Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Not Your Usual Green Revolution: What’s Different for Africa?

The Green Revolution was successful because it enabled solitary subsistence farmers, often struggling to get enough food on the table, to become a part of integrated, commercial farm and food systems that raised incomes, increased food security and improved nutrition. As we strive to promote a similar and more sustainable transformation across Africa, we need to keep in mind that today’s transformations are different for several reasons:

  • Real prices of staple crops are about one-third of what they were prior to the Green Revolution, and fruits, vegetables and livestock are of increasing importance.
  • Food chains are longer now, with greater value added and hence more opportunity for transformation post-farm.
  • The demographics are now different, with a youth “bulge” in South Asia and a youth “explosion” in Africa.
  • Moving poor farmers into cities with high wages and good public services is difficult, and contemporary developing cities are challenged to provide either.
  • The changes in climate that we are already seeing present an entirely new challenge that wasn’t evident during the Green Revolution, requiring more resilient and sustainable agricultural and post-farm practices.

What will drive today’s agricultural transformation:

  • On the farm, increased productivity remains essential, but so is commercializing smallholder agriculture, ensuring the greatest value for smallholders relative to their investments in agriculture.
  • Beyond the farm, it’s about providing access to healthy foods for urban and rural consumers, creating rural jobs so that rural households don’t rely solely on agriculture for their incomes, providing youth opportunities to gain financial and human capital through rural and farm work experience and ensuring services that support urban growth, including of small cities and towns.
  • Not all transformations will be the same: The different paths taken by Brazil and Nigeria each led to notable agricultural achievements but also left some problems unsolved.

How do we support a successful transformation? The answer lies, partly, in the eye of the beholder.

  • If you believe that the biggest challenge we face over the next 35 years is to produce enough food for a hungry world, then you may want to encourage large-scale, mechanized staple-crop farming.
  • If you believe that agricultural transformation should also benefit poor households, then your vision of success may emphasize small-scale, sustainable rural communities.
  • If you believe that the sixth Great Extinction will dramatically restructure human lifestyles, then you might want transformation that preserves biodiversity. 
  • If you believe that the biggest threat to your children’s well-being is global climate change, then you may be interested in transforming agricultural and rural ecologies to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
  • If you believe that megacities may be unsustainable, facing growing slums and increasing inability to provide basic public services, or that concentrating under-employed youth in urban areas is destabilizing, then you may wish to promote planned, green towns in rural settings.

Where does this leave us? First, it leaves us with a better conception of the complexity of food security and development, issues that engage multiple stakeholders within countries as well as externally. Second, it begs for a process to increase, coordinate and align stakeholder investments, actions and policies in agriculture and food systems. And this process is emerging — stay tuned for more on the process of mutual accountability coming up next week!!