Reading: Farming Systems and Poverty


Building on the discussion in Chapter 1 of the global trends influencing farming system evolution, this section provides an overview of common trends affecting
most farming systems in the region. These are discussed under the headings of population, hunger and poverty; natural resources and climate; science and technology; trade liberalisation and market development; policies, institutions and public goods; and information and human capital.
Population, hunger and poverty
The population of Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to increase by 78 percent in the coming three decades. This is considerably faster than the projected growth rate for developing countries as a whole. During this 30 year period, the rural population is projected to increase by 30 percent, and the agricultural component is expected to expand by a slightly lower proportion, moderated by growing urbanisation. Urban population – currently 33 percent – is expected to rise to 50 percent of the overall total by 2030. Sub-Saharan Africa is unique in that rapid urbanisation has been occurring during a period of economic contraction. HIV/AIDS has already depressed population growth rates in many East and Southern African countries and is causing immense suffering; infection rates are already rising in West Africa. If HIV spreads faster than expected, East and Southern Africa could experience an extremely sharp contraction of the labour force in the prime working age group (although with the exception of South Africa Urban and peri-urban agriculture are often referred to collectively. Whilst urban agriculture refers to production inside city (including suburban) limits, there are many definitions of the outer boundary of peri-urban agriculture. In this book, farmers outside the boundaries of cities and towns are included in the corresponding farming system.

See United Nations Population Division (2000) for an analysis of the demographic impact of AIDS.

net populations growth will continue), a corresponding rise in dependency ratios, and an increase in the number of AIDS orphans requiring assistance. Already, traditional social safety nets are unable to cope with the existing orphans. The cost to the economy – in loss of productive labour, medical costs and orphan support – is likely to be overwhelming. Up to the present time, the farming systems most affected have been the Highland Perennial and the Maize Mixed Systems, but the Large-scale Commercial and Smallholder System has also lost much of its skilled supervisory labour force. Because labour requirements for cassava are more evenly spread throughout the year than they are for cereals, farmers try to cope by expanding the area under cassava and reducing the area under cereals. In the Highland Perennial System, neglect of coffee and bananas is partly due to AIDSrelated labour shortages. Moreover, HIV/AIDS is adversely affecting government staff and private agricultural service providers. Staff turnover is so high that much of the investment in human capacity building by agricultural projects, including overseas training, may have been wasted. During the past 30 years the number of undernourished people in the region has increased substantially, to an estimated 180 million people in 1995-1997. During 1995-1997, the average daily Sub-Saharan African diet contained 2 188 kcal/person/ day compared with 2 626 in developing countries as a whole. It is estimated that 33 percent of the regional population was undernourished at this time, with a higher incidence of undernourishment found in rural areas than among urban dwellers. During the period until 2030, the average energy intake is projected to increase by 18 percent to 2 580 kcal/person/day. In spite of the increased calorie supply, it is estimated that around 15 percent of the population (about 165 million people) will still be undernourished – an increase in the absolute number – unless
deliberate measures are taken to ensure better access to food. The region has a higher proportion of people living in dollar poverty than any other region of the world. Across the whole region, rural poverty still accounts for 90 percent of total poverty and approximately 80 percent of the poor still depend on agriculture or farm labour for their livelihood. Of even more concern, the total number of poor people is increasing.

Natural resources and climate
Currently, forest covers approximately 400 million ha (almost 17 percent of land area). The current annual deforestation rate is 0.7 percent and the decline in forest area is expected to continue. The farming systems that are most closely linked with deforestation are: the Forest Based System; the Tree Crop System; the Root Crop System; and the Cereal-Root Crop Mixed System. Currently, the Maize Mixed, the Highland Perennial and the Highland Temperate Mixed Systems are experiencing particularly acute fuelwood shortages. Cultivated area has expanded from 123 million ha in 1961-1963 to 173 million ha (including annually cultivated land and permanent crops) in 1999. This represents a slow annual expansion of 0.73 percent mostly through conversion of forest and S U B – S A H A R A N A F R I C A grasslands and shortening of fallows. During the period until 2030, cultivated land is projected to expand even more slowly, but the actual rate of expansion will depend upon the future evolution of farming systems. The area affected by land degradation is increasing and the causes are complex. There are many aspects of land degradation; including soil erosion, soil compaction, reduced soil organic matter, declining soil fertility and soil biodiversity. Although land degradation is evident in a majority of farming systems, it is particularly notable in those such as the Highland Perennial and the Highland Temperate Systems where – in the absence of policy incentives for good land management – high population density places excessive pressure on land. The region has a moderate level of renewable water resources, but only two percent of the available resources are currently utilised for irrigation compared with 20 percent in the overall group of developing countries. Only 6.5 million ha are currently irrigated and during the period until 2030, projections suggest a slower expansion than the 2.1 percent per annum achieved during the past four decades.
As global warming accelerates the most affected farming systems are likely to be those in the arid, semiarid and dry subhumid areas18. The increasing frequency and severity of droughts are likely to cause: crop failure; high and rising cereal prices; low and falling livestock prices; distress sale of animals; decapitalisation, impoverishment, hunger, and eventually famine. Households will probably try to cope with their cash and food shortage by cutting and selling firewood – thereby exacerbating land degradation and accelerating the onset of desertification – and by moving temporarily or permanently to more favoured areas. Conflicts between sedentary farmers and pastoralists will become more common as a result. The Forest Based System, on the other hand, might benefit from reduction of excess moisture, but it is likely to face a population influx from neighbouring areas. The new settlers will cut and clear the forest to plant their crops – which might reduce beneficial effects of carbon sequestration by tropical forests. With increased population pressure, fallow periods would decline, making it progressively more difficult for farmers to maintain soil fertility and to control noxious weeds. Not only could yields fall, but biodiversity could also suffer.

Works Cited:

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