Dave Harris is a senior advisor at the world agroforestry centre (ICRAF), who generate scientifically based knowledge on the direct and indirect benefits of agriculture.
During the seminar, Dave aimed to provide insight into the question “Is it feasible to grow one’s way out of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa?”. This was then broken down into two other questions:
- Do we have the technology to enable rural households to do things better?
- If it is better, how much better?
One of the aims of ICRAF is to persuade rural households to manage land better, but what is better? Do we want them to manage the land more profitably, productively, sustainably or equitably?
The DryDEV project studies 5 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Part of the project allows the research centre to calculate the returns to land needed to reach a poverty line, at an internationally accepted value of consumption at <$1.90 pppd.
Whilst deciding how the households can manage their land better several assumptions are also made:
- Farmers want to spend time and money on their land to intensify agriculture
- The rural households progress towards prosperity is only limited by the productivity of its land.
- There are no differences in farming ability, everybody is great at it.
- No other job choices, therefore Gross returns = Net Returns.
However, many times this is not the case. A recent survey found nearly all small landowners also had other sources of income, and few wanted their children to be farmers.
But what are the benefits of intensifying agriculture? By changing the focus of the land from one product to another, the value of the farm can change meaning things can be better for the landowner, but in the grand scheme of things, it is not by much.
To answer the first question; Yes, we do have the technology to do things better, however, this technology is not attractive to rural households and doesn’t out compete opportunities off farm.
A Meta-analysis showed that, although there is a large percentage increase in revenue per year with better technology, small farms will not reach the returns required to escape poverty.
My opinions and how this will affect my future
This seminar forced me to think critically about how we in the developed world are “helping” developing countries. During much of this talk, it seemed that this project was happy to accept failure in the pursuit of this aim, instead of changing its focus once it has the evidence to say intensification wouldn’t be a feasible way out of poverty for most.
I feel I now wouldn’t be comfortable working for a company who aims are purely to eliminate poverty if it is clear that they are willing to continue with a lack of impact, just to show they are doing something. As a result of this, I would want to do intensive research into companies before working with them. I feel if an avenue has been shown to be ineffective, other areas should then be focused on.