The Hardest Case
What Blocks Improvements in Agriculture in Africa?
Robert L. Paarlberg
Progress in ending hunger has been slower in Africa than in any other world region.
Food consumption deficits in sub-Saharan Africa are large, and it is expected they will
continue to grow. In 2010 the Economic Research Service (ERS) at the US Department
of Agriculture (USDA) constructed estimates and projections of the numbers of
food-insecure people in seventy different developing countries, with food insecurity
defined as consumption of less than 2,100 calories per day per person (Shapouri et al.
2010). The ERS estimated that in 2010, approximately 390 million Africans, or nearly
half the people in the region, were consuming less than this nutritional target. Under
a baseline projection, without any significant increase in investment or any changes in
historical trends for major indicators, this total number of food-insecure Africans was
expected to increase to reach 513 million by 2020, which would be more than half of the
region's projected population of 1 billion.
Under this baseline scenario, the region's food security position will also deterio-
rate relative to the other regions. In 2020, according to ERS projections, the region will
account for only 27 percent of the population of the seventy countries, but it will hold
59 percent of all the food-insecure people in these countries. Africa, then, is the one part
of the world where solutions to hunger have been most elusive. For those who study the
politics of food and farming in search of attainable remedies to hunger, Africa remains
the hardest case to solve.
What is the source of Africa's severe and still-worsening food crisis? A number of
compounding factors must be considered, including difficult demographics, a disad-
vantageous geography for many countries on the continent, multiple damages done
under colonial rule, and a continuing postcolonial indifference toward agricultural
development in Africa from the international donor community. Still, the largest part
of the problem today reflects a failure of governance within Africa itself. Too often since
their independence, national governments in Africa have failed to provide public goods
at the national level that are essential to agricultural development, including internal