I must admit that at first I was a bit turned off by Calestous Juma’s The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovations in Africa, not because it wasn’t well written and researched but because I was expecting more of a micro focus on African agricultural success over another macro-level development book. Having already read numerous books and articles from Collier, Easterly, Rodrick, and others I’d pretty much heard the story of “infrastructure, education, and governance” repeated enough. But upon revisiting the book a bit later, I realized that it is the African focus and, specifically, the application of examples from other countries and how they would apply to many nations in Africa that makes the book unique and worthwhile.
As I said, Juma doesn’t stray from the usual cadence heard from other economic development specialists, even a short glace at the chapter titles like “Enabling Infrastructure,” “Human Capacity,” “Entrepreneurship,” and “Governing Innovation” demonstrates this. His strength is in the application of these concepts to an African setting, and, in some cases, even the more localized settings of specific countries or regions.
It’s easy for a writer to come out and say that a country needs to build infrastructure in order to improve the economy, because that’s somewhat of a no duh statement. But Juma looks at specific examples of road construction in Africa as well as drawing from development examples from China and finds that while large highways are useful for the transportation of goods and natural resources, it is lower-quality rural roads which provide the greatest jump in GDP. He found, when using examples of agricultural development in China, that for every yaun invested in rural roads it would generate 1.57 yaun in agricultural GDP. Even more exciting, the same yaun would yield over 5 yaun in nonfarm GDP. Because of the incredibly low quality of African rural roads, Juma proposes that an equal or greater benefit would be found if the same infrastructural development were applied to African nations.
In the area of education, Juma discusses both capacity building in the knowledge and education of rural farmers, but also stresses the need for research institutions, like universities, which are funded by the governments and have ties to the private sector for development of African-specific innovations. The idea is that the western world isn’t going to do the research necessary to alleviate African-specific problems; western solutions will always be more applicable in the western world and don’t always translate correctly. Again, using China and other south-eastern countries, Juma discusses how the governments made a switch from a more government-controlled research mandate to a government which encourages universities to do the research and to work with the private sector in the application phase. Many of the innovations which arose in the decades which followed solved a number of agricultural problems which were Asian specific.
Juma is a major proponent of regional economic partnerships, which open up trade and tend to lead to greater agricultural diversity and less famines, and he believes these groups must be promoted and strengthened. Also, he argues that governments must work to active promote the spread of innovations which are already available in the countries but many rural farmers don’t use because of lack of knowledge of the existence, lack of knowledge on how to employ the innovations, and lack of access to financing.
Applications like these make the book stand out as a useful resource for anyone looking into development policy, particularly in the African Agricultural Sector. I would like to see more African-specific examples though. There is a nice section on the development of airports in Mali, a landlocked country which has had export problems because of unrest in neighboring countries, but these examples are few and far between. Overall, I do think it’s a worthwhile read and one which has a sort of applied macro-economic approach to agricultural development that could make an impact in the lives of poor farmers around the continent.
*Update: Excerpts from the book, including the full text of Chapters 1 & 7) can be found at http://www.belfercenter.org/global/.