MSU Agricultural Economics  Research > Food Security III > Policy Syntheses > No. 43



Valerie A. Kelly, Eric W. Crawford, Julie A. Howard, Thomas Jayne, John Staatz, and Michael T. Weber

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Food Security II Cooperative Agreement between U.S. Agency for International Development, Global Bureau, Economic Growth Center, Office of Agriculture and Food Security and Department of Agricultural Economics, Michigan State University

BACKGROUND: As we enter the 21st century, figuring out how to improve rural as well as urban food security, and to stimulate underlying food system development in Africa remains a major challenge. For over a decade MSU's Food Security Project has investigated the factors affecting farm productivity and agricultural inputs. This research has been based on a number of field surveys across Africa involving host country research collaborators, and MSU students and faculty.

This research actually began in the mid-1980s, prior to the Food Security Project, with studies of Senegal's fertilizer and seed distribution systems and factors affecting farmers' adoption of fertilizer. Later the research evolved to cover broader studies of social, economic and environmental factors influencing farm productivity throughout Sub-Saharan Africa (e.g., Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Zambia).

More recent efforts include analyses of the impact of structural adjustment reforms on input sectors (particularly in countries of the CFA franc zone), and studies of promising private sector and government initiatives to lower the cost of supplying inputs and other technology to farmers (Ethiopia, Mozambique, Kenya, Mali). Related research has been conducted on agricultural technology development and transfer, output marketing and market information systems, and synergies between cash and food crops. Field studies have been complemented with literature reviews on fertilizer response and profitability; technical aspects of the interactions between fertilizer use, organic matter, and soil quality; and seed sector development.

OBJECTIVE: Host country and donor policy makers are currently revisiting the important question of how to develop realistic and sustainable strategies for improving agricultural input markets in Africa. To help inform this discussion, the objective of this policy synthesis is to review key conclusions from Food Security Project research, and outline findings about major challenges ahead. More detailed results of these research efforts are summarized in a number of policy syntheses and research papers available from MSU and USAID (see list of downloadable Policy Syntheses by subtopic in Table 1).

KEY CONCLUSIONS: Agricultural intensification (i.e., raising yields on fixed supplies of arable land) based on privately and socially profitable technology (organic and inorganic fertilizers, soil/water conservation technologies, improved seeds, pesticides, and animal traction) is essential if rural incomes are to rise and Africa is to feed its rapidly growing population without destroying the natural environment.

firms. Supported by direct and indirect subsidies, such activities frequently succeeded in boosting input use and marketed output, until budgetary deficits made them unsustainable. Subsequent structural reforms led to the removal of fertilizer subsides and the withdrawal of government from input distribution.


* Funding for much of this research was provided by the Food Security and Productivity Unit of the Productive Sector Growth and Environment Division, Office of Sustainable Development, Africa Bureau, USAID (AFR/SD/PSGE/FSP). The research was conducted under the Food Security II Cooperative Agreement between AID/Global Bureau, Office of Agriculture and Food Security, and the Department of Agricultural Economics at Michigan State University. The views expressed in this document are exclusively those of the authors.

The authors are all associated with the Department of Agricultural Economics at Michigan State University.