The pastoral farming system: Balancing between tradition and transition

Economic growth in Africa accelerated in the new millennium, enhancing confidence in the continent’s future. Positive developments have taken place in the liberalization of trade and markets, in the strengthening of institutions and policies, and in investments in human and social capital and infrastructure. However, the growth has not trickled down to the large number of rural people experiencing chronic or crisis-driven hunger and poverty. Thus, Africa has had a larger proportion of extreme poor than any other region of the world. Most of Africa’s poor are rural and most rely largely on crops, livestock, trees and fish – along with off-farm income – for their livelihoods. The improvement of agriculture, particularly smallholder farming systems, is fundamental to overcoming the problems of rural poverty and lagging rural economies. The African rural development context is unique and diverse, in its geography, agro-ecology, history, politics and culture. National and regional decision makers face the challenge of identifying the best agricultural and rural development opportunities with the greatest impact on food security, livelihoods and economic growth. Experience has shown that policy and investment decisions must be better grounded in local context-specific analyses, incorporating multi-stakeholder and systems approaches focused on the livelihood strategies and opportunities of farm men and women. The value of targeting technologies and policies to different farming systems has been recognized in the Science Agenda of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). At the opening of the new millennium an FAO/World Bank analysis was published that examined rural development opportunities over the period from 2000 to 2015 from the perspective of farm households in major farming systems of the developing world (Dixon et al. 2001; www.fao.org/farmingsystems/). The analysis classified and mapped farming systems, including those of Africa, examined the drivers of change for the 2000–2015 period and identified strategic priorities for each system. This farming system framework and analysis has proved to be valuable for targeting and prioritizing agricultural research and development initiatives and has been used repeatedly – for example, by the InterAcademy Council report on Africa, the Millennium Villages Project, the CGIAR Collaborative Research Programs, and others. Given the major changes in African agricultural opportunities, it was time for an update of the 2000 FAO/World Bank analysis of African farming systems looking forward from 2015 to 2030. Since 2000 the African population has increased by a third, dynamism has returned to many African economies and regional agricultural research and development organizations have generated and disseminated many new varieties and practices – but farm household vulnerability and international market volatility have increased. The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research supported an update, with assistance and guidance from the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the CGIAR, the World Bank, and the Food and Agricultural Organization. The work was coordinated by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Nairobi. More than 60 scientists and development professionals, working in multi-disciplinary teams, assessed constraints, trends and strategic interventions in the 15 major farming systems across the continent. The analysis integrated key recent strategic reports and a wealth of expert knowledge and spatial data – including natural resource, production, infrastructural and nutritional information from FAO, World Bank, CGIAR, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and other sources. The resulting book provides a unique systematic, forward-looking, compendium of continent-wide farming system assessments and databases for agribusiness, policy makers and science leaders. The document will undoubtedly be a fundamental guide for years to come for prioritization and targeting of public and private investments to deliver food and nutrition security and rural transformation in Africa.