If you look at total output, Peter Coy notes that sub-Saharan Africa looks quite impressive with gains in total output exceeding that in the rest of the world.

But almost all of this has come from using more inputs, especially land. If you look at output per unit of input, i.e. total factor productivity (TFP) then sub-Saharan Africa not only trails the rest of the world, it’s falling behind.

Things get much worse if you look at agricultural productivity by country. Alice Evans points us to “the most important graph” from work by Suri et al. (2024) which shows shockingly that since ~2010 agricultural productivity has plummeted in many African nations. I found this graph hard to believe.

The numbers are correct based on data from the USDA but digging deeper, I noted that the two worst performing countries are Djibouti and Botswana–two small countries where agriculture is

Keep reading this article on Marginal Revolution.

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