Population Growth and Agricultural Change in Africa

By B. L. Turner; Goran Hyden et al. | Go to book overview

1 / Theory, Evidence, Study Design

Robert W. Kates, Goran Hyden, and B. L. Turner II

Over the next century, Africa's population may increase fourfold before stabilizing, creating densities of population unprecedented on the continent. Many expect that this situation will severely compound the current agricultural crisis: others believe that it will stimulate agricultural growth through the intensification of agriculture, leading to improvements in food availability and to general economic development. Evidence for both views has been found. Throughout most of the developing world, the intensity of agriculture and greater land productivity is broadly associated with higher population densities. Against this generality, however, are many instances in which the intensification process has not led to the types of adjustments in agriculture that improve food availability or general quality of well-being. Indeed, stagnation, involution, and environmental deterioration may be equally associated with increasing population density and related agricultural practices. Given the seeming inevitability of rapid population growth in Africa, therefore, it is particularly important to understand those situations that lead to positive conditions of intensification--improved food supply, well-being, and sustainable agriculture--and those that lead to negative conditions of stagnation and of environmental degradation.

There are at least four theoretical traditions that yield differing expectations of the relationship between population and agricultural growth. Broadly interpreted, they view the relationship optimistically or pessimistically and ground much of the argument within the roles played by population pressures or economic development (fig. 1.1). Seen as a localized process, especially among subsistence-oriented economies, neoMalthusians have negative expectations--population has the potential to outstrip agricultural change, inducing land fragmentation, environmental deterioration, poverty, and famine ( MacDonald 1989). In contrast, Boserupians (following Boserup [ 1965 and 1981] and others) have positive expectations--population growth is a stimulus for an intensification

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