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Working paper 40 - Maize Revolutions in Sub-Saharan Africa

Working paper 40-Maize Revolutions in Sub-Saharan Africa

Author(s):  Melinda Smale, Derek Byerlee, and T.S. Jayne


Over the past three decades, economists have described maize research and development in Sub-Saharan Africa as an “emerging maize revolution” (Byerlee and Eicher 1997), a “stopand- go revolution” (Howard 1997), a “delayed green revolution” (Smale 1995), an “obscured revolution” (Gilbert 1993), and a “failure” (Kydd 1989). Most often categorized as a qualified success (Eicher 1995), the maize productivity gains achieved through smallholder adoption of improved seed and fertilizer during the 1980s were driven in part by the appropriateness of the technologies themselves and in part by state policies that encouraged their use through supporting markets and prices.

Although these policies successfully promoted maize production in many countries, they imposed massive costs on national treasuries and contributed to the fiscal crises that most African governments experienced during the 1980s and early 1990s (Jayne and Jones, 1997; Smith et al. 1997).

The structural adjustment programs that followed were designed to shift state involvement in markets from direct operations to public goods expenditures, bolstering private investments. In many cases, fledgling private sectors were unable to fill the void left by the withdrawal of the state and public investment has declined. Programs had a mixed record, and were often construed as imposed by the World Bank and IMF against the wishes of politicians and farm lobbies that had benefited from state marketing systems.

Policy experiments during the past 15 years since structural adjustment have ranged between two extremes. Consistent with the tenets of structural adjustment, governments such as those of Mozambique and Uganda have relied primarily on markets and regulated trade in order to coordinate food production and marketing. By contrast, governments in Malawi and Zambia have revived the “development state” concepts of the 1970s in order to promote national food security (Kydd 2009).

This paper updates Byerlee and Eicher’s (1997) review of the performance of the maize supply chain in Sub-Saharan Africa. We take a circumspect view of maize technical change in the region. An immigrant crop, maize is today the most widely-grown staple food of Sub- Saharan Africa and an important wage good in many countries. Despite past successes, continued investment in maize productivity remains crucial to agricultural growth and food security. For example, investment in maize research is required to produce a new generation of improved varieties that are drought-tolerant, pest-resistant, and nutrient-efficient.

In addition to appropriate seed, diversified maize farming systems and improved crop management practices will be essential for restoring soils in order to achieve productivity gains. To ensure adoption across the continent’s heterogeneous production environments, farmers will need varied combinations of inputs and practices, diffused via pluralistic seed supply and advisory systems. Expanding markets in densely-populated areas with small-scale farms will require different approaches from areas with good potential, scattered populations and lower intensity of land use. Designing interventions to support market development will require persistent and careful monitoring of ongoing policy experiments.

Working paper 40 - Maize Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa        


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