Perhaps nowhere in the world does the relationship between population growth and agricultural change currently seem so important as in sub- Saharan Africa. The two trajectories appear to be on a course for disaster in this subcontinental region; population growth is the most rapid in the world with little sign of abating in the near future, while per capita food production continues to decline. In both its present-day and its pending magnitude, the widening gap between population and production has been of central concern in policy analysis and academic research alike. Numerous factors have been invoked to explain the problem: the subcontinent has a disproportionate amount of marginal or fragile land for cultivation; it has not received sufficient funding directed at enhancing food production; it is woefully lacking in rural infrastructure; it is suffering from underdevelopment, and so on. The evidence supporting any of these arguments is surprisingly slim, however; few systematic and comparative treatments have been carried out in Africa. Moreover, many of these arguments are grounded in the major theoretical perspectives on population-agriculture relationships. Some see the African case as supporting Malthusian-like principles of rapid population growth outstripping growth in agriculture. An alternative position, supported by a considerable body of data drawn from around the world, posits population growth as a prerequisite for agricultural growth (measured by the intensity of cultivation). Interestingly, several studies indicate a positive relationship between population growth and agricultural intensification in African farming communities.
The basic question of this study is whether population growth in densely settled areas of rural Africa has led to the intensification of agriculture. Densely settled areas are examined because they offer examples of the land-pressure conditions that are to be expected throughout much of Africa if population growth does not abate. Hence they may offer many insights into the future of African agriculture. This basic question is then used to explore those factors that influence the population-agriculture