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Agriculture employs 65 per cent of the labour force in sub-Saharan Africa and accounts for 32 per cent of gross domestic product. Growth in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors. Agricultural growth reduces poverty both directly, by raising farm incomes, and indirectly, through its positive impact on all other sectors of the economy (2008 World Development Report).

The 2010 Montpellier Panel report, 'Africa and Europe: Partnerships for Agricultural Development', emphasised the 'virtuous circle of agricultural development', whereby even modest rates of growth in the agricultural sector have a considerable multiplier effect, increasing rural incomes, which in turn create consumer demand and hence growth in the non-agricultural sector.

About 70 per cent of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)' target group live in rural areas, and the majority of these people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Investment in agriculture, alongside investments in social services, is vital to meeting the MDGs on hunger and poverty reduction (World Bank/IFPRI Report - Agriculture and Achieving the Millennium Development Goals).

But despite this, the share of aid to agriculture in DAC members' aid programmes has declined from 17% in the late 1980s to 6% in recent years, revealing a clear relative neglect of the sector (2010 OECD Note - Measuring Aid to Agriculture).

The importance of agriculture should be reflected in the policies, programmes and spending decisions of multi-lateral and bilateral donors. They should increase funding and investment in agriculture and rural development in African countries.

  • There are over 300 million rural poor people in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • 62% of the rural population in sub-Saharan Africa live on less than US$1.25 a day.
  • 30% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished.
  • Africa has approximately 33 million small farms, representing 80% of all farms in the region.
  • Smallholder farmers produce as much as 90% of agricultural output in Africa.
  • The vast majority of smallholder farmers are women. Women produce over 70% of the food in Africa.

Sources: IFAD Rural Poverty Report 2011, FAO/WFO The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2010, 2005 Information Brief Small Farms: Current Status and Key Trends, Oksana Nagayets, 2009 IAASTD Report: Agriculture at a Crossroads.

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