How Might Agriculture Develop in Southern Africa? Making Sense of Complexity

By Peter Draper, Sheila Kiratu, Tanja Hichert on June 24, 2009

The issues around food security and agriculture in Southern Africa are dynamic, complex, uncertain and difficult to address. This report is an attempt at understanding the current situation and the driving forces i.e. the underlying social, political, environmental and technological trends that will affect the future of agriculture in the region. It stems from a scenario planning exercise with regional partners that employed structured strategic conversations from multiple perspectives as a tool to identify critical uncertainties that affect food security and agriculture. The result is a report that identifies a range of threats, opportunities, trends and outcomes of Southern Africa's agricultural futures.

Key findings:

  • Increased investment in African agriculture is a medium term possibility, since historic underinvestment has been recognized by, inter alia, the World Bank and regional governments as a problem. Hence it is likely that - and assuming the liquidity crunch currently being experienced is relatively quickly overcome - more money will be made available.

  • The spread of supermarkets, with their concomitant cold chains, and the food manufacturers that add value to basic agricultural produce could be a major boost for regional agriculture if managed proactively, opportunistically and in the interests of regional agriculture.

  • Solving the problem of inefficient internal markets in the region substantially depends on securing sufficient investment in infrastructure.

  • There may be opportunities arising from investment relocation if the developed world and major developing countries adopt serious climate mitigation policies. Therefore, it is possible that a virtuous investment cycle could ensue in the medium term. But, clearly, there are many dangers inherent in this path, not least climate protectionism in those same developed country markets and the direct impacts of climate change on regional agriculture .

  • Genetically Modified Organisms seem to offer major potential for boosting agricultural yields and ‘climate proofing' crops hence the region would benefit from a serious, non-emotional debate about the costs and benefits of this technology, given its potential.

Key recommendations:

  • Given the region's land abundance and international interest in this, it is imperative that regional governments work out transparent and sustainable terms under which foreign governments and companies gain access to their land.

  • In addition to up scaling investment in infrastructure so as to promote agricultural trade in the region, national governments should establish regional trading arrangements that connect surplus regions with deficit regions.

  • Long term planning for existing subsidy programmes (e.g. Malawi) may not be optimal. Malawi seems to have successfully invested in input subsidies to boost domestic agricultural production. While there are some concerns about the fiscal sustainability of this programme (currently it is donor funded), it is nonetheless an intriguing model for the region to explore.

Report details

IISD, 2009