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close this bookThe Crisis in African Agriculture - Studies in African Political Economy (UNU, 1987, 99 pages)
close this folder1: The performance of African agriculture, 1950-1980
View the documentBasic data and broad trends
View the documentAgricultural situation
View the documentConclusion

Basic data and broad trends

Agricultural production and food supplies

Overall, during the three decades from 1950, total agricultural production as well as total food production rose substantially in all regions of the world, both developed and underdeveloped. According to OECD statistics, total food production in the developed market economies rose by 115% between 1950 and 1975, while the developing market economies achieved a better performance with an increase of 130% over the same period.

These remarkable increases did not, however, have the same effects on per capita food supplies in the developed regions and in the underdeveloped ones. Whereas in the former, per capita food supplies were satisfactory given low population growth rates, in the latter, population increases were quite often close to production increases making rates of growth of per capita food production virtually insignificant.

Table 1, which shows growth rates for the various regions, brings the trends out. The pattern has varied from region to region and decade to decade.

Thus, during the first decade, 1952-62, except for Africa which only achieved a growth rate of 2.2%, all the other regions of the underdeveloped world achieved growth rates in total food production of above 3% rates higher than those of the developed market economies which averaged 2.5%. But rapid population growth in the underdeveloped countries reduced per capita food production to levels below those of the developed countries. During that decade in the developed countries as a whole, the Eastern countries recorded the highest rates, both for total production and for per capita production. North America had the lowest rates. In the developing countries as a whole, the planned economies of Asia recorded the highest growth rates while Africa recorded the lowest, far lower than those of other underdeveloped regions.

The second decade, 1962-72, was, in general, marked by a slowing down of the growth of production in both the developed and the underdeveloped world. For total food production, except for North America which recorded a striking recovery, all the other developed regions recorded decreases, sometimes quite significant ones. Nevertheless, their per capita food production remained distinctly positive. Despite significant declines compared to the previous period, the Eastern countries again recorded the highest growth rates in the group of developed countries. During this decade, the underdeveloped market economy countries still recorded total production growth rates higher than those of the developed market economy countries. But their per capita production was insignificant not only compared to those of the developed countries, but also compared to their own previous performances because of general declines in total production (except for that of Africa, which recorded a significant recovery), and because of the increase in population growth rates compared to the previous period.

Table 1. Annual Growth Rate of Food Production, Total and Per Inhabitant


1952-62

1961-70

1970-78


Total

Per inhab.

Total

Per inhab.

Total

Per inhab.

World

3.1

1.1

2.9

0.9

2.5

0.8

Developed market economies

2.5

1.3

2.6

1.5

2.2

1.3

Western Europe

2.9

2.1

2.4

1.5

1.6

1.2

North America

1.9

0.1

2.3

1.1

2.9

2.0

Eastern Europe + USSR

4.5

3.0

3.8

2.7

2.6

1.8

Developing market economies

3.1

0.7

2.8

0.2

2.7

0.4

Africa

2.2

0.0

2.9

0.4

1.4

- 1.3

Latin America

3.2

0.4

3.1

0.2

3.0

0.2

Asia

3.1

0.8

2.6

0.1

2.7

0.1

Asian centrally planned economies

3.2

1.4

2.9

1.0

2.8

1.1

Sources: 1952-62, UN; 1961-70 and 1970-78, UNCTAD.

With regard to Africa, which had experienced a recovery in production whereas other regions had suffered declines, the trend averaged around a very low annual growth rate in per capita food production of 0.2% over the period. The planned economy countries of Asia experienced higher rates of 0.7% because their population growth rates remained distinctly lower than those of other underdeveloped regions.

For the third decade, it can be observed that the trends initiated during the second decade were accentuated. For the developed countries, whereas in North America the annual growth rate in total food production rose, in Western Europe and the Eastern countries rates continued to decline.

Overall, the growth in total food production was even stronger in the underdeveloped market economy countries than in the developed ones. But as the demand for food had continued to rise in the former, the situation remained generally stagnant in comparison to the previous decade.

Only Africa, which during the second decade had been able to achieve growth rates roughly equal to those of other underdeveloped market economy regions, experienced a sharp decline, its per capita food production growth rate falling to -1.3%. In the underdeveloped world as a whole, the socialist countries of Asia continued to register the best performances in per capita food production.

Obviously, many factors have to be taken into account in explaining the evolution of these trends: historical, socio-political and economic factors, conjunctural problems, unforeseeable disturbances, irregular occurrences, etc. In these conditions, we can do no more here than make a few observations on the particular circumstances that may have influenced this or that region, more detailed explanations of the evolution noted requiring a much more ambitious project than the present work.

The decade 1950-60 corresponds to the immediate post-Second World War period. Since this war was fought worldwide, the economic structures of most regions of the world were seriously affected, even though unequally. The countries that were most seriously affected, but had powerful potential means to face up to the task of post-war recovery, were the developed countries. Among these countries, the European ones suffered most destruction. Emergency measures had to be taken for economic reconstruction, beginning with facing up to famine and food shortages. Solving food supply problems was made easier for them because of the existence of an industrial infrastructure which made it possible to supply agriculture with the taxes it needed. For those countries it was simply a matter of adopting a policy to promote the development of agricultural production.

In the Soviet Union, where agriculture was very backward (by 1950 it had not yet succeeded in recovering its pre-war level), vigorous measures were taken. Their aim was to loosen the constraints affecting the private sector so as to increase production substantially. Income taxes on private agricultural incomes were cut by a half. Compulsory deliveries to the state were suspended. Since industry was unable, in the case of the USSR, to respond at once to the tax expectations of agriculture, the authorities decided to develop agriculture extensively through the opening up of new lands. 'In all, the bringing into cultivation of the virgin lands affected 36 million ha. in 1954-56 of which 20 million were in Kazakhstan - representing an increase of 23% in the cultivated area in two years.'1

Numerous measures were adopted to provide economic incentives. These included sharp rises in the prices of agricultural products, and especially of foodstuffs; tractor and machinery stations were managed by members of kolkhozes; the kolkhozes were grouped together to reduce inequalities in the countryside.

While the private and co-operative sectors were strongly encouraged, the state sector was not neglected. The area covered by state farms rose from 15 million ha. in 1953 to 50 million ha. in 1957. These series of measures enabled marketed production of cereals to rise by 75% in five years, with increases of 88% for milk and 50% for meat.

The other countries of Europe which lacked the arable land potential of the USSR stepped up production by increasing the products of industries upstream from agriculture, and by adopting vastly improved techniques tested notably in Denmark and Holland. Thus, in France, beef production doubled between 1948 and 1967 and milk output rose by 80%.

It is, therefore, not difficult to understand that agricultural growth rates in the countries of Eastern and Western Europe were higher than those in North America during the first post-war decade because the former had been much more seriously affected, and the need for the recovery of growth was more pressingly felt.

As for the underdeveloped countries, the particularly remarkable slowness of the growth of African food production compared to other regions is doubtless to be explained - as we shall see below - by the fact that the period 1950-60 corresponded to the flourishing period of the colonial economy which was only interested in export agriculture, promotion of which was to assist the recovery of the metropolitan economies. It should, however, be added that statistical services were practically nonexistent in Africa at that time and that the data on food production in particular are very unreliable.

The reversal of the trend that appeared in the developed countries during the second decade, and which saw a sharp rise in growth rates in North America while they fell in Europe, might be linked first to the scale of the increase in world demand for food products and then to a greater capacity of American agriculture to adapt to internal and external market conditions because of its vast potential. Furthermore, significant government subsidies were forthcoming under pressure from the powerful big farmers' lobby, the American Farm Bureau Federation. These subsidies went mainly to the wealthy farmers, the owners of the largest and most modern holdings. President Eisenhower said on this subject in 1960: 'The main beneficiaries of our price support policies have been the two million largest, most highly mechanized production units'.2

As a result of the absence of class solidarity between large and small farmers, therefore, pressure groups representing the interests of rich farmers - which were the only ones to get the attention of the political classes - succeeded in securing that all government expenditure on agriculture go to the rich farmers, thus condemning the poorest to disappear.3 Thus, the largest, most mechanized holdings, that were also the sole beneficiaries of government assistance, were fully able to face up to the conditions of the international market.

Unlike America, Europe had a feudal past with intense social struggles in the countryside which led to the strengthening of class feeling. Capitalist society which followed feudal society saw the rise of a powerful and well structured labour movement. In order to prevent a class alliance between this movement and the mass of small peasants against the whole bourgeois system, the European big rural bourgeoisie, as well as the established authorities, had an interest in seeking the support of this mass. They could not therefore take the risk of embarking on a process of brutally eliminating smallholders. These socio-historical conditions meant and still mean that the agrarian structures in Europe differ from those in America. Thus despite the existence of an extremely large world market for agricultural products, and despite the extraordinary development of agri-business to which large holdings ought to adapt better, Western European agriculture still remains heavily marked by the past and rests principally on smallholdings.

As for the USSR, the stress put on the development of extensive agriculture bore fruit between 1950 and 1960. But after that, the phenomenon of decreasing yields was strongly felt and growth rates began to decline.

During the 1970s, the broad trends of the previous decade became more marked; North America, because of its enormous potential and its agrarian structures, increased its production and its domination of the world market for food products over Western Europe, the USSR and the European socialist states.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the underdeveloped regions (except for Africa in the 1970s) maintained total production growth rates relatively stable around 3% per annum, exceeding those of the developed countries as a whole.

The complexity of the situation in Latin America makes any attempt to link these performances to precise causes hazardous, numerous factors coming into play depending on the country: climatic conditions development of commercial production in extensive agriculture in large latifundia estates, implementation of agrarian reforms in some countries, etc. On the other hand, in Asia where population density is very high, pressure on the land is such that only the increase in yields through more intensive cultivation and the use of selected varieties have made it possible to achieve these performances. In Africa the sharp decline in food production during the 1970s compared to the 1960s is, first of all, the consequence of the conditions of exploitation of previous decades. Of course, there were in addition the aggravating circumstances of the very considerable climatic variations during the 1970s, while the rising costs of inputs and the inadequacy of irrigated areas prevented any possibility of intensifying production.

But however high growth rates in food production in the underdeveloped regions were compared to those in the developed countries, the farmer's per capita food production still remained much lower because of high population growth. Since socio-cultural structures in the underdeveloped countries give no grounds for hoping for a rapid reduction in population growth rates, the solution can only be sought in raising total food production even higher even though that will not guarantee an equitable redistribution of food intakes for each stratum of the population.

These few observations are far from constituting an attempt to explain the evolution of the trends over three decades in the various regions of the world. In fact, such an attempt at explanation should proceed essentially from the study of class relations and their evolution in various societies under the impact of the domination of the world capitalist system.

The work of attempting to understand the evolution of agriculture through the forms of the domination and exploitation of the producers will be attempted here for Africa only, since that is the subject of our study.

But before continuing, we should complete this section which puts food production in Africa in the context of other regions through an attempt to compare potentials and levels of development, at least for the underdeveloped regions of the world.

Potentials and levels of development

Compared to other regions of the world, both developed and underdeveloped, Africa has considerable potential arable land resources, as Table 2 shows. Indeed, potential arable land is estimated at 733 million ha. as against 570 million ha. in Latin America and 628 million ha. in Asia.

With 10% of the world's population, Africa has 25% of world potential arable land, that is 'land that appears to have economic potential for arable agriculture under existing levels of technology.'4 And only 27.8% of arable land is under cultivation. But techniques of production, which are rudimentary and rest, in most cases, on shifting agriculture, involve the significant waste of land resources and the accelerated destruction of soils. Thus, because of its low technical levels, African agriculture lags considerably behind that of other underdeveloped regions.

The continent suffers a serious water problem and rainfall is frequently irregular over much of the region. Irrigation, which could have provided solutions to this tragic problem, is unfortunately very little developed. In the continent as a whole, only two countries (Egypt and Sudan) have major irrigated areas. Table 3 shows clearly how far Africa lags behind other underdeveloped regions. In millions of hectares, irrigated areas in 1962 totalled only 1.1 south of the Sahara as against 44.1 in Asia and the Far East, 10.6 in Latin America and 16.7 in the Middle East. According to projections for 1985, irrigated areas would not exceed 1.9 million ha. south of the Sahara despite considerable surface and underground water resources. The same lag can be observed in the use of inputs making it possible to intensify production. Thus, Africa produced only 0.3 million tons of fertilizers in 1967-68, and 0.9 in 1972-73. As for consumption, it rose from 0.4 million tons in 1967-68 to 0.9 in 1972-73. Table 4 brings out the gap compared to other underdeveloped regions. In terms of arable area, consumption of fertilizers in the region was only 5.7 kg./ha. as against 11.3 in Latin America and 18.7 in Asia in 1967-68. In 1972-73, the figures were respectively 10 kg., 27.4 kg. and 28.6 kg. By way of illustration, in the United States the consumption of fertilizers is more than 85 kg./ha.

If we measure the level of mechanization by the quantity of energy consumed from all sources, it is estimated that Africa has available 0.05 hp./ha. of arable land as against 0.19 in Asia and 0.27 in Latin America. In Western Europe, the quantity of energy per ha. is 0.93.

Table 2 World Arable Land Resources (in Millions of Hectares)


Latin

Africa

Asia

Oceania

North America

USSR

Europe


America

Total

Total (excl. USSR incl. China)

China


Total

USA


Total

East

West

Arable land under cultivation (base year)

119(a)

214(a)

467(a)

130(a)

47(b)

230(c)

191(d)

225(e)

141(a)

42(f)

99(a)

Projected arable land - 1985

148

242

484

143

71

224

185

230

137

41(f)

96

Potential arable land(g)

570

733

628

200

107

495

456

270

141

45(f)

96

a) Base = 1970
b) Base = 1970-71
c) Base = 1971
d) Base = 1969
e) Base = 1973
f) Excluding USSR
g) Potential arable land is broadly defined in this sense as land that appears to have economic potential for arable agriculture under existing levels of technology.

Note:

The definition of what exactly constitutes arable land varies somewhat between these estimates according to the severity of climatic, terrain and soil constraints that have been imposed. For this reason it is not possible to make precise comparisons between regions or to give a world total.

Source: OECD, Studies of Trends in World Supply and Demand of Major Agricultural Commodities.

Table 3 Proposed Irrigation Development


Irrigated Area

Growth Rates in Irrigated Area


Arable Area

Harvested Area

Arable

Harvested


1962

1975

1985

1962

1975

1985

1962-1985



(Million Ha.)

(Million Ha.)

(% p.a.)

Africa South of the Sahara

1.1

1.5

1.9

1.1

1.6

2.1

2.4

2.9

Asia and Far East

44.1

55.5

68.1

49.5

75.0

102.7

1.9

3.2

Latin America

10.6

13.5

17.4

18.2

11.4

16.2

2.2

3.0

Near East and N.W. Africa

16.7

18.5

20.1

12.8

16.1

17.8

0.8

1.5

Total

72.5

89.0

107.5

81.6

104.1

138.8

1.7

2.9

Source: Provisional Indicative World Plan for Agriculture.

In conclusion, it can be said that compared to other regions of the world, Africa has available major natural resources for the development of agriculture. But these resources are both under-exploited and poorly exploited because of the very low level of development of the region. The result is very low yields and productivities. Calculated from the FAO's statistical yearbooks, average yields in Africa, as a percentage of world averages, were the following for the main crops in 1948-52: wheat 72%, rice 60%, millet and sorghum 105%, maize 55%, groundnuts 82%, cotton 42%. In 1974 the yields had declined steeply compared to world averages: wheat 45%, rice 55%, millet and sorghum 95%, maize 44%, groundnuts 71%. Only cotton yields increased, from 42% to 44%.

What is more, this low level of yields was not compensated for by a proportionate increase in cultivated areas despite the existing potential, at least for crops intended for consumption. Thus, between 1948-52 and 1972-74 the area sown to the main cereal crops in Africa rose by only 15% whereas for the same period and the same crops, it rose by 24% in the world as a whole, 25% in the Far East and 64% in Latin America.

On the other hand, if we look at cash crops, the extension of cultivated area in Africa was, in percentage terms, considerably higher than in the rest of the world. In cotton production, area increased by 70% in Africa as against 9% in the Far East. In groundnut production, it rose by 65% in Africa as against 63% in the world as a whole and 55% in the Far East.

Consequently, the share of Africa in world production of food crops has tended to fall whereas its share in the production of export crops has risen substantially (see Table 5).

Table 4. Production and Consumption of Chemical Fertilizers,1 World and Main Regions (July-June 1967-68, 1971-72, 1972-73)


Production

Growth rate

Consumption

Growth rate


1967-68

1971-72

1972-73

1967-68

1967-68

1971 - 72

1972-73

1967-68


(millions of tons)

(% p.a.)

(millions of tons)

(% p.a.)

Developed market economies

40.4

46.5

48.5

3.7

33.8

38.7

40.5

3.7

North America

17.7

21.3

21.9

4.3

14.5

16.5

17.2

3.5

Western Europe

17.9

19.9

20.8

3.0

15.1

18.1

18.8

4.6

Oceania

1.3

1.3

1.4

2.0

1.5

1.4

1.6

2.2

Eastern Europe and USSR

14.1

21.7

23.3

10.5

12.6

18.5

20.1

9.8

Total industrialized countries

54.5

68.2

71.8

5.7

46.4

57.2

60.6

5.5

Developing market economies

2.5

5.2

6.1

19.6

5.8

9.9

11.5

14.7

Africa

0.3

0.8

0.9

24.9

0.4

0.8

0.9

17.6

Far East

1.1

2.3

2.6

18.8

2.3

4.7

0.3

18.3

Latin America

0.8

1.3

1.4

11.9

2.0

3.1

3.8

13.7

Near East

0.4

0.8

1.1

22.5

0.8

1.3

1.5

13.4

Asian planned economies

1.9

3.5

4.0

16.1

2.7

4.9

5.3

14.5

Total developing countries

4.6

8.7

10.1

17.0

8.5

14.8

16.8

14.6

World Total

59.1

76.9

81.9

6.8

54.9

72.0

77.4

7.1

1Consent in nitrogen, phosphorus and potash.

Source: OECD.