Whether smallholders are viable enough to meet the mounting demands of buyers is highly debated.
Photo: Ursula Meissner / giz
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Agricultural development has moved up the agenda. Today it has not only to reduce poverty and hunger, but also become environmentally sustainable and climate smart. Disputes over agricultural policies are highly visible, but consensus exists on fundamentals for growth. It is not just what to do that matters, but also how to do it. Increasingly, the search is not for optimal policy, but for ‘good fit’, or even ‘good-enough’ policy.

Ideas about agricultural development have changed in line with prevailing circumstances and ideas. In the 1950s industry was expected to lead economic development, with agriculture playing a supporting role. By the mid-1960s, however, fears that food production could not keep pace with rapid population growth led to promotion of the ‘green revolution’ that spread high-yielding varieties of cereals. The technical tour-de-force was backed up by equally impressive public investments in irrigation, roads, warehouses, fertiliser production and distribution, directed credit, agricultural extension and guaranteed prices.

The green revolution led to much larger cereals harvests, but as the threat of food shortages receded, interest in agricultural development declined. The ‘Washington Consensus’ that came to dominate development thinking from the early 1980s onwards prioritised macro-economic stability and free markets, with little attention to the specifics of particular sectors such as agriculture.

Since 2000, however, there has been a growing sense that agriculture has been unduly neglected, especially in Africa.

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