Sustainable Rural Transformation in Africa


26.05.2020 - 27.05.2020

Participants of the conference "Sustainable Rural Transformation in Africa"
© Lisa Hoffmann

  • Thematic overview

    Africa’s rural areas are facing tremendous challenges including persistent poverty, demographic pressure, an eroding resource base, and climatic change. At the same time, the natural resources of the continent receive reinforced interest of foreign and domestic investors, acting either independently or in tandem. For example, since 2000, foreign investors alone have secured concessions for more than 10 million hectares of farmland in Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, many countries are experiencing an emerging medium-scale farming sector that is complicating the agrarian political economy. Agriculture competes for land to be used for pasture, housing and conservation and the increased pressure on resources is not limited to land, but extends to water, natural forests and mining resources. The increasing competition for resources affects the lives of rural populations in multiple ways. For example, the expansion of commercial land uses and the associated enclosures and land-use changes threaten local livelihoods, in particular, smallholder production, pastoralism and hunting and gathering activities. This is because land acquired by investors rarely lies idle and such acquisitions can directly deprive people of the foundations of their livelihoods. Further, huge negative external effects on natural environments may result from these processes. Land conversion may affect biodiversity-rich areas, particularly tropical forests, and intensified agricultural production often goes hand in hand with monocultures and heavily increased use of chemical inputs and water resources. The increased competition over land and the resulting land scarcity and dispossession of smallholders, pastoralists and other land users has resulted in increasing social differentiation and inequalities as well as social conflicts involving a range of protagonists and other actors within civil society and the state, which raise fundamental questions about citizenship. On the other hand, the commercialization of agricultural production can provide new opportunities, e.g. through increased productivity, out-grower schemes, wage employment and the upscaling of smallholder agriculture. These opportunities extend beyond agriculture and include the entire value chain of agro-processing, with ramifications for agrarian transformation. However, many of these opportunities have not yet been grasped and the terms and conditions of rural transformation have often not delivered sustainable livelihood outcomes. Instead they have exposed smallholders to the vicissitudes of global commodity markets. A sustainable transformation of rural Africa simultaneously addresses economic, social and environmental dimensions of the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals as well as the AU’s Agenda 2063. It fosters synergies and avoids or manages trade-offs between the different dimensions of agrarian transformation.


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