The low productivity of African agriculture is a major reason for poverty on the sub-continent. While a green revolution has transformed rural livelihoods in large parts of Asia, most rural Africans still engage in subsistence farming. Uganda is a good case study in how dysfunctional agricultural markets undermine economic opportunity. The adoption of fertiliser and improved seeds remains low, inadequate post-harvest handling and long supply chains leave farmers with low margins, credit for productive investment eludes most households, and knowledge of good agricultural practices is rare despite many years of government-sponsored agricultural extension programmes.
These problems have long been known, but effective solutions have yet to emerge. For example, no lasting impact has come of decades of public extension programmes based on public hand-outs. But a new market-led approach offers a fresh perspective: correcting market failures holds more promise than treating African farmers as irrational and agricultural systems as lacking in resources.
Two concerns stand out for making a difference. One, the magnitude of effects of each intervention tends to be limited, meaning that they can’t produce the kind of fundamental shift required to transform rural African agriculture. Secondly, the bulk of successful interventions depend on government or donor funding, making them hostage to political whim and funding cycles. The interventions we focus on in this project are different in two crucial ways. First of all, they address several market failures at once. We expect that each market matters, and that improving several at once will have a bigger impact than each alone. Secondly, the intervention emerged from the private sector and depends on a profit-driven business model that appears both sustainable and ready for large scale implementation.