Alumni facilitating economic development
in emerging economies
Jean-Claude Balcet, MBA ’70:Boosting Crop Production In Benin
The Green Revolution has largely missed Sub-Saharan Africa’s fast-growing nations, among them Benin, a long, narrow country sandwiched between Nigeria and Ghana. “In Benin, agricultural productivity has not markedly increased in past decades,” says Jean-Claude Balcet, who retired as an agricultural economist for the World Bank, and now handles spot-consulting jobs for the Bank. “It’s the same pretty much all over Africa — as opposed to Asia where the Green Revolution has had a tremendous impact.”
Balcet is now on a World Bank assignment to help Benin improve irrigation and introduce new high-yield seeds and better fertilizers, while gradually increasing agricultural mechanization. “The country has only a few hundred tractors,” Balcet says. “They want to cultivate 20 percent of the country’s farmland with tractors by 2015. Now, it’s less than one percent.”
At the same time, Benin wants to decrease reliance on its mainstay cotton crop and grow more food. The country has long depended on cotton to sustain farmers and bring in needed foreign exchange. But that strategy puts Benin’s economy at risk should cotton prices plunge or imported food prices continue to rise. “Now it makes sense for poor countries to focus more on food production,” says Balcet. “Food has become very expensive on international markets. A decade ago, it was cheap.” Benin hopes to have enough food left over for export. Target crops include rice, millet, sorghum, pineapples, cashew nuts, onions, and carrots.
After years in the agricultural development field, Balcet still feels joy when he sees progress. “When farmers increase their yields, they can feed themselves. And they can have some production left to sell on the market to get cash, purchase basic necessities, and improve their livelihoods.” In the decades he has worked in agriculture, he has seen a lot of progress. “But not as much in Sub-Saharan Africa as elsewhere,” he adds. “The major factor, in most countries, has been a lack of expertise, often coupled with poor governance and political instability. The road ahead is still long.”
"Now it makes sense for poor countries to focus more on food production. Food has become very expensive on international markets. A decade ago, it was cheap.”