Growing one’s way out of Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa: Feasible or not? -28/10/2016
Presented by Dave Harris – Bangor University, World Agroforestry Centre Nairobi
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:
- The key limiting factor for rural households is farm productivity
- 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.
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 $1.90 PDI.
The Intensification Benefit Index is used as an indicator of this, and is calculated by:
Mean 2PDI = Farm Size (ha) x Net or Gross Return ($/ha/year) 365 x Household Size
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.
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.
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.
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.