Since the food price rises starting 2007 and the financial crisis that followed in 2008, the development community has been wrestling with the dual questions of threats to food security and the growing inequality accompanying economic growth. Almost all of the poverty and hunger is now concentrated in the low and lower-middle income countries of Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, most of it in rural areas. In this paper we examine the performance of a selected number of countries in Asia and Africa by analyzing agriculture’s historic role in structural transformation. A paper drawing on the experience of 109 countries over a 30 year period with a focus on China, India, Indonesia and Brazil was prepared as an input into India’s 12th Five Year Plan in 2011 (Lele et al 2011). By extending that analysis to the East African countries, we demonstrate the extent to which the late developers of the East African Community face odds which are greater than those of densely populated Asian countries in achieving structural transformation. We further demonstrate the urgency of focusing attention on agricultural productivity growth as the critical ingredient for achieving food security, poverty reduction and overall economic development.