What is the Matter with African Agriculture?

by Henk Mutsaers and Paul Kleene


The views of forty veterans on sixty years of African agricultural development, published recently in book form, are analyzed against the background of René Dumont’s epochal publication “L’Afrique noire est mal partie.” Although some of Dumont’s opinions and recommendations are no longer valid, it is striking how many of them are as relevant today as they were fifty years ago. This paper reviews the recent history of agricultural development comparing Dumont’s visions and those of the veterans from a number of angles, viz. the all-important issue of the strengths and weaknesses of subsistence and family farming, the development pathways of the forest and savannah zones, and the disappointing adoption record of new technology during the past fifty years. Next, future prospects are reviewed, as well as the conditions for significant progress, in respect of land ownership, farmer organization, education in the widest sense, “chain development” and, perhaps most importantly, dedication, honesty and discipline at all levels. Finally, the often unfavorable role of international aid is reviewed and recent developments are highlighted, in particular the dangerous trend of massive land acquisition by “outside” parties.

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Henk Mutsaers holds a PhD degree in tropical agronomy. He has been based in several developing countries, including at IITA, Nigeria, where he developed the Institute’s support program for On-Farm Research. As a consultant for R&D he has carried out assignments in many African and Asian countries.

Paul Kleene is an agricultural economist trained at Wageningen University. He worked for KIT and CIRAD mainly in francophone West-Africa, where he continues to live. His fieldwork, former and current, concerns R&D on family farming and advice giving for which he developed the ‘Conseil à l’exploitation familiale’ method (CEF).