The debate over the severity of problems associated with rural food production and rural development in Africa has come to dominate much of the current public discussion of the continent. It is an area where Africanists can be legitimately expected to respond. Food shortages should be an anomaly in a continent where more than seventy percent of the population works in the rural sector. At the same time, with all of the reported economic difficulties, the last decade and a half has witnessed a significant acceleration in population growth (Faruquee and Gulhati, 1983:25). There are more mouths to feed at the same time as most studies are reporting that there is a decline in per capita production (Berg et al., 1981, 1984). These studies indicate that population is growing at somewhere between two and three percent or more per annum while the corresponding increase in food production is running between one and two percent or less. Increasing numbers of people each year reach maturity, making greater demands on fragile tropical soil resources and bringing ever-more marginal land into production (Riddell, 1982). It is a situation where dramatic changes, good or bad, will occur.
Several recent studies have cited the tremendous cost involved if African agricultural systems were to be modernized along Euro-American lines (FAO 1978; Berg et al., 1981; Christensen et al., 1981). For example, the International Food Policy Research Institute's (IFPRI) figures indicate that for twenty-four selected countries, mechanization and fertilizer costs alone would total more than $7.5 billion (US$ of 1975; figures cited in Nair, 1982).