Countries that have developed successfully have shifted resources from agriculture to manufacturing. The Green Revolution benefited most regions of the world, particularly East Asia and the Pacific, where cereal yields quadrupled between 1960 and 1990. But Africa missed out on this and the continued lack of progress in agricultural productivity has been blamed for holding back the region’s overall economic growth.

So what can be done to boost African agricultural productivity? The eight factors below are drawn from ‘Transforming Africa’s Agriculture to Improve Competitiveness’ — an analysis by the African Development Bank in the World Economic Forum’s Africa Competitiveness Report 2015.

1. Develop high-yield crops
Increased research into plant breeding, which takes into account the unique soil types of Africa, is a major requirement. A dollar invested in such research by the CGIAR consortium of agricultural research centres is estimated to yield six dollars in benefits.

2. Boost irrigation
With the growing effects of climate change on weather patterns, more irrigation will be needed. Average yields in irrigated farms are 90% higher than those of nearby rain-fed farms.

3. Increase the use of fertilizers
As soil fertility deteriorates, fertilizer use must increase. Governments need to ensure the right type of fertilizers are available at the right price, and at the right times. Fertilizer education lessens the environmental impact and an analysis of such training programs in East Africa found they boosted average incomes by 61%.

4. Improve market access, regulations, and governance
Improving rural infrastructure such as roads is crucial to raising productivity through reductions in shipping costs and the loss of perishable produce. Meanwhile, providing better incentives to farmers, including reductions in food subsidies, could raise agricultural output by nearly 5%.

5. Make better use of information technology
Information technology can support better crop, fertilizer and pesticide selection. It also improves land and water management, provides access to weather information, and connects farmers to sources of credit. Simply giving farmers information about crop prices in different markets has increased their bargaining power. Esoko, a provider of a mobile crop information services, estimates they can boost incomes by 10-30%.

6. Adopt genetically modified (GM) crops
The adoption of GM crops in Africa remains limited. Resistance from overseas customers, particularly in Europe, has been a hindrance. But with Africa’s rapid population growth, high-yield GM crops that are resistant to weather shocks provide an opportunity for Africa to address food insecurity. An analysis of more than one hundred studies found that GM crops  reduced pesticide use by 37%, increased yields by 22%, and farmer profits by 68%.

7. Reform land ownership with productivity and inclusiveness in mind
Africa has the highest area of arable uncultivated land in the world (202 million hectares) yet most farms occupy less than 2 hectares. This results from poor land governance and ownership. Land reform has had mixed results on the African continent but changes that clearly define property rights, ensure the security of land tenure, and enable land to be used as collateral will be necessary if many African nations are to realise potential productivity gains.

8. Step up integration into Agricultural Value Chains (AVCs)
Driven partly by the growth of international supermarket chains, African economies have progressively diversified from traditional cash crops into fruits, vegetables, fish, and flowers. However, lack of access to finance and poor infrastructure have slowed progress. Government support, crucial to coordinate the integration of smallholder farmers into larger cooperatives and groups, may be needed in other areas that aid integration with wider markets..

The World Economic Forum on Africa 2015 takes place in Cape Town, South Africa from 3-5 June.

Author: Mark Jones, Commissioning Editor, The World Economic Forum Agenda

Image: A Rwandan tea picker works in a field at Mulindi estate, about 60 km (40 miles) north of the capital Kigali, August 5, 2010. Rwandan voters go to the polls in a presidential election on Monday. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly