Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Scientific Smallholder Intensification in the Short Africa

Michael Lipton and C. Peter Timmer won the 2012 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought from the Global Development And Environment Institute at Tufts University. Lipton gave his acceptance talk on "Income from Work: The Food-Population-Resource Crisis in the 'Short Africa."' Here is a sampling of his remarks (footnotes excluded):

What is the "Short Africa"?
"'Africa' in this talk is 'the short Africa': excluding N Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius and South Africa. All these are sharply distinct from the rest of Africa environmentally, agriculturally and economically, and generally well ahead in mean income; poverty reduction; growth; farming (irrigation, fertilizer, seeds); and demographic transition. The short Africa is itself highly diverse, but no more so than is India or China."

What's the demographic and economic  challenge for this region?
"Between 1950 and 2012, population in the 'short Africa' rose fivefold. It will more than double again in 2012-50 to 11.3 times its 1950 level. Workforces - people aged 15-65 - are rising faster still, thanks to better child survival and some fall in fertility. In 1985 sub-Saharan Africa had 106 people of prime working age for every 100 dependents. By 2012 there were 120; in 2050 there will be 196. That's a 63% rise in workers-per-dependent from now to 2050 - and a 3.5% rise each year in the number of people aged 15-64. In South and East Asia, a similar rise in workers-per-dependent proved a demographic window of opportunity, contributing about a third of the 'miracle' of growth and poverty reduction - because those extra workers found productive employment: first, in smallholdings, gaining from a green revolution and usually land redistribution; later, in industry and services, as farm transformation released workers. In 'the short Africa', will the swelling ranks of young workers produce Asian miracles - or worsening poverty, unemployment and violent unrest?"

Why smallholder farmers are of central importance. 
"Farming will decide in Africa, as it did in Asia. Farms remain the most important income and work source for over 2/3 of the short Africa's economically active - more among the young and the poor. This will change, but not fast."

More land under cultivation isn't the answer.
"Farmers' strategy of feeding themselves by land expansion - forced on them by insufficient public atten-tion to irrigation, fertilizer access and seed improvement - not only failed to maintain living standards: it has run out of steam and is, or is fast becoming, unsustainable in most of Africa. That is, farmland ex-pansion is inducing, or soon will induce, soil depletion that means net farmland loss."

Improvements in irrigation, fertilizer and seeds are a possible answer.
 In 'the short Africa', below 1% of cropland is irrigated (20-25% in S/E/SE Asia in 1965; 35-40% now). Below 2 kg/ha of main plant nutrients - nitrogen, phosphorus, potash - are applied (>150kg/ha
in S/E/SE Asia). ...  [F]ast yield growth without fertilizers and water-control is bricks without straw."

Summing up.
"'Scientific smallholder intensification' in Africa is no easy path to development. From global evidence, we know it's possible. Is it necessary? Initially, yes. Farm development is only the start of modernization away from agriculture; I'm no agricultural or smallholder fundamentalist. But I'm an income-from-work fundamentalist. 'The short Africa' by 2050 will have 2.3 times today's population - but 3.7 times today's 15-64-year-olds. They need an affordable initial path to workplaces giving income and respect. Other-wise, potential demographic dividend will become demographic disaster. But, with half the people still in severe poverty and States cash-strapped too, what initial path is 'affordable'? One, trodden elsewhere, is scientific intensification of smallholder farms. If there's an alternative, what is it?"