29 July 2009

False Choices in African Agriculture

The Guardian UK reports today on the need for people "on the ground" in Sub-Saharan Africa to have a greater say in determining how the G8's promised on aid to African farming, if it materialises, should be spent. The editorial contrasts this with a government top-down Global Fund approach to disbursement.

This is a classic case of false choices that plague development and African agriculture in particular. Smallholder farming or industrial? Conventional or biotech? High potential or low? Food crops or cash crops? The boring answer to all of these is (a) it depends on the context and evidence and (b) it is the wrong question anyway. These kinds of choices cannot be made at the gut level--they must be based on evidence--African Agriculture is about thousands of ecological niches and there is no one size fits all approach--not even smallholder agriculture. And there need to be portfolios and blends of approaches not eggs in one basket decisions.

On the G8 funding there needs to be rapid disbursement mechanisms which are transparent and accountable, but these also need to reflect preferences and realities on the ground. This potential divide is an age-old challenge in public policy and one we should be innovating to bridge, not lobbying to maintain.

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