15 April 2011

Four lessons for transforming African agriculture

African agriculture is at a turning point, and a long-awaited “green revolution” may be within reach. Many of the continent’s governments are adopting market-friendly policies and committing more resources to the sector. Traditional big-donor countries are increasing their expenditures on agriculture, while China and Brazil are also beginning to contribute to the effort. African’s agriculture’s private-sector investment is rising rapidly (see sidebar “Sizing Africa’s agricultural opportunity”). High, volatile food prices underline the importance of such development efforts and create not only pressure but also political space for policy makers to act.

But investing these additional resources wisely and fulfilling Africa’s agricultural promise will require better national planning. Work is under way to facilitate such improvements: for example, the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) aims “to help countries critically review their own situations and identify investment opportunities with optimal impact and returns.” Introducing cost-effective agricultural development plans will be a challenge, however. To succeed, they will have to address multiple technical hurdles in the context of limited human resources, corruption, political pressures, shifting priorities, and inadequate infrastructure (see sidebar “Chinese agriculture: A model for Africa?”).
In recent years, McKinsey has worked on the planning and implementation of agricultural development in more than ten African countries, across the public, private, and social sectors. We have codified insights from this work into four lessons: aim for narrower, higher-impact projects; pay more attention to the final market for agricultural goods; assure clear roles for the private sector; and think about implementation from the start. We offer these lessons to move the issue of African agricultural development beyond the question “what” and toward the “who” and the “how.”1
In this related video interactive, three McKinsey experts discuss what it will take to create a “green revolution” in Africa. Explore the interactive to hear their thoughts or download a PDF of the transcript.
Transforming African agriculture
Three McKinsey experts discuss what it will take to create a “green revolution.”

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