Cover Image
close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderPart 1: Economy and society: development issues
close this folderPoverty, vulnerability, and rural development
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentThe nature of poverty
View the documentRural poverty and development in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the documentAspects of economy and society in SS Africa
View the documentVulnerability
View the documentPoverty and economic reform
View the documentConclusion
View the documentReferences

Aspects of economy and society in SS Africa

In most developing economies, agricultural productivity both in total and per capita has been rising in the past decade despite world recession, whereas in the developing countries of Africa, on the basis that 1979-1981 = 100, the indices of agricultural production and food production per capita for 1989 were both 93 and were below 100 in 1985, 1987, and 1988 (FAO 1991a: 166, 169). For SS Africa, on the basis that 1971-1980 = 100, the index of food production per capita for 1987-1989 was 95, the lowest of all the major global regions, and compared with an index of 112 for "low- and middle-income" economies (World Bank 1991a: 211). One should add that revision of the SS African population figures to take account of the Nigerian 1991 census result does improve the SS African food and agricultural production per capita indices, although SS African figures without Nigeria only confirm the decline. This data problem and the agricultural "crisis" factor are discussed in Morgan and Solarz (1994).

The droughts that were widespread in the world in the 1980s were particularly severe in SS Africa, sometimes combined with warfare, creating huge refugee problems, and combined again with severe economic shocks such as the oil price hikes, rising international interest rates linked to the international debt crisis, and declining terms of trade. In the semi-arid marginal lands in particular there were marked crop production failures, leading to increased demands for imported staple grains and adding to SS Africa's growing dependence on imported food. However, in the 1980s many countries had little foreign exchange to spare to pay for these imports without further borrowing. Several came to depend on aid to cope with this and other economic problems. Aid as a percentage of GNP in SS Africa amounted to 7.9 in 1989 (compared with all "low- and middle-income" countries at 1.1 per cent, but a startling 59 per cent in Mozambique, nearly 39 per cent in Somalia, and 32 per cent in Tanzania) and rose from nearly US$6 billion in 1979 to US$13 billion in 1989. Direct food aid in cereals in most years in the 1980s varied between 2 million and nearly 5 million tons (World Bank 1991a: 242243, 210 211, and earlier World Development Reports of the World Bank). Most SS African countries have been affected by macroeconomic disequilibrium, with inflation and unsustainable current account deficits. At the same time, in most countries the balance of investment has shifted to the towns while the productive sectors of their economies have continued to depend largely on the rural areas. Agriculture produces about one-third of GDP in SS Africa and is second only to services, while employing about two-thirds of the labour force. In several countries, mining rather than manufacture is the main alternative source of wealth, but was adversely affected in the 1980s by trends in the world markets.

In some ways the weakest feature of the SS African economies, apart from the low income and investment base, has been the failure to develop major industrial strength. Between 1965 and 1989 manufacture's contribution to GDP rose from 8 to 11 per cent compared with 15 to 17 in South Asia and 27 to 33 in East Asia. Zimbabwe seems to have produced the best performance with an increase from 20 to 25. Of all the developing global regions SS Africa has the worst overall economic performance, including the worst industrial performance. It is also worth noting that, in the few countries for which there are reliable figures, the urban-rural income disparity in SS Africa is of the order of 5-6 times (Lipton 1990a: xiii) and, despite several exceptions, clearly depends more on the contrast between employment in government and the service industries on the one hand and employment in agriculture on the other than on differences between manufacture and agriculture. There are also huge urban-rural disparities in access to health, water, sanitation, and child nutrition as listed in UNDP (1991: 136-137). Rates of growth of GDP and of the contributions to GDP of agriculture, industry, and services have been highly variable (fig. 2.1), but have tended to be mostly low or negative since 1976. The importance of agriculture compared with industry in sustaining GDP was especially noticeable in 1977, 1982, and 1985-1989.

Much of the rural poverty problem is connected with the existence of: increasing landlessness, a large class of farmers with very small holdings, a lack of investment resources for agricultural improvement, the urban effect, low levels of rural education and migration to the towns of those who do achieve some acceptable educational standard, overvalued exchange rates discouraging agricultural exports, and poverty amongst women.

Increasing landlessness

Increasing landlessness has emerged as a serious problem, especially in Kenya and Malawi (Addison and Demery 1989: 76; see also Morgan and Solarz 1994 for discussion of this and related agricultural problems). Land privatization in Kenya has become widespread, with evidence of a growing concentration of land ownership as some poorer farmers have been forced to sell (Wiener 1987: 24). The numbers of the landless have been swelled by those redundant urban workers who have chosen to return to the rural areas and who have lost their rural property rights. In much of SS Africa, traditional usufructuary systems of land tenure gave everyone at least some share in the land endowment. The growing commercialization of agriculture has increased the demand for private land in order to realize the benefits of long-term capital investment and even to use property as collateral. Privatization for some may be of benefit in transforming agriculture, but it is a loss for others, marginalized and made poor by the loss of their former rights.

Fig. 2.1 Growth of GDP by sector in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1970-1990 (Source: World Bank, World Tables 1992, pp. 22-37)

A large class of farmers with very small holdings

The incomes from very small holdings are low and can be raised only by considerable investment in very intensive production and an increased labour input. For many of these farmers their living is precarious, partly dependent on market sales and partly on subsistence, which protects against market price fluctuations, but also dependent on inputs from their own production, with in consequence low yields and low output per man-day. Higher and more flexible prices for food and other agricultural raw materials, combined with less government interference and the introduction of higher-value crops, have been seen by the World Bank and by many monetarist economists as essential for transforming agriculture and as especially beneficial for smallholders (World Bank 1989a: 89-93). The World Bank's Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa (1981: 51) quoted in support of the case for smallholder agriculture the result of a survey in Kenya in 1974 that showed that holdings of less than half a hectare were 19 times more productive per hectare than holdings of over 8 hectares, but employment was 30 times greater, which may be excellent for reducing underemployment or unemployment but clearly is also a recipe for lower incomes.

The lack of investment resources for agricultural improvement

Investment has been discouraged in many countries by the poor prospects for profitability except in a few limited areas of export production and of specialized food production for urban markets, often in pert-urban zones. Peri-urban production in some cases has also been encouraged by the poor quality of rural roads and transport services. In the poorer African countries about 20 per cent of public investment in agriculture is provided by aid (World Bank 1982: 52; Lipton 1990b: 6-9).

The urban effect

Many of the evils of peasant poverty are primarily the result of decisions centred in, and made in the interests of, cities and urban groups (Lipton 1990a: xi). As Lipton points out (199Oa: xii): "Where urbanbased development depends on the flow of surpluses - marketed food; savings - from country to town, it is a natural urban reaction to put such resources as the rural sector does get at the disposal of larger farmers, who will use them to generate surpluses of that sort." The answer ought to be not large farms as such, but larger farms than the peasant average, able to use modern inputs and pay higher wages as farm incomes improve. But it also needs a successful urban sector, generating the wealth to pay higher prices and the ability to provide alternative employment for redundant farmworkers and dispossessed farmers.

Low levels of rural education, and migration to the towns of those who do achieve some acceptable educational standard

It is useless to improve rural education if there are no rewards at the end of the road (Lipton 1990a: xvii) and it is particularly important that the rewards to farmers are attractive to the educated if a more productive and more efficient agriculture is to be realized.

Thus in sum and substance, the man who is bound by traditional agriculture cannot produce much food no matter how rich the land... Instead an approach that provides incentives and rewards to farmers is required. The knowledge that makes the transformation possible is a form of capital, which entails investment - investment not only in material inputs in which a part of this knowledge is embedded but importantly also investment in farm people. (Schultz 1964: 205-206)

This is not to deny that there is a case for promoting the use and development of traditional agricultural knowledge and methods of production. If more attention had been paid to such knowledge in the past, many mistakes could have been avoided, but systems of production that will offer substantially higher incomes will mostly require structural change and new inputs.

Overvalued exchange rates discouraging agricultural exports

Overvalued exchange rates have been true of some but not all SS African countries and keep the costs of food, fuel, machinery, and technical equipment imports low. They can also be part of an antiinflation strategy. Attempts to promote industrial development can be protected by selective tariffs. Imported food can be cheap partly because Western countries, particularly those in the European Union (EU), subsidize their food exports, and may thus in certain cases help to undermine African agriculture and indirectly promote African rural poverty for the benefit of Western farmers, while keeping prices down to African urban consumers. More recently, however, food price inflation has occurred in certain cases of food import dependence. There is also the well-known example of the oil boom and "Dutch disease" in Nigeria, which was associated with the decline of non-oil tradables, i.e. export crop agriculture, and appeared to be an equivalent process in Nigeria to deindustrialization in the West (Collier 1987).

Poverty amongst women

The largest of the groups of particularly poor people is poor women, especially widows and the heads of single-parent households. Women participate in farming - in some communities they are the chief farmers, especially where men have migrated temporarily in search of work. In Lesotho the migratory labour system has left women to maintain households, look after children, search for cooking fuel, and look after the smallholdings. Most depend in part on remittances, but some, especially the growing number of divorcees and widows, are recognized as people at high risk (Wiener 1987: 25-28). Similar problems with women-headed households and difficulties in finding work for extra incomes or time in which to undertake the many duties imposed by women's precarious situation have been reported, for example, from Kenya (Wiener 1987: 24-25) and Nigeria (Morgan and Moss 1981: 32). In the latter case women, especially older single women, were often employed as fuelwood dealers, a job regarded as having low social status. In several SS African countries, e.g. Senegal and Tanzania, female labour force participation in work for wages or in trade is estimated at over 65 per cent of women of 15 years of age or more and women constitute 45 per cent of the labour force, but in others, e.g. Zambia, Kenya, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, women constitute only between one-quarter and one-third of the labour force and in some Islamic countries even less (Chant with Brydon 1989: 35)