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Why African governments under-invest in agriculture: results from an expert survey


  • Headey, Derek D.
  • Benson, Todd
  • Kolavalli, Shashidhara
  • Fan, Shenggen


Agricultural productivity growth is widely seen as an essential instrument of poverty reduction, food security and broader economic growth. Paradoxically, however, the agricultural sector is often neglected by African governments in what is often termed ‘urban bias’. This paper explores what appears to be a very contemporary form of urban bias: that despite open acknowledgement of the importance of agriculture, public expenditure allocations to the agricultural sector remain very low in Africa. An innovation of the paper is to go beyond the broad cross-country picture about why this might be the case to instead examine more complex country stories through the use of expert surveys. Specifically, we interview senior policymakers in ministries of agriculture, ministries of finance, planning authorities, and donor agencies, for two sub-Saharan African countries - Uganda and Ghana - in which agricultural expenditure shares have been very low since the structural adjustments of the 1980s. Expert opinions on this issue belie simplistic explanations of the neglect of agriculture, in that under-investment is attributed to a range of institutions and processes, including weak and inconsistent political leadership, ineffectual and organizationally dysfunctional ministries of agriculture, and budgetary processes that disadvantage both short term spending and long term planning in agriculture. The paper concludes with some novel policy implications from these results.

Suggested Citation

  • Headey, Derek D. & Benson, Todd & Kolavalli, Shashidhara & Fan, Shenggen, 2009. "Why African governments under-invest in agriculture: results from an expert survey," 2009 Conference, August 16-22, 2009, Beijing, China 51818, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:iaae09:51818
    DOI: 10.22004/ag.econ.51818

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David E. Sahn & Stephen D. Younger, 2004. "Growth and Poverty Reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa: Macroeconomic Adjustment and Beyond," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 13(1), pages 66-95, July.
    2. Christiaensen, Luc & Demery, Lionel & Kuhl, Jesper, 2006. "The role of agriculture in poverty reduction an empirical perspective," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4013, The World Bank.
    3. Anderson, Kym & Kurzweil, Marianne & Martin, Will & Sandri, Damiano & Valenzuela, Ernesto, 2008. "Measuring distortions to agricultural incentives, revisited," World Trade Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 7(4), pages 675-704, October.
    4. Bezemer, Dirk & Headey, Derek, 2008. "Agriculture, Development, and Urban Bias," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 36(8), pages 1342-1364, August.
    5. Birner, Regina & Palaniswamy, Nethra, 2006. "Financing Agricultural Development: The Political Economy of Public Spending on Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa," Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Berlin 2006 4, Verein für Socialpolitik, Research Committee Development Economics.
    6. Anderson, Kym & Kurzweil, Marianne & Martin, William J. & Sandri, Damiano & Valenzuela, Ernesto, 2008. "Methodology for Measuring Distortions to Agricultural Incentives," Agricultural Distortions Working Paper Series 48326, World Bank.
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    Cited by:

    1. Benin, Samuel & Makombe, Tsitsi & Johnson, Michael E., 2014. "Aid effectiveness in Ghana: How’s the L’Aquila food security initiative doing?:," IFPRI discussion papers 1359, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    2. Kolavalli, Shashidhara & Flaherty, Kathleen & Al-Hassan, Ramatu & Baah, Kwaku Owusu, 2010. "Do Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) Processes Make a Difference to Country Commitments to Develop Agriculture?," IFPRI discussion papers 1006, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    3. Brüntrup, Michael, 2011. "The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) – An Assessment of a Pan-African Attempt to Revitalise Agriculture –," Quarterly Journal of International Agriculture, Humboldt-Universitaat zu Berlin, vol. 50(1), pages 1-28.


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