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Staples, not export crops, key to tackling Africa’s poverty – report

A grain store in Hantsi village, Machache, has lots of leftover maize inputs this year as many farmers in the area decided the weather was too erratic to risk planting
A grain store in Hantsi village, Machache, Lesotho (Feb 2012) (Eva-Lotta Jansson/IRIN)

Africa could reduce its poverty levels faster by focusing more on the production of staples rather than export crops, according to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Authors of the study, conducted in 10 countries south of the Sahara, noted, “One important finding is that producing more staple crops, such as maize, pulses and roots, and more livestock products tends to reduce poverty further than producing more export crops such as coffee or cut flowers.”

According to the study, while more public resources would be required to generate more agricultural growth, “such public investment in staple sectors is probably cost effective”.

The authors argued that growth in the staple sector was more likely to benefit the poor than growth in the agricultural export sector.

Enoch Mwani, an agricultural economist at the University of Nairobi, concurred. “The agricultural export sector is generally associated with large corporations, but the poor rely predominantly on staples to survive.”

Mwani added that growth in staples had the effect of not only reducing poverty but also ensuring food security.

“[Governments that] invest in staples have the opportunity to increase food availability and, at the same time, create wealth for smallholders,” Mwani told IRIN.

To spur development in sub-Saharan Africa, the study’s policy conclusions call for a focus on accelerating agricultural growth; promoting growth in large agricultural subsectors; supporting growth across several agricultural subsectors; and promoting growth in subsectors with strong linkages to the overall economy and the poor.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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