There is little to be debated on the fact that agriculture is a main stay for the majority of Sub- Saharan African families. Sub-Saharan Africans have indeed engaged in agricultural activities as a means of livelihood since time immemorial. However, one cannot help but question why after so many millennia Africans are yet to harness the knowledge that they have gained to lift themselves out of poverty. After all, repetition builds familiarity or expertise in this case which should bring about change; growth and development. Instead, Sub–Saharan African states have remained to be among the poorest in the world with almost half of its population living in poverty.
Within African states, agriculture remains the largest employer of the poor. Extreme poverty is concentrated in rural areas and the poor are likely to engage in agriculture compared to any other income generating activity. In Rwanda, 39% of the population is living below the poverty line, of which 16.3% are living in extreme poverty.
Currently Rwanda is an agricultural based economy although the government is making efforts to turn it into a knowledge based economy.
The government of Rwanda has invested well in social protection initiatives including the flagship vision 2020 umurenge programme. The programme uses the existing decentralisation system and leverages technical and financial assistance to accelerate the rate of poverty reduction specifically aiming to eradicate extreme poverty by 2020.
While social protection initiatives play a crucial role in poverty eradication, creating synergies between social protection and agriculture offers an undeniable opportunity to accelerate poverty eradication in Africa. Any assistance to help the rural poor meet their basic needs and help them overcome liquidity and credit constraints that hinder them from engaging in higher return activities is important in improving lives and livelihoods.
Notwithstanding its proven effectiveness, social protection on its own cannot sustainably move people out of poverty and hunger. This mainly because of the difficult public expenditure trade-offs implied by constrained government budgets.
Agriculture remains a mainstay for many poor African families who at the same time happen to be the major beneficiaries of social protection. This fundamentally links social protection to agriculture in the context of rural development and eventual poverty eradication. It is the poor’s reliance on agriculture for their livelihoods and the high share of their expenditure on food that makes agriculture key to poverty and hunger alleviation interventions. Poverty and its corollaries – malnutrition, illness and lack of education – limit agricultural productivity. Hence, providing social protection and pursuing agricultural development in an integrated way offers synergies that can increase the effectiveness of both.
Stronger coherence between agriculture and social protection interventions can result in improving the welfare of poor, small-scale agriculturalists, helping them manage risks more effectively and improve agricultural productivity. This will lead to more sustainable livelihoods and progress out of poverty and hunger.
Despite the deep connection between social protection and agriculture in the context of Africa, many governments are yet to harmonise social protection initiatives with agricultural development. While social protection lays the foundation for gradual improvement of the lives of the poor, agriculture is a sustainable route for poverty eradication. Given the financial burden of social protection initiatives, leveraging public expenditure on integrated social protection and agricultural programmes simultaneously strengthens agricultural and rural development.
The Ministry of Local Government recently during a high level meeting involving the UN Food Agricultural Organisation (FAO) attested to the need for harmonising social protection initiatives in the country with agricultural development to accelerate poverty eradication. To achieve the required coherence there is a need to map all social protection actors, including NGOs as well as their approaches in implementing their programmes.
This will enable them on the one hand to strategically identify opportunities to create synergies between institutions and organisations and on the other hand, identify social protection programmes that can already be integrated with agricultural development.
As the government of Rwanda aims to create more off-farm jobs annually to reduce poverty, improving agricultural productivity through integrated social protection initiatives in rural areas is going to reinforce the efforts by contributing significantly in improving the lives and livelihoods of the poor.
The writer is a social commentator based in Kigali.