Agricultural Productivity

Most food-deficit countries allocate a large proportion of their domestic food production to food consumption, since a very small share of domestic consumption is provided by imports. Agricultural products are also a very important source of foreign exchange earnings to support the growing need for imports. Agricultural production growth depends on the availability and quality of resources. And in low-income, food-deficit countries, this means land and labor because of limited use of new technologies.

In many low-income countries, most increases in agricultural output have resulted from area expansion. In Sub-Saharan Africa, area expansion accounted for more than 80% of the region's grain output growth during the last two decades. This means that yield growth contributed to less than 20% of the growth. In Latin America, area expansion accounted for about two-thirds of the growth in grain production. In Asia, the reverse was true. Gains in yields contributed to nearly all growth experienced in the region's grain output.

The long-term prospects for acreage expansion are not good, because in most countries, much of the land that could be used for farming is unfit to cultivate without major investment. In Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, continued expansion of cropland means converting range and forestland to crop production, a process with high economic and environmental costs. The FAO estimates that about half of the land that could be used to produce food in Sub-Saharan Africa has poor quality soils (FAO, 1993). Sub-Saharan Africa has a vast and diverse land area, but the region faces a number of resource constraints, such as lack of water, that would ensure sustainable agricultural growth (Ingram and Frisvold, 1994). Some countries, such as Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have vast areas of rainfed land with crop potential, while other countries such as Kenya and Madagascar have already exhausted their high-potential land.

Demographic changes are placing increased pressure on land in the Sub-Saharan region. More than 20% of all vegetative land is degraded due to human causes. However, water and wind erosion still account for most of the degradation on affected ha. Much of this degraded area is in the Sahel, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and southern Africa. Historically, farmers adjusted to resource constraints by following several years of planting with several fallow years. However, population pressures have reduced the practice of these sustainable agricultural techniques, leading to declines in land productivity.

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