It is common to believe that agriculture is a major sector for developing countries, especially rural territories because it does not require vast investment in the innovations and the implementation of the newest technologies. Nevertheless, regardless of a traditionally acceptable economic myth, there is a severe debate around this statement because the role of agriculture in countries’ economic development is perceived as marginal. That is why, in “The Role of Agriculture in African Development,” Diao et al. pay special attention to the heterogeneity of discussions, therefore attempting to determine the role of agriculture in overcoming the challenge of poverty in rural areas of Africa compared to alternative theories of economic growth (1375). The motivation for choosing this article for writing the commentary is that the authors focus on an unconventional approach to perceiving agriculture. In this way, the drive is to find out which argument is more realistic in the modern world – the growing role of agriculture or alternative growth theories.
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The chosen article’s central theme is the ambiguous influence of agriculture on the development of African countries. The primary focus is made on rural development and the reduction of poverty, which are the most critical challenges in the mentioned region. This theme’s choice is explained by the fact that most people in the Sub-Saharan areas dwell in rural territories, commonly characterized by severe poverty. More than that, for the same reason, agriculture is the only type of economic activity available to them, as there are no adequate funds and opportunities for getting involved in the business. In this way, availability of options for agriculture and appropriate land resources and climate, contribute to the overall acceptability of the claim that it is agriculture that should become the major sector for fostering economic development in this region.
The rationality of the growth method mentioned above is most commonly explained by the effectiveness of agriculture-based economic upturn in most countries. Nevertheless, Diao et al. claim that Asia-specific models and the success of the Green Revolution in Asia do not apply to African conditions due to substantial differences in climate and land resources as well as the level of needed skills and equipment necessary for the development of the agricultural sector (1375). In this way, the authors’ central argument is the belief in the inconsistency of conventional economic freedom – the leading role of agriculture in robust economic growth.
To support the argument, the authors of the article review opinions of both skeptics of the criticality of agriculture and its proponents. More than that, they analyze a series of case studies based on African economic development and its major conditions. Finally, the economic model is developed to find out whether the generally accepted economic wisdom is applicable to the Sub-Saharan region in Africa, which is characterized by the heterogeneity of economic conditions and gigantic gaps in the level of agriculture development.
To begin with, the role of agriculture in the economic development of states is perceived as passive. It is conventional economic wisdom based on the incremental contribution of the agricultural sector to supporting industrialization by necessary food and labor (avoidance of unemployment). This idea is generally recognized. Nevertheless, it is as well the subject of severe criticism because most skeptics see agriculture as a tool for rural development. At the same time, they accept that agriculture can become the driver of economic progress only under the constant modernization of this sector. It means that in the case of viewing agriculture within the context of industrialized states, the belief in the leading role of traditional agriculture is not related to real economic evidence and conditions. More than that, there are specific requirements for turning this sector into one of the economic drivers. For instance, the domination of large farms is unlikely to benefit the development of a particular country. It means that the operation of small farms, instead of several big ones, helps the economic development of states (Diao et al. 1375).
Based on the above-mentioned conventional wisdom, it is evident that it should apply to Sub-Saharan Africa due to numerous small farms and their operation in rural areas. Nevertheless, there are both supporters and critics of this belief. In this way, proponents claim that agriculture is the only sector to develop strong bonds between the state and citizens, thus reducing poverty in the rural areas and contributing to their economic growth. Moreover, they suggest that in the case of agriculture-led growth, the chances of increasing investment in this sector’s development, especially technologies and innovations, will be directly connected to the economic upturn due to the allocation of additional funds. It means that reducing poverty might be related to increased employment within the sector and the potential increase of effective ties between farms and the state (Diao et al. 1376).
On the other hand, critics claim that agriculture cannot become the key economic driver because of the inadequate agricultural development level in Sub-Saharan Africa. More than that, companies and firms operating in this sector are known for low economic performance and poor productivity, which supports the fact that agriculture cannot become the foundation of economic growth. Also, the problem is aggravated by ineffective government programs and policies in this sector. In this way, the challenge is characterized not only by the lack of investment in agricultural development but also failing to address negative agro-ecological conditions, such as soil deterioration. Finally, critics point to the fact that food prices are determined externally instead of focusing on the domestic supply. It means that there is no motivation for the domestic farmers to develop the sector under consideration and allocate funds in the national agriculture because it is easier and more economically beneficial to get involved in import or other forms of economic activities (mining or manufacturing) (Diao et al. 1376).
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To answer the central research question, Diao et al. consider case studies, which focus on six African countries (1377). They are chosen based on the share of agriculture in the gross domestic product, climate conditions, and people living in rural areas. That said, both land-locked and coastal countries are taken into consideration because of the different climate conditions, which directly influence the development of agriculture. Moreover, the authors point to the fact that most of the population in the selected countries live in rural areas, and the share of agriculture in GDP is substantial. Finally, the range of agricultural products varies greatly from fruit and vegetable to livestock and cotton.
Based on the case studies, the authors conclude that agriculture can be used to foster the economic development of Sub-Saharan countries. Nevertheless, there is a series of requirements to meet to guarantee stable economic growth. For instance, it is critical to focus on creating adequate bonds between agricultural and non-agricultural activities. In this way, the distribution of GDP shares between different sectors is the only way to support economic upturn. It means that efficient pro-poorness bonds between the state and different sectors of the economies are imperative because one of the sectors’ productive operation cannot help to overcome issues in the rest of the divisions of economic activities (Diao et al. 1378). The reallocation of funds can explain it from agriculture to other economic sectors and labor division in the economy.
That said, agriculture-led development is beneficial for overcoming the challenge of poverty in rural areas, even if it does not help to achieve overall higher economic development rates. Several factors can explain it. The first and the most evident one is the decrease in unemployment rates connected to the generation of working opportunities. Moreover, there is an indirect link between agriculture-led growth and poverty reduction, which comes down to the drop in domestic food prices. In this case, people spend less on domestically grown products. For the same reason, it is helpful for the reduction of poverty in urban areas. At the same time, the decrease in food prices leads to lowered dependence upon imported goods (Diao et al. 1379).
Still, regardless of the detailed presentation of major facts and relevant conclusions, this article has several significant limitations. First and foremost, the authors focus on six countries. Even though the case studies are thorough, the provided information cannot be used for making assumptions on the influence of agriculture on the development of all African countries. It means that the findings cannot be generalized. More than that, the case studies focus on the short-term period, which means that even though the findings are significant, they are not relevant in case of developing long-term policies and making conclusions regarding the development of the regions in the medium or long run (Diao et al. 1380).
At the same time, the article can be viewed within the broader context – its correlation with other studies and perspectives on the influence of agriculture on the development of the Sub-Saharan region. It is essential to mention that the research’s foundation is a detailed literature review, paying special attention to both supporters and critics of agriculture-led economic growth. Nevertheless, the authors do not pay attention to specific risks connected to the development of agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, pointing to positive aspects only. For instance, according to recent studies, the development of agriculture is commonly connected to manage risks, which were ignored. These risks are related to weather and insects, which have a negative influence on crops and potentially lead to delays in deliveries and affect the level of prices in case of the changes in the harvest.
More than that, intensive development is commonly connected to financial uncertainties because some of the farms borrow funds before the beginning of the planting season. Their ability to repay loans is determined by harvests so that some of the loans are not covered in case of increased risks mentioned above, as they entail lower harvest (Meyer 7). It means that under the given conditions, agriculture can become the foundation of stable economic growth only in case of adequate and efficient financial and insurance services, i.e., governmental support, which nowadays is underdeveloped in the region under consideration (Proctor 7). Still, the growth of the agricultural sector is impossible without adequate development of the transport network needed to guarantee timely deliveries of fertilizers and harvested products, and increasing access to rural areas (Banjo et al. 6).
At the same time, governments should not become the only source of support for economic players involved in agriculture because of the common instances of corruption in governmental bodies that lead to deterioration of resources and the lack of protection of farmers. In this way, it is essential to seek the support of influential companies and non-governmental organizations, due to their robust influence on the governments and the launch of potentially fruitful initiatives in the region (Hall 4). Finally, regardless of the influence of agricultural development on the poverty level, it is as well connected to the change of social relations. It means that this sector’s growth might entail unpredictable changes in social justice and relations between different social classes due to the necessity to guarantee equal pay for different genders or the protection of employment rights. So, potential economic growth is potentially connected to the strengthening of dominant positions of the rich (farm and landowners) and social differentiation based on wage volume (Tsikata 4).
Nevertheless, regardless of potential limitations, this article makes a significant contribution to the understanding of African economic development. Based on the primary conclusion that agriculture-led growth model is more effective for overcoming the challenge of poverty (pro-poor growth) than industrialization, it can be used to develop effective policies and strategies for governing the states. The focus on agriculture can be explained by the fact that it is not technology and skills-intensive, like in manufacturing or other industries (Diao et al. 1382). More than that, it helps understand that only an efficient combination of actions in different sectors would contribute to successful and stable economic transformations, leading to growth. It is connected to the fact that only rural areas can enjoy the direct benefits of agriculture-led growth. It means that to foster urban areas’ development, it is critical to pay special attention to other sectors of the economy, such as mining and manufacturing.
It also points to the existing challenges in the development of the regions, such as the lack of governmental support, underdeveloped and ineffective transport networks, limited access to rural areas, and significant influence of varying risk factors on the productivity of agricultural activities. Finally, this article can be viewed within a broader context. Even though the authors focus on the Sub-Saharan region, the results can be extrapolated to other areas in Africa. The reached conclusions can be used for a better understanding of the development in other African states, which face similar challenges and operate under a similar approach to economic growth (in case of taking this article as the foundation for future research).
Banjo et al. Rural Transport: Improving Its Contribution to Growth and Poverty Reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa. SSATP, 2012.
Diao, Xinshen, et al. “The Role of Agriculture in African Development.” World Development, vol. 38, no. 10, 2010, pp. 1375-1383.
Hall, Ruth. Rural Resource Grabs or Necessary Inward Investment? The Politics of Land and Water in Africa. International Institute for Environment and Development, 2015.
Meyer, Richard L. Financing Agriculture and Rural Areas in the Sub-Saharan Africa: Progress, Challenges, and the Way Forward. International Institute for Environment and Development, 2015.
Proctor, Felicity J. Rural Economic Diversification in Sub-Saharan Africa. International Institute for Environment and Development, 2014.
Tsikata, Dzodzi. The Social Relations of Agrarian Change. International Institute for Environment and Development, 2015.
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