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Success in agricultural development

During the Green Revolution in Asia, breeding of improved rice varieties, combined with the use of fertilisers, irrigation and supportive policies, led to dramatic yield increases (Tran Thi Hoa/World Bank)
During the Green Revolution in Asia, breeding of improved rice varieties, combined with the use of fertilisers, irrigation and supportive policies, led to dramatic yield increases
Tran Thi Hoa/World Bank

Agriculture is back on the development agenda and donors are once more investing in ways and means to increase agricultural production, improve post-harvest storage and processing, and gain better access to markets. But what evidence of success from the last fifty years and the millions of dollars already invested in agriculture?

Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development is the result of a project led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to identify and assess interventions in agricultural development that have substantially reduced hunger and poverty in recent decades. Following a rigorous review process, the project ultimately identified 20 proven successes and the resulting publication was launched in November 2009.

A selection of development practitioners attending the launches in London and Addis Ababa give their points of view on whether the lessons learnt from these case studies are relevant to the increasingly complex challenges which will be faced during the next 50 years.

Why invest in agriculture?

The book should inspire more confidence in smallholder farmers; that investing in them will actually have payoffs both in terms of economics but also in terms of social and environmental impact. It shows that if you do make the right investments you can get very significant payoffs, both in terms of food production and poverty reduction.
Christie Peacock, chief executive, FARM-Africa

By expanding dairy cooperatives, introducing technical advances, and transforming the policy environment in support of smallholder dairy, milk production has nearly tripled in India (WRENmedia)
By expanding dairy cooperatives, introducing technical advances, and transforming the policy environment in support of smallholder dairy, milk production has nearly tripled in India
WRENmedia

The only way you can convince policymakers is by demonstrating that the investment made in agriculture pays off. These studies have demonstrated that investment in agriculture in worthwhile and it pays off in the end.
Timothy Olalekan Williams, adviser and head of enterprise and agriculture section, Commonwealth Secretariat

It does pay to invest in agriculture. Agriculture can contribute to reducing hunger and poverty on a substantial scale. Agricultural development is not just increases in production and productivity; it is improvements in incomes, natural resource management, market development, diversification of products, and nutrition.
Rajul Pandya-Lorch, head, 2020 Vision for Food, Agriculture, and the Environment Initiative, IFPRI

Agriculture is more important now than it ever was. Major breakthroughs have been made to increase food production and productivity with great impact on food availability and access. Without these efforts, the growing world population would have been even more devastated by food shortage.
Mary-Alice Marete, PhD Student, Kenya

What kind of investment is needed?

You need investment in science and technology that fits the local context and can substantially increase yields, investment in markets and getting crops to market. Our science and research capacity is hugely powerful, but it does need to know what the problem is and it then needs to get a very strong steer from government that that particular set of problems is going to receive the support needed to take forward work in that field.
Camilla Toulmin, director, IIED

Sustained investment in agricultural research and development is vital to agriculture in developing countries (IRRI)
Sustained investment in agricultural research and development is vital to agriculture in developing countries
IRRI

There are always new issues that require new research and new technology, but importantly one needs to invest not just in the development of the technology but in the transfer of technology and knowledge to farmers. Farmers need long-term support and investment, in roads, access to credit, new technology and markets, and capacity building for the institutions that support them. Once those conditions are in place then farmers can flourish.
Christie Peacock, FARM-Africa

In Africa, there is no mistaking the fact that smallholders are very important; they are the backbone of agriculture. And that implies that governments need to put special focus on community driven development. Smallholders need to be equipped and given the capacity to be able to effectively take up new technologies.
Timothy Olalekan Williams, Commonwealth Secretariat

I think the real question is, are we really serious about making sustained investments and not just see agriculture as a fashion. It's not only about more money; it's also about allowing people and their ideas to flourish.
Rajul Pandya-Lorch, IFPRI

Other lessons from successful agricultural development

From rust free wheat to farmer-led extension and community-based governance of forests, modern science and indigenous knowledge and policy have been shown to be essentially complementary and these networks should be further enhanced.
Mary-Alice Marete, Kenya

Importantly the private sector is a much more engaged player today, farmers organisations are much more organised, and the media plays a very important role in communicating the messages and inspiring action. These successes are examples of innovative collaboration, of hard work, of persistence, of trial and error, experimentation and perseverance.
Rajul Pandya-Lorch

I'm a passionate believer in people-centred research and development. Once research focuses on people as the centre of concern then development follows appropriately and can be successful.
Wyn Richards, independent consultant, UK

You need secure institutions, whether they be farmer organisations or secure land rights, that enable groups of farmers to have the confidence that investing in their land is going to benefit them and their families.
Camilla Toulmin, IIED

Scaling up success

Community forestry in Nepal has played a critical role in improving and diversifying forest-dependent rural livelihoods (Georgina Smith)
Community forestry in Nepal has played a critical role in improving and diversifying forest-dependent rural livelihoods
Georgina Smith

In Africa, we need to have the development of farmer-sensitive institutions that can deliver inputs, extension services and markets effectively. We know a lot about improved yields and the performance of new varieties. What we don't have is a system that is really capable of delivering them to several hundred million people.
Laurence Cockcroft, senior advisor on African agriculture, Gatsby Foundation

We need to have good partnerships between countries so that the world joins hands to solve problems, like the case of climate change for example.
Tesfahun Fenta, Prolimnova coordinator, Ethiopia

We have the advantage that we can learn from experiences and development from around the world. We are not starting from scratch. We need to capitalise on what we already know. We need to be very conscious of the pitfalls that others have experienced and avoid them.
Timothy Olalekan Williams

The way ahead is through better coordination and partnerships between the different parties involved and at sector level between agriculture and all the other sectors involved in development.
Wyn Richards, UK

Easier or more challenging to achieve success in the future?

It will be easier. There are more challenges but we have better tools to meet those challenges with.
Peter Roeder, international consultant, UK

Increasingly difficult, but at the same time we have a greater realisation of the power of research, of the need to include numerous stakeholders including the research community, of the gains to be had and the problems that will deepen if we don't get our act together.
John Ingram, executive officer,Global Environmental Change and Food Systems (GECAFS)

With new maize hybrids, farmers' yields have multiplied several-fold and contributed significantly to improved food security (©FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
With new maize hybrids, farmers' yields have multiplied several-fold and contributed significantly to improved food security
©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

I am optimistic that future changes will be even more dramatic and exciting. Can you imagine what genetic engineering can put on the table in the next 20 years in terms of drought-tolerant maize? We are bound to witness doubling of yields of some common grains in the next 10-20 years at smallholder level.
Isaac Minde, senior scientist, ICRISAT and country representative to SADC

We face very substantial challenges but I feel reasonably positive that we can achieve what seems to be pretty tricky if we can get the joint international energy focused on trying to make both the scientific discoveries, but also the economic and institutional support that will enable these improvements in productivity to take place.
Camilla Toulmin

It's becoming more difficult. We have climate change, potentially peak oil and high fertiliser prices and we have globalisation and the movement of people which potentially means more pandemics. We need to be investing in the new technologies now for 2030 and this takes a lot of foresight and investment. And at the moment there is little evidence to show that that's happening.
Tim Leyland, agriculture team, research and evidence directorate, DFID

Date published: January 2010

 

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The New Agriculturist is a WRENmedia production.

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