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Food and the Transformation of Africa

Getting Smallholders Connected

Field of dreams: on a maize farm near Bangui, Central African Republic, March 2014. THOMAS KOEHLER / PHOTOTHEK VIA GETTY IMAGES

African agriculture has long been a symbol of the continent’s poverty. Officials considered the hundreds of millions of African smallholder farmers too backward to thrive; the future would arrive not by investing in them but rather by bypassing them. But all that is changing.

In recent years, African agricultural policies have been haphazard and inconsistent. Some countries have neglected smallholders in favor of commercial farmers. Others have given them attention but focused narrowly on increasing their productivity. African farms’ harvests are indeed much smaller than harvests elsewhere, so increasing productivity is important. But agriculture is about more than yields. A vast food system spreads beyond farm and table to touch almost every aspect of life in every society. Making that system in Africa as robust as possible will not merely prevent starvation. It will also fight poverty, disease, and malnutrition; create businesses and jobs; and boost the continent’s

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