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Seven papers unpick debates on African agriculture and rural development

To mark World Food Day, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), have launched the first seven of 12 new papers addressing agricultural and rural development debates in sub-Saharan Africa.

T.S. Jayne, Ferdinand Meyer and Lulama Ndibongo Traub investigate 'megatrends' such as rising food and energy prices, climate change, urbanisation and demographic transitions that are shaping African economic, political and social landscapes. They discuss how policy choices will influence each of four plausible scenarios for African food systems, and argue that the state can play a major role to engage the public in determining what a 'good society' looks like.

Douglas Gollin asks what type of investment is best for the viability of smallholder systems. He concludes that the implications for development policy are not straightforward, as the priorities vary across and within countries due to the highly heterogeneous nature of the smallholder sector.

Felicity J. Proctor discusses emerging policy implications for economic diversification in rural sub-Saharan Africa. She explores the potential of bringing rural and urban development policies together, ideally within a territorial or regional development framework, to strengthen the market and service linkages between rural and urban areas.

David Booth investigates the scope for reforming African agricultural policy choices. While recognising the difficulties that many countries face in developing the agricultural policies they need to transform their economies, he encourages policymakers to abandon 'pessimistic' political-economy diagnostics. Instead he provides evidence that social and economic reforms can be achieved 'against the odds' when local actors are empowered to pursue a politically smart, entrepreneurial approach.

Henry Bernstein and Carlos Oya distinguish different approaches to markets that affect rural sub-Saharan Africa. They propose a political economy approach as an effective way to grasp the complex social dynamics of 'real markets', the subsequent class differentiation of 'small farmers' and how this affects rural 'livelihood diversification'.

Andrew Dorward and Ephraim Chirwa review the changing paradigms, politics and theories associated with input subsidy programmes. Their paper discusses how such programmes can improve and realise their potential to deliver major benefits to smallholder farmers and wider economies.

Towela Nyirenda-Jere and John Kazembe look at the role of knowledge management and information and communications technologies (ICTs). They conclude that the capacity to collect and analyse locally-relevant data for policymaking is still low and the linkages between ICTs, knowledge management and policymaking are not yet well established.

Read the original full article written by Barbara Adolph and Laura Silici and published on IIED blogs.