Is a Green Revolution in the Works for Sub-Saharan Africa?February 1, 2008 By Rachel Weisshaar
“After decades of mistreatment, abuse, and exploitation, African farmers—still overwhelmingly smallholders working family-tilled plots of land—are awakening from a long slumber,” writes G. Pascal Zachary in the Winter 2008 issue of the Wilson Quarterly. In “The Coming Revolution in Africa,” Zachary argues that sub-Saharan Africa’s small-scale farmers—who constitute 60 percent of the region’s population—are making important gains that could transform them into key economic and political players in their countries.Several factors are contributing to the growth of sub-Saharan African agriculture, says Zachary, including:
- Rising prices for crops, including corn and coffee, partially due to the global ethanol boom;
- Growing use of modern agricultural techniques and products such as fertilizer, irrigation, mechanization, and improved seed varieties;
- Increasing urbanization, which frees up land in the countryside, creates consumers for crops, and links farmers to global markets; and
- African governments’ growing recognition of the crucial economic role played by small-scale farmers. “African governments seem likely to increasingly promote trade and development policies that advance rural interests,” says Zachary.
In addition, although Zachary’s optimism is refreshing, he is perhaps too dismissive of the serious challenges facing these farmers, which include climate change, water scarcity (especially as irrigation becomes more widespread), high population growth, lack of access to health care, weak land tenure laws, and civil strife. But with more global attention, better national and international policies, and more financial support, small-scale African farmers may indeed overcome these obstacles and help lead their countries out of poverty.