9th May 24

Advancing African Agriculture: A Journey Towards Resilience

By Fridah Gitau

African agriculture has undergone significant transformations over the past five decades, adapting to challenges such as urbanization and climate change. From the Green Revolution to sustainable practices, progress has been made, yet challenges persist. Examining key milestones reveals both achievements and areas for improvement.

Image: The Green Revolution

The Green Revolution (GR) of the 1960s and 1970s introduced high-yielding crop varieties, irrigation advancements, and increased fertiliser use. However, Africa lagged due to late adoption of research programmes[1] and limited efforts in breeding orphan crops like cassava, sorghum, and millets—important for African poverty alleviation.

Despite this, initiatives such as the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA)[2] have contributed towards Africa’s growth in the post-GR era, with adoption rates of improved varieties reaching 70% for wheat, 45% for maize, 26% for rice, 19% for cassava, and 15% for sorghum by 2005.

Structural Adjustment and Technological Challenges

International financial institutions implemented structural adjustment programs (SAPs) in the 1980s and 1990s. While they led to increased productivity due to improved infrastructure, increased access to credit, and investments in rural markets, the long-term effects negatively impacted small-scale farmers in the continent due to market liberalization favouring larger players. One study conducted in Kenya indicated that the SAPs had a negative and significant long run effect on per capita agriculture GDP.[3]

Technological advancements were also limited at the time, with delayed research into improved crop varieties and inadequate extension services, making it difficult to improve crop yields and increase efficiency.  

The Rise of Sustainable Agriculture

The 2000s and 2010s saw a shift towards sustainable agriculture, driven by climate resilience and environmental awareness. Initiatives like the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)[4], emphasised soil conservation and agroecological approaches. Organisations like AGRA and NEPAD played crucial roles in promoting sustainable intensification and empowering smallholder farmers.

National governments, in collaboration with international organizations and NGOs, formulated and implemented policies and strategies to support sustainable agriculture. These initiatives focused on promoting organic farming, agroforestry, conservation agriculture, and climate-smart agriculture.

Farmers across Africa increasingly embraced sustainable farming practices to enhance productivity, resilience, and environmental sustainability. This includes the adoption of conservation agriculture techniques and agroecological farming systems[5], contributing to enhanced resilience to climate change and biodiversity conservation.

Despite progress, challenges like limited access to finance, land tenure issues, and infrastructure have hindered the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices in Africa. Opportunities for scaling up sustainable agriculture initiatives exist, including:

  • Increased investment in agricultural research and extension services,
  • Strengthening of value chains and integration of smallholder farmers into markets, and
  • Harnessing the potential of digital technologies.

Our Senior Climate and Agri Development Consultant has explored the risks and opportunities posed by climate change to agricultural sector here.

How do First World Countries do it?

African agriculture, despite its challenges, can draw insights from advanced agricultural practices. Precision agriculture, mechanization, and value-chain integration have enhanced productivity and resilience in advanced economies. African nations can adopt these methods to increase efficiency, minimize post-harvest losses, and expand market reach. However, innovation tailored to African contexts is vital to address specific challenges within the region’s agricultural landscape.


Perspectives from key players such as the AGRA President, Dr. Agnes Kalibata[6] and Dr. Akinwumi Adesina[7] highlight the need for holistic approaches, investment in infrastructure, and digital technologies.

The journey towards resilience requires strengthened policy frameworks, investment in innovation, and empowering smallholder farmers. Initiatives like the Malabo Declaration and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) aim to improve food security and promote resilience. Our Agri-business Financial Consultant has delved deeper into the potential impact of AfCFTA in an article here. Youth involvement, supported by organisations like African Youth Agripreneurs (AYA)[8], is crucial for innovation and knowledge dissemination.

Continual support and collaboration from stakeholders are essential. Empowering farmers, government support, NGO involvement, private sector engagement, international collaboration, and cross-sector collaboration are key strategies. By implementing these recommendations, we can enhance the resilience, profitability, and sustainability of African agriculture, ensuring a brighter future for farmers and communities.

Agri Frontier stands ready to provide expert advisory and support to agribusinesses across Africa, to promote sustainability and resilience in the sector. Contact us to discover how you can make your agribusiness more resilient.

Contact Fridah at fgitau@agrifrontier.com.

[1] Pingali, P. L. (2012). Green revolution: Impacts, limits, and the path ahead. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(31), 12302–12308. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0912953109

[2] https://www.africarice.org/history

[3] Mbithe, Dr. P., Mwabu, Dr. Prof., & Awiti, Mr. M. (2017). Impact of structural adjustment programs on agricultural sector growth in Kenya. Journal of Agricultural Policy, 2(1), 1–33. https://doi.org/10.47941/jap.122

[4]  CAADP Overview

[5] Agroecology TPP Working Paper 2023

[6] Race to Resilience – An Interview with Dr. Agnes Kalibata

[7] Dr. Adesina Speech at Africa Agribusiness and Science Week

[8] AYA Platform

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