In recognition of its role in promoting high quality research and capacity building, the Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP) has been invited, along with the African Development Bank (AfDB), Cornell University, the World Bank, and the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), to participate in the Structural Transformation of African Agriculture and Rural Spaces (STAARS) – a major African initiative promoting high quality research and capacity building for agricultural transformation as a key pathway to reduce poverty and promote inclusive growth and sustainable development on the continent.
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is rapidly urbanizing and enjoying accelerated economic growth compared to previous decades. Nonetheless, in many parts of SSA rural poverty rates remain high, and agricultural income and output growth rates are insufficient for significant poverty reduction. Despite overall macroeconomic growth and improved governance enjoyed broadly across the continent, farms remain small, many African smallholders still use few modern farming inputs (such as seeds, agro-chemicals and fertilizers), while widespread market failures hinder the optimal allocation of labor, land and other production factors.
The limited interest of the youth and the skilled and well-educated rural labor force in agriculture has also contributed to stagnation and lack of accelerated productivity change. Furthermore, fueled by rapid population growth and higher labor productivity in non-farm activities, this stagnation has prompted migration from rural areas and moves to employment in non-farm activities. This shift represents an important source of employment and income for rural households and contributes to structural transformation.
In the current policy and research environment, there is significant momentum behind developing and promoting improved agricultural technologies, however, policy has been slow to recognize the links between productivity growth in smallholder agriculture and the broader development of rural spaces. In order to develop policy interventions that promote a progressive structural transformation of African agriculture and ignite broad-based, inclusive, and sustainable income and productivity growth, policymakers need rigorous evidence on the causal factors that drive improvements in agricultural productivity and household well-being. The World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB) took a key first step in this direction through their Telling Facts from Myths project. The project generated preliminary descriptive analyses on various issues including modern inputs use, farm productivity, and market performance.
Building on this significant groundwork, the STAARS initiative aims to focus on direct engagement with policymakers and researchers in Africa, through active partnership with AfDB, World Bank, AERC, PEP, Cornell University and others. The broad goals of this partnership are to directly feed policy questions into economic research, build the capacity of young researchers on the continent, and generate and promote in-depth, rigorous research on the causal determinants of productivity, employment generation, income growth, financial inclusion, asset accumulation, and effective risk management in African agriculture and rural spaces.
Building on existing partnerships, PEP aims to further expand its activities and contribute to capacity building and policy relevant research on issues related to rural employment, dynamics of rural labor markets and effects on agricultural transformation and inclusive growth in Africa. Through this emerging collaboration, PEP will undertake the following activities:
- Engage key collaborating institutions to develop a larger grant project and support cutting-edge policy research and capacity building in Africa.
- Initiate the STAARS Fellows program that will provide small grants for bright and early-career African researchers to conduct research on selected topics.
- Support workshops and hands-on training programs in selected areas of high interest for young African researchers.
- Connect and integrate African researchers to the PEP global network to enhance ideas and knowledge exchange in the areas of agricultural transformation.
- Disseminate the research findings to engage and inform policymakers in supporting the dialogue on transformation of African agriculture. Research and Capacity Development
The key focus of PEP under this initial phase of the STAARS initiative includes supporting quality research and capacity development around selected thematic areas related to:
- Rural labor markets, labor productivity gaps
- Technology adoption
- Youth & gender issues in agriculture
- Links between agriculture and the rural non-farm economies
- Key policies required to ignite and accelerate agricultural and rural transformation for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa
Drawing on existing and high quality datasets such as the newly available panel data from Living Standards Measurement Studies – Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA), the research and capacity building around these interlinked studies will contribute to filling the evidence gap on the underlying social and institutional constraints to and drivers for structural changes in African agriculture.
STAARS Fellows Program
PEP’s capacity building support is facilitated through collaboration with Cornell University. The bilateral mentorship program involving Cornell faculty will help to train a significant number of early-career researchers. Following PEP’s unique capacity building model, the STAARS scholars will be matched with selected researchers and faculty members serving as mentors to ensure high quality evidence and publications in the selected research areas. The mentorship models involve both study visits to Cornell as well as distance coaching. STAARS early-career scholars are selected through a competitive process based on their research proposals or research papers.
STAARS studies will provide additional insight on labor productivity challenges and the limited adoption of productivity-enhancing technologies in African agriculture that continue to hinder accelerated poverty reduction and inclusive growth in Africa. Agricultural and non-farm sectors need to be developed hand in hand to benefit from and leverage inter-sectoral complementarities thus enhancing food security and reducing poverty in rural areas. As such, understanding the structural change in the composition of rural economic activity is an important policy issue for Africa’s development and move towards the continental vision for Africa as enshrined in Agenda 2063.
Outcomes and outputs
Through STAARS, PEP has helped provide mentorship and capacity building to eight early-career African scholars, resulting in the publication, or upcoming publication, of 12 research papers on issues including agricultural technology adoption and labor productivity, household welfare and dietary diversity, food insecurity, and child nutrition.
As STAARS Fellows, these eight scholars from Ethiopia, Niger, Benin, Ghana and Kenya benefitted from personalized mentoring from top academics and experts in the field. This included a two-week study visit at Cornell University (USA) for five of the Fellows. STAARS findings have already been presented at high-level academic events in Ethiopia, Senegal, Italy and the Netherlands, bringing the Fellows’ research to a global audience.