Derek D. Headey and T.S. Jayne, “Adaptation to Land Constraints: Is Africa Different?” Food Policy, vol. 48 (October 2014), pp. 18–33, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2014.05.005.
An empirical examination of how rural African households respond to constraints on cropland found that rural Africans in countries with high ratios of people to land want to limit the size of their families but are not able to achieve their reproductive intentions due to unmet need for family planning services. Reducing fertility is all the more important for such families because intensification of agricultural production on limited landholdings is not faring well in Africa, the authors found. Diversifying into non-farm employment, too, has been much less successful there than elsewhere.
Underinvestment in family planning in densely populated African countries is hampering fertility declines.
“Farm sizes in these high density countries declined sharply from the 1970s to the 2000s,” the authors state, due to subdivision among numerous children in large families. Higher population densities in Africa have an influence on family size, they conclude, “commensurate in size to other well-known determinants of fertility such as female education and income.” They argue that underinvestment in family planning in densely populated African countries is hampering fertility declines that “would gradually alleviate land pressures [and] have been linked to reductions in poverty and substantial improvements in maternal and child health and nutrition, and faster economic growth.”
“Rural Africans in land constrained countries desire smaller families.”
Key quotes: “[R]ural Africans in land constrained countries desire smaller families, but have thus far benefited little from family planning policies. These findings underscore the need for a coordinated multi-sectoral approach to sustainably reduce poverty in the region. . . . [W]e find
novel evidence that desired fertility rates in rural areas decline in response to higher rates of population density, but achieved fertility rates do not. In other words, high density countries in Africa face large gaps in unmet contraception needs, suggesting that family planning policies would be more efficacious in these countries than in more land abundant regions. . . . “[T]he low adoption of modern technologies such as fertilizers and seeds is well documented, as are the links between population growth and [soil] nutrient mining in Africa. . . . [Our] results suggest that higher rural population density may indeed reduce desired fertility rates, but that inadequate access to family planning services has thus far inhibited the achievement of those fertility reductions. . . . In the case of high density countries in Africa . . . our results suggest that there is indeed a substantial demand for family planning services, at least among the female population.”
Overall assessment: This well-constructed paper is among a handful in the FPESA database that successfully address a wide range of the linkages and sub-hypotheses that the project is exploring. Considering possible reasons for Africa’s poor progress in agricultural development, especially compared to Asia’s, the authors comfortably and empirically integrate the role not just of population growth but also of lack of access to family planning and larger-than-desired fertility as a critical factor.
The authors note frankly that data on land and agriculture are poor in many African countries, especially in the least-developed ones, and caution that the reliability of their findings should be judged accordingly. But they nonetheless plow ahead into a field that few other specialists on land and agriculture have dared to venture into: family planning policy and the gap between fertility intentions and outcomes. Their key findings on this (included among other findings not directly related to population or family planning), even with the data caveats, are important. They provide evidence that reducing unmet need for family planning, especially in the areas with the greatest land constraints and least-productive agriculture, is among the highest-priority policy measures to address food insecurity on the continent.
The following annotation and assessment is excerpted from the forthcoming report of the Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment (FPESA) project. The report will contain selected annotations from more than 930 peer-reviewed articles reviewed for potential relevance to the hypothesis that family planning supports environmental sustainability. The annotations are written by project director Robert Engelman with input from members of the project team and, where indicated, members of the project’s international network of research assessors.