22 February 2014

An FAO report on 10 African countries shows that existing agricultural policies do not give an effective priority to the improvement of food security

In the framework of its project on Monitoring African Food and Agricultural Policies (MAFAP), FAO recently published an interesting report on agricultural policies in 10 countries in Africa (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda). The project is funded by the Gates Foundation and seeks to assist countries in establishing a sustainable system for monitoring food and agricultural policies in Africa that, on the one hand, analyses incentives (or disincentives) provided by these policies to agents operating in food and agricultural value chains and, on the other hand, checks the consistency of these policies with public expenditure in favour of agriculture. The final goal of the project is for the information generated by the system to feed into the food and agricultural policy debate of the concerned countries and thus contribute to improve the consistency between objectives of governments and their policies and public expenditure.

What can we learn from reading this excellent report about agricultural policies in the 10 countries covered by the project? Four main ideas illustrate well what is really going on the field of food and agriculture:

  1. Between 2005 and 2010, policies implemented and the way markets operated have contributed to depress by 10% the prices paid to producers for their products. The disincentives given to producers by these policies are diminishing, although it is difficult to know whether this change is sustainable

  2. In contrast, agents operating in food and agricultural value chains (traders and processors) are often the beneficiaries of the existing situation, although the way the markets operates and the processing technologies used contribute to the technical and economic inefficiency of these value chains. It is likely that this inefficiency is mainly the result of the use of obsolete processing technology, the opacity of markets and the excessif power of negotiations traders have when buying commodities from producers.

  3. Most countries have adopted price policies favourable to consumers that aim to keep food prices low. It is important to remember that the period of 2005-2010 on which the analysis focuses, is a moment when agricultural prices have soared [read more on the food crisis since 2007]. It is not surprising that consumers have been given priority by governments, as this is a historical trend in policies adopted in poor countries [read more on this topic]

  4. In the five countries where public expenditure was analysed in details by the project (Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, Tanzania and Uganda) governments have used it to partly compensate depressed producer prices by supporting farmers and encouraging them to produce more. This support was provided through subsidising inputs, mainly fertiliser and improved seeds, in Eastern African countries, and equipment and irrigation in West African countries. Relatively little was done for research and extension, particularly in the two West African countries, or even for infrastructure and transport which however is widely considered as a major constraints in the concerned countries.

These results are not really surprising to those of you who regularly read!

They confirm that:

  1. Most producers have a relatively limited access to the market and they find themselves in a weak position compared to other agents who control it and make profit by capturing the incentives provided by policies in place

  2. The policies implemented by governments mostly aim to protect urban consumers and promote production through subsidies to ‘‘green revolution’’ type of agricultural technologies that are based on an extensive use of inputs, equipment and irrigation.

Considering that inputs, equipment and irrigation are generally inaccessible to the majority of small producers who are also the main victims of undernourishment in Africa, it is quite obvious that policies applied do not help to effectively improve the food security situation of the majority of the population. It is also clear that there will be a need to change fundamentally these policies to really address the issue of undernourishment in Africa and be in tune with the recommandations of the NEPAD Agency as spelled out in its latest report Agriculture in Africa - Transformation and Outlook. [read our critical review of this report]

Future reports of FAO’s MAFAP project are eagerly expected: they should focus on more countries in Africa, and soon, it is hoped, in other regions as well.


To know more:

  1. -Read the MAFAP report 2013.pdf and consult the MAFAP project website that presents a series of interesting technical reports and notes

  2. -On the combat against hunger in Africa: Africa commits to eliminate hunger by 2025: will priority be given to a sustainable family agriculture?

  3. -On exclusion: Exclusion

  4. -On irrigation: The ‘‘all-out irrigation’’ strategy has led to a fragile, wasteful and inegalitarian system

  5. -Seven principles for ending hunger sustainably


For food and agricultural policies to change, do not forget to sign the petition: Hunger, crime against humanity


Last update:    February 2014

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