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An African Green Revolution: Finding Ways to Boost Productivity

According to the recent World Development Report, most of Sub-Saharan Africa’s poor live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. However, productivity has stalled or declined in many African communities. On average, cultivated land per worker has declined in Sub-Saharan Africa by about 40 percent since the 1960s and valued added per worker now averages around 12 percent below 1980 levels. This study aims to further an understanding of why farms in Sub-Saharan Africa are generally less productive than farms in other regions and to suggest priority policies and investment to accelerate agricultural growth. In particular, the project will try to distinguish the effects of immutable agro-climate factors from the conditioning effects of markets and household characteristics on technology choice. This distinction is important since basic agricultural research determines the range of feasible technologies available for a particular combination of soils and climate, while economic factors are potentially influenced by a separate set of policies and their interaction with public investments.

By taking advantage of newly developed databases assembled in part to study the effects of climate change and detailed case studies of technology choices based on surveys of farm households and communities in Asia and Africa, the research will explore three related hypotheses: 1) on-farm technology choice is largely determined by natural endowments – that is, once soils, climates, water availability and related pests and diseases are taken into account, the technologies that farmers use tend to be optimal; 2) technology adoption is largely explained by institutions, policy and public investment – that is, for most places in Africa, there are a number of existing technologies that would improve productivity and profitability that are not adopted because of weak property rights, poor security conditions and weak supporting markets, especially for fertilizer; 3) weak knowledge systems explain low-productivity technology choices – that, because farming households in Africa are poorly educated, they are unable or unwilling to adopt existing technologies that are more profitable.

The study is a collaborative effort between researcher teams managed by Robert Mendelsohn (Yale University); Keijiro Otsuka, (FASID); Xiaobo Zhang (IFPRI); and Donald Larson (World Bank,


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