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close this book2020 Vision Focus 4 - Promoting Sustainable Development in Less-Favored Areas (IFPRI, 2000, 18 p.)
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View the documentBrief 1 of 9 - November 2000 - Overview
View the documentBrief 2 of 9 - November 2000 - Technologies for the East African Highlands
View the documentBrief 3 of 9 - November 2000 - Technologies for the Tropical Andes
View the documentBrief 4 of 9 - November 2000 - Technologies for the Southeast Asian Uplands
View the documentBrief 5 of 9 - November 2000 - Returns to Public Investment: Evidence from India and China
View the documentBrief 6 of 9 - November 2000 - Development Strategies for Semiarid South Asia
View the documentBrief 7 of 9 - November 2000 - Development Strategies for the East African Highlands
View the documentBrief 8 of 9 - November 2000 - Development Strategies for West Africa
View the documentBrief 9 of 9 - November 2000 - The Role of Agricultural Science

Brief 7 of 9 - November 2000 - Development Strategies for the East African Highlands

John Pender

John Pender is a research fellow in the Environment and Production Technology Division at IFPRI.

Low agricultural productivity, poverty, and resource degradation are severe and worsening problems facing most of the 90 million people of the East African highlands (defined in this brief as areas above 1,200 meters above sea level in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda). Most farm households subsist on farms smaller than two hectares in size and incomes of less than $ 1 per day, and cereal yields less than one ton per hectare are common. Forests are disappearing, soils are eroding, and soil nutrient stocks are being mined because of expanding cultivation onto marginal lands, declining use of fallow, limited investment in soil and water conservation measures, and limited use of modem or organic inputs. Underlying these proximate causes are many more fundamental factors, including rapid population growth, limited infrastructure and market development, high weather risks, limited farmer awareness of appropriate technologies, land fragmentation, and tenure insecurity, among others. Government policies have a strong but variable influence on many of these factors. For example, market liberalization policies of recent years helped to spur commercialization in areas of high agricultural potential and good market access, but also led to higher fertilizer prices and less fertilizer use by many farmers. They had little impact on remote areas where subsistence mixed crop-livestock production is still the norm.

Given the complex factors and diverse situations influencing agricultural and rural development in the East African highlands, no "one-size-fits-all" strategy will achieve sustainable development throughout the region. Some common elements are necessary for success anywhere, including peace and security, macroeconomic stability, and a competitive market environment. But beyond such necessary conditions is the need for sufficient investment in physical, human, natural, and social capital. Much of what distinguishes successful development strategies in different locations will be differences in the portfolio of such investments.

The appropriate portfolio of investments will depend upon what development pathways have potential comparative advantage in a particular location. A "development pathway" is a common pattern of change in livelihood strategy (for example, intensification of food crop production or rural nonfarm development). Many factors combine to determine comparative advantage of different development pathways. In rural areas, two are particularly important: agricultural potential and access to local or international markets. Agricultural potential determines the absolute advantage (technical efficiency) of producing agricultural commodities in different locations. Access to markets greatly influences which activities have comparative advantage in a particular location, given agricultural potential.


In areas close to urban or foreign markets and having high agricultural potential - such as parts of Ethiopia close to Addis Ababa, much of the central and western Kenya highlands, the Lake Victoria crescent, and much of the eastern highlands of Uganda - there is great potential for profitable production of high-value perishable commodities, such as horticultural crops and dairy products. Realizing this potential requires investments in marketing infrastructure and information, technical assistance oriented toward such commercial opportunities, and development of input and short-term credit markets. For example, dairy development in central Kenya is a major success, stimulated by the large market in Nairobi, development of processing and marketing cooperatives, and introduction of improved breeds of cattle and intensive feeding systems. Commercial production of vegetables is expanding in areas around Nairobi, Addis Ababa, and Kampala, but improved price information and technical assistance focused on commercial opportunities, appropriate use of agrochemicals, integrated pest management, and integrated soil nutrient management are needed. Credit and input markets are poorly developed throughout the East African highlands.

Other development pathways likely to have comparative advantage include intensified food crop production using relatively high levels of external inputs; intensive periurban livestock operations such as poultry, pigs, or aquaculture; and rural nonfarm development, linked to agricultural intensification and commercialization. There are many synergistic linkages among such pathways. Intensified food crop production can increase food security and increase farmers' willingness to take risks in producing high-value crops, while production of high-value crops and nonfarm income can increase farmers' ability to purchase inputs for food crop production. Increased food crop production increases the availability of crop residues that can be fed to livestock, while livestock operations can provide manure that is used to intensify crop production. These synergies imply that the development strategy can be most effective if it addresses the constraints to several development pathways at once.


In areas with high agricultural potential that are farther from markets - such as much of the southern and western Ethiopian highlands, central and western Uganda - a comparative advantage exists in producing high-value nonperishable crops such as coffee, as well as in livestock production. Opportunities may exist to intensify food production for local consumption based on limited use of external inputs, but the potential for expanding food sales to external markets is likely limited by high transport costs. As part of a strategy of intensifying food crop production using few external inputs, agroforestry approaches such as improved fallows have been shown to increase soil fertility and crop yields as well as providing other economic and environmental benefits. Complementarities between livestock and crop production can also increase productivity. For example, banana farmers in western Uganda are achieving higher yields by using compost.

A high priority for such areas is road construction and maintenance. Better roads can enable these areas to shift to higher-value production of perishable commodities, as is occurring in many areas near Kampala and Addis Ababa, as well as increasing the profitability of traditional nonperishable cash crops. Until market access is substantially improved, technical assistance programs should promote food security by emphasizing agroforestry, enhanced crop-livestock interactions, and limited use of external inputs. Without adequate food security, farmers in densely populated remote areas may be forced to forgo profitable cash crop opportunities in order to maintain food production. This dilemma reportedly contributed to declining coffee production in parts of Ethiopia in the past. Given the importance of perennial crops in such areas, ensuring clear property rights and adequate land and tree tenure security is also critical. While this may not require formal land titles, investments in trees or other land improvements can be undermined by periodic land redistributions, as have occurred in Ethiopia, or by absentee land ownership, which is common in central Uganda.


Areas with low agricultural potential (for example, because of low and uncertain rainfall) but high market access - such as parts of the northern Ethiopia highlands and parts of the "cattle corridor" of western Uganda close to major towns and roads - are not likely to have a comparative advantage in crop production without irrigation. Farmers may pursue intensification of food production for subsistence purposes using low levels of inputs, but strategies should emphasize labor-saving approaches, since labor demand for nonfarm activities is often high in such areas. There is likely to be a greater comparative advantage, in intensive livestock production, particularly where adequate feed supplies and water for animals can be assured. This type of development is occurring in western Uganda. There also may be opportunities for forestry and agroforestry. For example, community woodlots are increasingly common in northern Ethiopia, and the potential profits from fast-growing species such as eucalyptus are high, particularly close to urban markets.

A high priority for these areas is investment in irrigation (where suitable) and water conservation structures. The returns to such investments are highest where water is scarce, soil conditions are favorable, and market access is good. Besides enabling intensified crop production, irrigation helps to relieve feed and water constraints to intensified livestock production. Forestry and agroforestry activities also help relax biomass constraints, allowing scarce organic materials such as manure and crop residues to be recycled to the soil, rather than used as fuel or fodder. To facilitate such activities, improvements in institutions for managing common property (especially community irrigation systems, forest, woodlots, and grazing lands) are needed in many cases. Where privatization is occurring, tenure insecurity may arise because of conflicts between traditional pastoralists and sedentary farmers and ranchers, as is occurring in parts of Uganda. Clarifying access rights and developing mechanisms of conflict resolution are important priorities in such circumstances. Other priorities for areas close to markets include investments to facilitate rural nonfarm development, including electricity, telecommunications, education, and vocational training.


In areas far from markets and having relatively low crop production potential, livestock and high-value forest products (such as resin and honey) may have comparative advantage, while crop production may be improved through better integration of crop-livestock-agroforestry systems. Still, the greatest comparative advantage is likely to be in developing the skills of the population to enable short- and long-term migration to areas of greater opportunity. Investments in human capital (education and vocational training, extension with an emphasis on low-external-input technologies and mixed crop-livestock-agroforestry systems) thus may have the greatest social returns in such settings. However, investments in social capital (improved institutions to protect and manage common property, improved land and tree tenure security), natural capital (such as planting trees and fodder grasses), and physical capital (such as fuel-efficient stoves, soil and water conservation structures) are also important.


Though different, strategies are needed for different types of situations, many investments are broadly needed throughout the East African highlands, such as investments in infrastructure, education, and agricultural research and extension. No region should be neglected, though the emphasis may differ from one place to another. The framework suggested here can serve as a useful starting point for consideration of strategies for specific locations.

For further information see J. Pender, F. Place, and S. Ehui, "Strategies for Sustainable Agricultural Development in the East African Highlands," EPTD Discussion Paper No. 41 (International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C., 1999); S. Wood, K. Sebastian, F. Nachtergaele, D. Nielsen, and A. Dai, "Spatial Aspects of the Design and Targeting of Agricultural Development Strategies," EPTD Discussion Paper No. 44 (International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C., 1999).