Obama’s pro-poor policy for Africa?

Tanzania’s President gets to be the first African leader to win an audience with Obama. His big pitch? Support for an African green revolution: increased irrigation, improved seeds, better marketing systems, and new infrastructure.

This strikes me as a better formula for aid than simple education and health support. Building schools and clinics are important (and should continue), but economies like Tanzania’s will only support their own social services in the long run if they can ramp up productivity and incomes. Agriculture is one industry with a big domestic market and the potential to export (provided they can produce better goods more cheaply).

A bump in agricultural productivity isn’t going to launch Tanzania into rocket-ship growth, but agricultural assistance does have one virtue: it can help the many and not the few. Small producers can see a bump in incomes (and less volatility) while poor consumers should see cheaper prices.

See the World Development Report in 2008 for more informed opinion than mine.