West Africa Transect Study

The FAC West Africa transect study will investigate the relative importance of and interaction among selected technical and institutional factors in explaining the differential performance of agriculture along a transect running from southern Ghana through northern Ghana and into southern Burkina Faso. The transect cuts across a number of important borders and boundaries and will allow the analysis to take account of national, regional and agro-ecological factors

Framework for the analysis of differential agricultural  performance along the Ghana – Burkina Faso transect.

Framework for the analysis of differential agricultural performance along the Ghana – Burkina Faso transect


The logic behind the study is depicted below. This figure also shows how proposed work under two other FAC themes (Commercialisation and Policy Processes / Political Economy) will contribute to a more complete understanding of the factors contributing to differential agricultural performance along the transect.

Logic of the FAC West Africa transect study. Logic of the FAC West Africa transect study

The research will explore two closely related theses:

  • The “systems of innovation thesis”: a dynamic and growth oriented agricultural sector is dependent on a system of innovation – a “network of institutions in the public and private sectors whose activities and interactions initiate, import, modify and diffuse new technologies” (Freeman 1987) – that successfully generates “coherence and interactions” (Oyelaron-Oyeyinka 2006).
  • The “coordination thesis”: “Highly productive technologies require intensive and effective mechanisms for complex co-ordination and exchange, to allow investment in and operation of different specialized activities. These mechanisms in turn require an effective institutional environment” (Dorward, Kydd, Morrison et al. 2005, p.8)

Ultimately, by exploring these two theses in detail, we are interested is contributing to larger debates:

  • Which agricultural policies get implemented (in particular contexts) and why?
  • Why are similar agricultural policies associated with different implementation and poverty outcomes across contexts?
  • How do politics (at various levels) affect agricultural policy processes and outcomes?


The research will be conducted through document review and analysis (including published and policy documents), analysis of existing agricultural data sets, questionnaire surveys and Interviews.

Key tasks will include:

  1. Definition of key terms and identification of indicators for each (i.e. for “sustained growth”; “functional” system of innovation; “successful use”; “highly productive technologies”; “high level of coordination risk”; and “effective non-market coordination mechanism”
  2. Analysis of existing agricultural data sets by crop and region to identify patterns of differential performance: Which crops have experienced “sustained growth”? Which crops have seen the widespread use of “highly productive technologies”?
  3. For the systems of innovation thesis: use of indicators identified in (1) to determine the level of functionality of the system of innovation associated with the “sustained growth” crops
  4. For the systems of innovation thesis: analysis of relationship between “sustained growth” and the functionality of the system of innovation
  5. For the coordination thesis: use of indicators identified in (1) to determine the “level of coordination risk” associated with crops that have seen the widespread use of “highly productive technologies”
  6. For the coordination thesis: analysis of relationship between technology use and level of coordination risk

Work in Ghana and Burkina Faso will be closely coordinated (e.g. as far as possible using similar methodologies, definitions, indicators and crops) in order to maximise comparability across the transect.


The outputs of this research, including research reports(country-level and synthesis), briefs, published papers and policy workshops, will be of direct relevance to ongoing debates, policy processes and programmes, including CAADP and AGRA, focused on agricultural development in West Africa. The research will also contribute to on-going discussions on policy coherence vis-à-vis agricultural and rural development.


Agriculture development in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is at long last receiving the attention it deserves. Persistent rural poverty and hunger; the recent spike in global food prices; current and projected impacts of climate change; population growth and urbanisation; new funders; and high profile initiatives including the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the Millennium Villages Project and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) – all these draw much needed attention to the challenges and opportunities facing food producers, consumers and agricultural policy makers throughout SSA.

The idea of comparing agricultural performance in northern Ghana and southern Burkina Faso is not new. The ODI / CEPA report “Economic Growth in Northern Ghana: Revised report for DFID Ghana” (2005) contains a short appendix by Ramatu Al-Hassan and Charles Jebuni entitled “Economic Management in Burkina Faso: What Lessons for Ghana?” These authors identified five lessons from Burkina Faso’s experience that they considered relevant to northern Ghana: effective use producer association; commitment to the development of small dams; practical orientation of technical agents; public sector support in initial development of product chain; slow rate of structural adjustment allowing adaptation.

The renewed interest in agriculture links to, draws from and informs academic and policy debates about the historical, ecological, economic, institutional and political factors affecting the structure and performance of African agriculture; the links between agriculture, economic growth and poverty reduction; and the roles of science and technology in the transformation of African agriculture. These debates are in turn framed by different views of the state and politics in Africa, which in turn have critical implications for the understanding of power and influence within policy processes.

The term ‘policy process’ is based on the notion that policies are formulated and implemented in particular social and historical contexts, and that these contexts matter – for which issues are put on the policy agenda, for the shape of policies and policy institutions, for budget allocations, for the implementation process and for the outcome of the policies”. For our purposes we will also highlight the importance of the economic and political contexts.