Stakeholders Strengthen our Strategy

As I mentioned in my 24 September post, we’re using our 40th Anniversary to reflect on our strategy, priorities and progress. We recently sought the expertise of leading stakeholders through a Science Symposium focused on the question “How can smallholder farming feed the world and promote economic growth?” We chose this question because it relates closely to our institutional strategy of ‘Inclusive Market Oriented Development’ (IMOD).This question also relates closely to the theme of next week's Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD2).

The discussions were rich and rewarding. Space won’t allow me to provide a full summary here, but I’d like to highlight some especially interesting insights. You’re most welcome to download the full presentations or view them as videos.

Smallholder-supportive policies and institutions

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Minister of Agriculture of Africa’s most populous country said “connecting farmers to markets holds the greatest potential for transforming lives and livelihoods of farmers, and that is why in Nigeria we are aggressively focused on developing agricultural value chains that connect all the way from the farm to the table.”  He described the liberalization of seed policies to activate the private sector, risk mitigation steps to encourage banks to lend to smallholders, and an innovative mobile phone technology to reach millions of smallholders with e-vouchers for subsidized inputs.

Dr. Bina Agarwal, Director and Professor of the Economics Institute of Economic Growth, University of Delhi suggested the interesting innovation of ‘land banks’ to help smallholders locate additional land that they can rent for farming. She highlighted successes in smallholder collective action in the transition economies of Central Asia and in 35,000 women’s groups in India. Dr. Subhash Mehta of the Association for Agricultural Research Asia Pacific (a non-governmental organization) outlined the elements of successful smallholder-owned ‘producer companies’ such as Nava Jyoti in Odisha state, India.

Getting more from less land

Dr. Robert Bertram described how USAID and partners improve value chains through the Feed the Future initiative. Their overarching goal is ‘sustainable intensification’ implemented through programs such as AfricaRising (in which ICRISAT participates). Dr. Florence Wambugu of the Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International described the improvement of the banana value chain in Eastern Africa. Interventions included the provision of disease-free planting stock, micro-credit, the establishment of facilities for fruit collection, ripening and trading, and fixing other weak links in the chain. Bottom line: net income increased by $US 81 million over ten years for 300,000 banana farmers.

Women are the future

Mr. Libor Stloukal discussed key findings from FAO’s flagship publication ‘The State of Food and Agriculture’ 2010-11 entitled Women in Agriculture. Women now form nearly half of the agricultural labor force and head 25% of rural households but own only about 15% of land titles. Women’s farms yield 30% less than men’s due to lesser access to inputs such as fertilizer. This is especially regrettable since investing in women pays great dividends; on average, a US$10 increase in  a female farmer’s income increases child nutrition and health as much as a $110 increase in a male farmer’s income.

Money matters

Financial assistance helps more smallholders to adopt value chain innovations. Mrs. Radha Singh of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, New Delhi told us that microcredit has been especially valuable to women through their participation in self-help groups. Currently, 7.4 million Indian women's self-help groups link more than 100 million households to microcredit through the Bank Linkage Program of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. Impact studies indicate that farmers who use microcredit increase their farmed land area by 
86% and their incomes by 75%.

In the know

Dr. Prem Warrior of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation noted the importance of information about weather, soil diagnostics, water, improved technologies, and other subjects for smallholder farmers. Advocating the need for stronger public-private partnerships, Dr. Marco Ferroni, Executive Director of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture highlighted the bundling of information with other essential value-chain inputs. He cited the Foundation’s value chain experience with 856 farmers in Jawhar, Maharastra state, India. Professor Asha S. Kanwar of the Commonwealth of Learning emphasized that information must be attuned to smallholder culture, content, and connectivity, which she called the “social shaping” of information services.

Resilient development

Professor Sieglinde Snapp of Michigan State University spotlighted the value of agri-biodiversity to improve farming system resilience and productivity, particularly the inclusion of legumes. She explained why local farmers must participate in choosing and adapting natural resource management practices to fit their own needs and conditions. This was supported by Dr. Marjatta Eilitta of the USAID ATP project in Ghana, who pointed out that farmers prefer crops and farming systems that generate not only agro-ecological services but also food, fodder and income.

Dr. Rodney Cooke of the International Fund for Agricultural Development summarized the major challenges facing smallholder development today. He concluded that to thrive, future smallholder agriculture must be increasingly productive, linked to commercial markets, sustainably implemented, and resilient to shocks, especially climate change. The agricultural research-for-development community must become more effective in scaling-up innovations for wider impact, and must learn faster in a world in which knowledge is advancing at an ever-accelerating pace.

Conclusion: Wealth of wisdom

Though I could only briefly describe them here, the richness of these discussions certainly validates Dr. Cooke’s last point above. All of us must learn faster than ever before. By engaging new partnerships and perspectives, IMOD accelerates our pace of learning. With partners, we're actively applying that learning to help millions of smallholder farmers escape poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation across the dryland tropics of Africa and Asia.