famous development economist) is working on a revival of the practice in Malawi. It is part of policy which has doubled Malawi’s crop.  

Alternative views on how to encourage African agriculture 
(Martin Wolf’s forum)
Alternative views on sustaining world economic growth (and making it more equitable)

Seeds of change
(by Alan Beattie)
Alternative views on how to help African small scale farmers.  

livingissues comment:
We see here some of the clear schools of thought on what policies work. Roughly speaking:
(1) Paul Collier thinks that high food prices will encourage farmers – includng those in Africa – to grow more food and that in the end, large-scale farmers will flourish and be the major producers. This view tends to be unpopular with campaigners.
(2) Jeffrey Sachs believes that one can direct aid towards small scale farmers and that the risk of distorting markets is worth risking. This view tends to be popular with campaigners.
(3) Jon Maguire offers us a fascinating insight into the important debate between those who believe in large-scale farming and those who believe in small scale farming. He is investing in both.

This may be the most important lesson of all: Africa needs almost every sort of solution. It needs infrastructure, help for peasants, encouragement for agri-business, GM, new seeds, to listen to locals, to help locals change old habits. It needs romantic NGOs and cool headed capitalists.

There are further divisions as to whether genetically modified seeds are valuable or dangerous. We have looked at that already.

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