Real-World Idealist

Ousmane Badiane has been instrumental in ensuring that Africans take the lead in setting the agenda for agricultural renewal in Africa.

photo of Ousmane Badiane

Ousmane Badiane, Director of IFPRI's Africa Program. Source: © 2012 M.Mitchell/IFPRI

It is commonplace to talk about the economic rise of Africa, but Ousmane Badiane first noticed that things were changing there more than 15 years ago. In the mid-1990s, after decades of economic stagnation, Africa’s economic growth indicators were starting to turn upward, says Badiane. “Anybody looking at the statistics could see that Africa was turning the page,” he says. Now based in Dakar, Senegal, and Washington, DC, Badiane directs IFPRI’s Africa Program, working in support of African policies for economic and agricultural growth at a time when the continent faces substantial opportunities—and a few risks.

Badiane has been a major player in Africa’s shift toward agricultural renewal. In 2003, African heads of state met in Maputo, Mozambique, and pledged to pour more resources into agriculture after decades of neglect. Through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), African leaders committed to spending 10 percent of their national budgets on agriculture and boosting agricultural growth to 6 percent a year.

The following year IFPRI agreed to provide technical support for implementing CAADP and brought in Badiane, who had been working at the World Bank, to oversee its support for the program. “Having seen the strong drive toward Africans taking ownership of their development agenda, I knew there was huge potential to effect real change in Africa,” he says.

But he also saw challenges. This new program would need to determine how to implement the spending changes, coordinate actions among different countries, and make sure that Africans—not the international development community—took the lead in setting and carrying out CAADP plans. Initial plans, says Badiane, were “very top down, as if Africa had a central government that could decide to irrigate so many hectares and build so many kilometers of roads.” In addition, Badiane noticed that CAADP plans were silent about agricultural policies and strategy.

African Ownership

Badiane was key to the effort to keep Africans in charge. “I and the NEPAD leadership that I was advising were very hard-headed in making sure Africans set the agenda,” says Badiane. Country representatives used CAADP documents as guidelines rather than marching orders. And Badiane helped introduce a mechanism for reviewing policies and sharing knowledge between countries.

In some countries, CAADP has generated impressive results in the past eight years. Eight countries have exceeded the 10 percent target for budgetary spending on agriculture, and nine have surpassed 6 percent agricultural growth. Many other countries have made significant progress toward these goals.

Badiane has also helped build communities of African professionals to rigorously examine thorny policy issues. One such community is ReSAKSS—the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System—a network of analysts who provide insights and evidence on CAADP’s progress. He was also behind the creation of the African Growth and Development Policy Modeling Consortium (AGRODEP), a group of Africans who use economic modeling to address important policy questions. The objective, says Badiane, was to create “a critical mass of world-class modelers in Africa.”

Split-Second Decision

Badiane’s work on CAADP for IFPRI represented his second stint at the Institute, after a roundabout journey. He grew up in the Groundnut Basin of Senegal in a family whose farmland was gradually surrounded by urban sprawl: “We turned slowly into Sunday farmers.”

His career in agricultural economics began with a split-second decision. After finishing high school, he was offered a scholarship to attend university in Europe—and had to decide instantly which country he wanted to study in. “I used to watch German soccer,” says Badiane. “They had a good team called Borussia Mönchengladbach, and I knew almost all the players by name.” “Germany,” he wrote on his form. As he was leaving the building after making his choice, however, he had second thoughts. He raced back and told the teacher, “I think I made a mistake. I know nothing about Germany, not even the language.” The man just laughed.

Germany it was. Badiane ultimately earned his PhD in agricultural economics from the University of Kiel. In 1989 he joined IFPRI to study regional markets in West Africa before going to work at the World Bank in 1998 as a senior economist and later lead specialist on food and agriculture policy for Africa.

Catching Up to Do

Badiane’s most recent research has looked at how public spending on health and education can make poor rural farmers more productive so that their investments in inputs such as land, seeds, and fertilizer generate higher payoffs. A forthcoming article by Badiane and two coauthors in the journal Agricultural Economics provides evidence on this issue for Uganda.

On Africa’s future prospects, Badiane is a hard-nosed realist who sees new risks for the continent, including growing economic inequality in the context of faster economic growth in many countries. Traditional family structures—which served as social safety nets in the past—are breaking down, and governments have little experience with programs to meet the demand for social protection for the most vulnerable people. “If African countries don’t find programs to deal with social demand in the next 10 years, Africa may face a serious issue of social instability,” he says.

But Badiane is also an idealist. As he received an honorary doctorate from South Africa’s University of KwaZulu Natal in 2010, he called on the graduating students to work not just for individual gain, but for the common good. “We are now witnessing the longest period of sustained, geographically shared economic growth in the continent’s history,” he said. “The result has been an improvement in the lives of millions of Africans. The lost decades prior to the recovery mean that we have a lot of catching up to do, however—and we cannot do it fast enough.”

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