Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa (PEAPA)

Debates on the appropriate role for the state in stimulating agricultural development should be linked to an assessment of the capacity and willingness of the state to implement particular policies in particular country contexts.

The Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa (PEAPA) project proceeds from the following insights:

  • it is a country’s political system which generates the incentives (strong or weak) for the state to take action to promote agricultural development;
  • this political system also influences the type of development promoted (for example, smallholder or large farm based).

Drawing on insights from existing work, plus wider political economy literature (often not specifically focused on agriculture), the PEAPA project aims to develop, refine and illustrate a political economy framework for understanding the sorts of policies and investments for agricultural development that are “politically feasible” in different country contexts.


This framework will:

  • explain how the functioning of the political system affects agricultural policy and investment in economies where agriculture still provides employment for a large proportion of the population, linking this to ongoing processes of democratisation;
  • show how distinctive features (social, political, institutional and agro-ecological) of individual African countries influence the incentives for agricultural policy making and implementation, thus leading to divergent “politically feasible” policy sets in different country contexts. This will help us move away from broad generalisations about either the capacity of African states or appropriate agricultural policy in policy dialogues.

Key questions

  • What determines which policies and investments for agricultural development are “politically feasible” in different country contexts?
  • How might political economy factors influence how donors can engage most usefully in agricultural policy in different country contexts?
  • How might political economy factors influence the outcome of CAADP processes in different country contexts?
  • How do political economy factors constrain the policy and investment options to promote the commercialisation of smallholder agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa?

The project has adopted a comparative case study approach, with work for each phase being undertaken in eight African countries: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Project Phases

PEAPA Phase 1: Democratisation and the Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa

The first phase of work (2011-12) sought to understand how the nature of political systems affects the incentives that state agencies face to invest in supporting growth of smallholder agriculture.

Particular attention was paid to the provision of infrastructural and institutional public goods, given their importance to smallholder agricultural growth, and to the impact of democratisation, given that in most of the focus countries the majority of the electorate live in rural areas, and rural voters might be expected to exchange their votes for better agricultural policies. However, policies are not the only means by which African politicians compete for votes: provision of local public goods, local private goods and recourse to various forms of social and political control are equally important. Indeed, democratisation appears to have had limited impact on the provision of public goods necessary to support smallholder agriculture. By contrast, stronger incentives for such investment were observed in countries (most notably Ethiopia and Rwanda) where political competition remains restricted, but the regimes face significant threats to their survival in the medium term, which motivates them to deliver development outcomes that could reduce support for opposing groups and strengthen their own legitimacy.

PEAPA Phase 2: Has CAADP made a difference?

The second phase of work (2012) will explore how the contrasting political incentives identified in the first phase have influenced the eight countries’ engagement with the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). Case studies will explore both the nature of a country’s engagement with the CAADP process and the impact (“value added”) of CAADP on agricultural policy and politics.

CAADP is a continent-wide initiative that has its roots in the 2003 Maputo Declaration of African heads of state. As such, it has strong African political ownership. However, because of its common approach applied across countries, the role ascribed to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and regional economic communities (RECs) within the CAADP process and the high level of donor support in recent years, at country level it can still be experienced as an “external” intervention.

In this way, cross-country analysis of the experience and impacts of the CAADP process also allows the project to explore the validity of its assumption of the “primacy of domestic politics” in agricultural policy making in Africa.