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World Bank Assistance to Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Sub-Saharan Africa is a highly complex and diverse Region that is a critical priority for the development community, as it has some of the world's poorest countries and remains behind on most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A major drag on Africa's development is the underperformance of the critical agriculture sector, which accounts for a large share of GDP and employment in the Region. This study assesses the development effectiveness of World Bank assistance in addressing constraints to agricultural development in Africa over the period of fiscal years 1991-2006.

The central finding of the study is that the agriculture sector has been neglected both by governments and the donor community, including the World Bank. The Bank's strategy for agriculture has been increasingly subsumed within a broader rural focus, in which its importance has suffered. Both arising from and contributing to this, technical skills to support agricultural development adequately have declined over time. The Bank's limited-and, until recently, declining-support for addressing the constraints on agriculture has not been strategically used to meet the diverse needs of a sector that requires coordinated intervention across a range of activities. The lending support from the Bank has been "sprinkled" across various agricultural activities such as research, extension, credit, seeds, and policy reforms in rural space, but with little recognition of the potential synergy among them to effectively contribute to agricultural development. As a result, though there have been areas of comparatively greater success-research, for example-results have been limited because of weak linkage with extension and limited availability of such complementary and critical inputs as fertilizers and water. Poor governance and conflict in several countries further complicate matters.

In order to effectively support the implementation of the Africa Action Plan and its appropriate focus on agricultural development as a key priority, the study has three recommendations for the Bank. First, it should focus attention on achieving improvements in agricultural productivity. Second, it should increase the quantity and quality of analytical work and ensure that policy advice and lending are grounded in its findings, and rebuild its technical skills. Third, it should establish clear benchmarks for measuring rogress.