The Global Harvest Initiative has published the first of five policy briefs that address the need for action on global hunger and food security. Building from recent GHI research that suggests the rate of agricultural productivity must increase at a minimum of 24% per year to meet demand over the next 40 years, the policy brief focuses on the innovation and productivity gains necessary to sustainably grow more and better food.
GHI Executive Director, Dr. William G. Lesher, spoke of the pressing need to increase and improve international research in agricultural productivity,
With a surging global population and new demands on food crops, the inadequate and declining support for basic food and agricultural research must be addressed quickly, as the research process takes a minimum of ten years from laboratory to field.
“Improving Agricultural Research Funding, Structure and Collaboration” describes the notable returns on agricultural research and the role of research as the primary source for developing solutions. Dr. Jason Clay, WWF Senior Vice President of Market Transformation and a consultative partner of GHI, said,
Research is a first step in acquiring data to measure our real impact and identify alternatives. Half of the world’s farmers are producing below average results and cannot even feed their own families. Learning how to leverage research and data is critical to stimulate innovation, identify new ideas and improve productivity.”
The issue brief also highlights key research areas such as more efficient water use and the reduction of post-harvest losses, and notes that public sector research investments must be on par with private sector research to achieve significant increases in the rate of production worldwide.
In October 2010, the Africa Progress Panel Secretariat launched a policy brief ‘Raising agricultural productivity in Africa: Options for action, and the role of subsidies’. The report takes specific country circumstances to offer the key issues and lessons that African governments can take to deal with their individual country situation.
The main messages of the report are as follows:
- African agriculture was often neglected by most governments and donors in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2010, there is renewed commitment to agriculture with the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) and the Maputo declaration of 2003.
- To boost productivity, there needs to be favourable environment for investment and governments need to invest more in public goods such as rural roads, agricultural research and extension services, and rural schooling, clean water and health care.
- Often in rural Africa farmers cannot get access to credit, insurance and inputs. These can be severe and leave smallholder farmers in a poverty trap from which they struggle to escape, even when the technology to allow them to produce more exists. These market failures may be overcome
by institutional innovation, but in some cases stronger state intervention may be needed —including the use of input subsidies.
- Subsidies can help overcome poor farmers’ inability to obtain credit or take risks, to allow farmers to learn about inputs, and to develop input supply to levels where scale economies are captured. They can also be justified on grounds of equity, to overcome soil degradation and improve soil quality in the case of fertiliser, and to stimulate production to reduce the cost of food.
- On the other hand subsidies can be costly, with costs rising over time, difficult to remove, badly targeted so that richer farmers get much of the benefit, and can undermine the development of commercial channels. Moreover, there are alternatives to subsidies, as Kenya’s experience of liberalised fertiliser distribution shows.
- Much depends upon local circumstances – whether rural financial and input markets are robust or not functioning at all, for example poverty levels among farming households, and productivity levels for staple goods. Decision-makers need
to be clear on the objectives pursued in using subsidies and consider alternative and complementary ways to achieving them. They also need to be aware of the potential pitfalls.
- Where subsidies are used, they need to be ‘smart’: targeted to those who need them, limited in time, and designed to enhance commercial distribution rather than supplant it. Complementary investments in transport and input dealer training can reinforce these programmes and make it easier to reduce or
remove subsidies in the future.
This report is a collaboration between Africa Progress Panel and Future Agriculture Consortium. The main authors are Steve Wiggins and Henri Leturque from Overseas Development Institute.