Presentation of the STAARS project

What is the STAARS project?

STAARS is the acronym for Structural Transformation of African Agriculture and Rural Spaces.

STAARS is a joint research project focusing on agriculture in Africa, which involves a number of partners with proven expertise: the African Development Bank (AfDB) – via its Macroeconomics Policy, Forecasting and Research Division (ECMR), under the authority of the Chief Economist – the World Bank, the Partnership for Economic Policy, the African Economic Research Consortium, and Cornell University in the United States.

STAARS was launched in 2014. It follows on from a similar joint program that was conducted in 2013 by the World Bank, AfDB, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Cornell University, University of Rome Tor Vergata, University of Pretoria, University of Trento, Yale University, London School of Economics, and Maastricht School of Management, and addressed the theme of "Agriculture in Africa: Telling Facts from Myths".  Using data recently collected on living conditions in rural households in Africa (Living Standards Measurement Study-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture, LSMS-ISA), the project sought to update knowledge of the agricultural sector in Africa. 

Considering the scope of the work and the questions that were left unanswered at the end of the "Agriculture in Africa: Telling Facts from Myths" project in 2014, a decision was made to extend it by delving deeper into agricultural research in Africa: the STAARS project was therefore launched, with the first phase beginning in 2014, and the inaugural conference took place on 4 and 5 December 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

Launched in June 2016, the second phase of the project, which, in addition to reinforcing the information discovered during the previous phase, aims to increase the visibility of the STAARS project and publish the results of the research, should be completed in September 2017.

A third phase is planned (2017-2018), mainly involving dissemination activities, including a workshop on the agricultural sector in Africa in December 2017 and an international conference on the structural transformation of African agriculture at the end of 2018.

STAARS has three goals:

  • to develop policy-oriented agricultural research in Africa;
  • to reinforce capacities in agricultural research in Africa;
  • to increase policy outreach of agricultural research in Africa.

The project was made possible thanks to financial support from Korea, via the Knowledge Sharing Program (KSP) of the Korea EXIMbank, and the Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation (KOAFEC) Trust Fund, which is managed by the African Development Bank via its Resource Mobilization and External Finance Department (FIRM).

What is the purpose of STAARS?

In Africa, agriculture contributes to a quarter of the continent's GDP and employs nearly 65% of the working population.  In other words, it is at the heart of the economy and daily life of millions of people.  Moreover, 65% of currently uncultivated land in the world is in Africa.

However, the problem is that African agriculture underperforms and is well below international standards in terms of productivity, mechanization (13 tractors per 100 km2 in Africa compared with 200 on average around the world), use of inputs, value chain (e.g. cacao: Africa accounts for 69% of world exports of raw cacao beans, but only 16% of exports of ground cacao, which is sold at two or three times the price), and access to funding (the level of access to banking services for agriculture does not exceed 5 or 6% on the continent).

These weaknesses are largely explained by structural challenges (cost structure, infrastructure, land management, diversified cultivation, demography, etc.).

Results: Africa remains the only region in the world where agriculture contributes to GDP more than agro-industry.  And it pays a high price for net food imports: 48.5 billion USD in 2016 according to the FAO, which is expected to rise to more than 110 billion USD by 2025.

A number of countries continue to be vulnerable to food insecurity (more than 232 million people suffer from malnutrition on the continent), and climate change has become a serious threat.

There is therefore an urgent need to provide food, since a quarter of the world's population will be living in Africa by 2025.  It is vital to transform the agricultural sector in Africa to make it an engine of development and to integrate rural spaces in efforts to achieve inclusive and sustainable development.  This is why the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) was launched in 2003 with the Maputo Declaration, which was reiterated in 2014 with the Malabo Declaration.

It is also why the AfDB has made agriculture a focus of its work to transform Africa and the basis of its "Feed Africa" strategy, one of the High 5s that were chosen in 2015 – which goes hand in hand with the priority "Industrialize Africa" as well as the priority that aims to improve the quality of life for the people of Africa.  To achieve this, the Bank is multiplying its projects and partnerships like STAARS.

STAARS aims to analyse the structural challenges of agriculture in Africa to assist policy-makers in resolving them by improving productivity and competitiveness of the sector, as well as living conditions for those who deal with these challenges (nearly 65% of the working population in Africa).

Developing and using research and a network of expertise regarding the various challenges (economic, human, social, spatial, etc.) for agriculture in Africa and integrating policy challenges into economic research will help in understanding challenges and opportunities and in outlining concrete recommendations in favor of agricultural policies that are capable of developing African agriculture in a modern, viable, lucrative and sustainable way.  The overall goal of STAARS is to contribute to the transformation of the agricultural sector in Africa.

To achieve this, STAARS regularly produces articles, working documents, policy briefs, and non-technical reports that:

  • analyse the structural challenges that hamper productivity and competitiveness in the sector in Africa;
  • promote concrete, innovative, and ethical agricultural policies, as well as dialogue between decision-makers and researchers;
  • provide comparative studies of successful examples of agricultural transformation that can inspire African countries;
  • gather and rigorously analyse microeconomic data on the agricultural sector.

By mid-2017, about 30 articles and working papers have been produced as part of the STAARS project and disseminated during conferences, workshops, and seminars in Durban, Abuja, Addis Ababa, and other cities.

Beyond its important achievements in terms of scientific outreach, STAARS also aims to reinforce the capacities of young African researchers in the fields of economics and agriculture.  Training for researchers on accessing and using databases is underway in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as cooperation/mentoring between young African researchers and senior researchers at renowned institutions such as the World Bank or Cornell University.  Since 2016 about ten young African researchers per year have benefited from visiting Cornell University in the United States in order to exchange ideas with global experts in the agricultural sector and to produce rigorous scientific articles with innovative solutions on important subjects relating to the agricultural and rural sector in Africa.

Finally, STAARS envisions to help Africa to create a new generation of recognized experts in the field of agricultural research.

Who benefits from STAARS?

By fulfilling its mission of helping to design ad hoc agricultural policies, STAARS provides expertise and valued information for policy-makers in this sector in Africa – ministries and administrations in charge of agriculture and rural development.

The information from the STAARS project also benefits researchers and/or economists, think tanks, and groups in Africa and elsewhere in the search for high-quality, up-to-date, and referenced literature and scientific data on the agricultural sector in Africa.

Outside the AfDB's operational departments that are involved in deploying the "Feed Africa" strategy, all the information and expertise that is published and made available by STAARS is also useful for development organizations that work closely with ministries of agriculture and rural development – and ultimately the farmers themselves – since they now have objective comparative studies on the effectiveness of agricultural policies.