Professor Helmut Asche is an economist and sociologist. From 1985 to 1998 he worked as an economic advisor for GTZ. Until 2016 he taught as an honorary professor at the Department of Anthropology and African studies, University of Mainz.
The refugee crisis shed a completely new light on the issue of jobs in Africa
In most African countries, the majority of people work in agriculture. According to predictions of the future economic structure of sub-Saharan Africa, by far the largest number of new jobs – at least in rural areas – will also be in agriculture. Alongside this, employment opportunities are emerging in modern service sectors, especially the IT industry.
It seemed unrealistic for Africa to imitate the East Asian development model.
Less than 20 years ago, experts confidently described this combination of agriculture and services as typifying the trend of development on the African continent. Especially in the English-speaking world, academic papers that addressed the question of ‘should Africa industrialise?’ regularly concluded that it should not and recommended instead that it should leapfrog the industrial age. This leapfrogging would involve omitting an entire economic sector – that of manufacturing – and moving directly into an agriculture-cum-service age. It seemed unrealistic for Africa to imitate the East Asian development model. This way of thinking completely excluded a specific industrial policy that could have boosted the faltering development of industrial productivity. There was too deep-seated a memory of the grandiose attempts of Latin America and Africa to bring about industrialisation through state-owned companies operating behind high tariff walls – endeavours that with some exceptions resulted mainly in the production of white elephants.
There has been a radical paradigm shift here – and it has occurred not just since the refugee crisis shed a completely new light on the issue of jobs in Africa but in fact some years before that. New studies of structural change and employment trends in Africa have shown that continuation of the present trend – involving job growth in the private and public service sectors and to some extent in agriculture – will not create anywhere near the number of jobs needed to absorb the up-and-coming cohorts of young people looking for work. The demographic window of opportunity will quickly snap shut again. Extrapolated scenarios highlight the need for a radical game change – which will not happen without energetic political support. Alongside manufacturing industry as a driver of job creation, industrial policy thus once again takes centre stage in the development policy debate. Also on the agenda now are the new challenges of economic and environmental sustainability. The belching smokestack phase of catch-up industrialisation is no longer a realistic option, in Africa or elsewhere. A paradigm shift is therefore needed on no fewer than three fronts. The task facing a ministry of trade and industry that is responsible for coordinating this process with the private sector could not be harder.
Planning has become harder rather than easier
However, there is at least some clarity with regard to the practical essentials of modern industrial policy – namely a joint search for industrial opportunities by the public and private sectors, and selective promotion with clear time horizons, feedback loops and public control (see: PEGNet Policy Brief). What is far less clear in theoretical terms is which industrial sectors the economic latecomers among the developing countries should focus on. This is a result of the heuristic disposition of modern industrial policy, which has elevated collective self-discovery in a world of complex inter- and intra-industry division of labour to the status of a principle. Patterns of growth are generally more diverse than they were in earlier industrial periods. The classical sequence of industrialisation – typically from light to heavy industry – is not one that developing countries can readily pursue. Rational planning in the context of modern industrial policy has thus become harder than in the past rather than easier.
Of course even in such a scenario many agriculture-related jobs will still be created, for example in agroindustry or in the processing of agricultural commodities such as textiles and leather. The situation benefits from the fact that the paradigmatic flying geese of labour-intensive industrialisation, which originally took off in Japan, moved westwards from China a long time ago. However, an economy as a whole does not learn much from the establishment of mature labour-intensive industries. In Africa – as elsewhere – job creation is not the same thing as knowledge creation. An economic policy that promotes dynamic industrial networks must aim at both. With deliberate reference to the processors contained in our computers, I have termed this the ‘dual core’ of modern industrialisation strategies. In practice it is South Africa’s partially successful industrial policies that provide the closest example.
Many of these trends cannot be confidently predicted for Africa – and this uncertainty extends to the promise held out by the digital revolution. IT-saturated sectors are one of the principal areas in which leapfrogging is actually taking place; it can be observed in the skipping of the landline telephone stage and the development of innovative banking services. Startups focusing on the development of software and IT-based services are blossoming in Africa. By contrast, there is as yet no clear picture of how developing regions will be affected by the new risks to classical industrial employment that arise from the spread of the Internet of Things and what Germany has termed ‘Industry 4.0’. We do not know precisely what the ultimate effect of the digital revolution in Africa will be.
Let’s stick to the subject of leapfrogging. The second sector that is coming up with innovative technical solutions in Africa is renewable energy: off-grid solar systems are particularly promising and combinations of off-grid and on-grid solutions will no doubt take off soon. As in the field of telecommunications, the systemic failure of large-scale networks in Africa is being creatively bypassed and the outcome is a growing contribution to sustainable economic development as defined by the SDGs. In any case, it has now become clear that – contrary to the theories of old-fashioned development economics – leapfrogging relates not to the skipping of industrialisation in general but to progressive leaps forward geared to sustainable and inclusive solutions within particular industries and services. However, the African energy policy debate is still a long way from coming down on the side of sustainability. Large coal-rich countries such as Mozambique, Nigeria and South Africa face a complex public choice, at least for a transitional period in their development: should they rely entirely on renewable energies or go for an energy mix for the time being?
Some researchers say that in view of the global trade in tasks, African companies should focus on individual work processes and not on the establishment of entire industrial sectors.
Equally unclear is the outlook with regard to industrial division of labour. Promoting the participation of African producers in global and regional value chains is one of the new development cooperation mantras. Some researchers say that in view of the global trade in tasks, African companies should focus on individual work processes and not on the establishment of entire industrial sectors. Yet despite recent descriptions of the great unbundling of concentrated industrial production, we are now witnessing a trend towards re-agglomeration of important industrial sectors. Does it make sense after all to have a fully integrated textile chain in Ethiopia, or at least in a regional community? It is hard to advise developing countries on this point. In view of these uncertainties, which can only be reduced by a structured public-private dialogue with practical iteration loops, and also on account of the notorious political and economic risks – corruption, clientelism and so on – modern industrial policy in developing countries is one of the most challenging areas of policy. Many countries will be unable to deal with it, especially as there are a couple of other problem areas that also come into play.
One of the most exciting development policy challenges for some time to come
Promotion of industry is particularly difficult in a group of countries that should be able to fund it themselves: countries that are rich in mineral resources. After decades of discussion of the ‘resource curse’ and the Dutch disease, development economists still have no more than a vague idea of how to deal with the structural disadvantage of agriculture and the manufacturing sector.
And, finally, there is the issue of the connection between industrialisation and regional integration. One aspect of this is the fact that, for reasons of economies of scale, a whole range of industries depend on large connected markets. At the same time, successful regional integration requires the relatively balanced industrialisation of member states, and that is even harder to achieve politically. Promoting regional value chains does not automatically have a balancing effect. In consequence, both industrialised and developing countries often fall for the idea of pursuing an industrial policy that hits out at their own regional association. Whether it is ‘Buy American’ at the expense of NAFTA or ‘Buy Ugandan’ at the expense of the EAC, it is always a problematic policy, to put it mildly. The links between agricultural, industrial and trade policy are in any case uncertain territory. For all these reasons, the list of African countries that have actually pursued a successful industrial policy in particular sectors is very short: Botswana, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Rwanda and South Africa. And there is not a single oil producer among them.
One can also have a positive take on this: sustainable industrialisation is going to remain one of the most exciting development policy challenges for some time to come, and Africa is full of imaginative initiatives in this field.
A world without hunger and with sufficient healthy food as well as climate-friendly agriculture can only be achieved if ideas are transformed into innovations and ultimately also applied - a conversation with BMZ Head of Division Sebastian Lesch on the Innovation Challenge programme of the new Agricultural Innovation Fund.
Does Africa's youth want to live in the city or in the country? Which career path seems particularly attractive? And how optimistic are the young people about the future? Young adults from rural areas answered these questions by SMS.
Shortly before ending his position as Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPR) Dr. Shenggen Fan talks about the reforms and new modes of operation needed to achieve global food security in the coming decade.
In western Africa a new middle class is emerging. Their consumer behaviour is determining the demand for products – home-produced and imported goods, on the internet or at the village market. The people of Ivory Coast in particular are looking to the future with optimism.
A report by T. S. Jayne, A. Adelaja and R. Mkandawire
Thirty years ago, Africa was synonymous with war, famine and poverty. That narrative is clearly outdated. African living standards are rising remarkably fast. Our authors are convinced that improving education and entrepreneurship will ensure irreversible progress in the region even as it confronts COVID-19.
Startups are booming in African agriculture. What are the current trend and challenges – and can other regions benefit from innovative approaches? A Video-Interview with Claudia Makadristo, Regional Manager of Seedstars
International agricultural research is responding to new challenges: Their advisory group is undergoing a fundamental reform process and unites knowledge, partnerships and physical assets into OneCGIAR.
Artificial intelligence, big data and blockchain are the hottest topics of our time. The digital transformation of the African agricultural sector is ready for take-off. What will it take for the future of technology to hit the ground running?
Lots of apps are entering the market, but what really makes sense? For African agriculture, some of it seems like a gimmick, some like a real step forward. So this is what a smallholder farm in Africa could look like today - with the help of smartphones, internet and electricity.
It is 2080. We are on a farm somewhere in Africa. Everything is digital. The blockchain is an omnipotent point of reference, and the farm is flourishing. But then, everything goes wrong. A dystopian short story, written exclusively for SEWOH.
Jehiel Oliver was a successful consultant. One day, he quit his job in investment banking to become a social entrepreneur. His mission: tractors for Africa. Rental tractors. What gave him that idea? Find out in his interview with Jan Rübel.
At the moment, the agricultural industries of African countries exist in relative isolation. Imagine peasant farmers digitally connected to the value chains of the global food industry. How could this happen? A guidebook.
There is a clear global task: We need to feed nine billion people by 2050. We, the people of Earth, must produce more food and waste less. That is the top priority of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), too - the description of a challenge.
At the beginning of December 2018, AGRA's board of directors met in Berlin. The "Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa" panel discussed the next steps in their policy of modernizing agriculture. How to go on in the next ten years? One question - many answers from experts.
Joe DeVries is a breeder – and Vice President of AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa). What are the chances and risks of a ’green revolution‘ in Africa? A discourse between Jan Rübel and him about productivity, needs, and paternalism.
Stefan Liebing is chairman of the Africa Association of German Business. The manager calls for a better structure of African farms. Jan Rübel asked him about small farmers, the opportunities for German start-ups and a new fund.
The project “Scaling digital agriculture innovations through start-ups” (SAIS) supports Africans going into business in the agricultural and food sector in scaling their digital innovations and thus reaching out to a larger number of users.
Africa has a huge opportunity to make agriculture its economic driver. However, the potential for this is far from being made exhaustive use of, one reason being that women face considerable difficulties in their economic activities. The organisation AWAN Afrika seeks to change this state of affairs.
The COVID 19 pandemic is hitting developing and emerging countries and their poorest populations particularly hard. It is important to take countermeasures at an early stage. Companies in the German agricultural sector want to make their contribution to ensuring the availability of urgently needed operating resources.
Time to dig deeper: We can only benefit from technical progress if we have a solid legal framework for everybody. But so far, none is in sight - in many countries. Instead, international corporations grow ever more powerful.
The region of Sub-Saharan Africa is on the decisive verge of a great development boost in farming: it could skip entire generations of technological development. But how? About possible roles and potentials of digital services.
What do electrical engineering, telecommunications and agriculture have in common? They arouse the passion of Strive Masiyiwa: Thirty years ago, he started an electrical installation company with $75, later riding the telecommunications wave as a pioneer. Today he is committed to transforming African agriculture.
Every child in Germany knows Ritter Sport – but most of the children harvesting cocoa on western African plantations have never even eaten chocolate. Can a chocolate manufacturer change the world? Conversation with Alfred Ritter about the power and powerlessness of a businessman.
By leasing a three hundred hectare fruit plantation in Ethiopia, Lutz Hartmann has realised a long-cherished dream: to run his own business in Africa. Now he has a personal interest in the issue of Africa’s development.
Companies in Africa that need financing between $20,000 and $200,000 find relatively few investors, as this sector is too large for microcredit and too small for institutional investors. This creates a "gap in the middle" where companies have limited options. A project of the World Resource Institute provides a remedy with the Landaccelerator 2020.
What are the consequences of using synthetic pesticides in agriculture? Where do they help, where do they harm? Lena Luig, expert for the development policy organization INKOTA, and science journalist Ludger Weß discuss this controversial topic of international scope.
A quick and cost-effective method calculates living wages and incomes for many different countries. The GIZ together with Fairtrade International and Richard and Martha Anker have developed a tool that companies can use to easily analyse income and wage gaps.
The Federal Government is fine-tuning a law that would require companies to ensure human rights – a supply chain law. What are the consequences for the agricultural sector? Dr Bettina Rudloff from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) discusses linking policy fields with added value.
‘Fair’ and ‘sustainable’ are key words in Germany’s EU Council Presidency. At the same time, Germany pursues ‘modernization’ of the WTO and ‘rapid progress’ on free trade agreements. Are these goals really compatible? Can we be concerned about fairness and sustainability while continuing with ‘business as usual’?
Corona makes it even more difficult to achieve a world without hunger by 2030. So that this perspective does not get out of sight, Germany must play a stronger role internationally - a summary of the Strategic Advisory Group of SEWOH.
A contribution by Michael Windfuhr (German Institute for Human Rights)
Land rights are no longer governed by the law of the strongest. That is what the international community has agreed to. Governments and private companies have a duty to respect human rights and avoid corruption.
Agnes Kalibata, AGRA president since 2014 and former minister of agriculture and wildlife in Rwanda, is convinced that Africa's economy will only grow sustainably if small-scale agriculture is also seen as an opportunity.
The German government is struggling to pass a supply chain law. It is intended to address violations of human rights, social and environmental standards. What would the consequences be for business? A double interview with Veselina Vasileva from GEPA and economics professor Andreas Freytag.
In Eastern El Salvador, campesinos are cultivating a self-image to encourage rural youth to remain in rural areas. With help from Caritas, they have adjusted the cultivation methods to their soils and traditions - Marvin Antonio Garcia Otero,the deputy director of Caritas of the Diocese of San Miguel believes this is the best way to prevent rural exodus and criminality.
The United Nations plan a Food Systems Summit - and now the Corona-Virus is dictating the agenda. The Chief Economist of the UN World Food Programme takes stock of the current situation: a conversation with Jan Rübel about pandemics, about the chromosomes of development - and about the conflicts that inhibit them.
How can agriculture modernise Africa? And does the road to the cities really lead out of poverty? Dr. Reiner Klingholz from the Berlin Institute for Population and Development in conversation with Jan Rübel .
This is a benchmark for everybody: More rights for women are a very influencing solution in the struggle against extreme poverty and hunger worldwide, says Stephan Exo-Kreischer, Director of ONE Germany. The organisation specialises in political campaigning as a lever for sustainable change.
Happy youngsters in rural areas, green development and the connection to the digital age – professor Joachim von Braun believes in this future sceneraio for Africa. For three decades the agricultural scienties has been researching how politics can create prosperty on the continent.
Africa is home to the world’s youngest and fastest growing population. For many young people, agriculture could offer a job perspective. But to improve the living conditions and job prospects of young people in rural areas, political reforms and investments are desperately needed, as these people will be at the centre of agriculture and agricultural development in the future.
A contribution by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Africa’s population is young and ready to take its destiny into its own hands. Agriculture offers amazing opportunities in this regard. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wants to support the next generation in this way.
Lack of seasonal workers and virus explosion in slaughterhouses, rising vegetable prices, climate crisis – all this demonstrates: Our food system is highly productive and (at least for the rich inhabitants of planet earth) guarantees an unprecedented rich and steady food supply - but it is not resilient.
Interview with Gnininkaboka Dabiré and Innocent Somé
Later on you want to become a farmer yourself, or would you prefer to take up another profession? Two young people from Burkina-Faso talked to representatives of the Dreyer Foundation about their parents' farms, the profession of farmer and their own plans for the future.
A contritbution by Essa Chanie Mussa (University of Gondar)
Rural youth need viable livelihood opportunities to escape out of poverty and realize their aspirations. How could they be helped to fully unleash their potential? This is an aloud call that needs novel strategies among governments, policy makers, and international development partners and donors.
As President of the IABM cooperative in Muhanga, Alphonsine Mukankusi is not simply focused on the figures. She has learned how to deal with people and how to take on responsibility. At the same time, her work helps her to come to terms with the past
A report by Alexander Müller and Jes Weigelt (TMG)
As the climate changes, the population of Africa is growing and fertile land and jobs are becoming scarcer. New ways are currently leading to urbanisation of agriculture and a new mid-sized sector in the countryside
Interview with Paul Newnham, Director of the SDG 2 Advocacy Hub.
The UN Food Systems pre-Summit in Rome dealt with transforming the ways of our nutrition. How do you bring that to a broad public? Questions to Paul Newnham, the Director of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 Advocacy Hub.
Interview with Martina Fleckenstein (WWF), Michael Kühn (WHH) and Christel Weller-Molongua (GIZ)
After the summit means pre-summit: It was the first time that the United Nations held a summit on food systems. Martina Fleckenstein, Michael Kühn and Christel Weller-Molongua reviewed the situation in this joint interview.
Genetically modified bacteria become edible proteins, cows graze on pasture, and no waste is produced in an industrial circular economy. Journalist Jan Grossarth sees a silver lining for the future of world nutrition
The world’s population keeps on growing; with this rise comes an increased need for food as well as productive employment opportunities. Offering young people in rural areas better employment prospects is one of the objectives of the sector project. The young population is the key to a modern and efficient agricultural economy.
Why are short- and long-term responses important to address current and future global crises? Sebastian Lesch, Head of the Agriculture Division at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), provides answers to these and other questions in an interview with the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development (GDPRD) and explains how much Germany welcomes all donors pulling together and acting in concert.
A contribution by Prof. Dr. Anna-Katharina Hornidge
In the video format "#99SecondsWith" of the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS), Prof. Dr Anna - Katharina Hornidge talks about the new Africa-Strategy of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
African countries still face huge gender gaps in terms of access to work and capital. What are the consequences of Corona for women in Africa? Jan Rübel interviewed Léa Rouanet on lockdowns and gender-based violence. The economist works at the Africa Gender Innovation Lab of the World Bank.
Over a period of two years, the Ceres2030 team spent researching answers to the questions of how much it will how much it will cost to realize SDG 2 and where that money should be spent most effectively. IISD Senior Advisor and Ceres2030 Co-director Carin Smaller about small farmers, machine learning and women empowerment.
The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2020 shows that the world is not on track to meet the international goal of “zero hunger by 2030”. If we continue at our current speed, around 37 countries will not even have reached a low hunger level by 2030.
The CGIAR agricultural research organization is systematically repositioning itself. We spoke with Juergen Voegele, Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank, about progress to date - and discuss what needs to be done collectively to stop global hunger in ten years.
110 speakers from 120 countries met virtually at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) to discuss the challenges to global food supply. They asked the question: How can food systems support the health of people and the planet?
In August, Germany’s development ministry set up a division concentrating on One Health topics. Parliamentary State Secretary Maria Flachsbarth on knowledge gaps at the human-animal-environmental interface, the link between One Health and food security, and lessons learnt from previous pandemics.
From the lab to the masses: Maria Andrade bred varieties of biofortified sweet potatoes which are now widely used all over the continent. She sets her hope on the transformation of African agriculture.
The lockdown due to COVID-19 hit the economy hard - including agriculture in particular with its supply chains and sales markets. What creative coping strategies have those affected found? The Seminar for Rural Development has begun a research study on th
Freshwater deficits are affecting more and more people throughout the world. In order to counter this, our global food system will have to change, our author maintains. A case for more research on alternative crops and smart water solutions.
A Contribution by Adrian Muller, Catherine Pfeifer and Jürn Sanders (FiBL)
Taking Biodiversity Focus Areas under production or abandoning lower yielding, more extensive production systems is the wrong approach to mastering the looming global food crisis, say the authors of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL).
Interview with Caroline Milow and Ramon Brentführer
Groundwater resources remain dormant in the soil of African regions. Where does it make sense to use them – and where does overexploitation of nature begin? Caroline Milow (GIZ) and Ramon Brentführer (BGR) talk about potentials in the future and lessons from the past.
The Corona pandemic is hitting economies around the world very hard - but developments in African countries are quite diverse. There are different speeds, resiliences and vulnerabilities. What are the reasons for this? Apl. Prof. Jann Lay of the GIGA Institute provides answers.
The soybean is a natural crop that can be used to make a lot of food. So, Tata Bi started a small processing business first on her own, then with a few other women, which provides the women with an additional source of income year-round besides selling the soybeans.
What contribution does development cooperation make to conflict prevention? What can it do for sustainable peace? Political scientist Karina Mroß talks to Raphael Thelen about post-conflict societies and their chances for peaceful development.
The Cashew Council is the first international organisation for a raw material stemming from Africa. The industry promises to make progress in processing and refining cashew nuts - and answers to climate change
Fish is important for combating malnutrition and undernourishment. But it is not only notable for its nutritional value, but also secures the livelihoods and employment for 600 million people worldwide.
In October, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) adopted policy recommendations ‘Promoting Youth Engagement and Employment in Agriculture and Food Systems’. Anke Oppermann answers five questions on youth employment in the agricultural sector.
Three female entrepreneurs from Mozambique, Sri Lanka and Uganda tell their stories about starting organic businesses from scratch, now selling Baobab Oil, Gotukola powder and Shea butter in international markets. And they explain why their business is almost 100 percent female.
Priscilla Impraim is one of the first women in Ghana to enter the chocolate business. Despite some hurdles, she founded the company Ab Ovo Confectionery Limited in 2006 with currently six permanent employees and 25 seasonal employees.
Kenya is a large importer of vetable oils mainly from Indonesia and Malaysia - amongst them sunflower oil. Due to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, there were supply bottlenecks and food shortages, leading to less affordable vegetable oils in Kenya. As a response to the lack of supply, the Sanga'alo Institute of Science and Technology, took that impulse, teamed up with the GIZ and established regional cultivation and refinement of sunflowers.
Saskia Widenhorn, Head of the Cotton Component in Cameroon and the Sub-Saharan Cotton Initiative at GIZ, reports on the Bremer Cotton Week, which brought together international industry experts. The agenda included supply chain transparency, sustainability and new forms of cooperation between the private sector and partner countries.