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Can State Capacity for Agricultural Development be Compared Across Countries? Insights from Africa

Claire Delpeuch and Colin Poulton
June 2011

Research Paper 21

Recent years have witnessed a renewed recognition both of the importance of agricultural development to growth and poverty reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa and of the important role that the state has to play in stimulating market development in rural areas (Poulton et al. 2006; World Bank 2007). However, there is an “agricultural development paradox” during the early stages of rural development in that “the need for pro-poor state services is high when state failure is profound” (Kydd 2009, p453).

This raises important questions: what are the key dimensions of state capacity for agricultural development and how can they be measured? These questions are of interest to development organisations seeking to design and to monitor the impact of “capacity building” interventions. Increasingly, researchers are also likely to be interested in comparing (changes in) state capacity across countries. This raises the question of whether the rather intangible concept of capacity can be compared in this way.

This brief presents some reflections on this question. It investigates the concept of state capacity for agricultural development in Africa (section 2), then considers both direct (section 3) and indirect (section 4) approaches for measuring state capacity for agricultural development across countries.