The RuralStruc report on rural change in developing countries is presented to the World Bank (News item, 15/12/2011)
Interview with Bruno Losch, RuralStruc coordinator (ipar.sn website)
07/02/2012 - Article
Despite 25 years of liberalization, the structure of the economies of sub-Saharan Africa has changed very little, and agriculture is still a major lever for change. This was pinpointed by a wide-ranging study, RuralStruc, which compared the situation of rural households and the role of agriculture in seven countries in Africa and Latin America. Voluntarist policies are the key to agricultural growth and rural diversification, and provide a way out of poverty. The report is available on line.
The rural economies of the world's poorest countries are still weighed down by an agriculture that is primarily geared towards self-consumption, and is largely unaffected by global economic restructuring. These observations resulted from surveys conducted by RuralStruc, a vast research programme implemented by the World Bank, co-funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and French aid, with substantial support from CIRAD researchers. Through surveys of 8000 families in seven countries (Mexico, Nicaragua, Morocco, Senegal, Mali, Kenya and Madagascar), RuralStruc conducted an in-depth analysis of the socioeconomic reality in 26 rural areas. That reality is still largely reliant on agriculture, since 93% of the families surveyed had farms.
Recurrent rural poverty
The programme began in 2006, when the Doha cycle negotiators were debating the possible consequences of liberalizing global trade to stimulate development in poor countries. The WTO's aims are now far from front-page. However, RuralStruc's results have put decision-makers face to face with reality: despite the wide range of local situations, poverty is widespread, and particularly severe in sub-Saharan Africa, where 70 to 80% of households have a daily per capita income well below two dollars PPP (purchasing power parity). And that result is generally pushed upwards by just a handful of families that are doing a little better. The proportion of households below the $2 threshold is between 30 and 40% in Morocco and Nicaragua, in slightly more favourable situations, and drops to 10% in %Mexico, the most advanced country in the sample in terms of rural change. As the RuralStruc report stresses, in such situations of poverty, minimizing the risks and striving for food security through food crop production and self-consumption are the rule.
Integration into the global economy is struggling to reach smallholders
The surveys also revealed rural realities that were generally far from the "supermarket revolution" and the development of contractualization between firms and producers that is often highlighted in the literature. Farmers' anti-risk strategies and the often difficult access to global markets account for the importance of food crops – primarily cereals and tubers – in the choices made by producers: they account for between 65 and 80% of the gross agricultural product of the households surveyed in sub-Saharan Africa. Access to global markets, when possible, is primarily via traditional export chains (cotton, groundnut, coffee), which have developed over the years and make use of traditional marketing circuits. High added value exports are generally highly localized, linked to specialist operators, and consequently concern only a small proportion of farms. Food product markets on a national and sub-regional level are still the most accessible, and benefit from strong, sustained demand. Their development, which overcomes the obstacle of the risks for producers, is crucial for innovation and rural diversification.
Jobs, the biggest challenge for Africa
The study revealed a factor specific to Africa, the increase in the number of young workers, linked to the stage of demographic transition reached. The number of young people arriving on the labour market each year, which is currently put at 17 million for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, will reach 25 million by 2025, ie a cumulated labour supply of some 330 million within the next fifteen years (the equivalent of the current population of the United States), including some 200 million in rural areas. With of workers still involved in agriculture, the employment alternatives in other sectors are relatively limited in the short and medium term (the strong urbanization seen in Africa has not been combined with industrialization). Over and above its production function, the agricultural sector will have to generate more activities and income, and job creation needs to be made a compulsory criterion in agricultural development choices. This means favouring family agriculture, which accounts for the vast majority of agricultural jobs, and making any incentives granted to the business sector subject to fulfilment of the criteria set down in terms of jobs.
Reinvesting in development strategies in response to structural challenges
Voluntarist policies have to foster an increase in agricultural income by improving productivity and ensuring better market access. Agricultural income is the key to rural demand and to the necessary diversification beyond agriculture. However, current poverty levels call for massive investment in infrastructures, training and innovation, market functioning and regional integration, whose coherence needs to be ensured through appropriate development strategies. For too long, overall approaches have been overlooked in favour of insufficiently coordinated sectorial approaches. One of the main recommendations made by the RuralStruc programme is precisely the implementation of territorial approaches, which are the appropriate level for identifying the opportunities for and constraints on economic development and, crucially, for defining priorities. One of those priorities is to build the role of small towns and rural villages, which is necessary in order to strengthen the links between town and country, a key factor in rural diversification.
This report is the result of a substantial amount of research conducted in partnership with seven national teams that gathered and analysed data and participated in discussions of the programme's results, in their own countries and internationally. It is due to be published shortly in English, as part of the Africa Development Forum series (co-published by the World Bank and the AFD), and subsequently translated into French.
The main results of the programme have already served as a source of references for the 2010 IFAD Rural Poverty Report. They have also been presented to the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development, and are being used directly to develop Rural Futures, a recent NEPAD (African Union) initiative.