There is widespread concern at continuing, and indeed deepening, poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, and the lack of processes of rapid and broad based economic growth to combat this. There is also debate about the role agriculture in driving pro-poor economic growth with some arguing that it has a critical role in this while others see it is as largely irrelevant. This paper examines these arguments. We summarise and critique what we term the Washington Consensus on Agriculture (a consensus that appears to be eroding) and alternative positions opposing investment in agriculture. We suggest that both sets of arguments pay insufficient attention to important institutional issues in development, and, having taken these into account, we conclude that agriculture has a critical role to play, largely by default as there are no other candidates with the same potential for supporting broad based pro-poor growth. However, there are immense challenges to agricultural growth, challenges that in some cases may be too great to be economically viable. In considering economic viability, however, regard must be taken of the economic and social costs of rural stagnation and of providing safety nets in situations of enduring poverty. Policy needs to focus more on agriculture, and recognise and address the diversity of institutional, trade, technological and governance challenges to poverty reducing growth in Africa.


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