This paper deals with the importance of agricultural policy and technology for farmers' food security and market integration. We draw on data recently collected in interviews with over 3000 farmers in eight sub-Saharan African countries.2 The results indicate that the food production among African smallholders is highly responsive to increased use of industrial inputs and to marketing opportunities for food crops. In the absence of a favourable macro environment enhancing increased use of inputs, however, the majority of farmers remain stuck in poverty and are barely able to meet their own food needs. In the following we will use maize as an example to demonstrate the crucial role of the African state in providing the necessary macro conditions for realising the production potential inherent in increased technology adoption and increased commercialisation of staple production. This conclusion suggests that development options in African agriculture are different from those often surmised in the general development debate. Hence, we argue that policy makers in governments and among donors often work from assumptions that badly fit existing realities in African agriculture. We criticise a number of tendencies that recur in debates on agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa. They are not internally consistent, and they seldom occur together, since they typically are associated with different types of actors.