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Report Links Agriculture Successes to Food Security
(Authors provide evidence for what works ahead of World Food Summit)

By Kathryn McConnell
Staff Writer

Washington — Successes in agricultural development that have significantly reduced world hunger are highlighted in a new report from a research group.

Millions Fed: Proven Successes In Agricultural Development, released November 12 by the International Food Policy Research Institute, is the first compilation of successes linked to increased food security.

By providing concrete evidence on which agricultural achievements worked and why, from the 1950s to today, the report’s authors hope to help donors and policymakers make decisions on what programs and investments are most likely to eradicate hunger, Rajul Pandya-Lorch said in a briefing at the institute in Washington. Pandya-Lorch led the group that wrote the report.

Government officials, donors and researchers will meet November 16–18 in Rome at the World Food Summit on Food Security to discuss the fight against hunger and malnutrition that affects more than 1 billion people. Franklin Moore, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s director of science policy, will lead the U.S. delegation to the meeting.

Successes in agriculture in recent decades helped to reduce the proportion of the world’s population living with hunger from about one-third to one-sixth. Meeting future food needs will be difficult due to challenges such as climate change and increased market volatility. Demographics also cause concern; population growth itself plus the rapid urbanization in several developing countries will stress today’s food-aid systems, Pandya-Lorch said.

The report highlights 20 successes. More than half are from Asia. Five are from Africa. One is from South America. And two are global in scope.

The authors say successes are the result of long-term investment in science and technology as well as significant public investment in rural roads, market infrastructure and education, plus incentives that encourage entrepreneurs to invest in farming.

Pandya-Lorch said early intervention focused on intensifying staple-food production. An example is the international collaboration to contain the wheat rust disease that began in Mexico in the mid-1950s and ensured that as many as 120 million households would have enough food.

The introduction of varieties of cassava resistant to viruses and bugs in East Africa in the 1970s and 1980s contributed to raising cassava yields and turning the starchy root into a cash crop.

She summarized other major routes to success.
Concerns about the consequences of rapid agricultural development anchored a move that began in the 1970s to environmentally sustainable farming practices. Examples include farmer-led innovations in sustainable soil, water and forests. During the 1980s, crop management practices adopted in Burkina Faso and Niger led to the rehabilitation of millions of hectares of arid landscape into productive land.

The use of zero-tillage cultivation techniques and the introduction of herbicide-resistant soybean varieties in Argentina improved soil fertility by reversing decades of erosion and contributed to a significant increase in global supplies of soybeans.

The late 20th century also brought a shift in many countries to market-driven development.

In Kenya, policy reforms in the early 1990s contributed to a rise in private investment in fertilizer and marketing. The result: surplus maize production and lower costs to farmers.

Another success the report touts is the market liberalization in Bangladesh during the 1980s, which eased restrictions on the import of irrigation equipment. That, in turn, stimulated rapid growth in rice farming.

An emphasis on markets opened opportunities for crop diversification, adding legumes, fruits, vegetables, fish and dairy to traditional staple crops. Improvements in mung bean varieties in Asia led to a 35 percent increase in yields of the crop between 1985 and 2000. Mung bean is high in protein and iron and useful in maintaining soil fertility.

Economic reforms have transformed the farm sector in some countries, increasing food security. An example is China, which between 1978 and 1984 returned more than 95 percent of the nation’s farmland to some 160 million rural households, contributing to a more than 30 percent rise in grain production and sharp increases in rural incomes.

The report illustrates how community involvement and investments in technology, infrastructure and entrepreneurship have been critical to success, said Prabhu Pingali of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Seattle-based foundation commissioned the report.

Successes in agricultural development need to be recognized so others can learn lessons from them, adapt them to local contexts and scale them up, said Pingali, co-editor of the report.

The full text of the report ( ) (PDF, 17.27MB) is available on the Web site of the International Food Policy Research Institute

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.  Web site:
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