J Kirsten (2008), “The role of agriculture in poverty alleviation”, ASSAF (Academy of Science of South Africa), Local Economic Development in Small Towns, Housing Delivery and Impact on the Environment, Pretoria.
World market prices for major food commodities such as grains, vegetable oils and dairy products are at an historic high, more than 60% above the levels two years ago. One cannot ignore the dramatic impact these rising trends in food prices will have on the poorest of the poor. Under these circumstances, it is increasingly asked what role agriculture plays in alleviating poverty.
As societies have urbanised and as politicians and academics increasingly focus on urban matters, there is less of an appreciation of the role of agriculture in the economy, and society, and its importance for the future of mankind. Urban biases, and the luxury of having food available, and having access to relatively cheap food for the last 30 years, (See Figure 1 showing the real decline in commodity prices) in a way has provided the basis for an intellectual and policy arrogance on agricultural and rural matters. As a result there has been little appreciation of agriculture’s fundamental role, and its true development and poverty impact. This short report places the role of agriculture in historical perspective and then summarises the empirical evidence of agriculture’s contribution to poverty alleviation.