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Can Sustainable Agriculture Feed Africa? New Evidence on Progress, Processes and Impacts

Abstract

Africa faces enormous food security challenges. Most commentators agree that, despite the complexities of food insecurity, there will have to be increases in food production from existing agricultural land. Most, too, are pessimistic about the future, judging likelihood of success on the basis of past performance of ‘modern’ agricultural development. Sustainable agriculture, though, offers new opportunities, by emphasising the productive values of natural, social and human capital, all assets that Africa either has in abundance or that can be regenerated at low financial cost.

This paper sets out an assets-based model of agricultural systems, together with a typology of eight improvements that are currently in use in sustainable agriculture projects. In the 45 projects/initiatives spread across 17 countries that are investigated, some 730,000 households have substantially improved food production and household food security. In 95% of the projects where yield increases were the aim, cereal yields have improved by 50–100%. Total farm food production has increased in all. The additional positive impacts on natural, social and human capital are also helping to build the assets base so as to sustain these improvements in the future.

This analysis indicates that sustainable agriculture can deliver large increases in food production in Africa. But spreading these to much larger numbers of farm households will not be easy. It will require substantial policy, institutional and professional reform.

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Pretty, J. Can Sustainable Agriculture Feed Africa? New Evidence on Progress, Processes and Impacts. Environment, Development and Sustainability 1, 253–274 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1010039224868

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1010039224868

  • natural capital
  • social capital
  • sustainable agriculture