Africa’s evolving food systems


Most rural Africans now live and farm in liberalised markets, which most African and international policy forums assume to be the best basis for economic activities. But there is considerable debate about these developments, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Four young Ethiopian men standing in a field of cabbages

Agriculture in Africa plays an important role in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment, and achieving sustainable development. However, the debates around the specific policies and investments needed for this are as heated as ever.

In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, the challenges of feeding a growing and increasingly urbanised population, while increasing household incomes for rural producers, have given rise to fierce debate and contested recommendations.

What IIED did

IIED teamed up with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) to explore these debates by commissioning new research.

Things had changed since 2001, when an influential issue of Development Policy Review, 'Rethinking rural development', suggested that the power of agriculture to drive development was declining, as people sought jobs in other sectors. Since then, agriculture was firmly back on the African development agenda, but the political and institutional environment had altered.

The aim of the new research was to improve the understanding of agricultural and rural development in Africa in the context of both long-standing and new drivers of change, so as to stimulate debate and research, and contribute to improved policy and food security outcomes. The result was a series of papers looking at different aspects of Africa’s evolving food systems.


The social relations of agrarian change, Dzodzi Tsikata (2015), IIED working paper

Financing agriculture and rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa: progress, challenges and the way forward, Richard L Meyer (2015), IIED working paper

Africa's evolving food systems – drivers of change and the scope for influencing them, TS Jayne, Ferdinand Meyer and Lulama Ndibongo Traub (2014), IIED paper

Smallholder agriculture in Africa. An overview and implications for policy, Douglas Gollin (2014), IIED working paper

Rural economic diversification in sub-Saharan Africa, Felicity J Proctor (2014), IIED working paper

Agricultural policy choice: interests, ideas and the scope for reform, David Booth (2014), IIED working paper

Rural futures. How much should markets rule?, Henry Bernstein, Carlos Oya (2014), IIED working paper

The rehabilitation of agricultural subsidies?, Andrew Dorward, Ephraim Chirwa (2014), IIED working paper

Improving policymaking for agricultural and rural development in Africa, Towela PR Nyirenda-Jere, John A Kazembe (2014), IIED working paper

Rural resource grabs or necessary inward investment? The politics of land and water in Africa, Ruth Hall (2014), IIED working paper