Seminar #2: Unlikely feasible to grow oneself out of poverty

Growing one’s way out of Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa: Feasible or not? -28/10/2016

Dave Harris [Source: Bangor University]

                Presented by Dave Harris – Bangor University, World Agroforestry Centre Nairobi

The Seminar:

Dr. David Harris, Senior Research Fellow at SENRGY Bangor University and a Senior Adviser at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi presented a seminar explaining whether using advanced technology would benefit Sub-Saharan African farmers economically.

In an economic tense, increased PDI (income per person per day) means increased prosperity. The target of $1.90 PDI (income per person per day) has been created, referred to as the Poverty Line.

Developmental projects rely on two assumptions:

  1. The key limiting factor for rural households is farm productivity
  2. Farmers to allocate time and money to intensify farming

This encounters issues when farmers have other aspirations for careers.

There is also the issue that not all farms are the same size. Western African families tend to be larger and own larger farms, whilst Eastern African families tend to be smaller and own smaller farms.

Household characteristics (farm size, households in farms with an area of less than 2 hectares, household numbers, and number of hectares of farmland per person) for 5 Sub Saharan African countries; Kenya, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Berkina Faso [Source: Luke Fears]
As different households have varying costs, different returns per area of land are needed to reach the poverty line for different families, as is evident by the data collected for the number of households consuming more than $1.90 PDI.

Percentage of households consuming more than US$1.90 per day per person for 5 Sub Saharan African Countries [Source: Luke Fears]
The Intensification Benefit Index is used as an indicator of this, and is calculated by:

Mean 2PDI = Farm Size (ha) x Net or Gross Return ($/ha/year)                                                    365 x Household Size

Calculation of the Intensification Benefit Index, as based on the value of a US$ in USA as compared to its full value in Sub Saharan Africa [Source: Luke Fears]
Promoting crop technologies are seen as the main method to help increase PDIs, but this has some implications:

  • Whilst some base technologies lose landowners money, many advanced crop technologies provide large increases in PDI as a %, which is beneficial for larger farms, but offer little increase in returns for smallholder farms
  • These small gains give less incentive for owners of small lands to invest in technologies
  • This has resulted in very few-full time smallholder farm households, and multiple income streams being common, with much competition between the streams
  • In Kenya, hardly any parents (6%) wish their children to be farmers, or youths wish to be farmers (~11%)

To conclude the presentation, Dr. Harris stated that whilst the technology for improving farming intensity is available, it offers little incentive to smallholder farms as a result of its tiny actual effects on PDI, and is thus unattractive. Therefore, it is very unlikely that it is possible to grow one’s way out of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The percentage of households whose members would exceed a PDI value of $2 per person per day as a result of returns from agriculture, from 15 Sub Saharan African countries [Source: Luke Fears]
In the Q&A, Dr. Wilder stated that there haven’t been many changes in the usage of crop tech to end poverty, due to the status quo remaining the same as a lack of repercussions for these plans failing to work, thus no new techniques are worked on.

He concluded with his belief that working on poverty and economic gain shouldn’t be the main goal, but food security should be attained.


My Opinions:

I knew very little of the seminar’s subjects, so I found myself agreeing with all the points Dr. Harris made, especially with his concluding statement that food security should be of more importance than poverty. His reasoning behind why using farming technology has failed to reduce poverty made sense from my own judgements of the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa, and were backed up with sufficient data to prove his points.

Typical Sub Saharan African smallholder farming [Source: Food First]
Thoughts on how this affected my career choices:

Overall, this seminar had little to no effect on my career choices, as it does not involve any form of marine zoology, although it has slightly put me off working for developmental projects that will most likely be ineffective.

It did however display to me how research can be used to be actually useful, contrary to Seminar #1, and as such I feel encouraged to pursue a career in research.

Dr. David Harris’ Bangor University Staff Profile

World Agroforestry Centre Home Page

World Agroforestry Centre Facebook Page

World Agroforestry Centre Twitter Page


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