In the first two decades of the 21st century, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has changed rapidly for the better in many ways, counter to many outdated narratives. Many of these improvements—including those in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, poverty rates, health, life expectancy, education, and agriculture—have been mutually reinforcing (1, 2). SSA achieved the highest rate of growth in agricultural production value (crops and livestock) of any region in the world since 2000, expanding by 4.3% per year in real [inflation-adjusted US dollars (USD)] between 2000 and 2018, roughly double that of the prior three decades. The world average over the same period was 2.7% per year (1). Agricultural value added per worker in real 2010 USD rose from $846 in 2000 to $1563 in 2019, a 3.2% annual rate of growth. But to assert that Africa is rapidly developing does not mean that all livelihood indicators are improving, though most are in most countries (1, 3). SSA faces many major challenges. We focus below on one such challenge, which we see as a precondition for sustaining livelihood improvements in the region: transitioning from area expansion to productivity growth as the source of Africa’s agricultural development.
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