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Publication | 10 May 2021

Public expenditure on food and agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa

Produced by the Monitoring and Analysing of Food and Agriculture Policies Programme (MAFAP) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), this report takes stock of over a decade of data on food and agriculture expenditure in a subset of sub-Saharan Africa countries. 

The report found that, in addition to Africa spending less per capita on agriculture relative to other regions in the world, very few of the countries analysed met the 10 percent Maputo target, despite a renewed commitment in 2014 through the Malabo Declaration. This calls for a renewed emphasis on the composition of spending so as to enhance its effectiveness in meeting agriculture and development objectives. 

The report found that, on average, 21 percent of budgets devoted to food and agriculture were not spent, suggesting that large financial commitments are not sufficient to enable a country to transform its agricultural sector. Implementation is equally important. This is particularly true for donor-funded expenditures, where the share of unspent funds is substantially higher (at around 40 percent). It is therefore crucial to pursue improvements at the implementation level, increase coordination and capacity of civil servants to manage and operationalize agricultural projects, especially highly decentralized contexts, as well as rely more on budget support as a funding modality. 

A breakdown of expenditures for food and agriculture reveals that, in several countries, the largest share of public spending was allocated to subsidies for agricultural inputs (e.g. in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Malawi, Mali and Senegal). However, in some countries, following recent reforms, large input subsidy programmes have been downsized, increasing the fiscal space to allocate more funds to other types of expenditure. The analysis also found that countries have spent an increasing share of their budgets on social protection, such as cash transfer and school feeding programmes. In some cases, larger expenditures on input subsidies and cash transfers come at the expense of certain public goods, such as extension services and research and development (R&D). 

In contrast, spending on infrastructure and irrigation has risen across sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, there has been an upward trend in expenditures earmarked for forestry, land management and environmental protection. This is owing to several national and international commitments, including the call for an environmentally sustainable ‘Green Revolution’ in Africa. 

Countries that allocate larger shares to input subsidies fare worse in terms of agricultural outcomes than those spending more on consumer transfers (i.e. cash transfers and food aid programmes), R&D and extension services. The negative effect of overinvesting in private goods, such as input subsides, seems to be particularly harmful for countries at more advanced stages of agricultural transformation. 

One major factor preventing better evidence-based policy support to governments is the limited coverage of highly detailed public expenditure data. It is imperative to understand how expenditures (and which expenditures) impact agriculture and food systems, including agricultural, nutritional, environmental, and poverty outcomes. Models and tools that are currently used to advise policymakers are data-demanding and require not only estimates of total government spending on agriculture, but also a detailed breakdown of these expenditures. However, the quality of these data is often uneven, both in coverage, quality and detail, assuming the data exist. This is a factor hindering the quality of evidence-based policy support, which could potentially have far-reaching impacts in terms of improving fiscal policies in agriculture.

Public expenditure on food and agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa

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