Agricultural and rural development reconsidered: a guide to issues and debates

This report sets out the shifts in thinking, debate and approaches on agricultural development over recent decades. It charts the way in which these have come full circle, from the primacy of agriculture as central to rural development in the 1960s, to dwindling investment in the 1980s, and onward to its renewed presence on today’s national development agendas. These changes have been accompanied by important shifts in the development narratives that shape the way in which issues are framed, problems posed, and favoured responses chosen. Contemporary mainstream debates on agricultural policy orbit around notions like opportunity, competition, entrepreneurship, value chains and public-private partnership. This paper, emerging from a range of commissioned papers that focus on Africa, is a guide to current debates, setting out the background to the changes of recent decades, distilling current thinking into narratives, and exploring today’s critical issues in agricultural and rural development policy. The main focus is Africa – the region with the most low-income countries, where most countries remain rural and agrarian, and where agricultural and rural development is seen as most problematic. However, significant insights can be drawn from comparisons to Asia and Latin America, for contemporary Africa as well as for its future development. The report also highlights the importance of two issues that are central to agricultural development but do not always feature prominently in policy: gender and migration.