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Awakening Africa’s Sleeping Giant? The Potentials and the Pitfalls

PB-036In 2009 the World Bank published a report entitled Awakening Africa’s Sleeping Giant: Prospects for Commercial Agriculture in the Guinea Savannah Zone and Beyond. The report highlights the agricultural potential of Africa’s Guinea Savannah (henceforth GS) zone, which it describes as “one of the largest underused agricultural land reserves in the world” (p2). It argues that the time has come for this potential to be realized, noting the strengthening demand for agricultural commodities both in world markets and within Africa, where population growth, rising incomes and urbanization are driving demand for staple foods as well as for livestock and hor ticultural products. Macroeconomic and sectoral (taxation) policies are also increasingly favourable to agricultural investment within Africa.

The report draws lessons from post-1960 agricultural development experiences in two other regions once considered low potential agricultural areas, but now home to agricultural export industries of global importance: the Brazilian cerrado, where production is dominated by large-scale farmers, and the Northeast Region of Thailand, where production is dominated by smallholders. It recognises that considerable challenges will have to be overcome if Africa’s GS zone is to emulate their success and also that such success could be accompanied by some adverse environmental and possibly social impacts. However, it argues that, with adequate planning and policy, the worst of these eff ects can be mitigated. Priorities for public intervention thus include: land policies that protect property rights in an equitable manner; investments in agricultural research, education and infrastructure; institutions to promote smallholder access to markets and services (including fi nance), and enhanced environmental monitoring and management. With these in place, “opportunities abound for farmers in Africa to regain international competitiveness, especially in light of projected stronger demand in world markets for agricultural commodities over the long term” (p2).

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